A Guy Named Ethan Has Your Love Life Figured Out.

I was scavenging around some old writing documents and I have no idea who Ethan is. I assume he wrote a book that sounded interesting. He seems to focus on an “urban tribes” concept (one day when I am less lazy, I will use that as a keyword to track down who he is) and I’m not sure I’m buying all the strict gender-roled assertions, but maybe you, too, might find his observations worth reading.

Ethan’s Top Five Things to Tell Your Parents When You Are Still Single at Age 30 (or 35, or 40):

1. “Mom/Dad, among people my age, my life is not abnormal. (At least, not for that reason.) My generation has delayed marriage longer than any generation in American history. The cities are filled with people my age who are still single. The vast majority of us will marry; we’ll just do it later.”

2. “Not being married does not mean that I’m a ‘slacker.’ A slacker is usually defined as ‘someone who shirks work or responsibility.’ Remember how hard I work at my job/school/local SPCA office? My life is full of activity and meaning. There is no reason for pity or scorn.”

3. “Despite your stunningly deep bench of candidates, I honestly don’t need your help. I’m sure the son/daughter of Aunt Molly’s dentist is polite and well-groomed with a high-paying job, but leave the matchmaking to me. Believe me when I say that I have plenty of people giving me advice about my love life.”

4. “My marriage delay doesn’t mean you won’t ever be grandparents. While much has been made of the drop in fertility rates among women over 30, the numbers aren’t all that bad. Two out of three women ages 35 to 40 can get pregnant within a year. Those who try for two years raise their odds to 91 percent. ”

5. “Don’t take this the wrong way, Mom and Dad, but what about all the divorces in your generation? People my age are not indifferent to marriage–and we’re certainly not indifferent about love–but we have learned to be deeply cautious, in part because of divorce in our own families or those that happened next door. Statistics have shown that marriages started after age 25 work out better in the long run. In fact, because of our marriage delay, the divorce rate is now going down.”

Ethan’s Top Five Reasons Why Being in an Urban Tribe Is Bad for Your Love Life:

1. Some tribes are not so good at making the friends-of-friends connections that are our best hope for finding love in the city. If the boundary of the tribe becomes too rigid, your social life can stagnate. One warning sign is when there are too many events to which only the group is invited. Tribes are best when they are part of a network that connects you to new people.

2. “Cock blockers” (i.e. a male who, through futile sexual importunings of every woman in sight, ruins the romantic chances of coyer males.) If they are in your group, these men can create a kind of force field that repels available women. Cock blockers are almost never successful and, like leprosy, often scare new women from coming to group functions.

3. “Queen bees” can be problematic for men and women in the group. A queen bee, usually an attractive and charming woman in the tribe, demands that all flirtatious energy be directed toward her. If a male in the tribe brings a new love interest around, the queen bee can be counted on to find that woman lacking. No woman, a queen bee will attest, is good enough to date the men in her tribe. She’s sweetly protective but her motivations are greedy. For the women in the group, the queen bee is the equivalent of the male cock blocker.

4. Friends in our urban tribes often resist “losing” us to new relationships. They fear that if we have long-term romantic partners, we will no longer be available to them. This is an understandable fear because this is exactly what often happens. You can try to get your friends to accept your new romantic partner into the tribe, but:

5. Trying to integrate a new love into the group can be an exercise in frustration. Queen bees and cock blockers can get in the way. Also, there can also be ambient jealousy between the group and the new partner. This can cause simultaneous tension in your friendships and your love life.

Ethan’s Top Five Stupidest Things He Had To Read While Researching His Book:

1. “Try to navigate the shoals of modern romance, and you’ll only Titanic yourself with too much thinking.” –Nate Penn, The Code

2. Absent “the sudden desire on the part of Western women to begin having the same-sized families as their grandmothers, the future belongs to the Third World. Only the mass reconversion of Western women to an idea that they seem to have given up–that the good life lies in bearing and raising children and sending them out into the world to continue the family and nation–can prevent the Death of the West.” –Patrick Buchanan, The Death of the West

3. “Getting married is a little like inheriting the family business. Now it’s up to you to figure out what to sell, how to sell it, and how much to charge.” –Foundations: The Newsletter for Newly Married Couples

4. “Bonding social capital constitutes a kind of sociological superglue, whereas bridging social capital provides a sociological WD-40.” –Robert Putnam, Bowling Alone

5. “It is woman’s refusal of sexual importunings, coupled with hints or promises of later gratification, that is generally a necessary condition of transforming a man’s lust into love . . . . Why would a man court a woman for marriage when she may be sexually enjoyed and regularly, without it?” –Leon Kass, The End of Courtship

Ethan’s Top Five Ways to Build and Maintain an Urban Tribe:

1. Create a weekly ritual. Seeing each other consistently is the way personal communities form. Some tribes meet to watch “The Sopranos,” some meet as a book group. For several years my group met every Tuesday night at the same restaurant. It’s the simple act of repeatedly getting together as a group that forms the bonds which keep everyone close.

2. Create yearly rituals. Although you might think of this as simply an extension of #1, yearly rituals have a distinctly different purpose than weekly or monthly happenings. Yearly rituals such as throwing a big New Year’s Eve party or taking a group trip require planning and coordination. These are times when the tribe can test itself and its members. Will everyone be able to work well together? Will every member share the burden or will some slough off? By challenging itself with grand yearly rituals, the group tests its value and meaning.

3. Don’t be possessive of the group by trying to define or control who is in the group and who is not. Although your tribe might have a core membership, healthy tribes have fluid borders. In this way your tribe can give you both emotional shelter while at the same time connecting you to the outside world. By making distinct in/out judgments, you limit the tribe’s key function of connecting you to a larger network.

4. Set up e-groups. There are many free and friendly ways to facilitate communication within your group. These allow you to easily add and delete people from email lists. My tribe has several lists: One for those who play on the softball team, one for those who want to know where Larry’s next gig will be, one for planning the next houseboat trip, et cetera. Being able to quickly spread information and ideas within the group is one of the distinct aspects of these modern groupings.

5. Create a culture that celebrates the achievements of individuals. Competition and jealousy are tribe killers.

Ethan’s Top Five Guidelines to Dating within Your Urban Tribe:

1. If you’re new to the group, avoid dating anyone, at least for a while. If those in the group suspect you are only there to poach partners, you’ll likely get a cool reception.

2. Make sure you’re serious. Bad feelings that follow a brief romance can put deep stress on a group of friends. Finding true love is worth the risk of dating a friend, but getting laid is not. If you are looking for short-term romance, do everyone a favor and find it somewhere else.

3. Let the group in on the secret sooner rather than later. Someone is going to find out and it might as well be you who spreads the news.

4. Make time for individual friendships. Disappearing into a romantic relationship can be particularly hurtful if the couple was formed within the group.

