Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Moral Foundations are Natural, but Their Ethical Configuration is Cultural


I have been thinking about Jonathan Haidt's empirical work on moral foundations.  He offers (tentatively) that the six moral foundations that he has identified are natural.

Much of his work is on the consequences of the fact that liberals only embrace two of the foundations - care for the harmed and fairness (understood as equality) - as a legitimate basis for public policy.  Conservatives, by contrast, embrace all six, or at least five - adding sanctity, loyalty, and authority, and maybe liberty.

So how do things which are natural to all get grouped differently by some?

I embrace the distinction between individual morals and social ethics.  (Not everyone distinguishes the terms this way, but it makes sense to me, especially sociologically).

Ethics can helpfully be thought of as contrasting configurations of moral foundations to serve social ends.  Different visions of what society is leads to different ethical structures, even though they are made of the same natural moral material.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Women Can Close the Confidence Gap

My topic on WKYB this morning.

Last week I wrote about women selecting for confident men.

This week we look at the other side of that coin - why women are often less confident in their own abilities than they should be.

I blogged about this "imposter syndrome" previously, drawing on Susan Pinker's The Sexual Paradox. 

More recently, Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, two very high achieving television journalists, wrote about The Confidence Gap.  Women are more likely to read their failures as reasons not to do that thing again, whereas men are likely to see failures as learning experiences.  Women are more likely to ruminate on what they did wrong and whether other people noticed, while men are likely to move on and not dwell on it.  Women are more likely to hold back from trying new and bigger tasks until they feel 100% prepared, while men are likely to seek opportunities even if they only feel 60% prepared because they are confident in their abilities to figure new things out.

Moreover, women are likely to read men's expressions of confidence as they would read women - that is, if men seem fully confident, they must be fully prepared.  Women are more likely to apologize for their preparation, and attribute their success to luck no matter how prepared and competent they actually are.


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Spectrum of Spiritual Experience


This is an idea I am chewing on.  It came from a class discussion of the rise of the "spiritual, but not religious" category recently, especially among young people.

There is a spectrum of spiritual experiences.  At one end are mystics, who experience full oneness with a (the) spiritual entity.  At the other end are rationalists (maybe autistics?) who never experience it at all.

This may correspond with William James' categories of the twice born, one-and-a-half born, and once born.

Religious institutions exist to shape spiritual experience into ritual, and to form people who share ritualized spiritual experiences into a community.

Most people are in the middle of the curve, with a normal frequency and intensity of spiritual experience. If they trust religious institutions, they say they are "religious." If they do not, they say they are "spiritual, but not religious" or "nothing" because they lack the language to describe their experience.

This would mean that the increase in religious "nones" does not really mean a decline in the underlying experience that we read as religious, but a change in how we institutionalize that experience.

Friday, May 05, 2017

Women Don't Like Bad Boys. They Like Confident Men, Especially the Nice Ones


A study with the provocative title "Nice guys have more sex than bad boys" makes this larger point.

Women like confident men.  They like the confidence itself, and also like it as a sign of their ability to get resources.  Many women put up with arrogant confident men, and even selfish confident men - bad traits which they sometimes find out about too late.

But women prefer nice confident men the most.  They want the resources, and the sharing of those resources, in the joint project of raising a family.

Sex is part of the project, but not the main point.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Regulations are Protections, Taxes are Investments


George Lakoff is right - conservatives and liberals each have a compelling worldview, but conservatives have been better at framing theirs to appeal to the emotions of more Americans. Worse, liberals have let conservatives reframe the liberal worldview in an unflattering way.

Fighting back with reasoned argument alone misses the basic fact that we are emotional creatures first.

Lakoff names these contrasting worldviews as "strict father" vs. "nurturant parent."  These differences apply to family life and government equally. The different gender politics are also contained in the deliberate asymmetry between "father" and "parent."

At the government level, the liberal worldview sees regulations as protections, and taxes as investments. This is the kind of care for the whole that any good nurturing parent would do. The whole that is envisioned by liberals is all of the people in the nation, together.

Conservatives, by contrast, see regulations as limitations on freedom, and taxes as theft.  They want to toughen up each person under their charge to be personally responsible. The whole they envision is just us - our tribe, our kind, against all others.  The others are constantly trying to infiltrate our tribe, so we must be vigilant in punishing and expelling them, as well as any traitors who help the infiltrators.

There is a real difference in worldview, and each rests on a different metaphysic.  Worldviews grip us through our emotional stories first and most.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Americans are Happy to Pay Taxes


My topic on WKYB this morning.

One of the big books of popular social science this year will be Vanessa Williamson's Read My Lips: Why Americans Are Proud to Pay Taxes. She found that "being a taxpayer" is an important part of the identity of most Americans. Two interviews with her, explaining her findings, are here and here.

I would add that our sense of legitimacy of American democracy comes from the feeling that we all pay our bit.  This gives us a voice in what our government does, just as much as voting does.  Indeed, since many more people pay taxes than vote, our sense of democratic legitimacy comes more from being taxpayers than being voters.

What Williamson found is that the great majority of Americans are proud to pay taxes.  What makes them mad is if they think other people are not paying their fair share of taxes, especially if they pay no taxes at all.  This ire is directed at rich people and corporations first, and also, in some sectors, at illegal immigrants.  But there are also widespread misconceptions about who pays taxes, and for what.  We remember the income tax due to the hassle of filing, but forget the sales tax because, except for the poorest people, we don't think about is when we pay it.

While everyone pays taxes, groups differ in how many people they believe pay taxes.  The people who are maddest about our current tax system think, on average, that only 66% of people in this country pay taxes - including themselves.  On the other hand, the people who are least mad about our tax system think that the proportion of taxpayers is above 80%.

Paying taxes is a meaningful activity, which joins us with others in serving a cause larger than ourselves.  This is one of the key components of happiness.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Donald Trump is the Last Baby Boomer President


I am of the youngest cohort of Baby Boomers, born in 1960.  Donald Trump, from the other end of our cohort, is 70.  While the younger Boomers will still be in their prime in four years - and, at a stretch, still viable in eight years - I think the era of Boomer presidents is over.

Barack Obama was the first Gen X president.  "No-Drama Obama" exemplified many of the virtues of Gen X.  He was a little ahead of time, though, as far as straight generational succession would predict.  If Hillary Clinton had been elected in 2008, I think she would have been the last Boomer president, and the normal time for the Gen X succession would have begun with this term.

The Silent generation, by the way, is the first in more than a century to have no presidents.  John McCain was probably their best shot, and Bernie Sanders was surely their last.