Aware of Being a Stranger

…kisses are a better fate than wisdom…

~ E.E. Cummings ~

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Bacalhau is the Portuguese word for cod—as in the fish that is not native to Portuguese waters but is, nonetheless, the most popular fish in Portugal. According to a BBC.com reel, the Portuguese are the world’s biggest consumers of cod/bacalhau, eating an incredible 35 kilograms (roughly 77 pounds) of cod per person per year. António de Oliveira Salazar, dictator of Portugal (as President of the Council of Ministers) from 1932 to 1968, is credited in the BBC.com film for returning cod to affordability (after many years during which it was an expensive fish available only to the monied elite).  Salazar set the price of cod so it would be affordable to the majority of citizens. He took various other actions that resulted, ultimately, in cod becoming the de facto “national fish dish of Portugal.” So there you go. I’ve always love cod, even salted cod (extremely popular in Portugal and in many other countries around the world). I recommend it. For lunch. Today.

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Friends who live in Fort Smith put their house on the market late Friday. By late Saturday, 13 viewings has taken place; more were scheduled for Sunday.  I would not be at all surprised to learn that several offers might have been made before the end of the day on Sunday. The house appears to be in excellent condition; well-maintained, attractive, updated…just generally appealing. And the backyard—with a pavestone patio, a large water feature, Japanese maples, and a lovely moss groundcover—is a sufficient selling point to merit multiple offers. I anxiously await word that an above-asking-price offer has been accepted. Of course, in an ideal world, the sale of the Fort Smith house would then lead to the friends moving to the Village. Alas, they have chosen to go elsewhere. But at least it’s within reasonable driving/visiting distance.

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For years, psychological research has suggested significant differences exist between liberals and conservatives. Conservatives, for example, tend to be motivated by fear to a greater extent than are liberals. Yet conservatives tend to believe they have more self-control than do liberals. Asked to describe themselves, liberals are more likely to describe themselves as compassionate and optimistic, while conservatives are more likely to describe themselves as honorable and religious.

Looking at the results of various psychological studies of liberalism versus conservatism, it would be easy for a liberal to classify the differences as evidence of his superiority over conservatives. The same results, though, might suggest to a conservative to come to the opposite conclusion: that the evidence supports the superiority of conservatives over liberals. While such conflicting perspectives might tend to make one think any assessment of the psychology of liberalism versus conservatism a study in chaos, the reality is that the research seems to grow stronger by the day that liberals’ and conservatives’ brains operate in different ways. With the development of more sophisticated psychological measures (with greater validity and more reliability between them), I suspect the time will come when a simple test or battery of tests will dependably be able to classify the degree to which a person is liberal or conservative. And that classification will translate into high correlations between political perspectives and predictions of voting behavior. Ultimately, if used for the wrong reasons and by the wrong people, such data could be used to manipulate social and economic responses to changing societal conditions. Of course, choosing to classify social and economic responses as “wrong” might depend on one’s level of conservatism versus liberalism. A liberal may say “wrong,” while a conservative may say “right” or “necessary.” Or vice versa. A conservative might say a liberal’s response to changing social conditions is immoral; and a liberal may say the same about a conservative’s response.

Morality, itself, may then be viewed differently, depending on one’s political perspectives and the extent to which one identifies as either liberal or conservative. And that, I suggest, is at the crux of the inability of political parties and their adherents to find opportunities for compromise. Each considers the other “immoral,” therefore any willingness to modify one’s position to enable the sides to come to some sort of agreement is seen as taking a step toward abandoning one’s moral principles. Until and unless the political parties can identify common moral ground with their opponents, the only reasonable response to the dilemma is to abandon all hope of finding any commonality at all between entrenched political positions.

Evidence in support of my “hunches” about political perspectives and morality was found in a study conducted by John Jost, a professor of psychology, politics, and data science at New York University and his colleagues. A news release about the study, from New York University, says the study “suggests that liberalism and conservatism are associated with qualitatively different psychological concerns, notably those linked to morality.” I rest my case.

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I’m aware of being a stranger, an outsider, and that’s always an advantage for an artist. It means I can see from the inside and the outside. I have that double vision.

~ John Hirsch ~

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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