5. Don’t let any friend tell you that dating within the group is “against the rules.” Finding love is a risky and messy business. While friends may be sad that inter-group romances make relationships more complicated, forging a friendship into a long-term romance is worth the risk.

Ethan’s Top Five Frustrations Women Express about Men They’ve Begun to Date:

1. Men think that the early stage of a relationship (the point at which routine sex can be gotten with the lowest possible commitment of time, resources, and personal energy) is a fine place for the relationship to remain indefinitely.

2. A man tends to overestimate his importance to a woman at the moment when she asks him “to talk about where the relationship is going.” Men often assume that the woman has fallen in love with him when in fact she might only want some information.

3. Men overrate the value of their affection–regardless of its quality or consistency. That is, men always assume that a fraction of their attention is better than none at all.

4. Men’s tendency toward out-sized conceit (see #2 and #3) combined with the inability to articulate their intentions reveals them to be the most reprehensible of cowards. Shouldn’t that grand self-conception carry with it some responsibility for treating the relationship with candor, clarity, and honor?

5. Men often ride along in relationships with one hand on the door handle. This fearfulness of momentum leads them to perform all manner of foolishness, including dangerous stuntman-like dives out of high-speed romances as well as more comical leaps out of relationships that have yet to leave the driveway.

Ethan’s Top Five Stupidest Lines from The Rules:

1. “Trying on clothes by yourself in a dressing room can be overwhelming and confusing. . .”

2. “. . . Hike up your skirt to entice the opposite sex!”

3. “. . . Stay emotionally cool no matter how hot the sex gets . . . [in the morning ] go quietly about your business–brush your teeth, do some sit-ups and stretches, brew coffee. . .be casual and unmoved.”

4. “There we were–a secret underground, sharing the magic, passing it on, doing what historically women have done for each other since the world began–networking for success.”

5. “Don’t be surprised if the man you’re dating gets very angry when you kiss him good night in the lobby at the end of the second date rather than invite him up . . ..Don’t worry. Anger indicates interest.”

Ethan’s Top Five Things Urban Tribes Should Avoid:

1. It’s best not to sleep with every single one of your close friends. Leaving at least one or two “platonic” friendships insures that you have someone to commiserate with about how nobody trusts you.

2. Tribes from the dawn of man have used facial tattoos to signify membership in the group. It works great, but remember that facial tattoos last a long time and may impact your chances of mating outside the tribe. Before you permanently engrave the name of your softball team on your forehead, try it for a few weeks with a magic marker.

3. Sure it was fun to practice robbing a bank, but is that a good enough reason to go through with it? Living on the run with your group might seem like a lark but after a couple of weeks nerves are likely to fray. Remember how every one was sick of each other after that camping trip? Times that by ten.

4. You should try not to cut the outside world off completely. Living on a guarded compound is a lot of fun until you want to go to town and see the Matrix again. Remember: Swearing eternal devotion to a single charismatic member of your group usually means that he’s the only one who gets laid.

5. As much as tribes enjoy monthly and yearly rituals, you should strive to avoid those involving the sacrifice of humans. I know this sort of activity may sometime seem like a “good idea,” especially after those long weekends of amphetamine and cocaine use. Here’s a trick: If the idea of blood sacrifice comes up in your group, volunteer to head the committee to “explore the idea.” Later, keep the committee distracted with other action items.

Monkeyspheres, Dunbar’s Number, Personalized Search Results, Infobubbles, the Media Echo Chamber Effect and You

Why am I posting stuff about media echo chamber effect, and online filter bubbles / tailored search engine results and monkeyspheres? I have been doing some thinking about how we all increasingly isolate ourselves into smaller and smaller tribes of like-minded and similar people, and how that makes it very difficult to:

  1. understand why “some people are so dumb”*
  2. understand why what we hold as self-evident is not necessarily evident at all to people outside our self-selected infobubbles
  3. understand why (politically speaking) many liberals SUCK at messaging and reducing complex political views and opinions to simpler statements, especially when compared to conservatives*
  4. avoid inadvertently offending people you had no desire to offend when you mistake a difference in taste with an indication of intelligence (or lack thereof).

A few months ago, I posted an editorial cartoon on Facebook about angry Republicans fleeing the US for a non-existent industrialized First World paradise where no universal health care plan exists.

(PROTIP: Canuckistan is not your huckleberry nor your Eden, conservatives.)

Responses were, as usual (because I have self-selected a group of smart folks to associate with on Facebook, primarily (see how this works?)), thoughtful and interesting.

Posted by my Facebook friend, ‎Mike D*********:

You do realize that people who can’t distinguish between, socialism, communism, and fascism or know what they mean aren’t going to be able to understand or want to believe any of this.

I think that educated people who are literate and capable of parsing what they read sincerely do not really “get” what it is like to be a person who does not read, who lacks critical thinking skills, who finds it easier to accept information from sources who dumb it down the most and in the most entertaining ways, who can not spell, and so on. We just have no way to relate to them, and they do not relate to us.

Worse, many of these people are not exactly unintelligent, they are uneducated and have not been taught critical thinking and logic skills, they find it exhausting and unproductive to learn how to be a critical thinker because it takes time and effort and ends up challenging their core beliefs and assumptions, and their everyday personal problems naturally take higher priority.

We do not help matters when we dismiss people who have not been given intellectual tools and guidance as being irredeemably stupid. It just makes them angry and encourages them to resist exposure to people and ideas that make them feel “less than” or stupid. Who wants to constantly be reminded that you’re really not all that bright (even if your ignorance is not your fault, or reflective of your underutilized abilities)? Your peers do not read books, they do not discuss challenging ideas or complex music or keep in touch with issues that fall outside their monkeyspheres, which are generally small and focused on their social circles and entertainments and basic survival needs and buying shiny new stuff. Your peers can’t pass a basic literacy test or read a paragraph and identify the main idea promoted by the sentences in the paragraph. They can often not find their own state on a map, much less Iraq or the UK or Australia. They struggle to identify how many sides a triangle has.

I think we really, truly do not take into account that we have self-selected our way into an online and offline community full of people who are of similar backgrounds and educations and intellects, and it becomes an echo chamber because the people we communicate with most often are frequently in agreement with us, or, if not in agreement, we just assume they have critical thinking skills, that they like reading, that they have intellectual curiosity.

Facebook is a prime example: Eventually you weed out the real “dumbasses” on your friends list when you can’t bear to link the same derptard to Snopes AGAIN or ask them to fucking Google something for crissakes or correct their apostrophe abuse ONE MORE FUCKING TIME because there are just not enough hours in a goddamned day to explain that it is “you’re” not “your,” for fuck’s sake. Google compounds the problem by spying on our interests to fling unwanted shitty advertising our way, but it also slowly starts adapting search results based on its nosiness about what you write and read and research online. You are increasingly isolated from alternate points of view, and increasingly likely to become polarized and set in your ways because there are fewer challenges. You start to believe your point of view is self-evident, because you have been in your little Google-enhanced bubble and only seeing links to people who agree with you.

