March 31, 2021

"Politics and Knowledge in the Nihilistic Days of 1920 and 2020" - An Owl & Ibis Presentation by Richard Moore


Kudos and many thanks to Richard Moore for his Owl & Ibis - A Confluence of Minds presentation, "Politics and Knowledge in the Nihilistic Days of 1920 and 2020!"

A link to the PDF of Richard's Saturday, March 27, 2021 slideshow can be downloaded here.

Here is Richard's presentation hypothesis:

Since before and after the written word, Sapiens have repeatedly found themselves in Threatening Times and have reached back to their Elders for guidance. The options chosen by the Elders have been Finite for each of their pending Disasters and may be a helpful guide for each Future Generation.

Following his introductory slideshow, Richard aired a portion of the video of UC Berkeley political theory professor Wendy Brown's lecture, Politics and Knowledge in Nihilistic Times: Thinking with Max Weber - "Knowledge." This lecture may be found here:

Key within Brown's lecture was her view of the role of education and the use of knowledge. Brown thinks individual students and society at large are best served when students are influenced by answers to and discussions centered on the following questions:

1. What am I living for? Why am I here today?

2. What kind of world do I want to live in?

3. How should or could humans order our common arrangements and our relationships with the nonhuman world at this juncture in world history?

Richard’s presentation and the discussion that followed established yet another landmark within O&I.

I say this in the sense that it succeeded in having the Confluence henceforth consider nihilism, a complex subject to say the least, in a more comprehensible and useful manner. That is, in the context of knowledge and politics (power), not philosophy.

Hereafter I think everyone who attended will better understand nihilism, if/when they ever come across the term again. Not as an arcane philosophy, rather as a contested matter. A contest over the importance and usefulness of knowledge and values fought in the breach between politicians and the wealthy on the one hand who want to quantify values and control resources including people; and on the other, by individuals who wish to deeply consider and construct values for guiding their personal lives and for living well among their fellows, and within the rest of Earth’s ecosystem.

The latter, personal emphasis on values is an exercise of freedom, a dwindling freedom left to us in the modern world of techno-commercial control. Many think this individual freedom regarding the progressive, humane use of values may be our only hope for retaining any of our humaneness following modernity's inevitable collapse, and the anarchy, democratic socialism, or tyranny that become our options.

Great job, Richard!

}:> & ~:)

March 4, 2021

The Evolution of Governance

Somebody is lying as to what is really in President Biden’s COVID stimulus plan legislation, the New York Times:

“A Look at What’s in Biden’s $1.9 Trillion Stimulus Plan”

New York Times, January 14, 2021.

Want to get beyond the media gatekeepers? Read the 591-page bill yourself, here. The list of the bill’s contents alone runs for nine, small print, single-space pages. Here is a sample of the text from page 10 and 11. The rest of the bill is just as crystal clear to the average US voter as this excerpt.

(5) to make payments for necessary expenses

related to losses of crops (including losses due to

high winds or derechos) pursuant to title I of the

Additional Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster

Relief Act, 2019 (Public Law 116–20), as amended

by section 116 of the Continuing Appropriations

Act, 2020 (Public Law 116–59) and as further

Amended by subsection (c) of section 791 of the

Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020

(Public Law 116–94) for crop losses in crop year


Forget all the previous legislation referred to in this excerpt. One can find and study up on that. But what exactly are “expenses,” “derechos,” and “losses?” Who defines expenses and losses, sets their thresholds, and pegs dollar amounts to them? On what basis? I know what a derecho is but nothing about agricultural losses and expenses. I guess the US Department of Agriculture is left to figure that out.

Or you can do the research. Coincidentally, a friend of mine yesterday sought and read multiple website articles on the bill and came up with the following list outlining the contents of the legislation in basic vocabulary. My friend is not typical of the average American voter in terms of education and research skills. He’s an engineer. It took him about an hour to research and put this table together. American voters, most of whom are less highly educated and have less skills in researching, would likely take much longer assuming they had the will and interest to do. Most don’t.

