Saturday, October 22, 2016

Election Thoughts

We are likely past the point of persuasion for anyone, so I feel free to make observations while it is still fresh.

I will be voting for Evan McMullin. You can spare me the observation that I am voting for Hillary/Trump by not voting for Trump/Hillary.  I already covered two weeks ago that my individual vote has no effect. If NH comes down to a few votes - mine plus the 100 people I have 5% effect on - you can chastise me then.  Except there would be a recount, which would change things one way or the other.  It is not the vote itself but all the imperceptible influences we have on our friends and acquaintances in the runup.  Those influences must be anchored in a legit secret ballot, else we have 99% votes for a dictator, because people do not dare go outside the lines even in private.  But mostly, it is a measuring stick for ourselves.  Why does this outrage me and not that? Am I swayed by seeming and feeling? James rightly noted that a personal examen of decades is a bit steep, but you can practice a bit here.

I have waited twenty-five years for Clinton dishonesty and accompanying media sycophancy to be finally exposed*, and this is the hour, but I cannot participate. Luther said he would rather be ruled by a wise Turk than a foolish Christian, which I guess can be stretched to cover wise rulers of low character, but I don't see the "wise ruler" part in Trump. In my Jesus Freak days there was a festival in Washington that some of my friends went to. The theme from Scripture was 2Chronicles 7:14 if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. I didn't agree with the interpretation that any nation could just automatically claim this promise made to Israel, but I noticed tonight something quite special about this.  The intent was that we Christians were supposed to pray, and live justly, and God would take care of the rest. I don't hear that now, except in quiet corners.

As to media, I read that Chris Wallace was fair as a moderator, and Jake Tapper is an honest man.  I also note that it is primarily the national media that shows up badly in the favoritism of Democrats in general but very specifically of Hillary Clinton. The city and regional media lean left, but not as much, and I am hopeful this will be a wakeup call that there are acts of prostitution, not romance, lying ahead of them.  Some will, some won't I suppose. It is disappointing that the same people who believe that implicit racism is responsible for all manner of ills regard implicit media bias as having negligible effect. Subtext, word choice, framing, facial expressions, and tone either matter or they don't.  They can't have a huge effect in one place and no effect in the other.  Escaping to institutional doesn't change that either, because the media outlets in question are very much long-standing institutions.

I am quoting Wikileaks, because I believe the information is true.  We should be cautious in what conclusions we draw, however.  The information released is true, but selected. There may be other bits that would swing us a different way, were they made available.  If some new emails came out that either made Hillary look better or Trump worse, there would of course be an annoying hypocritical flip-flop, but that aspect should be disregarded. And because no one can be unrelentingly evil, I imagine there are some benign things out there. So regard this as a palantir, that can show true things, but can still be bent to evil purpose. As for the idea that we shouldn't allow foreigners to try and influence our election, I think that's not clear-thinking.  I don't see a sharp line between Europeans reporting things - sometimes bad things that we have done - around the world that the American papers won't, in an effort to break through to influence our voters, and Wikileaks. Obama not knowing which countries his contributions came from is worse. Democrats are objecting to this theft because Hillary left the keys in the ignition.

BTW, because Wikileaks is calculated in its timing, there is likely something left to know.

We vote myths, and I think Trump's appeal is that of Samson. (What's Hillary?  Fairy Godmother?  I think that's how her supporters see her.)  Well, yes, Samson was used of God, but there are reasons mothers don't name their sons after him.

"Rigged" is a big word.  Trump is using it, and a few are following, but it's crazy.  However, shading an election, putting a thumb on the scale, is not crazy. People try to do it all the time, and sometimes they succeed. (My irony of this week is the psychiatrist who assured me about five years ago that "Jeb was never going to allow his brother to lose Florida" is complaining now that the Republicans are wild conspiracists for suggesting the election could be rigged.) You can slash the tires of the vans that are giving rides to the polls. You can be Mayor Daley and bring the dead to life, just for the day. I don't know that there are recent elections where we think that moved the dial more than 1% in a state, or even 5% in a precinct. Except Atlanta.  I understand Atlanta is lots of paid votes for mayor, or was.

*And as I should have guessed, they are even worse than the right-wing crazies predicted.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Emotional Salience

There is a new antipsychotic out, Vraylar (cariprazine). I haven't seen anyone who's on it yet, but it targets an interesting symptom. (Okay, it targets receptors, but you know what I mean.) Emotional salience is the sense that something is important. I liken it to the background music in movies, where a dump-ta-DUM signals to the audience that something important just happened. Many psychotic people have delusions without hearing voices, because they find emotional salience in odd places. Random, benign events are highlighted by their brains as Important. They just feel it strongly, sometimes overwhelmingly, that the white car driving past their house has something to do with them. These reinforce each other, and a whole delusional system gets built up.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Hard Rain

James links to David Warren's Hard Rain Chronicles. It puts me in mind of the Benedict Options, which Rod Dreher is a fan of.

