Radical Ideology as Stupidity Enabler

I just finished reading A River in Darkness, the autobiography of a Korean-Japanese man who escaped from North Korea. It’s a tragic and engrossing read, but one detail that stuck out was the way that North Korean bureaucrats forced North Korean farmers to grow rice in ways that even a kid from urban Japan who had never studied agriculture knew were incorrect. (Basically, they planted the rice much too close together.)

It reminded me of another book, The Three-Body Problem, which depicted some of the real-life events of the Cultural Revolution in China, in particular “struggle sessions” in which Chinese professors were publicly humiliated and tortured by a mob in part for refusing to recant scientific principles that had been deemed incompatible with political doctrine.

Panchen Lama during the struggle session in 1964 (Wikipedia)

The communists in North Korea and China were in good company. Matt Ridley, in The Origins of Virtue, recounts the Soviet Union’s own peculiar war on science:

Trofim Lysenko argued, and those who gainsaid him were shot, that wheat could be made more frost-hardy not by selection but by experience. Millions died hungry to prove him wrong. The inheritance of acquired characteristics remained in official doctrine of Soviet biology until 1964.

So in North Korea they insisted on disregarding ancient agricultural knowledge because the Party knew best, up to and including triggering massive starvation. In China they executed, exiled, and fired an entire generation of trained scientists because the Party knew best. And in the Soviet Union they insisted on trying to create frost-resistant wheat by freezing the seeds first and created even more massive starvation. Genetics, quantum mechanics, and common sense: why did the Party think they knew so much?

Let me tell you what got me thinking about this. A friend of mine posted a link to this article from Duke University’s The Chronicle detailing that a graduate program director who urged foreign students studying at Duke to speak English has been forced to step down as a result of her advice. Now, I don’t have enough information about the outrage du jour to have a strong opinion about it. As a matter of basic ethics and common sense, it’s rude and counterproductive to go to a foreign country to study and work and then hang around other people speaking your own language instead of adopting the language of the country you’ve moved to. Of course there are exceptions and I don’t generally think it’s a good idea to enforce every aspect of etiquette and common sense with formal policies, but that’s not really the point. I don’t want to take a strong position on the Duke case because I don’t know or care that much about it.

On the other hand, my friend who posted the article knew everything there is to know about it. I will not quote from the post (it was not shared publicly), but she interpreted everything through the standard lens or racism / colonialism / privilege / etc. and as a result she had zero doubts about anything. She spoke with absolute confidence and black-and-white judgment. Then all of her like-minded friends piled on, congratulating her. She knew and they knew that there was one and only explanation, one and only one answer, and that it was obvious.

I tried to engage in some discussion, leading with a simple question: have you ever lived in a foreign country and did you insist on speaking your language there? Do you even speak a foreign language? She hasn’t, so she couldn’t, and she doesn’t. (I have, I could but I did not, and I do.) Instead of considering that her view might be wrong, however, she just called for another friend to come in because they were a specialist in linguistic imperialism. So, as far as I know, this friend also has zero relevant experience but has a bigger ideological toolbox to whack people over the head with. Other commenters–even when they were polite–were just as clueless, sharing stories about growing up in bilingual homes or teaching English as a second language at the elementary school level. What do either of these things–interesting as they may be in themselves–have to do with speaking English in a graduate program? Not a single thing.

There are two things going on.

First, radical ideologies are incredibly dangerous things because they enable stupidity on a massive scale. People embrace radical ideologies because they are powerful explanation-machines. Life confronts all of us with ambiguity, complexity, and uncertainty. Also, disappointment and difficulty. Radical ideologies are a perfect antidote to the ambiguity, complexity, and uncertainty. They are, functionally speaking, fulfilling the same role that conspiracy theories do. They don’t improve your life, they aren’t meaningfully accurate, but they make your life explicable. They turn all of the randomness into order. This doesn’t actually make your situation objectively better, but it makes it feel better.

This can be relatively harmless. Radical ideology, conspiracy theories, and superstition have harmless manifestations where they don’t really do anything except waste time in exchange for a false feeling of control. Sure, you might be throwing away money to get your palm read, but it’s not really hurting anyone, right?

Sure, but things get dicier when your kooky explanation-machine happens to target, say, vaccines. Or all of modern psychiatry. Or, heck, modern medicine from start to finish. Even in these cases, the damage is limited to mostly yourself and, in particularly tragic cases, maybe your kids.

But when the explanation-machine that you’ve adopted is a political ideology, we go through a kind of phase-change and things get much, much worse.

Unlike micro explanation machines–superstition and conspiracy theories, for example–political ideologies are macro explanation machines. They have two functions. The first is the same as micro explanation machines: to quickly and easily make your life experiences intelligible. But they don’t stop there. They have a second function, and that function is to accumulate power. And that’s where things go off the rails and we get industrial-scale stupidity enabling.

To illustrate this, we have to understand why it was that Marxists in North Korea planted rice too close together, or Marxists in China executed physicists, or Marxists in the USSR kept using psuedo-science to try and grow frost-resistant wheat. You see, it wasn’t just some kind of weird accident that happened to be harmful, in the way that some people cling to harmless conspiracy theories like Bigfoot and others cling to harmful ones like the anti-vax crowd. Nope, the Marxists in North Korea, China, and the USSR were following a script laid down intentionally and inevitably by Lenin and Stalin.

Here’s philosopher Steven L. Goldman’s recounting:

This imperialism of the scientific world view—that there is such an imperialism—has a kind of, let’s call it, acute support that one doesn’t ordinarily encounter from an odd quarter, and that is from V.I. Lenin and Joseph Stalin. Before he was preoccupied with becoming the head of the government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Lenin wrote a book called Materialism and Imperio-Criticism in which he harshly criticized Ernst Mach’s philosophy of science, and other philosophies of science influenced by Mach, that denied that the object of scientific knowledge was reality—that denied that scientific knowledge was knowledge of what is real and what is true.

Lenin strongly defended a traditional—not a revolutionary—but a traditional conception of scientific knowledge, because otherwise Marxism itself becomes merely convention. In order to protect the truth of Marxist philosophy of history and of society—in order to protect to the idea that Marxist scientific materialism is “True” with a capital “T,” Lenin attacked these phenomenalistic theories, these conventionalistic theories—that we have seen defended by not just Mach, but also by Pierre Duhem, Heinrich Hertz, Henri Poincare, at about the same time that Lenin was writing Materialism and Imperio-Criticism.