Maybe it is my Republican Congressman Drew Ferguson here in Georgia, USA who is lying.

"Batshit Crazy: Is There a Solution to Mass Delusion?" - An Owl & Ibis Presentation by Pam Dewey


Kudos to Pam Dewey on her outstanding presentation, “Batshit Crazy – Is There a Solution to Mass Delusion?” at the February 27, 2021 meeting of Owl & Ibis – A Confluence of Minds. Here is Pam’s description of her presentation containing an Internet link to the video.

There are several Mass Delusions currently affecting large segments of the US population:

Large numbers of followers of the QAnon "complex" of multiple conspiracy theories are convinced that vast numbers of celebrities like Tom Hanks and politicians such as Hillary Clinton are part of a secret cabal that rapes babies and children, sacrifices their bodies to Satan, and drinks their blood. 


A large segment of Evangelical Christians are convinced that God Himself placed Donald Trump in the presidency in 2016, as almost a Messianic figure who would not only "Make America Great Again," but would "Make America Christian Again." 

A large proportion of those people along with others are also convinced that the 2020 election was stolen by a massive effort by Democrats to falsify election results, and that Donald Trump was actually elected by a majority of millions of voters. 


Many are also convinced that Trump has a secret plan to use the US military to take back the presidency in the near future.    All these delusional speculations are wreaking havoc on American society, destroying relationships among families and friends, led to the attack on the Capitol on January 6, and are ultimately threatening the whole institution of democracy in America.

This video, originally designed as an introduction to a group discussion session, explores the question ... is there a solution to mass delusions such as those inflicting America now?  The first section provides a brief overview of the history of mass delusions, past and present. The second section introduces the social/psychological phenomenon of "Cognitive Dissonance" as a factor in understanding mass delusions. And the final section examines the origin and progress of a recent incident of American mass delusion to see how it may help explain certain aspects of the current mass delusions running amok in American society. - Pam Dewey 

Great job, Pam! Thank you!

February 1, 2021

"May You Live in Interesting Times" - An Owl & Ibis Presentation by John Cruickshank

Congratulations and kudos to John Cruickshank on his January 30, 2021 Owl & Ibis presentation, "May You Live in Interesting Times!" Here is a link to a PDF of John's presentation:

Here's a link to the articles in John's presentation, as he promised:

The approach John took - going to the experts but engaging them in a manner that made sense to him, and in a way that challenged him to re-examine his various points of view and his overall worldview - is an approach other members of the Confluence also use.

To me, this method goes to the essence of why I started O&I in the first place. There are tons of experts in the world whose ideas we could capture and display before each other. But unless we take some time and dig deeper, that is, deeper into how the experts' ideas impact and move our hearts and minds, we miss out on one of the most important reasons for participating in education and learning, IMHO.

Great job, John!

}:> & ~:)

January 3, 2021

"On the Kindness of Strangers" - An Owl & Ibis Presentation by Steve Yothment

Congratulations to Steve Yothment for his highly informative presentation "On the Kindness of Strangers" at the December 26, 2020 meeting of Owl & Ibis - A Confluence of Minds.

A PDF of Steve's presentation is here and on the O&I website menu bar under "Links to O&I Slideshows and Docs."

Steve's talk highlighted the contents of the new book The Kindness of Strangers: How a Selfish Ape Invented a New Moral Code (2020) by psychologist Michael E. McCullough. 

The after-presentation discussion was excellent and covered topics as follows, among others:

  • Is kindness towards others including strangers instinctive, learned, or a combination of both?
  • Various takes and examples concerning the three recurring themes in the book - reciprocity, reputation, and reason - as prime motivators for kind and altruistic behavior toward others.
  •  Donation recipient entitlement.
  • The problem of corruption in nations receiving international assistance from other countries; and organizations mentioned by John Hendershot such as Charity Navigator and Give Well that monitor assistance uses and abuses.
  • Doug Nichols recommended the related book Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help Others, Do Work That Matters, and Make Smarter Choices About Giving Back (2015) by William MacAskill.

