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Does a theory of psychology underpin your politics?

Discussion in 'Off-Topic' started by Truthy, Jul 14, 2019.

  1. Truthy

    Truthy Titular character

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    We're watching the so-called "genomics revolution" play out in real time. High-throughput sequencing and genome-wide association studies (GWAS) are shaking up our knowledge about how humans work. I'm curious about the ideological impact.

    Most of us know various flavors of the old human nature debate have been a major culture war topic and left-right divide probably since the terms "left" and "right" were coined. We've got nurture-nature, person-situation, imperfectability-vs-perfectability, blank slate vs not blank slate, and so on. At the risk of creating caricatures, it seems leftists nearly always believe that humans are extremely "malleable" and that human behaviors and outcomes are almost entirely the result of particular situations. Therefore, if we just change the situations, we can make traits we dislike vanish entirely. As far as I know, this is a watered down version of Marx's opinion on the topic. Conservatives, on the other hand, deride all this as social engineering that will inevitably collide with the reality of the imperfectability of man. Meanwhile, today's little-l liberals are more stratified, but lean towards the blank slatist position, holding that differential outcomes are almost entirely caused by differential situations/upbringings/experiences.

    My basic question is just: does it have to be this way?

    And some related questions: what assumptions about human nature undergird your political views? Are any of these necessary? E.g., can you both (a) be a leftist and (b) think humans aren't all that malleable at the end of the day? Does leftism imply some kind of blank slatism and vice versa? Is the opposite true of conservatism? What about little-l liberalism?

    A few comments on my own opinions:
    Spoiler :
    I'm a relatively strong believer in "human nature" (based on how I interpret the term, anyway) and a strong believer that genetics explains many of the (relative) differences between people who find themselves in similar historical, cultural, and economic situations.

    I.e., intelligence and personalities are mostly inherited and those go a long way in explaining differences in outcomes among, say, white American men. Children are a strange mess of crap going on, but their behaviors and abilities stabilize as they get older in accordance with the idea that people "grow into their genes." As such, education is extremely important, but not because it increases intelligence much in the long run.

    I think malleability of beliefs and behavior are an inherent part of humanity, but that itself is part of human nature. This is basically the "human-nature-as-a-series-levers" idea. There is a lot of variation in human behavior, but you get that variation by tweaking innate genetic levers. E.g., people are naturally tribal and competitive and, depending on how you target or manipulate these tendencies, you can turn them into boy scouts or into fascists. But (1) you can't really make these instincts go away and (2) an individual's susceptibility to certain levers is well-predicted by their parents.

    If many leftists share these beliefs, this fact has escaped me.

    For the record, I'm not super interested in using this as a platform to argue about the object-level topic (though I assume that's going to happen). I'm more curious about the meta-level stuff: if x is true, what does it mean for ideology y?
     
  2. Lemon Merchant

    Lemon Merchant Thread Killer Moderator Supporter

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    I'm not going to venture into the realm of politics, but I will say that humans are incredibly malleable and suggestible from a behavioral point of view. In other words, many of us are easily controlled by those able to do the controlling. Look how effectively TV adverts work to get people to buy products, or how easily we swallow fake news.

    The average human being is a stupid, brainwashable mess.
     
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  3. Narz

    Narz keeping it real

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    I believe people are too dumb to know what's good for them & are proving it everyday.

    We're like idiot teenagers who prove time & time again we can't handle freedom.

    I think we need more structure as a society, we basically need AI overlords to force us to behave. Whether we can create such overlords before we render Earth uninhabitable is anyone's guess but I'm not confident the odds are in our favor.
     
  4. Rashiminos

    Rashiminos Fool Prophet

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    My take is a variation on the nature-nurture debate, which in aggregate tends to reduce to hardware, firmware, and software. Hardware correlates mostly with the nature side of debate, in which there are only so many ways a given person can think, speak, and act, and any conditioning not cognizant of that possibility tends toward unintended, if not erroneous, results. The software description correlates with the nurture side of the debate. There is a lot of latitude for social adaptation even within a given set of base characteristics, and biological essentialism is a base pessimism regarding how much control any person has over personal behavior, let alone the behavior of other people in their milieu. Firmware, then, is meant to denote the limitations the outside world on changing a particular person's reception of input or feedback. That is to say, society does not ordinarily gain root access to a person's mind, and that fundamentally includes semantical interpretation of the world we live in. The hardware/nature doesn't fully define a person. Software/nurture cannot fully define a person. What the additional elements are, are questions of philosophy (free will/determinism) and/or religion (souls?).

