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Reposted from Readers and Book Lovers by Mokurai

GOTV (Get Out The Vote) is the greatest nightmare for Republicans today. Democrats of all sorts, cowed in a multitude of different ways over the last 50 years, will learn to believe in themselves, and to vote regularly, in both Presidential and off years, up and down the ticket, and even run for office. When we vote, we win. We have the numbers to flip all of the seemingly Red states of the former Confederacy, even Alabama, in the next few cycles.

Our book for today, which I will use to explain much of this, is Learned Helplessness: A Theory for the Age of Personal Control, by Peterson, Maier, and Seligman. It explains how helplessness arises in many different situations, how it operates, how it can be created and enforced, and also what can be done about it. Like using GOTV to get people out of the helplessness of "My vote doesn't matter."

When experience with uncontrollable events leads to the expectation that future events will elude control, disruptions in motivation, emotion, and learning may occur. This phenomenon has been called learned helplessness.
The most important result of research on helplessness is that those who have learned not to be helpless cannot be taught to be helpless again. The history of government and religion amply confirms this lesson, while showing how hard it has been to create conditions in which not being helpless can flourish. And yet we see it arise over and over again, and sometimes radically transform societies. But then the forces of reaction react and try their worst to undo it all, over and over again.

We discussed those motives in Grokking Republicans: Authoritarian Followers, Leaders, and Doubles. Now we are going to examine specific techniques, and how to counter them, particularly in the context of voting.

Republicans are in full freakout mode over Democratic GOTV. It is not just that they will lose elections, and that Democratic and Progressive measures will be enacted. They believe that this is an existential threat, because they will no longer be the self-proclaimed aristocracy of America and the world, and they are convinced that Democrats will be just as evil to them as they are to all of those whom they hate and revile and despise. Therefore they must do anything and everything possible to prevent the rest of us from realizing our power, from rising up out of our former helplessness. It is going to be ugly.

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Reposted from Readers and Book Lovers by Mokurai

Whatever you think of the question of God or Gods, religion is a real thing, for good or ill. In the quest for More and Better Democrats the question of fewer and less evil religious nutters has a prominent place. But does that mean trying to destroy all religion, or accepting that some religion is beneficial, and working with it?

In The Varieties of Religious Experience psychologist and Pragmatist philosopher William James set out to survey the psychological phenomena of religion as they were known more than a century ago. Both religion and science can agree in principle on the standard set by Jesus.

By their fruits ye shall know them.

Thus James set out to attempt an evaluation of their fruits in a non-dogmatic, non-theological, scientific way, which many of the churches concerned would of course not agree with.

Many of the particular ills of the modern Religious Right, such as the movements known as Fundamentalism, Dominionism, Theonomy and "Creation Science" had not been invented in their current forms in the time of William James, but their seeds had been plainly visible in Southern Baptist support of slavery and then Jim Crow, and denial of evolution. Biblical literalism and running societies on the basis of religious law are both of ancient origin, as are many other ills associated with one or another religion of ancient times.

Does religious theory (theology in theistic religions, or Abhidharma in Buddhism), practice, law, or specific events like radical conversions make people behave better? Sometimes, up to a point, with radically different evaluations according to the radically different criteria applied. I shall explain further below the Orange Cloud of Unknowing.

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Reposted from Readers and Book Lovers by Mokurai

No Grokking Republicans book Diary today on the Columbus Day holiday. But on that point, there is this.

John Oliver, Last Week Tonight: Why is this still a thing?

(I tried to embed this video without success. Any help would be appreciated.)

Christopher Columbus is a Right Wing racist imperialist hero, and a con man and all-around villain to many on the Left. The Catholic Church once thought of canonizing him as a saint for creating the opportunity to convert so many Native Americans to Christianity, and at the same time to enslave them, rape them, kill them with European diseases, and steal everything in the Americas, from gold and jewels to every bit of land the Europeans could reach.

As I see it, if it had not been Columbus, it would have been another bringing conquistadors and the Spanish Inquisition to the Americas, and all of the other imperial powers that followed: Portugal, France, the Netherlands, the British, and eventually Germany and Russia. As we learned from Philip Zimbardo last week, it is often the situation and the System, not the character traits of the individuals caught up in the System, that creates the greatest evils in the world.

We resume on the 20th with Learned Helplessness: A Theory for the Age of Personal Control, by Christopher Peterson, Steven F. Maier and Martin E. P. Seligman. We will apply the experimental results on unlearning helplessness to ongoing GOTV to flip the House and create Democratic majorities in all former Confederate states. Yes, even Alabama.

Then we will finish this series with The Varieties of Religious Experience, to examine the Religious Right, and to emphasize that Evangelical Christians and Muslim extremists do not own the debate, and must not be allowed to frame it for everybody else.

Update: No, it will be religion on the 20th, and helplessness on the 27th. I can't find my copy of Learned Helplessness, and it will take a while to get one on interlibrary loan.

