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Archive for September 25th, 2020

Characteristics of Western Educated Industrialized Rich Democratic (WEIRD) societies

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A couple of papers. First, the abstract from a paper in Behavioral and Brain Science:

Abstract: Behavioral scientists routinely publish broad claims about human psychology and behavior in the world’s top journals based on samples drawn entirely from Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD) societies. Researchers – often implicitly – assume that either there is little variation across human populations, or that these “standard subjects” are as representative of the species as any other population. Are these assumptions justified? Here, our review of the comparative database from across the behavioral sciences suggests both that there is substantial variability in experimental results across populations and that WEIRD subjects are particularly unusual compared with the rest of the species – frequent outliers. The domains reviewed include visual perception, fairness, cooperation, spatial reasoning, categorization and inferential induction, moral reasoning, reasoning styles, self-concepts and related motivations, and the heritability of IQ. The findings suggest that members of WEIRD societies, including young children, are among the least representative populations one could find for generalizing about humans. Many of these findings involve domains that are associated with fundamental aspects of psychology, motivation, and behavior – hence, there are no obvious a priori grounds for claiming that a particular behavioral phenomenon is universal based on sampling from a single subpopulation. Overall, these empirical patterns suggests that we need to be less cavalier in addressing questions of human nature on the basis of data drawn from this particularly thin, and rather unusual, slice of humanity. We close by proposing ways to structurally re-organize the behavioral sciences to best tackle these challenges.

And the abstract of a paper in Science, the publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science:

Cultural evolution

There is substantial variation in psychological attributes across cultures. Schulz et al. examined whether the spread of Catholicism in Europe generated much of this variation (see the Perspective by Gelfand). In particular, they focus on how the Church broke down extended kin-based institutions and encouraged a nuclear family structure. To do this, the authors developed measures of historical Church exposure and kin-based institutions across populations. These measures accounted for individual differences in 20 psychological outcomes collected in prior studies.

Science, this issue p. eaau5141; see also p. 686

Structured Abstract


A growing body of research suggests that populations around the globe vary substantially along several important psychological dimensions and that populations characterized as Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD) are particularly unusual. People from these societies tend to be more individualistic, independent, and impersonally prosocial (e.g., trusting of strangers) while revealing less conformity and in-group loyalty. Although these patterns are now well documented, few efforts have sought to explain them. Here, we propose that the Western Church (i.e., the branch of Christianity that evolved into the Roman Catholic Church) transformed European kinship structures during the Middle Ages and that this transformation was a key factor behind a shift towards a WEIRDer psychology.


Our approach integrates three insights. First, anthropological evidence suggests that diverse kin-based institutions—our species’s most fundamental institutions—have been the primary structure for organizing social life in most societies around the world and back into history. With the origins of agriculture, cultural evolution increasingly favored intensive kinship norms related to cousin marriage, clans, and co-residence that fostered social tightness, interdependence, and in-group cooperation. Second, psychological research reveals that people’s motivations, emotions, and perceptions are shaped by the social norms they encounter while growing up. Within intensive kin-based institutions, people’s psychological processes adapt to the collectivistic demands of their dense social networks. Intensive kinship norms reward greater conformity, obedience, and in-group loyalty while discouraging individualism, independence, and impersonal motivations for fairness and cooperation. Third, historical research suggests that the Western Church systematically undermined Europe’s intensive kin-based institutions during the Middle Ages (for example, by banning cousin marriage). The Church’s family policies meant that by 1500 CE, and likely centuries earlier in some regions, Europe lacked strong kin-based institutions and was instead dominated by relatively independent and isolated nuclear or stem families.

Our theory predicts that populations with (i) a longer historical exposure to the medieval Western Church or less intensive kin-based institutions will be more individualistic, less conforming, and more impersonally prosocial today; and (ii) longer historical exposure to the Western Church will be associated with less-intensive kin-based institutions.


We test these predictions at three levels. Globally, we show that countries with longer historical exposure to the medieval Western Church or less intensive kinship (e.g., lower rates of cousin marriage) are more individualistic and independent, less conforming and obedient, and more inclined toward trust and cooperation with strangers (see figure). Focusing on Europe, where we compare regions within countries, we show that longer exposure to the Western Church is associated with less intensive kinship, greater individualism, less conformity, and more fairness and trust toward strangers. Finally, comparing only the adult children of immigrants in European countries, we show that those whose parents come from countries or ethnic groups that historically experienced more centuries under the Western Church or had less intensive kinship tend to be more individualistic, less conforming, and more inclined toward fairness and trust with strangers.


