Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Problem with Humans

Last night I watched as the Erie-Mason School Board decided to terminate its custodial staff and outsource the custodial services. It was a gut wrenching experience.

Erie-Mason School District
Mason Senior High School, Erie, Michigan
The school board felt that it had to accept a proposal that would save the school district an estimated $222,408.10. I don’t believe that any of the school board members wanted to terminate the custodians or to outsource the custodial services, but they did it anyway.

Board members took solace in whatever rationalization they could. One board member pointed out how they had assurances from the new service provider that the custodians currently employed by the school would be considered for reemployment.

Not every board member was able to rationalize the decision and one board member shared with those present how he had been unable to sleep the previous night and then he submitted his resignation.

For their part, the custodians put forward the usual arguments against so-called privatization, “the service provider is from out of state”, “they will hire convicted felons and child-molesters”, “there is money in the budget that isn’t being counted”, “administration is overpaid and needs to take a big pay cut first”, etc.

The custodians who work at this school have roots in the community and they really do the hard work of maintaining and cleaning the school for far less money than is merited; they should be getting a pay raise instead of being terminated. And the superintendent is probably overpaid with a salary in excess of $171k plus perks and should probably be getting a pay cut instead of a pay raise. When it comes to cutting the budget, it always seems that the bottom is the place where the cutting starts.

Did I mention the problem with humans? 

The problem is that each human in the drama is looking out for themselves and seeing their role in the service they without looking the larger picture of public service. Each human is looking at a human near them and thinking, “That’s the human that does understand how valuable the service I provide is and is trying to rob me of my livelihood.” Each human thinks that another human in the room needs to be the human that takes a pay cut or loose their job so that the school doors can stay open.

The problem with humans is that they are human and their human universe is small and concrete; it is composed of people whose faces and names are known to them. The farther away from them the other humans are, the less thought is given to them as the probable source of the problem or the solution.

The board member who resigned asked the audience how many of them had gone to Lansing to tell their legislators that Erie-Mason School District needed more money. It was the only moment in the entire three hours that anyone in the room gave any attention the actual cause of their problem or the actual solution to it.

Dale Zorn (R-Ida)
Your Representative in Lansing
(aka "the problem")
In stead of asking who it was on the board, in management or on the support staff that was right or wrong or needed to get a pay cut or loose their jobs, they should have been asking themselves who in Lansing needed to get the boot!

Did I mention that humans have problems?

Yes, there where at least fifty very upset people in that room last night and this morning every one of them should be looking at Lansing and seeing just how red Lansing has become with Republicans running the House, the Senate and the in the Governor’s office. These fifty people should be the most motivated political activists in Erie Township and they should all be joining the Democratic Party this morning and committing themselves to making Lansing very blue in 2014.

But they are humans and they will probably get up this morning and worry about how they are going to pay the bills with less or no income. Some of them lost another nights sleep and they will be looking for ways to justify their decision that ruined the lives of five faithful custodians who where already underpaid.

And then they will move on and find ways to cope without actually having fixed the problem because the problem is too big and too far away. But it will be back before they know it and someone else will be loosing their job or taking a pay cut and it will start all over again.

That’s the problem with humans.

Now is the time to begin fixing the problem and the problem is too many Republicans in Lansing! The solution is more Democrats in Lansing! Become a Democrat now, vote for Democrats in 2014!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Wired Different

Research done a few years ago surprised scientists by indicated that conservative brains may be hard-wired to respond aggressively to fear and uncertainty.*

Based on how self-described conservatives and liberals responded to certain situation, researchers predicted and discovered anatomical differences in the size of the right amygdala (larger in conservatives) and the anterior cingulate (smaller conservatives).

The amygdala is a primitive part of the brain that is associated with fear processing; people with larger amygdalas are more sensitive to fear. The anterior cingulate monitors and manages uncertainty and conflict; people with a smaller anterior cingulated are less tolerant of fear and uncertainty.

All of this was brought back to mind today when I saw a cartoon posted to Facebook. I’ve seen the cartoon before, “EQUALITY – to a conservative – to a liberal”. Three young boys watching a baseball game over a wood fence. The conservative sees equality as each boy standing on a box of the same size. The tall boy has an exceptionally good view of the game, the medium boy doesn’t have an exception view but he can see the game too, but the short boy can’t see over the fence. But the liberal sees equality differently; she realizes that all of the boys could see the game if the boxes were rearranged.

I thought that this picture said it all, but it doesn’t. Those of us who are liberals have a higher tolerance for uncertainty and are optimistic about outcomes. A self-described conservative posted his version of the equality cartoon. 

Liberals view conservative as boys who could see over the fence just fine without a box to stand on, but just want a better view. Liberals imagine that with a little reorganization everyone will be able to see over the fence. Liberals are unwilling to let the short boy miss the game so that the tall boy can have a better view than he needs.

Conservatives see themselves as tall boys who are too short to see over the fence without a box to stand on. Conservatives view the fence as being too tall for anyone to see over without a box to stand on. Conservatives know they are the tallest boys and all they need is one box to see over the fence. The conservative view of equality serves the tall boy well, but leaves both the medium and the short boy unsatisfied.

There should be one more version of this cartoon.

What if the tall boy needed two boxes to see over the fence?

I am quite certain that a tall conservative boy would gladly beat the short boy to get a second box if that was what he needed to see over the fence. Conservatives only claim to believe in their version of equality because they view themselves as tall enough to see over the fence with just one box. If the conservative needs more than one box he feels completely justified in taking the boxes that he previously said should be equally distributed to others.

This isn't a moralistic observation, it is a physiologic fact that conservatives live in a different world than liberals. Conservatives, with their large amygdalas, are afraid that there is not enough for everyone; they are afraid that if the wealth were equally distributed there would not even be enough for themselves.

But that isn't where it stops, conservatives with their small anterior cingulates are not capable of tolerating the possibility of insufficiency; they do not regulate their aggressive response to fear or uncertainty; and they are not able to think rationally when they are fearful.

Maybe that is why conservatives prefer anecdotal stories, misrepresentations and logical fallacies that justify their views and their behavior over facts and rational conclusions that would lead to better solutions? Maybe conservatives are literally afraid that if they do not acquire more they will be left without enough? Maybe conservatives are fighting for their lives and justifying the price of insufficiency and uncertainty that all others must pay so that a few conservatives can be live in a safe world of sufficiency and certainty?

Maybe we should be working on a pill for that problem?