Thursday, June 30, 2005

okay, so i'm stuck on the "nature-nuture" crap

My post to a simulation list (with some minor editing):

I think I agree with what you are saying about defintions in general, not sure if I do about "nature" specifically.

The nature/nurture debate, in my mind, speaks to things that are inherently within human beings (nature) and those that are learned (nurture). In my thinking, there is no way to know what is inherent in humans because all humans that we come in contact with have been exposed to culture. Again, there is no controlling for culture. If one could control for culture and see what is left, then one could talk about what is inherent to humans with some confidence.

On the face of it, "controlling for culture" might seem absurd; but if it is considered absurd, then one must also conclude that talking about human "nature" is absurd. Why? There is no scientific evidence for something called human "nature" -- at least not experimental evidence, which in my and others' view is the litmus test for scientific investigation. Without such evidence, all discussion of human nature boils down to speculation and inference.

Granted, I understand that many use human nature to speak to how we are different than other animals. I get that and I agree with that. But in that case, we have something to compare to...other animals. They serve as a quasi-experimental control group. We don't have that when we are talking about just humans and their "nature." My point is that if one wants to talk about something that is inherently human, then one needs to either provide evidence that they have a way of discerning what is inherently human or talk about it differently.

A classical experiment is the only way I can think of to identify what is inherent to humans. As a "real" experiment in human isolation is absurdly distubing even to consider, thought experiments or simulation seem like natural alternatives.

Note that I agree that we come with some things built in; I don't know that those things are specifically, but I don't refer to them as being "inherently" human because I don't know that they are without any proof.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

defeating the terrorists????

our Prez tonight talked about defeating the terrorists. Impossible. In their minds, they have already won. They have managed to get us in a local country where they can kill Americans indiscriminately. The first time they killed any American, they won. There will never be a defeat for them, no matter what happens.

We stay, they kill more of us, they are victorious. We pull out, they have killed a bunch of us and they got us to leave, they are victorious.

Where is the defeat?

I have an article coming out in the Electronic Journal of Sociology pretty soon; it is entitled, Visceral Verstehen (scroll down under "accepted papers").
evolution and speculation

i was watching my cats fight this morning (nothing bad, don't worry, no kitties harmed in this observation) and noticed the flattening of their ears like all kitties do when they are fighting. I suspect that some evolutionary biologist would be able to say "why" they do this, i.e., provides a lower profile for hitting, makes them look meaner, etc.

My point is that just because someone provides an explanation for something and attributes it to evolution doesn't mean that is why somethign is occuring. for one thing, we don't know why a cat does that as we have no access to a cat's conscious awareness. we can infer reasons why, but that is all they are...inferences.

Second is that evolution has not stopped. What we could be witnessing in any behavior is a behavior that is not selected for, but is dying out; we just haven't been around long enough to notice it dying out. For that matter, I suspect that one could argue that all behavior is/was adapative at one time, hence it's existence. Granted, some could have been produced by mutation and serve no advantage, but within any one person's lifetime, we would not know this.
BTK = entitlement to the max

i listened to brief excerpts from the BTK killer's testimony yesterday on the radio. he was telling the judge about how we murdered one family and in the course of describing what he did, he said (to the judge), "if you have read anything about serial killers, then you know that when was I was doing XYZ, I was in the XYZ phase..."

Amazing, the guy has admitted to ten murders and he is lecturing the judge on serial killers. That is entitlement.

Also, he is not crazy, he is (and was) very rational. I know that many would describe him as a sociopath and according to the defintion of sociopath, he would fit the profile quite nicely; no conscience, no remorse, etc.

The interesting thing, however is to pay attention to how he makes sense out of what he did. He was extremely rational in plotting and in killing people. His rationality in carrying out what he did is really no different than the rationality that many of us employ in caring out daily tasks. Indeed, the commentator on the radio described him as a "technician" when it came to killing people.

So, mix rationality with entitlement and in most cases you just get a self-centered jerk; in this case, you got one scary bastard who enjoyed killing people.

so much for rationality and entitlement...

Monday, June 27, 2005

over there, over there...

our Prez recently has been talking about how we are "fighting the terrorists over there [in Iraq] so we don't have to fight them here."

The thing that seems to escape him and all of the others in the Admin is that this is precisely what the "terrorists" want us to do! They want to be able to fight us in their land(s), they want to kill as many Americans as they can, and we are, inadvertently playing right into their hands by continuing to provide them with people to be killed. And because the Admin is hell-bent on "staying the course," this is precisely what is going to continue to happen, over, and over, and over again -- there will be absolutely no shortage of willing volunteers to kill Americans.

