Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Values Difference

I don’t agree with all of this post of Ozy's about value difference, but I think it’s an honest take on a very important issue that needs more attention than it is getting. Please go read it because I don’t think I have a similar enough perspective to do it justice. 

I  - Reassurance

First I want to provide some comfort and reassurance as a first step towards bringing clarity. So let's take a look at what the work these adjectives are doing:

"I imagine someone actively rejoicing in denying a person a fair trial because they deserve to be in prison– not just accepting this as a grim reality, but thinking it is good and right and virtuous– and I shudder. They must feel similarly about me.
However, from my perspective, conservatives are perfectly willing to sacrifice things that actually matter in the world …  in order to suck up to unjust authority or help the wealthy and undeserving or keep people from having sex lives they think are gross."
-Unfair trials

I don't think conservative moral foundations lead to less concern for fair trials. A respect for authority foundation means we start out with a higher prior for trials being fair, but once we have enough evidence to see it is unfair we would have just as much tendency to condemn it as liberals. Recently conservatives have been loudly condemning campus rape trials we are convinced are unfair. 

-Unjust authority

Conservatives don't respect just any authority, only their society's legitimate authority. And one of the requirements for an authority to be legitimate is for it not to be unjust. Now a human institution of any kind will mess up and do individual unjust things from time to time. Conservatives do have a more visceral sense of this which comes out both in more pessimistic predictions about the net good future government programs can do, and also in being less easily disappointed in actual government behavior, due to lower expectations. But if we see evidence that it's not just the fundamental attribution error applied to a group, but really that the authority is fundamentally unjust, then we will see it as illegitiment and be willing to trim it.

-Undeserved wealth

This is a tricky thing that is an important crux. I do think liberals and conservatives have an instinctively different reaction to accumulations of wealth. Their is a general positive feeling about people having stuff that makes them happy. But also a general awareness that people get unhappy when others have more than them. In honesty, my conservative tribal instincts say that it’s a liberal tendency towards envy and greed, at least towards the power that money conveys, that makes liberals so focused on this latter point. But I see other possibilities too. Conservatives are instinctively aware that material prosperity is constantly decaying and you must continually pump more wealth into the society to keep the same level of goods. And conservatives sense that accumulations of wealth are a generally necessary catalyst for rapid wealth creation, as well as often a marker of were successful wealth creation has taken place. Even beyond that, I do see good created by wealth differentials in that they can enable certain relationships that help stabilize social structure.  I think the place that it’s easiest to see is between teenagers and parents.  As teenagers explore their own identity and become independent, their relationships with their parents are naturally shaken.  If the parents have a much greater ability to provide economically, that provides a point of stability within the relationship as it changes.  If teenagers were wealth equals with their parents that dynamic would not be there to provide stability. And conservatives do value stability in family bonds. And in many other subtler ways economic flows, that would not be possible with absolute wealth equality, contribute to a web of social relationships that are stable over time. For conservatives, individuals that were a key player in creating their wealth and/or that are using their (legitimately acquired) wealth in a positive manor are exempt from the “undeserving wealthy” category. It may be hard for liberals to see these categories, but once conservatives can be shown someone is outside these categories, really undeserving wealthy, then they will not want to sacrifice other moral goods to protect them.

So I hope it's reassuring that on a lot of the most painful instances the difference is only different priors that then require more or different evidence before an adjective is applied, rather than a different response once we agree on the adjective.

II Clarification

That said, I agree that their really is a fundamental value difference. I really really like order, structure, stability, and regularity. They feel like terminal values to me. And when I imagine a situation where everyone is extremely happy but their is no fixed social structure, group boundaries, or incentivized commitment , I wouldn't prefer that. I would want to trade in some of that happiness for more order and rigidity. And I don't think those on the far left would agree with this intuition.

