Visionary Leadership and Flying

March 13th, 2017

There seems to be a connections between visionary leadership and flying:

Thrill-seeking chief executives who pilot planes in their spare time are more likely to inspire original thinking at their companies, says Jingjing Zhang, an accounting professor at McGill University and co-author of a new study that surveyed more than 1,200 men and women in the top job between 1993 and 2003.

[...]

“Pilot CEOs are very different from other people, willing to take more risks in seeking the experience and sensations related to flying and innovation,” Ms. Zhang says, adding that many of the adventurous business leaders surveyed also raced cars or engaged in daring outdoor sports such as skydiving.

Using certificate records from the Federal Aviation Administration, the researchers found companies with a pilot in the top job spent more on research and development on average, and produced nearly twice as many patents each year as those with a nonpilot CEO. Moreover, those patents tended to be more diverse and interdisciplinary, and had a higher impact, inspiring further innovation.

The desire to learn how to fly small aircraft says a lot about someone’s willingness to seek out new and exciting opportunities that entail risk. It is a hobby shared by Larry Ellison, co-founder of software giant Oracle Corp.; the late Wal-Mart Stores Inc. boss, Sam Walton, and Virgin Group’s Richard Branson.

Dismal Voucher Results Surprise Researchers

March 12th, 2017

Three new studies show surprisingly bad results from school vouchers:

The first results came in late 2015. Researchers examined an Indiana voucher program that had quickly grown to serve tens of thousands of students under Mike Pence, then the state’s governor. “In mathematics,” they found, “voucher students who transfer to private schools experienced significant losses in achievement.” They also saw no improvement in reading.

The next results came a few months later, in February, when researchers published a major study of Louisiana’s voucher program. Students in the program were predominantly black and from low-income families, and they came from public schools that had received poor ratings from the state department of education, based on test scores. For private schools receiving more applicants than they could enroll, the law required that they admit students via lottery, which allowed the researchers to compare lottery winners with those who stayed in public school.

They found large negative results in both reading and math. Public elementary school students who started at the 50th percentile in math and then used a voucher to transfer to a private school dropped to the 26th percentile in a single year. Results were somewhat better in the second year, but were still well below the starting point.

This is very unusual. When people try to improve education, sometimes they succeed and sometimes they fail. The successes usually register as modest improvements, while the failures generally have no effect at all. It’s rare to see efforts to improve test scores having the opposite result. Martin West, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, calls the negative effects in Louisiana “as large as any I’ve seen in the literature” — not just compared with other voucher studies, but in the history of American education research.

There’s always the chance that a single study, no matter how well designed, is an outlier. Studies of older voucher programs in Milwaukee and elsewhere have generally produced mixed results, sometimes finding modest improvements in test scores, but only for some subjects and student groups. Until about a year ago, however, few if any studies had shown vouchers causing test scores to decline drastically.

In June, a third voucher study was released by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank and proponent of school choice. The study, which was financed by the pro-voucher Walton Family Foundation, focused on a large voucher program in Ohio. “Students who use vouchers to attend private schools have fared worse academically compared to their closely matched peers attending public schools,” the researchers found. Once again, results were worse in math.

If the voucher programs are new, and all the existing private schools are aimed at (slightly) better-than-average students, perhaps the schools are just a terrible fit.

The Only Thing That’s Curbed Inequality

March 11th, 2017

The only thing that’s curbed inequality has been catastrophe, Walter Scheidel notes:

Throughout history, only massive, violent shocks that upended the established order proved powerful enough to flatten disparities in income and wealth. They appeared in four different guises: mass-mobilization warfare, violent and transformative revolutions, state collapse, and catastrophic epidemics. Hundreds of millions perished in their wake, and by the time these crises had passed, the gap between rich and poor had shrunk.

[...]

But what of less murderous mechanisms of combating inequality? History offers little comfort. Land reform often foundered or was subverted by the propertied. Successful programs that managed to parcel out land to the poor and made sure they kept it owed much to the threat or exercise of violence, from Mexico during its revolution to postwar Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. Just as with the financial crisis of 2008, macroeconomic downturns rarely hurt the rich for more than a few years. Democracy on its own does not consistently lower inequality. And while improving access to education can indeed narrow income gaps, it is striking to see that American wage premiums for the credentialed collapsed precisely during both world wars.