Ironically, and sadly, by invading Iraq, we will now have to settle for an uneasy truce with the "terrorists" as, at some point we will have to negotiate with them (yes, duly noted that this is already happening) so that we can pull out. If we had not invaded Iraq, we would still have world-wide support to challenge and dismantle their networks; we wouldn't have to settle for negotiating with anyone.

so, if we had not invaded, we would still be in a one-up position; now we will always be in a one-down position because this thing ain't gonna be over anytime soon and there is no way that we can regain our original position.

oh, and as soon as all the other Repubs figure out that they ain't gonna be re-elected because of this war and their gravy train is pulling into the retirement station, they are gonna cut and run as quick as they can, leaving Georgie out in the cold.

(note that I use the term "terrorist" not because I agree with the notion of a "war on terror" and a terrorist under every bed; I use it because this is how the Admin is framing the conflict).
saying sorry is easy when you're not corrupt

I was listening to NPR this morning and one of their editors came on the air to apologize for a freelance commentator who apparently had been plagarizing others' work (too bad, I liked the guy, Gabe Wisdom). The editor gave the facts of what happened, stated what NPR did in response, and aplogized for the entire event.

made me think...

if you honestly made a mistake in doing your job, and you have nothing to hide about your behavior which led up to the mistake (and afterwards, your response to the mistake), then you have no reason NOT to apologize for was a mistake. You were doing your job to the best of your ability, something happened, you noticed it, took responsible action, and are sorry for any fall-out. pretty simple.

if, however, you are not being straight with what you were doing when the "mistake" occurred, and if you were not straight about what you did about it, then you can't apologize as it would open you up to all kinds of scrutiny, lawsuits, you name it. most people understand that mistakes occur and that if you can demonstrate that you took reasonable action to respond to them, then they are going to be accepting of it.

if you are dishonest with them, and deny what happened, or deny the outcomes of what happened, then that seems to be a sure sign that you are "cooking the books" regardless of what the "books" are.

if it can't stand the scrutiny of daylight, there is something very, very wrong.

common sense, eh?

Sunday, June 26, 2005

i think

i screwed up my formatting...

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

subverting, yet again

i have a wild idea about starting an online journal or database of sociological applications that anyone could use. like, if someone wanted to know how to change the culture of an organization, or how to assist someone in changing him or herself, etc. here is how i envision the format for the entries:

Name of intervention

Purpose of intervention

Potential uses

Sociology behind it (theory, concept, research, etc.)

How to do it (list steps and brief commentary)




seems simple enough. i'm sure that someone will get upset about it, though; accuse me of rocking the applied sociological boat by doing something like that. i know this sounds strange, but i think that applied sociologists should be developing applications for people to use. but, then again, i know that i have some strange ideas.
troy duster

president of the american sociological association, prolific intellectual, wise man interviewed about the senate's decision yesterday to publicly apologize for their lack of intervention in lynchings during the last two centuries. well worth a listen.

Monday, June 13, 2005

the jackson verdict

some were speculating during the trial that jackson would have a hard time as it was an all-white jury. i think this was to his advantage. why? that county is pretty wealthy and i suspect if it is like other wealthy counties in the u.s., most, if not all of the weatlh is in the hands of whites. all white jury, in a wealthy county could probably relate to the idea that someone is out there trying to steal your money and/or set you up so that they can sue you. in short, i bet that they could relate to a poor person (the accuser and his mother) preying on a naive wealthy person (jackson). wealthy people are fearful of being victims; the evidence seems to indicate that jackson was "set up" by the mom.

so, if michael was a poor black man, it would have in all likelihood, worked against him. but, michael is a very wealthy, international celebrity with millions of fans, so his wealth and his status, in this case helped him.

so, the speculating after the trial begins (and ends, i don't plan on saying anything else about it).
i understand road rage

i don't agree with it, but i understand it.

consider the amount of frustration that current urban living consists of. consider, also, how due to our "it wasn't me!" attitudes about responsibility and accountability, there is no way to vent our frustrations over others' mistakes.

now, someone cuts you off, someone runs a red light in front of you...tangible, immediately identifiable blame ready and able to be laid on that person. and what happens? all of that simmering frustration finds a focal point to come out. and you get? road rage.
no timing, no cry (sung to the Bob Marly tune)

the other day, out of the blue, my seven year old said, "dad, i've never seen you cry." that's true. i don't know that i have cried in seven years or if i have she was too young or was not around.

she then asked me why.

my first time. i don't have time to cry. crying takes time, energy, space, etc. all of those are in short supply now. i get up, i take my triglyceride medication, make my daily ayurvedic tea, make my lunch, settle disputes among the kids, take a shower, go to work, get home and repeat of much of the morning, just different names for similar tasks.

and we don't watch TV except on rare occasions.

i wonder how anyone who is a parent has time to cry?

