Assorted links

by on December 30, 2012 at 4:26 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Garett Jones on the top economic stories of 2012.

2. Exporting Oma.

3. My very short piece on Svetozar Gligoric and what is a life well lived.

4. Trying to keep up church attendance.

5. Pseudo-placebo effects in RCTs.

6. Another profile of Maria Popova, infovore, and an earlier profile here.

Doug December 30, 2012 at 5:17 pm

From 4:
“According to a recent report by the Pew Research Center, the percentage of Americans who are not affiliated with any religion is on the rise, including a third of Americans under 30. Even so, nearly 80 percent of unaffiliated Americans say they believe in God, and close to half say they pray at least once a month.”

The problem with the new Atheist movement is that the vast majority of people are simply hard-wired to be religious/spirtual/whatever. If we destroy Christianity we’re not going to get a population of secular, rational, science-founded thinkers. Instead we’ll get floods of new age, spiritual, feel-good quasi-religions. We’ll get none of the benefits of rational-thinking, and pay almost all the cost of loosening behavioral and moral codes that tend to be stronger in older, more organized religions.

As an atheist I think the decline of traditional Christianity among the populace is a very dangerous trend. I hope that Mormonism or some other successful traditional evangelical groups with exponential growth will counteract the trend. Atheism is only meant for people at the right end of the cognitive distribution. The unwashed masses need simple and clear rules that have easy to explain justifications, like God said so.

Historically civilizations with strong, centralized, punitive and organized religions have been much more successful than those with weaker organized religion. I don’t believe our time and place is any exception.

King Cynic December 30, 2012 at 5:32 pm

Hogwash. Most of western Europe has been living as a de facto atheistic society for 50 years, and has lower crime, fewer social problems, and a higher level of civilization than any civilization has ever enjoyed previously.

We should instead be taxing churches for the same reason we tax tobacco.

Brian W December 30, 2012 at 5:49 pm

Hogwash. Most of western Europe has been living as a de facto atheistic society for 50 years, and has lower crime, fewer social problems, and a higher level of civilization than any civilization has ever enjoyed previously.

And what else distinguishes Western Europe from the rest of the world?

affenkopf December 31, 2012 at 3:13 am

And what else distinguishes Western Europe from the rest of the world?

I don’t know. You enlighten me. It can’t be birthrate since it in Western Europe it ranges from very low (Germany) to fairly high (France). Incidentally Germany is a more religious country than France.

mike December 30, 2012 at 7:13 pm

King Cynic hits on all the typical notes about a fictional Western Europe that exists only in the mind of aggressively ignorant Americans.

prior_approval December 31, 2012 at 3:40 am

‘De facto’ atheist overstates the general indifference to religion in public and private life in much of Europe, but certainly describes the lack of any sort of opposition to such things as evolution.

‘has lower crime’ is quite true, not to mention much less fear of crime.

‘fewer social problems’ is a matter of definition, but in terms of homelessness or teenage pregnancy or problems with illegal drugs like meth, or legal ones like Oxycontin, this is quite true.

‘and a higher level of civilization’ etc. – yeah, that one is pretty American.

But then, what would an American who has lived in Germany for 20 years know about that fictional Europe.

Michael December 31, 2012 at 9:51 am

If you look at the trends, crime rates in Europe and the US are converging quite rapidly, and if you specifically exclude murder and look at, say, violent crime, a number of European countries have already overtaken the US.

This may be anecdotal, but I’ve seen much more homelessness and destitution on the streets of Frankfurt and Paris than I’ve seen in any US city save Portland.

If you define “social problems” to include divorce rates and sub-replacement reproduction, then Europe is defiantly in the lead.

Too many Americans mythologize the reality of the European socialism.

Doug December 30, 2012 at 7:37 pm

You have the causality backwards. Europe can shrug off much of organized religion because of the quality of its people and culture. I shudder to think what a country like Mexico, Brazil or South Africa would devolve into if all traditional religion and morality were instantly erased. Those who hold power in these countries realize this and expend a lot of effort preserving organized religion. In contrast no one’s really going out of their way to preserve religion in Sweden, because an atheist Swede really isn’t that much more uncivilized than a devout Lutheran Swede.

