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20 September 2008


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Sidney O. Smith III

The Stanford test seques rather richly to the Milgram Experiment out of Yale from the 1960’s -- an experiment that shed light on the rise of fascism, torture, and ultimately the extermination of "other" cultures. To quote Wiki:

"The Milgram experiment was a seminal series of social psychology experiments conducted by Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram, which measured the willingness of study participants to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts that conflicted with their personal conscience."

The Wiki phrase from above -- “conflicted with their personal conscience” -- means in essence, the State legitimating its people to torture others or participate in the annihilation of another culture, all in the name of “enlightment” of course. You know…spreading democracy to those who just aren’t as enlightened as us.

To quote from Wiki again:

“The [Milgram] experiments began in July 1961, three months after the start of the trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem. Milgram devised the experiments to answer this question: "Could it be that Eichmann and his million accomplices in the Holocaust were just following orders? Could we call them all accomplices?"


The results of the Milgram experiment are one reason that I do not want to be part of Victor Hanson’s idea of a “Sherman’s March” through the Islamic world -- an idea endorsed by so-patriotic Republicans as well as so-hip Democrats. Uh, no thanks.


Base instincts are with us all, but that doesn't mean we go around raping and pillaging. The society learns to "structure itself"...

The point in a representative democracy is that the society is able to socialize people to see beyond stereotypes, and then to reward them.

Why, at this point in history, is American society unable to achieve its reponsibility to structure itself to inhibit bad behaviour and to promote good behaviour.

It's not about whether or not we are all perfect.

William R. Cumming

Post is probably correct in its conclusions. That is why the character of the future President is so important to the future of the country. Leadership may be required to overcome tribal politics. If the experience of real power comes to individuals for the first time in their lives when elected President then difficult to know how they will react or whether they are above tribal politics. Time will tell, hopefully but perhaps sadly.

Clifford Kiracofe

Seems like the tribals in Pakistan don't like Americans...wonder why:

"A massive bomb blast has hit the Marriott Hotel in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, killing at least 40 people.

"The hotel's owner said the explosion occurred when a lorry, which was being checked by security staff and sniffer dogs blew up at the hotel's entrance.

"The blast created a 20ft (6m) deep crater, and destroyed the entire front section of the hotel."


Thankfully, the dominant culture in many modern countries promotes the shared belief that skin colour does not mark another person as the dangerous Other. Yes, it's hard to resist prejudices, but not all people are racially prejudiced.


I'm sure that the Wall Street Tribe now shares an acute sense of victimization and will do everything in its power to exact revenge on those responsible...


I think the tribal-ness of politics is subject to the dynamics of the larger body politic. On one hand, it's often a good idea to form a larger coalition, to resist outside forces, to gain from cooperation, etc. So, some overarching identity--"Western civilization," "democratic nations," etc.--is worth promoting for those who look to gain the most. But in course of the struggle for power within the coalition--or, if some group winds up losing disproportionately by the larger, coalition-endeavor endeavor, or, for that matter, there is nothing obvious to be gained from the coalitional endeavor (I don't just mean "economic" gains--perhaps "cultural" matters might be included here)--the "tribal" identities would be promoted and may have good chance of prevailing. I don't think "tribal" boundaries are all that predetermined, though--although some boundaries might be more easily exploitable than others. My parents came to the States from Korea--one of more ethnically homogeneous countries out there. But people there find all sorts of excuse to group themselves into different sides all the time.


For those who know about such things at a policy level, how has the "acceptability", "inevitability", (or whatever the appropriate term), of unintended civilian casualties vs friendly fire incidents changed through WWII, Korea, Vietnam,Iraq. Does the ratio of tolerance of one versus the other reflect any institutional position on the value of human life outside the tribe?

Basically, we are all just tribal animals looking for an excuse to hate the opposition, whomever they might be.

But the "they" aka "other" has fluid -- and permeable -- boundaries.

That is why the character of the future President is so important to the future of the country. (WRC)

Couldn't agree more. But it seems to me:

(1) the Corporatist kingmakers are using the Democratic Party as this year's flag of convenience to install another POTUS Otiosus;
(2) In terms of character, The One is a [political] clone of Dubya with an inverted money-to-melanin ratio, rebranded, repackaged, and peddled by CorpsMedia*** to a different sector of the electorate.

Ironic, eh?

Who knows what is actually taking place. As PL said, "People believe what they want to believe."


but not all people are racially prejudiced. (Ian)

True. (by way of salutation if Ian = Ian of Canada.)

