Category: Ingroup/Outgroup

Why there are not any civilizations without temples – Video featuring Jonathan Haidt

| October 31, 2014 | 1 Reply

Jonathan Haidt explains why there are not any civilizations without temples, starting at minute 14 of this video. This is the 2013 Boyarsky Lecture at Duke University. About 10,000 years we went from an almost instantaneous transition from hunter-gathers to Babylon. A huge part of our evolutionary development is this newly learned ability of humans to circling around sacred objects (religious and political objects are two dominant examples) in order to form teams. As we circle around, we generate a social energy that knits the social fabric, but also encourages Manichean thinking–us versus them, blinding us to our own faults and faulty thinking. No shades of gray are allowed when we are intensely groupish. This kind of groupish thinking is radically incompatible with scientific thinking. Science is squeezed out, replaced by sacred objects, groupishness and authoritarian obeisance.

At min 24, Haidt gets to the crux of his talk. Those of us who focus on the “care” (empathy) foundation of morality, often circle about it bonding with others like us, rejecting and denigrating the impulses and ideas that tend to drive those who are politically conservative.

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Early Racism

| October 21, 2014 | Reply
Early Racism

They were marched into the classroom, single file, and lined up along the blackboard to face the roomful of white faces. It would be sheerest invention to say I remember everything about that day. The only things I recall had to do with questions about how my own situation was about to change.

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How social are humans? The danger of being out in the savannah.

| September 11, 2014 | 1 Reply

Excellent article by Judith Shulevitz at The New Republic The Lethality of Loneliness: We now know how it can ravage our body and brain.

She employs an origin story of the importance of being interconnected with a social group, and the panic and danger of being ejected from one’s tribe. In her version, she indicates that we relatively weak human set up watch systems to look for danger–I don’t know that this would be necessary.  We rapidly communicate danger when any one of us comes under attack–we scream and make other noises that alert our group, to the extent that we are part of a social group.   I think this description is of high relevance to the compulsion many people feel to be part of a religious group and also of the agony of being ostracized from one’s group, for instance by excommunication.  Here’s an excerpt:

[N]atural selection favored people who needed people. Humans are vastly more social than most other mammals, even most primates, and to develop what neuroscientists call our social brain, we had to be good at cooperating. To raise our children, with their slow-maturing cerebral cortexes, we needed help from the tribe. To stoke the fires that cooked the meat that gave us the protein that sustained our calorically greedy gray matter, we had to organize night watches. But compared with our predators, we were small and weak. They came after us with swift strides. We ran in a comparative waddle.

“The very fact that [loneliness] can affect the genes like that—it’s huge,” Suomi says. “It changes the way one thinks about development.”

So what would happen if one of us wandered off from her little band, or got kicked out of it because she’d slacked off or been caught stealing? She’d find herself alone on the savanna, a fine treat for a bunch of lions. She’d be exposed to attacks from marauders. If her nervous system went into overdrive at perceiving her isolation, well, that would have just sent her scurrying home. Cacioppo thinks we’re hardwired to find life unpleasant outside the safety of trusted friends and family, just as we’re pre-programmed to find certain foods disgusting. “Why do you think you are ten thousand times more sensitive to foods that are bitter than to foods that are sweet?” Cacioppo asked me. “Because bitter’s dangerous!”

One of those alone-on-the-savanna moments in our modern lives occurs when we go off to college, because we have to make a whole new set of friends. Back in the mid-’90s, when Cacioppo was at Ohio State University (he is now at the University of Chicago), he and his colleagues sorted undergraduates into three groups—the non-lonely, the sort-of-sometimes lonely, and the lonely. The researchers then strapped blood- pressure cuffs, biosensors, and beepers onto the students. Nine times a day for seven days, they were beeped and had to fill out questionnaires. Cacioppo also kept them overnight in the university hospital with “nightcaps” on their heads, monitoring the length and quality of their rest. He took saliva samples to measure levels of cortisol, a hormone produced under stress.

As expected, he found the students with bodily symptoms of distress (poor sleep, high cortisol) were not the ones with too few acquaintances, but the ones who were unhappy about not having made close friends. These students also had higher than normal vascular resistance, which is caused by the arteries narrowing as their tissue becomes inflamed. High vascular resistance contributes to high blood pressure; it makes the heart work harder to pump blood and wears out the blood vessels. If it goes on for a long time, it can morph into heart disease. While Cole discovered that loneliness could hasten death in sick people, Cacioppo showed that it could make well people sick—and through the same method: by putting the body in fight-or-flight mode.

