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Wednesday
May252016

"Repugnance" & reasoned deciscionmaking ... a fragment

From something I working on ...

Disgust-motivated cognition of costs and benefits

 “Repugnance” can figure in an agent’s instrumental reasoning in a number of ways. One would be as an argument in his or her utility function: repugnant states of affairs are ones worth incurring a cost to avoid; the repugnance of an act is a cost that must be balanced against the value of the otherwise desirable states of affairs that the action might help to promote (e.g., Becker 2013). Alternatively, repugnance might be viewed as investing acts or states of affairs with some “taboo” quality that makes them inappropriate objects of cost-benefit calculation (Fiske & Tetlock 1997). I will address a third possibility: that repugnance might unconsciously shape how actors appraise consequences of actions or states of affairs.  Wholly apart from whatever disutility an agent might assign an act or state of affairs on account of its being repugnant, an agent is likely to conform his or her assessment of information about its risks and benefits to the aversion that it excites in her (Finucane, Alhakami, Slovic & Johnson 2000; Douglas 1966). I will survey the psychological mechanisms for this form of “disgust-motivated” reasoning and assess its implications for rational decisionmaking, individual and collective.

Refs

Becker, G.S. The economic approach to human behavior (University of Chicago press, 2013).

Douglas, M. Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo (1966).

Finucane, M.L., Alhakami, A., Slovic, P. & Johnson, S.M. The Affect Heuristic in Judgments of Risks and Benefits. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making 13, 1-17 (2000).

Fiske, A.P. & Tetlock, P.E. Taboo Trade-offs: Reactions to Transactions That Transgress the Spheres of Justice. Political Psychology 18, 255-297 (1997).

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Reader Comments (14)

This sounds like a cool project! I'm curious: do you have a definition that you're using for "repugnance" and/or "disgust"? You've mentioned this disgust/risk perceptions connection before (I think in the context of guns and drones?) and I remember being skeptical then that "disgust" was really the right word for the visceral reaction, even though you quoted several people who used it themselves. Guns do "excite[]" "aversion" in me, but they don't, like, nauseate me. Does that mean I'm repulsed by them, or not? Thanks!

May 25, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMW

Hasn't the word "disgusting" already been copyrighted by the Trump campaign? As noted by MW above you may also need a broader descriptive word base for adversions. Upgrades to the "scaredy cats" noted in a previous post.

I think that a parallel investigation needs to be embarked upon involving a philosophy of exceptionalism. In conjunction with the abstract advancement of science is a parallel implementation of science informed technology in which the rapid implementation by people who turn out to be robber barons outstrips the consideration of consequences and harms to the greater social good. With the assumption that that can come later. (Best case scenario for me is that this can involve squads of analytical chemists for identification and development of cleanup methods).

On the flip side, societies with an acutely refined sense of preserving the social good may not be as adept at accommodating advances in science. Native American cultures for example, that were very good at maintaining the ecological status quo by considering change as something to only be implemented while considering impacts down 7 generations.

Denialism then is not a war on science, those in charge of promoting this are active users of gobs of science. It is a cover for take the money and run. At lower levels, some poor suckers are just settling for a job in present time and figuring that they will have to deal with the future as it unfolds as they just don't have time to think about it right now. For them the allignment with denialism is tribal and has to do with job preservation. Tribes are often led by someone with ulterior motives.

May 26, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterGaythia Weis

"It is a cover for take the money and run. At lower levels, some poor suckers are just settling for a job in present time and figuring that they will have to deal with the future as it unfolds as they just don't have time to think about it right now."

The people planning this think about the future, they just disagree on what shape it has.

The argument is that many people have predicted doom and disaster based on running out of resources, using up the environment, pestilence, famine, war, and death. All those predictions have been wrong. We're still here, despite being told 45 years ago this was impossible.

On the contrary, the world economy has expanded, technology has continued to move on, we're all far wealthier than we were, there are far fewer poor than there were, and this is a desirable trend that we want to continue. Adam Smith's "Invisible Hand" means that people pursuing their own selfish ends by doing so achieve the optimum collective social good.

It's not that people are not aware or not thinking about it - the issue is that they are actively thinking about it and coming to opposite conclusions about the way things are going. You might well think they're wrong, but it's what they're doing.

May 26, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

What state it has for whom? Usually Robber Baron eras end because the people mange to rise up or to otherwise retrain them. Or sometimes the resources ran out at some specific points. Environmental cleanups did not happen because the Robber Barons wanted it to.

Have you read "When Smoke Ran Like Water" by Devra Davis?