Here is something I recently wrote on nature-nurture, a matter raised in the early chapters of The Kindness of Strangers.

Well done, Steve! Thank you!

December 8, 2020

"So he professes Stoicism. Indeed. You wouldn't know it by his actions."

From The Humanist Contemplative

Massimo Pigliucci

November 28, 2017

New Humanist

When my thinking and behavior fail me in my estimation and what I infer to be the estimation of others I care about, as well as those for whom I don't give a fig, Stoicism has not failed me nor have I failed Stoicism.

The Stoic lifeway does not promise perfect thinking or consistent happiness for attempting the thoughts and acts it guides us toward. Nor does it offer eternal life or reincarnation as a 'higher' life form upon our death as rewards for our Earthly efforts, as some large and small religions do.

It is my self evaluator, my conscience, that has failed me due to my misapplication of it or its miscalibration of focus or tolerance. The miscalibration of one's conscience is a problem both long-standing and something inherently human - a tendency to go out of calibration from time to time from any number of causes.

As for my estimation of my social standing, many say such should be of no concern to me, ever. So do the Stoics when they assert the only concern an individual should have is cultivating one's personal virtue. In doing that, the Stoics say, the estimation of others will more often than not take care of itself.

If others misjudge us, it is not of our doing and something beyond our control, and therefore should not be of any concern to us. It certainly should not concern us in thought or action until their misjudgments result in actions of theirs that do fall unequivocally within our realm of control. And then it is only our thoughts and actions, not theirs, that we may choose to control.

Absolute triumph over one's thinking, behavior, and one's desire for happiness only occurs, we are often and correctly told, among saints and sages. 

But it is good for us to recall that saints are theological renderings of the surface impressions theologians form of those they tell us are saintly. The person behind and represented by those tellings is no different from each of us in terms of being imperfectly human in everything they are and attempt. Saintliness occurs among all humans as something lived, as a matter of degree not kind.

Sages also exist, more often than not in the judgements and renderings of our learned, more secular-inclined fellows. As with saints, a close look behind pronouncements of sagacity and the conferring of sagehood on a person reveal the same fallibilities of saints - wisdom, like saintliness, is in us all varying only in degree, not kind.

Even saints and sages sometimes in their earthly life stand naked, foul, failed, and ashamed.

Personal success or failure exists on a continuum. One's ever-changing place on that range of accomplishment depends on the degree of one's effort and persistence at living by the principles of Stoicism, the lifeway being considered here, and on matters beyond one's control.

Achieving completely perfect thinking and happiness for the rest of one's life without instances of failure, to some degree or other, cannot be achieved through Stoicism. But the Stoic way of organizing and directing one's personal and social efforts comes closest to such an ideal and reduces the number and degree of personal and social results that are less than perfect.

The essay linked above by philosopher and biologist Massimo Pigliucci describes what Stoicism offers.

November 29, 2020

"Confirmation Bias/My Side Bias," an Owl & Ibis Presentation by Ed Outlaw

Kudos to Ed Outlaw for his superb November 28, 2020 Owl and Ibis - A Confluence of Minds presentation, "Confirmation Bias/My Side Bias." A PDF copy of Ed's PowerPoint presentation is available here.

Ed's points of argumentation were:

1a: Confirmation Bias is common and significant in the way people think about political issues on both sides in our current politically polarized environment.

1b:This is both a cause and an effect of political polarization, leading to a cycle that perpetuates a politically divided community.

2a: Understanding one’s own Confirmation Bias can make a person’s political beliefs stronger, better-founded, and more convicted (counterintuitively).

2b: While at the same time working against political polarization.  

The discussion that followed explored a number of areas. Here are a few:

- Ed's points of argumentation were unopposed.

- When one is objectively on the "right" side (moral high ground) of a moral, political or social issue, is one a victim of confirmation bias or are they simply correct?

- Is US society at a moral impasse, especially in a political sense?

Congratulations and thanks, Ed!

