Truth, What It Is

If anyone is interested in philosophy, then this may be a worthwhile read.  I know, for many this may just be common knowledge.   I am putting up a blog that I have created from scratch, no cookie-cutter Wix for me, that will hone in on concepts that I believe all critical thinkers should know.  This may be included.  It has a liberal bias of course, but that is because liberals have the science more often than not correct, oh, and they seem to care a little more about things.  The first part is truth in brief, while the latter part deals with it in depth.  A discussion on truth matters because conservatives, religious fanatics, and pundits label liberals relativists.

A Brief Overview of Truth

Truth is an important topic. In fact, without a notion of truth, which is what conforms to reality, we would not be able to function very well. It is also important to the world of politics since everyone believes they are right. Is truth relative as in “what is true for you may not be true for me”, or are truths absolute as in everywhere and always true and independent of what we believe? It depends upon what type of truths we are considering. I, however, reject the notion of absolute objective truth because even facts about nature are dependent upon our understanding. This makes every fact relative to at the very least our minds. After all, without our conceptual systems (how we categorize and understand our reality) nature would just be stuff that does stuff with stuff. But if I, for example, claim that a cup is on the table, then the cup’s existence is absolute. The claim, however, that the cup is on the table, as expressed in language, is always relative to our understanding. That is, in order to understand it, we must have the same language and concepts. This does not mean that everything is open to interpretation or is relative. Things instead can be objectively true within a framework. This means that we must settle on relative objective truths. [If you still don’t get it, then read the in-depth discussion.]

Truth is a kind of illusory rule-following, the purpose of which has long been forgotten; it’s a “mobile army of metaphors” that become “enhanced, transposed, and embellished poetically and rhetorically” by people in charge.

Was Nietzsche Right?

If something is a matter of fact, then there is some consensus on how to determine its truth. Does the senate have 100 seats? Does demand increase when prices decrease all else equal? These issues can be settled, and these facts obviously do not care what we believe. Facts can be established by definition or by observing a phenomena, and we can determine the truth of a fact by either observation or reasoning. Opinions, by contrast, are subjective because they are based on our preferences. Is a dog a good pet? There is no way to settle the issue and only the person making the claim has access to the things that make it true. We should not, however, claim that objective truth is more important than subjective truth since it depends upon the situation.

Nietzsche is referring to mostly definitional facts that we create. These truths are often called intersubjective by postmodernists because the definitions are based on people’s perception which go on to form a consensus. As much as postmodernism gets wrong since they do not believe any truth should be given priority over another truth, they are correct in that all truth is relative to a framework. Our language and concepts, for example, form a unique framework in how to view the world. As far as science is concerned, I reject the postmodernist’s claims that it is but one of many narratives. There is a reality that is independent of us, and we can know this reality. In fact, we would not be able to survive if our concepts were not a reflection of reality’s important attributes.

We Prove Morals True

What is important for the world of politics are beliefs, values, and morals. These types of truths are difficult to prove. They are important, however, because they can shape our reality just as much as the facts of nature do. Since we operate as if our beliefs are true, then they can be thought of as facts. Morals are not facts about the natural world that we observe of course. For example, the claim that abortion is immoral becomes a fact to the believer. They then try to show how it is immoral by way of argument. All moral systems believe that morality is about human wellbeing, so we could argue that morality is absolute. But it depends on who gets to define it. If we frame abortion as a baby instead of as a cluster of cells, then conservatives are correct when they claim abortion is immoral. Conversely, liberals are also correct that abortion is moral because destroying cells is not killing a person. It is framing differences that cause truth to seem like it is up for grabs. When it comes to certain kinds of truths, Nietzsche may be correct.

For those who demand an in depth treatment of truth, namely on objectivism and absolutism.  

I. Are We Absolutely Sure?

The political and religious right hate the word relativism. I suspect that they would score low on personality assessments that test for openness to experience but high for a need for order, structure, and closure. Because not liking relativism suggests a difficulty in dealing with nuance. The world is complex and things depend on other things. What can we say for certain is absolute—that is, what is always and everywhere true (universal) and not dependent upon things to make it true (unconditional)? Not much unless we restrict what counts as making the fact conditional. Is one and one always and everywhere two? This seems to be the case. We made up mathematics, so this should not be surprising. Does the fact that we have to understand the fact count as the fact being dependent on something else? It all depends. All triangles have three sides. I concede that this is an absolute objective fact. But, again, are we being too restrictive in what counts as a relation to the fact since we cannot have a conversation without understanding the fact in the first place?

What about the idea that relativism refutes itself because if it is not absolutely true, then how can everything be relative? The statement is not meant to be self-referential. Language is a tool to communicate ideas and that is what the statement does. This is where things get tricky. Take the true proposition that “the cup is on the table.” This is known as a true truth bearer. The claim, which is itself true, is referring to (or bearing) a truth. What the claim refers to, not the claim itself, is an absolute fact because its existence is independent of our minds and is always and everywhere true. But the linguistic claim itself cannot be absolute because it depends upon our understanding. And some cultures, for example, may not have a concept for cup. For the statement one and one is two, if we believe that math is neither an objective nor transcedent part of the universe, which cognitive science shows easily, then it is only a universal fact because of humans. Although math may reveal objective features of the universe, it itself is not an objective feature of the world.

The words absolute and objective are often used interchangeably. If we define absolute as independent of only the mind (unconditional) and everywhere and always (universal) true, then our analysis becomes easier. Objectivism, which is a model on how to perceive the world, makes an ontological split between “objects,” which are “out there,” and subjectivity, which is “in here”. Objectivity translates to “things themselves”. It is when we fit the world to words as it “actuallly” is, minimizing subjectivity (bias). When scientists say that we can know the objective world, they only mean it in the sense that there is a world independent of our subjectivity. With science’s advanced instrumentation, we would have to agree that we can characterize reality in many ways. They cannot say though that their version of reality will be universal in all possible worlds.

Objects, however, do not come with descriptions in themselves; we must make descriptions with our conceptual systems. As we will find out, our conceptual systems (how we categorize and understand) shapes the world in unique ways. Since we are involved in the conceptualization of reality, then the concepts of objectivity and subjectivity begin to lose their boundaries. The best we can say is that science is observing a stable reality both in its form and function. We know this to be the case because we have indpendent people with different equipment measuring the same reality up against a common standard. If the results converge, then we know we are measuring some type of stable reality. This is because using different equipment minimizes the possibility that one is introducing a biased interpretation. Reality though is still dependent upon our understanding, which means we cannot have absolute truth. Realty’s existence is absolute but its description and conceptualization are not.

II. Objectivism As A Model

The problem with scientific realism is that it takes two intertwined and inseparable dimensions of all experience—the awareness of the experiencing organism and the stable entities and structures it encounters—and erects them as separate and distinct entities called subjects and objects. What “external” realism misses is that, as embodied, imaginative creatures, we never were separated or divorced from reality in the first place. What has always made science possible is our embodiment, not our transcendence of it, and our imagination, not our avoidance of it.  George Lakoff  

Truths are either verifiable by observation or reason. Postmodernists, who subscribe to subjectivism, claim that objectivity is an intersubjective consensus of shared truths amongst people. Truth does seem to take on the role of being a consensus because of conformity. But observational truths are grounded in reality because we were designed to sucsessfully interact with our enviornment. Our brains, via perceptual and motor systems, categorize the world by forming certain kinds of categories, such as color, basic-level, spatial-relation, and aspectual (event-structuring) concepts. When we form basic-level categories, such as identifying an object, we use mental-imagery, motor movement, and gestalt perception to conceptualize them. Once we categorize reality, we then form various prototypes, instances of the category, which allows us to do “some sort of inferential or imaginative task relative to a category.” This forms the basis of reasoning, which involves inference, entailment, and metaphor.

We understand concepts by how we interact with the world. Objectivists, however, define concepts by their inherit properties and apply necessary and sufficienet conditions in accordance with set theory. For basic-level and spatial-relation concepts, which would be objects in space, objectivism’s account of reality converges with ours. We will soon find out though that it gives false predictions and is restrictive. Objectivism, for example, would tell us that green is an inherit property of the green grass. But physics tells us that green is not inheritly “in the grass” since it is reflected and interpreted by our brains as being green. There is no reason to reject a first-person ontology. A person’s phenomenological experience is every bit as valid as the neural level (color cones). Objectivism, however, has no way of dealing with conflicing levels of truth. It is supposed to represent a single level-indepedent or neutral perspective. Disciplines necessarily conceptualize phenomena differently. In fact, there are three levels within cognitive science: phenomenolgoical, cognitive unconsious, and neural. Each level is real because they predict how real phenomena behaves.

Although objectivism is adhered to for science, with the exception of color, it is a myth nevertheless. It is a myth because it is a narrative that tells us how to understand reality. It runs into problems because its theory of truth is supposed to be indepedent of human understanding. Since meaning is depedent upon understanding, meaning, say of a sentence, cannot exist in itself. Objectivism believes it can give a theory of truth in itself, where the theory of meaning will be based on it as well. The key to understanding truth, however, is that it is a phenomena. Truth is when things make sense to us, relative to our conceptual systems, and happens when we successfuly interact with the world. To objectivim, truth is a matter of fitting words to the world. This approach leaves a chasm where meaning is either found glued to the world itself or in the words themselves. But meaning cannot be in the world itself. It cannot be in the words either because of formalism’s influence on linguistics, which says that language is the manipulation of meaningless symbols or words by formal rules. This leaves objectivism with trying to fill in the gaps with the correspondence theory of truth, but it gives false predictions on language and understanding.

PC, A Waste of Time?

I have so much I would like to write about but have not had the time lately.  I appreciate those who take the time to read and comment because that is how I learn.  This research article got my attention, so I must post it.  For those doubters that political correctness and raising consciousnesses to our biases do not change anything, perhaps a study conducted over 14 years may.

Many conservatives believe that racism does not exist.  It is nothing more than a conspiracy—a way for liberal politicians to exploit our mistaken beliefs.  But implicit and explicit biases, which this study measured in 7.1 million tests, are a real thing.  When we automatically make judgments without being aware of it, say old is bad and young is good, then this is implicit.  By contrast, when we consciously and deliberately make negative judgments toward others, these are explicit biases.  Researchers have devised clever tests that can reliably distinguish between the two.  If we read the abstract below, we will see that biases in almost every category decreased with the exception of “age, disability, and body-weight attitudes.”

I am always appalled when I learn that a co-worker believes that there is no such thing as bias and racism.  There has been a concerted effort by the political right to spread this propaganda for decades now.   This goes back to the 1970s when anti-PC propaganda often originated from think tanks, such as the Cato Institute.  Many myths about political correctness have been born as a result.  I will post these myths in the next post.

I do not know how much the study hypothesizes that changes in attitudes come from the concerted efforts of political correctness in our culture versus other causes.  But where else would it come from other than our culture raising awareness?  I suppose we can reason that equality is just and then start equal treatment ourselves.  In any event, here is the abstract from the article.  I do not have access to it, so I have not read it yet and cannot attest to its significance.  If we like to appeal to authority, Steven Pinker, like him or hate him, did post this as evidence as well on Twitter.  I will soon get my hands on a copy of it and report back.

