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.

Hannity’s Snowflakes

Has anyone ever been called a snowflake, lol?  I came across this summary of what liberalism is all about and thought I’d share it. There are five criticisms embedded in the quote below that relate to paternalism, meritocracy, callout culture, victimhood, and microaggressions. Oh, we cannot forget how fragile we are too.  I think there is a reality to these criticisms albeit distorted a bit.

They have become accustomed to the paternalistic attitude that they must be shielded from all adversity and disappointment—a world where everyone gets a trophy and where university campuses train students to be victims rather than self-reliant, constantly on the lookout for “trigger words” and “microaggressions” that could damage their psychic serenity.  We do truly have a generation of snowflakes now. [Sean Hannity]

Do not expect a detailed analysis of anything from Sean Hannity since he has to appeal to his tribe with a specific dialogue in mind. This dialogue must be easy to digest; otherwise, he would alienate his audience.  He has to use keywords that elicit emotion in order to validate what conservatives stand for and are against.  So when the reader sees “victim” they feel a sense of contempt for the liberal which reinforces that they are against wimps who blame their problems on others.  But this misrepresents and conflates the concept of what it is to be a victim.  There is a difference between being a legitimate victim of subordination and victimhood. Victimhood is a mentality where we most likely were victims at one point of unfair treatment, but we never seemed to get over it.

Marginalized groups, such as those relating to sexuality, identity, ethnicity, and those deemed as inadequate and undesirable, are at an increased risk of being bullied and rejected (v).  When people are ridiculed and disparaged, then this affects the quality of their lives.  In fact, those that are bullied and rejected are at risk for mood disorders, depression, and anxiety.  This hostility and contempt can come from subtle insults to blatant hate speeches, which are acts of microaggression and aggression.  To encourage civil relations, political correctness attempts to shield the marginalized from bigoted speech.  Hannity mocks microaggressions by portraying them in an absurd way.  But in the process, he undermines the marginalized groups’ efforts in seeking emotional refuge.

Hannity further mentions that we are taught to be victims rather than self-reliant (i).  There is some truth to this because college campuses teach us to look for microaggressions, which are words or actions meant to inflict emotional harm on marginalized persons (iv).  When we are looking for malintent, then we will be assuming the worst and priming ourselves to react. When primed for the worst, we may misinterpret the party’s intentions or meaning of the slight.  When we get defensive, then that means we are threatened.  The other party wins.  If we can handle the slight with composure, then it will reduce their defenses and prevent conflict. In fact, the message will more likely be received than discarded.  It then becomes a choice if we want to come back with a vicious defense or handle it in a constructive way by asserting with dignity and respect that we do not appreciate undermining comments.

I have justified bullies bullying the bullies.  Although I did not endorse a militant style of politics, I came close to it.  There are a few approaches to identity politics, which is when a class of people with shared characteristics mobilize in order to increase their status. We can appeal to our shared humanity as Martin Luther King Jr. did in his speeches which unites us, or we can appeal to our tribal instincts by demonizing a shared enemy, which is divisive.  I do not claim to know which approach is more effective, but I do have some thoughts on callout culture, which conforms to the latter.  If we are going to attack people for them failing to uphold our beliefs, then we better have evidence of a consistent pattern.  Because we often can misinterpret their intentions and meaning (ii).

The only basis Hannity has for being against paternalism is that somehow our liberties are impeded when we have the state or institutions protecting us.  I have always said to libertarians with their obsession with coercion and freedom that sometimes we have to give up something to get something.  Putting aside the loss of freedom when mandates are implemented, a better question is how effective is it when colleges enforce certain social norms with an intent to protect their members?  How effective are political correctness and callout culture in obtaining their goals of reducing emotional abuse?  I just got done reading Jonathan Hadit’s book titled “The Coddling of the American Mind”, which I’m in about 50% agreement with him which I will critique in the next post.

Meritocracy is when we reward people based on their abilities.  Again, Hannity is mocking the belief in economic equality when he says that “everyone gets a trophy”, which is absurd.  Meritocracy is essential to our economic system because of the concept of incentives, which drives us to compete.  We are claiming that there needs to be a reasonable safety net for those that cannot keep up with the rest of us.  We have good reasons to believe that an equalizing force is essential.  I have already written about how meritocracy leads to social hierarchies that, although inevitable in a capitalistic society, have consequences for our health and happiness.  In fact, those that make $40,000 per year have a risk of death three times that of those that make $140,000 per year (iii).


i)  It may not make sense to contrast self-reliance to that of victimhood.  I think what Hannity is trying to say is that instead of forging ahead after an insult or criticism and taking responsibility for our end of a social interaction gone bad, we instead focus on the harm done to us.  We are not using our own emotional resources, such as our confidence that we are still worthy regardless of the slight. There is a concept known as “internal locus” which is about believing we are the sources of change and influence versus others. Having an internal locus view has been shown to decrease feelings of victimization.  Although people do influence our successes and failures, it may be a better strategy to focus on what we can change.  Despite this, the marginalizing of certain groups is a very real phenomenon.  I do not think Hannity is denying that marginalization exists but rather is saying focus on what we can change.

ii) A good example is when I argued that responsibilities to one another in a relationship often strive to be 50-50, which is a good thing, but it is best if we do not keep tabs on who did what.  The problem with becoming an “accountant” is that things will often not be 50-50 because we are not consistent in our efforts.  If we are keeping tabs, then we can become disappointed and resentful. Relationship experts believe that it is best to hold the belief that our partner is doing the best they can to meet their obligations.

