Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


It’s been five years. We awoke as if from a deep dream. The post-Cold War petty issues of the Clinton years turned into dust, as did many human bones in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania. Life became serious again when we realized that there were people out there willing to attack and kill us because of who we are. Perhaps we should have realized that earlier, perhaps we should have even noted it after the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993. Never mind that for now. We do know it now and we know it because of what happened on September 11, 2001. The horror, the blood and dust, and death. And then the heroism and then the calculated response. Do not let the current politics, the current disgareement over means in the war against terror, allow this massive fact to be made less clear. Let us dispute how we make war on our enemies tomorrow. Today let us remember the event, and let our proper anger be channelled into trying mightily to prevent its recurrence. Let us renew our faith that right makes might and rededicate ourselves to the great task before us, that government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth. And may the honored dead rest in peace.

Discussions - 56 Comments

Amen, Peter. I was deeply moved watching and listening to the songs and reading of the names of the dead this morning. Unfortunately, Matt Lauer and some folks at NBC launched into a five-minute diatribe about how much an average Frenchmen or German hates us now. You know what, I thought, I don’t really give a damn. Let us commemorate this hallowed ground in NY, Penn, and DC and shut the "insightful" commentary about international politics up for the day. Needless to say, I flipped the channel and listened virtually talk-free.

Amen, Tony, Amen.

And as the French hate us so, let them visit the beaches of Normandy where our own young men bled and died for their freedom and for ours.

Peter, That was true, and so, lovely.

Do you suppose we found it unimaginable to be hated because we were not inclined to hate, ourselves? Which is not to say that there are not people who hate, here. It just is not part of our reason for existence as a nation. The French understood us once, Deb:

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door."

What a welcome! For us to have been hit by young men whom we had so welcomed; what a blind, horrible misunderstanding.

Kate, it just proves that you need to be sparing with your "welcomes." There are millions of people out there who’ll slap the other cheek and then knee you in the gut. Such people will always be with us, just like the poor.

"Do you suppose we found it unimaginable to be hated because we were not inclined to hate, ourselves?"

I guess hatin’ gays, foreigners (especially the French), Muslims, poor people and liberals doesn’t count! I love that Schramm asks you guys to put politics aside today and you all immediately pile on with how the stupid Frenchies aren’t grateful enough and we’d better watch out or the barbarian invaders will "knee us in the gut" or whatever. You can’t set that right-wing fury aside for even a day, huh?

Of course you are right, but how do you know which "millions" are which? Yes, such people will always be with us, and you know such people are home-grown, sometimes, too. Who might we lose if we were too sparing with our "welcomes?" We might not have Peter Schramm, for example, and then where would we be?

Actually, I’d slow immigration down to something quite manageable...say 100,000 a year...very reasonable by world standards. And I’d actually check out the immigrants so I could tell the difference.

Oh, and I’d eliminate family reunification and citizenship by birth as policies. We "import" only those we want and need, and citizenship is according only by birth to citizens or by application (like everyone else). And yes, I’d systematically round up the illegals, all 12 million of them...plenty of "fat" in the Federal budget to do it with.

You sound like a fool Dain. You complain about how impractical libertarians can be, and then you advocate rounding up all illegal immigrants. For starters, do you have any idea of the effect such a massive deportation would have on our economy? For someone who hates the shape our economy is in now, see how much losing a large section of the workforce helps it.

In reality, you’re the one who is just a dreamer.

Nope, I’m not the fool, Jose. Sometimes you have to have some disruptions to get things back on track. Your way? Just fiddle while Rome burns. Why? So Wendy’s hamburgers will remain 10 cents cheaper. What an idiot.

For most liberals, and indeed quite a few liberal conservatives, 9/11 and fanatical Islam simply cannot be understood. The basic liberal faith is the Enlightenment view that man is the same everywhere and that he is rational and essentially good. This faith can’t be reconciled with the reality of the malevolence of people so sunk in envy and hatred that the most important thing in life to them is murdering the infidel. That there are people who gain an enormous sense of personal exaltation at the prospect of mass carnage threatens liberal self identity and their sense of self worth. If the classical or tragic view of man as deeply flawed is true, if in fact there are many humans are capable of making a murderous malevolence the center of their own self identity, more important to them by far than any other consideration that can be brought to bear, and who are completely impervious to blandishments or rational argument of any kind, then liberals’ utopian dreams of bringing about an ideal society and their worship of Progress is absurd. Liberals seek to maintain their faith by searching for "legitimate grievances" that would explain such malevolence, which would then be nothing more than a temporary excess not requiring rethinking the basic view of man. Terrorism is minimized, excused with the claim that "they have no other means of fighting." For liberals, events like 9/11 are not a wake up call, but the occasion to search desperately for rationales that will enable them to maintain the faith, such as "why do they hate us?" The rise of fanatical Islam is creating a philosophical crisis for the long dominant liberal mode of thinking in the West. Most liberals are denying this reality, because to do otherwise would mean nothing less than ceasing to be who they are. Liberals clearly do not have what it takes to effectively fight fanatical Islam because they cling religiously to a false and sentimental view of the human situation.