Our magic beats theirs

March 10th, 2017

“You see, we’re not afraid of Boko Haram’s magic,” a Nigerian vigilante says, “because we have our own. Our magic beats theirs.”

At first glance the corrugated tin shack with its display of dried plants and powders in empty rice sacks spilling outside and animal skins tacked to the front door seems like any other roadside spice market or traditional medicine shop here in northeast Nigeria. But this humble depot is where members of the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) — a vigilante group integral to the Nigerian government’s counterinsurgency operations — procure the charms and amulets they believe protect them from the terrorists of Boko Haram.

Even before arriving at the shop, members of the CJTF from Bama, a city ravaged by the insurgency, giddily emptied their pockets, revealing a wealth of amulets. Pointing to bullet holes on their pickup truck from a recent raid into the rebel-infested Sambisa Forest, the members credit their safety to the amulets in their pockets, the special potions they bathed in and drank before the raid, and the charms they put in seat cushions of the car.

Manning the traditional medicine shop is the gregarious, flamboyant “Buba Saliki.” Draped in an intricately embroidered tunic with a floppy and worn cap, he greets the CJTF members with warm embraces. Pointing out their grins, he brags, “I am the king of the hunters,” another name for vigilantes in the region. “They can come to me for anything.”

He displays a leather band with several crudely sewn satchels dangling from it, explaining the significance of each charm. “This one, it will prevent the bullet from hitting your body”; his fingers slide to the next charm, “This one, it prevents your enemies from seeing you… It lets you see what you are hunting first”; the next, “It will wiggle and shake if you are going someplace dangerous.”

Each charm is filled with local medicine or papers with prayers scribbled on them. These protections don’t come cheap — Buba Saliki estimates that he could sell each for 150,000 to 200,000 naira (roughly $350-$500).

A relieved CJTF member cuts in to report that the CJTF gets these charms for free, as a gift from Buba Saliki. The vigilantes smile gratefully. Buba Saliki responds with a magnanimous grin and enthusiastic nodding.

It took Buba Saliki 20 years to learn the trade, starting from when he was 9 and studying under his grandfather. He, of course, doesn’t merely make amulets for vigilantes; much of his business comes from selling traditional medicine to cure town residents of “typhoid, malaria, and their eye problems.” His work has become more difficult recently, as Boko Haram’s reign of violence has complicated the process of “going to the bush to retrieve the local medicines,” but he has made do.

While the efficacy of the charms is subject to debate — when a CJTF member who asks to be called Kashim is questioned about a comrade who recently died in a fight against Boko Haram, Kashim says with a wry smile, “Up to now we don’t have a charm against bomb fragments…”

Whether you think of all this in terms of the placebo effect or psychological warfare or something more pejorative, Buba Saliki is like a one-man USO for the vigilantes, sustaining their morale in a very dangerous fight.

Before we leave his shop, he insists on demonstrating how powerful his charms are. The vigilantes excitedly agree and assemble themselves into a semicircle around the entrance, all making sure that they have a good view.

Buba Saliki takes off his shirt, ties on a belt of charms, and takes a swig of a potion from a beaten-up plastic water bottle. He begins his performance by sharpening the rough knives strewn across his shop floor; with a flourish, he cuts through sheets of paper, demonstrating their sharpness. Then he rubs the paper against his charms and tries to cut it again — the knives seem to slide off of the edges of the paper. He begins to saw harder — but the paper will not relent. He takes another sheet of paper and shreds it with the knife. Smiling to the crowd, he takes that knife to his own body, making exaggerated slicing movements across his chest and stomach. Each swing of his arm is punctuated by a whistling that sounds eerily like a dog’s squeaky toy. He turns the knife to his eyes, making movements as if he would slice them open or gouge them out. His mouth and nose are assaulted next, then he even puts the knife to his throat — yet it seems he is unaffected.

