Archive for the ‘Psychology’ Category

Reason.tv released this short video on marijuana legalization.

My question for pro-legalization liberals:

Can you reconcile legalization with food regulation? My contention is that centrists (of both parties) favor regulations that advance their desired world, without reference to the logical consistencies and assumptions underling their imagined preferences.

That is, their policy preferences are arbitrary bullshit.


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Robin Hanson investigates a new study on antidepressants which shows they don’t really work.

The only reason Menand can imagine resisting such artists is a perverse religious desire to suffer:

What if there were a pill that relieved you of the physical pain of bereavement—sleeplessness, weeping, loss of appetite—without diluting your love for or memory of the dead? Assuming that bereavement “naturally” remits after six months, would you take a pill today that will allow you to feel the way you will be feeling six months from now anyway? Probably most people would say no. … Gerald Klerman once called “pharmacological Calvinism” … the view, which he thought many Americans hold, that shortcuts to happiness are sinful, that happiness is not worth anything unless you have worked for it.

Numbers schmumbers – only uncivilized animals, or religious nuts, would not let eloquent authors soothe their savage doubts, until they accept being comforted by their culture’s conventional ways to show that folks care.

Years ago I read Elizabeth Wurtzel’s uneven but fascinating Prozac Nation and noticed the same dynamic. Despite a long intense and varied regime of drugs, depression haunted her until a personal epiphany. This pattern is repeated in most anecdotal accounts of depression I’ve come across. (I would recommend this book to anyone interested in mental disorders, but at all costs avoid the movie, it’s total shit.)

While antidepressants are based on the hard scientific evidence of brain chemistry, someone could explore the causal relationship between moods and brain chemistry; does depression cause a self-perpetuating change in chemical activity? This kind of sudden shift in both mood and brain activity seems to be strongly correlated.

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Ryan Sorba’s bigoted comments at CPAC have prompted some bloggers to again raise the question of whether homosexuality is a choice.  Is it something behavioral, or predetermined by genetics?

Bryan Caplan points to some evidence that sexual orientation is highly influenced by genes.  As I understand it, it’s not determined by genetic factors, but it’s not a choice, either.  Often these debates about homosexuality are framed as differences between self-aware willful behavior and genetic determinations.  With sexual orientation, it’s neither.

What does the science say?  It’s the prenatal environment.  Scientists now actually understand how hormonal mechanisms in the womb produce sexual orientation.  This pertains to sexual preference, not behavior.  There are heterosexuals who engage in sexual activity with persons of the same sex, and there are homosexuals who engage in sexual activity with persons of the opposite sex.  It’s quite tragic when homosexuals repress their sexuality because of societal pressures, because doing so is quite psychologically unhealthy.

Of course, that sexual preference is not a choice should be completely irrelevant anyway, politically.  It is completely illegitimate to attempt to use the force of the state to prohibit any kind of consensual sexual behavior between adults.

Sorba, and those who share his worldview, haven’t escaped the morality of our evolutionary ancestors.  Modern conservatives assess the morality of homosexuality on a dimension of purity, a value which is easily explained in an evolutionary context, but is foreign to us modern liberals.

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I disagree with Seth, and by extension Professor Hanson. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with first principles, it’s just that most first principles are incorrectly derived. I do agree with Prof. Hanson when he reminds me of this classic xkcd. And if you don’t think xkcd is funny, well, sometimes you’re right but not this time.

I disagree with both Seth and Prof. Hanson when the later writes

Liberty is a fine heuristic, but efficiency is more what I want, so I’m willing to consider sometimes violating your liberty axiom.  Like you I am wary of big government, but because of bad consequences that often follow, not a liberty axiom violation.

Efficiency is a fine ideal, and in the absence of a valid first principle, it’s probably the most appropriate one. The question is, can there be a valid first principle? Seth categorically denies that. Instead, as Seth begins, “consequentialism is true”. In many respects it is. Someone who dies in a car accident and someone who has a heart attack are in most respects similar. Dead is dead. (more…)

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Commenting on the Berlin Wall and political institutions, Robin Hanson notes why private law doesn’t work so well in the United States:

It seems to me that the main problem is trying to invoke private law via small clauses on page 20 of 30+ page contracts – most folks feel reasonably justified in not always literally enforcing such terms. What private law needs instead is a clear deliberate solemnity like that of a new citizen moving to and then swearing allegiance to a new nation, an expensive signal showing they understand there are large consequences.

It’s interesting to note the distinction between lowering transaction costs of switching between such private providers of law, which is an essential feature of private law, yet requiring an expensive signal, which would give private law more legitimacy today. Is this a contradiction?

Read the whole post.

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Can you renounce your state citizenship? (more…)

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Good Question

This weekend a good friend of mine came to town.  She’s been one of my best friends for years, but she wasn’t coming exclusively to visit me.  While we don’t always (or even rarely) see eye-to-eye on social issues, there’s one we can agree on.  It’s pretty indefensible to keep homosexuals from having legally binding marriages.

And that’s how I ended up hanging out with these women, and marching through D.C. on a remarkably beautiful sunny Sunday. (My friend is on the far left, literally and figuratively.)

After reflecting on it, I’m ambivalent about the event.  I went to support my homosexual friends and family, because I support their fight for freedom.  I resent that anyone believes that they have the authority to tell anyone else how, or with whom, to live their life. (more…)

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