Saturday, July 15, 2017

I Don't Hate You

This post is for the rural man, or at least the man rural-at-heart.  It is for the working class, high-school educated, plainspoken and plain-minded man.  He's a man of common sense.  He's a man of modest means and traditional values.

And similar women, who like a man's man.

These women are stay-at-home moms, or if they work they stick to traditional professions that don't require a college degree, such as clerking, waitressing, or dental hygiene.   The men tend to work in trades, or operate small businesses.  They build stuff, fix stuff, make stuff with their hands.

They know how to change the oil and they'll be damned if they're going to pay someone to do it for them.

They speak their mind.  What you see is what you get.  (What else could it be?)

Adherence to gender roles.  Common, popular pastimes such as hunting, fishing, and quilting.  Popular music such as country, rock, and pop.  But mostly country.

They believe in God.  Or at least assume they do - maybe they don't really need to give it much thought.  That's just what you do.

You just do what you do.  There's a reason you do it: because everyone does it.  And so do you.  Because once you start questioning things, well, then you might as well start questioning everything.  You begin to sound "fancy", think a little high of yourself.  What, do you think you're better than us?

Well, that's the point of this post.

Much has been said after the election of Trump about the "forgotten man", the "silent majority".  One of the things that has been said is that liberal, cosmopolitan, coastal "elites" such as myself look down on, and feel superior to these people.

Kevin Drum outright assumed it to be the case.

"is there really any question that liberal city folks tend to sneer at rural working-class folks? I’m not even talking about stuff like abortion and guns and gay marriage, where we disagree over major points of policy. I’m talking about lifestyle. Krugman talks about fast food, and that’s a decent example. Working-class folks like fast food, which explains why Donald Trump liked to show pictures of himself eating McDonald’s or KFC. It’s a sign that he’s one of them."
He was responding to  Krugman column that dismissed the idea.  Krugman said his inbox was flooded with people accusing people like him of sneering at them.
Do the liberals sneer at the Joe Sixpacks? Actually, I’ve never heard it — the people I hang out with do understand that living the way they do takes a lot more money and time than hard-pressed Americans have, and aren’t especially judgmental about lifestyles.
But conservatives weren't having it, and published Drum's piece as a stunning admission.

It kind of makes you wonder, what is it to sneer?  When I play complex music, go to an art museum, follow a niche fashion trend, see a foreign film, eat an interesting type of food.... am I sneering?

It's hard to say.  I've tried Coors beer and it is terrible.  So many of those pop songs are written by committee, and don't do anything interesting.  I don't like hunting because it seems mean.  I stopped believing in God when I was a teenager because my questions very quickly overtook their answers.  Why can't guys cry?  Have you seen the scene in Latcho Drom where everyone in Romania comes out of their houses at once, their gypsy music synchronized - it's incredible!

So, am I sneering?  I suppose more info would be required.  Let's assume I'm not merely being a jerk.  Jerks can "sneer" at anything they don't like.  That tells us very little about the rural/cosmopolitan, white collar (WC)/ blue collar (BC) divide.  Let's focus on the element of "sophistication" in our interests.

But what is "sophistication"?  It is difficult to define.  From Wikipedia:

Modern definitions include quality of refinement — displaying good tastewisdom and subtlety rather than crudeness, stupidity and vulgarity. In the perception of social class, sophistication can link with concepts such as statusprivilege and superiority.
Quality of refinement.  OK, so something labored over, come to after much thought, maybe an evolution of iteration.  But not necessarily the product of enjoyment itself.  An ancient text is the exact opposite of this.  However, how we come to appreciate the text definitely requires a cultural refinement.  One does not get up one day and arbitrarily set out to find and read ancient texts.

So, we're onto something here.  An appreciation that has been refined, delicately labored over - maybe for hours, months, years.  The refinement can be a repertoire of understanding of a class of things (music, food).  But it can also be an attitude or response to certain things (religion, culture).

Yet is this type of appreciation the province only of the educated, cosmopolitan class?  I can think of many ways in which a rural BC type has refined tastes.  His interests and abilities will be greatly refined.  How to weld, how to ride a horse, how to tie down a load, bow hunting versus bow fishing, the difference between Hank Williams Sr. and Hank Williams Sr.  Note: I'm shooting in the dark here because it ain't my culture.  But let's just assume that every culture has its own tangled history of refinement.

