Friday, March 17, 2017

Three works which have influenced my views on political conflict

Three academic works which have influenced the way I view political conflict.

I. The Three Languages of Politics
A number of years ago, Kling wrote a short book called "The Three Languages of Politics" where he introduced a simple model to help explain political polarization. In a nutshell he argued that people, to some degree, fall within three heuristic categories, or as he calls them, axes. Progressives fall within the oppressor/oppressed axis which simply means that they think in relation to groups and organize the bad and the good in terms of oppressors and those being oppressed. Conservatives are in the civilization/barbarism axis. For them, the good is civilized values that have accumulated over time and have stood the test of time; and the bad are the barbarians who try to strike out against those values and destroy civilization. Finally, Libertarians are in the freedom/coercion axis. For them, the good is individuals making their own choices, contracting freely with each other; and the bad is coercion at gunpoint, particularly on the part of governments.

In summary, identifying with a particular group indicates that you tend to frame issues in the terms described above. This is why political groups are speaking past each other; they are speaking in different languages.

II. The Righteous Mind
A couple of years after reading Kling's book I read Jonathan Haidt's "The Righteous Mind" which presents ideas similar to Kling's but from a different perspective and much more fleshed out. Actually, there is so much in the book I'm finding it difficult to present an adequate summary.

Like Kling, Haidt provides an explanation as to why politics is so polarizing. He sees liberals and conservatives living in their own moral matrices. "Each matrix provides a complete, unified, and emotionally compelling worldview, easily justified by observable evidence and nearly impregnable to attack by arguments from outsiders."

To get a better understanding of these moral matrices, it's necessary to first understand how Haidt views morality. He lays this out with his Social Intuitionist model which proposes that moral positions and judgments are generally first the result of quick, automatic evaluations (intuitions) and that reasoning is a post hoc attempt to justify our intuitions. In other words, though we would like to believe that we come to moral decisions in an objective, unbiased, rational manner, we are actually deeply influenced by our intuitions. These intuitions, Haidt believes are to some degree the result of evolutionary adaptations.

The second part to understanding moral matrices is found in Haidt's Moral Foundations theory. Here he lays out a model composed of six (formally five) innate, modular foundations:

The Care/harm foundation evolved in response to the adaptive challenge of caring for vulnerable children. It makes us sensitive to signs of suffering and need; it makes us despise cruelty and want to care for those who are suffering.

The Fairness/cheating foundation evolved in response to the adaptive challenge of reaping the rewards of cooperation without getting exploited. It makes us sensitive to indications that another person is likely to be a good (or bad) partner for collaboration and reciprocal altruism. It makes us want to shun or punish cheaters.

The Loyalty/betrayal foundation evolved in response to the adaptive challenge of forming and maintaining coalitions. It makes us sensitive to signs that another person is (or is not) a team player. It makes us trust and reward such people, and it makes us want to hurt, ostracize, or even kill those who betray us or our group.

The Authority/subversion foundation evolved in response to the adaptive challenge of forging relationships that will benefit us within social hierarchies. It makes us sensitive to signs of rank or status, and to signs that other people are (or are not) behaving properly, given their position.

The Sanctity/degradation foundation evolved initially in response to the adaptive challenge of the omnivore’s dilemma, and then to the broader challenge of living in a world of pathogens and parasites. It includes the behavioral immune system, which can make us wary of a diverse array of symbolic objects and threats. It makes it possible for people to invest objects with irrational and extreme values—both positive and negative—which are important for binding groups together.

The Liberty/oppression foundation evolved in response to the adaptive challenge of living in small groups with individuals who would, if given the chance, dominate, bully, and constrain others. It triggers an urge to band together to resist or overthrow bullies and tyrants. This foundation supports the egalitarianism and antiauthoritarianism of the left, as well as the don’t-tread-on-me and give-me-liberty antigovernment anger of libertarians and some conservatives.

Haidt's research shows that those in the three general camps of progressives, libertarians and conservatives rely upon each foundation in different ways or to different degrees. While all three political camps are sensitive to the fairness foundation, progressives are particularly sensitive to the care foundation, libertarians to the liberty foundation and conservatives roughly equally sensitive to all six foundations.





