Archive for June, 2012


Thursday, June 28th, 2012

Summary: The continuing and accelerating loss of jobs in the public sector is a major factor in retarding our country’s economic recovery. President Obama has promoted a rational plan for new stimulus to stem the job losses at the State and local level intended to bring relief to the middle class —and alleviate the misery and hardship of these laid off workers and their families. The Republican members of congress have put up continual roadblocks to prevent implementation of such a plan. IPPA calls for a populist outcry of support for this very necessary stimulus—and direct communications with our representatives demanding passage of enabling legislation.

Private companies have been adding workers for more than two years, but in the public sector work force pink slips are still going out1. Since reaching employment peaks in August of 2008–largely due to the often maligned federal stimulus program–local governments have lost 496,000 jobs and state governments 159,000, through December 2011. 50% of the state losses and 30% of the local one occurred during 2011, indicating that the problem is accelerating2.

With the overall economy slowly expanding, state tax revenues have started to increase and are expected to reach pre-recession levels next year3. Even so governors and legislators are keeping a tight rein on spending, whether to rebuild the state “rainy-day funds” or because of political ideology. The effect of continued layoffs includes a siphoning off of $1.5 billion in spending power. The ill effects of this policy are not just economic. They also affect public service: they decrease local firefighter response; they reduce public safety with police layoffs. Businesses are hindered by losing middle class customers. Construction projects are delayed due to reduction of city inspectors. (more…)

Republican Leninism in America

Wednesday, June 20th, 2012

In January, 2012 IPPA.US posted a brief essay on  “Close-mindedness and Rigid Ideology” in the Republican Party, reflected  in Grover Norquist’s seeking pledges from candidates not to raise taxes;  and if they refused, he would tar and feather them in the eyes of their voters. No discussion on the issues allowed. Similarly, the Republican Susan B. Anthony (SBA) organization follows suit on women’s reproductive issues, blocking all debate on Life/Choice matters by Republican candidates for federal office. Sign the Pro-Life Citizens’ Pledge, or prepare to fear that SBA will publicly smear you! Among other things, the pledge signer must agree “to defund Planned Parenthood.”

This rejection of diversity of perspective illustrates how the Republicans have copied Soviet Leninism, which means once the Party Leaders decide what is right or wrong, no further discussion is permitted, and those who violate the policy will be punished. Now in Michigan, at the state level, this Republican Leninism is manifest again. In the State House, Republican State Representative Mike Shirkey said, “Until we completely eliminate abortions in Michigan and completely defund Planned Parenthood, we have work to do.” Along with other Representatives from his Party, he passed legislation on June 13, 2012, attacking women’s reproductive health. When Democratic State Representatives Lisa Brown and Barb Byrum tried to speak against the relevant bills, the House Speaker, Jase Bolger, using as an excuse a lack of decorum, banned them from speaking on the House floor.

Leninists present a unified force when they attack. And the Republican Leninists have started a War on Women.


Sunday, June 3rd, 2012

From 1954-57 I was a young officer in the U.S. Navy. I loved the Navy and learned a lot that has served me well throughout my life. Even today I experience visceral awe at the sight of a naval ship—a somewhat sacred icon for me. But I learned something else in the Navy: total faith in the Chain-of-Command, from our President and admirals, right down to me, in all matters of national defense policy. That faith was shattered when, beginning around 1968- 1969 I gradually learned (from journalists and some academics), that Presidents and generals lie (in this case about the Vietnam War). I changed my mind about which moral authorities to trust, and changed my political perspective for the rest of my life. More on this experience later. Let’s get on with how IPPA may help with changing your mind.

First, let us get the history out of the way. What is this “mind”? In the West, until the late 1960s, even in psychological circles, the mind was usually divided into three parts: knowing, feeling, and acting (including motives). To change your mind meant reasoning something through and reaching a different conclusion from your previous one. In 1968 the standard Handbook in Social Psychology1 said, “The question arises of how closely the cognitive, affective, and conative components are related. If all three give approximately the same results, one should perhaps apply Ocam’s razor to reduce conceptual baggage.” [p. 56] The use of MRI and other technology in later decades showed that the aspects of the brain where the activities of these components take place are indeed interconnected. Where there is knowing, there is usually emotion, something the early Chinese Confucian texts also affirmed. So changing the mind involves a lot of emotional activity, which influences the knowing or cognitive parts of the brain. This is especially true when it comes to thinking or judging moral or political matters.

In recent years, the terminology has evolved. Following Daniel Kahneman,2  some people now divide the mind into effortless intuitions (including gut emotional responses), and effortful reasoning. In humans, the pupils of the eyes dilate when people exert mental effort. It takes effort to keep in one’s memory a couple of different ideas needing action. Where there are beliefs and considered choices, there is effort. In contrast, our effortless gut reactions owe much to their evolution in emergencies, as ways of quick survival for humans. They are without effort, not under voluntary control.

Jonathan Haidt goes a step further in The Righteous Mind (Pantheon: 2012). He tries to demonstrate that people cannot change their minds, or “moral foundations,” where those terms refer to effortless moral intuitions. It refers to them, because he says that those intuitions rule reason. Beliefs are simply post-hoc justifications or positions to which the gut intuitions have already led us. So now, the content of “mind” is primarily the ruling sentiments/social emotions/ intuitions, and secondarily, cognition. According to Haidt, one could divide people into two political stances based on the relative strength of certain intuitions: Liberals emote positively about Care, Liberty, and Fairness. Conservatives react primarily about Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity. To repeat, most people cannot change their minds in their moral and political judgments, and their reasoning obeys these intuitions.

Is Haidt right? He has plenty of evidence that it is very difficult to use reasoning to try to change the specific moral intuitions that are dominant in anyone. So, I do not think IPPA’s target should be the very conservative right wing. The “change” we can hope for will not come by that group turning into progressives. The target should be the inactive liberals, and IPPA’s strategies should seek to persuade and push its target audience to decide to do something concrete—like vote, talk to neighbors about the issues, write letters, and donate time or money.  We should select tools for persuasion that appeal to emotionally laden values, including the the ones not cited by Haidt, that I identify below.:. Along with my experience at town meetings in the early 2000’s, Jonathan Haidt has led me to be pretty sure that this approach would be most effective.

Let us consider Haidt’s list of moral intuitions: Care/harm, Fairness as proportionality/cheating, Liberty/oppression, Loyalty/betrayal, Authority/ subversion, Sanctity/degradation:

In contrast to his list, I believe there are intuitions shared by many people on both the left and right that he does not even mention. Their presence is important because they may open the door to modifying the sense of disunity between the political left and some who are passive, or even on the moderate right. I was shocked to find that those intuitions that pop first into my mind when I judge something as right or wrong were not also in a prominent place in Haidt’s list. He gives a descriptive account of values/virtues that he and others discovered through experiments. I do not say that his list is inaccurate, just that it is odd not to mention any of the four following intuitions. (more…)