Wednesday, October 24, 2012

psych research applied to persuasion on the topic of abortion

Within the practical (vs. ethical) arguments on abortion, here's Professor of Psychology Nicholas DiFonzo in First Things on perceptions of outcomes and its impact on one's position.

This will be increasingly important as pro-choicers move from subjective metaphysical claims on abortion-- toward science, civil rights, and logic.

Cognitive research shows how our attitudes about an issue can be strongly predicted by how likely we think certain possible results of an action (like changing the legal status of abortion) will be and also by how bad or good we think those results will be.

For example, those who think that making abortion illegal will cause women to seek “back alley” abortions and who view this outcome as a great evil will likely be pro-choice. Those who think that making abortion illegal will save the lives of innocent babies and consider this result a great good will likely be pro-life. The pro-life movement can persuade others most effectively not by arguing philosophically for the humanity of the unborn (though those arguments must be made), but by battling misinformation about the nature and likelihood of specific results of abortion...

He cites research that:

Pro-choice students changed stances more often than pro-life students did, largely because pro-life students had already considered challenges to their own position, whereas pro-choice students tended not to have done so. The attitudes of pro-choice students were more susceptible to challenge because they had not critically evaluated them. These results suggest that persuasive pro-life strategies ought to include multiple simple challenges to the pro-choice position that are unlikely to have been considered.

But he also notes that "one’s position on abortion is rarely only a matter of knowledge. It also involves personal, and typically emotional, interests."

Citing other research... people who were asked to assume the role of a Democratic legislator conceded more to a pro-life negotiator when they had just written about a personal characteristic that was important to them...The insight to be gained here is that in attempts at persuasion it is important to take into account underlying defensive motivations. One cannot ignore defensive sentiments and rely solely on cognitive challenges or logic.

And then...

One final thought: Getting people to think about an issue more deeply by “staying the course” is key to changing minds. Civil-rights advocates, for example, persisted in calling for equal rights despite enduring contempt, hatred, and even violence. They grounded their movement in biblical injunctions of equal dignity for all human beings, values that the people they were trying to persuade held, though they did not apply them to civil rights. Many people who held them formed their opinions privately at first but later reached a “tipping point”...

man as animal and beyond...

From "The God-Seeking Animal", Eric Cohen's essay on Leon Kass in First Things...

I once asked Kass which piece of his own writing gave him the greatest pleasure and pride. He paused, smiled, and directed me to a passage about a squirrel:

What, for example, is a healthy squirrel? Not a picture of a squirrel, not really or fully the sleeping squirrel, not even the aggregate of his normal blood pressure, serum calcium, total body zinc, normal digestion, fertility, and the like. Rather, the healthy squirrel is a bushy-tailed fellow who looks and acts like a squirrel; who leaps through the trees with great daring; who gathers, buries, covers but later uncovers and recovers his acorns; who perches out on a limb cracking his nuts, sniffing the air for smells of danger, alert, cautious, with his tail beating rhythmically; who chatters and plays and courts and mates, and rears his young in large, improbable-looking homes at the tops of trees; who fights with vigor and forages with cunning; who shows spiritedness, even anger, and more prudence than many human beings.
We, too, are animals with bodies and doings—conceived and then born, nursing and then eating, crawling and then walking, babbling and then speaking, getting sick and then getting well, growing up and then giving birth, working and then resting, aging and then dying. Yet we are also animals with a difference—animals who think and sin, sanctify and degrade, live in darkness and yearn for God.

In Kass’s great work The Hungry Soul, he explores one of those activities—eating—that we share with the other animals. Like them...Yet man alone...

Eating is just one example of man remaining an animal while seeking to be more than an animal. Like other animals...but man alone...In one realm in particular—as sexual animals—we demonstrate both our animal nature and our potential transcendence of it.

