Monday, May 23, 2011

LDS in Everywhere?

Is Mormon conversion a viable development policy? Cowen answers:
A viable *policy*, no, but a viable solution *yes*.  Many of the costs of poverty are sociological rather than narrowly economic per se.  In other words, many of the poor do not have what could be called Mormon lifestyles.  This point holds all the more strongly in Latin America, where alcoholism is arguably a larger economic problem than in the United States. …
 The truth of the Mormonism insight doesn’t necessarily have strong implications for cash-based social aid policies in the meantime.  Mormonism, as a variable, is difficult for political agents to manipulate, although they (possibly) can squash it.  Raising this point, however, makes the poor look less like victims and more like a group partially complicit in their own fate.  That framing does have “marketing” implications for the politics of how many resources the poor will receive.  For this reason, liberals sometimes underrate the conservative point, because they do not like its political implications, and this leads liberals to misunderstand poverty.  The conservatives end up misunderstanding poverty policy.
So if governments (today) aren't going to mandate lifestyle conversion, where does religion come from? Baumard conducted a test to try to see how universal the idea divine justice or retribution is (which would underpin the idea of religion existing in order to improve human collaboration).
Dr Baumard’s volunteers read about a beggar asking for alms, and a passer-by who did not give them. In some cases the pedestrian was not only stingy, but hurled abuse at the poor man. In others, he was skint and apologetic. Either way, he went on to experience some nasty event (anything from tripping over a shoelace, via being tripped up deliberately by the beggar, to being run over by a car).
The question asked of each volunteer was whether the second event was caused by the passer-by’s behaviour towards the beggar. Most answered “no”, the assumption being it was the shoelace, or the beggar’s foot, or the car. But Dr Baumard also measured how long each volunteer thought about the answer—and he found that when the passer-by had behaved badly to the beggar and then suffered an unrelated bad incident, volunteers spent significantly longer thinking about their answers than when the passer-by had behaved well, or the beggar had tripped him up deliberately.
He also tried putting a picture of a pair of eyes on a survey about religious attitudes, and those being “watched” rated the morality of the questions more highly.

Another attempt to understand how religion binds us in societies by Whitehouse and Atkinson graphed religious rituals according to how unpleasant they were to their frequency. Most are not unpleasant, and the vast majority occur daily or monthly, but there is also a significant group that are very unepleasant but performed only once a lifetime or less than annually. I pondered where they would put serving a Mormon mission… Or where I would put it, for that matter. As growing, formative, enlightening, character building, and joyful an experience at it was, I have a very hard time calling it “pleasant.”

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