Psychology

A Few Saturday Links-War, War Photography & Domestic Politics: Wherever You Go, There You Are

Michael Totten at World Affairs: ‘No, the Syrian Kurds Are Not Terrorists

There are Kurdish Communist militias, but there are still many reasons for America to promote Kurdish interests.  Additionally, there are reasons to help stamp out ISIS and navigate the other players in the region as well…leaving the Kurds to their own fate.  I think this helps explain current American policy in the region:

‘Whatever you think of the “libertarian socialism” of Syrian Kurdistan, it’s not even in the same time zone as the medieval totalitarianism of ISIS, the secular nationalist tyranny of Assad’s Arab Socialist Baath Party regime in Damascus or the Putin-esque rule of the neo-Ottoman Erdogan.

Turkey can call the Kurds terrorists all they want, but that will not make them so.’

Meanwhile, an increasingly authoritarian, populist, Islamic Erdogan has launched a campaign into Syria to battle with Kurdish forces:

and:

As previously posted:

Independent Kurdistan-A Good Outcome For American Interests?

In his book Where The West Ends, Totten describes visiting Northern Iraq briefly as a tourist with a friend, and the general feeling of pro-Americanism in Kurdish Northern Iraq that generally one can only feel in Poland, parts of the former Yugoslavia etc.

Two Sunday Links-Turkey, The Kurds, And Affirmative Consent

Domestic Politics And The Tendency People Have To Seek Transcendence And Naked Self-Interest At The Very Same Time:

Beware offering thoughtful critique of the sacred ‘-Isms’ these days (feminism, environmentalism, racism, sexism), even if it’s just pointing out other ways of thinking about injustice.  God forbid should you hold a conservative position on any matter. Problems come with identity politics and political idealism, after all, just as they do with religious belief and certainty and fixed conservative positions.  Generally, such criticism is not welcomed among radically activated and/or ambitious individuals.

If someone doesn’t recognize the moral legitimacy of the rules governing an institution they claim is oppressing them, maybe you want to ask which rules they recognize as morally legitimate before they go end-up controlling the institution?

Civility and a boring politics aren’t desireable for many, for various reasons, especially those people bringing presumed moral goods for everybody through radical change and radical liberation.

It might be useful to try and hold a mirror to many ambitious people in high towers and positions of authority in addition to one’s Self; a perplexing exercise during a time of The Self and a rather compromised politics of celebrity.

There are a lot of decent people out there, and a lot of good in people, of course, away from the madding crowd.

The Church Of Holy Modern Human Progress Shall Be Built!

The Old Catholic Church Shall Soon Be Rebuilt!

“Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.”

That’s attributed to Eric Hoffer, here.

On that note, Theodore Dalrymple (Anthony Daniels) takes a look at war photographers to highlight an underlying truth:  Where there’s courage there is also cowardice. Where there’s moral concern there’s also boredom and self-preservation.

Everyone’s got a pet peeve (what this blog is for, really), but honest self-reflection can be much harder (to come by):

‘That people may love what they hate—or say that they hate—is illustrated in extreme form by war photographers. If you asked war photographers why they risk their lives to take pictures of the most terrible conflicts (rather than, say, of the beauties of nature), they would say that it is to inform or alert the world in the hope of bringing those conflicts to an end. But this is far from the whole truth, psychologically speaking; and as a person who has indulged in a little civil-war tourism myself, I can avow to the fact that there is nothing like a sense of danger for solving, at least temporarily, whatever little troubles are agitating one’s soul. When there might be an ambush round every corner, the minor fluctuations of one’s emotional state are of little concern.’

White Guilt & The Freedom To Think Differently: Shelby Steele & Jordan Peterson-Some Links

Shelby Steele at the WSJ: ‘The Exhaustion Of American Liberalism

If you think, as this blog does, there’s plenty of empirical evidence to suggest a trend of radicalized and (dis)organized discontents seeking influence over all of our lives, then it’s reasonable to wonder what results come from such influence.

Or of course, what kind of authority involves itself in your life, through American liberalism and through institutions of education, politics and law is a similar question to be asking.

