Archive for the 'Human Behavior' Category
Posted by David Foster on 19th May 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
Since the recent Amtrak crash, I’ve seen people in several places…including here…suggesting that engineers should be eliminated and trains operated entirely by automatic control. Here is a cautionary tale about such automation, which I originally posted about a year ago under the title Blood on the Tracks. I’ve added a few thoughts at the end.
Kevin Meyer has a thought-provoking post (referencing, among other things, the Asiana Flight 214 crash) on achieving the right balance between manual and automatic control of systems. His post reminded me of something that has been lurking in my queue of things-to-blog-about for a long time.
On January 6, 1996, Washington Metrorail train T-111 departed the Rockville (MD) station northbound. Operating under automatic control as was standard practice, the train accelerated to a speed of 75 mph, and then began slowing for a station stop at Shady Grove. The speed was still too great for the icy rail conditions, however, and T-111 slid into a stopped train at the station, killing the driver.
What happened? I think the answer to this question is relevant not only to the specific topics of mass transit and railroad safety, but also to the more general issues of manual and automatic operation in system design, and perhaps even to the architecture of organizations and political systems.
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Posted in Aviation, Human Behavior, Management, Tech, Transportation | 15 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 15th May 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
(I originally posted this in 2009 and reran it in 2013. The plague of atrocities carried out by those who justify them under the banner of Islam has continued and expanded, as has the tendency of many American and Europeans to downplay the significance of Islamic radicalism and terrorism. Indeed, the effective justification of terror attacks by attacking the victims–be those victims French cartoonists or Israeli Jews–is disturbingly common. And I am sensing an almost frantic desire, on the part of many commentators and even ordinary people, to deny that Islamic terrorism is any more of a threat than, say, Presbyterian terrorism or Baptist terrorism.)
Suppose you wanted to create a perfect enemy. An enemy so vile that its evil would be recognized by almost everyone. An enemy that would inspire people to come together in order to ensure its defeat.
To be more specific: suppose you were a screenwriter with the assignment of creating a suitable villain-organization for a major motion picture. The marketing plan for this movie suggests that it will be marketed primarily to a certain demographic and that, hence, your villain-organization should be particularly appalling to members of that demographic. The demographic in question consists of people who are affluent, highly educated (college with at least some postgraduate education), not particularly religious, and who consider themselves politically liberal or “progressive.” The plot of the movie demands that the audience must see the necessity for Americans–of many beliefs, occupations, and social backgrounds–to come together in order to defeat the enemy.
Oh, and one other thing. The year in which you are given this assignment is 1999.
You will clearly want your enemy to share many of the characteristics of the Nazis–disrespect for human life, wanton cruelty, a love of apocalyptic violence. But to make the enemy particuarly awful from the standpoint of your target demographic, you will want to emphasize certain aspects of its belief system.
Members of your demographic usually have strong beliefs about women’s rights. So, your enemy must have a particularly disrespectful belief set, and a violent behavior pattern, towards women. Similarly, your demographic is generally favorable toward gay rights…so the enemy must advocate and practice the suppression, torture, and killing of gays. Your demographic is generally nonreligious and often hostile toward religion…so, make sure the enemy includes a large element of religious fanaticism. Members of your demographic talk a lot about “the children”–so make sure your enemy uses children in particularly cruel ways.
Had you created such an enemy for your screenplay in 1999, you would have surely felt justified in assuming that it would achieve its intended reaction with your target demographic.
It didn’t work out that way, though.
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Posted in Human Behavior, Islam, Religion, Terrorism | 8 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 12th May 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
In my post Advice from Goethe on How to Attract Women, I cited some of Goethe’s thoughts about why the Weimar girls preferred visiting Englishmen to the local male talent. When his friend Eckermann objected that Englishmen were not “more clever, better informed, or more excellent at heart than other people,” Goethe responded:
“The secret does not lie in these things, my good friend, Neither does it lie in birth and riches; it lies in the courage which they have to be that for which nature has made them. There is nothing vitiated or spoilt about them, there is nothing halfway or crooked; but such as they are, they are thoroughly complete men. That they are also sometimes complete fools, I allow with all my heart; but that is still something, and has still always some weight in the scale of nature.”
“In our own dear Weimar, I need only look out of the window to discover how matters stand with us. Lately, when the snow was lying upon the ground, and my neighbour’s children were trying their little sledges in the street, the police was immediately at hand, and I saw the poor little things fly as quickly as they could. Now, when the spring sun tempts them from the houses, and they would like to play with their companions before the door, I see them always constrained, as if they were not safe, and feared the approach of some despot of the police. Not a boy may crack a whip, or sing or shout; the police is immediately at hand to forbid it. This has the effect with us all of taming youth prematurely, and of driving out all originality and all wildness, so that in the end nothing remains but the Philistine.”
