January 2, 2017

Roundabout V


HOW FEAR HELPS THE GUN BUSINESS (CONTINUED)
June 24, 2016

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.

Do you think I correctly understand this? If not, please explain.


POPULISM AND DEMOGAUGERY 2016
June 27, 2016

You know me, Mr. Positive and hopeful about our species' continuing survival and flourishing based on our first 200,000 years of cultural evolution. My optimism that the global morality and civilization we are building, following the establishment of the UN in 1945 and the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the UN in 1948, will continue to grow and become a reality.

However, the populism and demagoguery currently on display among many in the UK and US, and elsewhere, and the continuing persecution of millions by repressive governments and certain followers of religion are beginning to make me question my hopefulness.

"Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
...
- W.B Yeats

I've known and loved this poem for years. Now I look at the phrase "the center cannot hold" and ask: What exactly is that "center?" And what might Yeats have meant by "cannot hold?"

The center must mean more than a government authority. It must also mean a commitment by Humankind to specific principles - enlightened, reasoned governance; a balance between an individual's freedom and his/her duty to others; and an appreciation and respect for the diversity of human beliefs, values, and behaviors, locally and globally.

Irishman Yeats wrote this poem in 1919, during the turmoil after WWI and at a time when Britain was dealing with Irish uprisings. His center holding or not referred to Britain remaining a United Kingdom during that time. It was also an obvious alarm about a broader, civilizational or Humankind as a whole problem.

Is H. sapiens at another fork in the road of its cultural evolutionary journey? Our first being to choose dependence on group life and the development of ever more efficient tools as survival strategies, or not. And now, after many successive evolutionary forks that have been navigated successfully, are we at a time of choosing between reason and emotion, between principled democracy and mob rule as means for pursuing human flourishing? In many ways it would seem so.

Choosing paths forward in the past was accomplished by different means - political, religious, military - and sometimes by necessity or luck. Sometimes enlightened, benign despots held sway. It was only in the middle of the last century that a successful attempt was begun to unify Humankind under a set of elective principles to pursue peace, human rights, and flourishing for all.

Is the current populism and demagoguery a statement that these goals currently at the center of Humankind's collective striving are ignoble or unachievable goals? That unfettered individual emotion and violence and rabid nationalism are our preferred ways forward at this current fork in the road? Are we now crying out to be the brutes of our short-sighted emotions as opposed to the deliberate and measured guidance of our reasoning?

Your thoughts?



BETWIXT MOUNTAIN AND WILDERNESS
July 4, 2016


A splendid book! Betwixt Mountain and Wilderness by Professor Timothy Wangusa is a great portrayal of a Mumasaaba boy's life as a university student in Uganda in the late 1950s. More than this it is a profound lesson on Bamasaaba culture, the love and tragedies of family life, the character flaws and evil potentials of human nature, and a local perspective on events leading to Uganda's 1962 independence. It is a masterful novel filled with the metaphor, ritual, and indigenous spiritualism that are expressed through the language and lives of a people, the Bamasaaba - villagers, the educated elite, and all in between. It enlightens us about personal life in a part of Africa in a way that all of us can relate to and see parallels in our own lives.

Readers will also enjoy Prof. Wangusa's first novel in the Mwambu Trilogy, Upon This Mountain - https://www.amazon.com/Upon-This-Mountain-Afr…/…/ref=sr_1_3….

We look forward to his third Mwambu narrative. Wangusa is one of Africa's greatest writers!


THE FUTURE BEDAMNED
July 7, 2016


Are we in the US critically thinking about and planning for the future? Hardly at all. Here's a big part of why we are not....

"Newt Gingrich has long been enamored of science fiction — he wants to build a moon base. But when Mr. Gingrich, a Georgia Republican, became speaker of the House in 1995, he quickly shut down the Office of Technology Assessment. The government no longer had any place for futurists, and every decision about the future was viewed through the unforgiving lens of partisan politics."
...
“'It is ridiculous that the United States is one of the only nations of our size and scope in the world that no longer has an office that is dedicated to rigorous, nonpartisan research about the future,' Ms. Webb [Amy Webb, a futurist who founded the Future Today Institute] said. 'The fact that we don’t do that is insane.'”


DISBAND THE AFRICAN UNION?
July 11, 2016



This post focusing on Africa raises issues of Enlightenment based Humanism in the areas of freedom, human rights, rule of law, justice, equality, and good governance.

Here's an excellent essay by Professor George Ayittey, Ghanaian political economist at American University in Washington DC. Prof Ayittey has written a number of excellent books condemning corruption and despotism in Africa, and promoting precolonial African traditional practices and institutions as good guidance and models for establishing sustainable and truly democratic governance in modern Africa.

Although I am generally more in favor of institutional reform over revolution, Ayittey's well reasoned and evidenced arguments in this essay and in his books are compelling - a completely new replacement for the African Union is needed.
Your thoughts?


HUMAN CULTURES DATABASE
July 11, 2016


The development of this open database holds more than academic promise, it's information can help support the practical application of the social sciences toward solving human relations problems. For example, this information will help develop a unified theory of human cultural evolution; and beyond that, become a source among many others to inform the emergence of a global morality and civilization. More immediately, given the current state of national and international social tensions and social science illiteracy, we sure could use some ethnography-based moral grounding and direction in the US and elsewhere, sooner rather than later. But I forget, that would be a reasoned and evidence-based approach to human problems. We have come to prefer emotion, religion, and violence for addressing our social problems. What to do? The only way forward is through better, more humane leadership and exemplary behavior at all levels in society, leadership and examples of empathetic, humane actions informed by reason and objective evidence. Your thoughts?


BREXIT COUNTERPOINT
July 14, 2016


A counter argument to the following essay on Brexit by some in Briton and others elsewhere (not me), would be to cite Sir Frederick Lugard's (1858-1945) "dual mandate" of British empire building. That is, Britain did it, yes, for 1) its own interests - raw materials and markets for its national/industrial development; but also, and equally important 2) from the Briton's sense of kindness, humanitarianism and duty - to share and shine the light of the Enlightenment on the peoples and societies of the "dark continent" Africa, as well as those of Asia, North America, and Australia, thereby "civilizing" them. The second, no doubt, a soothing balm for the guilt they experienced from the brutality of their incursions, I would say. "Yes, we roughed them up a bit," the rationale of many Britons and others still goes today, "but, by God and Christendom, it had to be done! Why, we did them a big favour by imposing our civilised Western ways. They simply couldn't be left alone to muddle into the future using their 'primitive' and often 'savage' ways. Certainly what we did and how we went about it was far better than what the French, Germans, and Belgians did to them." Oh, my.

Regrettably, such "reasoning" lines up well with that of Donald Trump and conservative Republicans in the US pertaining to African Americans, Mexicans, women, and LGBT persons - "Shut up, acknowledge your un-entitled, un-privileged second class status, and be grateful for the trickle-down crumbs you get from our gorging ourselves on the US's bounty."

Here's an excerpt from the essay on Brexit....

"Brexit is not only nostalgia for empire — it is also the fruit of empire. Britain is reaping what it sowed. The legacies of British imperialism have never been addressed, including that of racism. British colonial rule saw the exploitation of peoples, their subjugation on the basis of race, a system that was maintained through the brutal and systematic violence of the colonial authorities.

"The prevalence of structural and institutional racism in Britain today made it fertile ground for the effectiveness of the Brexit campaign’s racist and dehumanizing rhetoric of 'taking back control' and reaching 'breaking point.' This rhetoric is entirely divorced from an understanding of British colonial history, including the country’s recent imperial exploits, which have destabilized and exploited regions and set in motion the migration of today."


THE TRAUMA OF MEDIA EVENTS
July 15, 2016


A very good strategy for coping with the complicated, stressful world we have created and must live in. This essay offers not escapism but a taking control of one's engagement with world events as presented by the media in order to live a "flourishing and happy life amidst the chaos."


MODERN CULTURE RUNS ON ANCIENT BRAINS
July 20, 2016


“Life itself is a chain reaction. Consider a cell that divides into two cells and then four and then eight great-granddaughter cells. Infectious diseases are chain reactions. Consider a contagious virus that infects one host that infects two or more susceptible hosts, in turn infecting further hosts. News is a chain reaction. Consider a report spread from one individual to another, who in turn spreads the message to their friends and then on to the friends of friends.

“These numerous connections that fasten together events are like expertly arranged dominoes of matter, life, and culture. As the modernist designer Charles Eames would have it, ‘Eventually everything connects—people, ideas, objects. The quality of the connections is the key to quality per se.’”

“The way in which modern culture ‘runs’ on ancient brains derives from the ‘plasticity’ of neural hardware combined with the observation that the brain has by and large become embedded in culture itself. Our brains have ceased to be exclusively ‘embodied’ and have become largely ‘exbodied.’ The evolutionary dominoes have been falling away from the lineage of organism and into the collective environment. The argument is that the brain alone is incapable of supporting the sophisticated culture that we are now dependent upon.”

“In pursuing questions about the evolution of intelligence, what is becoming increasingly clear is that evolution is driven largely by advantages gained from overcoming the constraints of restrictive computational architectures: brains, bodies, and crowds. Evolution is never ‘satisfied’ by its hardware or its environmental ‘software’ because there is always surplus information to be processed in the world. And this surplus information can be used to improve the power of prediction and control over the physical world—for good or for bad. If an abacus extends the range of our arithmetic we manipulate it. If a telescope extends the range of our vision we look through it. And if a computer should extend the compass of our logic we shall reason by it. And in time the contributions of human and artifact become nigh on indistinguishable.”


THE REAL GOP
July 20, 2016


The real GOP is not what we are seeing at the 2016 convention. BS!

"[The] Republican Party began its courtship of the racist, nativist, America-first element of the electorate in earnest that year [1964] by nominating a candidate, Barry Goldwater, who voted against the Civil Rights Act. Then came Richard Nixon in 1968 with his 'Southern strategy.'

"The supposedly decent Ronald Reagan kicked off his 1980 presidential campaign in the Mississippi town where three civil rights activists were killed, making crystal clear to everyone where he stood on the issue of race in America. Then came the supposedly decent George H. W. Bush, he of the Willie Horton campaign ad.
"Donald Trump’s base has been the Republican base, and his agenda at the center of the Republican agenda, for more than 50 years now."