Research Article’s Abstract

Using more than 7.1 million implicit and explicit attitude tests drawn from U.S. participants to the Project Implicit website, we examined long-term trends across 14 years (2007–2020). Despite tumultuous sociopolitical events, trends from 2017 to 2020 persisted largely as forecasted from past data (2007–2016). Since 2007, all explicit attitudes decreased in bias between 22% (age attitudes) and 98% (race attitudes). Implicit sexuality, race, and skin-tone attitudes also continued to decrease in bias, by 65%, 26%, and 25%, respectively. Implicit age, disability, and body-weight attitudes, however, continued to show little to no long-term change. Patterns of change and stability were generally consistent across demographic groups (e.g., men and women), indicating widespread, macrolevel change. Ultimately, the data magnify evidence that (some) implicit attitudes reveal persistent, long-term change toward neutrality. The data also newly reveal the potential for short-term influence from sociopolitical events that temporarily disrupt progress toward neutrality, although attitudes eventually return to long-term homeostasis in trends.

Charlesworth, T. E. S., & Banaji, M. R. (2022). Patterns of Implicit and Explicit Attitudes: IV. Change and Stability From 2007 to 2020. Psychological Science, 33(9), 1347–1371.

Brain on Criticism

I have been incredibly busy, so I am way behind on my posts.  This one is not even done, so I have to break it up into portions.  This is a breakdown courtesy of the latest scientific research on how we respond to signals that we “aren’t enough” or are “less than”.  It is fascinating how we evolved to actually care what others think.  I will save the why we care what others think for the next post.

This is a follow-up to my posts on criticisms and on Jonathan Haidt’s analysis of microaggressions.  Haidt believes that we should desensitize ourselves to criticisms and insults and not be a part of the callout culture.  I agree with his advice that it is better to learn how to cope with criticism than shield ourselves from it.  However, there are groups of people that are vulnerable to pervasive insults and shaming, like minorities, LBGTQ+, or undesirable others, who may benefit from protection in hopes that they can rise in political and cultural status.  This becomes a challenge since many believe it is a fundamental right of freedom of speech to be able to put down others.  If a criticism bears truth, then it is our right to disparage others, especially if they or their attributes are inferior or inadequate.  This can be settled by one question.  Is our goal in life to be right or to get along with others?

How We Respond to Criticisms and Insults

Criticisms are when we “find fault” in something or someone.  Everything else is a variation on the criticism but expressed with various intentions, emotions, subtleties, and body language.  It becomes abusive if we want to inflict emotional harm (i), which is a form of emotional abuse.  Abusive criticisms can be formed as insults, humiliation, epithets, disparage, ridicule, contempt, mocking, teasing, innuendo, slur, and sarcasm.  A stipulation is that the attack must be on our appearance, abilities, character, intelligence, or affiliations.  These areas are vulnerable because we do not want to be exposed as “less than” or “not good enough” to some desirable standard.  We do not like to deviate from desirable standards because we can feel shame, hurt feelings, and anger.

Take an insult that Donald Trump has said to Robert Denerio and Mika Brzezinski, “You are a low IQ individual.”  This is an abusive criticism, namely an insult, because it is meant to inflict emotional harm, but it may not be a criticism in the strict sense.  It is criticism if there is truth to it, which lies within the perception of others.  Knowing Trump, this insult was uttered with the emotion of contempt to add to its effect.  Contempt signals that we are not worthy of consideration since we or are attributes are inferior.  What about the insult that those are “shithole countries?  Since our place of origin and culture are tied to our identity, then we should be offended.  Even though this is not a direct criticism, we can feel shame by virtue of identifying with an inferior place or group.

Let us say we made a mistake at work and someone said that we were “careless and dumb”.  This is a clear insult but could also be a legitimate criticism if that is how we are perceived.  If it is something that we hear a lot, there may be some truth to it.  But how do we process this?  Initially, we may not process the threat entirely.  The brain will realize,  however, that it is a threat to our self-worth, and we will feel anger because we externalize the event—that is, it is coming from a source that is not us.  Anger is the emotion of self-preservation, and it tells others that we won’t be pushed around.  But responding to a perceived slight with anger is unacceptable at work, and we know this unconsciously.  The only other option is to attribute the slight to internal causes.

If we attribute it to our abilities or intelligence, things out of our control that cannot be changed, we will feel shame.  If we attribute it to us not trying hard enough, things within our control, then we feel guilt.  That is not all.  If we process this as the person no longer holds us in high esteem or values us, then we can feel hurt feelings.  Narcissists, on the other hand, deflect criticism with hubristic pride.

  1. Does the criticism threaten who I am supposed to be— e.g., a capable, smart, and attractive person?
    1. If yes, then go to 2.  If no, then stop.
  2. Is the threat internal (caused by me) or external (not caused by me)?
    1. If we attribute the threat coming from someone else, then we can display anger.  go to 4.
    2. If we internalize the threat, which is an unconscious process, then go to 3.
  3. Is the threat something that is out of my control or within my control (ii)?
    1. If out of our control, then we feel shame.  If within our control, then we feel guilt.
  4. Do we imagine ourselves as the criticism portrays us or ruminate over our feelings of being mistreated?
    1. If so, this can lead to anger or rage.  We can have the thoughts of “who do they think they are” and retaliate.

Emotion Determination

Emotion Determination [1]

What if it is generally believed that we are ugly, stupid, inadequate, or undesirable?  People of course fall on a continuum within these categories, but we think categorically and stereotypically.  We are either in or out of a category.  He is attractive.  He is not attractive.  He is smart.  He is not smart.  There must be some threshold within the continuum that allows us to make these black or white appraisals.  Therapists, however, warn of global or black-and-white words because they can induce the emotion of shame.  Why do they induce shame?  Because if it is us, which global words necessarily imply, then we are forced to make a global attribution and feel shame as a consequence.  If we instead said that certain aspects of us are ugly or dumb, then we may not trigger shame.  It is the extent to which the internal attribution is stable, controllable, and global.  And “the degree to which shame becomes spread to a global sense of self depends on the meaning and values of the roles and attributes that are deemed important for self-definition and identity [1]”.

[1] The Self-Conscious Emotions.  Tracy, Jessica.

Political Quirkiness


Quirks of nature happen all the time.  When we pay attention to an inconsistency, our motivation is usually to delegitimize a person, idea, or movement.  Hopefully, these quirks are not fatal.  Inconsistencies may not matter if there is a net benefit or if the purpose is achieved.  The above is no more inconsistent than the idea that we want to minimize murder through capital punishment.  What about a doctor who is treating us for cancer but has never had cancer, the drug addict preaching to us not to use drugs, or conservatives hating their government but loving their country?  Although it feels like hypocrisy or inconsistency, which we are good at detecting, none of this matters for the purpose of treating a patient, giving good advice, or following the dictums of an ideology.

The cartoon says that in liberals’ efforts to increase the inclusion of marginalized others, we end up excluding those who do not want to participate.  We can view this as irony or as pragmatism.  It is a punitive mechanism to improve the status of a group of people by creating acceptable speech and behavior.  We may lose some people along the way, but as was the case for women and gays, the net effect is that these people rise in political and cultural status (i).  The two complaints of political correctness are, one, it robs us of our freedom of expression and, two, it privileges one group at the expense of other groups.  There is confusion regarding these two points, which deserve a separate post.  Especially since the left is characterized as follows in the event of Salman Rushdie’s death.

The first group (liberals) believes they are motivated by inclusion and tolerance—that it’s possible to create something even better than liberalism, a utopian society where no one is ever offended.  But it is the indulgence and cowardice of the words are violence crowd (liberals) that has empowered the fundamentalists and allowed us to reach this moment, when a fanatic rushes the stage of a literary conference with a knife and plunges it into one of the bravest writers alive.

There are five cases to look at that demonstrate inconsistencies.  The first case is compromising morality in order to produce a net positive effect.  Typically these compromises are not deleterious.  If we want to increase the status of the LGBTQ+ community, then there must be consequences for behaving poorly towards them.  Even though we want to minimize exclusion, the exclusion of detractors is used as a tool because it is effective.  The second case is when two things are inextricably tied together.  In abortion, if we do one thing (woman), then it affects another thing (baby), and vice versa.  The third case is hypocrisy.  A drug addict telling us to not use drugs is good advice.  This only becomes hypocrisy if the addict were to cast judgment on us.  The fourth case involves empathy.  A doctor would understand how to treat cancer regardless if he had it, but he may not be sympathetic towards us.  A fifth reason why inconsistencies appear is that worldviews have an underlying logic that dictates how political issues are handled.

Inconsistencies of Worldviews

As another example, libertarians condemn altruism as immoral but say by the way helping others is alright.  This is more than an inconsistency since it negates the purpose of their goals, which are to maximize self-interest and condemn altruism.  It only shows their desperation and failure in reconciling real-life morality with their dogmatism.  Most people believe that extreme selfishness is immoral and altruism is moral.  To make their philosophy work, they would have to say that altruism as sacrificing ourselves to our own detriment or being forced to sacrifice is immoral.  Despite this, coercion may help the common good.  This shows that the real purpose of their condemning altruism is to prevent providing for the common good.  But wait another inconsistency shows its face.

How can liberals believe that providing for the common good is a moral act if we have to force many to do so?  Libertarians rightfully say that taking from someone’s income to give to another person through coercion is theft and immoral.  If it is involuntary, then we would have to agree.  But there is often a net benefit because it serves the purpose of lifting many out of poverty and reducing the corrosive effects of status inequality.  So we compromise morality in order to serve the greater good.  It is called deep pragmatism. Besides being the moral thing to do, which is to help those in need, there are good selfish reasons to subscribe to serving the common good.  The second post on “Libertarians Don’t Get a Lot” will explain in detail how the common good is in our best interest.


How about conservatives who are pro-life but endorse the death penalty?  There is a perfectly good reason why they are this way and it has to do with the logic of their worldview.  It is just a consequence of the way things work out.  The logic follows from their morality of rewards and punishment.  They punish those who murder with consequences that fit the crime.  What about the origin behind forcing women to have an unwanted pregnancy?  There is a hierarchy for their worldview: men above women, white men above minorities, …, and straight above gay.  The female is supposed to raise the children and not seek out a professional career. She is in violation of their hierarchy, which brings resentment.  Since she ranks lower than the male, she must be submissive.

This only explains how they can force females to give birth but not why they are pro-life.  The Bible is silent on abortion.  Abortion evades self-discipline and personal responsibility, which are staples of their worldview.  A teenage girl, for example, should not be indulging in sex and should be practicing self-restraint.  She deserves to be punished not coddled; she deserves to pay the consequences of her actions.  But why then are conservatives against funding programs to reduce infant mortality through pre and postnatal care if they want to save the baby?  Because it has nothing to do with saving the baby and everything to do with personal accountability.  Furthermore, to a conservative, government handouts prevent people from becoming self-reliant and self-disciplined.

Why do liberals side with the mother during an abortion and not the unborn child?  Why do they choose to nurture the woman with empathy and support but not the baby?  Liberals tend to care a lot about the harm done to the marginalized, the environment, and animals and endorse protectionism as a result.  But why does the unborn child not deserve any protection? This is an inconsistency in the application of values.  They claim it has to do with liberty which is the freedom to do as we wish as long as we do not interfere with the freedom of others.  What about the baby’s freedom from being killed?  Liberals overcome this by claiming supremacy of the woman’s right to her own body.  But whose rights win, the babies or the women?  They are tied together, so it is an either-or result.