Stalin in the 1930s made it clear that the theory of relativity and quantum theory, with its probability distributions as descriptions of nature—”merely” probabilistic descriptions of nature—”merely” I always say in quotation marks—that these were unacceptable in a Communist environment. Again, this is for the same reasons, because Marxist scientific materialism must be true. So, scientific theories that settle for probabilities and that are relative, are misunderstanding that special and general theories of relativity are in fact absolute and deterministic theories.


The willful stupidity of Marxist-Leninist ideology is not an accidental byproduct. It is a direct consequence of the fact that radical political ideologies are not content to be one explanation-machine among many but–as organized political movements in a battle for power–have to fight to be the explanation machine. This leads directly towards conflict between Marxist-Leninist ideology and any other contender, including both science and religion.

When these macro explanation machines aren’t killing millions of people, the absurdity can be hilarious. Here’s Goldman again:

A curious thing happened, namely that Russian physicists of the 1930s, 1940s and even into the 1950s, in books that they published on relativity and quantum theory, had to have a preface in which they made it clear that this book was not about reality—that these theories were not true, but they were very interesting and useful. It was okay to explore, but of course they’re not true because if they were, they would contradict Marxist scientific materialism.

This is quite funny because back in the 16th century, when Copernicus’ On the Revolution of the Heavenly Spheres was published in 1543, it was accompanied—unbeknownst to Copernicus, who was dying at the time—that the man who saw it through publication was a Protestant named Andreas Osiander—who stuck in a preface in order to protect Copernicus, because he knew that the Church would be upset if this theory of the heavens were taken literally. We know Galileo was in trouble for that. We talked a lot about that. So Osiander stuck in a preface saying, “You know, I don’t mean that the Earth really moves, but if you assume that it does, then look how nice and less complicated astronomy is.”

Now, I’m a religious person. I don’t think there’s any unavoidable conflict between religion and science. But when religion becomes a political ideology–as it was in the days of Copernicus and Galileo–then it is functionally equivalent to any other macro explanation machine (like Marxist-Leninism) and you will get the same absurd results (and, more often than not, the same horrific death tolls).

So here’s what I’ve learned. Human evil is never dangerous when it’s obvious. All of the great evils that we recognize today–fascism, slavery, Marxist-Leninism–were attractive in their day. And not to cackling, sinister villains rubbing their hands together with glee at the thought of inflicting evil misery on the world. Ordinary people thought that each of these monstrous evils was reasonable and, in many cases, even preferable.

If you roll that logic forward, it implies that the greatest evils of our time will be non-obvious. The movement that in 40 or 50 years from now we will revile and disavow is a movement that seems respectable and even attractive to many decent and intelligent people today. It is a macro explanation engine that appeals to people individually because it brings order to their personal narratives and–because it is functioning in the political realm–it is a macro explanation engine that will seek to crowd out all competitors and will therefore be hostile not only to alternative political ideologies but also to micro explanation engines that function in totally disparate realms like religion in science.

And, precisely because it seeks to undermine all other explanation engines even when operating in domains where it has zero utility or applicability, it will be most easily recognized in one way: as a massive enabler of stupidity.

Because that’s what happens when you have a mighty hammer. You start to see nothing but nails.

Most Americans don’t like political correctness.

According to Yascha Mounk in The Atlantic the following people dislike political correctness:

  • 97% of devoted conservatives
  • 88% of American Indians
  • 87% of those who have never attended college
  • 87% of Hispanics
  • 83% of those who make less than $50,000 per year
  • 82% of Asian people
  • 79% of people under age 24
  • 79% of white people
  • 75% of African Americans
  • 74% of people age 24-29
  • 70% of those who make more than $100,000 per year
  • 66% of those with a postgraduate degree
  • 61% of traditional liberals
  • 30% of progressive activists

In fact “progressive activists” were the only group that overall liked political correctness, a group which Mounk describes as “much more likely to be rich, highly educated–and white.” This description supports previous findings by Pew Research.

Mounk asked his Twitter followers to guess what percent of the country has a problem with political correctness, and they greatly underestimated the true numbers. Mounk theorizes this is because, as he puts it,

They are probably a decent approximation for a particular intellectual milieu to which I also belong: politically engaged, highly educated, left-leaning Americans—the kinds of people, in other words, who are in charge of universities, edit the nation’s most important newspapers and magazines, and advise Democratic political candidates on their campaigns.

In other words, the progressive view (the minority view) benefits from having a particularly large mouthpiece.

The study Mounk is reviewing found that most Americans, described as the “exhausted majority,” see political correctness as “the preening display of cultural superiority” and “an excuse to mock the values and ignorance of others.” Mounk concludes:

A publication whose editors think they represent the views of a majority of Americans when they actually speak to a small minority of the country may eventually see its influence wane and its readership decline. And a political candidate who believes she is speaking for half of the population when she is actually voicing the opinions of one-fifth is likely to lose the next election.

In a democracy, it is difficult to win fellow citizens over to your own side, or to build public support to remedy injustices that remain all too real, when you fundamentally misunderstand how they see the world.

Graphic from the report “Hidden Tribes: A Study of America’s Polarized Landscape,” which Mounk summarizes in his article.

Sorting out meta-narratives around the Kavanaugh question

Kavanaugh has been cleared from the committee to the Senate floor. Sen. Jeff Flake, a crucial swing vote, has said he will vote for Kavanaugh on the floor if and only if an FBI investigation of no more than one week is completed into the claims. Trump has authorized such an investigation, saying that it must be no more than one week and may only look into currently pending credible allegations.

In the coming week, our national discourse will center around the issue of whether or not Kavanaugh should be confirmed.

And in all of the talking, we will make points either for or against Kavanaugh’s nomination, some points good and some points bad. These points will form part of a narrative, making up a way to look at the issue. And as we argue, more and more of the narrative will get beaten down to just the central nuggets of it, which I’m going to call a meta-narrative. While the narrative is formed from the arguments we make and the stories we tell about the situation, the meta-narrative is what motivates our formation of those narratives. And so in the interest of pushing us along further, I think I’d like to strip us down to just the meta-narratives in this discussion.

Hopefully, knowing what the meta-narratives are can help us discuss this in a way that isn’t emotionally traumatic to too many people, and get closer to the truth of what we want as a nation.

I’d like to say that there are two, but I think there are four. Two of them I consider beneath consideration. Those two are as follows, with the names I will give them for this post:

  • Liberalizing: Kavanaugh can’t be confirmed because he will be Trump’s second SCOTUS nominee and the 5th conservative on the Court, after which, for a long while, we can expect the Court to rule in favor of conservatives in any major political issue.
  • Conservatizing: Kavanaugh must be confirmed because he will be Trump’s second SCOTUS nominee and the 5th conservative on the Court, after which, for a long while, we can expect the Court to rule in favor of conservatives in any major political issue.

