Religion

I will be chatting with him for the next Conversation with Tyler, January 26.  Here is an excerpt from his bio:

Named the most influential Rabbi in America by Newsweek and one of the 50 most influential Jews in the world by The Jerusalem Post…In addition to serving as the Senior Rabbi of Sinai Temple in LA, Rabbi Wolpe has written eight books, including the national bestseller Making Loss Matter: Creating Meaning in Difficult Times. Rabbi Wolpe also writes a weekly column for Time.com. His writing has been included in The LA Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, and the New York Jewish Week. He has previously taught at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, the American Jewish University, Hunter College, and UCLA.

Here is his Wikipedia page, and his most recent book is David: The Divided Heart.

This event will be held at the Sixth and I St. Synagogue in Washington, D.C., 7 p.m.; please note they charge admission but that is for them not for me!  This will not be a regular feature of the series moving forward, but they do need to cover their costs and we really wanted to use that venue.

So what should I ask David Wolpe?

Here you will find the transcript, podcast, and video of the chat, Joe of course was in top form.  In addition to a wide-ranging conversation on cultural and social evolution, we touched on topics such as Star Trek, Hayek’s atavism theory, what he learned from the Mapuche, the pleasures of cooking in coconut milk, why WEIRD matters, whether Neanderthals were smarter than humans, and whether Joe is a conservative after all.  Here is one bit:

COWEN: The Flynn effect in the short run puzzles me more than in the long run. If I compare today to the 18th century, I can see where the difference might be. But in many countries, it seems the Flynn effect hasn’t stopped. Nutritional gains probably are over.

The environment — smartphones are newer than the Flynn effect, but it doesn’t seem to be changing now compared to a generation ago. They both seem quite complex. We’ve had TV for a while. People have books, market society. What exactly is the difference over the last generation in the short run?

HENRICH: It’s a cultural-evolutionary treadmill. One place where you see this is the complexity of television shows. Now, you have an ensemble cast and 20 different plots going on. You’ve got to track all these different plots. That wasn’t the television of the 1950s. It was one plot, one thing after another. Simple. The whole world is getting more complex, at least in terms of your need for analytic thinking.

COWEN: Some of that in your view is the supply-side effect. It’s not that we got smarter and they made TV better, it’s also they made TV better and that made some of us smarter.

HENRICH: Coevolutionary.

COWEN: Coevolutionary. This is going to make you out to be quite an optimist, then, because TV is going to get better and better. We’re just going to keep on getting smarter.

HENRICH: Yeah, of course.

And:

COWEN: You’re an anthropologist. You’ve spent a lot of time with economists — coauthored, worked with Paul Romer, Colin Camerer, others. As an anthropologist, what do you find strange about the tribe known as econ? [laughs]

HENRICH: I had a real opportunity. I was very fortunate in my career to be a professor of psychology and a professor of economics at the same time but to be neither in some deep sense. I would get to go back and forth from seminars in economics and psychology.

In economics, there’s this really competitive culture. The way I like to describe it: If you’re giving a seminar in economics, the crowd — everybody’s trying to show who’s the smartest guy in the room. Just on your first slide, someone will raise their hand. (I’m like, I haven’t said anything yet!) Then they’ll try to ask the killer question which undercuts your whole talk so that they can get you right at the beginning.

[laughter]

HENRICH: Whereas psychologists, they’ll sit quietly. They watch your talk. You go through your whole PowerPoint. You probably touched a lot of different research projects.

Then there’ll be question time; at first no hands will go up. Then someone will be like, “I got a question.” Then they say, “I just have one small question. I mean, it was a great talk and this is just a very minor thing.”

Then it could be a killer question at that point when they’ve done the preface. It’s a very strong cultural difference between the econ tribe and the psychology tribe.

I’ve always wanted to write an ethnography: My Life among Two Strange Tribes: The Psychologists and the Economists.

Do read, hear, or watch the whole thing.

Here you can order Joe’s book The Secret of our Success: How Culture is Driving Evolution, Domesticating Our Species, and Making us Smarter.

Happy holidays to all our viewers and readers! Our holiday video covers the economics of gift giving. When is gift giving wasteful? When does gift giving generate value? What are the knowledge problem and the incentive problem and how does this apply to charity? It’s a great conversation starter for economics classes. Enjoy!

P.S. Happy Sinterklaas!

