Posts Tagged ‘Constitution’

Irreligious

April 17, 2019

The title of this post is the same as the fifth chapter in iGEN: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood, by Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D. The remainder of the title is “Losing My Religion (and Spirituality).

In the early 1980s, more than 90% of high school seniors identified as part of one religious group or another. Only one out of ten chose “none” for religious affiliation. Beginning in the 1990s and accelerating in the 2000s, fewer and fewer people affiliated with a religion. The shift was largest for young adults, with religiously affiliations dipping to 66% by 2016. So a full third of young adults did not affiliate with any organized religion.

Of course, there is no need to affiliate with a religion to attend religious services. Dr. Twenge writes that attendance at services declined slowly until around 1997 and then began to plummet. In 2015, 22% of 12th graders said they “never” attended religious services. This is a pretty low bar; going to a service even once a year would still count as going. She continues, “iGen’ers and the Millennials are less religious than Boomers and GenX’ers were at the same age. The recent data on Millennials, who are now in their family-building years, indicate that they’re less likely to attend services than Boomers and GenX’ers were at that age, in fact, the decline in attending religious services for this group in their prime family-building years indicates that they are less likely to attend services than Boomers and GenX’ers were at that age. In fact, the decline in attending religious services for this group in their prime family-building years has been just as steep as that for young adults ages 18 to 24. Millennials have not been returning to religious institutions during their twenties and thirties, making it unlikely that iGen’ers will, either.”

“For twenty years, headlines and academic articles declared that yes, fewer Americans affiliated with a religion, but just as many were praying and just as many believed in God. Americans weren’t less religious, they said, just less likely to practice religion publicly. That was true for several decades: the percentage of young adults who believed in God changed little between 1989 and 2000. Then it fell of a cliff. By 2016, one out of three 18- 24-year olds said that they did not believe in God. Prayer followed a similar steep downward trajectory. In 2004, 84% of young adults prayed at least sometimes, but by 2016 more than one out of four said they “never” prayed.”

Note that the numbers do not indicate by any means that religions are disappearing. Rather they indicate that religious beliefs have been declining rapidly.

A common narrative about trends in religious belief says that spirituality has replaced religion. In 2001 Robert Fuller published a book titled “Spiritual but Not Religious” arguing that most Americans who eschew organized religion still have deep dynamic spiritual lives. This led the assumption that young people who are distrustful of traditional religion are still willing to explore spiritual questions. Data do not seem to support this narrative. In 2014 to 2016 slightly fewer 18- to 24-year-olds (48%) described themselves as moderately or very spiritual than in 2006 to 2008 (56%).

The reasons iGen-ers are leaving religions is in some part due to anti-science attitudes and anti-gay attitudes. A 2012 survey of 18- to 24-year olds found that most believed that Christianity was antigay (64%), judgmental (62%), and hypocritical (58%). Of course there are Christian churches who are not guilty of these criticisms. Moreover, one can find no basis for these criticisms in the gospels about Jesus. Jesus loved all, was nonviolent and forgiving. So these criticisms are deserved criticisms of too many ostensible Christian churches who are not only promoting grossly incorrect religious beliefs, and who are also trying to impose their beliefs on others through the process of legislation. Given the freedom of religion guaranteed in the Constitution, these churches are not only hypocritical, but also unAmerican. Unfortunately, this glaring hypocrisy is widely ignored.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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THE SOUL OF AMERICA

June 6, 2018

The title of this post is the title of a book by Jon Meecham. The subtitle is “The Battle for our Better Angels.” Given the current state of our country, it is a most timely volume. Meecham writes, “To know what has come before us is to be armed against despair. If the men and women of the past, with all their flaws and limitations and ambitions and appetites, could press on through ignorance and superstition, racism and sexism, selfishness and greed, to create a freer stronger nation, then perhaps we, too, can right wrongs and take another step toward that most enchanting and elusive of destinations: a more perfect union.”

Consider from where we started. Although the Declaration of Independence said that all men are created equal, women could not vote. Slavery existed and these blacks were counted as three-fifths of a human being. So the Constitution gave us a starting point from which we were to advance and develop. It is interesting that the founding fathers decided against a parliamentary system of government in which the parliament would choose the executive for the country. Instead, they decided upon a government with three branches: Executive, Legislative, and Judicial, that were supposed to be independent and to serve as checks and balances on each other. During Watergate this system worked well. Republicans in the legislative branch had no problem holding the Republican president’s feet to the fire for wrongdoing, so he resigned rather than face impeachment.

Unfortunately today Republicans in the legislative branch are waging war against the Judicial Branch to discredit its investigation of the president. The reason they are trying to discredit this investigation is that it appears serious crimes against the American people have been committed by the president. Were the president innocent, the obvious course would be to assist the judicial branch. What is especially discrediting to these attacks is that outstanding Republicans are leading the investigation. Yet terms such as “witch hunt” are repeatedly heard. Such terms make our country sound like some African dictatorship. If the investigation is ended by Trump, it is quite possible that Trump would declare himself, as the leaders he clearly admires, Putin and Xi, effectively did, dictator for life.

