Breaking: Holland drops A-bomb on millions of people!


Full-scale war may start: Friend, do you want to avoid the atavistic impulses which lead to full-blown tribal war?

The impulse to war is bred in us all. If you want to avoid that prehistoric impulse, we’ll make two suggestions:

First, challenge the idea that people come in well-defined types. Example:

Suppose a study shows that members of Tribe A are more likely to do X, Y or Z, as compared to members of Tribe B.

In that case, pay attention to the key term, “more likely.” Is the other tribe more likely to hold some view? If so, always ask yourself this: how much more likely?

You may end up learning that The Others are only five percent more likely to hold the view in question. By way of contrast, Goofus will decide that Those People all think that way!

Try to pretend you’re Ed McMahon! Always ask this: “How much more likely are they?” Until you’re told, you shouldn’t assume that the difference in question is vast.

Friend, here comes our second piece of advice: Try to avoid handling bombs!

Halfway through his discussion with Chris Mooney, Joshua Holland unsheathed a very powerful bomb. For yesterday's discussion, click this.

Before Holland unsheathed his bomb, this exchange occurred:
HOLLAND (10/31/13): Let’s dig a bit deeper into Haidt’s moral foundation theory. In your Mother Jones interview with Haidt you have a graph comparing how liberals, conservatives, and then also libertarians score on what Haidt calls the “seven moral foundations.” And when you look at the graph, the biggest disparities between liberals and conservatives—and, again, libertarians—are “purity” and “authority.” That’s where you see the biggest gaps between the groups. What is purity in Haidt’s reckoning?

MOONEY: Purity is basically whether you feel moral emotions when someone does something you view as disgusting or indecent. A lot of this is going to involve your judgments about what’s sexually proper, but it could be other things that are disgusting. Basically, this is a way of measuring the emotion of disgust, and what this shows—this is the most striking disparity of all of them—is that liberals and libertarians really don’t sense disgust very much. And they’re together on that completely. There’s an amazing number of things that liberals and libertarians are together on. But conservatives feel it much more than either of them. And so this can explain a great deal in politics—it’s most regularly invoked to explain gay rights and how people respond to that, which I think is very appropriate. But I think it also gets into a lot of bioethical issues.
Hold on there. Careful, friend!

In this exchange, Mooney says that conservatives feel the moral foundation Haidt calls disgust “much more” than liberals do. According to Mooney, liberals “really don’t sense disgust very much.”

If you want to avoid being atavistic, you should be careful when you find yourself saying things like that. For ourselves, we see liberals expressing disgust, or something in the same ballpark, on a fairly regular basis.

As with his other “moral foundations,” Haidt’s concept of “disgust” is a bit imprecise. Here as elsewhere, it all depends on what Haidt is willing to categorize as “disgust.”

It all depends on what the meaning of disgust is!

Careful, friend! In our view, history teaches this basic lesson:

When you find yourself believing that The Other Tribe is very different in some basic way, you ought to make sure you understand the basis for that judgment.

Haidt deals with some very fuzzy concepts, including the concept of “disgust.” Especially when dealing with fuzzy concepts, folk should be careful about jumping to sweeping conclusions about Those People. Otherwise, you may find yourself saying things like this:
HOLLAND (continuing directly): And we’ve discussed authority before. That’s really central to understanding the conservative mindset. There’s been a lot of research on the so-called authoritarian personality type, and I want to connect this with the idea of political polarization.

One of the things that we understand about authoritarians is that they have a stronger sense of the importance of loyalty to one’s own in-group. How does that factor into this equation, do you think?
Uh-oh! Possibly primed by Mooney’s last statement, Holland pulls out an A-bomb! Just like that, he introduces the idea that we’re talking about “authoritarian personalities” here.

He also introduces the notion that we have been discussing something call “the conservative mindset.” That almost sounds like a set of ideas, impulses and instincts every conservative holds.