Think about it: If you are a liberal (for example), you aren’t watching FOX or reading Drudge or listening to Rush Limbaugh. Fair enough. Google is going to pick up on that, and the friends you choose to communicate with on social networks are slowly going to more accurately reflect your own ideas (because your tolerance for listening to a Glenn Beck audio clip is nil). You have possibly ditched all the lazy writers who drove you nuts by typing everything in txtspk (if u no wut i meen). You dropped the ones whose idea of entertainment was NASCAR and added those who like Euro-style football. You drop the Twitards in favor of friends reading Vonnegut and Joyce for fun. You remove Jersey Shore watchers, Duggar fans, Jon and Kate and the 8 viewers, and Kardassian fans and talk about Supernatural and Mad Men and True Blood and The Wire and Walking Dead or the flippin’ documentary channel and TCM. Your friends who drink are drinking the good stuff and not sharing their drunken escapades with the whole world. You drop the people who can ONLY make fart jokes and seem to enjoy annoyingly predictable puns and circulate Maxine, Family Circus, Garfield and Ziggy cartoons; you add the folks who like Carlin and Hicks and Jeni and Bruce.

Your circle narrows to mirror you, and it is harder and harder to see past that mirror and realize HOLY SHIT, I have forgotten that the whole world does not have taste which reflects mine, the whole world is not literate, the whole world does not enjoy reading, the whole world does not like music that is not infantile and over-processed and irritating, the whole world does not think like I do.

And they vote.

Admittedly, some are too lazy to vote, but you can’t count on your literate and intelligent and educated friends to vote, either. They will talk themselves into knots, voting for third parties that do not stand a chance and which benefit the incumbent. They will claim both political parties are exactly the same because the system itself is fucked up, ignoring that — while they are correct — not voting is not an effective way to change the system. They get narrowly focused on one or two niche issues and pout and sulk and threaten to withdraw from their civic duty because their pet issues were not addressed to their satisfaction, and refuse to look beyond those interests.

It is not just the people who have a legitimate excuse (lack of education, a below average IQ, a lifestyle not conducive to self-improvement, a dislike of complexity, a dislike of reading for pleasure or edification, a limited vocabulary, a limited world view). Some smart people also self-sabotage by over-thinking everything and getting all bent out of shape that the world that they are seeing mirrored back to them is not agreeing with what they feel is self-evident. They (we, I) do not understand Sarah Palin’s existence. Intellectually we sort of grasp what is going on, and why the Stupids (sorry to be unkind) are so enamored of her. We just can’t GRASP it, because in our increasingly self-selected isolation bubble filled with like-minded people who enjoy contemplation and learning new things and get off on answering questions and doing research and reading and have higher-brow tastes for the most part (along with lower-brow things we dismiss as guilty pleasures because we know they are low brow and we “should not like them”), we do not relate to someone who could see Palin as anything but a bloviating self-important ignorant boob.

No, they do not know the difference between socialism, communism, Marxism, and fascism and they are content to let some talking heads define those terms FOR them, and refuse to believe they have been given a spoonful of shit info. NO ONE WANTS TO ADMIT THEY ARE NOT SMART, even if, deep down, they know they are dim in comparison to most. They watch news that doesn’t make them feel stupid, even as it makes them more stupid. They watch entertainment that does not tell jokes they don’t understand, because not getting jokes makes you feel dumb, and that is no fun. They hang out with people who don’t make them feel inferior in comparison, and they are not bad people because they do that. You and I, we are (I am going to assume) comfortable with our smarts and not threatened by smarter people or people who are more informed about a subject we are not as knowledgeable about, because we know we’re smarter than the average bear out there.

It’s OK to be compassionate about it, but it is not cool to be smug about it (but let’s face it, you’re going to occasionally feel smug when some Young Earther or Flat Earther or Conspiracy Tin Foil Hat Wearing Theorist pops up on the periphery of your infobubble / monkeysphere because, if you are smart, you are in the minority and it gets depressing and irritating after a while, and mocking the source of your annoyance is only human). It just makes the problem worse.

Trust me, I have made this mistake a thousand times and pissed off people and suffered for it, and most of the time it was a situation where I was firmly ensconced in my monkeysphere and just BLIND to an alternate POV due to a bad mood or moment of smuggery or being spoilt by being around brilliant peers for a lengthy amount of time to the point where I just forgot that not everyone on the planet is a genius or even particularly smart. I always feel shitty about it, because I don’t like making other people feel bad.

Yes, I have a right to express an opinion or to be discerning or even to be grouchy now and then, but I don’t have a right to actively make someone else feel bad if (as is usually the case) their guilty pleasure is something I can’t fathom enjoying at all–me thinking “if you’re so smart, why do you like boxing?!” is RUDE, and I am just glad I have never thought “you must not be so smart, all evidence to the contrary, if you enjoy listening to Kottonmouth Kings because that is crap music.” I am aware that bad taste (or a single incidence thereof) is not an indication that the person is sub-normal mentally, thankfully. But I have still made the mistake of viewing everything from within my personal infobubble and social circle from time to time, and that’s when my head almost explodes at the idea that people insist on believing debunked information, or voting for obvious assholes, or buying stupid and badly-written books that happen to be unfathomably (to me) popular.

We have to step outside the infobubble now and then and try our best to see other people’s points of view, and have compassion for those who are not exactly stupid as much as they are under-informed or poorly educated. I suspect that liberals in particular have problems with messaging and reaching the average person because we seem to think things are self-evident to anyone who isn’t stupid, but, surprise, there are a lot of people who are not so much stupid as they are not exposed to the same information and who are not interested in getting into debates about ideas. They want soundbites and factoids and Cliff’s Notes. Maybe some aren’t stupid as much as they are busy and just not as interested in politics. Figuring out how to reach the busy and mostly disinterested requires exiting the monkeysphere and not being a superior asshat when we do.

Mike D**********:

I am sure there are liberal educated people who shun or cut off those who disagree or don’t make sense and I do agree with you that could be a problem but I don’t think it is the major conflict. I think it has less to do with information and more with morality. I’ve been reading a lot about how the conservative mind works and they have 3 additional morals than liberals do: authority, purity, and loyalty to group (like all whites). They consider these equal or even more important than the two they share with liberals: Justice (fairness), and Care (not hurting others).

One of the biggest problems is when the loyalty to group (whites, Christian, place they live) becomes more important than causing harm to others (non-whites, non-Christian, someone who is not like everyone else they associate with). Purity isn’t much better (punishing women for having sex in a way they don’t like). Authority is what makes them follow the leader and why they need to believe the president isn’t valid (kenyen, muslim, etc).

