The Human Element

A June 26th article in Scientific American titled “The Political Brain” suggests that all people in all fields of endeavor, when making decisions, should emulate the scientific method.

The scientific method, as it appears it would have to apply to non-scientific endeavors, simply means that before making a decision on things like which business policies to adopt, which side of a social or political issue to support or even which candidate for office to choose, only facts should be considered; emotions or preconceived notions should be ignored and, most importantly, all personal biases should be removed from the decision making process.

Making a well informed, unbiased, unemotional decision appears to be the perfect way to make a decision but is this possible . . . or even desirable?

The article describes a scientific test that took place before the 2004 Presidential elections:

“During the run-up to the 2004 presidential election, while undergoing an fMRI bran scan, 30 men–half self-described as “strong” Republicans and half as “strong” Democrats–were tasked with assessing statements by both George W. Bush and John Kerry in which the candidates clearly contradicted themselves. Not surprisingly, in their assessments Republican subjects were as critical of Kerry as Democratic subjects were of Bush, yet both let their own candidate off the hook.”

Why did the Republicans find justification for Bush’s self-contradictions and the Democrats for Kerry’s? Its because of how the brain works when it runs into a decision. In less scientific terms than the original article used: the brain scan results showed that the part of the brain that is most associated with analyzing information was not even used but the parts of the brain that fuel the emotions, resolve conflicts and make moral decisions were very active.

The bottom line is: most decisions are made based on emotion and existing beliefs — not on facts. The article’s author calls this “confirmation bias” and describes it as our ability to “. . . seek and find confirmatory evidence in support of already existing beliefs and ignore or reinterpret disconfirmatory evidence.”

Call me crazy but . . .

. . . I have this Pollyanna side of me that realizes that it may be an irrational hope, but I none-the-less maintain a hope that someday all of us human animals will evolve. Evolve into “ideal humans” who consistantly make rational, well-informed, unbiased decisions while, at the same time, applying societal rules and norms (what religious types would call morals) to the equation.

Why apply societal rules and norms to perfect logic and reason? Because science is cold, hard and unemotional and, in the human arena, we call that ‘sociopathic.’



Government vs. Science . . .

. . . is the title of a press release from the Ayn Rand Institute and, as usual, their point-of-view is right on. The press release criticizes the President’s veto of the embryonic stem cell research bill passed by Congress. Following is the “money quote” from that press release:

"The government should get out of the business of funding science. But so long as it is involved, it must scrupulously respect the separation of Church and State. Its funding decisions must be made on rationally demonstrable, not faith-based, grounds. Bush's veto clearly violates this principle."
Two points: Why should the government get out of the business of funding science? Because their funding (or should i say OUR funding -- since we are paying the bill)dilutes scientific research and makes scientists answerable to politicians. Aside from the ridiculous concept of putting lawyers in charge of scientific progress, you're putting people in charge who's decisions will be tainted by a never-ending quest for votes, not the never-ending quest for knowledge. Before anyone 'reminds me' that the phrase "separation of church and state" appears nowhere in the Constitution; I know that! But the Constitution clearly forbids the government from "establishing" a national religion and Bush's veto of legislation on "moral grounds" (his words) speaks loudly for itself and states, in no uncertain terms, that the President is governing as a religious leader, not as a secular head-of-state. President Bush's personal religious beliefs are, obviously, steering the 'ship of state.'



Patriotic Nuance

Independence Day was two weeks ago yesterday . . . did anyone notice? As usual there were fireworks and speeches . . . the President’s speech was, also as usual, a ‘bland’ speech with no fire, no emotion and, most of all, with only a nuance of good old-fashioned patriotism. If I had heard even one fiery, flag-waving, Rah Rah America speech, July 4th might have been more memorable.

It may be the perspective!

A person who moves here to the United States from some other country has perspective and has the ability to contrast and compare the United States with the ‘other place’. I, on the other hand, am a third-generation American so there is no ‘other place’ for me — no basis of first-hand comparison. I don’t even have stories of my parents or grandparents ‘getting off the boat’ at Ellis Island. They, as far as I know, never left American soil.

While in the Navy, I visited many other countries, mostly Asian countries, and was, without exception, happy to return to America. It wasn’t that these countries repulsed me in any way it was just a feeling of discomfort I get when I’m ‘out of my element’ without the requirement for me to stay there for a prolonged period.

So, aside from the ‘comfort’ factor and the ‘perspective’ problem am I proud to be an American and do I love my country?

A resounding YES to both questions but pride and love are emotional issues and I find it hard to intellectualize them. You might say my response to hearing the Star Spangled Banner or watching a military parade and having the flag fly by is an almost Pavlovian reflex of patriotism. Or, you might say my security blanket is red, white and blue with a field of white stars.

Escaping from the emotional; intellectually, I do know that there is no better country on this planet; no other country with our level of freedom and opportunity. I also know how fortunate I am to have been born and raised in this great country. Think about it! A mere quirk of fate could have had me (or you) leading the hard-scrabble life of a farmer in a third-world country or a blind beggar on the streets of Calcutta.

One other thing: I know I would, without hesitation, take up arms and lay down my life for America, whenever and wherever I was needed.

Perhaps that will suffice as patriotism!



Equality and Freedom: Daily Challenges

Reading this article at
All Headline News
just reinforces my distaste for the current Republican Majority. The catch is, I used to consider myself more Republican than Democrat; now I cling to the title Independent.

What GOP leaders, according to this article, are calling their “American values agenda,” is very scary stuff.