Earlier in this conversation, Holland and Mooney were discussing different tendencies, differences in degree. The two tribal groups experience the same basic types of feelings; they just tend to have those feelings to different degrees.

All of a sudden, the other tribe is deemed to have a “mindset.” And a very unpleasant and imprecise term has been hauled in for use.

In the past decade, we liberals have been inclined the drop those A-bombs all around. The other tribe? They’re authoritarian!

It can feel very good to say that!

That said, do we really know what we mean by that claim? Terms like that lead us to war.

Tomorrow: How careful is Holland with his bomb? Does Mooney approve of its use?


  1. While this "social science" research may be somewhat dubious, we do have actual experience to refer to.

    When a self-described born-again Evangelical christian's conception of "morality" resolves around an inexhaustible obsession with sexual behavior and lowering taxes, to the exclusion (say) of income inequality, corporate behavior and U.S. invasions of third-countries, it doesn't take a Ph.D to conclude that morality has little to do with these public policy expressions.

    Are there equivalents in the liberal world? You can find "fanatics" in the animal rights' movement and some factions of environmental protest, but these are hardly mass movements or allied to liberals generally, whereas the right-wing has dozens of well-funded "morality" scolds and it routinely exploits these preoccupations in the Republican mainstream for votes.

    Of course, Bob would point to Rachel Maddow, Gail Collins and Lawrence O'Donnell as examples of liberal mania, but he's the only one in the nation who promotes this curious point of view.

    So, if we're all the same, where are the liberal fanatics who want (for example) to criminalize non-violent conduct between two consenting adults? Or who seek to jail "racists", real or imagine? Or who form militias, or acquire personal arsenals, to thwart the imminent right-wing take-over of the government?

    Of course, examples can always be found at the fringes. But the Republican fringe is the mainstream, commanding large numbers. Where is the equivalent liberal mania?

    1. Greenpeace, Code Pink, ACLU, PETA, Vegans, the attachment parenting movement, anti-vaccine parents, etc.

    2. Hilarious troll is hilarious.

      Wanting to know "how much different" groups are is the same as asserting ""we're all the same!"

    3. Thank you, anon 1:20, for providing a telling example of conservative intolerance (and selective reading comprehension).

      Even forgetting that the likes of PETA, et al., were acknowledged in the post, and aren't associated with liberalism, much less the Democratic party any more than "anti-vaccine parents" are, your view of the ACLU (not to mention Vegans) illustrates the point exactly.

      You simply can't endure any organization which doesn't promote your narrow interests, even in the case of the non-partisan ACLU -- whose director recently said publically that he's disgusted with Obama. would have thought that this 1980s trope -- ACLU is pack of Reds -- was long exhausted and that even conservatives see value in a vigorous defense of personal liberty -- but apparently not in these quarters.

      One also has to wonder how, exactly, Vegans threaten your livelihood or well-being. Menacing you, perhaps, with organic carrots? But of course, that's not the issue: you just can't the idea that they exist.

      As for anon 2:02 -- based on your post, one might also conclude that conservatives are congentially incoherent. If you expect a response, kindly make your posts intelligible.

    4. You are confusing the content of the cases the ACLU takes with the politics of the people who support the organization. You are also confusing the people who support the organizations with donations with those who engage in actions, especially extreme actions on behalf of their causes.

    5. When a self-described born-again Evangelical christian's conception of "morality" resolves around an inexhaustible obsession with sexual behavior and lowering taxes, to the exclusion (say) of income inequality,

      Hear hear. There is no link between sexual behavior and poverty, taxes and inequality.

    6. There is no link between sexual behavior and poverty, taxes and inequality.

      I don't care how other people conduct their sex lives. However, there is indeed an indirect link between sexual behavior and poverty, because sexual behavior is associated with successful marriage. For whatever reason, married people are much wealthier than single people. Single people are much likelier to live in poverty.

      Married people pay more taxes, not only because they're wealthier, but because of the "marriage penalty" in income tax. (Several years ago, Congress faced-up to the marriage penalty. Unfortunately, they reduced the marriage penalty some, but didn't eliminate it.)

