Friday, January 27, 2012

Monogamy Succeeds Polygamy as Part of the Civilizing Process

Steven Pinker, in The Better Angels of Our Nature, about which I blogged recently, argues that the civilizing process of the modern era is one of the main reasons for the massive decrease in violence in the world.

Pinker does not treat the change in marriage norms specifically in his consideration of the civilizing process. I have long thought, though, that one of the great social benefits of monogamy is that it should reduce the violence by groups of unmarried men that is a predictable by-product of polygamy. This, I think, is why monogamy is nearly universal in developed nations, despite the wide variety of religious and cultural traditions that these different nations developed from.

A new study by Joseph Henrich and others at the University of British Columbia found "significantly higher levels of rape, kidnapping, murder, assault, robbery and fraud in polygymous cultures found in Asia and Africa." By contrast, monogamy leads to more paternal investment, long-term planning, economic productivity, savings, and child investments.

These social advantages explain why even those who benefit the most from polygamy - rich, high-status men - are willing to switch to a monogamous social norm. The civilizing process leads to monogamy because of its greater peace and social investment for society as a whole.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Low IQ Correlates with Racism Through Social Conservatism

A fascinating study by Gordon Hodson, a psychologist at Brock University in Canada, found that people with low intelligence in childhood were more likely to be racist adults. This was expected, given earlier research on education and racism.

The new finding tried to answer how, exactly, the two became connected. Hodson's conclusion:

The factor that explained the relationship between these two variables was political: When researchers included social conservatism in the analysis, those ideologies accounted for much of the link between brains and bias.

The researchers speculate that conservative ideologies offer a more black-and-white worldview, which would be more appealing to people who finding it hard to take the position of the Other.

These findings correspond with Hetherington and Weiler's studies of authoritarianism and polarization which I blogged about before. Hodson's psychological study does not really look at the political mechanism by which low-IQ people find out about socially conservative ideologies. Political scientists Hetherington and Weiler, on the other hand, point to the fact that conservative organizations and parties have, over the past generation, actively sought out fearful people.

It seems a reasonable step to me to suppose that low-IQ people are more fearful than others. That would be an excellent subject for the next study.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Sovereignty vs. Majesty

I am participating in the Christian Life and Witness conference at Georgetown College on the subject of "From the Academy to the Church."  Nicholas Wolterstorff, a distinguished Reformed philosopher from Yale, was drawing a distinction between the Reformed approach to higher education and a conservative Baptist approach (Georgetown is a Baptist college).  In the course of presenting an ideal type of the Reformed approach, he was asked about what is often considered the key Reformed doctrine, the sovereignty of God.

Wolterstorff surprised me by saying that Calvin does not seem to speak of the sovereignty of God. Instead, Calvin promotes the idea of the majesty of God.

Wolterstorff thought this difference presented Calvinism in a more hopeful light, because he reads the idea of God's sovereignty as the foundation of the most notorious Reformed doctrine, double predestination.

I, however, have always favored the idea of the sovereignty of God. I do not, though, connect it with predestination.  Instead, I see it as a claim by the Reformed that all of Creation has one order, which we can investigate by reason.

We agreed that "sovereignty" and "majesty" are clearly similar ideas.  It may be that they are simply different translations of the same word.

My question to you is this: Which term you find resonates better with your understanding?  It seems to me that sovereignty is a concept better adapted to a democratic culture, whereas majesty is a more monarchical concept.

Still wrestling.  Very fruitful conference, though.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Children as a Happy-Making Gift.

I have been synthesizing two lines of happiness research.

People who give more are more likely to report that they are very happy.

People who have children are more likely to report that they are very happy, even though children typically diminish their marital happiness.

I think it is very fruitful to think of raising children as a gift, a gift to society.

Giving the gift of raising children should make it more likely that you will be very happy.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Facebook is Not an Echo Chamber

Some people fear that social media creates an echo chamber in which we only hear opinions from like-minded friends which confirm our own.

Eytan Bakshy, a researcher at Facebook, conducted a fine, huge experiment. Facebook normally shows you links that your friends have posted. Using a modest sample of 253 million users, Bakshy suppressed some of that sharing, to create an experimental and a control group. He wanted to see how much people shared links, whether they shared links that were kept from them but that they found some other way, and whether they shared more from their strong-tie or weak-tie friends.

If Facebook were an echo chamber, we would mostly be sharing links from friends and from strong ties more than weak.

What Bakshy found is that we do share links from our close friends. And we do share links that we would have gotten from our close friends - Bakshy hid them, but we found them anyway. So far, so echo-y. But we also share links from our weak ties, ones we would not have seen otherwise. And the number of links we get and share from weak ties overwhelm the number we get from close ties. Weak ties bring us novel information.

My experience confirms this finding. I share opinions with close friends every day on Facebook. But I also get contrary information all the time. Some comes from a few close friends who do not agree with me. But most comes from weak ties - acquaintances who are "friends" but not really close friends. Even more often, people I do not know contribute comments to a friends' post disagreeing with that friend. Almost daily I find myself reading and checking a contrasting idea that someone I sort-of know put on Facebook.

This keeps me honest. Good for busting the echo chamber.