Category Archives: political orientation

More on Haidt

Continuing this previous post:

I’m looking at the section “conclusion and critique” of Haidt starting on p. 31. Gibbs appreciates that we should account for our earlier human history and more primitive brain centers in describing morality. But to limit it to these structures and history at the expense of later brain structures and evolutionary development is another thing.

“The negative skew in Haidt’s descriptive work discourages study in moral psychology of higher reaches of morality such as rational moral reflection, empathy for the plight of entire out-groups, moral courage, and the cultivation of responsible, mature moral agency —broadly, study of ‘the scope of human possibilities, of what people can do morally, if they are prepared, through development and education, to approach life’s important issues in a thoughtful way’” (34).

Several neuroscientific studies make clear which parts of the brain are emphasized in liberals and conservatives. The amygdala (indicative of fight or flight fear) is a much older evolutionary brain structure, while the anterior cingulate cortex (higher thinking functions) much newer. Hence there is neuroscientific brain evidence for the evolution of morality per Kohlberg. Haidt admits that conservative morality is rooted in these more evolutionary earlier brain structures, and liberal morality in the newer structures.

The newer neocortex then coordinates and integrates the older brain functions so that the latter do not dominate and send us backward in evolution. It’s not that liberals don’t have the conservative moral traits like Haidt claims; it’s that those earlier evolutionary traits are now modified under neocortex control. Yes, there is a value judgment involved here, but it’s supported by evolutionary science, not ideology.

The abstract from “Neural correlates or post-conventional moral reasoning”:

“Going back to Kohlberg, moral development research affirms that people progress through different stages of moral reasoning as cognitive abilities mature. Individuals at a lower level of moral reasoning judge moral issues mainly based on self-interest (personal interests schema) or based on adherence to laws and rules (maintaining norms schema), whereas individuals at the post-conventional level judge moral issues based on deeper principles and shared ideals. However, the extent to which moral development is reflected in structural brain architecture remains unknown. To investigate this question, we used voxel-based morphometry and examined the brain structure in a sample of 67 Master of Business Administration (MBA) students. Subjects completed the Defining Issues Test (DIT-2) which measures moral development in terms of cognitive schema preference. Results demonstrate that subjects at the post-conventional level of moral reasoning were characterized by increased gray matter volume in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and subgenual anterior cingulate cortex, compared with subjects at a lower level of moral reasoning. Our findings support an important role for both cognitive and emotional processes in moral reasoning and provide first evidence for individual differences in brain structure according to the stages of moral reasoning first proposed by Kohlberg decades ago.”

From Mendez, M. (2017). “A neurology of the conservative-liberal dimension of political ideology.” The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences.

“Differences in political ideology are a major source of human disagreement and conflict. There is increasing evidence that neurobiological mechanisms mediate individual differences in political ideology through effects on a conservative-liberal axis. This review summarizes personality, evolutionary and genetic, cognitive, neuroimaging, and neurological studies of conservatism-liberalism and discusses how they might affect political ideology. What emerges from this highly variable literature is evidence for a normal right-sided cconservative-complex’ involving structures sensitive to negativity bias, threat, disgust, and avoidance.”

Mental rigidity in both Parties

Another one of those studies comparing political identification. The study is about extreme attachment to a Party. What about those who strongly identify with humanity with high cognitive complexity and flexibility who don’t identify with a Party? Are their nuanced arguments that account for numerous factors and their interplay ‘extreme?’ Is the Green New Deal extreme? If a living wage extreme? Is corporations paying their fair share extreme? Is addressing the climate crisis extreme? Is transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy extreme? I think we all know the answer to those questions.

“They also found that self-described Independents displayed greater cognitive flexibility compared to both Democrats and Republicans. Other cognitive traits, such as originality or fluency of thought, were not related to heightened political partisanship. […] The aim of this research is not to draw false equivalences between different, and sometimes opposing, ideologies.”

New scientific model can predict moral and political development

According to this study in Nature Human Behavior, in time frames about fairness and preventing harm triumph over those about loyalty, purity and authority. The latter might succeed temporarily, like now in the US, but the more the former frames are strongly and repeatedly reinforced the quicker the results. Let’s keep up our passionate frames, for this research supports that we will overcome the dark forces that have a temporary hold on our government. Also see Kohlberg‘s moral stages, showing that the former frames are more developed that the latter set.

“Their conclusion is that the key characteristic of opinions that gain ground is that they are supported by arguments about what is fair and what does not cause harm to others. […] Opinions based on other classical grounds used to determine right and wrong actions—loyalty, authority, purity, religion—can gain support temporarily, but over time, opinions based on these arguments lose support all over the political spectrum. The stronger the connection an opinion has to arguments about fairness and harm, the greater the probability that it will gain ground in public opinion. Also, the stronger the connection is, the faster the change will come.”

Bezos projects capitalism into space

Yes, space exploration is critical but we need to do it for the right reasons. And Bezos and other futurists want it without awareness or regard for the socio-economic system that has created hell on earth. So dump the earth and take our destruction into space? How about we change our worldview and socio-economic system and do it for the right reasons? And invest most of our time, energy and money into saving this world?

“The saying ‘it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism’ is very clear in Bezos’ future imaginings. He is unable to challenge the capitalist system from which he’s derived so much wealth. Thus the only positive future he can imagine involves leaving the only planet habitable to human beings. […] We don’t need space colonies; we need to get rid of billionaires and let the future be decided collectively, instead of letting a few powerful men rule the world.”