Monday, June 06, 2005

we're going to have a book burning!

the following list was posted on a sociology list; my response follows:

I think the "giveaway" in this list is in the title...the notion of associating "dangerous" with a book. An exploding book, perhaps, one that secretes poison upon contact with human flesh, perhaps, but the information, knowledge and ideas in a book being dangerous???? Wow, better get those parking lot bonfires started, cause there be a lot of book burnin' going on soon.

Surprised that the Sinclair Lewis novel, It Can't Happen Here, isn't on the list; it is a fictional accounting of how the US becomes a fascist country (written 70 years ago).

Required reading, IMO.

That said, I agree with XXX that we are lacking in our ability to empirically demonstrate our overall worth. Note the fairly recent discussion in Teaching Sociology about the "core" of sociology. My takeaway was that, in some respects, we have no clothes. At best, we are a practice VS a science. Not too bad, IMO, but not what we promote to the world at large.

Yes, we use empirical methods to collect and analyze social data, but do we have any well-founded theoretical propositions and/or axioms that we teach as the foundation(s) of sociology? The closest I have seen is exchange theory ala Homans, network exchange theory, and possibly network analysis. These theories have some possibilities of testing and building on axioms as is the case in other sciences.

Is anyone else getting kind of tired of regurgitating the 3 perspectives in Intro classes? Isn't it odd that we still talk about Durkheim, Marx, and Weber as if they are deities? This would be like modern physics touting Newton as the preeminent natural scientist (which he was, but physics has moved well beyond Newton by now). Granted, natural science predates (at least in the West) social science by a century or two, but they have moved on considerably more quickly than we have. It's like we are stuck in the 19th century. Some of the best material about things social I have read of late comes from outside the discipline. That strikes me as odd.

In any event, I will continue to promote membership in the reality-based community.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005


I just read the following (from the AP) and found it interesting. Sec. Rumsfeld apparently cited this as a defense for how the Administration is responding to allegations of detainee abuses; the ironic part is that I think it substantiates the allegations, just by the sheer number of investigations. In short, IMO, evidence of a systemic problem:

"Yes, there have been instances where detainees have been mistreated while in U.S. custody, sometimes grievously, but consider these facts," Rumsfeld said Wednesday. "To date there have been approximately 370 criminal investigations into the charges of misconduct involving detainees" since Sept. 11, 2001.

I just wonder when these Admin guys will figure this out; actually, I should save myself the energy...they never will.
a progressive post...

to a sociology list.

RE: What is being progressive?

I think what defines “progressive” is irrelevant. I suspect that many people would consider me “progressive,” “liberal,” etc. I don’t use those labels in addressing myself. I don’t think that they are useful. If I do use a label to describe myself, I use terms like, “sane,” “reasonable,” etc. I know that these can be debated about me, but I do strive to be those things.

I think that being “sane” and “reasonable” is taking into consideration all of the known data of a phenomena, being respectful of others, and not pretending that I know everything there is to know about something. In past times, this was known as “humility.” Now a dirty word, I think. I also think it is worthwhile to consider how actions have consequences and paying attention to what those consequences might be prior to taking action; being aware of the limitation of resources, etc.; making judgments based on all of the above with the hope of having the best impact on the greatest number. Again, to me this kind of approach seems sane and reasonable; apparently now this kind of thinking is considered “liberal.” Go figure. But seemingly traditional American values (that I try to adhere to and naively expect others to do the same) like respect, honesty, integrity, accountability, and personal responsibility are also apparently now “liberal” values, too. Go figure again.

So, what constitutes “being progressive” is irrelevant, IMO. What matters is how people act. What can I say? I think pragmatism got it right.

RE: politics, religion, values…to answer your question, I do those things that you mention and am not in conflict with my religious belief system. I suspect that some would argue that I have a very “liberal” and/or “progressive” religious belief-system. I consider myself a Hindu-Buddhist-Jesus (-ist?), although when asked what my “religion” is, I will deny affiliation with any; all of that makes complete sense to me and does not run counter to my “beliefs.” I was raised Catholic, but the whole no birth-control, “homosexuality is bad”-thing is just ridiculous, IMO. Although, I do have to admit that my presence on this earth is entirely due to the rhythm method, so I guess I do, on some level, owe the Catholic Church for my corporeal existence (man, what a freaking institution to be beholden to!!!). I agree with their stance on the death penalty, war and abortion, however (I do think that abortion is the taking of a life; I do not think it is my role to pass judgment on those who do that, however).

So, yes, IMO, one can be spiritually/politically/religiously “progressive” all at the same time. In fact, the people I admire the most are those who did/do precisely that.

But, hey, I’m just a damn liberal sociologist and my opinion ain’t worth @#$%!