Phil Thompson,
What came next in that paragraph? Which is not to say that there are not people who hate, here. It just is not part of our reason for existence as a nation. Do you disagree?

Life became serious again when we realized that there were people out there willing to attack and kill us because of who we are... especially those of us who are gays and straights, foreigners and native born(especially the French), Muslims and non-Muslims, poor and rich people and liberals and conservatives, those who will not fight back and those who will, those who make silly little morally equivalent arguments, likening lifestyle disapproval to Muslims’ desire to kill all things human, including themselves and their own children, those who are sick and tired of hearing such ludicrous arguments and those who just laugh at them, Phil Thompson and everyone who is not Phil Thompson. For most of us, life has become serious again, but apparently not for all of us.

UG, Yes, and then how about the Jew? Where in the world have Jews ever lived for so long at peace with their neighbors (even when excluded from country clubs) and been able to prosper. This is a point made in a presentation at the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage, online here, but actually in Beachwood, Ohio. One of the puzzles of the world is how and why they are hated, and especially by Muslims. Of course, it is US sheltering of Jews that fuels some of the hatred towards the US, from the Anti-Semitic and those nations indifferent to that.

I have more to say on the topic, but have to go to work.

Kate, the Jews have been hated because they are typically a small clique-ish group that has had enormous success in the real world. So it’s typically a combination of xenophobia and envy...pretty straightforward, and very human. There have been exceptions, of course...I don’t think Russian Jews were rich (mostly because of oppression), and yet they were hated (by then again so were the Gypsies, the Calvinists, etc.). Small distinctive groups who hold themselves in high esteem are lightening rods, particularly when they suffer from all the same human weaknesses as the majority (e.g., vanity, conceit, greed). Jews are just people, but they are conspicuous as well.

Thucydides- As is true of many of your posts on this site, you have confused two things, and proven unable to distinguish between (1) failing to understand the truth, and (2) understanding the situation differently than YOU do. There is no solid evidence that your bleak view of human nature (excepting, of course, you and yours) is the correct one. There is, in fact, little evidence of a global, universal human nature at all. The existence of terrorists is no more proof of humanity’s darkness, than is your existence proof of a complementary light.

In addition, to understand that terrorists have a perspective, and that they may perceive a rational motivation for their acts is not the same as condoning that perspective. It is not the same as sharing their motivation. While you seem incapable of understanding any belief system other than your own, that is not the case for everyone. To acknowledge that "they have no other means to fight," is nothing at all like excusing them, or minimizing the effects of terrorism. And, in the search for a remedy to this debacle, a willingness to see cause-effect relationships has a great deal more potential than bush’s simplistic, cartoonish "They hate us because of who we are." How easy is that? And how it appeals to a shrugging of the shoulders, and giving up? Certainly, we cannot change who we are, can we? There is nothing we can do!

Please stop cloaking your own inability to comprehend other people in simplistic stereotype and name-calling. Either that, or change your pseudonym to something more appropriate. Thucydides does not deserve to be associated with your kind of "thinking."

Oh, Fung...did you really say "There is, in fact, little evidence of a global, universal human nature at all.??? Would you care to debate that? And you a psychologist...unbelievable.

Okay, well, aside from biologicals, which are hardly restricted to humans, what are those universals? And, what is the evidence?

Kate, your question "Do you suppose we found it unimaginable to be hated because we were not inclined to hate, ourselves?" is one of the worst I’ve read here, and that’s saying something. Yeah, yeah, you’ve got your attempt at a shield remark in there, with "Which is not to say that there are not people who hate, here. It just is not part of our reason for existence as a nation," but that doesn’t really temper the insane naivete of the question that much. Which nations include hate as a reason for their existence???

