Dueling Populisms: Finding Balance In A Difficult Age

Populism is a symptom, not a cause of our turbulent times. While not all populism is bad, it’s also true that it’s not a good sign about the health of the nation’s soul.

It would have never happened but for the state of our political parties. The leadership of both parties, Democrats and Republicans, have abandoned the working man. When you despise your fellow man, you lose their respect and trust.

“Writing off large swaths of the American interior as the country of losers has been among the most radical developments in American history. For those who missed out on the advantages of one-world commerce, it was sometimes seen mostly, in Darwinian terms, as their own fault, either because they did not, for example, pack up and head to the fracking fields of Texas or North Dakota, or because their self-inflicted pathologies excluded them from acquiring the skills and education necessary to succeed in the knowledge-based “information” economy.” – VDH

The full article by Victor Davis Hanson explains the history of populism and why it’s not new to the world. Click here…

Image credit: 
Barbara Kelley

What happens after the rise of populism? Yeah, it’s probably not good. But, sometimes knowing why a thing is happening helps ease one’s anxieties and prepares one to deal with the fallout. Also, since we have the advantage of hindsight that other civilizations did not have, maybe it’s not too late to get back on a constructive path.

The Mote In Your Brother’s Eye: Are Conservatives An Obstacle to Humanity’s Path To Enlightenment?

So, this is quite the revealing video. Now, I’ve known for some time that left-leaning scientists conflate personality with political worldviews. And, as annoying as it is to hear that the chief characteristics of the political right is close-mindedness, a fear of germs, and a powerful tendency to follow Hitler – while the taboo breaking left are all joy and sunshine, there does seem to be some correlation between fear of disease and the closing of ranks in a society. What I find hard to believe is that it has anything to do with political worldviews, but is a part of human nature as a whole. As we witness today, the left seems to want to shut down again, while the right wants to go back out into the world. So, that doesn’t fit the pattern laid out by this evolutionary biologist. [Of course, the answer to this paradox according to Dr. Thornhill is Trump – but I don’t think Peterson is buying it as he politely changes the subject.] Personally, I think that there is room in this world for both risk takers and the homebodies, but what do I know?

Anyway, a lot of the research here is very interesting and, at the end, Dr. Thornhill tells us something of his personal history which explains why he despises conservatives so much and thinks they are all racists. And it’s a heart-breaking story about his dysfunctional family, so it’s understandable, if not very scientific that he feels this way. But then he says that he believes that if we could eradicate all disease then the whole world would become liberal and the human race would achieve ENLIGHTENMENT.

Okay, then. So, maybe he should have not said that out loud as a scientist.

Anyway, I find it odd that he doesn’t recognize the paradox (or cognitive dissonance, if you like) in his own thinking that he has created. His theory is that the fear of germs and disease is what closes us off to those who are outside our in-group and those who exhibit this behavior define what a conservative is because, as a group he tells us, they associate outsiders with parasites and disease. But then he says he believes that once the world is rid of disease, we will have no need for conservatives. So, Dr. Thornhill, a self-described liberal, is associating disease with a group of people outside his in-group and that once both are gone the Enlightenment (purification) of humanity can occur. This, by his own definition, makes him a conservative.

What a world…

A Wounded Animal…Or How to Tell When Someone Has Stopped Listening.

In the spirit of constructive communication and civility, I found this video has some very interesting pointers about how to tell when a discussion is going south…

To sum up: If you want to someone to hear what you are saying, it is importannt to recognise these warning signs that they are shutting down emotionally:

  • #1: Being stunned by new information.
  • #2: Inaccurately summarizing the other’s perspective.
  • #3: Misreading nefarious intent.
  • #4: Regularly moving goalposts.
  • #5: Yelling or getting angry.
  • #6: Attacking someone’s character.
  • #7: Retreating Without Concession

Nothing new here, but many people are not taught how to recognise discomfort in others. And since our culture is becomming more diverse, people are retreating to silence instead of engaging because discussions quickly break down.

Winning The Argument Or Saving the Friendship

Unfortunately, the “solution” offered towards the end of video is helpful if one needs to pursuade one’s oppenent to accept your point, but is not always successful. This is especially true when dealing with deep cultural differences. Conflicts on fundamental values or those which involve group cohesion are not going to be won over by reason alone. For example, you are not going to convince someone to leave their religion just because you have an argument that sounds reasonable. You may be putting the person in a position which will cut this person off from family and/or community ties. Some issues and worldviews run deeper than logic.

Still, the information in this video could save some friendships from completely unraveling. If your oppenent begins to show these signs, it might be time to drop it and get a beer. As this is getting harder and harder to do these days, this might be more valuable than winning the debate.

Breaking News: Our Daily Soap Opera

The News cycle is designed to keep us tuned in for the next installment. It’s purpose is to make us believe that if we don’t check in every hour we will miss out on something important. The article quoted below was written some time ago, however most people still don’t know the real history of news reporting and how it has changed over time.