No invertebrate on land would have been a match for it

March 10th, 2017

The earliest tetrapods had much bigger eyes than their fishy forebears, and those bigger eyes evolved before walking legs:

Eyes don’t fossilize, but you can estimate how big they would have been by measuring the eye sockets of a fossilized skull. MacIver and his colleagues, including fossil eye expert Lars Schmitz, did this for the skulls of 59 species — from finned fish to intermediate fishapods to legged tetrapods. They showed that over 12 million years, the group’s eyes nearly tripled in size. Why?

Eyes are expensive organs: it takes a lot of energy to maintain them, and even more so if they’re big. If a fish is paying those costs, the eyes must provide some kind of benefit. It seems intuitive that bigger eyes let you see better or further, but MacIver’s team found otherwise. By simulating the kinds of shallow freshwater environments where their fossil species lived — day to night, clear to murky — they showed that bigger eyes make precious little difference underwater. But once those animals started peeking out above the waterline, everything changed. In the air, a bigger eye can see 10 times further than it could underwater, and scan an area that’s 5 million times bigger.

In the air, it’s also easier for a big eye to pay for itself. A predator with short-range vision has to constantly move about to search the zone immediately in front of its face. But bigger-eyes species could spot prey at a distance, and recoup the energy they would otherwise have spent on foraging. “Long-range vision gives you a free lunch,” says MacIver. “You can just look around, instead of moving to inspect somewhere else.”

Tiktaalik with Eyes Above Surface

Those early hunters would have seen plenty of appetizing prey. Centipedes and millipedes had colonized the land millions of years before, and had never encountered fishapod predators. “I imagine guys like Tiktaalik lurking there like a crocodile, waiting for a giant millipede to walk by, and chomping on it,” says MacIver. “No invertebrate on land would have been a match for it.”

Absorbent Beads Could Save Energy

March 10th, 2017

Porous zeolite beads could cut the energy used in large-scale drying operations in half, according to UC Davis plant scientist Kent Bradford:

The beads were developed by Rhino Research in Thailand. Bradford and his collaborators there have spent several years testing and refining the technology with local farmers in that country as well as in India, Nepal, Kenya, and other tropical nations, where as much as a third of crops are lost before reaching consumers. In those areas, the beads are placed alongside, say, harvested rice or maize seeds, separated in mesh sacks or screened-in compartments within containers. They then capture water from the air, significantly reducing the moisture that leads to rot and fungal infections.

Now the researchers are working to bring the technology to richer nations at the industrial scale, exploring its use to dry harvested almonds, walnuts, rice, and grains. Typically, farming operations blow hot air through harvested crops as they pass through drying towers or silos. But experiments show that ambient air can work just as well, if it’s first dried by passing it through the beads. The researchers also believe this approach can improve the quality of the end product, because uneven air heating frequently scorches parts of the batch, ruining the taste of nuts and other foods.

The beads themselves still need to be heated in the end, in order to remove the water so they can be reused. But that can be done in a compact space like an oven, which is far more efficient than blowing around heated air.

The Biological Origins of Higher Civilizations

March 9th, 2017

Elfnonationalist explores the biological origins of higher civilizations:

It is my opinion that the most successful civilized nations of Europe, namely, Britain, France, the Netherlands, and Germany, (and to a lesser degree, Northern Italy, Spain, Scandinavia, and Russia) have been so successful, not necessarily due to early adoption of manorialism, but rather due to this balance of genetic input from both genetically pacified farmers, who were accustomed to a settled, relatively peaceful existence, as well as the more mobile, “barbaric” in Nietzschean terms, Indo-Europeans who were descended primarily from hunters and fishers who had recently adopted a highly competitive pastoralist lifestyle on the Pontic steppe (see David W. Anthony’s The Horse, the Wheel, and Language). The aristocracies of early Greece and Rome would have also possessed this ideal mix of genetically inherited traits, being descended from Indo-European invaders who married local Neolithic farmers, introducing the early Greek and Italic languages into the Mediterranean basin. This aristocracy is practically gone now, however, through an overwhelming genetic absorption into the conquered Neolithic farmer populace, who were ultimately descended primarily from early Near-Eastern agriculturalists.

The end result of the ideal genetic admixture which I have described is a people which are both civilized and politically organized, and also are also willing to innovate, take risks (like exploring the New World), and challenge old notions of thought, as was done in the scientific revolution.