Having stated this on a post, I was then attacked and shamed, which is what “callout culture” does, for being sexist because I was implying that one sex may have to do more work than the other.  But that was not my intention nor the meaning of my argument.  Although I quickly learned the rules of posting, this made me feel resentment, and it certainly did not unite me in our shared vision.

iii). See the study here and the explanation here.

iv) College campuses do not seem to distinguish between intentional microaggressions and unintentional.  It has to do with how the target feels.  I should be saying “perceived” slight because sometimes people will not mean it as an insult.  Most insults are criticisms because they find fault, but they are done with an intent to inflict harm.  That which is offensive is another route for being triggered.  When I hear someone make a misogynist comment, it is a disturbing feeling that I get.  So, first, we get offended when we hear strongly held beliefs that are contrary to our own.  I used to get very offended when people would talk about their belief in God.

Second, we can get angry when the beliefs of others threaten our own beliefs.  When I hear something that goes against my background knowledge, I find that I can get angry and irritated.  Perhaps this has to do with cognitive dissonance.  Lastly, if our beliefs ground our identity, then we should be very threatened.  For example, Christians have a lot at stake if their beliefs turn out to be false.  But that is not all because we oftentimes transfer our anger and hate to the person that holds differing beliefs.


Accountable to None

This is my chance to share what my thoughts are on the United States’ foreign policy.  What rekindled this interest is despite the necessity of condemning Russia, it comes across as hypocritical in light of what we have done and continue to do. This is not a diatribe against us but rather is posing the question of whether or not our policies, i.e., military hegemony, are effective or necessary.

I don’t claim to have the answer if our foreign policy has kept us safe, has escalated the defenses of other nations, or both.  Anyone that thinks they do, should take a look at the nuanced and complex debates within U.S. history.  But as liberals we should care about the costs of our foreign policies because it claims a lot of lives in the name of “national security” often veiled as American idealism.

The victory [WWII] now gave the US the right to exert upon the world the full impact of our influence for such purposes as we see fit, and by such means as we see fit.  Henry Luce [9]

In the past few decades, the U.S. has killed between 360,000 to 387,000 civilians due to its wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Pakistan [10].  Supposedly, this is the cost others need to bear for us to assure our national security and the promotion of democratic ideals.  In going through America’s past wars and actions, there is an obvious trend of the U.S. doing whatever it wants, which is called American exceptionalism (i).  A complaint that I hear is that this is a progressive or revisionist view of history.  What they mean is that a revisionist’s account doesn’t equate American success with hegemony without considering how we achieved it.

Hegemony must respect international law and human rights; that is, it must be morally justified.  And justification is not pretense. The excuses for our foreign policies and wars have hardly changed, and the real reasons remain the same, i.e., to secure our geopolitical position (hegemony) and to promote and protect our economic interests [8] (ii).  A nationalistic account, on the other hand, is not particularly concerned about the welfare of others and appeals to our pride.  If we are nationalists who always think that we must come first, then we may prefer sources like Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, or textbooks found in elementary school.

Nature of Nations

Hegemony is about being a dominant economic and military force.  The definition doesn’t stipulate if this is by prestige or force or if it is done with regard to others or ruthless.  Let us detour and see what biology says about this.  Human nature is both cooperative and competitive.  We have evolved over time to compete and cooperate in a way where dominance and the threat of force are no longer the preferred routes.  There are good reasons for this.  Instead, we cooperate and compete based on mutual benefit and positive displays (iii).  So instead of threatening others with force, we threaten one another with our status and competencies.

More succinctly, dominance, which uses the threat of force and makes us fearful, has been replaced with prestige, which uses the threat of eliciting positive attention from others and makes us feel insecure.  The older system hasn’t gone away, but our culture reinforces the use of prestige by its social norms while safeguarding against dominance through our penal institutions.  A natural question is why nations still relate to one another through dominance and the threat of force while individuals see this as a relic of the past?  This is because nations are unaccountable entities that consist of individuals with dangerous nationalistic pride.

What about international law and the people holding nations responsible for their actions?  International law has not been respected by U.S. officials.  It is used when we want to hold other countries accountable, but not us.  And the voice of the people is muted by the propaganda of right-winged media who pander to the interests of the state department while exploiting our tribal instincts.  The state department’s philosophy has always preferred dominance and the threat of force as the means for national security over diplomacy.  Although the strength that we project in national defense may deter most, it has the effect of antagonizing other groups.

Threats and Pretense

We should not be naive as there are genuine threats in the world.  Knowing what happened, for example, in China, North Korea, North Vietnam, Cambodia and the Soviet Union, the U.S. had a legitimate concern with the spread of communism post WWII. Although the statism part of communism is necessary for dictators to exert their will, we cannot be sure that all forms of socialism lead to tyranny (iv).  The U.S. used propaganda, however, to demonize all socialist movements, which created a mass hysteria over communism. This lead to the U.S. encircling socialist “threats” with hundreds of military bases around the globe and supporting rightest regimes. Although we provided a justification for our hegemonic presence, we were not bringing freedom and democracy (v).

