Are Conservatism and Progressivism inborn?

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Following up on my comments about Jon Del Arroz being discriminated against for his conservative politics (regardless that he’s a marginalized minority), here’s some interesting research about political views. Wait for it—these may be inborn. That means discrimination on the basis of political views may eventually be classified the same way as discriminating against individuals for other inborn traits like sexual orientation or skin color.

In recent years, researchers have started looking at what personality and emotional responses have to do with politics. In one study Kevin Smith et al. looked for emotional responses that they could use to identify conservatives and liberals. Conservatives, on the one hand, turned out to be more easily grossed out by pictures and tended to get emotional over people they disliked. Liberals, on the other hand, were less grossed out and tended to get more emotional over people they liked. Next, James Fowler et al. identified DRD4-7R, a variant of the gene that linked to novelty-seeking behavior as being linked to liberal views when combined with early socialization. Fowler made the point that political views can’t be tied to just one gene, but it does suggest how inborn personality can affect political viewpoints. Michele Vecchione et al. conducted a study in Italy that looked at people who voted conservative or liberal and classified them according to the “big five” personality traits. The results showed that people who rated high in the “openness” trait tended to vote liberal, while those so rated high in the “conscientiousness” trait tended to vote conservative. Another study of twins by John Alford et al. found that genetics clearly had a more significant influence on politics than socialization. Because people tend to marry spouses with similar political views, the researchers surmised, these traits tend to run very strongly in families.

Another interesting support for this viewpoint is the interpretation of personality tests. The DISC system, for example, breaks personalities down into four types: dominant, inspiring, supportive and cautious. People who lean to dominant and inspiring personality traits tend to be movers and shapers of change, while the supportive and cautious people, on the other hand, tend to be conservative, valuing security and stability. Besides this, the Myers Briggs test identifies 16 personality types, some of which actually include the descriptors “conservative” and “novelty seeking.” These personality types tend to be remarkably stable over time. They’re identifiable as early as kindergarten, and don’t change much after young-adulthood.

Enjoy classifying yourself through these links. As I recall, I tested out as a dominant and an INTJ.

Why do we need all that baggage?

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I’m feeling the need to say more about the messages embedded in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. I expect I know where they come from. After the Force Awakens, there was controversy about new directions in the series. Presumably the producers were a little annoyed by this, and the result is all these messages about letting go of history. The loss of the old Star Wars is inevitable, actually, as the original characters are now too old to be dashing action figures, and the Princess is dead. As a traditional fan, I understand these messages, but how is a younger audience to take them?

The old Star Wars was about the resourcefulness, courage and discipline that it took to be a Jedi. It was about attaining wisdom and skill in the arts and sciences, and about how easy it is to slip off the narrow path and fall to the dark side. The reward for all the time and effort Luke put into his study was self-esteem, ability, adventure and success in the new world he helped to create.

To review: Most of the troubling messages in the film come from the conversations between Luke and Rey, where we see Luke has rejected his accomplishments and claims the Jedi “religion” is outdated and empty. He advises Rey to kill off history in order to reach her full potential. Rey is ambitious. She makes feeble efforts to train by herself, but blunders through obvious mistakes, while Luke still refuses to help her. We’re left in a universe of kids with no guidance, and the result is wild magic to get what they want, to defend themselves, and maybe to rescue their friends. There’s no emphasis on study, planning or organization. The message is that individual grandstanding, insubordination and mutiny against your leaders is both forgivable and all good in the end.

So, are these really good messages to send to children? I’m sure a lot of kids will love hearing they don’t need the older generation. But, should elders make a decision that the old order is dead and refuse to teach kids the skills and wisdom they’ll need to run the world by themselves? Do we really need to remember all that baggage about codes of honor, the Holocaust and the US Civil War?

I agree that there’s a certain weight to baggage like that. Minorities that see themselves only as victims of discrimination will have a hard time rising above it. If you spend all your time mired in events that ended over a hundred years ago, for example, then you won’t accomplish much that’s new. But civilization grows because we know about the past and pass on knowledge and wisdom to others. It grows because we, as a society, organize, study the mistakes of previous generations and come up with a common plan that most people support to deal with problems in our world.

