Sunday, December 07, 2008

Instinctive influences on morality

I am one of the many who believe that we all have inborn moral responses. So when people say that something is "just wrong" they are not really being incoherent but are being guided by strongly felt moral instincts in themselves. I set out my thoughts on the matter at more length here.

A recent piece of research rather strongly supports that view. The research was based on the responses of a small group of (mainly) young women attending a minor British university so we must not get too excited about its generalizability but it may be a straw in the wind nonetheless. Below is one summary of it:
"A new study has found that people are more likely to be lenient in making decisions if they have just washed their hands. British scientists who carried out the research said the findings suggest that jurors in criminal trials who have cleansed their hands may make their verdict less severe. And voters may be more likely to excuse a politician's misdemeanours when going to the ballot box if they have just had a shower.

In the study, 22 people who had washed their hands, and 22 who had not, were made to watch a disgusting three-minute clip of heroin addicts from the hit film Trainspotting. All 44 were then asked to rate how morally wrong they deemed the series of acts shown to them on a scale of one to nine, with one being acceptable and seven being very wrong. The actions included stealing money from a wallet, lying on a job application, cooking and eating the family dog, killing a dying plane crash survivor to avoid starvation, and abusing a kitten. All said they thought the actions were 'wrong'. However, the participants who had washed their hands were less likely to judge the actions as harshly as the group who had not.

In another experiment, a group was asked to read sentences with words such as 'purity' and 'cleanliness' before being posed the same moral dilemmas. Another group was given sentences with neutral words. Again, the 'clean' group judged the unethical behaviour less harshly.

Lead researcher Dr Simone Schnall, a psychologist at the University of Plymouth, said: "We like to think we arrive at decisions because we deliberate, but incidental things can influence us. "This could have implications when voting and when juries make up their minds." Lancaster University psychologist Professor Carey Cooper described the findings as "terrifying". He said: "It suggests that washing can make us more prepared to accept wrongdoing. "It is very scary when you think of the implications, especially in the judicial world."

The original report of the research is here.

So judgments of right and wrong are simply not rational. They are instinctive. I think conservatives will be a lot more comfortable with that than Leftists are. Leftist don't think ANYTHING (except homosexuality) is instinctive.

One should note however that the setting of the research was deliberately designed to draw out instinctive responses. People on a jury (for instance) may be less influenced by irrelevancies. Nonetheless it has long been known in psychological research that incidental factors can influence research results. This is merely the latest instance of it.

The original research article gives some interesting and plausible theoretical background to what they found.

If I were being devil's advocate, I would say that the results show that middle-class young women in Britain have been taught to associate cleanliness with virtue and to associate virtue with mercy so the old "more research is needed" applies here too. Would you get the same results with Lebanese? Maybe not.


McCain Couldn't Compete With Obama's Money

America affirms Chicago's Golden Rule


If money talks, we'll likely soon hear the real reason why Barack Obama beat John McCain. Both men and the national parties will report to the Federal Election Commission today how much money they raised in October and November. And what the numbers will probably show is that Mr. Obama outspent Mr. McCain by the biggest margin in history, perhaps a quarter of a billion dollars.

On May 31, as the general election began in earnest, the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee had a combined $47 million in cash, while the McCain campaign and the Republican National Committee had a combined $85 million.

Between then and Oct. 15, the Obama/DNC juggernaut raised $658.7 million. I estimate today's reports will show Mr. Obama, the DNC and two other Obama fund-raising vehicles raised an additional $120 million to $140 million in October and November, giving them a total of between $827 million and $847 million in funds for the general election.

Mr. McCain and the RNC spent $550 million in the general election, including the $84 million in public financing Mr. McCain accepted in exchange for his campaign not raising money after the GOP convention.

How did Mr. Obama use his massive spending advantage? He buried Mr. McCain on TV. Nielsen, the audience measurement firm, reports that between June and Election Day, Mr. Obama had a 3-to-2 advantage over Mr. McCain on network TV buys. And Mr. Obama's edge was likely larger on local cable TV, which Nielsen doesn't monitor. A state-by-state analysis confirms the Obama advantage. Mr. Obama outspent Mr. McCain in Indiana nearly 7 to 1, in Virginia by more than 4 to 1, in Ohio by almost 2 to 1 and in North Carolina by nearly 3 to 2. Mr. Obama carried all four states.

