Friday, March 30, 2012 1:44 PM
Perhaps fueled by increasing
gridlock in Washington,
lately there have been a lot of studies published on why people form and keep the
political beliefs that they do. While none are particularly encouraging for those who want to see government work, the findings offer some insight on why politicians reaching agreement is tougher than it sounds. A couple of weeks ago, Psychology Today reported that researchers at the University of Nebraska
have pointed to a
biological basis for ideology. In general, they reported, liberals have a
deep psychological propensity to focus more on positive forces and outcomes,
while conservative minds are more occupied by what is potentially threatening. These
tendencies, the researchers said, may go beyond environmental factors like
geography or parenting styles.
Haidt agrees that deeper forces are at play. Earlier this year, he told Bill Moyers (and Company) that human
beings are not well designed for objective or rational analysis. It turns
out we’re much better at choosing a side, and finding evidence and arguments to
support it. In other words, cognitive dissonance plays a much bigger role in
how we understand politics than we may have thought. In a recent book, The
Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are
Divided by Politics and Religion, Haidt outlines his view that
conscious reasoning has very little to do with how we form our ideas about the
This would certainly concur
with new research from Duke
University. There, psychologists
found that potential
voters consistently prefer candidates with deeper voices. As Futurity reports, participants were
asked to choose between a number of voices saying “I urge you to vote for me this
November.” The participants consistently preferred the deepest voices, and that
was true whether the choices were male or female. Participants also chose the
deeper voices when asked to identify voices with traits like strength,
competence, or trustworthiness. This was especially true of men, leading
researcher Rindy Anderson to speculate on whether women’s higher voice pitch
had something to do with the glass ceiling.
Of course, none of this
bodes well for actually getting things done, but does help clarify the past several
years of partisan bickering. We tend to blame ideology for a lot of political
problems, but it’s hard to see how we could escape it.
But here’s my favorite
explanation: a study by Scott Eidelman, a University of Arkansas
psychologist, recently found that conservatism
may be most people’s first instinct in how they view the world. According
to Miller-McCune, when distracted or
performing more than one complicated task, participants were more likely to
express conservative ideas and beliefs. These included, according to Eidelman, “an
emphasis on personal responsibility, an acceptance of hierarchy, and a
preference for the status quo.”
In another portion of the
study, Eidelman asked participants to drink heavily before completing a survey
measuring their politics. Amazingly (read: wonderfully), this experiment produced
the same results, as did pressuring participants with time constraints, and distracting
them with repetitive tape loops.
What this exactly means is
hard to say. Eidelman argues that the results will satisfy no one: the research
implies that conservative ideas are instinctual, but also somewhat knee-jerk. And
of course, it’s just as likely that a liberal will hold hasty or unexamined
beliefs, whether or not they’re inebriated or their favorite candidate has a
deep voice. What these findings may speak to, then, is a growing fascination
with ideology at a psychological or biological level—a sense that gridlock in Washington, like say
policy, must have some deeper
& Company, Futurity,
(now Pacific Standard).
Image by Tom
Arthur, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, September 28, 2011 4:13 PM
Cash-strapped state parks are forging partnerships with corporations to close their budget gaps, Governing magazine reports:
In New York, for example, Nestle’s Juicy Juice contributed $350,000 to build playgrounds in seven state parks. In California, Coca-Cola and Stater Bros. Markets have raised about $1.9 million to support reforestation and other state park preservation efforts. And in Georgia, Verizon Wireless contributed $5,000 to cover the cost of park passes for the state’s annual Free Day at the park. Most of these efforts come with recognition—on a playground sign, on a park pass—of the corporation’s contribution.
The trend has already spawned the creation of a new breed of middleman: A California firm called Government Solutions Group has brokered about $7.5 million in such deal since 2004. Chief executive Shari Boyer tells Governing that this is not philanthropy but business: “These are partnerships. The corporation has to get something out of it.”