No one would ever say that this is their position; but people do in fact hold these meta-narratives, and they bubble forth in the sorts of arguments that they will end up making either for or against. I think these are beneath consideration because they are sub-rational and purely tribal. Notice that neither of these meta-narratives really cares about whether Kavanaugh is guilty, whether Dr. Ford is telling the truth, whether or not Kavanaugh has been unfairly smeared by the press for the auxiliary other charges, or anything. It only cares about who has the Court. And honestly, it’s a sad disgrace to our nation that we’d go to this level.

In the Liberalizing meta-narrative, any charge, at all, is worth disqualifying him over, no matter how ridiculous. Kavanaugh fighting on a boat in Rhode Island? Sure, why not. Kavanaugh participating in organized gang rape rings as a teenage boy of 15? Sure, why not. Throw whole fistfuls of spaghetti against the wall, see what sticks.

In the Conservatizing meta-narrative, no charge, at all, is worth disqualifying him over, no matter how credible or serious. Ford is probably lying; but if she isn’t, then she’s probably misremembering; but if she isn’t, then it doesn’t matter because it was a long time ago; and it wasn’t even that bad anyway, she should get over it.

So let’s just table these two indefinitely. Real people are driven by these meta-narratives, but they are really only strawmen positions. Let’s look to rational people, who want to examine the issue fairly, if not dispassionately. These meta-narratives, to me, are the ones worth discussing.

  • Victim-Affirming: The confirmation on Kavanaugh is a referendum on how we as a nation respond to survivors of sexual assault and rape. If we deny him the Court, we are sending the message to millions of women (or men) that when you come forward we will hear you and we will take action, even at the highest levels of power. And if we vote to confirm him, we are sending the message to those same millions that we won’t take you seriously and your voice is powerless.
  • Decency-Affirming: The confirmation on Kavanaugh is a referendum on how we as a nation respond to the ritual defamation tactics exhibited by Democrats, the press, and others driven by the Liberalizing meta-narrative. If we confirm him to the Court, we will deny this sort of tribalistic tactic and prevent it from being reinforced and send the message that this will not work. If we deny him the Court, we are sending the message to Democrats (and then to Republicans, and then to the nation more broadly) that when we do not like your opinions on politics, we have carte blanche to descend to the level of the Salem witch hunts in attacking every aspect of you we can find.

Now, if you’re politically liberal, then I know that you’re probably wondering why you should care about the Decency-Affirming meta-narrative. I know that you don’t like Kavanaugh, and you probably think he is actually guilty, and if he is actually guilty then why do we care about his reputation? I’ll get back to that.

The Victim-Affirming and Decency-Affirming meta-narratives provide an outlet that is actually concerned with the factual guilt or innocence of Kavanaugh under the claims.  Even if you think Victim-Affirmation is essential, you might not think it’s that essential when the person is innocent; and even if you think Decency-Affirmation is essential, you might not care all that much if the charges are actually true.  Both meta-narratives are serving ends beyond tribal politics, and ends that I’m going to say are both good.

Here are a few things we can draw from recognizing that both of these meta-narratives exist:

Firstly, if you are a victim of sexual assault, or a strong ally for victims of sexual assault, then please understand that anyone you know who is wavering towards Kavanaugh or firmly pro-Kavanaugh is probably not arguing within the same meta-narrative as you. Which is to say, you are interpreting a support of Kavanaugh within your meta-narrative, where supporting him means telling other survivors not to bother coming forward. Whereas the support may in fact be coming from the Decency-Affirming meta-narrative. No one is intending to send you this message, even though that is unfortunately the message being sent.

Secondly, if you are strongly concerned about the smearing of Kavanaugh in the press, then please understand that anyone you know who is leaning to Dr. Ford’s side or firmly and strongly on her side is also probably not arguing within the same meta-narrative as you. They are not necessarily intending to support the behavior of the Democrats or the press, even though that is also unfortunately the message being sent.

Seeing how both Victim- and Decency-Affirming meta-narratives send a bad message without intending to, I really hope will help both sides understand how this message can be sent, regardless of intention.

Thirdly, as mentioned but really worth reinforcing, the messages get sent regardless of intention. If you only want to send the message that we will believe and take seriously witnesses, then you also send the message that we can perform this same circus again in the future and it will work.  Maybe we’ll do it when it’s your guy up to the bench; or even when you yourself are u to the bench.  And if you only want to send the message that this circus is intolerable, indecent, and a threat to our democracy that we won’t stand for… then you also send the message that we’re not going to listen to future survivors of sexual assault. There’s no way to send both desired messages. There’s no way to send either desired message without sending an undesired message. That’s where we are.

And so I think this suggests a synthesis meta-narrative that will better serve us in this discussion.

  • Synthesis Meta-Narrative: We want to affirm the survivors of sexual assault, but we also want to strongly condemn the tactics of ritualistic defamation and press libel campaigns and set high standards. We can’t do both, and we need to decide which message is more important to send.

Now we are somewhere, at least, because I think reasonable people driven by this meta-narrative can see good and bad on both sides. We can construct points and arguments around this, and not have to assume someone else is holding a strawman position such as “witch hunts are cool” or “I like rapists.”

But hold on, you say. You’re a reasonable person, and you really don’t get the problem in the Decency-Affirming meta-narrative.

I can  understand it.  I am not a Republican, but I do lean conservative. I was very disappointed by Kavanaugh’s nomination. In his past, he has been instrumental in the Patriot Act and ruling on cases that greatly expand the power of the government to invade our privacy and kill us.  Like many on the left, I too immediately thought he looked like a frat-boy douchebag and spoke like he was about to go to a kegger with the broskis (and like many on the left I that means I immediately didn’t like him).  When the allegations came out, I was already indifferent on him, and was ready to put him away and move on to the next judge (hopefully Amy Coney Barrett), without even really caring if the charges were absolutely positively true.

But as the week progressed and more and more people driven either by the Liberalizing or Conservatizing meta-narratives made their arguments, things ramped up more and more. The Conservatizers’ denial that any of it mattered no doubt spurred the Liberalizers to think of even more things to bring out hoping just the sheer volume of charges would make it impossible to look away from them. I actually thought the Republicans on the committee (not the Republicans on random facebook comments; but the ones on the committee) were very accommodating to the charges, while the Democrats were clearly using the charges to their own political ends.