A famous experiment helps explain why rejection makes us flinch. It was conducted more than a decade ago by Naomi Eisenberger, a social psychologist at UCLA, along with her colleagues. People were brought one-by-one into the lab to play a multiplayer online game called “Cyberball” that involved tossing a ball back and forth with two other “people,” who weren’t actually people at all, but a computer program. “They” played nicely with the real person for a while, then proceeded to ignore her, throwing the ball only to each other. Functional magnetic resonance imaging scans showed that the experience of being snubbed lit up a part of the subjects’ brains (the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex) that also lights up when the body feels physical pain.

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Myths of Authority in Practice

| August 22, 2014 | 2 Replies
Myths of Authority in Practice

I’ve been trying to come to terms with Ferguson since it began. The shooting of Michael Browne sparked a response that surprised many people and the counter responses have been equally surprising among certain people, not so much among certain others. Every time I start to write something I find what I intended to say had already been said better elsewhere. [More . . . ]

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Ken Ham’s Lack of Wonder

| February 7, 2014 | 1 Reply
Ken Ham’s Lack of Wonder

By now, I’m sure, many people know about the debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham.  Only 9% of respondents apparently saw Ham as the winner.  Of course that won’t be the end of it. 

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Tea Party Logic

| October 7, 2013 | 2 Replies
Tea Party Logic

I agree with this Salon article that it is counterproductive to write off the Tea Party as irrational. It is much more productive to work harder to understand the Tea Party’s thought process. Here’s an excerpt:

While each of the Newest Right’s proposals and policies might be defended by libertarians or conservatives on other grounds, the package as a whole—from privatizing Social Security and Medicare to disenfranchising likely Democratic voters to opposing voting rights and citizenship for illegal immigrants to chopping federal programs into 50 state programs that can be controlled by right-wing state legislatures—represents a coherent and rational strategy for maximizing the relative power of provincial white elites at a time when their numbers are in decline and history has turned against them. They are not ignoramuses, any more than Jacksonian, Confederate and Dixiecrat elites were idiots. They know what they want and they have a plan to get it—which may be more than can be said for their opponents.

In Jonathan Haidt’s most recent book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, he makes a compelling argument that all of our become blinded when we get caught upon in tribal politics. His suggestion is that we need to work hard to unplug from the moral matrix in order to better understand the “other.” It’s a tall order in these times of great hostility and crisis, but I believe that Haidt is correct, that it is the only way out of this mess.

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More about tribes

| March 25, 2013 | Reply

This, from Blue Street Journal:

Social Psychologist Geoffrey Cohen found that Democrats will typically support a policy proposal that severely restricts entitlements (something typically favored by Republicans) if they think it was proposed by members of their own party. Additionally, Republicans will typically support an extremely generous entitlement program if they think it was proposed by Republicans. In contrast, if a Democrat or Republican thinks that a policy was proposed by the opposing party, they will tend to reject it no matter what it says. This was tested in a lab study where participants were asked to read the policies for themselves. Democrats were led to believe that the policy they were reading was proposed by a Democrat, even though it was actually proposed by a Republican. Republicans were placed in the same scenario, but with a Democratic policy they believed was proposed by a Republican. In both situations, the participants tended to agree with the policy they believed was affiliated with their own party and rejected the policy they believed was affiliated with the opposing party. A second group of Democrats and Republicans rejected the very same ideas that the first groups accepted when they believed that they were proposed by members of the opposing party. This demonstrates that people tend to accept political ideas based on party affiliation rather than the actual content of the ideas.

 

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Considering Cults and the Need for Meaning

| February 27, 2013 | 10 Replies
Considering Cults and the Need for Meaning

Recently, I finished reading Lawrence Wright’s new book, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollwood, & the Prison of Belief, about Scientology. It’s a lucid history and examination of the movement. [More . . . ]

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The cognitive styles of conservatives and liberals

| February 13, 2013 | Reply

PLOS offers another bit of evidence that political preferences might have their genesis at low-level cognitive processes:

Liberals and conservatives engage different cognitive processes when they think about risk, and they support recent evidence that conservatives show greater sensitivity to threatening stimuli.

Here are more attempts to tie political persuasion to lower level phenomena.

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