Monday, January 28, 2008

Conservative vs. Liberal Morality, or Why Conservatives Just Don't Care

From opposing HPV vaccines because it "might encourage" sex to opposing lifesaving overdose-reversal medication because it "might encourage" drug use, social conservatives frequently take stances that liberals find baffling, if not downright evil.

These guys might be able to explain conservatives' behavior:
Moral Foundations Theory proposes that five innate psychological systems form the foundation of “intuitive ethics.” Each culture constructs its particular morality as a set of virtues, values, and ideas based on or related to these five foundations (as well as to many other non-moral aspects of the evolved mind). The current American culture war can be seen as arising from the fact that liberals try to create a morality relying almost exclusively on the Harm/Care and Fairness/Reciprocity foundations; conservatives, especially religious conservatives, use all five foundations, including Ingroup/Loyalty, Authority/Respect, and Purity/Sanctity. In every sample we have examined (including samples in the US, UK and Western Europe), political conservatism correlates negatively with endorsement of the Harm and Fairness foundations, and positively with endorsement of the Ingroup, Authority, and Purity foundations.


Maybe I'm just a hopeless liberal atheist, but Harm/Care and Fairness/Reciprocity appear to be legitimate moral values while Authority/Respect and Purity/Sanctity are just a bunch of nonsense. Ingroup/Loyalty is good in some circumstances, but is probably also at the root of most evil that goes on in the world.

What good is Authority/Respect? Is "I was only following orders" really a moral justification? Following authority is moral when the authority figure commands moral action and immoral otherwise.

Do I even need to point out how dangerous Ingroup/Loyalty is? It's nice to watch out for your siblings and countrymen, but there's nothing moral about, e.g., going to war for your side when your side is in the wrong.

As for Purity/Sanctity, how is that a moral issue? Oh, she had premarital sex, therefore she's immoral? She's on her period, so it's immoral for her husband to touch her?

Obviously, this is an over-generalization, but this confirms my intuition about the American culture wars. One side cares more about people; the other about abstractions like Authority, Loyalty, and Purity. In my book, any time you support a policy that leads to more deaths, more harm, or more unfairness for some intangible reason, you're probably doing the wrong thing.

This divide is quite clear even within religion. Conservative religious groups worry about following rules (authority) and being holy (purity) while the liberal ones focus on charity (care) and social justice (fairness.)

Friday, January 25, 2008

An Inside View of Scientology

An interesting slashdot comment from an ex-Scientologist on what he calls their "reality tunnel."

Orthodox Jews might find that some parts of his story hit a little close to home:
Anyone who attacks the church is either a suppressive person (2.5% of the population who are evil - think Hitler), PTS due to a connection to an SP (Potential Trouble Source - 20% of the population), or has committed various other overts and withholds (ie sins and secrets) and it trying to justify their own actions by making the Scientology seem less (because if you admitted to yourself that Scientology was the "one and only solution" then your otherwise small crime would have to weigh fairly heavily on your conscience).


It is also taught that if someone encounters the OT3 materials before being ready for them, then as part of the psychological conditioning to create "prison-planet" earth, the person may get sick and die and this is the reason it is considered "confidential" and heavily protected, and only available to members of the church past a certain level.
(Zohar, anyone?)

This "truth" or "reality tunnel" is slowly conditioned into you until you internalise it. There is a huge taboo against reading or discussing anything potentially negative or "entheta" against Scientology or the church, often the taboo will extend down to the point that you feel it is wrong to "think" about potentially negative things regarding Scientology. To do so would potentially detract from Scientology and is thus a mortal sin against humanity, or you might wind up making yourself sick. I know this, because I was brought up within the church, and through the process of leaving the church and the Scientology "reality tunnel", it took me around two years to fully confront this internal taboo to the point I could openly think and speak on the subject.