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Reposted from Readers and Book Lovers by Mokurai

Warning: Triggers

How did we get to the abuses at Abu Ghraib? Or to torturing prisoners in the US, whether by waterboarding at Guantanamo, or years of aggravated solitary confinement, or horrific executions? Let's try it and see.

Put some bright but otherwise ordinary college students to playing guards and prisoners in a basement fixed up with makeshift cells at Stanford for a few days, choosing randomly who will be which. What could go wrong? Well, it's so horrific you have to cancel the experiment in the middle. Now what happens to real warders and prisoners who do it for years at a time, even for decades? What happens to a society that routinely does that to people?

It's called being tough on crime, or on terrorism. It is a major mental health epidemic in the US, not only among guards and prisoners, but in our religion and politics.

This week we get to look at horrors much worse than the Yale electric shock experiments that I Diaried a month ago, where there were no shocks. In the Stanford Prison Experiment (SPE) there were no physical assaults, but real people broke down as a result of psychological assaults. More than thirty years later, in The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil, Philip Zimbardo explained what went wrong, what should have happened, what was learned, and what good came out of it.

Here is another question. How did the advocates for evil, even torture, in our prisons, get that way? Is it something about how they were treated as children? Obviously so, in ways we have only partial knowledge of, but that is only part of the answer. What else is there, and what can we do about that?

I'm glad you asked.

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Reposted from Readers and Book Lovers by Mokurai

In this week's break from the science of Republicanthink we are indulging in maximum snark instead. Certainly we need it when we want to understand the John Birch Society, either in its original form in the 1950s, or in its Koch brothers form today, when it is almost exactly the same thing.

We can laugh at them, but actual observation shows that they have almost no sense of humor. You can tell by looking at the Mallard Fillmore strip in the funny papers, which Republicans claim to find hilarious. Or by the racist jokes they tell about the President. Here is Walt Kelly's take.

Mole: Remember, forewarned is forearmed.

Deacon Mushrat: I suppose an octopus is twice as well off? Hee hee?

Mole: What's that?

Deacon: It's a joke…it's funny…eight-armed is twice as good as fore-armed.

Mole: I don't get it…there's nothing funny about this business.

Deacon: I won't laugh at anything even if you say it.

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Reposted from Readers and Book Lovers by Mokurai

It is an article of faith in much of the Right that the only way to oppose tyrants and fanatics, whether Nazis, Communists, or ISIS, is with tyranny and fanaticism. Experience shows those willing to learn from it that both sides, indeed multiple sides can be wrong, and that building a just society works better. Science can go further, as we have seen in several areas of study described in the books we have been reading for this series. We know much more than we used to about how such people think and how such movements operate, and also about how to counter them short of war, hot or cold.

It is therefore instructive to go back and look at a seminal work on the subject, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, by Eric Hoffer, from 1951, when the science delving into Hitler and Stalin was in its infancy. (Free PDF) What did Hoffer get right, and what did he get wrong?

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Reposted from kos by Mokurai
A poll worker hands a sticker to a voter at a polling place in Charlotte, North Carolina October 27, 2012. REUTERS/Chris Keane
The GOP's biggest fear: voters.
Guy Cecil, head honcho at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (and rumored finalist for Hillary Clinton's campaign manager gig):
“Getting out the vote and protecting voter rights are critical to who controls the majority,” [Cecil] said, adding that the DSCC was especially concerned about North Carolina and Arkansas.

“There is a clear pattern in this country,” he added. “Where there are Democratic governors and Democratic legislatures, states are working very hard to think about how they can expand access to voting: vote by mail, online voting, early voting, Sunday voting.

“In places where there are Republican governors and legislatures there are moves to restrict access to the voting booth; require only a certain form of identification, limit the number of early vote locations, eliminate Sunday voting.”

If Republicans truly believed this was a center-right nation, and that they had the support of the populace, they'd be working hard to make sure everyone voted. They'd be fighting hard for universal voter registration, and work to open up polls for longer periods of time, or even transition entirely to vote-by-mail.

But they don't believe any of that. They know they are a minority, and a shrinking one, and the only way to retain any modicum of power is to keep as many people from voting. Democratic base groups help them out by failing to turn out in mid-term elections, and it's a propensity they are more than happy to encourage.

Republicans have lost the American people. Every vote they work to suppress confirms that.

Reposted from Readers and Book Lovers by Mokurai

These are the Americans you are most afraid of, because they are not afraid of themselves.

Authoritarianism is something authoritarian followers and authoritarian
leaders cook up between themselves. It happens when the followers submit too
much to the leaders, trust them too much, and give them too much leeway to do
whatever they want—which often is something undemocratic, tyrannical and
brutal…I'm going to present the case in this book that the greatest threat to American democracy today arises from a militant authoritarianism that has become a cancer upon the nation.
We know a lot, scientifically, about Authoritarian Republicans. Or we would if enough of us were paying attention. Very few of us read about this research, even the non-technical accounts such as Robert Altemeyer gives us in The Authoritarians. Fewer believe it, and fewer act on it.

Robert Altemeyer can explain a lot about Republicans. What he cannot explain is Democrats who do not take this information seriously, who mostly don't want to know about it or believe it if they do hear of it. Neither can I.

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Reposted from Readers and Book Lovers by Mokurai

John Dean, of Watergate fame, as much as admits that the title of his book, Conservatives Without Conscience, is wrong. These are not the conservatives of his youth, but authoritarians. Conservatism used to be a theory of government that aimed at the public good. What we have now on the right is the intention of tearing down government so that it cannot help anybody but the rich and powerful, and indeed harms those that the Right judges unworthy and dangerous. It has turned into a War on Everybody, with none of the constraints that we expect in persons with a conscience.

Do Republicans lack conscience? Certainly not all of those who have one have been driven out, because we continue to hear of some of them finally deciding that it is too much, and denouncing the GOP publicly as they depart. I wrote about some such cases in a Diary not long ago, Conservatives With Conscience. So which ones are we talking about, in what ways? John Dean has offered to take us on a guided tour and explain his understanding of what we know scientifically about the matter.

What does it mean to lack conscience? Well you may ask.

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Reposted from Readers and Book Lovers by Mokurai

To create More and Better Democrats means to increase cooperation. Punishing cooperation is the declared Republican mission. The Evolution of Cooperation, by Robert Axelrod, proposes a theory that says they lose, and recommends particular political strategies to make it happen faster. What we want to know, of course, is when and how they lose, and how those strategies speed things up.

The theory has been proved, in a very specific scientific sense. It fulfills the two essential requirements of a successful scientific theory:

  • It has a mathematical content, provable in itself from its definitions and axioms apart from the observable world of human interactions, implying important real-world consequences.
  • It has been verified by observation and experiment that the definitions and axioms apply under a wide range of conditions, and in many variations, so that we reliably get the results originally predicted, and more.

Even better than that, the theory can be extended in many other useful ways, with provable properties verified in the real world. We also know some limits of the theory, that is situations in which it cannot be applied usefully.

The content of the theory includes specific advantages that cooperators using certain strategies have over non-cooperators (defectors in the language of the book) in general. I will explain some of the theory, and then show how to apply it to Republicans.

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Reposted from Readers and Book Lovers by Mokurai

It is not news that the Leisure Class is socially and economically conservative, even reactionary. But we are not accustomed to seeing, as Veblen invites us to, how pervasive certain invidious habits of thought are within their own lives, and how inescapable Conservative politics seems to them.

Aristocrats, the Leisure Class in its purest form, have it almost all their own way in feudal societies, but in increasingly industrial societies new social and political forces gradually appear, based on the requirement for dealing in real causes and effects in science and technology. This eventually took the form of asserting new human rights, for women, for workers, for despised minorities, for the old, and so on. At the same time, new financial forces appeared, so that aristocrats were shoved aside by industrialists and their bankers, and in time the bankers become pure financiers, independent of industry. All of this is complicated by changes in religious doctrine and practice, some progressive, while the Religious Right became even more regressive in certain respects than the churches that supported aristocratic privilege.

In Part 1 we examined the Leisure Class principles of prowess (force and fraud), and Conspicuous Consumption, from the beginnings of the prescriptive division of labor between men and women in hunter-gatherer societies up to the heights of aristocratic privilege and ostentatious waste in palace and cathedral, and its emulation at every level of society. In Europe, the next stage began in the Renaissance, which gradually led to the age of science and industry, and thus considerations of actual cause and effect, and so on to our time, which we have proclaimed the Information Age. Let us examine how these forces play out up to our time, and consider what we might say about where they will take us next.

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Reposted from Readers and Book Lovers by Mokurai

When Mitt Romney deliberately inverted the division of society into Makers and Takers, students of Thorstein Veblen's Theory of the Leisure Class understood exactly where he was coming from. The heart of Veblen's theory is that work, especially productive work, is held to be the province of the inferior orders, while appropriation of the work of others is to be honored in the highest degree. This is the display of prowess—force or fraud, and nowadays especially financial shenanigans.

Second in importance only to the accumulation of wealth and power in such honored ways is the unmistakable demonstration that one has done it: Conspicuous Consumption in the most useless and wasteful ways that one can afford. The attainment of Too Big to Jail status is the pinnacle of both Conspicuous Consumption and prowess.

Tied in with the denigration of work, traditionally the province of women and slaves, is the reduction of women to property and status symbols; and the elevation to the highest honor of generally worse-than-useless occupations, principally war, those forms of religion that elevate the rich and powerful, politics (when only men of property could vote, or when the votes of others do not count), and the upper-class forms of sport such as hunting and polo. The corollary drawn by the rich is that the rich are more important, smarter, more moral, and more deserving of whatever they might desire than the less rich, and so on down to poor Whites in the South lording it over poor Blacks.

This is serious stuff. Veblen's account of it is also in places laugh-out-loud funny, the funniest work of non-satirical non-fiction I have ever encountered, because of the ridiculousness of those posturing so hard in seeking our approbation.

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