THE BLACK PANTHERS
July 21, 2016


This is not a post supporting using guns to address social problems. It is about society and government response to the social problems of minorities and their activists. Here is one of a number of reactions in US history to armed minorities addressing their social problems - demonize them and focus most of the societal and governmental response not on their social problems and complaints, rather on giving greatest attention to addressing their activities as a law and order problem. Excerpts from a Delancey Place review and the book, "Furious Cool: Richard Pryor and the World That Made Him" by David Henry, 2013:

Huey Newton and Bobby Seale formed the Black Panthers in 1966, partially in response to perceived police brutality. At the inception, the Black Panthers were as much about community service as political protest....

"Still, the only thing that mattered to the media and to a majority of Americans -- the only thing they knew about the Panthers, apparently -- was that they had guns. At that time, white America could scarcely imagine anything scarier than 'armed Negroes.'

"The scariest thing they couldn't have imagined would be Negroes with unconcealed weapons operating out in the open and entirely within the law -- angry young militants brazenly availing themselves of their legal and constitutional rights the same as everyone else. 'They were registered guns,' Newton pointed out. 'Just like the NRA's guns. Just like Charlton Heston's guns.'"


THE PHYSICS OF TIME
July 21, 2016


"Perhaps the strongest statement made at the conference in favor of the block universe’s compatibility with everyday experience came from the philosopher Jenann Ismael of the University of Arizona. The way Ismael sees it, the block universe, properly understood, holds within it the explanation for our experience of time’s apparent passage. A careful look at conventional physics, supplemented by what we’ve learned in recent decades from cognitive science and psychology, can recover 'the flow, the whoosh, of experience,' she said. In this view, time is not an illusion — in fact, we experience it directly. She cited studies that show that each moment we experience represents a finite interval of time. In other words, we don’t infer the flow of time; it’s part of the experience itself. The challenge, she said, is to frame this first-person experience within the static block offered by physics — to examine 'how the world looks from the evolving frame of reference of an embedded perceiver' whose history is represented by a curve within the space-time of the block universe.

"Future events exist, she said, they just don’t exist now. 'The block universe is not a changing picture,' she said. 'It’s a picture of change.' Things happen when they happen. 'This is a moment — and I know everybody here is going to hate this — but physics could do with some philosophy,' she said. 'There’s a long history of discussion about the truth-values of future contingent statements — and it really has nothing to do with the experience of time.' And for those who wanted to read more? 'I recommend Aristotle,' she said."


HUMAN SOCIAL DYNAMICS AND SOCIOCULTURAL EVOLUTION
July 23, 2016

On human social dynamics and social and cultural evolution.

A good conservative faction in a society serves the people best when it informs and guides the cultural content, behavior, and direction of that society. That is, it acknowledges the need for society to evolve through adaptation to the ever-changing environment; and the ever-changing, ever-experimenting cultural and behavioral content emerging from the font of Humankind's imagination and natural desire for flourishing.

Good, useful conservative elements place the group's best interest first, not the conservatives' preferred beliefs, values, and behaviors. Commandeering control of a society, tactically or forcefully, by any faction is only permissible when that society is perilously unstable or is not moving in the direction of more personal freedom, justice, pluralism, and humaneness. The role of a good conservative element is not to thwart progress but to counsel, modulate, and guide it, all for the sake of maintaining a minimal but necessary level of social stability.

The current state of US society is one of an on-course, healthy, adaptive movement toward achieving the ideals of the Enlightenment. It is not unstable, in a state of chaos, or teetering on the verge of annihilation.

When the leaders of a conservative element claim a society is in such a vulnerable state when by most objective measures and common sense it is not, those politicians are committing a falsehood. A deceit employed to appeal to the emotion of a certain demographic; to mobilize that sub-group not to address the pseudo-perilous state of their society but to use that self-declared disaffected societal element for remaining in office.

IMHO this well describes the current state of affairs in the US where the Republican Party has forsaken its former noble role of guiding societal progress based on tried and true ideas and behaviors of the past, for the greater good - T. Roosevelt, Eisenhower, and others - and taken to the raw grasping at and clinging to personal power - Nixon, Cruz, Trump.

I remain confident that this ploy of the current GOP will not succeed. That a majority of the US population sees the GOP's actions for what they are and will vote in November 2016 against them in sufficient numbers to keep Donald Trump from winning the presidency, and to reaffirm that the ideals of the Enlightenment are a noble and worthy pursuit for the US and the world.


WHAT’S NEXT AFTER BREXIT AND TRUMP?
July 25, 2016


"[B]ased on history we are due another period of destruction, and based on history all the indicators are that we are entering one. ... It’s easy to jump to conclusions that oppose pessimistic predictions based on the weight of history and learning. ... So I feel it’s all inevitable. ... What can we do? Well, again, looking back, probably not much."

"We are due?" "Predictions based on the weight of history?" "It's all inevitable?" What can we do, "not much?"

I respectfully disagree.

The writer's argument is modeled on natural science and statistical theories and methods. Observations of the properties and processes of physical matter allow a reasonably accurate prediction of how the same matter will be and act in the future. A repeated clustering of occurrences at a given time and under certain conditions allows a statement of probability that when such factors appear again at a later time a similar outcome may happen.

The only instance where history and the social sciences have possessed the predictive power this writer claims is in Isaac Asimov's Foundation Trilogy. There, the founders of "psychohistory" had crunched all the data of history and the social sciences and placed psychohistory alongside physics, chemistry, and biology as a reliably predictive science.

The current academic discipline of history and the disciplines of the social and behavioral sciences are nowhere near having the power of psychohistory as portrayed in Asimov's science fiction. Even the discipline of economics, despite being awarded a Nobel Prize every year since 1969, is no closer to having the predictive power of the natural sciences than any of the other social sciences. Start with economics' failure to predict the 2008 economic meltdown and work backward through every economic disaster since 1969, and before.

The 19th century historian F. William Maitland once said that “anthropology will have the choice between being history and being nothing.” It has become neither. Anthropology has important historical and humanistic strains. But, most important of all anthropology has retained scientific methodology at its core and continues to rely on evidence and reasoned arguments to ground its understandings and explanations of human behavior, past and present. The predictions its practitioners do make about future human behavior and events are few, and they are made with great caution. There is a good reason for this.

Anthropology, and all the other social sciences, as well as history, for the time being, are at their best when they address specific conditions and problems in our past and within current societies and communities, not the problems of regions and civilizations across vast expanses of time and space, much less the future. All the data is not in, including solving the hard problem of consciousness and all that solving that problem implies for understanding and predicting human behavior.

The argument the writer puts forward provides a good caution. But it fails in that it is not as predictive as he thinks it is. He gives not a single example where the events of history held inherent predictors of events to come, much less where historians or social scientists accurately forecasted the future based on such purported predictors. Patterns in history are informative and cautionary, not determinative or predictive.

There is more reasoned argument and evidence to support the notion that during our species' 200,000 year existence we have avoided or overcame crises and disasters more often than we have repeated and succumbed to destructive events and misdirections.

IMHO, we should forever remain hopeful and optimistic, learn from the past, and do all that is necessary to avoid repeating destructive behaviors.

We are greatly influenced by genetics and our past, but we are never bound to repeat what they have led to in the past.


GOP CHICKENS ARE HOME TO ROOST LED BY COCK OF THE WALK TRUMP
August 6, 2016

1964 - Democratic President Lyndon Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act. South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond switches from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party. This begins an avalanche where the vast majority of Southern Democrats come out of the closet to join the GOP thereby presenting what they truly were, super conservative and still segregationist.

1965 - President Lyndon Johnson initiates and signs the Voting Rights Act.

1968 - The Southern Strategy. Republicans begin soliciting white racist support in and beyond the South, particularly during the Goldwater campaign and the presidential elections of 1968 and 1972.

1971 - One of Richard Nixon's top advisors admits the GOP's racist, anti-progressive agenda while commenting on Nixon's "war on drugs":

"...by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.” - John Ehrlichman, Chief domestic adviser to President Nixon 1971. [In 2005, Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman formally apologizes to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), a national civil rights organization, for exploiting racial polarization to win elections and ignoring the black vote.]

1980 - Ronald Reagan gives dog whistle "states' rights" speech in Neshoba County, Mississippi, seven miles from Philadelphia, MS where three civil rights workers were murdered in 1964.

1988 - Republican candidate George H.W. Bush repeatedly brings up the African American Willie Horton criminal case in campaign speeches. Bush's campaign manager, Lee Atwater, says "By the time we're finished, they're going to wonder whether Willie Horton is Dukakis' running mate."

2016 - Seventeen candidates vie for the Republican presidential nomination. Two are highly qualified, humane moderates - Bush and Kasich. Republican primary voters, decisively including the Southern Strategy constituency and like-minded Republicans elsewhere, dismiss all but one saying they only want the rich businessman braggart.

Since the late 1960s the Southern Strategy constituency and their like-minded kin in other regions have consistently supported the GOP's choice of mainstream candidates. As a result they put and have kept the GOP in power. But now this segment of their supporters wants a candidate of their choosing - the party of Lincoln complied. Now, the GOP standard bearer is a bigoted, petulant, vulgar, violence-supporting man unfit to lead a diverse, modern nation-state founded on Enlightenment principles.

A landslide defeat for most GOP candidates in November is needed. It is the only way the Republican Party can begin to remake itself as a truly patriotic and humanely conservative force; something every stable society needs to counterbalance its liberal, progressive element.


THE REVOLUTION WILL BE GRADUAL
August 7, 2016

When politicians and activists call for change it can sound like a one-time use product. Like something you pull off a supermarket shelf, open up and it’s there. But most realists know meaningful change takes time.

There’s a lot of demand for change across the continent, which is unsurprising given that too many of our countries are in earlier stages of development than they would be with better leadership. A combination of our young demographics and rising access to smartphones and with that social media, means the voices for change are getting louder.

Zimbabwean activists go as far as to say a movement for change in their country has been coordinated on social media, Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp. Robert Mugabe’s government may be in power for a few more years but change is now in the air.

But it’s not just social media. Given a fair chance, change will happen in Africa at the ballot box. It happened in Nigeria last year, where some claimed it would never happen without conflict. Some Nigerians complain about the country’s current economic state, but they’re more confident than ever that if needed, they have the next election in 2019. That newfound belief in the process is the most significant change.