The insanity that gripped our media institutions closely resembles ritualistic defamation, afore alluded to.  This is a process identified by Laird Wilcox back int the 90’s, which describes the mentality of the Salem witch hunts, the McCarthy hearings, the anti-Jewish pogroms of Europe, and the violence of the Inquisition.  You can walk through those points and see how all of them are applicable here.  Some key points of this are: that the defamation is ultimately indifferent to the actual charges presented, and only begins because a social taboo is violated; the subject of the defamation becomes the representation of the worst form of the accusation (such as a leader of organized rape gangs); and any form of defense is irrelevant and interpreted only as further evidence of guilt.

All this withstanding, I decided firmly that I was not going to let the behavior of the Democrats and their press influence my opinion on the truthfulness of Dr. Ford.  I would listen to her present her testimony, and on the basis of the hearings come to my own conclusion on what to think about this all.

And she totally sold me. I can’t not believe that she’s telling the truth. And if I believe she’s telling the truth, the logical conclusion is that Kavanaugh did try to assault her and is thereby disqualified (both for the assault itself and for lying about it under oath).

All of this to say, I understand why you wouldn’t care about Kavanaugh: you think he’s a douchey frat boy who tried to rape a girl.

So then, don’t be worried about Kavanaugh, specifically.  Be worried about yourself, your friends, your family, your future sons or grandsons, or other men close to you. Just like you aren’t worried about Dr. Ford specifically, but worried about all the women in your life who might have been abused in the past or future by someone like Kavanaugh.

Setting aside Dr. Ford and her allegations (as I think they are vastly different), from the time she came forward with her story the press has been breathlessly repeating everything they can get anyone to say. They have canvassed basically the entire population of 1980’s Maryland hoping to find anyone else who is willing to say anything else about Kavanaugh. And the things they came up with were absurd on their face. The charges became so ridiculous newspapers have had to print retractions or clarifications or started refusing to print them in the first place. The Democrats have repeated these and encouraged this behavior. There could have been a way to settle this issue discretely, without a media circus, by means of a confidential Senate investigation. The Senate has those means. The witnesses could have been interviewed in person under threat of perjury, the evidence could have been examined, and a conclusion reached long ago, without having to bring either Dr. Ford or Kavanaugh out into the public for it. The Democrats purposefully did not do that, because they needed the last-minute feeding frenzy to delay the vote. The Democrats’ goal is really simple. They don’t care about Ford, they don’t care about her feelings, they don’t care about whether she was assaulted, they only care about the letter after Kavanaugh’s name (R) and keeping one more of those letters off the court.

Is this an acceptable way for a democracy to work? Is this even a functional way for a democracy to work?

I don’t think it can be. I don’t think we will be able to live together as a society if we can’t agree that this is not an acceptable process.

An acceptable process, as I alluded to, would have respected the confidentiality of Dr. Ford and not brought her name into the press, while at the same time investigated the serious and credible claims to see what other corroborating evidence could be found.

Today it’s Kavanaugh, and yeah, Trump appointed him and Trump’s bad. But in ten years Trump will be gone, and this new norm will remain. In ten years it will be you. And whether you’ve ever sexually assaulted anyone or not, we will know all it will take is the accusation that you did, and suddenly your entire life and career will be over, with global newspapers reporting you guilty of the very worst crimes a private individual is capable of. The standard is not being set at the level of “guilty”; it is going to be permanently set at the level of “accused.”  And while it’s not all that hard to avoid sexually assaulting anyone in your life, it’s a lot harder to be able to prove that you’ve never sexually assaulted anyone in your life.  This will not stay with Kavanaugh. This will become the new norm in all society as we quickly approach an abyss that I’m increasingly worried bottoms out in another civil war.

I realize now that I’m not giving any voice to explaining the Victim-Affirming side. That’s mostly because I consider it self-evident that telling survivors of sexual assault to stay silent is bad, whether we say it unintentionally or not. It’s also because I think I’m largely aiming this at reasonable liberals, who I assume are already there. But just for the sake completeness, rape or sexual assault is a terrible and evil thing, and when a woman (or a man) has suffered it, it is very difficult to come forward. It makes you feel weak and vulnerable, and also ashamed of yourself. The experience is traumatic, and most who suffer it want to just forget it and not give it any more space in their heads. Coming forward is extremely difficult for the survivors, but it is also extremely important that they do come forward. We need a world without rape or sexual assault. And we can move to that world only if the survivors of abuse feel confident in coming forward that they will be accepted and heard. And that respect for victims is also essential to the fabric of our society.  So it is important that we believe Dr. Ford, especially after her very vulnerable sworn testimony.

So what do we do?

I don’t know, really.

We can look at the evidence. If Kavanaugh is guilty, then he’s disqualified. On multiple levels.  No need to worry over negative messages.

But there isn’t a lot of evidence to help us decide this, and the evidence that exists is exculpatory. He kept a detailed calendar-diary of the summer in question that he clearly marked with his ongoings and whereabouts. The only entry that has been found that might the incident Dr. Ford described the entry for Timmy’s house, and it seems that Timmy’s house is actually 10 miles away from the Chevy Chase country club (according to information in the linked thread on democraticunderground), essentially ruling that option out. There were witnesses who Dr. Ford said were there, but they have said they either do not remember it or that it did not happen. We have Dr. Ford’s credible allegation, and Kavanaugh’s credible denial, the denial of witnesses, and a piece of exculpatory evidence.

A further piece of evidence may come in the form of what “boof” means. Many point to this as a possible lie. Kavanaugh said this was a fart joke, but according to many that is definitely not what it means. Since that isn’t what it means, that means Kavanaugh is guilty of perjury, and perjury disqualifies you from being on the Supreme Court. Whether you did rape a girl or not. If Kavanaugh lied during these questions, then we can dismiss him. However, I’m not sure how you can ever prove someone is lying about what he meant when he used a slang word 30 years ago.

Looking at the evidence that exists, it seems that Kavanaugh is probably innocent.

But then how do we make sense of Dr. Ford’s testimony? How can we possibly fit that into a picture of Kavanaugh’s innocence?

I again don’t know. 

Now, I’d like to reiterate. If the Liberalizing narrative hadn’t been spun about Kavanaugh raping puppies in New Mexico while free-basing the ashes of Hitler or whatever else it is, then I would think that Dr. Ford’s testimony, all by itself, would be enough to disqualify Kavanaugh, without new information. I think it wouldn’t matter because there would be no negative message to send by simply voting no on his nomination.

