Recent Articles

America Retreats to Tribalism

At New York Times, Timothy Egan notes that Americans are retreating to tribalism, and this is not a good thing. Here is an excerpt from Egan’s article, “The National Crackup.”

The American experiment [is the] the audacious idea that people from all races, ideologies and religious sects would check their hatreds at the door after becoming citizens is our sustaining narrative.

Within our borders, Protestants don’t fight Catholics, Sunnis don’t go after Shiites, Armenians share neighborhoods with Turks, and a family that can trace much of its ancestry to slavery occupied a White House built in part by slaves.

But that tenuous construct is breaking apart. We are retreating to our tribal, ethnic and primitively prejudicial quarters. Everything is about race and identity. We come from privilege, or oppression. We choose politicians based on whether they help our tribe or hurt People Like Us.

Stupidly, the left is playing its part in this crackup, perhaps ensuring that Trump will stay in office. When people shout, “Check your privilege” at a speaker at a public event, what they’re saying is, “Shut up, your opinion doesn’t matter because of the color of your skin.”

October 30, 2017 | By | Reply More

What Happened at Yale regarding the Halloween Costume Email?

An explosion of victimhood/censorship at Yale regarding a Halloween Costume email is often referenced. This article in Atlantic spells out many of the details.

October 28, 2017 | By | 1 Reply More

On Raising Fragile Children

Lenore Skenazy (an early critic of helicopter parenting) and Jonathan Haidt have written a detailed article describing the problem that modern paranoid parenting is producing fragile children. “The Fragile Generation” published by Reason.com, is an excellent read. Because I grew up in the 60’s where free play was ubiquitous, this passage on free play especially resonated with me . . .

October 27, 2017 | By | 1 Reply More

The Effect of Concepts Creeping to the Left

In this paper titled, “Why Concepts Creep to the Left,” Jonathan Haidt supplements Nick Haslam’s paper titled “Concept Creep,” in which concepts such as bullying, trauma and addiction morph over time. And there are newish terms that have become prominent and expansive in recent years, “trigger warnings” and “microaggressions.” But these concepts don’t merely change. They change to the whims of the political left. And they especially change for current students and young adults rather than those over 40. In his article, Haidt asks why there is a direction to that change. Haidt writes:

These terms are part of a new conceptual package that includes all of the older concepts long referred to as “political correctness” but with greatly expanded notions of harm, trauma, mental illness, vulnerability, and harassment. These concepts seem to have expanded in just the way that Haslam (2016) describes — horizontally, to take in new kinds of cases (such as adding the reading of novels to the list of traumatizing activities) and vertically, to take in ever less extreme versions of older cases (as is made explicit by the prefix “micro” in the word “microaggression”). In this conceptually augmented political correctness, the central idea seems to be that many college students are so fragile that institutions and right-thinking people must all work together to protect vulnerable individuals from exposure to words and ideas that could damage them in a lasting way. If this protection requires banning certain speakers from campus, or punishing student newspapers that publish opinions that upset the dominant campus sensibility, then so be it.

What are the reasons for this expansion of these concepts to the left. Haidt explores several possibilities . ..

October 24, 2017 | By | 3 Replies More

Mob behavior and threats to free speech described and discussed by Nicholas Christakis

I recommend this excellent discussion by Nicholas Christakis on the topics of mob behavior, moral panics, and current threats to free speech. Illiberal behavior is destroying our ability to talk with each other, notably on the places where we would most expect vigorous exchanges of ideas: college campuses. Christakis is a sociologist and physician who conducts research in the area of biosocial science, investigating the biological predicates and consequences of social phenomena. He directs the Human Nature Lab at Yale University. Sam Harris presents this discussion on his Waking Up podcast.

At the tail end of the podcast, Christakis and Harris mention the work of Greg Lukianoff, President of FIRE, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

The mission of FIRE is to defend and sustain individual rights at America’s colleges and universities. These rights include freedom of speech, legal equality, due process, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience—the essential qualities of individual liberty and dignity. FIRE’s core mission is to protect the unprotected and to educate the public and communities of concerned Americans about the threats to these rights on our campuses and about the means to preserve them.

