Saturday, February 16, 2013

Another Week Ends at Mockingbird, and I admit I sent a few ideas their way

Specifically the recent bits about Jane Austen and Jonah Lehrer.  Just because Slate could have done better with covering a story or two doesn't mean I don't ever read them.  The Jane Austen piece, though long and snobby is nonetheless an interesting read.  There even might be a few more words we'll link to regarding Jane Austen some time later this year. 

Chords for Heroes Part 2, how to write a worship song in five minutes or less

I actually didn't need to even watch the video to know that chords for heroes were going to show up. In D major this would be I-V-vi-IV and in B minor it would be ... i-VI-III-VII but it's still going to be D major, A major, B minor and G major or B minor, G major, D major, A major.  I've referred to this second kind of chord progression as "Gandalf Falls" and it's a sure-fire tear-jerker when you want to musically depict some hero falling in battle.  Though that's not the only thing you can do with the chord progression.  At the other end of the spectrum, even the minor variation of chords for heroes can be used to express triumph.  Care to disagree?  Well ... millions on millions of fans of this song by Boston will say you're wrong

And, hey, Boston made these undeniably trite chords rock harder than anybody else did.  There's a distinction to be made between merely trite and what a teacher of mine once called delightfully trite.  There's a time when giving the listener the cliche they want is actually the smart and artistically credible thing to do.  Know what?  Boston figured that out and they delivered in spades.  But you know what else?  Even the guys in Boston knew you had to rotate the chords around if you wanted to have more than (one) a feeling.  But this isn't the place to explain that neapoliton substitutions are part of what saves that other golden oldie from Boston from being completely trite.  Chromatic mediant substutions account for that ... but we're not going to assume that people trying to write a worship song in five minutes or less are good enough guitarists or competent enough at music theory to not what chromatic mediants or chord substitution are.

HT Jim West: A vinegar valentine from 1930

Jim West blogs, "Those must have been strange times"

Wenatchee The Hatchet says that this was merely how some people killed a huge amount of time before the advent of Facebook and Twitter. 

They couldn't all be Margaret Bourke-White or Ansel Adams, after all.

The single most effective method for influencing people fast--disrupt and reframe


$3 versus 300 pennies

Davis and Knowles (1999) demonstrated the DTR technique by selling note cards door-to-door for a local charity. Here are two different strategies they used:
  • In the 'normal' condition they told people it was $3 for 8 cards. Using this they made sales at 40% of households.
  • In the DTR condition they first told people it was 300 pennies for 8 cards, immediately followed by: "...which is a bargain!" This form of words encouraged 80% of households to buy the cards.
It's a huge effect for what is only a small change in the form of words. So, how and why does this work?
DTR works by first disrupting routine thought processes. The pitch is deliberately made hard to think about. In this case people's attention is distracted while they try to process this cryptic '300 pennies' and why anyone would mention the price in pennies rather than dollars.
Hot on the heels of the disrupt, in comes the reframe: in this case the words: "It's a bargain!" While people are distracted by the price in pennies (for a second or two anyway), they are more likely to just accept the suggestion that the cards are a bargain.
The disruption only works for a second; the reframe has to come immediately, before people's critical faculties come back online.

Disrupt-then-reframe has been shown to be the most effective way to persuade people quickly.  You disrupt the normal thought process, make your pitch deliberately hard to think about, and then reframe the issue so the earlier claim seems better than it is.  $3 compared to 300 pennies is pretty simplistic and crude and yet ... it worked, apparently.