But that narrative was spun, and now there is a negative message to send.  And so I think we need a good reason before sending either.

I think that in the week ahead, we will get to this Synthesis meta-narrative, and start arguing about which message we really need to send. And I think most people are going to side with the Victim-Affirming side. And so I think Kavanaugh will ultimately not be confirmed.

In the meantime, I suppose the FBI investigation is the closest to a kind of compromise we can come to in the meta-narrative. It sends the message that we’re taking the claims seriously, or at least seriously enough to postpone a vote and investigate them. If the investigation finds nothing new (and I doubt it will), then Kavanaugh can be confirmed without necessarily sending the message that the allegation wasn’t taken seriously (obviously some people will still see it that way, but it is not as direct). If the investigation does find something new and finds Kavanaugh is guilty, he can be denied without sending the message that the ritualistic defamation that followed Dr. Ford’s allegation is also good.

Part of the problem, of course, will be when people driven by the Conservatizing or Liberalizing meta-narratives learn this, and begin using these talking points to their own strictly tribal ends. They are served by the fact that we have to send one of these messages, so even if a compromise is pointed out, it is in their interest to convince us that the compromise is not a compromise. They will be very loud about this.

In closing, I hope people of good faith on both sides of this divide can better understand why other people of good faith might be on the other side. I hope you can understand how to better have this conversation, to hopefully move us closer to the truth of the matter and to a best course of action. Disagreement with you doesn’t make someone evil or irratonal. There are irrational people in this discussion, and they exist on both sides. If we can agree on nothing else, let’s at least agree to politely ask the irrational people on our own side to shut up, so the adults can talk about this very serious problem facing our nation.

Ford & Kavanaugh: I’m not on a side, I’m just tired.

Random thoughts:

It is not at all strange to me that Ford would not go public with these accusations before now. Most women who have experienced sexual assault don’t tell anyone even privately about it, much less go public, much less go public in such a politically polarized context. If I were her I would want to avoid it all too, and I’d also feel conflicted if the person who assaulted me was about to be handed such incredible power. The fact that Ford didn’t speak up before now in no way invalidates her claims, to my mind.

I also think it’s significant that there’s evidence she was talking about this experience at least as far back as 2012, because that fact undermines the idea that this is all some ad hoc plot to stop Kavanaugh. I don’t think it’s weird that she didn’t use his specific name at the time. I could hardly stand to say the name of the dude from my past and he was in no way powerful or famous.

I also don’t think it’s strange that she’s hazy on a lot of details. I’ve seen so many posts—including a lot of posts from sexual assault victims—claiming a victim basically never forgets and if she were telling the truth she’d remember everything. That is just not accurate. Human memory is notoriously imprecise and fallible. We know from the work of the Innocence Project that many people have been imprisoned based largely on eyewitness testimony that was incorrect, and that’s not to say eyewitnesses were lying per se. In many cases they were probably entirely sincere, but there are many psychological biases that can make our memories false. Add to that decades since the event. It’s not weird that she doesn’t remember how she got there or left, in my opinion. I am much younger than she and I am very fuzzy on many high school memories and I was sober the entire time too.

That said, human memory is notoriously imprecise and fallible, so it’s a problem that there appears to be no corroborating evidence of Ford’s account. I think it’s pretty significant that none of the people she said were present have corroborated her. I doubt Ford is lying. I don’t think she’s acting out of partisan politics. But I am not as certain that she’s right.

And then there’s Kavanaugh. His opening statement was more passionate than I expected. He behaved the way a man falsely accused might be expected to behave. Then again I have known men who seemed quite likable, who you’d never believe would do something like that, and they totally have. Or, as a somewhat tangential example, it reminds me of Rod Dreher’s article about how his family very painfully left the Catholic church after discovering that a priest they specifically liked had a history of sexual assault allegations, and Dreher and his wife realized they couldn’t rely on their instincts: they would have had no idea and their parish warned no one. Predators can be very convincing. You can’t tell just based on apparent righteous indignation. I think both an innocent man and a guilty one would behave that way. I’ll admit there were moments when I felt a bit sorry for Kavanaugh but then I kept coming back to the fact that his emotional displays, in my opinion, don’t really tell us anything.

That’s not even getting into the fact that he may 100% believe he’d done nothing even when he had. It was decades ago, and, once again, human memory is very fallible, even more so if it’s true he was drinking a lot. In my personal experience and being familiar with the personal experiences of others, certain types of men can unequivocally cross a line and truly not view it that way at the time or remember it that way later. I have seen this. So just as Ford could be 100% sincere and also wrong, so could Kavanaugh.

That’s the really irritating thing about the hearing yesterday (9/26). At no point did I believe, for the politicians there, that this was about truth-finding. And it was quite clear listening to them go on. So much grandstanding, using their question time to make long-winded political statements, asking questions people have asked many times over, etc. It mostly seemed like attempts to paint Kavanaugh as either innocent or guilty (depending on who was talking) or an attempt to, through talking to Kavanaugh, paint the other side of the aisle as terrible. Very little of it seemed like a genuine attempt to dig into anything.

I will say I thought Lindsey Graham’s enraged outburst seemed sincere and that resonated with me. I also appreciated Amy Klobuchar and Chris Coons. They asked a lot of the same types of things their fellow Democrats asked, but they seemed like they actually wanted to know and weren’t just making power plays. I thought they handled themselves really well.

Other than those three, I could hardly stand listening to anyone, particularly Whitehouse and Harris, ugh. That’s all I have to say about that.

Also Kavanaugh was way too evasive. There were so many instances when he was so transparently not answering the question and it just seemed foolish to me because it didn’t even matter. Like when Whitehouse pressed Kavanaugh on some entry in his yearbook about ralphing. Just say yes! You drank in high school and at least once you puked from it. Too many beers. You already admitted repeatedly to drinking and sometimes to having too much. Stop dragging this out.

And the FBI investigation! Wow, was I tired of hearing about that. I really don’t understand why Kavanaugh couldn’t just say “An FBI investigation will repeat what we are already doing here, thus dragging out this hell for my family and me and providing no new or useful information. So no, if we can skip the FBI investigation, let’s do that.” The end. That would have been far less damning then so obviously refusing to answer the question.

I do think it’s ridiculous that people think Kavanaugh’s displays of emotion disqualify him from consideration for SCOTUS. I doubt there is a SCOTUS justice now or ever before that could remain dispassionate much less impartial under such terrible accusations and such a circus of a process. They’re judges, not robots. They are human. They don’t usually decide on cases that impact them immediately and directly so it seems unlikely the circumstances that pushed Kavanaugh to get upset would recur as a SCOTUS justice.

