Monday, April 16, 2012

Sinners and RINOs (Monday LINKS)

As seems to be the norm on Monday mornings, I want to relate two pieces that I read over the weekend and how they were synthesized together in my head.

The first is a book review of Edward O. Wilson's "The Social Conquest of Earth."  This is one of those books that I want to read, but allow myself the concession that I may not make it past the 200th page.  In sum, Wilson argues that we have not only evolved to meet selfish interests of self preservation and propagation, but also "to be tribal, to join groups 'and, having joined, consider them superior to competing groups.'"  Most interesting to me was the following passage from the review:

The dilemma of good and evil was created by multilevel selection, in which individual selection and group selection act together on the same individual, but largely in opposition to each other,” he writes. “Individual selection . . . shapes instincts in each member that are fundamentally selfish. . . . Group selection shapes instincts that tend to make individuals altruistic toward one another (but not toward members of other groups). Individual selection is responsible for much of what we call sin, while group selection is responsible for the greater part of virtue. Together they have created the conflict between the poorer and the better angels of our nature.”

Heady stuff!

I then also read Chris Mooney's piece about how Republicans and Democrats think differently.  There was an assumption early on in the piece that caused a scrunched nose and almost a turn of the page ("Liberals and conservatives have access to the same information, yet they hold wildly incompatible views..."), but I pressed on.  According to Mooney, scientific research is indicating that liberals seek change which conservatives wish to maintain and enforce historical norms, in support of which the author cites William Buckley, Jr.'s comment that conservatives stand “athwart history, yelling ‘Stop!'”

There is a dangerous eugenics quality to Mooney's piece, but I think it can be accepted for its philosophical arguments, especially the expressed need for "cognitive closure" on the right, citing a study that revealed "in the global-warming debate, tea party followers not only strongly deny the science but also tend to say that they 'do not need any more information' about the issue."

Considering myself an open-minded person, I read the piece as a slam on Republicans, but I wonder if the red team would see it as such.  There is virtue in defending societal norms against attack and questioning the "new."

In terms of how the two pieces intertwine, I couldn't help but think of "RINO's".  Isn't that the most perfect description of insularity and "group selection" in its most extreme?  A political group may only achieve its objectives through inclusion and marketing, yet this political group has found merit in excluding members that do not conform to group identity, regardless of its injury to the entire purpose of group existence.  But on the counter-point, if conservatives are to open themselves to outside ideas, isn't that similarly eviscerating?  Stand athwart history yelling...'slow down, please!'"  And if you can't accept that, doesn't the Mooney piece suggest that you may be progressive in method, while conservative in ideas?

Anyhow, that's what was going through my exhausted mind yesterday as I recovered from a glorious 10K through the streets of Columbia.


I don't think any of us should envy the jobs of our Executive and County Council as they prepare to evaluate a Budget in the midst of uncertainty about State funding, teacher pension costs, and future revenue.  I was quickly corrected as to my post from last Thursday when I said that Howard County would be "just fine" with the Doomsday Budget.  Evidently, that is not the case.  Under the terms of the current Budget, Howard County would be looking at layoff of County workers, which can be assumed to reduce County services.  While I appreciate the comments of County leaders in the piece, I wish we would be a little more careful about saying "education is a top priority" with the implicit suggestion that a cut to education funding is inherently bad.  I think the top priority should be responsible and highly scrutinized expenditure of County dollars.  If education is getting flabby, it remains a top priority...on a treadmill.

Maryland citizens are expectantly ticked off after the General Assembly failed at performing its most important task down the stretch.  That's not the story.  The story is whether they can or will do anything about it.  I would not be surprised to see strong challengers appear in Dem primaries across the State over the next two years.  It is time to stop celebrating the prolonged incumbencies of Annapolis fixtures and start recreating representative government in Maryland.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: WB has some great political tid-bits picked up at political fundraisers and events across the County.  I found his note about Ken's thoughts on 2014 to be interesting...not that Ken is running or anything.  (Also nice to see the Executive still thinks so highly of hyper-local news).

That's all for today.  Have a fantastic Monday doing what you love!