Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for October 30th, 2013

Idle ruminations on conflict

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I do not by “conflict” mean “violence.” In the world of animals, for example, a predator’s taking down a prey may be violent, but it is not conflict. OTOH, Megs and Molly occasionally do conflict: much hissing all of a sudden. (And sometimes, I confess, Megs seems to court conflict, as last night when she jumped up into Molly’s chair while Molly was in it was clearly transgressive. Megs knows the rules, as evidenced by her outrage when they are broken.)

I got to thinking about that little kitty conflict and had the sudden thought that their conflict could not be culture-based—and human conflict so often is: religious wars (Protestant/Catholic, Sunni/Shiite) or, on a mundane level the ad exec who wanders into a biker bar when the home team has lost: culture clash often leads to conflict.

But these kitties don’t have culture, so what is the basis for their conflict? I asked The Wife and she hazarded that it could be territorial triggers, for example.

That intrigued me: what you have, in a sense, is “hard-wired” culture: the behavioral imperatives ingrained through evolution. Some of these would not lead to conflict—jerking one’s hand back from hot object, or balancing on a log or, indeed, on your feet and learning to walk show behavioral imperatives—that is, I think all humans everywhere exhibit those behaviors. Those are culture-independent and thus animal in origin. Roughly speaking.

But, since we’re animals, all of the above applies to to us. So, what conflicts arise from our animal nature rather than our cultural being?  Looking at primal drives, jealousy/mate-possessiveness has certainly led to conflicts, and it does occur across all cultures. A purely animal conflict.

Probably also tribal warfare in competition for food sources.

It occurs to me—probably again—that it is those conflicts, being culture-independent, that drive great literature (by which I mean works that appeal to many cultures). All cultures would, I think, grasp Macbeth, and Othello as well.

It also probably indicates that we’re not going to rid ourselves of such conflicts; they spring directly from what sort of animal we are.

And it occurred to me that these basic animal imperatives are what drive culture: a way must be worked out for handling the mate-possessiveness/jealousy thing. The details will vary—those are culturally dependent (significance of color of dress, for an obvious example)—but the same basic drives must be handled so that they are compatible with another great animal imperative: that we are a social animal—and that drives all sorts of conventions and constructs and so on. Any solutions found must work in a social-animal context.

Just thinking aloud.

UPDATE: Given the basic nature of these animal imperatives, strong enough always to demand cultural expression and controlling conventions, it seems evident that a social order and structure whose rules contravene our animal imperatives will never grow large and may well have trouble surviving at all. One immediately thinks of the Shakers, but less extreme contraventions of animal imperatives can be found—small in scale, I would think—and they fail equally. The idyllic commune of the ’60s, for example.

And I suspect Libertarianism may be a belief system doomed to small influence and failure because it contravenes a basic part of our nature: that we are a social animal. I don’t think “social” means what Libertarians seem to think it means.

UPDATE 2: It occurs to me (watching a movie) that a lot of interpersonal conflict dis driven by the twin animal imperatives of freedom and control. Certainly every land animal seems to want freedom: the legendary fury of the trapped animal, the way animals don’t like to be pressed—the personal space of a black bear is probably larger than that of an adult human, but both react to invasions of personal space. How this was selected for evolutionarily is easy to see: animals that were wary of being trapped and a bit skittish more frequently lived to have progeny than those who were gregarious with other species. So it’s a very basic drive indeed, and it pops up in all sorts of negative feelings at any analogue of being physically trapped—e.g., not liking either of two feasible choices makes one feel “trapped.”

So the imperative for freedom seems clear enough. How about for control? I think this is not much of an issue with solitary animals: for them, the question does not arise. It’s in the social animals, such as (say) humans that the imperative for control plays a role: while we may have to go along to get along and play the game, etc., we do want to see ourselves as in control of our lives, though as social animals we are n many ways constrained by social currents: the balance between being free and being social. We probably see more easily how a person operating in response to social currents might feel that s/he is making a lot of indpendent choices that to an observer appear to be simple responses to social currents—and probably driven by a constant imperative to maintain as much freedom as possible, and using that as a selection principle for choices as they appear—you know, I think I could write a program to do that. Where’s the free will?

On a more specific level, we want to be in control in any situation and, if control is lost, to regain it as quickly as possible. Control (obviously) can be inward and/or outward directed, and probably more conflicts arise because of the conflict of each wanting to control the situation and each other’s imperative of freedom. And, of course, since it is a social animal, there’s all the social-connection ramifications. Maybe that’s why that sort of conflict is ubiquitously displayed: because it is the ubiquitous conflict.

The key—totally NOT a secret—is to find the balance, where each need is reasonably satisfied. It’s a skill, so it requires practice—i.e., it is practical knowledge, not theoretical knowledge. Descriptions are of little help. “Thataway” is as good as any.

