What is Fair? Who Decides? Why Should We Care?

What is Fair?
DrAnthonysBlog

“Funny thing is, for a word that most of us are very familiar with, many of us would be hard pressed to define fair in a way that others would readily agree with, though we can spot it in an instant when we see it!  Also, regardless of your definition, many people would probably agree that the world is not filled with nearly as many examples of fair as most of us would like.  Friendships have been soured, fortunes lost, needless lives taken, and countries throughout history have, and continue, to go to war over disagreements concerning what is considered fair.  All of this, over a deceptively simple word that really has no universally agreed upon definition…

“When we talk about what is fair, the conversations are sometimes loud, can be emotionally charged, and, as mentioned above, may result in disagreements with negative outcomes for one or more parties.  The disagreements can involve anything from how observations of details are perceived to questions about how others would feel if they were on the receiving end of a situation, or decision, that is not fair.  Regardless, conversations about what is fair are often not pleasant to have, though certainly necessary, at times, if we are to be true to ourselves and what we each understand to be right!

“Given the importance of what we believe to be fair, and the obvious impact that it has on our lives, both positive and negative, I find it truly odd that these aspects of it have not received more widespread attention.  Granted conversations about it do happen, mostly in college ethics courses, and I have no doubt that it is written about in low circulation scholarly journals, but those are limited in scope and appear to do little to add to the greater conversation and understanding.  I wonder;  is that truly fair?”

There are three aspects of fairness that I can think of.

First, there is the philosophical debate of fairness.

On that level, there is much disagreement about what it even means or how it applies to real life. It’s easy to have an ideal of fairness, but applying it is obviously difficult. The ironic part is that one person’s ideal of fairness would seem unfair to others, even if it could be effectively applied.

I would throw in religion along with this for philosophizing about fairness would inevitably lead to theological issues. Also, religion plays a major role in either ensuring more fairness such as in helping the disadvantaged or assuaging the negative emotions related to living in an unfair world, although religion probably ends up doing more assuaging than actually helping. Whether philosophical or theological, our beliefs to a large part determine our sense of fairness.

However, our beliefs about fairness can just as easily be used to rationalize unfairness. A belief in fairness isn’t the same thing as a sensitivity to fairness. Something like religion can be used to defend or challenge unfairness. And the best way to defend unfairness is by trying to control the perception of unfairness which is why beliefs, especially collective beliefs such as religious doctrines, are often a battleground. The conflict is that almost everyone has a belief about fairness and yet few people probably have a strong personal sense of fairness. A sense of fairness can never be limited to a belief and will often contradict beliefs. Shared beliefs exist to constrain the personal moral sense to a colletive worldview.

Second, I don’t think fairness is just an abstraction or just a personal belief.

Fairness definitely relates to a shared human nature. There are certain situations that most humans will judge as being fair or unfair. So it isn’t merely subjective or rather it is a subjective sense that is shared by most. However, some people are born with a stronger sense of fairness (I suspect that research on thin boundary types would show a correlation to a sense of fairness, and of course such conditions as sociopathy and psychopathy would show the opposite correlation).

The cynical side of me predicts that people sensitive to fairness tend to not gain much power and wealth for having more than others would probably seem unfair to someone with a strong sensitivity to fairness. What this would mean is that we’d be ruled mostly by people with weak senses of fairness which would go a long way to explain the behavior seen in politics and big business.

On the other hand, fairness isn’t just something we are born with or not. Fairness could be fit into various models of psychological and spiritual development. There are many different factors in life that will determine the probability of our developing a strong sense of fairness and unfairness. But it isn’t a simple accomplishment for if it were society would be a much more fair place.

Third, the personal component is very clear.

Our preferences (our likes and dislikes) often determine what we judge as fair and unfair. We tend to get used to life being a certain way which creates in us a sense of privilege in that we think things should continue in the way that we’ve become comfortable with.

This would relate to my previous comment about wealth and power. We all gain a certain sense of privilege in what we come to expect as normal, but some people obviously have more privilege than others. This fits an observation that I’ve had and I’m sure many others have had. Those with more privilege (more control over their own lives and over the lives of others) tend to believe life is fair (that they deserve what they have because of hard work, talent, good genetics, good upbringing, etc). And those with less privilege tend to believe life is unfair.

When those with less privilege seek to gain a more equal share of privilege, those with more privilege perceive that as being unfair. Since privilege is often seen as a zero sum game, fairness itself can be seen as a zero sum game. Many people believe life can’t be fair or not fair for everyone and so they seek to gain or maintain their own sense of fairness for themselves, even if at the cost of fairness for others.

So, those who benefit from the status quo will typically see the world as fair and those who are harmed (or at least not helped) by the status quo will typically see the world as unfair. This is why the upper classes, including the middle class, often speak of a meritocracy even when facts are shown to them that income inequality is growing and economic mobility is shrinking, even when facts are shown that racial prejudice still persists and still has massive impact on people’s lives. This is why poor whites, what little privilege they have because of race, will tend to see the world as relatively more fair than how poor minorities will tend to see it.

Those who fight to make society more fair usually come from underprivileged and disadvantaged demographics. Growing up experiencing poverty or hunger, unemployment or homelessness, racism or oppression will tend to create an acute sense of what is and isn’t fair. It also usually takes someone who perceives themselves as having less to lose to fight for greater fairness for all. So don’t ask a fat man about the fairness of the access and availability of food.

I’m of the opinion that fairness isn’t just an opinion. It can be measured (through government records and scientific research). Economic inequality can be measured. Economic and social mobility can be measured. Racism and other forms of prejudice can be measured. In fact, we already have measured these factors. We know the world isn’t fair. That isn’t an opinion. That is a fact.

The question at hand is simple: How far are we willing to go to fight unfairness? What are we willing to do or even sacrifice in order to guarantee greater fairness for all? I’m willing to be most people don’t think we are doing enough as a society.

I would, though, add a cautionary note. I pointed out that the world is more unfair that most privileged people realize, but the opposite would also be true. Those who have experienced a lot of unfairness directed at them personally are likely to assume that society is more unfair than it actually is. There is a difference about the fairness in any given circumstance and the overall fairness. Also, just because the average person experiences or perceives relative fairness, that doesn’t disprove that there aren’t specific demographics that are still being treated unfairly. Generalizing based on personal experience can be the opposite of helpful which is why objective data should be given more credence than beliefs and opinions.

The complication of all this can’t be denied. Nonetheless, that complicatedness just confirms the importance of the issue for the issue of fairness includes every aspect of society.

“Another interesting thing about fair, is that when we focus on it the discourse is mostly about a lack of it rather than an overabundance of it.  I mean how many times have you heard someone, anyone, opine that something was really very fair!  Granted it does happen, but those conversations, or comments, are more the exception than the rule. Why is that?  If fair is so important, as it appears to be, why do we not pay more attention to it when it is present?  Is what we believe to be fair so fundamental to us that, like air or water, it is simply taken for granted generally, but felt deeply the instant we perceive it to be lost?”

I think this is inevitable. We must start from an awareness of a lack of fairness for fairness isn’t something that is found in nature like a rock that can be seen and touched. Fairness, first and foremost, is about relationships between people and relationships aren’t tangible things. Fairness impacts the tangible world and can take on tangible forms, but it begins in the intangible which isn’t to say it’s just an idea.