Sexual desire, like all forms of desire, is always and only felt by an individual animal: the lone wolf, the lone ape, the lone man. The individual body is aroused, and the lusting animal covets both intensification and relief of that arousal. The sexual impulse drives the aroused animal toward the body of another who is like yet unlike, the complementary counterpart. This is equally true of monkeys and of men. But then comes the crucial turn, when the animal becomes the human animal. As Kass describes it, following Genesis:

Man became man when he became self-conscious not of his mortality but of his sexuality, of the uncanny and mysterious doubleness in his (animal) soul. He became human—rather they became human, man and woman together—when each saw through the eyes of the other the fact (and meaning) of their nakedness. . . . In turn, clothing and adornment, by means of refusal and its effects on the imagination, transform animal lust into human eros, which takes wings from the recognition that there are higher possibilities for man than the finally unfulfilling acts of bodily fusion. Among these possibilities are the establishments of long-lived familial societies, grounded in the awareness that sex means children, that human children need long-term rearing including rearing for sociality, morality, and love, and that children are indeed life’s (partial) answer to mortality.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

interpreting Scripture with "sophistication" vs. dignity

My friend Doug Masson has a post (I feel like we're friends even though we've never met in person!) which references this post. Doug uses the occasion to talk about the difficulties of interpreting Scripture for today, which led to the following response from me: 

There are three categories in the first paragraph: 1.) from OT to NT and now; 2.) from NT to now; and 3.) from Bible to now.

First, there is a clear, NT expiration clause on the "ceremonial" parts of the OT law (see: Temple worship practices), since those are fulfilled in Christ. From context, it's clear that the "moral" parts of the OT law remain in force (e.g., gossip). There are also "civil" practices are particular to Israel and God's desire for them to be "holy"-- i.e., separate/distinct (e.g., the handling of blood; see also: a kosher diet). Although it's not completely clear, and maybe it's more smell test than precise categories, I've never seen any serious problems here.

Second, there are NT practices that are difficult to understand in today's context. The basic choices are blowing those off as cultural artifacts or embracing them as universal. Hair-covering is a fine choice. There is no clear line in this category-- and thus, we find well-intentioned Christians reaching different conclusions here.

Third, it is all too common-- among believers and ironically, among skeptics and other "sophisticated" thinkers-- to take the Bible out of context and to then get very excited about the squirrelly inferences that obtain. "Obeying your husband" may be cultural too, but it certainly fits this category nicely. In this case, part of a sentence is quoted, while ignoring the rest; a phrase is quoted without any sense of the surrounding context; and a phrase is quoted without any sense of what else has been said on the topic.

People who are unwilling to treat the Bible with even modest respect should just leave it alone. It's not good for their look. When is it admirable to approach serious writing in this manner? It seems a good rule of thumb-- that people should extend to the Bible at least as much dignity as they would want ascribed to them or their written work.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

review of Paul Collier's "The Bottom Billion"

Paul Collier's The Bottom Billion is an excellent book-- a must-read for those interested in international poverty.

Collier opens by noting that international poverty used to be about 1 billion people in developed countries, in contrast to 4 billion in less-developed countries. (This terminology was an update from "1st world" and "3rd world".) Now, we have 5 billion people in developING countries and 1 billion in impoverished and stagnant countries "less-developed". The issue is not so much their lack of development, since poverty is not inherently a trap. (If it were, we'd all be poor, for all of history!) The larger issue is that they're stuck. 

Previous efforts have centered on "biz and buzz"-- the bureaucracy of professionals trying to help the poor in these (largely African) countries and the rock stars who get involved at various levels. Collier appreciates the good intentions and the herculean efforts-- although those are in concert with naivete and graft. But he says that we're missing it.

The biggest value-added: Collier discusses four "traps" and the data on their impact: 1.) "conflict": war and civil war; 2.) an abundance of natural resources; 3.) being land-locked (especially with bad neighbors); and 4.) bad government.

