Saturday, October 13, 2012

The European Union's Well-Deserved Nobel Peace Prize

The European Union was the surprise winner of the Nobel Peace Prize this week.  Yet, as I pondered this choice, I chided myself for not having thought of it before.  The Long Peace of Europe since the Second World War is so much a part of our taken-for-granted world that we have already forgotten what an achievement that peace is. 

The massive decline in violence in the world in the past two generations is due primarily to the strong system of inter-connected and law-abiding states. And the core of the system of peaceful states is a stable Europe and a stable North America.

Good job, Nobel committee.  The prize is long overdue.  I hope it helps the EU overcome its current financial difficulties.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Creating, Versus Consuming, Love on the Internet Dating Market

I am working through the new book of that fine sociologist, Arlie Hochschild. In The Outsourced Self: Intimate Life in Market Times she looks at the many ways we have turned to the market for aspects of personal life that we used to rely on "the village" for.

In the chapter on internet dating that opens the book, she makes this helpful observation: internet dating clients had such trouble finding a mate because "they were preparing to be consumers, not creators, of love."

One fruitful insight of our "Happy Society" class is that the simple act of performing acts of kindness for others makes one feel happier.  And we notice that our friends, seeing our example, are more likely to do the same.

I find that students have another, even more unexpected insight.  They have clear feelings about whether society is happy and kind, or unhappy and cold.  But until doing this class exercise, they had just never thought about themselves as the creators of the moral tone of society.

Creating love, like creating kindness, is hard and risky.  But it is also empowering.  And, of course, good.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Protestants Fall to Less Than Half: Nones Rise to a Fifth

The Pew Research Center has released a new report, The Rise of the Nones, on the changing shape of American religion.

Protestants are down by 5% to 48% total.

Religiously unaffiliated (nones) are up 5% to 20%.

Catholics are down 1% to 22%

Other religions are up 2% to 6%.

The main thing that seems to have happened is that lightly affiliated Protestants of five years ago now no longer call themselves religious at all.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Marriage is the "Group Selection" on a Molecular Scale

Evolutionary thought usually focuses on individuals being selected for, and thus passing on individually valuable traits.  The idea that groups can be selected for, thus passing on a trait of "groupishness," is usually dismissed.  Jonathan Haidt, in The Righteous Mind, makes a case for group selection. It is precisely groupishness that gives humans an advantage as a species, and more social groups of humans their advantage, in the long run, over anti-social aggregations of people.

We see the same group advantage at the molecular level of society: families.  Couples who successfully marry and raise children together have well-documented advantages in their own lives.  Their children, likewise, benefit in many ways.  The gap between the social class that marries and the class that does not is growing.

What this says to me is that successful marriage is an instance of group selection in an evolutionary sense. Lineages that produce more successful marriages get selected for, generation after generation.  These benefits accrue quickly, too.  It does not take the tens of thousands of years that random physical mutations do to become part of the dominant fraction of the species.  People choose who they marry, and who they have children with, much more than other species do.  Thus, those selecting for long marriages can do so deliberately and with pretty good information.  And pass their advantage on in human-scaled time to their descendents.