Trump’s aggression would never be tolerated in a woman

March 8th, 2017

After watching the second televised debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, Maria Guadalupe, an associate professor of economics and political science at INSEAD, had an idea:

Millions had tuned in to watch a man face off against a woman for the first set of co-ed presidential debates in American history. But how would their perceptions change, she wondered, if the genders of the candidates were switched? She pictured an actress playing Trump, replicating his words, gestures, body language, and tone verbatim, while an actor took on Clinton’s role in the same way. What would the experiment reveal about male and female communication styles, and the differing standards by which we unconsciously judge them?

Guadalupe reached out to Joe Salvatore, a Steinhardt clinical associate professor of educational theatre who specializes in ethnodrama — a method of adapting interviews, field notes, journal entries, and other print and media artifacts into a script to be performed as a play. Together, they developed Her Opponent, a production featuring actors performing excerpts from each of the three debates exactly as they happened — but with the genders switched. Salvatore cast fellow educational theatre faculty Rachel Whorton to play “Brenda King,” a female version of Trump, and Daryl Embry to play “Jonathan Gordon,” a male version of Hillary Clinton, and coached them as they learned the candidates’ words and gestures.

[...]

Salvatore says he and Guadalupe began the project assuming that the gender inversion would confirm what they’d each suspected watching the real-life debates: that Trump’s aggression — his tendency to interrupt and attack — would never be tolerated in a woman, and that Clinton’s competence and preparedness would seem even more convincing coming from a man.

[...]

We heard a lot of “now I understand how this happened” — meaning how Trump won the election. People got upset. There was a guy two rows in front of me who was literally holding his head in his hands, and the person with him was rubbing his back. The simplicity of Trump’s message became easier for people to hear when it was coming from a woman — that was a theme. One person said, “I’m just so struck by how precise Trump’s technique is.” Another — a musical theater composer, actually — said that Trump created “hummable lyrics,” while Clinton talked a lot, and everything she was was true and factual, but there was no “hook” to it. Another theme was about not liking either candidate — you know, “I wouldn’t vote for either one.” Someone said that Jonathan Gordon [the male Hillary Clinton] was “really punchable” because of all the smiling. And a lot of people were just very surprised by the way it upended their expectations about what they thought they would feel or experience. There was someone who described Brenda King [the female Donald Trump] as his Jewish aunt who would take care of him, even though he might not like his aunt. Someone else described her as the middle school principal who you don’t like, but you know is doing good things for you.

Erik Prince’s Training Bases in China

March 8th, 2017

I remember being shocked when I first learned that Erik Prince was able to start a mercenary company in the US. (Blackwater was originally just a tactical training facility before it started hiring out private military contractors.)

He has since moved on to providing logistics in dangerous places via his Frontier Services Group, but they’re not just helping Chinese mining interests in Africa. They’re now setting up Blackwater-style training camps in Chinese provinces:

In December, Frontier Services Group, of which Prince is chairman, issued a press release that outlined plans to open “a forward operating base in China’s Yunnan province” and another in the troubled Xinjiang region, home to the mostly Muslim Uighur minority.

“He’s been working very, very hard to get China to buy into a new Blackwater,” said one former associate. “He’s hell bent on reclaiming his position as the world’s preeminent private military provider.”

In an email to BuzzFeed News, a spokesperson for Frontier Services Group provided a statement and strongly disputed that the company was going to become a new Blackwater, insisting that all of its security services were unarmed and therefore not regulated. “FSG’s services do not involve armed personnel or training armed personnel.” The training at the Chinese bases would “help non-military personnel provide close protection security, without the use of arms.”

Amateurs talk abouts tactics; professionals study logistics. I guess the true professional provides logistics without dirtying his hands doing anything explicitly tactical at all.

By the way, Erik Prince is Betsy DeVos’s brother. I’m surprised that doesn’t come up more often.