O&I Admin
}:> & ~:)

November 2, 2020

"Our Responsibility for Climate Change Induced Migration" by Doug Nichols, An Owl & Ibis Presentation

Kudos to Doug Nichols on his Saturday, October 31, 2020, Owl & Ibis – A Confluence of Minds presentation, “Our Responsibility for Climate Change Induced Migration.”

In his multi-media presentation Doug began by focusing on human population growth and the increase of harmful climate change since the Industrial Revolution. He then informed the Confluence of the unintended consequences of these two major demographic and ecological transformations on human migration; and the ensuing impact of migration on the world’s political, economic, and existential present and future.

A stimulating discussion followed where many facets of migration and climate change were explored. Notable was unanimous agreement that what was most urgently needed, of all options most likely to succeed, were cooperative global responses versus the now trending competitive nationalistic approaches. In closing, Doug presented his point of argumentation as follows:

We should demand that the United States:

     1. Rejoin the Paris Agreement leading an acceleration of actions to limit the growth in average global temperature to 1.5°C.

     2. Join and help lead the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration - guided by the Basic Principles.

PDF copies of Doug’s slide show in two parts and the text of his narration may be found on the O&I website and here:

   Migration and Climate Change, Part I

   Migration and Climate Change, Part II

   Migration and Climate Change Narration

Congratulations, Doug, on an outstanding presentation!


Owl & Ibis Founder and Administrator

}:> & ~:)

September 29, 2020

"The Role of Museums in the 21st Century" - An Owl & Ibis Presentation by Ramona Leiter

The British Museum

On September 26, 2020, Ramona Leiter gave an outstanding multimedia presentation at Owl & Ibis - A Confluence of Minds titled "The Role of Museums in the 21st Century." Mona expertly informed us and presented the various facets and difficulties attendant to museums, past, present, and future.

Here is Mona to discuss her presentation and provide links to key elements of her talk:

Hello everyone! Thank you very much to all that participated in the discussion last Saturday. I was thrilled to have a project to use my editing software, Movavi, on. Seeing things come together with the different transitions, effects etc... and how quickly I could edit it all into something that was how I envisioned it in my head was thrilling. This gives me the confidence to move on to more challenging things.

As I said in the presentation I am very passionate about museums and loved working on this presentation and talking about museums with other museum lovers. It was hard to research some of the darker side of museum history but I still love museums.

Attached you will find a word document and a pdf document that comprise my narration from the presentation. Below are the two videos I featured in the presentation for you to view if you missed them.

Vox video - The British Museum is full of stolen artifacts

FBI makes "staggering" discovery of human bones while seizing trove of artifacts

And here are some other important links:

How I learned to stop hating and love museums - TED X Talk

For looking at the tech way forward with museums try this video - How the Rijksmuseum is reinventing the museum another Ted X talk

Here is the video on the Stolen Goods tour at The British Museum

Here is the full Getty blog entry with related resources on the New Face of Provenance Research in relation to Nazi-era looted art.

And here is the Wikipedia article on the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property,_Export_and_Transfer_of_Ownership_of_Cultural_Property

I again thank everyone for the kind words and participation. 



Museums Purpose

21st Century Challenge Museums

September 14, 2020

"The 2020 Twilight Zone" by Pam Dewey


Here are two new documentaries on the back stories of US history and current affairs most of us were not taught in school. Master researcher, social critic, author, and documentary producer, Pamela Starr Dewey, calls them DocuCommentaries though they are longer on documentary than on commentary. By that I mean Pam Dewey insists on presenting the unvarnished lesser-known facts of US history and society, then letting her audience draw their own conclusions. I recommend both her new productions very highly.

Here’s Pam:

 My latest DocuCommentary is now available on my Meet MythAmerica YouTube channel. I am starting a new "miniseries" that is called The 2020 Twilight Zone.