  2. Here is part of the problem with this discussion. Holland says: "George Lakoff says that our brains have both liberal and conservative moral circuits — if you will — neural pathways. And when one set gets activated again and again it grows stronger and the other set becomes weaker. How does Fox and the right wing blogs and the whole conservative media bubble play into this pattern of polarization, if we accept Lakoff’s argument?"

    George Lakoff is a linguistics professor at Berkeley and his only empirical studies have been of metaphor (and he didn't do a lot of those). There is no such thing as a liberal or conservative moral circuit in the brain, no specific neurons or pathways for moral conservatism. This is at best a labored metaphor for saying that if people practice thinking a certain way they will tend to think that way in the future. Cloaking this in pseudoscientific nonsense is specious.

    But, credulous interviewers and pundits (Janeanne Garofalo comes to mind) do not recognize that this is pseudoscience, that Lakoff is propagandizing not reporting science. Milgram showed that nearly everyone responds to authority by conforming. The graphs show means somewhere in the middle on all of the measures, for all of the groups. That doesn't suggest extreme differences, as Bob notes. It does show statistically significant differences, and that is what researchers report -- they don't talk about how important such differences are or what they might mean in terms of everyday politics.

    Since we are dividing people into groups, there are "lumpers" and "splitters." The lumpers focus on similarities and tend to form fewer categories on sorting tasks. They look for broad underlying commonalities that unite people -- they would emphasize universality in cross-cultural comparisons. The splitters focus on differences and tend to form more categories when sorting things into piles. They look for distinctions between people and would emphasize cultural relativity and differences between people in cross-cultural comparisons. Both processes are essential to cognition. Professors use "compare and contrast" questions and always ask for "similarities and differences" to try to teach students to think in terms of both. These discussions should do the same, in my opinion.

  3. Come on, Bob. There is good disgust and bad disgust. There is good disgust over other people being disgusted over things that shouldn't disgust and then there is bad disgust over other people doing things that aren't disgusting. Everybody knows which types of disgust represent very moral tolerance and which represent disgusting prejudice and bigotry.

    1. Haidt studied the emotion of disgust with Paul Rozin, a food researcher at Univ. of Pennsylvania. Rozin found that about 7% of people show no disgust at all over things like eating bugs and there is a lot of individual difference about what things people find physically disgusting. He explored whether physical disgust (evolved to keep us from eating/drinking bad things) is co-opted and applied to moral judgments and to maintain social status, as when higher castes are disgusted by untouchables in Indian society. Disgust can be attached to anything a person disapproves of. The visceral bodily response seems to give such cultural and learned responses a kind of validity (as if they are eternally true in the world, not personal or acquired). But ultimately, feeling that something is yucky or having it make you nauseous doesn't privilege a person's belief system. People who feel that way do tend to think it means their reactions are innate, God-given, true and unchangeable, not like other people's opinions. I think that confuses the issue because it places some ideas off the table for discussion and change.

  4. There is no such thing as a liberal or conservative moral circuit in the brain, no specific neurons or pathways for moral conservatism.

    Say it ain't so.

  5. So, if we're all the same, where are the liberal fanatics who want (for example) to criminalize non-violent conduct between two consenting adults?

    Where are the conservative fanatic bigot mayors who try to use the force of government to prevent specific sandwich shops from opening in their cities, because they don't like the personal views of the owners?

    1. I lived in Berkeley and there were more rules there imposed by the city than in Irvine, CA.

    2. The mayor of Boston backed off his claims. In Chicago, it's an alderman. He at first said he'd stop Chick-Fil-A then changed his mind and evidently changed back. It's a legal loser

      You're right that it's a legal loser but don't mistake backing off because of legal realities to what these fanatics would do if they thought they could get away with it.

      Fanatical right wingers back off certain efforts as well for the same reason, when the political or legal writing is on the wall.

