March 23, 2019

Major Fault Line in Jonathan Haidt's "Moral Foundation Theory" of Human Evolution

Psychologist Jonathan Haidt on politics, morality, and the coddling of the American mind.
Brian Gallagher
March 7, 2019

Above is an interview of Jonathan Haidt. It’s pretty good on some things like his latest book The Coddling of the American Mind. I think he may be better on this topic than “human nature” and things such as the evolutionary emergence of human morality, values he contends we are hard-wired for and are therefore compelled to express.

The following excerpted statement of his from the interview caught my attention in that it is revealing in terms of my critique of his book, The Righteous Mind. He’s asked to account for the now Trumpian Republican Party. Haidt’s response raises this question: If his moral foundation theory is as powerful and useful as he leads us to believe in his book, how could one election and one president, Trump, in effect debunk it?

JH: “Trump has shifted a lot of things around. The Republican Party is no longer the social conservative party. I believe, in other research I’ve published with Karen Stenner, a political scientist in Australia, Trump is appealing to more authoritarian tendencies. It’s very hard to see how Donald Trump is a conservative. So the psychology that I just described a moment ago [moral foundation theory] no longer quite applies. [Italics mine.] The Republican Party, I don’t know what’s happening to it [shouldn’t his moral foundation theory provide some answers?], but it is bringing in elements that are overtly racist. It is bringing in desires for rapid change, which is not a conservative virtue, generally.”

Haidt hitching his moral foundation theory to evolutionary human nature remains a problem for me. 

Equally unsatisfactory is his claim in his The Righteous Mind that Democrats are less loyal and less patriotic than Republicans just doesn’t hold water. Since Trump’s election who, really, is proving to be the greater patriot, Nancy Pelosi or Mitch McConnell? I’ve gone over these two main points and others here:

and here:

I think a good theory of cultural evolution, one I’m working on, would tell us a lot more about how humans became what we are and why we behave as we do than Haidt’s moral foundation theory.

March 22, 2019

Nature vs. Nurture in the 20th Century

I watched this documentary and found it informative about the early 20th Century history of the idea of human genetic determinism.

Although the film is fairly objective in its approach and what it presents, it regrettably tells only part of the 20th Century nature vs. nurture story. The film is missing the subsequent responses to these early theories of human genetic determinism, including those of supporters and more importantly those of their detractors.

To its credit the film does contain some accurate though horrific truths about 20th Century European and American political and scientific intrusion in Africa. For its educational value alone the documentary is worth watching.

In terms of the early 20th Century thinkers who promoted the notion of human genetic determinism the film focuses mostly on William Hamilton, George Price, and later thinkers such as Richard Dawkins who were influenced by them.

It gives no mention of scientists and authors such as Sigmund Freud, B.F. Skinner, Nikolass Tinbergen, Konrad Lorenz, Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt, Desmond Morris, Robert Ardrey, E. O. Wilson, Richard Herrnstein, Charles Murray, James Watson, Jonathan Haidt, and others, particularly many science writers and neuroscientists during the 1990s. The foregoing have, to greater and lesser degrees, also contributed to the biologizing of human behavior. They have done so by insisting that genetics and neurophysiology are more powerful than, in fact override, culture and learning in determining what humans think and do.

Here are other related topics:

If you are like many in the U.S., you are not sure if nature trumps nurture in determining human behavior, or vice versa. Or, you think there is probably a balance between the influences of genetics and learning.

The idea of human genetic determinism has had a strong and lasting influence on the Western public despite its harmfulness to individual wellbeing and human relations. If you want to fully understand where the idea of human genetic determinism came from, go to the links of the above named persons. While there, give attention to the criticisms of their research and findings.

You can also read on. First, biologist and philosopher Massimo Pigliucci has this to say:

“[W]hile there are fixed elements to our being, we are not fixed beings, since we are (or ought to be) free to choose our projects. Neither biology nor natural obstacles limit our futures to a great extent, and how we live out our human nature will vary because we give different meanings to our facticities. An authentic life is about acknowledging these differences, and stretching ourselves into an open future. It does not follow that this openness is unlimited or unconstrained. We are limited, but mostly by our own imagination.”