Change happened this week at South Africa’s local elections. ANC, the party of Mandela, got a severe rebuke from the people. And while it is by no means a complete overhaul of the ANC government, there is no doubt the tide has turned and could lead to a shakeup of the ruling party and South African politics.

Change can feel slow in the moment, but it’s happening.
Yinka Adegoke, Quartz Africa editor


THE DEMOCRAT PARTY AND THE WHITE WORKING CLASS
August 8, 2016


"Did the white working class give up on the Democratic Party or did the Democratic Party give up on the white working class?" - Robert Reich on Facebook

Definitely the former. The Democratic Party has lost in its struggle with the Republican Party to woo this constituency. It began in colonial times as described below. The Republican Party of today is the current incarnation of the wealthy, business class's effort to control and use the lower class through divide and conquer. The Democrats' failings continue because their appeals to the white working class are made based on reason and common sense. Lacking sufficient education and critical thinking skills the white working class has responded to the emotion-based fear and anger calls of the Republicans over the rational appeal of the Democrats.

This goes right to the essence of being human, our human nature - we are both rational and emotional primates. Fortunately, our ancestors and the best among us ever since, during over 200,000 years of human cultural evolution, have, more often than not, chosen reason and common sense and the cooperation and peace it offers to moderate and bring under control our emotional responses to the world and each other. I am confident that the white working class in the US will eventually come to adopt the reasoned approach to their and the nation's problems. Many among the white working class, more than the media acknowledges, already think and vote this way. Clinton's landslide victory in November will include their votes.

"As the number of African slaves grew, landowners realized they had a problem on their hands. Slave owners saw white servants living, working, socializing, and even having babies with African slaves. Sometimes they tried to escape together. What’s more, freed white servants who received land as part of their freedom dues had begun to complain about its poor quality. This created a potentially explosive situation for landowners, as oppressed workers quickly outnumbered the upper classes. What was to prevent freed whites, indentured servants, and African slaves from joining forces against the tyranny of their masters?

"As Edmund S. Morgan says in his book American Slavery, American Freedom, 'The answer to the problem, obvious if unspoken and only gradually recognized, was racism, to separate dangerous free whites from dangerous slave blacks by a screen of racial contempt.'"


CULTURE OF THE SMUG WHITE LIBERAL
August 18, 2016


"...we need to look at what other [than white-dominated Liberal] groups can offer the African-American community in terms of opportunities or effective policies that will allow us to prosper."

Let's see. The left of center Republicans became extinct by the mid-1990s. That leaves the moderate Republicans, ultra right Republicans, and I don't really know what to call that gaggle of GOPers that recently held a convention in Cleveland and ended up asking a buffoon to bear their imprimatur.

Despite their and Nixon's Southern strategy, Reagan's "states rights" pitch to white Southern racists in Mississippi in 1980, and Bush Sr's Willie Horton ads after that, maybe they should be forgiven and African Americans should seek to enter the GOP fold where they just might prosper shoulder to shoulder next to the GOP's sizable white racist constituency.

Now, we also have the Libertarians whose near anarchic policies have never been implemented successfully anywhere, yet under which the needs of minorities might be "naturally" addressed in a good way for all, and opportunities and prosperity just might be waiting for African Americans. Maybe the socialists and communists, or independents, despite having no successfully tested policies or a sizable backing, would be good groups for African Americans to join and find opportunities and prosper. By all means, give any or all a try.

I just do not see a sound argument in this essay, or anywhere else for that matter, that white-dominated groups such as liberal Democrats, warts and all, are more difficult to obtain opportunities from and prosperity through, or are less amenable to reforming their elitist ways, than the aforementioned groups.


POST-COLONIAL AFRICA AND ITS FRAGILE DEMOCRACIES
August 21, 2016




WHAT REALLY CONTROLS HUMANKIND’S FUTURE?
August 31, 2016


I'm skeptical of what appears to be one of Harari's major premises - Some of the content of Humankind's storehouse of accumulated knowledge, ideas, beliefs, values, behaviors, and technologies, what I and others call the ethnosphere, controls our future.

Such control over our future is a possibility but can only happen if we choose and allow it. But, if and once we relinquish control over what we have created we can at any time reclaim control through choice and conscious redirection of our trajectory into the future. We control Humankind's storehouse of cultural content that spans 200,000+ years and the the globe, through the life and attention we give it. This is so because we created it, and keep it endowed with relevance and value through our reliance on and continual use, evaluation, testing, and alteration of its content. The ethnosphere, or any part of it, regardless of how sophisticated or powerful that part may be, is not a Franensteinian monster beyond our control.

I look forward to Harari's new book and learning in detail what he is concerned about, and what possible responses or solutions he offers to the alleged threat(s) he claims we face in the future.


THE NEUROLOGY OF SELF-AWARENESS
September 1, 2016


"It is often tacitly assumed that the uniquely human ability to construct a 'theory of other minds' or 'TOM' (seeing the world from the others point of view; 'mind reading', figuring out what someone is up to, etc.) must come after an already pre- existing sense of self. I am arguing that the exact opposite is true; the TOM evolved first in response to social needs and then later, as an unexpected bonus, came the ability to introspect on your own thoughts and intentions."

This short essay seems to me to present a chicken and egg scenario where the author chose a point, that point in time when a chicken, or more close to home, a primordial primate, looked around at his fellows and decided that being one among others needed thought. That that realization, that ability to grasp socialness, later, somehow, was turned inward and from this introspection a notion of the human self emerged.

A just as, if not more, feasible argument could be made, IMHO, that when an infant mammal, say, makes its first touch, sound, visual, smell, warmth contacts with its parent a proto-self of neural pathways emerges from its response to that sensory input. That this proto-self, through repeated sensory stimulation of the same and additional other-than-parent contact, would eventually become a full, introspective agency-conscious self as more and more complex neural pathways were produced and reinforced.

Antonio Damasio describes this process very well. The following is from an Owl &Ibis (http://facebook.com/owlandibis) presentation on the self I made in late 2015 - an excerpt from a review of Damasio's book, Self Comes to Mind, that appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books:

"Conscious minds arise from establishing a relationship between the organism and an object-to-be-known. That is, consciousness is the process of an organism constructing a self-image, object images, and an image involving the relationship (spatial, temporal, tactile, dispositional, emotional, etc.) between self and object. The neurobiology of subjectivity (of consciousness) is the lynchpin that gives rise to the self as a protagonist in the world, an actor on the stage of life. This insight provides the key connection between the way a biologist views an individual, on the one hand, and the conception of an individual from the perspective of a humanities scholar, on the other.

"The self, as experienced by a fully-conscious adult human, is argued to consist of a protoself, a core self, and, in humans at least, an autobiographical self. The protoself is "an integrated collection of separate neural patterns that map, moment by moment, the most stable aspects of the organism's physical structure" and is largely a product of an interactive mix of brain stem and cerebral cortex structures. The protoself is proposed to serve as an overarching view of the current disposition and state of the individual. The role of the core self is to monitor changes to the protoself produced by interactions between the individual and the objects in its world. This monitoring process allows for mappings of feelings and dispositions onto the objects that cause the change in the protoself so that the individual can do something to, with, or about that object….

"Damasio: 'The core self, then, is created by linking the modified protoself to the object that caused the modification, an object that has not been hallmarked by feeling and enhanced by attention.' [The core self imbues the protoself with consciousness.]

"Damasio: 'What is being added to the plain mind processes and is thus producing a conscious mind is a series of images, namely, an image of the organism (provided by the modified protoself proxy); the image of an object-related emotional response (that is, a feeling); and an image of the momentarily enhanced causative object. The self comes to mind in the form of images, relentlessly telling a story of such engagements.

“Images of the internal and external worlds can be organized in a cohesive way around the protoself and become oriented by the homeostatic requirements of the organism.”

"The Symphony of Self" by Aaron P. Blaisdell a review of Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain (2012) by Antonio Damasio, (cognitive neuroscientist, University of Southern California), February 7, 2012, Los Angeles Review of Books


ANGER MANAGEMENT VIA STOICISM
September 3, 2016


A long but excellent essay on anger, the relationship between reason and emotion, habit and choice....
[W]hen you get angry, realize that not only has this evil befallen you, but also that you have strengthened the habit, and added fuel to the flame. - Epictetus, Discourses 2.18

"One remedy in general for this is to apply one’s faculty of reason to understanding what is going on, why it is something bad, and what degree of choice one has in what one feels, thinks, chooses, or does. If we do this, when we are getting angry, or after we are already angry – for instance in applying one or more of the remedies discussed above – then we have some possibility of stilling the emotion or desire we are experiencing, and restoring our governing faculty to its 'original authority,' that is, maintaining our own self-control."

And when we fail at this, and we certainly will fail in the beginning of our efforts to apply Stoicism to our daily lives? Again, the author of this essay cites Epictetus....

'Behold, you have been dislodged, though by no one else but yourself. Fight against yourself, vindicate yourself for decency, for respect, for freedom. . . . First of all condemn what you are doing; then, when you have passed your condemnation, do not despair of yourself, nor act like the spiritless people who when once they have given in, surrender themselves completely, and are swept off by the current, as it were, but learn how the gymnastic instructor of boys acts. The boy he is training is thrown; 'get up,' he says, 'and wrestle again, till you get strong.'' (4.9)

"It is up to us, in the choices we make at determinate moments – when we first start to get angry, or when we realize that we are in a rage, even after we have acted upon anger and ought to set things right – how we form and reform our habits, what one might call the lasting but malleable armature structuring our faculty of choice. Do we want to be angry people or calm, gentle, rational people? That choice is up to us to make.

"The habits we already possess can admittedly render that choice a difficult one, making anger seem rational, natural, even required (if only in this circumstance, or this one time, or. . . ) But we do also possess the capacity to decide for ourselves, at each moment, what we will do with ourselves."


FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION
September 6, 2016


On free expression....

I tend to support John Stuart Mill's view, free speech is best when it is practiced within societal bounds that prevent its use to incite unjust or unreasonable harm.

Below is a different approach. What is your view?

"[I]t would be misleading to brand opposition to [speech] codes as politically regressive and support for them as politically progressive."
...
"[G]enerally, I oppose the bans on offensive or extreme speech in force in most democracies. (I don’t oppose bans for all cultures at all times. But I’ll leave that point aside for now.)"