All men and all women were their friends

March 7th, 2017

T. Greer shares a parable concerning tolerance:

There once lived in a far country a people of gentle nature and perceptive understanding. They were led by a man of great vision. At great cost to his person and his standing, he decided to dedicate his life to preserving his people’s established way of life. He did this because he saw in them a beauty and virtue he could find nowhere else. In a world of bigotry and darkness they were a rare light: they blindly followed no authority, nor were they were slaves to custom. No trace of the regressive attitudes so common to their countrymen could be found among them. Women were valued highly among them. Indeed, their women were cherished not only as mothers or wives, but also as honored leaders. This was a people filled with a spirit of love: all men and all women were their friends, rich or poor, young or old, saved or heathen. The poor they sustained; the needy they gave generously to (and gave to, no matter how low their background or coarse their appearance). In their eyes, to be learned was considered good. The more learned one was, they supposed, the greater service one could give. Kindness was thus their byword; brotherliness their call-sign. They disdained violence. In politics it was their part to push for less war, smaller armies, and a more peacable way of living with other humans on the Earth. This view extended into the domestic sphere: in political controversies, theirs was always the voice of tolerance. Let the downcast, the unusual, and even the heretic be allowed their natural liberties, they would say, and do not fear if they live among us. In their conception a good society was a society that let men of different beliefs and customs all live happily together. It was a self-serving position: they understood that only if tolerance ruled the day could their less enlightened countrymen be compelled to tolerate them. But this did not bother them: they were happy in the knowledge that in this case self interest aligned so well with virtue.

Their leader was not content (visionaries rarely are). The fight for toleration had been difficult. He and his allies had not been truly victorious. Their future was uncertain. He foresaw a rising tide of anger and reaction that could not be beat back. What then for his happy people? How could they secure their way of life then?

The answer was clear: separation. He would do what he could, of course, to bring about a victory for the light within the kingdom that then existed, but more drastic measures were needed. A new realm was needed. His people would secede. They would establish their own government that would protect the rights of his people. This new country would champion their values: it would be an example to the other nations of the Earth of just what humanity could achieve unencumbered by the dogmatisms and hatreds of the past. But it would be more than that. This new country would not just be an example to the world: it would be an invitation to it. His people would not just protect their own rights–they would protect and cherish the rights of any man or woman who moved there. All sects, all kindreds, all kinds of people would find a home in their homes. Love would be emblazoned in the title of her cities; toleration would be embedded in the hearts of her citizens. It would be a land without war, without fear, and without prejudice. It would be a country man (and woman) was meant to live in.

Read the whole thing — and definitely read the addendum.

Turning Postmodernism Against Itself

March 7th, 2017

If politics flows downwards from culture, David Ernst says, then it was only a matter of time before a politician mastered the role, and Donald Trump cracked the code. Ernst explores that postmodern code:

Postmodernism is the source of the emphasis that our culture puts on authenticity, and the scorn it directs towards phoniness. After all, if the only one true thing in the world is that all truth and morality are relative, then anyone who pretends otherwise is either an idiot or a fraud. Hence the contemporary appeal of the antihero, and the disappearance of the traditional hero.

Heroes who stand for traditionally good things in a world where everything supposedly “good” has long been discredited are corny Dudley Do-Rights who are at best too stupid to know better. Antiheroes, by contrast, ingratiate themselves with their audiences for their gritty realism and their candor, no matter how bad they are. Frank Underwood breaks the fourth wall with his viewers and brings them along for his evil schemes; Walter White’s moment of redemption is his final admission to his wife that he sells meth because he likes to, and not to do right by his family; and Tony Soprano establishes a close bond with his daughter early on when he admits to her that he’s not actually a “waste management consultant.” In the postmodern world, there is no greater virtue then authenticity, and there is no greater vice than phoniness.

Postmodernism is also the source of the assumptions underlying the glib jokes of late-night comedians who exhibit disdainful prejudice towards patriotism or religion, but show bitter judgment towards any form of perceived prejudice. It is the baseline for just about every plotline in funny shows about aimless, self-centered people like “Seinfeld,” “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” and “Archer.” It is hyper-prejudice against prejudice, or in the words of Evan Sayet, “a cult of non-discrimination.”