Skipping forward 94 years, I was intrigued to find some rather similar comments in the memoirs of Wilhelm II, the former Kaiser of Germany:
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Posted in Britain, Civil Society, Education, Germany, History, Human Behavior, USA | 7 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 6th May 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
A “safe space” at Brown University:
The safe space, Ms. Byron explained, was intended to give people who might find comments “troubling” or “triggering,” a place to recuperate. The room was equipped with cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and a video of frolicking puppies, as well as students and staff members trained to deal with trauma. Emma Hall, a junior, rape survivor and “sexual assault peer educator” who helped set up the room and worked in it during the debate, estimates that a couple of dozen people used it. At one point she went to the lecture hall — it was packed — but after a while, she had to return to the safe space. “I was feeling bombarded by a lot of viewpoints that really go against my dearly and closely held beliefs,” Ms. Hall said.
and at the University of Chicago:
A few weeks ago, Zineb El Rhazoui, a journalist at Charlie Hebdo, spoke at the University of Chicago, protected by the security guards she has traveled with since supporters of the Islamic State issued death threats against her. During the question-and-answer period, a Muslim student stood up to object to the newspaper’s apparent disrespect for Muslims and to express her dislike of the phrase “I am Charlie.”
Ms. El Rhazoui replied, somewhat irritably, “Being Charlie Hebdo means to die because of a drawing,” and not everyone has the guts to do that (although she didn’t use the word guts). She lives under constant threat, Ms. El Rhazoui said. The student answered that she felt threatened, too.
A few days later, a guest editorialist in the student newspaper took Ms. El Rhazoui to task. She had failed to ensure “that others felt safe enough to express dissenting opinions.” Ms. El Rhazoui’s “relative position of power,” the writer continued, had granted her a “free pass to make condescending attacks on a member of the university.”
Why do so many college students choose to “self-infantilize?” Judith Shulevitz, author of the above-linked NYT article, quotes Eric Posner:
Perhaps overprogrammed children engineered to the specifications of college admissions offices no longer experience the risks and challenges that breed maturity.
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Posted in Academia, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Human Behavior, Leftism | 31 Comments »
Posted by T. Greer on 2nd May 2015 (All posts by T. Greer)
This post was originally published at The Scholar’s Stage on 2 May 2015. It has been re-posted here without alteration.
If mankind is, as has been claimed since ancient days, a species driven by the narrow passions of self interest, what holds human society together as one cohesive whole? How can a community of egoists, each devoted to nothing but his or her own ambition, thrive? Or for that matter, long exist?
Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury thought he knew the answer.
Hobbes is famous for his dismal view of human nature. But contrary to the way he is often portrayed, Hobbes did not think man was an inherently evil being, defiled by sin or defined by vileness ingrained in his nature. He preferred instead to dispense with all ideas of good and evil altogether, claiming “these words of good, evil, and contemptible, are ever used with relation to the person that useth them, there being nothing simply and absolutely so; nor any common rule of good and evil, to be taken from the nature of the objects themselves; but from the person of the man.”  Only a superior power, “an arbitrator of judge, whom men disagreeing shall by consent set up” might have the coercive force to make one meaning of right the meaning used by all. Absent such a “common power”, the world is left in a condition that Hobbes famously described as “war of every man against every man” where they can be no right, no law, no justice, and “no propriety, no dominion, no ‘mine’ and ‘thine’ distinct, but only that to be every man’s that he can get, and for so long as he can keep it.” 
This description of the wretched State of Nature is familiar to most who have studied in the human sciences at any length. Also well known is Hobbes’s solution to the challenge posed by anarchy:
[Those in this state will] appoint one man, or assembly of men, to bear their person; and every one to own and acknowledge himself to be author of whatsoever he that so beareth their person shall act, or cause to be acted, in those things which concern the common peace and safety; and therein to submit their wills, every one to his will, and their judgements to his judgement. This is more than consent, or concord; it is a real unity of them all in one and the same person, made by covenant of every man with every man, in such manner as if every man should say to every man: I authorise and give up my right of governing myself to this man, or to this assembly of men, on this condition; that thou give up, thy right to him, and authorise all his actions in like manner. This done, the multitude so united in one person is called a COMMONWEALTH; in Latin, CIVITAS. 
What is most striking in Hobbes’ vision of this State of Nature and the path by which humanity escapes it is his complete dismissal of any form of cooperation before sovereign authority is established. Neither love nor religious zeal holds sway in the world Hobbes describes, and he has no more use for ties of blood or oaths of brotherhood than he does for the words right and wrong. He does concede that if faced with large enough of an outside threat fear may drive many “small families” to band together in one body for defense. However, the solidarity created by an attack or invasion is ephemeral–once the threat fades away so will the peace. “When there is no common enemy, they make war upon each other for their particular interests” just as before.  Hobbes allows for either a society dominated by a sovereign state or for a loose collection of isolated individuals pursuing private aims.