While rhetorically committed to freedom and democracy, the U.S. supported a host of repressive and dictatorial governments, including at various times, regimes in Greece, South Korea, French-controlled Vietnam (1950-54), South Vietnam (1954-75), Indonesia, Iran, Zaire, Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Brazil, Chile, Pakistan, and the Philippines.  The U.S. also covertly aided the overthrow of democratic governments, notably in Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954), and Chile (1973), each of which was replaced by a murderous rightist regime fully supported by the United States. [8]
So we were fighting the communists and bringing freedom and democracy.  Now we are fighting the terrorists and bringing freedom and democracy.  But besides West Germany and Japan, we brought instead instability and more bloodshed, while causing the Soviet Union to escalate its defenses.  We hyped the Soviet threat despite evidence to the contrary that Russia was “not motivated by Marxist ideology to aggressively take over the world.  Rather, they expressed the view that capitalism would eventually fall of its own accord [8].”  The same may be true for many Islamic terrorist groups.  In fact, Al Qaeda articulated why they waged war against us in that they despise our repressive regimes as well as our military presence within their holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Regardless if we believe or not that our dominating presence helped with national security, there were grave costs to this approach.

…at least three million Asian deaths in Southeast Asia, the wounding of millions more, the destruction of much of the Korean countryside [and three million Koreans], and the utter devastation of Vietnam, on which more bombs were dropped than on all the belligerents combined in World War II….  Bloodbaths in Indonesia, the Congo (now Zaire), Angola, Iran, Guatemala, El Salvador, Chile, Brazil, and Argentina; the killing of thousands of peasants, students, trade unionists, priests, and nuns; the wiping out of entire villages by right-wing governments, police forces, militias, secretive death squads, many of them trained by and in the United States – these were the consequences of our cold war policy.

Law and Rhetoric

Children of Laos illustrating the devastation.

Children of Laos illustrate their attack by the U.S.[9]

If the Nazi activities represented a kind of apex to an age of inhumanity, American atrocities in Laos are clearly of a different order,” Branfman wrote.  “Not so much inhuman as a-human. The people of Na Nga and Nong Sa were not the object of anyone’s passion.  They simply weren’t considered.” [9]

The U.S. were training the Hmong to fight in a proxy war against the pro-communist Path Lao in the 1960s.  The people of Laos were also used as a means for the U.S. military to test their 2.1 million tons of explosives on.  What was interesting and egregious was that the U.S. soldiers had no animosity towards the natives and rationalized their killings as “it’s easier to lose your Hmong people than to lose Americans.”  So if we are irrelevant and insignificant, as the Hmong were, we are at risk for being manipulated and murdered by the U.S.  Furthermore, many of these bombs never detonated and hence are still destroying the Hmong population today, claiming 50,000 lives.  This shouldn’t, however, be surprising because other democratic empires, like Great Britain and Athens, were just as vicious.  In fact, there is no correlation with how democratic a nation is and their outside treatment of others.

Reagan-Bush State Department: the UN is “perfectly serviceable as an instrument of American unilateralism and indeed may be the primary mechanism through which that unilateralism will be exercised in the future.”  [2]

The intervention in Laos was obviously against international law since it was done in secrecy as were others.  The ones that we got caught for unlawful use of force include the invasion of Panama, Grenada, and Nicaragua.  As much as conservatives have undermined the United Nations, such as it being a “foolish fantasy”, there is no other mechanism for restraining nations from the use of irrational force.  The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was a clear case of America bullying and manipulating everyone.  In fact, we drafted up our own resolution with ambiguous language, such as “serious consequences”, if Iraq failed to disarm.  No one, however, on the security council interpreted that as going to war.  But it did not matter if it passed or not because the US already made up their mind.

“The US-UK leaders “issued an ultimatum” to the United Nations Security Council: capitulate in twenty-four hours or we will invade Iraq and impose the regime of our choice without your meaningless seal of approval, and we will do so—crucially—whether or not Saddam Hussein and his family leave the country. Our invasion is legitimate, Bush declared, because “the United States of America has the sovereign authority to use force in assuring its own national security.” [2] (vi)

Donald Trump at one point called Howard Zinn, the revisionist historian, a propagandist which is not terribly insightful.  Because all information must come from a point of view in the hopes of changing minds.  In general, the left-winged view on national security places an emphasis on human rights and diplomacy while the right-winged view is on nationalism and the threat of force.  The U.S., however, is a self-conscious nation which means that diplomacy must be one-hundred percent self-interested and apologies are for weak nations.  When President Obama visited Laos for reparations, he failed to take responsibility for our wrongdoings, as it was just “part of war”, and neglected to to explain his intentions.  The real reason for the visit was to secure our ““Asia pivot strategy,” whose centerpiece is an expanded military presence that threatens a new arms race with China and perhaps new proxy wars [8].”


i) We are unique since we have the most democratic institutions, promote individualism, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and have gained a level of economic prosperity unrivaled.  But this idea of exceptionalism can go beyond pride and becomes hubris.  In fact, we are so special that we justify all of our wars and interferences with American mythology—”such as leaders of the free world”—but we are too self-righteous afterwards to acknowledge the damage done.  We are so special that reasonable and sound international legal principles don’t apply to us.  And, no, saying that this is the cost of war is not acknowledgement.  It is evasion.

ii) From a narrow perspective, everything the U.S. does towards national security contributes to its hegemony.  This comes from revisionist historians having high standards towards morality which includes the belief that war is almost never justified.  It is based on the principle of universality, which says that we must apply the same standards to ourselves as we do to our enemies.  But other perspectives, such as orthodox, have come up with different conclusions which never implicate the U.S. as escalating and causing conflicts.  For example, orthodox historians say that Russia was the cause of the Cold War and that the U.S. responded rationally.

