Old folk at lunch

Thursday, November 27, 2003


From Socrates on, good philosophers have always aimed to stir up critical thinking so I guess that Keith Burgess-Jackson will be pleased that he has stirred me up over this post: "If you aren't prepared to raise and kill a turkey, don't eat one". A version of Peter Singer thinking if I am not mistaken.

If he means that I should always sincerely say under my breath "I am prepared to raise and kill turkeys" before I sit down to a turkey dinner, that would seem a fairly modest if highly eccentric requirement. If actual action rather than mere preparedness to act is required, however, I see bigger problems. As it happens, I have back in my country childhood been involved in raising fowl and beheading them for the table when required so I guess I would be OK for a Thanksgiving Day feast even under a stringent version of Keith's morality -- but I don't really see why. Does it have to be turkeys that you raise or are other fowl close enough to justify a turkey feast? And how much of the raising do you have to do? And if you don't have to do all of it, why can you not delegate the whole of the raising to others? Delegation and specialization are the the great tricks of homo sapiens, so why should we not delegate that particular task?


Referring to Keith Burgess-Jackson's view that eating turkeys is morally suspect: I suspect that my post on the subject yesterday sent a few irate readers his way as he has now expanded his exposition of the matter. His argument is that when you have things done for you, you are just as responsible for them as if you did them yourself. So if a turkey is cruelly raised on a factory-farm, you are responsible for that suffering if you buy it.

His argument about responsibility is plausible and may be widely agreed to but I think it just an assertion nonetheless. I would argue in fact that it is absurd to say that you CAN know all the details of all the things that happen when something is done for you (maybe the turkey was kindly raised but the truck-driver who delivers them beats his wife so by buying the turkey we are supporting a wife-beater?) and you cannot be responsible for things that you do not know about.

Friday, November 21, 2003


There is a great letter here from someone in Britain who watched GWB's interview there on TV. It highlights the contradictory views many of GWB's detractors have of him and the arrogance behind such views.

The point the letter makes about GWB's relative inarticulateness reminds me of a similar phenomenon here in my home State of Queensland. Queensland was run for nearly 20 years by the very conservative Sir Johannes Bjelke-Petersen. I was one of his party members. "Sir Joh", as he was known, was universally condemned by the intelligentsia for his inarticulateness. He spoke like the ill-educated farmer he was. The media regularly said he made no sense at all. But he made plenty of sense to the ordinary Queenslanders who voted for him and in one State election (1974) his government actually got 59% of the popular vote -- a majority so large as to be almost unheard of in a Westminster democracy.

The big political battle in Australia in the mid-70s was in fact between the immensely erudite and silver-tongued Leftist Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, and the stumble-tongued but very canny Queensland Premier. And when the 1975 Federal election came around Sir Joh did Whitlam like a dinner. The Leftists won only one out of 18 Queensland seats -- which lost them power in Australia as a whole.

So I think that is a pretty good augury for GWB next time he faces the voters. I suspect that his "inarticulateness" is an asset to him with his voters too. And if GWB does as much good for the USA in his second term as Sir Joh did for Queensland he will be doing very well indeed.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003


Yesterday was a rather fun day for me academically. A copy of the journal containing my first academic article (Ray, 2003) to be published in 5 years arrived in the mail. My most recent one before that came out in 1998. That I can still get them published probably means that senile dementia has not got me yet! For copyright reasons I cannot put the new article online but an early version of it is already online here. The early version is probably more readable anyway. What it shows is that older women (but not older men) tend to lie more about how good they are. Apologies to the sisterhood!

Also appearing in the same issue of the journal was yet another article (Van Hiel & Mervielde, 2003) on "Need for closure" (a terrible affliction that we conservatives are said to suffer from) by that Belgian dynamo, Alain Van Hiel. I had just started to get my head around the considerable complexities of the article when I noticed that his results were not statistically significant! In other words, you could have found similar results in a table of random numbers! I am amazed that such stuff is getting published these days. The Leftist discomfort with reality is showing up more and more in academe, I guess. And one of Van Hiel's key measures was the absurd Bieri scale of cognitive complexity. Van Hiel obviously overlooked my "deconstruction" of that particular piece of nonsense. Had he paid more attention to the way he measured things, he might have got more significant results.

Reading on further in my copy of the journal I noticed another article that was rather reverential about some prior work by McHoskey. That stirred a dim recollection that I too had once looked at the selfsame McHoskey article. So I dug deep in the archives and found a paper I had written which never got published. In the unpublished paper I pointed out that McHoskey's work showed that at least one type of conservatism was --- wait for it! --- MORE COMPASSIONATE! No wonder THAT paper never got published! Anyway, I have now uploaded the previously unpublished article here and here.

The really amusing thing about the McHoskey finding is that the conservatism scale he used (the RWA scale) was originally designed to measure a particularly UN-caring kind of conservatism. How frustrating that it gave the opposite result! I have pointed out long ago however that the designer of the RWA scale (Altemeyer) did not have a blind clue about what he was doing.

But the fun is not over yet! The author (Wilson, 2003) who was so impressed by the McHoskey work himself produced some vastly overinterpreted findings using the wacky "Social Dominance Orientation" (SDO) scale. About half the items in the SDO scale express a strong belief in equality between people. And so what was our intrepid author's main finding when you cut through all the flim-flam? That low scorers on the SDO scale (equalitarians) were idealistic! Big surprise! Yet another example of an "artifactual" (built-in, true-by-definition) finding. Will Leftist psychologists ever knuckle down and do some real research instead of constantly trying to load the dice in advance? Don't hold your breath.

Ray, J.J. & Lovejoy, F.H. (2003) "Age-related social desirability responding among Australian women". Journal of Social Psychology, 143 (5), 669-671.
Van Hiel, A. & Mervielde, I. (2003) "The need for closure and the spontaneous use of complex and simple cognitive structures". Journal of Social Psychology, 143 (5), 559-568.
Wilson, M.S. (2003) "Social dominance and ethical ideology: The end justifies the means?". J. Social Psychology, 143 (5), 549-558.