Are such folks ‘liberal?’

Steele on white guilt:

‘White guilt is not angst over injustices suffered by others; it is the terror of being stigmatized with America’s old bigotries-racism, sexism, homophobia and xenophobia. To be stigmatized as a fellow traveler with any of these bigotries is to be utterly stripped of moral authority and made into a pariah.’

Deep-diving the reef of white guilt with popularizing critical theorists as historical and contemporary guides clearly has its drawbacks (if you enjoyed the tour…don’t forget to put some coins in the reparations jar, white devil!).

From The New Criterion: Theodore Dalrymple Reviews Ta-Nehisi Coates ‘Between The World And Me’

Related On This Site:   What about black people held in bondage by the laws..the liberation theology of Rev Wright…the progressive vision and the folks over at the Nation gathered piously around John Brown’s body?: Milton Friedman Via Youtube: ‘Responsibility To The Poor’……Robert George And Cornel West At Bloggingheads: “The Scandal Of The Cross”

From The Liberal Bastions-James Baldwin, Often


Of course, one can still be an intellectually humble and moral person, recognizing the actual injustices and genuine horrors of much American racial history, while still coming to differing conclusions based on different principles about that history and what should happen next.

One can still re-examine one’s own beliefs and choose not to carve up the world into classes, races, genders based on some presumed endpoint to human affairs promised by the same old ideologies (the oppressor is dead, long live the oppressor!)

Most people not immediately being made to suffer injustice, enjoying relative personal and economic freedom have little need to make their personal lives political. 

Unfortunately, it seems we live in a time when many of these people are now clearly feeling pressure to signal their belonging/non-belonging recognition/non-recognition of activists’ claims to their freedoms.

Here’s the rub: If you disagree with a principled, reasonable person, you’ll probably both walk away challenged, enlightened, and enriched.  They really do think differently from you.  Maybe they’ll always be an enemy of sorts, but an enemy for which you’ve gained some respect (and vice versa).  Maybe they’ll become a friend.

Unprincipled, unreasonable people abound, however, and certain radical ideologies reward and can incentivize the worst in people, while claiming the highest good towards radical liberation.  Such ideas also reward worse people without necessarily placing important limiting principles and brakes upon these people (the passion play of radical ‘anti-fascists’ seeks actual ‘evil people’ and ‘fascists,’ in perpetuity).

Many activists don’t respect authority because they don’t believe that authority is legitimate.  Of course, what kind of authority they think is legitimate is less often considered.  Most simply haven’t bothered to understand the traditions, laws, and duties they believe it is their duty to change.


On that note, a Nietzsche-influenced psychologist discusses his epistemological differences with Sam Harris, a neuroscientist more interested in scientifically accurate and empirically valid truth statements about the world, and our thoughts about it.

The modern project is not only dependent upon both the sciences and the social sciences claims to truth and knowledge (and actual discoveries), but also lies exposed to the dangers of anti-science and anti-social-science ideologues everywhere, especially on the radical Left.

Human nature hasn’t changed so much, after all.

Update And Repost-Is Psychology A Science? From Richard Feynman’s ‘Cargo Cult Science’

Lecture here.

Feynman (wikipedia) wonders what makes science science.  He manages to argue quite well why he doesn’t think psychology meets a certain standard.

At least, he says the following:

I think the educational and psychological studies I mentioned are examples of what I would like to call cargo cult science. In the South Seas there is a cargo cult of people. During the war they saw airplanes land with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they’ve arranged to imitate things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head like headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas–he’s the controller–and they wait for the airplanes to land. They’re doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn’t work. No airplanes land. So I call these things cargo cult science, because they follow all theapparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but  they’re missing something essential, because the planes don’t land.’

What is the bar as to when the social sciences become a science?

One place I find myself often retreating (knowledgably, and sometimes not) is a place of skepticism when it comes to such knowledge being used in institutional settings.

What if the latest research on a certain psychological disorder, early-educational practice, or thinking about certain mental-states and their treatment, because of this potential ambiguity, simply doesn’t hold up well over time and under greater scrutiny?

