Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Irony of Suburban "Covenants, Codes, and Restrictions" Is That Private Government Is More Intrusive Than Real Government


Many suburban subdivisions are minutely regulated by Covenants, Codes, and Restrictions.  These can cover just about anything that is visible from outside your house.  Legally, it is like living in a shopping mall.

Suburban homeowners give up a great deal of their freedom in the interests of keeping up the property values of the whole neighborhood. The task, and bane, of Homeowners Associations is enforcing these rules.

The irony is that these same suburbs are also more likely to be home to the kind of conservatives who resent government regulation of their lives and property.

There is no logical contradiction here - choosing to enter into a private contract to give up your liberty is different from being subject to regulation whether you personally chose it or not.  But in practice the homeowners association restricts many "small government" conservatives much more than the government does.

And the people who live in the super-liberal bohemian neighborhoods in the city have, in practice, much more freedom about what they do with their property.

Monday, September 19, 2016

A Revealing Dialogue About What Trump Supporters Think is Not Great About America


A friend posted a Statista poll on Facebook. The lead finding was in response to this question: "Compared to 50 years ago, life in America today is ...".  Clinton supporters said "better" by a margin of 59 - 19%; Trump supporters said "worse" by a margin of 81 to 11%.

In the comment thread, I asked "What is it that Trump supporters think is worse today?" My friend, humorously, responded "Apparently everything and it is all Obama's fault?" 

The dialogue that interests me today is what happened next.  A guy I don't know, who uses the "Don't Tread on Me" flag as his profile picture, entered the discussion.  I will call him "Tread".  I have edited the discussion that followed for concision, but not changed Tread's responses.

Tread: it actually isn't ALL Obama's fault. He had help. LOTS of help

Me: To do what, exactly?

Tread: nothing good

Me: But, specifically, what is worse now than in the early '60s? By nearly every measure of social development, with a couple of exceptions, things are much better now, especially for black people, women, handicapped people, gay and lesbian people, immigrants, youth, and educated people. The core Trump constituency - less educated white men - seems to think that making America better for all of those people (the majority of Americans) somehow has made America as a whole worse. Is that what you think?

Tread: and you are blue and I am not. there's no use arguing with you or trying to proove ANY point that is contrary to your view. So now, I stop. ... I do not want to go down the rabbit hole "to do what" 

Buck [another friend who uses "Buck the NRA" as a profile picture]:  I will venture a few guesses for you on what Trump supporters believe was better before:
1) Jobs for those who are uneducated paid a living wage ... 2) Women were more likely to stay home with kids ... 3) Being white was not a liability in any sense. ... 4) More children were born within wedlock and more of those who weren't were put up for adoption into heterosexual married homes.

Tread:  "Family Values" was a thing & so was being raised. Respect for others....and things. Traditions. [Note: the ellipses were in the original.]

Buck: I consider "political correctness" respect for others. That was most definitely NOT a thing in the 1950s.  I consider family values, valuing all families of all shapes sizes, religions, and make-ups. Not judging children on the perceived sins of their parents- in fact not judging others sinners at all.

Tread: "political correctness"... in my opinion, the single largest detriment to the continued existance to this country. It allows an encroachment of values which are opposite to the good order and continued existance of this country. That encroachment will not cease until this country mirrors certain other less desirable locales.

Buck: When I hear you complain about "encroachment", I hear equality. You are unhappy with being required to treat people you look down your nose at as if they are worthy of equal respect.

Tread: if "equal respect" means changing the values this country has held since long before you and I were born, then yes. I live in Christian country. We can coexist peacefully together, untill you try to change the values of this country from that of a Christian view to that of a value set that is directly contrary to the Christian founding principles, then yes, absolutely I find fault in it.


Friday, September 16, 2016

America's Mottoes Unite Liberal and Conservative Views of Hierarchy


I previously wrote about the finding that conservatives tend to see difference as hierarchical (better or worse), whereas liberals tend to see difference as equally valuable diversity.