Consider Reagan’s City on the Hill speech during his Farewell Address:

“But in my mind it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it, and see it still…And she’s still a beacon and a magnet for all who must find freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.”

HM has heard Trump supporters say they are Reagan Republicans. How can this be? Trump is the antithesis of Reagan.

HM found the most inspirational part of the book to be Lyndon B. Johnson managing to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This act was long overdue. Parts of the United States effectively had the apartheid of South Africa. Johnson persisted in convincing enough southerners, against all their lifelong prejudices, that segregation was morally wrong, and put the United States in the same class as South Africa. It took a southerner to be able to convince other southerners of the need for this bill. And it took a super salesman who would not take “no” for an answer, and persisted until he got his way.

But there were repercussions from the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. At the time the southern states were, and had been for a long time, strongly Democratic. Typically Republicans did not even bother to run candidates in these states. So these Democrats eventually (some became Dixiecrats first) became Republicans and took their racism with them to the Republican party. This provided the seeds for Trump’s eventual success.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Law is Medieval

October 25, 2017

This post is based on an article by Oliver Roeder on the FiveThirtyEight website on 17 Oct 2017 titled “The Supreme Court is Allergic to Math.”

In 1897, before he took his seat on the Supreme Court, Oliver Wendell Holmes delivered a famous speech at Boston University, advocating for empiricism over traditionalism: “For the rational study of the law…the man of the future is the man of statistics and the master of economics. It is revolting to have no better reason for a rule of law than that so it was laid down in the time of Henry IV.” HM believes that if Oliver Wendel Holmes were alive today, he would also argue for an understanding of psychology and cognitive science. Much has been learned about how and why we humans perceive, think, and act. Unfortunately there is a poor fit between this knowledge and the law because the law is medieval.

The article notes that this problem was on full display this month, when the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that will determine the future of partisan gerrymandering. The issue here is how to measure a map’s partisan bias and to create a standard for when a gerrymandered map infringes on voters’ rights. A proposed measure is called the efficiency gap. To calculate it, you take the difference between each party’s waster votes for winning candidates beyond what the candidate needed to win—and divide that by the total number of votes case. The aim here is to measure the extent of partisan gerrymandering. Now a threshold needs to be established for deciding when gerrymandering is agreed upon, and that is a reasonable basis for argument. And other metrics can be proposed for measuring gerrymandering. But the only intelligent way of assessing gerrymandering is through a statistic. But apparently, this is too much for some justices mental capacities. HM is asking himself why the term feebleminded was recalled while reading this. This is no esoteric statistical technique. And, indeed, statistical measures provide the only supportable means of addressing this problem. Chief Justice John Roberts dismissed attempts to quantify partisan gerrymandering: “It may be simply my educational background, but I can only describe i as sociological gobbledygook.” To be fair to Chief Justice Roberts, the fault may well lie in the educational system. Previous healthy memory blog posts have argued for teaching some basic statistics before graduating from high school. One cannot be a responsible citizen without some basic understanding of statistics, much less someone deciding questions on the Supreme Court.

Another instance of judicial innumeracy was the Supreme Court’s decision on a Fourth Amendment case about federal searches and seizures. In his opinion Justice Potter Stewart discussed how no data existed showing that people in states that had stricter rules regarding admission of evidence obtained in an unlawful search were less likely to be subjected to these searches. He wrote, “Since as a practical matter, it is never easy to prove a negative, it is hardly likely that conclusive factual data could ever be assembled.

But as the author’s article, Oliver Roeder, wrote “This, however, is silly. It conflates two meanings of the word “negative.” Philosophically, sure, it’s difficult to prove that something does not exist: No matter how prevalent gray elephants are, their number alone can’t prove the nonexistence of polka-dotted elephants. Arithmetically, though, scientists, social and otherwise, demonstrate negatives—as in a decrease, or a difference in rate—all the time. There’s nothing special about these kinds of negatives. Some drug tends to lower blood pressure. The average lottery player will lose money. A certain voting requirement depresses turnout.

Ryan Enos, a political scientist at Harvard, calls this the “negative effect fallacy. This is just one example of an empirical misunderstanding that has proliferated like a tsunami through decades of judges’ thinking, affecting cases concerning “free speech, voting rights, and campaign finance.

Some are suspicious that this allergy to statistical evidence is really a more of a screen—a convenient way to make a decision based on ideology while couching it in terms of practicality. Daniel Hemel, who teaches law at the University of Chicago said: [Roberts] is very smart and so are the judges who would be adjudicating partisan gerrymandering claims—I’m sure he and they could wrap their minds around the math. The ‘gobbledygook’ argument seems to be masking whatever his real objection might be.’

