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Friday Food Blogging July 31, 2009

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, Food and Drink.
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Ezra Klein wants you to eat your vegetables. And I think that is good advice, not only because vegetables are good for you but because the consumption of meat makes a substantial contribution to global warming.

According to a 2006 United Nations report, livestock accounts for 18 percent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. Some of meat’s contribution to climate change is intuitive. It’s more energy efficient to grow grain and feed it to people than it is to grow grain and turn it into feed that we give to calves until they become adults that we then slaughter to feed to people. Some of the contribution is gross. “Manure lagoons,” for instance, is the oddly evocative name for the acres of animal excrement that sit in the sun steaming nitrous oxide into the atmosphere. And some of it would make Bart Simpson chuckle. Cow gas — interestingly, it’s mainly burps, not farts — is a real player.

But the result isn’t funny at all: Two researchers at the University of Chicago estimated that switching to a vegan diet would have a bigger impact than trading in your gas guzzler for a Prius. A study out of Carnegie Mellon University found that the average American would do less for the planet by switching to a totally local diet than by going vegetarian one day a week.

I am not a vegetarian and don’t intend to become one; I love my meats. But cutting back to 1 or 2 meat meals a week is not much of a sacrifice, especially because chicken and fish contribute little to climate change compared to beef.

According to a recent study by Christopher L. Weber and H. Scott Matthews of at Carnegie Mellon University (funded by the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Science Foundation):

The production phase is responsible for 83 percent of the average U.S. household’s greenhouse-gas burden with regard to food, while transportation accounts for only 11 percent, the new study found. The production of red meat, the researchers conclude, is almost 150 percent more greenhouse-gas-intensive than chicken or fish.

As Klein argues:

It’s also worth saying that this is not a call for asceticism. It’s not a value judgment on anyone’s choices. Going vegetarian might not be as effective as going vegan, but it’s better than eating meat, and eating meat less is better than eating meat more. It would be a whole lot better for the planet if everyone eliminated one meat meal a week than if a small core of die-hards developed perfectly virtuous diets.

Media Bias July 30, 2009

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Current Events, Dwight Furrow's Posts, politics.
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Yesterday, I questioned the objectivity of science reporting in the media. I might as well continue the theme today in the political arena.

Last week at a White House press conference, reporter Jonathan Wiseman, referring to the Administration’s proposal to tax the wealthiest 1% to help pay for universal health care, asked the following question:

“My point is, is there a point where you really are soaking the rich, where the carrying capacity of this small group of people has been exceeded and there’s just no way you can keep lumping all of the problems of the finances of the United States on 1 percent of those households?”

Columnist David Sirota used Wiseman’s question as an example of how Washington journalists, who are supposed to be presenting an objective account of the news, import right-wing talking points by asking loaded questions.

And it is obviously a loaded question equivalent to asking someone when they stopped beating their wife.

As Sirota reports, the push-back from Dow Jones and the Wall Street Journal was substantial:

On Friday, when my column hit newspapers, Weisman sent me a series of emails in protest. In his first note, he seemed to suggest that it wasn’t ethical or permissible to quote him asking his rigged question at a televised press conference because “it’s not from anything I’ve actually written.” Then, in a subsequent message, he said he wasn’t making “a statement of anything at all” (which I, of course, made clear in my column when I said he was “wondering” not “stating). Finally, and most importantly, he insisted he was merely asking a question and “a question is designed to elicit a response.”

Sirota points out the absurdity of this response:

…a reporter can ask the White House “Are you pushing a tax on the top 1 percent of Americans because those people have benefitted so disproportionately over the last three decades?” or he can ask if the White House is “soaking the rich” by “lumping all of the problems of the finances of the United States on 1 percent of those households?” The point here is that questions can quite obviously convey ideology – and the idea that they can’t simply because they are questions “designed to elicit a response” is preposterous.

Sirota’s analysis is spot on.

