Let’s call this one another “David bites off more than he can chew” topic. I got the idea from reading a wonderful little book – Rethinking Religion: Finding a Place for Religion in a Modern, Tolerant, Progressive, Peaceful and Science-affirming World. The American Buddhist author gently defends religion from both fundamentalists and atheists by arguing that the world’s major religions are compatible with modernity. She says that, stripped of their archaic baggage and recent fundamentalism, the major global religions have plenty of room for tolerance, human rights, social justice, and democracy. Great book.
Still, upon further reflection, I think we have to be a little careful here, for two reasons. First, “Are there any universal religious principles,” begs a lot of questions. When is a principle a religious one? When people or doctrines say it is? How do we know a value or principle isn’t a product of something else, say, evolutionary biology or psychology or socialization? Similarly, how much universality is enough? When a principle is common to all/most/many/certain faiths? What about modern or still-contested ideas, like church/state separation or human and LGBT rights? Can they be both recent and controversial and justifiable by ancient religions?
Finally, the idea I originally had in mind would ask: Universal principles about what? About God’s existence and nature? About whether some truths are revealed rather than empirically-verifiable? About how to lead a moral life, or treat other people (ethics)? About sex and family, murder and war? Do any of us know enough about world religions to compare them so? Not eye.
A second reason to be cautious in the way we generalize about universal religious values is that a lot of people are not very cautious when they do this. We are all aware of the “Islam is inherently evil” tidal wave being surfed by Donald Trump and religious Right’s insistence that upholding LGBT civil rights violates their religious freedom. But, progressives can be lazy, too, like when they say all religions are deep down the same. I agree with the scholar I linked to below tat says this trivializes religion. Also and as Jim Z. can attest, whether human rights principles are universal values or a Western invention being imposed on developing countries is a big issue these days in its own right.
Anyway, below are a few articles that make claims about the universality of religious values, plus some simple statements of faith from a few well-known religions.
SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –
Universal Moral Values?
- There are 10 universal human values. Reasonable to you?
- The basics of whether a universal human nature exists.
- More links from our 2015 mtgs on a universal human nature and what science tells us about good and evil.
Universal Religious Principles?
- There are seven of them, says this guy. Not bad.
- The Golden Rule is universal to all major faiths.
- All religions are NOT the same and it harms us to insist they are. Recommended.
- Long, highly optional article: Are human rights universal rights?
Some specific (but simple) faith statements –
- Judaism’s 13 Principles and 10 commandments
- Islam: Its 5 Pillars and Fundamental Articles of Faith, from Islam 101.
- Buddhism’s 4 Noble Truths.
- Hinduism’s 5 Principles and 10 Disciplines, part of Hinduism For Beginners.
Next Week: Fixing our juvenile criminal justice system.
No matter what else happens in this train wreck of an election, experts will spend years trying to understand what happened and why. There are a lot of causes and culprits. But, the causes and consequences of political fear-mongering might be subject number one. How big a role has Donald Trump’s appeals to plain old fear of foreign and domestic enemies (immigrants, foreigners, traitorous U.S. elites, etc.) played in his rise, and why have his incitements worked so well?
The answers, in my view, are complex and go well beyond Trump to some core issues warping our politics. Yes, Trump fear-mongers a lot, it’s ugly, and it’s working. But, two things. First, fear is not the only basis of the man’s appeal. Polls reveal that his supporters are not just mindlessly seeking a strongman to crush our enemies, although support for Trump does correlate strongly with authoritarian personality traits. Trumpistas are more pessimistic in general about their own future and the country’s future than any other group of voters. They express zero trust in our political or corporate elites. Many seem to harbor deep resentments of recent cultural/demographic changes in our country and feel that “political correctness” has delegitimized their fears. None of these beliefs are likely to disappear when Trump does. The Donald is the punishment, not the problem.
Second, it’s not just Trump! His fearmongering has fallen on fertile ground because the Republican Party’s leaders at all levels has spent years priming its own voters to be paranoid. Especially lately, from ISIS to Ebola to China to our disloyalmuslimkenyantraitor president, the GOP – and the conservative news media – has become The Party of Fear. Democrats are starting to use some scare-mongering tactics of their own, IMO, arguably including some of the stuff that Bernie Sanders says. (Our democracy is “dead?” Really?)
My point is that a high level of fear and fear-mongering is a loaded gun in politics. Eventually, somebody will pick it up and, deviously or innocently, start blasting away at the fabric of our democracy. Trump is just really good at it.
As for us, I think a discussion of fear-mongering has to ask the right questions to be useful. I propose we start on Monday night by asking the first couple of discussion questions, below: What does and does not constitute political fear-mongering, and under what conditions is it effective? Then, I’m sure we’ll have ample time to debate how one of our political parties – and maybe, eventually, the other – came to use fear-mongering as a central pillar of its existence.
I will be brief in my little opening remarks, summarizing the 3-4 main theories of why appeals to voter anxieties (which are used in every election, obviously) are so much more prominent/prevalent in today’s political environment. I definitely will give a few jaw-dropping, sky-is-falling quotes from the Republican presidential candidates this year. They are amazing to behold; they’re just not the whole story or the only thing to worry about.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –
- WHAT: What is fear-mongering? Is it about (a) fake/exaggerated threats, (b) scapegoated culprits, or (c) phony solutions?