Saturday, October 15, 2016


I went to my 45th HS reunion.  Very pleasant.  I didn't hear the words "Trump" or "Hillary" all night.  the only person to make jerk comments was me.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Always, Never, Least, Most

We are in the grip of an Election, so it is not surprising that rhetoric is intensifying and people are getting carried away in their claims.  I keep seeing that Obama has endured the most criticism, or has been the least something-or-other.*  That we have never had a political candidate like  Trillary/Hump, or that the Republicans have always been Friends of the Devil or Protectors of Virtue or whatever.

The first level of hoping people will just calm down is to say that we will all come to our senses shortly, and even if we don't change our minds we will at least be less insufferable after inauguration day, and get back to being unified Americans, all pulling together for the common good.  The implication is that the wisest, most gentle response is to just mildly state our own opinions, wait out the excitable and passionate friends, and take a sort of resigned detachment.

I think that view is dangerous. What is the evidence that this is true, other than cowardice? The evidence over the last seven election cycles,  or perhaps twelve, is that these bleed over into the following years, and are cumulative.  We are not calming down, we are becoming meaner.  We increasingly nominate candidates who don't refrain from polarising, but actively embrace it. (I don't think there is anyone who can be blamed for starting this, yet I think there are clear inflection points downward in my lifetime.) In marital therapy, the counselor is trained to be especially alert to the person saying always/never. It signifies a person who has stopped thinking rationally and wants only to punish the other. That is the partner who wants to win, not arrive at the truth, or any kind of negotiated arrangement.  I don't see things as all that different in political discourse. I don't think it is merely being emphatic, stating your opinion, speaking truth to power, being forceful or prophetic in warning or whatever. I think it's evil.  If you doubt that, you might reflect that there is a Commandment, one of the Big Ten, about bearing false witness against a neighbor.  Or perhaps recall the specks and logs.

You said I was stupid. You pretend you were talking about those others, but that's just saying I'm one of the good niggers. I won't bring it up again, but I'll remember.  You accused me of hypocrisy (because I am in that group you called hypocrites) even though I'm the person who buys lunch more often and has a better track record for putting in the time and money.  You insulted me and my people at work while I was standing there. You left me with two choices: challenge you and be seen as the source of contention, or suffer in shame.  

 I also don't think it is mere inattention, a technical mistake, or cultural/literary convention. I believe that "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks." (Both Luke and Matthew record this from Jesus.) People are scandalised when challenged on the point, because they don't think of themselves as divisive, accusing people. They think it is those other people who are the problem.

Trust me on this, folks are deeply insulted that you say they are being insulting, when they think of themselves as the gentle, peaceful ones.  They double down pretty quickly.

*I keep thinking that one-word - one-name - answers should not only bury those claims, but make the person who said it ashamed to even speak up again. Nixon? Johnson? Reagan? Lincoln? Hoover? Clinton? Are you serious? Which other presidents/candidates were you talking about, exactly? 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Voting Part IIB - Bad Reasons

To review 1.) Your vote doesn't count but you should do it anyway.  2.) You will cast your vote for bad reasons.

Voting - Part IIB: Bad Reasons

(I tried not to be tedious.  I failed.  It isn't in me, perhaps. Too long, too many references.)

Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt , in his 2012 book The Righteous Mind, clearly, emphatically stated that one of his objectives was to convince Democrats and liberals how to use his principles to win elections.  There is a website derived from the book, and today's blogpost by Haidt is "How Democrats Can Use Moral Foundations Theory Against Trump."   Why then would a clear, emphatic postliberal like myself want to talk about him so much and give him so many precious pixels?  Because he is simply right about some core issues of bias, persuasion, memory, and moral understanding.  I continue to have disagreements about major points, but he is doing work that no one else seems to want to touch.  I must have written about him twenty times over the years,  including one as recently as yesterday.

Our imaginative picture of ourselves is of a stalwart, decisive individual, considering competing ideas, weighing alternatives, and rationally deciding.  We might allow, with a shrug, that we have some foibles which cause us to be a touch emotional rather than fully rational about some topics.  That is a quite new picture of human beings. The ancients (up through the Enlightenment) thought differently, and used the mixed image of a strong rider, reason, mastering an unruly horse, emotion.  Haidt reverses this progression entirely, and claims that our decision-making is more like a (rational) rider on an (intuitive) elephant, having some effect but no control. We know this to be true about those who disagree with us yet exempt ourselves, and certainly exempt those who sound most rational of our tribesmen and allies. Surely, someone, somewhere, has thought this out and we have been wise enough or lucky enough to have discovered them and listened to them, and are at least mostly independent deciders and Have Got It Mostly Right, because, well,  just look at those idiots over there.

