Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Monday, August 24, 2015

Same Old Same Old

I have been very busy with work but now that school has started I hope to return to our regularly scheduled mocking. It has not helped that Megan McArdle is posting little more than half-assed rehashes of old columns. It's not easy to keep on making up new jokes about old idiocies. For example:

Friday Food Posts: 10 Tips on Cooking for One: McArdle read an article discussing American and European snacking habits. It seems that Europeans snack on fruit and vegetable mainly while Americans snack on highly processed foods crammed with fat and sugar. Naturally McArdle's take on the superiority of European eating habits was to ignore the issue altogether and quote someone who says that Americans snack because cooking is too hard. She then repeats the same eating advice she has given in many other posts. Ka-ching!

McArdle wrote a couple of posts about Donald Trump, much to her commentariat's displeasure. They mostly like the Trump's trumpeting and do not look kindly on her scathing dismissal of the 25%'s hero. Because Both Sides Do It, we learn that the Republicans want to magically solve their intractable problems but so do the liberals. Her entire liberal argument:

But I don't want to pick on conservatives especially; the debt ceiling mess was certainly debacletacular, but I've had similar versions of this conversation with innumerable liberals over the years.

Devastating! We all remember the times the Democrats tried to shut down the government, don't we?

McArdle "discusses" the Ashley Madison hack with a few trite observations that somehow prove liberals are losers.

The information age could end the age of individual privacy -- and the liberal revolution that came with it.

And the Ashley Madison scam in which the company lied about the number of women members proves that:

[...E]ither that many more men than women want to cheat (or at least see what their options are for doing so), or that more men than women are willing to have no-strings affairs with married people. This may be innate, or it may be culturally conditioned, but either way, it seems to be pretty powerful. It's definitely not evidence for feminists who wanted to show equality in casual sex drive.

Women are not interested in casual sex. Because vagina.

McArdle has taken a lot of swipes at liberals recently. The blatant idiocy of Trumpmania seems to be wearing on her nerves.

I'm an enormous fan of Jonathan Haidt's work. Nonetheless, I've always had two outstanding questions about it (and would note that these are not exactly questions of which Professor Haidt is unaware).  The first is simply whether his surveys capture the actual moral reasoning that people do, or represent people pretending to do the sort of moral reasoning they think they ought to do. Take two of the questions he asks about purity. One involves brother-sister incest in which every precaution is taken to prevent pregnancy, and leaves both parties feeling pretty good about the experience with no long-term side effects on the family. The other involves a man having carnal knowledge of his poultry before he cooks it and eats it for dinner.

When asked if these two things are morally wrong, American liberals and libertarians would tend to answer no. (Or try to get around the hypothetical by positing undetected harm from the incest, or the potential dangers of salmonella and/or freezer burn from the chicken.) And yet, I submit that if those people found out that a stranger exhibited such behavior, most would probably be less interested in becoming friends with that stranger. That's a moral judgement, but cultural norms among the secular educated elite don't give people any vocabulary to express it, and so they say that it's not wrong in the first place -- even though in the actual situation, they would probably still make a moralizing judgement about it. As I wrote last year, "It is clearly true that liberals profess a moral code that excludes concerns about loyalty, honor, purity and obedience -- but over the millennia, man has professed many ideals that are mostly honored in the breach."

The second issue is a simply a perennial problem for surveys that look at political and moral reason: What questions did you ask? If you give people a quiz on global warming, conservatives may look more ignorant and ideologically motivated than liberals. On the other hand, if you ask that same group how many prisoners are in jail for non-violent drug offenses, you may "prove" that liberals ignorantly and/or willfully underestimate the number. Another way of saying that is that liberals may indeed resort to reasoning from sanctity, group loyalty, and authority -- but the questions Haidt has asked simply may not capture that tendency.