Fairness is built into our DNA. As social animals, as mammals with complex emotional experience, as higher primates with a moral sense, fairness is built into our very sense of reality. We embody fairness or the potential for it. The awarenss of fairness begins with the awareness of unfairness just as awareness itself begins with unawareness.

However, as evolved creatures, our moral sense evolved in relationship to the larger world. Fairness isn’t separate from the world we inhabit for we are part of the world, co-evolution. Humans are far from being the only animal with a sense of fairness.

It seems to me that fairness is a perfectly natural experience. It isn’t just an idea or belief that humans are forcing onto the world. However, the main problem modern humans face is that we have created a social system (i.e., civilization) that is very different from the natural environment within which human nature evolved. So, our sense of fairness might not perfectly fit the social system we’ve created. This might be another way of explaining our beginning with a sense of the lack of fairness. On a fundamental and often unconscious level, maybe we realize that civilization is an imperfect expression of our inborn moral nature and as civilized humans we feel an inner division, a basic wrongness, a social conflict (something that religion tries to pinpoint with ideas such as Original Sin and Karma).

This brings to my mind the writings of Thomas Paine. In Agrarian Justice, Paine argues that unfairness (in terms of social injustice and economic inequality) isn’t natural, even if it is the apparent beginning point of modern Western society. The following is how Paine explains it:

“Whether that state that is proudly, perhaps erroneously, called civilization, has most promoted or most injured the general happiness of man is a question that may be strongly contested. On one side, the spectator is dazzled by splendid appearances; on the other, he is shocked by extremes of wretchedness; both of which it has erected. The most affluent and the most miserable of the human race are to be found in the countries that are called civilized.

“To understand what the state of society ought to be, it is necessary to have some idea of the natural and primitive state of man; such as it is at this day among the Indians of North America. There is not, in that state, any of those spectacles of human misery which poverty and want present to our eyes in all the towns and streets in Europe.

“Poverty, therefore, is a thing created by that which is called civilized life. It exists not in the natural state. On the other hand, the natural state is without those advantages which flow from agriculture, arts, science and manufactures.

“The life of an Indian is a continual holiday, compared with the poor of Europe; and, on the other hand it appears to be abject when compared to the rich. Civilization, therefore, or that which is so-called, has operated two ways: to make one part of society more affluent, and the other more wretched, than would have been the lot of either in a natural state.”

Going by this argument, humans in their more ‘natural’ state (i.e., simpler social structure) experience a basic fairness in that there is less opportunity for vast inequalities. It isn’t clear that the poorest of the poor are better off in civilization than they would be as hunter-gatherers. Either way, the richest of the rich certainly gain/take the vast majority of the benefit created by modern society. Among the billions of people on the planet, almost all of the wealth and land in the world is owned by a handful of individuals and families. A person couldn’t honestly and morally claim that to be fair.

So, in the civilization we are born into, unfairness is the beginning point for all of us. What many have argued is that this shouldn’t be the beginning point, that we shouldn’t accept unfairness as normal and inevitable.

Dominant Culture Denies Its Dominance

There is a certain kind of awareness that many, if not most, people seem to lack.

It is a social awareness dealing with the dominant culture. I suppose this type of awareness is likely a learned ability that few ever learn for it probably offers few advantages, especially on the social level. People who question the dominant culture tend to be ignored, dismissed or sometimes even punished.

The opposite of this social awareness of dominant culture isn’t simply a lack of awareness but often an active denial of awareness (although maybe a subliminal awareness of what is being denied). It’s obvious what is being denied from an outside perspective and yet if you are too far outside you might not notice the incongruency. Standing on the edge of the dominant culture, part way in and part way out, offers the perfect position for this kind of social awareness.

* * *

So, what is being denied?

The person fully within the dominant culture often defends the dominant culture by denying that it is the dominant culture. That is how dominant cultures work. The dominant culture is able to maintain its dominance by maintaining its invisibility, well invisibility to those within the dominant culture anyway.

A reality tunnel can only be taken as reality by disallowing the reality tunnel to be seen for what it is.

* * *

Here is the example that got me thinking about this today. It is a comment by Alan Lichtenstein to the Wired article ‘Why Do Some People Learn Faster?’ and the following is the relevant part of the comment:

“Intelligence is overrated.  However, hard work is underrated.”

I read all the responses to this comment (19 responses by my count). Only one person disagreed with the statement that “Intelligence is overrated” and no one disagreed with the statement that “However, hard work is underrated”.

This is relevant because Wired magazine is very much a part of American mainstream media and hence a part of American mainstream culture. These readers seem to be typical mainstream Americans and their opinions representative of the dominant culture.

In order to discern the beliefs, biases and assumptions of the dominant culture, just look at what the Mr. Lichtenstein’s statements imply. Who is overrating intelligence and underrating hard work? Certainly not Mr. Lichtenstein and the typical mainstream American who agrees with him. The comment is based on an assumption that most Americans overrate intelligence and underrate hard work, but that is obviously not true.

In fact, the very opposite of what Mr. Lichtenstein says is true, at least in America:

Intelligence is underrated. However, hard work is overrated.

America has always had a strong strain of anti-intellectualism and hard work is one of the central tenets of American culture.

If hard work was any more overrated, it would be treated like a religious belief. In some ways, it already is a religious belief. Others (such as Max Weber) have noted that American’s work ethic is rooted in Protestantism. Many have argued as well that America’s anti-intellectualism is also rooted in Protestantism or Christianity in general.

* * *

Here is the basic point that I’m making (stated as a generalized truth):

You know what the dominant culture affirms by what those in the dominant culture deny.

* * *

I’ll give two other examples, one related to the media and the other related to religion.

* * *

First, there is the conservative allegation that the mainstream media is liberal.

As a liberal who doesn’t identify fully with the mainstream, I’ve noticed that this conservative allegation typically comes from people who are in the mainstream media, who regularly watch the mainstream media, or who are generally a part of the mainstream. When I check out alternative media, it is much more rare to come across this conservative allegation or else its more common to hear the opposite allegation.

The fact that this conservative allegation has spread so widely should make one suspicious of its veracity. If the mainstream media actually were liberal, those in the mainstream media wouldn’t allege others are too liberal in order to prove their own conservative credentials.

It’s like when Republican presidential candidates attack each other as being too liberal. No objective person would take this as evidence that the Republican Party has become a liberal party. Once again, the opposite is true. The GOP has instead gone to the far right.

The liberal media allegation also demonstrates the difference between mainstream and average. The mainstream often doesn’t represent the average for dominant cultures often originate from and are enforced by a dominant elite. The mainstream media acting as gatekeepers is an example of this. Even as the mainstream media attacks the mainstream media as being too liberal, the average American is more liberal than mainstream media. So, relative to the average American, the mainstream media certainly isn’t too liberal.

The conservative allegation that the mainstream media is too liberal acts as an implied denial. It denies that the mainstream media is too conservative. Hence, it denies that the corporate ruling elite who owns and operates the mainstream media (and who influences politics more than any other demographic) is too conservative. Furthermore, it denies how liberal average Americans are by refusing to acknowledge that the mainstream media doesn’t represent average Americans. The allegation implies that the mainstream media is more liberal than the average American when in reality the complete opposite is true.

