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Archive for June 2009



Religion & the welfare state

The fact that high levels of religion tend to be inversely correlated with per capita government social spending is well known on an international scale. But it doesn’t seem true for American states.

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Saints & Sinners

Normally I would post this at one of my science blogs…but it might be relevant right now in politics. Sinning Saints and Saintly Sinners: The Paradox of Moral Self-Regulation:

The question of why people are motivated to act altruistically has been an important one for centuries, and across various disciplines. Drawing on previous research on moral regulation, we propose a framework suggesting that moral (or immoral) behavior can result from an internal balancing of moral self-worth and the cost inherent in altruistic behavior. In Experiment 1, participants were asked to write a self-relevant story containing words referring to either positive or negative traits. Participants who wrote a story referring to the positive traits donated one fifth as much as those who wrote a story referring to the negative traits. In Experiment 2, we showed that this effect was due specifically to a change in the self-concept. In Experiment 3, we replicated these findings and extended them to cooperative behavior in environmental decision making. We suggest that affirming a moral identity leads people to feel licensed to act immorally. However, when moral identity is threatened, moral behavior is a means to regain some lost self-worth.

ScienceDaily has a summary. Shorter: after strenuous exercise many people are apt to “treat themselves” to less than healthy concoctions….




Not the usual political prayer venue

Mark Sanford occasionally visited a secretive Christian boarding house for politicians  in Washington, reports the Washington Post.   Coincidentally, no doubt, fellow adulterer Nevada Senator John Ensign also lived there with a few other politicians. 

A rival minister now charges that the house was too secretive, and thus perhaps not demanding enough of its residents and visitors.   Is he kidding?  Such avoidance of the public spotlight is a refreshing and admirable change from the usual display of public piety that became one of the Republicans’ most annoying traits during the Bush years (naive foreign adventurism being another, related to the first).   If more politicians showed the religious modesty of attendees at the nick-named “Prayer House,”* Secular Right would be much less exercised.

*Update: Sanford’s likely successor, South Carolina Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, does not follow this model of unobtrusive faith, if his campaign for “I Believe” license plates, tagged by Mickey Kaus, is any indication.




Mark Sanford’s Thought for the Day

“God moves in mysterious ways.”

I would like to think that most people, even Republicans, wallow in sex scandals just for the sheer voyeuristic fun of destroying a politician’s career for no particular reason other than that one can.   For I otherwise don’t believe that there is a close connection between public and private virtue.   New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani was an execrable father and husband but a transformative mayor, who understood as a gut matter some fundamental principles about the public realm and the responsibilities of citizens towards each other.  Not all our Founding Fathers were paragons of fidelity.  Bill Clinton’s ability to nudge the Democratic agenda towards a modest repudiation of the welfare state was untouched by his irrelevant womanizing.  Sanford’s initial stance on the stimulus package was a valuable one,  and it is amusing to see the media left seize on his marital transgressions to discredit it yet again.  

A politician’s sex life has only one public relevance: its unavoidable function as a role model.  I confess that I would be unwilling to vote for a politician who acted as a serial impregnator of women without marrying any of them, not because I believed that such behavior told me anything about his public character , but because he would be further normalizing a civilization-destroying behavior.  There is a big difference between having an extramarital affair and never bothering to marry the mother(s) of your children in the first place–the one at least obeys a crucial norm, however imperfectly, the other destroys it completely. 

Sanford did make his private life a matter of public concern, however, by his self-involved failure to secure the chain of command during his disappearance.


A few years ago Ann Althouse told Bob Wright that there was an easy way to do sex-differences research without being pilloried: make sure that the generalizations work out so that they are flatter women. Over at Feministing, Are Women More Risk-Averse in Investing?:

A 2005 study from the Center for Financial Research at the University of Cologne documented differences between male and female fund managers: Women managers tended to take less extreme risk and to adopt more measured investment styles (which perform well over time). And according to research published in 2002 in the International Journal of Bank Marketing, women tend to make investment-related decisions with a detailed, comprehensive approach, while men are more likely to simplify data and make decisions based on an overall schema.

