Previous month:
November 2010
Next month:
April 2011

Male or female?


Androgyne Is the face to the left of a man or a woman?  

Actually, the answer is neither.  The photo was generated by a computer programmed to produce an androgynous face.

It helped establish that our perceptions are influenced by our sense of touch.  

In a clever experiment, people were asked to categorize dozens of these photos as "male" or "female" while squeezing a rubber ball.  

Those who were squeezing a hard rubber ball, categorized the majority of photos "male." And, you guessed it, those squeezing a soft ball, said most of the photos were "female."  

Another experiment, in which the participants were told to write down their answers with enough pressure to make a carbon copy or lightly enough to avoid marking the paper underneath, had the same results.  

Add this to growing evidence that abstract concepts are grounded in sensory metaphors.  Our perceptions, it seems, are heavily influenced by external stimuli, from the smell of freshly baked bread to the weight of a book.

The theory is called "bodily cognition."

 


 


What's your Dunbar number?

Dunbar number Evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar says there's a limit to the number of friends you can have.

The size of the human neocortex simply can't accommodate more than about 150 friendships, he says.  That includes relatives and close friends, as well as people you would wave to if you ran into them at Starbucks.

But the average Facebook user has 130 friends, suggesting that they are approaching their theoretical limit.  

Furthermore, another sociologist -- Satoshi Kanazawa -- says that people today have more one-way relationships than ever before.  

That is, they feel as if they "know" someone they regularly see in the media, even though that person obviously doesn't know them.  For example, soap opera fans often talk about the show's characters as if they are real people.

Kanazawa claims that survey data support his theory. The General Social Survey indicates that people who watch certain types of TV are more satisfied with their friendships. "It's as if they had more friends and socialized with them more often,” he says. 

Putting both theories together, I wonder if these one-way relationships need to be counted in our Dunbar number.  And if they do, what impact do they have on our real relationships. 

 



Spilling the tea

Spilled tea So what's the deal with the Tea Party?  

Are they a healthy "critique" of the Republican Party, as Peggy Noonan claims?

 Or are they a more strident version of conservatism?  

Some new research by the University ofWashington Institute for the Study of Race, Sexuality & Politics suggests the latter.  

They asked the following questions of conservatives who claimed to be Tea Party members and those who said they weren't.  The results are startling.

                  % Agree           

Non-Tea Party     Tea Party

Obama's destroying the country          6                      71

Obama's policies are socialist            40                      75

Hope Obama's policies fail                32                      76 

Hope Obama's policies succeed         53                      18

 

Remember: all these people self-identify as "conservative."

This may spell trouble for John Boehner in the short term, as he tries to corral his troops into some kind of compromise on budget and debt legislation.

And it may portend an emerging split in the GOP going into the 2012 elections.

 

 


 

 



 


Of Gods and Men

Of-gods-and-men I don't do movie reviews, but my wife and I saw an exceptional film last weekend.

"Of Gods and Men" is French with English subsitles, but don't let that put you off.  

There's relatively little dialog in the film, but its images -- sometimes of only a face -- are very moving.  

It's all based on a true story that took place in Algeria during the late 1990s.  

A small Muslim village that grew up around a Catholic monastery gets caught up in an Islamic jihad.

The monks have to decide whether to stay or flee the violence. The decision they make, how they make it, and its consequences are the movie's spine.

In terms of bad press, the Catholic clergy have probably been second only to Muslims in recent years. This beautiful movie reclaims them both, without pulling any punches or sugar-coating anything.  

 

 

 



American Muslims

American Muslim According to the Pew, Americans are nearly evenly split on whether Islam is more likely to encourage violence than other religions.

40% of Americans say "yes" while 42% say "no." The rest don't have an opinion.

But there are troubling signs in the data. That number has nearly doubled since 2002, when just 25% said it was a more violent religion.

And there are clear pockets of deep fear -- two-thirds of conservative Republicans (66%) and a clear majority of White, evangelical Protestants (60%) say Muslims are more prone to violence.

This is all perfectly consistent with other research.  For example, about half of Americans told the Gallup organization they are at least “a little” prejudiced against Muslims.