The problem with a revisionist history, or any interpretive framework, is that it looks for some trends, say American hegemony, at the cost of other facts.  For example, the historian Melvyn Leffler notes that the U.S. misinterpreted and overestimated the Soviet Union’s intentions and capabilities, yet the U.S.’s intentions were earnest since they genuinely felt threatened and wanted to defend the U.S.  In other words, although there is evidence that the U.S. sought hegemony for its own sake, there is also evidence that they did this for perceived national security. There is even evidence at times that the U.S. restrained their power and acted prudent.

iii) Positive displays are the behaviors, personalities, and images that we project to elicit positive attention, value, and respect from others.  We compete to bestow value upon others which is signaled as a success when others value, accept, or respect us.

iv) I am not against other nations engaging in socialism if it means collective ownership of the means of production and property under a democratic government.  But any practical application of it has been statist; that is, the government owns the factors of production and property.  This makes the system vulnerable to dictators that can implement dangerous propaganda and policies.

v)  The evidence for this claim is based on two studies.  One study looked at interventions from  1945 to 2004, and only one “full fledged, stable democracy” developed within ten years.  Most experts agree that the process of democratization has to come from internal efforts and that imposing it usually results in “greater authoritarianism” or at best an autocracy.  The other study looked at cases from 1973 to 2005, where 42% of interventions resulted in no change, 30% resulted in less democracy, and 28% resulted in more democracy [3,6,11].  But the definition for democratization appears to be loosely based on the ability to hold free elections.

vi) I do not know if I agree with Bush here.  The security council must be more objective than Bush to determine if the use of force is for purposes of self-defense.  I would not know where to begin to understand Bush’s true intentions for going to war although it appears to be something like misdirected vengeance.  The war was worse than pre-emption as it is classified as preventive.


[1] Cheibub, Jose Antonio; Przeworski, Adam; Limongi Neto, Fernando Papaterra; Alvarez, Michael M. (1996). “What Makes Democracies Endure?”. Journal of Democracy. 7 (1): 39–55.

[2] Chomsky, Noam.  Hegemony or Survival.

[3] Hermann, Margaret G.; Kegley, Charles (1998). “The U.S. Use of Military Intervention to Promote Democracy: Evaluating the Record”. International Interactions. 24 (2): 91–114

[4] Leffler, Melvyn P.  Safeguarding Democratic Capitalism

[5] Shaprio, Ben.  Facts Don’t Care About Your Feelings.  Time to Defund the United Nations.

[6]Tures, John A. “Operation Exporting Freedom: The Quest for Democratization via United States Military Operations” (PDF). Whitehead Journal of Diplomacy and International Relations.

[7] The U.N. – International Human Rights Law.  International Law and Justice.

[8] United States Foreign Policy: History and Resource Guide.  Brutal Sideshows: Associated Wars in Laos and Cambodia

[9] United States Foreign Policy: History and Resource Guide.  Cold War interventionism, 1945-1990

[10] Watson Institute: International & Public Affairs

[11] Why Gun-Barrel Democracy Doesn’t Work”. Hoover Institution. Retrieved 2019-05-23.

Us, the U.S.

For someone that started their political interests listening to Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh, I have since become disillusioned and enlightened after getting familiar with United States’ foreign policies and actions.  For those die-hard nationalists and patriots out there, you will not like what I have to say.  But I make no apologies.  I once was an unwavering supporter of our nation’s interests, but once I realized the value of all of human life (i), I no longer accept our reasons for going to war without extreme skepticism (ii).

On Putin’s Intentions – Motivated by Recent Comments

I am adding this section because certain passages may not be clear.  No doubt, what Putin is doing appears to be nationalistic and expansionistic.  But we do not know what motivated him to do this as this is difficult to ascertain unless we ask the person.  This post provides a hypothesis for Putin’s recent action and is by no means the only one as others point out in the comments section.

This hypothesis states that there is no hard evidence that Putin wanted to expand territory despite the kinship between Russia and Ukraine and Putin’s leanings toward right-winged, perhaps even fascist, ideology.  I am claiming, as others do, that the U.S. may have influenced his decision to invade Ukraine by the U.S. progressively expanding NATO’s reach, which was against Putin’s will.

Now maybe both are true as Putin may have always wanted to invade Ukraine but also felt threatened with NATO expansion.  On the other hand, instead of being threatened, perhaps Putin was angry (more like enraged) because this would interfere with his goals to invade.  The only thing we can do is look for quality evidence and propose more than one hypothesis.   Please see the excellent comments!

Pursuing Our Interests

I am no Putin sympathizer.  But I am curious about what is going on in Putin’s mind besides his need to promote his interests, which has the appearance of being about nationalism (iii).  He may have had the thought, “What about the US pursuing their interests in the Middle East, Latin America, and Southeast Asia?”  Because in every corner of the world we have harshly pursued our interests. History is replete with examples of us supporting dictators since they served our interests and quenched our thirst for hegemony.

