When I argue that local/organic food is inethical, I am arguing against the status quo. Most people say that consuming these foods is an ethical act and that people who consume them are more good than people who do not.
According to psychologists, humans have a moral credential system. When you do something good, it changes the way you think so that you’re less likely to do good in the future. There are two possible explanations:
- you gain a bias in evaluating your own behaviour (“I do good things. I did x. Therefore x is good.”)
- you have a mental moral account: if the account has a surplus, you’re going to make withdrawals
A study at UofT found that people who were forced to purchase green products then went on to share less, lie more and steal more than those forced to purchase non-green products. (Here’s the short paper, but you’re better off reading the Slate commentary.)
If you believe that buying local/organic food is good and you incorporate buying such food into your identity (and I believe it’s impossible not to), then you’re going to put less effort into doing other good works. By analogy, watch a grocery store parking lot as people load reusable bags into SUVs. Local/organic food is a positional good, so people fixate on consuming it to make themselves cool while ignoring all the less glamorous good things they could be doing.
There are a bunch of different schools of psychotherapy but the research is pretty clear that no school is statistically better than another. It appears that the trick is that patients benefit from talking to someone:
- uninvolved in their life
- who is paid to listen to them
- who spends and has spent a lot of time doing therapy and thinking about therapy
As far as I can figure (using my skill of overzealous, hasty generalization), all schools of therapy fix problems in two stages:
- the patient figures out how to stop doing that thing that hurts
- the patient improves their explanatory style
Therapy is overwhelmingly about solving problems, but positive psychotherapy skips straight to step 2. As Alex alludes, the point of improving your explanatory style is not to make you more successful in life, it’s to make you more resilient, particularly to failure (so you don’t go shoot people). After stitching you up, the doctor increases your pain tolerance.
The problem I have with this is that one of the chief ways to improve your explanatory style is to strengthen your sense of self. That might lead to happiness and better integration into society, but I am skeptical (what a modernist phrase! sigh). I’m convinced there must be a better way to cease suffering…
“Sexual orientation” implies a spatial relationship. However, the commonly-used terms “heterosexual” and “homosexual” are relative terms that require locating the subject in gender space. It makes more sense to use fixed terms that refer only to the object of desire: androsexual for masculinity and gynosexual for femininity.* “Bisexual” implies binary gender – people who don’t have gender preferences are pansexual (the big circle in the diagram). And people who aren’t attracted to anyone are asexual.
The Klein Sexual Orientation Grid breaks a person’s orientation into five gender-dimensions:
- who are you attracted to?
- who do you connect with emotionally?
- who do you socialize with?
- who have you had sex with?
- who do you fantasize about?
I think the first three, sexual orientation, romantic orientation and social orientation are key identity characteristics. (Although one could go further and distinguish between romantic relationships, emotionally-intimate friendships and acquaintances, unless the confusion is intentional.) The same prefixes for sexual orientation apply. For example, this conveniently orients the term “asocial”.
* Note: Using “androphilic” and “gynophilic” mixes orientation and fetishes. It also legitimizes pedophilia: we’re intentionally using language to oppress pedophiles here.
I am definitely not an expert on this. I’m writing about it to clarify my own understanding. And perhaps my analytical skills can make the material more accessible.
Sex is a biological characteristic. Sex is a spectrum between male and female. Intersex people fall between those poles due to atypical* chromosomes or development. Intersexed people often receive medical treatment to push them to one end of the spectrum.
Gender is a social characteristic. Gender is a combination of two independent attributes: masculinity and femininity. An androgynous person is high on both, a neuter person is low on both.
One can distinguish between introspective gender and gender presentation. Someone may “feel like” one gender but be identified by their signs in society as another. Bigendered people (eg: crossdressers) switch between two genders depending on context.
Gender identity is a combination of sex and gender, forming a 3-dimensional space. There are widespread terms for four corners of that space: cisman and ciswoman for the majority of people, and transman and transwoman for the majority of the transgender minority. Everyone else is intergender, “genderqueer” or self-identified using jargon.
* Intersex people are not “abnormal”, they’re non-cissex.
Modernist identity theory says that it is virtuous to be authentic to your essence. Acting inauthentically is a cardinal sin. For example, if a guy asks how to get girls, most of the time he’ll be told “just be yourself”.
