All posts filed under: Hypothesis

The Mathematics of Happiness

If you could choose between these two possible lives, which would you prefer? (1) You struggle through difficulties, challenges, and a fair amount of misery for 60 years, after which you emerge wise and content. You die at age 80. (2) You spend the first 60 years indulging in relatively shallow pleasures. At age 60, you develop a chronic health condition where you can no longer do many things you enjoy, and you spend the last 20 years of your life regretting that you didn’t do anything very meaningful with the first 60. A conundrum along these lines came up during a recent episode of Sam Harris’s podcast [1], with guest Jonathan Haidt. I am a big fan of these two — their recent books, Waking Up and The Righteous Mind by Harris and Haidt respectively, were both life-changing for me, so I had been looking forward to the episode for a long time. In the podcast (starting at 1:30:48), Haidt used an example like the one above to argue that utilitarian conceptions of the …

Purity and Tolerance: The Contradictory Morality of College Campuses

Increasingly college students throughout the United States complain of perceived slights they call microaggressions, they demand safe spaces where they can be protected from harmful ideas, and they ask for trigger warnings to alert them to course material that might cause discomfort. We have argued that these are all manifestations of victimhood culture — a morality in which people display a high sensitivity to slight, handle conflicts by appealing to authorities, and seek to portray themselves as weak and in need of help. Older moral injunctions to ignore minor and unintentional offenses get cast aside, and those who successfully identify as victims or allies of victims gain a kind of moral status. Moral cultures reflect their social structures, and victimhood culture is no different: It occurs in a context where there is cultural diversity, social equality, and stable authority. Victimhood culture thrives on modern college campuses because these conditions are present. Yet as the contributors at Heterodox Academy have pointed out, the diversity of race, ethnicity, and gender expression at college campuses is counterbalanced by a …

Gossip is a social skill—not a character flaw

Let’s face it: gossips get a bad rap. Smugly looking down from a moral high ground – and secure in the knowledge that we don’t share their character flaw – we often dismiss those who are obsessed with the doings of others as shallow. Indeed, in its rawest form, gossip is a strategy used by individuals to further their own reputations and interests at the expense of others. Studies that I have conducted confirm that gossip can be used in cruel ways for selfish purposes. At the same time, how many can walk away from a juicy story about one of their acquaintances and keep it to themselves? Surely, each of us has had firsthand experience with the difficulty of keeping spectacular news about someone else a secret. When disparaging gossip, we overlook the fact that it’s an essential part of what makes the social world tick; the nasty side of gossip overshadows the more benign ways in which it functions. In fact, gossip can actually be thought of not as a character flaw, but …

Original Sin: the Sexual Motivation of Religious Extremists

I. In late October of 2014, Iraqi News reported, as ISIS forces rampaged through Diyala province, one of their soldiers found a thirty-year-old woman resting at her home and attempted to rape her. She fought back, wresting away his gun and killing him. This incredibly brave woman was brought before ISIS’s Sharia Court, which promptly condemned her to death and had her publicly beheaded for this defense of her honor, thus laying bare the utter hypocrisy of all claims that draconian laws regarding sex are intended for the protection of women. The gory spectacle of radical Islamism at work that began in the Middle East and has spread its crimson tendrils abroad from there is terrifying to behold. To the eyes of those lucky enough to enjoy a secure place in one of the prosperous modern democracies, the violence unfolding on our television and computer screens has an almost hallucinatory quality. Surely, our brains say, this cannot be real. This sort of thing cannot be happening in this day and age! Recently have I felt …

The Kids Are All Right

Loudly chomping on a stick of gum, Emily finished the last few words of her barely comprehensible text message: “BTW..that shit was cray. WTF!! : )” She laughed, and slid back into her seat to listen. The professor droned on about some dead playwright named Shakespeare. Who cares? The monotone began to recede as she opened her laptop and checked her Instagram, eagerly eyeing the number of “likes” her latest selfie had obtained. One thousand and twenty two! This thrilled her. However, her cheer temporarily soured as she remembered that her BMW was in the shop. How unfair. Now she had to ride home with her roommate Rebecca, a nerd who would force her to listen to pretentious “indie” bands on the drive home. Ugh. Her aged, out of touch, and pedantic professor finally ceased speaking of something called Hamlet and dismissed the class. Excitedly, Emily stood up, pulled down her pink “I love me” shirt, and walked out of the classroom. As she entered the hall, she quickly turned up the volume of her …

To Rape is to Want Sex, Not Power

In the 1975 bestselling book: Against Our Will, the feminist writer, Susan Brownmiller, asserted that “rape is about power, not sex.” Ever since, the conventional wisdom has been that rapists are misogynistic men seeking domination and power over women, not violent men seeking sex. However, there is a fundamental problem with Brownmiller’s bold assertion. In the ensuing 45 years, there has been no significant empirical research to support her claim. Yet, almost everyone repeats it. In examining eight years of FBI data on 250,000 rapes and other sexual assaults, one factor stands head-and-shoulders above the others: the age range of the victims. Herein lies the key to unlocking the mystery of the offender’s motivation. Social science has demonstrated a strong relationship between age and sexual attractiveness. Heterosexual men are sexually attracted to young women, while homosexual men are attracted to young men. The age preference explains why adult film stars, sex workers, exotic dancers as well as glamour models are often young, and why their earnings decline as they age. Studying the ages of victims, …

Authoritarianism is a Matter of Personality, Not Politics

There are people who are attracted to the prospect of oppressing others. Authoritarian personality characteristics form a continuum, from low to high, in the human population1. This discovery means that approximately 16% of the population possesses a personality profile that is significantly more authoritarian than average. As with so many breakthroughs in personality research, the person who initiated scientific explorations of this topic was Hans Eysenck. Eysenck’s interest in the personality predictors of political extremism was perhaps forged by his experience of growing up in pre-war Germany2. It was, therefore, a central irony of Eysenck’s life that he fled from Germany to escape fascism in the 1930’s, only to fall foul of communism once in Britain3. In a convergence of life and science, this irony did not escape Eysenck’s attention and he began researching the personality correlates of political extremism4.The crucial insight stemming from Eysenck’s work is that the specific flavour of extremism that people with highly authoritarian personalities support is immaterial. They merely gravitate towards whatever regime will give them a flag of convenience …