Notes on Virtue
So we've basically completed our two-year series of conferences, publications, and such at Berry College funded by a grant from the Science of Virtues project at the University of Chicago. My concluding presentation—following directions—is about saying what we (co-investigator Marc Guerra and myself) think virtue is. This is, of course, meant only to be the roughest sketch of the key issues in the form of talking points, with something to offend everyone:
What is VIRTUE?
Aristotle: Knowledge of MORAL VIRTUE is IMPRECISE. More than RHETORIC (or PERSUASIVE BALONEY). Less precise or certain than MATHEMATICS. Definitions will be imprecise or admit of exceptions. The problem of measurement goes with the territory.
Virtue is the action that flows from knowing: 1. Who we are. 2. What we’re supposed to do.
Doing, as Aristotle says, doesn’t flow automatically from knowing. But doing presupposes knowing. The conditions of knowing aren’t mainly about theory or philosophy. Knowing involves habituation. Knowing also involves “class” (in the sense of being “classy”) or knowing your place in the world. We’re the beings open to the truth and compelled to live morally demanding lives. We’re stuck with virtue. That means in some sense we’re stuck with courage—or having the guts to act in response to what we can’t help but know.
Two sources of virtue in our modern, scientific self-understanding:
1. Virtue is about freedom or autonomy, about not living natural—but chosen—lives. Two sources: Descartes and Locke. Alexis de Tocqueville (in the best book ever written on America and the best book ever written on democracy) said Americans are Cartesians without ever having read a word of Descartes. Being virtuous means rejecting personal authority and thinking and feeling for yourself. Virtue means not resting content with some biological destiny and striking out for yourself. Virtue also means respecting the autonomy of others. So virtue has to do with self-reliance or self-determination, industriousness, and even taking responsibility for one’s own health and safety in a basically hostile environment.
2. Virtue is about acting according to instinct as a social being (Darwin or Darwinians). It’s about not being individualistic or selfish or sociopathic or displaying pro-social behavior or behavior grounded in empathy or the biological imperatives that govern every species. So virtue is doing one’s natural duty as a parent or citizen, as part of a social whole greater than oneself. Virtue, from this view, is the key to happiness, insofar as it’s a disciplined response to our true desires as social animals.
Evidence that our social virtue has been corrupted by mistaken ideas of individualism or autonomy: the weakness of families, the birth dearth, excessive obsession with health and safety or one’s own indefinite survival. The response of behalf of individual freedom: It’s hardly virtue to be suckered; it’s hardly virtue to be a reproductive machine.
Shortcomings of the modern, scientific self-understanding considered as a whole:
1. It doesn’t do justice to political or civic virtue. The individualistic criticism of civic virtue is that I’m not merely a part of some city. Just like I’m not species fodder, I’m not city fodder. Being a citizen doesn’t define me. But political life does seem to be an indispensable condition of human flourishing. That means the virtues connected with loyalty, patriotism, deliberation, and courage remain with us.
2. It doesn’t do justice to who we are as personal and relational beings. That’s why Tocqueville, for example, says that Christianity is the indispensable American counterculture. Empathy is a pitiful substitute for charity. And it’s Christianity that brings together the universalism of individualism with the social instinct or love found in scientific accounts of social virtue. So what modern scientific accounts lack is a strongly personal account of love as a source of virtue. They deny that LOGOS can be PERSONAL.
3. The scientific understandings have trouble finding room for intellectual virtue—for LOGOS itself as a source of courage, responsibility, and so forth (see the anti-communist dissidents Havel and Solzhenitsyn—who had a combination of Aristotelian and Christian criticisms of the ideological tendencies of modern thought in the service of living in the truth).
Our goal: To identify a true science of virtue that puts what’s true in the two modern, scientific understandings of virtue together with what’s true in the older civic, personal, and relational understandings of virtue against which that the modern views seemingly defined themselves.
What can 3D printing do for medicine? The "sky is the limit," says Northwell Health researcher Dr. Todd Goldstein.
- Medical professionals are currently using 3D printers to create prosthetics and patient-specific organ models that doctors can use to prepare for surgery.
- Eventually, scientists hope to print patient-specific organs that can be transplanted safely into the human body.
- Northwell Health, New York State's largest health care provider, is pioneering 3D printing in medicine in three key ways.
A recent study gives new meaning to the saying "fake it 'til you make it."
- The study involves four experiments that measured individuals' socioeconomic status, overconfidence and actual performance.
- Results consistently showed that high-class people tend to overestimate their abilities.
- However, this overconfidence was misinterpreted as genuine competence in one study, suggesting overestimating your abilities can have social advantages.
Is this proof of a dramatic shift?
- Map details dramatic shift from CNN to Fox News over 10-year period
- Does it show the triumph of "fake news" — or, rather, its defeat?
- A closer look at the map's legend allows for more complex analyses
Dramatic and misleading
Image: Reddit / SICResearch
The situation today: CNN pushed back to the edges of the country.
Over the course of no more than a decade, America has radically switched favorites when it comes to cable news networks. As this sequence of maps showing TMAs (Television Market Areas) suggests, CNN is out, Fox News is in.
