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Explorations Outside

Psychologizing as a Way to Invalidate Other Points of View

Psychology is implicated in everything humans do, think and feel - as in all humans…. But “psychology” is not independent of reality. Things are rarely “in our heads” or “in the world”. Pointing out that a belief serves a psychological need (a “use-value”) says nothing about whether that belief is correct (it’s “truth-value”).

What is Power and Why Does It Feel So Good?

Being at the mercy of another person means feeling one cannot get away from them, because they have something one wants badly and that something is not readily available elsewhere.

Motivating Constructive Behavior: A Matter of Payoff, Markers of Progress, Doability, Consequences, and Less Attractive Alternatives

The program was funded by the city of Chester and had previously been managed by a local non-profit - rather poorly it would seem, given its dismal job placement and dropout rates. My employer - Associates for Research in Behavior - took over the city’s contract with the promise of improving outcomes by applying the principles of motivation to the business of training adult students. The main principles were: …

Connecting the "Is" of Human Nature to the "Ought" of Politics

“With the abolition of private property, then, we shall have true, beautiful, healthy Individualism. Nobody will waste his life in accumulating things, and the symbols for things. ... Individualism will also be unselfish and unaffected.” Oscar Wilde, The Soul of Man under Socialism …“…conservatives are chastened by their principle of imperfectibility. Human nature suffers irremediably from certain grave faults, the conservatives know. Man being imperfect, no perfect social order ever can be created. To seek for utopia is to end in disaster, the conservative says: we are not made for perfect things. All that we reasonably can expect is a tolerable ordered, just, and free society, in which some evils, maladjustments, and suffering will continue to lurk. By proper attention to prudent reform, we may preserve and improve this tolerable order.” Russell Kirk, Ten Conservative Principles

Is Moral Indignation a Necessary Emotion?

Of course, some people need to be punished as a way to deter further bad behavior and protect the rest of us. We can still savor the satisfaction of someone getting their “just desserts” without elevating what is essentially a vindictive emotion to a moral principle.

Reconciling the Politics of Responsibility and the Politics of Conviction

As an imaginary politician, I care deeply about the environment, affordable housing, universal healthcare, maintaining a robust economy, the value of work, and the “American Project”: the idea of unity in diversity as we work together for the common good. Then I chill the passion to develop specific policy goals and proposals. And I make sure my proposed policies do not become an end in themselves but are easily scaled back, revised or reversed if they don’t work.

With Liberty, Justice, and More Disposable Income for All

In 1960, food, clothing, housing, healthcare, and transportation accounted for 86% of household spending. That left just 14% for everything else. In 2017, food, clothing, housing, and healthcare accounted for 73% of household spending… Progress has been made.

Neither Right Nor Left Nor In-Between: Thinking Outside The Line

There is no natural connection between being pro-business and anti-environment. Nor natural connection between embracing gender fluidity and advocating for a more generous social welfare system. Nor between being a fiscal conservative and an evangelical Christian. These political orientations are correlated in the US, not because they “naturally” go together but because the American system of government favors a two-party system, which is turn favors broad coalitions. This is not the case in European countries with strong multi-party traditions, where you find much greater mixing of political views than in the US.

Language and Power: The Case of "Himpathy"

…Kate Manne introduces the word “himpathy” to describe “the inappropriate and disproportionate sympathy powerful men often enjoy in cases of sexual assault, intimate partner violence, homicide and other misogynistic behavior.”

The Feeder Streams of Happiness

The feeder streams of happiness include:

  • Sense of control: you can actually change a situation

  • Sense of purpose: there are things you want to achieve

Personal Initiative and Happiness

Personal initiative is a proactive and goal-oriented mindset, characterized by long-term focus and persistence in the face of obstacles and setbacks.  Such a mindset is action-oriented, planful, and anticipatory: quickly turning goals into actions - with back-up plans ready just in case.

The Power To Leave Empowers

Having more power makes it easier to lie, cheat, steal, inflict pain, or otherwise engage in bad behavior. …Having less power means being at the mercy of someone more powerful. …Being at the mercy of another person means feeling one cannot get away from them, because they have something one wants badly and that something is not readily available elsewhere.

The Dark Side of Empathy

Empathy is also associated with ingroup bias and outgroup antagonism. One is more likely to feel the joys and sorrows of some people more than others, especially if they’re the same ethnicity.

Moral Outrage and Governing Wisely

Moral outrage makes ends absolute: This must stop! That must happen! No ifs, ands, or buts…. Governing wisely is about setting priorities, a process that assumes scarcity: the principle that valued ends require scarce resources with alternative uses.

Designing a Society for Human Flourishing: A Framework

In its original Founding-Father sense, happiness was akin to felicity, a kind of well-being that comes from living a purposeful and productive life.  Today we would call that sense of well-being flourishing. …So what does a government need to do to create conditions conducive to flourishing?  Put differently, what does a government need to do to increase the sense of control and self-efficacy of its citizens, allowing them to pursue purposeful and productive lives?

Free Will and Decision-Making Machines

It’s hard to wrap one’s head around the idea of being a machine with free will. It would be easier if we expanded our understanding of machine and shrank our notion of free will.

How Would a Doctor Treat Climate Change?

Some in the medical community take a “wait and see” approach to the disease of climate change. They’re aware of computer models predicting a dangerous worsening of the patient’s condition but note that other models are not nearly so gloomy. These doctors point out that most treatments carry their own risks, so it’s best just to monitor the patient closely for the time being…However, most in the medical community acknowledge the patient will probably get worse without some sort of intervention. But many physicians aren’t convinced the prognosis is dire without aggressive treatment and so opt for a conservative approach to managing the patient’s condition. …Yet other doctors are convinced that without aggressive measures this climate change disease will inevitably progress to painful debilitation and possible death.