If left to our own devices, most of the decisions we make are satisficing: choosing to do things that are good enough. You wear whatever’s clean, you watch whatever’s on, you do stuff because your friends are doing it, etc. (If your habitual actions happen to be Stuff White People Like, then you’re automatically authentic.)
But under modernism, this unplanned, unexamined life is supposed to be better than a life that’s engineered, a life of artifice. I beg to differ: people should be allowed to invent their identities, to “fake it till you make it”. The test is how well they pull it off, how consistent is their identity? And, of course, acting a particular way for personal gain is not cool, while acting a particular way because it’s enjoyable is cool.
Let’s call this act of constructing, projecting and maintaining an identity “personal branding“. I think that rather than construct an identity out of thin air, you should look at where you’re successful in life and what aspects you’re happy about. Distil a brand essence out of those. Then build on your strengths and nudge the rest of your life into alignment with your brand.
A lot of guides to living your life with values talk as if you should just have your values at the tip of your tongue, and all that’s needed is to write them down and refer to the list frequently. If your values really are that present, why wouldn’t you already be following them? I think that most people are not in touch with their values. The better guides have introspection exercises to reveal them.
Introspection is untrustworthy: a lot of crazy philosophy, psychology and religion has come out of very smart people doing introspection. I especially don’t trust introspection for this kind of thing. It will yield a combination of society’s values (the metanarrative), the unrealistic person you’d like to be (superman’s values) and values that other people are pushing on you (mom’s values).
I don’t believe that people have intrinsic, unchanging values, but introspection will not even give insight to your socially-constructed self. Postmodernism says that not only is the self not fixed, but it’s fuzzier and less solid than we think it is. (And we think that our selves are sharp and solid because of introspection.)
Instead, you need to observe yourself to reveal values in your behavior. Rather than identifying the values you’d like to live by, I think it’s better to identify the values you actually are living by. Observing yourself without falling into the trap of introspection is hard: it’s easier to observe other people and get other people to observe you.
I am quite interested in what I call “postmodern identity theory”. I’ve tried to define it a few times in blog posts (most recently) but I’m mostly just waving my hands around. Here’s another try:
Modernist identity theory says that people have fundamental attributes that they carry around with them throughout life. In early-modern theory these attributes were shared by a group, so Brits would act British rather than go native in the colonies. Late-modern theory says that fundamental attributes differ from person to person – they’re what make people unique.
Exactly how we characterize fundamental attributes has gone through a few changes over the years. From mission and principles to values in the most recent shift.
When you see someone do something, you can either say they’re reacting to their situation or acting according to their fundamental attributes. Your theory of mind says that sometimes people do stuff because they have consistent, internal attributes; and sometimes their behavior is dictated by a context-dependent, external situation. Psychologists have noted that, when in doubt, you’ll err on the side of fundamental attributes. You think Alice does X because Alice is the kind of person who does X not because X seemed like the best thing to do from Alice’s point of view.
Postmodernism says that modernist identity theory is just one big fundamental attribution error. People don’t have fundamental attributes. Alice does X because she’s socially constructed that way.
I have half a Baccalaureate in Philosophy. But since it’s a joint degree, there were low breadth requirements. So I know my Aristotle, Berkeley and Carnap, but not a whole lot about continental philosophy.
Since graduation, I’ve been trying to fill in those blanks. I don’t feel that I have the interest nor the time build a foundation of orthodox modernism* and modernist critical theory, and then apply the dialectic method to learn postmodernism from that, so I read postmodern stuff without the prerequisites.
I’m particularly interested in postmodern identity theory. It has been said that late modern and postmodern philosophy is all “footnotes to Kant“. It turns out that Kant laid the foundation for what I consider postmodern identity:
Kant says that things have a phenomenal nature, which you can perceive, and a noumenal nature that is unknowable. Your noumenal self is basically your “soul” or core self, but you can only perceive your phenomenal self, which is socially constructed. Morality rests on the rational free will of noumenal selves.
But Nietzsche says that noumenal things are a meaningless fiction: since they have no properties, the world can be entirely explained in terms of phenomenal things. So we are all just bundles of constructed identities and moral relativism is king.