Saturday, June 30, 2018

Matthew Blackwell reviews Haidt, Sowell and Pinker in examining left-wing combativeness in Quilette article

Matthew Blackwell has a booklet-length article from March 2018 on Quillette, “The Psychology of Progressive Hostility”, link here

Blackwell covers the combativeness of the Left in academia, and the tendency of some “Progressives” to label people with conservative counter-speech as enemies who must be kept at bay.  He notes that economists and mathematicians tend to become conservative (at least in fiscal issues, though not on social issues) or somewhat libertarian, leaving teaching college, from softer social sciences, to the classical Leftists.

There is also a division in whether people should be viewed first as individuals, or as members of groups, possibly intersected. Conservatives tend to use reason more and respond to emotion less.  Conservatism, of the kind Andrew Sullivan espouses, for example, looks at the world as complex, needing pragmatic, well though out and analyzed solutions to issues like health care and immigration. Ultra-progressives demand utopia immediately, which does not exist.

Progressives may feel daunted by conservative obliviousness to some emotion.  For example, James Damore's Google article angered many people yet the article says nothing personally offensive when read closely; it does challenge some superficial beliefs on what equality should mean. Damore, who says "I see things differently" and says he is mildly autistic (Asperger) simply presents the research and the logical implications of what he finds, without regard to how people will react. The same could be said about Milo Yiannopoulos's book "Dangerous" when read carefully (and separated from the emotions). 
Progressives are also more dependent on the mechanics of conventional activism, which demands aggressive recruiting, loyalty and solidarity.  When a large number of libertarian-leaning conservatives become conspicuous writing and acting alone, it is much harder to organize a base.  But the aggregation of content by social media according to the consumer may make individualized writing less effective than it used to be, and therefore less of a distraction for activists.

Blackwell mentions and briefly reviews three books:

Jonathan Haidt: “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion” (2013, Vintage).

Thomas Sowell: “A Conflict of Visions” (2017, Basic).
Steven Pinker: “The Blank Slate” (2003, Penguin).

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Edit Sheffer's "Asperger's Children": Nazi ideas about socialization

I wanted to note a shocking book review in the New York Times review, Sunday, June 24, 2018, p. 12, “A Deadly Spectrum” A history of autism rooted in Nazi Germany and its program of child euthanasia”, or more startling online, “Was autism a Nazi invention?” 

The book is “Asperger’s Children: The Origin of Autism in Nazi Vienna”, by Edith Sheffer, from W.W. Norton and Company.

The work as based in part on a German psychiatrist, Lorna Wing, after Asperger’s death.  Asperger probably was complicit with Nazi euthanasia of children who showed poor social bonding skills, of lack of “Gemut, the ability to form deep (social) bonds with other people”, for the sake of the Volk – populism indeed.

Today, Asperger’s is rolled into the autism spectrum disorder – and yet people with it sometimes are very brilliant and make great contributions to science.
Michael Burry, a former doctor, may be an example.  Not liking to follow the crowd, he founded a hedge fund that anticipated the flaws in the system that brought about the “Black Swan” of the 2008 financial crisis.  People with this sort of disposition often see dangers to the “crowd” before others do, part of the whole “skin in the game” issue.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Prison author Stephen Reid dies, after the "Oceans 11" jobs early in his life, before jail

Ian Austen has an obituary of author Stephen Reid in the New York Times.  

What’s noteworthy is that Reid became an established author while an inmate in prison. Two of his books on Amazon are “A Crowbar in the Buddhist Garden: Writing from Prison” (from Thistledown, 2003) and “Jackrabbit Parole” (Quality Paperback, 1986).

The author was born in Ontario and his “smash and grab jobs” were usually or always without real weapons.

This is not a topic that I would have embraced before, personally speaking.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Children's books and "radicalism"

Here’s a curious piece by Annie Holmquist on Intellectual Takeout, “Are modern children’s books training ‘little radicals’?”