Why do conservatives love their country but hate their government?  If we view the government as a metaphor for the father of a family (the populace), then conservatives do not want their father to interfere with their own family.  The father does not know what is best for our own family.  He is a meddler and interferes on issues (local state issues) in which he is no expert.  His meddling brings resentment and interferes with our liberty.  The government’s forefathers represent the country and are to be mystically admired.


i) For millions of years, we lived within homogeneous tribes of no more than one hundred people with the same beliefs, values, race, and ethnicity.  We are now forced to tolerate people from all walks of life.  No one is asking anyone to wholeheartedly embrace LGBTQ+, minorities, and women but at the very least be respectful and tolerable.  We cannot force acceptance, but we can create social norms to create tolerance.  Hopefully with time tolerance leads to acceptance.  The best way to breed acceptance with people that are different than us is to look for what we have in common.  This leads to empathy instead of hate, contempt, and fear.  For a lot of people, however, it appears that hate and fear are the default positions.  This means political correctness has an integral role.

Libertarians Don’t Get a Lot

Have we ever tried to argue with a libertarian?  Do we think that there is something fundamentally wrong with a worldview that champions selfishness and is obsessed with liberty?  Even though these liberties do not include the freedom from deprivation?  After all, we are supposed to be independent and self-reliant.  Relying on others when down and out whether it be the state or society is wrong.  What about the belief that unrestrained capitalism will always produce a beneficial outcome for everyone?  Or the belief that providing for the common good is immoral.  These beliefs turn out to be dangerous.  We need to stop the spread of this contagion.  This post will address why Libertarians neither understand what morality means nor are interested in pragmatism.  More to come…

Libertarianism is dangerous because culture will not interpret its nuances.  And there really are not that many shades of grey to begin with.  It is dogmatic.  It states that selfishness is the means to an end—the end is living a happy life.  It further says that sacrificing for others is not in anyone’s best interest.  They claim, however, that this does not mean we cannot help others, which is a small kind of sacrifice.  But then they condemn altruism altogether as immoral.  This philosophy cannot be taken seriously.  The only way it can be taken seriously is if sacrifice is restricted to mean helping others to a significant detriment of our own or if it is forced upon us through coercion.  But sometimes we must give up something to get something.  It is certainly moral to have a certain degree of self-interest since our well-being depends upon it.  But if we make selfishness to be a dogmatic version of morality, then we get a social norm of “me before you”—first and always.  This is not a society I would want to live in nor should our children.


I cannot address Gad Saad’s philosophy because he has not written about it at length.  Instead, I pick Michael Dahlen, a worshiper of libertarianism who wrote a fantastic book on the philosophy of libertarianism.  It boils down to a conflict between the individual’s and group’s interests.  Dahlen claims that the group has no interests as long as we all act selfishly.  He has no solution though for those who cannot pursue their interests.  We are not supposed to sacrifice for one another but rather exchange for mutual benefit. He probably has the most persuasive argument out there for libertarianism—it is lucid and coherent.  But it is wrong nevertheless. Like all worldviews, libertarianism is a preference cloaked in reason and logic.  The only difference is that this one is dangerous.

Libertarian: Most important, a selfish person places nothing above his own happiness. Consequently, he rejects the notion that sacrifice is a virtue. He understands that sacrifice—of himself to others or others to himself—is not in anyone’s interests. [1]  Biologist: Incorrect, the real world is not all-or-nothing; we often compromise our happiness for others.  It is in the group’s best interest to participate in teamwork and sacrifice.  Sacrifice through giving works at the individual level because someday we may become weak, disabled, or incapable. Sacrifice is a matter of degree.

The fatal flaw of libertarianism is the very reason why it is not as pervasive as it could be.  Dahlen cannot understand why so many people believe that selfishness is immoral when he believes it is moral.  His definition of selfishness and morality is based on a priori reasoning.  Here’s a scientific fact for Dahlen, which is the best kind.  Morality is defined as the “values of a tribe to suppress and regulate the self-interest in others.”  We evolved within the group to favor fairness and equality.  It is in the group’s best interest to somewhat sacrifice so that we can cooperate and compete in order to survive.  It is in everyone’s best interest when we do not get too “full of ourselves” or too much success and forget about others.  Even our friends keep us in check by putting us down if we get “high and mighty”.  Emotions are adaptations to help solve the problem of group living.  We feel envy and hate when threatened by those who are better than us.  We feel contempt for those who are beneath us, which do not contribute to the group.  We feel sympathy for those who are impoverished and left behind.  We were more or less egalitarian before the advent of agriculture [1.1].

Libertarian: To justify altruism, one must appeal to faith, or feelings, or God’s will, or society’s will, or an ineffable moral sentiment—anything but facts, logic, reason. Altruism rests on irrationalism. [1]  Biologist: Incorrect, altruism is any behaviors that improve the wellbeing of others.  Arguing that altruism is one biological imperative to aid in the survival of the group is an appeal to science, not irrationalism.  Moral emotions are not “ineffable moral sentiments”.

Dahlen would object and say that we are past tribalism.  After all, we reasoned our way to individualism through the Enlightenment era, so we can reason ourselves out of our natural emotions.  Capitalism provided a solution to the problem of group living since each person maximizes their self-interest through the exchange of money for goods and services.  It is a non-zero summed game. Wealth is created in the process, and we are all better off.  This is true.  But besides being self-interested we have moral emotions that are intended to increase the survival of the group through teamwork and sacrifice.  He writes this fact off as being an “ineffable moral sentiment”.   He claims that we must base our reasoning on facts and logic.  But his logic cannot account for conflicting emotions: selfishness feels wrong when others display an exaggerated amount, and we have a strong desire to be selfish. These are observable facts that aid in our survival.  Dahlen is motivated to make a case that is not based on how human nature works.

Libertarians Don’t Get Pragmatism

There is much to celebrate about libertarianism; its commitment to liberty and personal autonomy is commendable.  The very idea of individualism allows anyone to be who they want to be, which is integral to our health and happiness.  We do not want anyone coercing us or telling us what to do, and we want as much freedom as possible to pursue our goals in life.  As Homo sapiens, however, we are social creatures through and through (i).  This means that we must balance our needs for personal autonomy within the constraints of our social group.  The challenge is that most libertarians are against collectivism, which is when we sacrifice for the common good.  This could include scenarios where we would sacrifice in the form of taxes for welfare programs.  Since they make a distinction between society and the state, they must permit collectivism at some level. But if this is the case, then why is it never discussed?  And if liberty is the freedom to do what we want as long as we do not impinge upon others, then the state mandating we sacrifice something for others is a form of coercion.  If we assume that it is coercion, then collectivism is immoral.

Libertarian: There is nothing humane, benevolent, or compassionate about a morality (altruism) that rests on the premise that you have no right to your own life—a morality that subordinates your life to the needs of others, a morality that condemns you for pursuing your interests, a morality that considers you noble only if you choose to suffer. Because there is no legitimate reason to sacrifice, altruism is a groundless morality. [1]  Psychologist: Life is not all-or-nothing.  Sacrifice comes in degrees.  If we are sacrificing always to our own detriment, then this is neither healthy nor moral.  If we sacrifice for the common good in a way that does not affect our wellbeing, then altruism is moral.

Whether or not collectivism is a case of coercion, however, depends on the willingness of the individual to submit.  We are inevitably subordinating ourselves to the state, but we are doing it willingly.  So, at least for the willing, state interference is not coercion (i). We are giving up freedoms to the state in order to maximize our freedom for the common good.  Libertarians will be quick to point out that this goes against the founding fathers’ philosophy of individualism, which was concerned mainly with limiting the power of government and protecting our rights.  But others state that the U.S. Constitution’s preamble wording of “promote the general welfare” suggests that providing assistance to those in need is justified.  On the other hand, the courts have been consistent in saying that the U.S. Constitution guarantees no rights to a minimal standard of living.  Legislation, however, has many routes in which to institute policy.  Furthermore, the tradition of individualism was not always followed.  Take the original colonies that named states the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and Virginia (iii).  This commonwealth of Massachusetts was for the common good.

Freedom is the freedom to do what we want to do and the freedom from harm, want, and fear.  Libertarians want the freedom to do what they want and freedom from harm, want, and fear with the least amount of state interference.  Freedom from harm, want, and fear would require the state to protect us from ourselves, others, and economic deprivation.  This would be accomplished through regulations, welfare, the police force, and national defense.  Libertarians do not like regulations, expropriations, or interference; they are to be mocked as coddling and condemned as immoral.  The mocking works because it appeals to autonomy and toughness (iv). Sometimes we have to give up something in order to get something.  In other words, we are giving up freedom to not have interference in order to get freedom from harm, want, and fear.  How many lives have been saved with seatbelt regulations?  We should of course not have unnecessary regulations.  But their value for autonomy becomes an absolute that prevents pragmatism.

Libertarians Don’t Get Morality

Libertarian: Animals automatically pursue the values their lives depend on. Man does not. He’s not born with instincts telling him what to do. He’s not born with innate knowledge of what values he needs and how to gain them. [1] Biologist: Dahlen’s facts on human nature are wrong.  We are animals and very similar to other animals.  It has been speculated that other animals must form intuitive inferences, which is a form of reasoning.  Moral sentiments are hard-wired into us and are not learned.  We can refine our innate morality with reason.  But passion drives reason.

Morality in the everyday sense is about right and wrong behavior.  This right and wrong behavior translates into the rights that we have.  The right to choose.  The right to be free from coercion and abuse.  The right to pursue our self-interest.  In the scientific sense, it is about managing the self-interest of everyone in order to free us up enough to cooperate.  If we are selfish and exploit one another, then cooperation would not be possible.  Therefore we must regulate the self-interest in one another through morality, either consciously or unconsciously.  Moral emotions either were co-opted or evolved directly as a way to solve the problem of cooperation.  Solving the problem of cooperation allowed us to put Us ahead of Me.  Groups that cooperated outcompeted groups that did not cooperate.  This allowed us to put Us ahead of Them.  What makes cooperation and sacrifice work?  It is not reason and logic but emotions.  The pride we feel towards group membership, the sympathy we feel towards those in need, or the desire to want to be a part of something are all pieces that make cooperation and sacrifice work.  To ignore these is to ignore morality.

There is a reason why we feel strong emotions when issues of fairness, equality, status, rank, care, safety, authority, liberty, and loyalty arise.  In some sense, we have multiple moralities.  Each one of these scenarios may engage independent evolved psychological mechanisms that helped to solve the problem of cooperation through suppressing self-interest.  Self-interest is anything that benefits us which can be at the cost of another.  So murder, stealing, and rape are self-interested according to an evolutionary biologist.  This is why punishment is moral because it suppresses self-interested acts.  Reciprocal altruism, which says if you scratch my back, I will scratch yours, says that we only engage in altruism that benefits us.  So even altruism is selfish because we expect a returned favor.  But group-level selection can explain why some forms of altruism do not require a favor in return because it benefits the group; we may be on the receiving end of an altruistic act when in need.  Since altruism evolved between groups or within a group, this is why we are not as altruistic to complete strangers.  Typically shared values, beliefs, and backgrounds increase the likelihood that we behave altruistically.  A more comprehensive definition of morality is found below.

Libertarian: An objective morality is logically derived from man’s nature as a volitional being and the factual requirements of his survival and happiness. [1]  Moral Psychologist: Correct, but Dahlen does not base his morality on facts that conform to real morality.  Moral systems are interlocking sets of values, virtues, norms, practices, identities, institutions, and innate tedencies that work together to suppress or regulate self-interest and make cooperative societies possible. [5]

Dahlen does not include any discussion of real morality because it allows him to conclude that moral emotions are “ineffable moral sentiments”.  His account of morality is based on reason alone.  The fact is without these moral emotions there is no morality. Politics is just as much about control over resources and influence over people as it is about morality and shared visions on how society should be configured.  Morality both “binds and blinds us”.  It “binds” us together with similar beliefs and values so we can cooperate and compete with other groups, but it “blinds” us to the points of view of others who do not share our values and beliefs. We become self-righteous and cemented to our values.  This is one reason why there is so much tension amongst different political groups. Reason and logic of course can help us see our similarities.  In fact, it may help us to overcome some of our tribal instincts of Us versus Them.  But for in-group morality, for Me versus Us, we do not want to abandon our emotions [1].  To omit these emotions from our reason is not only dangerous but not possible.  All research within moral psychology points to emotions driving our reasoning.  Reasoning becomes a way to rationalize and conceal our moral sentiments.  We feel first and justify with reasons.