Don’t grandstanding and individual self-serving only undermine this effort? Why do we, as a society, want to glorify that above study and hard work?

Virtue Signaling: Weaponizing the System

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Recently I’ve been blogging about virtue signaling, which is publicly stating your opinions on moral issues in order to show your support. Social pressure to conform leads to “MeToo” reactions, and something worse called “groupthink.” In groupthink, no one really thinks critically about issues, but instead responds to the social pressures with knee-jerk, mindless reactions.

This makes virtue signaling a powerful tool in the political arena. In fact, the dependability of the reaction it provokes makes it easily weaponized. All you have to do right now to take someone down is to call them a racist or a sexual harasser. This trend has gotten so obvious in broader US politics that I can almost see powerful and manipulative Puppetmasters pulling the strings—a war back and forth—with attacks taking down Hollywood political donors, artists, senators, members of the press, anybody who influential and on the wrong side of issues. I’m sure these Puppetmasters are laughing all the while, as mindless groupthink lemmings attack one another, doing their work for them. Anybody who questions the process gets a dose of the same.

Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly were early casualties, and conspiracy theorists immediately speculated that Weinstein was payback. It’s pretty easy to dig up questionable actions over a man’s lifetime, but women are harder. Taylor Swift was attacked as a racist by someone claiming her songs contain white supremacist lyrics. Meryl Streep is currently under attack by anonymous posters that have appeared in Los Angeles, accusing her of knowing and keeping quiet about Weinstein—complicity, in other words. Morning-after remorse has produced calls for Al Franken to unresign, and led Tavis Smiley and Joe Scarborough to wonder publicly what’s behind the attacks. Meanwhile, the Trump administration deftly avoided accusations by taking down attorney Lisa Bloom.

Bringing the focus back to the SFF community, I think these same hazards have been working in the heavy polarization of relations. Don’t get me wrong. It’s definitely important to call out people who are actually sexually abusive and racist, but because of the weaponizing, it’s gotten to be important to look critically at the accuracy of the claims and question what might be behind them.

The most obvious example is Vox Day, of course. Articles and comments consistently claim he’s anti-diversity, while a look at his publications and award nominations show clearly that he likes Chinese SF and promotes minorities. Another recent attack, of course, has been on Rocket Stack Rank as racist and sexist because of their dislike of non-standard pronouns. Wasn’t it at one time questionable to attack reviewers? Another example is last year’s attack on horror writer David Riley for holding conservative political views. Still another is the attack on editor Sunil Patel (see also here) for apparently being a jerk, while accusers couldn’t come up with anything more than vague claims about sexual harassment.

There may be questionable issues at work in all these cases, of course. Anyone has the right to feel affronted and to complain, but shouldn’t we be looking at things a little more rationally?

Review of Heathens by Jonah Bergan

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I’m actually gone on vacation again, and there’s going to be a delay while I work through Cixin Liu’s Death’s End at 600 pages. To fill in, here’s a review of one of those underrepresented voices that would be hard to find in offerings from the big publishers.

Things in the US have come apart. The Free Republic of Texas holds most of the Central US, and the Kingdom of God holds most of the North and East, except for a strip right along the coast where UN Peacekeepers hold ground they call the “colonies.” Only the Deep South of Florida, Georgia and Alabama is still called the United States. Holden lives in a disputed, ruined city, and like many young LGB people has a talent developing. His is telekinesis, but others have different talents which make them targets for people who consider the powers demonic. When Holden’s lover is killed by hostiles, he leaves home and is taken in by Sol as part of his family. Sol is for trying to reestablish peace, but he is opposed by Clarissa who wants to fight against the enemy. Motivated by anger and hate, Holden grows more militant. He moves to Clarissa’s camp, where he finds other young people like himself who want to fight back. Eventually Holden has to make a decision about what’s right.