I always get nervous when scientists or sociologists start making wide-sweeping gender claims, but I’m also not scientifically sophisticated enough to evaluate whether these studies are valid.

Anyone have any thoughts?

Matt Yglesias says don’t worry. Well Matt, you should worry. Reality is often best understood on a case-by-case basis, but no matter how its joints are carved up there are numerous interlocking connections. To be a risk taking egomaniac is in bad odor today for obvious reasons. But do we want everyone in all domains to minimize risk? I doubt it. And I’m sure people can think of domains which are value-added to society where male risking taking is a benefit, and Right Thinking People know that when it comes to Good Things women are always at least as well endowed, if not more, than men, on average.

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The Mark Sanford affair is all over the news right now. Additionally, a newspaper in South Carolina has released the first batch of emails of private correspondence between Sanford and his mistress. How would you like your personal romantic correspondence indexed on Google News? A few years ago I talked to a CEO of a firm which was developing software for corporations that allows for total transparency in the work place. One of the issues that came up was that most people who clock in for 8 hours of work in the office goof-off a fair amount, from the bottom to the top. If a better accounting of real worked hours could be had the argument is that the work day could be shortened so that time wasted at work could be allocated to a wide range of leisure activities. The short of it is that I’m sure that transparency of personal information is going to go much further than we have today. Consider this story of a robbery solved via Google street view.

What does this have to do with politics? From what I am to understand in the past people in power were allowed to project a public persona which was at some variance with their private life. This disjunction has been melting away over the past generation.  If you are going to extol bourgeois probity, it seems likely that you’re going to have to walk the talk. Various sexual scandals involving politicians have indicated to some that their power allows them to satisfy their sexual appetites in a manner which would otherwise not be possible, but in an age of radical transparency this temptation and fringe benefit might be sharply diminished. Or perhaps public norms will shift in terms of what is demanded of their political leaders? The transparent society will effect public figures first, but we’ll all have to deal with it sooner or later.




Why Abortion?

Mr. Hume:   The salience of abortion as a social-conservative issue has at least three components:

(1) As an aspect of the culture of permissiveness that persons of a conservative temperament deplore.  Abortion “travels” by association with promiscuity, homosexuality, pot smoking, and the rest.

(2) Roe v. Wade as a judicial-usurpation issue.

(3) RC metaphysics (with Evangelicals tagging along for the ride) based on the concept of ensoulment.  RC intellectuals throw up big clouds of squid ink here, but the underlying belief is plainly metaphysical.  “God ensouled this creature. Abortion thwarts God’s will.”

Number 2 obviously wasn’t in play until 1973.  Number 3 only really pushed to the front when RC intellectuals got to critical mass among conservative propagandists, which I think was ca. late 1980s. (I don’t have Damon Linker’s book to hand.) Prior to that, number 1 was pretty much it.

I don’t know how things were in the USA, but the abortion debate in Britain in the 1960s, which I followed closely, was all about class.  Middle- and upper-class women could get comfortable abortions with little trouble, everyone knew that.  Poor women couldn’t.  This was unfair.  The counter-view was Nixonian, based on antipathy to “permisiveness.”

The distaste for “permissiveness” in general was not dogmatic or ideological, and conservatives of Nixon’s generation were free to take any legislative position.  Margaret Thatcher, for example, voted pro-choice.

And setting aside racial issues, abortion probably does have a eugenic aspect.  If intelligence is considerably heritable — and the evidence seems to be that it is — and if it’s disproportionately the left-hand side of the bell curve that’s getting abortions — which seems likely — then abortion is eugenic.  That logic seems to account for at least some of the enthusiasm for abortion among the authorities in Communist China, where wellnigh everybody takes eugenic ideas for granted.