* * *

Second, religious Americans are always complaining about being victims.

This is ironic considering how much power they wield. Atheists don’t have lobbyist groups that are as wealthy and influential as the religious lobbyist groups. No admitted atheist or agnostic (or any other variety of non-Christian) has ever been president of the United States. If a candidate doesn’t regularly declare or somehow clearly demonstrate their Christian credentials, they won’t even get nominated as a candidate for either party.

Conservative Christian’s denying they have power is evidence of how much power they have.

America is the most religious nation in the West and probably the most Christian nation in the world. A large part of US policy is determined by conservative Christian beliefs: obstruction of legalizing gay marriage, constant attacks on women’s health clinics because of abortion, undermining of health care reform partly because of abortions and birth control, continued funding of abstinence only sex education, the largest prison system in the world built on a conservative Christian punishment mentality, “In God We Trust” being placed on our money at the beginning of the Cold War, our constantly attacking Muslim countries and our massive support of Israel, and on and on.

The rate of religiosity such as church membership and attendance is higher in America now than when the country was founded. Atheism may be growing, but it is still a tiny percentage of the population. The majority of Americans continue to claim to believe many standard doctrines of contemporary mainstream Christianity, including such bizarre beliefs as the story about Noah’s Ark being real (even many Christians in the first centuries of Christianity didn’t take such Old Testament stories literally).

* * *

These examples create an odd picture of American culture.

Most Americans are liberal Christians with a strong work ethic. However, Christianity is shrinking the most among lower class whites and the most religious demographic of all is that of minorities, although the upper classes are also more religious than lower class whites (the more educated an American gets the more religious they become, thus disproving the higher education system is dominated by an anti-religious liberal elite).

So, the average and below average white American is actually less Christian and more liberal than Americans in the upper classes. Meanwhile, the white upper class complains about liberalism and secularism, and also the white upper class complains about minorities despite minorities most strongly representing the religiosity upper class whites proclaim as the moral highground.

The dominant culture continues to be dominated by upper class WASPs. This is so despite the fact that atheists and minorities are two of the fastest growing demographics. Dominant culture by its nature attempts to maintain the status quo of power, wealth and social order.

Great Depression, Iowa, & Revolts

Last night, I was reading some of Nate Braden’s book about the Great Depression, State of Emergency: The Depression and the Plots to Create an American Dictatorship. It is a worthwile read about an era that most Americans know little about. Democracy was more threatened at that time than maybe during any other era since the founding of the country.

What caught my attention was the role Iowa, my home state, played during that radical period. President Hoover was an Iowan and so maybe it makes sense that some of the earliest political activism began in Iowa. I could imagine that Iowans would have expected more help from a president who they might have thought understood what it was like to live in the rural Midwest. Hoover had known the working class life for his first 11 years in Iowa (West Branch, a small town nearby where my brother lives).

However, after leaving Iowa when his parents died, Hoover lived in Oregon with an uncle who was a doctor where he spent his teens. Apparently, rural Iowan life had become such a distant memory that he lost touch with his own roots. This is particularly significant as he was raised Quaker. It is Quakers who have a long history of social justice political activism, often quite radical.

By the time he was an adult, Hoover was far away from his rural Iowa Quaker childhood. And by the time he was president, he had become a wealthy businessman. When as president he claimed there were no starving Americans, he demonstrated how disconnected he had become from the average American and from the rural Midwesterner.

* * *

Here is the passage from Braden’s book where he discusses Iowa and the Midwestern revolts (Kindle Locations 510-571):

“In September 1932 Fortune published a shocking profile of the effect Depression poverty was having on the American people. Titled “No One Has Starved” – in mocking reference to Herbert Hoover’s comment to that effect – Fortune essentially called the President a liar and explained why in a ten page article. Predicting eleven million unemployed by winter, its grim math figured these eleven million breadwinners were responsible for supporting another sixteen and a half million people, thus putting the total number of Americans without any income whatsoever at 27.5 million. Along with another 6.5 million who were underemployed, this meant 34 million citizens – nearly a third of the country’s population – lived below the poverty line. [1]

“Confidence was low that a Hoover reelection would bring any improvement in the country’s situation. He had ignored calls in 1929 to bail out banks after the stock market crashed on the grounds that the federal government had no business saving failed enterprises. With no liquidity in the financial markets, credit evaporated and deflation pushed prices and wages lower, laying waste to asset values. Two years passed before Hoover responded with the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, created to distribute $300 million in relief funds to state and local governments. It was too little, too late. The money would have been better served shoring up the banks three years earlier.

“With each cold, hungry winter that passed, political discussions grew more radical and less tolerant. Talk of revolution was more openly voiced. Harper’s, reflecting the opinion of East Coast intellectuals, pondered its likelihood and confidently asserted: “Revolutions are made, not by the weak, the unsuccessful, or the ignorant, but by the strong and the informed. They are processes, not merely of decay and destruction, but of advance and building. An old order does not disappear until a new order is ready to take its place.”[2]

“As this smug analysis was rolling off the presses, the weak, the unsuccessful, and the ignorant were already proving it wrong. Most people expected a revolt to start in the cities, but it was in the countryside, in Herbert Hoover’s home state no less, where men first took up arms against a system they had been raised to believe in but no longer did. On August 13, 1932, Milo Reno, the onetime head of the Iowa Farmer’s Union, led a group of five hundred men in an assault on Sioux City. They called it a “farm holiday,” but it was in fact an insurrection. Reno and his supporters blocked all ten highways into the city and confiscated every shipment of milk except those destined for hospitals, dumping it onto the side of the road or taking it into town to give away free. Fed up with getting only two cents for a quart of milk that cost them four cents to bring to market, the farmers were creating their own scarcities in an attempt to drive up prices.

“The insurgents enjoyed local support. Telephone operators gave advance warning of approaching lawmen, who were promptly ambushed and disarmed. When 55 men were arrested for picketing the highway to Omaha, a crowd of a thousand angry farmers descended on the county jail in Council Bluffs and forced their release. The uprising just happened to coincide with the Iowa National Guard’s annual drill in Des Moines, but Governor Dan Turner declined to use these troops to break up the disturbance, saying he had “faith in the good judgment of the farmers of Iowa that they will not resort to violence.”[3]

“The rebellion spread to Des Moines, Spencer, and Boone. Farmers in Nebraska, South Dakota, and Minnesota declared their own holidays. Milo Reno issued a press release vowing to continue “until the buying power of the farmer is restored – which can be done only by conceding him the right to cost of production, based on an American standard of existence.” Business institutions, he added, “whether great or small, important or humble, must suffer.” While advising his followers to obey the law and engage only in “peaceful picketing,” Reno issued this warning: “The day for pussyfooting and deception in the solution of the farmers’ problems is past, and the politicians who have juggled with the agricultural question and used it as a pawn with which to promote their own selfish interests can succeed no longer.”[4]

“Reno and his men had laid down their marker. Aware that the insurrectionists might call his bluff, the governor stopped short of issuing an ultimatum, but he kept his Guardsmen in Des Moines just in case. The showdown never came – a mysterious shotgun attack on one of Reno’s camps near Cherokee was enough to persuade him to call off the holiday – but others weren’t cowed by the violence. The same day Reno issued his press release, coal miners in neighboring Illinois went on strike after their pay was cut to five dollars a day. Fifteen thousand of them shut down shafts all over Franklin County, the state’s largest mining region, and took over the town of Coulterville for several hours, “exhausting provisions at the restaurant, swamping the telephone exchange with calls and choking roads and fields for a mile around” the New York Times reported. Governor Louis Emmerson ordered state troopers to take the town back. Wading into a hostile, sneering crowd who shouted “Cossacks!” at them, the police broke it up with pistols and clubs, putting eight miners in the hospital.