Hobbes’ dichotomy is not presented merely as a thought experiment, but as a description of how human society actually works. Herein lies Hobbes’ greatest fault. Today we know a great deal about the inner workings of non-state societies, and they are not as Hobbes described them. The man without a state is not a man without a place; he is almost always part of a village, a tribe, a band, or a large extended family. He has friends, compatriots, and fellows that he trusts and is willing to sacrifice for. His behavior is constrained by the customs and mores of his community; he shares with this community ideas of right and wrong and is often bound quite strictly by the oaths he makes. He does cooperate with others. When he and his fellows have been mobilized in great enough numbers their strength has often shattered the more civilized societies arrayed before them.
The social contract of Hobbes’ imagination was premised on a flawed State of Nature. The truth is that there never has been a time when men and women lived without ties of kin and community to guide their deeds and restrain their excess, and thus there never could be a time when atomized individuals gathered together to surrender their liberty to a sovereign power. Hobbes mistake is understandable; both he and the social contract theorists that followed in his footsteps (as well as the Chinese philosophers who proposed something close to a state of nature several thousand years earlier) lived in an age where Leviathan was not only ascendent but long established. They were centuries removed from societies that thrived and conquered without a state. 
To answer the riddle of how individuals “continually in competition for honour and dignity” could form cohesive communities without a “a visible power to keep them in awe, and tie them by fear of punishment to the performance of their covenants,”  or why such communities might eventually create a “common power” nonetheless, we must turn to those observers of mankind more familiar with lives spent outside the confines of the state. Many worthies have attempted to address this question since Hobbes’ say, but there is only one observer of human affairs who can claim to have solved the matter before Hobbes ever put pen to paper. Centuries before Hobbes’s birth he scribbled away, explaining to all who would hear that there was one aspect of humanity that explained not only how barbarians could live proudly without commonwealth and the origin of the kingly authority that ruled civilized climes, but also the rise and fall of peoples, kingdoms, and entire civilizations across the entirety of human history. He would call this asabiyah.
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Posted in Book Notes, Deep Thoughts, History, Human Behavior, Middle East, Political Philosophy, War and Peace | 12 Comments »
Posted by Sgt. Mom on 23rd April 2015 (All posts by Sgt. Mom)
And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast– man’s laws, not God’s– and if you cut them down—and you’re just the man to do it—do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!
So said the character of Sir Thomas More in Ben Bolt’s play A Man for All Seasons – essentially a warning about the misuse and abuse of authority – an authority which might once have been accepted as legitimate by all parties concerned. But once the law has been ‘cut down’ in pursuit of some supposed greater good – then all bets are off. The winds will blow, and no one will be able to stand upright, once the protection of equally applied-law and customs and habits of a well-ordered society have been dispensed with. This is the most horrifying aspect of what David Foster linked to regarding the John Doe investigation in Wisconsin – that both law and the constraints of custom and practice are being coldly cut down and trampled upon. Essentially, DA John Chisholm used his position to wage lawfare against supporters of Scott Walker, and with the full cooperation of Judge Barbara Kluka. Midnight SWAT raids against people who had done nothing more than to be politically-involved citizens exercising their rights to support a candidate with their vote, their donations and their words.
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Posted in Civil Liberties, Crime and Punishment, Current Events, Human Behavior, Leftism | 13 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 13th April 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
Peter Thiel is interviewed by Tyler Cowen, in a conversation that ranges from why there is stagnation “in the world of atoms and not of bits” to the dangers of conformity to what he looks for when choosing people to why company names matter.
Evaporative cooling of group beliefs. Why a group’s beliefs tend to become stronger rather than weaker when strong evidence against those beliefs makes its appearance.
More academic insanity: the language police at the University of Michigan.
Why Sam Sinai became a computer scientist instead of a doctor
A National Archives official, in an e-mail comment that the people were not supposed to see: “We live in constant fear of upsetting the White House”
Why a pact with Iran throws Arab liberals under the bus (“liberals” used here in the archaic and largely obsolete sense of “people who believe in liberty”)
Garry Trudeau (he wrote a cartoon called Doonesbury–is it really still being published?) gives his thoughts on the Charlie Hebdo murders perpetrated in the name of Islam–by accusing the cartoonists of “hate speech” and denouncing “free speech absolutism.”