Aside from the actual quality of research, then, this research can fill a role much greater than clinical application and abstract appreciation in the society at large (political, personal, monetary, ideological, professional).

It can become the thing that people talk about, and know, which makes them feel connected.

One need merely observe how many rather higher-quality journalistic publications rely on a steady stream of popular social science interpretation to maintain their audiences and keep certain groups of people chattering.

Brain-scans, pop neuro-science and various other examples come to mind.

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What if the latest treatment/practice that flows from such research becomes not only fashionable, but standardized, conventional wisdom attached to institutional authority?

A whole new set of issues can arise here, including issues of freedom of association, political liberty, and freedom of speech.

After all, some teachers and some students can be dull, unambitious people.

Some educrats’ ambitions far outstrip their abilities, motivated as they are to engage in the petty, political scrambling going on behind the scenes the bureaucratic labyrinth.

Some, but clearly not all, anyways.

We live with a lot of freedoms and the responsibilities these freedoms require, including thinking for ourselves and responding to new information, especially when our interests are at stake.

This, unlike the system highlighted in the below quote from the late Robert Conquest, steadfast chronicler of Soviet authority and leadership in practice:

But, he does point out certain dangers and makes me laugh at the same time:

Those teach who can’t do” runs the dictum,

But for some even that’s out of reach:

They can’t even teach—so they’ve picked ’em

To teach other people to teach.

Then alas for the next generation,

For the pots fairly crackle with thorn.

Where psychology meets education

A terrible bullshit is born.’

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I should also note that Feynman bristled at philosophers endlessly philosophizing about the nature of scientific knowledge, and who often are looking to borrow what they can from it to bolster their own metaphysical theories about the world.

Here’s a quote from Roger Scruton’s book (pg 50) on Immanuel Kant, one of the deeper philosophers:

“Scientific explanation depends upon principles of method:  being presupposed in scientific enquiry, these principles cannot be proved through it.  Kant believed that such principles would be reflected in basic scientific laws; and it is one of the tasks of metaphysics to provide grounds for their acceptance.

Metaphysics will love you not…but at least philosophy can potentially recognize some of its shortcomings against such measure.

Addition: And is that really a primary aim of metaphysics?  Why must it be so?

See Also: Karl Popper’s metaphysical theory on much the same subject: Falsifiability

Also On This SiteFrom 3 Quarks Daily: Richard Feynman Talks About A Pool And A Not-So-Pretty Girl.

Clearly math can bring people together, but what is it being asked to do, exactly? Elizabeth Spelke On Bloggingheads: Towards A Coalitional Mathematics?

Steven Pinker At The New Republic: ‘Science Is Not Your Enemy’

Full piece here.

Pinker boils his argument down to two ideals:

‘The first is that the world is intelligible. The phenomena we experience may be explained by principles that are more general than the phenomena themselves.’

and:

‘The commitment to intelligibility is not a matter of brute faith, but gradually validates itself as more and more of the world becomes explicable in scientific terms.’

I wonder if this isn’t this a rather reductionist view of the sciences?  Or as Hilary Putnam and Bryan Magee discuss below, the ‘treasure chest’ vision, where you just keep filling up the chest with more and more knowledge.  It leaves a lot to be desired:

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Pinker’s second ideal is as follows:

‘The second ideal is that the acquisition of knowledge is hard. The world does not go out of its way to reveal its workings, and even if it did, our minds are prone to illusions, fallacies, and super- stitions.’

One of the other debates here is about where meaning shall be found, in politics, in ethics, as a foundation for the humanities, and religion, and all manner of other ideas fill the void.  As also discussed in the video above, the idea of science as providing the foundation for the Western worldview is quite ingrained.

There’s no shortage of people who want to use some concept of the sciences, and reason, to fill those voids and I think there are many reasons to remain skeptical of many of them.

Response by Leon Wieseltier At The New Republic:  ‘No, Science Doesn’t Have All The Answers.

