June 24, 2016

Roundabout IV


This post is not about politics, it's about events in US social history and the response within US society. The NRA and firearms industry have fueled and capitalized on that response. All three need our attention - how we respond to social problems; the NRA; and firearm makers and dealers. The first is what most needs our attention - how we as an enlightened, humane society respond to social problems and the conditions that cause them. It's the best essay I've found on the subject of guns in modern US history. There may be a pay wall so here are some excerpts.

"The story of how millions of Americans discovered the urge to carry weapons—to join, in effect, a self-appointed, well-armed, lightly trained militia—begins not in the Old West but in the nineteen-seventies. ... In 1977, more than half of all American households had a gun in the house. By 2014, it was less than a third. Each gun owner now has an average of eight guns, according to an industry trade association. ... In 1977, a third of all adults lived in a house with at least one hunter, according to the General Social Survey; by 2014, that statistic had been halved. [Gun dealer Mike] Weisser said, 'The gun industry, which had been able to ride on an American cultural motif of the West, and of hunting, is realizing that’s gone. Plus, you’ve got the European guns coming in that are so good that the U.S. Army is even using them. Jesus Christ Almighty, we’re fucked.' In 1998, an advertisement in Shooting Sports Retailer warned, 'It’s not who your customers will be in five years. It’s will there be any customers left.' Richard Feldman, a high-ranking N.R.A. lobbyist in the eighties, who worked as a liaison to the industry, told me that companies looked for ways to make up for the decline of hunting: 'You’re selling whatever the market wants. It doesn’t matter where you make your money. It’s irrelevant.' ... Much as the industry capitalized on the Los Angeles riots, it has excelled, since 9/11, at tapping into the fear of terrorism. ... In recent years, the gun industry’s product displays have become so focussed on self-defense and 'tactical' gear that some hunters feel ignored. After a trade show in January, David E. Petzal, a columnist for Field & Stream, mocked the 'SEAL wannabes,' and wrote that 'you have to look fairly hard for something designed to kill animals instead of people.' The contempt is mutual; some concealed-carry activists call hunters 'Fudds,' as in Elmer. ... The chances of being killed by a mass shooter are lower than the chances of being struck by lightning, or of dying from tuberculosis. The chance of a homicide by a firearm in the home nearly doubles the moment that a firearm crosses the threshold."


Let's see if I correctly understand the recent article on guns I posted. Many white folks in the US were alarmed over black folks and their supporters demonstrating and rioting in the '60s and '70s. Many of these people became fearful, judgmental, resentful, and blaming. Instead of seeking an understanding of why blacks were complaining and rioting, and, if any of their complaints had merit, what if anything might be done to address their grievances, many whites decided to call the disturbances a law-and-order matter with an often unspoken undertone of group-blame based on racial prejudice and bias.

A large part of their response to this perceived threat to their person, property, wealth and power was to buy guns and shoot blacks and anyone else who might try to rob or harm them. This, such whites thought but most would not say, would help protect themselves and their stuff, and slow down or stop the ongoing erosion of their societal power and privilege.

Let's now consider what happened next. Most Republican politicians and key fundamentalist Christian leaders quickly jumped in and proclaimed their strong support for this kind of thinking and action. Underneath it all they knew it was a quasi-law and order response yet they went along with it and festooned it all with religious righteousness and patriotism.

Now, let's see how this response to America's social and cultural evolution toward a more just, humane, rational society worked out. Well, we now have a society where gun selling, buying and use are, for all practical purposes, poorly controlled to the point that a significant number of preventable deaths of innocent people cannot be stopped. Worst of all, the majority of a major political party and their base of supporters are on the verge of putting forward a vulgar, race-baiting, misogynist, laissez-faire uber-capitalist for the US presidency.

How did all this happen? Go to the top of this post and the essay and start over. What can we do? 1) Do not confirm Trump as the GOP nominee. 2) If he's nominated, vote against him in November and encourage others to do the same. What about the problem of choosing inappropriate responses to social problems? Support people at all levels of society and circumstances who offer societal and individual responses and solutions based on reason, unbiased research evidence, and critical thinking; and oppose in all forums and situations those who act on, feed into, racialize, politicize, profit from, and supernaturally sanctify our emotions and fears.



Here's another description of the complex relationship between religion and secular states. And we think the US situation is a mess.

It seems the relationship between these two core cultural domains, politics and religion, has become more complex and turbulent during cultural evolutionary prehistory and history. This seems especially the case following their institutionalization within pre-modern and modern nation-states in the West such as Tudor England and late-19th century Italy.

In earlier, tribal or ethnic-centered societies, political leaders were usually dominant and religious practitioners, military experts, and other specialists and elders occupied subordinate positions on their councils. There nevertheless was fractiousness early on. For example, when a religious councilor sought to direct the forces of the supernatural or his kit of potions and poisons against the leader, or a general sought the paramount chieftaincy, or when the two conspired to usurp power.