Many Washington reporters don’t really have a basic understanding – or are willfully ignorant – of the role they play in framing the political debate, and how that role involves ideology/opinion/subjectivity. To Weisman, questions at press conferences are questions – they exist in a vacuum and play no subjective role in steering the debate or elevating topics or legitimizing frames. […]when he paints a tax on the richest 1 percent as “soaking the rich” and trying to unduly balance the budget on the backs on too small a group of people, he’s elevating that entire narrative into the public debate – and worse, he’s trying to do it under the guise and plausible deniability of “objectivity.” […]

He really seems to believe that the way he rigged his question was completely “fair and balanced,” as the saying goes. And that suggests what many of us have been saying for years: Namely, that the political debate has been so pervasively rigged and corrupted as to make the propaganda system invisible to those supporting it. It’s like the Matrix, really. In this case, the debate over tax fairness has for so long been so totally tilted to frames that support the status quo, that this reporter seems to have positively no idea that he’s asking a question loaded down with all sorts of ideological, opinion-based assumptions and frames.

Mainstream media have abdicated  their role as responsible chroniclers of the truth and have forfeited any right to exist. Newspapers are struggling to stay afloat as they strive to satisfy their corporate sponsors in a difficult economy.

We just might be better off without them.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

or Visit the Website: www.revivingliberalism.com

The Media Mistakes PR for Science July 29, 2009

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Current Events, Dwight Furrow's Posts, Science.
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The news media continues to get low marks for science reporting. Via Ars Technica:

Last Friday produced a clear indication of why. Multiple news sources credulously repeated health “facts” that were essentially made up. The reason? Someone claiming to suffer from a condition that doesn’t appear to exist is releasing an album named after the apparently nonexistent condition, and wanted to raise its profile. In short, the news reports provided false health information because the reporters fell for a PR stunt.

Reports appeared in The Sun, The Telegraph, and The Daily Mail, and were picked up by Fox News and spread as far away as India. The articles describe the tormented life of a British DJ who is convinced that WiFi signals set off a variety of health symptoms, including dizziness, headaches, and nausea. […] And he is apparently not alone; the reports consistently claim that two percent of the population suffers from the same issues.

There’s a fundamental problem here: the condition, electrosensitivity, doesn’t appear to exist. A variety of studies that we have covered in the past show that people who claim to be electrosensitive are incapable of determining whether there is an active wireless signal in their vicinity. In multiple blinded studies, they did no better than random chance when asked to identify whether equipment that broadcasts on WiFi or cellular frequencies is active.

The article goes on to cite reasons, from physics and biology, to doubt that electrosensitivity could exist.

The news media will apparently print anything that will attract readers with no regard for facts.

The social function of media is to inform the public. But when our media institutions are transformed into profit centers serving corporate interests, the journalistic standards of excellence that aim at informing the public are corrupted. There are good people that work in mainstream media but as an institution it is rapidly succumbing to the business imperatives that are undermining its legitimacy.

 

 book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

or Visit the Website: www.revivingliberalism.com

A Constitutional Convention for California? July 28, 2009

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Current Events, Dwight Furrow's Posts, politics.
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As everyone knows, California politics is dysfunctional, undermined by an initiative process that imposes incompatible demands on government. For instance, Proposition 13 destroyed the tax base and required supermajorities to pass tax increases; but Proposition 98 mandates that California devote 40% of its general fund to the schools.

Thus, there is a clear mandate for lower taxes which anti-government conservatives are only too happy to support; and a clear mandate for more services which government- friendly liberals are too happy to support.

One solution that is being discussed intensively is the possibility of a constitutional convention that would re-write the state constitution, change the initiative process, and set up a more rational process for making budgeting decisions.

A lot of the discussion regarding the constitutional convention has to do with how it would be set up and initiated. It is useful to think about this but we are not paying sufficient attention to the political dynamics involved.

Why think that the same forces that have created an incoherent governing process would be able to write a rational constitution? It is not as if the people who want lower taxes or more services will not be delegates.

I suspect that liberals are enthusiastic about this because they think there are more of the “more services” folks than the “lower taxes” folks. But I would like to see some evidence of that. My sense is that most Californians want both lower taxes and more services—that is why we are in this mess.

At any constitutional convention the interest groups that support “lower taxes” and those that support “more services” will be well-represented. Thus, the very same incoherence that we find in our present constitution will be well represented at any future constitutional convention. The resulting constitution will be just as incoherent.

Or a more frightening scenario may come to pass. There is good chance that the “lower taxes” folks will be better organized and better funded—they usually are. They may write into the constitution provisions that will make public goods as rare as California condors.

I am very nervous about a constitutional convention.