*** Just as they sold the credulous on the Regimists and their catastrophic policies.

Clifford Kiracofe

Some new data on American tribalism:

"WASHINGTON (AP) — Deep-seated racial misgivings could cost Barack Obama the White House if the election is close, according to an AP-Yahoo News poll that found one-third of white Democrats harbor negative views toward blacks — many calling them "lazy," "violent," responsible for their own troubles.

The poll, conducted with Stanford University, suggests that the percentage of voters who may turn away from Obama because of his race could easily be larger than the final difference between the candidates in 2004 — about two and one-half percentage points.

Certainly, Republican John McCain has his own obstacles: He's an ally of an unpopular president and would be the nation's oldest first-term president. But Obama faces this: 40 percent of all white Americans hold at least a partly negative view toward blacks, and that includes many Democrats and independents."




David W.

Another study to ponder:

"Researchers writing in Science report that the political orientation of test subjects who have strong views is linked to how easy they are to startle. They found that subjects who were more fearful were more likely to have right wing views, such as being in favor of capital punishment and higher defense budgets. The researchers suggest that this psychological difference is why it is so difficult to change people's minds in political arguments."



David W. wrote:

"Another study to ponder:
'Researchers writing in Science report that the political orientation of test subjects who have strong views is linked to how easy they are to startle. They found that subjects who were more fearful were more likely to have right wing views...'"


While I know you haven't expressed same and may indeed not hold to it, I've seen all kinds of this kind of stuff before in the context of where Lefties try to essentially say that Righties are afflicted with some psychological pathology or etc. And to me it smacks of exactly the same kind of thing as when the Soviet Union started putting its dissidents in mental hospitals.

I.e., these ideas always seem to have a huge, ugly gap between what they say and the conclusions or implications they are trying to advance. For instance, in the Soviet Union that gap was of course the idea that the dissidents were wrong about the nature of the Soviets or communism or etc. And in this Science magazine report which merely says that "subjects who were more fearful were more likely to have right wing views," the gap is the thinly-veiled implication that those who are more fearful are wrong too.

After all, those who were less fearful of Hitler were wrong. Does that mean they were equally psychologically sick?

And even then think about it: Whose political leanings seem to be more viscerally "startled" or "fearful"? The conservative Right which in general seems to usually just want to maintain the status quo if not even being positively reactionary about it, or the Left? The Left that, it seems fair to say, has always been at least a bit more fearful (if not hysterical) of the prospect of nuclear war than the Right? Or more fearful about Global Warming? Or more fearful about the total meltdown of the capitalist system? Or more fearful about the fate of our civil liberties after Bush? Or more fearful about the world running out of resources. Or more fearful about ... well, you name it?

So many of these kinds of ideas are either just tautologies, logically self-refuting, or self-cancelling. For instance to the degree that it's true, as Colonel Lang has intimated, that "people believe [irrationally and independently of evidence] what they want to believe," well then to that same degree that statement applies to itself as well. And therefore because people believe it, it has no bearing on whether it's true or false. And indeed therefore we can never know what's true or false.

To the extent that some irrational homo sapien psychological processes affect political partisanship it seems to me likely that they affect the partisanship of both the Right and the Left equally given that, with the exception of Mr. Bush perhaps, both sides are generally comprised of homo sapiens.


David W.

Tom, thank you for your response--I posted this link without my own commentary (the summary was not mine). My counter argument would be not that fear equals being 'wrong', but that this fear motivates liberals and conservatives in different ways. You give nuclear war and global warming as two points on your side, but I would counter with the War in Iraq; the difference is in the response.

You seem to view this as a sickness or pathology, while I see it more as an innate orientation, kind of like being left or right handed. I don't think it's an across the board equivalency, however, I do believe that psychological makeup helps determine people's responses, left or right--along with many other factors, education, socialization, etc., which ultimately would make make any findings into over broad generalizations.

It would be interesting to see some sort of Meyers-Briggs-based survey of people's responses to the crises that we have been facing, along with a series of questions or experiments regarding their willingness to resort to extreme measures. How about a Meyers-Briggs-Milgram study?



David W.; very interesting comments. I knew that what you posted wasn't your summary or commentary so that's why I made sure to state that you had not expressed much less held the implications that I was talking about.

So as to clear up something else however you stated that I "seem to view this as a sickness or pathology, while I see it more as an innate orientation...." Except that I wasn't saying *I*saw anything as a sickness or pathology, I was just saying that that's how some others try to put it.

As to your "innate orientation" idea then, which is a more than fair way to think about these things then, I have a couple of comments and questions:

Firstly I would just note that one person's "innate orientation" can still be another's "pathology" or "mental illness," so I think there still exists that danger of misuse.