Let’s see. Taliban’s Afghanistan. Saddam’s Iraq. North Korea. And, several others, including the defunct regimes in the ashbin of history.

How about stratification? You know, hierarchy...peeking order? How about sports? How about the sense of beauty (which is being established pretty conclusively). Have you never read Pinker’s "The Blank Slate?" You astonish me.

You are confusing activities with human nature. As for stratification, you can find that among lions, baboons, and newborn litters of puppies. Hardly a human monopoly.

Sports? Sports are basic human nature? Or, are sports a consequence of culture? You are suggesting that we have a drive to "sport?"

A sense of beauty is human nature? What exactly are you suggesting? ANd where is your favorite: Evil? The ultimate, global need to hurt others, and to be selfish? Aren’t you going to include that one?

How about the capacity to blush? or the invention of the subjunctive?

Fung, sports and stratification are what they call "culturally universal." They can be found quite independently from a society’s environment, and are direct manifestations of "human nature." The fact that other species also have pecking order is quite beside the point...these traits are still very much a part of our makeup. You seem to be using the phrase "human nature" in an odd essence that doesn’t manifest itself might as well not exist.

As for beauty, I thought you above all people on this blog would keep up with the evolutionary psychological literature. I guess not...

Craig Scanlon, I guess Tony Williams responded for me. Thank you, Tony. I would include Iran in that list, but otherwise, it is just the perfect short answer. But I feel wordy today.

Maybe what I wrote was naive. I do have a naive faith in the principles of our country. I love the idea of our country, maybe more than I love the country itself, which I do love. I was thinking about my community when I wrote my naive statement. On the day, whichever it was after 9/11, that we gathered in the square for a service to honor the dead, the mayor and council members pulled every municipal employee who was of Middle Eastern extraction and gave him something to do in the ceremony. It was a way of reminding the community that they, Saikely, Haddad, and I forget who else, was part of us. Almost everyone got it, though there was nasty letter to the editor of the local paper on the subject, too. I was thinking along those lines.

Do you think there are no countries that espouse hatred of other people? That might be naive, too. Israel seems to be surrounded by countries that hate it. It seems that some of the governments of those countries have been elected based on an expressed hatred of Jews and Israel.

I am on an International Intercessors newsletter email list. This is an organization you might find really silly because we pray for people all over the world. We get news from missionaries, or sometimes just plain folks in a region, about all sorts of things we should pray about, from a well drying up in some African village to persecutions of whole people groups, often, but not just Christians. When I say persecutions, I do not mean they say bad things about people or write nasty letters to the editor, I mean they kill them, rape their women, steal their children, burn churches, homes, sometimes whole villages. Sometimes these are private acts, just guys acting up, you might say, but really often they are government sponsored actions: Sudan, Indonesia, India, Pakistan and China. That sounds like hatred to me. To you?

As dain says of the Jews, (I did know their history, but knowing, naively, I still do not understand the hatred.) these people also make themselves conspicuous, somehow, and become targets.

I just don’t see that sort of thing in America, especially not as a government policy. Even when such things have happened, we keep them in our history books as a matter for shame, not to exalt them. We hardly keep anybody out, at least not according to dain in comment 8. And we don’t really not round up the illegals for economic reasons, but because most of America would find it unimaginable.

Do you know of some people, some race or religion of the world, who we do not allow to come in and be part of what we are? I don’t, so tell me if I am wrong.

Dain- I am using the term "Human Nature" in a perfectly reasonable and accepted way. Human, as in both unique to humans and characteristic of all humans. Nature, as in innate, as in an instinct, reflex, inherited behavior trait, or perhaps a fixed action pattern. In psychology, we refer to "drives," as in a sex drive, or a drive to reduce pain, thirst, hunger.

Psychology has a long history of positing "human drives," that are somehow unique to humans, and that elevate use and distinguish us from other animals: drives to create, drives to power, drives to accompish, drives for affiliation, and so on. That history (and it IS history) died an entropic death, since the number of drives began to approach the number of behaviors of which humans are capable. We might suppose a drive to win, a drive to lose, a drive to humiliate, a drive to avoid humiliation. And a drive for every purpose under heaven. (I’m into folk, these days)

Certainly, culture has co-evolved along with the species, and many have suggested that culture itself proves the existence of what Adler called "Social Interest," as the basic human nature. Personally, I am a big fan of Adler (who coined the term "Social Interest," but he really offered no more proof than Freud did for Thanatos, or Eros, or Libido.