Meanwhile, other Pew reports -- these studying American Muslims themselves  -- describe American Muslims in decidedly 1950s, Ozzie and Harriet terms as “middle class and mostly mainstream.” 

A December 2009 Pew Research Center report characterized American Muslims as “middle class” and “mainstream.” They are generally as well educated and financially well off as the general population.

And for all those who object to the construction of mosques in their neighborhoods, an earlier 2008 study showed that American Muslims’ civic engagement and agreement with democratic values increased with their religiosity.

 I wonder if this dichotomy stems, at least in part, from the fact that so few Americans actually know a Muslim.  Anybody have data on that?


Religion, Politics & Sex (Part Five)

InGodWeTrust-dollar I thought I'd round out this week's posts with a quick look at the overall state of religion in the U.S.

The U.S. is the most religious of all the developed nations in the world. Just look at a dollar bill.

But that doesn't mean everyone is a church-going, Bible-thumping believer.  

In fact, by the numbers, religion in the U.S. looks like a barbell, with relatively small numbers at two extremes and everyone else in the middle.  

The 6 to 7% of the population at one end are true atheists who don't believe in any higher being; the 10 to 12% at the other end are true-believers who think only they will be saved; the rest of us are in the middle.

But the middle isn't uniform either.  It includes people who are highly religious -- they say grace before every meal, go to church every week, experience the presence of God in their lives in an intimate way.
 

Black-church-women-164
But the middle also includes people who are relatively secular -- they believe in God, but they seldom pray or attend religious services. Some don't even belong to a religious congregation of any sort. 

Asian man

In this middle ground of religiosity, the typical religious person is an older African-American woman who lives in the South. The typical secular person is a young Asian man who lives in the Northeast. 

Earlier in U.S. history, religious conflict was largely between different religious groups.  More recently, it has been between believers and non-believers.  But as levels of religiosity decline among the young, the gap between the more religious and the more secular will become more pronounced.  

In the Faith Matters survey on which American Grace was based, there are clear signs that religious and secular people sit on opposite sides of a yawning gap. They tend to see each other as intolerant and selfish. They have sharply different views on a range of issues, from gambling, R-rated movies, pre-marital sex, and abortion to divorce and homosexuality.

These two groups are up for grabs.  How much of the middle the Republican Party can hold on to depends in large measure on how effective the Democratic Party can be in convincing secular-religious people that it shares their fundamental values on the issues that are most salient to them.

 

 

 

 



Religion, Politics & Sex (Part Four)

Flag and bible Sex and family issues may be losing their stickiness as the glue that holds the Religious Right together.

Public attitudes toward homosexuality are clearly shifting. Studies suggest that this is another area of life where familiarity breeds respect. 

For example, people who know someone who is gay or lesbian are almost evenly divided on the issue of gay marriage, with 49 percent in favor and 47 percent opposed.  Among those who do not know anyone who is gay, nearly three-quarters oppose it.

There is also a growing generational shift – in 1988, young people were no more likely to favor same-sex marriage than their parents, 15 to 13 percent.  By 2008, the generation gap was much wider – about half of young Americans favored it, compared to about a third of their parents.

Most interestingly, in 2008, the degree of young people’s religiosity had no bearing on their attitude toward homosexuality. So the natural process of generational replacement will likely lead to general acceptance, as it did on issues such a women with children working outside the home. 

Meanwhile if the jury is still out on gay marriage, Americans are much clearer about the place of gay men and lesbian women in society.  While nearly half would have removed books about homosexuality from public libraries in 1973, less than a quarter would today. 

And while about half would have forbidden homosexuals from teaching back in the early ‘70s, less than one fifth would today. That’s better than atheists are doing – half of Americans would deny them a teaching position in public schools. 

The picture on abortion is much murkier.  Young people are just as likely as their parents to take a conservative position, i.e., they don’t want it outlawed, but they do want it regulated. They are much less likely to approve of abortion for social or economic reasons, though they’re likely to support it if it affects the mother’s health or is the result of rape or incest. 