The maps are certainly dramatic, but also a bit misleading. They nevertheless provide some insight into the state of journalism and the public's attitudes toward the press in the US.
Let's zoom in:
- It's 2008, on the eve of the Obama Era. CNN (blue) dominates the cable news landscape across America. Fox News (red) is an upstart (°1996) with a few regional bastions in the South.
- By 2010, Fox News has broken out of its southern heartland, colonizing markets in the Midwest and the Northwest — and even northern Maine and southern Alaska.
- Two years later, Fox News has lost those two outliers, but has filled up in the middle: it now boasts two large, contiguous blocks in the southeast and northwest, almost touching.
- In 2014, Fox News seems past its prime. The northwestern block has shrunk, the southeastern one has fragmented.
- Energised by Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, Fox News is back with a vengeance. Not only have Maine and Alaska gone from entirely blue to entirely red, so has most of the rest of the U.S. Fox News has plugged the Nebraska Gap: it's no longer possible to walk from coast to coast across CNN territory.
- By 2018, the fortunes from a decade earlier have almost reversed. Fox News rules the roost. CNN clings on to the Pacific Coast, New Mexico, Minnesota and parts of the Northeast — plus a smattering of metropolitan areas in the South and Midwest.
Image source: Reddit / SICResearch
This sequence of maps, showing America turning from blue to red, elicited strong reactions on the Reddit forum where it was published last week. For some, the takeover by Fox News illustrates the demise of all that's good and fair about news journalism. Among the comments?
- "The end is near."
- "The idiocracy grows."
- "(It's) like a spreading disease."
- "One of the more frightening maps I've seen."
- "LOL that's what happens when you're fake news!"
- "CNN went down the toilet on quality."
- "A Minecraft YouTuber could beat CNN's numbers."
- "CNN has become more like a high-school production of a news show."
Not a few find fault with both channels, even if not always to the same degree:
- "That anybody considers either of those networks good news sources is troubling."
- "Both leave you understanding less rather than more."
- "This is what happens when you spout bullsh-- for two years straight. People find an alternative — even if it's just different bullsh--."
- "CNN is sh-- but it's nowhere close to the outright bullsh-- and baseless propaganda Fox News spews."
"Old people learning to Google"
Image: Google Trends
CNN vs. Fox News search terms (200!-2018)
But what do the maps actually show? Created by SICResearch, they do show a huge evolution, but not of both cable news networks' audience size (i.e. Nielsen ratings). The dramatic shift is one in Google search trends. In other words, it shows how often people type in "CNN" or "Fox News" when surfing the web. And that does not necessarily reflect the relative popularity of both networks. As some commenters suggest:
- "I can't remember the last time that I've searched for a news channel on Google. Is it really that difficult for people to type 'cnn.com'?"
- "More than anything else, these maps show smart phone proliferation (among older people) more than anything else."
- "This is a map of how old people and rural areas have learned to use Google in the last decade."
- "This is basically a map of people who don't understand how the internet works, and it's no surprise that it leans conservative."
A visual image as strong as this map sequence looks designed to elicit a vehement response — and its lack of context offers viewers little new information to challenge their preconceptions. Like the news itself, cartography pretends to be objective, but always has an agenda of its own, even if just by the selection of its topics.
The trick is not to despair of maps (or news) but to get a good sense of the parameters that are in play. And, as is often the case (with both maps and news), what's left out is at least as significant as what's actually shown.
One important point: while Fox News is the sole major purveyor of news and opinion with a conservative/right-wing slant, CNN has more competition in the center/left part of the spectrum, notably from MSNBC.
Another: the average age of cable news viewers — whether they watch CNN or Fox News — is in the mid-60s. As a result of a shift in generational habits, TV viewing is down across the board. Younger people are more comfortable with a "cafeteria" approach to their news menu, selecting alternative and online sources for their information.
It should also be noted, however, that Fox News, according to Harvard's Nieman Lab, dominates Facebook when it comes to engagement among news outlets.
CNN, Fox and MSNBC
Image: Google Trends
CNN vs. Fox (without the 'News'; may include searches for actual foxes). See MSNBC (in yellow) for comparison
For the record, here are the Nielsen ratings for average daily viewer total for the three main cable news networks, for 2018 (compared to 2017):
- Fox News: 1,425,000 (-5%)
- MSNBC: 994,000 (+12%)
- CNN: 706,000 (-9%)
And according to this recent overview, the top 50 of the most popular websites in the U.S. includes cnn.com in 28th place, and foxnews.com in... 27th place.The top 5, in descending order, consists of google.com, youtube.com, facebook.com, amazon.com and yahoo.com — the latter being the highest-placed website in the News and Media category.
If you thought your mother was pushy in her pursuit of grandchildren, wait until you learn about bonobo mothers.
- Mother bonobos have been observed to help their sons find and copulate with mates.
- The mothers accomplish this by leading sons to mates, interfering with other males trying to copulate with females, and helping sons rise in the social hierarchy of the group.
- Why do mother bonobos do this? The "grandmother hypothesis" might hold part of the answer.
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