This proves that "Liberals Can't Admit To Thinking Like Conservatives."  You have to do some work to find out that:

Haidt, Koller, and Dias (1993) found evidence for such an intuitionist interpretation. They examined American and Brazilian responses to actions that were offensive yet harmless, such as eating one’s dead pet dog, cleaning one’s toilet with the national flag, or eating a chicken carcass one has just used for masturbation. The stories were carefully constructed so that no plausible harm could be found, and most participants directly stated that nobody was hurt by the actions in question. Yet participants still usually said the actions were wrong, and universally wrong. They frequently made statements such as “it’s just wrong to have sex with a chicken.” Furthermore, their affective reactions to the stories (statements that it would bother them to witness the action) were better predictors of their moral judgment than were their claims about harmful consequences. Haidt and Hersh (in press) found the same thing when they interviewed conservatives and liberals about sexual morality issues, including homosexuality, incest, and unusual forms of masturbation. For both groups, affective reactions were good predictors of judgment, while perceptions of harmfulness were not. Haidt and Hersh also found that participants were often “morally dumbfounded”(Haidt, Bjorklund, Murphy, 2000), that is, they would stutter, laugh, and express surprise at their inability to find supporting reasons, yet they would not change their initial judgments of condemnation. It seems, then, that for affectively charged events such as incest and other taboo violations, an intuitionist model may be more plausible than a rationalist model. [my bolding]

So the venomous bitca lied about liberals' morality to feel better about herself. Good luck with that.


Downpuppy said...

Her link about liberals guessing wrong on incarceration figures goes to a Megan post with no incarceration figures, much less any evidence regarding who has them wrong.

Not. Even. Trying.

Susan of Texas said...

Very true. What is occupying the time of our heroine? Besides pretending she is not watching her portfolio tank.

Smut Clyde said...

[...E]ither that many more men than women want to cheat
...Note the assumption here that there is no way to conduct an affair except by paying a feckin' website. McArdle is evidently convinced that extramarital sex did not exist until internet entrepreneurs created the opportunity. Where would we be without their beneficient ingenuity?

I'm an enormous fan of Jonathan Haidt's work.
I am completely unsurprised.

Susan of Texas said...

It's especially funny because she ignores most of what Haidt says to cherry pick anything that she thinks will make her look good.

Skinny Little Boy from Cleveland, Ohio said...

the food advice is ludicrous. She says buy big then complains roasts are impractical (duh you make stew, sandwiches, etc. out of them) crockpots are too big. Crockpots come in all sizes from seemingly too small to be useful for anything other than brewing a cup of tea to enormous. Freezers are pretty impractical for a lot of people--my relatives who had them also had large houses and still stuck them in the garage because they were otherwise impractical to put in the kitchen. Meal planning is pretty simple for one person and I rarely throughout any produce. OTOH, she's have us eating eggs all the time, which just sounds awful.

In the end, she wants to tell us how to live, as long as we share her complaints, shortcomings, and bad habits.

Smut Clyde said...

she ignores most of what Haidt says

Admittedly, so do I, because he's an ill-informed git.

Susan of Texas said...

Skinny Little Boy From Cleveland, Ohio: An Irish girl who doesn't think of making hash should be ashamed.

Smut Clyde: I love the way he takes libertarians at their word. (I think he is one but I would have to check to be sure.) Yeah, it's all about liberty, even though he also says the prime motivating factor for libertarians is a dislike of being told what to do.

Batocchio said...

Yeah, I'm with Smut Clyde on this one. I've read Haidt's book The Righteous Mind, many of his scientific papers, and caught numerous interviews and talks. Haidt's work has value when sticks solely to descriptive stuff (although some of that's problematic, too), but he quickly turns to addled and sanctimonious treacle, unfortunately. For example, to exalt the moral superiority of conservatives, he ignores core political history such as the Southern strategy, and wide swaths of philosophy, social science, political science, and needless to say, policy and its effects. He also makes some astoundingly illogical assertions for someone with a doctorate. (Social psychology prof John Jost is one of Haidt's most insightful critics.) McArdle actually (!) makes some valid criticisms of Haidt, although as usual plenty of her other arguments are problematic.

