Study shows how morals can be changed by others

Well, this certainly explains the typical Fox News viewer who only 15 years ago was perfectly rational and sane:

People can be tricked into reversing their opinions on moral issues, even to the point of constructing good arguments to support the opposite of their original positions, researchers report today in PLoS ONE.

The researchers, led by Lars Hall, a cognitive scientist at Lund University in Sweden, recruited 160 volunteers to fill out a 2-page survey on the extent to which they agreed with 12 statements — either about moral principles relating to society in general or about the morality of current issues in the news, from prostitution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.

But the surveys also contained a ‘magic trick’. Each contained two sets of statements, one lightly glued on top of the other. Each survey was given on a clipboard, on the back of which the researchers had added a patch of glue. When participants turned the first page over to complete the second, the top set of statements would stick to the glue, exposing the hidden set but leaving the responses unchanged

[...]

People were even willing to argue in favor of the reversed statements: A full 53% of participants argued unequivocally for the opposite of their original attitude in at least one of the manipulated statements, the authors write. Hall and his colleagues have previously reported this effect, called ‘choice blindness’, in other areas, including taste and smell and aesthetic choice.

[...]

The possibility of using the technique as a means of moral persuasion is “intriguing”, says Liane Young, a psychologist at Boston College in Massachusetts. “These findings suggest that if I’m fooled into thinking that I endorse a view, I’ll do the work myself to come up with my own reasons [for endorsing it],” she says.

These researchers took their good sweet time getting around to researching and publishing this stuff.  Where were they 4 years ago??  Of course, we can’t ignore the effect of peer pressure and the “pain of independence”.  Once you identify with a group, it’s hard to break away from it even it it’s going over a cliff morally, like the Democratic loyalists are doing currently.

Still, it makes sense.  Think about all the times Geroge W. Bush confused Osama bin Laden for Saddam Hussein when he was trying to gin up support for stupidly invading Iraq.  Or think about how many people were snookered into supporting the Patriot Act or the Department of Homeland Security or think that Occupy protestors are lice ridden sex addicts.  Or that Sandra Fluke is a slut.  Or that 47% of Americans don’t deserve the social security they paid into all of their adult working lives.  Or that it is OK to call your opponent’s supporters racists.

It’s easier than we think.

And for those Democrats out there who think that Romney has screwed up so badly that he’s bound to lose, be careful to not jump to conclusions.  This election is still a referendum on Obama who was no FDR during the worst recession since the Great Depression.  Negative feelings towards him are running pretty high right now.  If people want to get rid of him, they’ll find a reason.  It won’t be that hard.

Talk amongst yourselves

Bad Neoliberal Big Dawg! Bad! No biscuit for you!

I’m busy.

I haven’t been paying attention to politics for the past two days because, frankly, there’s nothing much I can do about the coming catastrophe no matter who is in office.

We’ve got to focus our attention on two years from now and this time, we need to get serious.

I’ve already floated a proposition on another blog where it was promptly shot down because people didn’t like the model on which it was based, even though that model was extremely successful.  There is such a thing as being too persnickety. If you’re going to argue about names and models right off the bat without even trying anything, then, you know, just give up and get used to generations of penury and debt to the wealthiest elite for as far as the eye can see.  I can’t take you seriously.

One thing I think we can all agree on is the 12 Word Platform that originated at Corrente.  Here it is:

1. Medicare for All

2. End the Wars

3. Tax the Rich

4. A Jobs Guarantee

I like medicare for all but for it to work, there have to be cost controls on providers and they’re not going to like it.  Gird your loins for all kinds of misinformation from Harry and Louise type ads.

End the wars, well that goes without saying.  It’s time to stop wasting money when it could be used here at home.

Tax the rich, absolutely necessary.  I love successful people but if they have more money than 120 people could spend in a lifetime, they need to be taxed.  Heavily.  The accumulation of wealth means they aren’t compensating their workers enough and that is a drag on the economy.

A jobs guarantee means that putting people back to work will take precedence over protecting the accumulated wealth of the privileged.  There are more of us and when many of us aren’t working, society in general becomes more unstable.  Is that what the rich want?  Kinda makes it hard to sell stuff if everyone is ripping everyone off and violence escalates.

This has got to be a moral movement.

Think about what kind of country you want to live in.  I envision a country where you can safely bike to work and where we all have the ability to live off the grid if we choose, where you get rewarded for the work you do and where everyone has a birthright to good schools, affordable healthcare, higher education, a justice system that treats everyone fairly regardless of wealth, an honest voting system and a comfortable retirement.