Morals have more to do with feelings than thinking. This means you can have a brilliant person capable of critical thinking and logic who still feels they are superior because they are white, is misogynistic, and doesn’t want to follow someone who doesn’t already agree with their beliefs. If they have love for their beliefs and didn’t allow or were even taught how to allow for the event they were wrong, they fight to defend them like they were a child. I believe this is the main problem to over come and not an intelligence or educational issue.

If you think about it, even a below average intellect can accept there is no Santa, unicorns, Zeus, or Easter Bunny. However, if you try to tell them that feeling they have been having to have sex with someone of the same gender isn’t really a demon trying to tempt them or they are wrong about their belief that no matter how awful they are the only being that matters will forgive them if they worship him they might try to kill you.

This is because most people don’t make it to adulthood believing Santa is real. No one is really told that Zeus is the one who they must worship anymore. This means there is less of an emotional attachment to those beliefs. When someone has spent much of their life believing something they may not have the skills to cope with being wrong. It may even cause them to be suicidal. So it is reasonable to see them thinking truth and facts are life threatening and be willing to harm someone who tries to enlighten them.

The only real solution is to expose children to as much as possible. It is why conservatives are trying so hard to stop kids from going to school younger, learning facts, or accurate history. If we can’t classify religion as child abuse or expose kids to alternate ideas, then we can only hope the access to information and their innate curiosity will overcome any isolationism they face. I am not sure there is a way to get someone to accept the truth, reality, facts, logic, or reason if they do not have a way to cope with them.

I got asked what I meant by “monkeyspheres” and posted some links about what monkeyspheres (a.k.a. Dunbar’s Number) are. Cracked actually does a good job of simplifying the idea and being amusing about it. (I linked to their article below; if you are in a hurry, you can scroll down to the Notes section.)

Suffice it to say that there is a theory that we can only intellectually grasp a finite number of people as belonging to our personal “Us” category, as opposed to a “Them” group. People in the “Them” group, which, by definition, is going to include several BILLION other people, are foreign to us in ways not restricted solely to language or geography. Our “Us” group is the small circle with which we can form stable social relationships and feel (emotionally) some care for. We can intellectually care for people in the “Them” group, but when you get right down to brass tacks, we are most comfortable relating to those already in our tight little “Us” unit.

Forgive me if I over-simplify.

I was using the term “monkeysphere” as shorthand to describe how that “Us” group increasingly becomes homogeneous over time and makes it more and more difficult to relate to or understand people we place into the “Them” group.

Note that expressing empathy or solidarity with a group you do not actually belong to (say, being a straight person in favor of rights for gay people, or a man who identifies as a feminist, or a white person outraged by racism and mistreatment of people of color, or a liberal quoting what a Republican says about an issue, or an atheist who happens to be fond of several people who take comfort and feel satisfaction with their religious faith, a thin person who hates fat shaming, a parent who dislikes other parents who criticize the childless or vice versa, etc.), the assumption you will run up against, often, from people who do not personally know you is that if you express understanding of a particular group’s issues, or try to understand, you must belong to that group yourself. (I.e., You post a lot about gay marriage issues, you must be a lesbian. Well, no, I am a 0 on the Kinsey scale and have no sexual interest in women whatsoever, I just happen to think gay people are PEOPLE who deserve equal rights. I don’t have to want to date a lady to believe that is the moral thing to do. :)) We instinctively seem to understand that monkeyspheres / groups / infobubbles tend to be homogeneous or similar.

So not only is it unusual to try to be inclusive of Others in your personal “Us” group, the default assumption is that you really CAN’T include people who are too different from you. (I disagree, but you have no doubt noticed the same thing.)

In theory it is simple to say “Be excellent to each other” and to try to follow that. In practice, it is apparently all too easy to construct monkeyspheres that are full of people who have more in common with you than not, and it becomes more and more difficult and uncomfortable the more entrenched you get within your comfort zone and “Us” bubble to see past the mirroring of ideas and attitudes and privileges and assumptions that are native to you and the people like you in your monkeysphere / “Us” group and try to grok what someone in the “Them” group thinks, feels, or has experienced.

Mike D**********: 

Hmmm – I don’t believe people really think you are gay for defending gay rights. It is just the best retort they can think of and it is probably mimicry. It is akin to a racist person calling you a racist before you can point out they are. It is common strategy that if you can’t defend your position, you should go on the attack. If you play their game you defend against their attack and they never have to go back to defending theirs. Personally, I believe the best retort to someone calling me gay is telling them they should have no problem with me sleeping naked with their wife/gf. They never seem to be expecting this and they are much more willing to get back to the issue of them being a hateful bigot.

David R******:

But. It’s so much easier to stay in my monkeysphere, damn it!

P.S. Thanks for the rewind, I missed it. Great stuff. I would have more to say but I’m entirely too apathetic at this point to pull it together. I realize this is part of the problem. I’m everything and nothing and totally part of the problem. I try to feed my Give A Fuck everyday and it just hasn’t been working.

It is indeed a lot easier to stay in your personal monkeysphere. I’m just not sure it is the most practical thing when we are upset about how people outside our monkeyspheres are handling Important Stuff. We might be behooved to move beyond looking only within the echo chamber and trying to grok Others who come from alien perspectives. It’s easier to just label them “Them” and dismiss them altogether.

One can also argue that it seems to be the more liberal-minded who are even willing to think about this sort of thing and attempt to branch out and empathize, but I think that sells other folks short. You just have to learn how to speak their language a little better, maybe.

David R******:

A bit of fatigue sets in, I know your life is complicated, as is mine, as is everyone’s. At the end of the day sometimes, it feels like all I can do to simply mock a few morons. But yeah, it WOULD be better, to be better than that.

It is exhausting to choose not to go the easy route, believe me. For instance, it is definitely easier to snort derisively at the latest genuinely ignorant thing Palin has said or done than to attempt to figure out WTF is floating around in that pointy little noggin. I suspect it is kind of dark in there, and scary. However, I won’t know for sure until I at least try to parse what’s going on. 🙂

JaceSan L********:  

Not being as far left as some of my friends I try to keep an open mind when listening to conservatives argue their points. Unfortunately anyone arguing from a religious perspective, or the belief that embryos are entities, is already going to irritate me because I don’t hold the same beliefs that they do.

And I guess they can banish me to their hell if they’re too narrow-minded to accept the fact that not everyone holds the same beliefs that they do.

FTR I know some liberals that are just as dismissive and unable to accept anything that differs from their opinion. And they’re just as irritating to argue with.

Audra B P********:

The people *I* have trouble understanding are the extroverts. I do not understand the constant need of some folks to be around other people. Does not compute. Oh, and they need to stop telling me to get out more. NO! That’s the last thing I need. Give me solitude and a book any day! 😉

Victoria K******:

Every human being alive [except those with certain brain dysfunction] have an instinctive drive to find others who will aid their survival. Like minded individuals with whom to companion with. Some we will spend extra time on to see if there is any possibility of connection and others we understand right away there is little hope of that.