A time-series comparison is much more appropriate than a cross-sectional one. The question is has Western Europe suffered culturally since the loss of their religion. No one’s claiming that London is Mogadishu, but it’s certainly the case that many undesirable trends have taken root. Walk through any European city, while you may have a small chance of being murdered, the ubiquitous graffiti hints that you’re not exactly in a paragon of order or civility.

By now in most Western European countries a majority, or close to it, of births are to unmarried mothers. Certainly this is an issue where religion, or lack thereof, has some influence. In comparison among more religious European-descended Americans the number of out of wedlock births is far longer. Another salubrious benefit of traditional religion is extolling the virtue of hard work, sacrifice, and obedience, all necessary for workers in modern hierarchical capitalism.

The disintegration of traditional families and communities necessitates ever-larger welfare leviathans. What was once the providence of nuclear families, extended relatives and community churches is now the responsibility of the state. Combine this with increasingly uncompetitive and stagnant economies typified by 40 year old “students” and 30 hour work weeks with lifetime guaranteed employment. You don’t see many Mormons loafing around in cafes on a Tuesday afternoon. It’s a recipe for perpetual stagnation and inevitable bankruptcy.

Europe during the 19th century, with strong moral religious values, was the center of civilization. It was an explosive dynamo that created, built and innovated relentlessly. Today Western Europe is the sick man of the world, little more than a giant amusement park and museum teetering on the edge of economic collapse. All of this despite the incredible infrastructure and culture that was built by their forebears. Virtually every single blue chip company in Europe was founded more than a century ago. How much quicker would the Euro have nosedived if it wasn’t for the fact that the legacy of the name of the great industrialists allow them to sell leather satchels at 2000% markups?

So, yeah, it seems to me like Western Europe has just a tiny bit of a problem, and it seems ever so slightly related to its lack of religion.

Brian December 30, 2012 at 9:19 pm

This is worth watching: From one of the brightest journalistic thinkers of our time, here is George Will on religion in American politics.

He, a non religious like Doug above, believes that the role of religion creates the social order and moral framework for society; but interesting throughout.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TbA5ab18SCo

Wimivo December 31, 2012 at 2:16 pm

From one of the brightest journalistic thinkers of our time, here is George Will
*facepalm*

Brian December 31, 2012 at 4:45 pm

WImivo,

I suppose I feel that way after reading left leaning blogs and their commenters, like Paul Krugman’s Blog. Like their polemic hero, the tone of the comments is usually way over the top – unlike G. WIll, where even if you disagree with him, at least it all rests on the merits (or not) of his ideas, and you don’t also have to dodge the insults as well.

Rahul December 31, 2012 at 1:47 am

You don’t see many Mormons loafing around in cafes on a Tuesday afternoon.

Well, decaff never was much fun…..

Mark Thorson December 30, 2012 at 5:55 pm

I’m skeptical that “strong, centralized, punitive and organized religions” result in successful civilizations. Compare the Philippines (Catholic, of course) to any other Asian country. Compare Ireland, Spain, and Portugal to the rest of Europe. Compare North America to Latin America. Being Catholic seems to retard development rather than promote it, and religions don’t get much more centralized or punitive than that.

Doug December 30, 2012 at 7:57 pm

Quality of people and culture matters. Garbage in, garbage out. You have to compare like to like.

So let’s talk about East Asia. You have three major countries with similar cultural and genetic heritage, Japan, Korea and China. Japan the population is actually quite religious. About 90% of the country is observant Shinto, and 80% observant Buddhist. Only about 5% or less have no practicing traditional religion. In Korea about a third of the population is Buddhist, a third Christian, and about 75% adhere to traditional Confucianism. Mainland China is the relatively irreligious member of this trio, due to obvious recent historical reasons.

And the difference is noticeable. Japanese and Korean society is far more harmonious than chaotic and corrupt China. Tokyo is much more clean, orderly and civilized than chaotic Shanghai. Even among other Asian nations the Chinese have a reputation for being rude, pushy, loud, and dishonest. On a macro level this translates into higher levels of corruption, fraud, nepotism and distrust in Chinese society.

If China is to grow past global middle-income levels into a true first world country it will almost certainly be accompanied by a widespread revitalization of religion in the country, either in the form of traditional Confucianism and Taoism of evangelical Christianity. This can be observed in first world developed Chinese Taiwan, Macau, and Hong Kong, all of which are much more religious than mainstream China as well as being much more polite and honest.