Cultures must all respond to a fairly limited set of problems for their members, but they need not respond similarly. But, the most basic issue is to give members something to do that is mutually beneficial. So, we see lots of cultures with different sports. That does not prove a drive to "sport," any more than the existence of clothing in every culture proves a drive to dress.

I know all about the literature on human beauty, but all that is, is an acquired set of associations centered around a small number of reliable markers of health and reproductive potential. A certain symmetry, a certain waist-to-hip ratio, and some indicators of youth (in the case of female beauty).

In the case of males, what is beautiful is associated with an ability to provide.

But, your basic thesis, and that of your buddy Thucydides, is that human nature is inherently evil, which is scientifically untenable, and illogical, to boot.

from a source where hatred, as a reason for the particular elected government seems plausible to me. "Not absurd."

Au contraire, Fung. "Human nature" does not have to be unique to humans. Indeed, most of sociobiology is built on the kinship of humans with other primates...most of those traits of human nature that we find problematic to modern life ARE shared with a few other species. You are introducing a constraint on the definition that simply doesn’t exist in the literature.

Have you read Pinker’s Blank Slate. He makes a wonderful case for a definitive human nature, one that IS unique to our species, and demonstrates the silliness of the "blank slate" ideology.

As for beauty, the existence of ANY constants in such standards across cultures is STRONG evidence that a human nature exists. Why you dismiss this notion is beyond must offend your prejudices, yes?

And finally, don’t put words in my mouth. I never said that humans are inherently evil. In my view, humans are inherently self- and group-interested, which sometimes leads to evil (but also to good). This is one of the reasons I’m a conservative (and not a clueless liberal or libertarian); self-interested people need social constraints to realize their potential as well as to realize social potential (i.e., they need the discipline and social structure that make their lives and the lives of others meaningful and liveable).

Let me add that Pinker is worth reading and is good on "the blank slate" or the pretensions of radical social constructionism. For those who want to defend "nature" against "history," there’s much to learn from him. Nonetheless, he doesn’t know everything or even the most important things.

Well, Peter, I doubt anyone knows everything. But what doesn’t he about "the most important things?"

That’s funny--I know Steven Pinker (I had the honor of introducing him when he spoke on campus here a few years ago) and he’s a self-proclaimed libertarian.

No, I have not read Pinker, but now I suppose I will have to. But, Dain, you are describing a bridge between the biological realm that we obviously share with other species, and the psychological realm, that is more exclusive to humans, or is thought to be.

No one cares, for instance, if we "discover" that all humans urinate, because that distinguishes us not at all from other vertebrates.

And we must acknowledge that humans have a tendency to exist in, and to perpetuate culture. But, as Freud suggested, so much of culture seems to exist in antagonistic relationship to certain drives: We create rules about sex, because an unchannelled sex drive leads to disorder. We create rules about violence for similar reasons.

So, does behavior observed across cultures posit a universal "human nature," or its opposite?

Referring back to the bio-psycho-social bridge, you suggest that there is a universally agreed-upon distinction along that bridge, between biological and human, but I would disagree. Every observed human behavior can lead us to subsequent hypotheses about our animal roots, and also to subsequent hypotheses about our uniqueness.

Take sports. Certainly, you have not suggested that baseball is human nature, because (a) some cultures don’t/didn’t have baseball, and (b) not all members of "baseball cultures" play, or even appreciate baseball. But, baseball is one way of playing a sport, and you might suggest that the anti-baseball members of a baseball culture find other wasy to "sport," and thus to manifest their humanness. Except for those who don’t. Some remain couch potatos, or priests, or hermits, or chess club members, who abhor all sports.

So, we go deeper, and posit that sports are really only one way to manifest competition. And those who don’t "sport" find other ways to compete. Except for those who don’t, and so it goes.

And so, by the time we pare away all of the variability, we are left with psychologically trivial universals like urinating.

Again, as for beauty, while humans are more complex, they are not so different. An ape will not use a crooked stick to get ants out of an anthill, when a straight one is available. An asymmetrical cat will not attract sex partners when a symmetrical rival is around

As for evil, you have pounded away on this site regarding liberals who fail to recognize the dark side, and who stupidly promote the literature of self-actualization and positive tendencies. As you just said yourself, without social constraints, it is human nature to fail to be a healthy individual, or a healthy group member. Thus, in your view, society is necessary to shape, constrain, and guide an otherwise errant tendency.