And this is an issue. Each side may judge that the other has the "wrong" values and that that is unacceptable. But I don't think that would be a good situation at all. For one thing these different tastes in fundamental values are not conscious choices and in fact may have a genetic component. For another there is not just homogeneous left and right types, but a spectrum of the degrees to which people feel the different foundations. Even if the US breaks up into several smaller nations, or even worse has a civil war which kills a bunch of people, its still highly unlikely that anyone will end up in a society were everyone's moral taste buds are like theirs. And it is a bad situation to have to live with people who find your moral instincts unacceptable, and few people are going to be willing to productively participate in society under these conditions.

But on the other hand, I think there are ways of avoiding this impasse. Because it also feels like that picture of total happiness without order is weird and unlikely. I feel like having at least some stable social structure as a context is necessary to move towards goals, which is necessary for happiness. Order generally also feels like an instinctively instrumental value. It also seems like situations where there was a lot of random disorder would cause many to become fonder of order. In fact there is a little bit of evidence that situations were a moral foundation would be need increases the prevalence of a predisposition to it.

It also seems obvious that it's instrumentally beneficial for liberal's policy goals if people pay their taxes, obey regulations, and are polite to fellow citizens. So conservative’s innate taste for these things as a benign or even beneficial quirk that liberals can manage to work with. Liberals often use some sort of hierarchy in their internal endeavors and often prefer group loyalty within their own circles. I think that if the liberals look at it calmly they could see that even if they don’t like as an abstract thought, in the real world at least a little order is often an instrumental good.  And given how biased and prone torationalization humans are, surely it’s a provident safety feature that there is a spectrum of initial priors on protection of such basic and generally useful instrumental goods.

III - Complaint

When we’re both looking at dirty dishes piled up, my husband’s sense of big-enough-pile-to-be-worth-doing-dishes has a lower threshold than mine.  In fact he generally does the dishes before it ever gets to the point I would feel like it’s time to do dishes.  The couple of times he has left the dishes there until there’s a big enough stack of dishes for me, not only does he have to wait through the irritation of the dishes there that are past his threshold, he has to point out to me when there’s actually a big pile. That's because I've gotten out of the habit of checking for dishes. Then when I do the dishes it feels like a weird imposition, because I don’t have a slot in my chore scheduler for doing dishes; it’s just not in my model. When I introspect on my preferences for daily routine items, I don’t see any value on getting the dishes done. It doesn’t feel like it’s worth trading off any other good, like walking the dog or doing the laundry, against it. I don’t think it’s because I have an intrinsic quality of not caring about dishes, but rather because it’s a reliable feature of my environment that I get sufficient ‘the-dishes-are-clean-now’ without having to put any effort into it.

hummm.... maybe I better reconsider my threshold for doing dishes, or at least make sure my husband knows how much I appreciate that he does them.

This reminds me of a dear friend of mine who is always pushing pro-immigration arguments. I once gave her an argument for why I thought unlimited immigration would collapse US society and lead to no benefits to any immigrants. And she said that of course she wasn't for open borders, because America couldn't handle everyone. But when she sees any specific process or proposal to limit immigration she still reacts to it as wrong and awful. What I think is happening is that conservative pressure has always provided more than enough immigration restrictions for her tastes. So if feels to her like this is just a feature of the environment, rather than something someone has to work to produce. So when she sees someone arguing for or implementing restrictions she sees it as only producing harm (without seeing the contribution to good) and therefore evil.

I think there's a danger of liberals being desensitized to the need to make provision for creating social order and cohesion because they aren't involved in providing that. This can make liberal goals unrealistic.But it can also make conservatives feel they an being misunderstood and taken advantage of, making them resentful and unnecessarily encouraging hostility.

For various reasons beyond the scope of this post, conservatives have concerned as you might expect about some things that relate to conservative foundations, for example Trump's impure sex life or Russian pokes at group loyalty. And many liberals have been very upset about this. Now some of the this is just because they want to use these things as political levers to pursue their goals. But perhaps some of this because their is a sense that it's the conservatives job to be the prudish guardians of moral norms and the adhesive militants on national pride. Some On the left may have a visceral unease to the role being vacated, maybe even a need to step into the breach. It might why they looks to conservatives so erratic and unhinged. Because they don't have a lot of practice at this, and maybe they don't even have as much inborn instinct for it.

hummm.... maybe liberals had better reconsider cultivating more moral foundations, or at least make sure my they show conservatives their appreciation.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Reading through the Sermon on the Mount

This morning I'm reading through the Sermon on the Mount and thinking how we can miss the tremendous energy and movement of the passage. Because there is so much important wisdom there we tend to study the Sermon on the Mount in small pieces, so we can thoroughly examine each phrase. But this can lead to a slow reflective mood, which can obscure the stern and forceful impact of reading command after command. I really like the feel I get from it just reading it through.