The US supported authoritarian forces in 44 out of 64 covert regime changes, including six operations that replaced liberal democratic governments with authoritarian regimes.  The U.S. not only undermined democracy but also aided and abetted repression, torture, and the execution of political opponents carried out by U.S.-backed autocracies. [3]

If Russia was a weaker nation, perhaps Putin would have been our puppet.  The ancient historian, Thucydides reminds us, “The strong do as they can, and the weak do as they must”.  So we leave Russia alone while we have terrorized, for example, Central America throughout the 1900s.  Of course, to gain popular support for our wars and terror, we have to have pretense and propaganda, such as fighting for democracy or against the communists and dictators, that we prop up.  Putin is no exception to the use of deception.

He (Putin) told the Russian people his goal was to “demilitarise and de-Nazify Ukraine”, to protect people subjected to what he called eight years of bullying and genocide by Ukraine’s government. “It is not our plan to occupy the Ukrainian territory. We do not intend to impose anything on anyone by force,” he insisted.

Putin is threatened that Ukraine will join the EU and NATO.  He is threatened because it represents a siding with the West’s democratic ideals—the other side.  It is now time to punish Ukraine for its transgressions.  But we have also carried out illegal invasions in Panama, Grenada, and a proxy war against Nicaragua, violating international law.  We then hypocritically went to war against Iraq, a dictator that no longer served our interests, in the Persian Gulf claiming that they violated international law.

The fact that Iraq violated international law and invaded Kuwait was an excuse for us to secure the region because lots of oil was at stake (iv).  If we look at most of the conflicts that we have been involved in, the reasons given were about fighting the communists, fighting drug trafficking and terrorism, humanitarian, and democracy.  But these were not the real reasons why we would go to war. We would mostly go to war or invade when the dictators that we set up got out of line or our strategic interests were at stake.

We Influenced the Present

The above examples illustrate that we often did not go to war and participate in conflict for benevolent reasons.  We ruthlessly and deceptively pursued our interests which makes our nation a self-seeking bully.  Conservatives and patriots will be quick to point out that perhaps these wars were necessary because it represents strength through the threat of force, a force that we can back up with military might second to none.  This may certainly be true, but most of the foreign threats were a consequence of our meddling.

There will always be new threats on the horizon as long as U.S. leaders pursue global hegemony and parlay this to the American public as “national security.”  It is, of course, a conceit of empire to believe that all nations benefit from the aggrandizement and projection of U.S. power.

Although we may enjoy the comfort of being number one, being a bully means that we were not always trustworthy international partners.  In 1990, the United States promised Gorbachev that they would not expand NATO “one inch to the East” in return for the reunification of Germany.  By 1998, the Clinton administration expanded NATO to Poland, Hungry, and the Czech Republic.  This trend continued with President George Bush in 2008 announcing that Ukraine and Georgia would become members too.

The expansion of NATO would amount to a “strategic blunder of epic proportions” and the “most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-Cold War era,” as it would “inflame the nationalistic, anti-Western and militaristic tendencies in Russian opinion,” “restore the atmosphere of the cold war to East-West relations,” and “impel Russian foreign policy in a direction decidedly not to our liking.” [3]

The rationale that the U.S. has used to expand NATO was to promote democratic ideals.  But as former President Clinton has hinted, the real reason may be for international corporations to stretch their reach.  Trump’s administration then sold the Ukraine “defensive weapons”, while more recently Ukraine participated in military exercises with the U.S.  As the relationship between Ukraine and the U.S. strengthened, the more threatened Russia became.  In other words, we disrespected the wishes of Russia.

This interpretation of events is at odds with the prevailing mantra in the West, which portrays NATO expansion as irrelevant to the Ukraine crisis, blaming instead Mr Putin’s expansionist goals. According to a recent NATO document sent to Russian leaders, “NATO is a defensive Alliance and poses no threat to Russia.” The available evidence contradicts these claims. For starters, the issue at hand is not what Western leaders say NATO’s purpose or intentions are; it is how Moscow sees NATO’s actions. [1]

We shouldn’t take this lightly although the hawks would shout appeasement if we didn’t.  But I am not capitulating here but rather performing a root cause analysis on someone’s causes of action.  What happens to us when we are repeatedly not taken seriously and instead snubbed?  It does not matter if we deserve it or not.  We feel anger and indignation over the unfair treatment.  In all likelihood, this is exactly what is going through Putin’s mind.  Regardless, he made a grave mistake by invading his neighbor and will pay the costs.  We, on the other hand, have done similar actions but answer to no one as we veto international law violations.


i) Yes, human life wasn’t that valuable to me because it was not our loss.  After Vietnam, the wars that the United States engaged in would inevitably result in minimal U.S. casualties, but the other side would be devastated.  For example, the Persian Gulf war resulted in a 100:1 (Iraq: U.S.) casualty ratio.  I can’t tell you what has changed in my life, but I simply hold the value of human life to be greater than I used to.  Perhaps it was the undoing of the indoctrination of Conservative radio.

ii) After being a part of the cheerleading squad to go to invade Iraq the second time and then finding out that we didn’t do our homework, I take the reasons given for war much more seriously now since human life is at stake.  Usually, we are given pretense for going to war, such as fighting the communists or upholding democratic ideals, but this time I think the administration actually convinced themselves that Iraq was somehow related to Al Qaeda and that they posed an imminent threat.

iii).  You will have to read the comments to understand that although his actions our expansionistic and nationalistic, I don’t believe that he would have expanded if it weren’t for the perceived threat of NATO.  There is probably an element of doing this out of spite since his “sphere of influence”, i.e., his ego was bruised when the U.S. has repeatedly gone against his will.

iv) The U.S. was prepared to go to war with Iraq for over a year prior to their violation of international law.  Saddam Husein no longer served his purpose as a buffer for Iran.  In other words, the violation was a way to legitimize the U.S.’s invasion.


