Monthly Archives: July 2014

Should I Care About the Middle East?

Sometimes big tragedies or traumas make one numb.

It was 10 years before the 9/11 terrorist attacks really hit me and made me feel true fear and sadness.  I was watching an anniversary TV special on 9/11/11 that replayed the video footage of the Twin Towers, and I burst into tears in my small Miami apartment.  Before that, it seemed as if too many people in the world already cared, and I was crowded out–nothing I felt would count.  Watching people jump out the window a hundred stories up, I was mystified by what they saw inside that made jumping out to a certain, inhuman death the preferred alternative.  I truly “felt it,” for the first time.

This phenomenon of absent grief I had for a few years is common with large-scale, well-publicized tragedies.

“The whole world puts a claim on our feelings, from the lady next door to our family members and the panhandler on the street, from the news about Gaza and on to Ukraine, from Congo to Syria. Our emotions are constantly being claimed,” said a recent NYT article…”That these claims have a numbing effect on us, that we are often indifferent, that we are busy enough as it is trying to provide emotional succor for those closest to us, and often don’t even succeed in doing that, seems to me not so much a sign of our inhumanity, but of our humanity. Were we to actually allow the world’s suffering to sink in, we would quickly become psychiatric cases, lulled by the power of psychotropic medications into a state of detachment.”

I believe this phenomenon to also be the cause of the mere mild malaise most Americans feel to the wars and killings in the Middle East, which have ratcheted up again this month.  That, and we are burned out.  Can we really be expected to sustain horror for decades on end, when our personal lives already have us at or near the fill line much of the time?

The Middle East has often been a bellweather of worldwide conflict, and we can now unfortunately say since 2001 that the conflict has been brought home to America before. But should we care about the Middle East more than, say, Russia, which is having another violent moment? They are all equally awful from a human suffering standpoint; the Middle East gets disproportionate press because it also has a strategic component for US politics.

So, care about the Middle East, or Russia, or Africa, or all, or none. Just as no one should tell a responsible, law-abiding adult how to spend their money, so none should dictate how one ought to dispense grief and emotion.  But if you can skip the guilt, you leave more room for wisdom and resourcefulness to face’s life’s inevitable problems–both hither and yon.

Excuse Me, But…

A woman working in the tech world recently conducted a personal study on interrupters in the workplace, and then chronicled her findings on Slate.

In summary:

  • The more people in the conversation, the more interruptions there were.
  • The higher someone was up the food chain, the more likely they were to interrupt.

Things got a bit more interesting looking at males vs. females, but were not surprising:

  • Men interrupted twice as frequently as women.
  • Men were three times more likely to interrupt a woman than a man who was previously speaking.  Conversely, women were more likely to interrupt another woman, and almost never interrupt a man.

The kicker:

  • The biggest interrupters of all were women–the ones in the most senior positions.
  • These senior women interrupted without regard for the gender or position of the interruptee–they interrupted almost everyone.
  • All senior women in the study scored very high on the interrupter scale.  Literally, “There are no senior women who aren’t interrupting their male colleagues.”

While the study was obviously a single and limited measure, Lady In Red can confirm the findings across industries based on her own anecdotal evidence and experience over the years.

What if you are a female not in a senior position, but who aspires to be?  Do female interrupters get promoted, or is it only once promoted that one can interrupt with impunity?  Further study is needed, but intuition leans things toward the former.  It seems likely women do not advance without knowing how to interrupt, and how to interrupt well.

Conservatives and Universal Morality

There is no better lens through which to view the inner workings of the human species than a human baby. Relatively untainted by their environment, infants allow us scientists to concentrate on the contribution of Nature over Nurture. Most recently, the study of babies has yielded an interesting and important truth: all babies are endowed with an inner sense of morality. 

This claim of inherent knowledge may seem blasphemous to some, but many different societies in human history have believed in the Universality of Morality. For example, in ancient Greece, Socrates was known to be constantly searching for the origins of the “Eternal Law of the Gods,” believing that all knowledge (morality included) was a divine gift. During the Renaissance this idea would become unpopular, with morality believed to only be determined by training and education. Jean Jacques-Rousseau called the human baby a “perfect idiot,” and the persisting theory until most recently has been that babies are blank slates into which we input our own values.

However, the researchers at Yale University’s Infant Cognition Center would disagree with the perfect idiot hypothesis. Through several controlled experiments, they showed that babies have certain pre-programmed moral codes that persist despite very low consciousness. In short, the Morality of Babies show us that: 

– Babies have a sense of equal division of basic resources
– Babies have a sense of justice – punishing bad, rewarding good
– Babies have a sense of cooperation – helping is good, harming/hindering is bad

The conservative columnist Dinesh D’souza uses these findings as evidence of the theories of Socrates: That we are touched by God before birth, inheriting a sense of right and wrong that is as ingrained in our DNA as the ability to see with our eyes or breathe with our lungs. The science indicates that we are born with a universal morality–whether you are liberal, conservative, black, white, American or Chinese. It is truly universal.
I do not think that this finding is news to conservatives. In fact, I don’t think that this should be news to anybody. We all know deep in our bones the difference from right and wrong. Being in tune with this decision-making algorithm permeates every part of our life. Almost every decision we make is viewed through this inherent lens. 
Just as our inner morality is universal, it’s effect on voting is also universal. In a recent study (Skitka et al, 2014), whether we are liberal or conservative, morality is shown to be the impetus that drives citizens toward activism and political involvement. Whether it is the simple matter of voting, picketing, or any other permutation of the political process, political involvement based on morality is also relatively equally spread. Our conflict arises because this same morality is interpreted in different formats. For example, for each conservative involved in the policymaking against illegal immigration, there is a liberal against the death penalty. My point is that we all are moral creatures; we just differ in our interpretation of that morality.