III. Microaggression and Moral Cultures
Published in 2014 by sociologist Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning published, the paper argues that western culture is in the midst of a moral transition.

Prior to the 18th and 19th centuries we lived in an culture of honor.
"Honor is a kind of status attached to physical bravery and the unwillingness to be dominated by anyone. Honor in this sense is a status that depends on the evaluations of others, and members of honor societies are expected to display their bravery by engaging in violent retaliation against those who offend them...
In honor cultures, it is one’s reputation that makes one honorable or not, and one must respond aggressively to insults, aggressions, and challenges or lose honor. Not to fight back is itself a kind of moral failing, such that “in honor cultures, people are shunned or criticized not for exacting vengeance but for failing to do so”. Honorable people must guard their reputations, so they are highly sensitive to insult, often responding aggressively to what might seem to outsiders as minor slights. 
Cultures of honor tend to arise in places where legal authority is weak or nonexistent and where a reputation for toughness is perhaps the only effective deterrent against predation or attack. Because of their belief in the value of personal bravery and capability, people socialized into a culture of honor will often shun reliance on law or any other authority even when it is available, refusing to lower their standing by depending on another to handle their affairs."
During the 19th century, as liberal philosophy took hold and the rule of law was developed, we transitioned to a culture of dignity.
"The prevailing culture in the modern West is one whose moral code is nearly the exact opposite of that of an honor culture. Rather than honor, a status based primarily on public opinion, people are said to have dignity, a kind of inherent worth that cannot be alienated by others.
Dignity exists independently of what others think, so a culture of dignity is one in which public reputation is less important. Insults might provoke offense, but they no longer have the same importance as a way of establishing or destroying a reputation for bravery. It is even commendable to have “thick skin” that allows one to shrug off slights and even serious insults, and in a dignity-based society parents might teach children some version of “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” – an idea that would be alien in a culture of honor...
For offenses like theft, assault, or breach of contract, people in a dignity culture will use law without shame. But in keeping with their ethic of restraint and toleration, it is not necessarily their first resort, and they might condemn many uses of the authorities as frivolous. People might even be expected to tolerate serious but accidental personal injuries"
Now we seem to be transitioning to a culture of victimhood.
Microaggression complaints have characteristics that put them at odds with both honor and dignity cultures. Honorable people are sensitive to insult, and so they would understand that microaggressions, even if unintentional, are severe offenses that demand a serious response. But honor cultures value unilateral aggression and disparage appeals for help. Public complaints that advertise or even exaggerate one’s own victimization and need for sympathy would be anathema to a person of honor – tantamount to showing that one had no honor at all.Members of a dignity culture, on the other hand, would see no shame in appealing to third parties, but they would not approve of such appeals for minor and merely verbal offenses. Instead they would likely counsel either confronting the offender directly to discuss the issue, or better yet, ignoring the remarks altogether.
A culture of victimhood is one characterized by concern with status and sensitivity to slight combined with a heavy reliance on third parties. People are intolerant of insults, even if unintentional, and react by bringing them to the attention of authorities or to the public at large. Domination is the main form of deviance, and victimization a way of attracting sympathy, so rather than emphasize either their strength or inner worth, the aggrieved emphasize their oppression and social marginalization.
Under such conditions complaint to third parties has supplanted both toleration and negotiation. People increasingly demand help from others, and advertise their oppression as evidence that they deserve respect and assistance. Thus we might call this moral culture a culture of victimhood because the moral status of the victim, at its nadir in honor cultures, has risen to new heights."

Monday, February 13, 2017

Paul Krugman's myopic market prediction

I'm not a fan of Paul Krugman. His political bias keeps him from making objective economic analysis but in truth, it's his arrogance and smug attitude that makes me really dislike the guy. As such, I've really enjoyed seeing him eat a little crow regarding his 11/09/16 New York Times blog post. Written the day after Trump was elected president, with the Dow closing at 18,332.74, he says:
"If the question is when markets will recover, a first-pass answer is never...So we are very probably looking at a global recession, with no end in sight. I suppose we could get lucky somehow. But on economics, as on everything else, a terrible thing has just happened."
It didn't take long for Krugman to be proven wrong as the very next day the Dow closed at 18,589.69. Two weeks after the election it closed above 19,000 for the first time in its 120 year history. Then on January 25th it broke above 20,000. As of right now it is at 20,380.81.