Mr. Obama also used his money to outmuscle Mr. McCain on the ground, with more staff, headquarters, mail and a larger get-out-the-vote effort. In mid-September the Obama campaign said its budget for Florida was $39 million. The actual number was probably larger. But in any case, Mr. McCain spent a mere $13.1 million in the state. Mr. Obama won Florida by 2.81 percentage points.

Mr. McCain was outspent by wide margins in every battleground state. But it would have been worse for him if RNC Chairman Mike Duncan and Finance Chairman Elliott Broidy hadn't stockpiled funds in 2007 and early 2008. The RNC provided nearly half the funds for the GOP's combined general-election campaign, while the DNC provided less than a tenth of the funds that benefited Mr. Obama.

To diminish criticism, Mr. Obama's campaign spun the storyline that he was being bankrolled by small donors. Michael Malbin, executive director of the Campaign Finance Institute, calls that a "myth." CFI found that Mr. Obama raised money the old fashioned way -- 74% of his funds came from large donors (those who donated more than $200) and nearly half from people who gave $1,000 or more. But that's not the entire story. It's been reported that the Obama campaign accepted donations from untraceable, pre-paid debit cards used by Daffy Duck, Bart Simpson, Family Guy, King Kong and other questionable characters. If the FEC follows up with a report on this, it should make for interesting reading.

Mr. Obama's victory marks the death of the campaign finance system. When it was created after Watergate in 1974, the campaign finance system had two goals: reduce the influence of money in politics and level the playing field for candidates. This year it failed at both. tells us a record $2.4 billion was spent on this presidential election. And with Mr. Obama's wide financial advantage, it's clear that money is playing a bigger role than ever and candidates are not competing on equal footing. Ironically, the victim of this broken system is one of its principal architects -- Mr. McCain. He helped craft the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform along with Sen. Russ Feingold in 2002.

No presidential candidate will ever take public financing in the general election again and risk being outspent as badly as Mr. McCain was this year. And even liberals, who have long denied that money is political speech that should be protected by First Amendment, may now be forced to admit that their donations to Mr. Obama were a form of political expression.

It is time to trust the American people and remove limits on how much an individual can donate to a campaign. By doing that, we can design a system that will be much more open by requiring candidates to frequently report donations in an online database. Technology makes this possible. Such a system would be easier for journalists to use and would therefore make it more likely that fund raising would be included in news coverage. That would give voters the tools they need to determine if a candidate is getting too much from unattractive people.

Rather than showing the success of a new style of post-partisan politics, Mr. Obama's victory may show the enduring truth of the old Chicago Golden Rule: He who has the gold rules.




Palin Derangement Syndrome: "Did you know that Sarah Palin-haters are still trying to prove she didn't give birth to her youngest son, Trig? These tinfoil hat-wearers are as obnoxious and unhinged as the 9/11 Truth cultists who insist that America engineered the jihadi attacks on itself. The presidential campaign may be over, but there's no expiration date on Palin Derangement Syndrome."

He should have fried long ago: "Ex-US football star OJ Simpson has been jailed for up to 33 years for the kidnap and armed robbery of two sports memorabilia dealers in Las Vegas. Describing Simpson as arrogant and ignorant, Judge Jackie Glass said the evidence against him was overwhelming. He and an accomplice, Clarence Stewart, were convicted on 12 counts in October. Simpson, who could be eligible for parole in nine years, made an emotional plea at the Las Vegas court sentencing, saying he was "sorry" and "confused".

The Cleanest State Meets the Pushiest Person : "Until now, Minnesota was always famous for its clean elections. Indeed, Democratic consultant Bob Beckel recently attested to the honesty of Minnesota's elections, joking: "Believe me. I've tried. I've tried every way around the system out there, and it doesn't work." But that was before Minnesota encountered the pushiest, most aggressive, most unscrupulous person who has ever sought public office, Al Franken. On Election Day, Franken lost the U.S. Senate race in Minnesota to the Republican incumbent Sen. Norm Coleman by 725 votes. But over the next week, Democratic counties keep discovering new votes for Franken and subtracting votes from Coleman, claiming to be correcting "typos." In all, Franken picked up 459 votes and Coleman lost 60 votes from these alleged "corrections."


List of backup or "mirror" sites here or here -- for readers in China or for everyone when blogspot is "down" or failing to update. Email me here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here or here or here


The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)


No comments: