Religion

For those born in much of the 20th century, it was true that college graduates of all ages were significantly less likely than others to report any religious affiliation.

But research just published in the journal Social Forces (abstract available here) finds that, starting for those born in the 1970s, there was a reversal in this historic trend. For that cohort, a college degree increases the chances that someone will report a religious affiliation.

“College education is no longer a faith-killer,” said Philip Schwadel, author of the paper and associate professor of sociology at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.

That is for belief, observance was not tested.  The full story is here.

Who are the Yazidis?

by on August 8, 2014 at 7:48 am in Current Affairs, History, Religion | Permalink

Their supreme being is known as Yasdan. He is considered to be on such an elevated level that he cannot be worshipped directly. He is considered a passive force, the Creator of the world, not the preserver. Seven great spirits emanate from him of which the greatest is the Peacock Angel known as Malak Taus – active executor of the divine will. The peacock in early Christianity was a symbol of immortality, because its flesh does not appear to decay. Malak Taus is considered God’s alter ego, inseparable from Him, and to that extent Yazidism is monotheistic.

There is more here, interesting throughout.

China will construct a “Chinese Christian theology” suitable for the country, state media reported on Thursday, as both the number of believers and tensions with the authorities are on the rise.

China has between 23 million and 40 million Protestants, accounting for 1.7 to 2.9 per cent of the total population, the state-run China Daily said, citing figures given at a seminar in Shanghai.

About 500,000 people are baptised as Protestants every year, it added.

There is more here, via the excellent Mark Thorson.  It should be noted that this story can be given a number of different interpretations.  Here is a related article.

Eduardo Porter interviewed me in addition to his column, here is one excerpt:

What about other consequences of inequality? There is evidence that it hurts mobility, sapping young men’s incentives to succeed. Some have suggested it corrupts our political system and could fuel social unrest.

We know very little about what income inequality tends to cause in politics. We do see that income inequality is up considerably and crime is down considerably. We do know that older societies, as we are becoming, tend to be more peaceful and stable. We also see that a rising middle class often leads to political instability, such as in Thailand or Turkey or Brazil or for that matter the United States in the 1960s. Many young American men may be experiencing a crisis of confidence these days, but the problem lies in the absolute quality of their opportunities, not the gap between them and Bill Gates.

And this:

If we are looking for a remedy, a greater interest in strict religions would help many of the poor a lot — how about Mormonism for a start? Just look at the data. Many other religions prohibit or severely limit alcohol, drugs and gambling. That said, this has to happen privately rather than as a matter of state policy.

Here is the whole thing.

The Demand and Supply of Sex

by on July 28, 2014 at 4:25 am in History, Religion, Science | Permalink

Alternet: The idea that men are naturally more interested in sex than women is [so] ubiquitous that it’s difficult to imagine that people ever believed differently. And yet for most of Western history, from ancient Greece to beginning of the nineteenth century, women were assumed to be the sex-crazed porn fiends of their day. In one ancient Greek myth, Zeus and Hera argue about whether men or women enjoy sex more. They ask the prophet Tiresias, whom Hera had once transformed into a woman, to settle the debate. He answers, “if sexual pleasure were divided into ten parts, only one part would go to the man, and and nine parts to the woman.” Later, women were considered to be temptresses who inherited their treachery from Eve. Their sexual passion was seen as a sign of their inferior morality, reason and intellect, and justified tight control by husbands and fathers. Men, who were not so consumed with lust and who had superior abilities of self-control, were the gender more naturally suited to holding positions of power and influence.

Early twentieth-century physician and psychologist Havelock Ellis may have been the first to document the ideological change that had recently taken place. In his 1903 work Studies in the Psychology of Sex, he cites a laundry list of ancient and modern historical sources ranging from Europe to Greece, the Middle East to China, all of nearly the same mind about women’s greater sexual desire.

The ancient belief is consistent with the well known fact that in ancient times when a man went to a bordello the women would line up and bid for the right to sleep with him.

In other words, the ancients believed a lot of strange things at variance with the facts (which isn’t to say that the switch in belief and its timing isn’t of interest or that these kinds of beliefs no longer sway with the times). More at the link.

SES [socio-economic status] correlates to willingness to use military force, but not one’s assessment of the need for it.

That is from a fascinating and just-released book I have been reading from Jonathan D. Caverley, A Theory of Democratic Militarism: Voting, Wealth, and War.

There is a new piece of interest in Technology Review, here is one excerpt:

Psychologists have always assumed that patterns of behavior change more quickly in countries that emphasize collectivism. Once an idea has taken hold, the pressure to conform means it spreads rapidly. “It has previously been argued that social support mechanisms in collectivistic societies make it more likely that a person will stop smoking,” say Lang and co.

And conversely, in countries that emphasize individualism, patterns of behavior must change more slowly because there is less social pressure to conform.

The puzzle is that the data on smoking shows exactly the reverse. Sweden was much slower to adopt smoking and much slower to stop.

Now Lang and co think they know why. They’ve created a mathematical model that includes the effects of social pressure allowing them to simulate the way behavior spreads through societies with different levels of individualism.

The model reveals why Sweden stopped smoking more slowly. “Our model suggests that … social inertia will inhibit decisions to stop smoking more strongly in collectivistic societies than in individualistic societies,” say Lang and co.

The original research, by Lang, Abrams, and De Sterck is here.  Their results do not rest on Sweden alone, but for the record I consider the Swedes to be relatively individualistic by most metrics, most of all when it comes to atomization.

The editors are Dow James and Glen Whitman and the subtitle is Zombies, Vampires, and the Dismal Science.  Authors include Steven Horwitz, Sarah Skwire, Ilya Somin, and also Hollis Robbins, “Killing Time, Dracula and Social Coordination”, among others.

Facebook manipulated the emotions of hundreds of thousands of its users, and found that they would pass on happy or sad emotions, it has said. The experiment, for which researchers did not gain specific consent, has provoked criticism from users with privacy and ethical concerns.

For one week in 2012, Facebook skewed nearly 700,000 users’ news feeds to either be happier or sadder than normal. The experiment found that after the experiment was over users’ tended to post positive or negative comments according to the skew that was given to their newsfeed.

The research has provoked distress because of the manipulation involved.

Clearly plenty of ads try to manipulative us with positive emotions, and without telling us.  There are also plenty of sad songs, or for that matter sad movies and sad advertisements, again running an agenda for their own manipulative purposes.  Is the problem with Facebook its market power?  Or is the the sheer and unavoidable transparency of the notion that Facebook is inducing us to pass along similar emotions to our network of contacts, thus making us manipulators too, and in a way which is hard to us to avoid thinking about?  What would Robin Hanson say?

Note by the way that “The effect the study documents is very small, as little as one-tenth of a percent of an observed change.”  How much that eventually dwindles, explodes, or dampens out in the longer run I would say is still not known to us.  My intuition however is that we see a lot of longer-run dampening and also intertemporal substitution of emotions, meaning this is pretty close to a non-event.

The initial link is here.  The underlying study is here.  Other readings on the topic are here.

I hope you’re not too sad about this post [smiley face]!

Does any sentence better illustrate the human condition in all its political, social and biological complexities than this sentence?

New York state lawmakers have passed a bill banning residents from taking “tiger selfies” — a rising trend on dating websites in which single men post photos of themselves posing with the ferocious felines in hopes of impressing potential mates.

Dissertations are waiting to be written.

In Average is Over I wrote that future jobs will require good “people skills” all the more.  There is a new example of this from Solothurn, Switzerland, where the town is searching for a full-time hermit, to live of course in their hermitage.  But now Solothurn has updated the job description:

Solothurn has updated the job description. “Along with acting as caretaker and sacristan, responsibilities include interaction with the many visitors,” the ad warns potential applicants.

“There’s a bit of a discrepancy between the job title of hermit and the fact he or she has to deal with throngs of visitors,” says Sergio Wyniger, the head of Solothurn’s city council. So far, the city has received 119 applications and expects to make a decision by next week.

The job of a hermit isn’t what it used to be. Tourists can easily reach once-secluded spots and modern technology makes it harder to escape friends and relatives—or strangers looking for advice on how to navigate life’s challenges. Today, many hermits live in city apartments or suburban row houses, often relying on the Internet to make a living or order groceries.

…On top of keeping the gorge and adjacent chapels clean and tidy, the new hermit will have to help out with weddings and baptisms and dole out counsel for visitors suffering heartbreak or family trouble. In return, the city council will pay him or her 1,000 Swiss francs ($1,115) a month, along with free lodging in the wood-shingled hermitage. The hermit works for and is paid by the city of Solothurn.

Perhaps someone should write a book on how the institution of hermit is evolving:

“Hermits usually have a mobile phone, because they can switch it off for prayers,” says Mr. Turina, who wrote his Ph.D. thesis on Catholic hermits in Italy.

The article is here.

That is the recent Israeli TV show — a dramatic comedy of sorts — about the dating lives of Modern Orthodox Jews.  It is interesting to see a professionally made serial where the erotic tension of a date cannot be satisfied, or for that matter further inflamed, not even by a kiss or by a brush of one shoulder against another.  It was once dubbed “No Sex in the City.”  Everyone is in a hurry to do lots of dating and those who are not candidates for marriage are disposed of swiftly.  Quite a bit of lying and double-dealing and rapid switching goes on, yet without sex being present in the background.  There is frequent discrimination against those who are not the right shade of seriousness about their degree of adherence to Judaism.  The men and women who are “just friends” seem to have the best relationships of all, although for some reason they cannot convert that into romantic capital.

You can view it here on Amazon or buy it, or it is on Hulu.  Here is Wikipedia.  Definitely recommended if you are looking for something different, or something interesting about social conservatism, there are many excellent scenes.