What’s so scary about marriage being between a man and a woman? Nothing at all! What IS scary is the fact that the Bush Administration has elevated the question of who can and can’t be legally married into a National Agenda leading toward a proposed Constitutional Amendment. From my perspective that’s something to be VERY worried about (even if, as some say, this is just election year rhetoric).

I have nothing personally invested in the issue of who can or can’t get married but I have a whole lot invested in the two primary concepts that make this country so very different from dictatorships and theocracies: equality and freedom.

I view this “American Values Agenda” as a large step away from equality and freedom and a large step toward a theocracy. Go ahead and call me a reactionary if you will but take a step back and ask yourself where this is all going.

Yes, Christians are, or so the media tells us, the majority in America but Christiam dogma and Christian morality, as beneficial as they are in church and in the ‘community,’ really have no place in the Constitution. Beyond that, I firmly believe that the government, at any level, has no business regulating marriage or personal relationships of any kind.

Take equality and freedom away from any group and you’ve changed the basic structure of America — no one says that is what they want to do but yet every day it seems that is exactly what’s happening; every day we seem to loose a little more freedom and equality to extremeists (extremists on the Right AND on the Left).

No answers here . . . just questions and concerns.

Irrationality deserves no respect!



Economist’s Immigration Debate: Missing The Point

In last Sunday’s (7/9/06) NYT Magazine, Roger Lowenstein has a piece titled The Immigration Equation. In it, he begins by discussing the two different economic theories that are being debated in regard to immigration — specifically “poorly educated” immigrants and, even more specifically, Mexicans.

One theory, espoused by George Borjas, a professor at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, holds that “immigrants hurt the economic prospects of the Americans they compete with.” The other theory is, simply stated. “on balance, immigration is good for the country.”

So far, so good! It’s a factual discussion of the impact of immigration on the economy . . . but then Lowenstein, in true New York Times fashion, twists the issue when he relates Borjas’ theory to the debate in Washington.

“It lies,” he states, “at the heart of a national debate, which has been encapsulated (if not articulated) by two very different immigration bills: one, passed by the House of Representatives, which would toughen laws against undocumented workers and probably force many of them to leave the country; and one in the Senate, a measure that would let most of them stay.”

Yes he casually mentions that the debate in Washington is over “undocumented” workers but he glosses right over that inconvenient fact . . . that inconvenient fact that IS the topic of debate.

Most Americans have no problem if economists and politicians reach a rational decision over how many immigrants from each nation the United States should allow into the country; what ‘bites my butt’ and the butts of most Americans, is that our government has allowed this country to be overrun by millions of ILLEGAL immigrants. That, Mr. Lowenstein is what is at the heart of the national debate. It’s UNCONTROLLED immigration that has caused the problem not immigration numbers.



Religion, Culture and Nationalism vs. Logical Thought and Rational Action

I guess it makes perfect sense to people in some parts of the world (from the BBC link in the title):

“Greengrocer Azhar Nazir, 30, and his cousin Imran Mohammed, 17, stabbed Samaira Nazir 18 times at the family home in Southall in April 2005.

“The 25-year-old recruitment consultant was killed after she asked to marry an Afghan man – instead of marrying someone in the Pakistani family circle.”

(This pair of nuts have just been sentenced to life in prison — if they were back in Pakistan they would probably have been given a parade.)

In my mind, this type of behavior is simply the insanity that is brought about by putting religion, culture (in this case “family honor”) and, to some extent, nationalism ahead of rational thought. This insanity happens, in one form or another, in all religions and all cultures but some of the followers of Islam seem to have perfected the insanity to the level of an art form. These extremists apparently (or should I say ‘obviously’) care nothing about human life when it conflicts with their religion and/or culture.

Religion, culture, and to some extent nationalism, when you think about it, are all pretty much the same mental disorders; each one sets up an artificial standard that displaces logic and reason.

I have reason to believe, in fact, that the majority of people in the world are, to some degree, under the influence of at least one of these mental disorders and , to illustrate my point, I will freely admit that I am affected by one (and fortunately only one) of the three, the mental disorder called nationalism. Here are my symptoms: I truly believe that my country, in spite of it’s faults, is the absolute best in the world; I would never, ever consider leaving it (if I had any choice in the matter) and I get monumentally upset when our government moves in what I perceive to be the wrong direction for the national good.

Irrational and illogical? Probably so, but my mental disorder makes it all seem so normal.

Uncommitted Moslems At Risk


(From WCHS6.com)

Brent Matthews, a resident of Lewiston, Maine says it was “just a joke” when he rolled a frozen pig’s head into a Moslem Mosque during their prayer service.

Lewiston city officials, of course, weren’t laughing when they slapped the cuffs on him and the 200 or so “political and religious leaders from across southern and central Maine” weren’t laughing at their rally Wednesday (7/11/06) to show support for the “city’s muslim immigrant community.”

To be honest, I couldn’t help laughing when I read the story! Not, of course, because I think it’s funny to disrupt a worship service but just because of that mental image — it was kind of a Monty Python moment.

In all seriousness however, this type of thing is probably something we’ll be seeing (and reading) more and more. It’s perfectly understandable that Americans are upset with the sub-human Muslim radicals they read about every day in the papers and see on the tube — but they have no outlet for all that pent-up hostility so they take it out on Moslims in general. It’s not acceptable, you understand, but understandable.

Now if more American Moslems would commit themselves: start getting vocal and active and start letting their communities know in no uncertain terms that they absolutely do not approve of the behavior of those who practice the radical versions of Islam and beyond that that they condemn that behavior — they would have a lot less to worry about as far as American backlash is concerned.

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