John, that is one of the worst logical fallacies I’ve seen you commit -- if Pinker’s smart, and he’s also libertarian, then libertarians must be smart. You only have to reflect on all the otherwise-bright Leftists out there to understand there is a sharp disconnect between a person’s political views and his intellect. And while he might say he’s a libertarian, I found some truly conservative sentiments in his writing. Regardless, he is a good behavioral scientist, and his book is not an overtly political tome.

That’s not what I’m saying at all. After reading sections of THE BLANK SLATE, I started to wonder whether he might be a libertarian--his conclusions seemed very much in line with what I’ve heard other libertarians argue. So when I met him I asked him about it, and he told me that I was correct in my surmise. In other words, there is no disconnect between his ideas and his political views. The latter proceed logically from the former. Yet you insist on using his ideas to bolster your own, and in the same post denounce "clueless libertarians."

By the way, I’ve never met a libertarian (or a liberal, for that matter), who doesn’t believe that "self-interested people need social constraints to realize their potential as well as to realize social potential." Even anarchocapitalists like Murray Rothbard believed that institutions like religion, morality, and the family played an important role in checking self-interested behavior. The problem is that no entity is powerful enough to check the state, and experience suggests (you appreciate experience, don’t you?) that the more power that is given to it, the more it is likely to be abused.

John, if you think about how reliant other institutions are on law (e.g., family law, property law, etc.), you quickly realize that government is as essential as any of these other institutions. Who says that children must bow to the authority of their parents? The law. Who enforces all those civil rights and economic freedoms that libertarians think are so important? Government. It’s true that government can violate such rights, but its also true that those rights are NOT granted at birth. Society must enforce them.

Fung, you are correct that people have "drives." Indeed, social life really can’t be understood without reference to them (e.g., sex, sociality, hierarchy/prestige). No one is saying that people aren’t complicated...they are quite creative in fulfilling their drives. Baseball is simply a variant on a larger theme...channeling in-group competition for peaceful purposes (i.e., entertainment). It wouldn’t occur to other social species (e.g., bees) to engage in such’s a primate thing. Other social species, bees for instance, wouldn’t eveNonetheless, those drives constrain societies to a relatively narrow band of possibilities...human nature is real, and it makes the human condition intelligible. Keep denying it if you want...I can’t convince you on a blog.

John, if you think about how reliant other institutions are on law (e.g., family law, property law, etc.), you quickly realize that government is as essential as any of these other institutions.

And no libertarian would disagree with that statement, aside from the radical anarchocapitalists--a tiny group even among libertarians. What libertarians have you been talking to, if you think they don’t believe government has a duty to prosecute "self-interested people" who pursue their self interest through murder, theft, or fraud? Most libertarians believe--as did John Locke, the single greatest influence on America’s Founding Fathers--that government’s function ought to be limited to the protection of actual rights, and not to whatever the majority (whether defined as the "community" or "society" or the "general will," or something else) demands at any given time.

Well, John, if you think about it for 5 minutes you’ll realize that "liberal democracy," whereby the tyranny of the majority is held in check, requires a pretty hefty that gets out-of-hand PDQ. This is just one of the reasons I think libertarianism is rooted in contradictions. They want to have their cake and eat it, too.

I’ll tell you what, you have the power of thread-starting. Why don’t you start a thread defining what libertarianism is -- either you own defintion, or a link to a reasonably concise (brief) synopsis of the philosophical moorings of libertarianism (hopefully how it differs from conservativism). Then we can discuss it at more length. One thing I’ve grown extremely tired of is the way libertarians "morph" into conservatives when I’ve called them on their assumptions. Let’s get it nailed down, shall we?

How about this, from Wikipedia:

Libertarianism is a political philosophy advocating that individuals should be free to do whatever they wish with their person or property, as long as they do not infringe on the same liberty of others. Libertarians hold as a fundamental maxim that all human interaction should be voluntary and consensual. They maintain that the initiation (or threat) of physical force against another person or his property, or the commission of fraud, is a violation of that principle. Some libertarians regard all initiation of force as immoral, whereas others support a limited government that engages in the minimum amount of initiatory force (such as minimal taxation and regulation) that they believe necessary to ensure maximum individual freedom (negative liberty). Force is not opposed when used in retaliation for initiatory aggressions such as trespassing or violence. Libertarians favor an ethic of self-responsibility and strongly oppose the welfare state, because they believe forcing someone to provide aid to others is ethically wrong, ultimately counter-productive, or both.