Haidt's not just making this up, ivory tower.  He is concluding this from evidence he was very uncomfortable with at first. Me too.  We want to think that free will means we are 90% in control, not 10%. That's not looking promising at present.  Some brief Jonathan Haidt quotes. "The First Rule of Moral Psychology: Intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second."   "We are emotional actors! We are highly intuitive beings who act first, and justify later. Our beliefs, convictions, and values are far less “rational” than we imagine." 

So, Jonathan Haidt.  Books, TED talks, magazine articles, published scholarly underpinnings that he has already pushed into replication studies. I found a new author for you to absorb who will modify your views on many things. Excitement!

Six years ago I did an extended series May WeBelieve Our Thoughts? which also came out to about twenty essays.  These covered psychiatric conditions, personal memories, religious and political opinions, and social influences. Those interested in only the political parts will find them in #6, #9, #11, Opinions, #15-16, Self-Observation, and sorta #8 and Dunning-Kruger. 

There's plenty of other readings on the subject.  I've got more, if anyone's interested. For openers, the NPR series of a few years ago, the NY Times series of a few years ago,  and the book Mistakes Were Made (but not by me).

I write all this introduction defensively, because the upshot is that Haidt is saying very nicely, with a positive spin, that which I think is darker: you hold your opinions for bad reasons. You aligned yourself years ago with some tribe you either come from or wanted to become part of, for largely selfish reasons, and have been selectively editing subsequent information according to confirmation bias ever since. It is very unlikely that you have examined your motives for this in anything more than a cursory way.  Well, that's cheery, eh?

Hahahaha.  It gets worse.

Let me assure you that this doesn't get any better as an election comes around. You are thus on the verge of making your most biased, least rational decision of the year, with your full focus on how it's those other guys who are being dangerously evil.  There may be good, rational, reasons for voting for Candidate A or against Candidate B, but those aren't your reasons, Charlotte.  Those are later rationalisations you tacked on.

And worse still (Jeezum crow, doesn't this guy ever let up?) It's really hard to fix. However, for the intellectually curious, I do have something fun coming up.

Here is a place where I am repeatedly puzzled.  I reflexively wonder about my motivations for what I do all the time, have done it for years. I can't imagine anything differtent. All those spots in CS Lewis (Screwtape, The Great Divorce,  A Grief Observed, Till We Have Faces, God In The Dock...) where this self-examination shows up were not anything new to me, but clarifications and explanations of what I already knew.  I continually default to the idea that others must do this too - not so much as I, perhaps, but a lot. I think of it as the natural mode of thought - to ask, as an actor does "What's my motivation here?" Or What am I getting back from this?  Am I just virtue signaling? Is this an automatic response borrowed from my main peer group?  Is this just a 20th-21st C idea that we've swallowed whole for no reason?  Could the opposite be true? What would Frodo advise? What would Ransom say?  What Would Jesus Do?

Yeah, you're right, not many people do that.  It sounds exhausting. Most moral obligations are.

So, your vote doesn't count, it's mostly irrational, and you really should fix that. The last bad part is that you can't make a dent in that this election season. There are just too many button-pushers around.  The moment you think that staying home or leaving a slot blank is the only way to sanity, some joker will cross your path to tell you that you just don't hate Trump/Hillary enough, so let me tell you one more bad exaggerated thing about him/her, and you are off to the races again. Hell, even without them, you will push the buttons all by yourself at this point.  You will get yourself stirred up.  Every four years I watch a new version of Eugene Ionesco's "Rhinoceros"  play out again.

Get a grip.  Let me tell you about elections in Romania sometime. Or better still, here is the exercise that will bring calm.  Consider past elections.  Now that you know what came after, and how your hero or enemy exceeded or fell below expectations, don't things look different?.  It's kinda fun, actually.  It's not just "In retrospect, would you vote for Bill Clinton in 1996, Bush 41 in 1988, John Anderson in 1980..." but looking at yourself, voting, in that slot. Did you predict wrongly what he would be like?  Did the SOB change? Did you think the world worked in a certain way then, but you think now that it works somewhat differently?  Were you just posing for the camera to the people you worked with, or a girl you were trying to impress?  Were you, in fact, a complete dink who should not have been allowed to vote? Whether you have Strange New Respect for the villain of 1984 or greater irritation for your hero of 2004 is not the point.  The point is you.  Elections are report cards about your personal growth.

You can't answer that sort of question about yourself while you are in the heat of an election.  Even obsessives like me have a hard time with it. But you will find it not only possible, but wryly entertaining when you cast eye backward. It's not really painful at all after the first few times, and it is very instructive and amusing.  Go backward, skipping 2012, which is still too close.  How do 2008 and 2004 look now?  What about Ross Perot and what you said about him then? What do you think Jimmy Carter or Richard Nixon actually did right, did wrong, compared to what you asserted so confidently then? Take a drive or a long walk.