This research suggests that contemporary psychological patterns, ranging from individualism and trust to conformity and analytical thinking, have been influenced by deep cultural evolutionary processes, including the Church’s peculiar incest taboos, family policies, and enduring kin-based institutions.

Click the links to see the papers.

Written by Leisureguy

25 September 2020 at 6:53 pm

The 12 Arguments Every Climate Denier Uses – and How to Debunk Them

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Of course, climate deniers are often driven by things other than rational argument and evidence, such as social pressure, religious belief, and political affiliation. Imogen West-Knights does, however, provide some good arguments for those who are open to changing their beliefs.

In Europe, you don’t often rub shoulders with someone who doesn’t believe in climate change. Although climate change denial is alive and well in America – not least in the White House – people here mostly accept that climate change is, to some degree, happening.

But that doesn’t mean climate denialism has gone away. Instead, according to new research from the University of Cardiff, it has simply changed shape, into something they call “discourses of delay”. These 12 arguments, favoured by politicians and industry figures, are a more subtle way of downplaying the need for action on climate change than full-on denialism, but no less corrosive to efforts to mitigate damaging climate effects. And they’re filtering into the public consciousness rapidly. Rather than arguing that climate change isn’t happening, now you hear people arguing that it’s too late, too difficult, too controversial, too unfair, too hasty, to take serious action on climate change.

How do you debunk these arguments when you hear them? Tackling these types of misinformation is no mean feat; often they’re put forward in good faith. But explaining to someone the fallacies behind these common discourses of delay can work as what Dr. William Lamb, one of the authors of the Cardiff paper, calls an “inoculation strategy” against future misinformation on climate change.

Here are their 12 discourses of delay, and what you can say to challenge them.

  1. “Ultimately, it’s individuals and consumers who are responsible for taking action”

This narrative first came from the fossil fuel industry. “They funded carbon footprint calculators,” Dr John Cook, a research professor at the Centre for Climate Change Communication, tells me, “and my hat off to them for coming up with an incredibly effective PR strategy to distract the public from the real need, to transform how we create energy.”

It’s not pointless to try to avoid plastic, or to limit your meat consumption but we’ll never convince everybody to do that, plus there are socio-economic reasons why it isn’t possible for everyone. Even if we did, it would be like trying to drain the ocean with a pipette compared to systemic change in polluting industries. One hundred companies are responsible for 71 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions.

  1. “The UK’s carbon footprint is tiny compared to China’s, so it doesn’t make sense for us to take action, at least until they do”

The report calls this “whataboutism”. The farming industry points the finger at the car industry, and vice versa. Politicians point out that their nation’s global carbon dioxide output is only small (in the UK it’s between 1 and 2 percent of the world total) and so justify inaction.

First, every country could make a version of this argument, and if they did, there would be no hope to limit climate change. Secondly, that 1 to 2 percent figure is misleading, because per capita emissions in the UK are relatively high – about five times as high as India’s, for instance. Thirdly, as a technologically and economically advanced nation, we are more able to take action than many other nations, and we have an additional historical responsibility to do so as a country that has polluted a great deal in the past.

  1. “But if we start to reduce emissions, other countries will just take advantage of that to increase their emissions”

You can challenge the narrative that we are necessarily giving something up by lowering our carbon emissions. “There are a lot of benefits to be gained in our everyday lives from mitigating climate change, in terms of reducing local air pollution, more active travel, not spending so much money on fuel bills and so on,” says Lamb.

  1. “People are developing new, green technology right now, we just need to wait for it”

If only. The aviation industry is particularly good at manipulating this argument, so good in fact that Matt Hancock recently claimed that “electric planes are on the horizon”.

They aren’t. Or maybe they will be, in several decades time, but the IPCC finding is that we need to half our emissions in the next ten years. “You have to demonstrate that these technologies are going to be available in the timeframe that matters,” says Lamb, and at present, climate friendly planes are a pie in the sky.