Your turn.  I’ve got stuff to do.

OccupyWallStreet: American Exodus

The Israelites were the original Occupiers

OccupyWallStreet is befuddling the “experts”.  It defies categorization.  Are they Democrats?  Radical Marxists?  A new generation of hippies?  Naive?  Or the true brilliant 11 dimensional chess players that Obama could only dream to be? What?  WHAT??

While the pollsters and pundits try to figure that out by using their standard questionnaires that neatly files the subject into bins that can be mined later, Mike Konzal at Rortybomb took a different approach and analyzed what the 99% had to say about themselves without the filter.  He wrote a script to parse the data from the “We Are the 99%” tumblr entries.  I think you can do this using python, regular expressions and the natural language tool kit (NLTK) if any enterprising Conflucians want to do it themselves (I might ask the kid to teach me).  Then he tallied up the most frequently appearing words, minus the promiscuous ones, and peered at the entrails.  What he found was a bit of a shock because we joke around about how the country has changed but when you see it in the data, it’s not so funny anymore.  Here are his initial findings:

So if the 99% Tumblr was a PAC, what would its demands look like, and what ideology would it presuppose?  Freddie DeBoer is discouraged after reading the 99% tumblr. He’s concerned it reflects a desire for restoration of the glory days of the 90s-00s, which concerns him because “this country cannot be fixed by wishing to go back to the economics of 2005.”  Concerned that the solidarity is one that, at most, is a I-got-mine-you-go-get-yours form of neoliberalism (as he imagines it, “I went to college and I don’t have the job and the car and the lifestyle I was promised”), DeBoer is worried that We Are the 99% isn’t “a rejection of our failing order. It is an embrace of it in the most cynical terms.”

With all due respect to DeBoer, the demands I found aren’t the ones of the go-go 90s-00s, but instead far more ancient cry, one of premodernity and antiquity.

Let’s bring up a favorite quote around here.  Anthropologist David Graeber cites historian Moses Finley, who identified “the perennial revolutionary programme of antiquity, cancel debts and redistribute the land, the slogan of a peasantry, not of a working class.”  And think through these cases.  The overwhelming majority of these statements are actionable demands in the form of (i) free us from the bondage of these debts and (ii) give us a bare minimum to survive on in order to lead decent lives (or, in pre-Industrial terms, give us some land).  In Finley’s terms, these are the demands of a peasantry, not a working class.

The actual ideology of modernity, broadly speaking, is absent.  There isn’t the affluenza of Freddie’s worries, no demands for cheap gas, cheaper credit, giant houses, bigger electronics all under the cynical ”Ownership Society” banner.  The demands are broadly health care, education and not to feel exploited at the high-level, and the desire to not live month-to-month on bills, food and rent and under less of the burden of debt at the practical level.

The people in the tumblr aren’t demanding to bring democracy into the workplace via large-scale unionization, much less shorter work days and more pay.  They aren’t talking the language of mid-twentieth century liberalism, where everyone puts on blindfolds and cuts slices of pie to share.  The 99% looks too beaten down to demand anything as grand as “fairness” in their distribution of the economy.  There’s no calls for some sort of post-industrial personal fulfillment in their labor – very few even invoke the idea that a job should “mean something.”  It’s straight out of antiquity – free us from the bondage of our debts and give us a basic ability to survive.

It’s awful that it has come to this, but it also is an opportunity.  As was discussed in the monetary debate from earlier, creditors aren’t bosses; their power is less coercive and much more obviously based on socially-constructed fictions, laws and ideas.  As Peter Frase pointed out:

Indeed, widespread and large debt loads are one of the most important ways in which my generation differs from those that immediately preceded it…This has direct implications for the left: more than once, older comrades have noted to me that it has become much more difficult to live in the kind of bohemian poverty that sustained an earlier generation of young radicals and activists…

And there may be some advantages to a politics centered around debt rather than wage labor. The problem confronting the wage laborer is that they are, in fact, dependent on the boss for their sustenance, unless they can solve the collective action problem of getting everyone together to expropriate the expropriators. Debt, on the other hand, is just an agreed-upon social fiction denoting an obligation for some act of consumption that has already occurred. The only way to make people respect debt is through some combination of brute force and ideological legitimacy–a legitimacy that we can only hope is starting to slip away.