This is a young adult novel in the popular dystopia sub-genre. It’s written in first and second person, as Holden narrates events for us and also speaks to the enemy as “you.” The political divisions presented by the book echo the slash and burn tactics of current politics, where the extremes of right and left attack the voices in the center. It’s well-written, with Holden’s narrative providing both the flow of his thoughts and feelings and a clear picture of both the city and what goes on within it.

On the negative side, a lot of people die here. It’s a dark vision that isn’t likely to encourage hope in younger generations. Also, I can’t see where any but LGB teens are developing the talents, though some straight kids do get ground up and/or join the fight. This means the book is tightly aimed at a particular audience when broadening the cast of characters would increase the audience size.

I like the message. Four stars.

Theft and the 1%

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Warrior
I’m always inspired by the comments people leave at the blogs. A couple back, I got into a short discussion with poster Hoocott on colonial attitudes about theft in the first couple of Tarzan novels. This might sound like neo-left carping, but actually these attitudes are still around is some quarters, so I think it’s appropriate to have a deeper look.Thanks also for Jeffro Johnson for bringing up the subject.

Tarzan of the Apes and The Return of Tarzan were published just after the turn of the 20th century, so they’re pretty dated by now—like H.G. Wells or Jules Verne. However, they’re also a sort of charming look at life and attitudes in the late 19th early 20th centuries when people still traveled on steamships and Africa was The Dark Continent. For anyone who hasn’t read them, these first couple of novels were Romantic adventure (with a capital R). Romanticism was a trend during the Industrial Revolution when everyone yearned for simpler times. This led to the myth that we could somehow “return to nature” and glorified the “noble savage” who still lived life in the wild. I might come back to this sometime later, but right now I want to look at some of the attitudes, especially about theft.

In The Return of Tarzan, Tarzan is lost off a ship and ends up back in Africa where he takes up with an African tribe called the Waziri. He is captured by the degenerate beast men of the lost city of Opar, and during his escape, finds their lost treasury filled with gold ingots. Tarzan has been out into the world, so he recognizes this for what it is. He goes back with some of the Waziri warriors and steals about 20 ingots @40 pounds each=$15,155,200 (at today’s prices). Contrary to what Hoocott said in the comments, I can’t see anywhere that he meant to share this with the Waziri. He didn’t take it to the village, but instead hid it in the jungle.

Keep in mind that modern interpretations will often try to fix this—it’s clearly theft and he uses it to set himself and Jane up with an estate in London. I didn’t blink at this as a kid, and I think a lot of readers still won’t. However, if you consider, it’s right out of Cortez and Pizzaro’s colonial playbook—find naïve native tribe, steal gold, retire to a nice villa in Spain. So why do people still accept this? Why not ban the book because it glorifies theft?

Answer: Because it’s how the 1% still does business. You know who they are, the ultra-rich 1% that owns 99% of the wealth in the world? Since we’ve just elected one of them as President of the US, it’s nice to have a look at this attitude. The 1% doesn’t believe in working for wealth; instead, they believe that it should be “captured” through actions like business deals, tax loopholes and influencing government policy. If you’d like to follow up with further reading, look for The Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study of Institutions (1899) by Thorstein Veblen.

The big way to for the 1% to capture wealth during the Bush administration looked to be through war profiteering. We’ll have to see how it develops during the next four years.

Victimhood as Political Power

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So, after the quickie comparison, I’m now back to commenting on social trends. Today’s topic is victimhood and how this is used as a political weapon. This connection shouldn’t really be a surprise to anyone. Just typing “victimhood” into a search engine produces an amazing array of articles on the subject and the effects and possible effects of victimhood on current politics and society.

For anyone unfamiliar with the term, here’s how it works. A person or group of people experiences unfair treatment that leaves them injured and at societal disadvantage. These individuals then claim that other members of society owe them deference, change and/or reparations based on moral obligation. There are a number of examples around of this kind of behavior. For example, here’s a right-leaning article that mentions John McCain’s exploitation of his status as prisoner-of-war and Gabby Giffords’ exploitation of her status as a shooting victim to push their political agendas.