The 2020 Twilight Zone, Episode 1: Down the Rabbit Hole

In early 2020 the Lincoln Project, a group of Republicans who were totally disillusioned with the presidency of Donald Trump and wanted to prevent him from being elected to a second term, began producing and airing a series of very creative and edgy brief ads designed to thwart his campaign efforts. One of those ads was titled “MAGAChurch,” and highlighted the unholy alliance that had developed between the Trump Administration and a large portion of those in positions of influence and power in American Conservative Evangelical Christian circles.

A number of these leaders appeared in brief clips in the Lincoln Project ad, saying preposterous things in support of Trump. But it wasn’t possible in such a brief time to give more than a cameo appearance to each. I created this 2020 Twilight Zone episode titled “Down the Rabbit Hole” to be a companion piece to that short ad. It provides details of the rest of the story behind each of the influential people who appear in the MAGAChurch ad, in order to emphasize just how toxic the combination of Conservative Religion and Conservative Politics has become in 2020 America.

The 2020 Twilight Zone, Episode 2: QANON: Pre-History of a Half-Baked Theory

This first episode in a multi-part series is titled “QANON: Pre-History of a Half-Baked Theory.” It goes in some depth into the background that led up to the emergence of QANON from the dark reaches of the Web. Future episodes will clarify what supporters believe, how they organize, what their goals are…and why you should care.

In early 2018 the phenomenon referred to as QANON was barely a blip on the radar of even the mass media in the US. The average citizen had never heard of it. For the few people who *had* heard of it in mainstream society, it appeared to be nothing more than a wacky conspiracy theory that was only appealing to a small segment of Americans, the same types of folks who dabbled in looking for Abominable Snowmen, or still fussed over trying to pin down exactly who killed JFK and why, even after over 50 years had passed since that tragedy. 

But something happened in early 2020. Suddenly evidence of the existence of QANON started popping up where it was getting noticed, particularly at the campaign rallies of Donald Trump. And then came the summer of 2020, when suddenly articles about QANON became almost daily fodder for news outlets all over the place, from CNN to the New York Times to Rolling Stone magazine. (And even across the oceans, in Europe and Australia.)  It was no longer at the fringes of society, it had barreled into the center … and was circling around the White House. 

Brief descriptions of “what it’s all about” appear regularly in news articles now, but I believe a deeper look into the background, history, beliefs, followers, and influence of QANON will be more valuable to anyone who wants to more clearly understand…that QANON may have a profound influence on the election of 2020, and power to change the trajectory of American society long after.

September 6, 2020

"Cultural Appropriation" - An Owl & Ibis Presentation By Jim Lassiter

After an eight-month break, Owl & Ibis - A Confluence of Minds resumed holding meetings on August 29, 2020. This internationally attended meeting was held via Zoom. A PDF of the slideshow accompanying the meeting’s presentation may be viewed here. The recorded narration accompanying the slideshow is below. Links to the slideshow and narrative are located in the Owl & Ibis upper left drop down menu. 

The next meeting of Owl & Ibis will be held on September 26, 2020 from 4-6PM Eastern US Time. Mona Leiter will chair and present “The Role of Museums in the 21st Century.”

Send me an email if you would like to join future meetings.

JEL }:> & ~:)

Cultural Appropriation Narration*

 An Owl & Ibis – Confluence of Minds Presentation (33 minutes)

Jim Lassiter

August 29, 2020


 In 1727, Philadelphia newspaper printer Benjamin Franklin, then 21, formed the Junto, also known as the Leather Apron Club, a group of "like minded aspiring artisans and tradesmen who hoped to improve themselves while they improved their community." The Junto was a discussion group for issues of the day; the purpose was to debate questions of morals, politics, and natural philosophy, and to exchange knowledge of business affairs.

The Junto was modeled after English coffee houses which had become the center of the spread of Enlightenment ideas in Britain. Reading was a great pastime of the Junto, but books were rare and expensive. The members created a library initially assembled from their own books.

Inspired by Franklin’s Junto I started a similar discussion group here in Fayetteville, Georgia, just south of Atlanta where my wife Immy Rose and I retired in 2008.