RETAKING THE UNIVERSITY. WHAT?
September 6, 2016


"Since the 1960s, however, colleges and universities have more and more been home to what Lionel Trilling called the 'adversary culture of the intellectuals.' The goal was less reflection than rejection."

I'm not convinced that the facts about this matter justify the outrage expressed here by Kimball.

In response to the perceptions and anecdotes that more often than not fuel discussions on the intellectual and societal threat allegedly posed by ultra-liberals and Marxists, let me throw in an anecdote of my own. First, I'm a liberal who, so far, continues to vote Democrat. I am no Marxist. Having lived and worked in Africa long enough to see African socialism fail repeatedly I'm aware of its severe economic and societal shortcomings.

My undergrad and graduate anthropology professors in California and at Oregon in the late-1970s and early 1980s were, with few exceptions, progressive liberals. The vast majority were, at that time, very concerned about the societal and global threat posed by the US military industrial complex, and the national threat presented by institutionalized racism, injustice, and wealth inequality. They were also strongly dedicated to intellectual freedom and the scientific and humanistic pursuit of truth at the academy, not necessarily their truth or social agenda.

A lot has happened at US universities since. For one, postmodernism found its way into the humanities then into the social sciences. One of my retired graduate professors recently remarked that by the mid-late 1990s "postmodernism had damn near ruined anthropology."

My point is this. Despite the challenges from Marxism, ultra liberalism, and, I shudder sometimes to even say or write the word, postmodernism, little has really changed at US universities in terms of their overarching goals and objectives. Most scholars are still strongly dedicated to intellectual freedom and the scientific and humanistic pursuit of truth, not necessarily their truth or any particular social agenda. Yes, strident ultra-liberal and other zealous factions are there. But surely they do not portend catastrophe for the academy and US society, and warrant the hyperbole and disdain this essay and its supporters feel they must direct at them. Surely reasoned arguments against them, not a sneering, patronizing piss on is called for.

All that said, I think our universities and society remain vibrant and highly capable of withstanding the efforts of ultra-liberals, and all other liberal progressive activity for that matter. I am not at all confident they can withstand the efforts of Donald Trump, his political party, or ultra-conservatism.

All human groups need a good conservative faction. Trump, the current GOP, and ultra-conservatives are not good conservatism, and pose a far greater threat to freedom and progress than ultra-liberals. Over the past eight years in the US, for example, the latter have proven to be far more willing to negotiate and compromise for the greater good of society - health care, economic recovery, voter rights, women's rights, pluralism, etc. - than have their counterparts on the right.
What do you think?


AFRICA IN THE 21ST CENTURY
September 11, 2016



On race, nationalism and globalism. More on my optimistic and hopeful notion of the emerging global morality and civilization, and its necessity....

"A tacit consensus is emerging around the idea that after China, what is going on in Africa will have a huge impact not only on Africa as such, but on our planet. The emerging tacit consensus is that the destiny of our planet will be played out, to a large extent, in Africa. If there is one single idea I wish you to take from this intervention, this is it. This planetary turn of the African predicament will constitute the main cultural and philosophical event of the 21st century."
...
"New configurations of racism are emerging worldwide. Because race-thinking increasingly entails profound questions about the nature of the human species in general, the need to rethink the politics of racialisation and the terms under which the struggle for racial justice unfolds—here and elsewhere in the world—today has become ever more urgent. Racism is still acting as a constitutive supplement to nationalism. How do we create a world beyond nationalism?"
...
"To tease out alternative possibilities for thinking life and human futures in this age of neoliberal individualism, we need to connect in entirely new ways the project of non-racialism to that of human mutuality. In the last instance, non-racialism is truly about radical sharing and universal inclusion. It is about humankind ruling in common on behalf of a larger commons...."


THE AGE OF DOUBT, OBFUSCATION, AND FALSE EQUIVALENCE
September 21, 2016

In this the Age of Doubt, Obfuscation and False Equivalence, where most journalists value equal time and entertaining above truth and newsworthiness, where some lawyers and scientists defend immoral political agendas for money, it should not be surprising that half or more of the US population is convinced Trump would make a good president, recent global warming has nothing to do with human activity, vaccines are bad for children, and creationism should be taught in science classrooms, just to name a few popular notions. Relatedly, if something is said loud enough and often enough, half of the US will accept it to be true.

If the contemporary US is the best society the European Enlightenment could produce then I think we should reconsider the major assumption of that great period in human cultural history. That is, the assumption that the best way to achieve social flourishing is through providing the greatest amount of freedom, individualism, and education for the greatest number of people. If this assumption is not at fault then we must admit that our notions of what constitutes good freedom, individualism, and education have been hijacked, veered and remain off track.

What a despicable and pitiable species we will prove to be if it takes the catastrophic breakdown of US society for us to realize the errors of our modern ways. I'm beginning to think such might be necessary because political compromise and social reform have given away to emotion-based winner-take-all brawling and calls for revolution. It is becoming increasingly apparent that freedom, education based on science, critical thinking and humanism, and most crucial of all, our system of politics, have failed us. A New Dark Age may well be next, within our lifetime.

Still, I'm hopeful and reasonably confident our species will survive and flourish. We've passed through narrower and more perilous cultural evolutionary periods over the past 200,000 years. It seems sometimes, these times in particular, we choose to learn and adapt the hard way.


WHAT ISIS REALLY WANTS
September 24, 2016


"...they [members of the Islamic State] all believe that the United States wants to embark on a modern-day Crusade and kill Muslims. Yet another invasion and occupation would confirm that suspicion, and bolster recruitment."

Regrettably, discussions of the motivations behind acts of terror by those professing to be Muslim have become polarized. That is, as the approach taken in this article illustrates, it has become a matter of being pressured in to accepting that either ISIS is religiously motivated first and foremost, or ISIS is un-Islamic and all about retaliation against the West as many in the West would claim.

It is not about debunking a Western liberal effort to defend and separate ISIS from Islam and laying all the blame for Islamic terrorism on Western intervention, as some have portrayed the liberal position. It is a matter of accepting that ISIS is BOTH religiously motivated and in possession of a desire to push back against an uninvited Western encroachment, control and physical and ideological presence in their midst.

They is no question they a motivated by religion while engaging in some acts that are un-Islamic. But they also have a secular motivation. They wish to establish a governing caliphate in nations that have been put in turmoil or destroyed in large measure due to actions taken by the West. There's is clearly a reaction to Western incursion into the Middle East, AND a pursuit of hegemony by their brand of Islam. Had not the West entered and damaged these nations, ISIS or an element like it would be in a contest with their fellow Middle Easterners for control. Now they are in a contest with the West over control. For ISIS, therefore, it is in large part about what the West has done.


EDUCATION NEEDS STOICISM
October 21, 2016


If the Stoic virtues as well as critical thinking/analysis [https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critical_thinking] were required subjects in US schools, I seriously doubt if Donald Trump would be a major party candidate for president.

"The harsh truth is that many students around the world will never receive any philosophical education whatsoever. Philosophy is often viewed as a useless exercise reserved for scholars in ivory towers. ... That assertion likely rests on the premise that philosophy is ultimately something more theoretical than practical. It overlooks the potential for discerning parents and caregivers to teach young children how a philosophical outlook can make their lives happy and meaningful."


EDUCATION FOR ALL, NOT FOR REPUBLICANS
October 2, 2016

Let's see, Republicans generally don't like people who don't work and receive welfare. People who don't work and receive welfare, more often than not, are not highly educated or trained. The more highly educated or trained a person is, the more likely they will be employable and find work. Those who find jobs don't take welfare. Republicans should be happy if as many people as possible were educated, put into the nation's work force, and removed from the welfare rolls.

To do this the US government could make a four-year university education or equivalent training available to every American upon their completion of high school.

This year, four million 17 year-olds will turn 18 and complete high school. The US College Board says the national average cost for four years of education at a public university in the US is $37,640. The total cost to university-educate or otherwise train this year's 18 year-olds for four years would be $152 billion, or $38 billion per year.

The federal budget for 2016 is $3.75trillion. The annual cost to provide a university education or training to every US citizen who completes high school would be 1% of the federal budget. That money could be easily obtained through relatively small reductions within the federal budget. The money could be taken, on a pro-rated basis, from the five major budget categories - pensions, health care, education, defense, and welfare.

If implemented, this plan would totally transform the society and culture of the US for the better.
Oh, but wait. The Republicans rely on the votes of a certain group of relatively lower-educated, under-skilled Americans to stay in office. Do they really want to fund education and training for everyone, including this key constituency? I don't think so. Oh well, it sure seemed like a good idea.
Your thoughts?


THERE IS HOPE FOR HUMANISM
October 18, 2016


Though a bit long and optimistic this essay offers good background material and a ray of hope for humanism.

"Market participants like Mohamed A. El-Erian, Chief Economic Adviser at Allianz, are acutely aware that as 'bad politics crowds out good economics, popular anger and frustration will rise, making politics even more toxic.' Unless 'enlightened political leadership takes the reins in time to make the needed mid-course corrections voluntarily,' he adds, 'unambiguous signs of economic and financial crisis' will 'force policymakers to scramble to minimize the damage.'"
...
"In the effort to halt and reverse the populist advances of recent years, there is no magic bullet. It is a battle that must be waged on many fronts: economic, electoral, legal, cultural, and, where appropriate, military. But, however challenging that battle may be, what is increasingly clear is that it must be joined without delay."


THE AFRICAN SOLUTION TO AFRICA’S CRISES
October 18, 2016


On indigenous African conflict resolution by George Ayittey, Ghanaian political economist at American University in Washington DC.

The African Solution to Africa’s Crises

"Ethiopia is about to implode. The African solution to the crises in Ethiopia, South Sudan, Congo DR, Zimbabwe, etc. https://goo.gl/I7IK64

"The Western approach to crisis resolution has not worked well in postcolonial Africa. It involves direct, face-to-face negotiations between combatants/disputants – often the government on one side and rebel forces, protesters, etc. on the other side. This approach often culminates in a Government of National Unity (GNU). But GNU has N EVER worked in postcolonial Africa: in Angola (1992), Congo DR (1997), Ivory Coast (2000), Liberia (2003), Sudan (2004), Kenya (2008), Zimbabwe (2008), etc.