For more but not a full course on the nature-nurture debate try the following, my two takes on these ill-founded, unsupported and harmful notions of human neuro-genetic determinism:


February 28, 2019

The Myth of White South African Genocide

An Unfinished Civil War Inspires a Global Delusion
By James Pogue
March 2019

Numbers from the article:

56million people in South Africa
·      8% are white, own 72% of the rural land
o   2.7million are Afrikaners (of Dutch descent)
·      81% are black, own 4% of rural land
o   5million squatters
·      14million live in extreme poverty
o   13,310 are white living in squatter camps
·      2017: 20,000 killed, 62 were white

Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) – Black dominated political party championing land redistribution
  • 25 of 400 National Assembly Seats
  • Leader Says: Have more black children as a political weapon.

 ANC-Led Government Averse to Nationalizing Land
  • ANC Charter: “The Land Shall Be Shared Among Those Who Work It!”
  • 1994, Whites Would Not Sell Land at Fair Market Prices
  •  Zimbabwe and Mozambique Land Redistribution Models Unacceptable
  •  Government of South Africa Prefers Individual Ownership, Direct State Ownership, Trusts, Communal Land Custodianship. But, doesn’t know how to get there without international outcry or shedding white blood. The latter of which would take the matter away from being about reaching economic reconciliation and equality and force the Western dominated world media to portray it as white genocide. A most unenviable position for GOSA.

Principles, Key Factors:

Rule of Law
25% of Population Live in Extreme Poverty


~ ~ ~

Just looking at the numbers above and comparing them to the principles below them, I don’t see how South African society can remain as it is indefinitely.

There can be no real or sustainable democracy, rule of law or reconciliation until matters of the unequal distribution of wealth, including land ownership, are resolved. Something must give.

February 25, 2019

Moral Politics in America

The excerpt at the end of this post is from philosopher Massimo Pigliucci. It helps me understand the fundamental moral divide between Republicans and Democrats. They value and pursue different things.

I post this, in part, in response to friends and acquaintances who discourage my tendency to make moral judgments about the two US political parties as they currently exist.

I accept that not all Republicans are selfish, heartless, money-grubbing materialists. And yes, limousine liberals abound among Democrats. Here I’m addressing the overarching principles and worldviews of the two parties as they currently are. I’m setting aside the cronyism of both parties and the dead-end collapse inherent in unrestrained consumer capitalism, for now.

Emphasizing the free, ‘legal’ accumulation of money, economic policies that favor relatively unfettered consumer capitalism, and a preference for a small, weak federal government characterizes the GOP.

Democrats emphasize using governmental means to achieve greater, more equitable wealth distribution in society and more widespread individual and societal wellbeing.

February 21, 2019

Deepfakes, Truth, and the American Way

Hilke Shellmann
The Wall Street Journal
October 15, 2018

Seeing isn’t believing anymore. Deep-learning computer applications can now generate fake video and audio recordings that look strikingly real.
In a recent video published by researchers to show how the technology works, an actor sits in front of a camera moving his face. The computer then generates the same expressions in real time on an existing video of Barack Obama. When the actor shakes his head, the former president shakes his head as well. When he speaks, Mr. Obama speaks as well.
“This is a big deal,” Hany Farid, computer science professor at Dartmouth College, told The Wall Street Journal. “You can literally put into a person’s mouth anything you want.”
Prof. Christian Theobalt, part of a team working on the technology at the Max-Planck-Institute for Informatics in Germany, said he is motivated by the creative possibilities that it holds for the future.
He said researchers have developed forensic methods to detect fakes.
But Prof. Farid says researchers who push computer-generated technology need to think about the consequences these computer-generated fakes could have for society. He believes forensic experts are being outpaced by the development of fakes and that there is no method yet that can detect them all.
“How are we going to believe anything anymore that we see? And so to me that’s a real threat to our democracy,” Mr. Farid said.
In the video above, WSJ’s Jason Bellini explores this world of realistic video fakes. He gets deepfaked himself, and thanks to a deep-learning application, he can now dance like Bruno Mars. He also learns of the dark side of this technology, through one victim whose life has been deeply affected by deepfakes, and why others believe they could even lead to war.
~ ~ ~
I am grateful to a friend for drawing my attention to the above report and video. It’s not the tech that should concern us. It’s the owners of the tech and the moral and ethical truth they control with it that we should be very concerned about.

