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Member since: Sat Nov 29, 2008, 02:55 PM
Number of posts: 17,671

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Life on the edge and Decision Fatigue

The thread about the single mom leaving the kids at alone night might be a good example of decision fatigue. The more decisions we have to make, and especially the greater the gravity of those decisions, the more they can cause us to begin to make bad choices out of simple cognitive exhaustion. It's difficult enough to resist a sales pitch among a cornucopia of products, but imagine that each decision you make between extra cheese or mayo could have life altering consequences.

Decision fatigue helps explain why ordinarily sensible people get angry at colleagues and families, splurge on clothes, buy junk food at the supermarket and canít resist the dealerís offer to rustproof their new car. No matter how rational and high-minded you try to be, you canít make decision after decision without paying a biological price.

I can't knowledgeably speak to the particulars of why some single mom couldn't seem to pay the gas bill or manage her work schedule. But I think that she, like millions of other Americans, is operating on the edge of a cognitive envelope. And before you reflexively leap to the group of your personal interest, I think that desperation and its negative consequences are happening across the social and political spectrum.

Once youíre mentally depleted, you become reluctant to make trade-offs, which involve a particularly advanced and taxing form of decision making. In the rest of the animal kingdom, there arenít a lot of protracted negotiations between predators and prey. To compromise is a complex human ability and therefore one of the first to decline when willpower is depleted. You become what researchers call a cognitive miser, hoarding your energy. If youíre shopping, youíre liable to look at only one dimension...

I think tunnel vision as a result of decision fatigue is an important factor at the macro level of culture and politics. Jonathan Haidt and George Lakoff have described the basic pillars of our moral and political motivations. When we are put under pressure I think we could, as a result of decision fatigue, develop tunnel vision around those basic values. We "revert to type" when we are under pressure or exhausted. So, while people on the political right may become inflexible about guns and in extreme circumstances shoot police officers and drape their bodies in a Gadsden flag, members of the political left might, in a fit of communal need for change and disregard for established authority, gang together and start burning down buildings to "rip it all down and start over". It's happened before.

We have become increasingly, and dangerously, politically polarized in this country. At the root of that polarization is profit. Tribalism through confirmation bias pays, and pays well. That's how the 1% pits members of the 99% against each other. They don't see us, they only see how much money they can make by telling us what we want to hear. And they're working both sides of the street.

The only solution I can see is to view our political opposites as human with legitimate values and try to make our values appeal to and support their values. That creates political allies because the worse the problem gets the more of a mandate we will require to rectify it. If we fail sooner or later there will come a serious economic or environmental shock that will push one side or both into open confrontation against the other, then it will be too late.

Well, lets have a look at the law in question


(1) An affirmative consent standard in the determination of whether consent was given by a complainant. ... It is the responsibility of the person who wants to engage in initiating the sexual activity to ensure that he or she has the consent of the other person to engage in the sexual activity. Lack of protest or resistance does not mean consent, nor does silence mean consent.

That is certainly the way things ought to be done, but how will the accused prove he complied with such a standard in the real world? What mechanism will shield him from liability? How will the accused prove he has fulfilled his responsibilities? Granted, it's not a criminal charge (yet), but there will nevertheless be consequences otherwise why put the policy in place? Those consequences will be unjustly applied without some mechanism to prove compliance.

Of course, if the accused is charged with rape how long do you think it will take the prosecuter to introduce evidence of disciplinary action by the school? Read a little further in the bill and we find this:

(2) A policy that, in the evaluation of complaints in the disciplinary process, it shall not be a valid excuse that the accused believed that the complainant consented to the sexual activity under either of the following circumstances:

(3) A preponderance of the evidence standard in the determination of disciplinary action.

So someone can be charged with rape and be disciplined by the school based on a significantly lower standard than that required by the courts. He can have his reputation savaged and his college and further career destroyed based on the same standard required by a civil claim. And that's before the courts even see the case.

And as we read further, we find this:

(8) Investigating allegations that alcohol or drugs were involved in the incident, and providing amnesty from disciplinary action if the victim violated the schoolís policy when the sexual assault occurred.

So not only is the accused saddled with an impossible burden of proof, the accuser is absolved from responsibility for her actions even if they clearly violated school policy. There is nothing about this law that is fair or just.

I can understand the motivation and the need for this effort, but the law as proposed is a travesty. And I think I know why. It's a sort of ideological distortion that happens on both sides of the political aisle.

The concept of personal responsibility has been distorted by conservatives to further the ends of wealthy oligarchs. It has been used to convince people that they don't need single payer health care, decent infrastructure, unions, transparent banking and investment practices, clean affordable energy, and common spaces free from private interest. That distortion does not negate the value of personal responsibility. Each of us is responsible for our actions even if the consequences of those actions result in injustices because of the failures of others. We are all, as free agents and responsible citizens, expected to exercise due diligence.

The concept of support and mutual nurturing gets distorted by liberals as well. As much as I would like to live in a world where a twenty year old woman can get drunk and fall unconcious anywhere in the country in perfect safety I simply don't see how that can happen. The system simply cannot provide that kind of security.

This law requires colleges and universities to reduce the requirement of due diligence on the part of the accuser and increases it on the part of the accused with no mechanism for him to accomplish that objective.
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