[1] The Economist. “John Mearsheimer on why the West is principally responsible for the Ukrainian crisis.”

[2] The Economist.  “Sir Adam Roberts rebuffs the view that the West is principally responsible for the crisis in Ukraine.”

[3] The Fifth Estate.

[4] “The Making of the Modern World”.  Robert W. Strayer.

Introverts Need Therapy?

Sensitive people.., may have suffered much pain (they were often of a delicate constitution), but the damage to their inner selves was less. They were able to retreat . . to a life of inner riches and spiritual freedom (i). Only in this way can one explain the apparent paradox that some prisoners of a less hardy make-up often seemed to survive camp life better than did those of a more robust nature. [V. Frankl]

From the therapists I have experienced, they do not take into account personality styles when practicing their trade.  I recall being given a list of cognitive distortions, e.g., “all-or-nothing thinking” or “filtering”, only to come up with the conclusion that therapists are interfering with types of reasoning that we apply in social circumstances that may have unintended consequences. So I don’t wholeheartedly accept them.  If we think the evidence for CBT is uncontroversial, then this means that we haven’t researched it (iv).

The fact that I had a difficult time accepting and using CBT shows that this is a personality quirk, but it was interpreted instead as being adversarial and not open-minded. This post will review how some, namely those with sensory-processing sensitivity—the essence of introversion (iii)—must process things deeply and thoroughly before accepting.  We all have a natural inclination to learn and understand how to navigate our outer worlds, but we do this in our own way and may not benefit from the “fix” of a therapist (v).

The What It Is

I did a post titled “The What It Is” that claimed that we can get to the essence of a trait if we observe a physiological phenomenon upon stimulation.  This is as close as we can get to a trait’s essence, but it is not a Platonic reality or something that exists beyond perception.  Jerome Kagan has identified the essence of the introversion trait as being inhibitedness (iii) which was a label given to describe what happens with twenty percent of infants—always in this proportion—upon stimulating them with say a bright light.

Inhibited infants show EEG activation on the right frontal area under resting conditions while most infants show activation in the left frontal area.  The right frontal area in the brain is where negative “affect” or emotion occurs. [6]

Studies show that infants that are inhibited are likely to develop the personality traits of introversion and neuroticism or demonstrate the behavioral disposition of shyness.  Shyness is when we feel inhibited or fearful around others and become extremely self-conscious.  We can be introverted and shy or introverted and not shy.  Currently, introversion is studied as a function of sociability (see reader’s comment below), and introverts prefer select and few social interactions as they can become easily overwhelmed.  But once we focus on sociability in terms of energy expenditure, although still correct, it misses the more fundamental roots of the trait.

Jung was right to describe innate introversion not in terms of sociability but as a preference to process information from the external world in a thoroughly subjective way. [1]

There is reason to believe that this trait of inhibitedness is a misnomer and should be labeled sensory-processing sensitivity or HSP (Highly Sensitive Person).  Dr. Aaron has framed this inhibitedness in terms of the central nervous system’s sensitivity which requires it to take life in small pieces for deep processing.  But thirty percent of HSPs are extroverts.  Research, however, shows that this subset of HSPs may have developed into introverts if they did not have positive and accepting social experiences.

HSP is characterized by “a tendency to ‘pause to check’ in novel situations, greater sensitivity to subtle stimuli, and the engagement of deeper cognitive processing strategies for employing coping actions, all of which is driven by heightened emotional reactivity, both positive and negative. [4.1]

Introverted Brain

Introverts are more sensitive to stimuli and stimulants, more vigilant during discrimination tasks, more influenced by implicit learning paradigms, more reflective when given feedback, and slower to acquire and forget information due to their depth of processing input into memory.  [1]

So by getting closer to the biology of the trait, known as temperament, we can see that it is sensitivity that makes introverts more easily overwhelmed.  Think for a moment about how being “more easily overwhelmed” will affect how we approach life. This means that we will have rehearsed questions before answering because we feel shame more deeply, that people may exhaust us instead of energize us, but it is all rooted in protection from feeling overwhelmed, which is why sensitivity is the essence of the trait (ii, iii).

This greater sensitivity and its physiological correlates are found at all levels of the nervous system, from measures of skin conductance, reaction times, and evoked potential, to subcortical areas of the brain, to differences in cortical processing (generally more right hemi- sphere activity. [2]

This sensitivity can explain introverts’ lower sociability (iii), which is to avoid feeling overwhelmed due to their exaggerated response to stimuli, but I haven’t seen an adequate explanation of how responsiveness contributes to deeper processing of information despite being intuitive.  But there are differences between how introverts and extroverts process information, where introverts tend to be more reflective, thorough, and profound, extroverts are not.  In terms of IQ, introversion does not, however, confer an advantage.

