Review: The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion
The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Back in 2012, I took the Moral Foundations Questionnaire test. So almost five years later, I finally got around to reading the book that explains it. Since it is now Facebook integrated, I kind of want ALL my friends to take it.

The framework presented here makes sense to me. I was fascinated by Drew Westen‘s
The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation
talking about fear being the key to reaching conservative voters. I could see that in the 2012 and 2016 elections. But, in the 2016 one, it felt like there was something missing. This book explains that pretty well for me. First, there are several values: Care, Liberty, Fairness, Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity. People who favor certain ones tend to skew into certain parties.

Also, the cycle tends to be we feel something, then judge it based on the feeling, and then create reasons to explain away the judgement. We mistake the reasoning as the basis for values and morality when it is much more subservient to the feelings. I would love to see where Behavioral Economics could go with Moral Foundations Theory.

Applied to politics, I finally understand why people so often vote for policies that will hurt them. They are keyed to emotional reactions to values triggered through how candidates express themselves. Being such a fan of behavioral economics, my impression of humans as purely rational was discarded long ago. MFT fits my observations of others and even myself better than anything else I have seen.

We also are highly social and dependent on the group dynamic. And yet, what policies are chosen to by governments can fray the social capital they have. Immigration and ethnic diversity can trigger a push back leading to more racism.

The book does not really have answers. The questions will drive some of my reading for the next decade in search of them.

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Quasi-Mandatory Voting

Yesterday, in Mandatory Voting I wrote:

In the end, I think finding ways to lower the costs of voting is the best approach. A low participation rate suggests there are problems. Solving those problems would be better than simply punishing people for not overcoming those costs.

Additionally I mentioned:

Certainly, I am in favor of things we can do to make it easier for people to vote like early voting, mail voting, or a national holiday.

Let’s expound on these ideas.

  1. Early voting:  Almost three quarters of states allow voters to cast an early ballot in-person. Some states open an office where people can go to vote in the days prior to the election. Some allow voters to acquire an absentee ballot without an excuse and cast it in the same trip to the office. Essentially it is an in-person absentee. I would love to see all states achieve this.
  2. Mail / absentee voting: Colorado, Washington state, and Oregon all hold elections only by mail. About 20 states require an excuse to vote absentee by mail. It would really helpful for their voters for those to follow the other 27 and allow voting absentee by mail without an excuse.
  3. National holiday / weekend: Tuesday is a bad day for voting for people who work M-F 8-5. My state law requires my employer to give me time off if my schedule does not give me an hour either before the polls open or close. I was in line just before 7am and did not get to cast my ballot until almost 8am. Some employees lack that luxury. Early voting provides some flexibility for people find a day when they can get off work to vote. I liked that my state offered a Saturday option and a county wanted to do a Sunday one. (That latter was deemed politically objectionable because churches might gives rides to polls and potentially influence voters.)
  4. Automatic voter registration: States have ID requirements to vote. My state helpfully asked when I updated my ID if I also want my voter registration updated. I really like the easiness of this. (Why I am not very sympathetic of the person in yesterday’s post who got caught with their registration at their old residence.) But, if the state automatically updated registrations so they match the IDs, then it would help voters and this person could have voted.
  5. Online registration: The flexibility to confirm and/or fix the registration outside of M-F 8-5 would help many voters.  Being able to log into a web site to view my registration status was extremely helpful for making sure I could vote. Not all states are there yet, though they should in the 21st century. My local library also helps people with navigating the site.
  6. Online voting: Given the hacking concerns of this recent election, I know this is a controversial stance.

Mandatory Voting

Given the closeness of the recent election, the inevitable complaint about how few people voted are swirling in the national conversation from the losing side. Part of the conversation is the winning party does not have a mandate. The more interesting claim is that if everyone had to vote, then Hillary could have won.

The rationale is that only about 60% of eligible voters did, if the other 40% of voters did so the outcome would have been different. Yeah, I think there is a possibility that if 80-90 million more people voted, then we could see something different. After all that pool of votes is more than either candidate received. Jason Brennan rejected the thought non-voters skew left months before the election:

There’s a widespread belief among Democrats that compulsory voting would deliver more states to Democrats. It turns out that’s not true. The people who vote and the people who don’t vote are roughly the same in terms of their partisan preferences.

Australia has compulsory voting and enforces it. They have about a 95% voting rate which is amazing compared to the 25-60% rate in the USA depending on the type of election. Interestingly enough, they justified the implementation because of only have a 59.38% turnout in their 1922 federal election. I do not know terribly much about Australia, but as a country they seem to doing pretty well. They also use preferential voting, which I think would be an interesting addition to the US voting systems. They also have a parliament, which is different than here, so it might not work the same here.

Given the importance of voting, there is teasing attractiveness to have it compulsory like registering for Selective Service, jury duty, and taxation. “No taxation without representation” does not work as well when representatives were approved by less than 25% of the registered voters.