Brian Donohue December 30, 2012 at 8:52 pm

“Even among other Asian nations the Chinese have a reputation for being rude, pushy, loud, and dishonest.”

Whereas the Japenese are beloved by all?

You may not be as far to the right end of the congnitive distribution as you imagine.

So Much For Subtlety December 30, 2012 at 11:17 pm

The Japanese may be widely hated, but that is not because they are rude, pushy, loud, and dishonest. There are other reasons for being disliked.

The Mainlanders, on the other hand, are largely rude, pushy, loud, and dishonest. Even they say so. When a French Hotel recently said they were not going to admit Mainland tourists, even the Mainlanders I know said it was reasonable.

Rahul December 31, 2012 at 1:40 am

@So Much For Subtlety

Is being “rude / pushy / loud” worse than the other reasons to be disliked for (that the Japanese are disliked for)?

Problem in Doug’s analysis is that he’s cherry picking metrics he likes to pass broad judgements on peoples.

Sbard December 31, 2012 at 8:38 pm

Describing the Japanese as “religious” is a massive oversimplification of the matter. If you ask an average Japanese person their religion, they’ll tell you they don’t have one, yet you’ll see them at the nearest Shinto shrine on New Years. The Japanese word typically translated as “religion” didn’t exist in the vocabulary until after Western missionaries showed up and they needed something to describe that thing those foreigners were trying to get them to believe. To the extent they engage in rituals that could be described as religious, it’s more a matter of tradition than any actual belief in the underlying metaphysics (though belief in said metaphysics has never been a particularly important factor in Japanese religiosity for laypersons). Outside of the <1% Christian minority and adherents of some of the new religious movements, there just isn't any sense that religion is something that is supposed to give meaning and purpose to your life or even something that should affect the way you think or act. At most, it's a purely transactional relationship between yourself and the god(s) in question. You don't make an offering to the sea kami because he teaches you how to live a good life, you do it so your ships don't get sunk when you're out fishing.

tmc December 31, 2012 at 10:42 am
Engineer December 30, 2012 at 6:16 pm

Instead we’ll get floods of new age, spiritual, feel-good quasi-religions. We’ll get none of the benefits of rational-thinking, and pay almost all the cost of loosening behavioral and moral codes that tend to be stronger in older, more organized religions.

Indeed.

Atheism is only meant for people at the right end of the cognitive distribution.

“meant for” ?! Apparently you’re also a closet telelogist …

Doug December 30, 2012 at 6:56 pm

“meant for” ?! Apparently you’re also a closet telelogist …

“Meant for” refers to the ability, not the suitability. I used in it in the sense of “An enterprise SQL server is not meant to run on an ARM mobile device.” Not in the sense of saying that “The Kingdom of France is meant for the Bourbons.” True atheism, i.e. rejecting religion without reverting back to spirituality or some other meta-physical conceptions, is a software program that the vast majority of the population lacks the mental hardware to run.

Mark Thorson December 30, 2012 at 7:33 pm

Ah, yes. Those unwashed masses and their ARM-like mental hardware. Only meant to run the embedded religion software, not the atheist software development environment.

Have you released your new religion yet, or is it still in beta?

Engineer December 31, 2012 at 7:49 am

Materialism and Darwinism (ie.the atheist’s metaphysical friends) are like a software virtualization layer that run in the embedded environment we call reality.

The “real” hardware consists of people, communities, ideals, ethics, and teleological language.

The virtualization layer then renders it all into abstract concepts, people are soulless piles of subatomic particles, emotions and ethics are merely Darwinian adaptations. The virtualized application then wears a progressive smirk and sneers “teabagger” at anyone who is concerned about the “RAM” or “I/O devices”.

Rahul December 31, 2012 at 1:36 am

@Doug:

You assume the increasing atheism in Europe and elsewhere is a conscious change over which you have control. A lot of it is just the arrow of time and attendant discoveries. It’s much easier to think of plagues, leprosy and locusts as divine retribution when you don’t know the phenomenology behind them.

Doug may not want the unwashed masses to give up religion, but does he have much of a choice? How do you successfully keep a growing child convinced that Santa exists?