Introverts rely much more on acetylcholine-mediated pathways [my insert: extroverts favor dopaminergic pathways], resulting in a longer circuit through the frontal lobes of the brain, a longer time in the planning and decision-making mode, and slower memory retrieval. They have greater synthesis of information from different parts of the brain too.  [4]


i) Spiritual doesn’t have to be divine because it is also transcendence of the here and now to create meaning and purpose.  Inner riches means the rich life of our inner thoughts and feelings that we can console and rely on.  For me, when I learn something that integrates nicely into my larger understanding of things, then I feel satisfaction.  The things that I learn are personally meaningful.

ii)  This discussion is relying on a categorization of introverts versus extroverts, but we can’t explain the individual in such stark ways since traits are on a continuum and combine in complex ways with other traits.  The larger point, however, is that people vary in how they interact with their outer worlds.

iii) This may not be the true trait that underlies introversion because of confounding variables.  The fact that we aren’t very social (introversion), for example, may not be because we are easily overwhelmed (sensitive) but instead due to aversive social experiences.  So the trait of sensory-processing sensitivity is a subset of all introverts.  Psychologists are still trying to discern the different behaviors that make up a trait, and they certainly are not monolithic.  They then squeeze them into a nice and tidy category.

…Well, whatever we name this trait, the most recent research suggests that the general strategy of being more sensitive is determined by multiple genes, and these do not come with names on them. We scientists are creating the names—introverted, inhibited, shy, sensitive, and responsive. As we learn more, we will become more accurate. For now, if you are socially extroverted yet feel things deeply, ponder the meaning of life, reflect before acting, and need a lot of down time, please, be patient. If you are socially introverted but not especially bothered by loud noise, are not very emotional, and make decisions rather easily, please also be patient. We’ll get it right about you, too…[Elaine Aaron]

iv) The status quo is that there is empirical support from CBT, but it depends on which meta analysis we accept.  In my view, CBT probably does work to alleviate “dysfunctional” thoughts and feelings that may contribute to depression and anxiety.  But these dysfunctional thoughts may have a purpose that if we eliminate them, then we may not get to the source of what is causing the depression and anxiety.  I have touched upon this before on items twelve and thirteen of this post.  I am not alone on this concern.

As far as unintended consequences, if we are familiar with the cognitive distortions, then we will see that it is essentially pointing out that we have cognitive biases such as the confirmation bias, which is labeled as “filtering”.  But this is how the brain naturally works to find evidence for something.  It is simply saying that we should look for other causes before making a hasty conclusion.  This is usually a good thing.  My concern, however, is that this prevents us from using our intuition when it comes to assessing people.

v). This isn’t fair to therapists because it reflects my experiences with a small sample of them.  Therapy is an opportunity to raise our emotional IQ and to learn about ourselves.  They can be an invaluable coach to us as we navigate the rough terrains of our lives.


[1] Aaron, Elaine.  Revisiting Jung’s Concepts of Innate Sensitiveness. Journal of Analytical Psychology.

[2] Aaron, Elaine.  Sensory Processing Sensitivity and Its Relation to Introversion and Emotionality.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

[3] Aaron, Elaine.  The Clinical Implications of Jung’s Concept of Sensitiveness.  Journal of Jungian Theory and Practice.

[4] Aaron, Elaine. Sensory Processing Sensitivity in the context of Environmental Sensitivity.  Neuroscience and Behavioral Reviews.

[4.1] Booth, Charlotte; Standage, Helen; Fox, Elaine (1 Dec 2015), “Sensory-processing sensitivity moderates the association between childhood experiences and adult life satisfaction

[5] Olsen, Marti. The Introvert Advantage: Making the Most of Your Inner Strengths

[6] Schmidt, Louis.  Extreme Fear, Shyness, and Social Phobia (Series in Affective Science)

The Criticism

I always felt that criticism was a fascinating invention, but it should be used sparingly.  Here’s my take on Homo sapiens’ creation.


I am going to show how a weapon, which homo sapiens have perfected, allows us to “cut” another human being.  This is called the criticism.  I am not talking about teasing that involves affection, which respectfully knows when it has gone too far, but rather criticism that is meant to inflict harm and is a direct attack on our self-esteem.  I’m also including the well-intentioned kind that cuts deep because our subconscious knows that it is true.  Either way, the crux of criticism is “to find fault”.  If we step the criticism up a notch, then we have what is known as contempt.  When we show contempt, then we show that a person or their attributes are inferior. 

If we want to harm with criticism, we can customize it for the best effect.  We can modulate our tone, use body language, target our words, and use emotion, all to prove superiority.  There are many options to choose from.  There is teasing, which “playfully” pokes fun at the expense of another, mocking, which creates a caricature of our worst attribute, rendering us as clowns that can’t be taken seriously, and ridicule, which dismisses another as worthless.  If that wasn’t enough, we have sarcasm, which covertly puts us down.  The type is also situation-dependent.  If there are people around, then we are humiliated.  And if we fail to meet expectations, then we are berated.  We have, indeed, stumbled upon our Achilles heel since no one wants to deviate from a desirable standard.