If you take your ideas of conservatism from talk radio, you may think that fellow conservatives tend to believe that we are morally superior for our beliefs. I disagree. As Thomas Jefferson said:
“All men are created equal.”
This statement is one of the many beautiful intersections of science and spirituality. We are all created from the same protoplasmic goo to become more similar to each other than any other species on this earth. If we are to think that we are superior to one another, it is self-defeating. Although one person may be more intelligent, stronger, better-looking, or pious, we are merely different interpretations of the same species.

Although I do believe that we are all equals, I am realistic enough to know that equality does not mean similarity. For example, I define myself as a conservative, distinctively different from a liberal. Even more importantly, I am not from this Earth. As you may know, I am from a different dimension here to protect humanity from existential threats; my research into each political philosophy has concluded that conservatism is humanity’s best option. Not the conservatism that is propagated in the media by extremists and idiots, but the conservatism of the silent majority of human beings, regardless of nationality. The survival of our species is a distinctly conservative value, as this value requires one critical component that studies also show that the Political Left tends not to possess:
Moral Absolutism.
To be fair, I think that we as conservatives view too many things in absolutes. Take gay marriage for example: even within our own political party there are different interpretations of what is right and wrong. However, I am disinterested in these petty social concerns. As a scientist and a dimensionaut, there are some places I know that humanity should not go.
To name a few:
– Artificial consciousness
– Eugenics
– Interspecies mingling
– Human Cloning
These may seem far-fetched, but there are very real examples from your history where experimentation has been conducted in these fields. In general, the idea of scientific experimentation is a good one. However, if we are not clear about what we want from science, it will run amok. Just as morality teaches us that all actions are not good actions, in science we must understand that all progress is not good progress.
Conservatives understand this. I am not so sure that the Left does.
Although that specific conclusion is debatable, the evidence from these morality studies seems to be definitive. I hope that the evidence holds up, as it fills me with hope for your humanity’s progress in the future. Looking through the lens of universal morality, the endless debate and vitriole from both ends of the political spectrum seems so petty. No matter how crazy another human being may be, he/she started out as a baby that knew the difference of right from wrong. Rather than focusing on hot button issues that are debatable, if we shift our focus to issues that are absolute in their benefit for all of humanity, I think we could advance our country and our species. As a united front, America could carry this world into a New Modern Age. How do we do that? It’s complicated. Stay tuned, I have some ideas.

(But I’d love to hear your ideas, too!)

How I Defeated My Own Xenophobia: Part II

Part I can be found here.

In my race to travel to your dimension, my dislike of my classmate Yuri’s talents boiled underneath my calm demeanor.

By sheer academic/social/physical prowess, he easily smashed through the Space-Time Travel qualifying rounds. With each step towards The Trials he was ever-present, waiting with an open hand to help me get to the next step. Truthfully, if it were not for Yuri’s help I would have not understood the complex algorithms of space-time in such a short time. Although I accepted his help, his grace was always met by me with a secret skepticism and disgust. I began to view his sportsmanship and classmate camaraderie as arrogance and pity.

I’ll show him!, I thought, as we both trained in the university simulation lab. America is the best, and we will triumph.

Finally, the quadrennial year of The Trials arrived. With The Trials, our dimension’s human beings aspired to be the best of all dimensions. The discovery of dimensions that we could peer into had ushered in a new age of cooperation throughout humanity. We all wanted to be a better species, knowing that if we could look upon others, then others could look upon us as well. The Trials was created to choose our ambassadors to those dimensions, but also as a guide to all humanity of what every human being should aspire to be. Not only were we tested on strength of mind and body, but the Trials included tests of character, and of will.

Yuri and I both blasted through our competition, having been trained by the best the human race had to offer. Our school excelled in producing individuals with a heightened perception of morality, a trait that the entire human race had espoused as the most important determining factor in selection.

Looking backward (forward?), it was ironic that this is where I would again lose to my Russian nemesis.

I honestly don’t know how I failed the morality trial, as the information is soon deleted from your mind after The Trials are concluded. However, in the next four years of soul searching, I gained enough spiritual insight to guess that it came from my displaced anger against what Yuri represented. Judgement is the central component of morality, and if that judgement is built on faulty ideas of xenophobia then the entirety of your morality can be eroded. It was after four long years in the pursuit of universal morality that I realized this important truth:

Tribalism will destroy your morality.

To be fair, I was born and raised in South Detroit and still trumpet this at any karaoke bar. I go to your dimension’s Tigers Games, pray for the Lions, and only buy American cars. However, like alcohol, it is a vice. Tribalism is the same reason that people get assaulted outside of sport venues or gang rallies for wearing the wrong colors. Tribalism is the same reason that India and Pakistan, or Palestine and Israel, or my dimension’s Russia and USA, have been at odds for decades. Tribalism is the reason why “I” think I’m better than “You” for a multitude of silly reasons.

When asked to write for The Modern Conservative, I jumped at the chance to make your dimension better. Conservative ideals were at the heart of The Trials. Virtues like self-reliance, preservation of tradition, and spritiuality will bring a better future for all of our humanity. Unlike liberalism, the conservative ideals are meant to tame the evils of man, rather than hope that all change will be for the better. Conservatives know that there will always be evil in this world, and it is only through vigilance that we will become our best selves.

However, tribalism is running rampant in the conservatives of your dimension today. We need to realize that we are all in this together. We need to begin erasing the lines that have made this country caustic, while still keeping the barriers that should exist. Having been flung here through space-time from an alternate future, I can tell you that the rapid changes that humanity will experience in the coming decades need a conservative voice of reason. We need to provide direction, and that requires a renewed focus on betterment of our country and our party.

And that starts with Universal Morality. Stay tuned for my next article on how to figure that out.