Big Fossil Fuel and the politicians they support do seem to be on some storyline trajectory that has gone from a public face of denial to maybe it's happening but not anthropogenic to maybe we'll like it! http://www.wsj.com/articles/chevron-boss-climate-change-could-help-business-1464132869. "Watson argues that his positions represent realism, saying that nearly every aspect of modern life depends on the use of fossil fuels, many Americans live paycheck to paycheck and do not want to spend more on energy, and developing nations care more about cheap energy and local pollution than climate change."

NiV is making the case that I've heard my US representative, Ken Buck make. But then, eastern Colorado was settled on a publicly espoused philosophy of "Plow and the Rains Will Come". Despite good scientific research on water given by John Wesley Powell in his Report on the Arid Lands of 1879. http://pubs.usgs.gov/unnumbered/70039240/report.pdf. Moving past the Dust Bowl, you could think of the invention of circle irrigation and very deep wells that tapped into the Ogallala aquifer as a justification of NiV's or Buck's case. Is there always something else? Or you could note that unnecessarily poor management of resources will leave much of this area uninhabitable. Its happened before, and those who gain enough wealth in the process can move on.

Carnegie and Frick themselves left Pittsburgh and their workers behind and moved to NYC. For the foreseeable future, the very wealthy can do the same.

The social costs will be borne unequally.

May 27, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterGaythia Weis

"Environmental cleanups did not happen because the Robber Barons wanted it to."

The argument goes that environmental cleanups happen when people become prosperous enough through their development of technology to be able to divert some of their effort from simple survival to living well. Environmental cleanups are a luxury that we can only afford because industrialisation makes us rich enough.

When people are poor enough that they have difficulty feeding the kids, their priorities are all loaded on increasing productivity at any cost; the environment is well down the list of things to worry about. Societies in that state tend to industrialise and pollute heavily. But as per-capita income rises past the point where most people are comfortable and secure, their priorities shift. Health and safety at work, holidays, shorter working hours, better working conditions, clean air, clean water, nice countryside, bigger houses, ethical farming, etc. - become relatively more important. As the most pressing of humanity's problems are solved, we move on to solving those on the next level down.

For those who think about this stuff, it's not that they don't *care* about the environment when they're industrialising - that they're taking the money and running, and letting the future take care of itself. It's that they believe industrialisation and short-term damage is the most direct path to a future in which the environment *will* be cared for. That you have to get people across to the other side of the environmentally-damaging 'hump' as quickly as possible, to minimise the total damage done.

The argument's known as the environmental Kuznets curve.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kuznets_curve#Environmental_Kuznets_curve

The world's become a better place to live, largely because of the industrial revolution, and is still getting better. We're richer, healthier, longer lived, better fed; resources are becoming more abundant, production is becoming more efficient and less wasteful, and the air and water are cleaner, the environment far better cared for than they have ever been. There's still a long way to go, but we're moving in the right direction.

We're on the downward slope on the right-hand side of the Kuznets curve. We're not at the bottom of it yet, but the direction we need to move to get there is clear.

There's no argument over whether we should look after the environment - the argument is over whether we can afford to do it *yet*. People are so used to having the big problems solved, they forget we ever had them. And they forget that it's only that polluting technological industry that makes such lives possible.

"Have you read "When Smoke Ran Like Water" by Devra Davis?"

No, but it sounds interesting. Have you read 'The Ultimate Resource' by Julian Simon, or 'The Skeptical Environmentalist' by Bjorn Lomborg?

May 27, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

Industrialization wasn't the poverty state, pre-industrialization was. Introduction of new technologies tends to give a very few elites an edge that leads to monopolies that give them even more of an edge. And thus very large income disparities. I don't think that history demonstrates the industrialists who caused environmental disasters were thinking that this was a necessary process to work through before enabling better environmental practices, they could have done better, but took shortcuts until forced not to do that.

Tom's River is another good book that relates the early years of development of the chemical industry. One in which it was not that those in charge did not know that there waste products were harmful. In fact they relocated themselves to this then remote location so that they could continue practices not allowed in Europe at that time. And developed a whole series of cultural pracitices to squash any question of their practices. Tribal enforcement even before Dan came along. http://www.amazon.com/Toms-River-Story-Science-Salvation/dp/1610915917?ie=UTF8&keywords=Toms%20river&qid=1464355396&ref_=sr_1_1&sr=8-1

I've read the Ultimate Resource a long time ago. There is more than one way to deliberately extrapolate present data to desired false conclusions. Population growth does not in itself lead to prosperity. A lot of present prosperity is based on what Ehrlich failed to predict on the flip side, economic advancement and freeing and educating women to actively participate in the economy and that leads to population decreases. Neither Erhlich nor Simon is correct. It is not always true that new resources come along just at the right moment to replace old ones. Sometimes economies decline as a result. There is a balance in which human intelligence can be utilized to find the best possible ways to economic advancement and environmental protections at the same time. We don't have to live like primitive societies, and we don't have to let a few greedheads destroy the progress towards the common good either.

