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Competing views of zombie economy – is neuroscience involved?

February 21, 2013

At Forbes, James Dorn writes “Obama’s Minimum Wage Hike: A Case Of Zombie Economics” citing Paul Krugman’s “zombie ideas” and claiming:

President Obama is practicing zombie economics when he ignores the law of demand and promises to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $9, so that “no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty.”

Before moving on please pause to wonder if Dorn’s use of zombie economics is somewhat racist in this context — or if at the very least implies that those living in poverty are zombies and so that raising their wage would be zombie economics. But also recall the long history of zombie economics in connection to voodoo economics of Reagan supply-siders. Zombie economics discourse is basically a long history of retelling the same old arguments about dead white European males.

And at theglobaldispatch.com: “Paul Krugman and His Zombie History” by William L. Anderson:

whenever Krugman goes on a partisan political screed, truth is left behind,

Which is funny because Krugman refers his intellectual opponents “zombie lies” – Like with Ed Reform, both sides are just on the attack and by calling each other zombies or nazi they are just declaring their opponents. Except they also make strawmen of the opposing argument and talk over one another, accusing the other of lies, instead of trying to focus on real stories or data. Dorn uses Krugman’s Rubio article to argue about minimum wage but like a zombie, seems unaware that Krugman also wrote on the wage subject days ago. And Ravitch thinks no reader could possibly have misread her, so me and Jeb Bush are just zombies too (not the worst company to be in).

Maybe it’s brain differences. “Brain Scans Can Predict Your Political Ideology” by Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience journalist reporting on a

study, which examined the brain activity of 35 men and 47 women registered as either Democrat or Republican, found no difference in the amount of risk people of each political persuasion were willing to take on during a gambling game. But the way the brain processed risk worked differently between the groups, with Republicans showing more activity in an area linked with reward, fear and risky decisions and Democrats showing more activity in a spot related to processing emotion and internal body cues. The findings hint at basic differences between people with different values, said study researcher Darren Schreiber of the University of Exeter.

If the opposing side has a different brain process are they deformed zombies? This kind of neuroscience research is contributing to the understanding of others as fundamentally different and this leads to further breakdown of communication between disagreeing sides. If fundamental differences of agreement are biological then there is just no point in arguing about them and we will just have to agree to disagree. The problem with that point of view is it will always be in line with the position of the status quo.

There is no question that the brain is involved but it may be dangerous to overcredit it in the way popular science journalism and grant-writers tends to exaggerate. Interestingly, Pappas’s science reporting has further connections to zombies – previously she wrote about people who believe in the Mayan Apocalypse and she retweeted another LiveScience article about cake shaped like organs. Also she wrote about the social science of “Why We Go Crazy for Cute” and about “cute aggression”.

Note that cuteness is a sometimes zombie cure (see Law Schools with puppies) but that the study showed a “cute aggression” effect so schools should consider unintended consequences of puppies at finals. In the study, funny videos did not create the same level of post-viewing aggression so laughter may be a longer lasting zombie cure than cuteness.

Also, Pappas wondered why a doomer guy cares who wins the election? But a pending apocalypse coming is just part of one’s perspective, not a certainty just a way of processing risk — even if an apocalypse doesn’t happen on the day predicted, they will predict again – it’s a mindset, a frame for decision making – and it’s hard (if not pointless) to argue about it because truly, at least in a certain sense, the world does end everyday – every moment, even – facts don’t prove or disprove that, it’s about belief and an epistemic frame – the world could end tomorrow and maybe it’s helpful to think about that– As from the Bible:

Isaiah 22:13 (NKJV):“Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!”

or from a more proper Bible, Star Trek: the Next Generation:

You and I will fight battles that others can only dream of. The time for glory is here. It is not a time to worry about stabilizers; it is a time to celebrate. For tomorrow we all may die!

kurn star trek tomorrow we die

And in Klingon: “yIlop! wa’leS chaq maHegh!” means “Celebrate! Tomorrow we may die!”

That said, sometimes that perspective may not be the most useful, as regards, say, investment in long term clinical studies, it may be helpful to hedge apocalyptic thought with at least some planning for other possible possible futures. “To plant a seed is to believe in tomorrow.”

We should consider all of these perspective useful and try to work together to create as many possibilities as possible, but instead it’s easier to engage in name-calling and strawmanning. Coupled with brain science that says our brains are doing this, that the others are fundamentally different so don’t even listen to them. Is it really any wonder that we fantasize about an end of days or compare modern authorities to prior fascists?

And finally, to make this post all the more timely, just now while I am writing, Pappas posted to Yahoo “Why We’re Obsessed with the Zombie Apocalypse“:

zombies may be helping us cope with the aftermath of World War II.

Yes! and World War One. And 9/11. And the French Revolution – rights of man in global post-colonial post-structural existential horror malaise of the everlost generations.

It’s “Future Shock” and it’s only getting better – gotta wear shades!

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