If you understand the purpose of our modern day news cycle, then it can help to put the little information we get into context and hopefully remove some of the anxiety it produces in us. We do not have to live in a continuous crisis mode.

What has emerged, Weaver argues, is a culture of lying. “The culture of lying,” he writes, “is the discourse and behavior of officials seeking to enlist the powers of journalism in support of their goals, and of journalists seeking to co-opt public and private officials into their efforts to find and cover stories of crisis and emergency response. It is the medium through which we Americans conduct most of our public business (and a lot of our private business) these days.” The result, he says, is a distortion of the constitutional role of government into an institution that must continually resolve or appear to resolve crises; it functions in “a new and powerful permanent emergency mode of operation.”

The architect of the transformation was not a political leader or a constitutional convention but Joseph Pulitzer, who in 1883 bought the sleepy New York World and in 20 years made it the country’s largest newspaper. Pulitzer accomplished that by bringing drama to news—by turning news articles into stories with a plot, actors in conflict, and colorful details. In the late nineteenth century, most newspaper accounts of government actions were couched in institutional formats, much like the minutes of a board meeting and about as interesting. Pulitzer turned them into stories with a sharp dramatic focus that both implied and aroused intense public interest. Most newspapers of the time looked like the front page of the Wall Street Journal still does. Pulitzer made stories dramatic by adding blaring headlines, big pictures, and eye-catching graphics. His journalism took events out of their dry, institutional contexts and made them emotional rather than rational, immediate rather than considered, and sensational rather than informative. The press became a stage on which the actions of government were a series of dramas.

Why the News Is Not the Truth by Peter Vanderwicken, Harvard Business Review (May-June 1995)

A Tale of Two Brains: How Men and Women Approach Science

While writing about how we conceptualize the universe, I was reminded that when I was a physics student I often found myself dumbfounded over the way the subject was taught. Notation among physicists often seemed arbitrary and inconsistent (“Only a man could think this is clear,” I thought). And then why would my professors use one system of equations – drop them completely and pick up another – without explaining why or how it connected to the branch of physics we were supposed to be studying?

Sometimes, things were just so. Take for example, Einstein’s Equivalence Principle. In what Universe is gravity – which is a field and keeps us tethered to the earth, (Einstein did not know what that means and, to this day, no one knows what that means) the same thing as a force of acceleration – like when we leave the same earth in a rocket ship? And, I must add, I really don’t care if it’s because Einstein said so. He just made principle up to make his geometry work out, ad hoc. (See What Don’t We Know About Gravity?)

Anyway, I was always lost. Truthfully, everyone was lost – all the young men (40 of them) and women (about 4 of us). But even then, over forty years ago, I could see that men and women approached problems differently and that included subjects that one would think that were beyond our differences like math and science.

As I was recalling all this from my past, I remembered this excellent comedy bit by Mark Gundor, a marriage expert, that I had seen a few years ago. He helps explain, in an entertaining way, the compartmentalized approach to real world problems that men use and women find baffling.


We’re gonna start discussing men’s brains, women’s brains and how they’re very different from each other. Now I wanna start with men’s brains. Alright? Men’s brain are very unique, men’s brains are made up of little boxes and we have a box for everything. We have a box for the car. We got a box for the money. We got a box for the job, we got a box for you, we got a box for the kids, we got a box for your mother somewhere in the basement.

We got boxes everywhere, and the rule is: “the boxes don’t touch”. When a man discusses a particular subject, we go to that particular box, we pull that box out, we open the box, we discuss only what is in that box, alright? and then we close the box and put it away being very, very careful not to touch any other boxes.

Now women’s brains are very, very different from men’s brains. Women’s brains are made up of a big ball of wire, and every thing is connected to everything. The money’s connected to the car, the car’s connected to your job and the kids are connected to your mother, and everything’s connected to everything ….

It’s like the Internet super highway, Ok? And it’s all driven by energy that we call emotion. This is zzzzz. It’s one of the reasons why women tend to remember everything. Because if you take an event and you connect it to an emotion, it burns in your memory and you can remember it forever. The same thing happens for men, it just doesn’t happen very often because, quite frankly, we don’t care

Mark Gundor

Please note that I am not advocating rewriting the world of STEM for women. That would be very difficult and counterproductive. However, I think women need to hear from other women what it’s like to enter the world of men’s minds – at least at the scientific level. A big problem women have to overcome in going into “traditionally” male fields is not that they cannot understand the material, but that it is full of male mental frameworks that women find frustrating.

But, after all, is it any wonder that over a hundred years after Einstein proposed his Relativity theories in 1905, physicists have developed a model of all the forces that we know of in the universe, called the Standard Model of Particle Physics, except for gravity and its mysterious fields which touch everything?

I hope you enjoy the video. And I will be referring back to it in the future, I’m so very sure. 🙂