But secondly I wonder if you really really mean "innate" in the sense of "present at the creation," or "conception" here? I.e., in one's genes?

Because of course if one's basic psychological "orientation" or "understanding" comes about only afterwards, even when one is very young as a matter of ... learned understanding, well then what's really to differentiate that learned understanding from the learned understanding that a person gathers from the facts involved in this or that political matter? I.e., it's not "irrational" in the sense of being divorced from reality and stemming from some cause unrelated to the appreciation of reality, so what difference does it make?

And beyond that, I wonder in what way you think that this kind of thing is anything people aren't already aware of? You have different people who, via their early experiences and not their genes, see some huge value in ... stability and the status quo, or in fearless changefs . So what's irrational even or surprising that on the one hand the first person tends conservative and the other tends liberal? Isn't this just basically already known?

And as to those things that you may feel really really are innate/"present from the conception," I wonder if you see this as having any significance beyond the academic and if so what?

Seems to me in any event a bit problematic in terms of evidence. In general it seems to me that people are hugely and rationally swayed by "learned" things. If after all it was really "in the genes," then how to explain how we in this country swing so much from one political party's nominee for Pres. to the others? Or how to explain what might seem the "authoritarian/aggression preferring" genes of the pre-WWII Germans or Japanese given how totally and wholeheartedly they and their offspring rejected same after the learning experience of WWII?

So in any event I'd be interested in your comments about such things. But I'd also say that I like your Meyers-Briggs-Milgram study idea since however dangerous a field is don't mean it shouldn't be explored. Who the hell knows what will pop up. Good idea.

Very interesting issue, thanks.


Sidney O. Smith III

TomB y DavidW

Fascinating discussion.

I don’t know if the following is on point but somewhere along the line I read that holding two contradictory beliefs (or ideas or principles, etc.) at the same time -- what folks today may call a “cognitive dissonance” -- is the royal road to creativity.

Perhaps as an analogy, a very good judge -- and, yes, they do exist in this world-- intentionally creates a cognitive dissonance by incorporating the best arguments of two opposing sides. By fully embracing the colliding principles and its corresponding inner tension, a just resolution is reach through creativity. (no, this is not the Marxist dialectic, at least best I can tell).

It looks like to me that voluntarily and fully embracing that which is called a “cognitive dissonance” is not easy and probably places a person in the “non-group” way of thinking.

With that in mind, it looks like to me, that in this day and age, the ideas associated with the traditionally “left” or traditionally “right” simple are not apropos and will not render solutions to the problems that today’s world pose. What is seen as right may be left and vice versa or not at all.

War Eagle Raimondo, in his inimitable style, calls today’s world “bizarro” where everything has become inverted in the time-space continuum. In other words, the post 9-11 world has shattered all intellectual paradigms, much like a brick thrown through a window. Seems to me that War Eagle is right yet again.

If the above assumption is true -- and each must decide on his or her own -- then reverting to the groupthink of one’s traditional political party may, in fact, represent a regression of sorts. In other words, a person is not going to find the answers by taking refuge within that paradigm. In fact taking such a refuge may indicate a refusal to embrace the various dilemmas that we now face. Groupthink animates that which is traditionally associated with the “left” and the “right” and, heck, even that which is between the two and beyond the two.

But the royal path of the cognitive dissonance may have its obstacles as well, at least so it seems. The best metaphor I can think of right off hand is an image of Damocles’ sword. Time forces the creativity. And if a cognitive dissonance leaves that person paralyzed in thought and lacking in action, the bare thread that holds the sword gives way, the sword falls, and the person probably goes the way of Hamlet. Now that I think about it, Hamlet is a personification of the cognitive dissonance, at least until he busted a move in Act V.

But of course if the cognitive dissonance creates a tremendous creativity that succeeds in overcoming the tension, the resolution may induce an epiphany or some divine inspiration along those lines.

David W.

Tom, thanks for your reply; this topic is not within my area of expertise, but one I find fascinating. As you've said, the origins and influences are so myriad that they probably cannot be scientifically proven. Yet, there is much to be learned by examination of the topic informally.

Let me start by explaining that when I said 'innate' I did not mean any sort of genetic predisposition. My example of 'handedness' is what I think of as innate, even though it is learned, and it is accepted that the right and left hemispheres of the brain handle information differently, so I think this is one of the fundamental differences between how people of any otherwise homogenous group process information. (No doubt this is no accidental emphasis on my part, as I am left handed!)