  1. “We’ve already declared a climate emergency and set ambitious targets”

Targets are emphatically not policies. As a global community, we are extremely bad at meeting environmental targets. Earlier this month, it was announced that humanity has missed every single one of the 2010 Aichi goals to protect world wildlife and ecosystems.

  1. “We need to work with fossil fuel companies, their fuel is becoming more efficient and we’ll need them as a stopgap before widespread renewable energy use in the future”

This kind of greenwashing is “at the heart of industry pushback against regulation”, says the Cardiff report. It is not a foregone conclusion that we need fossil fuels for now in order to transition into using renewables in the future: “We can leapfrog it straight to renewables,” Cook tells me.

And we don’t have the time for a gentle climb down from fossil fuels: it’s ten years.

  1. “People respond best to voluntary policies, and we shouldn’t try to force people to do anything”

Or in other words, what we need is carrots, not sticks. Things like funding high-speed rail to substitute flights, and not frequent flyer levies.

But restrictive measures are a normal and accepted part of life already. Seatbelts, for instance, are a restrictive measure enforced by law for the safety of drivers and their passengers, and the car industry pushed back against them hard when they were introduced. They also can and should be used in conjunction with incentives, it’s not an either/or.

  1. “Taking action on climate change will . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

25 September 2020 at 12:18 pm

An example of systemic racism

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Spencer Critchley posted on Facebook:

The end of Breonna Taylor’s life is a perfect example of how systemic racism works.

I don’t know if any of the police officers involved is a racist — and because of systemic racism, that’s almost beside the point.

And although I disagree, I can see how the case might be made, under the existing laws, that her shooting was a legally justified accident — and because of systemic racism, that too is almost beside the point.

Systemic racism means the racism is in the way systems are designed. It’s there because of our history of racism, or because of assumptions that are the living legacy of that history.

Systemic racism means that it’s almost impossible that what happened to Breonna Taylor would ever happen to someone like me. This remains true even if you assume the worst about her — remembering that assuming the worst about her is at the heart of the problem — and if you transfer those worst assumptions to me.

If someone close to me were suspected of dealing drugs, the police would not break down my door in the middle of the night. If *I* were suspected of dealing drugs, the police would not break down my door in the middle of the night. And if somehow they did, and I fired at them, I would get the benefit of the doubt.

Systemic racism starts with assumptions about how and why we pass and enforce drug laws. If people of my race and class use drugs, it’s just harmless recreation — “Hey, let’s celebrate 4/20!” Or it’s a minor vice — “Yeah, we may have done a little blow.” Or at worst, it’s a health problem — “Good for him, he got himself into rehab.” And whatever legal trouble someone like me gets into can be made a lot less serious by an expensive lawyer.

Take class out of it, and the difference remains. Look at how the meth epidemic in rural America is seen as cause for concern, while drug abuse in inner cities is seen as moral failure.

Look at those two phrases: a “meth epidemic” is a disease afflicting a community. “Drug abuse” is your own damn fault.

Think of how often you hear about “black on black crime.” You know what? By far most white crime is white on white. It’s because criminals prey on their own communities. And our communities, after all this time, are segregated.

Even with perfectly unbiased police, prosecutors, and judges, systemic racism would remain. It would remain embedded in the laws we expect those people to enforce. It would remain embedded in the economic choices that produce so much poverty, which is the surest predictor of crime and other social problems, independent of any racial or individual characteristics. And it would remain embedded in our failure to support alternatives to enforcement. I’ve never met a police officer who wanted to be sent to deal with domestic strife or mental health crises. But we keep sending them.

We don’t have to believe all law enforcement officers are racist (or any more racist than anyone else is) to see that there is systemic racism in the way our society enforces law.
Through my work I’ve gotten to know cops who are among the least racist people I’ve ever met. I don’t know many other people who would unhesitatingly risk their lives for strangers with whom they may have nothing in common. These cops do that all the time.

Some cops fall far short of that standard. But this isn’t a “bad apples” problem. Our real problem is not caused, and will not be solved, by individual police officers.

It will be solved, or not, by all of us. And that starts with something that couldn’t be more simple, although for some reason we find it hard: seeing that every one of us is a human being, and precious.