"The Western approach failed for four reasons. 1. It expected people who had been sworn to the destruction of each other to suddenly lay down their arms, make nice, put aside their differences, hold the interest of the their countries above their own and govern. These never happen – Savimbi of Angola, Garang of Sudan, Tsvangirai of Zimbabwe, etc. 2. GNU may entail the distribution of government posts and nobody is satisfied with what they get, which may lead to the resumption of conflict – Angola in 1993, Ivory Coast in 2001, etc. 3. Civil society – those affected by the conflict /dispute – are often excluded in the negotiations. 4. There is no arbiter to enforce compliance with the rules. Recalcitrant combatants can hold an entire country hostage, in Congo DR, Madagascar, Mozambique, South Sudan, etc. For more, see this link https://goo.gl/trphbK

"The indigenous African approach avoids these pitfalls. When a crisis erupts in an African village, the chief and the elders would convene a village meeting. There the issue would be debated by the people until a consensus is reached. During the debate, the chief, acting as an arbiter, usually makes no effort to manipulate the outcome or sway public opinion. Nor are there bazooka-wielding rogues, intimidating or instructing people on what they should say. People expresstheir ideas openly and freely without fear of arrest. Those who cared participated in the decision-making process. No one was locked out. Once a decision has been reached by consensus, it was binding on all, including the chief.

"These village' meetings are variously called asetena kese by the Ashanti, ama-ala by the Igbo of Nigeria, guurti by the Somali, kgotla by the Tswana of Botswana, pitso by the Xhosa, ndaba by the Zulu, dare by the Shona of Zimbabwe, etc.

In recent years, this indigenous African institution was modernized to resolve crises in Benin, Cape Verde Islands, Congo, Malawi, Mali, South Africa, and Zambia. The village meeting [can] metastasize into a Sovereign National Conference (SNC) with an arbiter and most importantly, the participation of civil society.

"Benin's nine-day "Sovereign National Conference" began on 19 February 1990, with 488 delegates, representing various political, religious, trade union, and other groups encompassing the broad spectrum of Beninois society. (Note the representation.) The conference, whose chairman was Father Isidore de Souza, held "sovereign power" and its decisions were binding on all, including the government.

“'Sovereign power' meant that no one, not even the president, could abrogate its decisions. SNC stripped President Matthieu Kerekou of his power, scheduled multiparty elections that ended 17 years of autocratic Marxist rule."


ON RATIONAL FAITH AND RADICAL HUMANISM
October 23, 2016


On "rational faith," "humanist radicalism" and being realistically optimistic about human nature and the future of Humankind.

"What we need in order to transcend this dual hapless helplessness [absolute optimism and pessimism], [Erich] Fromm argues, is 'rational faith in man’s capacity to extricate himself from what seems the fatal web of circumstances that he has created' — something at the center of his philosophy of humanist radicalism:

'Humanist radicalism … seeks to liberate man from the chains of illusions; it postulates that fundamental changes are necessary, not only in our economic and political structure but also in our values, in our concept of man’s aims, and in our personal conduct.

'To have faith means to dare, to think the unthinkable, yet to act within the limits of the realistically possible; it is the paradoxical hope to expect the Messiah every day, yet not to lose heart when he has not come at the appointed hour. This hope is not passive and it is not patient; on the contrary, it is impatient and active, looking for every possibility of action within the realm of real possibilities.'"


SLAVES’ VALUE EXCEEDED THAT OF RAILROADS AND FACTORIES
October 24, 2016


"Only in the past several years has scholarship on finance, accounting, management, and technology allowed us to understand American economic development as 'slavery's capitalism.' And only now is there enough momentum to leverage some basic facts -- that slave-grown cotton was the most valuable export made in America, that the capital stored in slaves exceeded the combined value of all the nation's rail­roads and factories."


WHEN ATHEISM CEASED TO BE A BIG IDEA
October 27, 2016


"When did atheism cease to be a big idea? When atheists made God a little idea. When its idea of god shriveled to become a postulate of a new intellectual Darwinism. When they began to identify unbelief with being a woman, a gay, a lesbian, or some other victimized cadre. When they decided that religion is best described as a malicious and retardant cultural force that connives to prevent us being the Alpha Race of super-intelligences and wholly equal beings that nature has in store for us. When they elevated naturalism, already an outmoded view of the universe, to a cause, at the expense of authentic imagination."
...
"My current Angst, to use that hackneyed word correctly, is that most contemporary humanists don’t know what classical humanism is, and most modern atheists won’t even have read the books mentioned in the last paragraph, and what’s more will not care. Their atheism is an uneven mixture of basic physics, evolutionary biology, half cooked theories from the greasy kitchen of cognitive science, assorted political opinions, and what they regard as common sense. They fell into atheism; they did not come to it."


INTERNATIONAL JUSTICE VERSUS NATIONALISM AND POLITICS
October 31, 2016


I post this because it pertains to previous posts on the Stoic virtue Justice, and the Stoic principle of Cosmopolitanism, the view that each individual should strive to expand his/her realm of inclusion and compassion from the self to all Humankind. I agree with the author of the essay's conclusions summarized in the following excerpts.

The question is, how can Humankind pursue international justice without being influenced by nationalism and politics? I think you do so through reform of existing institutions yet only expect real progress once nationalism, and its attendant politics, becomes supplanted by globalism as Humankind's predominant worldview.
Your views?

"The court’s defenders, who insist that a reformed, impartial ICC is just around the corner, wilfully ignore the concrete reality of the present political juncture. They want us to evaluate international criminal law and its institutions abstracted from the real world, insisting that we weigh up the choice between no court and a court untarnished by politics, imperialism and neo-colonialism. I agree with the author of the essay's conclusions summarized in the following excerpts.

"But the ICC does not, and cannot, exist outside politics and its activities reflect that. The court’s actual practices form a clear pattern: Western military intervention in Africa accompanied by the justificatory apparatus of ICC juridical intervention."
...
"That military intervention in the continent by former colonial powers has been followed, almost without exception, by juridical intervention by the ICC, leaves Africans understandably suspicious."
...
"'Once celebrated as an avatar of Kantian cosmopolitanism, the ICC has served rather to shield and strengthen the imperial powers, less a tool of international justice than the judicial concomitant to Western intervention.'"


A NEW PHILOSOPHY OF SCIENCE?
November 2, 2016


This essay seemed to stop short of explaining the writer's views about the philosophy of science. Maybe I need to read his book to get that. The Gaia comparison he mentions makes me skeptical and I'm not sure his disdain for viewing science as heading toward the development of a grand objective Truth is shared by many scientists. It doesn't appear to be a view many of the acolytes of the "new atheists" and American "secular humanism" would buy into either.

Your thoughts?

"[I]n trying to understand the nature of science, we need to stand back and view the whole process from a distance. What I see when I do that is something like a living, fully unified, and evolving organism that I have called SciGaia by analogy to James Lovelock’s Gaia theory, whereby the earth is one big living organism. But I reject any notion of teleology in my version. Science is not heading towards some objective 'Truth' and here I agree with Thomas Kuhn who always insisted on this point."


HOW THE CHICKEN CROSSED THE RED SEA
November 4, 2016


"Chickens were first introduced to Africa through North Africa, Egypt and the Nile Valley about 2,500 years ago."


BEING IN THE WORLD WITH OTHER BEINGS LIKE AND UNLIKE OURSELVES
November 5, 2016


"Emphasizing what human beings have in common with the rest of the natural world does not reduce humans to passive mechanisms—not if the rest of the natural world is an animated, active mechanism. And a clearer understanding of our relationship to that world requires more than masses of Big Data; it also demands a sensitivity to the ways that organisms engage with the contingent circumstances of their environment in historical time. That environment includes religions and ideologies and economic systems as well as air and soil and water. Who knows? Maybe scientists will have something to learn from historians, as well as the other way around. ... Schrödinger’s question—what is life?—leads us to reconsider what it means to be in the world with other beings like but also unlike ourselves."


WE WILL SURVIVE P.T. BARNUM, THE SNAKE OIL SALESMAN
November 9, 2016

The following are historical facts, not political opinion or my digging up dirt on political opponents.
How did the 2016 US presidential election end like it did, you ask? Simple. Donald Trump is the cock among the chickens the GOP courted and bedded for half a century that have now come home to roost.

1964 - Democratic President Lyndon Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act. In response, South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond switches from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party. This begins an avalanche where the vast majority of Southern Democrats come out of the closet to join the GOP thereby presenting what they truly were, super conservative and segregationist.

1965 - President Johnson initiates and signs the Voting Rights Act. More Democrats become Republicans.

1968 - The Southern Strategy. Republicans begin soliciting white racist support in and beyond the South, particularly during the Goldwater campaign and the presidential elections of 1968 and 1972.

1971 - One of Richard Nixon's top advisors admits the GOP's racist, anti-progressive agenda while commenting on Nixon's "War on Drugs": "...by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.” - John Ehrlichman, Chief domestic adviser to President Nixon 1971. [In 2005, Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman formally apologized to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), a US national civil rights organization, for exploiting racial polarization to win elections and ignoring the black vote.]

1980 - Ronald Reagan kicks off his presidential campaign by giving a dog whistle "states' rights" speech in Neshoba County, Mississippi, seven miles from Philadelphia, MS where three civil rights workers were murdered in 1964.

1988 - Republican candidate George H.W. Bush repeatedly brings up the African American Willie Horton criminal case in campaign speeches. Bush's campaign manager, Lee Atwater, unashamedly says "By the time we're finished, they're going to wonder whether Willie Horton is Dukakis' running mate."

2016 - Seventeen candidates vie for the Republican presidential nomination. Two are highly qualified, humane moderates - Bush and Kasich. Republican primary voters, decisively including the Southern Strategy constituency and like-minded Republicans and others elsewhere in the country, dismiss all but one saying they only want the bullying rich businessman braggart.

Since the late 1960s the Southern Strategy core constituency and their like-minded compatriots in other regions of the U.S. have consistently supported and voted for the GOP's choice of mainstream candidates. As a result they put and have kept the GOP in power.

But now this segment of their supporters has elected a president of THEIR choosing - the party of Lincoln capitulated. Now, the GOP standard bearer and our president-elect is a bigoted, petulant, vulgar, violence-supporting man unfit to lead a diverse, modern nation-state founded on Enlightenment principles.