The secret Republicans of Silicon Valley
Baseball, the stock market, and the dangers of following the herd
Antoine de St-Exupery’s original watercolors for The Little Prince
Posted in Academia, Arts & Letters, Business, Civil Liberties, Human Behavior, Islam, Markets and Trading, Society, Sports, Tech, USA | 12 Comments »
Posted by Michael Kennedy on 7th April 2015 (All posts by Michael Kennedy)
I swear I am not trying to be the Cassandra of this blog but some things just jump out at me. A Richard Fernandez column today did that as it agreed with a post of mine on my own blog from several days ago.
A significant number of Somali immigrants’ children have traveled to the middle east as jihadis.
ISIS has been luring thousands of Westerners to the battlefields of Syria and Iraq. The number of Americans who have traveled to Syria is still relatively small — in the neighborhood of 150 people — and a thin slice of that group, perhaps as many as two dozen Americans, are thought to have joined ISIS.
In the discussions at the White House this week, one city has focused minds: Minneapolis-St Paul. It had been ground zero for terrorist recruiters in the past, and is fast becoming the center of ISIS’ recruitment effort in the United States.
This is a growing problem with the emergence of “lone wolf” attacks by jihadis.
The young man pictured above is one of many young black men, many recruited in prison, who have committed these actions.
Over the weekend, the FBI announced that it would treat Islamist Alton Nolan’s alleged beheading of Colleen Hufford, 54, as a case of workplace violence. That despite the fact that Nolan’s Facebook page contains a picture of Nolan giving the ISIS salute, multiple pictures of Osama Bin Laden, a screenshot of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, and a quote reading, “I will instill terror into the hearts of the unbelievers: smile ye above their necks and smite all their fingertips off them.”
Then, of course, we have another example of “workplace violence” courtesy of Major Hasan.
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Posted in Afghanistan/Pakistan, Anti-Americanism, Civil Society, Europe, Human Behavior, Iran, Iraq, Islam, Middle East, National Security, Religion | 26 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 6th April 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
(Inasmuch as the spirit of the Grand Inquisitor is stirring in the land, I thought it would be appropriate to rerun this post from last year)
It seems that Jesus Christ returned to earth, sometime during the sixteenth century…at least, this is the premise of the parable that Ivan relates to Alyosha, in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novel The Brothers Karamazov. The city to which Christ came was Seville, where on the previous day before almost a hundred heretics had been burnt by the cardinal, the Grand Inquisitor, “in a magnificent auto da fe, in the presence of the king, the court, the knights, the cardinals, the most charming ladies of the court, and the whole population of Seville. He came softly, unobserved, and yet, strange to say, everyone recognised Him.”
But the Grand Inquisitor observes the way in which people are being irresistibly drawn to Jesus, and causes him to be arrested and taken away.
The crowd instantly bows down to the earth, like one man, before the old Inquisitor. He blesses the people in silence and passes on. The guards lead their prisoner to the close, gloomy vaulted prison- in the ancient palace of the Holy Inquisition and shut him in it. The day passes and is followed by the dark, burning, ‘breathless’ night of Seville. The air is ‘fragrant with laurel and lemon.’ In the pitch darkness the iron door of the prison is suddenly opened and the Grand Inquisitor himself comes in with a light in his hand. He is alone; the door is closed at once behind him. He stands in the doorway and for a minute or two gazes into His face. At last he goes up slowly, sets the light on the table and speaks.
“‘Is it Thou? Thou?’ but receiving no answer, he adds at once. ‘Don’t answer, be silent. What canst Thou say, indeed? I know too well what Thou wouldst say. And Thou hast no right to add anything to what Thou hadst said of old. Why, then, art Thou come to hinder us?
The Grand Inquisitor explains to Jesus why his presence is not desired and why he must burn. Excerpts below:
So long as man remains free he strives for nothing so incessantly and so painfully as to find someone to worship. But man seeks to worship what is established beyond dispute, so that all men would agree at once to worship it. For these pitiful creatures are concerned not only to find what one or the other can worship, but to find community of worship is the chief misery of every man individually and of all humanity from the beginning of time. For the sake of common worship they’ve slain each other with the sword. They have set up gods and challenged one another, “Put away your gods and come and worship ours, or we will kill you and your gods!” And so it will be to the end of the world, even when gods disappear from the earth; they will fall down before idols just the same. Thou didst know, Thou couldst not but have known, this fundamental secret of human nature, but Thou didst reject the one infallible banner which was offered Thee to make all men bow down to Thee alone- the banner of earthly bread; and Thou hast rejected it for the sake of freedom and the bread of Heaven. Behold what Thou didst further. And all again in the name of freedom! I tell Thee that man is tormented by no greater anxiety than to find someone quickly to whom he can hand over that gift of freedom with which the ill-fated creature is born. But only one who can appease their conscience can take over their freedom. In bread there was offered Thee an invincible banner; give bread, and man will worship thee, for nothing is more certain than bread. But if someone else gains possession of his conscience- Oh! then he will cast away Thy bread and follow after him who has ensnared his conscience. In that Thou wast right. For the secret of man’s being is not only to live but to have something to live for. Without a stable conception of the object of life, man would not consent to go on living, and would rather destroy himself than remain on earth, though he had bread in abundance. That is true. But what happened? Instead of taking men’s freedom from them, Thou didst make it greater than ever! Didst Thou forget that man prefers peace, and even death, to freedom of choice in the knowledge of good and evil? Nothing is more seductive for man than his freedom of conscience, but nothing is a greater cause of suffering. And behold, instead of giving a firm foundation for setting the conscience of man at rest for ever, Thou didst choose all that is exceptional, vague and enigmatic; Thou didst choose what was utterly beyond the strength of men, acting as though Thou didst not love them at all- Thou who didst come to give Thy life for them! Instead of taking possession of men’s freedom, Thou didst increase it, and burdened the spiritual kingdom of mankind with its sufferings for ever.