For pity's sake, don't write any of your bad motives and jerk ideas down, where others can possibly discover them and hold them against you.  If you can't remember details, write them in some shorthand or code. And criminy, don't tell your wife or husband or anything. Do the exercise back to your childhood, but don't tell anyone for a few years.  Let's not get crazy here.  This is not an area where those closest to you are the safest.

If you don't learn something, then really, don't bother to try and think hard again. You might hurt yourself.  The second benefit is that after you've finished you will be less insufferable in 2020, and the country will be less divided.

This is the secular version.  I have additional comments for Christians in an upcoming post, which don't apply to the rest of you so I will leave out.  If someone wants to warm up for those, I have a few short things to get you started. Virtue Signalling. 
Preparing for Elections

Monday, October 10, 2016

Wait But Why - Second Presidential Debate

Hysterical. Language


My admiration for Jonathan Haidt is high, and he will figure prominently in an upcoming post. However I have always objected to his contention that liberals stress only two of the moral foundations, while conservatives stress all six more equally.  I find that liberals stress disgust/purity a great deal, and the remaining three foundations more than he credits. I think his original research focused on things that were more likely to elicit a purity/disgust response from conservatives, and had he asked about other items we would see a greater consonance.  Food or environmental concerns, for example, are often framed in terms of disgust. Some things disgust most human beings, others are more variable.

The current election is bearing me out.  Disgust is absolutely a moral foundation in play in liberals’ – and not them exclusively – rejection of Donald Trump.  That was even more strongly in play this past weekend, when a recording of him talking about groping women, with more graphic and vulgar terms than has been usual even for him, surfaced.  After what we saw this weekend, don’t tell me liberals aren’t motivated by disgust.  Which is fine, BTW.  I agree with them on this disgust.  The only way it could have lessened was with a really good apology geared to quieting disgust, and Trump didn’t come close to achieving that.

His defenders moved to highlight equivalences with a previous vice-president and more especially, a recent president, both Democrats, who had not been treated with the same rejection by Democrats that Trump is receiving.*  But in making that comparison they moved off the Disgust foundation to the Fairness foundation. Different rules apply there. Ironically, Fairness is the least fair of the foundations, as events are easy to rationalize in any direction, to make them look more similar or less similar. Disgust is more automatic, harder to get around.

Yes, it is objectively far worse that Bill Clinton raped women, and that Hillary was party to the silencing and discrediting of them.  If you could get those matters before Martian judges evaluating fairness, you would win hands down.  That this does not happen is infuriating to all those who believe that it would, except for media bias.  Perhaps so, but only in part. People will minimize the sins of their tribesmen and maximize the guilt of their opponents quite well even without help from media sources. 
Either way, Bill Clinton’s raping of women is not much imagined by his supporters, and the few surviving quotes and descriptions that might elicit disgust may not even be known to them.  “You better put some ice on that” seems to show up mostly in the conservative press.  Hillary’s creating of the “War Room” is even less in their minds, eventhough the story has credible backersIt is a convenience that virtually all groups and individuals use.  If someone doesn’t admit guilt, then you can keep up the charade that they didn’t “really” do it.  Even a conviction in a court of law is not a guarantee that they will abandon you.  And absent a formal conviction or a confession, no amount of evidence will convince some people.   That’s not just liberals, that’s human nature.

Thus, disgust is taken out of the picture, and the argument to hypocrisy moves to the more malleable Fairness foundation.  Apples and oranges.

I wonder how it all fits with the concept of embarrassment as a moral disqualifier.  It shouldn't be that deeply related, but the complaints about Trump's vulgarity come as a package with shudders about his hair, and his facial expressions.  Well, small sample size on that:  on my FB feed and where I work there are plenty of mini-rants about how infuriating it is to listen to him and look at him - grown women talking like sophomore girls. Worse, that is what attracts all their energy, though they are educated enough to develop a coherent argument based on policy and principles.  Lord knows Trump supplies enough material to not have to be distracted into discussing how he is just such an impossible man.   I don't get it.

*One more example of people rewriting their own histories to suit their needs.  Every woman I read this year who addressed the issue of Bill Clinton 1996-1998 claimed that she had greatly disapproved of his actions then. Yet they recalled only Monica Lewisnky and minimized the events as mere cheating on his wife.  No settlement with Paula Jones, no Linda Tripp, no Vernon Jordan, no perjury was remembered.  Also, his popularity among women rose starting in 1996, peaked in 1998 and did not drop until the middle of 1999, when it dropped among everyone.  One wonders what form their disapproval took, then.