Thursday, May 18, 2017

W.E.I.R.D. Science — and Ethics and Politics

            The joke on campus when I was "in the academy" was that our colleagues in the Psych Biz had given us (largely) the psychology of the American college sophomore. American and other academic psychologists are starting to take the joke more seriously, trying to figure out how to adjust to having a subject pool from backgrounds that are largely W.E.I.R.D.: Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic. Most people in the world are not WEIRD; indeed, large numbers of Americans don't hit all those elements. Among the majority of people — historically a substantial majority — the "R" wouldn't be "Rich" but "Religious (more or less)."
            Being oblivious to religion can have results ranging from silly to disastrous.
            Local example: Southern California Edison Electric Company scheduled a power outage for my neighborhood for 10 PM Saturday, 15 April 2017, through 6 AM on the 16th. Sunday, 16 April 2017 was Easter Sunday, and apparently the schedulers at SoCal Edison were ignorant of the custom among many Ventura County natives to have family and friends over for Easter eating and would have refrigerators loaded with food that weekend, in some cases too much food to tolerate up to 8 hours without power — if everything went well during the maintenance work and to say nothing about having a crew working extra hours on Easter weekend.
            So come on, SoCal Ed! There'd be an excuse if you had to calculate on your own Easter's falling on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox. But you don't; nowadays you check a calendar a month or so after you spot Easter stuff sprouting up at Kroger's or six weeks after those dumb-ass Cadbury Crème Egg commercials start showing up on television.
            California Christians can't complain about persecution, but there's definitely insensitivity, indifference, and ignorance.
            More significant example: No plan for "peace in the Mideast" will work that assumes that Jerusalem is just a city and that the key issues in the conflicts are rational interests in land, water, resources generally and so forth— and ignores religion, ethnic identities, self-respect, and self-respect's sinful sibling, Pride.
            Significant for capital "D" Democrats in the United States: No plan to regain majority-party power — not membership or sympathies or numbers in polling, but power — will work unless it gets more people to vote Democratic who are Western(ized)/White or White-ish, schooled a bit but not overly Educated, recently de-industrialized, and far less Rich by world standards than Religious.
            So come on, Democrats! You should know this stuff at least for the Abrahamic religions — and if you're culturally educated, not just schooled, you should know which ones the "Abrahamic religions" are. For example: in the Hebrew Bible, the 24th Psalm begins, "The Earth is the Eternal's, and all that it contains, / The sea and all that dwell therein; / For He has founded it upon the ocean, and upon the flood." The psalmist assumes a labor theory of property: something is yours if you make it, with your labor, not as an investment or because you're Pharaoh ordering around forced labor by your peasants in the off-season, and slaves. And from there you can go on to the Prophets on social justice and, explicitly with Christians, indirectly with others get to the parts on basic decency spelled out in Matthew 25.
            We are all "values" voters, and if people accept those basics on our absolute human duties — and Jews, Christians, and Muslims damn well should — you ought to be able to get them to vote those values.

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