I also question the upbringing hypothesis from personal experience; I grew up in a conservative, Republican family in the midwest, yet I didn't buy into the answers or the safe bubble that were offered to me. Something caused me to break out of this bubble, and search for answers on my own. Why this situation occurs is, to me, the hidden crux of this examination.

I also look at evolution for answers; organisms that are 'conservative' tend to go extinct, while 'liberal' organisms are the ones who evolve...or die, the counter-argument goes. So, then, education, intelligence and experience are necessarily part of the equation. At its best, liberalism, like evolution, works because it encompasses a wider range of experience that leads to expanded horizons and opportunities--provided that one has the knowledge to avoid obvious pitfalls.

A good analogy here would be liberal enough to eat that mushroom in the glen, as well as being smart or experienced enough to know the difference between a mushroom and a toadstool (or ask a dark-skinned native). Many American settlers died because they were too conservative and too ignorant to really 'live off the land,' and they died of starvation while they were surrounded with strange edibles. They were incapable of making this step for reasons of socialization, and although they were stoic, they were too conservative to adapt.

This is all admittedly very squishy, so I'm glad that the rest of SST has moved on while we discuss this. However, my underlying point is that I firmly reject the idea of equivalency and belief in the tangible world; While it's ok to believe in the deity and religion of your choosing, I think this has been taken too far. I believe that Sen. Pat Monihan once said, 'you are entitled to your own belief, but not your own facts.' It's fair enough that PL's original post was not to highlight which system is the 'best,' but at the bottom, I reject the equivalency of all viewpoints, and the 'intellectually incurious', and instead make common cause with those from all backgrounds who pursue ideas and seek out different viewpoints--which is why I'd like to think we all convene here at SST.

By the way, I am a INTP on the Meyers-Briggs scale. I have not been Milgrom tested, but in a way, I think we are all being subjected to a Milgrom experiment writ large these past 7 years. :)


Patrick Lang

David W

I don't remember if I ever disclosed this here, but I am an INTP as well as is my wife. It would be interesting to know how many NTs are gathered here. Actually, it would be interesting to know what everyone's M-B group is. pl

Patrick Lang


What happens if we let the whole thing crash by rejecting "Cash for Trash?" pl

Cold War Zoomie

I'm an INTJ.

William R. Cumming

I am an ENTJ!


I think I wanna add something on this interesting psychological talk but wanna think more about some of the points made, and got a Ike-storm of work pressing on me to boot.

Just cutting and running then I still gotta ask Sidney something and that is the question of just what cognitive dissonance is.

I always thought it was the phenomenon whereby people tend to ignore or downplay evidence that goes against their beliefs or hopes, no?

If it isn't I'd sure as hell would like to know what that is because man, does it ever get people in trouble. At least half that walk into lawyer's offices. And maybe a helluva lot of these geniuses who bought all this crappy debt that we are now going to bail them out of.

I'd also like to second Lang's pondering about letting this whole economic thing go tits up. Anyone who has had any dealings with the people behind this thing know that right now they are scheming and maneuvering like madmen to game this bailout just like they gamed the hell out of everything else that got us into this mess.

Like bloated pigs in a pen, drowning in their own feces, not yet even being plucked out but already drooling at the prospect of a new trough.



cognitive dissonance: it's a wave! it's a particle! [that's a joke.]

So many self-professed liberals/conservatives seem to want a monopoly on the good. JESUS! Save me from the righteous and give me PRAGMATISTS who know when to be liberal, when to be conservative, and when they don't know enough to be either.


David W:

I'm quite lost now as regards what you are saying.

First you affirm that by using the term "innate" before and despite its implication you in fact "don't mean any sort of genetic predisposition" determines whether one believes in X or Y. Ergo, you don't believe it's "nature" that determines our basic views to use the usual formulation.

Okay, but you then further say "I also question the upbringing hypothesis," by which I can only assume you mean that you also reject the idea that people basically believe in X or Y due to learned experiences. (Or "nurture" to use the typical shorthand phrase signifying same.)

So if it ain't nature for you and it ain't nurture, what is it?

Taking up your next point which I don't quite see connects to the former—and which you may well not have meant it to—you state as follows:

"I also look at evolution for answers; organisms that are 'conservative' tend to go extinct, while 'liberal' organisms are the ones who evolve...."

Okay, so here's what this puts me in the mind of:

Your first post quoted some study concerning psychology of the sort that I think is the kind that all too often tries to misuse science for political ends. (E.g., seeing people who disagree with one politically as having some deep psychological condition or affliction or etc.)

As stated I noted however that you were not endorsing that misuse.

