On the news this morning was an item about the Pope commissioning a study to give a progressive look at the issue of whether infants who die before baptism should still be considered as going to limbo or whether the heaven or hell options should be reconsidered. After breakfast on the way to work there was a story on NPR about a Father Dowling, a priest in Africa, concerning his belief that the church should condone the use of condoms because of his experiences where 47% of the women are suffering from AIDS because the women are in a society dominated by males in which compulsory sex is normal in order to survive. At least Im glad that these arguments between obvious superstition and prejudice and reason are not confined to my own family.
For Thanksgiving, I went to my Aunt-In-laws in the East Texas, hard-core Republican country. While there, my brother-in-law and his wife from Waco, the religious center of Baptist theology and even more reactionary religious beliefs (of which they are) visited as well. There in the piney woods some of the major impediments to changing the world became obvious. Everyone expresses familial affection for each other as long as the more intimate challenges of free thought go unspoken. The internal dissonance that one feels of towards loved ones who have superstitions that shock the sensibilities, makes the idea of bringing about change in the world daunting at best. It is clear that these superstitions effectively stand in the way of changing the politics of a nation. Even more disturbing is not only the fact that they are superstitious, but that they believe they must impose these beliefs on the rest of us. That is where they move from the quaint to the downright dangerous.
Even talk about the weather is not exempt, with rainfall 16 inches below normal, talk of global climate change is dismissed as Gods will. Attempted discussions of loss of civil rights and invasions of the government and business into personal privacy are acknowledged as disturbing, and then written off as the sign of the beast. This was followed by a curious conversation that this is surely the end times and the rapture cant be far away intermingled with discussion of their childrens college plans. Even there the discussion is about how to prevent them from coming into contact with contradictory information from the rest of the world. The father wants the daughter to live at home and go the confines of Baylor. A brilliant girl, they think teaching or nursing would be good. They feel they are being tolerant by allowing their son to pursue a music career, something they hope he will grow out of. They are encouraged by the fact that he will go to the local junior college but live in a house for young men run by the church where they start each day with a bible study.
What makes for such retreats into pre-enlightenment thinking? How can someone like my kind and thoughtful sister-in-law be concerned about sex slavery in Thailand while supporting politicians who increase poverty, deprivation and corporate plundering here at home? Iraq we cant even go there. My 88 year old aunt-in-law who lives in a village of 50 people and gets her information on politics from her overweight, divorced Baptist preacher, a local right wing newspaper, FOX news and Pat Roberts CBN is somewhat understandable. She even confessed to always having always voted Democratic until the Republicans and the church teamed up to make the issue abortion. She said, I just couldnt bring myself to vote for abortion.
I can understand her isolated, non-global, parochial views, but my brother in law with an engineering degree and his wife a tutor at a public community college? How do you manage to stay so ill informed? How can my other brother-in-law who ministers in prisons and has traveled extensively with the military be so blind to the unchristian policies of the politicians he supports? Its easy, you do what a majority of the Christian right has done, you check out of trying to cope with reality. You see that is the promise of right wing Christianity, you wont have to mess with those queasy feelings that somehow we are all on a train that is going to plunge over a precipice because your God is going to lift you off from the train at the last minute into the air like eagles, no messy coping with the post apocalyptic world.
Kelleys Theorem of Human Nature
What the recent November Texas constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage that passed by 76% showed is that there is a hard-core Bush voter that is immune to reality. Only 12% of the registered voters actually voted, which means that only 9% turned out in response to a huge get out the vote effort. Unfortunately this small committed base that Lincoln identified (you can fool some of the people all of the time) is enough to swing the outcome of an election. Add that to a disinterested uncommitted middle, a minority mix of committed ideologues (fiscal republicans, libertarians, corporate exploiters) and you have the Republican majority.
How this translates to votes is the craft of various election consultants, candidates, pollsters and pundits. The mistake of the Democrats has been to listen to the poll following consultants who try to second guess the polls without really looking at what motivates the answers of the pollees. Consultants are following the confused middle not providing positions to lead them. For that we need to look at what determines individual human nature, a combination of intelligence and mental health. These are the factors that determine how people get, perceive, analyze and use information and consequently how they vote. One of the huge mistakes most people make when they read polls is that they think of all people as basically the same. They forget basic statistics. One of the principles I have always fallen back on when the world seems really depressing is something I came up with while daydreaming in a graduate statistics class in 1975 which I call Kelleys Theorem of Human Nature.
Distributions in any population follow a bell curve. Intelligence, mental health, height, weight all follow a bell curve. Even if the whole population gets obese it will still follow a bell curve of 50% in the middle and 25% distributed on each side of it. You see the bell curve isnt measured in the success or failure of the trait only by the average. So Kelleys Theorem of Human Nature says that following the law of the bell curve will yield a clue to the nature of humans.
First lets talk about Intelligence Quotient. It doesnt matter whether IQ is a totally accurate measurement of intelligence or not, it is the way we pass out privilege and opportunity in the education system and consequently for life as well. It is a measurement which does measure the ability to abstract. This is in all likelihood somewhat skewed by life experience but does provide us with some ability to measure intellectual ability, and guess what it follows a bell curve. Normal intelligence is from 90-110, in other words 50% of the population when tested falls between these two scores. 25% falls below and 25% falls above.
Now what normal intelligence says is not that you are particularly creative, inquisitive, analytical or possess any real level of higher thinking skills, it just means you are average. With respect to abstract information (understanding things that cant be comprehended with the five senses such as ideas) the average person has the ability to do that by pairing the abstract information with symbols such as numbers. This allows people to be manipulated by repetitive pairing of concrete internal feelings of abstract origins with symbols associated with unrelated causes i.e. fear-terrorists-Iraq.
In other words average intelligence means in human beings is that you can complete the tasks of a structured job, keep a checkbook, find your way to work, can be reasonably expected to learn from your concrete experiences to apply that information to the same situation next time. In other words you can be expected to find a comfortable rut and stay there. It also means that when you encounter problems that you cant understand (like complex abstract paradigms) you are easily swayed to believe in superstitious, illogical and incorrectly interpreted causal relationships.
Now the 25% below that normal (from 89-0 IQ) cannot even successfully do those things. The 25% above normal (spread from 111-200 IQ) have an exceptional ability in those areas. In the area of abstraction, that means that they can predict future events from similar events not just the same events. They have the ability to perceive complex abstract data and manipulate it freely in their minds, testing it against various potential realities and outcomes. So only 25% of the people can consistently perceive, interpret, analyze and process abstract information like ideology, economics, history, advanced mathematics, philosophy, scientific theory, etc. That means that 75% cannot.