      But don't mistake "backing off" for sudden distaste for authoritarian impulses. The left demonstrates them just as much if not more than the right, more so every day.

    3. "So, if we're all the same..."

      I realize, you're quoting idiot troll at 1:02.

      But, where does this bullshit premise come from? Did Somerby say we're all the same, in terms of authoritarian tendency?

      No, he didn't.

    4. In my experience right wingers (the fanatical is mostly redundant) don't ever back off. Menino, at the time the mayor of Boston, called his Chick-Fil-A threat a mistake and acknowledged that his interference would infringe on the company's rights.

      Most people in power probably get "authoritarian impulses" now and then. Like a Chicago alderman. But when he's lost Salon and Mother Jones, it's hard to maintain that "the left" is more authoritarian than the right. At least not correctly.

    5. I see. So leftist authoritarianism is more rare and less persistent than rightist. Is this a general rule, and how has it played out historically speaking? Do leftist authoritarians historically back off and admit mistakes, historically speaking, or do they kill millions first?

    6. "Historically speaking," authoritarianism in the US isn't really associated with issues of liberal or conservative politics. Race, religion, conquest, and war have traditionally bring out the authoritarians here. A loud-mouth mayor who apologizes for his statements and a loud-mouth alderman was hasn't really isn't go to change that.

  6. IMHO most of us are authoritarian. Most of us follow the leaders of our chosen tribe, whether it be liberal or conservative. One way to see the authoritarian nature of liberals is their attitude toward the ACA. When Ted Cruz shut down the government (more or less) because the ACA wouldn't work, liberal opinion leaders called him an extremist or a traitor. Most liberals adopted that position. Fast forward to today, when our President has, in effect, acknowledged that ACA wasn't working by deciding unilaterally to ignore parts of the law. Liberals are supporting the President's position, even thought they despised that position when it was taken by Sen. Cruz.

    1. It's a constant effort for me not to extrapolate your willful ignorance to your entire tribe.

      Let's start with a fact. It seems that you don't actually believe in them, but they exist, nonetheless. It's impossible that the President ("in effect" or otherwise) can acknowledge that the ACA isn't working, for the very simple reason that the most important part of the ACA - expansion of coverage - doesn't take effect until next year. Certainly isn't working, but that's a website, not an insurance program. Its failure may have bad consequences by the end of 1Q14, but we can't know that now.

      Here's another fact: the President hasn't decided to "unilaterally" (for you, I take it that means "illegally") ignore parts of the law. He has granted waivers for calendar year 2013 that allows some companies to keep offering substandard health insurance to their employees. The alternative was cancellation of those policies, leaving the employees without insurance for 2013. The ACA grants the President this authority. This is at least the third time that I've explained this to you.

      Let's keep going. Ted Cruz didn't shut down the government. The House of Representatives did that. Ted was a cheerleader for his House colleagues, but Ted is a Senator and thus had no say in the matter.

      House Republicans shut down the government and threatened the country with default in an attempt to blackmail the President and the Senate into repealing a law. Not just liberals, but most people according to polls disapproved of this tactic. It is certainly unprecedented, if not extreme, and has no place in a system that relies on majoritarian representative rule (with the usual exceptions for protecting against the tyranny of the majority).

      Teahadists supported the House; Democrats, the President, but in no way was the House action similar to anything the President has done. You can tell because the government is funded, if only temporarily, and the debt ceiling has been raised.

    2. The president didn't acknowledge that ACA doesn't work. He acknowledged that the website wasn't working properly. He also acknowledged a mistaken statement about whether people could keep their current policies or not. ACA is much more than a website and a speech.

  7. deadrat wrote: The ACA grants the President this authority. This is at least the third time that I've explained this to you.

    It's the third time you've made this claim, but you haven't demonstrated that your claim is correct. I'm not saying you're necessarily wrong. I haven't read the ACA.