In the end I feel sorry for Ford, frustrated with Kavanaugh, but more than anything disgusted with politicians and this whole farce of a process. To my mind it is transparently political, and also unlikely to actually change any minds. Whatever happens I’ll be glad when the vote is over, but also whatever happens at least one side of the country is going to be absolutely livid, and I feel like this entire situation has made us even more partisan and angry at one another. I am exhausted even thinking about it.

Divisions on the Right and Left according to Pew Research.

Pew Research published this report last fall, but it surfaced in my newsfeed yesterday when they asked followers to take the Political Typology quiz. Pew categorizes the Right and Left as follows:

Right:

  1. Core Conservatives: In many ways the most traditional group of Republicans. Overwhelmingly support smaller government and lower corporate taxes, and a majority think U.S. involvement in the global economy is a good thing.
  2. Country-First Conservatives: Older and less educated than other GOP-leaning typology groups. Unhappy with the nation’s course, highly critical of immigrants and wary of U.S. involvement abroad.
  3. Market Skeptic Republicans: Stand out from other Republican-oriented groups in their negative views of the economic system. Skeptical of banks and financial institutions, and support raising taxes on corporations.
  4. New Era Enterprisers: Optimistic about state of the nation and its future. Younger and somewhat less overwhelmingly white than other GOP typology groups. Most say U.S. involvement in the global economy is a good thing and that immigrants strengthen the nation.

Left:

  1. Solid Liberals: Largest group in the Democratic coalition. Highly educated and largely white. Express liberal attitudes on virtually every issue. Say the nation should be active in world affairs.
  2. Opportunity Democrats: Less affluent, less liberal and less politically engaged than Solid Liberals, though the two groups agree on many major issues. Believe most people can get ahead if they work hard.
  3. Disaffected Democrats: Majority-minority group and highly financially stressed. Have positive feelings about the Democratic Party and its leaders, but are highly cynical about politics, government and how things are going in U.S.
  4. Devout and Diverse: Majority nonwhite, highly financially stressed, religiously observant and older than other Democratic-leaning groups. The most politically mixed typology group, with about a quarter leaning Republican. Take somewhat more conservative views than other Democratic-leaning groups on a number of issues.

And then somewhere in the middle are the Bystanders: A relatively young, less educated group that pays little or no attention to politics.

Here Pew visually represents each groups’ demographics and views on specific issues.

A few notes, in no order:

  • Most of the Right is fine with homosexuality, but the County First Conservatives strongly disagree.
  • The Right is pretty divided on whether immigrants burden the US.
  • The Left is pretty divided on whether government regulation of business is necessary to protect the public.
  • The Left is also divided on whether it’s necessary to believe in God to be moral and have good values.
  • Disaffected Democrats are confusing. They have “very positive feelings toward the Democratic Party and its leading figures” but are cynical about politics and government. They support “activist government and the social safety net” but also think government is “wasteful and inefficient.”
  • Solid Liberals are the whitest group on the Left, at 73%. That’s still less than most of the groups on the Right (85%, 83%, 77%, and 63%), but not by as much as I would have expected.
  • In fact in general the actual demographics of both sides are not as different as stereotypes suggest.
    • 35% of the Left and 25% of the Right are college grads. The biggest driver of that difference is Solid Liberals, with 57% having college degrees. The most educated group on the Right are Core Conservatives at 33%. Outside of those groups, 17% of the Left and 15% of the Right are college grads.
    • On average the Right is only 5.2 years older than the Left.
    • 37% of the Right and 32% of the Left make $75k or more per year. Those numbers include 49% of Core Conservatives and 48% of Solid Liberals.

There’s a whole lot more detail in Pew’s Report here if you want to check it out. (Scroll to the bottom to see there are least 14 pages of the report.)

Weaponized Opinions and Ideological DMZs

When David Hume said that “reason is…the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.”, he thought it would “appear somewhat extraordinary.” Maybe it did in the mid-18th century, but a 21st century audience takes this assertion in stride. It’s not that human nature has changed. Humans have always held opinions and they’ve always been held for non-rational reasons. What’s changed is that we’re more aware of the extent of our opinions and of their frequently irrational nature.

We’re more aware of this for two reasons. First, the narcissism of social media and the tribally partisan nature of our society make us painful aware of everybody else’s opinions. As a group, we can’t shut up about the things we think are obviously true, even though things that really are obviously true (like the sky being blue) don’t generally require frequent reminders in the form of snarky memes.

Second, there’s a growing body of research into the reasons and mechanisms by which humans acquire and maintain their beliefs. It’s become so trendy to talk about cognitive biases, for example, that the Wikipedia list of them is becoming a bit of a joke. Still, the underlying premise–that human reason is about convenience and utility rather than about truth–is increasingly undeniable and books like Thinking, Fast and Slow or Predictably Irrational make that undeniable reality common knowledge.

In fact, we can now go farther than Hume and say that not only is reason the slave of the passions, but that it is only thanks to the passions that humans evolved the capacity for reason at all. This is known as the Argumentative Theory, which researchers Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber summarized like this:

Reasoning is generally seen as a means to improve knowledge and make better decisions. However, much evidence shows that reasoning often leads to epistemic distortions and poor decisions. This suggests that the function of reasoning should be rethought. Our hypothesis is that the function of reasoning is argumentative. It is to devise and evaluate arguments intended to persuade. Reasoning so conceived is adaptive given the exceptional dependence of humans on communication and their vulnerability to misinformation.

Oddly enough, I can’t find a Wikipedia article to summarize this theory, but it’s been cited approvingly by researchers I respect like Frans de Waal and Jonathan Haidt, who summarized it this way: “Reasoning was not designed to pursue the truth. Reasoning was designed by evolution to help us win arguments.”

If the theory is right, then the human tendency to believe what is useful and then to express those beliefs in ways that are farther useful is part of the story of how humanity came to be. This might have been deniable in Hume’s day, requiring an iconoclastic genius to spot it, but it’s becoming a humdrum fact of life in our day.

Our beliefs are instrumental. That is, we believe things because of the usefulness of holding that belief, and that usefulness is only occasionally related to truth. If the belief is about something that’s going to have a frequent and direct effect on our lives–like whether cars go or stop when the light is red–then it is very useful to have accurate beliefs and so our beliefs rapidly converge to reality. But if the belief is about something that is going to have a vague or indeterminate effect on our lives–and almost all political beliefs fall into this category–then there is no longer any powerful, external incentive to corral our beliefs to match reality. What’s more, in many cases it would be impossible to reconcile our beliefs with reality even if we really wanted to because the questions at play are too complicated for anyone to answer with certainty. In those cases, there is nothing to stop us from believing whatever is convenient.