- WHAT NOT: How does fear-mongering differ from what politicians should do: Raise awareness of our problems, criticize the other side’s failures, and proposing solutions?
- WHO/WHEN: When does fear-mongering work and on whom?
- When: Foreign threats/war? Rapid social change, in times of rapid social change and economic stagnation?
- Who: A vulnerable psychological type? People on the botto of our society? On the top but losing their privileged status?
- What are people afraid of? Legit fears?
- Who is doing the fear-mongering? Why?
- ON/OFF: Is fear-mongering controllable? Can politicians turn it on an off at will, or is it like riding a tiger? Does it make our politics hostage to events?
SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –
- Why/when does fear mongering work?
- There’s a fine line in politics between responding to fear and exploiting it. Recommended.
- The key role the Internet and news media play in fear-mongering.
- Trump, fear-mongering and the authoritarian personality. A must-read.
- A Black president and a deep recession catalyzed White fears of a “racial inversion” of political and cultural power. Recommended.
- Demanding absolute, 100% security from all foreign threats has caused a permanent sense of dread.
- Trump, the GOP, and fear-mongering.
- Liberals, Democrats, and fear-mongering:
Next Week: Political Correctness – A serious problem, an excuse, or a little of both?
This is Filip’s first topic idea and he will run the meeting if I can’t make it back in time from out of town. We have discussed atheism several times in the past. (Here, for example.) But, I like Fil’s wording because it cuts to the heart of atheism’s challenge to religion: That people believe in God because they want to, based on some psychological or biological need.
Many of you all are practicing atheists, if that’s not an oxymoron. So, no need for me to set up the topic idea, either here or on Monday. Instead, I’m taking this week off after all of the recent long, complex topics and weekly intro posts lately. I’m sure it will be a great meeting,, like all of our religious-themed ones are.
Still, out of habit, here are a few readings on the subject of the basic arguments for and against God’s existence, plus a few dealing with one author’s idea of what needs a human-created God might fulfill for society. It’s a pretty good read, IMO.
SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –
- “Existence of God” entry at Wiki.
- A 1-hour video debate on whether God is a human invention.
- In a 6–minute video, a Christian Apologist denies God is a human invention. Note: “Apologetics” means arguments in defense of religion.
- A good defense of atheism, from an economist I admire.
- The Evolution of God – A book positing that our idea of God’s nature keeps changing as humans’ psych/sociological needs for God evolve.
- UPDATE: How likely you are to believe religion is useless as opposed to useful depends on what kind of an atheist you are. Which one of these 6 types are you?
Next Week: Who is to blame for Iraq and Syria?
Bruce will moderate this meeting. I think it is a good topic for integrating science with our personal experiences. So many libraries have been filled with books on what intelligence is that I wasn’t sure where t start. So, some of the links below are via Bruce and others are ones I found. My impression is that Bruce is particularly interested in some theories of concerning intelligence that some of us might find controversial. Politics is everywhere.
I’ll see you all Monday night
- What are the major theories of intelligence? Are there different kinds of intelligence? Or, is there just one intelligence (a G factor) and we see different aspects of it?
- How do they measure intelligence? How accurate are the tests? What are they really measuring?
- Variability: How does intelligence vary between people and across cultures? Why do IQ levels in a society tend to rise over time (the Flynn effect)?
- How does intelligence change as we age?
SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –
- Major theories of what intelligence is. Shorter description here. Recommended overviews.
- Latest research findings, via Bruce. Just read the italicized summary of key findings in the first few paragraphs.
- More on Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, via Bruce
- More on the “G factor” in a 20-min. video, by coiner of the term, Arthur Jensen.
- The Flynn effect: Recommended
- Does intelligence determine success in life? The Terman study.
- Bell Curve: The IQ theories of Charles Murray (Bruce likes him, links are mine)
- POST-MTG UPDATE: John M. wanted me to add these perspectives on Murray:
- How the Media gave undeserved credibility to Murray’s “racist and pseudo-scientific book.”
- John’s own investigation that aired on ABC News of shady sources behind the evidence that Murray used in his book.
- A Slate Magazine critique of The Bell Curve.
- Does intelligence peak around age 50? Me not like.
Next Week: Bill Clinton: How good a president was he?
We all know a bit about why it’s gotten so hard to talk to the other side politically, having discussed polarization and its causes a number of times. I’ll list a few of the main culprits to open the meeting. We’ve also discussed how people are naturally resistant to being persuaded about politics. We’re all predisposed to “bias reinforcement;” i.e., to seek out opinions and facts we already agree with and to avoid or rationalize away any that cause us the trouble and psychic pain of self-examination. Hell, studies show that, among political partisans and those with well-formed ideologies, being exposed to contrary facts actually reinforces their opinions. How screwed does that make our politics?