This is how the issue under a lot of issues can get immediately reframed by a self-styled polemicist who says something weird in public and immediately jumps in a day or so after bloggers and journalists react to things and presents a much more boring, mundane, tedious form of the original sentiment.  Some people even managed to conclude that people who do things like that are just idiots and that people who react that way are silly.  The disruption appears and then amidst the reaction of people who don't buy the sell, the reframe is set up quickly enough that those who are willing to buy the less incendiary version of the same idea are willing to say that this is, in fact, a bargain.  Those people are then able to say that if we just knew the heart of the person who pulled the disruption and then reframed it we'd see that the person is a neat, wonderful person.  "Immediately" doesn't have to be really immediately.  On the internet it merely needs to wait long enough for bloggers and the like to get it trending. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Facebook and Twitter theology and atheology, two stupid peas in the same social media pod

There shouldn't actually be such a thing as twitter theology ... or for that matter twitter atheology.  Of course both exists, and that's too bad, but there's a distinction to be made between saying something shouldn't exist as a preference and saying something shouldn't exist as some kind of categorical mandate.  I hope it's clear that I'm articulating the former regarding the categorical punkishness of the latter as manifest in social media.  Yes, I get why atheists get tired of the idea that without theism there is no steady foundation for any ethics.  But the sort of social media atheology that claims that empathy and not religion is the foundation for morals is dangerously flawed and, precisely because atheists and humanists would claim to know better, it's just as stupid as some megachurch pastor tweeting some weird statement about this or that public figure. 

The proposal that what makes for morals is empathy and not religion is no better than the proposal of merely asserting that without a deity there is no basis for ethics.  It is, in fact, more dangerous because it's easier to disprove on the basis of work done by social scientists.  Longtime readers of Wenatchee The Hatchet will not be surprised by what comes next. 

Social psychologist Roy Baumeister has written that what most people call empathy is not a useful clinical definition for the term.  Most people conflate empathy and sympathy.  Empathy is, clinically speaking, the ability to understand how another mind may think or feel.  It is sympathy that indicates you actually care what others think.  Serial killers are generally not devoid of empathy since serial killers do not attempt to kill in the presence of uniformed police officers.  They also tend to select victims who will not be noticed when they go missing until a significant interval of time has elapsed.  Baumeister put it simply, that empathy without any corresponding sympathy is actually a powerful tool for someone who wants to inflict suffering on someone else.

Empathy is not nearly enough as a foundation for morality, it can actually be the foundation of torture.  Most of the time, in fact, it arguably is the foundation of domestic torture. If empathy is the capacity to understand how another mind things then from an adaptive strategy perspective it does not actually matter whether or not that mind truly exists.  After all, atheists read classic literature and those people in those stories didn't exist.  The theist and atheist differ on the extent to which particular iamgined minds can be considered as a basis for activity but it's not as though reading Shakespear or Hemmingway for a narrative contemplation of the human condition is necessarily a different process than reading Maccabes or Daniel even if one were to suppose that no deities exist.  As imagining the thoughts of someone extrapolated from words Betrand Russell and Batman are not necessarily any more real to you or I now that one man is dead and the other never existed. 

If theory of mind accounts for how our social and ethical selves may develop, the distinction between the historicity or ahistoricity of the mind we consider may not necessarily be as great in applied ethics as either theists or atheists will often insist.  Christians and atheists alike will pull the no true Scotsman defense, after all.  Of course some people can propose that if atheism is a religion then not collecting stamps is a hobby.  In life nobody stops at what they're against or what they don't believe.  Everyone goes on to affirm something. 

As Parker and Stone crudely observed in a couple of South Park episodes, it's impossible that a world without religion would be a world without war.  We'd merely have people finding different excuses to kill each other in the fight for limited resources with multiple claimants.  No matter what you think you're not-for what you're for will at some point be oppressive to someone.  That's just how humanity works.  Our capacity to crush and destroy in the name of our own prosperity and comfort transcends any need for religious categories of thought.  If you convince yourself otherwise you're in danger of embracing an idea even more dangerous than the sum of all religions.  If you convince yourself otherwise and happen to be religious the same goes for you, too.  Plenty of lives were ruined by religious people who claimed they weren't about religion.  Well if that's true then if only they'd admitted it was about valuable real estate or clean water or eligible spouses to begin with. 