For the record, I do not consider myself a libertarian, despite your repeated efforts to cast me as one. I understand that libertarianism has certain shortcomings as a political philosophy, and I particularly dislike its anti-inteventionist foreign policy. I do have many libertarian friends, however, and do not like to see their views reduced to crude caricatures.

Pretty indistinguishable from Randian objectivism...a form of radical individualism. The problem is, doing as you would like without harming others is "squishy," as our choked civil courts suggest. Virtually any actions taken by individuals can have either intended or unintended consequences for others. And then of course there is the whole "black box" of "voluntarism." "Force" must be defined, and of course the Left would define it as social structural constraints on "oppressed" individuals who were born into involuntary relationships.

Nah, this stuff chases its own tail. Social control is essential to any society, and that means we will be using force against people for the sake of other people. As a species we are not well-adapted for high-density living, and there have to be social rules that govern the behavior of individuals...rules that are generally NOT mutually agreed-upon. The best we can hope for is a rough balance between social and individual needs (i.e., conservativism).

I am glad to hear you understand the pitfalls. There is hope for you, perhaps.

By the way, I know what "concise" means. What an insufferable jerk you are.

Takes one to know one, John. Have a nice day.

For what it is worth, I found comment #39 very concise.

I am not quite the radical behaviorist that I have presented here, though I prefer it to arguments about soul, and evil, which seem always to divide the world into the wonderful "us" and the evil, immutable "them."

Our western societies have done a terrible job figuring out the inherent tension between individualism and relatedness. Both, I think, are complementary sides of the same coin, yet, when presented as opposing ideals, they feed the illusion that (a) whole person can exist without the dimensions that a society brings to a human being (roles, objectives, identity), or that (b) a healthy society can persist without autonomous individuals who choose some of their groups, and are born into others.

Responding to but one of Fung’s mischaracterizations of my comment at 11 above, I did not say man was inherently evil, but rather that he is prone to evil, just as he is to good. It is the liberal’s view, that man is naturally good and reasonable, or at a minimum at least a blank slate perfectible through educational interventions, and that the evil in the world is purely externally caused, for example by bad institutions. This faith is sometimes expressed by a denial that there is any such thing as a human nature, i.e., man is pure putty, and perfectly malleable. Explanations of terrorist acts are sought which allow this vision to be protected. Relativistic claims are put forth to deny that there is any such thing as human evil (except of course, in one’s political adversaries). Many have tied their hopes for a better world to this fatuous view of the human situation. They live with a sentimental daydream, and if they hear it contradicted, they often react with fury and insult the messenger, who is accused, amusingly enough, of being unable to escape a belief system (!), lacking elementary ability to draw distinctions, being confused, indulging in stereotypes, etc. After all, he is undermining their understanding of the world, and therefore their sense of self identity, of being a moral person. Their unrealistic view of the human situation leads to not only thinking in cliches, but also sincerely feeling in cliches.


You offer us the banal "man is prone to evil but also to good," and then you accuse me of dealing in cliche? How circular can you get?

Tell me where you get the evidence for your perspicacious observation? Could it be that "goodness" in people is manifested when they don’t deserve punishment or death at the hands of you and yours, while "evil" leads to retribution and war?

You can try to ridicule minds and belief systems that are more open than yours are, but it remains the case that you refuse to entertain any perspective or explanation for terrorism other than "they are evil," or "they hate us because of who we are." That retarded, preemptive thinking then legitimizes a martial response. What you cannot, or will not understand, you must kill. I am reminded of a child you swats at swarming bees, unmindful of the bees’ chemical message to the others that attracts more and more bees to the site. Whie it may be developmentally normal for a child to continue actions that make the situation worse, adults are supposed to be more adaptable. It may work in the short run (and then again, it may not. Apparently, the Taliban is having a resurgence, and insurgents continue to kill 100 Iraqis p/day, which must surely rival Saddam’s rate).But, it is not likely to work in the long run, and it can hardly be offered as a sophisticated approach.

My experience is that anyone is capable of anything. Limited people are capable of great achievements, and apparently good people are capable of great evil. And that variability is not due to mood changes, nor of latent good and evil lurking within, but rather it is due to the situation. Point a gun at a person’s family, and see what that person will not do. Starve, exploit, ghetto-ize a few generations, and see what memory and revenge can cook up. And then, when the revolt is aimed at you, you shrug your shoulders and attribute your misfortune to a tendency for evil. Well, I think you have a personal tendency to avoid responsibility and accountabilty.