However, the issue is likely to be less “sticky” in holding the coalition of religious groups together. Young people are simply less religious than their parents’ generations.  Their attitudes toward abortion depend less on theology than on a social belief that people should take responsibility for their actions.  In that respect, it has more in common with their attitudes toward welfare cheats and crime prevention than with homosexuality. 

None of this means the Gordian knot of religion, politics and sex will soon fall apart.  But there is an opportunity to introduce new strands such as protecting God’s creation (environmentalism) or caring for the least advantaged of His creatures (job creation and healthcare). Not coincidentally, some of the "superchurches" are beginning to emphasize just those issues.

 

 


Chet Burger

Chet_flag Another friend and mentor passed away yesterday.  

Chet Burger was the inspiration, and provided most of the material, for my first book, published in 1975 when I had all of five years experience under my belt. 

The Executive's Guide To Handling A Press Interview was an exceedingly thin volume by an as-yet unseasoned PR guy, and any good advice it contained came from Chet to whom the book was dedicated. 

 Chet's fundamental advice boiled down to three perhaps obvious points: know what you want to say, make sure it's the truth, and then say it in a compelling way. Nevertheless, he made a good living imparting it, realizing that knowing what to do and actually doing it are two different skills.  He was typically graceous in letting me ride on his coattails with my little book. 

Looking back, I can't believe how presumptuous I was. And how generous Chet was. He was many things -- the first TV news reporter for CBS, the first president of the Radio-Newsreel-Television Working Press Association of New York, founder of the first communications management consultancy, the author of eight books, and -- we now know -- a covert agent for the CIA.  

He counted some of the country's biggest firms, including AT&T, among his clients. He was both book smart and street smart. But above all, Chet was a gentleman. He knew how to deliver bad news in a way that almost guaranteed a client would embrace it.  

I owe him a lot and I will miss him.

 

 

 



Religion, Politics & Sex (Part Three)

Becoming_christian_citizen In researching Amazing Grace, Putnam and Campbell studied how religiosity correlated with someone's position on social issues. 

They found a strong correlation on only two: abortion and same-sex marriage. 

In fact whether someone was “highly religious” or “not at all religious” accounted for a shift of 40 to 60 percentage points in opposition to the two issues. 

Of course, religiosity has correlated to people’s attitudes on those issues ever since the 1970s. But beginning in the 1980s, religiosity also became aligned with political partisanship. 

It was only then that the Republican and Democratic parties made abortion a campaign issue.  The GOP called for a constitutional amendment barring abortion in its 1980 convention platform; that’s also when the Democratic party firmly declared itself to be “pro choice.” Religion, sex, and politics fused for those who were highly religious. 

Ironically, surveys show that most Americans are firmly middle-of-the-road on abortion. They believe abortion should be legal, but regulated in some ways.  The problem is that people differ on where to draw the line and, if they're inclined to set more limits, they’re more likely to be Republican. 

People who are highly religious are also more likely to find the issue of abortion important. In fact, highly religious people are likely to consider all sex and family issues important.

Knowing a polarizing issue when they see it, Republican candidates made homosexuality an issue in the 1980s. As a result, voters consider Republicans “friendly” to religion; Democrats are at best “neutral.” 

But if sex and family values are the glue holding the Religious Right together, their potency may be declining.  That’s tomorrow’s post.

 


Religion, Politics & Sex (Part Two)

ReligionPolitics-764320 For generations, Americans inherited their religion -- it was part of their ethnicity. 

Many sociologists expected people's religiosity to wither, just as the salience of their ethnicity had.  They'd be Catholic at Easter and Christmas, just as they're Irish on St. Patrick's Day. 

That hasn’t happened – Americans are still among the most religious people in the world.

A recent book by Robert Putnam and David Campbell, American Grace, estimates that only about six or seven percent of Americans are true atheists who believe there is little or no truth in any religion. The rest believe in God in one form or another and say that religion plays an important role in their lives. But the nature of their religiosity has changed in important ways.

First, most Americans today choose their religion rather than simply going with the generational flow.  Putnam and Campbell estimate that more than a third of churchgoers have changed from the religion they were raised in. Religious intermarriage accounts for some of this change. Most new marriages these days are between people of different faiths. 