 

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

or Visit the Website: www.revivingliberalism.com

The End of Liberalism as We Knew It July 27, 2009

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Current Events, Dwight Furrow's Posts, Political Philosophy, politics.
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Jim DeMint (R, SC) said last week that health care was Obama’s waterloo. Republicans, who at the moment seem to lack resources, ammunition, and leadership, probably should not draw comparisons with Napoleon, but DeMint’s remarks were in one respect prescient.

Health care is unlikely to be Obama’s waterloo, but it may mark liberalism’s waterloo, at least the liberalism to which we have been accustomed.

Anyone paying attention to political news last week was aware of two events: (1) Health care reform is stymied in the House and Senate over disagreements about how to pay for the program, and (2) the California legislature passed a budget bill that contains draconian cuts to education, social services, and local governments.

These two events are related in that they reveal the essential outlines of political strategies going forward.

In Washington, the Democratic health care reform proposals are held up by intransigent Republicans, who want no part of health care reform, and conservative Democrats who worry about costs, taxes and the withdrawal of affection from insurance industry lobbyists and their money.

This despite overwhelming public support for health care reform.

Although it seems irrational to stand in the way of a popular program that solves problems, Republicans know that if Obama succeeds with health care reform, they lose the argument that government is always the problem, never the solution. If they lose that argument, they lose the war.

Meanwhile, in California, because budget rules give a minority veto power, a few Republicans along with the Governator were able to convince the Democratic legislature to vote for severe cuts to education, home health services, and local governments—all popular recipients of state revenues. And without question this budget will worsen the recession in California.

It seems a bit of madness for a struggling minority party to cancel popular programs that will hurt voters, but, unfortunately, there is logic to their madness. The common denominator in both Washington and Sacramento is the willingness of Republicans to make it impossible for government to function. This is the aim of Republican strategy and it is rational because a dysfunctional government benefits Republicans.

The political calculation is this. Roughly 30% of the voting public self-identify as conservative and reliably vote Republican. Republicans can count on them, but their numbers are not sufficient to win many elections.

However, Republicans also know that there are legions of voters, Republican, Independent, and Democrat who, while acknowledging the importance of government, fret about whether government is competent to do anything worthwhile.  Mistrust of government, politicians, and bureaucracy, along with doubts about whether they can really solve problems, runs deep in this country. Years of Republican misrule have reinforced those doubts. If that is followed by drift and inertia while the Democrats are in charge, voters will be even more demoralized and cynical despite Obama’s hopeful rhetoric.

Cynicism and demoralization always play into conservative hands because they reinforce the belief that government is powerless to do good—the antithesis of modern liberalism.

Thus, the Republican strategy in the U.S. as well as California is to gum up the works, make the Democrats own the mess, and hope that enough people will be arbitrarily angry at the party in power to put Republicans back in control.

This strategy makes liberalism as we have known it irrelevant.

Contemporary  liberalism has always tended to attribute good intentions to its adversaries. It has been much enamored with the task of achieving “overlapping consensus” * by invoking Deweyan notions of “come let us reason together” in order to achieve common goals.

The liberal assumption was that our political community shares sufficient commitment to liberty, equality, and a well-ordered society so that we all have an interest in finding fair rules of governance despite our substantial differences.

These philosophical ideas about public reason suggest that bipartisanship and the compromise of more “extreme” positions by occupying the middle ground is the most fruitful approach to politics because it enables opposing sides to discover points of agreement on which to move forward that exist because we share the goal of good governance.

This is the intellectual tradition inherited by moderate Democrats who congenitally  prefer to govern from the center and make a fetish of bipartisanship.

Yet, in both Sacramento and Washington, Republicans are playing moderate Democrats like a Stradivarius. The fact that Democrats cannot count on any Republican votes means the Dems need strict party discipline to accomplish their goals. But on health care, the so called “centrist” Democrats are eviscerating the real reforms in the progressive proposals, and in California, there was little stomach among Democrats for standing up to the Republicans and refusing to go along with their death march.

In both cases, the moderate Democrats enabled the Republican dream of destroying government.

The problem is that centrist Democrats are still playing by the old rules, trying to govern effectively in a context in which the opposition is no longer a loyal opposition but a cancer trying to destroy the body politic from within.

Once upon a time, common goals and a shared interest in governing did exist. In post-WWII America, most Republicans and Democrats were seeking widely distributed prosperity and debates were about whether that prosperity could be achieved by relatively minor shifts in the balance between public and private goods. Compromise along that single continuum was easy to achieve.