Monday, December 11, 2017

A hidden sort of Christmas

I love getting ready for Christmas, the figuring out what decorations to put up, setting up my cooking schedule for festive dishes, picking out the best present I can for everybody. But this year health issues in my family mean I'm hardly doing anything for Christmas. In fact the only decoration I have up is a nativity scene that you can hardly see because there is no good location to put display it.

Of course I'm sad at the situation that is causing me to not be free to focus on the season, but I also just miss the fun, creativity, and beauty of doing an elaborate Christmas.

But I look at that nativity scene crammed in that little wedge between all the life things I need to deal with, and I think of that first Christmas. God put on a spectacular show at a historic location, announcing the coming of the Messiah. But He was also content for Him to be laid in a manger. And He certainly didn't need human effort to pretty things up before He could go to work.

God didn't and doesn't need the masses to look at Him, nor to get buy in from the powers that be, in order to change the world. The Christ who came at Christmas did concentrate on surface appearances or start at the top of human wish lists. He went right to the heart of the problem, to the breach between man and God, and made peace there. Only then did He send messengers to tell the whole world of His gift to them.

So I can have my Christmas hidden in chaos of issues, and know that God is not dependent on human circumstances, and He can be working powerfully wear things don't look neat and tidy to us.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Why the NFL plays the national anthem.

Yesterday I was talking about the #takeaknee with a liberal friend and got asked “Why do they play the national anthem at football games anyway?”

Well today I was reading the description of the loyalty moral foundation in Jonathan Haidt’s “The Righteous Mind.” Here are a couple of quotes from that that show what caught my attention:
“Much of the psychology of sports is about expanding the current triggers of the Loyalty foundation so that people can have the pleasure of binding themselves together to pursue harmless trophies. “
“[The Loyalty/betrayal foundation] makes us sensitive to signs that another person is (or is not) a team player. It makes us trust and reward such people and it makes us want to hurt, ostracize, or even kill those who betray us or our group.”
It strikes me that if a bunch of people are going to get together for the purpose of getting their loyalty emotions all riled up, at least some of whom will be rooting for different teams, it’s a good idea to remind people that really we are all part of one meat-team, America, and we don’t actually want to kill each other.

Football is all about an Us vs. Them dynamic. Us will Drive through Them, Score over Them. Us will Hit, Block and Tackle Them. It’s about getting your blood pumping and getting the ready-to-do-battle adrenaline rush. It’s about putting mental energy into imaging applying your Team’s strengths to the other team’s weaknesses so your team can WIN! At least that’s what it’s about for the people who pay to be there or to watch, the fans. For player, owners, and officials it may be about making money, but they can only make money if they generally deliver on that Loyalty trigger that the fans are paying for.

So football games are an unfortunate context for any protest that looks like a rejection of loyalty to team America. Questions of back suffering or police fairness are going to get swapped by a visceral “Are you Us or are you Them?” question.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Google Manifesto

I'm not a Google employee, but most of my professional work is in support of Google’s business. I am very disappointed in the firing of James Damore and very disturbed by the reasons given for it.  The statement: "To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK," shows an unconscious narcissism that amounts to a delegitimization of huge swaths of human experience. Saying that the Damore memo is "advancing harmful gender stereotypes" is deeply devaluing to women.

Women are people too,

not perfect porcelain dolls sitting untouched in the box. We have faults. Even if variation between groups was entirely random we would expect each group to be the worse in some comparisons. To say it is "harmful" to acknowledge that women as a group have fewer members well suited to certain jobs is harmful to the right of women as a group to be regarded as human, with all the guaranty of imperfection that humanity implies.

