October 12, 2010
October 12, 2010
October 12, 2010
Efforts by German President Christian Wulff and Chancellor Angela Merkel to calm the heated debate over Muslim immigration that has been raging in Germany for weeks appear to have been undermined by the governor of Bavaria, Horst Seehofer, who made some incendiary comments about Muslim immigrants over the weekend.
“It’s clear that immigrants from other cultures such as Turkey and Arabic countries have more difficulties. From that I draw the conclusion that we don’t need additional immigration from other cultures,” Seehofer, who is leader of the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), told Focus magazine in an interview published on Monday.
“I don’t agree with demands for increased immigration from foreign cultures,” Seehofer added. “We have to deal with the people who already live here. Eighty to 90 percent of them are well integrated. But we must get tougher on those who refuse to integrate.”
Seehofer’s comments fanned a debate that has become increasingly fractious since Bundesbank board member Thilo Sarrazin published a book in late August claiming that Germany was in decline because of a rapidly growing underclass of poorly educated Muslims unwilling to integrate themselves into German society. Sarrazin has since resigned from the Bundesbank after the bank launched proceedings to have him dismissed for the comments. Sarrazin’s remarks were widely condemned by politicians and media commentators as racist and inflammatory, but were supported by many Germans, according to a number of surveys.
The opposition Greens accused Seehofer of “incendiary far-right populism,” and Merkel’s integration commissioner, Maria Böhmer, said she was shocked at his comments. “One can’t place people from another culture under such blanket suspicion. That alienates them and counteracts all efforts at integration,” she told the mass-circulation Bild newspaper on Monday.
‘Defamatory and Unacceptable’
Kenan Kolat, the head of the Turkish Community in Germany, demanded that Seehofer apologize and called his remarks “defamatory and unacceptable.”
German media commentators say Seehofer may have made the comments because he wanted to boost flagging support for his CSU in Bavaria or to enhance his standing against popular Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, who is seen as Seehofer’s main rival in the CSU.
Whatever his reasons, the comments have fanned a debate just as Wulff and Merkel were trying to defuse it. Wulff said in his speech marking the 20th anniversary of German unification on Oct. 3 that Islam was part of Germany, and both Merkel and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for the better integration of Turks in talks in Berlin on Saturday. Both had attended a football match between Germany and Turkey on Friday night, at which Erdogan had worn a scarf bearing both the German and Turkish colors, in an apparent signal to the more than 2 million people of Turkish descent living in Germany to embrace their chosen homeland and integrate themselves.
Some commentators said the match itself reinforced the impression that many Turks are living in a parallel society in Germany. The Turkish team, which lost 3-0, was cheered on by some 30,000 supporters, most of whom were Turkish immigrants or the children of immigrants who had grown up in Germany. They whistled their disapproval whenever one of Germany’s best players, midfielder Mesut Özil, who is of Turkish origin as well, was on the ball. He scored one of the goals.
Writing in the Monday editions of Germany’s newspapers, several media commentators say Seehofer’s comments were unhelpful…
October 12, 2010
When anthropologists visited the island of Dobu in Papua New Guinea in the 1930s they found a society radically different from those in the West. The Dobu appeared to center their lives around black magic, casting spells on their neighbors in order to weaken and possibly kill them, and then steal their crops. This fixation with magic bred extreme poverty, cruelty and suspicion, with mistrust exacerbated by the belief that spells were most effective when used against the people known most intimately.
For Sam Harris, philosopher, neuroscientist and author of the best-selling The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation, the Dobu tribe is an extreme example of a society whose moral values are wrong. In his new book, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values, Harris sets out why he believes values are not, as is widely held, subjective and culture-dependent. Instead, he says, values are a certain kind of fact — facts about the well-being of conscious creatures — and that they can therefore, at least in principle, be objectively evaluated. The “moral landscape” of the title is the concept that certain moral systems will produce “peaks” of human well-being while others, such as that of the Dobu, will lead to societies characterized by a slough of suffering. Harris maintains that it is possible to determine objectively that the former are better than the latter.
Harris is not the first person to advocate an objective basis for morality. The biologist E. O. Wilson, for example, has previously explained how he believes moral principles can be demonstrated as arising objectively from human biological and cultural evolution. But in arguing that there is an objective basis to morality, Harris puts himself at odds with a principle put forward by the 18th century philosopher David Hume and regarded as inviolable by many philosophers and scientists today: the idea that statements about how things ought to be cannot be derived from statements about what is true. In other words, it is impossible to derive values from facts.
Harris dismisses both this reasoning and the objection that there are no grounds for favoring his moral framework over any other. He takes it to be essentially self-evident that morality is about well-being, arguing that some practices, such as forcing women to dress head to toe in a burqa, are bound to reduce well-being. In Harris’s view, it is not right to treat all cultural practices as being equally valid and maintains that multiculturalism and moral relativism are wrong.
This dogmatic certainty in the superiority of some moral values over others would seem to put the outspoken atheist in a strange alliance with religious believers, especially with the current Pope, a fervent critic of relativist thinking. But Harris is certainly no friend of religion, arguing that not only are religious metaphysical doctrines false but that the dogmatism of faith prevents a better understanding of what really allows humans to flourish. How, then, does Harris determine which moral principles are objectively true? He identifies some moral beliefs as being such reliable guides to producing well-being that they are, for all practical purposes, absolute. Not lying, he believes, is one such principle. But he argues that truth-telling must be dropped in the few cases where it conflicts with well-being. For example, he says, it would be wrong for someone to alert the SS to the presence of Jews in his neighbor’s basement when questioned on the subject.
Harris, it turns out, is what philosophers call a consequentialist: someone who believes that the moral worth of an act depends on its measurable consequences. And, he says, science — especially neuroscience — will play an increasingly vital role in assessing the soundness of alternative courses of action. Measurements of the brain will precisely reveal a person’s well-being in a given situation, and will therefore be a more reliable guide than that person’s own reports of how they are feeling. It is possible to think we are feeling compassion, he says, when we are not, and we can think we love our children equally when in fact we don’t. As he puts it, “the world of measurement and the world of meaning must eventually be reconciled.”
What to make of this? There is no doubt that science can be crucial in helping us make ethical decisions. Careful measurements could provide information about how much pain different animals really feel and therefore contribute to judgements about animal testing. Knowing how human beings are conceived and grow inside the womb can also provide crucial information in shaping our views on abortion and stem cell research. But while scientific data can contribute to our decisions in such ethical matters, they cannot determine them. As Hume knew but Harris denies, telling us what takes place in certain situations is fundamentally different from telling us what we should do in response.
It is undeniable that human (or animal) well-being is central to questions of morality. But how are we to decide what counts as well-being? Harris leaves the concept deliberately open-ended, saying that it can encompass everything from feeling compassion to satisfying one’s intellect, in addition to the narrower notions of pleasure central to some forms of utilitarianism. But would it ever, even in principle, be possible to exhaustively define well-being, as well as to know what relative weight to assign to each of its components, and then be able to tie these components to actual brain states? Harris does not answer these questions convincingly…
October 12, 2010
Some people thrive on pressure–doing their best work when deadlines loom, always craving an audience, suggesting that a $20 bet will make the next game of pool ”more interesting.” But for the rest of us, high stakes can sometimes be a real handicap, no matter how much we’ve practiced, rehearsed, or studied. It’s go time. But for some reason, we stop. In short, we choke.
Chokes can happen in an instant, like a grounder rolling through Bill Buckner’s legs. Or they can unfold slowly and inexorably, like the 2004Yankees. Either way, the memory is indelible. We watch big-time chokes with morbid fascination, and feel the small-time ones as agonies of self-defeat.
When it happens, the moment can seem so improbable and uncontrollable that we are tempted to see jinxes and curses at work. But, according to University of Chicago psychologist Sian Beilock, choking is rooted in science, not the supernatural–as are techniques to avoid it. In her lab, Beilock ratchets up the pressure on subjects performing all sorts of cognitive and athletic tasks while sampling their stress hormones and scanning their brains. She has found that worry can turn our strengths–such as superior reasoning skills or a supportive crowd–against us.
In her new book, ”Choke” (Free Press, September 2010), Beilock argues that doing well under pressure begins with understanding the demands that different types of performance make on the brain. For example, success on a math exam or a business presentation requires sustained focus, and worries can distract us. By contrast, athletes and musicians do better when they let their well-practiced skills run on autopilot. Too much focus can trip them up. In that case, when the stakes are high, a little distraction could be helpful.
Beilock sees choking at work beyond the bright lights and cheering crowds. She sees it lurking behind everything from plane crashes to racial achievement gaps in education to the relative lack of women pursuing math and science careers.
To learn more about choking under pressure, Ideas reached Beilock by phone at her Chicago office, told her the clock was ticking, and demanded answers.
IDEAS: Are some people natural born chokers?
BEILOCK: I wouldn’t go that far. But there are traits that can make people more susceptible to poor performance in pressure situations. Surprisingly, one is having a lot of working memory, what I call cognitive horsepower.
Doing academic tasks in our lab, we’ve found that people with the most thinking and reasoning power report the same levels of stress as people with lower cognitive horsepower, and they show similar stress-hormone levels, but they lose the most in their performance when we raise the stakes and up the pressure. That’s because they are used to relying on their superior thinking and reasoning power for demanding academic tests, instead of using shortcuts, and that working memory gets zapped by pressure and worry…