Many Democratic politicians and especially many journalists who report on politics (David Broder of the Washington Post and George Skelton of the LA Times in particular) still think these are the rules of the political game. But the rules have changed. Liberals want to use government to solve problems; Republicans want to destroy government.

But you cannot reason with a cancer or compromise with a predator. Thus, centrist Democrats face an existential choice. They can negotiate with themselves, try on the predatory garb which Republicans now display, or join their more principled liberal Democrats in solving problems. What they can no longer do is help themselves to the tranquil center of American politics where liberalism used to reside.

In the 60’s, the left had a slogan—you are either part of the solution or part of the problem. That smacked of youthful arrogance then—but it ages well.

 

* Political philosopher John Rawls coined this phrase to describe the aim of public reason in a liberal democracy.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

or Visit the Website: www.revivingliberalism.com

Meet Market July 26, 2009

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Culture, Current Events, Dwight Furrow's Posts.
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Marriage hunting has become big business in Japan.

Government data show the percentage of unmarried people surged from 14% to 47% for men aged 30 to 34 and from 8% to 32% for women over the three decades ending in 2005.

The Japanese solution is called konkatsu:

This year Japan has gone konkatsu-crazy, with the trend spawning countless magazine articles, a weekly TV drama and a best-selling book.
A Tokyo shrine now offers konkatsu prayer services, a Hokkaido baseball team has set up special seats for those looking for mates, and a Tokyo ward office arranges dating excursions to restaurants and aquariums.
A lingerie maker has even come up with a konkatsu bra with a ticking clock that can be stopped by inserting an engagement ring.

Think of it as speed-dating gone corporate and aimed at marriage rather than “relationship”.

Even governments are getting into the business:

Japan’s government has thrown its support behind konkatsu to boost the birth rate of just 1.37 children per woman, hoping to slow the decline of the ageing population, which is projected to shrink nearly 30 percent by 2055. […]

“Currently some 4,000 match-making agencies do business in Japan, with a total membership of some 620,000,” she said. “About half of local governments also give similar matching services, especially in rural farming areas.

How effective is this?

But the successful mating rate through such an agency stays as low as eight percent,” she added. “People don’t have communication skills good enough to find a partner, no matter how many candidates they meet.

Of course, speed-dating is entrenched in the U.S. as well, although I’m not aware of massive corporate or government support. I have no idea what their success rates are. But it seems to me this approach to finding a mate is unlikely to be successful if only because it puts a premium on personal traits—attractiveness, instantaneous charm, the ability to market oneself, and an exceedingly extroverted personality—that most people lack.

These kinds of artificially constructed meet-up strategies are clearly fulfilling a need in highly mobile, fragmented societies. But social norms that govern how people meet and develop relationships, if they are intended to be widely accepted and successful, cannot depend on traits that are not widely distributed throughout the population.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

or Visit the Website: www.revivingliberalism.com

Where is Socrates When You Need Him? July 23, 2009

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Current Events, Dwight Furrow's Posts, Philosophy, Science.
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Probably hanging out at the mall with some young boys.

But we do need him; and Paul De Grauwe of the Financial Times explains why. (H/t Brad Delong)

Before the financial crisis, most macroeconomists were blinded by the idea that efficient markets would take care of themselves. They did not bother to put financial markets and the banking sector into their models. This is a major flaw.

There is a deeper problem, though, that will be more difficult to resolve. This is the underlying paradigm of macroeconomic models. Mainstream models take the view that economic agents are superbly informed and understand the deep complexities of the world. In the jargon, they have “rational expectations”. Not only that. Since they all understand the same “truth”, they all act in the same way. Thus modelling the behaviour of just one agent (the “representative” consumer and the “representative” producer) is all one has to do to fully describe the intricacies of the world. Rarely has such a ludicrous idea been taken so seriously by so many academics. (Other fields of economics have not been deluded by this implausible idea and therefore do not face the same criticism.)

We need a new science of macroeconomics. A science that starts from the assumption that individuals have severe cognitive limitations; that they do not understand much about the complexities of the world in which they live. This lack of understanding creates biased beliefs and collective movements of euphoria when agents underestimate risk, followed by collective depression in which perceptions of risk are dramatically increased. These collective movements turn uncorrelated risks into highly correlated ones. What Keynes called “animal spirits” are fundamental forces driving macroeconomic fluctuations.