In contrast to the many religions, systems of moral thought, and other ancient traditions that have distinguished every effort to better the human condition, postmodernism presumes that all of these endeavors are the cause of human failure. It therefore operates according to just one moral imperative: discredit anything that other people presume to stand for goodness, because the belief that anything is superior to anything else inevitably results in prejudice, interpersonal strife, and inequality.

Thus, the Venus de Milo has no more aesthetic value than a crucifix in a jar full of urine; Beethoven’s symphonies are no more profound than the latest round of top 40 hits; all religions are fundamentally the same, and their “moderate” postmodern adherents are all comfortably represented on the “Coexist” bumper sticker. In a sense, it isn’t culture at all, but rather an anti-culture that measures success insofar as it deconstructs anything that other people value.

Provided that the postmodern man believes in nothing and values nothing, one wouldn’t be unreasonable in concluding that he cares about nothing. But anyone who knows postmodern man also knows that nothing could be farther from the truth. Rather, the “cult of non-discrimination” is filled with bright-eyed idealism about making the world a better place, and in the cases where it challenges baseless prejudice, it does make the world a better place. Like other utopian visions that seek to remake human beings into something alien to their nature, however, it is incapable of compromise, and thus lends itself to hypocrisy and fanaticism.

How to be a patriarch

March 6th, 2017

Marcus Sidonius Falx is a Roman of noble birth who has — with his assistant and amanuensis, Dr Jerry Toner of Churchill College at the University of Cambridge — written How to Manage Your Slaves (2014) and Release Your Inner Roman (2016). Here he explains how to be a patriarch:

If you marry a woman just because she is beautiful, then she will feel she never has to do anything else for you. She will not mind if the house is a mess or your meals are badly cooked. And you will have to put up with this because you married her just for her beauty and not for her domestic skills. The same is true if you marry a woman just because she is rich or from an important family. She will always think she has done enough just by being with you.

Of course, you do need to take her looks and her background into account. But wealth, good family and beauty do nothing in themselves to make a wife think kind thoughts towards her husband. In fact, the opposite is more the case. These attributes are more likely to make your wife feel superior to you. She will feel you do not deserve to have her as a wife and resent doing anything you tell her to do. Make sure you check to see whether her family has a good track record in producing healthy, male children. When it comes to a potential wife’s physical appearance, all that really matters is that she is strong, healthy and looks normal. If she is less than beautiful she will be less hassled by other men’s attempts to seduce, and if she has a strong body she will be better suited to hard work and bearing children.

Most girls get married in adolescence and your duty as an older husband is to teach your young bride how to become a good wife. She should be loyal, obedient, affable, reasonable, and work hard at her wool-making. She should be religious without being superstitious, dress modestly and use little make-up. She must be devoted to her family and show as much attention to her mother-in-law as she does to her own. The following checklist for a happy marriage will help her:

1. The passion of newlyweds soon burns out. Marriage starts with lust but will only last if a more sustainable fuel can be found.

2. When the husband got married, yes, he wanted his wife to have children. No, he did not want her to stop looking after him.

3. A modest wife should be seen in public mostly with her husband, but when he is away on business she should stay at home.

4. A wife should have no emotion of her own but should reflect the mood of her husband. She should laugh at his jokes when he is happy and be sad when he is low.

5. A wife should have no friends of her own but should cultivate those of her husband.

6. A happy marriage is one where the words ‘mine’ and ‘yours’ are seldom heard. All things, whether good or bad, should be shared, and the bond will be strengthened all the more by it.

7. A woman should never try to rule her husband. It is the man’s lot to govern his wife, not as a master does his slave, but as the soul does the body by sympathy and goodwill.

8. A sensible wife will stay quiet during her husband’s tantrums.

9. If there is one golden rule, it is that wives should be submissive. As my dream interpreter, Artemidorus, says: ‘If a man dreams that he has sexual intercourse with his wife and that she yields willingly and without reluctance to the union, then it is good for all alike.’

Moral Outrage Is Self-Serving

March 5th, 2017

Moral outrage is self-serving, Bowdoin psychology professor Zachary Rothschild and University of Southern Mississippi psychology professor Lucas A. Keefer have found:

Triggering feelings of personal culpability for a problem increases moral outrage at a third-party target. For instance, respondents who read that Americans are the biggest consumer drivers of climate change “reported significantly higher levels of outrage at the environmental destruction” caused by “multinational oil corporations” than did the respondents who read that Chinese consumers were most to blame.