For Dan: This is on fear, not repugnance, and I assume your analysis will not be based on the Book of Genesis, but I bet Katharine Hayhoe can translate it that way: http://www.christiancourier.ca/news/entry/fear-not-facts-behind-climate-change-skepticism

May 27, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterGaythia Weis

A poor start on my part; Industrialization wasn't the poverty state THAT pre-industrialization was. This need some clarification to account for the gap between the job displacement of early industrialization and the wealth created only for a few. And Julian Simon could take into account population growth outstripping resources.

Our current election season and tensions with current political party alignments, IMHO, stem from the impacts of technological changes akin to that of the past industrial revolution coupled with climate change. Which has lead to the widest income disparities seen in quite some time. We are failing to make those changes in ways that accommodate general social progress. It doesn't have to be a bad thing for robots to displace nearly mindless assembly line work any more than it is inherently bad for tractors to displace hoes. We can improve working conditions and hours, add social services, embark on new public works projects, support such activities as arts and scientific research instead.

Or we can slip away from civilized society and form a new feudal state in which tribal repugnance of others keeps rulers in power.

May 27, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterGaythia Weis

NiV and Dan,

As an alternative to climate change denial or the sky is falling in negativity of many climate change advocates, the work of Ulrich Beck seems interesting. I've read several reviews, This one seems comprehensive: http://www.amazon.com/Metamorphosis-World-Climate-Transforming-Concept/dp/0745690211/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1464386075&sr=1-1&keywords=the+metamorphosis+of+the+world. Beck died last year but the book was just published last month. Fred Pierce reviews several books including this one at New Scientist: https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg23030711-000-can-climate-change-save-the-world/

May 27, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterGaythia Weis

"Denialism then is not a war on science, those in charge of promoting this are active users of gobs of science. It is a cover for take the money and run.",,, "Environmental cleanups did not happen because the Robber Barons wanted it to. " Gaythia Weis

You're letting your repugnance for fossil fuels and capitalism do your thinking for you. You don’t know what those people are thinking or feeling. Logic would suggest that there are some bad people and some good people but you’re blind to that because you can’t imagine a good person working in those fields. Almost certainly no oil baron wanted to pollute the environment. Pollution is lost money. Yes, they may have cut corners and conned themselves that there wouldn’t be an incident but haven’t we all learned hard lessons over the years? Don’t you think oil barons make mistakes? And often, it’s not the oil baron’s fault. Accidents do happen. Employees make the wrong decisions, no matter how good everyone’s intentions or safety procedures.

True, they might have been reluctant to clean up spills in the past, but mainly because it was extremely difficult and I doubt they knew the environmental impact. These days I doubt any professional would want to leave an oil slick, they’re mostly civilised people, but they also don’t want to pay for every little liar for a thousand miles claiming to have suffered damage. BP was punished as much for resentment over profits as the actual pollution event. Which is funny really. By making massive profits they’ve kept money out of the hands of the rest of us, so we couldn’t spend more of it on possessions and travelling. If you cared about CO2 you should commend them for charging too much.

You may not have noticed but there’s almost no commentary on climate change coming from oil companies, other than a nod to the consensus position. ‘Denialism’ is coming from ordinary individuals, often those who aren’t automatically repulsed by dark, smelly, poisonous substances. Having worked from time to time in a sewage facility I have a higher bar for repulsive than something as valuable and useful as fossil fuels. But even sewage has to be dealt with. Somebody has to suspend the repugnance and get on with it and that’s where sceptics come from. We’re people who know that life has a dirty side and repulsive or not, it needs to be there. Nobody poops rainbows and we can’t run a country on fairy dust or the current crop of renewables.