This is precisely the wisdom embodied in the Socratic method. Human beings are prone to self-deception, weakness of the will, and all sorts of enthusiasms that distort our ability to reason. So we need to be hyper-critical of our ideas and constantly seek out counter-examples, especially when those ideas reside in the heads of influential people who have an interest in their theories being true.

Economics aspires to be a science. So it adopts the accoutrements of science—especially mathematical models. But they forgot the essential part of science—letting their models meet up with the real world. That requires patience, curiosity, and a willingness to seek the truth.

As De Grauwe writes:

Too many macro-economists are attached to their models because they want to live in the comfort of what they understand – the behaviour of rational and superbly informed individuals.

A real scientist seeks to explore that part of the world they don’t understand. Economics has a long way to go before it is a science.

 

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

or Visit the Website: www.revivingliberalism.com

Is Intolerance Necessary? July 22, 2009

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, Philosophy, Political Philosophy.
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What is the glue that holds social groups together, especially social groups around which we form identities?

Some have argued that social identities are based on conflict, antagonism, and the recognition of difference. We define ourselves in terms of what we are not—Protestants define themselves as not Catholic, Americans defined themselves early on as not British, and today perhaps as not French. Fans of Radiohead define themselves as not fans of Brittany Spears. Conflict with the other provides content and definition to the group identity, but also sustains commitment to it because one’s identity is viewed as under threat.

People seem to naturally categorize themselves into groups that gain positive value by distinguishing their in-group from the out-group and viewing the out-group in a negative light.

Simone deBeauvoir thought this about gender identities and Marx about class identities.

The implication of this view is that increasing diversity in society can make racial and ethnic tensions worse by solidifying identities that perceive themselves to be under threat.

The alternative is to form group identities around shared features or shared interests. According to this alternative, we recognize similarities first and sustain group identity by deepening our the connection to others who have something essential in common. The perception of difference plays no essential role.

There is some truth in both views. But I think much depends on whether a group sees itself in a zero-sum game or not. A zero-sum game is a situation in which a gain by one group results in a loss to another group. If women gain power only at the expense of men, or if blacks or latinos gain resources only at the expense of whites, then conflict will define group identity.

But if groups find they can advance their interests through win-win situations—non-zero sum games—conflict will be less important.

As wealth shrinks in the U.S. and around the world and the resource pie gets smaller it will be increasingly more difficult to find non-zero sum games.

The future looks anything but peaceful.

 

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

or Visit the Website: www.revivingliberalism.com

What Kind of Person Denies Essential Services to Millions To Save a Few Dollars? July 21, 2009

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, Ethics, Political Philosophy, politics.
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The California budget agreement has finally arrived and it is as bad as predicted—massive cuts to schools, higher education, social services, and local governments. The result will be millions of children without health care, an education system in accelerated collapse, disabled people kicked to the curb, and municipalities in bankruptcy. In short, every vulnerable person gets shafted.

All of this pain was made necessary because Governor Schwarzenegger and a small minority of Republican legislators have refused to modestly increase taxes to cover essential state services.  (Here is an account of proposed tax increases that would have avoided some of the cuts had they been enacted.)

The California economy will be hamstrung for years because of these shortsighted decisions. But economies can bounce back. The greater calamity may be moral decay and the collapse of the social trust on which society depends.

Progressives must develop a strategy to fix the state, but the first step is to get clear on what we are up against—and it is not a pretty sight. Moral catastrophes never are.

As has been well-documented, some of our budget woes stem from structural problems in the way government is managed. Proposition 13, the 2/3’s rule on budget matters, the power of lobbyists in Sacramento, a dysfunctional prison system, and government by ballot box have all contributed to the debacle.

But it is important to remember that these structural impediments to good government and the unconscionable cuts in the current budget represent decisions made by people—the politicians who promoted these policies and the voters who gave them their support. California’s budget debacle is not a force of nature or an accident. Some Californians, in and out of government, decided the health and welfare of millions of people could simply be ignored in order to avoid modest tax increases. That is a decision for which they must be held fully responsible. 

I have known many Republicans and conservatives over the years. And they don’t seem to be personally less compassionate or responsible than the rest of the population. In their personal lives, they seem to have the same moral emotions and moral focus the rest of us have.

But when it comes to public policy, all that compassion and responsibility dries up like a San Diego stream bed in August.

Hence the question the title poses. What kind of person denies essential services to millions to save a few dollars?