Libertarian: These government-imposed policies are immoral because they initiate force, immoral because they violate people’s rights.  We must argue that just because a person needs something, that doesn’t entitle him to other people’s wealth. Transferring wealth from those who have earned it to those who haven’t is immoral. [1]

A part of morality is for us to not like when others push us around, tell us what to do, or force us to do things against our will.  This is a legitimate aversion that we have against being dominated and exploited.  For libertarians unwilling to sacrifice, they can accurately say that imposing taxes on us by the threat of punishment violates an aspect of morality.  But sometimes it is in everyone’s best interest to submit to others.  Recall that morality is about right and wrong conduct that will suppress the self-interest in others so that we can cooperate.  This right and wrong behavior usually benefits our well-being.  So morality is often conceptualized in terms of the well-being it can provide to others.  Subordinating ourselves to the state by giving up some of our wealth for the common good does not impose much harm to our wellbeing.  It is a sacrifice that can benefit those in need.  This is hard to convince a lot of people of having merit.  Besides being immoral for the unwilling, there are two further reasons not to buy into welfare: economic and proximity. Economists argue that transferring wealth hinders capital accumulation, savings, and investment.  Furthermore, those who receive transfers of wealth tend to consume it all and not save.  Whether or not this has a positive or negative effect on the economy depends on a host of factors.  Welfare may also promote dependency and decrease incentives to be productive.  But there is an equal amount of studies showing how welfare if implemented correctly can lift honest people out of poverty and reduce the corrosive effects of status inequality.  The second problem, namely proximity, is that we evolved in small tribes of no bigger than one hundred. Today we are a heterogeneous population with differing values and ethnicities.  We do not like to sacrifice to those dissimilar to us.

Moral Psycholgoist: Your moral intuitions are fantastic cognitive gizmos, honed by millions of years of biological evolution, thousands of years of cultural evolution, and years of personal experience. In your personal life, you should trust your moral instincts and be wary of your manual mode, which is all too adept at figuring out how to put Me ahead of Us. But in the face of moral controversy, when it’s Us versus Them, it’s time to shift into manual mode. When our emotional moral compasses point in opposite directions, they can’t both be right. [4]

Dahlen claims that groups have no rights and are mere abstractions of individuals.  This is not true.  Groups have a biological reality to them and inter-group selection has shaped our moral emotions and given rise to altruism.  We cannot write off our moral emotions and reason that selfishness is our best virtue.  If we do this, then there is little reason to provide for the common good.  This means that we will not be able to solve the problem of poverty and status inequality.  Capitalism is not enough.  Not everyone can maximize their self-interest in life.  Individuals providing only for their next of kin or relying exclusively on charity will neither solve the problem of proximity nor be enough.  There will always be a conflict between individual rights and the interests of the group.  This is a fact. But denying that the group has rights is a failed tactic.  The solution is pragmatism.  Putting aside the intentions of the founding fathers, whose rights should take precedence?  The right to be free from the state coercing us to pay taxes or the right to be free from economic deprivation and unfair status inequalities?  There is no non-question-begging way of settling the dispute.  Altruism and hence collectivism are not immoral because they are a part of the definition of what morality is.  Dahlen’s argument is motivated to prove that self-interest is all there is, but it is at the exclusion of other moralities.  It does not model what morality really is.  This is not appealing to the feelings of unfairness, as these emotions are a strong compass telling us what is not right for the group, it is an appeal to how unfairness can be deleterious to our well-being.  This is anything but appealing to our ineffable moral emotions.

Libertarians Don’t Get Reason

Libertarian: A philosophy of reason, by contrast, recognizes that the outside world exists independent of our minds. To know reality, we must look at reality. Facts are facts despite anyone’s will or feelings. Nobody decrees the truth; nobody decides the truth. The truth must be discovered. [1]  Reason is our means of discovering it.  Cognitive Scientist: Not true. There is a dependency involved in the interpretation of facts that we derive from the world.  It is called our minds. Yes, we must look at reality, but  Dahlen makes no attempt to appeal to science to understand morality.

This statement is not correct.  There are stable objective facts about the world, but they are relative to our understanding.  Facts that exist in human language are useless without a mind to interpret them.  So there are no absolute objective facts but relative objective facts.  Cognitive science has shown that most thought is not literal which means that facts do not always fit the world directly.  The best example is the phenomenological experience of color and science’s interpretation of color.  The predicate “the grass is green” infers that green is an intrinsic property of grass.  But science knows this is not true since it is reflected and interpreted in our minds as being green.  So the “grass is green” is not true within the scientific level of understanding, but it is true within our real-world experiences.  Truth, therefore, is relative to different levels of understanding.  The same logic often applies to our worldviews.

This is why conservatives and liberals believe that each is illogical.  Real reason is not formal logic and thus is not grounded in an ontology with precise definitions.  But it is relevant because we use this type of reasoning every day.  Liberals frame abortion as “a cluster of cells”.  Conservatives frame abortion as “a baby”.  The liberal framework, therefore, concludes that abortion is moral.  The conservative framework, therefore, concludes that abortion is immoral.  Thus, real logic, truth, and facts are relative to the conceptual framework we are working with.  Logic, reason, and facts are human creations.  The only thing that exists in the world independent of our minds are patterns, relations, and quantities.  Absolute truth, logic, and facts are appealing to people for practical and emotional reasons.  They represent the no-nonsense person in all of us that wants to settle the score once and for all.

Libertarian: “If society is the arbiter of truth and morality, then objectivity must be redefined. In this view, objectivity is not a matter of deriving logical conclusions from the facts. Instead, quoting Richard Rorty, “Objectivity is a matter of intersubjective consensus among human beings.” [1]  Scientist: There are different types of facts.  The closest we can get to objectivity is science’s description of reality.  But even this requires our mind’s conceptual systems to make sense of facts and an agreed upon system of measurement.

Of course, we make inferences from observations and facts.  But where do these facts come from?  This is far from an easy question to answer.  The above quote misinterprets when objectivity is a matter of consensus means.  There are different types of facts.  The only types of facts that would minimize the use of a  consensus are physical descriptions of reality.  But even here facts are dependent on our conceptual systems interpreting them and agreed-upon conventions of measurements.  Take for example the concept of free will. An objectivist perspective would define free will by saying what properties it has by giving it necessary and sufficient conditions.  Philosophers have failed miserably and no objectivist account of free will exists.  The debate rests on who will define it, which comes down to a consensus.  Objective in itself means that there is an agreed-upon consensus for determining the truth of something.  Social facts, such as whether or not political correctness is moral, depend upon our worldview and its agreed-upon definition of morality.  Some scientists even define morality as well-being, but others claim that we have multiple moralities.

Libertarian:  If selfish acts are life-preserving acts and if life-preserving acts are good, it follows that selfishness is good. [1]

Dahlen creates his logic and reason by relating concepts through syllogism.  This can be done to establish a valid argument on most anything.  This is not by any means impressive and gives the illusion of truth.  The premises need to be accurate in order to capture reality.  For example, he concludes that selfishness is good, which is true, but it is a matter of degree.  There is a lot of evidence to suggest that selfless acts can be beneficial to our well-being, which includes many forms of sacrifice.  Following his logic, we would never get this impression.  Self-interest is good in as much as it is required to maintain a sufficient amount of well-being.  If we want to maximize our self-interest, then it will be at the cost of not sacrificing to others.  Not true.  We can picture many scenarios in which putting our interests second would help our long-term wellbeing.  And if we never sacrifice, then we could be ostracized from the group.  So we could argue that some sacrifices are in our best interest because we benefit from them in some way.  But this would violate Dahlen’s maxim that all sacrifice is immoral.  Why does Dahlen insist on using all-or-nothing terms?  Because his argument is driven by his passion to authoritatively conclude that self-interest is moral and altruism is immoral.  This is not an objective morality.

Libertarian: “Once a person has chosen his values, he should prioritize them, deciding which values are most important. Moreover, he should not sacrifice his values. Sacrifice means surrendering a value for a non-value or a lesser value.  Man needs values to sustain his life and achieve his happiness. Any doctrine that demands he sacrifice them negates the purpose of morality. [1]

Dahlen’s logic is one-dimensional, requiring a linear prioritization of principles.  Life is better thought of as an optimization problem with conflicting goals and tradeoffs.   There is reason to give preference to self-interest, but putting it on a time scale, it will not always be on top.  In order to achieve goals, we will have to sacrifice our short-term happiness for long-term gain through self-discipline.  But short-term happiness is important to our well-being too.  So we cannot narrowly define self-interest as to what is in our best long-term interests.  Which variable do we maximize, our short-term happiness or our long-term happiness achieved through goals?  There is obviously a balance achieved in which we are maximizing both variables at different times.  Dahlen’s model is sequential and requires that we only maximize our long-term self-interest.  This is far from a good model of how to live life. Instead, it is an argument that is meant to have rhetorical force, trying to get us to conclude that self-interest is always moral.


will post soon


[1.1] Boehm, Christopher.  Hierarchy in the Forest.

[1] Dahlen, Michael. Ending Big Government: The Essential Case for Capitalism and Freedom

[2] Foster, David.  Why We Bite the Invisible Hand.

[3] Friedman, Milton.  Free to Choose

[4] Greene, Joshua. Moral Tribes.

[5] Haidt, Jonathan.  The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religon

[6] Wison, David Sloan.  Does Altruism Exist

[7] Wison, David Sloan.  Evolution for Everyone.

[8] Wison, David Sloan. This View of Life.

Why I’m Not an Ideologue, Revisited

I did not want to put this post up because it seems like a minor issue.  But it is actually a major one.  A lot of political psychologists and cognitive scientists are claiming that Democrats will continue to be unsuccessful at changing minds because they try to appeal to facts and figures.  This simply does not resonate with people.  The claim is that we need to start appealing to people’s moral intuitions, feelings, and values.  This is the real reason why we vote anyhow, whether we are aware of it or not.  We vote because of how the candidate makes us feel, which is tied to their values.  The contemplation of any policies that serve our interests likely happened after we liked or disliked them.  See notes (i).  There is nothing to be ashamed of; voting is not like purchasing a mutual fund.  In fact, there are lots of good reasons why voting based on our feelings towards the candidate and party affiliation is desirable.

Democrats put themselves in a precarious—and I think ultimately hopeless—position when they are really motivated by empathy, but wind up reasoning and arguing from interests—when they promote programs and tax policies to serve the “interests” of the middle class, or the uninsured, or victims of discrimination, or immigrants. They set themselves up for attacks as being unfair to ordinary Americans and promoting “special interests.” They set themselves up as being a special interest themselves, for courting voting blocs. And worse, they never argue on the basis of empathy, the real motivator of the policies. They fail in two ways: they fail to activate empathy—their own moral foundation—in the brains of voters, while they succeed in activating self-interest, which conservatives specialize in. [1]

A Summary For Those Short on Time

First, all the evidence suggests that our feelings towards a candidate, particularly from the values that they hold, predict voting behavior better than us sitting down and reasoning. Not that we didn’t use any reasoning at all, but it was the feelings that the candidate triggered in us that made us vote. Even when voters were torn between their reasons and feelings, 80% of them went with their gut. Second, if this is true, then Democrats would be more successful if they started to frame the issues in a way that would trigger our emotions, which means they should be more about our values, for example, caring for others. They have to be slogans like the conservatives use. Conservatives came up with the slogan “welfare queen”, which triggers a conservative into thinking that welfare is bad. This is because it is against their values of self-reliance etc. It is this that drives them to the voting booth, not facts and figures. Third, there is nothing wrong with voting based on party affiliation or with our feelings since it is a shortcut. It is a shortcut because we know democrats stand for our values and interests.