Every stable society needs a truly patriotic, reasoning, and humane conservative force to counterbalance its liberal, progressive element. Like all other incoming presidents, Trump won't pursue or get done half of what he campaigned on. Still, he's unfit for the job in terms of experience and temperament, poses a danger to our society and the world, and is therefore not the kind of counterbalance we need.

Alas, we survived Nixon (Richard III/Rasputin), Reagan (Hollywood Actor), and "W" (Court Jester/Frat Boy). We will somehow get through four years of Trump (P.T. Barnum/Snake Oil Salesman).


TAKING ELECTION RESULTS LIKE A STOIC
November 11, 2016


"A Stoic response to an election gone wrong toes a delicate line: in one sense—though admittedly a technical one—an evil government is not a “bad” thing. Even the most corrupt and decrepit government lies outside the sphere of choice, and it is my virtue, resilience, and choices as a social actor going forward, not my country or my government, that really matter to my flourishing. In another sense, however, the potential outcomes of a poor government are terrible—especially for vulnerable populations, such as immigrants or the poor. No properly functioning philosophy is blind to this.

"A good Stoic progressor knows how to hold both of these truths in her mind at once. She knows that we do not need to be deeply disturbed by political news, because everything the universe brings is just another opportunity for us to individually exercise Temperance, Courage, Prudence, and Justice—which is our highest purpose as human beings. But she also will not minimize or downplay the vital importance of working to prevent injustice and human suffering. Instead, the two things—inner peace and outward concern—go hand in hand...."


HOW HALF OF AMERICA LOST ITS F***KING MIND
November 12, 2016



UNTIL I CAN ACCEPT THE ELECTION OUTCOME AND RESET MY THINKING
November 12, 2016


This is a revised response I posted on Facebook the day after the election. I took it down because the original wording expressed my emotional first reaction to the election outcome, not a deliberative, reasoned and fact-supported opinion that reflects what I have come to think about it.

I apologize to anyone my original post may have offended with its harsh attack on the Democratic Party, my party of unwavering loyalty for half a century. Here's my repost:

I have sailed into a doldrum in trying to understand and accept what happened in the recent election. I'm [still] sad, feeling pain, and discouraged, but getting better. The GOP selling its soul to racists beginning with the Southern Strategy and the inability or unwillingness of many in the US, not all, to vote based on reason more than emotion are not the only underlying causes for the election result. A large contributing factor was the Democratic Party's approach to the presidential campaign. It essentially ignored a crucial part of the US populace, the poor white working class, mostly in rural areas - see http://www.cracked.com/…/6-reasons-trumps-rise-that-no-one…/ and https://www.theguardian.com/…/rise-of-the-davos-class-seale… and http://mobile.nytimes.com/…/…/hillary-clinton-campaign.html….

That aside, maybe Bernie Sanders was right. Maybe the system itself is broken and needs a revolutionary reset. Trump is not the reset needed but maybe his presidency will be an ugly, painful but necessary catalyst.

I cannot give up on my commitment to the values of the Enlightenment - justice, individualism, humanism, secular and pluralistic governance; or my confidence in human flourishing in the long term. But I am seriously considering discontinuing my support for the current Democratic Party's approach to political campaigning and its methods for reforming the US and international systems. Though the attached essay is lacking details on a good way to revolutionize these systems, I'm beginning to rethink my long-standing preference for peaceful, gradual social reform over revolution.

For now, for me personally, it will be: approach the election outcome Stoically (not stoically), be of good cheer, and act with kindness to all, a day or hour at a time, until I can achieve acceptance of the election outcome and reset my thinking. That is, reset my views about the current state of human social relations and what those relations might lead to, here in the US and globally.

What do you think?

"The contemporary, structural crisis of capitalism is deep and profound, and the existing models of democratic politics, and liberal frames of reference (which presume that all crises can be resolved within the system) are, plainly, insufficient to the tasks of understanding the current moment, or pointing a way beyond it.

"What is needed now, instead, is a serious re-foundation of, broadly, socialist ideas and political practices. Only political movements, married to innovative ideas, that offer a genuine alternative to the extant social order will stand a chance or resisting the rising tide of reaction evident across the world."


THE COMING CULTURE WARS IN TRUMPLANDIA
November 16, 2016


"War was declared in United States of America on last Tuesday. There was no official signing of authorisation, it was announced through the proliferation of images and slogans across 24-hour news-cycles, like our contemporary wars on drugs or terror. Following from those wars on abstracted symbols, this war will be one waged over meaning itself, of the ways people understand themselves within history."


THE RUNNING CONVERSATION IN YOUR HEAD
November 25, 2016


One of the best interviews focused on language, thought, and the self I have read. The book the interview is about, The Voices Within: The History and Science of How We Talk to Ourselves (October 2016) by developmental psychologist Charles Fernyhough at Durham University, UK, should be an excellent read.


BOOK REVIEW - DYING EVERY DAY: SENECA AT THE COURT OF NERO
November 29, 2016


Just finished this. Outstanding! Seneca, what sort of man was he? Sent into exile on Corsica by emperor Claudius. Enjoys a modest but safe and healthy life of contemplation and letters. Is invited to Rome by empress Agrippina to tutor her son Nero, Claudius' adoptive son, and provide him counsel. Accepts for reasons no ancient or modern scholars are certain of: accumulate wealth; acquire power; opportunity to use Stoicism to produce a philosopher king, if not himself become one; patriotically could not decline a call to serve the empire? All or some combination in degree of the above? Once there, he taught Nero the early teen and later counseled princeps Nero. Tried twice to withdraw after Nero broke bad. Nero refused his requests. Nero redirected his patronage elsewhere. New sycophants blamed Seneca for Nero's problems. Nero orders Seneca's death. To avoid humiliation of torture and execution, Seneca commits suicide. I cannot condemn Seneca for any combination of motives for leaving Corsica, including the pursuit of wealth. Stoics are not Cynics. Stoic personal virtues are not necessarily in conflict with the virtuous pursuit of wealth, power, or social justice through governance. I still like and admire Seneca, flaws and all. His critics bedamned. There is much in his thought, letters, and life we can all learn from for our betterment.


EMPATHY, SCMEMPATHY?
November 30, 2016


In this interview, psychologist Paul Bloom, author of the book Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion, has little use for if not a disdain toward empathy. In the interview Bloom makes a distinction between empathy and compassion that isn't necessarily there; a seeming one or the other choice; a straw man attack on empathy. Although I haven't read his book, I think there is enough in this interview to consider rejecting the crux of his argument.

The emphasis on empathy in the US over the past half century or so was and still is meant mostly for ethnocentric individuals who have come to care less about the Golden Rule than they do about themselves and things that are golden or just simply glittery.

The dictum of put yourself in someone else's shoes and you will likely become more understanding of and compassionate toward the oppressed or disadvantaged was intended for a specific population. That is, a generally young, white, conservative, materialistic, Christian demographic whose members have seldom lived abroad for extended periods or have had little to no exposure to the beliefs, values and behaviors of other cultures or American sub-cultures other than their own. Think mostly of the bulk of American middle class university students in particular and most members of US society generally.

The point of empathy is more than putting yourself in someone else's shoes or imagining yourself in someone else's emotional or social circumstances. Doing so is not a necessary and sufficient end in and of itself. The point of trying to be and persuading others to be empathetic is to arrive at an enhanced appreciation of other persons' lives. THEN, based on that better understanding, adopting a less judgmental stance toward them than you had before doing so. From this adjusted, more knowledgeable perspective you gain a better chance of accurately understanding those persons and thereby behaving toward them in a more humane, useful manner; a form of more humane social relating that enhances both parties individually, and the larger groups they belong to, society and Humankind.

Yes, one can behave compassionately toward another person without empathizing with them, as Bloom claims. And it is true that someone can be empathetic yet withhold compassionate thoughts or actions toward another. But being empathetic without consequently, at some point or time, being compassionate is not being virtuous. Few, if any, ever claimed, as Bloom implies, that empathy alone was necessary, sufficient or virtuous, really.

An example of such a stand-alone , virtueless empathy would be, say, coming upon someone drowning in a lake, observing their frantic anguish and plea for help, sincerely imagining what terror they must be experiencing, then walking away not taking action to save them. Such persons, whom Bloom disparages for being empathetic without subsequently feeling and behaving compassionately, are in a small minority of human beings; sociopathic or psychotic persons whose empathy is ineffectively actionable or who lack the courage to act compassionately in response to their empathetic experiences.

"Bloom argues that when it comes to helping one another, our emotions too often spoil everything. Instead of leading us to make smart decisions about how best to use our limited resources altruistically, they cause us to focus on what makes us feel good in the moment. We worry about the boy stuck in the well rather than the thousands of boys dying of malnutrition every day." 'I don’t doubt for a minute that empathy can do good things. My claim is that, on balance, it’s bad for us' [says Bloom]."

No, empathetic thinking carried out by emotionally normal, healthy individuals has great potential for igniting their ability to devise reasoned compassionate responses. Making a bad response to human needs should not be laid at the doorstep of empathy. There is a large array of beliefs and values that can lead to a bad response that have little or nothing to do with feelings of empathy: political persuasion; adhering to a particular moral philosophy; following certain economic theories; practicing some religious beliefs, to mention a few.

Every empathetic response need not always or immediately be followed by helping a person immediately at hand OR all others in similar dire straits but not nearby. I can feel empathy over receiving knowledge of a human suffering immediately nearby or a multitude of similar others far away and choose to do nothing straight away or ever. But most people are not so unmoved. Or, a day, week, or month later I may recall my empathetic experience and send a check for $100 to the International Drowning Boys Foundation.

Yes, empathy by itself is no virtue. It is a human capacity we learn that more often than not prompts most of us as individuals to behave compassionately, and thereby be more effective in our social relations.

"[I]f you want to be a moral person, empathy is the wrong way to do it." Well, yes, behaving empathically by itself is unnecessary and insufficient for behaving morally. But, contrary to what Blooms declaration implies, empathy is not a misdirected waste of time or a practice that that stands in opposition to being compassionate, or a response that consequently, more often than not, makes us behave less optimally.