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Abortion, the forgotten years….

I’ve mentioned before that in the early-to-mid-1970s abortion did not have the valence on the Right that it does today. It was primarily the Roman Catholic Church which opposed Roe vs. Wade with concerted and strenuous vigor. Though to a large extent conservative Protestant America may have been a bit disquieted, it was not quite outraged. The newest release of the Nixon tapes confirm this. Richard Nixon’s position as a conservative or man of the Right is ambiguous, as quite often his pragmatic or Machiavellian political inclinations swamped out any principles. But I think it is fair to say that Nixon was typical as a moderately conservative white Protestant of his age in his mores and attitudes. I’m a little confused as to the outrage that Nixon thought that interracial conception was grounds for abortion, this was 1973, and according to the General Social Survey in that year ~50% of whites age 50 and over favored laws against interracial marriage. ~30 years later in the same age cohort (now in their late 70s to 80s) the proportion of whites who favor laws against interracial marriage remains ~30%. In any case, the outrage that some liberals feel when one moots the idea of aborting a fetus if they are of a particular racial combination or sex shows that the “rights” and “liberty” based reasoning of the pro-choice movement is often relatively shallow. Abortion is meant to empower women in a positive sense of freedom, a consequentialist rationale, not to reinforce prejudice, discrimination and oppression. Making abortion a right is in fact a form of legislating morality and inculcating values about how women relate to their bodies and society.  Interestingly Nixon’s qualms about abortion were consequentialist. Rather than the sanctity of life he seemed to be elucidating a view that abortion was another instance where the sexual revolution rolled back individual responsibility in favor of license. Instead of murder, it seemed a problem of moral hazard.




Sounds like some Iranians we know

Rabbi Leib Glanz, a leader in New York City’s Hasidic Satmar sect, told a meeting of New York Democrats last year that he saw God’s hand in the elevation of David Paterson to the New York governorship following the fall of Eliot Spitzer.  “God works in mysterious ways,”  he said to the black pols, according to the New York Times.  Either this humble man of God is mistaken (but how could that be?) or God is (but how could THAT be?), because Paterson is suffering from some of the lowest approval ratings in New York history. 

Last year Glanz muscled through a lavish Bar Mitzvah in a New York City jail for the son of an inmate, an ex-fugitive financial fraudster.  Glanz, who was a part-time jail rabbi, regularly arranged for such preferential treatment for Jewish inmates, in contravention of the essential anti-corruption principle that no inmate or group of inmates receive special benefits.  Following the expose of the Bar Mitzvah by the New York Post, Glanz has resigned his jail chaplaincy.  But the preposterously disproportionate influence that the Hasidic Jewish community wields in New York politics continues unabated.



Iran, is it that polarized by class?

Like many people I don’t know that much about what’s going on in Iran besides what I read. An Iranian American friend asked me what I thought would happen…which I think goes to show that we’re all in uncharted waters here. But one of the talking points which regularly emerges are the cleavages in Iranian society along the lines of class. An extreme caricature of a common perception might be that the religious population of South Tehran are typical Middle Easterners in their mores and attitudes, while the fashionable folk of North Tehran, with their nose jobs, would easily fit in to Tehrangeles.

Though I do not doubt that class is a major predictor of political affinity in Iran today, I do think that one should not overstate the differences across Iranian society in terms of social attitudes as a function of class. I say this because my own knowledge of “Iranians” comes through Iranian Americans, so when I first looked at Iran in the World Values Survey I was expecting a large minority of social liberals in a Western sense with anti-religious sentiments. As it happens I didn’t find it, rather, Iran is a moderately conservative Middle Eastern country, with significant, but not stark, differences by class when it comes to views on “hot button” issues.

Instead of making arguments, I’ll offer some numbers. Below are a list of issues from WVS wave 5 (taken in 2005) for Iran. You can see there are differences by class. You can also see that there is a great deal of overlap.

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