That is, "a child WHO swats at bees"

Fung assumes structural conditions cause evil (like a good little Leftist), but it’s relative inequality (e.g., envy, not need) and perceived humiliation that cause evil. In short, human nature is such that some turn to violence when they feel that their status is being threatened or not properly recognized. As Fung should know (being a psychologist and all), narcissistic personalities with inflated opinions of themselves are most prone to perceived humiliation. Of course, since Islam teaches a world-conquering ethic (which doesn’t correspondent to reality), and the Middle East is chock-full of young men pumped up with false pride, you get Islamofascism (just as you got Nazism from German pride and the Treaty of Versailles).

If you don’t believe me, just look around. The world is choked with poor, oppressed people...but only 1 in a million becomes a terrorist. Typically they are young men who are fairly well educated...interesting.

Dain says it well. Fung once again trades in personal insults, as so often seen in liberals whose faith system is drawn into question, yet he imagines himself to be "open-minded." Wasn’t it once a basic commitment of liberalism of the J.S. Mill variety to make at least some effort toward sympathetic engagement with other points of view? Fung follows conventional liberalism in thinking that any acknowledgement of such a thing as evil must inevitably lead to murder and persecution. Fung has gone on at great length arguing with various people on this thread against the idea there is such a thing as human nature, thus deploying one liberalism’s stalest cliches, but acknowledges he has not read Pinker’s "The Blank Slate," an important work in his own field, now out for several years. Pinker’s work outlines the discoveries of cognitive psychology, of which he is the nation’s pre-eminent practitioner, bearing on this very matter. This work completely undermines Fung’s position, and I suggest he go read it before further embarrassing himself. Of course, one need only to have lived in our times, and witnessed the 20th century, the bloodiest in human history, to see the fatuity of the Enlightenment faith of the liberals. Owing to the intellectual vulgarity of Fung’s comments so far, I do not intend to further respond.

You guys kill me. (By the way, that is a statement, and not an order. Don’t get carried away.) When you get frustrated, and cannot find an answer to my questions, you address each other, and not me. Fine.

Dain’s argument regarding narcissism, and "perceived" exploitation suggests that terrorism should be randomly (and not regionally) distributed among the poor of the world, and that those of us genetically predisposed to "perceive" equality will feel equal, regardless of the actual situation. In other words, according to Dain, it isn’t ACTUAL inequality that foments resentment and rebellion, it is the FANTASY of inequality, and the tendency to have such fantasies is heritable.

But, Dain has not shown us why the cause of rebellion and terrorism (which we now know is NARCISSISM) seems limited to Nazi Germany and the Middle East.

He suggests that it may have something to do with the teachings of Islam, but that, of course, would be situational, wouldn’t it? But, perhaps terrorism is caused by an interaction between the fantasy of exploitation (an inherited trait) and the teaching of Islam. If that is the case, then we had best load up the trains and ships, because our country is "chock full" of Muslims and their spawn who have apparently inherited the trait. This option is, of course, familiar to Dain, along with his "National Character" argument that was so in vogue at Harvard in the 1930’s.

I am still combing the history books to find where Islamofascism was taught in Germany in the 20’s and 30’s.

T’diddy- You didn’t call my belief system into question. You don’t even have the cognitive skills to appreciate it. You can apparently make out its rough outline long enough to swing a mallet at it. I hope you don’t find this personally insulting. If you do, then Dain has excused me. It is not the personal insult that caused your anger, because:

"narcissistic personalities with inflated opinions of themselves are most prone to perceived humiliation.

See, T’diddy? It’s all genetic, dude!

As for reading Pinker, I have not read a book by a psychologist in 6 years, though I have read plenty of journal articles, both in my area of specialization, and outside of it. I also indicated that I WOULD read it, and I will. Have you read every book in your field? Is there a book like Pinker’s in your field, that is, one that completely undermines all other perspectives, and emphatically closes the door on all subsequent arguments?

I’m sorry that you have declared that you are above a sustained exchange.

Now Fung, you grow trollish...what a shame. But what should I expect from someone who doesn’t even keep up with his own professional literature?

Here’s just one example of MANY:

Twenge JM, Campbell WK. 2003. "Isn’t it fun to get the respect that we’re going to deserve?" - Narcissism, social rejection, and aggression."

As for showing why such traits should be confined to Nazi Germany and the Middle East, why should I? They aren’t...there are many kinds of terrorism, and they spring up in far-flung spaces. But some cultures PANDER to these feelings, MANIPULATING them into useful (and violent) social tools.