Children’s books today seem to be pushing particularly group-centered social justice, especially with respect to gender identity and gender roles. 
But children may not learn how to examine changing values productively until they have grown up with some stability and consistency in what they are taught – more from established classics. 
It’s well to bear this in mind while we await the availability of David Hogg’s “Never Again” (next week, I think).  We admire Hogg’s intensity even if we disagree with specifics and tilt of some of his ideas; but no one could group up to lead a movement like this at 18 without a stable home foundation first.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Two more books to review, on gays in the military and on gender

Two more books got onto my reading list for more detailed reviews soon.

One is Lee Klein’s self-published “Two Journeys to One Wondrous Life”, from iUniverse (2018). The author was born in 1924 and provides an early example of a covert gay man in the military, long before “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (and its 2011 repeal). He served in military intelligence as an enlisted man during WWII and then as an aircraft carrier pilot in the Korean and Vietnam wars.

The other is a big 2017 update of a 2005 book “Why Gender Matters”, by Loenard Sax, MD, from Harmony books.

I browsed through his chapter on sexual orientation. He does subscribe to the theory that male homosexuality is often related to epigenetics in latter born sons of a family, and sees it as biologically “normal”.  He does not see transgenderism as medically “normal”, however.  He also gets into whether “sissy” boys are more like to be homosexual, and vice versa, and the answer is, sometimes, but not always. A large segment of the gay male population, probably a majority of it, is still very “cis” and fully competitive physically with heterosexual men.  But a certain population of gay men try to look like women to attract straight me, he thinks; and transgender claims often disappear as girls grow up.  But he does take on the unusual “Lady Valor” life histories.

This is going to be interesting.

Monday, June 11, 2018

More on consciousness: individual v cosmic

On p 60 of the June 2018 issue of Scientific American, there is a detailed article “What Is Consciousness?: by Chrisitof Koch;  it can be compared to similar articles reported here at the end of Oct. 2017 (also work of Koch).

One theory, called GNW, presumes a system becomes conscious when a “blackboard” of information is broadcast to an appropriate larger network.

But the Integrated Information Theory, or IIT, makes more sense to me.  A non-countable set of information, like an aesthetic experience, requires consciousness to contain it;  if the container is sufficiently sophisticated, the container becomes aware of the information and of itself.

Putting this together with earlier articles, it sounds as though individual awareness for higher animals is marked off by a kind of “event horizon”, where consciousness is regarded as a basic component of the Universe comparable to gravity. But with most living things (plants, colony animals, slime molds, even social insects), the group consciousness (or hive) is more pertinent than any individual’s.   It would sound as though religious or spiritual practices involving selflessness, at odds with normal workplace values, would enable moving the locus of awareness to some sort of medium that could survive an individual’s physical death.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

"The Science of Alzheimer's" from Time

Time Magazine has published a supermarket coffee table paperback “The Science of Alzheimer’s: What It Is, How It Touches Us, Hope”.  18 chapters divided into the three sections named, 96 pages.

There are many writers. Jeffrey Kluger writes the introduction and appears to be the lead writer.
The introduction calls it “The disease that steals the self.”
There is a chapter on early-onset Alzheimer’s.  On p. 20, there is a list of various other diseases that mimic Alzheimer’s.  There are odd sounding entities like “Lewy bodies”. 

The book covers the genetics angle, as well as many varied treatments that may delay symptoms.

The book covers the lives of some celebrities who had the disease, including, surprisingly, Rosa Parks.

The work also covers the exploding cost of care, which falls on families as nursing home custodial care is not normally covered by Medicare.  Much of the problem, however, comes from increased life spans, as people who would have died of other infirmities live long enough to get Alzheimer’s.  The disease affects women more often since women live longer.

On p. 44 there is an sidebar, “These lifestyle changes may help protect the brain as you age.”  Besides diet and exercise, there is the issue of enough sleep, and especially “be social”.  More social contact tends to preserve cognition – although that may be true of real introverts.

On p. 62 there is a paragraph “Why being single is less of an Alzheimer’s risk than it used to be”, down from 42% to 24% (for never marrieds).  That may be partly because for a minority of people, being single and involved with self-driven work actually preserves intellectual function very well, and there is more social support for less conventional lifestyles (including gay).
There is a lot of discussion of the science of amyloids, or tau proteins, and of how neural networks actually function in a manner analogous to Twitter.