But these types of refinement have different value in society.  They come from different places and mean different things.  Sure, tying down a load is an important skill when you're hauling lumber, but it doesn't help you understand modern art.  And understanding a Pollack surely won't tie down a load.   But they each have different significance in different groups.  In the country, knowing the Allegory of the Cave won't help you by the barbecue.  In the city, changing your own oil isn't so useful if everyone is riding the subway.

One way to think about types of refinement might be in the degree to which they are defined locally, either geographically speaking or by concrete utility.  A narrow cultural group identifies what it refines, the utility of a type of knowledge guides its refinement.  For example, a traditional recipe for mashed potatoes.  The best way to fish for trout.  By contrast, other forms of refinement are defined globally, and by abstract utility.  For example, coffee from different continent.  The difference between liberal and illiberal democracy.

But beyond being useful in conversation or daily living, what about the value of these types of knowledge in larger society?  What does it mean for a society to value a type of knowledge?

You could get at the question empirically, once you decide what determines value.  How useful is the knowledge in one's life, and then how will people treat you when you demonstrate that knowledge?  When high status people demonstrate certain types of knowledge, or an appreciation for them, the knowledge is being "valued" by larger society.  It is a reciprocal process, as high status both reflects the knowledge - the knowledge plays a role in their attainment of status, as well as amplifies the knowledge - the knowledge becomes more valuable as it is displayed by those with high status.

When the president endorses gay marriage knowledge, it gains status (at least among some segment of society).  But his endorsement as well shows us that that gay marriage knowledge has become valuable enough to have been a part of the president's rise to his current position.  In the case of Obama, he never campaigned on it, but when he came out in support, it fell in line perfectly with his progressive values.

So, I think we've arrived at a couple of things here.  First, the more certain forms of knowledge are identified with status, the more valuable they become.  Likewise, the less other knowledge is identified with status, the less valuable they become.  Secondly, some forms of knowledge are political, which inherently implies conflict.

Our political moment, occurring across the globe, in the West and East, between the rural and the cities, is very much about a clash of status.  The march of globalism is aligned with a march of liberal, progressive values.  The modern world has given enormous status to global, complex knowledge, in terms both of utility in personal achievement, but as well in terms of what the "elites" are seen as valuing.  The world leaders, the TV pundits, the movie stars, the professors, the scientists - are all giving status to the refinement of global, complex knowledge.

One can imagine how someone who has not spent their time refining their global, abstract knowledge, but instead has spent their life refining the local, concrete knowledge, and sees their knowledge losing status, might feel resentment creep in.  It must not feel good to be in the possession of low-status knowledge.

And here's the kicker: what if your knowledge is now not only seen as uninteresting, but harmful?  What if your views on civil rights, feminism, homosexuality, religion, regulation, government, science, etc. are seen by those with global, abstract knowledge as damaging to people and the planet?  It must be tempting to take this personally, and see them as hating you.  Even when they say, "we don't hate you, just your ideas", would they believed?  After all, when the fundamentalist Christian says, "We don't hate gays, we just don't believe homosexuality is a sin", are they to be believed?

Well, maybe that is a good question.  If they act to limit the rights of gays, treat them unequally, or in any other way insult their character, then they are acting in a way that has historically been synonymous with hatred.  The bible is followed by interpretation, and that is an interpretation that aligns with hate.

So, the question has become: when I drink my microbrew, when I watch my foreign films, am I acting in a way that resembles hate?  Surely not.  But what about my thoughts on political issues?  Here I acknowledge that many of my views can be considered hateful.  I hate discrimination against women, gays or people of color, the treating of them in any way as less worthy.  I hate the dismantling of regulations that would protect people or the environment.  I hate the ignoring or dismissal of science, especially when it impacts our world.  I hate the callousness with which some would rather see less government even if it results in more misery and less opportunity for others.

I might even sneer at those who would act in such a way as to support such actions.

But do I sneer at you simply because you have spent your life refining a different type of knowledge?  Do I hate you?

I really don't.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Flat Earth Society and the Art of Conversation

I came across this very strange article today on a meeting of a Flat Earth Society in Fort Collins, CO.

