RSSCategory: Ingroup/Outgroup

Racist Reflex or ?

April 14, 2011 | By | 3 Replies More
Racist Reflex or ?

A 21 year-old man was released without charges after being arrested near the Delmar Loop MetroLink in St. Louis on Saturday. The police officer who arrested the 21-year-old experienced a minor head injury. The St. Louis Dispatch and KMOV report that the officer was breaking up a fight that allegedly drew a crowd of between 50 and 100 people, including many teenagers.

In response to the “incident” and complaints that teens who are “not from University City,” are “wandering,” “roaming” and “brushing up against customers,” along the Delmar Loop, a Tuesday meeting was called between Delmar Loop business owners, representatives from Mayor Slay’s office, University City officials and representatives of Washington University. (Washington University’s Office of General Counsel denied any involvement in this meeting).

Several proposals emerged from the meeting. These include “lowering the city’s curfew to 6 p.m.,” rounding up teenagers to “let them sit in a paddy wagon for three hours,” adding a police substation to process them and “closing the Loop’s MetroLink station early on Fridays and Saturdays.” To curb the influx of “unruly” young adults, the University City manager promised “active enforcement of all ordinances.”

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Affirmative action for conservatives?

February 20, 2011 | By | 13 Replies More
Affirmative action for conservatives?

I have written several posts holding that we are all blinded by our sacred cows. Not simply those of us who are religions. This blindness occurs to almost of us, at least some of the time. Two of my more recent posts making this argument are titled “Mending Fences” and “Religion: It’s almost like falling in love.” In arriving at these conclusions, I’ve relied heavily upon the writings of other thinkers, including the writings of moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt. Several years ago, Haidt posited four principals summing up the state-of-the-art in moral psychology:

1. Intuitive primacy (but not dictatorship)
2. Moral thinking is for social doing.
3. Morality is about more than harm and fairness.
4. Morality binds and blinds.

In a recent article at Edge.org, Haidt argued that this fourth principle has proven to be particularly helpful, and it can “reveal a rut we’ve gotten ourselves into and it will show us a way out.” You can read Haidt’s talk at the annual convention for the Society of Personality and Social Psychology, or listen to his reconstruction of that talk (including slides) here. This talk has been making waves lately, exemplified by John Tierney’s New York Times article.

Haidt begins his talk by recognizing that human animals are not simply social, but ultrasocial. How social are we? Imagine if someone offered you a brand-new laptop computer with the fastest commercially available processor, but assume that this computer was broken in such a way that it could never be connected to the Internet. In this day and age of connectivity, that computer will get very little use, if any. According to Haidt, human ultrasociality means that we “live together in very large

[caption id="attachment_16630" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Image by Jeremy Richards at Dreamstime.com (with permission)"][/caption]

groups of hundreds or thousands, with a massive division of labor and a willingness to sacrifice for the group.” Very few species are ultrasocial, and most of them do it through a breeding trick by which all members of the group are first-degree relatives and they all concentrate their efforts at breeding with regard to a common queen. Humans beings are the only animals that doesn’t use this breeding trick to maintain their ultrasociality.

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The Hellhound and HeLa: Recent American Historical Writing At Its Best

February 1, 2011 | By | Reply More
The Hellhound and HeLa: Recent American Historical Writing At Its Best

The last really good history I read was “Hellhound On His Trail, ” which follows James Earl Ray’s path from his childhood in Alton, Illinois through a violent intersection with the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and continues to follow Ray’s trajectory with his quizzical recantations of his “life’s purpose.” With the same cool hand, Sides sketches the strengths and inadequacies of Dr. King’s inner circle and paints larger atmospheric strokes with newspaper headlines on the increasing violence in response to desegregation and the influence of war in Vietnam on national sentiment about federal involvement in heretofore state affairs.

By themselves, vignettes about Ray’s lackluster career as a petty criminal, his stunted attempts at artistic grandeur and addiction to prostitutes would simply depress the reader. Here, the intentional failures and manipulations of Hoover’s FBI and first-hand accounts of Ray’s behavior appear like birds descending on a tragic town, flickering across the broader canvas creating momentum and dread. Awful as the true subject of this thriller may be, I found myself disappointed to reach the end.

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Bullying

November 22, 2010 | By | 7 Replies More
Bullying

I’ve been hesitant to write about this, because the tendency to indulge self pity creeps in around the edges. I’m hesitant because for me this is personal. But in the past year we’ve seen a rise in attention being paid to a great human tradition—bullying.

A gay youth outed by his peers committed suicide. Other gays under a microscope all over the country have found themselves driven to the edge. National “movements” to deal with this problem have sprung up like mushrooms after a spring rain. The last time we witnessed this level of discussion about bullying was after a couple of disaffected youths murdered several of their peers at their high school and then took their own lives, leaving behind ample testaments that what had driven them to do this had been years of bullying.

A recent episode of Glee dealt with the subject, the lone out gay boy in the school having come under the daily assault by an oversized pituitary case who, for no apparent reason, had decided to make life hell for the outsider.

I suppose it was this episode that prompted me to write about this. Because it indulged some pop psychology, which I stress is not baseless, to explain the bully’s behavior—he, too, was a closeted gay who hated himself for it. The idea being that we hate that which we are which we cannot accept in ourselves.

