Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Google and Reason

I usually do a New Year’s blog, laying out some goals that only get roughly met. This year, I watched a Bill Moyer’s interview that talks about the research I wish I had found by simply surfing the web. But it’s too complicated for that. It involves about 100 years of history as well as the 200,000 year history of human beings. It starts with the teaser, “politics is religion”. This goes back to one of my earliest stories about the liberal interpretation of the Parable of the Talents.

Instead of finding insightful talks that make us think while casually surfing we find what we want. For example, I was never comfortable with GMOs being called “Franken-foods” but still I was stuck for years seeing Monsanto as an evil corporation that was raping the earth. Liberals, listen up, you’re going to be told that you are worse at listening to the opposition than they are at hearing you. Conservatives, you’re not off the hook, you are less caring. The interview is much more nuanced than that, and it includes solutions.

Solutions are rare in these days of cold scientific facts. The data is presented without much help for how to absorb it. Jonathan Haidt relates the problem of tribalism to things we can relate to like football games. He also covers how we went from that to a polarized nation in a pluralistic world.

One suggestion; don’t demonize. When we hear someone express an opinion on gay rights, welfare, the Pope or inequality, we think we instantly know much more about that person’s motivations and opinions on other issues. Thing is, we’re often right, but declaring it or just thinking it before the person has said it, creates a divide and that’s wrong. It may be that no value could have come out of a lengthy conversation, but more often that conversation is never had. Each walks away knowing they are right.

Another solution; understanding the scientific method. I know I’ll lose a few there, but hang on, he also says that, given human nature individual reasoning is not reliable. It comes a little after the half hour mark and it’s a great explanation. He doesn’t talk about evidence or the principle of falsifiability. He talks about bringing together people who disagree, actually seeking out people who disagree with you. There are some rules about how you disagree but basically, you don’t get to call your idea or research “fact”, if you haven’t had your peers review it. They used to do this in Congress. We used to do it at the kitchen table. You can see it on reruns of Archie Bunker. In TV shows today the kitchen table has some junk on it and people are running in and out shouting their opinions at each other.

Haidt uses a prevalent metaphor of The Matrix. In that movie, humans are asleep, slaves to the machines. It is consensual hallucination. The machines created it, but the humans had to accept it to remain asleep to reality. The computer generated agent explains to the human Neo that the first time they created the Matrix they made it a utopia but people kept waking up. We intuitively know that we can’t all agree on everything, so we knew it was not real. To keep us occupied, focused on conflict with each other, unaware of our real fate, they made a modern world with some comforts but with conflict and disparities.

We see so many people telling us we are in la-la land while we believe we have it right and it’s them that are deluded. Fast forward to 19 minutes to see the data on the worldview of the two sides. He also spends some time reviewing symbols and signs held up by each. See which push your buttons. I love that he uses “Protestant Ethic” and “Kharma” interchangeably. He is able to say that something is wrong with America without blowing away capitalism or saying we should let the free market go unfettered.

Another teaser, he says conservatives are more in touch with human nature. But being a better moral psychologist doesn’t make you a better person. He shows this with Newt Gingrich’s GoPac memo and Grover Nordquist’s pledge to not for vote for any new taxes as well as the failure of the way Democrats present their policies.

When you’re done, ask yourself; are you the ant or the grasshopper? Who are your sacralized groups? What is the proper role of government

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