The Fort Collins group — mostly white and mostly male, college-age to septuagenarian — touts itself as the first community of Flat Earthers in the United States. Sister groups have since spawned in Boston, New York, Houston, Philadelphia, Phoenix and Chicago.
Before I knew it I was watching one of their youtube videos. I'll just leave out the substance of their bizarre belief for now. Something else piqued my interest. The video was - as one might imagine - very conscious of the fact that what was being said sounded crazy. And so special attention was given to the notion of civil discourse. You can only imagine how much ridicule these people must face.

“Believe me, there’s only humiliation in this. We do it because we believe it.”

But this stood out to me as a very good point.

I find the notion of a flat Earth ridiculous and disturbing on many levels. But there is no reason I can't also be respectful and kind to people I disagree with. We can never be reminded enough to lead with love. If I've learned anything in the last decade or so of the internet age, it is that changing people's minds is nearly impossible, and that nothing good ever comes from being disrespectful or ungracious.

I've come to be very hesitant in engaging in argument online because I only seem to be the worse for it. When someone types something I find insulting or needlessly offensive towards me or my ideas, my emotions rise. I can either choose to respond, hopefully alleviating the discomfort by delivering a well-placed rejoinder. What sort of relief, I'm not sure. Maybe it is that my words will stand as a corrective, showing the individual and the world that they were wrong and I was right - worthy, respectable, smart, etc. after all. My identity, my pride, was restored. However, this is rarely the case.

The conversation - limited in expression by the nature of the online, text-based format - more often becomes even more heated. My sense of offense increases. And of course, during the time in which I have typed my reply and the response appears (sometimes, minutes, sometimes hours, sometimes days) my discomfort lingers. It gnaws at me. I'm personally offended. I'm offended for my fellow thinkers. I'm offended for the world. This feeling is the product of what people often describe on the internet as toxic.

So what is really the point, then? What are we doing, hammering away at our keyboards?

The New York Times has a great feature in its comments section. You are able to sort the comments into "readers' picks", or "Times Picks". The former distinguished by number of upvotes a comment receives, the latter by having been chosen as interesting by Times staff. I find myself often times spending as much time exploring the comments as the piece itself. The comments give a quick-take on what average readers think of the subject - what stood out to them, what they agree or disagree with. They sometimes share an anecdote that confirms a perspective in the piece. Or they might add a perspective that was missing. The number of votes a comment receives telegraphs how much the point resonates with the public. There is a reply feature, however the design of the comments doesn't really provide for any real back-and forth.  

And I'm fine with that.  There is a special kind of person that enjoys internet bickering.  In theory, the formation of thoughts, the civil exchange and mutual quest for knowledge is a good thing.  But it is so rare.  The anonymity of the internet, even just the constrained nature of the written word, makes friendly, compassionate dialogue difficult.  Tone is lost.  Nuanced inflection is gone.  Uptilted, winking, eyes-rolled, wincing, knowing smirks - all of the saucy, spicy bits in human communication are lost.  In the real world (the "meat world", I've recently heard it put, which I think is brilliant), this is all quickly and deftly added to language as spoken.  Great writers can capture this spirit, but only with difficulty and great labor.  Children learn it before they learn to speak.

So, hamfisted internet commentariate, let that be a thought for thee: no matter the brilliance and depth of your thought, before you click "submit" on that comment, remember that even a 2 year old likely has you beat in nuance of delivery.  Something even a Flat-Earther can teach us.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

On Behaving "As If" There Is Free Will

I can't find the quote, but it is as long the lines of "Free will doesn't exist, but we must behave as if it does."

I wonder if this "as if" behavior can be described in a behaviorist account?

In behaviorism, we talk about the concept of stimulus prompts and "rule following". A stimulus prompt is basically a cue for us to engage in certain behavior. Through learning (repeated reinforcement delivered after prompted behavior), the prompt takes on stimulus control: it changes our behavior. Think of a checklist, "wash hands" sign, exit sign, etc. Rule following is much the same, whereas the rule is like a prompt, however the rule doesn't have to have previously been directly reinforced. Rather it can have been inferred, and is generally defined as under stimulus control of previous rule-following behavior. That is, if we have followed similar rules before (and have been reinforced), we will be more likely to follow them in the future.
In this way, thoughts can function as either prompts or rules. In our daily life, we behave according to a mixture of external and internal prompts. Behaviorists call these discriminative stimuli, as they have been followed by either punishment or reinforcement, and are thus defined by our discrimination of them as signals for the availability for reinforcement of punishment ("exit" means leaving behavior will be reinforced; "open" means entering behavior will be reinforced; "poison" means eating behavior will be punished, etc.).
Behaviorists also have a way of describing consciousness (which of course can mean many things) One of the meanings of consciousness though, is the behavior of labeling, via verbal behavior. This is described as operant learning in which certain stimuli take on stimulus control for verbal behavior, either spoken or thought, after having been reinforced in a specific verbal community. For instance, when I see a chair, I can say "chair" or think "chair", because as a child I received reinforcement from the community for emitting that behavior. It could have been direct praise, or conditioned praise in the form of a good grade, or simply the ability to communicate which led to some other kind of reward. We call this "tacting". (We have a different way of describing requests, as their reinforcement is defined as coming directly from the obtaining of the request, i.e. "water" means we directly get that thing. A seemingly minor difference but has important implications for the early acquisition of language). The reverse of this, of course, is listening behavior, in which a stimulus controlling for verbal behavior (tact), is reversed. The chair object controls for the word "chair", but then the word "chair" controls for the object chair.
OK, so I have a hard time describing the behaviorist description of these phenomenon because there are just so many basic concepts that need to be understood to truly appreciate the position! But returning to consciousness, what you might call an active consciousness, in which we are aware that we are conscious, is this process of labeling. When I am thinking about thinking, I am "tacting" my thoughts. Likewise when I am thinking about what someone else has said. However, "tacting" only refers to stimuli that are physically present (chair, desk, apple). We have another level of description for things that are under stimulus control of verbal behavior, but are not in the environment - and may have never been physically contacted. We call this "interverbal" behavior. Most of language involves this type of verbal behavior, as well as abstract thought such as mathematics or literature. This is also the kind of thought we need to engage in for complex thought, such as when planning for future events, or recalling an order of events.
So, what is the implication of this for our thoughts? We can have thoughts that are direct responses to our immediate environment, our distant environment, or responses to words. Our fluency in all of these is determined by a number of factors. First, we have to have been reinforced for the response ("knowing" the verbal behavior), but we also need to have the establishing operation in place. What we mean by this is that there must be a basic desire in place that is being satiated by the behavior. For instance, if you have been reading all of this and trying to understand me (and hats off to you!), you will have to have been motivated to do so. The motivation is maybe generalized social reinforcement, in which you have been previously reinforced for the behavior of engaging in verbal behavior with others. You may also have been previously reinforced for acquiring new ideas and achieving constancy in your thoughts and how they align with the world - truth feels good, right? But maybe I haven't been making sense, and therefore the opposite has occurred, and my words have been extra work for you, in which case you aren't receiving reinforcement from them - they are not rewarding.
The establishing operation - how motivated you are - is not verbal behavior, and largely hidden within the skin. You can learn to tact this behavior, by noticing your heart rate, stiffness, or certain negative thoughts that may arise - "This guy is ridiculous!", and therefore tact your motivation as decreasing for continuing to read my writing. Or, maybe you enjoy arguing and my writing is actually reinforcing, because it is stimulating something else in you - maybe your enjoyment of "tearing down" my argument. In which case, the response I get to this might have been evoked by an establishing operation (EO) for argument, followed by my writing, which was a stimulus (SD) for the availability of reinforcement (R+), which in this case was the satiation of that desire for argument (socially reinforced, of course, by the internet community).
Behaviorists see every behavior (thought or action) as taking place within the 4 term contingency (EO - SD - Bx - R+). Further, this can only be understood as "molar", as opposed to "molecular". That is, as taking place in large chunks, over time. We take place in a continuum of phylogenic (genetic organisms) and ontogenic (life history) interaction.
So, for any given behavior, there is no room for "free will". We are constrained by our past and environment. We will go on behaving no matter what. Even if we were to protest and lay down motionless on the floor, that behavior will have had to have been the function of the four-term contingency.
If we then throw up our hands and say, I must behave "as if" I have free choice, we are basically tacting our behavior, or examining it interverbally, and establishing a rule, or prompt for ourselves. However, as for its effect on our behavior, it will only function as an SD for future behavior's possible reinforcement. That is, the way we behave following having this thought will encounter a consequence in the environment. So it can effect behavior change - you can effect behavior change, but the SD will always be a part of the environment.
In terms of this larger discussion, the way I relate what Garfield is saying about Buddhism and "awareness of the self" and behaviorism, is that the "self" as free actor does not exist, but rather refers to an organism existing within its environment. However the way that we often use the term "self" is as an efficacious agent somehow acting out of time. That incorrect narrative leads both to inaccurate narratives of others, as well as ourselves. How this inaccurate narrative causes problems is interesting, but that it is an incorrect narrative, as a behaviorist, I would say is established science.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

My Favorite Albums of the Last 17 Years

I've been toying with an idea to see what I can come up with as my favorite songs for every year, going back fifty years, to 1967.  It's somewhat daunting.  You can't pick just one, of course.  Or can you?  Different genres mean different things.

Different songs have different resonances.  It's one thing to take a song on its own, by its own merits.  It's another to add one's own response, which then must incorporate space and time, one's own history.  When I heard Corey Hart talk about wearing his sunglasses at night, I felt some serious emotions at the age of 8.  There were certainly many more interesting things going on in 1986.  I say now.

But I'll get my feet wet here.  A friend recently lamented that nothing good is being made anymore.  Now, that's just cranky.  So I figured I'd make him a list.

My favorite albums since 2000.  With a favorite track from each.

1. Split: Rumah Sakit - Self-TitledFaraquet - The View From This Tower (2000)
The first, well, what happens when your favorite people make your favorite music?  And you are way too picky about both? ... The second, Ryan Jones turned me on to this.  I still swear the singer is channeling someone.  But I can't figure out who.  Maybe firehose, but that can't be it.  Math + emotion doesn't happen often enough.  runners-up: Radiohead - Kid A; PJ Harvey - Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea

2. Pinback - Blue Screen Life (2001)
I first heard Pinback on John Baez' answering machine.  It doesn't get any more pop than that.  runner-up: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - No More Shall We Part; Califone - Roomsound
 3. Hella - Hold Your Horse Is (2002)
OK, I'll admit that I didn't like Hella when I first heard them.  It was through Ryan Jones' (again) tinny computer speakers and sounded like some kind of malfunction.  But when it clicks, and you realize there's method to the madness, your head kind of explodes.  Seeing them live with Quasi at the Khyber Pass in Philadelphia was a highlight of that particular misadventure in residential planning. runners-up: Mum - Finally We Are No One; Baxter Dury - Len Parrot's Memorial Lift; +/-: Self-Titled Long-Playing Debut Album; Dilute - Grape Blueprints Pour Spinach Olive Grape; Howard Hello - Self-Titled

4. The Notwist - Neon Golden (2003)
When I first put this on I was put off by the unabashed electronic instrumentation.  But it quickly grew on me, bowling me over with hook after hook, as well as the rich, earnest German accented vocals.  runner-up: Sun Kil Moon - Ghosts of the Great Highway; Frog Eyes - The Golden River; Jaylib -Champion Sound; A Perfect Circle - Thirteenth Step; TV On the Radio - Young Liars

5. John Vanderslice - Cellar Door (2004)
There are a lot of interesting touchstones in this album.  Overwrought narratives somehow hang around like overstayed guests who just won't leave, but somehow possess key information.  Runner-up Fiery Furnaces - Blueberry Boat; Madvillain - Madvillainy; Arcade Fire - Funeral; Joanna Newsom - Milk-Eyed Mender; Mastodon - Leviathan

6. Sleater Kinney - The Woods (2005)
The weird thing about that record is that, despite not really liking much at all of the band's previous or subsequent work, this album stuns from start to finish.  The constant clipping is beastly, a bold move that only puts the whole thing over the edge as epic.  runners-up: The Walkmen - Bows + Arrows; Bloc Party - Silent Alarm; Wilderness - Self-Titled; 

7. Mew - And the Glass Handed Kites (2006)
Umm, I'm not sure I even want to listen to their latest album.  Which is really too bad, because this may be the greatest album ever recorded.  It's complex, sublime, bizarre, cheesy, sentimental, and pushes about the most ambitious hooks I've ever heard.  The melodic choices are consistently odd and inventive, but completely directional. runner-up: Destroyer - Destroyer's Rubies; Beirut - Gulag Orkestar; Tool - 10,000 Days; Lavender Diamond - Imagine Our Love

8.  Shugo Takemaru - Exit (2007)
A post-punk Legend of Zelda.  Your welcome.  runners-up: St. Vincent - Marry Me; Band of Horses - Cease to Begin; Deerhunter - Cryptograms; Dinosaur Jr. - Beyond; PJ Harvey - White Chalk

 9. Fucked Up - The Chemistry of Modern Life (2008)
Somehow I manage to embrace the constipated Fear-core vocals as the guitars slowly build their sweet machinery.  This is an example of synthesizers being our friend. runners up: Atlas Sound - Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel; Crystal Castles - Self-Titled; Frightened Rabbit - Midnight Organ Flight; Gnarls Barkley - The Odd Couple

 10.  The Joy Formidable - A Balloon Called Moaning (2009)
More math in service of sweet tension and release.  Many of these songs were redone on their following release, but it was kind of downhill from there.  A brilliant moment in time though, methinks.  So much delicious noise.  Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest; Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca; St. Vincent - Actor; Real Estate - Self-Titled; Beirut - March of the Zopotec/Realpeople Holland; BLK JKS - After Robots

 13. Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti - Before Today (2010)
So, maybe don't go and see this band.  Some things might be better behind the veil.  But that said, imagine if you took Karen and Richard Carpenter, sent them to a seance with Bootsy Collins, and had them all channel Lou Reed.  runners-up: Sufjan Stevens - The Age of Adz; Twin Shadow - Forget; Wild Nothing - Gemini; Baths - Curulean

 12.  The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - Belong (2011)
OK, my Smashing Pumpkins weakness is showing here.  It isn't done as well, but that's also part of what makes it so good.  If you know what I mean. runners up - runners-up: Cut Copy - Zonoscope; Girls - Father, Son, Holy Ghost; Kate Bush - 50 Words for Snow

 13. Beach House - Bloom (2012)
Something weird to note about the LP: it's 2 discs and played at 45rpm, which is totally annoying.  But also totally worth it because everything about this album is honey.  Victoria Legrand finally decides she isn't fucking around. runners-up: Frankie Rose - Interstellar; Lotus Plaza - Spooky Action at A Distance; Grizzly Bear - Shields; Joyce Manor - Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired
14. These New Puritans - Field of Reeds (2013)
Fun fact, the drummer is a former (?) male model.  Which makes perfect sense somehow.  When you listen to the record, you'll have no idea what I mean.  But then you will.  This is the kind of music that needs to get made.  Neither fancy rock, nor dorky classical.  Just good, tasteful, serious music.  runners up - Bombino - Nomad;

 15. Cloud Nothings - Here and Nowhere Else (2014)
The nice thing about punk rock is just how good it can be, how much it can do with so little.  runners-up: Real Estate - Atlas; TV On the Radio - Seeds

 16. Car Seat Headrest - Teens of Style (2015)
This is still new to me.  In time, things may change.  There's just so much music, and I'll admit I probably haven't listened to this enough.  But it's one of those things where you can just tell.  runners-up: Mew + -; Angel Olsen - My Woman; Tame Impala - Currents

17. Mitsky - Puberty 2 (2016)
There's something about this kind of woman that frightens me.  In a good way.  It's probably some kind of weird statement about my male ego.  But PJ Harvey and Cat Power would I think also agree that I need to just shut up and listen.  runners-up: Blood Orange - Freetown Sound; Case/Lang/Veirs - Self-Titled
Well, until next time.  I'm going to see if I can add some runners-up.  And look for my more ambitious 50 year list of songs.  It isn't fair, of course.  But why not?

Oh yeah, then there's my little album from 2016. I have to say it's my favorite, but I'm biased. It exists secretly on my tiny planet. Eli Rector - Summer

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Confirmation Bias as Ratio Strain

A Witch Surfing on A Sieve (Turner ,1807)
I wonder how much the notion of confirmation bias can be thought of in terms of what in behaviorism is called "Ratio Strain".