“The rebels were bloodied but unbowed. Vowing to march back in to coal country, strike leader Pat Ansbury told a journalist, “if we go back it must be with weapons. We can’t face the machine guns of those Franklin County jailbirds with our naked hands. Not a man in our midst had even a jackknife. When we go back we must have arms, organization and cooperation from the other side.” Shaking his head at the lost opportunity, he made sure the reporter hadn’t misunderstood him. “This policy of peaceful picketing is out from now on.” Reno conducted a similar post-mortem, acknowledging that his side may have lost the battle but would not lose the war: “You can no more stop this movement than you could stop the revolution. I mean the revolution of 1776.”[5]

“Not only were farmers burdened by low commodity prices, they were also swamped with high-interest mortgages and crushing taxes. In February 1933 Prudential Insurance, the nation’s largest land creditor, announced it would suspend foreclosures on the 37,000 farm titles it held, valued at $209 million. Mutual Benefit and Metropolitan Life followed suit, all of them finally coming to the conclusion that they couldn’t get blood from a rock.

“It was also getting very dangerous to be a repo man in the Midwest. When farms were foreclosed and the land put up for auction, neighbors of the dispossessed property holder would often show up at the sale, drive away any serious bidders, then buy the land for a few dollars and deed it back to the original owner. By this subterfuge a debt of $400 at one Ohio auction was settled for two dollars and fifteen cents. A mortgage broker in Illinois received only $4.90 for the $2,500 property he had put into receivership. An Oklahoma attorney who tried to serve foreclosure papers to a farm widow was promptly waylaid by her neighbors, including the county sheriff, driven ten miles out of town and dumped unceremoniously on the side of the road. A Kansas City realtor who had foreclosed on a 500-acre farm turned up with a bullet in his head, his killers never brought to justice. [6]”

God & Freewill, Theists & Atheists

God and freewill, two things that will forever perplex me.

I see them as basically on the same level, theological concepts. God is the faith of the theists. And freewill is the faith of the atheists.

I don’t mean this in a necessarily dismissive way. I actually am affirming the notion of faith. We humans aren’t as rational as we think. Whether theist or atheist, most people are always looking to rationalize. It might not be as obvious with theism, but apologetics is just an attempt (typically a very bad attempt) at rationalizing theism and apologetics is big business these days. Atheists aren’t off the hook, though. It is atheists, more than theists, who usually find it difficult to admit the irrational/nonrational components of life.

I say this as an agnostic who is hard put to take sides in most theist vs atheist debates, although I tend to go with the atheists when it comes to respecting intellect and science. Despite my sharing certain values with many atheists, I can’t follow atheists all the way down the path of rationality. The world is too strange and humans too complex.

Consider freewill. I’ve come to see the atheist’s focus on freewill as a substitute for the theistic soul.

Anyone who has studied psychological research enough knows that most things humans do aren’t rational or often even conscious. We really don’t know why we are the way we are or why we do what we do, but through science we can observe correlations and make predictions. If you know enough about a person, they can be fairly predictable. If humans weren’t predictable, insurance companies wouldn’t be able to make profits. Still, prediction isn’t the same thing as insight and understanding.

There is no rational reason to believe in freewill and yet most people believe in it. It is our shared cultural bias. Even most theists accept freewill, albeit a human will subordinated to the Will of God and/or a human will limited to a morally weak human nature (depending on the theology in question). We believe in freewill because our entire culture is based on this belief and so confirms it and supports it. Still, it is just a belief, one that doesn’t perfectly conform to reality.

Here is where I’m coming from. I’m not religious, but I am spiritual… a statement that most atheists don’t understand, although one could be a spiritual atheist (such as a Buddhist)… a statement maybe that even most theists don’t understand. On the other hand, my not being religious doesn’t imply that I’m anti-religious. I’m simply non-religious, but informally I’m attracted to certain religious practices such as meditation and even prayer (not that I ever feel clear about what I may or may not be praying to). My faith is more Jungian than anything. So, theological ideas such as God and freewill are only meaningful to me in terms of possible underlying archetypes that hold sway deep within the human psyche, if not also in the world at large.

My experiences and observations, my understandings and intuitions have made it hard for me to find a place in any particular Western tradition. Beyond the Jungian, I suppose I could put myself in the very general category of radical skeptic (i.e., zetetic) which I’ve at times identified as agnostic gnosticism or else as Fortean. I’m defined by endless curiosity, greater than any belief or reason.

The religous and philosophical traditions that I have been most drawn to are those of the East, whether the Gnosticism born out of the Middle East or the Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism of the Far East. In this instance, I was thinking about Hinduism. I often contemplate Saraswati, the goddess of creativitiy and intellect, the ultimate artist’s muse. Do I believe in Saraswati? I don’t know. It seems like a silly question. I’m tempted to respond as Jung in saying I don’t believe, I know… but that still leaves such ‘knowing’ unexplained. There is an archetypal truth to Saraswati and I feel no need nor ability to further explain what that might be.

I was thinking about all of this in terms of vision and inspiration. In my own way, I have a visionary sense of Saraswati and this inspires me. But the name ‘Saraswati’ doesn’t matter nor does the religious accoutrements. I’m not a Hindu nor do I want to be. Saraswati is just a reference point for a deeper truth that is otherwise hard to articulate. I don’t believe in God and yet I have this intuitive sense of the divine, for lack of better words. I don’t believe in freewill and yet I have this intuitive sense of a creative ‘will’ that drives me and inspires me.

There was another aspect of Hinduism that was on my mind. The idea of willpower is symbolized and embodied by the god Ganesha. I feel no particular attraction to Ganesha, but I like the idea of willpower as a god rather than as a mere psychological attribute or mere personal expression. This seems to get closer to what willpower means on the archetypal level.

We each are diven and inspired by some vision of reality. This is our faith, typically unquestioned and often unconscious. We simply know it as our ‘reality’ and as such it forms our reality tunnel. There is a Hindu belief that a god resides in or is expressed through each person’s secret heart, the Hridaya chakra. I interpret this in Jungian terms. We each are ruled by some core truth or essence or pattern, whatever you want to call it, however you want to explain it.

We can have a vision of God or a god and we can be ruled by it. But if we explore it more deeply, we might discover a greater truth to why we are drawn to such a vision. We can have a vision of freewill and we can be ruled by it. But we can seek to make this faith conscious, thus seeing will as something greater than a personal possession, control for the sake of control (in the words of William S. Burroughs, “is control controlled by our need to control?”).

Whatever your god or vision, is what is ruling you worthy of your faith? If your faith is blind and your being ruled is unconscious, where does that leave you?