Some park managers are ostensibly taking care to hook up with companies that are a good fit—but the parameters seem pretty fuzzy:
Asked how Coke products intersect with California’s state park mission, company spokesman Bob Phillips said Coca-Cola’s support of park restoration is part of its “live positively” platform, in which “sustainability is part of everything we do, particularly in this time of cost cutting and downsizing.” Phillips rejected the idea that Coca-Cola products were not in sync with parks’ health and environmental missions, noting instead that state parks “provide opportunities to be physically active.”
If you’re like me, your B.S. meter is off the charts at this contention, but take heart: Overall, these deals are a small piece of the park funding pie. Governing reminds us that in California in the last five years, corporate sponsorships have raised about $6.5 million for parks, while contributions from nonprofit groups amount to $50 million and volunteer hours stack up at a value of $100 million. Even Boyer holds that corporate sponsorships are “not the solution” to larger park funding woes.
Unfortunately, the situation could change as things get worse: One park director says that in the future, “If a corporate citizen wants to put their name on a park, I think that could happen.”
, licensed under
Tuesday, February 15, 2011 5:06 PM
“Conservatives cannot govern well,” wrote Alan Wolfe in a widely circulated 2006 Washington Monthly essay, “for the same reason that vegetarians cannot prepare a world-class boeuf bourguignon: If you believe that what you are called upon to do is wrong, you are not likely to do it very well.”
Now that Republicans control the House of Representatives, thanks in no small part to the rabidly anti-government Tea Party movement, Wolfe has updated his thesis. Conservatives, now that they have a chance, simply won’t govern.
He writes in Democracy Journal:
Every indication we have suggests that in the wake of their midterm success, Republicans will continue on the same path of just saying no. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell all but gave the game away when he announced that “the single most important thing we want to achieve” was not the recovery of the economy or passage of any particular legislation but “for President Obama to be a one-term president.” The United States now has a major political party that has dropped policy entirely in favor of politics. The consequences for the future of American democracy will be serious indeed. …
It is commonly said that polarization has become the country’s most serious political problem. But polarization implies two poles, each of which is organized around ideas. The newfound opposition for the sake of opposition characteristic of the conservative movement suggests a far greater danger to democracy than polarization. That danger is not cynicism; even a cynic cares. What we witness instead is nihilism—and in the most literal sense of the term. Nihilism is a philosophical doctrine holding that because life lacks meaning and purpose, it is foolish to believe too fervently in anything. … Right-wing firebrands in the House promise that come hell or high water, they will not compromise. In any democratic political system, but especially in one with divided powers, no compromise means no governance. We can expect a significant number of House members to stand firm in their denial, no matter what happens to the economy, the environment, or the country.
Over at Media Matters, Eric Boehlert accuses the media in general, and the New York Times in particular, of “giving Republican obstructionism a pass.”
“Republicans,” he writes, “have been practicing an unprecedented brand of obstructionism since Obama’s inauguration, but the press has been treating it as normal. It’s not. It’s radical.”
Source: Washington Monthly, Democracy Journal, Media Matters
, licensed under
Thursday, October 07, 2010 12:33 PM
Liberalism in the classical sense isn’t the opposite of conservativism but rather “the proposition that we’re all free to do as we please, other than to impede the freedoms of others,” writes Timothy Ferris in the Future Issue of The Oxford American:
An independent political philosophy with no inherent ties to either the Left or the Right, liberalism forms the basis of liberal democracy, the most popular and successful form of governance ever deployed. … Liberalism is a proposition, not a dogma. … Its method, like that of science, is to start with freedom and let people experiment as they see fit, discarding the experiments that fail and retaining those that seem to work.
Liberalism has been a resounding success, posits Ferris, with most Americans sharing basic classical liberal beliefs and liberal democracies comprising “nearly half of all humanity.” But one thing could be its undoing, he suggests: catastrophic climate change:
Liberalism itself could become a victim of such a calamity. The liberal democracies have already demonstrated a disturbing tendency to revert to authoritarianism in times of emergency. Few historians today think it was a good idea for Abraham Lincoln to have abridged habeas corpus during the Civil War, or for FDR to have put native-born Americans of Japanese descent in concentration camps during World War II, or for George W. Bush to have imprisoned suspected terrorists in Guantanamo Bay without due process, but this baleful tendency has persisted anyway.