Written by Leisureguy

30 October 2013 at 3:07 pm

Posted in Daily life

Sorting the nation by personality type

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Kevin Drum has an extremely interesting post on the results of a recent study. From his post (but read the whole thing, which includes charts and graphs):

The key personality test used to construct the maps above, after all, was a study of the“Big Five” personality traits: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. This is a widely accepted model of studying personality (and no, it is not the same thing as Myers-Briggs). For many years, scientists have known that some of the Big Five dimensions are highly political. In particular, liberals tend to score much higher on Openness (interest in novel experiences and ideas), while conservatives score much higher on Conscientiousness (preference for order, stability, and structure in your life).

The study, and the resulting maps, put an exclamation point on this finding. After all, the “friendly and conventional” part of the US scores quite low on Openness in the study—much lower than either of the other two regions—even as it outscores both of the other two regions in Conscientiousness. The “friendly and conventional” region was also the only Republican-voting region of the three, and the most Protestant.

Granted, not every state with a “friendly and conventional” personality voted Republican in the last election, and there are some oddballs and outliers in other regions, too. But the overall trend is clear. The residents of more liberal and more conservative states differ in personality: In how open their residents are to new experiences, and in how much they prize order and stability in their lives.

How do these personality dimensions drive ideology? Well, put simply, people who are Open embrace change. Fixing healthcare with a big new system and way of doing things? Bring it on. By contrast, people who are low on Openness and high on Conscientiousness are interested in stability and just not messing with it. Yes, that’s right: The core of the left-right divide, which turns on one’s relative embrace of change versus the status quo, is rooted in an individual’s psychological makeup. And personality traits, in turn, aresubstantially heritable and run in families.

So how did we end up so divided? On the individual level, psychological differences between people have always been present, but geography seems to be becoming ever more important as a factor. In particular, the study by Rentfrow and colleagues suggest that people who are high on Openness are naturally more daring and experimental, and often all too eager to leave traditional parts of the country, where they know they just don’t belong, and relocate. Indeed, the version of the map, which lets you take a personality test and then figure out what state you belong in, in effect encourages precisely this sort of psychological mobility.

In other words, there’s a huge ideological sort going on, probably much of it driven by Open people leaving to be closer to other Open people—so they can all hang out at coffeehouses and complain about the Tea Party—and more traditional people staying behind where they prize family and community. And this, in turn, likely explains a substantial part of the US’s growing political polarization. Or as the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt just put it on our newly launched Inquiring Minds podcast, . . .

Written by Leisureguy

30 October 2013 at 12:55 pm

A transaction tax on financial transactions seems like a good idea

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Note that 11 EU nations already impose the tax. Kevin Drum writes:

Congress resolved the shutdown and debt ceiling crisis (for now) by agreeing to hash out a budget agreement by mid-December. Already, hopes are dim. Budget experts say that if any deal at all is worked out to replace the deep budget cuts that went into effect in March, the most likely outcome will be a short-term plan involving slightly less severe spending cuts—but with no new revenue, a big Democratic priority. Now, several prominent economists, along with a coalition of labor, health, and community groups arepushing progressive lawmakers to aim higher, calling for what they term a “Robin Hood tax” on the rich.

On Wednesday, economist Jeffrey Sachs briefed members of Congress on the Robin Hood tax, also known as a financial transaction tax, which would charge Wall Street investors a fraction of a penny on the dollar value of each trade they make. Given the mind-boggling number of trades that occur each day, the tax could rake in as much as $700 billion a year. That would increase federal revenues by about 24 percent. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 October 2013 at 12:36 pm

Posted in Business, Government

I would say this is a “good thing”

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Written by Leisureguy

30 October 2013 at 10:39 am

Posted in Video

Hallows soap from Barrister & Mann

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SOTD 30 Oct 2013

The Scent-Off continues with a soap that seems appropriate for Hallowe’en: Hallows, by Barrister & Mann. I do like the mustachioed skull and the fragrance of the soap is, to my nose, wonderful: good strength and a great smell. Barrister & Mann does offer the option of getting their pucks in a tin rather than in tissue paper, and I would recommend that unless you already have a bowl or mug you can use. I purchased from Mama Bear a supply of the plastic tubs like the one in the photo, and the Hallows puck fit it very well.

Today is the boar-brush lather, and the Omega 10029 Baby Pro did a fine job, and I easily got an abundance of very fragrant lather. (Did I mention that I like this fragrance a lot?)

I have also been experimenting with the Omega boar brushes with the dyed stripe, so after the shave I made another lather with this banded boar, and I do think that the banded boar brushes are somewhat softer and easier to break in. You do get the slight lather discoloration from the dye, but only for the first shave or two. Thereafter, the banded boar works quite well.

Once again a suprisingly comfortable and efficient shave with the Gillette Fat Boy (the one above has been replated with rhodium). I checked the blade—this brand is great for me in the Fat Boy—and it’s an Astra Keramik Platinum—alas, no longer made. I’m going to rummage through my stash and see whether I have more.

In summary, a very nice shaving soap indeed.

Written by Leisureguy

30 October 2013 at 8:12 am

Posted in Shaving

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