I don’t want to give you spoilers, so I’ll put key points behind links — read them at your peril.  The ending of last night’s finale reminded me of this historical episode in 1804.  Bernard reminds me of this Haitian figure, this fellow too.  Anthony Hopkins is an updated version of the impresario from this 1932 movieAs for the Hosts:

Haitian slaves believed that dying would release them back to lan guinée, literally Guinea, or Africa in general, a kind of afterlife where they could be free. Though suicide was common among slaves, those who took their own lives wouldn’t be allowed to return to lan guinée. Instead, they’d be condemned to skulk the Hispaniola plantations for eternity, an undead slave at once denied their own bodies and yet trapped inside them—a soulless zombie.

Zombies can change their “status” through a number of means.  Don’t show them the ocean!

zombies

And that symbol everyone is always asking about and trying to discern the meaning of?  That is a vevé, obviously.

And to frame the whole thing, here is Hegel on the master-slave dialectic.

Whether you admit it or not, you have much to be thankful for.  For one thing, agricultural productivity is higher today than ever before…

harvesters

*Arrival*

by on November 13, 2016 at 5:17 pm in Film, Philosophy, Religion, Uncategorized | Permalink

I’ve never seen a movie before where I wanted to yell at the screen “It’s called the Coase theorem!”, and furthermore with complete justification.  There is plenty of social science in this film, including insights from Thomas Schelling and the construction and solution of some non-cooperative games, mostly by introducing a more dynamic method of equilibrium selection.  There are homages to Childhood’s End, 2001, Close Encounters, Interstellar, Buddhism, Himalayan Nagas, Eastern Orthodox, the theology of the number 12, and more.  It’s hard to explain without spoiling the plot, but definitely recommended and maybe the best Hollywood movie so far this year.  Nice sonics too.

The Steven Pinker podcast and transcript will be ready next week, November 7 is a live event with Joseph Henrich, a Conversation with Tyler, Arlington campus 6 p.m.  If you don’t already know, here is Joseph Henrich:

Joseph Henrich…[is]…an expert on the evolution of human cooperation and culture…

Henrich’s research has challenged the typical narrative about human evolution to show how our collective brains – our ability to socially interconnect and learn from one another – is the driving factor behind our evolutionary success. Henrich presents these compelling arguments in his latest book, The Secret of Our Success: How Culture is Driving Human Evolution, Domesticating Our Species, and Making Us Smarter (2015).

Co-author of Why Humans Cooperate: A Cultural and Evolutionary Explanation (2007), Henrich’s research seeks to discover the role of culture in shaping our evolution; how evolutionary theory can help us understand how we learn and transmit culture; the role of war and conflict in the evolution of cooperation and sociality; what factors drive innovation and cultural evolution; and ultimately what has allowed humankind to flourish over other species.

Henrich earned his MA and PhD in anthropology from University of California at Los Angeles. He currently teaches at Harvard University as a professor of human evolutionary biology.

So what should I ask Joseph Henrich?

The founding father of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, credits ‘social discipline’ for the phenomenal economic rise of his country (Sen, 1999). Countries such as Singapore apparently demonstrate that autocratic measures are probably necessary, particularly in culturally fractionalized societies for creating the social stability necessary for economic growth (Colletta et al., 2001). Such thinking informs the so-called “Asian model” (Diamond, 2008).1 Recent studies, particularly in economics, support the logic (Alesina et al., 2006 and Easterly et al., 2006). According to these scholars, the more congruent territorial borders are with nationality, the better the chances for good economic policy to appear endogenously from within these societies because social cohesion determines good institutions and policies for development (Banerjee et al., 2005 and Easterly, 2006b). This paper addresses the question of whether or not social diversity hampers the adoption of sound economic policies, including institutions that promote property rights and the rule of law. We also examine whether democracy conditions diversity’s effect on sound economic management, defined as economic freedom, because the index of economic freedom is strongly associated with higher growth and is endorsed by proponents of the ‘diversity deficit’ argument (Easterly, 2006a).2

…Using several measures of diversity, we find that higher levels of ethno-linguistic and cultural fractionalization are conditioned positively on higher economic growth by an index of economic freedom, which is often heralded as a good measure of sound economic management. High diversity in turn is associated with higher levels of economic freedom. We do not find any evidence to suggest that high diversity hampers change towards greater economic freedom and institutions supporting liberal policies.