Too many conservatives think global warming can be dismissed as a socialist conspiracy. Too many progressives agree with the ninety-year-old ecologist James Lovelock that “it may be necessary to put democracy on hold for a while” in order to deal with global warming. There is a real danger of our running aground between these two big, ignorant, smug schools of thought—and a real need for those who comprehend the threat to start speaking out more forcefully about it.
Source: The Oxford American (article not available online), The Guardian
Image by Elenapaint, licensed under Creative Commons.
Sunday, December 20, 2009 9:38 PM
“How could anyone be against transparency?” Lawrence Lessig asks in The New Republic. “Its virtues and its utilities seem so crushingly obvious.” Yet the law and technology expert proposes one provocative downside—that “the naked transparency movement . . . will simply push any faith in our political system over the cliff.” While speaking positively about the majority of transparency initiatives, Lessig sees trouble brewing with those intended to reveal influence and corruption, on account of “the problem of attention-span”:
“To understand something—an essay, an argument, a proof of innocence—requires a certain amount of attention,” he writes. “But on many issues, the average, or even rational, amount of attention given to understand many of these correlations, and their defamatory implications, is almost always less than the amount of time required. The result is a systemic misunderstanding—at least if the story is reported in a context, or in a manner, that does not neutralize such misunderstanding. The listing and correlating of data hardly qualifies as such a context.”
In other words: Bits and pieces of data make insinuations: smudges that will stick whether or not they accurately reflect the whole story, whether or not they’re refuted down the line. The alternative, of course, is not a return to obfuscation—but the issue does present an intriguing challenge for transparency advocates.
Source: The New Republic
Image by altemark, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, September 10, 2009 4:32 PM
Sounding off about the government can be put to good use through the @2gov website. A user can enter his or her zip code, and the website will figure out who that person’s elected representatives are. Then, when that person expresses a political viewpoint and mentions @2 gov on Twitter, those views are reported directly to the government.
Representatives will start receiving detailed reports of what political views are being expressed on Twitter in an easily understood format. Users don’t need to know their representatives names, and the politicians don’t need to be on Twitter. The website can also verify people’s voting status to let the representatives know that the voices on twitter actually represent their constituency. The idea is to move political discourse from Twitter’s website to your representatives’ ears.
Thursday, June 18, 2009 11:27 AM
Immigration hearings in the United States are federally mandated to be open to the public, with very few exceptions. When the Nation’s Jacqueline Stevens tried to attend two hearings, however, she was repeatedly denied entry, and not because of the exceptions. Stevens, an associate professor in the Law and Society Program at the University of California, reports “The immigration courts at Florence [Arizona] are either closed to the entire public or are screening for ICE critics. Both actions are illegal.”
Experts interviewed by Stevens agree that barring observers from the courts increases the chance of exploitation and could prevent people from getting a fair hearing. Mary Naftzger, a member of the Chicago New Sanctuary Coalition who frequently attends immigration hearings, told Stevens, “We have feedback from lawyers who say the judges are more respectful when court watchers are there.”
Source: The Nation
Friday, February 20, 2009 4:37 PM
Many Americans consider Hitler’s rise to power and Germany’s subsequent transformation into a fascist state to be a unique historical phenomenon. “That can’t happen here” still hails as an oft-repeated bias. Naomi Wolf, author of The Beauty Myth, challenges this logic head-on in her new movie from her best-selling book of the same name, The End of America, and illustrates how any nation can go from a democracy to a dictatorship in 10 foolproof steps.
“The great dictators learn from one another,” Wolf reveals, from having secret torture prisons to restricting the press and operating a paramilitary force—compare Bush’s Blackwater to Mussolini’s Black Shirts, for example. This film provokes anxiety and anger, but promotes faith in Obama’s promise of transparency. Wolf encourages us to value our rights in the Constitution as rights and not mere privileges.
Distributed by IndiePix Films.
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