Of course the answer to that question is that they are in the grip of an ideology that makes them moral cripples.

It is worth unpacking this ideology.

Conservatives think that people are fully responsible for their lot in life. If you are successful it is because you deserve it and if you are not successful it is because you don’t. Thus, the vastly unequal distribution of goods in our society already reflects the morally optimal distribution. Any marginal increase in goods should go to the wealthy and marginal decreases in wealth are burdens that must be borne by the poor, the middle class, or the disabled. This is the only logic that could justify this budget.

These are strange beliefs to hold, especially with regard to children who presumably don’t deserve their lot in life. Furthermore, it doesn’t take much thought to realize that luck plays a large role in determining how well people do, and that it is impossible to make sound inferences about perfect strangers when explaining why someone is successful or unsuccessful. But if they are so unreasonable, why do these conservative ideas persist?

I suppose you could derive these “moral beliefs” from the basic principles of free-market fundamentalism. According to conservatives, an unregulated, minimally taxed  market tends toward equilibrium and will thus settle on a distribution of products and prices that is beneficial to everyone. By adding the above premises about what people deserve, conservatives enjoy a double dollop of self-esteem–the “screw the poor” policy is both “just” to individuals and best for society overall.

In addition, conservatives cling to the idea that raising taxes even a bit will plunge the economy back into recession. There is ample empirical evidence refuting this idea, and the theory of free-market fundamentalism has now been thoroughly discredited. Yet the ideas persist, immune to counter-example, within a sizable portion of the public.

But the important point here is that none of these judgments about economics or what people deserve explains why people would weigh such questionable premises more heavily than moral compunctions about the suffering of millions of disadvantaged people. In other words, even if recession economics requires low taxes, and poor and middle class people are less ambitious than the wealthy, it doesn’t follow that we should simply ignore the destructive social consequences of these budget cuts. What sort of value system allows you to discount human suffering in favor of some “theory” about economics or human nature?

In fact, most politicians and their supporters are not economists and are unlikely to hold firm beliefs about market equilibria or recession economics.

Thus, I suspect that underlying these beliefs about what people deserve is the (unconscious) belief that the unsuccessful are not only undeserving but evil—a kind of fifth column threatening the fabric of society with their indolence and incompetence. Social welfare only encourages their indolence, and public education is the Trojan horse that will give them access to positions in society. Thus, draconian budget cuts are good things—they cleanse the social body of vermin that threaten its health.

To believe such a thing is to be in the grip of a delusion so pervasive that it can be sustained only by unconscious motivations—deep resentments, pathological narcissism, an authoritarian need to control others through scapegoating, etc .

It is not nice to contemplate fellow Californians with such motives, but I am at a loss to find an alternative explanation for what the Governor and legislature have done.

Conservatism came to power in part based on promises to lower taxes while providing essential services through free market innovation. But its ability to capture the imagination of voters also depended on the perception that conservatism was a morally superior ideology. The values rhetoric for which conservatism is well-known provided moral cover for the questionable economic theories they advanced.

With this budget, the emptiness of that values rhetoric has once again been exposed just as their economic theories are in tatters. What is left is not merely naked self-interest but a self-interest bolstered by deep resentment, bigotry, and pathological indifference.

It is not obvious how that moral cancer can be put into remission though our future depends on it.

But they really are nice people. Really!

 Cross-posted at Reviving the Left

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

or Visit the Website: www.revivingliberalism.com

Hot Coffee: The New Love Drug July 20, 2009

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, Philosophy, Science.
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Research by Lawrence Williams and John A. Bargh suggests that positive attitudes towards a stranger are induced by holding a warm cup of coffee, in contrast to a chillier reception when holding a cup of ice coffee. They also discovered that holding a warm pad in hand made it more likely that experimental subjects would chose a gift for a friend rather than for themselves.

Apparently, our physical environment influences our preferences, unbeknownst to us.

I wonder what other subtle, seemingly inconsequential, environmental factors influence preferences.

Here is an earlier post detailing more studies of apparently determined behavior.

Experiments such as this do not prove that free will is an illusion. They point to general tendencies, not causally necessary outcomes, and nothing in these experiments suggest that when we become aware of these influences we can’t resist them.

But, nevertheless, if such experiments are scratching only the surface of a panoply of environmental effects that we are typically unaware of, the range of human freedom seems remarkably condensed.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

or Visit the Website: www.revivingliberalism.com