To be handled with care.

I will add that his Facebook posts are well worth reading. Minor personal note: He lives in Monterey, where I lived until a few years ago.

Written by Leisureguy

25 September 2020 at 10:15 am

Intriguing interview with Spencer Critchley

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This post by Critchley contains as text a segment from the interview.  (Some like to read, some like to listen.)

Written by Leisureguy

25 September 2020 at 10:06 am

Replacing RBG: Why Hypocrisy Doesn’t Matter to Trump’s Base

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Spencer Critchley writes in Facebook:

In pre-Trump days, the beyond-brazen hypocrisy of Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham and most other Republicans in Congress would have caused grave damage to their reputations. We’ve always had hypocrisy, of course, but it used to be that people were embarrassed to be caught at it.

But now, there’s no need even to waste time trying to cover it up. To Trump’s most committed base, hypocrisy doesn’t matter.

Trump’s opponents are tempted to conclude that such people must be either stupid or evil. What they miss is that Trump’s base lives within a different world view, one that rejects the Enlightenment standard of reason on which our democracy was founded. As I show in Patriots of Two Nations, this Counter-Enlightenment world view also dates to the Founding, but it rejects the primacy of reason in favor of faith, tradition, ethnicity — and loyalty to the leader. Throughout most of our history it was obscured by the dominant Enlightenment world view. But under Trump, it’s resurgent.

In this world view, Trump is the instrument of God’s will and the nation’s destiny. By comparison, consistency in what he or his supporters say hardly matters. Consistency, as Emerson (a Counter-Enlightenment figure) said, is “the hobgoblin of little minds:”

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance.)

This does not necessarily mean, though, that McConnell, Graham and the rest are driven by a mystical, Counter-Enlightenment creed. No, I’m pretty sure they’re classical hypocrites, driven only by the desire to acquire and defend power. They exploit people who believe in things.

The most charitable interpretation of such behavior is that they adhere to Bernard Mandeville’s argument in The Fable of the Bees (1714) that “private vices” yield “public benefit,” i.e. that the pursuit of self-interest produces prosperity for all. It’s an idea that underlies the laissez-faire economics developed by Adam Smith and enacted every day in modern free market economies.

Except, as Smith emphasized, self-interest must operate within conditions of justice, or else it turns into mere predation:

“How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it.” (Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments.)

The trouble is, some of us, such as our current president and his enablers, appear to feel nothing of such pleasure.

Written by Leisureguy

25 September 2020 at 10:00 am

Why Is Our Country So Divided (and What Can We Do About It)?

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The previous post quoted Spencer Critchley. Jeff Nilsson recently discussed his book in the Saturday Evening Post :

The name of our nation claims we are united, but one could compile a history of America just by chronicling our civil conflicts. Starting with the clash over the independence movement, Americans have been bitterly divided over tradition, faith, morals, and the rights of people of color, women, the poor, immigrants, and other groups. And, of course, we are divided between political parties.

Today, there’s a deep gulf in American opinion, which seems to be growing wider and deeper.Back in 1994, a Pew Research Poll reported that the partisan split over racial discrimination, immigration, and international relations was 15 percent. By 2017, it was 36 percent.

Spencer Critchley, author of Patriots of Two Nations: Why Trump Was Inevitable and What Happens Next, says that behind many of our arguments lie polarized views of the world that go back to our earliest days.

Critchley explains that on one side are the followers of Enlightenment, who believe in science, reason, and the rule of law. It was enlightenment thinkers who framed our government and wrote our Constitution. Today’s followers of the enlightenment believe in a “civic nation,” founded on a social contract between the individual and the state. The citizen exchanges a measure of personal liberty for membership in a mutually supportive society.

On the other side are followers of the Counter-Enlightenment, who believe a focus on reason is too constraining. It doesn’t account for culture, art, tradition, spirituality — the elements that bring richness to life. This group believes in an “ethnic nation,” which is rooted in their race and culture. While this focus can appeal to bigots, counter-enlightenment people are not necessarily racist. In an interview with the Post, he said,“Many thoughtful people come from the counter-enlightenment world view.”