    However, I wonder if you could please quote and link to the provisions of the ACA that give the President the right to:

    1. Waive the requirements of the law, as it applies to selected businesses, labor unions, and other organizations.
    2. Waive these requirements for all organizations.
    3. Choose not to enforce the minimum coverage standards in the law.
    4. Require health insurance companies to renew expiring policies.

    D in C

    P.S. I think #4 is far beyond the President's power. Numbers (1) - (3) involve not assessing an ACA penalty. However, the Supreme Court ruled that these penalties legally are taxes. It seems remarkable to me that a President can choose to exempt specific entities from paying taxes.

    1. BTW even Howard Dean questions whether President Obama has the legal authority to allow people to keep their health plans. See

    2. Rightie-oh, DinC. Yet Obama still keeps acting like conservatives are making real arguments against the ACA. They are Not.
      How else could "he won't let us keep our (shitty) health insurance" to "Obama isn't a dictator. He can't make insurance companies carry the exact same policies as they used to."

      Obama should stop listening to conservative critics of the ACA, because they are not being honest brokers.
      It's even becoming obvious to DinC.

    3. Meant to add to that last sentence.
      And DinC is willfully ignorant. When conservative critics of the ACA lose even DinC, you know no one should fall for their bullsh**.

    4. Ya know something, DAinCA, why don't you look it up for yourself? It will be good for you. It shouldn't be that hard: your first three items are all the same thing, and the President isn't doing the fourth. Go ahead, give it a try. Look up something for yourself.

    5. You made a claim, deadrat. It's not my job to verify it, or disprove it. You must have had some bases for your assertions. What were they?

      BTW your last sentence seems to imply that I seldom look things up for myself. On the contrary, I generally supply links that support my claims. I think I do so more than most other commenters here.

    6. DAinCA,

      Here's the text of the PPACA:

      It took me about 15 minutes to find and understand the applicable section.

    7. DAinCA,

      It's true that I made the claim, and it's also true that I can back it up. But it's also true that you claimed that the President was "unilaterally" ignoring the law, by which I take you mean he was granting waivers he had no power to issue. Can you back that up?

      I'm not implying that you seldom look things up. I'm flat out saying that you never look things up. I'm not counting unsourced right-wing blogs that merely echo your prejudices.

      But go ahead. I've given you the text of the law. Let's see if you can find out whether HHS has the authority to grant waivers. If this is just too difficult for you, I'll post the section number.

      Give it a shot.

    8. DAinCA,

      Keeping your string of ignorance unbroken, I see. The Supreme Court did not rule that the ACA penalties are taxes. They're not. You can tell because you may avoid paying a penalty by complying with the law; you must pay your tax bill. What the Supreme Court ruled was that levying the penalties fell within Congress' taxing authority.

      Lot's of things seem remarkable to you. But that's because you insist on maintaining your ignorance.

    9. The Washington Post wrote:

      A fight over the requirement for coverage landed in the Supreme Court, which ruled that the penalty amounts to a tax. “The federal government does not have the power to order people to buy health insurance,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said in upholding the landmark law. But, he added, the government “does have the power to impose a tax on those without health insurance.” (emphasis added)

      Other sources said the same thing. I chose a liberal source for your sake, deadrat.

    10. Didja read what you posted? I'll put in some emphasis for you: "[T]he Supreme Court … ruled that the penalty amounts to a tax. Liberal sources get things wrong too, so the best thing is to go to the opinion itself:

      he Affordable Care Act describes the [s]hared responsibility payment" as a "penalty," not a "tax…." It does not, however, control whether an exaction is within Congress's power to tax. In answering that constitutional question, this Court follows a functional approach, "[d]isregarding the designation of the exaction, and viewing its substance and application. United States v. Constantine, 296 U. S. 287,294. Pp. 33-35…. Such an analysis suggests that the shared responsibility payment may for constitutional purposes be considered a tax.

      So the law calls the payment a penalty, but for constitutional purposes, the Court must decide whether it's enough like a tax so that the demand for money must live within the taxing power of Congress. Roberts decided that it is and that it does.

