October 18, 2017ramble

I just listened to "The Righteous Mind" by Jonathan Haidt. (audiobook- I still so miss having time to sit and read.) His project is to try and help liberals and conservatives understand each other a bit better.

The author starts with the elephant/rider metaphor he presented in "The Happiness Hypothesis" - the elephant is our big emotional/intuitive self, the rider is our conscious, our narrator self that can kind of guide the elephant, a bit, but isn't providing the motive force and in fact is mostly just making up post facto rationalizations for decisions that the elephant has already made.

I mentioned this to my therapist who I saw for the first time in a while last night, and tried to make the elephant metaphor jive with my self-image of a guy who has an above-average seeking of objective truth, even at the cost of having to withhold value judgement - sometimes, even without being able to state a simple fact ("your keys are on the counter") without disclaimer framing ("I think your keys are on the counter").

At first I thought that meant my elephant was better cajoled by my rider, cowed into submission, but another way of thinking about it is that my elephant is driven by the need for being unfaultable and therefore righteous. Being that kind of correct is somehow one of the most critical things of my sense of self. (This need is what caused me to lose my religious faith - the preponderance of other religions being a sign that my faith system didn't have the quality of uniqueness that was necessary for being True, and that my being in the church I grew up in, while other people were in the religion they grew up in, was also "suspicious") My elephant - or I guess it's the rider talking -
doesn't quite get that other people's elephants don't feel the same, and how value judgement flow so freely all over the discursive landscape.

So, back to the book. The book lays out Moral Foundations Theory - first the 5 the author originally indentified (Care, Fairness, Loyalty, Authority, Sanctity) and then a 6th to explain Libertarianism, and how it is distinct both from Liberalism (as the term is used in US) and Conservatism. Haidt argues Liberals put most of the weight in Care and Fairness, while Conservatives have a more even spread over the 5. This gives conservatives politicians some advantages, as they have more "hooks" for their audience. I guess some of that rings true to me, as a guy who leans liberal - Authority and Sanctity for their own sake alone, elevated to a moral good, seems foreign to me. (Huh - though I guess I might have a big emphasis to "Loyalty", at least on the local level, since being reliable and dependable is critical to my self-image.)

The author used a lot of thought experiment questionnaires to get at what people's elephants were really thinking, and to artificially provoke people's riders to scramble to explain why the elephant finds something repulsive even when no one is coming to harm. One example was about sibling incest; it squicks most people and they will call it wrong, even if the story deals with all of the surface objections (the brother and sister described love each other, it will deepen their relationship, they keep it a secret, and they are perfectly careful with birth control.) But a series of this and similar taboo-probing questions made me realize how phoney and artificial the stories are. They presume an isolation that doesn't exist in the real world - the siblings in the story might be found out, and they will have to live in a world that judges them harshly, and so keep their feelings hidden forever - a psychological burden for anyone! So you can't even say there's no pragmatic harm that's done. Similarly, many psychology lab experiments along the lines of "do you want $20 now or $30 in a month" presume perfect trustworthiness and stability of the system the test itself is in, which is just nonsense. We have brains designed to deal with a messy uncertain world, and just because it's easier for the experiment to claim total reliability so the test can be run free of noise, that doesn't mean people are irrational when they don't fully believe the experimenter.

Also the book was needlessly harsh on meme theory. The author gets kind of loose with his arguments - he points to the (widely accepted) similarity between memes and viruses, but then states meme-proponents would say that viruses (including "mind viruses" like religion) should be flushed out and removed like any flu or cold virus. I think most sophisticated meme-proponents would say, look, we're walking biospheres with countless "other" critters making the flora of our gut and elsewhere - religion might (or might not) be one of those helpful ones, and the presumption that all memes are bad for us is preposterous, whether or not you think it's useful to see memes as pursuing their own reproductive agenda.