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Posted in Arts & Letters, Book Notes, Christianity, Civil Liberties, Human Behavior, Political Philosophy, Russia | 2 Comments »
Posted by Jonathan on 3rd April 2015 (All posts by Jonathan)
Art is an expression of one’s beliefs, and artists are always free to turn down a commission (if they can afford it). Were they not, were they to have to create art in someone else’s service with which they disagreed, it would be a violation of their free expression and conscience. Forcing artists to produce art to another’s tastes by force of the state is something that happens in totalitarian dictatorships. It’s not supposed to happen in America.
Want to see a real slippery slope? Let’s try a couple thought experiments, to see where this could go, under the logic of the LGBT absolutists.
Imagine a neo-Nazi buying swatches of red and black material, taking it to a Jewish tailor, and demanding the production of a uniform. Better yet, and more to the point, imagine the Westboro Baptist Church demanding that a gay interior decorator take a commission to spruce up the facility. And if they didn’t do it, they would be sued.
Gay-marriage advocates may think that their new-found right is a thing of beauty, to be celebrated, but that doesn’t give them the right to force others to agree and to celebrate with them. Rather than demanding that others bend to their will, they should be asking themselves why would they would even want people who find their ceremony repugnant to be involved with it.
Posted in Current Events, Human Behavior, Leftism, Political Philosophy, Politics, Society | 18 Comments »
Posted by Sgt. Mom on 2nd April 2015 (All posts by Sgt. Mom)
You know, it’s a bit of a toss-up for me over which is the worst element of the Memories Pizza/RFRA/Gay Marriage debacle. Yes, this is what TV reporters do, when they start putting together a story, especially when fishing for comments from real people to punch up a story that doubtless was already written even before the reporter hit the road. Yes, you pretty much already have the story written in your head; the quotes from the person-in-the-street are the pretty and eye-catching frosting on top of the already baked cake, and usually a small portion of what was actually shot. That’s how it works, people, and don’t anyone try to tell me there’s a difference between a teeny military TV station in some overseas locale and the national save scale, the number of staff members, and the cost of the gear.
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Posted in Blogging, Business, Civil Society, Conservatism, Human Behavior, Leftism, Media, The Press, USA | 8 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 20th March 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
Here I will link several posts that I see as related. At the moment I don’t have time to tie them together in a coherent way, so will just put them out there in a somewhat disconnected fashion in the hope of sparking some good discussion.
I would like to see a study of decision-making based on how much fiction one consumes. My hypothesis is that consumers of fiction will draw their “experience” in part from fiction and it will warp their understanding of what is practical or possible in the real world…I think exposure to fiction makes you less grounded in the real world (subconsciously) and more likely to make decisions the way the captain of the Enterprise would have done it, for example.
This is a quite different view of the role and value of fiction from the one expressed in an article I summarized in my post Fiction and Empathy:
In one experiment, researcher Keith Oatley and colleagues assessed the reading habits of 94 adults, separating fiction from nonfiction. They also tested the subjects on measures of emotion perception (being able to discern a person’s emotional state from a photo of only the eyes) and social cognition (being able to draw conclusions about the relationships among people based on video clips.) This study showed a “strong” interconnection between fiction reading and social skills, especially between fiction reading and the emotion-perception factor. This correlation, of course, does not by itself demonstrate the direction of causality. Another study involved assigning 303 adults to read either a short story or an essay from the New Yorker and following up with tests of analytical and social reasoning. Those who read the story tended to do better on the social reasoning test than those who read the nonfiction essay.
Dr Oatley has referred to fiction as “the mind’s flight simulator.”
