RSSCategory: Culture

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

October 11, 2017 | By | Reply More

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. 

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Sam Harris comments on Black Lives Matters

September 16, 2017 | By | 2 Replies More

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.

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Mr. Money Mustache: Dirty is the New Clean

September 14, 2017 | By | Reply More

I’m intrigued by the writings of Mr. Money Mustache. There are a lot of benefits to buying only what you really need and reveling in so many things in life that are free or nearly so. In this post, he points out the price many people pay for obsessing about cleanliness:

Dirty is the New Clean – Thus we have our counter-cultural lesson for the day. Rather than seeking to avoid germs and maximize your cleanliness, it is much more profitable to seek out Training for your Immune System, and optimize your life so that things get cleaned the minimum amount that allows you to maintain a functional and prosperous household. The reward is thousands of dollars and countless hours saved, and if you’re lucky, dozens of illnesses prevented.

By all means, keep things happily minimalist, decluttered, and organized – a simplified physical environment is good for the mind. You can also wash your hands with normal soap after a big day out and cook your food properly. But in your own home where no babies are delivered and no surgeries performed, you can safely let yourself off the hook when it comes to wiping, sterilizing, washing, drying, and polishing.

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Getting upset about the right things.

September 2, 2017 | By | Reply More

Here’s a post by Darrell Lackey, a pastor challenging Christians to get save their energy and frustration for the right kinds of things. He begins the post with this statement that Tony Campolo has been known to use when addressing Christian audiences:

I have three things I’d like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a shit. What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact I just said “shit” than you are that 30,000 kids died last night.

There is some good food for thought for all of us in this post, whether or not we are religious (I am not).  For example, many of us often get much more upset about the minor irritations of our own local lives than the enormous suffering and stark injustices over the next hill or the next continent. For instance, our own country has been bombing many countries in the Middle East for many years.  We’ve been bombing Afghanistan since 2001, and according to reliable sources, we have been killing many innocent civilians in a “war” regarding which we are utterly unable to articulate any meaningful objective or metric of success. Therefore, that “war” goes on, largely unchallenged and unnoticed, our news media almost never mentioning that we are even at war.  Out of sight, out of mind for most of us.

If we want to be morally cohesive, we need to use unceasing effort to make certain we are focused on the things that matter.  That is often not easy to do.  Trying to stay focused on important things in a sustained way wears us down.  It’s not easy to be moral.  It’s much easier to complain about that the microwave burned the popcorn.

To live moral lives, we need to stay focused on important things, and focus is another word for attention, a psychological resource that humans have in short supply.  Attention is like a spotlight.  When we look at a thing, we often exclude attending to most other things.  that’s how we are wired; we are almost the opposite of omniscient, even though we want to believe that we are generally aware of most things that are important.

Because attention is so limited, our attentional decisions and habits (maybe we should call this our “attentional hygiene”) gives us great power to define our “world.”  Whether it’s conscious or unconscious, we are capable of manipulating what we pay attention to, and whatever we choose to ignore simply doesn’t exist for us; if we are not paying  attention to something, it holds no moral sway over us because our attentional choices turn it into nothing at all. Most of us aren’t at all bothered by world starvation most of the time because  we are not thinking about that horrific problem.  Further, human animals are capable of not paying attention to things that are right in front of us.  This is especially true when we are emotionally motivated to not see.   See no evil and hear no evil functionally means that there is no evil.

I have long been fascinated by this confluence of attention and morality and, in fact wrote a detailed paper on it, drawing from many domains of cognitive science:  Decision Making, the Failure of Principles, and the Seduction of Attention.”  Feel free to take a look, if you find this general topic compelling.

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Time to take down the Confederate Statues.

August 19, 2017 | By | Reply More
Time to take down the Confederate Statues.

At National Review, Arthur Herman gives his best reasons why the public Confederate statues should remain in publicly owned spaces.   I do believe that Herman put the best foot forward of the “Keep the Statues” crowd.

I disagree with him. These statues belong, if anywhere, in the Jim Crow wing of a history museum.  Herman received strong pushback in the comments to his article, many of these comments echoing my beliefs. Here are some samples of the comments critical of Herman’s defense of the statues:

“The timeless virtues of slavery. Symbols of Southern history of slavery.”
“Most of those statues were NOT erected in the days after the Civil War. Nor were they erected in the days since the 1970s, when Jim Crow was over.”

“They were put up as part of the wave of “Lost Cause” historical revisionism that swept the South in the first half of the 20th century. The purpose was to try to redeem *the cause for which the South had fought*.”

File-Lee_Park,_Charlottesville,_VA.jpg

“I don’t have a problem honoring the ordinary enlisted men–the privates and sergeants–who fought bravely on both sides of the Civil War. But the Confederate leadership–and this includes Lee–should not be honored because the cause they fought for was *to break up the United States*.” Most of those statues were NOT erected in the days after the Civil War. Nor were they erected in the days since the 1970s, when Jim Crow was over. They were put up as part of the wave of “Lost Cause” historical revisionism that swept the South in the first half of the 20th century. The purpose was to try to redeem *the cause for which the South had fought*.”

“Thomas Jefferson is NOT honored because he had slaves. He is honored because he wrote the Declaration of Independence, which asserted the equality of all humanity before God. Tear down his memorial and you would be tearing down the Declaration of Independence too.”

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Lee Camp: Take Down the Statues

August 19, 2017 | By | Reply More

Lee Camp is a comedian who, growing up on the south, had a front row seat to many things relevant to this week’s tragic events at the University of Virginia.

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What is a genius? Here is a short upbeat message coupled with beautiful animation

August 9, 2017 | By | Reply More
What is a genius?  Here is a short upbeat message coupled with beautiful animation

What is a genius? According to this short video, it is someone who is not afraid to pursue the ideas that most of us disregard out of fear of looking strange.

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Walking while texting bloopers video has a serious ending

July 17, 2017 | By | 2 Replies More

Blooper video turned PSA:

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Sam Harris on Identity Politics

July 9, 2017 | By | Reply More

Harris argues that Identity Politics has become a political religion. He distrusts identity politics of all kinds, and has argued that to the extent any person claims that their race is anything other than homo sapiens, this is a problem. In this short video, Harris is distressed that in modern day America, so many people attempt to inject their personal identity or their personal tribe into a conversation where only the facts are relevant.

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