In a recent article, Jamie Bartlett points out that in a victimhood culture, everyone wants to be a victim. This is, of course, so s/he can be seen as someone who deserves respect. Bartlett also points out that the profusion of arguments over who is being victimized reduces the resources that should be going to identifying real social ills and finding solutions for these. This is an important point.

The big advantage to victimhood is that it confers moral power, which can often be translated to political power. Conor Friedersdorf quotes sociologists Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning in an article here, who describe characteristics of victimhood: “…rather than emphasize either their strength or inner worth, the aggrieved emphasize their oppression and social marginalization.”

Freidersdorf points out some of the problems with what he calls “victimhood culture.” According to the author, there is no solution to a victimhood argument, as it only leads to a shouting match between offended groups. Interestingly, he notes that “victimhood culture is likeliest to arise in settings where there is some diversity and inequality, but whose members are almost equal.” Friedersdorf includes some examples, but a more widely publicized one occurred recently at Oberlin College where the victimhood of slavery collided rather unsuccessfully with the Holocaust. Predictably, responses to Freidersdorf article called his use of the word “victimhood” a microaggression .

My comments aren’t to say that political pressure groups don’t address real problems in culture and society. However, I’d like to suggest that remaining mired in victimhood can warp an individual’s self-image and end up becoming a self-fulfilling prophesy. If we really believe in diversity,then shouldn’t we have a look at Okorafor’s opinion? As an outsider to American culture, she seems to think harmonizing and looking for solutions can lead to positive results.

Review of Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

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This is one of the Hugo finalists in the Best Novel category. It was published by William Morrow/Harper-Collins.

The moon breaks apart because of some unknown agency. Everyone watches with awe, but soon astrophysicists produce models that indicate the pieces will continue to break up and fall on the earth, eventually producing rings like Saturn’s. The rain of debris is expected to last about 10,000 years and wipe out life as we know it on Earth. Governments, advised by scientists, move to produce a Cloud Ark of habitats that will float in space, carrying and preserving the legacy of Earth, including genetic, cultural and technical data for the use of future pioneers.

This effort is some of the most thought-provoking of hard SF. Stephenson has set up a scenario and then follows out what happens, projecting ways that humans might cope with a catastrophe that will wipe out mankind. Who will be chosen to populate the Ark? What should they take with them? How will they sustain themselves for 10,000 years? How do they overcome engineering and tech problems along the way? Stephenson establishes a cast of main characters, some on Earth and some on the International Space Station (ISS), and shifts between, following the efforts from different points of view. This is written in a folksy, matter-of-fact style, and the author makes no effort to hurry it up. He gets technical. There’s human interest.

On the negative side, Stephenson uses an episodic structure, and the novel sort of eases along without much in the way of rising action, coming in at an extended 883 pages. The characterization and ending aren’t all they could have been. I also ended up with some major questions. If the Cloud Ark is inside the orbit of the moon, won’t it get nailed by the 10,000-year Hard Rain the same as Earth? Wouldn’t it be safer to just move to Mars? Or maybe underground? Space seems like a tough place to make it for 10,000 years.

Like The Martian, this would make a good film. Four stars.

Charlie Stross on automating your trolldom

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I love Charilie Stross. While I’ve been stressing over the issue of humans ganging up to attack people and suppress ideas on the Internet, Charlie is well into the future already, predicting how to do this with a botswarm.

The basis for this prediction was the recent launch of Microsoft’s conversational bot named Tay, which is meant to be pleasant, tell jokes and make friends with human posters on the Internet (merely for the purposes of research, of course). She also has a learning function where she absorbs the kind of conversation going on around her and uses this to blend in. Within hours she was an ill-informed, racist asshole.

So, what are the implications? Actually, this suggests a number of scenarios. I expect this kind of bot is meant to sway public opinion for business/sales purposes. However, I’m sure she has a manifest destiny in politics, too. Just think about it. In the future, activists for particular viewpoints won’t have to worry about exhausting themselves with personal virtue signaling and identification of potential targets for attack. These tasks can be automated so mere humans will be quickly exhausted by trying to resist. Soon bots will battle bots for the soul of humanity.