Well back to the original question of do David Miscavage, Tom Cruise and the others running the Church, truly believe in what they say? My guess is that they do, they are so fully immersed in the Scientology reality tunnel, that they cannot actually see outside of it. Once you start questioning it, the contradictions become obvious and starts to crumble fairly quickly (it can be scary if you have nothing to replace with), so instead it is accepted 100% as a matter of faith to the point that they have dedicated the whole of their lives to this mission of "clearing" the planet, and "handling" anyone who gets in their way. There is too much at stake (the whole future of mankind) to even consider the possibility that they might be wrong or deviating from their course.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Links: Politics Edition

  • Mitt Romney Defends Himself Against Allegations Of Tolerance. (video)
  • Andrew Sullivan argues that the Clintons aren't exactly LBJ when it comes to sticking up for civil rights.
  • Via Mark at Pseudo-Polymath, Mike Huckabee believes that we should amend the Constitution "so it's in God’s standards."
  • Steve Sailer, who's been hatin' on Obama since before most people had heard of him, finally points out something legitimately troubling: the magazine of the senior pastor at Obama's church recently gave a lifetime achievement award to Louis Farrakan, all-around crazy and antisemite, racist, and homophobe. Obama responded to the controversy with a statement: "I decry racism and anti-Semitism in every form and strongly condemn the anti-Semitic statements made by Minister Farrakhan. I assume that Trumpet Magazine made its own decision to honor Farrakhan based on his efforts to rehabilitate ex-offenders, but it is not a decision with which I agree."

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Political Pundits Worse Than Flipping a Coin

Via LeisureGuy, Jonah Lehrer:

Needless to say, the political pundits were hilariously wrong about the New Hampshire primary. I won't hypothesize about what actually happened, other than to say that I think many voters here wanted a longer primary. They went meta on the race and decided that they didn't want to coronate Obama in the beginning of January. This says less about Obama and Clinton and more about the over-hyped press coverage and shortened primary schedule. I voted for Obama, but I'm looking forward to a drawn out race for the Democratic nomination. This whole democracy thing is pretty entertaining.

But back to the failures of the political pundits. Nobody should be surprised. In 1984, the Berkeley psychologist Philip Tetlock began an epic research project: He picked two hundred and eighty-four people who made their living "commenting or offering advice on political and economic trends" - they were professional pundits - and began asking them to make predictions about future events. He had a long list of pertinent questions. Would George Bush be re-elected? Would there be a peaceful end to apartheid in South Africa? Would Quebec secede from Canada? Would the dot-com bubble burst? In each case, the experts were asked to rate the probability of several different possible outcomes. Tetlock then interrogated the experts about their thought process, so that he could better understand how they made up their mind. By the end of the study, Tetlock had quantified 82,361 different predictions.

After Tetlock tallied up the data, the predictive failures of most experts became painfully obvious. When asked to forecast the probability of a specific event happening, pundits tended to perform worse than random chance. A dart throwing chimp would have beaten the majority of well-informed experts. Tetlock also found that academic specialists - say, an expert in Middle Eastern affairs or a specialist on the New Hampshire primary - weren't any better than the-man-on-the-street at predicting the future. "We reach the point of diminishing marginal predictive returns for knowledge disconcertingly quickly," Tetlock writes in Expert Political Judgment. "There is no reason for supposing that contributors to top journals--distinguished political scientists, area study specialists, economists, and so on--are any better than journalists or attentive readers of The New York Times in 'reading' emerging situations." Furthermore, the most famous experts in Tetlock's study tended to be the least accurate, consistently churning out overblown and overconfident forecasts. Eminence was a handicap.

So think about that the next time you watch those talking heads on CNN.


Now I was as wrong about New Hampshire as all the professional pundits, but then again, I'm not being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for my predictions and analysis, either.

The media do not have a liberal bias. They have a stupid bias.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Obama Takes Iowa!!

This thing might actually happen!

For the first time since Bill Clinton, we might nominate a guy who can inspire, who has charisma, and who has guts. Gore is a good and decent man who has devoted his life to service, but he lacked both charisma and guts. John Kerry, as far as I can tell, was an attempt to call the bluff of all those who declared they'd vote for anybody but Bush. Barack Obama is the real deal. And he might actually win this thing.

I like Hillary and Edwards, don't get me wrong. But she'd never get more than 50% of the people behind her as president, and Obama would have closer to 60%. Edwards is a good, decent man with some charisma, but I don't see the gravitas or ferocious intelligence I'd ask for in a president.