-Ross Douthat: ‘The Scientism Of Steve Pinker’ 

-Jerry Coyne responds to Douthat.

Related On This SiteFrom Darwinian Conservatism: ‘The Evolution of Mind and Mathematics: Dehaene Versus Plantinga and Nagel’

From Edward Feser: ‘Nagel And His Critics Part IV’

John Gray Reviews Jonathan Haidt’s New Book At The New Republic: ‘The Knowns And The Unknowns’

Steven Pinker somewhat focused on the idea of freedom from violence, which tends to be libertarian. Yet, he’s also skeptical of the more liberal human rights and also religious natural rights. What about a World Leviathan?: At Bloggingheads Steven Pinker Discusses War And Thomas HobbesFrom Reason.TV Via YouTube: ‘Steven Pinker on The Decline of Violence & “The Better Angels of Our Nature”‘Simon Blackburn Reviews Steven Pinker’s “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial Of Human Nature” Via the University Of Cambridge Philosophy Department

Timothy Snyder Responds To Steven Pinker’s New Book At Foreign Policy: ‘War No More: Why The World Has Become More Peaceful’

Morality in the emotions? Jesse Prinz argues that neuroscience and the cognitive sciences should move back toward British empiricism and David Hume…yet…with a defense of multiculturalism and Nietzsche thrown in:  Another Note On Jesse Prinz’s “Constructive Sentimentalism”From Bloggingheads: Tamar Szabo Gendler On Philosophy and Cognitive Science

From The Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy Entry On Eliminative Materialism

Repost-Dinesh D’Souza And Daniel Dennett at Tufts University: Nietzsche’s Prophesy

Evolutionary psychology and moral thinking: Franz De Waal At The NY Times 10/17/10: ‘Morals Without God?’

From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘Haidt’s Vindication of Fusionist Conservatism and Aristotelian Liberalism’

Full piece here.

Larry Arnhart continues his careful reading of Jonathan Haidt’s work, to which Haidt, a psychologist venturing into the realms of politics and political philosophy, responds:

“As always, you have done a very close and fair reading of my work. And as before, you see things in my work that I was not fully aware of, but which I agree with. I think you’re right to call me on some potential contradictions. I am indeed a Darwinian, and I am indeed sympathetic to both classical liberalism and Burkean conservatism — more so than to modern leftism or 1970s liberalism. So I’ll have to think about this, and about the conundrums of tolerance and nested incompatible moral matrices that you raise. Thank you!”

An interesting discussion.  Comments are worth a read.

Related On This Site:  From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘Jonathan Haidt’s Darwinian Conservatism’

From Edge: ‘Re: What Makes People Republican? By Jonathan Haidt’…Evolutionary psychology and moral thinking: Franz De Waal At The NY Times 10/17/10: ‘Morals Without God?’

From Darwinian Conservatism By Larry Arnhart: “Surfing Strauss’s Third Wave of Modernity”

Simon Blackburn Reviews Steven Pinker’s “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial Of Human Nature” Via the University Of Cambridge Philosophy Department

Morality in the emotions? Jesse Prinz argues that neuroscience and the cognitive sciences should move back toward British empiricism and David Hume…yet…with a defense of multiculturalism and Nietzsche thrown in:  Another Note On Jesse Prinz’s “Constructive Sentimentalism”From Bloggingheads: Tamar Szabo Gendler On Philosophy and Cognitive Science

Timothy Snyder Responds To Steven Pinker’s New Book At Foreign Policy: ‘War No More: Why The World Has Become More Peaceful’

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From Boston.Com Via The A & L Daily: ‘The Surprising Moral Force Of Disgust’

Full article here.

It may not be that much of a surprise:

“Where does moral law come from? What lies behind our sense of right and wrong? For millennia, there have been two available answers. To the devoutly religious, morality is the word of God, handed down to holy men in groves or on mountaintops. To moral philosophers like Kant, it is a set of rules to be worked out by reason”

Only two available answers?  There’s also this:

“Psychologists like Haidt are leading a wave of research into the so-called moral emotions — not just disgust, but others like anger and compassion — and the role those feelings play in how we form moral codes and apply them in our daily lives. A few, like Haidt, go so far as to claim that all the world’s moral systems can best be characterized not by what their adherents believe, but what emotions they rely on.”