Upon reflection, it is very obvious where the problems are.  There’s no universal health care to handle the randomness of poor health.  There’s no free higher education to allow people to develop their skills outside the logic and relations of indentured servitude. Our bankruptcy code has been rewritten by the top 1% when instead, it needs to be a defense against their need to shove inequality-driven debt at populations. And finally, there’s no basic income guaranteed to each citizen to keep poverty and poor circumstances at bay.

We have piecemeal, leaky versions of each of these in our current liberal social safety net.  Having collated all these responses, I think completing these projects should be the ultimate goal of the 99%.

So, how will OccupyWallStreet and the 99% turn these problems into policies that will address the reality of day to day life for the average American serf beaten down by debt?  This is a good question and, in part, also relates to the insistent demands from the naysayers and right wing noise machine that OccupyWallStreet define itself, right this very minute!  And put together a list of demands that you want fulfilled so we can tell you how unrealistic they are and make you go back to your sorry little lives, you losers.  Isn’t that right, you Tea Party lurkers and Glenn Beck fans?  You want instant answers so you can shoot them down.

Which brings me to George Lakoff.  Lakoff has also been studying the movement’s language and asking himself why it resonates so well with the American public.  What he sees is a conflict between two moralities:

Conservatives have figured out their moral basis and you see it on Wall Street: It includes: The primacy of self-interest. Individual responsibility, but not social responsibility. Hierarchical authority based on wealth or other forms of power. A moral hierarchy of who is “deserving,” defined by success. And the highest principle is the primacy of this moral system itself, which goes beyond Wall Street and the economy to other arenas: family life, social life, religion, foreign policy, and especially government. Conservative “democracy” is seen as a system of governance and elections that fits this model.

Though OWS concerns go well beyond financial issues, your target is right: the application of these principles in Wall Street is central, since that is where the money comes from for elections, for media, and for right-wing policy-making institutions of all sorts on all issues.

I think it is a good thing that the occupation movement is not making specific policy demands. If it did, the movement would become about those demands. If the demands were not met, the movement would be seen as having failed.

It seems to me that the OWS movement is moral in nature, that occupiers want the country to change its moral focus. It is easy to find useful policies; hundreds have been suggested. It is harder to find a moral focus and stick to it. If the movement is to frame itself, it should be on the basis of its moral focus, not a particular agenda or list of policy demands. If the moral focus of America changes, new people will be elected and the policies will follow. Without a change of moral focus, the conservative worldview that has brought us to the present disastrous and dangerous moment will continue to prevail.

We Love America. We’re Here to Fix It

I see OWS as a patriotic movement, based on a deep and abiding love of country – a patriotism that it is not just about the self-interests of individuals, but about what the country is and is to be. Do Americans care about other citizens, or mainly just about themselves? That’s what love of America is about. I therefore think it is important to be positive, to be clear about loving America, seeing it in need of fixing, and not just being willing to fix it, but being willing to take to the streets to fix it. A populist movement starts with the people seeing that they are all in the same boat and being ready to come together to fix the leaks.

This sounds pretty close to what we’re seeing, I think.  It also explains why Elizabeth Warren, while sorting through the data on why Americans go bankrupt, was converted from a Republican to a Democrat earlier in her career.  Well, that’s back when Democrats actually gave a shit.  She says that when she first starting sifting through the cases from bankruptcy courts, she had a built in confirmation bias and was sure she was going to find people who lived the high life and spent too much or lazy people or hedonists or whatever the Glenn Beck types think.  But what she found was that many of these people were undone by sudden unemployment, changes to their family lives or chronic and severe illnesses.  They hadn’t done anything differently than millions of their fellow Americans.  They had just hit a patch of really bad luck and found that there was no real safety net for them.  They got sick, they lost their jobs because they got sick, they lost their health insurance because they lost their jobs, they lost their savings because they had to pay for their healthcare, they lost their houses because they lost their savings.

When Elizabeth Warren speaks to people, they know that she understands what they’re dealing with because she’s seen their lives in detail.  It also explains why Barack Obama is so completely unsuited for his role right now.  If this is a battle between two moralities, then using the approach of compromise is doomed to failure.

As Lakoff says, “A populist movement starts with people seeing that they are all in the same boat and being ready to come together to fix the leaks.”

The 99% are all of us who just a few years ago were living what the right would consider righteous lives.  We are good citizens, we are taxpayers, we are loving parents, we are dedicated employees.  And through no fault of our own but the speculation and moral failures of the financial sector and the politicians that serve it, we are thrust back into a subsistence kind of existence that was familiar to our ancient ancestors.  We are burdened with debt, servants to a moneyed class, beaten down, tired and looking for a break from the endless cycle of always having to sell ourselves to make next month’s rent or COBRA payment, heating bill or food for our kids.  Now that the pain has bubbled up to the middle class, where professionals with advanced degrees and years of experience find themselves working far from home on contracts with low pay and no benefits, the chant, “We are the 99″ has real meaning.  We are all in the same boat and we must take on the oligarchs.