Another group are people who retain their family's traditional religious affiliation, but shop for a particular church that better suits their social and political beliefs. "Cafeteria Catholics" would fit in this category.  So would Protestants who move from a mainline congregation to one that is more "evangelical" and vice versa. And Jews, of course, would report the same religious affiliation were they to move between Orthodox, Conservative, and Reformed synagogues. 

But Putnam and Campbell say the fastest growing segment of religious adherents are those who believe in God and an afterlife, but have not adopted any particular label. A lot of these people may be between affiliations. In political terms, they're "leaners" who haven't cast their vote yet. Their religious beliefs are relatively generic and they don't feel the need to join one denomination or another.  In fact, a growing number attend the non-denominational "super churches" that are popping up around the country, especially in the south and southwest. 

Of course, people exhibit different levels of religiosity.  Some not only go to church, but they also pray daily, as before meals.  Well, it turns out that there is a very strong correlation between high religiosity and one’s political affiliation.  The highly religious are much more likely to be Republican, with the notable exception of African-Americans who are overwhelmingly Democrats.   

This pattern hasn’t always been true.  In fact, the so-called “God gap” wasn’t a big deal in surveys until the mid-1980s.  And it seems to be related almost exclusively to two issues: abortion and gay marriage. In other words, the third of our undiscussable topics – sex.

 


Religion, Politics & Religion (Part One)

Race_sex_religion_politics My new book, Otherwise, deals with the Trifecta of topics one is supposed to avoid in polite company -- sex, politics, and religion.

But you can’t explain intolerance without reference to those topics, and, in America, the three are intertwined in surprising and paradoxical ways.

The U.S. is unique in the developed world as a highly religious society.  Almost everywhere else, economic development and religiosity have moved in opposite directions. Poor countries are highly religious, but become more secular as they develop.  Rich countries become more religious following periods of crisis.

But compared to other countries, America has unusually high levels of what sociologists call "religious belonging, believing, and behaving." Some 83% of Americans belong to one religion or another, 80% believe in God, and 59% pray at least weekly. By contrast only 38% of Brits say they believe in God.  

The U.S. been an exception because of the particular way religion and politics influenced each other from the very beginning.  Many of its first settlers came here to escape religious persecution and most of its founding fathers were suspicious of state religions.

The result was a clear separation of Chruch and State.  But that didn't mean Americans gave up on religion.  

On the contrary, De Toqueville speculated that religion played an important role in balancing the American ideal of individual freedom with concern for the good of the community. At the level of individual values, religious and political beliefs moderated each other.  

No Church institution was pulling political strings, but the belief that we should treat others as we would want them to treat us tempered the excesses of a free market, survival-of-the fittest free-for-all.

Furthermore, joining a church has historically been the most common form of association in the U.S., even beating sports and other leisure activities.  And churchgoers have also had higher levels of civic engagement.  They were more likely to attend public meetings, volunteer at soup kitchens, donate blood, and vote. Their participation wasn't the product of their faith so much as the the fact that they belonged to a faith community.  It wasn't how much they prayed, but the fact that they prayed with friends.

People who have a lot of like-minded friends are more likely to participate in civic life. They're also more likely to meet people of different backgrounds. And making friends with people of different background makes them less “other,” increasing their levels of tolerance.

So while most Americans are highly religious -- as measured by their belief in God, their belief in an afterlife, and the importance of religion in their lives – they are also quite tolerant.

So most Americans believe there are basic truths in all religions. Relatively few religious Americans believe that salvation is only available to their co-religionists. And even the very religious don’t believe someone needs to believe in God to be a good American. 

Americans are, by and large, a rarity in human society – religiously devout, diverse, and tolerant.  How that may be changing is the subject of my next post.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


State of News

Interactive-graphic The Pew Research Center issued is annual report on the State of the News Media this week. 

Some of the findings were not all that surprising -- newspapers continue to lose money, the network TV evening news programs continue to lose viewers but still have the largest audiences, and more people are getting their news from online sources. 

Also not surprising, but a first nevertheless, more people get their news from the web than newspapers. Four out of ten Americans get most of their news about national and international issues from the Internet. 