Reluctantly, one comes to the conclusion that there is no objective truth in the law. The corpus of law can be regarded as a gigantic projective test, analogous to the Rorschach Test. Judges can look into the law and see in it what they want to see. Rarely is a decision unanimous. And frequently decisions break down along the strict constructionist philosophy. But the Constitution should be viewed as a changing and growing document as democracy advances. Strict constructionists feel compelled to project themselves back in time and interpret the words literally as written. HM wonders why they would want to go back to a time when slavery existed, women could not vote, and blacks were counted as fraction of a human being. As long as time travel is involved, why not try to think of what they would have been written in light of today’s knowledge. After all, today’s high school science student knows more science than Benjamin Franklin did, who was the most distinguished scientist of his day. And the disciplines of psychology, cognitive science, and inferential statistics did not exist.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Cognitive Misers and Democracy

February 17, 2016

Cognitive misers are people who do not like to exert the effort involved in thinking.   In addition to entering “cognitive misers” into the healtymemory search block, you can also enter “System 1” or “Kahneman.”  Cognitive misers like to believe in things because questioning beliefs or principles or learning new things involves cognitive effort and thinking.

A short while back I read a poll that I found extremely discouraging.  The question asked what was more important to voters, a politician’s willingness to compromise or to  principles.
Here is a breakdown of the responses by political party.  Note that they do not add up to 100% as some respondents refused to answer.

Group                   Principles        Willing to Compromise
All Voters             40%                  50%
Republicans        54%                   36%
Independents     40%                  47%
Democrats           23%                  68%

I guess that the good news is that with the exception of one group, the remaining groups a larger percentage indicated a Willingness to Compromise.  In only one group did this percentage reach 50% and only one other group indicated a slightly greater than a two to one preference.  If the results are representative, then I argue that these beliefs present a far greater existential threat to the Democracy in the United States than does ISIS.

Before addressing cognitive miserliness per se, let me remind readers what a democracy is supposed to be..  A democracy is a system in which people vote for candidates and the candidates try to vote for what they think are the correct policies, but negotiate when the need to get the most palatable policy that they can accept.  There will be times when the vote goes against them, but they accept the result.  They do not threaten to shut down the government or actually shut down the government.  As you know this has already happened at least twice.

It is unfortunate that “politician” has negative connotations.  Using “politician” in a pejorative sense, “he’s a politician,” or he is doing this for “political reasons” is both unfair and wrong.  The first requirement of a politician is to make the political system work.  Sometimes that might correspond to political beliefs, sometimes it will not.  But beliefs or principals should not be the driving factor.

The advancement of mankind has been in direct proportion to the advancement of science.  Key to science is thinking.  Cognitive miserliness is anathema to effective science.  Whatever beliefs science has are beliefs that are subject to change.  It that is not the case, then the enterprise is not science.  There have been enormous changes in science during my lifetime.  There is not a single subject matter that has not changed.  Until fairly recently science believed that humans could not generate new neurons.  In other words there was no such think as neurogenesis.  Had I argued to the contrary as a graduate student I would have quickly been booted out of graduate school.  It was not until close to the end of the 20th century that neurogenesis was accepted and the notion of neuroplasticity  was advanced.

I become particularly annoyed when I hear reporters accuse politicians of flip flopping.  It seems like this is the stock in trade for many reporters.  This reminds me of the response the eminent economist John Maynard Keynes gave when he was accused of a statement that was in conflict with previous comments.  He responded,”when the facts change, I change my mind.  What do you do, sir.”  An argument can be made that opinions are not being changed by facts, but by political considerations.  Here I would refer you to the remedial exposition on democracy I offered above.

I also argue that cognitive miserliness is a problem for the Supreme Court of the United States.  There are two views of the Constitution.  One is that it is supposed to be a dynamic document that has been written that is expected to change with the times.  The other, originalism, is that the Constitution needs to be interpreted in terms of what the authors intended.  We need to remember that when the Constitution was written, slavery existed, black people were counted as three-fifths of a human being, and women could not vote.  It should also be remembered that one of the most advanced scientists of the time, Benjamin Franklin, did not know what current high school physics students know.  Moreover, I am virtually certain that if the framers of the constitution knew what we do today, they would have written a different constitution.  I am upset when the Supreme Court Justice who recently passed away is described as having a brilliant mind.  He was an originalist.  He believed that what the framers of the constitution believed at that time should provide the basis of judicial decisions.  I regard such individuals as intellectual runts.

The results of cognitive miserliness are readily apparent in the United States.  Realize that the United States is the only advanced country that does not have a system of national health insurance.  What we do have is the country with the most expensive medical costs with results comparable to third world countries.  We are the only advanced country that has no control over the cost of prescription medications.  And we are the only country that has a major political party that refuses to believe in global warming.  We also have a major TV network that insists on always having a denier of global warming on a show where a scientist is presenting data bearing on global warming and its ramifications.  This is in spite of the fact that this is a small minority of scientists, some of whom are paid scientific guns to counter the overwhelming evidence.

The reason that is often presented is one of American Exceptionalism.  This exceptionalism is a product of cognitive miserliness.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.