Caveat: Studies pick up our positive or negative associations with the candidate, presumably this is equivalent to us liking or not liking them.  Although voting like this is a good heuristic because they will likely carry out our values and interests, once we like or dislike someone our objectivity for their performance goes out the window.  This is one of the many costs of being partisan.

Why I’m a Semi-Ideologue

One of my first posts here was on “Why I’m Not an Ideologue”.  What do we think was my motivation for writing this?  Was it because I was an aspiring intellectual that despised emotions or because people judge us if we are not rational?  Probably a little bit of both.  I went through a stage where I studied bias and thought ideologues were victims of groupthink and tribalism.  They often are.  But I was smart enough to hedge the post.  Because I said by not being an ideologue or partisan that we will be politically impotent.  Then I read a few books on how we actually vote.  I started to study what rationality actually means.  I learned that our culture, which relies on Western philosophy, has been plagued with the idea that reason is separate from emotion.  It is not.  So this pristine idea of a true intellectual divorced from feelings was fiction.  And if I am honest, I have morphed into a semi-ideologue.

Then I come across Gad Saad who is criticizing liberals for voting against Trump because of their visceral hate and contempt.  Five years ago this would have made me want to mount a defense on how I carefully chose my candidate by looking at their stance on essential policies, voting records, and so forth.  Because I wanted to show that I made smart decisions.  But that is not how the mind works.  We feel first which biases us to go in one direction.  It takes practice to separate our feelings from a political candidate (i). This is because we care about values not just our interests.  The former evokes more emotion while the latter would take conscious thought or rationality.  We want to identify with the candidate, which means we want them to hold the same attitudes, beliefs, and values as we do.  We like people who are similar to us.  There is absolutely no reason to apologize or mount a counterdefense.

If interests were important to us, say economic interests, we better use conscious reasoning to choose a candidate.  If we did not and interests were important to us, then that would be irrational.  Take the value of how we treat others.  If this is important to us, then not liking Trump is arguably rational. Take the fact that sharing similar values and beliefs with others allows us to collectively press our group’s interests.  The idea of being tribal is not looking that bad anymore.  Even if we blindly voted against Trump based on gut feelings, which eighty percent of us do when torn between our reasons and feelings, it still would be rational to vote based on partisanship because it is a heuristic.  It is a shortcut that increases the likelihood that our values and interests will be carried out.

To be clear, I am not saying that ideologues are rational because we often are not.  This is because of the myside bias and strong emotional commitment to beliefs and values.  We mistake our beliefs to be scientific facts, and we will always favor evidence that conforms to our beliefs.  But being tribal does not require scientific rigor.  We value tribalism for other reasons, like sharing identities and beliefs with others, which yields group cohesion.  What I am saying is that deciding to be ideological and voting based on party affiliation is a rational choice.  I am certainly not saying that this puts us in a good position to objectively evaluate arguments.  Because it does not.  If anyone wants to understand why in more detail, I recommend the book “The Bias that Divides Us” by Keith E. Stanovich.  It is startling how irrational we are when it comes to accepting facts that are contrary to our beliefs.

When we get emotional over a candidate or politics in general, then this means that either their personality, behavior, or values affected us. We have a rich set of emotions that get triggered over values.  See Jonathan Haidt’s work if interested.  Values are how we view the world, we think people ought to behave, and typically reflects our interests.  Once values are accepted as norms in society, then they become morals.  But the moralities of conservatives and liberals are distinctly different.  Which one we prefer is based on what we think an ideal world should be like, which in turn is influenced by our personality.   For example, the values of self-discipline and personal responsibility are heightened in the conservative worldview.  So much so that they believe that a teenager who had an unwanted pregnancy should pay the consequence of her actions.  So the teenager should not have been indulging in sex in the first place and should have been practicing self-restraint.  Conservatives believe that punishment leads to self-discipline.

There are further values that influence why they are against abortion.  Regardless, it does not matter if we do not like this reasoning. In fact, there probably is no reason that we can offer them to change their mind.  This is because they have an emotional attachment to their values.  In political or moral reasoning, emotion guides the way and reasons are after the fact.  What are the reasons for?  At least in politics, to back up our values and beliefs, which are formed by our feelings.  Conservatives can use these shared values as a collective force to press their values which become their interests.  Likewise, liberals use the emotion of compassion (or resentment) to press upon their value of equality, whether it be through race, gender, nationality, or socioeconomic status. Conservatives do not share this value since they are proponents of hierarchy and meritocracy (iii).  But how do we ever make a difference without voting based on values?  We must sometimes go with our feelings which tell us what we value or not.

What Does Rational Mean

In the everyday sense, rational means that we consider our long-term interests and do not let our emotions get the better of us.  It also means that which is agreeable to reason.  We give reasons to justify our position in order to persuade others that we are right. There is good reason to believe that we evolved the capacity to argue in order to persuade others of our worth and positions.  But not to find the truth.  A desire to find the truth must be some byproduct of evolution.  This explains why we have strong biases that are quite stubborn to facts that contradict them.  Biases thus may be a feature and not a bug.  They help us to stick with our point of view in order to persuade others.  Think of the survival advantage that we possess if we can influence others to get what we want.

When we say that we vote purely on the issues and separate personalities, it is because we want to convince others that we are rational.  Why would we need to do this?  Because we have a strong drive to conform with a payoff of approval.  But where did this definition of rationality come from?  It came from the Enlightenment era which places an emphasis on maximizing our self-interest or, in economics language, “utility”.  The Enlightenment era assumed that reason is both conscious and emotion-free.  Most reason is not though.  This is so deeply ingrained in our worldviews that it may be difficult to accept that this is just a definition.  It has heavily influenced both evolutionary theory and economics.  We are self-interested, but we can also be empathetic and altruistic.

Let me give an example of the unconscious reasoning that conservatives use from “The Political Mind”.  This type of reasoning does not fit the definition of Enlightenment rationality.  Many conservatives often vote against their interests because they prefer to vote based on values.  Why did so many impoverished blacks in the South vote for Reagan in the 80s?  Because they got nothing from Reagan.  What Reagan did was introduce the stereotype of welfare recipients as being lazy and immoral.  In a conservative’s morality, if we are not wealthy enough, then that means that we are not self-disciplined enough.  These two facts made it easy to appeal to blacks, and they believed that they did not deserve it.  The reasoning that they carried out was unconscious and activated the conservative values within their mind.  Although liberals would have seen a handout as empowering them to be successful (iii).

We may criticize the voters that go against their interests as being stupid.  On the other hand, maybe there is some value to be had in earning everything on our own.  And does everything need to conform to maximizing our self-interest?  In the end, I am justified in voting based on how I feel towards the candidate since how I feel will coincide with my values.


i). We vote based on how we feel towards a candidate, values they represent, and our interests.   But feelings predicted our voting behavior better than either our judgments about the candidate’s competence or personality or our reasons why we like or dislike a candidate.  In fact, gut-level feelings are three times better at predicting a candidate than “rationality”.  We can predict who we will vote for based on two things: our partisan feelings and how we feel toward the candidate. Even when we are torn between reasons and emotions over a candidate, eighty percent of us will go with our gut.  Since voting on feelings is more associated with values than interests, interests being candidates’ foreign policy and stance on fiscal policy, etc., then it is values that get us to be tribal [2].

ii) For those that insist that they found reasons for not wanting to vote for Trump, these would have in all probability come after the fact—that is, after your feelings made you dislike him.  This bias can easily pick out policies that Trump has that are not aligned with liberals’ values and interests.  If we liked him, then his transgressions would have been excused or downplayed.  In not liking him, we may have missed some things that would have worked in our favor or that we could have compromised with.  That is the cost of being partisan.  Although I tried to stay neutral, I disliked Trump from the beginning because he was a bully.  Gad Saad would argue that Trump is an alpha male.  Narcissists have a survival advantage over non-narcissists because they seek loyal people and exploit them.  I agree with him on alpha but with caveats which I will discuss in an upcoming post.  Abusive alpha males usually get ousted.

iii) As one justification for welfare: Income disparities and social class differences reflect those that have earned it, the “winners”, and those that have not, the “losers”.  They do not care if the system is not fair in that not everyone has the same abilities and privileges to achieve relative success.  I have consistently said that I have an argument based on the epidemiological studies which have proven that relative socioeconomic status differences result in reductions in health and happiness for those lower in status.  In any social milieu, those who are higher up in status have an increased lifespan and more happiness than anyone that sits below them.  In fact, those that make a household income of 40k relative to those who make 140k are at three times the relative risk for death.  So we do not have to hold the value that hierarchies are immoral all by themselves because we can appeal to science.  The objection I commonly receive is that we are hierarchical by nature.  This is true as status hierarchies form quickly based on ability, appearances, intelligence, and so forth.  But we are also cooperative by nature.  In fact, many anthropologists have hypothesized that we lived in egalitarian tribes before the agricultural revolution.  We would keep a check on both the bully and free rider under the values of egalitarianism.


[1] Lakoff, George.  “The Political Mind”

[2] Westin, Drew.  “The Political Brain”

Saad, Another Libertarian

This is a very important post because it is a critique of a critique on everything that is wrong with liberals by an evolutionary psychologist.  There will be a total of three posts.  This first topic is about facts and feelings and how they relate to Donald Trump.

I just got done reading “The Parasitic Mind” by Gad Saad, and the book was enjoyable because it was lucid… Saad claims to not have any skin in the game and is an apolitical Canadian.  But he sure does favor what a typical conservative does (i).  Saad is an evolutionary psychologist, which is not a problem.  The problem is that he does not know how to present sensitive issues of status to the public.  He wrote his book to combat liberals’ attempts at destroying freedom and truth.  These are the same aspirations that every conservative has.  Saad believes that parasites disguised as “thought patterns, belief systems, attitudes, and mindsets” have made liberals unable to think clearly about the facts.  What are these facts?  Saad being as eclectic as he is has them in his book.  He targets the usual suspects, including relativism, feminism, victimhood, social justice warriors, and political correctness.

Any system that is built on a false understanding of human nature is doomed to fail. Building a society where the primary objective is to protect one’s fragile self-esteem from the dangers of competition will only lead to a society of weakness, entitlement, and apathy. Life is necessarily competitive; society is necessarily hierarchical. It does no one any favors to pursue a utopian vision of society where no one’s feelings are hurt.

The above quote sums up Saad’s grand vision and understanding of human nature.  This means there is no place for equality or equity.  Although he claims that humans are both competitive and cooperative, he fails to discuss the egalitarian aspects of cooperation.  If we exclude the work of Wilson, Boehm, Waal, and others, then perhaps we can conclude that we are selfish to the core.  But there is a good case to be made that our moral emotions give us the capacity to be empathetic towards in-group and even out-group members.  Saad wants to convince us that his argument is based on facts.  It is not.  It is based on a preference for a worldview that assumes that life is a struggle for survival.  This is a belief that he bought into.  It is not a matter of fact (iv).  Saad sits on top; it is in his best interest to believe in legitimizing beliefs.  He’s legitimizing a world of absolute meritocracy.  We know of his ilk.