Nearly half (47%) get some kind of local news on their mobile phone. That makes the Internet the number two source for national and international news after television. (When local news is added in, the Internet ties with radio.)

Among 18 to 29 year-olds, the web is already the number one news source.  It was the only news medium that grew in 2010. The top three cable news networks saw audience declines. Cable TV news lost nearly 14% of its audience overall. 

CNN lost more than a third (37%), Fox lost 11%, and MSNBC, 5%. Most of the leading online news sources have ties to legacy news media, either through ownership (e.g., New York Times) or aggregation (e.g., Yahoo News). 

The Pew report raises some questions:

  • Where are these TV news viewers going?  Some are obviously shifting media -- e.g., from newspapers to online -- but I suspect many are simply consuming less news entirely.  
     
  • To what extent are people filtering online media to focus on news that interests them or on opinions they value?  I suspect a lot. 
     
  • How is the ideological viewership of cable news changing?  Is FOX getting even more conservative viewership, while MSNBC's grows more liberal? I suspect CNN lost more than the others because its political bent is less obvious.  
     
  • What is the split between the network TV shows and cable news as people's primary source for news? The last time this was studied, two-thirds of people said cable news was their primary source, even though the big three evening news programs had much larger audiences. 
     
  • How do email and social media fit into this overall news mix?  The last time this was studied, something like four out of ten people said they got news via email. 
     
  • How much longer can aggregators continue to make more money on news than the organizations that produced it in the first place?  I suspect that turkey will come home to roost in next year's report.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Happy St. Patrick's Day


Beck I
n celebration of St. Patrick's Day, I thought I'd point out how far we have come in terms of social values.

When I told my French-Canadian parents that I was marrying a nice Irish girl, they said, "well, at least you told us."  To them, it would be an interracial marriage. (She's actually Irish-Swiss-German, but I didn't want to give them a heart attack.)

By the way, the ruddy boy above is my French-Canadian-Irish-Swiss-German grandson.

Having said all that, it's interesting to see how attitudes change.  In 1987 -- which wasn't all that long ago to the mature among us -- less than half of Americans agreed it was acceptable for Blacks and Whites to date. In 2009, eight out of ten Americans didn't have a problem with it.

What happened?  Did everyone have an ephiphany similar to my parents', who could not have loved my wife more if she had been from Quebec? I suspect some did. But the real reason was more generational than anything else.

Young people are more open to change than older people, and older people take their attitudes with them when they leave the scene. Claude Fishcher studied attitudinal change across a very long period and discovered the same stretched-out "s" pattern that characterizes the adoption of new technologies over time.  

At first only a few people adopt it; that's the lower end of the curve.  Then more and more people buy it; that's the sharply rising middle of the curve. But in the later years, the number adopting it flattens out; that's the top of the curve. The pattern looks like this:

S Curve 1

But when Fischer broke the data down, he discovered that some groups -- notably younger people -- were quicker to adopt new attitudes after the same slow start. They ended up in the same place; they just got there faster.  On a chart, that created a stretched-out "s" with a steeper curve.

S Curve 2

At some point, the gap between the slow and fast-adopters got fairly large. That's where we are right now on many social issues like gay marriage and abortion.  But eventually we'll all end up more or less in the same place.  If we don't kill each other first.  

If you have your doubts, just look at what's happened in Northern Ireland.

Happy Saint Patrick's Day.

 

 

 

 


PR Do-over?

BP-popup E. Bruce Harrison is a wise friend who has written two books on the subject of environmental public relations.  

So when he describes an oil industry executive's speech as "a masterpiece," I have to listen.

And when the executive in question is BP's CEO Bob Dudley (in photo above), my antenna really go up.

 Well, that's exactly what Harrison did in a recent blog posting.  I checked out the speech, and you can too right here.  What impressed Harrison can be summarized in three short phrases -- “BP is sorry. BP gets it. BP is changing.”

 That's easy to say, but Dudley's speech delivers the message in a credible way.You can read Harrison's analysis here. 

You seldom get do-overs in PR. If the New York Times' coverage of his speech is any indication, BP may have that rare opportunity. 