See Charlie’s vision of the future here.

More on multiculturalism as policy

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Vijay Mishra (2012) calls multiculturalism a “structure of control” for managing minorities without really affecting the power and position of the majority. In other words, he’s saying the majority uses the policy to sympathize with minority concerns, but only pays lip service to actual equality and remains unwilling to give up anything real. Because of this, the majority never becomes part of the cultural mosaic—it always remains outside, separate and in control. Now we’re looking at the politics of redistribution, whether you’re talking about publishing or political power.

Mishra’s is likely a good description of what the policy of multiculturalism has not accomplished over the last few decades—which is any real transfer of power and opportunity to the masses. However, it’s questionable if expectations for this were ever right in the first place. For example, C.W. Mills (1999) argues that “whiteness” isn’t actually related to color, but is instead about a set of power relations. The elite 1% that owns half the world’s wealth doesn’t really break down along racial, gender or ethnicity lines. The list of US billionaires, while admittedly mostly white and male, also includes a number of women, Asians and African Americans. When you look at the ranks of millionaires, the number of minorities increases further. This suggests the issue of redistribution of wealth and power is more about industry, opportunity and good investments than minority vs. majority status. Of course, opportunity is the huge elephant in the room.

Another issue that has affected multicultural policy in recent years within the US is the problem of the disappearing majority. White children are already a minority in the US, and as older individuals die off within the next few years, whites will achieve full minority status. This will have to change the conversation about minority vs. white privilege. For example, white voters can’t count on carrying an election through sheer numbers any longer. Whites may soon become eligible for minority scholarships and Affirmative Action support. The public schools will serve increasing numbers of POC as white populations decline. As the white middle class continues to wane, POC will have to look at shouldering more of the responsibilities for paying taxes, driving the economy and affecting political change.

Stresses in the ideology

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Warrior
Today I spent some time looking around for ideology as expressed in speculative fiction. Because of the recent eruption of bullying behavior between different factions of SFF based on this pretext, I expected to see some discussion of the issue. However, Google didn’t produce anything much. Just on my own, I can track the general evolution of the SFF field from adventure tale through hard SF to progressive, but I was hoping to find some expert opinions.

Here’s one I came up with, an academic paper by D. Bedggood on the ideological contests expressed by individual writers as representative of their era. In this case s/he looks at Ayn Rand’s Anthem (1938), Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed (1974) and Iain M. Banks’ Player of Games (1988). The author describes these as definitions of what constitutes utopia vs. dystopia during the period when the novel was written. Specifically s/he describes Rand’s work as “uber-capitalist individualist,” LeGuin’s as “anarchic-socialist” and Banks’ as an idyllic but contested vision of “human-machine symbiosis.”

Vox Day has also addressed the subject of ideology in his blog here. I didn’t get much out of this. His essay reads like a rant, and his statements that certain people are out to destroy Western civilization are unsupported by arguments, research or expert opinions. He does make a couple of interesting observations; for example, that SFF is escapist fiction generally written by nerdy, bitter people who suffered through difficult childhoods.

The closest discussion I found related to over-all ideology in the SFF field came from Charlie Stross, who also made an appearance during my discussion of hard SF. He continues his thoughts here. According to Stross, human ideology made a sharp turn during the Enlightenment, when people stopped looking to the past Golden Age for ideas and instead discovered the notion of Progress. This meant it was possible to improve our lives through activities like scientific investigation and the application of social justice ideas. This suggests that “progressive” has been the reigning ideology since the Enlightenment. Stross notes that it has taken a long time for this to occur to some people.

However, something different has happened just recently where individuals are challenging what has become the standard for progressive social justice. The ideological split between Rand and LeGuin’s worldviews is still there, but now there also seems to be a fracture in the idea that we’re all in this fight together. Presumably this is a disagreement about what the word “progress” really means.

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