Liberals Voted Irrationally Against Trump

In the political arena, Drew Westen has shown in The Political Brain that emotion is both central and legitimate in political persuasion. Its use is not an illicit appeal to irrationality, as Enlightenment thought would have it. The proper emotions are rational. [1]

Saad gets it right when he points out that separating rationality from passion gives a false dichotomy.  Neuroscience shows that this dichotomy is fiction because we reason with emotion.  When it comes to political reasoning, which is moral reasoning, emotions are very pertinent.  Saad claims that liberals did not support Trump because of their visceral hate and contempt for him.  We did not like his brazen disposition and political incorrectness.  Instead, we should have been looking at the facts like his experience as a successful businessman or his stance on issues of importance.  Well, that would not have been a fruitful avenue to take.  Besides people vote based on their gut feelings on whether they like the candidate or not.  This means that Trump’s beliefs, personality, mannerisms, and behaviors did not align with our preferences.  It can easily be argued that it is rational to not vote for Trump based on those reasons (i).  In fact, emotions are so important that voting on values almost always trumps one’s interests [3].

This is not good enough for Saad since we must use conscious reason to calculate and maximize our self-interest.  This is a form of reasoning that people seldomly engage in.  It has its roots in the Enlightenment era and is used in economic models as a form of means-end rationality.  Real reason uses metaphors, frames, prototypes, and emotion and ninety-five percent of our reasoning is unconscious [1].  So why are we holding liberals and conservatives to unattainable standards?  Because we want to believe that we are rational; it makes us feel smart (ii).  Now, some decisions are more cognitive-intense than emotional, but we are talking about political reasoning not which mutual funds to purchase.  If rationality is about goal-oriented behavior and how we feel towards a candidate is important to us, then it is completely rational to vote based on preferences-values and not our interests. Although our “interests” are usually framed in terms of pecuniary or quantifiable ends, it can be argued that our values become our interests.

This will no doubt be interpreted as irrational because we are supposed to use unemotional reasoning in order to calculate what is in our best interest.  It is a stigma to say that likes and dislikes were involved in our decision-making process.  But why should quantifiable interests be more important than values?  Moral psychologists have documented the rich tapestry of emotions that we experience when issues of status, rank, power, control, fairness, loyalty, caring, safety, sanctity, inclusion, exclusion, equality, and freedom arise, which are exactly what politics and moral reasoning evoke.  These emotional experiences make life meaningful and allow us to share identities and beliefs, which makes us tribal.  These shared beliefs allow us to cooperate with a collective vision in order to press our interests.  Although tribalism certainly connotes irrationality, it can be rational to want to be ideological (iii).

Facts, Truth, and Everything Is Relative

Saad goes on to say that “Any human endeavor rooted in the pursuit of truth must rely on facts and not feelings [2].”  Although this statement is technically not true, we know what he means.  Saad means that we cannot base truth on a hunch, we have to be aware of our bias, and we cannot reject or accept facts solely on our dislikes or likes.  I say “solely” because neuroscience explains how we experience “truth” in terms of affect (think of emotion) as we simulate “truth” to see if it fits our understanding.  In other words, we interpret facts and reason with emotion.  In fact, scientists devise hypotheses based on confirmation biases.  In principle, it’s the competing confirmation biases that give us truth.  So Saad’s statement is misleading if we are concerned about objective truth.

But the above is not the real reason for Saad’s claim of truth.  The real reason is that he wants to portray liberals as people who cannot be taken seriously.  We can therefore be dismissed by more serious-minded intellectuals.  Conservatives have made a business out of saying “facts don’t care about your feelings”.  Conservatives are tough, no-nonsense people, so this is what we should expect.  This should not intimidate anyone because it is only revealing their own feelings since it is an appeal to their ego. Still, emotions help interpret facts and play a role in what we value, which is important.  Liberals know that in order for these values to be matters of fact that we must restructure our beliefs.  If we believe that political correctness is moral, then the next step would be to ask about its efficacy; that is, does political correctness improve the status of marginalized others?  This is now empirical.

Truth is a kind of illusory rule-following, the purpose of which has long been forgotten; it’s a “mobile army of metaphors” that become “enhanced, transposed, and embellished poetically and rhetorically” by people in charge.  Nietzsche

There is a common misunderstanding about truth and facts.  We already unraveled the role of feelings in interpreting facts and reasoning.  But what about “it’s all relative”?  Conservatives hate this statement.  Presumably, it delegitimizes their beliefs which they want to be absolute facts.  Saad and scientists want to believe that absolute objective facts exist so they can make predictions. Objective facts exist, but they must be relative to the interpreter.  So there are only relative objective facts and not absolute objective facts.  Saad is not giving “it’s all relative” the proper treatment.  Think about how ideologies frame abortion. Conservatives frame it as “a baby”.  Liberals frame it as “a cluster of cells”.  Therefore, abortion is immoral for conservatives and moral for liberals within their respective frameworks.  Both statements are matters of fact.  Both worldviews are right.  Although philosophers would call these distal beliefs since they are hard to prove, this is legitimate reasoning that people engage in.  A hard relativist would say that everything is relative to a point of view and not one point of view should be elevated over the other. Science, in my view, is the final adjudicator, so I disagree with the hard relativists.  Contrary to what Saad says, morality is not absolute. Unless we define it as “well-being” since there is a biological argument for this.  But morality has been expanded to moralities by Haidt, who is in charge.


i) Saad is not a political conservative, but he holds their worldview.  Saad has stated that he is a libertarian, which is two steps away from a conservative.  Cognitive scientists have developed models for two different modes of reasoning that are seen across cultures, which are used by both conservatives and liberals.  Saad would agree perfectly with the reasoning of a “strict-father morality”, which is the mode of thought that conservatives use.

ii) Rationality is a big topic.  Philosophers have defined all kinds of rationality.  In the everyday sense, it means someone who does not give in to their passions in order to serve their long-term interests, not being too emotional or impulsive to pursue what’s most important, or that which is agreeable to reason.  We favor this definition because serving our long-term interests has survival value.  It is also a social norm that we follow.  People want to be seen as smart enough to protect their long-term interests.  Notice how Saad uses this to draw criticism that we are not rational.  Even so, it is rational to vote based on values, which involve emotion.

iii) If liberals wanted to use reason-based rationality, they could certainly weigh the pros and cons of their candidates.  They could evaluate them based on intelligence scores, personality inventories, past voting records, and stance on issues that serve their interests.  But people do not have the time to engage in this type of reasoning.   If we are honest, then these would have come after the fact anyhow as most reasoning is post hoc.  We feel first and then justify with reasons, especially when it comes to people and politics.  It turns out that it is a good heuristic to vote for party affiliation because it increases the probability that one’s perceived interests will be carried out and values will be upheld.  Moreover, our gut instincts about Trump turned out to be more than correct.

iv) Biological life can be a competitive and cooperative struggle for survival.  But it does not have to be.  We have the capacity to help those who can’t compete and to protect against the corrosive effects of exaggerated social hierarchies.  Evolution is more accurately defined as the survival of a species in terms of adaptation to ecological niches.  Saad’s entire argument for a worldview of absolute meritocracy rests on what he claims is a biological imperative.  He is conflating stuff.  This will take a post to explain.


[1] Lakoff, George.  The Political Mind.

[2] Saad, Gadd.  The Parasitic Mind: How Infectious Ideas Are Killing Common Sense

[3] Westen, Drew.  The Political Brain.

Family Values

I apologize for reposting this.  But this has been completely redone in light of new research.  This is a must-read for anyone that is interested in the multiple causes of making a mass shooter.  Conservatives cannot solve the problem by attacking family values because it plays but a minor role.  “Family values” is mostly a ruse that resonates with their home base.  They will not solve the problem by improving mental health care either.  They choose mental health care because gun control is not an option for them.

NRA meeting: Deflecting blame from guns, attendees said a breakdown in society — including removing God from schools (family values) and a rise in mental illness — causes mass shootings, echoing the rhetoric of Gov. Greg Abbott and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.

There is a fair amount of misinformation out there on mass shootings.  If we want to solve the problem, we must first define it.  A very small percentage of all mass shooters are “mentally ill”.  It is also mostly not about “family values”.  “Family values” is amorphous, mythological in its use and meant to stir up outrage.  “Breakdown in society!”  In fact, some conservative values are poor at preventing mass shootings.  This is about broken individuals, with the right dispositions in the wrong environment, who failed in life at obtaining the respect and acceptance they desired.  This is mainly an issue over status and rank, not family values.

What Has Changed? 

I had to take the previous post on Family Values down because I was not satisfied with the strength of my argument.  Most of the material has been completely rewritten in order to incorporate new research.  First, the argument that conservatives have on a lack of family values causing mass shootings is that there is a link between unstable family structures, namely single-parented, and child abuse and neglect.  This risk factor is stronger than I thought.  But we do not know what it is about traditional families that cause a decreased risk.  Because single-parented households are usually of lower socioeconomic status which is a risk factor for abuse too.

This matters because one of the risk factors for mass shooters is to have been abused by parents or peers (70% of mass shooters). And most but not all of the school mass shooters were from single-parented households.  But this may not mean much.  Here are the rest of the risk factors: near all to have suffered abuse at the hands of their caregivers or peers, feelings of inferiority and despair from subordination, repressed resentment and anger turned outward, a blueprint like the Columbine massacre to aspire to and copy from, a media willing to give them notoriety, and an opportunity like there being more guns in the U.S. than people [3].

But there is another risk factor for abuse which is the attitudes and beliefs that we have on discipline and punishment.  Corporal punishment has dramatically gone down because of laws and social norms largely driven by liberals.  But the core of a conservative’s morality is still in favor of punishment while nurturing is ranked last.  Providing support through nurturing is seen as a weakness, often labeled as coddling by conservatives.  People vary in their fragility and resilience, but there is a lot of research favoring a nurturing environment over a punitive one.  I will explain why their morals are not ideal and then rank them below.

Family Values?  Not Really 

The making of a mass shooter requires more than just a lack of family values.  The values and beliefs that we have do not always translate into what we do.  We have unique personalities, a desire to gain respect amongst our peers, and circumstances that can lead us down the wrong path.  Parents’ morals do not guarantee a well-adjusted child.  As moral as my parents were, I did not look up to them and modeled myself after my peers that ranked the coolest.  A simple-minded conservative comes in and says that the problem can be solved by their values, which would require stable parents, discipline, obedience, and God.  Besides family stability, which may reduce the likelihood of parental abuse or assist with early detection, the rest of their “family values” are irrelevant.

Conservatives could argue that a belief in the traditional family brings family stability which is linked to a child’s wellbeing and later success in life.  God, so they claim, reinforces this belief.  Yes, both family stability, especially a two-parent structure, and socioeconomic status are linked to better outcomes in a child’s well-being and success in life.  But if we control for family stability and socioeconomic status, then parents do not have as much influence as they believe, at least not for shaping their personality, intelligence, or success.  Their genes and peers shape them more.  Twin studies prove this fact beyond any doubt.  Still, a stable two-parent family could increase the likelihood of parents being present and looking for warning signs.  But it is not that simple.

The Buffalo shooter was raised by “God-fearing” parents and was “the furthest from racist as can be”.  But their belief in God and not being racist are irrelevant to what a withdrawn and alienated adolescent does, which is to spend hours on the internet identifying with other lost individuals.  An involved parent could of course ask their son questions and monitor their internet traffic.  But withdrawn children are difficult to get through to, are obsessed with their quest of validating their beliefs, and will likely find a way anyhow.  Many seem to resist therapy too.  What about having affectionate and loving parents to prevent the child from withdrawing. It does not work that way.  Personalities that favor introversion and peer rejection will overwhelmingly shape the child’s behavior.