The ideas are now getting dispersed more popularly;  below might be some useful links on this site:

From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum.

A reasonable summary?:  Nussbaum argues that disgust should not be used to make laws. It is an emotion that is potentially irrational.  It is also a way to project our own irrationality regarding the body, weakness and mortality onto others. In so doing, often we maintain unjust laws, or inequitable legal, social, and political structures.

She might argue that J.S. Mill’s harm principle is a better tool to maintain freedom and equality than the moral doctrines of Christianity…not only, but especially when, disgust is used to interefere into the lives of others through the laws (Gays and Lesbians in America, Outcasts in India…Bahai, for example, in Iran perhaps).

An example of Nussbaum’s hubris regarding the Elliot Spitzer case (those Puritan Roots can’t be done away with quickly enough):  Martha Nussbaum On Eliot Spitzer At The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Jesse Prinz argues that morals too, have roots in emotions, and argues that evo-psy/cog-sci should get back to British Empiricism, with some Nietzsche thrown in, among other things-More On Jesse Prinz. A Review Of “The Emotional Construction Of Morals” At Notre DameJesse Prinz Discusses “The Emotional Construction Of Morals” On Bloggingheads. Another Note On Jesse Prinz’s “Constructive Sentimentalism”

Jesse Prinz’s page.

Prinz’s book here.

Full diavlog here.

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A dig at over-eager psychologists as Haidt may himself be:  Repost-Is Psychology A Science? From Richard Feynman’s ‘Cargo Cult Science’

It will be interesting to watch as this passes through popular thinking, and through the political realm.

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Repost-Elizabeth Spelke On Bloggingheads: Towards A Coalitional Mathematics?

Full diavlog here.

A very interesting discussion.

Just a few thoughts:

1Spelke is a psychologist at Harvard, who suggests that some of her research may hint at a biological basis for social grouping in humans  (babies perhaps show preference for people who speak their own language, or people who resemble their own caregivers as gateways to the social world and shared knowledge they seek to join and there may be some biological reasons for this).

2.  One of her solutions is to eventually point toward math (what joshua knobe here calls coalitional mathematics, or what is a rather long and philosophical view of mathematics…not as fixed, but as and ever changing body of the deepest knowledge we have that we can transcend and that can transcend many of the other limitiations that bind us).

So we use music, language, similarity at a very deep level to define ourselves as members of a group and the value of Spelke’s work as she sees it is in mapping a metaphysical realm that can highlight such limitations…

3.  Despite the value of Spelke’s work, I’m left with the question of why not just study math, or science…or even philosophy…instead of psychology?  

I still appreciate the depth though.

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Richard Feynman was apparently not too impressed with psychology, and explains why here in “Cargo Cult Science.”  Something to talk about anyways…

See Also On This SiteFrom Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On Youtube: Geoffrey Warnock On Kant

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Elizabeth Spelke On Bloggingheads: Towards A Coalitional Mathematics?

Full diavlog here.

A very interesting discussion.

Just a few thoughts:

1Spelke is a psychologist at Harvard, who suggests that some of her research may hint at a biological basis for social grouping in humans  (babies perhaps show preference for people who speak their own language, or people who resemble their own caregivers as gateways to the social world and shared knowledge they seek to join and there may be some biological reasons for this).

2.  One of her solutions is to eventually point toward math (what joshua knobe here calls coalitional mathematics, or what is a rather long and philosophical view of mathematics…not as fixed, but as and ever changing body of the deepest knowledge we have that we can transcend and that can transcend many of the other limitiations that bind us).

So we use music, language, similarity at a very deep level to define ourselves as members of a group and the value of Spelke’s work as she sees it is in mapping a metaphysical realm that can highlight such limitations…

3.  Despite the value of Spelke’s work, I’m left with the question of why not just study math, or science…or even philosophy…instead of psychology?  