A reduction in the rate of a target behavior and an increase in emotional behavior resulting from an increase in the ratio of behavior to reinforcement.
In order to understand ratio strain, it is important to understand a basic principle of behavior, the Matching Law.

A description of a phenomenon according to which  organisms tend proportionally to match their responses during choice situations to the rates of reinforcement for each choice (i.e., if a behavior is reinforced about 60% of the time in one situation and 40% in another, that behavior tends to occur about 60% of the time in the first situation, and 40% in the second)
Behaviorists talk about how we all live in something you might call a "sea of reinforcement and punishment". That is, our behavior is a product of a countless number of contingencies that have and are currently operating on us, either reinforcing (increasing) or punishing (decreasing) our behavior.

At this moment, for example, I am experiencing various reinforcements, a "schedule" if you will, in my environment. There is a constant ebb and flow, or push and pull between reinforcement and punishment. Every time I sip my coffee, that behavior is reinforced - it will be more likely to occur. However, as my bladder is filled, drinking is being punished.

As I type, when I come up with a good, satisfying sentence, my typing is reinforced - I will continue. But if I struggle, I will encounter less reinforcement.

My chair is comfortable at first, which is reinforcing, but after a while it might become punishing, and I will get up, which removes the stiffness, and is reinforcing (next time I will "know" to get up. I put "know" in quotes because usually I won't even be conscious of it, and thus "unknowing").

The Pink Floyd song playing makes me feel good, and so is reinforcing. I will put it on again! But not too frequently, as like food, I become satiated, and so engage in the behavior of eating and listening according to my biological needs - whether dietary or sonory.

So, back to what is called "confirmation bias".
The seeking or interpreting of evidence in ways that are partial to existing beliefs, expectations or a hypothesis at hand.

It occurred to me this morning that confirmation bias could be explained in terms of ratio strain: the reduction of behavior according to a ratio of decrease in reinforcement. I had been reading a comment thread. Someone posted an argument I disagreed with. Someone else then posted a response which I agreed with. The original poster then rebutted... and I realized that I was skimming - barely reading - the response. I didn't feel like reading it. Reading it seemed a chore.

The behavior of reading verbal behavior we agree with is much "easier", as it involves relations that have already been reinforced. However, verbal behavior that challenges us in some way, is much more aversive. It requires engaging in behaviors (types of thinking - recalling, classifying, comparing, interpreting, etc.) that can be quite effortful. Not do these behaviors require work, but the greater the ratio strain, the more likely are they to evoke "emotional behavior", that is, uncomfortable feelings such as anger, fear, etc. And that is aside from the content! If, as we further understand the content of an argument we disagree with, it may challenge our preconceptions - our expectations of the world, which had been reinforced. The fact that they are suddenly no longer being reinforced - a process referred to in behaviorism as "extinction" - can produce uncomfortable side-effects.

Findings from basic and applied research suggest that treatment with operant extinction may produce adverse side effects; two of these commonly noted are an increase in the frequency of the target response (extinction burst) and an increase in aggression (extinction-induced aggression).

Noticing this, much of our tendency towards "group-think" and ideological rigidity would seem to be explained. It is simply easier and more enjoyable to read what has been previously reinforcing. Encountering contradictory views is more effortful, fundamentally less reinforcing, and possibly uncomfortable and anger-inducing.

Now, the nice thing about behavior is that we can change it by altering the contingencies in our environment. We can learn to tolerate delays our reinforcement, as well as create rules to help us along the way, as sort of mental prompts. We can learn to find enjoyment in difference, and even come to be reinforced by the process of having our beliefs changed and enjoying the benefits of expanded knowledge and, ultimately, closer synchronicity with reality.

How to go about doing this, of course, isn't simple or easy. In this post, I'm merely laying out a behavioral case for noticing the process. Who knows, maybe it will allow me to more easily notice (or "tact" as behaviorists call it), and become aware of a trap I might be falling into, and to this make choices that might be more rewarding in the long run.

Maybe I'll go back to that comment thread and spend more time reading that comment with an open mind....

A related paper:
A Behavioral Analytical Account of Cognitive BIas in Clinical Populations