I’m participating in a thread right now that made me want to tell you to keep doing what you’re doing to try to round ’em all up. Keep reaching out to calibrate yourself because the more experience you have the better you’ll recognize what experience you are lacking and who you would include in your life boat and who you’d have to let swim on their own.

Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments section.

How many monkeys are in your sphere?



What is a Kinsey scale?

“The Kinsey scale, also called the Heterosexual-Homosexual Rating Scale, attempts to describe a person’s sexual history or episodes of his or her sexual activity at a given time. It uses a scale from 0, meaning exclusively heterosexual, to 6, meaning exclusively homosexual.”

What is the media echo chamber / echo chamber effect?

“The echo chamber effect refers to any situation in which information, ideas or beliefs are amplified or reinforced by transmission inside an “enclosed” space.

Observers of journalism in the mass media describe an echo chamber effect in media discourse. One purveyor of information will make a claim, which many like-minded people then repeat, overhear, and repeat again (often in an exaggerated or otherwise distorted form) until most people assume that some extreme variation of the story is true. A media conglomerate that owns multiple media outlets can produce the same story among “different” outlets, creating an illusion that a media consumer is getting information from different sources.”

A TED talk by Eli Pariser about online filter bubbles.

Google herds users into more restrictive infobubbles:

Starting this week (07 December, 2009), Google will present search results in the order in which users are most likely to prefer, based on their recent search histories.

In a blog post, Google’s director of search product management, Johanna Wright, said Google is now better able to provide the most relevant results using analysis of 180 days of Google search activity from users’ browsers.

If someone always searched for ADA and often clicked on results about the programming language, Google might show them those results before it showed results for the American Dental Association, for example, she said.

Also starting this week, Google will automatically deliver search results based on what it thinks users meant when they typed in their search terms.

Blogger Matt Brezina on “Social Networks, The Monkey Sphere, and Moore’s Law of Human Relationships”:

“The Monkey Sphere (also known as Dunbar’s number)  is a theory from evolutionary biology which was derived from the study of groups of monkeys (or more specifically non-human primates) in Africa.”

Cracked.com article titled “What Is The Monkeysphere?“:

“The Monkeysphere is the group of people who each of us, using our monkeyish brains, are able to conceptualize as people. If the monkey scientists are monkey right, it’s physically impossible for this to be a number much larger than 150.”

What is Dunbar’s Number?

“Dunbar’s number is a suggested cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. These are relationships in which an individual knows who each person is, and how each person relates to every other person. Proponents assert that numbers larger than this generally require more restrictive rules, laws, and enforced norms to maintain a stable, cohesive group. No precise value has been proposed for Dunbar’s number. It has been proposed to lie between 100 and 230, with a commonly used value of 150. Dunbar’s number states the number of people one knows and keeps social contact with, and it does not include the number of people known personally with a ceased social relationship, nor people just generally known with a lack of persistent social relationship, a number which might be much higher and likely depends on long-term memory size.

Dunbar’s number was first proposed by British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, who theorized that “this limit is a direct function of relative neocortex size, and that this in turn limits group size … the limit imposed by neocortical processing capacity is simply on the number of individuals with whom a stable inter-personal relationship can be maintained.” On the periphery, the number also includes past colleagues such as high school friends with whom a person would want to reacquaint oneself if they met again.”

On “Us” and “Them”: ingroups and outgroups:

“In sociology and social psychology, ingroups and outgroups are social groups to which an individual feels as though he or she belongs as a member, or (for outgroups) to which they feel contempt, opposition, or a desire to compete. People tend to hold positive attitudes towards members of their own groups, a phenomenon known as ingroup bias. The term originates from social identity theory which grew out of the work of social psychologists Henri Tajfel and John Turner.”

Pink Floyd covers the topic:

Believe It Or Not, There Are People Who Do Not Care About Sports / Politics

To be clear, I don’t “hate sports.” I am as close to being utterly indifferent as possible, which is not hate or even distaste. I just don’t care. There’s no “you’re wrong if you like sports” message here. I actually find it hard to pinpoint one thing I hate absolutely, though perhaps “misogynistic gangsta rap that glorifies materialism and violence” might come close, and that is possibly because I have yet to hear more than one or two examples of the genre I didn’t dislike.


Even so, I don’t “hate” it. I dislike much of what I have heard, and with some intensity. But, again, that’s an indication I am invested enough in the topic to work up a little grouchiness on the topic. Since I have a mostly negative opinion based on the few samples of the genre I have been exposed to,  I’m not totally indifferent.

I am indifferent about sports. I don’t think people who enjoy sports are bad or wrong, I’m just not into it. A friend and I were discussing politics the other day, a subject about which we (mostly) agree. One of us (perhaps me, perhaps him), had just expressed frustration about the opposing political point of view and what a representative of said POV had said about a particular issue and we both promptly set about making the mistake of getting wound up about it and assuming that the people expressing that point of view — or worse, that the people who weren’t discussing or thinking about it at all — were just plain stupid. Admit it, you have done this. You may have even said it: “All [insert members of the political party you don’t agree with] are stupid!” You’re only human, right? Please note that this is a dangerous assumption, no matter what political views you espouse.

I caught us both starting to just dismiss the opposition as a bunch of idiots, and it shook me up. I took a moment to reflect about that. Normally, I don’t like to assume the worst of people. I don’t like to lump people together and say “all X are Y.” I don’t like to just assume that there is a monolithic group out there that collectively acts more like the Borg, a Hivemind, or Pod People rather than, as is true, that there is a group that is made up of real individuals who don’t all act in lock-step or agree on every single issue, and I might or might not have common interests or beliefs with some of them. Normally, I want to know why people I disagree with happen to think the way they do. So why was I dismissing an entire political party as being irredeemably “stupid”? I knew it wasn’t true! I have friends and family members who say they belong to the political party I do not agree with, and we coexist just fine, and not a single one of those people are actually unintelligent. So. What gives?

One thing that occurred to me is that some people just don’t really care about politics. Let’s get real: politics are complicated. They cover social issues, legal issues, and — though Separation of Church and State would seem to be a contraindication — religious issues. To be well-informed, you have to be willing to read information from a lot of different sources, which takes a commitment of time and energy that some people can’t (or don’t want to) make. I know conservative friends who will dismiss any information that is not endorsed by Fox News. I know liberal friends who would rather eat glass than listen to Glenn Beck. (Interestingly enough, liberals I know are apparently less likely to embrace any and all liberal spokespeople just because they happen to be liberal-leaning: for example, I know a lot of liberals who strongly dislike(d) Al Gore, Hillary Clinton or Michael Moore and criticize MSNBC. I know few — if any — conservatives who don’t claim they supported and agreed with the Presidents Bush or who don’t admire Ronald Reagan and quote Glenn Beck at least once. Or who don’t like Michael Savage. Or Rush Limbaugh. Or who refuse to watch FOX News. Which is a curiosity to me. But I digress.)