Origin of American Diversity

As a typical under-educated/mis-educated American, I’ve felt compelled to educate myself about American history, especially the complexities of early American history. As a descendant of Europeans from many generations ago, I’m interested about the early immigrations during and after the colonial period. Specifically as a descendant of non-English immigrants, I’m most focused on the ethnic/cultural diversity that formed America, thus setting the stage for everything that followed.

I’ve always been bothered by the white supremacists and their more mainstream cousins, the WASP supremacists. American supremacists often advocate a narrowing of all American culture(s) down to a single monoculture, a supposed original and unique American culture. The ironic part is that this is a very modern idea which goes against traditional European cultural diversity. Even the definition of ‘Europe’ has constantly been argued about since the concept was first mentioned. Some don’t consider the British Isles to be part of Europe. Also, the Finnish are genetically and culturally distinct from the rest of Europe and Britain. The British Isles alone consist of massive diversity caused by the interaction of numerous groups of people from all over Europe. There is little of the original native cultures left in most of Europe and the British Isles.

In America, the early non-English immigrants didn’t just assimilate to English culture. First of all, early America had a diversity of cultures and so there was no single culture to assimilate to. Second, most early immigrants were quite fond of their own culture and many resisted assimilation for generations. Third, many of the colonial governments didn’t seek to force people to assimilate.

Assimilation and the development of a monoculture only became central in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when immigration was curtailed and federal laws enforced a single language onto all public schools. Furthermore, there was the rise of the KKK which was a systematic terrorizing of anyone who didn’t conform to their view of American culture (whites as well as blacks). Anti-immigrant, anti-German, anti-Italian, and anti- all kinds of things commanded much attention from the political and economic elites. An age of conformity arose in early 20th century which came to fruition in the 1950s which is why conservatives idealize the monocultural 1950s instead of the multicultural 1850s or, for that matter, the 1750s.

The supremacists too often have sought to enforce their conservative vision onto all of American history, a romanticized revisionism that conveniently ignores all of the complex factual details. For example, they deny the democratic reformists of the revolutionary era and post-revolutionary era who pushed for radically liberal and progressive policies: feminists and socialists, slavery abolitionists and alcohol prohibitionists, working class free soilers and civil rights activists, Pennsylvania democrats and Whiskey rebels, etc. Beyond this, there were the Native Americans fighting for their own freedom and in some cases their own democratic societies, and there were black revolutionaries either fighting against the British empire or else the American slave-holders.

Early America, even before the revolution, included vast racial and cultural differences, vast religious and political differences, and vast inter-mixings of all of this in different combinations in different places (most American ‘whites’ probably have some non-European genetics, and most American ‘whites’ don’t know about this because mixed-race people tended to pass as whites whenever possible), but even the inter-mixings ended up creating ever new distinct regional cultures, religions and languages/dialects. It was only with the rise of radio and television’s national reach (and their use as vehicles of propaganda during the World Wars) did more Americans begin to think of themselves as a single unified culture, an imagined WASP culture that had always ruled over and united all of America; anyone at that time who thought otherwise wasn’t given a voice in the mainstream media.

I’m writing about this topic in order to begin to grasp the larger picture of how America began. I’ve been reading many books lately that have given me great insight, but I’m still processing that information. You can learn a lot by reading books as I’ve been doing, although almost all of the info I’ve been reading about can even be found in such easily accessible sources as Wikipedia (in fact, you’ll probably learn more accurate info and useful analysis from Wikipedia than you ever gained in grade school). In this Information Age, any American can learn about the intricacies of American history if they so desire.

This topic is a bit overwhelming, though. Some of the complexity of the subject can be seen just from a simplified map of colonial North America (1750):

Spain was the first to permanently colonize North America and claimed the largest portion of the Americas. The French later claimed a territory that challenged Spain’s dominance in North America. However, it wasn’t until Britain gained French territory that the largest battle of colonial empires would happen in North America. The British were slow to invest in their colonies, but because of Spain’s waning empire they were able to expand.

Here is a map of the changes that were happening in the mid 18th century:

“In the late 16th century, England, France, Spain and the Netherlands launched major colonization programs in eastern North America.[1] Many early attempts—notably the English Lost Colony of Roanoke—ended in failure, and everywhere the death rate of the first arrivals was very high, but key successful colonies were established. European settlers came from a variety of social and religious groups. No aristocrats settled permanently, but a number of adventurers, soldiers, farmers, and tradesmen arrived. Ethnic diversity was an American characteristic as the Dutch of New Netherland, the Swedes and Finns of New Sweden, the English Quakers of Pennsylvania, the English Puritans of New England, the English settlers of Jamestown, and the “worthy poor” of Georgia, came to the new continent and built colonies with distinctive social, religious, political and economic styles. Occasionally one colony took control of another (during wars between their European parents), but unlike in Nova Scotia they did not expel the previous inhabitants, but instead lived side by side in peace.”

Even ignoring the vast majority of North America controlled by Spain, France and Russia, the British colonies themselves were very diverse. Britain gained the New Netherland colony and renamed it New York, but the Netherland culture and political tradition was maintained: cultural diversity, religious freedom, freedom of speech, free trade, and a certain amount of racial equality in that free blacks could own land and businesses. Also, non-English immigrants (mostly Germans) formed the majority of the Pennsylvania colony. Germans were among the first immigrants in British colonies and their descendants now form the largest percentage of the US population. Germans and other Northern Europeans, by forming ethnic enclaves, maintained to varying degrees their distinct cultures and languages into the 20th century (the German Amish still maintain a separate culture and language; demonstrating their separateness, they commonly refer to outsiders as ‘English’).

All of the colonies were majority Christian, but other religious adherents could be found, specifically Jews and Muslims. Some were allowed to practice openly, even forming communities; others such as Muslim black slaves were among the first Americans to have religious freedom denied to them. To varying degrees, some non-monotheist slaves maintained their African religious practices. Interestingly, Jefferson included all religions as part of his vision of religious freedom:

“Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed by inserting “Jesus Christ,” so that it would read “A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;” the insertion was rejected by the great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination.”
~ Autobiography (1821), in reference to the Virginia Act for Religious Freedom.

Another interesting point to consider is that blacks formed the majority in the Carolina colony and large percentages in other colonies as well such as Virginia which is the oldest British colony. Why this is interesting is that black slaves raised the children of the slave owners and thus it was blacks with their African culture that shaped the minds of generations of upper class white children. Some have theorized that elements of the South’s unique culture is African in origin.

Furthermore, consider the rarely mentioned fact that Asians have been in America since the 16th century. The largest early immigrations of Asians happened around the same time of the largest European immigrations. A lot of the American economy and infrastructure (such as the railroads) was built with Asian labor. Because of longstanding racial prejudice against them, Asians have maintained separate cultures, religions and languages since they first immigrated. The West Coast has had large Asian populations for a very long time.