Paper here. The data is a panel from 116 countries covering 1980–2012 so this doesn’t rule out a negative long-run effect but it is prima facie evidence that diversity need not reduce freedom or growth.

*American Honey*

by on October 11, 2016 at 3:37 pm in Film, Religion | Permalink

This sprawling, 2 hour, 42 minute movie likely will be seen as one of the important creations of the decade.  Variety described it as “femme-driven corrective to…”Spring Breakers””, and “Part dreamy millennial picaresque, part distorted tapestry of Americana and part exquisitely illustrated iTunes musical,” the phrase “Midwestern America Walpurgis Night” came to my mind.  “…Almost ridiculously full of life…” was another account.  Most of all, it is a story of how a post-Christian America can go awry, told through the classic medium of a road trip.  Instead of the blood and flesh of Christ at Holy Communion, here the serving is toxic mezcal and eating the worm inside the bottle, for cash of course.  The other parallels I do not wish to give away.

In terms of cinematography and especially soundtrack, it’s as strong as any movie in recent times.  Scene after scene felt special and memorable, and only about ten minutes or so dragged.  I kept on thinking it couldn’t keep up its pace of quality, but it did and in fact kept surpassing itself.  Sasha Lane deserves the Best Actress Oscar, and in her film debut at that.  I just ordered everything I can by British director Andrea Arnold.

Recommended (re)reading for a viewing includes Genesis, most of all the story of Jacob, his family, and his wrestle with the angel.  But don’t expect the reviews to mention any of that — Ross Douthat, telephone!

Remember people, the influential thinkers of the next generation will be the religious ones…whether you like it or not.

Julianna Dubendorff & Andrew Luchner

Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, forthcoming

Abstract:
Research into prejudice toward atheists has generally focused on broad characteristics. Some of these characteristics (i.e., self-centeredness, elitism, individualism, and immorality) indicate a possible prejudice of narcissism. To investigate this specific prejudice, the present study used the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (Raskin & Terry, 1988), the Hypersensitive Narcissism Scale (Hendin & Cheek, 1997), and the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (Davis, 1983), which were adjusted so that the items of each measure were changed from first-person statements to third-person statements to measure participants’ perceptions. Participants (N = 359) were given a description of a fictitious individual named Alex, portrayed to them as either male or female and atheist or religious, or male or female with no additional information (creating 6 experimental groups), and then asked to complete the measures as they thought the individual would. Participants consistently rated atheists higher on narcissism measures and lower on empathy measures, indicating a perception of greater narcissism and a lack of empathy compared with religious individuals and controls. Participants’ perceptions of Alex were affected by his or her gender in conjunction with his or her religion, and the 2 variables of gender and religion interacted to create different patterns of perception. In general, interactions indicated differences in the way religion and gender impacted the perception of individuals as narcissistic, affecting perceptions of males more than females. The results are consistent with research findings that perceptions of atheists tend to be negative and prejudicial. This study highlights the need to compare perceptions with actual personality differences between atheists and religious individuals.

That is from the excellent Kevin Lewis.  I would like to see this done cross-culturally, including for Israel and also the former Communist states.  How about Vatican City too?

Sean Illing in particular, here is one excerpt:

Overrated/Underrated

Nate Silver

Underrated. Nate Silver is famous, and he writes on topics where everyone has their own view. When you do that, people think you’re always wrong, and when you are actually, as he was on Trump, people don’t give you a break for it. So he has designed his life to be the kind of person who is condemned by others, so that means he almost has to be underrated.

Karl Marx

Right now he’s probably underrated, but for almost all of history he’s been overrated. He makes very basic errors in economics. People put Marxism into practice and everywhere it has failed, and it failed in very dramatic, sometimes violent ways. But that said, he’s a brilliant and deep thinker. He understood the 19th century in capitalism better than almost anyone.

Kanye West

Underrated. I think Kanye is the musical mind of our time. Every one of his albums is different, original, takes chances. My favorite is the 808 album and then Yeezus.

Do read the whole thing.

Anti-mind, anti-man, anti-life

by on September 24, 2016 at 7:30 am in Medicine, Religion, Science | Permalink

Curing disease is good, right? No. Jemima Lewis, writing in the Telegraph, says curing disease is a sickeningly bad idea:

…the Zuckerberg-Chans have the most ambitious vision yet: developing new technologies and medicines to tackle every disease ever invented.

