Archive for December 14th, 2010
Once again, American is dropping loads of cash on trinkets and gadgets, supposedly to celebrate the birth of Jesus. That contorted thought process is a separate topic from what I really want to discuss here. In this post I’d like to recommend that you give your friends or family members an incredibly valuable gift of knowledge in lieu of trinkets and gadgets. Because your loved ones don’t need any more knickknacks, so them to college instead.
I am 1/4 through a college course that I am “taking” in my own home at night (while I ride an exercise cycle–it was 5 degrees yesterday in St. Louis). I’m taking “Biology and Human Behavior: The Neurological Origins of Individuality, 2nd Edition.” This course is taught by Robert Sapolsky of Stanford, and I must say that he is one incredibly capable teacher. The course cost me only $70 while on a special sale two weeks ago, and it included four video DVD’s. For an extra $25 I was sent a detailed course outline and a written transcript of the entire 24-lecture course. Sapolsky, who is both brilliant and entertaining, has made it possible for me to push to a new, much more rigorous and memorable, level of understanding of neuroscience. Nothing like multi-modal learning, rather than sticking solely to books. I’d highly recommend Sapolsky’s course, which I recently purchased from The Great Courses Company.
Here’s the pitch (I’m not being paid for this): Buy a gift certificate from The Great Courses Company (AKA “The Teaching Company”) to send your loved ones to college this Christmas. They can choose from among hundreds of courses taught by highly decorated college professors. Courses seem to range from $35 to $200 (don’t be frightened away by the ridiculous “list prices.” Just click the course and see the real price, and keep in mind that various courses are featured at much lower prices periodically). The gift-recipient can choose from courses in many fields, including science, art, history and literature. Then after they finish taking their studies, of course, ask if you can borrow it.
I’ve often expressed the view that if Jesus came to modern day American, his message would be so incredibly inconvenient that the conservative right would promptly call for his death. This video (which I first caught at Daily Dish) develops that same idea. The video takes the form of a political attack ad on Jesus:
Jonathan Haidt is convinced he understands the thing that spurs on Tea Partiers: karma. He argued his position in an October 16, 2010 article appearing in the Wall Street Journal. Haidt based his conclusion on various surveys designed to tease out the differences and similarities among different types of voters.
Those surveys show that American voters across the board love “liberty.” This is a problem for progressives because it doesn’t distinguish them from Tea Partiers. We struggle to distinguish Tea Partiers in other ways, then, claiming that they are more racist, greedier or more gullible. Jonathan Haidt is not convinced.
[Karma is] the Sanskrit word for deed or action, and the law of karma says that for every action, there is an equal and morally commensurate reaction. Kindness, honesty and hard work will (eventually) bring good fortune; cruelty, deceit and laziness will (eventually) bring suffering. No divine intervention is required; it’s just a law of the universe, like gravity.
The idea of karma comports with a common human desire that moral bank accounts should be balanced. In the eyes of Tea Partiers, this desire to see a balancing of moral bank accounts is sharply frustrated by government policies that allow bad deeds (e.g., the failure to work hard) to go unpunished. The main problem is that social safety nets get in the way of karma. In the language of evolutionary psychology, Tea Partiers have highly sensitive cheater detectors. They believe that most welfare programs reduce incentives for working getting married, especially among the poor. Another example raised by Haidt is that birth control and abortion separate “irresponsible” sex from its natural consequences (babies). Another example concerns liberal approaches to criminal justice, which allow too many criminals to get away with crime. [caption id="attachment_15561" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Image by edayi at dreamstime.com (with permission)"][/caption]
Tea Partiers “want to live in a country in which hard work and personal responsibility payoff and laziness, cheating and irresponsibility bring people to ruin.” Haidt contrasts Tea Partiers to liberals, who don’t like the idea of karma, because it allows “differences in talent and effort to result in unequal outcomes.”
Haidt also points out a fault line that underlies conservative politics. Tea Partiers starkly part ways with libertarian and pro-business conservatives, such as those run by Dick Armey, who support bailouts of big banks.
“Now jump ahead to today’s ongoing financial and economic crisis. Those guilty of corruption and irresponsibility have escaped the consequences of their wrongdoing, rescued first by President Bush and then by President. Obama. Bailouts and bonuses sent unimaginable sums of the taxpayers money to the very people who brought calamity upon the rest of us where is punishment for the wicked?”
Further complicating things, Libertarians and pro-business types are more similar to liberals than to Tea Partiers on the three “binding foundations” (of Haidt’s five foundations of morality): group loyalty, respect for authority and spiritual sanctity. And see here for more on Haidt’s five moral foundations.
Haidt did not discuss social Darwinism in his article, but it seems to be the elephant in the room. It’s one thing to say in the abstract (as Tea Partiers say) that we need to let the chips fall where they might, but what do you do about the tragedies? Nothing? Tea Partiers tend to be evasive about what they should do about homeless people and sick people who don’t have insurance. Tea Party rhetoric suggests (wrong-headedly in my opinion) that everything always comes out for the best in the end, without intervention of government. Everything will be as it should thanks to free market fundamentalism. That is what we are hearing from a mostly older bunch of folks who are happily benefitting from social security and Medicare while ranting about government programs.
I think that Jonathan Haidt has made a good point regarding Tea Party pursuit of karma, but I think that the full picture also requires the recognition of Tea Party hard-heartedness and hypocrisy.