And it’s not just privately-held beliefs that are instrumental. Opinions–the expression of these beliefs–add an additional layer of instrumentality. Not only do we believe what we find convenient to believe, but we also express those beliefs in ways that are convenient. We choose how, when, and where to express our opinions so as to derive the most benefit for the least amount of effort. Benefits of opinions include:

  • maintaining positive self-image: “I have such smart, benevolent political opinions. I’m such a good person!”
  • reinforcing community ties: “Look at these smart, benevolent political opinions we have in common!”
  • defining community boundaries: “These are the smart, benevolent political opinions you have affirm if you want to be one of us!”
  • the buzz of moral superiority: “We have such smart, benevolent political opinions. Not like those reprehensible morons over there!”

Opinions aren’t just tools, however. They are also weapons. If you want to understand what I’m talking about, just think of all the political memes you see on your Facebook or Twitter feeds. They are almost always focused on ridiculing and delegitimizing other people. This is about reinforcing community ties and getting high off of moral superiority, but it is also about intimidating the targets of our (ever so righteous) contempt and disdain. We live in an age of weaponized opinion.

Which brings me to the idea of a demilitarized zone.

A demilitarized zone is an “is an area in which treaties or agreements between nations, military powers or contending groups forbid military installations, activities or personnel.” The term is also used in the context of computers and networking. In that case, a DMZ is a part of a private network that is publicly accessible to other networks, usually the Internet. It’s a tradeoff between accessibility and security, allowing interaction with anonymous, untrusted computers but restricting that access to only specially designated computers in your network that are placed in the DMZ, while the rest of your computers are stored behind a defensive firewall.

The same concepts make sense in an ideological framework.

A typical partisan might have a range of beliefs that looks something like this:

The green section doesn’t represent what is actually good / correct. It represents what a person asserts to be correct / good. The same applies for the red portion. So, these will be different for different people. If you are, for example, someone who is pro-life then the green category will include beliefs like “all living human beings deserve equal rights” and the red portion will include beliefs like “consciousness and self-awareness are required for personhood”. If you are pro-choice, then the chart will look the same but the beliefs will be located in the opposite regions.

And here’s what it looks like if you introduce an ideological DMZ:

The difference here is that we have this whole new region where we are refusing to categorize something as correct / good or incorrect / bad. This may seem like an obvious thing to do. If, for example, you hear a new fact for the first time and you don’t know anything about it, then naturally you should not have an opinion about it until you find out more, right? Well, if humans were rational that would be right. But humans are not rational. We use rationality as a tool when we want to, but we’re just as happy to set it aside when it’s convenient to do so.

And so what actually happens is that when you hear a new proposition, you (automatically and without thinking about it consciously) determine if the new proposition is relevant to any of your strongly-held political opinions. If it is, you identify if it helps or hurts. If it helps, then you accept it as true. Maybe you use the same “fact” in your next debate, or share the article on your timeline, or forward it to your friends. In other words, you stick it into the green bucket. If it hurts, you reject it as false. You attack the credibility of the person who shared the fact or thrust the burden of proof on them or even jump straight to attacking their motives for sharing it in the first place. You stick it in the red bucket.

If you’re following along so far, you might notice that what we’re talking about is certainty. One of the popular and increasingly well-known facts about human beings and certainty is that certainty and ignorance go hand in hand. The technical term for this is the Dunning-Kruger effect, “a cognitive bias in which people of low ability have illusory superiority and mistakenly assess their cognitive ability as greater than it is.” Even if you’ve never heard that term, however, you’ve probably seen webcomics like this one from Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal:

Or maybe this one from xkcd:

The idea of a DMZ is related to these concepts, but it’s not the same. These comics are about the vertical ignorance/certainty problem. Lack of knowledge combined with instrumental beliefs cause people to double-down on convenient beliefs they already have. That’s a real problem, but it’s not the one I’m tackling. I’m talking about a horizontal ignorance/certainty problem. Instead of pouring more and more certainty into (ignorant, but convenient) beliefs that we already have, this problem is about spreading certainty around to different, neighboring beliefs that are new to us.

How does that play out in practice? Well, as a famous study revealed recently, “people who are otherwise very good at math may totally flunk a problem that they would otherwise probably be able to solve, simply because giving the right answer goes against their political beliefs.” That’s because–without a consciously defined and maintained DMZ–they immediately categorize new information into the red or green region even if it means magically becoming bad at math. That’s how strong the temptation is to sort all new information into friend/foe categories is, and it’s the reason we need a DMZ.

So what does having a DMZ mean? It means, as I mentioned earlier, that you can easily list of several arguments or propositions which might work against your beliefs, but that you don’t reject out of hand because you simply don’t know enough about them. It doesn’t mean you have to accept them. It doesn’t mean you have to reject the belief that they threaten. It doesn’t even mean you have investigate them right away.. It just means you refrain from categorizing them in the red bucket. And you do the same with new information that helps your cause. If it is about a topic you know little about, then you go ahead and put it in that blue bucket. You say, “That sounds good. I hope it’s true. But i’m not sure yet.”

There’s another aspect to this as well. So far I’ve been talking about salient propositions, that is: propositions that directly relate to some of your political beliefs. I’ve been leaving aside irrelevant facts. That’s because–although it’s easy for anyone to stick irrelevant facts in the blue bucket–the distinction between relevant and irrelevant facts is not actually stable or clear cut.

One of the problems with our increasingly political world is that more and more apparently unrelated facts are being incorporated into political paradigms. There’s a cottage industry for journalists to fill quotas by describing apparently innocuous things as racist. A list of Things college professors called ‘racist’ in 2017 includes math, Jingle Bells (the song), and punctuality. This is a controversial topic. Sometimes, articles like this really do reveal incisive critiques of racial inequality that’s not obvious at first. Sometimes conservatives misrepresent or dumb-down these arguments just to make fun of them. But sometimes–like when a kid in my high school class complained that it was sexist to use the term for a female hero (heroine) as the name for a drug (heroin)–the contention really is silly. And so part of the DMZ is also just being a little slower to see new information in a political light. Everything can be political–with a little bit of rhetorical ingenuity–but there’s a big difference between “can” and “should”.