And here is an argument that reading fiction will make you a better investor:
Unlike historical accounts, through well-drawn characters it is possible to absorb the world through another perspective, an immensely valuable skill for investors looking for ideas (or trouble). A memory bank of fictional characters will also help when the market “hive mind” pushes prices in unexpected directions, answering the question “what kind of person buys here?” The primary lesson of fiction is learning “this is how people act”, when they’re scared, confident, happy, determined or demoralized. Not how I would act, or how I think they should act, but how the combination of different experiences and different patterns of cognition lead to aggregate outcomes. Empathy.
In her post the message and the story , SF writer Sarah Hoyt offers some thoughts on how novels can influence the worldviews of their readers:
But part of it is that I doubt the effectiveness of overt messages in stories. I don’t scruple to say I was raised by Heinlein, nor that I wasn’t the only one. The man might have had no biological kids, but he has sons and daughters all over the world, including me.
But then we have to look at how he raised me. Remember I came at Heinlein through (mostly) the later books because most of the Juveniles (Door Into Summer and Have Spacesuit Will Travel excepted) were either not translated to Portuguese or no longer available when I came along. And yet, what I took from his books was not the obvious messages: “Though art God” or the bedhopping or multiple marriages as the natural way to live. (Oh, for a while, but that was the spirit of the times, too, being the late seventies.) What I took from the books were not so much the messages as “the way to be.”
By creating characters that were tough, questioning, strong, and, most of all, useful, he made me want to be that way. I took as my model (being touched in the upper works) the broken caryatid, not just for characters but for what a human being should be, lifting whatever the burden without complaining.
Now, it takes a certain type of personality to teach at that level. I’ve seen it in some teachers, too, who, regardless of whether they teach you history or English, really give you a model you aspire to being. The left, being daft, thinks this has to do with the character/teacher looking like you. They think only black people can model to black children. This is part of their insanity with “there must be so many characters of tan per book.” And also with promoting incompetent teachers to positions of power, because they have a certain ancestry or skin color.
But it doesn’t work that way. It’s more subtle. It’s more about being who you are in such a strong and convincing way and making the characteristics you have or approve of so admirable that people want to follow them. Which is what Heinlein did.
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Posted in Arts & Letters, Film, Human Behavior, Media | 8 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 8th March 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
Dr Rosamund Langston, a lecturer in neuroscience, says that by using satnavs, we wither away our ‘caveman’ ability to familiarise ourselves with new surroundings by memorizing snapshots of them. Some of the research suggests that lack of exercising these spatial-reasoning abilities may have implications beyond a reduction in one’s ability to find one’s way unaided.
See also my related posts:
Duz Web Mak Us Dumr? and
Duz Web Mak Us Dumr–continued
Posted in Human Behavior, Tech | 10 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 5th March 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
Here’s a Maryland couple who got in trouble with the Government because they let their children–a 10-year-old and a 6-year-old–walk home from the park by themselves. They (the parents) were found responsible for “unsubstantiated child neglect”–whatever that means….it sounds pretty Kafkaesque.
There are at least two issues here: out-of-control discretion by an administrative agency, whether granted to them by bad legislative drafting, or simply grabbed…and, even more fundamentally, a society which has responded to one of the safest environments in human history by becoming fear-ridden and safety-obsessed.
I am reminded, and not for the first time, of a passage in Walter Miller’s great novel A Canticle for Leibowitz:
To minimize suffering and to maximize security were natural and proper ends of society and Caesar. But then they became the only ends, somehow, and the only basis of law—a perversion. Inevitably, then, in seeking only them, we found only their opposites: maximum suffering and minimum security.
Posted in Big Government, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Human Behavior, Society, USA | 10 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 4th March 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
Sarah Hoyt thinks not.
When I was thirty one, I sat on my back porch on a lovely summer day, reading Reason magazine. The issue was devoted to debunking global warming. And suddenly, like a weight lifting, I realized there really wasn’t proof. That it wasn’t preordained that my generation would be the last to have a decent life on Earth. That my kids and grandkids (I only had one kid at the time, and he was still nursing) wouldn’t necessarily be doomed. That the future wasn’t all doom and gloom.
And I realized my entire life I’d lived in the shadow of the fear of decay and death. First there was the cold war, and sooner or later, the bombs would fly. We’d die screaming. Then there was overpopulation. If we escaped the bomb, we’d all starve to death. Or thirst to death (thank you, Paul Ehrlich!) Then there was global cooling. We were all going to freeze in the ice age. Then there was global warming. Amid all these threats, how could we escape. To watch the thing debunked and to see it pointed out that even the proponents of AGW don’t live like they believe in it lifted a weight from my heart.
Since then I’ve been skeptical of the end of the world prophecies.
Posted in Deep Thoughts, Environment, Human Behavior, War and Peace | 5 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 18th February 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
Be not angry that you cannot make others as you wish them to be, since you cannot make yourself as you wish to be.