To us it seems absolutely the right thing to do to question such an important science. Why would you not apply the same standards of rigor and examination to climate science as we all demand from industry, especially oil companies. If an oil company makes a mistake, we expect heavy penalties but if a climate scientist makes a mistake, they’ll just get it right in the next paper they get published… or maybe they’ll just let it slide, after all nobody’s checking. Where are the SOPs for climate science? The archiving policies? Who’s in charge of strategic planning (aren’t they taking their time working out climate sensitivity?) Who are the independent auditors? What quality control framework do they use? Everyone squeals if an oil company comes within five miles of a scientist but who’s keeping a eye out to ensure that they’re not too chummy with a windmill manufacturer or an environmental group? Are we sure that their repugnance of fossil fuels and oil barons isn’t influencing their work?

Please stop seeing the industrial world as a cross between Dallas and Disney's flubber. People, fossil fuel industries and climate science are a lot more complicated.

May 27, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

"Industrialization wasn't the poverty state, pre-industrialization was."

Pre-industrialisation was the left-hand end of the graph with the worst poverty; industialisation the middle with intermediate poverty; post-industrialisation the right hand end with prosperity. It's still poverty from our perspective, but not from theirs.

"Introduction of new technologies tends to give a very few elites an edge that leads to monopolies that give them even more of an edge. And thus very large income disparities."

True. It's what motivated them to create those technologies in the first place. Innovation is expensive, risky, and a rare talent.

Income disparities are the market's way of moving people into the areas where we need more of them. We needed more innovators; their rarity automatically generated the high pay that led others to copy them, compete with them, and learn to be like them. As more and more flood into the new arena, competition and a reduction in the rarity of those skills brings pay and prices down.

Income disparities are bad, because they're evidence of a shortage of some essential skill. The solution to it is to teach others to be able to do the same thing the highly paid do, so they can undercut them, increasing production and reducing costs.

It's like the teacher giving marks to students in the classroom. High marks are the ticket to praise and a bright future, and it seems unfair that some kids don't get that opportunity. The bright kids getting most of the marks is evidence of a problem, but the solution has to be to teach the other kids better, so they can get high marks too. It's not to take marks off the brightest kids and give them to the less able. That just takes away the motivation to learn, which is the real point of the exercise, and loses all the information marks give about what teaching works and who has the skills we need.

In the same way that getting high marks at school are not the true aim of education, so money is not the true aim of the economy. The economy is really about production, providing the goods and services that constitute real 'wealth', and money is just the arbitrary markers we use to guide society towards maximum production for minimum effort. Manipulating where the money goes just deranges that guidance, reduces production, and makes us all poorer.

Income inequality is bad, but for a different reason to what most people think.

"I don't think that history demonstrates the industrialists who caused environmental disasters were thinking that this was a necessary process to work through before enabling better environmental practices, they could have done better, but took shortcuts until forced not to do that."

Yes. But people only started forcing them to do that, and they only started paying attention, when society was prosperous enough to be able to afford it.

"Population growth does not in itself lead to prosperity."

True. It was prosperity that led to population growth, as the number of children dying in infancy dropped.

"A lot of present prosperity is based on what Ehrlich failed to predict on the flip side, economic advancement and freeing and educating women to actively participate in the economy and that leads to population decreases."

Simon's point was the economic advancement was perfectly predictable - it was what we'd been doing since the industrial revolution 400 years previously.

The population increased when prosperity made it possible, and that greater human capital is a large part of the reason for our wealth, but the process stabilises as we approach the new limits imposed by the limitations of our more advanced technology. The population is unlikely to decrease much - it's simply not increasing as fast.

"It is not always true that new resources come along just at the right moment to replace old ones. Sometimes economies decline as a result."

True. And that's to be avoided if we can help it.

"There is a balance in which human intelligence can be utilized to find the best possible ways to economic advancement and environmental protections at the same time. We don't have to live like primitive societies, and we don't have to let a few greedheads destroy the progress towards the common good either."

Agreed! That's exactly the aim of the free market!

People express their needs, desires, and priorities by what they're willing and able to buy. The market load-balances to provide that, if it can be done at a price enough people collectively think is worth it. If people *want* environmental clean-up, they can reflect that in the purchases they make. If people want the world to stop emitting CO2, they can stop buying any goods or services that emit it. If they do, the price of fossil fuels would drop through the floor and become unprofitable, and all the energy companies would jump on the bandwagon of renewable energy whose prices (and profits) would rocket sky high. The greedheads would be directed by their greed to deliver what society wanted. They'd have no choice.

The reason it doesn't happen is that we've collectively made the decision that the price is too high. You, me, everyone who continues to buy stuff provided by fossil fuels has made that decision. That's where the true balance between economic advancement and environmental protection is decided. The individual costs imposed on every single one of us are weighed individually against our personal priorities and constraints by us and then added up across the entire economy, determining what businesses profit. The poverty that would result if we all did individually choose to stop using fossil fuels - the loss of those goods and services, and the higher price of the renewable-based ones - is precisely the economic cost the sceptics keep talking about. If it's truly trivial, as the believers tell us, then go ahead and pay it.