A little more detail on 1 and 2: "Conflict" has cause and effect with poverty-- and is connected to resources, as those in power (or those seeking power and wealth) use force to extract wealth from the country's resources. As such, an abundance of natural resources is a very mixed bag. They should be helpful, on paper-- but in practice, it often plays out as a curse rather than a blessing. (By analogy, think about individuals who are talented, beautiful, or really intelligent-- and how that often doesn't play out so well.)

Economists focus on #4 a lot and at least allude to #2. We certainly know about #1's importance, but it's largely outside our field. #3 was novel to me, but probably not to those with a little more expertise in the field.

Collier points to the inefficacy of foreign aid, at least of the traditional sort, in practice. (But he's not ready to give up on the possibility of it being effective!) And he notes the importance of economic growth, which typically benefits most people, including the poor.

His RX's: 1.) Target aid to the best governments or make it conditional on policy reforms. (This is harsh in a way, but sets the best incentives for improving. On paper, we can help dictators, but in practice, it won't work that way.) 2.) Give aid post-conflict, but not too soon: the data on "too soon" indicates that it promotes the re-establishment of conflict. 3.) Give aid to countries without as many resources. (For those with a lot of resources, that's not what they need!). 4.) Promote trade and access to coasts/ports. 5.) Finally, he even sees military intervention as an ethical and practical possibility (but overstates both-- as they would play out in practice!).

An easy read with a ton of great material on international poverty. If that's a topic of interest, you need this book!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

excerpts from the WSJ's "The Mediscare Boomerang"

Here's the link...

President Obama's $716 billion is a "cut" only in the sense of slowing the rate of spending growth over 10 years, which is the baseline Democrats always use. Medicare spending will continue to rise rapidly...

LOVE that point! LOL! The GOP is usually so tin-ear (or complicit) on this silly approach! Glad to see it bite the Dems on the butt.

Either Mr. Obama's apologists can defend raiding one insolvent entitlement to finance another one and own the cuts. Or they can say these Medicare cuts don't really count as cuts, as the media fact checkers are suddenly finding ways to do. In which case it means repudiating Mr. Obama's repeated claims that the Affordable Care Act reduces the deficit and that "I have strengthened Medicare"...The larger reality is that Medicare cannot and will not continue as it is, as the President used to admit. A sampler of his rhetoric from the town-hall summer of 2009: "Mark my words," he declared in Grand Junction, Colorado, "Medicare in about eight to nine years goes into the red. . . . It is going broke"...

I didn't remember Obama saying such things. Wow. Here's the WSJ's overview of the Romney-Ryan plan:

Their "premium support" reform explicitly preserves traditional fee-for-service Medicare. Starting in 2023, seniors could either pick traditional Medicare or choose from a menu of regulated private plans. The reform is modeled after the health program that already covers all federal workers, including Members of Congress. The subsidies increase with health costs, so seniors wouldn't bear more risk. The plan wouldn't kick in for a decade, shielding everyone who is in or near retirement. Our preference would be to start immediately, but the delay is one of many political accommodations to help ease the worries of current retirees.

Finally, a few more salient thoughts on the politics of the topic-- an interesting irony that Obama has made it (politically) feasible for the GOP to enter this debate for the first time. That's one odd thing to be thankful for: that if we'd had a John Kerry or Al Gore, Medicare would still be a cheap "third-rail" issue.

In a normal political year, the liberal Mediscare tom-toms might have scared Republicans from this issue, and Mr. Ryan probably would have remained an admired if sidelined Congressman. But Mr. Obama decided via the Affordable Care Act to remake the entire health-care system including Medicare, and thus he also changed the politics. The...unpopularity of ObamaCare [has] made Paul Ryan's reform politically possible, meaning that voters may be open to hearing the real choice they face between command and control or private competition and more patient choice. Throw in the lousy economy and the Obama spending and debt binges, and the GOP this year has a chance to win a health-care debate if it goes on offense and contrasts its solutions to Mr. Obama's. That's the real reason liberals and the press corps claim to be so upset by the Romney Medicare ad. By governing so far to the left, Mr. Obama may have neutralized Mediscare and made voters more receptive to center-right solutions....