–Thomas a Kempis
(I found this in Boswell’s “Life of Samuel Johnson”)
The thread of previous Worth Pondering posts starts here
Posted in Christianity, History, Human Behavior | 1 Comment »
Posted by David Foster on 14th February 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
Especially for Valentines Day, GE posts a video about Stanford University’s MRI-based “love contest.”
It’s not quite a cold and clinical as it sounds, on account of the individual stories told by the participants.
Posted in Human Behavior, Medicine, Science, Tech | 2 Comments »
Posted by Jonathan on 10th February 2015 (All posts by Jonathan)
Generalizing from his own experience, Jonathan Rauch finds evidence of a U-shaped happiness curve in life:
I was about 50 when I discovered the U-curve and began poking through the growing research on it. What I wish I had known in my 40s (or, even better, in my late 30s) is that happiness may be affected by age, and the hard part in middle age, whether you call it a midlife crisis or something else, is for many people a transition to something much better—something, there is reason to hope, like wisdom. I wish someone had told me what I was able to tell my worried friend: nothing was wrong with him, and he wasn’t alone.
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Posted in Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, Tradeoffs | 13 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 31st January 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
(Last Wednesday was chosen by NASA as a Day of Remembrance for the astronauts lost in the 1967 Apollo fire, the 1986 Challenger explosion, and the 2003 crash of the shuttle Columbia. The occasion reminded me of my 2003 post which appears below, with the links fixed.)
What does a space shuttle disaster have to do with the current troubling situation in the teaching of the humanities? Strange as it may seem, I believe that there is a connection.
Most observers believe that the Columbia disaster was caused, to a substantial degree, by the unwillingness of key individuals to speak up forcefully enough about their safety concerns. This is often phrased as a “culture issue” or a “climate issue”–but, however you phrase it, it seems that a significant number of people didn’t raise their concerns–or at least didn’t raise them forcefully enough–because of worries about the implications for their own careers. (This also seems to have been a key factor in the earlier Challenger disaster.)
And in today’s university humanities departments, there are many senior professors who understand that much of what is now being taught is nonsense, and who are heartsick about the “posturing and lies.” But, as Erin O’Connor says: “…an older generation of “dinosaurs” looks on, seeing it all, and saying nothing. They do this to minimize the open displays of contempt for their traditional ways that they have learned to expect as their due.”
Now, here is an interesting point. There are very few people in American who have more job security than a civil servant or a university tenured professor. But this security seems to have little payoff when it’s time to speak up about something important and truly controversial. Perhaps jobs that offer high security tend to attract people who are not risk-takers. Or perhaps concerns about being liked by one’s peers trump job-security issues per se. In any event, it does not seem that systems with a high degree of employee protection really yield the expected benefits in terms of outspoken employee behavior.
I’m sure there are some NASA employees who had and have the courage to speak out, just as I am sure that such courage exists among some senior professors of the humanities. But it seems that such people are too few in number, at both institutions, to make a real difference.
No set of organizational policies, however well-designed, can substitute for human character. It takes many virtues, including the virtue of courage, to make an organization perform effectively. That’s true whether the organization is a university, a corporation, or a government agency.
Posted in Academia, Human Behavior, Management, Space, Tech | 4 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 28th January 2015 (All posts by David Foster)
Here’s a LinkedIn post from a young woman who doesn’t like the way certain companies are specifying “degree from a top-tier university required” in certain of their job postings. I think she makes some good points.
From the standpoint of the individual company or other organization, absolutely requiring a degree from a “top-tier university” (whatever the individual’s other experience and capabilities) reduces the size of the talent pool and quite likely increases costs without commensurate benefit. From the standpoint of the overall society, this practice wastes human resources and creates damaging inhibitors to social mobility. (And in most cases, “top-tier university” is defined based only on the perception of that university’s “brand”…very few HR organizations or hiring managers conduct serious research on the actual quality of different universities from an educational perspective…and the perceived quality may be years or even decades out of date.)
I think we as a society have delegated far too much influence to the admissions officers of various Ivy League universities, and also to whoever constructs the metrics for the US News & World Report college ratings. When discussing “inequality” and declining social mobility..and less-than-stellar economic growth…the role of credentialism in all these things needs to be seriously considered.
Related: the five-pound butterfly revisited
Posted in Academia, Business, Education, Human Behavior, Management | 30 Comments »
Posted by Jay Manifold on 22nd January 2015 (All posts by Jay Manifold)
So, OK, my employer made me burn off some vacation days before the end of the fiscal year, in the form of a cap on the number of PTO hours that can be carried over from FY14 into FY15, which boundary has shifted by 3 months due to our recent change of ownership. Much lower down, my management intimated that due to certain software-release and testing milestone dates, no significant block of time off in February or March would be approved. But thanks to an unrelated M&A a few years back (a spectacularly problematic one, destined to be a business-school case study for decades to come), we now get the MLK holiday off. I decided to take the whole week and head southwest in search of sunlight. After a swing through New Mexico, I am spending a few days at Crow’s Nest, a 10-minute hike from the 6+ acres I own near Bloys Camp. It’s my first visit in four years.