FIRE has achieved long successful string of legal victories through its Speech Litigation Project. 

October 11, 2017 | By | Reply More

What have American soldiers been dying for in the Middle East?

At The Nation, Danny Sjursen, examining the track record for U.S. military intervention in the Middle East for the past couple of decades, asks whether the U.S. is a force for good, as U.S. politicians commonly assert.  There is no happy answer forthcoming:

If ever you have the urge to do just that, ask yourself the following question: Would I be able to confidently explain to someone’s mother what (besides his mates) her child actually died for?

What would you tell her? That he (or she) died to ensure Saudi hegemony in the Persian Gulf, or to facilitate the rise of ISIS, or an eternal Guantanamo, or the spread of terror groups, or the creation of yet more refugees for us to fear, or the further bombing of Yemen to ensure a famine of epic proportions?

Maybe you could do that, but I couldn’t and can’t. Not anymore, anyway. There have already been too many mothers, too many widows, for whom those explanations couldn’t be lamer. And so many dead—American, Afghan, Iraqi, and all the rest—that eventually I find myself sitting on a bar stool staring at the six names on those bracelets of mine, the wreckage of two wars reflecting back at me, knowing I’ll never be able to articulate a coherent explanation for their loved ones, should I ever have the courage to try.

September 26, 2017 | By | Reply More

This post is about you and the singular they.

“Bob is impressive because they is an excellent doctor.” If that ruffles your feathers, watch this brief presentation by John E. McIntyre.

And while you are at it, check out this fascinating Khan Academy video detailing the history of “you.”

September 26, 2017 | By | Reply More

Optimism: A secret weapon for You.

I am enjoying many of the blog posts of Mr. Money Mustache. Today I read his paean to optimism, titled: “The Practical Benefits of Outrageous Optimism.” He describes optimism as a “secret weapon” that you can and should employ every day. He is not channelling Pollyanna, but making his argument based on solid science.

But what good is fictional asset like an Optimism Gun when we’re trying to accomplish things here in the real world? The answer is a Hell of a lot of good, because in this world full of humans, almost all of our “reality” is created in our own heads . . . There are several psychological principles at work that make all this work on a practical level. What follows are excerpts of the reasons you need to be optimistic, but I would optimistically recommend that you would enjoy his entire post.

  • Humans are automatically drawn to Leaders: . . . If you dare to express optimism about anything, you’re stepping onto a little soapbox, and it gets attention.
    People want it to be true: If you’ve become a small-time leader and you deliver the Good Word, people will naturally want to keep listening, because you help them feel good about things too. 
  • Optimism tricks you into trying more things. . . .
  • You are forced not to focus on things you can’t control: One of the most useful lessons of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” is that you never worry about stuff you cannot control. You just work on the things you can. . . .
  • Acknowledge and Bow Down to the Placebo Effect: When it comes to health and well-being, the mind controls the body way more than rational people like to admit. . . .
  • I enjoy hacking this fact to control my own health. I have a permanent belief that I am unusually healthy, and that this condition will persist forever. [O]ptimism is limiting the release of the human stress hormone Cortisol, which tends to destroy health. The less you worry about health, the healthier you become.
  • Optimism is rare, and deadly when combined with competence: If you’re a smart guy or gal at your workplace, the other smart people are expecting you to be pessimistic, just like them. . . . You can slip in [optimistic] ideas . . .Your coworkers will be fooled into thinking that they really can do those things, which they wouldn’t have otherwise tried.
September 19, 2017 | By | Reply More

Sam Harris comments on Black Lives Matters

I’m am largely in agreement with Sam Harris on these issues.

There are more than a few bad cops out there, and lots of good cops. There are some totally innocent people who are being victimized by the bad cops.  There are also some people who are unwisely pushing back at cops on the street, in situations where emotions are peaking and there is a gun “on the table.”  And there are many people out there over-generalizing and sanitizing (one way or the other) an ever growing disparate collection of street encounters between cops and African-American, where the African Americans end up getting shot by cops.

September 16, 2017 | By | 2 Replies More