 

 

 

 


The Pudding Belt

Day-of-honey-author_custom Journalist Annia Ciezadlo, on left, has covered wars across the Middle East for major American newspapers.

But it was writing a cookbook -- Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love and War -- that gave her insight into an aspect of Middle Eastern culture that suggests there's hope for peace and reconciliation even where bombs are falling today.

She discovered a broad cultural swath she calls the "Pudding Belt" that runs from Greece through the Balkans and Eastern Europe. People in those countries make a traditional pudding, or mush of grains and seeds, when someone is born or dies and then they share it with complete strangers.  The seeds and grains symbolize the cycle of life.  Sharing it with strangers is a sign that we're all caught in the same cycle.

For example the Greeks make a dish called "kolyva" when somebody dies and pass it our to passers-by no matter who they are. In fact, the important part is to share it outside your normal social circle. She discovered that similar traditions exist in Beirut, where a pudding called "mighli" is made when a baby is born. And in Turkey, a dish called "ashura" is supposed to be given out to 40 people (10 servings each to neighbors in each of the four cardinal directions). In every case, Ciezadio says the pudding has a fundamental social purpose: "[It] helps people share across sects and religion and ethnic differences."

Ciezadlo is not naive enough to think that cuisine can solve all the world's problems.  "Food connects," she says in her book. "The alchemy of eating binds you to a place and a people. This bond is fragile; people who eat together one day can kill each other the next. All the more reason we should preserve it."

Culinary traditions also give us insight into people's character and culture. And for those who think the Middle East is hoplessly mired in religious and tribal wars, the Pudding Belt offers some hope. For more, see the interview she gave NPR. (There's a recipe for Lebanese mighli at the end of the NPR piece.)

 

 



The True Faces of Islam

Islam_screen To many Westerners, the face of Islam has been, at best, a religious zealot and, at worse, a crazed terrorist, with not much room in between.

Many Westerners have seen Islam as a monolithic movement of intertwined cultural, religious and political beliefs dating from the 7th century. 

To Western eyes, Islam appears anti-democratic, intolerant, and inherently violent.

But what’s happening in the streets of the Middle East and North Africa these days may be changing that.  

The peaceful crowds in Egypt’s Tahrir Square sent exactly the opposite message. They weren’t seeking to establish an Islamic state, but to gain greater freedom and to end a culture of political corruption. They weren’t led by fiery-eyed mullahs, but by geeks armed with cell phones and Twitter accounts. 

Across North Africa, Muslim men and women are taking to the streets to win the same basic rights people in other countries enjoy – freedom, justice and fair elections.

Their protests are Islamic only in the sense that they often use Friday prayers as their organizing vehicle. Anyone paying the least attention has to be impressed that these crowds are not about to substitute one form of oppression for another, even in the name of religion. 

Maybe now we will be able to unpack our conflated beliefs about political, cultural and religious Islam.  

 In The Many Faces of Political Islam, Muslim scholar Mohammed Ayood points out that Political Islam covers a broad spectrum that is context specific. “What works in Turkey won't work in Indonesia,” he says. And he can point to widely different strains of political Islam to illustrate his point. Saudi Arabia and Iran are very different "self-proclaimed Islamic states;" Pakistan and, until recently, Egypt are states caught "between ideology and pragmatism;" Turkey and Indonesia are Muslim democracies; Hezbollah and Hamas are Islamist national resistance movements; al Qaeda is a fringe group of Islamic fanatics.

The breadth of Political Islam would seem to offer Western governments plenty of handholds from which to begin a fruitful dialog.

One stumbling block, of course, could be Cultural Islam. To Western eyes, many aspects of Muslim culture seem to be stuck in the 7th century, especially in its treatment of women. But it’s just as easy to find misogynistic texts in the Old and New Testaments as in the Qu’ran.

And Islamic culture is not immutable. It is subject to as much change and flux as any other culture. And as was the case in the West, cultural change it will follow -- not lead -- economic development.

Already, surveys show that Muslims in Europe and America are closer to the attitudes of their adopted countries than to those of their ancestral homes. The determining factor seems to be the degree of social integration they’ve been allowed.  On the other hand, even Muslims who aren't particularly religious project a strong traditionalist Islamic identity if they feel isolated within their adopted countries.  