Empathy, as others have speculated and there is good reason to conclude, may well have been a spark in our early cultural evolutionary past that led to our earliest ancestors' increased reliance on social cooperation and mutual support - "It pains me to see my fellow group member and her family suffer so. Let me behave toward them as I hope they would behave toward me if and when I am ever in their circumstances."

A pre-adaptive proto-moral notion prevalent among some of our primate forbearers, and to a degree among some contemporary social primates, may well have been something Homo sapiens built upon, by choice or necessity, in a threatening late Pleistocene environment in East Africa. It certainly would have been adaptive to do so. Being empathetic has been around for a long time, and persists for good reasons.

Perhaps empathy is something we in the West abandoned in our subsequent distortion of Enlightenment notions of individualism - a distortion where our obligation to the other, the group, became subverted to the glory and wonder of our selves and freedom. Encouraging and placing value on empathy is not a waste of time or a misstep in trying to be moral or virtuous. It is, I think, a sorely needed correction on how we in the West, and now elsewhere, relate to each other.

Your thoughts?


THE DARK AGE OF THE ANTHROPOCENE
December 6, 2016


A brilliant, stunning essay on the Anthropocene and its cause of the ongoing sixth major mass extinction of species on Earth. Again I'm reminded of Alexander Pope's early 18th Century take on Humankind in his "An Essay On Man." To "glory, jest and riddle of the world" we can now add "destroyer."

Alas, my hope for and confidence in human survival and flourishing (including sustainable Earth stewardship and preservation) may be part of the "jest." Human centers of power - intoxicated by and driven to acquire ever more power and wealth, to engage in ceaseless gluttonous consumption, and encouraged by the thundering herd mentality of most of the masses - may now be unstoppable in extinguishing the inherent human spirit of adaptation and survival through reason and cooperation.

Your thoughts?

"A dense legal infrastructure in shipping, banking and insurance – maintained in the city of London – was necessary for enabling the imperial project that was the consumption of nature and its transformation into concrete and capital."
...
"Over the next three years, the number of wild animals in the world is predicted to fall by two-thirds, compared to those living in 1970. The human urban population is expanding by 1.5 million people every week. Between 2011 and 2013 alone, China poured more concrete over its earth than the United States did during the entire 20th century. Alongside this annihilation of habitat, the equivalent of 48 football fields of forest cover is cut down every minute. Animals are bred and slaughtered at an exponentially increasing rate: 60 billion land animals alone were killed last year for food. At our current rate of consumption, all global fish stocks are predicted to run out by 2050."


A DIMMING OF HOPE FOR AVOIDING CASTASTROPHE
December 7, 2016


You may have noticed me lately being less sure of my hope and confidence in Homo sapiens using reason, cooperation and Enlightenment values to survive and flourish over the long term. That our belief that we - government, the private sector, and/or individuals and local groups - can control and reform the trajectory of human cultural evolution may be a myth. Here's someone else, far more knowledgeable than me, who may see it similarly. That is, more and more the only thing that may change the self- and planet-destructive course of the thundering herd of Humankind, the course of Homo titanicus, is global catastrophe.

Your thoughts?


STOIC VIRTUE AND SOCIAL JUSTICE
December 10, 2016

Here are some links to topics that arose at the Dec 7, 2016 Owl & Ibis - A Confluence of Minds presentation, "Reconciling Stoicism Virtue with Social Justice" by Richard Berry:

Reconciling Stoic Virtue with Social Justice, Richard Berry
https://www.dropbox.com/s/16ewzk9…/Stoic%20Presentation.pdf…


Stoicism: An Ancient Philosophy for Modern Life, an outline of an O&I presentation by yours truly, November 2015
https://www.dropbox.com/…/Stoicism%20-%20O%26I%2004%20Nov%2…






Michael Shermer and Sam Harris on a science-informed approach for developing a global morality:




A Critique of Shermer's Moral Arc Views by Massimo Pigliucci, philosopher and biologist
https://scientiasalon.wordpress.com/…/michael-shermer-and-…/



PURSUING THE CONTRADICTORY IDEALS OF FREEDOM, EQUALITY AND PROSPERITY
December 12, 2016


"...we need, above all, greater precision in matters of the soul ... a radically enlarged understanding of what it means for human beings to pursue the contradictory ideals of freedom, equality and prosperity."

This is the best essay I've read on the failing of Enlightenment-inspired progressive liberalism. Is that segment of white working class Americans voting for Republicans and Trump justified? Does their frustration at not enjoying more of the fruits of the more prosperous people warrant their rejecting progressive liberalism? Yes, to them. Regrettably and ironically, their voting for the GOP and Trump, economic history shows, only makes the economy more unfavorable for them and everyone else except the very rich.

"With so many of our landmarks in ruins, we can barely see where we are headed, let alone chart a path. But even to get our basic bearings we need, above all, greater precision in matters of the soul. The stunning events of our age of anger, and our perplexity before them, make it imperative that we anchor thought in the sphere of emotions; these upheavals demand nothing less than a radically enlarged understanding of what it means for human beings to pursue the contradictory ideals of freedom, equality and prosperity.

"Otherwise, in our sterile infatuation with rational motivations and outcomes, we risk resembling those helpless navigators who, De Tocqueville wrote, 'stare obstinately at some ruins that can still be seen on the shore we have left, even as the current pulls us along and drags us backward toward the abyss'."


A HARD RAIN’S A-GONNA FALL
December 12, 2016


A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall
Bob Dylan

Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son
And where have you been, my darling young one
I've stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains
I've walked and I've crawled on six crooked highways
I've stepped in the middle of seven sad forests
I've been out in front of a dozen dead oceans
I've been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard
And it's a hard, and it's a hard, it's a hard, and it's a hard
It's a hard rain's a-gonna fall

Oh, what did you see, my blue-eyed son
And what did you see, my darling young one
I saw a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it
I saw a highway of diamonds with nobody on it
I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin'
I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleedin'
I saw a white ladder all covered with water
I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken
I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children
And it's a hard, and it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard
It's a hard rain's a-gonna fall

And what did you hear, my blue-eyed son?
And what did you hear, my darling young one?
I heard the sound of a thunder that roared out a warnin'
Heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world
Heard one hundred drummers whose hands were a-blazin'
Heard ten thousand whisperin' and nobody listenin'
Heard one person starve, I heard many people laughin'
Heard the song of a poet who died in the gutter
Heard the sound of a clown who cried in the alley
And it's a hard, and it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard
It's a hard rain's a-gonna fall

Oh, what did you meet, my blue-eyed son?
Who did you meet, my darling young one?
I met a young child beside a dead pony
I met a white man who walked a black dog
I met a young woman whose body was burning
I met a young girl, she gave me a rainbow
I met one man who was wounded in love
I met another man who was wounded with hatred
And it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard
It's a hard rain's a-gonna fall

And what'll you do now, my blue-eyed son?
And what'll you do now, my darling young one?
I'm a-goin' back out 'fore the rain starts a-fallin'
I'll walk to the depths of the deepest black forest
Where the people are many and their hands are all empty
Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters
Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison
And the executioner's face is always well hidden
Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten
Where black is the color, where none is the number
And I'll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it
And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it
Then I'll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin'
But I'll know my song well before I start singin'
And it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard
It's a hard rain's a-gonna fall


SCARE THE HELL OUT OF OURSELVES, AGAIN?
December 16, 2016


Are we about to enter the Age of Neo-Existentialism? If Trump's presidency causes Humankind to "scare the hell out of itself" again, as WWII did, will our species finally be ready to "grow up and take responsibility?" Let's hope so. It may depend on just how disastrous, jarring and chilling Trump's actions and those of his followers will be.

Sarah Bakewell's new book, At the Existentialist Cafe: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails

(2016), https://www.amazon.com/…/15905…/ref=as_sl_pc_qf_sp_asin_til…, looks like a great read that may help brace us and keep up our faith in reason and human decency as we enter the new post-truth Trumpian period.

"The war [WWII] had made people realise that they and their fellow humans were capable of departing entirely from civilised norms; no wonder the idea of a fixed human nature seemed questionable. Whatever new world was going to arise out of the old one, it would probably need to be built without reliable guidance from sources of authority such as politi­cians, religious leaders, and even philosophers -- the old kind of phi­losophers, a new kind of philosopher, ready to wade in and perfectly suited to the task.

"Sartre's big question in the mid-1940s was: given that we are free, how can we use our freedom well in such challenging times? In his essay 'The End of the War', written just after Hiroshima and published in October 1945 -- the same month as the lecture -- he exhorted his readers to decide what kind of world they wanted, and make it hap­pen. From now on, he wrote, we must always take into account our knowledge that we can destroy ourselves at will, with all our history and perhaps life on earth itself. Nothing stops us but our own free choosing. If we want to survive, we have to decide to live. Thus, he offered a phi­losophy designed for a species that had just scared the hell out of itself, but that finally felt ready to grow up and take responsibility."


YES, THERE IS A HUMAN NATURE
December 17, 2016


"...'following human nature' yields no specific guidelines for conduct..." [From the Wikipedia entry "Modern Stoicism." The larger source excerpt and a link to the Wikipedia entry are given below.]

I do not fully agree. The rejection of human nature presented in the Wiki entry "Modern Stoicism" insists on an understanding of human nature that is too restrictive. There is, I think, a "human nature" if it is understood from a broader, evolutionary perspective. The fact that we have had near-extinction catastrophes and atrocities in human history is not sufficient to negate the notion that there is something we can call human nature and that it contains specific guidelines for behavior.

The overriding theme in our 200,000 year existence as Homo sapiens, has been an imperfect yet persistent effort to minimize human harm and increase human wellbeing through the use of reasoning and technology, and our choosing to behave cooperatively, individually and as societies.

These adaptational approaches have proven - over the long term, more often than not - to be successful despite catastrophic, near-extinctive failures such as world wars, nuclear weapons brinksmanship, and genocides. Harm from hunger, predators and other mortal threats including each other, extremes of climate and weather, lack of fur and shelter, relatively weak musculature, etc., have been persistently addressed through reasoning, tool use and technology invention and innovation, and cooperation.

Improved human wellbeing has likewise been persistently pursued through defining, extolling, practicing and maintaining personal virtues and moral systems as worthwhile pursuits, despite the repeated failings of some notions of virtue and morality within and between groups and societies.