Many mass shooters experience childhood abuse and exposure to violence at a young age, often at the hands of their parents.  Parental suicide is common, as is physical abuse, sexual abuse, domestic violence in the home, and severe bullying by classmates. [3]

For mass shooters in schools, we need to look at parental and peer abuse.  And we know that most, but not all, school mass shooters were raised by single-parented households.  This could be a coincidence.  On the other hand, being the only caregiver in the household may influence how they treat the child.  Studies show that socio-economically disadvantaged households, like single households, are at an increased risk to mistreat their children.  They also have less time and resources to solve problems.  This has nothing to do with family values.  It is a matter of status (i).  Why would being lower in socioeconomic status (SES) make us want to harm our children?  There is no reason to think that low SES people do not know the golden rule.  One possible reason is that there is an overwhelming burden for those lower in SES to cope with life’s challenges, which leads to stress. Stress leads to many things.

Lower socio-economic status is theorized to be a significant risk factor for child abuse and neglect because of the stress it places on the caregivers in the family and its relationship to social supports and access to resources. [4]

There must also be something about the child that elicits feelings of contempt and hate from the parent in order to be abusive.  This is unthinkable because they are innocent children to be loved and cared for.  But if mass shooters are often rejected and bullied by their peers because they are undesirable and inadequate, the same feelings are likely to be felt in their parents.  Undesirable children, especially those who border on having a disability, are at a greater risk of being abused and neglected. Family values take a backseat when we feel someone deserves a beating.  Anger, rage, and aggression hijack our ability to have self-control.  Abusers know what they are doing is wrong and hide or justify it.  In short, there is something else going on here besides family values.

Conservative’s Morals

It matters more to a conservative that a person is morally weak (lacking in self-discipline and self-reliance) or violating moral authority (a criminal) than that he is poor, sick, physically weak, or un-cared for. [2]

The attitudes and beliefs that we have toward childrearing can affect our parenting style.  A conservative’s morality contains values that would increase the chances of corporal punishment.  When parents are less nurturing, more authoritarian, and the children are fragile, then this can be harmful to their well-being and future success in life.  Fortunately, the conservative morality has been worked out for us by George Lakoff, which is shown here.  It is based on a “strict father” mode of reasoning where self-reliance and self-discipline rank higher than nurturing and caring for others [1].  These moral priorities help shape how they reason and vote on issues.  Notice that moral strength is on top and moral nurturance is on the bottom—the exact opposite of liberal morality.

This worldview makes the assumption that life is a struggle for survival and that it is best to control people through rewards and punishments.  Family values are about children obeying the father and learning self-discipline and self-reliance.  The goal of conservative parents is to raise competitive and productive adults.  It is an authoritarian arrangement where the father is the head of the household and one-way communication is the way to keep everyone in their place.  But family therapists and researchers warn against these types of arrangments as child abuse is more likely to occur.  Emotional and physical abuse is often hidden because of fear of retaliation and questioning authority is not permissible.  In reading their worldview, this is not a world in which I want to live in.

If he has not worked hard enough, he is slothful and hence morally weak.  If he is not talented enough, then he ranks lower than others in the natural order…The rich (who are talented enough and who have worked hard enough to become rich) deserve their wealth and the poor (either through lack of industry or talent) deserve their poverty. [2]

The moral order, which is third in priority, defines what the natural order is.  The natural order is what forms our social hierarchy, which contributes to our inequality.  Where does God rank in the natural order?  Well, he is on top of course, and his absence must be the cause of mass shootings.  This can be dismissed out of hand.  After all, there is nothing unique in the Bible by way of wisdom that is not already taught, at least the non-hateful and violent parts.  But it is part of the mystique like “family values” that conservatives cannot let go of.  The rank is what angry and hateful white men reflect upon, giving them a moment’s worth of hubris. It is this very reflection, externalizing their problems, and identifying with other haters that give rise to a strand of mass shootings.

George Lakoff

Courtesy of George Lakoff

Liberals have been fighting against unfair pecking orders like the one here for decades since hierarchy breakdowns would ease tensions between these artificial boundaries.  Hierarchies at high schools are formed by who can garner the most attention and respect due to their attributes and abilities.  The ones on top do the putdowns and the ones on the bottom take it.  The ones on the bottom are obviously the ones less valued and respected.  They are of low rank and not taken seriously.  Any attention they receive is by virtue of being made fun of.  This form of abuse can lead to subordination which yields feelings of inadequacy, despair, and inferiority.  The idea of subordination is the theme amongst mass shooters.  Pecking orders remain despite teaching family values.

Making of a Mass Shooter

Sometimes an individual’s efforts to raise their status may or may not be successful.  People can have strong desires to obtain more status, sex, care, love, respect, and support than they are currently receiving, but they are losing in the battle to bring such things about. [2]

If we believe that family values mean two parents and are socioeconomically advantaged, then we are at a decreased chance of raising a mass shooter.  But this is probably due to having more time, resources, and knowledge at our disposal to increase our involvement, solve behavioral problems, and detect early warning signs.   The attitudes that we have towards raising the child could decrease abuse and the use of corporal punishment, which are risk factors for one aspect of what makes a mass shooter.  Although having a nurturing and loving environment might decrease a child’s behavioral problems, the correlations are weak and unlikely candidates. Individual personality differences and life circumstances, like peer rejection and parental abuse, are likely to play a more significant role in the child’s behavior.  When we view it as a problem in status, we see that family values may not be as relevant.

Status is what others have that we want like beauty, wealth, friends, respect, and competence.  I think it is within status that we may find our answer.  Our culture is obsessed with getting ahead in life versus getting along.  This puts pressure on economically disadvantaged caregivers and may give rise to children with propensities to become mass shooters.  Caregivers who get caught in the trap of viewing themselves as inferior because of a failure to meet standards are at increased risk for self-hate and often live unsatisfied lives.  This leads to fragile self-esteem, and we become easily threatened, making us lash out at any signs of disrespect from our children. The same can be said for the mass shooters. They failed to bring about the respect and acceptance they thought they deserved, which our culture places a premium on, which leads to the repressed anger and hate that is redirected to the “other”.

Not everyone who is abused and disgruntled becomes a mass shooter.  It takes all of the unique circumstances as the risk factors in the beginning identified.  We also need a culture that places an emphasis on success, individualism, and the American dream. These create social norms and expectations on where we are supposed to be in life, which if not met only reinforce our low status. The American dream which says that we can be successful based only on effort is an illusion.  It takes privilege, ability, and chance too.  The emphasis on rugged individualism only increases our isolation since it forgoes solidarity and community.  We make the conditions rough.  We judge others based on their appearances, abilities, and successes, which sets a high standard for some.  We also make it difficult for ourselves by having unrealistic expectations.  We cannot forget that at one time these people were like us.

The ease of gun access in the United States has always been around but now AR-15s are trendy.  These guns are rarely actually used for self-defense and are more of a romantic love affair of what they symbolize, which is power and strength.  The dopamine hit we get when we hold and fire a gun is like a drug.  In interviewing a lot of the mass shooters, many of them loved their weapons because “they can’t reject them.”  Guns give otherwise powerless individuals—those who cannot get what they want out of life—the feeling that they can gain respect through fear.  It works because most mass shooters want to go out with the ultimate expression of power, which is to take the lives of innocent others. It is better to be feared for something horrible than to be unknown and worthless. So they seek notoriety which our media panders to, and they model their massacres based on prior high-status ones, such as Columbine.  Most mass shooters have a final crisis in their lives that pushes them to the edge.  The final onslaught is liberation for them because it represents the avenging of those that have wronged them who they were at one point powerless over.

Failed Struggle

I believe there are deeper psychological mechanisms at work that get triggered when people remain resentful and angry.  When we are faced with constant rejection and often fall short of standards, we are going to feel depressed, which many of the mass shooters suffered from. Depression is the result of a failed struggle.  So their struggles to obtain enough acceptance and respect in life have been thwarted. The mind sends signals to make the individual feel inferior and lowers self-esteem.  This signals to others that we are of no threat.  It lowers us in rank.  Shame makes us feel like we want to hide, so we can recoup to fight another day.  The is an evolutionary adaptation to prevent further defeat and get us off a fruitless path in life.  So when our goals in life are too often blocked, then we will feel defeated.  Unless we take stock of the situation, submit and accept our lowered status, then defeat can lead to depression.

Normally we use assertive communication or anger in interpersonal conflict to preserve our self-worth and convictions.   But if our constant attempts at fighting for self-preservation get blocked, such as pervasive abuse from peers or caregivers, then we are likely to feel defeated and depressed.  But before that happens we can be in a “blocked-escape” or “arrested flight” situation.  We can feel intense anger to want to fight back with a quip or with aggression but are simply blocked because of status differences.  Parents are higher up the hierarchy and wield force over us, and peers can be higher up the ladder than us.  We can ruminate over the injustices of our inability to fight back or to be valued by others and develop deep resentments.  The same reasoning applies to us if we fail to be successful in our endeavors.  It is blocked goals, whatever they may be—to fight back, to win, to get accepted, and to succeed.

So we are at the point where these mass shooters have blocked their goals of acceptance, self-preservation, and success.  The solution of course is to accept our status.  This is a real documented effect.  Those that are willing to not take themselves too seriously and lower their expectations can reduce their feelings of anger and resentment.  They will not suffer from depression. When we are in a state of a “failed struggle” which sums the mass shooters’ lives up, then the options are either to fight or accept, or depression will ensue.  To fight is to escalate in trying—to get accepted, fight harder, or succeed.  They chose to fight.  They were, however, fighting an unwinnable battle.  They perceived that they were stuck in their low-status position no matter what.  The idea of a mass shooting is thus very attractive.  It was the only path they could see in their depressed and hateful mindset.  The only option.

Paul Gilbert

Courtesy of Paul Gilbert


It should be clear that it is largely not about morals.  People forget that we are just as much designed to kill as we are to love.  We can experience hate and anger just as much as we can experience compassion and empathy.  Morals are society’s solution to hijacking deep psychological mechanisms that have evolved over millions of years.  Morals are an attempt at making more just, free, and safe societies.  There is no guarantee that they will be translated into action.  A big problem with conservatives is they are not enlightened.  They don’t favor understanding over ignorance.  Look at their positions towards science.  How will we ever learn to prevent mass shooters?  This does not excuse the actions of mass shooters but only attempts to explain.


i) The research that is available on child abuse has identified several risk factors with often contradictory results but no causes.  The most prominent ones include abused parents who abuse their children, socioeconomic status, family stability and structure (stable two-parent), attitudes toward punishment and violence, isolation, and psychopathologies (depression, substance abuse, etc.).  Non-biological parents and an unstable family structure do correlate strongly with being a risk factor for child abuse.

Let us take the idea that we model our behavior after our parents.  If this were true, then why do a vast majority of children that are abused (75% of them) never go on to be violent offenders or abuse their children?  This could be a spurious relationship, and it may be shared genes that increase the likelihood of anger and aggression.  It could also be that those that abuse their children have a link to coming from lower SES.  All of these risk factors are circumstances, and we do not have data on the person’s personality nor what their mental states were that contribute to the actual abuse.  We do not know how inadequate and unruly the child was either which would increase one’s tendency for abuse when disciplining.

ii) Many mass shooters turn to radical and extremist views, especially the hate groups of racism.  They do this for acceptance and to validate their beliefs of hate.  This fills a void in a rejected and unsuccessful person.  They most likely have self-hate and externalized it to “others”.  They are often looking for a scapegoat to blame their problems on too.