"And Julian Simon could take into account population growth outstripping resources."

He did take population growth into account; he was explaining why it *doesn't* outstrip resources. That was his main point.

I think Henry George said it best: "Both the jayhawk and the man eat chickens; but the more jayhawks, the fewer chickens, while the more men, the more chickens."

"Which has lead to the widest income disparities seen in quite some time."

The income disparities arise because only a very small fraction of the population are generating the bulk of the advancement in global wealth. Every one of us pays them that money in exchange for the benefits their goods and services provide for us. Each of us made that decision that they're worth what they're paid by buying what they produce. If you think they're not, stop buying their stuff.

Or better, produce the same stuff as them only cheaper. If they're truly charging too much, that should be easy.

At the moment, creating the people with the skills and resources to generate that wealth itself takes a concentration of resources - we can't yet afford to deliver it uniformly. Positive feedback enhances differences exponentially.

But the point is that uneven wealth generation still generates wealth, reducing *absolute* poverty, which we still prefer to everyone being poor but *equally* poor. Hence the way to fix it is to get a bigger fraction of people generating that wealth.

"It doesn't have to be a bad thing for robots to displace nearly mindless assembly line work any more than it is inherently bad for tractors to displace hoes."

I agree robots are a good thing, but you do the workers a disservice by calling them 'mindless'. 'Unskilled' is a better word for it.

The problem is that education is expensive, and they're stuck in a vicious circle. They need the skills education brings to produce the spare resources to pay for the education that will give them the skills. (There are other reasons too, to do with persistent cultural attitudes and legal systems, but the cost is the biggest problem.) Or to put it another way, it's a positive feedback loop - economic advancement enables better education which enables further economic advancement. They're in the early stages of that, before the feedback has built up much.

The robots reduce prices generally, and hence the price of that education. That helps.

May 27, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

If you're not already aware of them, you may find the literature on "stigma communication", which involves a related set of concepts, particularly where more than one individual is involved or collective reasoning occurs involving socially controversial behaviors. Rachel Smith and Rebecca Meisenbach are two of the major sources in that area.

June 2, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRobert Marriott

NiV:

You may be interested to know that there's evidence from firm location patterns in emerging markets that the "environmental Kuznets curve" (EKC) arises not from social choice, but from polluting firms choosing to locate at their optimum socioeconomic environment. In choosing their locations, polluting firms trade off having the infrastructure to access affordable resources and labor and transport and markets, driving them away from the really poor end of the socioeconomic spectrum, and avoiding stringent pollution regulations that the really rich parts of the world can afford, like NIMBY campaigns or enforced pollution quotas. In the middle exist the pollution havens, where people are happy to have the new business and are either willing to turn a blind eye or otherwise unwilling or unable to hold businesses accountable for their practices.

This evidence is especially strong in China, where because of regulatory unevenness between its administrative divisions, internal pollution havens within that country exist and are well documented.

I have only seldom seen the environmental Kuznets curve used to argue normatively for delaying emissions mitigation. I was quite surprised to see you appeal to it. Some Chinese scholars who are academically beholden to their government use the EKC to justify their government's allocations of emissions reduction quotas. India is in a similar position as China, arguably a bit worse, but even India has not held that strictly to the line that increased emissions consumption is necessary to reduce poverty as a policy platform. (In part, I expect this to be due to their vulnerability to expected climate change impacts.) Rather, India argues for global convergence in per capita emissions.

Arguing that emissions is temporarily necessary to reduce poverty is actually just an incorrect generalization of a spatial pattern in emissions into a temporal one. That generalization is especially suspect when we are considering avertible pollution, like future CO2 emissions resulting from commitment to less efficient power infrastructure. Ecuador's rejection of GMO plants containing terminator genes that could spread via pollen (which would have disrupted certain low-capital agricultural systems in that country) is an example of a relatively poor country nevertheless choosing to avoid future pollution.

There's only one way to reduce poverty, and that's for people to be paid. How and for what they get paid is a political question far afield.

June 3, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterdypoon

@Robert-- many thanks. I'll take a look.

June 3, 2016 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

@Mw-- the data I've collected uses "pathogen disgust." But this is an abstract for a conference paper that will be more wideranging -- as well as synthetic, conjectural.

June 3, 2016 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

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