Fung, you really have to watch this tendency to substitute (lame) sarcasm for legitimate rebuttal. It’s irritating.

Nice try, Dain. But, you are again generalizing from correlations that exist within a group to between-group dynamics, which is statistically fallacious. We refer to it as the ecological fallacy. Your buddies in the National Character movement, and the Culture and Personality movement, tried it years ago, suggesting, for instance, that Freudian dyanamics could apply to differences between cultures, so that cultures that weaned early might be more generous on average than were cultures that weaned late. You are making a similar error, suggesting that narcissism has the same meaning in Saudi Arabia that it has on a U.S. college campus, where these data were gathered.

If my behavior irritates you, then so be it.

Man, I guess you aren’t a quantitative behaviorial scientist. The ecological fallacy is committed when we use aggregated or group-level statistics to make specific predictions about individuals within that group. As far as I know, none of the studies I’ve seen commit this fallacy...and if some do, it’s YOUR discipline, after all.

There are plenty of case studies that demonstrate that narcissism is related to extreme violence (e.g., Mohammed Atta).

Dain- You are wrong. The ecological fallacy is when we do exactly what you did. That is to apply correlations that occur within a population, and then to assume that the same correlation exists between populations, as well. It is equally fallacious to do the reverse: to assumet that correlations that exist between populations (say, between males and females) would also exist within a population (say, within males).

And it is not people in my discipline who have commited the fallacy (in this case) , but rather you, when you read an abstract about a correlation between social rejection (which is hardly the exploitation that I was describing) within college undergrads, and then you tried to suggest that (a) social rejection = societal exploitation, (b) Islamic terrorists are a similar population to U.S. undergrads, and (c) staitstical relationships among social rejection, retribution, and narcisism that exist within the U.S. undergrad population must also exist BETWEEN societies (like Saudi Arabia and the U.S.), and that the covariance around the mean narcissism value in the U.S. enjoys any meaningful relationship to the covariance around the mean narcisism value between the U.S. mean and the Saudi mean. You made three BIG errors, Dainy. And please stop blaming your errors on Psychologists. Isn’t one of your themes the importance of taking responsibility for your own outcomes? Well, I think you should try it. Just say "I was wrong,and it was nobody’s fault but mine." Try it; The truth shall set you free. Or, it might set the rest of us free of you for a brief moment.

I’m sorry, Fung, but you are wrong about the ecological fallacy. It refers exclusively to the relationship between aggregate analysis and inference to inviduals. I’m not even sure I know what you mean about correlations "between" populations. Please look it up.

I’ve seen several studies on narcissism, not all quantitative or using "captive" samples (as is the wont of you psychologists). The theory makes sense, the data are consistent with the theory, and so I don’t think it has yet been falsified. I only gave you that citation because it was handy. Do you want more?

Dain- You are describing an example of the E.F. and not the definition. You are correct, tht your description IS one of the ecological fallacy, but it IS a fallacy for precisely the same reasons that it is fallacious to generalize from correlations BETWEEN populationa and expect them to occur within populataions. It is also incorrect to go the other way, expecting correlations that occur within populations to also occur across populations

The reason it doesn’t work has to do with covariance, and I probably cannot explain it all here. But co-variance has to do with the way two variables within a population "co-vary" around a mean. That is, GPA and GRE scores may each help us to predict why GRE scores in a population are higher than the mean. We can make better predictions if we know the GPA scores in that same population.

So, we can use GPA to predict GRE scores obtained in the same population. But we cannot then expect the same relationship to occur between populations. That is, we cannot expect low GPA scores in Kenya (compared to higher GPA scores in Chad) to co-vary around an meaningful pan-cultural mean with GRE scores in the two societies.

And again, just for the record, the study that you cited did not attempt to do that: you did.

What you are describing isn’t the ecological’s our ability to conduct comparative social science. This is an old criticism that follows from radical idealism (i.e., cultural relativity). As far as I know, there are no psychological or social pathologies that are culturally-specific. Narcissism probably varies in intensity given how different societies encourage/discourage individualism, but I have no doubt that narcissism can be found to some extent in EVERY society.

What you are saying is a version of the old dodge "’taint necessarily so!" Big shot. Next time you throw some social science in my face I’ll remember just how deep your respect for such science goes...not far.

Now you are babbling! I don’t even see a link between your last comment and our previous discussion.

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