    Genomics is pondering the question of what happens when we tinker with the hardware. I think we have a good enough idea already, and some of us endorse doing more of it.

    A more extremist version of this take would be to state:

    Control is an illusion.
     
    Last edited: Jul 14, 2019
  5. Broken_Erika

    Broken_Erika Nothing

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    What could possibly go wrong with tinkering the hardware?
     
  6. Rashiminos

    Rashiminos Fool Prophet

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    Biological essentialism will be overtaken by autogenerated (assuming people pick their own partners for whatever reasons they may have) if not deliberate forms of human husbandry. The present state is not permanent in any form. Race is ultimately ephemeral, as are many of those correlations.

    Blank slatism is a lure for authoritarian mindsets (this isn't to say blank slatism is incompatible with other mindsets). Just because you think you can, doesn't mean you should, or even that you'll succeed.
     
  7. bernie14

    bernie14 Filter Manipulator

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    I like bell shaped curves with big numbers in both axes, high variability
     
  8. Peuri

    Peuri Game

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    Human nature is a hard nut. Obviously our evolutionary past has effected some ways that we think and feel. Why even little children get startled when they see a snake or why we get scared of the dark, is that there are innate systems in us that cause us to react in some ways. The central question about human nature, obviously, is how much does that effect our thinking. Like is it necessary to categorize objects, for example? Could there be a form of consciousness that didn't need to label every birch as a birch, and instead treat all instances of birches as seperate objects? If we had more brain power to allocate memory for each seperate birch as a seperate object in memory, our way of thinking about the world could be radically different. So that is a way that our nature effects the ways we think. It's not that culture is not malleable, that would be an idiotic position to hold, but that the sort of emotions and ways of thinking that underpin all culture is our nature. That nature can manifest in different ways in culture, but that doesn't mean there is no human nature, because we can symbolically attach things to those innate systems. Like the way we treat our dogs is a co-opting of all sorts of systems regarding theory of mind and perhaps even baby rearing. What we really need is a sort of evolutio-behavioral psycho-semantics to bridge the gap between the findings of genetics, evolutionary psychology and the humanities. And of course, that innate human nature is malleable too through evolution or genetic tinkering. Everything is flux in the end.

    This sort of malleability is only skin deep. Sure we can change who wears tunics and who wears pants etc., but to me the argument about human nature is more about our innate ways of thinking and emotions. Take the family for example. There have been religious and secular communities that have tried to sever the natural contact that (most) humans have to their children, but usually that ends up in a failure. Why? Because people are naturally primed to care about their offspring. Sure, not everyone is, but then again human nature doesn't need to mean that every single person is the same innately, indeed "human" is just a category we force upon nature in order to talk about nature. Would that even make sense in an evolutionary way? Of course there has to be variations in human nature, because if the environment changes, some other traits could be beneficial.

    But not the I, right? :mischief:

    Well, all this goes to the question of what should we even do and why? Freedom is just crowd sourcing that question to each individual instead of everyone succumbing to a totalitarian culture that purports to know better. Why some women vote for anti-abortionists, "why, they are just dumb" is a misguided way of looking at it. They think it is in their best interest, because they have a different sort of moral system that doesn't value the WEIRD (western, educated, industrialized, rich, democratic) morals. I don't think we'd be much happier under an AI rule. We are chronically unhappy, because happiness is just a motivator for action. If we were happy, why do anything? Renounce happiness, I say! Maybe we could be happy if we were ruled by an AI if it pumps us full of drugs in increasing quantities, but is that a life worth living? I don't think so. That's why I think visions of bodily Heaven are terrifying. Life is the struggle for us humans. If we are no longer human, well then, anything is possible I guess.

    In all honesty we don't know much of anything yet. Any attempt to tinker with the genome of polygenic traits will undoubtedly lead to some unintended consequences. But, we'll still do it, and down the line, we'll think thoughts again about gene editing in the lines of "why did someone not think beforehand that maybe it's not a good idea to dump all this plastic into the ocean".

    But it is an interesting question. If possible, should we edit our genes in a way that makes people feel madly in love with their partner and never cheat? Should we remove male aggression? Should we remove genes that effect the onset of anxiety disorder (if there are those). What is a human then? Who gets to decide what we should be? Do we diverge into different species? Does it even matter?
     
