The Daily Parker

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Morning round-up

In the mythical Land of Uk this morning, millions fled drunken mobs surrounding the palace as an evil magic spell cast by the House of Saxe-Coburg melted brains across the Uk Empire's former colonies.

Moving on. As much as I like the United Kingdom, and might even live there given the chance, I am a committed, small-r republican, who thinks any monarchy more ostentatious than, say, The Netherlands', seems like an inappropriate use of public funds. Sure, separate the ceremonial functions from the political by having a head of state apart from a head of government, but upwards of £40 million per year plus another £60 million for the wedding (not counting lost productivity from the public holiday) seems like a steep price tag.

Speaking of costs, The New Republic makes the case this morning that Donald Trump's ridiculous candidacy reveals the worst of our traits in a way the Republican Party really ought to condemn:

What Trump actually stands for is an exaggerated sense of victimhood. This is the theme that unites his personal style with the political views he has thus far expressed. Are you tired of being pushed around? Are you tired of our country being pushed around? Trump’s political acuity lies in his ability to take these grievances and turn them into politics. His foreign policy views in essence consist of a pledge to bully other nations.

America is currently engaged in three wars. The country faces major economic challenges. Global warming is continuing apace. There is no chance any of these issues can be solved by yelling at foreign countries, or stirring up anger at Iraqis or Libyans or minority applicants to elite colleges. Donald Trump has appointed himself spokesman for some of the nastiest impulses in American politics, and he seems to have a following. The sooner the Republican mainstream rejects him, the better.

This dovetails with an article in this month's Mother Jones about the psychology of belief and denial:

The theory of motivated reasoning builds on a key insight of modern neuroscience (PDF): Reasoning is actually suffused with emotion (or what researchers often call "affect"). Not only are the two inseparable, but our positive or negative feelings about people, things, and ideas arise much more rapidly than our conscious thoughts, in a matter of milliseconds—fast enough to detect with an EEG device, but long before we're aware of it. That shouldn't be surprising: Evolution required us to react very quickly to stimuli in our environment. It's a "basic human survival skill," explains political scientist Arthur Lupia of the University of Michigan. We push threatening information away; we pull friendly information close. We apply fight-or-flight reflexes not only to predators, but to data itself.

... Sure enough, a large number of psychological studies have shown that people respond to scientific or technical evidence in ways that justify their preexisting beliefs. In a classic 1979 experiment (PDF), pro- and anti-death penalty advocates were exposed to descriptions of two fake scientific studies: one supporting and one undermining the notion that capital punishment deters violent crime and, in particular, murder. They were also shown detailed methodological critiques of the fake studies—and in a scientific sense, neither study was stronger than the other. Yet in each case, advocates more heavily criticized the study whose conclusions disagreed with their own, while describing the study that was more ideologically congenial as more "convincing."

Add to that the profitability of telling people what they want to hear (I'm looking at you, Murdoch) and we are going to Hell in a handbasket. Then again, every generation has thought that, and we haven't seen the handbasket yet. So maybe wishing their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge well is worth a having a party for.

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