I have no idea whether or not the market will remain strong. Given Trump's somewhat anti-free trade noise I'm a little skeptical. Regardless, it's nice to see Krugman quickly proven so completely wrong.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Anchoring

Anchoring is a cognitive bias that describes the common human tendency to rely too heavily on the initial piece of information offered (the "anchor") when making decisions.

When making a decision, it is believed that people often make "estimates by starting from an initial value which is adjusted to yield the final answer. The initial value, or starting point, may be suggested by the formulation of the problem, or else it may be the result of a partial computation. Whatever the source of the initial value, adjustments are typically insufficient. That is, different starting points yield different estimates, which are biased towards the initial values."(1)


Judgement Under Uncertainty Study
Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman published a famous study on anchoring in the early 1970's. They had participants spin a wheel marked 1 to 100 which unknown to them was rigged to always stop on 10 or 65. They then asked if the percentage of African nations in the United Nations was higher or lower than the number the wheel had landed on. Finally, they asked the participants to estimate the actual percentage.

Tversky and Kahneman found that the number the wheel had landed on had a pronounced effect on the answers the subjects provided. When the wheel landed on 10, the average estimate given by the subjects was 25%. When the wheel landed on 60, the average estimate was 45%.(1)


Real World Example of Anchoring
Sales Negotiations - In a negotiation, the initial price offered can act as an anchor, setting the standard in the mind of the potential buyer.

For example, imagine a negotiation for a used car. In scenario one, the salesman asks for $15,000. The buyer haggles with him and they end up agreeing on $14,500. In scenario two, the salesman asks for $18,000. The two negotiate until settling on a price of $15,500.

In both examples, the sales person anchored the price from which to negotiate in the mind of the buyer. Interestingly, even though the buyer in the first scenario paid less, the buyer in the second scenario is likely to feel he got the better deal as he had negotiated a 'deep discount.'


Prevalence and Susceptibility 
The anchoring bias has been well documented and demonstrated in a variety of domains.(2)  Findings suggest that it is a robust psychological phenomenon and can be difficult to avoid even among those aware of its influence.(3)

Though research findings are somewhat mixed, generally speaking it seems that knowledgeable people are less affected by anchoring. Hence, the more unfamiliar the decision maker is with the problem, the higher the anchoring effect.(2) This seems intuitively true in that a knowledgeable person has access to information with which to judge the plausibility of the anchor.



(1) Judgement Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases: Tversky & Kahneman

(2) A literature review of the anchoring effect

(3) A New Look at Anchoring Effects: Basic Anchoring and Its Anteceents

CIA: Biases in Estimating Probabilities

Anchoring: Wikipedia


Thursday, January 26, 2017

Social Intuitionism

In moral psychology, social intuitionism is a model that proposes that moral positions and judgments are generally first the result of quick, automatic evaluations (intuitions) and that reasoning is a post hoc attempt to justify our intuitions.

Psychologist Jonathon Haidt first introduced the social intuitionist model (SIM) in his paper "The Emotional Dog and its Rational Tail" where he contrasts it against the common rationalist belief that humans make moral judgements as rational decision makers. In other words, rationalist believe that moral judgement is the result of deliberative moral reasoning, much like a judge in a court room listening to and weighing the evidence before reaching a decision.

Essentially, the SIM flips the rationalist view around believing that moral judgements typically come first through our intuitions and moral reasoning follows as a post hoc justification. Haidt believes that this after the fact rationalization is mainly to influence other people.

The model lays out six basic links: 1) intuitive judgment, 2) post hoc reasoning, 3) reasoned persuasion, 4) social persuasion, 5) reasoned judgment and 6) private reflection.




The Social Intuitionist Model 
The SIM proposes that when faced with a moral dilemma a person has an immediate intuitive sense of the rightness or wrongness of the action which is the basis of their judgement. This intuitive judgment (Link 1) appears in consciousness automatically and effortlessly as the result of moral intuitions.

