Tag Archives: Politics

Our World in Data

Although it has been said that “there are lies, damned lies, and statistics,” surely the real danger lies in having too few statistics, not too many. The more you know, the more likely you are to get closer to the truth.

With that in mind, I want to recommend a fabulous website: Our World In Data (https://OurWorldInData.org). You’ll find in-depth, data-driven articles on many social and political issues. Most of the data are in graphs, many of them animated, so you can just look at the pictures if you choose.

For example, here’s one that shows the income-inequality situation in many leading countries before and after redistributive tax policies are accounted for. The orange bar marks the Gini coefficient before redistribution and the blue bar after. A bar farther to the right indicates more income inequality, not necessarily more income. I know the graph is hard to read here. Click on it to jump to the article and then scroll down a little to see the graph.

You can see at a glance that incomes in the United States are a little more unequal than most countries’ before taxes, but our minimal redistribution leaves us among the most unequal after taxes. On the other hand, Ireland starts out the most unequal, but its policies put Ireland in the middle of the pack after taxes.

Inequality

I hope you enjoy Our World in Data. It’s a very enlightening site.

In 10 Years, Nobody Will Be Able to Lie (Part 3)

In the last two posts, I’ve suggested that within 10 years, reliable, affordable, unobtrusive lie-detectors will be as much a part of life as smartphones are now. This could take our society in either of two directions: openness as we all learn to stop hiding from each other, or paranoia as we try harder and harder to keep our secrets. As with all the incredible technology coming at us faster than we can imagine, it’s impossible for us, in our relatively primitive world, to predict the social outcome.

Nevertheless, it’s fun to try. This time I’d like to consider the following dystopian question:

Will there be a guild of professional liars?

A certain percentage of today’s population is able to lie so convincingly that they seem absolutely convinced by their own lies. You’ve probably known such people. Even when caught dead to rights, they look you square in the face and tell you it isn’t so. One can imagine that people who can apparently evade their own conscience will be able to fool the external lie detectors of the future.

Continue reading

In 10 Years, Nobody Will Be Able to Lie (Part 1)

Within 10 years, nobody will be able to lie. Or more precisely, all lies will be detected instantly, so people will stop lying. Can you imagine how that will change society!?

But hold on a second! How is this going to happen?

Think about it: the technology is all here. We’re only waiting for someone to put the following pieces together.

Continue reading

What Is the Best Superpower?

When you were a kid, I’m sure you wished for a superpower. Aside from the obvious ones, like the ability to fly, the superpower I wanted most frequently was to be able to extend my reach across a room without getting up. This was in the days before remote controls for TV, if you can believe there ever was such a time!

During the current presidential election cycle, I’ve added another superpower to my wish list: the ability to convince people of my political opinions. That leads to the question that is the subject of this post.

Which of these superpowers is best?

  1. The ability to control other people’s thoughts so they agree with us.
  2. The ability to make the most sound argument possible for our views, even if our audience won’t necessarily be persuaded.

Continue reading

Frederick Douglass on Globalization

I’m a few days late to the party, but today I found myself rereading Frederick Douglass’s magnificent oration, What to the Slave is the Fourth of July? As with all great texts, you come away with something different each time you read it. Last time, its applicability to LGBT rights struck me. This time, I noticed his closing thoughts on the positive ways the world is changing.

Writing 164 years ago, he noticed trends which have happily extended to this day. They are some of the same themes Stephen Pinker sounded in one of my favorite books, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.

For your encouragement, and without further comment, I turn this post over to Frederick Douglass:

Continue reading

Let’s Lower Crime by Encouraging Immigration

You may think Donald Trump was out of line when he famously said, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. … They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

Trump may be wacko, but be honest, now: Although we may not characterize Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists with the exception of “some, I assume,” it’s easy to believe that immigrant populations are probably more crime-ridden than the rest of us. After all, they’re poor and desperate. That spells more crime, doesn’t it?

The data say otherwise!

I’d like to refer you to two remarkable studies. The first is from the Pew Research Center. Follow the link for the whole study, but here’s the graph that says it all.

The graph shows that first-generation immigrants, a quarter of whom are undocumented, commit crimes with substantially less frequency than the rest of us. Continue reading

On Moral Vision

I was recently informed that my moral standards have “lowered” since walking away from my faith. It’s true that some things that I once considered sins are no longer on my Thou Shalt Not list. Homosexual relationships would be in that category. Touching on what is apparently the most important moral issue in the evangelical church, I no longer equate early-stage abortions with murder. And of course, I score a big fat zero on the Greatest Commandment.

I granted my conversation partner’s premise and we moved on from there.

As Blackadder said to Prince George, “It is so often the way, sir: too late one thinks of what one should have said. Sir Thomas More, for instance, burned alive for refusing to recant his Catholicism, must have been kicking himself, as the flames licked higher, that it never occurred to him to say, ‘I recant my Catholicism.'”

What I should have said was, “My moral standards have not lowered. They have sharpened.

“The Bible was the lens through which I used to see the moral world. It gave excellent vision of the basic moral truths: tell the truth, don’t steal, and so on. However, there were some dirty spots on that lens. Looking for truths about slavery, genocide, the treatment of womenhumane slaughter of animals, or even discrimination against the handicapped, one learns that the lens is not as clean as one would wish.

“Most people already have great moral vision for the basics, with or without the Bible. Our problem is that we suffer from various astygmatisms of prejudice. We don’t trust people who are not in our tribe — our race, our religion, our political party, our culture. We tend to over-trust people who are like us. We also over-trust ourselves: our cognitive biases systematically prevent us from seeing the truth.

“The most pernicious is confirmation bias, and faith-based morality sinks an arrow deep in that Achilles’ heel.

“I’ve traded the biblical lens for one that sees morality in terms of the well-being of sentient creatures. Although it may be harder to learn to use that lens than to read a book, it is cleaner than the book I had been using.

“I realize that my biases are hard to correct. That’s why I study them and blog about what I learn and learn and learn.

“My new lens is not perfect, but I think I see sharper now than I used to, and I hope my vision will continue to improve.”

That’s what I should have said. Now I’ve said it.