The thing is, sometimes you must read the opposing point(s) of view to understand an issue better. That way, when you disagree, you are disagreeing with what they actually said or did, and not what a source that supports your political views claims they said or did. This, my friends, if you are (wo)man enough to grin and bear it, can be very enlightening. At any rate, there are people who just don’t give a damn about politics, and they act a lot like people who just don’t give a damn about sports. “What!?” you say (while reading this article on a website that discusses politics a lot). “How can this be?”

Here’s where I apologize in advance for any egregious errors I make when discussing sports. Feel free to correct me in the comments section if you feel so inclined (and know that you’ll be outing yourself to the rest of us as A Person Who Cares A Lot About Sports, not that there’s anything wrong with that). I’m admitting I don’t know much. It’s not a passion for me.

I have noticed something interesting. People who like sports typically really like sports. My brother is one of these people. If there is an activity which can, by any stretch of the imagination, be considered a competitive sport, then he probably knows a lot of arcane data about it. People who like sports pay attention to which people play for which team. They know the coaches’ names and sometimes they know the referees’ names, too. They make a point to travel to see sports in action. (I would say that more people watch or actually attend sporting events than vote or actually go to (for example) Town Hall meetings or political rallies, but that is just a guess.) People who like sports understand the context when Dennis Rodman gets up, while accepting an award, and apologizes for past bad behavior and vows to be a better person. Non-sports people may not even know who Rodman is, or just know him as “that clown” who likes body art, hair dye and wearing dresses. There’s no context there for them, so the non-sports person shrugs and says, “That’s nice.” Or take the LeBron brouhaha. I’m a non-sports person. To me, it looks, from the outside, like LeBron dumped one team to accept a more lucrative offer from a competing team. This doesn’t bug me one bit. Isn’t that what all people do when they wish to advance in their career? They leave one job, which they may have liked perfectly well, to accept a better-paying job elsewhere and few people raise an eyebrow about it. A sports person, however, is going to have very strong opinions about LeBron’s decision. Here’s another example: not only was I not interested in the most recent Superbowl, I forgot what day it was going to air, and I am still not 100% sure who played. I don’t care if they won or lost. That was the motherloving Superbowl, people, which I am not unaware is a Very Big Effing Deal if you like sports (especially football). Are you having heart palpitations yet, sports-loving people?

I am vaguely aware of various stand-out athletes. Sometimes, such as when I play trivia games, I am shocked that some nugget of sports information has managed to filter its way into my sports-indifferent brain files. I’ve attended a few sports events (and was fairly knowledgeable about the Atlanta Braves during the mid-1990s, if I dare say so myself, though much of that knowledge is long gone…it has atrophied from disuse). I know that if you go to the University of Georgia, you better damn well support The Dawgs, or suffer the consequences. I could go on, but you get the idea.

It suddenly occurred to me that, for some people, politics are as interesting to them as sports are to me.

They know the names of the biggest players, and have a rough idea which “team” they belong to. They pick and choose favourites by relying upon occasionally very arbitrary and limited scraps of information. They hear a soundbite and it sounds good, and they don’t feel the need to go digging for context. (Likewise, I know that there’s a dude named Yao Ming. I know that he is very tall and, I presume, good at his job, but I have no clue what team he is on, or if they are doing well. I just don’t care. I’m satisfied that I can identify that particular tall dude if I have to.) Just as my friends and relatives who care passionately about and enjoy sports are probably disgusted by (or annoyed by) my lack of interest, I find myself equally upset with people who don’t give a shit about politics. (There is only one reason why I might have a “better” excuse to be upset: political issues have a habit of affecting us all, more or less, whether we pay attention to them or not. Conversely, whether a particular sports team wins or loses may be a big deal to fans, but even they have to admit that the outcome — unless they bet on it — is not going to really affect them on a personal or lasting basis. Beyond that, a passion for political information is probably just as unfathomable or boring or uninteresting to people who do not give a crap about politics (beyond the basic highlights and soundbites) as a passion for sports trivia and current events is to people who do not give a crap about sports.

There is a limited amount of free time and attention any one person can give to topics that go beyond the basics of survival. You have to worry about your family, your job (or lack thereof), your home (or lack thereof), your personal aches and pains, your health problems, and so on. The busier you are with family and work and personal concerns, and the more non-basic interests and hobbies you have competing for your attention, the less likely it is that you are going to have the interest — or free time — to really dig into politics. You might not even be bothered enough to go and vote (almost inconceivable to me, but when only about 30-40% of eligible US citizens actually bother to get to the polls, you have to face it that it is not inconceivable to a lot of other people, and, in fact, 60% of Americans are, in essence, saying they don’t give a shit about politics…or not enough of one to back up their political opinions by actually bothering to go and vote).

It is understandable that busy people with a less than passionate interest in politics are going to stick with one source of information even if it makes them misinformed, like Fox News (and please understand the difference between uninformed (which is knowing nothing about a particular subject) and misinformed (which means what you think you know or what you have been told is  incorrect)), and/or pick a party and stick with it and reject the idea that maybe that party is working against their best interests (perhaps this is like being a life-long Red Socks fan before they won in 2004, because they were your team, and your dad’s dad’s dad’s team, or you are from Boston (or not) and, well, just because, and “Go Socks!”, et cetera. To repeat: I do not actually care one way or the other about the Red Socks, so don’t yell at me that I mentioned a team you happen to hate.)

There is a reason why political candidates do their best to cherry-pick the current hot-button topics before each election. A lot of people don’t care to really sit down and examine all the issues, because it is a daunting task. They let politicians set the talking points and then argue about them. I may be cynical, but I don’t see a lot of these so-called talking points being passionately discussed by non-politicians before they become political footballs to fight over. Oddly enough, when a politician is not railing about a particular issue, people find it simple enough to decide on a case-by-case basis what they think about something when it actually involves them personally. Talking points take issues that may or may not involve the majority of the public personally, and try to get people to care passionately about them, and, you have to admit, they often succeed. Who gave a shit about the Debt Ceiling before 2011? Be honest, now. It was always a non-issue that only very politically well-informed people even knew about.

Here’s the tricky part: You can’t force people to give a shit about politics, even though it is in their best interests to care.

Often, you can’t even convince conservatives / liberals to get their information from more than one source. Even more often than that, you can’t get some conservatives / liberals to consider the opposition’s POV. Most difficult of all? Getting someone with strongly-held beliefs to take the time to sit down and challenge them, one by one, and see if the party s/he supports is actually promoting ideas that s/he really (still) agrees with! They are, politically-speaking, Red Socks fans before 2004. They belong to a particular party, and it was their dad’s dad’s dad’s party, and that’s good enough. I don’t have to underscore the fact that many Americans do not really enjoy reading for pleasure, do I? Even fewer enjoy reading scholarly books once they don’t “have to” for school. That’s not fun. It takes concentration and comprehension. It takes time.