If you don’t have an ideological DMZ yet, I encourage you to start building one today. In networking, a DMZ is a useful way to allow new information to come into your network. An ideological DMZ can fill the same function. It’s a great way to start to start to dig your way out of an echo chamber or avoid getting trapped in one in the first place. In geopolitics, a DMZ is a great way to deescalate conflict. Once again, an ideological DMZ can fill a similar role. It’s a useful habit to reduce the number of and lower the stakes in the political disagreements that you have.

Even after all these years, North and South Korea are technically still at war. A DMZ is not nearly as good as a nice, long, non-militarized border (like between the US and Canada). And so I have to admit that calling for an ideological DMZ feels a little bit like aiming low. It’s not asking for mutual understanding or a peace treaty, let alone an alliance.

But it’s a start.

 

The Dying Art of Disagreement, or how to disagree well.

Excellent NYTimes op-ed by Bret Stephens worth the full read, but here are some key passages.

To say the words, “I agree” — whether it’s agreeing to join an organization, or submit to a political authority, or subscribe to a religious faith — may be the basis of every community.

But to say, I disagree; I refuse; you’re wrong; etiam si omnes ego non — these are the words that define our individuality, give us our freedom, enjoin our tolerance, enlarge our perspectives, seize our attention, energize our progress, make our democracies real, and give hope and courage to oppressed people everywhere.

What a lovely way to think of it.

Socrates quarrels with Homer. Aristotle quarrels with Plato. Locke quarrels with Hobbes and Rousseau quarrels with them both. Nietzsche quarrels with everyone. Wittgenstein quarrels with himself.

These quarrels are never personal. Nor are they particularly political, at least in the ordinary sense of politics. Sometimes they take place over the distance of decades, even centuries.

Most importantly, they are never based on a misunderstanding. On the contrary, the disagreements arise from perfect comprehension; from having chewed over the ideas of your intellectual opponent so thoroughly that you can properly spit them out.

In other words, to disagree well you must first understand well. You have to read deeply, listen carefully, watch closely. You need to grant your adversary moral respect; give him the intellectual benefit of doubt; have sympathy for his motives and participate empathically with his line of reasoning. And you need to allow for the possibility that you might yet be persuaded of what he has to say.

[Emphasis mine.]

According to a new survey from the Brookings Institution, a plurality of college students today — fully 44 percent — do not believe the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects so-called “hate speech,” when of course it absolutely does. More shockingly, a narrow majority of students — 51 percent — think it is “acceptable” for a student group to shout down a speaker with whom they disagree. An astonishing 20 percent also agree that it’s acceptable to use violence to prevent a speaker from speaking.

Well that’s bitterly disappointing.

That’s because the case for same-sex marriage is too often advanced not by reason, but merely by branding every opponent of it as a “bigot” — just because they are sticking to an opinion that was shared across the entire political spectrum only a few years ago. Few people like outing themselves as someone’s idea of a bigot, so they keep their opinions to themselves even when speaking to pollsters. That’s just what happened last year in the Brexit vote and the U.S. presidential election, and look where we are now.

Shaming people doesn’t generally change their minds; it only makes them more difficult to identify, predict, or actually persuade.

One final point about identity politics: It’s a game at which two can play. In the United States, the so-called “alt-right” justifies its white-identity politics in terms that are coyly borrowed from the progressive left. One of the more dismaying features of last year’s election was the extent to which “white working class” became a catchall identity for people whose travails we were supposed to pity but whose habits or beliefs we were not supposed to criticize. The result was to give the Trump base a moral pass it did little to earn.

It’s a game two can play but it’d be great if no one did.

 

 

Researchers claimed conservatives are more hostile and socially withdrawn; turns out they read the data exactly backwards.

In 2012 the American Journal of Political Science published a study that, in part, measured correlations between political attitutes and personality traits such as being “uncooperative, hostile, troublesome, and socially withdrawn.” The original article stated upfront that the authors expected such traits to correlate to conservative political attitudes, and that was the result the study found. I remember when the study came out and several of my friends reposted it as evidence of how backward and problematic conservatives can be.

But it turns out the article had interpreted the data incorrectly. In 2015 the journal published an erratum to correct the mistake, stating:

The interpretation of the coding of the political attitude items in the descriptive and preliminary analyses portion of the manuscript was exactly reversed. Thus, where we indicated that higher scores in Table 1 (page 40) reflect a more conservative response, they actually reflect a more liberal response. Specifically, in the original manuscript, the descriptive analyses report that those higher in Eysenck’s psychoticism are more conservative, but they are actually more liberal; and where the original manuscript reports those higher in neuroticism and social desirability are more liberal, they are, in fact, more conservative.

[Emphasis added.]

According to The Washington Times:

The error was first spotted by Dr. Steven Ludeke, a researcher at the University of Southern Denmark, who said it is significant, pointing to the frequency at which the study was cited.

“The erroneous results represented some of the larger correlations between personality and politics ever reported; they were reported and interpreted, repeatedly, in the wrong direction; and then cited at rates that are (for this field) extremely high,” Dr. Ludeke told Retraction Watch.

Given social science’s apparent pattern of pathologizing conservatives, this kind of mistake is unfortunate but not particularly surprising.

“The Ugly Coded Critique of Chick-Fil-A’s Christianity”

Stephen Carter at Bloomberg suggests the secular Left doesn’t realize who it’s mocking. Key points:

  • Women are more likely than men to be Christian.
  • PoC are more likely than white people to be Christian, and particularly more likely to be Christian traditionalists.
  • White Christians are aging while Christians of color are youthening.
  • Among Latinos and Asians, Christians are overwhelmingly first generation immigrants.

Read the full article here.

Pro-science = Pro-nuclear energy

Every time I see a meme like this…

…I can’t help but notice it’s missing a few lines. GMOs are safe. Humans begin as zygotes. And nuclear energy is efficient.

Ronald Bailey, the science correspondent for Reason, brought that last fact to my mind when he recently published the article “How We Screwed Up Nuclear Power.”

The Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station in New Jersey opened in 1969. It cost $594 million (in 2017 dollars) and took four years to build. America’s newest nuclear plant, at Watts Bar in Tennessee, opened in 2016. It cost $7 billion and took more than 10 years to complete.

What happened? Anti-nuclear activism and regulation.

In general, scientists are a lot less concerned about nuclear power than the general public is. According to Pew Research, 65% of AAAS members–including 75% of working engineers and 79% of working physicists Ph.D’s–favor building more nuclear power plants, compared to only 45% of the public. If we are defining “pro-science” as “recognizing and agreeing with the majority view of scientists in the field,” then being pro-science would include being pro-nuclear energy.