One good answer is from Tim O’Neill:

People were generally very familiar with the Bible pre-1900, so the figures usually cited as the epitome of evil tended to be Judas Iscariot, Herod the Great or, most commonly, the Pharaoh of the story of Moses in Exodus. In Common Sense, Thomas Paine wrote: “No man was a warmer wisher for reconciliation than myself, before the fatal nineteenth of April, 1775 [the date of the Lexington massacre], but the moment the event of that day was made known, I rejected the hardened, sullen Pharaoh of England forever.”  The Confederates referred to Abraham Lincoln as “the northern Pharaoh” and abolitionists in turn called slaveowners “modern Pharaohs”.  Americans also referred to all tyrants by comparing them to King George III and Napoleon was often cited as the ultimate bogeyman in Britain.  But generally it was Pharaoh who was used the way we use Hitler.

Did they have something akin to Godwin’s Law back then: “if you have to mention the Pharaoh, you’ve lost the argument!”  Somehow I don’t think so.  A link to the Quora forum is here.

Update: It seems Brian Palmer deserves credit for the information behind that answer.

All hail Khan!

by on June 14, 2014 at 10:58 am in Current Affairs, Law, Religion, Science | Permalink

Congratulations to Razib Khan, the noted genetics blogger, on the birth of his son. Born just last week, Razib’s son is already making the news:

An infant delivered last week in California appears to be the first healthy person ever born in the U.S. with his entire genetic makeup deciphered in advance.

Razib, a graduate student at a lab at UC Davis in California, had some genetic material from his in-womb son from a fairly standard CVS test.

When Khan got the DNA earlier this year, he could have ordered simple tests for specific genes he was curious about. But why not get all the data? “At that point, I realized it was just easier to do the whole genome,” he says. So Khan got a lab mate to place his son’s genetic material in a free slot in a high-speed sequencing machine used to study the DNA of various animal species. “It’s mostly metazoans, fish, and plants. He was just one of the samples in there,” he says.

The raw data occupied about 43 gigabytes of disk space, and Khan set to work organizing and interpreting it. He did so using free online software called Promethease, which crunches DNA data to build reports—noting genetic variants of interest and their medical meaning. “I popped him through Promethease and got 7,000 results,” says Khan.

Promethease is part of an emerging do-it-yourself toolkit for people eager to explore DNA without a prescription. It’s not easy to use, but it’s become an alternative since the FDA cracked down on 23andMe.

Craig Venter was the first person to have his genome sequenced, that was in 2007. Now, just seven years later, costs have fallen by a factor of 10,000.  Personal genome sequencing is going to become routine regardless of the FDA.

In a delightful, short article on Economics and Morality, Timothy Taylor asks why economics has a reputation for leading to corruption:

Political science, history, psychology, sociology, and literature are often concerned with aggression, obsessiveness, selfishness, and cruelty, not to mention lust, sloth, greed, envy, pride, wrath, and gluttony. But no one seems to fear that students in these other disciplines are on the fast track to becoming sociopaths. Why is economics supposed to be so uniquely corrupting?

Arnold Kling gives one answer:

I think that economics is singled out for opprobrium because of the way that it challenges the intention heuristic. The intention heuristic says that if the intentions of an act are selfless and well-meaning, then the act is good. If the intentions are self-interested, then it is not good.

I would put the point more directly. Economics is detested because it doesn’t just study vice it shows that some vices have good consequences. The moral inversion of economic thinking begins early, in Mandeville’s scandalous and wicked book the Fable of the Bees, which aimed to show how private vices can lead to public benefits. Later, of course, Adam Smith would make a similar point in The Wealth of Nations with his metaphor of the invisible hand and his famous admonition that “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.”

The private vice, public virtue theme is not limited to self-interest and microeconomics. Keynes was an admirer of Mandeville as an early discover of the paradox of thrift. Namely, that in some situations the virtuous behavior of saving can lead to public ruin and the vice of consumption can lead to riches. Paul Krugman continues to make this point today with his admonition that economics is not a morality play. Krugman offends traditional morality when he writes:

As I’ve said repeatedly, this is a situation in which virtue becomes vice and prudence is folly; what we need above all is for someone to spend more, even if the spending isn’t particularly wise.

Economists understand composition fallacies: a sum of light feathers is not necessarily light, a sum of bad actions isn’t necessarily bad and a sum of good actions isn’t necessarily good.

It’s no surprise that Hayek was another fan of Mandeville and also an opponent of traditional morality (also here) because Hayek recognized that nominally bad actions and beliefs can lead to good outcomes (“spontaneous order”) and that nominally good actions and beliefs can lead to bad outcomes (“the atavism of social justice”).

Even more recently we see Tim Geithner making the argument against morality:

“…in a panic, to rescue people from the risk of mass unemployment, you’re going to be doing things that look like you’re helping the arsonists…”

Standard morality, as Kling argues, often stops at intentions while economists are interested in consequences. Consequentialist philosophers also look at consequences but economists have the tools to trace interactions as they sort themselves into an equilibrium. Equilibrium outcomes may be very far from intentions. As a result, we find that economists often places themselves and their discipline in opposition to standard morality.