Their are alternatives to capitalism consistent with the above. As but one example see “From capitalism to the collaborative commons” in this journal issue.

Applying artificial intelligence for social good

This McKinsey article is an excellent overview of this more extensive article (3 MB PDF) enumerating the ways in which varieties of deep learning can improve existence. Worth a look.

The articles cover the following:

  • Mapping AI use cases to domains of social good
  • AI capabilities that can be used for social good
  • Overcoming bottlenecks, especially around data and talent
  • Risks to be managed
  • Scaling up the use of AI for social good

Neural Correlates of Post-Conventional Moral Reasoning

The abstract from this article:

“Going back to Kohlberg, moral development research affirms that people progress through different stages of moral reasoning as cognitive abilities mature. Individuals at a lower level of moral reasoning judge moral issues mainly based on self-interest (personal interests schema) or based on adherence to laws and rules (maintaining norms schema), whereas individuals at the post-conventional level judge moral issues based on deeper principles and shared ideals. However, the extent to which moral development is reflected in structural brain architecture remains unknown. To investigate this question, we used voxel-based morphometry and examined the brain structure in a sample of 67 Master of Business Administration (MBA) students. Subjects completed the Defining Issues Test (DIT-2) which measures moral development in terms of cognitive schema preference. Results demonstrate that subjects at the post-conventional level of moral reasoning were characterized by increased gray matter volume in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and subgenual anterior cingulate cortex, compared with subjects at a lower level of moral reasoning. Our findings support an important role for both cognitive and emotional processes in moral reasoning and provide first evidence for individual differences in brain structure according to the stages of moral reasoning first proposed by Kohlberg decades ago.”

News startups aim to improve public discourse

A Nieman Reports article highlights four startups seeking to improve public discourse. Let’s hope efforts to create methods and technologies along these lines accelerate and succeed in producing positive outcomes.

Neuroscience report on Dumpsters

See this report. While it also applies to ignorant Dems, however “studies have shown that Democrats now tend to be generally more educated than Republicans, making the latter more vulnerable to the Dunning-Kruger effect.”

“Perhaps this helps explain why Trump supporters seem to be so easily tricked into believing obvious falsehoods when their leader delivers his ‘alternative facts’ sprinkled with language designed to activate partisan identities. Because they lack knowledge but are confident that they do […] they are less likely than others to actually fact-check the claims that the President makes. This speculation is supported by evidence from empirical studies.”

Dunning-Kruger effect:

“In the field of psychology, the Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which people of low ability have illusory superiority and mistakenly assess their cognitive ability as greater than it is. The cognitive bias of illusory superiority comes from the inability of low-ability people to recognize their lack of ability; without the self-awareness of metacognition, low-ability people cannot objectively evaluate their actual competence or incompetence.”

“A new study published in the journal Political Psychology, carried out by the political scientist Ian Anson at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, not only found that the Dunning-Kruger effect applies to politics, it also appears to be exacerbated when partisan identities are made more salient. In other words, those who score low on political knowledge tend to overestimate their expertise even more when greater emphasis is placed on political affiliation. […] This occurred with both Republicans and Democrats, but only in those who scored low on political knowledge to begin with.”

“We should not lose all hope in trying to reach the victims of the Dunning-Kruger effect. At least one study found that incompetent students increased their ability to accurately estimate their class rank after being tutored in the skills they lacked. With the right education methods and a willingness to learn, the uninformed on both sides of the political aisle can gain a meta-awareness that can help them perceive themselves more objectively.”

White American intolerance connected to authoritarianism

 Good article discussing this recent study.

The threat to our democracy isn’t partisanship on both sides; it’s intolerant white Americans that are prone to authoritarianism. When the imagine that their white identity is threatened they support undemocratic, authoritarian rule. And of course Dump is the perfect authoritarian to stoke their prejudices to impose undemocratic restrictions on some of the population. Which is, of course, a “repudiation of American values and democratic commitments.”

Of course this phenomenon has been going on before Dump; it’s been in the Repugnantan playbook for decades with vote ID laws and other voter suppression tactics that are specifically aimed at those of color. So it’s no wonder that Dump comes along and takes over a playing field well prepared for just such a racist authoritarian.

So remember that what’s going on is not equivalent on both sides of the political spectrum.* Liberals may be partisan but they do not suggest laws that curtail democracy but rather reinforce it.** These intolerant white Repugnantans are more than partisan; they are authoritarian and don’t care if democracy is destroyed in the process of enacting authoritarian rule.

*Like Dump proclaiming that there were good people on both sides of a Nazi march. You know, the good Nazis.

** If you’re thinking of the liberal student protestors wanting to prevent Nazis from speaking at their university, remember that the 1st Amendment does not allow any or all speech, e.g. fighting words. Being intolerant of racist hatred, a clear violation of free speech law, is not in any way the same as inciting racist hatred.

Differences in liberal and conservative bias

Thanks to Normalanga for sending this study to me,  in which participants were paid to read opposing political Twitter feeds for a month. The results were that conservatives were “substantially more conservative” after the experiment, while liberals were “slightly more liberal […] though none of these effects were statistically significant.” It is obvious that liberal and conservative bias is on an asymmetrical scale.