We’d better hope they don’t succeed. What would it do to the human race if we were granted eternal health, and therefore life? Without any deaths to offset all the births, we would have to make room on earth for an extra 208,400 people a day, or 76,066,000 a year – and that’s before those babies grow old enough to reproduce themselves.

Within a month of Mr Zuckerberg curing mortality, the first wars over water resources would break out. Within a year, the World Health Organisation would be embarking on an emergency sterilisation programme. Give it a decade and we’d all be dead from starvation, apart from a handful of straggle-bearded tech billionaires, living in well-stocked bunkers under San Francisco.

I’m shocked that anyone can write such depraved things in a major newspaper. In a decent culture this kind of thing would be relegated to some sick corner of the dark web. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, however. Ayn Rand villains exist. Look around.

Londonderry Derry

by on September 22, 2016 at 1:42 pm in History, Law, Political Science, Religion | Permalink

The city’s name is a point of political dispute, with unionists advocating the longer name, and nationalists advocating the shorter. A common attempt at compromise is to refer to the county as “Londonderry” and the city as “Derry”, but this is by no means universally accepted. Because of this, a peculiar situation arises as there is no common consensus either in politics or elsewhere as to which name is preferred; the city council is officially known as “Derry”, but the city is officially recognised as “Londonderry” by the Northern Ireland Executive and the UK government. Whilst road signs in the Republic of Ireland use “Derry”, alongside the Irish language translation “Doire”, road signs in Northern Ireland will always read (unless vandalised) “Londonderry”.

Here is the link.  I hope someday to go.

Why stick with that NGO when global markets beckon?:

In the northwest corner of Phnom Penh’s Boeng Keng Kang market, a new stall is creating a buzz among shoppers.

Its occupant is a 28-year-old former U.S. Peace Corps volunteer who offers tarot-card readings in Khmer. And customers say her predictions are on point.

With strings of fake leaves hanging from the ceiling, colorful paper butterflies affixed to one wall, and a sign that reads “Mantis Magic,” the booth—which has been open for two weeks—stands out from the neighboring hairdressers and food stalls.

“I didn’t have a job, I needed something to do and I wanted to help people through my spiritual work. I was getting messages to do this, so I just followed my gut,” said Eileen, who speaks conversational Khmer and asked to be identified only by her first name so that her mother in the U.S. would not find out about her new trade.

Originally from New York, Eileen said she graduated from West Virginia University with degrees in gender studies and criminal investigations before relocating to Cambodia nearly five years ago with the Peace Corps.

After spending two years writing grant proposals for a local NGO while pursuing a master’s degree in development at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, she grew restless and earlier this year decided to pursue a passion for mysticism she had cultivated since the age of 10.

A Cambodian friend helped her lease the market stall two weeks ago, Eileen said. She said she had met with unexpected financial success, earning about $450 since opening while charging 10,000 riel (about $2.50) per session.

Here is the full story, by Maria Paulo Brito and Ouch Sony, it has other interesting points, and for the pointer I thank Dustin Palmer.

And, via Kaushal Desai, here is a 16-year-old British girl who earned £48,000 helping Chinese parents name their babies.

*The Fall of Heaven*

by on September 7, 2016 at 12:43 am in Books, History, Political Science, Religion | Permalink

I loved this book, the author is Andrew Scott Cooper, and the subtitle is The Pahlavis and the Final Days of Imperial Iran.  It is the best book I know for understanding the Iranian revolution, and it is compulsively readable throughout.  Did you know for instance that the Ayatollahs were deeply disturbed by the presence of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and also Rhoda on Iranian TV?

Here is one excerpt:

Iran’s political and economic malaise gave a renewed sense of urgency to the Shah’s top priority, which was to settle the question of the Imperial succession once and for all.  His initial preference was for a European princess who could provide the House of Pahlavi with the luster of dynastic legitimacy.  He soon ran into trouble.  The Windsors rebuffed his interest in Queen Elizabeth II’s cousin Princess Alexandra of Kent, while his favorite, Princess Maria Gabriella, the Catholic daughter of the deposed King Umberto of Italy, was ruled out owing to opposition from the Vatican and Iran’s ulama.

And this, from the Shah himself:

“When everybody in Iran is like everybody in Sweden, then I will rule like the King of Sweden,” he declared.

I would describe this book as relatively sympathetic to the Shah, and also arguing that the oppressions and tortures of Savak are sometimes overstated.

This one makes my best non-fiction of the year list, and it will be in the top tier of that list.