Ironically, Islamophobic rhetoric and hearings like Congressman King's discourage any hope for greater integration and assimilation by casting suspicion on Muslims as a group-- particularly as potential terrorists. And that undermines the very cultural changes King says he'd like to see. 

Finally, Religious Islam is not nearly as “foreign” as it may at first seem.  In his new book, Allah: A Christian Response, theologian Miroslav Volf reveals surprising points of intersection and overlap between Islam and Christianity. “What binds Muslims to Christians and religious Jews is a shared commitment to love God and neighbor,” he writes.

What's more, Volf reminds us that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. True, they understand God somewhat differently, but the similarities in their convictions about God are much greater than the differences. Muslims, Christians, and Jews share fundamental values, including some version of the Golden Rule -- a principle that compels you to treat others as you would want to be treated.

“Reaffirming such common values, and holding each other accountable to them,” Volf suggests, “would do much more to improve Americans' safety than will the King hearings.”

 


 

 


The world on our mind

ThinkGlobally In Rebuilding Brand America, I used the low number of Americans with passports to illustrate our relative disinterest in and indifference to the rest of the world.  

At that time, only about a third of U.S. citizens had a passport. The number of applications popped up significantly in 2007 and 2008 when the State Department started requiring a passport for re-entry from Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean, but it returned to prior levels in 2010.  

Something like 37% of Americans now have a passport or passport card. (The 3.5 million who have cards can only use them for travel to Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean.) By contrast, seven out of ten Brits have a passport.

Mansour Javidan, a professor at Thunderbird University, has a theory that explains Americans' relative indifference to the rest of the world. Javidan thinks that the attention any society pays to other countries is a function of their historical need to do so. 

“Canadians pay attention to what is going on in the U.S. every minute of the day,” he says. “Because what happens in the U.S. has a huge impact on what happens in Canada.  But most Americans don’t know anything about what’s going on in Canada, except that the people are friendly and it’s cold up there.  Because what happens in Canada doesn’t have much of an impact on what happens in the U.S.”  

The Brits, who used to have an empire that spanned the globe, are brought up with a global mindset.  Americans, who have historically been pretty self-sufficient, didn't need one. But that may be changing.

Javidan developed an online tool that enables managers to measure their "global mindset."  About 10,000 managers at dozens of companies around the world have taken the self-assessment.  It helped them decide if they were suited for an internationbal assignment and what they could do to better prepare.  

It also gave Javidan a valuable database of information. Javidan says that when he compared the Global Mindset scores of managers from ten different countries, American managers were firmly in the middle of the pack. 

Of course the managers who used the Global Mindset instrument represent a self-selected group of people who are almost by definition interested in global markets. And Javidan doesn't have data on the general public. But his findings may portend big changes.  

As everyone knows, American business is becoming increasingly global, and the salience of what is happening in other countries has grown for many U.S. managers.  Three-quarters of Fortune 100 CEOs have spent at least two years working in a senior position overseas. The percentage of other senior executives with overseas experience has jumped to 71 percent from 48 percent 10 years ago.

If the days of global indifference are fading for American business people,the general public may not be far behind.  That can be positive if people see the rest of the world as a source of economic and cultural enrichment.  Or it can be negative if they see it as a threat. Right now, the latter looks more likely. 

 

 


Bubbled thinking

Bubbled thinking Back in the olden days (i.e., the 1990s), most of us got our news from the same three places -- ABC, CBS, and NBC.  

There was carping in some quarters that the networks news was slanted to one side or the other, depending on who's ox was being gored.  But basically we all got the same menu of news.

Today, the media landscape is much more fragmented and people have a lot more control over their sources of news.  In fact, the proportion of Americans who say they get most of their news from the three major networks has fallen by half.  

And thanks to the Internet, we can choose to get most of our news from sources we agree with and filter out those we oppose.  So more than half of Fox News' audience is Republican; more than two-thirds of MSNBC's much smaller audience is Democat.