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2019
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  9. Mouthwash

    Mouthwash Escaped Lunatic

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    As a gay person born before the third millennium, you're probably aware of how skin-deep that malleability is.
     
  10. Lexicus

    Lexicus Warlord

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    Viewing politics through the lens of psychology instead of...politics is a 20th century liberal trap
     
  11. Rashiminos

    Rashiminos Fool Prophet

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    Politics is about power, and He-Man has got it.
     
  12. EnglishEdward

    EnglishEdward Chieftain

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    Human beings are flawed.

    This used to be argued from common sense (look what he did) and religious viewpoints (only God is perfect).

    However modern brain science tends to confirm this too.

    However all institutions and systems set up to rectify the limitations of human nature inherently have flaws too.

    Therefore it is from a poltical point important that free speech and choice exists to examine and limit
    power and hold it to account, and that there is a mixture of systems to prevent a lock in to disaster.
     
  13. AmazonQueen

    AmazonQueen Virago

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    Conservatives are pessimists, liberals/socialists are optimists.
     
  14. EnglishEdward

    EnglishEdward Chieftain

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    An optimist may consider he lives in the best world possible, a pessimist may fear that the optimist is right.
     
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  15. Hehehe

    Hehehe Chieftain

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    I don't think of it as a specific theory of psychology underpinning my politics, it's more that my politics are informed by reality. But yes, it is fairly obvious to anyone who knows anything about genetics research that humans are not blank slates. We can debate about the software, but it's definitely true that we aren't all running the same hardware. I find the research fascinating. For example, there is a gene variant that has been linked to social sensitivity and collectivist attitudes. What this means is that some people are basically somewhat destined to follow the masses. I suspect that eventually, they will also find a gene variant that governs religiosity. We already know that religious tendencies are heritable. A lot of personality traits are also more or less heritable.
    No, it doesn't. Gene editing is fast becoming a reality, and if we can come to grips with it, it could lead humanity to a new golden age. We could create people whose genius is unparalleled. Of course, before that can happen, we'd need to drag a lot of science-deniers to the 21st century.
    I consider myself a leftist on most issues, and to me, the genetics revolution simply explains why so many of the leftist environmental interventions have failed.
    That doesn't preclude the possibility that some people might be more susceptible to this than others, due to genetic reasons.

    Who decides what is good for people? They themselves, or some outside entity?

    I suspect that, if we could and would do that, evolution would quickly redevelop it, simply because aggression can be an incredibly useful trait to the individual (in some circumstances) even if it might be harmful to the community as a whole.
     
  16. Truthy

    Truthy Titular character

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    I kinda disagree with this knowing full well you're a psychologist. So here goes.

    The first thing is the way you cast "malleability" suggests an incredible ease of manipulation that goes beyond what is actually common in our species. Ease of influence or persuasion seem more accurate. So in particular, I'm concerned by your use of the term "brainwash." To me, brainwashing = "things cults do" = "mind control, basically." You reinforce this interpretation yourself with the use of the word "control." But there's a world of difference between brainwashing and persuasion. And brainwashing, as distinct from suggestion or persuasion, isn't really a thing to my knowledge. Cults have extremely low retention rates, sometimes building up thousands of members, almost all of whom quit after a year or two, leaving a tiny group of fanatics who were probably super mentally ill to begin with. Plus, cults are hardly relevant IMO; not what you'd expect in a world where humans are easy-controllable brainwashable messes. Next, the intelligence agencies of the US, USSR, China, DPRK, etc. have never succeeded in brainwashing, unless you count some very extreme physical interventions. Meanwhile, religious organizations and ideologies, commonly described as cults, survive by providing material and social benefits to their members, not brainwashing. Finally, I don't think ads are brainwashing anymore than my grandma is when she triggers a dopamine response by baking me cookies, which helps convince me I should like her. Edit: in fact, I don't even think ads are all that effective, especially considering how much effort, money, and time goes into them.

    Another thing is I'd read this post and get the impression something like parenting very obviously has massive influences on children. Yet psychology constantly fails to find much of an impact of parenting on the outcomes of children. Rather, one of its most consistent and shocking results is that it's actually extremely hard to find impacts of parenting. I'm not sure how to square this with "humans are incredibly malleable."