Deepfakes are to truth what makeup is to beauty. Both are tools of deceit and manipulation.

February 16, 2019

Batshittery - An Anthropological Commentary

a video on
A friend asked what I as an ethnographer, a student of Humankind, make of the cult reported on in the above video. My answer: “Batshittery americana domesticus, anthropologically speaking.”

This genus, species and subspecies belongs to the taxonomic family of religious cults and other beliefs and practices that have failed to find a place in mainstream American life. Such cults and their beliefs are not in a dustbin with similar nonsense the likes of which are never to be seen again. This one and its sundry mutant variants await us in a holding pattern in the Ethnosphere. Awaiting what? Awaiting their chance to rejoin us and hopefully get into the mainstream of American thinking. That is, as a new and improved human-made supernatural myth to propel us further toward our place in Abrahamic heaven.

But, shockingly (well, not too shockingly), such bizarre approaches, in all spheres of human life, have become more highly feasible options for Americans in recent years. That is, as we careen toward full national batshittery under the pastoral presidential leadership of God’s current anointed one, Junior Jesus Golden Hair.

February 13, 2019

African Philosophy

Thank you to those who attended Owl & Ibis on February 12th where a presentation and slideshow, "African Philosophy", was given by Immy Rose Lassiter and yours truly.

A PDF of the slideshow is here. All photos of African life by JEL.

We covered a lot of topics yet had plenty of time for questions and discussion.

~ Overview of Africa's Geography, Demography and Major Foreign Influences
~ What, Whose African Philosophy?
~ "Culture Philosophy" & Ethnophilosophy
~ African Culture and Personality
~ "Traditional" African Cultural Characteristics
~ Revitalizing, Reverting to "Traditional" African Ways
~ Case Study: The Bamasaaba of Eastern Uganda
Take Home Handout: Excerpts from the book, Circumcision and Coffee in Uganda by yours truly.

Sincere thanks to the attendees for their interest and their great questions and comments!

}:> ~:) 

February 2, 2019

United The World Stands, Divided It Falls – Choosing Capitalism Or Socialism

Virtue can only flourish among equals.
Mary Wollstonecraft

Fareed Zakaria
January 24, 2019
Washington Post

“This, then, is the post-American world. Not one marked by Chinese dominance or Asian arrogance. Not an outright anti-American one, but one in which many yearn for a greater U.S. presence. One in which countries are freelancing, narrowly pursuing their own interests, and hoping that the framework of international order remains reasonably stable. But with no one actively shoring up the international system, the great question remains: In a world without leaders, will that system over time weaken and eventually crumble?”

This is the Gloom and Doom Fareed. Below is an essay a week later where he comes on as Mr. Sunshine and Hope. In both essays he ignores the fatally flawed, thousand pound gorilla in the room – consumer crony capitalism.

Now, let’s consider the above, his first essay.

Regrettably, the US is not withdrawing from world leadership because it believes the system is flawed and it is looking for a more sustainable, equitable way forward. We, our current leaders, are withdrawing because they (wrongly) believe their nationalist power, wealth and world hegemony can be increased and more assured by going it alone.

Trump, his GOP members generally but not all of them, claim and reassure their patrons and voter base with this ill-founded notion: “It’s a social Darwinist* world out there! No more operating as one nation among equals. We shall take the lead, dominate through economics and military threat and force, and let all others fare as best they can in our wake. The only globalism** we adhere to is one where the U.S. economically dominates but allows political spheres of influence among its adversary nations. Globalization for us is a very flat pyramid of the world’s nations with the U.S. at the apex. So help us God!"

This national versus international approach is an analogous, individual-skewed take on the individual-group dynamic, the most fundamental aspect of being human. We recently looked at this dynamic in depth at Owl & Ibis – A Confluence of Minds, through my presentation of The Evolution of Western Individualism, Part I and Part II. The analogy being made here is between the individual-group dynamic and a nationalism-globalism dynamic now favoring nationalism.