But now you start quoting evolutionary science somewhat in the same vein, saying outright that "[a]t its best, liberalism, like evolution, works because it encompasses a wider range of experience that leads to expanded horizons and opportunities...."

And what I would say to this is that I'm sure glad that you put in that phrase "like evolution" so meaning apparently that you are only using this as an analogy and aren't trying to directly enlist science in this way to say that one political leaning is better than another, because that too would seem to me a terrible misuse of science.

Indeed, it may be the most terrible misuse of science of all given that in the past people who believed they understood evolutionary science and etc. came up with all kinds of proofs and etc. to declare this race better than that and to endorse eugenics and etc., etc. And lots of those people were "liberals" in fact who saw themselves as big progressives like Oliver Wendell Holmes for example who was a great fan of eugenics.

But even just insofar as using evolution as some form of analogy to politics I think your attempt has problems. And that's because the history of evolution that's clearly come to be accepted now by the majority of experts I think simply doesn't accord very well with your analogy.

While it used to be thought—like your analogy assumes—that evolution worked in this slow deliberate way, in the main that simply isn't what the fossils are saying. Instead they are saying that the absolute norm has been long long long periods of stasis—where "conservatives" in your terminology thrive pretty much unchanged for eons—punctuated only by very short terms periods where things change.

Thus for instance it was this very observation that led Steve Gould and Niles Eldbridge to come up with the term "punctuated equilibria" to describe the history of life and evolution on earth. (Although others just simply feel the old term "catastrophism" is as good a description for what most evolutionists now accept is the case as opposed to the old "gradualist" view.)

And so in any event your analogy would have to deal with the fact that the paleontological fossil record shows that your "conservative" organisms have in fact had a much more successful go and time of it on earth than your "liberal" ones.

After all, something 99% of all species that ever lived on earth are extinct so almost none have done a great great job at adapting. And while we humans see ourselves as such great enduring survivors, at best as homo sapiens we've only been around for a measly million or two years while those big evolutionary "failures" the dinosaurs ruled really well for about 100 million until a freak event meteorite probably nailed most of 'em. Otherwise those conservatives would still be around.

So in any event even using science as an analogy to human political matters has its pitfalls I think that one has to be careful with. And certainly I look at any attempted use of science to directly "explain" human political matters with extreme scepticism if not also with a bit of fear given its history.

Remember, there was a one great great commonality between the two great evil political movements of the last century Fascism and Communism, and that was that both saw themselves as absolutely being rooted in science. Per Marx and Lenin of course, all they were doing was participating in the inexorable, foreordained march the "science" of history and economics had supposedly shown with "scientific socialism." And per Hitler of course, his "scientific" racial and eugenic theories are too well known of to need reminding.

Ergo, I'd say, while I think the arena where science and politics meets is interesting, the history of what's happened in that arena hasn't been either pretty or successful.

That said however, I still kind of like your attempt to see political ideas as being subject to evolution *of a kind*, that's for sure. Reminds me of the idea of "memes" which posits that ideas in general seem to be subject to a kind of evolutionary system of their own. E.g., they survive so long as they "work," but go extinct in changed climates if they don't adapt fast enough, and etc., etc

You ought to develop your idea more since I think you might be on to something.


David W.

Sidney: well timed reference to cognitive dissonance--we are seeing a textbook case of how the free market believers deal with the cognitive dissonance of Wall Street needing a govt. bailout!

It seems to me that the difference in analysis is how the individual acts when confronted with cd; one needs to either ignore, dissemble or embrace the situation by digging deeper. In Zen, the koan is an application of seeming cognitive dissonance, where the student is presented with a seemingly impossible situation (eg. 'What is the'the sound of one hand clapping?'), and through a variety of techniques, is supposed to overcome this duality and find the hidden congruence behind the situation, which I equate to Sidney's reference of the 'royal road.' Such exercises tend to reveal rich tapestries of gray, which paint a more complete and complex picture, but one that is not so easily communicated or received by those whose psychological makeup demands that they deal in black and white certainties and shun contradictory information.

PL: I think M-B is an interesting analytic tool, but one that is necessarily incomplete. Looking at this site http://www.typelogic.com/ to refresh my M-B memory, I am simultaneously pleased and mortified to find that Carl Jung and John McCain are also INTPs.


David W.,

I think M-B is an interesting analytic tool, but one that is necessarily incomplete. Looking at this site http://www.typelogic.com/ to refresh my M-B memory, I am simultaneously pleased and mortified to find that Carl Jung and John McCain are also INTPs.

Are those two sentences related?

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