Certainly plenty of people use the logic that the costs of voting outweigh the likelihood of their vote being the one that decides an election, something called the Paradox Of Voting. Certainly, I am in favor of things we can do to make it easier for people to vote like early voting, mail voting, or a national holiday. It also bothers me when governments implement additional security without taking care that the methods will not accidentally suppress the votes of certain populations.

My girlfriend’s boss’ spouse neglected to move the registration from over 4 hours away and did not realize until the poll workers informed the lack of it. Should a mistake like this result in a fine? It is not much different than forgetting to renew a driver’s license or car tag. I can see umbrage at fines like this causing mandatory voting problems like the resentment at the Affordable Care Act’s compulsory health insurance.

Personally, I think an informed voter is a good voter. Some people on both sides have complained about the voters on the other side being ignorant about reality. There are probably true examples about both sides. Shifting campaigns from playing cheerleader to motivate people to at least show up might mean they can spend more energy on policy and intent. Certainly, I wished more of the media coverage was on the policy and less on the cheer leading. Would voters pay more attention? Or would mandatory voting bring an influx of even lesser informed voters than the current slate?

Something I would also like to see (at least an experiment) is a “reject all” option for candidates paired with requiring a simple majority. Combined with almost all eligible voters participating, a candidate failing to achieve the simple majority would be instrumental. When I go to vote, I can choose not to vote for any candidates. It is not clear whether I made a skipped that ballot item by mistake or neglected to return back to it after voting on others. A specific rejection of the candidates would be interesting. What I heard so much of was that both major party candidates were really bad, but people wanted to prevent the other party from winning. And opposition to voting for a third party because of this. Preventing such candidates from winning by a “reject all” could be interesting.

And an “unclear; reword” to signal constitutional amendments or referendums are poorly designed. In my state people spend an extraordinary amount of time making sure that potential voters understand the language in the brief description on the ballot is misleading. A way to say “I am not going to vote for this because I do not understand it” would be nice. Amendments would have to get a simple majority with the unclear helping prompt voters they should not vote for things that are confusing.

Of course, there ought to be reasonable exceptions to mandatory voting. People whose religions forbid them to vote as an example. Probably there would be contentious objectors. I guess there should be some way to allow for picking who gets to sit out.

In the end, I think finding ways to lower the costs of voting is the best approach. A low participation rate suggests there are problems. Solving those problems would be better than simply punishing people for not overcoming those costs.

In the time of Hamilton

So, the social media sphere is abuzz over our President-elect tweeting about a member of the cast of the Hamilton play reading a statement to the VP-elect. The P-elect seemed upset about it all. The VP-elect seemed amused people are buzzing about a non-issue and people should expect the P-elect to be the kind of person they want him to be.

The whole thing got me thinking about how the Presidency and Vice Presidency worked at the time Hamilton was a politician. And perhaps a return to that is how to heal this country. The way it worked back in beginning was the Electoral College voted. The candidate with the most votes became President and the runner up became Vice President. Applied to the upcoming vote, Trump still becomes President but Clinton becomes Vice President. She would be the tie-breaker in the Senate. They would deal with each other running the country.

Of course, the conspiracy theorists about her would stroke out over worry Trump would meet the same fate as the hundreds of others who have crossed her. Okay, so maybe it would not actually heal this country.

Illusory Truth Effect

Repeated statements receive higher truth ratings than new statements, a phenomenon called the illusory truth effect… Repetition makes statements easier to process (i.e., fluent) relative to new statements, leading people to the (sometimes) false conclusion that they are more truthful… Indeed, illusory truth effects arise even without prior exposure—people rate statements presented in high-contrast (i.e., easy-to-read) fonts as “true” more often than those presented in low-contrast fonts.

When the news media focused one summer about shark attacks, people became a little more scared of the ocean due to the increasing danger. Except… The number of attacks had not gone up. The prominence of them had.

There is a police officer who goes to the coffee shop nearest home. The first time I saw him, he looked me up and down and dismissed me. In that time, I held my breath. See, as a large man with brown skin I knew about many, many instances of people who look like me getting killed when in contact with police officers. It was all over the news, Facebook, and Twitter.

I have previously mentioned how seeing political things that agree with our ideologies are strengthened WHETHER OR NOT THEY ARE TRUE makes no difference to their effect. See, we are not wired to find truth. We are wired to find agreement.

This is what makes Facebook and Twitter so dangerous. We find those who agree and bolster those sensibilities. We cull from our attention those who challenge us. We share things from these sources without reading them and without verifying anything from them. And… That is dangerous. Especially because the most extremes of either side are pushing fake “news” on us.

Steps I have taken to combat this tendency:

  • Do not share things I have not read and searched for more background information.
  • Actively block very biased news sources not the friend. My goal is to eliminate the bullshit curation in favor of better information.
  • Read or listen to conversations to understand. I do reply to anyone involved because that would put me in the mindset of making them agree with me instead of learning from someone different.
  • Read books with differing view points to understand.