Which reminds me of Exodus.  The bible tells us how Moses lead his people out of Egypt but archeology tells us a different story.  Back in the day, in 13th century BC or so, Egypt was a superpower whose reach stretched over the Levant area.  The ruling class in the Canaanite cities was Egyptian ruling over the locals and using them as slaves and the artisan underclass.  At some point, the underclass decided it had had enough and a rebellion ensued, ending Egyptian reign and,  with the collapse of other Bronze Age cultures, plunging most of the Mediterranean into a dark age.  There may have been a Moses but what the archeological record looks like is a spontaneous and leaderless uprising that spread from city to city.  Egyptian rule ended in Canaan and, along with the collapse of other Bronze Age cultures, the Mediterranean region plunged into a dark age. When the Israelites took up their pens a few centuries later, they were writing from a culture where the former slaves had made the laws.

Common Sense and the sensus communis: anatomy of an American pressure cooker

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Gay-Lussac

The pressure of a fixed mass and fixed volume of a gas is directly proportional to the gas’s temperature.

This relationship is known as the Gay-Lussac’s Law and a pressure cooker is an example of the law in practice. Cooking under pressure creates the possibility of cooking with high temperature liquids because the boiling point of a liquid increases as its pressure increases. High pressure and high heat can result in delectable dishes.

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Cooking under pressure can be also dangerous because as liquids change phase into gases their volume expands greatly. For example, at atmospheric pressure the volume of steam is about 1700 times greater than the volume of water. To prevent pressure cookers from becoming bombs, relief devices (pop safety valves) are employed that are capable of relieving all of the steam the vessel is capable of producing.

America the Beautiful Pressure Cooker

The political pressure cooker is beginning to heat up. The power brokers and institutions that drive the nation have arrived unannounced on the doorsteps of America like a gaggle of unwanted, high maintenance relatives that demand hospitality for an unforeseeable time and that won’t take no for answer. Furthermore, they’ve announced that more relatives are on the way. Whatever plans America’s householders had, they’ve just gone out the window, with their household budgie and the relatives’ cat in hot pursuit.

People are justifiably angry with this incursion. Their budgie might not have been much, but it was “their budgie”, nurtured from birth into what it had become. Justifiably angry householders are trying to work out why the relatives arrived on their doorsteps and why they brought their fucking cat. Continue reading

Is it absurd to try to weather the storm?

stormIs it beyond our ken to maintain a noble purpose as we guide our battered ships of state through the dark shadows of this mild squall of an economic crisis? Whom of us will risk life and limb to keep the ships afloat? Who will cast away possessions for the same purpose? Who will act to subvert these sacrifices? How will the storm weather us, as we weather the storm?

I ask these question because these darkling foreshadows are pallid compared to those that will attend the forthcoming Category Six typhoon of environmental collapse. How will that storm weather us, if we weather the storm? Given the tendency of people to adopt default positions in crisis situations, how we perform now, should give us some indication of how we’ll perform in much more dire circumstances.

Curiously, given the introduction, the point of this post is not to delve into the ugliness which portends. The point of this post is to ask the question, “How should we behave when faced with the absurdity that the cultural virtues that we cherish undermine the existential preconditions of our culture?” In other words, what does a wine-inspired poet do, when he finds that greater amounts of drink are fueling his muse, but not curing his cirrhosis and, in fact, killing him?

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The Dignity of “No.”

liberty

“A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to leave alone.”
Henry David Thoreau – Walden

“When you take a person’s life, you take the most precious thing that person possesses”, according to Harry, Dexter’s father, in the television series “Dexter”, which is about a serial killer who solely targets serial killers. Murder, in this sense, is theft of the life of another or others.

Societies strongly sanction against the murder of their members, as a general rule, except for specific socially sanctioned cases.

It is important to not confuse being “alive” with having “a life.” We require the former to accomplish the latter, but existence, in and of itself, seems to be an inadequate foundation for providing a reason to exist.

Not long ago, others wiser than I offered the following account of our raison d’etre:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Accordingly, to have “a life” is to be free to pursue happiness. To foreshadow, if a person or group steals the freedom or means of others to pursue their happiness, is it a form of murder? Continue reading

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