Women are people too,

But we are not men. we are different and our preferences can be valid. One of the things I hate about feminism is how feminists are always assuming men's preferences are right. If you surveyed people on the choice between happiness and loving relationships vs. money and power, very few would say it’s always better to choose money and power. But when feminists realize there is a trade off going on between money and life satisfaction, suddenly the one men are taking, money, is assumed to be the better bargain. Why not even consider that women are making smart choices and getting the better end of the bargain? When it comes to Google, I think there is a considerable hubris in their expectation for how normal it will be to be interested in computer programming. Why should it be shocking that women disproportionately prefer to be pediatricians rather than programmers. I see nothing either immoral or shocking in that preference, even when it is wide spread across a group. But Google seems to imply that there is something so horrible about this choice that it must be hidden.

Women are people too.

We can deal with the truth. We can deal with logic and arguments and people who disagree with us. Even when the truth initially hurts it is better for us in the long run to know the truth. I'm much more thing oriented (vs people oriented) than the average woman because I have Autism. And I'm a little more people oriented (vs thing oriented) than the average person with Autism because I'm a woman. And there is nothing wrong with either of these orientations. It is useful for me to know this about myself and for those around me to acknowledge it. Now, I'm much less eager to seek out stress than the average woman or man because I have Autism. I'm fairly good at coping with this, but it could still be an issue for some jobs. It would be no favor too me to pitch me into a job I could not succeed at. Some people, for reasons more of politics than of science, still deny that biology plays a part in the difference in male and female personality distributions. But it is quite clear that there is a biological component to the issues that persons with Autism have with stress. There are definitely factors that make me biologically less suited to high stress jobs. Does that lower my moral worth? Does that make me less human? Does that mean all Google employees must shun me and wall me out of their conscious awareness? It shouldn’t mean that, because even when there are facts that aren't fair people should be able to deal with those facts. When there is an idea we don’t like we should be ready to confront it, rather than acting like a Victorian lady demanding that table legs be called limbs least she be reminded of biological realities. If the idea that women are more neurotic is false, it’s good that those who hold it discuss it openly, so that good information can change their views. If a manager is concerned that female employees might be unhappy to be put in high stress positions, it's good if he can openly ask them about their preferences. Everyone loses if a set of common beliefs are pushed underground so no one can check if they are true or ask if they apply to an individual.

Men are people too,

and to deliberately discriminate against them on the basis of their sex is unfair and it undercuts the rationale for opening professions to women in the first place. It artificially creates difference and distinction where it does not need to be. Men and women will end up on different tracks so there can never be honest comparison between them. I feel that hurting men just for being men is wrong and I don’t want to be a party to it.

I'm one of those women not hired by Google. I don't have a fancy college degree. While I did a little bit of coding I never pursued it with single minded obsession. I might have learned to be a moderately good programmer if I could have started in an entry level job, but Google outsources the basic programming tasks to foreign workers.

I'm glad to have a job that let's me support my family. I do good work that increases utility in the world. But my satisfaction in my work does go down a little bit knowing that the company I work in support of thinks acknowledging the existence of people like me is a firing offence.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Something to identify with

Democrats are the party of taking from the rich and giving to the poor. It makes sense that they would be the party of the poor and that is how they have often been seen. But lately they have had less success attracting working class voters, particulate white ones. I want to explain one reason that might be.

The messages we get about how others perceive us can have important effects on our psyche. If we continually hear that the world at large considers us bad or evil or unimportant or that we shouldn’t exist, it’s  going to have a negative effect on us. The sensible thing to do is to move away from the community that is giving you these messages.
But many of these messages about us are not likely to be from close acquaintances that know us personally. Instead they will be from culture leaders that tell stories about various types of people, and we will feel the judgments of types similar to us as judgments of us.
Culture leaders naturally develop political view points and they clump together based on political views. Which clumps of culture leader voters regularly listen too will have an important effect on how they vote. So frequently talking about types that a voter can identify with, without psychological harm, is going to be an important part of keeping voters. So here are all the types I know of that a poor or working class person might identify with.

