Saturday, March 31, 2012

Why Academia is so Partisan

Interesting article here.
"Haidt (a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, and a former liberal who became a centrist in the process of conducting this research) finds that liberals and conservatives alike form their political beliefs according to three values: caring for the weak, fairness, and liberty. Yet conservatives also hold to three other values: loyalty, respect for authority, and sanctity. This accounts in part for the liberal failure to understand conservative viewpoints.
When you look at the three values that conservatives (according to Haidt) honor but liberals do not — loyalty, respect for authority, and sanctity — these are precisely the values that are flouted in the precincts of American academe. The result is a more impoverished moral imagination amongst students, a stubborn inability to understand the beliefs and the motives of conservatives, and thus the imputation of nefarious motives to those irrational conservatives who do not see things in the ways the illuminati do. If you don’t believe that this has contributed to the partisanship we’ve observed in recent years — particularly the exceedingly nasty way in which liberals in general have responded to the Tea Party movement, to social conservatives and generally to anyone who refers too much to moral sanctity and loyalty to American traditions and institutions, then I think you’re wearing exactly the kind of blinders Haidt talks about."
Hat tip: Instapundit.

The same research is mentioned today in the Volokh Conspiracy, regarding how legal elites underestimated the case against the health care individual mandate.
"I’ve heard Paul Clement (among others) explain, you can’t effectively advocate your own position until you truly understand the other side."

See also Peter Suderman in Reason
"Moderates and conservatives were the most able to think like their liberal political opponents. 'Liberals,' he reports, 'were the least accurate, especially those who describe themselves as "very liberal.”'

Liberals, on the other hand, have a different theory. The Court is just a bunch of partisan hacks"

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Great Quote

"Any power that government has to do something you like will invariably be used for something you abhor. ... Reduce the scope of government, and we reduce the culture war, while promoting true tolerance of divergent viewpoints."
-Matt Welch in Reason (May, 2012)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Stuff mom and dad said

Nine years ago, in the original version of this blog, I posted some sayings of my Dad. Today I found myself remembering two from Mom:

"You'll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar."


"If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all."

Update: Mom also said

"Ask me no questions, and I'll tell you no lies."


"Of all the things I've loved and lost, I miss my mind the most." 


"November too has its beauties."


'Faults are thick when love is thin."

Here again are the ones from Dad:

"Another good story spoiled by an eyewitness."

"Never let the facts interfere with a good story."

"It's no harder to arrive on time than to arrive late."

"It costs no more to keep the gas tank full than it does to keep it empty."

"You can want what you want, but your get what you get."

"Never borrow except for your first car and first home."

"Graft, inefficiency and corruption run rife."

"Neither a borrower nor a lender be."

"If wishes were horses, beggars would ride."

"...and if I had wings, I could fly."

"Experience keeps a dear school, where only fools need learn.
And yet the lessons taught there are taught exceedingly well."

"Never lend any more money to friends or relatives than you would be willing to give them as a gift."

"Well ain't that a fine kettle of fish?"

"That's a lazy man's load."

"Fish and guests spoil after three days."

"Just one more thing to go wrong."

"If it had been a snake, it would have bit you."

"A difference of opinion is what makes a horse race."

"A place for everything, and everything in its place."

"Better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick."

"He who pays the piper calls the tune."

Said OF Dad, rather than by him:

"Often wrong, but never in doubt."

(Hat tip to Ben Franklin for at least two of these.)

Friday, March 9, 2012

Narrowing the Class Divide

Charles Murray's new book "Coming Apart" discusses class divides in America, but doesn't propose how to lessen them. To rectify that, Murray offers ideas on how to lessen class divides here in a New York Times Opinion column.

Of Murray's suggestions, the one that seems most obviously needed is to change affirmative action from being ethnic-based to socioeconomic class-based. As Murray puts it "It is absurd, in 2012, to give the son of a black lawyer an advantage in college admissions but not do the same for the son of a white plumber." (I'm not sure about the plumber part -- those seem to do pretty well around here, but his point remains.)

I'm less convinced by Murray's other ideas:
1. Get rid of unpaid internships. OK, but as Murray notes, children of the rich can still better afford to work for minimum wage than the children of the poor and middle classes.
2. Replace aptitude (SAT and ACT) tests with achievement (advanced placement) tests. Again, as Murray notes, it won't work, as the same kids whose life experiences and special classes prepare them for the one can just as well prepare them for the other.
3. Drop the B.A. degree as a requirement for jobs. I have several friends who are ABD (all but degree) who would love this change, as it would let them more easily be considered for jobs for which they consider themselves very well qualified. However, speaking as a former hiring team lead, finishing a college degree rather than almost doing so does still show one important characteristic in a job seeker: ability to complete a difficult assigned task, on time and without supervision.

Murray also mentions, but rejects the idea of Universal Service, a year or two of military or peacetime service for everyone at a certain age. Murray feels it would just teach people to game the system, and build resentment rather than rapport. I'm not so sure. Seems to me it could be really good for our country, as it has been in other countries, so long as no one could get out of serving. Robert Heinlein's SciFi classic "Starship Troopers" suggested only those who serve be allowed to vote, which makes sense. To vote well, voters need some skin in the game. I'm reminded of our emergency dispatcher in Pawnee, IL decades ago, who was quadriplegic, but still very effective.

My own favorite idea for reducing class differences would be to make estate taxes completely unavoidable for net worths beyond the value of a small farm or business. That would help start each new generation on a more level playing field.

Overall, I agree with Murray that class is now the social barrier we need to reduce for the future good of our country. Economic mobility, both up and down, is essential to what differentiates America from both first and third world economies. Having a permanent nobility or aristocracy here would destroy most of what I love about America, but seems well underway when people suggest (for example) that only people named Bush, Clinton or Kennedy are qualified to run for high office.

Hat tip to Instapundit for the link.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Lake Wobegon's government

"Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."
Winston Churchill in the House of Commons on November 11, 1947

We may do well to keep that thought in mind, as science tests just how imperfect democracy may be.

Yahoo reports here about recent research led by David Dunning of Cornell University:
" incompetent people are inherently unable to judge the competence of other people, or the quality of those people's ideas."

Along with colleague Justin Kruger, Dunning concludes:
"...people always assess their own performance as 'above average' — even people who, when tested, actually perform at the very bottom of the pile."

Garrison Keillor used to put it this way on the Prairie Home Companion radio show:
"Lake Wobegon ... where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average."

Mato Nagel, a sociologist in Germany, recently implemented Dunning and Kruger's theories by computer-simulating a democratic election, and found:
"...candidates whose leadership skills were only slightly better than average always won.

Nagel concluded that democracies rarely or never elect the best leaders. Their advantage over dictatorships or other forms of government is merely that they "effectively prevent lower-than-average candidates from becoming leaders."

Reacting to a link to the same story from Instapundit, reader Reader Barbara Skolaut objects:
"Didn’t work in our last election, did it?"
a sentiment Democrats may share regarding the prior two elections.

Personally, I agree with Glenn Reynolds that the greatest value of democracy may be the way unpredictably alternating power among multiple parties inhibits parasites.

I'm also comforted to learn choosing among imperfect candidates is normal for democracy.