Many things that we consider as American didn’t originate from the English. Classical liberalism was first implemented on a society-wide scale in Netherlands and the New Netherlands colony. Besides the multiculturalism of New Netherlands, the other model of American multiculturalism originated from the French who settled New Orleans where the French, German, Filipino, African and Native American cultures freely mixed. The style of the typical log cabin originated from Swedish immigrants. The common design of the Conestoga wagon used by most pioneers was designed by German immigrants. The freedom-loving cowboy culture was developed among Spaniard colonists and the children they had with Native Americans (think about that when a white Republican politician tries to prove his American character by playing the role of cowboy; also, consider Texas and the Southwest was originally a part of Spain’s territory and has always had a majority Spanish culture). The profitable commodities of corn and beans, of course, were agricultural plants developed by Native Americans. The Heartland culture of the Midwest is based on the culture of Germans and Scandinavians, and this Heartland culture was the breeding ground for American progressivism and municipal socialism. The Scots-Irish brought to America the values of military valor/bravado, strident independence/individualism and evangelical fundamentalism; they were some of the first Americans who learned how to effectively fight against and fight in the manner of Native Americans, techniques they would early on use to terrorize other colonists and later on use during the Revolutionary War and the Civil War.

The English tradition represents a very small part of American culture. Even England itself is a multicultural place and has been for a very long time. England was at various times controlled by, conquered by, or genetically mixed with other people from other countries. It was conquered by the Romans which is why Britains have African genetics. The Romans had to deal with the Germans who they never were able to conquer, the Germans having originated from Scandinavia. The German Vikings brought their culture, language and genetics into the British Isles (in fact, the English language originates from a Low German dialect, specifically from the language of the Angles and Saxons). Eventually, many Northern Europeans settled there and created a permanent culture. The Normans, for example, conquered England and it was the Normans that Southern aristocrats modeled themselves after. The Normans were Germans who had first settled in France before conquering England. Even though the early German colonies in North America failed, German culture(s) was essentially introduced again through the colonizing efforts of France and Britain.

An interesting factor to consider is how Europe has been culturally divided similar to America. Northern Europe was dominated by the Scandinavian/German/Protestant influence and Southern Europe was dominated by the Roman/Catholic influence. The highest concentrations of Catholics in the United States are where the Catholic French and Catholic Spaniards first settled:

Ignoring the French influence, I’ve always been fascinated by how the United States immigration patterns mimicked European ethnic regions. Many Northern Europeans settled the Northern regions of the US and many Southern Europeans settled the Southern regions of the US. This is how different regions of the US have maintained distinctive cultures throughout American history. Here is a map showing the ethnicities in America (those identifying as ‘American’ in Appalachia and the South are mostly Scots-Irish):

There never has been a single American culture. And it is unlikely there ever will be a single American culture. Or, at least, it would probably take a few more millennia of a melting pot to accomplish that.

Jonathan Haidt’s Liberal-Minded Anti-Liberalism

Jonathan Haidt wrote a new book, The Righteous Mind. I haven’t seen the book, but I listened to an interview by Bill Moyers. I recommend checking it out. Haidt does have an insightful view, although I think his view would be even more insightful if he synthesized his own research with other psychological research about ideologies and with a larger context of data in general.

Haidt talks about two main things: uncompromising partisanship and lifestyle enclaves. The latter factor magnifies the problem of the former. Americans have become geographically isolated such as conservatives increasingly moving to suburbs and the wealthy moving to gated communities. Americans have become informationally isolated such as of the rise of hyper-partisan media that no longer holds to the standard of neutral or fair reporting. Combined together, all of this isolation increases uncompromising partisanship and it becomes a set of self-reinforcing reality tunnels.

This was in some ways inevitable. Haidt and Moyers discuss how the civil rights movement divided America. That is true, but I’d point out two things. First, Civil Rights was a social problem that had to be faced eventually,  one way or another. Second, the seeming negative consequences of a split society are just a temporary situation of collectively seeking a new norm that includes all Americans.

Haidt is misunderstanding this as being something more than it is. This is seen in his bias against liberalism that is built into his research. He claims that conservatives have a more balanced sense of moral values, but he does so by ignoring most liberal values. He is, in fact, taking a conservative position by ignoring liberal values such as curiosity and open-mindedness (he attacks academics as clueless while praising the conservative Christian mistrust of knowledge, and he does this while entirely ignoring how science is the best method of dealing with confirmation bias; this is significant since most scientists identify as liberals and tend to hold liberal views; as a scientist himself, it is odd that Haidt doesn’t respect objective knowledge even as he bases his argument on scientific evidence — an internal contradiction?).

He essentially doesn’t see liberal values as moral values which is a standard conservative position. I would argue, however, that liberals are more aware of conservative values than conservatives are of liberal values. This is the seemingly irresolvable conflict that liberals face. Research shows that conservatives have less desire to understand those who are different than them and that liberals have more desire for this kind of understanding. Haidt doesn’t acknowledge this and instead rationalizes this conservative blindness even as he claims to be advocating better understanding and cooperation, the very values most strongly supported by liberals.

Research shows liberals put greater value on compromise and cooperation. Earlier in the 20th century when both parties included liberals (i.e., when both parties had two wings), both parties were able to work together toward the common good (data shows that now only the Democratic Party includes two wings — a big tent party — and it is Democrats who unsurprisingly still support compromise). Contrary to Haidt’s opinion, it is liberals that helped create a shared group identity for Americans in the past. It’s precisely because conservatives value group solidarity that they are so incompetent at accomplishing it on the large scale of a diverse society. Haidt, however, criticizes liberals for their lack of valuing group solidarity, despite liberals being better at actually accomplishing it.

To put it simply, Haidt is incorrect. He concludes that liberals don’t value group solidarity for the reason liberals don’t talk about it in the way conservatives talk about it, but this misses the point. Liberals take all of those conservative values and transform them through the liberal values that Haidt doesn’t recognize: compassionate opennesss and willingness/desire to self-question, intellecutal curiosity and honesty (research shows right-wing authoritarians as being the most hypocritical), compromise and cooperation, etc.

Haidt proposes 5 moral values (what he calls moral foundations):

  1. Care for others, protecting them from harm. (He also referred to this dimension as Harm.)
  2. Fairness, Justice, treating others equally.
  3. Loyalty to your group, family, nation. (He also referred to this dimension as Ingroup.)
  4. Respect for tradition and legitimate authority. (He also referred to this dimension as Authority.)
  5. Purity, avoiding disgusting things, foods, actions.

Haidt claims that conservatives value all of these in a balanced way while liberals don’t, but that is obviously not true if one were to look beyond just Haidt’s research… or rather it isn’t as simple as Haidt presents it.

For example, openness to experience is the moral value that is opposite of purity. Haidt doesn’t recognize openness to experience as a moral value. He takes the biased position that liberals lack the moral value of purity instead of pointing out that conservatives lack the moral value of openness to experience.

As another example, consider the moral value of loyalty. Haidt doesn’t consider that to be loyal to one narrow group means to be disloyal to other groups. Liberals have a grander vision of loyalty that includes all of humanity and so in fact liberals value loyalty more than conservatives. It’s because liberals value loyalty to all of humanity that liberals seek care, fairness, justice, and respect for all humans, not just humans that are part of one’s group.

Furthermore, Haidt is conflating a specific period of history with all of human nature. We are in a divisive time and conservatives are good at dominating during such times. Conservatives do so not by bringing Americans together but by turning Americans against each other.

Haidt has too narrow of a focus and is using too narrow of a set of data. His lack of a larger psychological and historical context causes him to offer conclusions that are so limited as to be limiting and maybe to offer solutions that are the opposite of helpful. Haidt does offer some useful insights, but his views are confused and represent only a small piece of a very large puzzle.