Perpetrating ignorance is one option (and perhaps in Doug’s examples of Mexico, S. Africa etc. those who wield power try that strategy) but is that the way to go?

Therapsid December 31, 2012 at 1:46 am

Rahul, do you have a better way to go?

Here’s the brutal biological truth that Doug alludes to – most people are not above average in intelligence.

It’s a shocking conclusion, but there it is.

Religion provides a steady set of values the masses can follow. Without the locus of faith, men and women have less of incentive to marry and have children. This has tangible effects on society and upon GDP growth rates.

Without religion, women who might otherwise wed engineers and inventors instead spend their time going to university, working in HR or in service industries, or living off their parents. And those men they might have married devote more energy to getting women than discovering new cures or sources of energy.

bluto December 31, 2012 at 3:19 am

Of course it was a choice; the elites abandoned religion after realizing its rules weren’t required to enhance their own civic virtue, and found the moral restrictions blocked their ability to wring every bit of enjoyment from life. Perhaps they realized the masses would follow, perhaps they did not care. Now that they’ve sown their wild oats, they’re realizing the reason their forefathers, at a minimum, kept up appearances for the masses was for their own long term good. Doug is on the edge of that discovery.

The main thing that would drastically change perceptions of religion would be active, visible participation in religion by the elite. When people like Doug move from talking about what others need to do to becoming willing to go out on Sunday (or Friday or the Sabbath) and participate in a religious activity, the masses will follow (imagine the difference in the culture if the majority of the New York Times staff and Hollywood attended services and dropped the same hints about religion that they do about organic food, environmentalism, or if Mayor Bloomberg’s push was to attend a religious event weekly rather than ban soda pop).

msgkings December 31, 2012 at 1:33 pm

Therapsid: How many people not above average intelligence do you expect to be helpful “discovering new cures or sources of energy”? Only the religious masses can be expected to help there?

anon December 30, 2012 at 5:36 pm

2. Exporting Oma.

“Millions of U.S citizens retire abroad; the State Department records that there are over 6.6 million Americans living abroad, many of them retirees (550,000 of them are military personnel and their families). This number has grown over 500% in the past 40 years and will probably continue to increase going forward.”
A Great Retiree Migration Abroad is Not So Far Fetched
http://www.forbes.com/sites/financialfinesse/2011/04/07/a-great-retiree-migration-abroad-is-not-so-far-fetched-2/

6 Affordable Places to Retire Abroad in 2012
http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/On-Retirement/2011/11/29/6-affordable-places-to-retire-abroad-in-2012

Etc.

Terry Flynn December 30, 2012 at 7:59 pm

The RCT finding is just another example of the problems of (lack of) blinding. An even more worrying one has been raised in research into anti-depressants: patients learning to which arm they’ve been assigned despite double blinding. The logic is as follows: I get drug X and I start getting side effects, particularly those ones widely known to be associated with SSRIs (sexual dysfunction etc) leading me to realise I’m in the intervention arm. Then Hawthorne effects etc come into play and the average estimated efficacy of the treatment is artificially boosted. So the estimated efficacy rates of anti-depressants (relatively low that many are compared to placebo) may in fact be lower still.

Rahul December 31, 2012 at 1:24 am

Time we started compounding sugar pills with side effects?

Jan December 31, 2012 at 7:31 am

6. Popova is an impressive person, but I think my favorite profile of her was on Lifehacker. She estimated that she spent something like over 15 hours per day–including weekends–on just one of her many projects. Infovores do not sleep, it seems.

JW December 31, 2012 at 10:41 am

From 3., the book Gligoric wrote on the Fisher-Spassky matches is the one chess book I own.

Dan December 31, 2012 at 11:17 am

I always love to read comments by atheists congratulating themselves on their intellectual superiority.

The article on religion suggests that evangelicals are in decline. However, research I have read suggests that evangelical growth has only halted, having run its course, but is maintaining numbers. The evangelical movement was a reaction by conservative college educated Gen Xers in the 80s and 90s to the 60s cultural revolution. It is Catholics and liberal mainline churches that are in decline, and the high school grads have already been left out (which we see in the desolate state of that demographic). However, most of the effects are demographic, and a generational echo of the 60′s.

The innovations continue a long trend: American protestants have long been innovators of worship format and outreach.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: