Less Open Debates for a More Open Democracy

Interview

The last few years of this bizarre decade have witnessed the resurgence of hate groups. Some of these hate groups are just nicer sounding Nazis and that’s a really bad thing. Since this site is dedicated to good news let’s take a look at how to deal with these ignoramuses. It’s often argued that we should debate people who espouse hatred because we can reason away their stupidity; however, that usually daren’t work. Instead hate groups gain legitimacy by being allowed to be a part of civil debates. The solution is to not to just ignore them but to shut them right out.

Curating debate participants is itself a political choice, because the terms of a debate inform public opinion as much as its content. I’ve lost count of the number of evenings I’ve spent in the role of “shouty leftist” juxtaposed with a set of Tory talking points in a suit, with ten or fifteen minutes (if we’re lucky, a whole hour) to decide whether poor children should be allowed to eat during school holidays or whether migrants deserve human rights. What matters is not who wins on the merits. What matters are the terms: who gets to speak, and who must be silent.

The far right are not themselves committed to the principle of free speech. Far from it. In my encounters with neo-nationalists and professional alt-right trolls I have found them remarkably litigious — more than willing to use money and legal threats to silence their more serious critics. I’ve been legally prohibited from describing racists as racists. That’s why you’ll see so many news outlets use phrases like “alleged white supremacist” or “the deportation policy, which critics have described as xenophobic.” It’s not because there’s serious doubt over where these people stand, it’s because journalists are silenced by threats from speech “defenders” who have the money and spite to shut down their critics. I will not be bullied by bad-faith actors trying to rules-lawyer my own principles against me into treating neo-Nazis with respect they don’t deserve.

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We Shouldn’t Wait Until Kids are Teenagers to Teach Them Health

kids

Teaching children how their bodies function is a controversial idea to some people who think children should remain ignorant until their late teens. Waiting until their bodies are fully developed is too late to teach people about issues like puberty and pregnancy according to experts. Those experts are backed by tons of research and statistics about health around the world. So why don’t we teach children about bodily functions? Because some parents think health education is only about teaching children about sexual activity. It’s time to change that.

While parents, not schools, should be in charge of teaching values, said Schroeder, kids should be learning the facts from content experts, just like they do in other subjects. “It’s gotta be a partnership. I don’t think it’s appropriate for teachers to be inculcating values, that’s the parents’ job. It’s like ‘Dragnet’: Just the facts, ma’am,” she said.

That has led Deardorff to argue that it might be better to find a new name for these early stages of sex ed, the parts that aren’t directly about sex. “The number one thing that I would suggest is that we start pubertal education earlier. And that we don’t call it sex ed, because that raises all kinds of red flags,” said Deardorff.

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Mindful People Experience Less Pain Than Others

happiness

Mindfulness is all the rage right now and for good reason, the benefits of being able to be aware of yourself and your impact on others are great. Mindfulness has a lot in common with metacognition insofar that it provokes self-awareness and the more you practice it the better you get at it. If you haven’t tried mindful thinking then maybe this newest research will motivate you. It turns out that mindful people experience less pain than people who don’t practice mindfulness.

Whole brain analyses revealed that higher dispositional mindfulness during painful heat was associated with greater deactivation of a brain region called the posterior cingulate cortex, a central neural node of the default mode network. Further, in those that reported higher pain, there was greater activation of this critically important brain region.

The study provided novel neurobiological information that showed people with higher mindfulness ratings had less activation in the central nodes (posterior cingulate cortex) of the default network and experienced less pain. Those with lower mindfulness ratings had greater activation of this part of the brain and also felt more pain, Zeidan said.

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Schools Should Teach how to Dissent

The role of schools often gets debated in places where safety and wellbeing are in doubt. Some people argue all schools should do is make kids into workers with little concern towards student’s mental and physical health. On the other hand, many argue schools should be places where kids learn about the world around them for the sake of bettering oneself and society. To me it seems that now more than ever we should encourage education to be all about self and societal improvement (particularly since robots are taking all our jobs). Indeed, over at the Conversation they’re running a piece on the importance of teaching students to question the world in order to improve it.

It is only with the opportunity and capacity to dissent that we can determine if our laws and systems guiding us are good or just. Further, in order to invoke our right to dissent, citizens have to know how to dissent, which calls into play the role of schooling.

[Students] should learn the skills of dissent, including consciousness-raising, coalition building, persuasion, public demonstration and pursuit of traditional government avenues for change. This type of instruction is happening in some schools, but not systematically enough across all schools, as courses in civics and social studies have been cut in order to focus on testing and such. Students receive even less of this kind of instruction in poorer schools.

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For Happier Cities get More Cyclists

a couple, bicycles

Cities where people cycle regularly are happier than cities in which cycling is rare. The evidence continues to mount that building good cycling infrastructure will improve the life of everybody in a city – regardless if they ride or not. Urban planners already know that designing cities for pedestrians and cyclists make for better environments and now the on the ground happiness can be traced to it too. Get out there and ride a bike or ask your local politicians to make riding safer.

In Bogotá in 2017, for the first time, there were more survey respondents using bicycles than cars – 9 percent vs. 8 percent – with a satisfaction rate of 85 percent for bicycles against 75 percent for private vehicles. Only 19 percent users of the city’s bus rapid transit system, TransMilenio, reported being satisfied with its service.

The data from Colombia is consistent with international evidence.

A survey of 13,000 people in the United States by researchers from Clemson University in 2014 showed that cyclists were the happiest commuters.

Similarly, a survey of 1,000 people in London showed that 91 percent of the respondents bicycling to work found it satisfactory, while only 74 percent of bus commuters and 73 percent of Underground users were satisfied with their daily travel experience.

In the Global Happiness Report 2017, countries with high bicycle use tend to among the happiest overall, like the Netherlands (ranked sixth; daily bike use: 43 percent), Denmark (ranked third; daily bike user: 30 percent) and Finland (ranked first; daily bike use: 28 percent).

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Thanks to Delaney!

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