From a consideration of prehistory, history and current events O&I concluded that a political and economic approach skewed in either direction - one favoring sustained, hardline, libertarian, individual freedom or one that favors fascism, slavery, group dominance - is not better for human wellbeing and flourishing than a sustained balance between the two. That, since the origins of agriculture and urbanization the balance has shifted back and forth between favoring collectivism then favoring individualism. O&I believes there is a deep need among most of Humankind, something fundamental to our cultural nature, to ensure that one approach does not dominate the other indefinitely.

Here's another aspect of that same human nature, something contradictory:

January 26, 2019

I Am A Citizen Of The World - Diogenes

Diogenes Looking for An Honest Man
Attributed to JHW Tischbein

I am a citizen of the world.
Diogenes of Sinope



People often refer to our political "leaders” here in the U.S. when in fact our politicians are “followers.” They follow, in descending order: their wealthy patrons; the polls and votes of the people; and activist groups that are powerful enough to threaten their money, polls and votes.

Democrats are the lesser of two evils. Both major parties are “broken.” That is, broken to the bit and saddle of crony-consumer capitalism. Voting is a necessity. But the only real power the people have to influence politicians to do humane, responsible things beyond what serves the wealthy and powerful, can only be had through activist groups that vie for control of the saddle and bridle.

Power to the people! Power to support progressive, non-political groups that take the politicians by their vote-sniffing noses and pocket books, and make them do the will of a reason- and evidence-informed, activist public!

I support the following efforts in my home country and globally:
  • Bringing about greater economic, social and legal equality
  • Improving the quality and spread of cross-cultural, science and critical thinking education
  • Strengthening the protection and conservation of the environment
  • Assisting refugees
  • Reducing racism and diversity intolerance
  • Strengthening globalism over nationalism, pluralism over theism and tribalism

I do so by making recurring financial contributions, monthly where possible, to the following organizations. I kindly ask you to join me in supporting these and other similar groups. JEL

American Civil Liberties Union

“For almost 100 years, the ACLU has worked to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the United States.”

American Association for the
Advancement of Science

“AAAS works to advance science throughout the world for the benefit of all. We advocate for STEM access for students and for diverse, inclusive workplaces. We promote science’s place in our national conversation and evidence-based policymaking. And on the topics that matter—like climate change, habitat loss, and species extinction—we fight to make sure the experts have a say. Help us:
  • Advocate for science's place in society and policy making
  • Build and strengthen a diverse and inclusive community of science professionals and enthusiasts
  • Inform members about the latest science news and research
  • Empower the next generation through STEM education for all"

January 13, 2019

Letter to a Friend

Photo: Ann Kreilkamp

Dear Friend,

Here is a short read for you:

Ann Kreilkamp
January 6, 2019

 “And thus, a few years later, was Green Acres Village born, first as a neighborhood garden, and then fully fledging as a potent little human community in communion with our Mother Earth. It has been evolving, organically, for over a decade now, starting on the mental plane in 2007, when I took the permaculture design course, and was astonished to recognize in its principles real hope for a transformed world...

“It was just then, just when I had worked my mental/emotional system into a frenzied intensity, that I heard a little voice in my right ear: ‘No need for that. Just change perceptions in your neighborhood.’”

Here’s some folks doing something other than violent revolution or trying to reform our dead-end, powerful and wealthy-controlled way of living. They see what’s coming, like what happened in Cuba when the USSR collapsed and cut the Cubans loose.


Roxanne Cooper
January 12, 2019 

“But if TED and the 19th century lecture circuits—the new lyceum and the old—can offer us anything, it’s a reminder that science and research offer more than new knowledge. They come with a kind of aesthetic, and they invoke certain emotions—among them thrill and hope. ... [A] certain fuzzy optimism takes hold. There’s a promise here that would be familiar, I think, to anyone who’s been moved by a great motivational speech or sermon. It’s a sense that, faced with the grind of daily life, and the intractability of its problems, somehow, through some flash of understanding, the basic terms of our struggle will change.”

“Thrill?” I’ll pass. “Hope?” Okay, but not based on “fuzzy optimism” or “somehow” or “some flash of understanding.”

I am not dark, gloom and doom, or nihilistic. I am not a hedonist or an Epicurean. I am a realist, skeptic and flawed practitioner of Stoicism. I am only optimistic and have hope when there are reasons and evidence for being hopeful.

Archive for "Being Human"