Haidt claims he started as a Clinton Democrat; he was never truly a liberal, even if he describes his former self as one. He tells a conversion story of seeing the value of conservatism (partially from becoming immersed in a foreign patriarchal culture). Haidt has expressed admiration for libertarians and buys their hype that they're outside the usual system. There's some truth to that (Haidt and his colleagues have a paper on it), but they largely ignore the whole glaring plutocratic shill and self-interest angles, among many other things. Haidt mostly likes to posit himself as apart from politics and partisanship, but is a pretty standard (right of center) Very Serious Establishment Centrist who scolds liberals. For a few examples, he endorsed the right-of-center, entitlement-hostile No Labels group as being outside usual politics, he criticized liberals for rejecting Sarah Palin as a credible critic of corporate power (in one of her ghost-written Facebook posts) and argued that the solutions to health care reform were free market approaches while rejecting out of hand superior foreign results. He often takes conservatives at face value, too, and accepts their ridiculous characterizations of basic social democracy and mixed economy policies as communism. (I've been meaning to write a post on him, but it could be a damn book.)

For what it's worth, I've heard his book The Happiness Hypothesis is actually pretty good, but unfortunately he's made his career peddling some painful and occasionally harmful bullshit.

Smut Clyde said...

Haidt ... was never truly a liberal, even if he describes his former self as one.

He's a liberal purely for the purposes of concern trolling. He manages to remain in ignorance of 40-odd years of research into value systems, which must take some effort, no wonder McArdle admires him.

Batocchio said...

He's a liberal purely for the purposes of concern trolling. He manages to remain in ignorance of 40-odd years of research into value systems, which must take some effort, no wonder McArdle admires him.

Yup, although I find McArdle much more annoying. On the concern trolling point, there's McMegan's whole shtick of claiming to be pro-choice while arguing for anti-choice positions and remaining completely ignorant of standard pro-choice arguments. It's an attempt to deflect criticism. But both of them like to present themselves as independent thinkers (hahaha).

Susan of Texas said...

"he criticized liberals for rejecting Sarah Palin as a credible critic of corporate power"

Is he really that naïve or is he just scamming? How could someone as educated as he take everyone at their word?

Batocchio said...

Is he really that naïve or is he just scamming? How could someone as educated as he take everyone at their word?

I wonder that, too, and I think it's a bit of both. I think he's worked desperately to believe it. It's also a power move -- he can pretend he's above politics and criticize others, but they can't criticize him. He can position himself as always the teacher, never the student or an equal.

(Here's the piece I was thinking of, although apparently he's expounded on Palin elsewhere.)

And you basically called it earlier -- a central tenet of "both sides do it," very serious centrist, and "liberals are worse" crowds (which have some overlap) is to take conservative bullshit at face value and to troll anyone who calls it out. I don't think all of them actually believe it, but that's the way they play the game. (Obviously I'm not saying areas of bipartisan corruption don't exist, but these crowds aren't really making those arguments; they're just trying to shut down criticism of conservatives.)

I'll have to dig up my copy of The Righteous Mind (I read a library copy, took notes, then bought a used copy because I didn't want to send Haidt more money). For two pages or so, he slightly alludes to conservative racism without ever taking it head-on (and he doesn't discuss the very deliberate Southern strategy and why specifically the parties realigned). Acknowledging bigotry as a central strain of conservative history would directly challenge his message of conservative moral superiority.

Like I said, I find some of his work has value, which is why it's frustrating to see how quickly it turns to ignorance and/or trolling plus sanctimony.

Susan of Texas said...

Thanks Batocchio. I read a couple of his papers and found the information he gathered to be very interesting but his interpretation of the data sometimes made no sense.

I read your link. Good heavens.

Morality is the glue, he answers. Humans are 90-percent chimp, but also 10-percent bee—evolved to bind together for the good of the hive. A big part of Haidt's moral narrative is faith. He lays out the case that religion is an evolutionary adaptation for binding people into groups and enabling those units to better compete against other groups. Through faith, humans developed the "psychology of sacredness," the notion that "some people, objects, days, words, values, and ideas are special, set apart, untouchable, and pure." If people revere the same sacred objects, he writes, they can trust one another and cooperate toward larger goals. But morality also blinds them to arguments from beyond their group.

I guess that's why the right is so trusting and cooperative with each other.

Smut Clyde said...

Haidt's work has value when sticks solely to descriptive stuff (although some of that's problematic, too)

Some of it has value, and some is original, but never both at once.