Bullshit Curation

Saw something that looked clickbait-y and for once glad I clicked on it because I learned a new term I want to scream from the mountaintops: bullshit curation. Clickbait sounds almost respectable. One of my favorite recent terms I learned from Jon Stewart was “Bullshit Mountain.” It refers to the Orwellian spin of stories from political groups to make the terrible sound good for us or the good for us sound terrible. There stuff is an avalanche coming for us.

Bullshit Curation is more the spin of stories to get us to click on them and drive up advertising revenue.

Of course, since “ideology trumps facts” in an election year, all this bullshit curation is probably netting large profits.

This post is forewarning my friends about a term I’ll probably bring up often in random conversations.

RNC Convention Mishaps

Saw a probably clickbait title “Mishaps overshadow message at the Republican National Convention.” It got me thinking that this is probably another case of media attention hyperbole.

The media fixation story I recall was several years ago about child kidnappings. Every week it made national headlines about a child who disappeared or was taken by a parent. The amount of the occurrences had not significantly changed, but people were fooled into thinking that somehow there was an epidemic of kidnappings. Similarly, there was a summer where the media was all over every shark sighting, making it seem like there was a War On Humans by the shark community. Again, the numbers of attacks was about normal, it was just the attention that caused it to seem worse.

Right now, the fixation seems to be on the presidential election. Donald Trump especially draws the attention due to his “Don’t Care” attitude about everyone and everything. He makes a mistake which gets reported and then error corrects which also gets reported.

Which brings me back to the convention. Normally the convention gets some coverage. But, it feels like everyone is more invested in this one than normal. The Stop Trump campaign had a last ditch effort to block his nomination that was almost certainly going to fail, so I suspect some of the coverage was in hopes they might somehow make it more dramatic. But, all these news people have to justify the expense of sending them by coming up with… well… something. So mishaps that would be considered normal and maybe barely mentioned are all of a sudden “Yuuuuge!” It is okay, people. The Democratic National Convention will have its share of mishaps. I am sure the Don will make sure the media is aware of them so they get equal attention.

Memic Straw Men

Well, calling the current political, social, or even game discourses debates is probably too generous. That implies discussion which means an attempt at listening to the other if only to hear their point of view enough to counter it. At this point, much of what I see are the use of memes to perpetuate Straw Man fallacies.

It seems like memes are perfectly positioned for this purpose. They are cute and funny. This leads to people backing the ideology in them to think of them as non-threatening so they more easily share memes. Very topical, they get across the shot at the enemy in an amusing way.

A couple examples:

i-did-not-have-textual-relations-with-that-server-hillary-clinton-meme
I did not have textual relations with that server
596d04d28e
Congratulations! Your liberal butthurt just made Trump a little bit stronger.

None of this seems to be about convincing people to change their opinion so much as attacking each other. This whole thing is disappointing.

TED Talk: Our Future is Awesome

Automation is here. When I was in college, for most of my time there, I thought Industrial-Organizational Psychology was my career path. It was not until my last semester when I started working as a student for IT that it all changed. Little did I know that people efficiency was dying. Automation, aka the efficiency of technology (computers and robots), is where industry is making its money. Or that really the anger boistering both the Republican and Democratic presidential front-runners is due to automation. People are frustrated with the economy and how it affects them.

Edward Elser explains why:

Wages no longer follow productivity.

A whole lot of people are unhappy. Some people blame the soulless corporation. Others blame workers who want $15 an hour for a marginal job. But, here is the deal. Here is where I think the root of the discontent is: the system does not need unskilled labor anymore. Industry simply does not need unskilled or marginalized workers.

It used to be when productivity went up, so did wages. But somewhere in the 1970s a disconnect happened. The value of labor stopped following productivity. And it is my opinion this trend is not going to change; it is going to accelerate..

Our Future is Awesome | Edward Elser | TEDxAugusta

Myth of the Rational Voter 2016

In reading the 2016 update, I learned that apparently The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies was already on my wishlist / to-read list. The 2016 update was an interesting read and reveals I really do need to read this book this year. Reading The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation during the 2010 Midterm election was revealing. I wished I had read it in 2008.

This one stood out for me.

4. After bleakly assessing public opinion, The Myth of the Rational Voter argues that democracies normally deliver substantially better policies than the public wants.  The political system tends to quench the public’s anti-market and anti-foreign urges while substantially watering down the policy poison.  In 2016, one of the main dilution mechanisms has badly failed: Using social pressure to check and exclude hard-line demagogues.

One thing I have seen quite a bit of in the past few months is people asking those who disagree with them to unfriend them on Facebook. That is not just directed at one specific campaign but supporters of Clinton, Sanders, Rubio, Cruz, and Trump. Oddly enough, I don’t think I’ve seen it directed at Kaisch. (No, I’m not going to fix that by taking that stance.)