——————————–

Richard Feynman was apparently not too impressed with psychology, and explains why here in “Cargo Cult Science.”  Something to talk about anyways…

See Also On This Site:  A few doubts about philosophy and metaphysics:  From Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On Youtube: Geoffrey Warnock On Kant

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Stanley Fish At The NY Times: Psychology And Torture. Plato?

Full post here.

Fish points out that the American Psychological Association has finally voted to ban its members from being part of Guantanamo interrogations.  In other words; if you want to be a member of the American Psychological Association (professional recognition, respect, opportunity, connections etc…) this base ethical obligation must be met.

Fish points out that psychologists are paid for their services elsewhere:

“Law firms employ jury consultants to assess the psychological make-up of prospective jurists…”

“Large corporations employ psychological profilers to help make them make personnel decisions.”

“Sports teams hire “coaches” whose job it is to motivate players and make them more aggressive.”

So why is Gitmo any different?:

“…the moment psychological knowledge of causes and effects is put into strategic action is the moment when psychology ceases to be a science and becomes an extension of someone’s agenda”

Well, it isn’t, according to Fish, it’s simply a matter of degree.  In this case that degree has been determined by the AMA, which he points out has followed the American Medical Association’s and the American Psychiatric Association’s to ban its members from Gitmo interrogations a while back.  In fact:

“Applied psychology can never be clean.”

So, unless knowledge is pursued for its own sake within psychology (and in psychology’s case I”m assuming he means abstract laws derived in part from science and applied to the motivations and desires of people) psychology is always falling away from truth? 

Fish certainly seems like a Platonist, and as the comment section demonstrates, he’s stirred up a lot of debate.

Addition:  You can well argue the truth value of such a claim that ‘applied psychology is never clean,” but would we want to hold psychology and other professions (law and even science) to such a standard?  I think Fish wants to point out the flaws and debatable epistemological foundations of psychology as much as anything else.

Related On This SiteStanley Fish In The NY Times: More Colorado FolliesSocial Scientists Serving In Afghanistan

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Steven Pinker From The New Republic: The Stupidity Of Dignity

Full essay here.

Pinker attacks “dignity” arguments put foward by the President’s Council On Bio-Ethics in Human Dignity And Bioethics.

He’s not impressed with the set of largely conservative ideas he finds there, a few of which are rooted in Catholic doctrine.  Who’s putting them foward?

“…a group of intellectual activists, many of whom had jumped from the radical left to the radical right, has urged that we rethink the Enlightenment roots of the American social order. The recognition of a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and the mandate of government to secure these rights are too tepid, they argue, for a morally worthy society.”

A group grimly attaching its interests to politics and enfringing upon our cherished enlightenment values as enshrined in the Constitution.

So is Pinker trying to define himself as closer to national goals?  His concept of “dignity” is:

“…a phenomenon of human perception…

…Just as the smell of baking bread triggers a desire to eat it, and the sight of a baby’s face triggers a desire to protect it, the appearance of dignity triggers a desire to esteem and respect the dignified person…”

“…This explains why dignity is morally significant: We should not ignore a phenomenon that causes one person to respect the rights and interests of another. But it also explains why dignity is relative, fungible, and often harmful. Dignity is skin-deep:”

In this view, “dignity” is not a deep enough argument upon which to base the kind of moralism that will end up restricting progress.  Instead, Pinker is seeking to define and create more freedom for this progress to occur where biology, medicine and technology meet.

In fact:

“Even if progress were delayed a mere decade by moratoria, red tape, and funding taboos (to say nothing of the threat of criminal prosecution), millions of people with degenerative diseases and failing organs would needlessly suffer and die. And that would be the biggest affront to human dignity of all.”

These people are morally responsible to all the sick people that would have been helped had they not gotten in the way!

That seems a little extreme.  I’m glad that neither Pinker nor the “dignity” crowd is the final word on any of this, nor solely responsible for our moral thinking.

See Also:  Ross Douthat has more here at Pinker vs. Humanism, Ann Althouse has more here.

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