Next, conscious post-hoc reasoning (Link 2) is employed to find justifications for their decision. This reasoning is heavily biased as it searches for explanations and evidence which support the person's judgement and disregards or undervalue evidence which contradicts it. This is generally referred to as 'confirmation bias'.

Reasoned Persuasion (Link 3) is employed to communicate justification for their judgements and as an attempt to persuade others. Though rational reasons may be part of their attempt to convince others, Haidt believes that this link is more about triggering new affectations in the listener. In other words, arguments are really attempts "to frame the issue so as to push an emotional button."

People can also influence and be influenced through social persuasion (Link 4) even when reasons are not given to justify moral positions. The idea is simply that we are influenced by our social groups. "Because people are highly attuned to the emergence of group norms, the model proposes that the mere fact that friends, allies, and acquaintances have made a moral judgment exerts a direct influence on others, even if no reasoned persuasion is used. Such social forces may elicit only outward conformity, but in many cases people’s privately held judgments are directly shaped by the judgments of others "

Although Haidt believes that people rarely change their initial intuitive judgement on moral matters without the influence of other people, he does concede that at times some people can change their minds just from mulling a matter over by themselves.

Reasoned judgment (Link 5) are for those times when people may "reason their way to a judgment by sheer force of logic, overriding their initial intuition. However such reasoning is hypothesized to be rare, occurring primarily in cases in which the initial intuition is weak and processing capacity is high. In cases where the reasoned judgment conflicts with a strong intuitive judgment a person will have a 'dual attitude' in which the reasoned judgment may be expressed verbally, yet the intuitive judgment continues to exist under the surface."

Private reflection (Link 6) accounts for times when, in the course of thinking about a situation, a person spontaneously arrives at a new intuition which overrides the initial intuitive judgement.

Moral Intuitions
The SIM proposes that morality, like language, is a major evolutionary adaptation for an intensely social species, built into multiple regions of the brain and body, which is better described as emergent than as learned, yet which requires input and shaping from a particular culture. Moral intuitions are therefore both innate and enculturated.

Dual Processing
The SIM is similar to other "dual process" theories in that it posits the intuitive process to be an automatic, effortless, default process (system 1) and moral reasoning to be controlled, effortful and slow (system 2).

Moral Dumbfounding
Haidt's evidence in support of the idea that 'intuitions come first, moral reasoning second' comes from studies of "moral dumbfounding" where people have strong moral reactions but fail to provide rational explanations to support their belief. For example, a researcher would ask a question such as:
Julie and Mark are brother and sister. They are traveling together in France on summer vacation from college. One night they are staying alone in a cabin near the beach. They decide that it would be interesting and fun if they tried making love. At the very least it would be a new experience for each of them. Julie was already taking birth control pills, but Mark uses a condom too, just to be safe. They both enjoy making love, but they decide not to do it again. They keep that night as a special secret, which makes them feel even closer to each other. What do you think about that? Was it OK for them to make love?
Most people immediately said it was wrong for the siblings to have sex, yet could not explain why. They searched for reasons such as the harm of inbreeding, or that they will be hurt emotionally but were reminded that they used birth control and that no emotional harm befell them. Eventually, many people would give up looking for reasons and say something like “I don’t know, I can’t explain it, I just know it’s wrong.”



The Emotional Dog and its Rational Tail
Wikipedia: Social Intuitionism
Reason, Society, and the Social Intuitionist Model
Social Intuitionists Answer Six Questions about Moral Psychology
http://www.believermag.com/issues/200508/?read=interview_haidt

Thursday, January 19, 2017

SubTropolis


Sub Tropolis is a 55,000,000 square-foot underground business complex located in Kansas City, Missouri. It currently rents space to 55 local, national and international businesses with more than 1,600 employees working at the facility.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, limestone mining left millions of square feet of caves in Kansas City. After mining slowed down, late Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt converted the caves into industrial space for lease.





Paris Brothers specialty foods


United States Postal Service


LightEdge data center

Behold SubTropolis: The Underground City Located In An Excavated Kansas Mine

Kansas City has a massive network of underground caves that houses over 400 businesses, including a paintball facility and a post office

Doing business 100 feet underground