Mitre Peak (1887m/6190’) as seen from my lot
This is what I would write if somebody made me enter one of those hoary MLK essay contests that middle- or high-school students get sucked into. The entries that I’ve read over the years have seemed pretty unimaginative, but it’s hardly realistic to expect much historical perspective from a teenager. The tone I’m aiming for here is, of course, originality combined with some mildly discomfiting assertions, while avoiding stereotypical politics. The structure is a simple three-parter: past, present, and (near) future.
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Posted in Americas, Book Notes, Christianity, Civil Society, Current Events, History, Holidays, Human Behavior, Immigration, International Affairs, Latin America, Libertarianism, North America, Personal Narrative, Predictions, Society, Systems Analysis, Transportation, USA | 23 Comments »
Posted by Michael Kennedy on 21st January 2015 (All posts by Michael Kennedy)
I have long been a fan of Steven Pinker’s books.
I have read many of them, beginning probably with his books on speech as he is a linguist first. This was probably the first as I was intrigued by his theories about irregular verbs and how children learn language.
He points out, for example, how normal construction in archaic forms such as “Wend, went and wended” have become “Go, went, gone.”
The child makes an error he or she may not understand that “Goed” is not a used form for past tense, whereas “Wend” is an archaic form whose past tense has been substituted. The child is using language rules but they don’t account for irregular verbs. He continues with this thought in The Language Instinct, which came later. Here he makes explicit that this is how the mind works. One review on Amazon makes the point:
For the educated layperson, this book is the most fascinating and engaging introduction to linguistics I have come across. I know some college students who had received xeroxed handouts of one chapter from this book, and these were students who were just bored of reading handouts week after week… but after reading just a few paragraphs from The Language Instinct, they were hooked, fascinated, and really wanted to read the whole book (and did). I wish I had come across such a book years ago…
Now, this is interesting but Pinker has gotten into politics inadvertently by emphasizing the role of genetics in language and behavior. I read The Blank Slate when it came out ten years ago and loved it.
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Posted in Academia, Architecture, Book Notes, Civil Society, Education, Human Behavior, Leftism, Philosophy, Science | 11 Comments »
Posted by Sgt. Mom on 7th January 2015 (All posts by Sgt. Mom)
It appears that once again, Sgt. Mom has to bring out the Mallet of Loving Correction that she has shamelessly copied from John Scalzi, and explain the whole concept of ‘freedom of thought’ and its fraternal twin, ‘freedom of expression’ to the inhabitants of those (mostly but not always) quarters of the world usually known as ‘Islamic-run hellholes.’
See here, we in the western world are known for a good many things – some of them good, some of them bad – but one of them is a sense of logic, and another is the freedom to speak our thoughts, suppositions and criticisms on any matter. Openly, freely, and through any medium available to us … without fear of prosecution by the forces of law and order. Unless, of course, we are inciting violence … umm, which to put it plainly, you guys seems to have a problem with. Actually, some of our own very dear Established and Housebroken Lapdog Media have a problem with that too, but that is an issue for another day.
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Posted in Anglosphere, Civil Society, Diversions, Europe, Human Behavior, Internet, Islam | 18 Comments »
Posted by Jay Manifold on 6th January 2015 (All posts by Jay Manifold)
The world weighs on my shoulders, but what am I to do?
You sometimes drive me crazy, but I worry about you
I know it makes no difference to what you’re going through
But I see the tip of the iceberg, and I worry about you …
– Neil Peart, Distant Early Warning
But wouldn’t it be luxury to fight in a war some time where, when you were surrounded, you could surrender?
– Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls
Reading through background material on the UN’s recent request for $16.4 billion in humanitarian aid in 2015, I find that the number of displaced people was already at its highest since World War II at the end of 2013, and has risen by several million since then. Nearly all are somewhere inside or on the perimeter of the Muslim world, with Ukraine the only sizeable exception. My sense, in which I am hardly alone, is that we are reliving the mid-1930s, with aggression unchecked and chaos unmitigated by morally exhausted Western institutions. That “low dishonest decade” ended in global war with a per capita death toll around 1 in 40. A proportional event a few years from now would kill 200 million people.
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Posted in Americas, Anti-Americanism, Book Notes, China, Christianity, Current Events, Ebola, Elections, History, Human Behavior, Immigration, India, International Affairs, Islam, Latin America, Libertarianism, Middle East, Military Affairs, National Security, Politics, Predictions, Society, Space, Systems Analysis, Terrorism, United Nations, USA, War and Peace | 31 Comments »