In studying Haidt’s view, discern the truths in his theory from the trash of his speculations. Take Haidt’s suggestion of being willing to listen by not responding to Haidt’s bias with an opposite bias. In this, Haidt is suggesting that one should listen to all point of views according to the liberal moral value of openness to experience. In being liberal-minded myself, I agree.

* * *

After writing the above, I checked out some book reviews. One reviewer discussed the specific moral foundations and it turns out that Haidt now includes 6 moral foundations in his model:

  1. Care/harm
  2. Fairness/cheating
  3. Liberty/oppression
  4. Loyalty/betrayal
  5. Authority/subversion
  6. Sanctity/degradation

What was added is Liberty. That makes the model slightly more balanced and unbiased. Liberty is one of the liberal moral values that Haidt was originally ignoring or not noticing. Liberty would be closely related to the psychological trait of ‘openness to experience’, but it wouldn’t capture the full meaning of Openness (especially as it correlates to MBTI intuition and Hartmann’s thin boundary type). Openness is something that conservatives would consider amoral at best and immoral at worst.

Haidt claims that conservatives value all the moral foundations equally and that liberals only value three of them strongly. I just don’t see the evidence for that claim. First of all, I’m not sure what Haidt even means by ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’. If he is going by self-identified labels, then his research isn’t very useful. Data shows that many self-identified conservatives hold many liberal views. Many people don’t want to identify as ‘liberal’ in America because the label has become a slur. So, Haidt may be getting results of ‘conservatives’ being more balanced because that label in America includes not only conservatives but also many liberals, not to mention many libertarians as well. Self-identified labels are beyond useless if actual ideological/political views aren’t considered.

Even in this new and improved model with Liberty included, the same basic criticism remains. Haidt claims that liberals don’t value Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity. He comes to this conclusion because he defines these moral foundations in terms of positive vs negative rather than as a neutral dichotomy or spectrum (as seen in other psychological research: MBTI functions and FFM traits). The opposite of Loyalty isn’t betrayal. Challenging authority is also a moral foundation. Authorities can tell a person to do something immoral in which case it would be moral to ‘betray’ Authority. If we reversed the last three moral foundations to be biased toward liberals (Independence as moral strength opposed to Blind Allegiance as moral weakness; Questioning opposed to Blind Obedience; and Openness/Curiosity opposed to Fear/Hatred/Prejudice toward what is new, different or ‘other’), then the opposite conclusion would follow: Liberals have a balance of all moral foundations and conservatives only value three moral foundations.

This brings me to a review that hits the nail on the head:

“One of the main difficulties is that the author is not straightforward with his premises. By the subtitle we know this book is going to be about “why good people are divided by politics and religion”. But the author does not tell us his hypothesis until we’re nearly finished with the book. Indeed, he admits on page 274 that he hasn’t even established a definition of `morality’ by that point. “You’re nearly done reading a book on morality, and I have not yet given you a definition of morality.” As a matter of fact, he never really does define morality (he offers a definition of `moral systems’, not `morality’), and so it is impossible to make a reasonable assessment of this argument, supposedly on morality.

“His rationale for doing this gives the show away: “The definition I’m about to give you would have made little sense back in chapter 1. It would not have meshed with your intuitions about morality, so I thought it best to wait.” In other words, he needed to prepare the reader by giving preliminary arguments, the assumption being that only after those preliminaries were done, the real argument could be understood.

“But this is to conceal the point being made until after it has been made, and so no one can properly assess that point in the process. This amounts to a rhetorical trick to get people to accept the argument’s foundation and thus have a harder time denying the argument when it is finally presented. In the meantime, the objective reader will be left confused and a little frustrated–What point is he trying to make? Why is he being so elusive? Why doesn’t he come out and say what he means?

“This approach does conform to the theory, itself, however, one of whose main points is to diminish the role of reason and rationality. According to Haidt, people don’t really pay attention to reasonable arguments anyway, rather making decisions based on emotions and intuition. As such, he spends most of the book bypassing a reasonable argument.

“It is a shame because the theme is fairly interesting and deserves to be fleshed out in a good, straightforward argument. The argument, summed up by the definition of moral systems that Haidt offers (on page 274), is as follows:

“Moral systems are interlocking sets of values, virtues, norms, practices, identities, institutions, technologies, and evolved psychological mechanisms that work together to suppress or regulate self-interest and make cooperative societies possible.”

“Basically, morality is an artificial construct geared toward making society work. Once we arrive at this thesis, we actually have something to work with and much of the material leading up to this point finds its place. Of course, one will still have questions about the thesis and the various proofs offered in defense, but at least one has substance to reflect on and test.”

The reviewer clarifies his criticism in a comment below the review:

“Though, it is also par for the philosophical course to begin with definitions of the relevant terms. Without this crucial first step, it is possible to build arguments around movable goals, which is nothing more than sophistry.”

The above review caused me to look for some other critical reviews. Here is one review that, among other criticisms, points out a flaw in Haidt’s defense of religion (specifically conservative religion as Haidt apparently doesn’t deal with liberal religious/spiritual views, practices and institutions):

“Haidt asks later “Why are conservative and religious people happier and more generous than liberal and secular people?” but neither of those claims is quite true. In fact, Wikipedia’s look at religion and happiness notes the following:

“The individual level of happiness and religiosity correlations show up when measuring within the United States, a predominantly religious country where people without religion are outsiders. According to a 2007 paper by Liesbeth Snoep in the Journal of Happiness Studies, there is no significant correlation between religiosity and individual happiness in the Netherlands and Denmark, countries that have lower rates of religion than the United States so that being without religion is not unusual. According to the Gallup World Poll survey conducted between 2005 and 2009 Denmark is the happiest country in the world, and the Netherlands rank fourth.”

“I would suspect that belonging to many demographic groups (Christian, heterosexual, able-bodied, etc.) is related to happiness to the extent that those groups also comprise the majority of their society. One could make a reasonable assumption that life is easier for those whose life situations are most readily acceptable in their society, leading to increased individual happiness. I’ll quote here from a previous post on cross-cultural studies to point out how poorly religion does on measures of societal happiness:

“In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy, and abortion in the prosperous democracies…”

“As far as the “more generous” claim, it is also less straightforward than Haidt’s statement might make it seem. Boston Globe’s Christopher Shea suggested, after reviewing the 2006 book Who Really Cares? that ignited the “stingy liberal” stereotype, that we look closely at the numbers before believing the conclusion. Evolutionary psychologist Nigel Barber looked at the issue here and here, noting that older people have more disposable income and more time to volunteer. He points out that “when age is statistically controlled, there is no difference between religious and nonreligious people in the value of their gifts to secular charities.””

And here is another review that confronts Haidt’s two part claim that conservatives are more intuitive about morality and that intuition is superior to intellect:

“He thinks morality is predominantly intuitive but it’s not quite clear in Marc Perry’s account why this leads Haidt to feel that “conservatives have a more accurate understanding of human nature than do liberals.”

“Human nature may indeed consist of moral imperatives “etched into our brains” through evolution but evolution is a process and simply because some people retain a sense of morality based on mankind’s earliest conditions doesn’t mean that those feelings are confined to those narrower, original concepts. Reasoning comes from experiences and as the human condition changes those experiences broaden our understanding and allow us to see things outside the original box.