The "specific guidelines for human conduct" in our human nature may be found in the virtues and moral systems of societies spanning the globe and over the course of the past 200,000 years - the vast majority of which have been successful enough to allow for human survival and flourishing.

Overall, this human evolutionary adaptational strategy - reduce harm and increase human wellbeing through reasoning, technology and cooperation - has succeeded, so far.

On a broader scale, the ancient Stoic notions that nature is good and conforming to nature is good; and that everything in the universe was purposefully and rationally organized to a good end, has not been disproven by the brushes with extinction and efforts a genocide human actions have so far caused and participated in.

An inherent meaning and purpose in the universe - perhaps a part of nature, including human nature - is not a notion all, within and outside science, have given up on. See, for example this recent essay, "Can Evolution Have a Higher Purpose?" - http://mobile.nytimes.com/…/can-evolution-have-a-higher-pur….

I think our presence not extinction, so far, is evidence of the efficacy of a human nature - a nature, though imperfect and susceptible to fail us at times, that nevertheless compels us to pursue the reduction of harm to ourselves and increase human wellbeing via reasoning, technology, and cooperation. This is what we do, this is to be human, this is our nature.

Stoic practice is a personal, individual effort to conform with human nature. To pursue personal virtue and thereby interact with others morally and optimally in order to reduce human harm and increase human wellbeing.

Wikipedia excerpt:

"However, this view [nature is good as conforming to nature is good; and that everything in the universe was purposefully and rationally organized to a good end] is much more difficult to uphold in the present day. As Becker puts it, 'science presented significant challenges to our [Stoic] metaphysical views.' The notion of the rational organization of the world seems much more doubtful in the 21st century than it, presumably, was two millennia ago. 'When we face the universe,' Becker writes, 'we confront its indifference to us and our own insignificance to it. It takes no apparent notice of us, has no role other than Extra for us to play, no aim for us to follow.' Even more pressing questions are raised when we face our own human realm, with the long and still expanding record of genocide and atrocity and the manslaughter that followed). These are major challenges for the ancient Stoic view of the world as a rational and essentially good being.

"We happen upon an analogous problem if we narrow down our interest to human nature (as contrasted to the nature of the universe as a whole). In other words, the idea of 'following our human nature' also raises serious questions. As Becker describes it, 'it is ‘natural’ to find these [defining] traits in human character and conduct, but it is equally natural to find a significant number of exceptions. As a result, none of these characteristics fits into the most familiar forms of ethical argument from human nature, e.g. (a) that humans are by nature X, and that Y is contrary to X, hence, that Y is contrary to human nature; or (b) that X is what defines the unique function (the essence) of a human being, thus to flourish as a human being is to excel at X.' In this vein, 'following human nature' yields no specific guidelines for conduct either. All told, this is one of the central problems for modern Stoicism: that in the 21st century it is far more difficult to ground our ethical framework in 'nature,' be it universal, cosmic nature, or to special human nature."


YES, THINGS ARE GETTING BETTER DESPITE THE MEDIA’S PORTRAYALS
December 24, 2016


Here's information that supports a large part of the reason I remain hopeful and confident in the long-term flourishing of Homo sapiens. That the methods (reason and science) and ideals (truth, liberty, equality, justice, progress, etc.) of the Enlightenment remain valid and our species' only hope. Yes, we must remain vigilant of actors and events that threaten this progressive trajectory of human cultural evolution. Yes, we should be activists and take action against such threats. But the daily media deluge of mostly bad news should not discourage us. The long-term path, the cultural evolutionary adaptive strategy, of minimize harm/pursue wellbeing through reason, language, cooperation, and tool use, we set out upon 200,000 years ago and relied on is still working. Through our collective, long-term efforts this strategy has been expanded from applying to the survival needs of small bands of Pleistocene hunter-gatherers to those of Humankind as a whole, including Earth stewardship. This strategy will continue working for us as long as we insist upon it, are not deterred by setbacks and media reports of them, and act to oppose, forcefully when necessary, persons and events that threaten it.

Your thoughts?

"He [Max Roser, creator of Our World in Data, a web publication about how living conditions around the world are changing, see link below] is critical of the mass media's excessive focus on single events which he claims is not helpful in informing the audience about the state of the world and how the world is changing. In contrast to this event-focussed rubbernecking Roser advocates the adoption of a broader, more holistic perspective on the living conditions around the world. This perspective means looking at inequality and a particular focus on those living in poverty – the focus on the upper classes, especially in historical perspective, is misleading since it is not exposing the hardship of those in the worst living conditions. Secondly, he advocates to look at larger trends in poverty, education, health and violence since these are slowly, but persistently changing the world and are neglected in the reporting of today's mass media." - Max Roser, an entry in Wikipedia


CONTROL IS VERY LIMITED, CERTAINTY ABOUT THE PRESENT AND FUTURE ARE A MYTH
December 30, 2016


Power. Power controls wealth, and vice versa. Most of the wealthy in the US seek power to protect their wealth and the privileges their wealth and power support. They, the wealthy, are convinced that they are the ultimate source of all wealth. They, therefore, are also convinced that they are entitled to dictate how wealth is distributed in society. Further, most of them are convinced that the best way to distribute wealth is via a totally "free" market. This they believe is the best way to protect the primary source of wealth, that is, themselves.

Others, some of whom are also wealthy, seek power to protect the broader systemic source of wealth, and to equitably distribute its fruits and control over them within society. Wealth, to them, belongs to all, for the wealthiest could not survive in isolation within society. To this group, the wealthy-dominated market can never be "free;" and their can never be a full Enlightenment-based flourishing of Humankind as long as the wealthy have the greatest control over wealth and power.

The free market approach has never worked whenever it has been tried; and the controlled market approach has become corrupted, from the inside by the progressive left and from outside by the wealthy, every time it has been tried.

Compromise and reform have not worked, and Social Democrats such as Bernie Sanders have insufficient support to contest for power.

How "bad" must the free marketers AND market control progressives make things before the people organize behind and support an independent Social Democrat enough to propel him/her to power?
The current "bad" experienced and expressed by many whites in the US has only been bad enough for them to reject the liberal progressives, not the wealth-monopolizing plutocrats as well. The plutocrat scapegoating of the liberal left elite, the educated, minorities and immigrants, and draping their wagon in patriotism and hitching it to fundamentalist religion, helped shield the free marketers from rejection. But can it protect them and keep them in power over the long term?

Trump's time as president with a wealthy, free market-dominated Congress in place will be telling. How "bad" must the economy they run become? How much racism, hatred and division will they allow? How much wealth inequality will US society tolerate? Will the whites, who were pivotal in electing Trump, and who continue reelecting Republicans who support him and a "free" market, realize their interests really and truly lie not with the plutocrats but with the non-wealthy, and are best placed with Social Democrats or a radically reformed Democrat Party?

It depends on how bad, really bad, things become under Trump and the Republicans. It will take a lot of "bad" for that to happen, I'm afraid. And the worst of the bad will hit the lower levels of society the hardest with severe and ugly consequences for all. Deep and widespread hardship and grave suffering are likely in our future.

That is, unless something good and totally unexpected happens. This is very much possible given that no one - the private or public sector, or the people themselves - has anything near the control they think they have over economics, society, and the beliefs, values, and emotions of Humankind.

We shall throw ourselves, individually and collectively, into the uncertain future as we must, always have, and always will. Take comfort from your God, whatever that may be, if you must. Control is very limited and certainty about the present and future is a myth.
Your thoughts?

The following are excerpts from the linked essay below, a more sophisticated take on my simple ideas above.
"He [Polanyi] believed the architects of economic policy were concerned only with keeping the social fabric from fraying irrevocably, not with finding ways to actually reassert society’s power over the market.

"One might argue that what we really need is not just Polanyi’s double movement [economic planning and social protections] but a triple one: a politics that sustains socialism and social democracy’s democratic and emancipatory promises once either is in power.

"Many of the attempts to reform the market economy have foundered or been countered by right-wing retrenchment. The Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn phenomena aside, social democracy is hardly thriving; most of its parties are in disarray, challenged on both the insurgent left and the revanchist right. What appears presently to be in crisis is liberalism itself, with violent, ugly solutions proffered by neofascists across the globe.

"Polanyi was witness to just such a challenge, in Hungary and Red Vienna, driving him to adopt more radical positions—and, ultimately, to find himself against the market economy altogether. It is this Polanyi, the one least gracious to capitalism and least enchanted by its so-called freedoms, who speaks most clearly to our present moment; it is this Polanyi who renounces his—our—desire to be satisfied with meager fixes and urges us instead to turn our collective frustration and energies against the economic system that threatens our destruction."


HAPPY NEW YEAR!
January 1, 2017

Happy New Year!

Here's American novelist John Steinbeck writing to a friend on New Year's Day, as World War II rages:

"Speaking of the happy new year, I wonder if any year ever had less chance of being happy. It’s as though the whole race were indulging in a kind of species introversion — as though we looked inward on our neuroses. And the thing we see isn’t very pretty… So we go into this happy new year, knowing that our species has learned nothing, can, as a race, learn nothing — that the experience of ten thousand years has made no impression on the instincts of the million years that preceded.

"Not that I have lost any hope. All the goodness and the heroisms will rise up again, then be cut down again and rise up. It isn’t that the evil thing wins — it never will — but that it doesn’t die. I don’t know why we should expect it to. It seems fairly obvious that two sides of a mirror are required before one has a mirror, that two forces are necessary in man before he is man. I asked [the influential microbiologist] Paul de Kruif once if he would like to cure all disease and he said yes. Then I suggested that the man he loved and wanted to cure was a product of all his filth and disease and meanness, his hunger and cruelty. Cure those and you would have not man but an entirely new species you wouldn’t recognize and probably wouldn’t like.

"It is interesting to watch the German efficiency, which, from the logic of the machine is efficient but which (I suspect) from the mechanics of the human species is suicidal. Certainly man thrives best (or has at least) in a state of semi-anarchy. Then he has been strong, inventive, reliant, moving. But cage him with rules, feed him and make him healthy and I think he will die as surely as a caged wolf dies. I should not be surprised to see a cared for, thought for, planned for nation disintegrate, while a ragged, hungry, lustful nation survived. Surely no great all-encompassing plan has ever succeeded."

- John Steinbeck, Jan 1, 1941


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