[1] Gilbert, Paul.  Subordination and Defeat.

[2] Lakoff, George.  Moral Politics.

[3] Peterson Ph.D., Jillian. The Violence Project: How to Stop a Mass Shooting Epidemic

[4] dozens of research articles which I will cite shortly

Haidt Falls Short

This is a short review of Jonathan Haidt’s book “The Coddling of the American Mind”.  [I do not know if Haidt is good for liberalism.]

Microaggressions are intentional or even unintentional slights that “communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative attitudes toward stigmatized or culturally marginalized groups”.  The slight can be something as seemingly innocuous as “What country are we from?”  Undoubtedly, this comes across as absurd.  But if we put ourselves in the shoes of others who are inundated with references to them belonging to a marginalized group, then we could see this as an innuendo.  The standards for what is abusive have rightly changed from physical abuse to emotional abuse, which is rightly defined as whatever is subjectively traumatic to an individual.

Jonathan Haidt has written on microaggressions and the morality behind politics.  Although he is correct on us having evolved psychological adaptations that make us sensitive to topics of fairness etc., his advice on microaggressions seems to be out of his field of expertise.  I agree that if we don’t have unstable self-esteem and a history of abuse that it is better to learn how to cope with insults versus avoiding them.  Most people can learn how to not personalize the message.  Haidt is mistaken though when discussing how we should approach microaggressions in that we should always give a person the benefit of the doubt when assessing their intentions over a perceived slight.  There are circumstances where people become the target of ridicule and bullying.

Haidt’s central claim is that upon exposure we become desensitized to insults, but he fails to mention that we can also become sensitized.  Researchers do not know what circumstances lead to which.  Haidt is thus wrong to say that what does not kill us makes us all stronger.  People vary in their resiliency.  Granted his audience is college students who are probably only at minor risk for interpersonal bullying and rejection, he seems to generalize this to anyone who gets insulted.  Political correctness and popular exposure has helped in improving the status of women and LGB.  But there are many who are still rejected and ridiculed because of a disability, gender, or physical deformity.  If Haidt means to exclude extreme cases in his analysis, he sure is not clear about it.

What Doesn’t Kill Us Makes Us Stronger?

But teaching kids that failures, insults, and painful experiences will do lasting damage is harmful in and of itself. Human beings need physical and mental challenges and stressors or we deteriorate. [1]

I have not looked at the evidence that Haidt has for his views that exposure to insults and failures are necessary to prevent mental deterioration because there probably is none.  He argues by way of analogy and gives examples of how resilient the immune system and skeletal muscle are.  The point is that we need to stress these systems in order for them to grow.  The human mind is different than the immune system and muscle though.  The mind is very sensitive to glucocorticoids which are released when we are threatened or hurt by insults and criticisms.  In fact, some of the most potent causes of cortisol being released come from negative interpersonal interactions.  Haidt’s analysis is too generic; he does not take into account the severity and occurrence of insults.

Haidt’s argument is based on the success of ERP or Exposure and Response Prevention therapy.  The premise is that we can desensitize ourselves from our trauma and fears by exposing ourselves to them.  If, for example, we give into our social anxiety and do not go out with our friends, then we are reinforcing the fear, making it easier to avoid instead of engaging.  But I am not aware of any studies that look at how exposure to criticism and insults can desensitize us to the feelings of inferiority and worthlessness. Even if we could become desensitized, this would not work for everyone since people vary in how fragile or resilient they are (i).

There is an abundance of evidence that suggests that early peer rejection and bullying predispose an individual to anxiety and depression.  Marginalized groups, which not only include race, ethnicity, sexual preference, and identity but also those deemed as inadequate and undesirable, are more likely to be rejected and bullied.  The question becomes is safeguarding our mentally healthy youth from microaggressions a strategy that will help or harm them in the reality that we cannot abolish them.  This is the only part that I’m in agreement that it is more effective to teach youth how to cope with criticism and insults than to safeguard them.  But this cannot apply to those that are routinely bullied or dismissed because constant criticism is documented to cause subordination (ii).

The rest of Haidt’s analysis is overreaching his field of expertise, which is clearly not within the area of psychopathology.  Although I have not looked at his evidence, I am very suspect of the claim that providing safeguards in universities and colleges are contributing to the increased rates of depression and anxiety.  Haidt believes that we can overcome trauma and become better people as a result.  I agree.  But marginalized groups can face constant levels of belittling in which the fight or flight system breaks down and can cause depression.  When Haidt says that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, this is incorrect. Whether or not we are resilient or become subordinated in the face of belittling is based on our dispositions and how frequent and severe they are.


i)  One group which Haidt ignores is 20% of the population that has the trait of sensory processing sensitivity.  They are known as Highly Sensitive People.  They are sensitive to subtleties and are more easily overwhelmed than most.  In fact, skin conductance tests, SPECT, and functional MRI tests reveal differences in reactivity.  This group may be served better to be protected than exposed to microaggressions.  This is especially true if they are easily rejected based on possessing stigmatized attributes.

ii)  If one was interested, I can furnish tons of references on how pervasive criticism can lead to depressed mood states and anxiety.  When people are consistently disparaged, then they become in a defeated state.  There is a whole body of evidence on how depression is the result of spousal criticism and how early peer rejection predisposes one to anxiety and depression.


[1] Lukianoff, Greg and Haidt, Jonathan.  The Coddling of the American Mind.

That Ugly Bias

Here I would like to discuss how our bias contributes to discrimination, marginalization, and subordination.  The heart of bias, regardless of which kind—confirmation, prejudice, myside, etc.—is about favoring one thing over another.  The reason that I think this is important is because the next post will review Jonathan Haidt’s book titled “The Coddling of the American Mind” which is about microaggressions.  People engage in microaggressions exactly because of their attitudes and beliefs towards others.

A Patriot’s Biases

Linkedin Post

Linkedin Post

The above was taken from Linkedin where I, surprisingly, witness daily scuffles involving a difference in beliefs and values.  A decade ago if someone had the nerve to post a brazen statement about their conservative beliefs on Linkedin, it would have triggered me into articulating a response.  Instead, I now look at these posts as ways to learn about how we think and act.  If we recognize that we all think that we are justified in our political beliefs, that is, they are right and moral, then it is easier to not get offended.  The beliefs that this person has are based on biases, which are driven by her likes and dislikes.  This is not an intellectual position because I doubt this person has put any thought into this.  I do not have a problem if this person wants to believe in fairytales and has pride for her country, but I do have a problem with her touting traditional family values at the cost of exclusion.

To post something like this is nothing more than unabashed pride and an urge to stick it in the face of those liberals.  Furthermore, this threat she writes of does not exist.  No one wants to destroy the family but rather make it more inclusive.  Instead, she is threatened by liberals corrupting the purity of the family by introducing “unconventional” members.  I also do not think most deny that gender exists in some sense but rather claim that it is more malleable than once thought and not solely dependent on our sex.  The problem is that she is excluding others that do not fit the conventional definition of what constitutes gender and family.  We cannot fault her for having preferences toward God, country, and family although we may dislike her because she is not one of us.  We should, however, identify our own in-group biases and determine if disliking the person fits within our larger goals and ideals.

How We Use Bias

bias: prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in an unfair way

We all have biases because we judge others’ abilities, behavior, and appearances.  Biases, however, lead to either playing favorites or treating others unfairly (discrimination).  Biases are not necessarily inaccurate though.  Fox News, for example, is biased not because it is inaccurate but rather because it favors information that conforms to its beliefs, which leads to a narrow perspective. Biases are a byproduct of how the mind works.  In fact, we have a confirmation bias when we select information, which makes it a feature of the mind.  Likes and dislikes drive our biases.  We can hardly prevent them since it is automatic.  The parts of perception to be concerned with are prejudices and stereotypes.  Prejudice is the dislike, hate, or contempt that we feel towards a person or their attributes, while stereotypes are the overgeneralized beliefs that we hold towards a member from a particular kind of group.

Stereotypes have a few properties.  First, they are perceptions of a person’s appearance, behavior, or abilities, which may be true or false.  When we use stereotypes or labels, we are reducing a person’s essence to those qualities.  Second, we say that these are the typical qualities of all members of the group.  Stereotypes are dangerous because we can judge an entire group of people as being “less than” before we even know them.  In order to create these stereotypes and prejudices, we must evaluate someone’s qualities in a negative light (i).  When we do this, we may feel something beyond mere dislikes, such as contempt or hate.  We feel contempt when we deem something inferior.  We feel hate when someone is a threat to our status or wellbeing.  Contempt can make us feel justified in keeping others in their place, while hate can lead to violence.  It is for these reasons that contempt and hate are threats to equality.  The antidote to contempt and hate is to look for what we have in common with others, not our dissimilarities.

When Bias Is Justified

bigot: a person who is obstinately or unreasonably attached to a belief, opinion, or faction, especially one who is prejudiced against or antagonistic toward a person or people on the basis of their membership of a particular group

We can all experience interpersonal rejection to some degree based on qualities that we may have or lack.  We are not all equal in our desirability.  If we naturally have a bias towards the attractive, smart, and capable, does this mean that these people are “better than”?  Meritocracy, the idea that effort and aptitude justify rising up the ranks, says it is ok to have a bias against those who are unintelligent and incapable within our economic system (ii).  In fact, we often unintentionally reject the undesirable and inadequate in subtle but hurtful ways.  When we are seeking romantic partners, then we have a bias against those who are unattractive.  When is it unreasonable to have a bias against someone?  Social movements fortunately have given us the categories of sex, gender, race, class, and ability.  Indeed, it seems silly to dislike someone over these qualities, but what about those that don’t make the fit (iii)?

There is a difference, however, between people not associated with a traditional marginalized group versus those that are. This has to do with which group meets the criteria of being oppressed.  Oppression is when one group, typically white-dominated males, have more power and privilege over the other.  Oppression affects people’s lives at three levels: interpersonal, institutional, and internalized. Interpersonal consists of the biases that are applied to the marginalized, institutional are the laws and social norms that form because of these biases, and internalization is when the marginalized internalize the oppression as shame and inferiority. This internalization is also known as subordination.  The outcome is that their quality of life, both mental and physical, is compromised.


i) We can also evaluate someone in a positive light and make a stereotype.  What about all Asians are good at mathematics.  Positive stereotypes are interesting because personally I would like to be associated with a group that excels at math.  But it makes them feel uncomfortable; perhaps because it draws attention to them being “different” and could be used as a source of prejudice.  It also simplifies and reduces Asians to an absurd degree.  Because of course people are complex and different even within groups.

ii) Meritocracy could be used in a couple of different ways to justify power and control.  It is conventionally said to be a fair way of advancing in the hierarchy because all that is required is effort and capability.  But we know that not all people have the same privileges and access to resources as others do.  So it is a half-truth.  But even if we eliminated privilege, it can still be interpreted as unfair because what about the people that are unintelligent and incompetent.  The system becomes rather challenging for them.

iii) Even within these groups, there is a bias that the dull-witted and incompetent are undesirable.  If we look at advertising that attempts to improve the disabled’s image, we will notice that they are portrayed as intelligent.  This is not always the case though; five million Americans suffer from some form of intellectual disability.  It is for these reasons that I generalize when I discuss marginalization.  When I use the word marginalization, I mean those that are more or less non-existent and impotent but not just in the political sense.  People that are undesirable and inadequate are often invisible even in their day-to-day interactions.