One byproduct of this phenomenon is that we all tend to live in an information bubble. Julian Sanchez dubbed the phenomenon "epistemic closure" and it refers to a tendency to discard any data that contradicts our pre-existing beliefs and accept as gospel any data that confirm them.

Research over the last year has documented the effects of living in that bubble on two issues -- inequality and global warming.  The first, of course, has been well documented and is non-controvertible.  By any measure, income inequality in the U.S. has increased since the late 1970s.  The second is admittedly more controversial.  

But what is interesting is how people's ideological leanings interact with the amount of information they consume.  To wit, better informed conservatives are less likely to agree that income inequality has increased and that global warming is a threat.  Well informed liberals are more inclined to agree with both statements.

It seems that once you're in a bubble, it's hard to think outside it.


Here a mosque, there a mosque

Peter-King Rep. Peter King starts hearings today on the radicalization of American Muslims.

To his mind, mosques are one of the principal villains in this process, either because they're pushing Islamic law or because they don't cooperate with law enforcement in ferreting out all the terrorists on their prayer rugs.

Recent research, however, suggests that attending religious services at a mosque acctually correlates with higher civic participation and greater allegiance to American democratic values.

The full study is here. Although its findings contradict popular belief, they're consistent with prior research on the role of religion is helping Christian and Jewish immigrants integrate into American society.  

Maybe we should be building mosques instead of invetigating them.

 

 



Watch that metaphor

Crime Scene Cleanup_full One of the chapters in my new book features the work of Lera Boroditsky, a psychology professor at Stanford University who has done some interesting work on the relationship between language and thinking.  

So I was pleased to see her interviewed by Brooke Gladstone on NPR's "On the Media."

Boroditsky has been looking into the way metaphors influence our thinking.  It seems that portraying a problem like crime as a "beast" or a "virus" causes people to come up with very different solutions.  

People tend to take punitive measures against "beasts" and curative measures against "viruses." I suspect politicians figured that out years ago.

A transcript of the full interview is here and the original paper is here.

 

 



Fukuyama history of history

Francis_fukuyama1_large Today's New York Times has an interesting article on Francis Fukuyama's upcoming book, "The Origins of Political Order." 

Fukuyama's book has already attracted a lot of attention in academic circles for the audacious sweep of its narrative. It traces the evolution of human social structures from prehistoric times to the French Revolution.  

A planned second volume will take the story to modern times (which he famously termed "the end of history," meaning the victory of liberal democracy over communism).  

Although Fukuyama builds on concepts developed by people like E. O. Wilson, he is less interested in our biological evolution than our cultural development. I haven't been among the privileged few to read the manuscript, but Fukuyama apparently traces the path of our social structures from kin-based bands of hunter-gatherers to larger tribes which incorporated unrelated people and finally to "states" which were better able than tribes to survive the death of a leader because they depended more on rules than personal influence.

Fukuyama believes the transition from clan to tribe and from tribe to state was affected by things like geography and climate, and especially by the order in which the different components of the state develop, e.g., the rule of law, civil society, etc.  So the Islamic world has taken a different path than the West.  

It's an interesting theory, and I think recent learnings in the evolution of social psychology tend to support it. I wonder if the second volume will explore how non-state institutions, like NGOs and multi-national corporations, fit into the story he has developed. He believes states succeeded tribes because they were better at warfare.  Could non-state actors have an advantage over states because they're better at peace?

 


Revision time

Delete_erasercompleted the first draft of my new book, Otherwise, over the weekend. That means I will spend much of the next month exercising the delete key on my laptop.

I don't know what I believe until I finish writing a book.  Then I have to go back and revise what I wrote several months earlier. In the process, I can usually tighten everything up.

I will also probably be able to get back to blogging on a semi-regular basis soon. I had hoped to blog once or twice a week while researching and writing, but shifting gears between long and short-form media proved more difficult than I expected.

I'm hoping that fact-checking and revising will give me more free time. The current draft is a little long and I'm hoping the few people who have agreed to read it will be able to tell me where it drags or repeats itself, in addition to reacting to the main thesis. 

If you'd like to sample any of the current draft, drop me a line at dickmartinbooks@aol.com.