I think the original motto of the United States starts from this more liberal view, then tends toward the  center.  E Pluribus Unum - Out of Many, One - starts from the great positive value of diversity.  It heads toward unity, true.  But it is not a unity of an imagined purity of the nation, but rather the hybrid vigor that comes from joining different, but equally valuable, components.

The new motto of the United States, by contrast, draws from a more hierarchical view.  In God We Trust names the most important thing.  It does not even name the alternatives.  They are not worth exploring.

The actual United States believes both.  At the human level, we are diverse and equally valuable in our origins.  At the transcendent level, we trust the one who really is hierarchically better - and Other - than the rest.

This unity, I believe, is a good centrist point.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Math is Not Racist, But Big Data Cannot Predict Individuals


Under the provocative title "Math is Racist," CNN Money reports on the work of mathematician Cathy O'Neil.  She is distressed with the way mathematical models about groups are then used to hurt individuals.  For example, the fact that the relatives of prisoners are themselves more likely to commit crimes can be used in sentencing a specific relative of a prisoner.

O'Neil is right that this is wrong, and is an injustice spurred by the increasing availability of Big Data.

The problem is one we face in sociology all the time.  I have for years made my students repeat Rule #1 of Sociology (according to me):  We make generalizations about groups, which do not necessarily apply to each individual in the group.  So, for example, it is true that the relatives of prisoners are more likely to commit crimes.  Finding that fact has been a great and important achievement of sociology.  But it would be wrong to conclude that this particular relative of a prisoner is, therefore, more likely to commit crimes.  Sociology cannot provide that fine-grained a solution.

Or, to use the simplified rule that I now teach students, sociologists are the people who understand the difference between most and all.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Is "Alt Right" the Same as "Fascist"?


I am using the term fascist advisedly, not as a general term of political abuse.

Wikipedia says alt right is "associated with white nationalism,[1][2][7] white supremacism,[3][8][9] antisemitism,[1][2][10] right-wing populism,[7] nativism,[11] and the neoreactionary movement.[8][12]"

Is that not the summary of fascism?

I do not think Donald Trump is a fascist, because I do not think he has many specific ideological convictions.  But he certainly has mobilized and encouraged white nationalist nativists in a way they have not had a public voice since the George Wallace campaign.

Saturday, September 03, 2016

Republicans See Difference As Hierarchical


Republicans see the world as Hierarchical - that difference entails ranking into better and worse.  Democrats, by contrast, are more likely to see difference as just -- difference.

This is the finding of Jer Clifton, a doctoral student in positive psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.

This is very helpful in addressing a puzzle in my own research on why people choose the neighborhoods that they do.  People who live in the dense, walkable, mixed-use streetcar suburbs close to the city love to talk about why they chose to live there, and are curious about why others choose otherwise.  They value the vibrant diversity of their neighborhoods.

Following Clifton's finding, it is not surprising that such places tend to be strongly Democratic.  But I have found that even the Republicans in the streetcar suburbs like to talk about and think about why they live there. They are usually conservative on one or two issues - pro-life Catholics predominating in the place I study - but otherwise they are like their neighbors in appreciating difference.

Likewise, Democrats in the spread-out, car-based, residential-only, one-class outer suburbs are an easy interview to get and conduct.

The bottleneck has been in getting Republicans in the car suburbs to even agree to an interview.  When they do agree, these interviews tend to be a little more tense than the others.  The clue that Clifton's finding gives is helpful:  suburban Republicans regard the question "why do you choose to Iive where you do, while others choose to live in a different kind of place?" as implicitly a question of whether their place, and their choice, is better or worse than the choices that other people make.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Right-Wing Media Are Now the "Useful Idiots" of Russian Disinformation


Lenin described pro-Soviet liberals of his day as "useful idiots".

The Soviet Union is gone, but the Russian policy of using disinformation to unsettle democratic governments continues in full force.

Today, though, it is the right-wing media who are the most useful, and most credulous, spreaders of Russian falsehoods. In the words of Patrick Oksanen, a Swedish editorial writer after an especially virulent campaign against the Western alliance, the central idea is that “liberal democracy is corrupt, inefficient, chaotic and, ultimately, not democratic.”

The Trump campaign could not be more useful to the Kremlin if they tried.