The thing Wenatchee The Hatchet will venture to proclaim is that no theist or atheist whose ideas can actually be summed up in a tweet or Facebook is worth listening to.  The ones worth listening to will realize there are ideas too important to be dashed off in 140 characters.  If you think you can tweet the great observation or solution to a problem then you're still part of that problem and I don't care who you are or who you think you are. 

Stuff White People Like (Hating your parents) meets Slate author lamenting that her mother birthed her in middle age

Often it can be easier to find common ground with a white person by talking to them about something you both hate.  Discussing things you both like might lead to an argument over who likes it more or who liked it first.  Clearly, the safest route is mutual hatred.  When choosing to talk about something that white people hate, it’s best to choose something that will allow white people to make clever comments or at the very least feel better about themselves. ...

This topic ties into a number of other posts, but there is no denying that white people hate their parents. What is amazing, is that as a white parent, there is nothing you can do to prevent this.

If you are a strict parent who makes your kid have a curfew, do homework, and not smoke weed – then you are almost guaranteed to have them scream at you, write poems about how much they hate you, relate to songs by bands from Orange County and Florida.

Eventually, they forgive you and thank you for the tough upbringing, but still resent you because their high school experience wasn’t a carbon copy of the OC or My So Called Life.

On the other hand, if you are a super laid back parent who lets your kid go to parties, drink in the house, and you smoke weed together, you are only delaying the hatred. Because these kids eventually end up doing something stupid with their life – dropping out of university, trying to become a painter, or spending time in a Thai prison. At which point, they hate YOU for being too lax and not caring enough.

But take note that this hatred can be used for gain. White people love to talk about how much they hate their parents, so if you are in a situation where you need to gain a white person’s trust, ask them about their parents. But under no circumstances should you try to one up them, regardless of whether or not you were an orphan, abused, or watched your parents get shot. If you bring this up, the white person will never talk to you about their problems again, and you will be unable to gain their trust.

The shoe eventually drops, perhaps, dven on the matter of the timing of having children.  As more and more people wait longer to have children the reproductive freedom that has been extolled over the last twenty odd years shows up in an inevitable whiplash, children of parents who postponed parenthood until their 40s can now write articles for Slate bemoaning the reality that now that they are in their 30s they have to take care of the parents who exercised the freedom to bear children so late in life. 

Exhibit A.

Seriously, you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't.  As Marjane Satrapi wrote at the end of her comic book Peresepolis, "Freedom has its price."  It appears that in the United States what we often want to forget is that the price of freedom can be established in terms of opportunity costs, options we had to reject in favor of the option we chose.  Almost any mid-life crisis seems to boil down to resenting the missed opportunities we had to skip in favor of what we did pick ... or simply denying the reality that past a certain point self-reinvention is simply not possible.  You can't reinvent yourself in the age of Facebook because no matter how many times you edit your timeline somebody saw what used to be there. 

For mothers who are having children in their 40s, congratulations, really.  Just be aware that the possibility that your children will have to care for you in their 30s or even 20s may come up and they may not thrill to the idea of getting a parental obligation to honor their parents by caring for them.  If you're fortunate they may wish to do it anyway or have rejected the ideal of the nuclear family as a vestige of an era in American economic history precicated on free credit and fiat currency.  :)

Some people think that a demographic bust is too convenient an excuse for conservatives to say women should have more babies at a younger age but then there's Exhibit A, which is a reminder that women who postpone having children and don't build families don't have any excuse to not care for Mom and Dad when they've hit their 60s and have declining health, unless the adult children are themselves too poor or remote to be of help. 

Maybe it really is just the way Stuff White People Like put it.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Andrewgate and Slate's coverage, one year later.

A year ago Slate published an article written by Ruth Graham about the Andrew Lamb disciplinary case at Mars Hill.  It was surprising that that story was considered big enough to get Slate's attention at all.

Within days of the Slate article getting published Get Religion sounded off on the problems in the research.

Get Religion considered the Slate coverage to be problematic. Wenatchee The Hatchet agreed with the assessment.  "That's the best they could do?" was one of my thoughts when I read the Slate piece and that got me wondering what else I could find.  If you want a little light reading ...