Being criticized can cause anger or a low mood, but when repeatedly subjected to criticism, and we can’t escape or fight back, known as arrested flight/fight, then we can end up in a defeated state.  The thing with criticism is that the person that spews it wins at the cost of the other’s self-esteem.  Although the victor may feel guilt, the loser goes through an increase in cortisol, adrenaline, along with evoking the aversive emotions of shame or hurt feelings.  Anytime the self, which includes our abilities and attributes, is exposed to be inferior or undesirable, then we feel shame*.  Shame shows when we view our exposed self through the eyes of others.  By contrast, hurt feelings come if we feel that the criticizer no longer values us since criticisms can be a form of rejection.

Not everyone feels shame from a perceived threat of criticism.  This is because they either didn’t know the sense in which the word was supposed to be critical, the criticism was non-threatening, their mind fails to process it for numerous reasons, or they have already exposed their flaws and have come to accept them.  If we have any bit of intelligence, then we are going to process that threat.  The trick to not feeling shame and hurt feelings is to attribute the threat to something else, anything but us.  Common tactics include attributing the attacker to be jealous and giving false information, they didn’t mean it in that sense, or minimizing its importance.  But criticisms that reappear in life may have some truth and value to them, so it’s best to deal with the pain and accept.  Otherwise, you are stuck with two conflicting beliefs: it either conforms to a social reality or it doesn’t.  You end up with dissonance.


*Shame only works if we attribute a fault or failure to meet a standard to “us” being the cause.  If we attribute our failings to it being a fluke or we didn’t try hard enough, then it doesn’t get triggered.  In other words, It has to be global (us as beings or our attributes) and stable (can’t change it because that’s our aptitude).  One thing that would always irritate me is when someone would make me feel like my efforts were inadequate or not enough.  If we think that our efforts are caused by our capabilities and not motivations, then we will feel shame.  Otherwise, we will feel guilt, which is what we mean when we say that you are making me feel bad.

Dennett on Free Will

 … so that we can cope with the world around us effectively—if we are normal. There are unfortunate human beings who for one reason or another cannot, and they must live among us in a reduced status, rather like pets, at best, cared for and respected, restrained if necessary, loved and loving in their own limited ways, but not full participants in the human social world, and, of course, lacking morally significant free will. [1]

I have not had the opportunity to get into Daniel Dennett’s work until I got into free will.  Dennett’s view on free will is mechanical, and so I naturally gravitated towards it.  Although I like Dennett’s ideas and approach, I was taken aback by his insensitivity towards those deemed as inadequate and undesirable.  Despite the description being accurate, it could have been stated in a way that maintains the “unfortunates'” dignity.  Dennett does say, however, that the unfortunates aren’t ultimately responsible for their actions.

In Dennett’s writings, he often uses the term psychopath as a caricature of the abnormal person that can’t live within the bounds of society. Can I have compassion for the psychopath?  Probably not but I could have empathy, which would allow me to separate my disdain from their problem.  I don’t claim to have a solution to the problem of moral living, but I don’t think I like the implications of Dennett’s.  I don’t see much compassion towards “designs” in nature that are not competent enough to meet society’s standards.

This doesn’t affect the merit of Dennett’s analysis.  Dennett says that free will exists, but it’s not what we think it is.  Since free will doesn’t explain much of anything and has too much baggage to be used, then why keep it?  The only reason to not scrap the concept is so that we can be blamable for our actions.  But we can make a case for accountability without positing the existence of free will.  We don’t need to be ultimately responsible for an action because there is no shortage of good reasons to be accountable.

Dennett’s Free Will

There is not much to find wrong with Dennett’s work if you like science.  He equates free will to be nothing more than self-control and deliberation.  If freedom is to be found anywhere, then it must be found within these two concepts.  To Dennett, free will is compatible with determinism.  Determinism is the idea that given the past and laws of nature, that only one possible future exists. Dennett accomplishes this by telling us that the stipulation for free will to exist, which is could have done otherwise, doesn’t matter.

Dennett says that events are not inevitable but evitable; that is, we are designed by natural selection to avoid situations that could interfere with our survival.  Dennett claims that the problems of free will go away if we view it through a biological framework as agents.  Although he shows through thought experiments and computer simulations how complexity arises at a higher-level, which gives the appearance of indeterminism, he never labels it as an indeterministic system like many other philosophers seem to do.

We know at the quantum level that nature is indeterministic, but at the macro level it is deterministic.  Even though we may not be able to observe the causes at a high-level, we assume that there are causes.  For example, a coin toss is random because we can’t identify and predict its complex motion, yet it is deterministic.  Philosophers aren’t clear on whether or not indeterminism is meant in the stochastic sense or in the uncaused causes sense.  Dennett does agree though that high-level randomness is deterministic.

If all of our actions are predetermined by our biology and the inputs of our environment, which they are, then how can we be free?  It has to do with the framework or level of description we are using.  There is no ghost in the machine or mysterious force controlling us but rather an agent.  Relative to the agent, there are possibilities presented that we control the outcome of because we can deliberate with reasons to act or not to act.  But this is nothing more than self-control and deliberation.  Why force a fit with free will?


[1] Dennett, Daniel C.. Elbow Room

[2] Dennett, Daniel C.. Freedom Evolves