      It's a suble point, and its origins go back to John Marshall's ruling that the law means to prohibit things and not words. And you actually looked something up, so I shouldn't be too hard on you.

      How's that search for waiver authority going?

    11. Here's a legal analysis explaining why the President doesn't have legal authority for his "fix".

      President Obama in his speech on “fixing” the Affordable Care Act today did not specify what statutory authority, if any, he thinks authorizes him to make such dictats...Obama is apparently suspending the enforcement of a law for a year – simply to head off actual legislation not to his liking. Congress is working on legislation quite similar to the president’s fix, but with differences he considers objectionable. This further demonstrates the primarily legislative nature of the fix.

      Indeed, the fix goes far beyond “non-enforcement” because it requires insurers to certain new action to enjoy the delay. This is thus not simply a delay, but a new law.

      The “fix” amounts to new legislation – but enacted without Congress.

      As I read this, it sounds like a good lawyer could make an opposing case. It'll be interesting to see how a court rules, if it ever goes to court.

    12. Here’s a legal analysis suggesting that Obama’s “fix” may well never get to court:

      A tricky issue arises, however, over the question of who has standing to sue over the fix. Purchasers of insurance plans arguably have no standing because they aren’t harmed. They can take advantage of the fix or not, as they choose.

      Insurance companies too have a choice, as I understand it. I don’t believe they are required to revive cancelled plans.

      Nonetheless, my preliminary take is that insurance companies will have standing to sue if they can show that Obama’s fix has produced market effects that adversely affect them. And it seems likely that the fix will produce such demonstrable effects….

      Whether an insurance company would want to take on the government is another question.

    13. Since you uncritically accept any opinion you agree with, let me point out that your right-wing blog site doesn't actually give any "legal analysis," although its author is a lawyer. Any good lawyer can make an opposing case on just about anything, but any decent "legal analysis" would have included some consideration of standing. Who can actually sue? Any decent "legal analysis" wouldn't use the red herring of "statutory authority." The question is whether the "fix" properly falls within executive discretion, and the answer would have to rely on court precedents about the enforcement of penalties.

      Just for the record, I have no idea whether the fix would survive judicial scrutiny. Traditionally, Presidents have and have been granted broad discretionary power in two areas, foreign affairs (including use of the military) and direction of administrative agencies. But generalizations aren't always applicable.

      That said, let's get back to the waivers for 2013 plans. These have nothing to do with the so-called "fix," which applies to plans continuing into 2014. Have you found the section of the law that allows for HHS (not, as you claimed, the President) to grant waivers?

    14. Nonetheless, my preliminary take is that insurance companies will have standing to sue if they can show that Obama’s fix has produced market effects that adversely affect them. And it seems likely that the fix will produce such demonstrable effects….

      As usual your "take," preliminary or otherwise, is incorrect. General things like "market effects" or likelihoods are not enough to get standing. Standing requires the showing of particularized harm. It's not even clear that an insurance company could show harm early enough in 2014 to successfully pursue a suit in 2014.

  8. By the way, before we condemn Maddow for not rushing to the defense of a bullshit story, here is what she said on Sept. 13, days before Rice made the rounds of Sunday talk shows:

    "NPR's Leila Fadel also spoke to a number of witnesses on the scene. People who were in the area that night. Here's what she reported a short time ago. She said, "A lot of the witnesses we've spoken to, neighbors, the son of a landlord, a Libyan guard who was wounded in the first part of the attack on Tuesday night, all say there was no protest at all. They say it began and ended as an organized attack on the consulate." An organized attack. Anybody who tells you that what happened to our ambassador and our consulate in Libya was as a result of a protest over an offensive movie, you should ask them why they think that."

    "You should ask them why they think that." Excellent question. Oh, they think that because "the best assessment today" says so, an assessment that apparently didn't include the same eye witness accounts that the media were able to find quickly.