The gap between the two world views is so great that Critchley, a former campaign advisor to Barack Obama, says that it has created alienation and suspicion, helped on by politicians and the media playing on resentments. “Much of the division has been exaggerated,” he says. “A lot of money can be made by making people angry and afraid.”

Yet there are a considerable number of Americans who have embraced the extremes of ideology. At the far extremes of counter-enlightenment are white supremacists. At the other extreme are people who Critchley says believe in “identity policing, endless litigating, political correctness, and punishing people for not being ‘woke’ enough.”

Critchley, who considers himself part of the enlightenment crowd, is aware of how easy it is to dismiss the opposing points of view. He says, “We live lives of high rationalism most of the time. We think in terms of facts, logic, productivity. We tend to believe facts and logic explain everything.”

The two groups’ attitudes toward culture is significant, he adds. “Enlightenment people can become disconnected from any particular culture. This is part of what’s behind the ‘globalist’ charge. Sometimes that refers to the global financial elite, and sometimes it’s veiled antisemitism, but it can also point to this sense of cultural emptiness.” Critchley says that globalism is a concept that disconnects people from the symbols and traditions that shape their lives. Critchley compares it to the campaign to teach Esperanto, “the international language.” He wonders at “the idea that anyone would want to speak a language rooted in no culture at all.”

What is true in language is also true of history, art, and human psychology. Counter-Enlightenment people “would argue that people are inherently subjective and tied to a particular location.” Culture is crucial.

Says Critchley, “The Democratic party — I’ve seen it up close — is sometimes stuck in a science-driven world. They’re really good at using science and coming up with solutions.” But they can be oblivious to culture.

“A lot of liberals would be surprised that while more than 90 percent of Blacks consider themselves Democrats, only about a quarter would define themselves as liberal.” Critchley says that they need to recognize “there are many cultures alive in the Black community.”

The current level of social friction threatens  . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Here’s the sidebar to the article:

Solving Our Long Division Problem

In his book, Critchley makes several suggestions for talking with fellow Americans of opposing political beliefs.

  1. Right from the start, show respect, good will, and vulnerability. Leave your defenses behind and show you’re ready to be honest and authentic.
  2. Control the natural human instinct to judge people who disagree with you. Just be aware of what they’re saying without trying to correct them. You can return to your differences later, maybe, after you’ve established trust.
  3. Look for your points of agreement. De-emphasize the differences. Trust can grow from shared values.
  4. Focus on building trust, not making points. When ideological opponents can stop vilifying each other, and can stop viewing different viewpoints as evil, American society can resume the work of compromise and progress.
  5. Don’t expect opposition to disappear. The point is not to eliminate conflict but to repair our society’s ability to handle it constructively.


Written by Leisureguy

25 September 2020 at 9:55 am

The mass-market filter, and a marketing misstep by Edwin Jagger

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That little Chubby 1 Best is a fine little brush with a full and ample knot that has a very nice feel — and does a very good job. The lather it worked up from Phoenix Artisan’s Organism 46-B was lush, and the fragrance is one I like a lot — and one that will never be used in a mass-market shaving soap. The mass market lives on small margins that require large volumes, and competitive consideerations discourage idiosyncrasy at such volumes.

Alfie Kohn, in his (interesting and readable) book No Contest: The Case Against Competition, describes how competition stifles creativity (as observed in many studies). Of course, Phoenix Artisan also must compete, but working in small volumes means experimentation is less risky — and also encourages greater variety. (For an exceptional example of how that can work, check out the variety here.)

The razor head is either an Edwin Jagger head or a clone of same. Far be it from me to offer marketing advice to Edwin Jagger — well, not so far as that… in fact, considerably closer — I think that company made a mistake in leaving the heads without any brand identification at all. Perhaps production costs ruled, against it, but had I been marketing director I would have pushed strongly from brand identification on at least the baseplate, and I would have suggested also a small circled “EJ” in a corner of the cap (perhaps in diagonally opposite corners).

As it is, I can’t tell whethr that head is a clone or not. It does have more blade feel than I expect from an EJ head, but that might be a result of the brand of blade I have in it, since brands of blades vary somewhat in width.

Nonetheless, the shave was good, and the splash of Organism 46-B at the end was invigorating.

Written by Leisureguy

25 September 2020 at 9:51 am

Posted in Shaving

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