Salt of the earth types
                They may not have riches or fame, but at least they have moral value. They work hard and pay their debts even knowing they will never really make it. This steadiness provides the stable base for the whole nation. They’re the moral heart of America, so their values are more important than those of the decadent jet-setter types. Identifying with this type provides a sense of moral uprightness that overrides any sense of economic underachievement. Anyone who tries to be a good member of their can identify with this type, even if they don't succeed in having it together. Democrats have been allergic to promoting and praising this identity type because it seems to be against progressive social issues, but it might be worth it to try re-working it.

Sturdy independent types
               Their skills may not earn them much in the labor market, but they don't need the labor market that can make every thing they need for themselves. They can grow their own food, fix their own snow mobiles, and built their own shelter. Identify with this type can give the sense of pride that you can "look the whole world in the face because you owe not any man," regardless of your actual debt situation. Anyone who is improving their self reliance skills can claim this identity, even if all they have so far is a small container garden and a try at canning. Democrats have been wary of high lighting this type because it goes against the idea low incomes are a horror that require emergency action and also because the full blown version of the life style often involves guns and killing your own meet. But really the heroes of this type are often old hippies other being in touch with nature types. I think this identity type is ripe for big tent Democrats to embrace.

Up and comer types
                  They may not have much now but they are going to work hard, save, and be clever about money. Some day they are going to be middle class, if they get a lucky break maybe even well to do. Identify with this type can give a sense of worth and potential, that you are in control and will be someone people look up to. Anyone can identify with this type by forming an intention for future action regardless of they are now. Democrats really want to cultivate this identity type, but there's a problem caused by the way the human mind defaults to framing the "take from the rich" part of the Democratic program. The natural assumptions of our mind are that taking equals punishment and that the person being punished is bad. The person who is already rich can say, 'I'm ready to pay my debt to society and be forgiven,' but the statement doesn't really apply to identifying as actively trying to commit the punishable offence. With more awareness this is the problem Democrats might overcome this issue.

                 They are poor because some evil force that they were helpless against put them it this position. They have a moral claim on good people for help to get out of this situation. This identity gives you a since of righteousness and deservingness but it can be frustrating if you have to stay with it year after year. Anyone can identify with this type by identifying a villain that did this to them. Democrats often use this type as part of motivating help for POC and other minority groups. But they often do this by contrasting problems others face with the image of whites going there life on the easy setting. This idea can be comforting to rich whites as it means they didn't really mean to commit the punishable offence, it just happened to them. But for poor whites it means they don't qualify as victims and their is only one option left:

            If this is the only option available to someone in Democratic communication, then even if democratic policies would benefit this person, the damage this person would take (from listening to a lot of Democratic communication and thinking of Dems as reliable) may outweigh the benefit. But all the other types I know of in Democratic discourse require some sort of success or elite status before someone can identify with them.

            Democratic thinkers can come types poor people can identify with and use them as supporting characters is stories and incidental examples. The type examples don't have to be exclusively or even primarily white, Democrats just have to make sure that no part of there message excludes whites from the type.
             To win votes you needs to help voters materially without tearing them down psychologically. I think providing opportunities for positive identification will let Democrats do this without changing their policy positions.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Poverty and skin in the game

      Thinking about some of the subtle issues with being poor. One of the things I've notice is lacking in poverty is the possibility of BECOMING poor. Its already happened, so you don't have to guard against it in the future. Even I, who am poor only in the most relative sense, don't have a gut feeling of there being farther to fall. My mind has me in its bottom category, so I don't have that sense of being at risk of losing my socioeconomic status. There is a certain freedom in nothing left to lose, but also problems. Specifically there is a lack of motivation, especially for maintenance tasks. Putting work into keeping my car or my kitchen clean, making an effort to maintain my health or my relationships, doesn't have the psychological reward contributing to a since of status. This lack of skin in the game about my own life leads to poorer day-to-day decisions.
        This is a problem of poverty that can't be solved even if we ever could find a way to solve poverty. What ever the lowest socioeconomic level is, this will apply.