For what it is worth, when it comes to making my opinions known with the help of social media, I do read all the articles and links I post on my Facebook Wall or which I “retweet” on Twitter. I do not always agree with them (and usually explain why, if it is not obvious). Often I will sit down, when I have free time, and do a little research and explain why I disagree, or why I think something could be explained better, or why something doesn’t look entirely accurate to me. I realize that not everyone has the time or interest to do more than scan headlines, so I try to indicate when an article is a spoof or comedy piece so my more busy friends don’t get all freaked out by a sarcastic Borowitz Report, Daily Currant, Onion or Christwire joke article. I have the luxury of time because I read things very quickly and in the past couple of years, I have been a full-time student but also, sadly, un(der)employed so I have been blessed with some extra free time which I can choose to use to read about things that interest me; that is free time that other people might not have. I am choosing, right now, to focus a lot of my spare reading time on political topics both because it is an election year and also because there are a lot of social and economic issues that I am (I admit) pretty hot under the collar about right now.

I also want to hold people who agree with me politically to some high standards. A lot of online friends were OUTRAGED over a joke circulating about the Obamas (or Obama and Oprah, or Obama and Biden…I have, unfortunately, seen many if not all of the variations) that went something like this:

“Person 1 & Person 2 are on Air Force One. Person 1 says that throwing a $1000 bill (never mind that none are in circulation or easy to get or likely to be cashable at any normal bank) out the plane window would make one person very happy. Person 2 agrees, but says that throwing ten $100 bills out the window would make ten people happy. At this point, the flight attendant or pilot mutters that if s/he threw both 1 & 2 out the window, a large number of people (I’ve seen it as half the population of the US and as the entire population of the US) would be happy.”

It’s a mean-spirited joke, and it is certainly not exactly smart to tell jokes about causing harm to the President. You have to admit that throwing someone out of an airplane is likely to cause them harm or an irreversible case of, well, death. (The Secret Service does not have a great sense of humor, so you take your chances when exercising your rapier wit, First Amendment or not. You know how Suits are. They react first, and sort out what your rights are later, and that’s how it has been for a very long time. (I could get snarky here about The Patriot Act and other politically-expedient erosions of privacy / rights, but I will restrain myself.)) The problem here is that this exact same joke was told about Bush and Cheney in the 2000s, and a lot of liberals didn’t say boo about it. I’ve called a bunch of my liberal friends out about this, too. You can’t think it’s hilarious when it is directed at the guys you don’t agree with, and then get all butthurt and pouty when the exact same joke is told about “your” guys.

(CAVEAT: Both Bush and Obama have been Photoshopped into or compared to apes and monkeys, and people who supported Bush or support Obama don’t find it funny. It’s not cool in either case, but—and this is very important—I have to point out that it takes an especially nasty twist when the subject is African-American. I don’t care if you don’t think that’s fair, because the fact that using Photoshop to depict Obama as a chimpanzee will get you called, rightly, a racist is one of many unfortunate side-effects that happen after white folks oppress non-white folks for decades, when non-white folks are typically disadvantaged in a lot of areas when compared to white folks, and when there are still non-white people alive today who remember riding in the back of the bus or drinking from a separate fountain. You do not, if you happen to be a white person and if you happen to want to avoid being thought of as a racist or asshole (or asshole racist), compound an already sensitive social issue by turning a non-white person into a monkey when that was a well-known racist thing to do in the past and when it still is a racist thing to do today. So, yeah…that’s a trickier issue; one that is thornier and less clear-cut than a recycled joke. Ugh, politicians edited to resemble apes…how about not doing that to anyone anymore?)

What I am trying to say is that people get really emotionally invested in this politics stuff. (Just like people do with sports, though, aside from a dogpiling, deliberate cleating or kneecapping (Tonja Harding, I’m looking at you) now and then, and aside from rioting mobs of sports fans after games, no one has yet been actually assassinated over a sports game that I know of…though I bet a few umpires and referees kept a very low profile for a while after certain controversial calls (Russian Olympics judges, I am looking at you).) You can’t force people to care more, or educate those who have made up their minds and are satisfied with their choices and are rigid about them. You can post facts all day long, and those who do not care, won’t care…or they will say you are lying…or they will spread around only half of the truth because they were only told half-truths. It’s complicated…it is more “complicated” than a Facebook relationship option could ever be. Now, I don’t know enough about sports to say this is absolutely true, but I don’t think you can study the psychology of two different sets of sports fans (fans of opposing teams, for instance) and come up with drastically different mindsets.

Here’s where politics gets a little trickier than sports, and where we have to try to understand people who are just as passionate about politics as we are–but who support the opposing ideology.

People who tend to lean and vote conservative, and people who tend to lean and vote liberal have been studied and there are actual differences between them, psychologically, temperamentally, and, perhaps most interesting (and slightly frightening) of all, maybe there are even (tiny) little differences in the actual structure of their brains where conservatives may have a more developed amygdala (and “are more sensitive to fear”) and liberals may have a more developed anterior cingulate cortex (and “have a higher capacity to tolerate uncertainty and conflicts”). Of course, we have to be careful not to confuse correlation with causation…or vice versa.

Psychology Today says: “Most people are surprised to learn that there are real, stable differences in personality between conservatives and liberals—not just different views or values, but underlying differences in temperament. Psychologists John Jost of New York University, Dana Carney of Harvard, and Sam Gosling of the University of Texas have demonstrated that conservatives and liberals boast markedly different home and office decor. Liberals are messier than conservatives, their rooms have more clutter and more color, and they tend to have more travel documents, maps of other countries, and flags from around the world. Conservatives are neater, and their rooms are cleaner, better organized, more brightly lit, and more conventional. Liberals have more books, and their books cover a greater variety of topics. And that’s just a start. Multiple studies find that liberals are more optimistic. Conservatives are more likely to be religious. Liberals are more likely to like classical music and jazz, conservatives, country music. Liberals are more likely to enjoy abstract art. Conservative men are more likely than liberal men to prefer conventional forms of entertainment like TV and talk radio. Liberal men like romantic comedies more than conservative men. Liberal women are more likely than conservative women to enjoy books, poetry, writing in a diary, acting, and playing musical instruments.”