“The more intellectual conservatives use reason to explain their so-called intuitive morality as opposed to the “grunt” conservative whose sense of morality is more a gut-level reaction – “I can’t explain it but I know it’s wrong”. Yet this was pretty much the path taken by liberal Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart on his ruling regarding a case about hard-core pornography. The subjective nature of hard-core porn is one of those issues that lacks clearly defined parameters and beyond what had to that point been attempted to describe it in the 1964 case of Jacobellis v. Ohio, Potter simply declared that “I know it when I see it”.”

[ . . . ]

“What it does suggest is that if there is an intuitive gene for morality it is not something that makes us more politically conservative.”

Fear of the Future: Against Progress

I was wondering about why people support certain things that seem against their own interests, even their own openly stated interests. What made me think about this today is a Pew poll:

Lower-Income Republicans Say Government Does Too Little for Poor People

“Mitt Romney’s statement that he is focused solely on the problems of middle class Americans, not the poor, may not sit well with lower-income voters within his own party. Roughly a quarter of Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters have annual family incomes under $30,000, and most of them say that the government does not do enough for poor people in this country.”

The Republican Party has had a War on the Poor for decades. Republican politicians regularly attack the poor as lazy and as leeches on society. The official stance of the GOP is less money for welfare or at least less welfare money for the poor.

It’s seems absolutely insane that a poor person would vote Republican while hoping for more help from the government. As I’ve been studying American history, I was reminded of how some American colonists supported the British government against those who sought freedom and democracy and I was reminded of how some slaves supported the Confederacy during the Civil War.

People fear change. Republicans use the rhetoric of the fear of change. They speak of traditional values and make romanticized claims about the past. Many people fear change because they fear the perceived/imagined threats of chaos, of social disorder and instability.

That is similar to why many who would benefit from revolution supported the British Empire. To embrace change is to embrace the unknown. There is no way one can know that one will gain something greater than what one loses. The British Empire, despite all of its failings and oppression, did offer stability and protection.

The Quakers, for example, feared change because they knew they were surrounded by enemies. The Quakers had been persecuted horrifically by the Puritans. The Quakers were despised by the Southern and Tidewater elites (who saw all of Pennsylvania as a breeding ground of the lower sort). And the Quakers were constantly being threatened by the Scots-Irish in their own territory. It turns out the Quakers did benefit from revolution, but it wasn’t certain that they would benefit.

Slaves were in an even greater situation of facing the unknown as they were intentionally kept ignorant. Most slaves had no idea about what was going on in the North. And it was true that most Northerners wouldn’t welcome them as equal citizens. But the fears of change that many slaves had weren’t entirely accurate, but then again they weren’t entirely inaccurate. The period of history directly following the Civil War was far from kind to African Americans. At least as slaves, their lives had stability and order. It took many generations and massive violence/oppression before African Americans would gain any civil rights victories.

It always comes down to fear of the future, fear of the unknown. That is what humans always face. Progress tends to benefit most people in the long run, but it doesn’t always benefit everyone and certainly doesn’t benefit everyone equally. The problem is that there is no other option. Civilization has set humanity on a course where we can’t just cling to the past. The world is changing whether we like it or not. We can embrace change and guide it toward our benefit or we can resist change and allow someone else decide our fate.

Class War is a Rigged Game

As long as there is class war, the lower classes will never be able to be free. It is hard to break the power of an elite. Even if this is accomplished, it is easy for this elite or a new elite to gain power again. It is endless.

It seems to me that struggle from below will never by itself solve the problem. Somehow the elite has to be transformed by coming to realize that what negatively impacts the lower classes also negatively impacts the elite.

It seems to me that playing into the class war rhetoric will always lead to the upper class winning. It is a rigged game.

The reason it is rigged is because it is an easy game for the elite to win and a difficult, if not impossible, game for the lower classes to win. The elite a small group by definition and it is easy for them to organize, especially as they have so much in common in terms of culture and economics. The lower classes, however, are vast and diverse which makes organization difficult. The elite always have the upper hand in a class war.

The game itself has to change.

Rasmussen Deception About Unions

Here is a Rasmussen poll asking people if they think unions are bad for business:

39% Say Unions Bad for Business, 31% Say Good

I know Rasmussen has a conservative bias. I’m fine with that if their bias only influences their choice of topics and such, but I’m not fine with it when it leads to overt deception and manipulated data.

The title of this poll is designed to show more people think unions are bad than think they are good. The problem is that his is misleading at best. Another 21% says unions are neither good nor bad for business. To be accurate and honest, Rasmussen would have to state that the majority (61%) don’t think unions are bad for business, almost evenly split between unions being neutral or positive in their influence.

If you compare Rasmussen polling to other polling organizations (something I often do), you’ll notice their polling results tend to be biased toward the right. I’ve never analyzed why this is the case, but I’d assume that they intentionally or unintentionally bias their polling questions in that direction.

As such, considering the inherent bias to their polling, it is amazing that they end up with results that clearly show that the American public doesn’t support anti-union sentiments. Their obvious attempt to hide this fact just demonstrates how important this is.

It’s one thing for the public to hold an opinion, but it’s a whole other thing for the public to realize the position they hold is a majority position. Once people realize they are in the majority, they gain a sense of empowerment because they no longer feel disenfranchised. This is the greatest danger the conservative movement faces.

Dark Imagination

The Darkness. The Blackness.
The Dark Mother. The Black Goddess.
All Devouring. All Giving.

She who is the Blackness, the Emptiness, the Void. Ancient memory, bodily impulses, guts and groin.

Deep in the Earth, the Womb of the Mother of us all, the Virgin Mother. Caverns where all light is extinguished, where the force of Light can’t penetrate. All that one can do is feel, feel, feel… run one’s fingers along the walls, feel the mud between one’s toes… feel, feel, feel the tug of water flowing downward, ever downward into chasms unseen.

The Earth, Gaia. The dark rich soil out of which life grows. The humus where life and death meets, endless aeons of death upon death out of which life emerges, a dark magic of creation that simultaneously re-creates even as it creates anew.

The Deep Blackness of the ocean where undiscovered beings dwell. The Darkness of the woods on a moonless night. Breathing, movements, things that brush by, things that sting. A mass of life, an orgy of life, self-consuming, all-consuming. Life flows, emerges, feeds. Life, an urge, a force.

The Darkness, Blackness of night. The garish sun hidden by earth, the distant stars like cat’s eyes in the dark, eyes looking back across light years of space. The openess, the emptiness of space, the void, the womb. Infinite potential that can be nothing else.

The Darkness, Blackness of mind. The unconscious unknown, unknowable. The Dark Imagination. The Trickster is the first Son of the Dark Mother, the Black Goddess. The Artist is her servant, she his muse. The Light of Truth must be brought down into the Darkness of Being. Light given form becomes darkness. Darkness given form becomes substance. Gestation is an event out of sight, out of mind.

“Art flies around truth, but with the definite intention of not getting burnt. Its capacity lies in finding in the dark void a place where the beam of light can be intensely caught, without this having been perceptible before.”

Franz Kafka (1953). Blue Octavo Notebooks