Still, talking politics with someone from “The Other Side” politically can’t be totally, always futile, can it? I mean, an entire industry exists devoted to finding which rhetoric works best to persuade people in political advertising and in politicians’ speeches. Could we learn from their work and apply their techniques in our personal lives, when we’re in the situation and the mood to do so? Or, does talking politics with the other side just require using basic social skills and common courtesy that our political betters have forgotten in their rush to polarize us?
I’ve had to think about this topic a lot in recent years, from running Civilized Conversation and appearing in the San Diego Debate Club and (as Aaron does) on this ultra-conservative political TV show. So, indulge me for a few minutes on Monday and I’ll start us off with a few insights I think I’ve gathered. Then, I’d love to hear your thoughts, even if you’re one of those dim-witted, evil, ridiculous idiots on the other side.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –
- WHY talk to someone on the other side; i.e., for what purpose? What should one’s goals be when engaging such a person? Like: Persuasion, Defend your values, Find common ground, Censure or use them as a foil to persuade others within earshot? How about to learn something about why they think what they think?
- What kind of arguments/appeals work in such settings? Like: Facts or logic, Personal stories, Appeals to authority, Appeals to community or patriotism, Citing your/their moral values, Citing public support , Cursing and screaming?
- How do the pros do it? Any lessons from politicians or political campaigners (Reagan/FDR, Atwater/Carville) or social scientists (Lakoff, Haight)
- Specific issues: Any ideas for talking with an opponent on, say, climate change, Obamacare, taxes, abortion, etc.?
- Specific settings: Dealing with family members, colleagues, strangers, very well-informed opponents, etc.
SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –
- The problem: Recommended if you’re unfamiliar.
- General advice:
- 10 tips for engaging the other side. Use empathy and basic manners. Not bad.
- It’s all about using stories to frame one’s moral values. (Lakoff)
- No, this is way too simplistic.
- Watch: The most brilliant communicator I’ve ever met explains how to persuade people through rhetoric. (Joe Romm TED talk, 20-minutes, focuses on climate change)
- Specific issues: How to talk to a conservative about…
- Conservative POV:
Next Week: How did the West “beat the rest?” Was it culturally superior?
The field of study is called “moral psychology.” It’s the study of why we have a moral sense and why we depart from our moral values sometimes and not at other times. Mike suggested we discuss a topic related to – but not equivalent to, necessarily, at least in my opinion – the basic questions moral psychologists try to answer: What does science tell us about “good” and “evil?”
I think they’re not the same because I’m assuming (I’m not sure, not my field) that moral psychology is like all science: It sets aside the idea of whether there is a supernatural force that shapes the natural world. If God or the devil is the source of our acts of good and evil, science cannot know that by definition, right? That is a matter for philosophy or religion, isn’t it?
Still, I like this topic precisely because it begs the question of whether good and evil, in both its individual and societal-level manifestations, can be understood by any one way of thinking about the world. I’m a little dubious that psychology or neurology or any –ology that we have now can fully explain human morality and behavior.
But, Mike had me read this very interesting book on the subject (Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil, by Paul Bloom.) Armed with at least a little knowledge now, I’m looking forward to our discussion and to Mike’s brief opening remarks.
A note on links this week. I found a bunch of stuff on the science of morality and linked to what seemed like good ones below. But, since I am an ignoramus on this subject, I cannot vouch for how mainstream or accepted the points-of-view are, or whether I am excluding any major points of view or key findings in the field.
SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –
- Philosophy is Out and moral psychology is In for explaining our morality.
- Just Babies reviewed by NYT.
- Six “surprising scientific findings on good and evil.” (Joshua Greene)
- Do babies have a sense of fairness? Yes.
- Has neuroscience proven that evil does not exist?
- Do genes make us good or evil? (Scientific American)
- Video! A 16-minute TED talk: “Our buggy (odd/contradictory) moral code.” (Dan Ariely)
Next Week: Is Pornography Changing Our Perceptions of Sexuality?
Bruce, our group’s doctor, will take the lead on this topic. (Bruce is a neurologist. CivCon probably needs a psychiatrist, but nobody wants that job.) The topic I had in mind had to do with our – probably – growing problem of prescription drug over-prescribing and abuse. But, Bruce may prefer to take us a variety of directions, such as:
- Pain medications: The recent sharp rise in opioid addiction in the Unt4ed States, related to the widespread prescribing of Oxycodone. The big issue, aside from just reducing addiction, is how to balance the need to treat chronic pain with safety issues.
- Psychiatric drugs: Their alleged overuse by both adults and children.
- Illicit use of prescription drugs by teenagers and children.
- Whether widespread legalization of marijuana would make our addiction problems better or worse.
Below are some articles on these and other “are we an over-medicated society” issues. I will add others that Bruce brings them to my attention. I’ll see everybody on Monday night.
- We’re an overmedicated nation:
- No, we’re not over-medicated as a country:
- We’re both: We’re an under- and over-medicated nation. (Psych Central) Some groups, like poor kids and the elderly are badly over-medicated.
- America’s biggest drug problem is its doctors. Recommended.
- 100 Americans die from an overdose every day. How do we stop it? (WP) Recommended
Next Week: Are Americans Too Deferential to their Military? ?