The Nature Neuroscience Journal says: “In a study likely to raise the hackles of some conservatives, scientists at New York University and the University of California, Los Angeles, found that a specific region of the brain’s cortex is more sensitive in people who consider themselves liberals than in self-declared conservatives. The brain region in question helps people shift gears when their usual response would be inappropriate, supporting the notion that liberals are more flexible in their thinking. […] A review of that research published in 2003 found that conservatives tend to be more rigid and closed-minded, less tolerant of ambiguity and less open to new experiences. Some of the traits associated with conservatives in that review were decidedly unflattering, including fear, aggression and tolerance of inequality. That evoked outrage from conservative pundits. [… NYU psychologist David] Amodio said it would be a mistake to conclude that one political orientation was better than another. The tendency of conservatives to block distracting information could be a good thing depending on the situation, he said. Positions on specific issues are influenced by many factors, he noted.”

Slightly less fair (and definitely bound to annoy conservatives more) is the assertion that more intelligent people skew liberal politically. The counterpoint opinion (from a liberal, mind you) holds that “[t]he current American culture war, we have found, can be seen as arising from the fact that liberals try to create a morality relying almost exclusively on the Harm/Care and Fairness/Reciprocity foundations; conservatives, especially religious conservatives, use all five foundations, including In-group loyalty, Authority/Respect, and Purity/Sanctity. […] An unapologetic liberal atheist, Haidt has a remarkable ability to describe opposing viewpoints without condescension or distortion. He forcefully expresses his own political opinions but understands how they are informed by his underlying moral orientation. In an era where deadlocked debates so often end with a dismissive “you just don’t get it,” he gets it.”

Haidt identified five foundational moral impulses. Succinctly defined, they are:

• Harm/care. It is wrong to hurt people; it is good to relieve suffering.

• Fairness/reciprocity. Justice and fairness are good; people have certain rights that need to be upheld in social interactions.

• In-group loyalty. People should be true to their group and be wary of threats from the outside. Allegiance, loyalty and patriotism are virtues; betrayal is bad.

• Authority/respect. People should respect social hierarchy; social order is necessary for human life.

• Purity/sanctity. The body and certain aspects of life are sacred. Cleanliness and health, as well as their derivatives of chastity and piety, are all good. Pollution, contamination and the associated character traits of lust and greed are all bad.

Haidt’s research reveals that liberals feel strongly about the first two dimensions — preventing harm and ensuring fairness — but often feel little, or even feel negatively, about the other three. Conservatives, on the other hand, are drawn to loyalty, authority and purity, which liberals tend to think of as backward or outdated. People on the right acknowledge the importance of harm prevention and fairness but not with quite the same energy or passion as those on the left.”

Dan McAdams at Northwestern University noted that “political conservatives operate out of a fear of chaos and absence of order while political liberals operate out of a fear of emptiness” and, when self-described devoutly religious people with either liberal or conservative political views were compared, it was their political views that had more impact on personality and their attitude about the world around them: “Political conservatives envision a world without God in which baser human impulses go unchecked, social institutions (marriage, government, family) fall apart and chaos ensues,” says McAdams. Liberals, on the other hand, envision a world without God as barren, lifeless, devoid of color and reasons to live. “Liberals see their faith as something that fills them up and, without it, they conjure up metaphors of emptiness, depletion and scarcity,” McAdams said. “While conservatives worry about societal collapse, liberals worry about a world without deep feelings and intense experiences.”

In a Seattle Times article on the same subject: “There are two cognitive styles — a liberal style and a conservative style,” said UCLA neurologist Dr. Marco Iacoboni. […] Linda Skitka, a professor of psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said it’s possible the liberals in the recent study appeared more flexible than the conservatives because the population was skewed. “We’re more likely to find extreme conservatives in the U.S. than extreme liberals,” she said.

The above quotes contain a lot of harsh medicine for both Liberals and Conservatives — and we need to be careful not to get confused when one study focuses on churchgoing religious people, one study focuses on structural differences in brains, and one study focuses on self-reported attitudes and moral beliefs, and so on — but the better we understand not only why the opposing political party “thinks” the way it does and accept that differences of opinion do not make other people automatically “bad” or “wrong” — and the better we understand our own personal gaps in understanding and our interpersonal and psychological strengths and weaknesses —  the more likely it is that we can find common ground with people with whom we have political differences of opinion.

Remember, however, that some people just don’t care about politics. Some people care, but only enough to pick a party and stick with it, and not to examine why. Some people care, but only enough to pick and choose which soundbites and talking points they agree with most at any given time. Some people care, but only care strongly about a particular social issue or policy (such as pro-lifers, or people who want to legalize pot, or people who are angry about Monsanto and GMOs, or people who advocate for minorities or the disadvantaged or disabled), and will therefore vote for whichever politician seems to be most in line with their views about their pet topic, policy, or human rights issue. For those of us who do care about politics, who have the time to read and research extensively, who have the ability to step back — even if just a little — and attempt to be as objective and fair as possible, and who vote, a lack of interest in politics (or a clinging to misinformation or a lack of information, or a lack of intellectual curiosity or passion) is just as crazy and hard to believe as it is for a die-hard baseball fan who suddenly comes to the uncomfortable realization that no one but an equally passionate few care about The Designated Hitter Rule. If you surround yourself with dozens of equally passionate people who care about all the same things that you care about, you are likely to wind up surprised when you are confronted — outside the embrace of like-minded friends — with people who don’t even know what the hell the deal with your pet issue might be, and don’t care. No, they don’t want to watch a video about it. No, they don’t want your brochures. No, they aren’t going to click your website links. Almost inconceivable!

Ask any liberal how shocked they were when Bush 43 won…twice. Within the liberal monkeysphere it was inconceivable that this might happen. (Here is a humorous but informative run-down of what “monkeysphere” means — “Those who exist outside that core group of a few dozen people are not people to us. They’re sort of one-dimensional bit characters.” — from Cracked.) Outside the circle of (approximately 150 or so) like-minded liberal friends, things were a little more complicated. Liberals’ failure to look outside their personal monkeyspheres, then, is just as bad as conservatives who hunker down within the influence of FOX News and naught else and fail to do due diligence (like reading and informing themselves with sources other than Fox).

In short:

1. Not everyone even cares about politics.

2. Those that do care a little bit may pick a side (or a party) and just stop there, never questioning their choice.

3. Those that don’t stop there may not delve far afield from one source of information, which may have serious flaws (such as FOX News, which repeatedly gets criticized in studies for misinforming faithful viewers).

4. Those that draw from more than one source of information may refuse to read information that is known or suspected to have a political slant or bias opposite to that of their pet political party. (How many Liberals do you know who will willingly read a book by James Barton, Ann Coulter or Sean Hannity? How many Conservatives will read an Al Franken, Barbara Ehrenreich or Molly Ivins book?)

5. Those who are willing to read both sides’ points of view may still be filtering information through psychological / moral filters that are radically different from those of the opposing party.

6. It behooves us to expand our “monkeyspheres” to include other outside-of-personal-sphere monkeys, but it is equally difficult to do, given our limitations.

7. There will always be more people who care about, say, Shaquille O’ Neal than Bernie Sanders.