In the end I appreciate Haidt's attempt to reconcile and appreciate what both Conservative and Liberals bring to the culture, but I think he's a little too kind to Conservatives. There are tough-to-reconcile contradictions with the Conservative "foundations" of sanctity and authority with diverse cultures (again the same contradiction that drove me from evangelical Christianity). I would say that he shows why Liberals need to wave the flag more and emphasize the E Pluribus Unum, and how being a real American is accepting the diversity. But all those diverse groups also need to signal their affection for that greater group project.

At the risk of digging myself into a bigger hole - there was a politician or public figure (wish I could remember who) who got ripped a while back for some naive statement saying (roughly) how all the different groups had different strengths, how like the Chinese or Japanese can put a television set in a watch, how the Puerto Ricans have strong family structure and can put a whole family in an apartment, etc - and I mostly understand why he was so ripped into, that those "strengths" aren't equally appreciated, in fact having to put a family in an apartment is not really good thing on different levels, and how its harshly and idiotically reductionist to put wide groups in stereotype boxes. I guess the thing is humans rate and judge everything. We seem to have a need not just that things be different, but rated as better or worse. (Smart people do this with smarts. It's all too easy to start to conflate smarts with human worth! While it's important to foster smarts in a community to make certain types of progress, that needs to be put in balance with many other concerns for the human project.) I think it's a reflexive defense against the implied "hierarchy of worthiness" that causes us liberals to rise so strongly against that kind of stereotypes, rather than the point that when you paint with a broad brush you're going to get many individuals labeled incorrectly (and also that many brushes are suspect because they DO come labeled with value judgements)
Another example of thought experiments I find false in the presumption of perfect, trustworthy knowledge: the trolley problem.
A trolley is hurtling down a track towards five people. You are on a bridge under which it will pass, and you can stop it by putting something very heavy in front of it. As it happens, there is a very fat man next to you – your only way to stop the trolley is to push him over the bridge and onto the track, killing him to save five. Should you proceed?
At its heart the question is meant to point out how passiveness is different than proactive responses, how somehow we feel more responsibility for deciding to "kill" one person than "letting" 5 people die, but - c'mon. That's not how trolleys work, even in thought experiments. You're probably a lot more assured that that fat man will die than the other 5 will be saved! Or if the problem is setup so you have to throw a switch on the tracks, 1 vs 5, what kind of melodrama cliffhanger crap is that? The dilemma would more be "do you set up a posse to hunt down the evil mastermind psychology researcher who contrived to make such a weird example real and do vigilante justice or just leave it to the relevant police authorities..."
This kind of thought experiment seems parallel to the tricks Casino's bank on - artificial environments where are instinctive understanding of things are shown to work only in relative and not absolute terms.
A post on recent findings in dyslexia got me thinking about my own typos, which I sometimes think of as "pseudo-dyslexia". I put this comment on this blog article, one of the highest ranked results for "phonetic typos"...
Sorry to be commenting on such an old post, but this article has high Google juice for "phonetic typos".

My main mix up has weird phonetic swaps between existing words – especially ones that start with "m" with "b", in particular "by" for "my" and "me" for "be" (it seems an oddly bidirectional switch, either) I heard somewhere that "m" and "b" has similar "mouth feel", so I probably have some neurons wired together from way back, along with evidence my typing systems piggybacks on my speaking system.

Other ones are "numbers and the sounds they have", so I read a poster for "5th Element" that said "IT MU5T BE FOUND" as "muft" – ignoring the visual pun for the acoustic part. And my first name is Kirk, and I have something I wrote as a toddler: KI4K"

So it's infrequent enough to be a mild annoyance, though I'm trying to figure out if it's getting worse with age.
These seem distinct to me from mere homophone swaps, their vs there vs they're and its vs it's...
"Friends say President Donald Trump has grown frustrated that his greatness is not widely understood"
--Josh Dawsey in Trump gives his own performance a Trump-sized endorsement
"[Trump] weaponized [the power of positive thinking]"
--Trump Biographer Gwenda Blair, via this article