    Perhaps the key is that getting someone to buy something or join a religion isn't the same as, say, altering traits. It's an example of pulling a lever. An issue I have is that I find a lot of people observe exactly what you've said, but then conclude it contradicts the idea of human nature or innateness. I think it bolsters them. If you can predictably influence a system, I think you know a lot about some consistent "nature" of the system. And, importantly, the influencing seems to work in a pretty confined space in the grand scheme of things. You target dopamine responses, sex drive, status, feelings of acceptance by the community, feelings of safety, and cognitive biases. Now this can help you sell beer or win converts, sure. But at the end of the day, you effect changes in behavior by going after aspects of psychology that are very stable across time and cultures. It works because human nature is a thing and the genetic influences on behavior are so strong. Yet, because these traits are so robust and stable, suggestion is somewhat easy, but permanently changing a person, as "brainwashing" connotes, is very hard. Unless you tap into the reward system and induce some kind of addiction, it won't really work. And, as I tried to suggest in the OP, people's susceptibility to different forms of influence is super genetic.

    Wrapping this up, I find a lot of people think what you're saying implies our personalities, abilities, dispositions, and so on aren't largely--or mostly--inherited. I frankly don't get how one really reaches that conclusion, yet people very often do. I think the extremely high concordance in obesity among twins illustrates why this is such a weird thing for people to think

    I think human husbandry, as you call it, has been going on forever. It's gene-culture coevolution.

    I thought the first response was gonna be something like "duhhh all psychology is political and all politics is psychological. Ever hear of Hobbes, Locke, Marx, or Foucault??"

    Anyway, you're a leftist. The whole "false consciousness" is a theory of psychology that has always seemed like a variant of blank slatism to me. Does it matter much for the revleft if this theory is correct or not?
     
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2019
  17. AdamCrock

    AdamCrock Master of Darkness

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    I agree on everything except TV adverts . I cannot possibly imagine any single person who likes to watch commercials. Everyone knows everything they say on them is a lie (sometimes they use cheap tricks like painting food to look better etc.) I don't know anyone who would believe that sort of TV c**p - even if he's/she's dumb as a stick . Why producers still air them is a mystery to me.
     
  18. Broken_Erika

    Broken_Erika Nothing

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    Eugenics wars, here we come! Woot!
     
  19. Lexicus

    Lexicus Warlord

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    False consciousness is not so much a foundational point of leftism as it is an ad hoc explanation for why leftists don't always win elections.

    The psychologization of politics occurred in the 20th century when US liberals (and perhaps liberals in other countries) decided that social problems could be explained in terms of individual psychology rather than social-structural factors. The main context for this was race and "race relations" in the United States: it was asserted that racial disparities and discrimination were due to prejudice and bigotry rather than structurally baked into the workings of liberal capitalism. This logic has exploded as a consequence of the neoliberal ideological turn starting in the 70s; compulsive methodological individualism is now so pervasive it is all but unnoticeable, and the various attempts to reduce politics to psychology are reflective of that.
     
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  20. TheMeInTeam

    TheMeInTeam Top Logic

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    Humans ARE malleable, but they're also not born equal in potential/capacity to produce, for any coherent measure of production. Short of modifying the body with sci-fi prosthetics or hopping in a car, most people can never match Usain Bolt's running speed. Similarly, most people straight up lack the capacity to be at the level of Nobel-winning physicists, no matter what or how they study. Some people don't have the capacity for common/basic tasks, through no fault of their own, and no amount of teaching can get them there.

    Yet most everybody can improve substantially otherwise and have massively different outcomes given different situations.

    These are both part of reality, and it's detrimental to ignore either. I don't know where that puts me politically on this question and I don't care.

    Eugenics will happen regardless. Some country is going to be willing to do it, and they will attain a massive advantage over places that don't over time. It's somewhat of a nightmare scenario if it isn't adopted to at least some degree worldwide, as you would at that point have literally superior people, on average, to a ridiculous scale.

    The easy in for it to get started is allowing parents to guarantee against crippling and/or life-threatening disorders in their children, but eventually people will start paying to control for more capable children and I don't see a viable method to stop this. I'm also not convinced it should be stopped. I do worry, however, about who gets to decide on what sorts of alterations matter. There's at least some risk for new generations to be made intentionally docile or even to have genetically engineered stratification/classes of human beings, and that's not the sci-fi future I'd prefer we take as a species. But I could picture how it could happen and short of something like the AI singularity happening earlier (and pushing us post-scarcity rather than killing us all or something) it at least seems to be a non-trivial risk.
     

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