The more guilt over one’s own potential complicity, the more desire “to punish a third-party through increased moral outrage at that target.” For instance, participants in study one read about sweatshop labor exploitation, rated their own identification with common consumer practices that allegedly contribute, then rated their level of anger at “international corporations” who perpetuate the exploitative system and desire to punish these entities. The results showed that increased guilt “predicted increased punitiveness toward a third-party harm-doer due to increased moral outrage at the target.”

Having the opportunity to express outrage at a third-party decreased guilt in people threatened through “ingroup immorality.” Study participants who read that Americans were the biggest drivers of man-made climate change showed significantly higher guilt scores than those who read the blame-China article when they weren’t given an opportunity to express anger at or assign blame to a third-party. However, having this opportunity to rage against hypothetical corporations led respondents who read the blame-America story to express significantly lower levels of guilt than the China group. Respondents who read that Chinese consumers were to blame had similar guilt levels regardless of whether they had the opportunity to express moral outrage.

“The opportunity to express moral outrage at corporate harm-doers” inflated participants perception of personal morality. Asked to rate their own moral character after reading the article blaming Americans for climate change, respondents saw themselves as having “significantly lower personal moral character” than those who read the blame-China article—that is, when they weren’t given an out in the form of third-party blame. Respondents in the America-shaming group wound up with similar levels of moral pride as the China control group when they were first asked to rate the level of blame deserved by various corporate actors and their personal level of anger at these groups. In both this and a similar study using the labor-exploitation article, “the opportunity to express moral outrage at corporate harm-doing (vs. not) led to significantly higher personal moral character ratings,” the authors found.

Guilt-induced moral outrage was lessened when people could assert their goodness through alternative means, “even in an unrelated context.” Study five used the labor exploitation article, asked all participants questions to assess their level of “collective guilt” (i.e., “feelings of guilt for the harm caused by one’s own group”) about the situation, then gave them an article about horrific conditions at Apple product factories. After that, a control group was given a neutral exercise, while others were asked to briefly describe what made them a good and decent person; both exercises were followed by an assessment of empathy and moral outrage. The researchers found that for those with high collective-guilt levels, having the chance to assert their moral goodness first led to less moral outrage at corporations. But when the high-collective-guilt folks were given the neutral exercise and couldn’t assert they were good people, they wound up with more moral outrage at third parties. Meanwhile, for those low in collective guilt, affirming their own moral goodness first led to marginally more moral outrage at corporations.

Forged Through Fire

March 5th, 2017

Tyler Cowen deems Forged Through Fire a very important book and shares its main thesis:

If the modern democratic republic is a product of wars that required both manpower and money for success, it is time to take stock of what happens to democracy once the forces that brought it into being are no longer present.  Understanding war’s role in the creation of the modern democratic republic can help us recognize democracy’s exposed flanks.  If the role of the masses in protecting the nation-state diminishes, will the cross-class coalition between political inclusiveness and property hold?

…a second question is what is to become of the swaths of the world that were off the warpath in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries when the European state was formed?  Continued and intense warfare forged democracies with full enfranchisement and protected property rights in the Goldilocks zone: in countries that had already developed administrative capacity as monarchies, and where wars were horrendous but manageable with full mobilization…

The bad news is that in today’s world, war has stopped functioning as a democratizing force.

Plagued with forsoothery

March 4th, 2017

E.R. Eddison’s 1922 proto-fantasy The Worm Ouroboros is a book entirely sui generis, John C. Wright explains:

In a genre often plagued with forsoothery and faux-archaic speech, it is a wonder to read an author who can pen an entire novel in Elizabethan English without a false step.

But be warned: this is like hearing a classical symphony after a hearing nothing but jazz, rock, and dance music. It is almost not English, but a language older, richer, more elfin yet more gigantic, and as dignified as a king in full regalia leading a pavane, not merely of noblemen and gracious ladies, but demigods in all their splendors.

It’s one of the Classics of Fantasy that I’ve mentioned before.