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Expelled founder Paul Kurtz explains his departure from the Center for Inquiry

October 2, 2010 | By | 14 Replies More
Expelled founder Paul Kurtz explains his departure from the Center for Inquiry

On May 18, 2010 the Center for Inquiry, the Council for Secular Humanism and the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry jointly announced that they had accepted the resignation of Paul Kurtz from each of these boards. Kurtz, who had founded each of these three organizations, had been serving on each of the boards, and as well as serving as Chair Emeritus of CSH and as Editor in Chief of CSH’s flagship publication, Free Inquiry. In the joint announcement, the boards recognized Dr. Kurtz for his “decades of service to the Council for Secular Humanism, the Center for Inquiry (CFI), and its other affiliates.” This same announcement also contained the following statement:

At Paul Kurtz’s behest, CFI and its affiliates began years ago to organize a leadership transition. Moreover, in recent years the board had concerns about Dr. Kurtz’s day-to-day management of the organization.

As a long-time subscriber to Free Inquiry and Skeptical Inquirer, I was familiar with many of the writings of Paul Kurtz, but I had never before spoken with him or corresponded with him. As a result of reading his articles at Free Inquiry, I was also aware that there was internal tension at those organizations (e.g., see here , here, and here).

After reading about his resignation, I emailed a short note to Mr. Kurtz to wish him well in light of the announcement of his resignation. I also asked him whether he would allow me to interview him with regard to the announcement. He agreed:

[Note: CFI’s CEO Ron Lindsay responded to the following interview of Paul Kurtz here.]

EV: To what extent was your resignation from the Center for Inquiry voluntary?

PK: It was done voluntarily, but under great duress.

[caption id="attachment_14572" align="alignright" width="150" caption="Paul Kurtz (Permission by Wikimedia Commons)"][/caption]


EV: What were your titles and job duties prior to your resignation.

PK: I founded the modern skeptics movement and sustained it for over three and a half decades. I had been the Chairman of the Center for Inquiry, the Council for Secular Humanism and the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. In June, 2008, I was made “Emeritus” and stripped of any authority. Since 1980, I was Editor-in-Chief for Free Inquiry, but starting in June 2008, I no longer had any authority. I never received any compensation working for these organizations. I worked as a volunteer, living off savings I accrued while working as a philosophy professor. In fact, my wife and I donated more than $2 million dollars over the years to CFI, CSH and CSI. We were the second largest donors to these organizations. Over the years, I helped to raise over $40 million for the Center for Inquiry.

EV: I saw the announcement of your resignation in the August/September, 2010 issue of Free Inquiry. Why didn’t you publish any explanation regarding your resignation in Free Inquiry?

PK: Tom Flynn and the CFI Board refused to run my letter of resignation in Free Inquiry or any of the Websites of CFI. It was censorship, clear and simple. I was censored four times, beginning in June 2008.

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Alleged problems with small attorneys riding big elephants

October 1, 2010 | By | Reply More
Alleged problems with small attorneys riding big elephants

I’ve previously written about Jonathan Haidt’s approach to human moral psychology. His approach is termed the “Social Intuitionist Model” of moral motivation and it suggests that

moral behaviors are typically the product of multiple levels of moral functioning, and are usually energized by the “hotter” levels of intuition, emotion, and behavioral virtue/vice. The “cooler” levels of values, reasoning, and willpower, while still important, are proposed to be secondary to the more affect-intensive processes.

Haidt has used the metaphor of an intellectually-nimble lawyer riding on top of a huge emotion-permeated elephant to illustrate his counter-intuitive approach, suggesting that the small articulate lawyer on top often lacks meaningful control over the elephant. Moral judgments are usually dominated by emotions such as empathy and disgust (the strength of these is represented by the big-ness of the elephant). In short, Haidt is quite sympathetic to David Hume’s suggestion that moral reasoning is essentially “the slave of the passions.”

In the March 25, 2010 edition of Nature (available here), Paul Bloom expressed concern that something important has been left out of Haidt’s model. In reaction, Haidt defended himself against Bloom’s attack (see below), indicating that Bloom (whose work Haidt admires, for the most part) has misconstrued Haidt’s Social Intuitionist Model. I believe that summarizing this exchange between Haidt and Bloom sharpens the focus on the meaning of Haidt’s Social Intuitionist Model.

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Moral conduct in the absence of commandments.

August 29, 2010 | By | 12 Replies More
Moral conduct in the absence of commandments.

“Thou shalt love puppies.”

Does the above Commandment explain why people dutifully gravitate to homeless puppies, adopt them, feed them and love them? Of course not, because there is no such commandment.

Nor are there any other abstract moral principles requiring us to love puppies. We love puppies because the urge to love small tame animals is deep in our bones. We love puppies because we are built to love (contrary to those who claim that life is fundamentally dog-eat-dog — Consider also, that the “struggle for existence” is only a conceptual metaphor with limited application). Our human bodies are pre-rigged to take care of cute little mammals, especially when they appear to love us back. We would love puppies even if there were a commandment telling us to NOT love puppies.

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American interest in soccer

July 10, 2010 | By | Reply More
American interest in soccer

Remember how interested so many people from the United States were in soccer a few weeks ago? “Soccer” was prominent on many American mainstream news sites. Remember how almost everyone was talking about that upcoming game against Ghana, a game that was to be played on June 26? But then Ghana beat the U.S. That loss now allows us to run a little experiment. How many of those American “soccer” fans were in a “soccer” frenzy merely because the United States had a chance to win? How many of these American “soccer” fans were jingoists rather than true soccer fans?

soccer-trends

Using Google Trends, you can see how the United States audience falls flat after the United States was knocked out of the tournament. It turns out that a huge number of American “soccer” fans only cared about soccer when patriotism fanned the flames of their “soccer” interest.

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