It seems fractiousness, at all levels of social size and complexity, has always been an inherent characteristic of the relationship between the various cultural domains - politics, religion, military, economics, technology & invention, etc. It seems it is yet another part of the price we pay when individuals live in groups - a vying for dominance between the ambitions of individuals and the need to live in groups for mutual enhancement and protection from each other and other groups.

Your thoughts?

The dynamics of individual and group needs in cultural evolution is a topic I addressed within a paper I wrote in the early 2000s on African culture and personality - asq.africa.ufl.edu/files/Lassiter-Vol-3-Issue-3.pdf.

The study of cultural evolution has been in the news recently. Some have pointed out what they see as an absence of a good theoretical framework - Massimo Pigliucci https://platofootnote.wordpress.com/…/the-complexities-of-…/ and http://blogs.exeter.ac.uk/…/why-is-ancient-philosophy-still…; and others https://scientiasalon.wordpress.com/…/how-darwinian-is-cul…/.

Still others are trying to step up efforts to establish such a theory and method framework: https://evolution-institute.org/…/society-for-the-study-o…/….

Aside from Stanley Diamond's and Yuval Noah Harari's respective books, does anyone have suggestions for good books or articles on cultural evolution, especially theories, grand or particular?


"Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God [er, no, again Caesar], the things that are God's" - Matthew 22:21



How you react to this essay is telling. If you can give assent to it or not, with emotional detachment, your practice of Stoicism is thriving. If you do give assent to it you are in a position to consider the merits or shortcomings of the arguments the author makes; and based on that add to or subtract from your understanding of what knowledge and truth should be, and how they may be improved upon and expanded.

If you choose not to give assent to the essay, you have refused to consider that the atheist-naturalist-materialist understanding of all knowledge and truth and its means for obtaining them may be less than necessary or sufficient.

In this essay, the strongest arguments for considering if the atheist-naturalist-materialist worldview is necessary and sufficient pertain to the cultural constructs, meanings and values of the ethnosphere - that totality of Humankind's mental accomplishments across space and time, so far:

"There is nothing in our experience of the world to suggest that the physical world is the terminus of our experience and cognition. In fact, the progress of science itself will likely render scientific naturalism and its reductive tendencies obsolete. To develop a complete model of the way in which human beings experience and interpret the world, naturalists must reject the twentieth century model that science is the world explaining itself to us in a special language. The model itself eerily echoes the one promoted by Egyptian and Canaanite priests in the 1st millennium BCE. Instead, they must look more closely at extended worlds, imagined worlds, and non-physical reality which have provided both knowledge and meaning necessary for human and cultural survival and progress. We have really just begun to explore these worlds and do not possess a sufficient calculus or language for the study, but as learning progresses, the fate of the atheo-scientist, secure on his island of experimental knowledge, is unclear."

Your thoughts?



Iain McGilchrist, in his 2010 book "The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World," claims that we in the West have come to a point where we put too much emphasis on the abilities of the left hemisphere. [This book is currently the topic of an Owl & Ibis discussion (http://facebook.com/owlandibis) led by Judith Moore.]

Here's how Wikipedia accurately describes the author's approach to brain lateralization: "McGilchrist digests study after study, replacing the popular and superficial notion of the hemispheres as respectively logical and creative in nature with the idea that they pay attention in fundamentally different ways, the left being detail-oriented, the right being whole-oriented. These two modes of perception cascade into wildly different hemispheric personalities, and in fact reflect yet a further asymmetry in their status, that of the right's more immediate relationship with physical bodies (our own as well as others) and external reality as represented by the senses, a relationship that makes it the mediator, the first and last stop, of all experience."

Now, below is a recent essay in The Atlantic that in a way echoes McGilchrist's concern. Here's an excerpt:

"We must stop glorifying intelligence and treating our society as a playground for the smart minority. We should instead begin shaping our economy, our schools, even our culture with an eye to the abilities and needs of the majority, and to the full range of human capacity. ... [T]he less brainy are, according to studies and some business experts, less likely to be oblivious of their own biases and flaws, to mistakenly assume that recent trends will continue into the future, to be anxiety-ridden, and to be arrogant.

When Michael Young, a British sociologist, coined the term 'meritocracy' in 1958, it was in a dystopian satire. At the time, the world he imagined, in which intelligence fully determined who thrived and who languished, was understood to be predatory, pathological, far-fetched. Today, however, we’ve almost finished installing such a system, and we have embraced the idea of a meritocracy with few reservations, even treating it as virtuous. That can’t be right. Smart people should feel entitled to make the most of their gift. But they should not be permitted to reshape society so as to instate giftedness as a universal yardstick of human worth."

Your thoughts?