 I chose as totems two icons from the European and African intellectual traditions. Athena, Greek goddess of wisdom and war and Thoth, Egyptian god of knowledge and engineering. Note the owl with Athena and that Thoth has the head of a sacred African ibis.  

I named the gathering Owl & Ibis then created a logo. I added the subtitle A Confluence of Minds to emphasize the group’s collegial, egalitarian nature.

Tonight, after a seven month pause, I am making the first presentation of a restart of Owl & Ibis  – Cultural Appropriation.

This title slide hints at some of the issues I will discuss. Did I appropriate Franklin’s idea of a discussion group? Another person’s or another culture’s images? Whose fonts did I use? Whose shades of color have I chosen? What about the English language itself? As an Anglo-American African, not an Englishman, did I appropriate the English language?


Let us begin with some fundamental definitions. This is said to be the first social scientific definition of “culture.”

May 31, 2020

"I Can't Breathe" - George Floyd

I Can't Breathe
George Floyd’s final words
May 25, 2020
AVAAZ – The World in Action

"It's my face man
I didn't do nothing serious man
please I can't breathe
please man
please somebody
please man
I can't breathe
I can't breathe
man can't breathe, my face
just get up
I can't breathe
please (inaudible)
I can't breathe sh*t
I will

May 27, 2020

Book Review: “The Overstory” by Richard Powers

A Review of The Overstory by Richard Powers

James E. Lassiter

Richard Powers
2019 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

Buy and read this book. Within you will find yourself as you presently are. That is, your understanding of Life and humankind’s place within it. From reading it you might also find and become a better person.

Who are you now? Here are two reviews of The Overstory that reveal some of you, standing above and separate from nature:

The Atlantic called the novel "darkly optimistic" for taking the long view that humanity was doomed while trees are not.
The Guardian was mixed on the novel, claiming that Powers mostly succeeded in conjuring "narrative momentum out of thin air, again and again." (Wikipedia)
Others of you stand here, within, a part of nature:

Library Journal* called the book "a deep meditation on the irreparable psychic damage that manifests in our unmitigated separation from nature.”
Ron Charles of The Washington Post offered up effusive praise, writing that this "ambitious novel soars up through the canopy of American literature and remakes the landscape of environmental fiction." (Wikipedia)
Other Reviews (
“Should be mandatory reading the world over.” - Emilia Clarke
“The best book I’ve read in 10 years. It’s a remarkable piece of literature, and the moment it speaks to is climate change. So, for me, it’s a lodestone. It’s a mind-opening fiction, and it connects us all in a very positive way to the things that we have to do if we want to regain our planet.” - Emma Thompson

April 29, 2020

Permanent Changes Are Needed in Politics, Economics and Culture - Otherwise, We Remain Doomed

A Collection of Charts, Graphs and Maps Exploring
the Global Oil Industry

The Globalist
April 28, 2020

Just how big is the oil industry? Much bigger and more invasive in our lives than I thought. It is tied to almost every product and service we consider modern necessities and desirables. See the above link for eleven graphics providing facts on the global oil industry.

The last chart from The Globalist (see above, top) shows a selection of consumer products that can be produced from one barrel of oil.

Along with our technological efforts at fixing, ameliorating, and redirecting oil dependency we need a radical reset of our values and beliefs, especially those about our relationships with each other, and with Earth.

Regrettably, this involves efforts in politics and economics, areas where the vast majority of humankind have little to no control.

I say regrettably because of the deep dysfunctional and economic cronyism of current US and global politics. The troughs provided by the wealthy are bottomless and tasty. Leading these political minions of the rich manufacturers and service providers in a better, more humane direction is difficult to nigh impossible, and dangerous.

Some of you think, and have said, I am a contrarian doomsayer. I am, but not without good reason.

April 21, 2020

Forget "Tribe" - Become a Citizen of the World

Photo: Raising Miro: On the Road of Life

Ligaya Mishan
April 13, 2020
The New York Times T Magazine

Some things, the writer of this essay gets right, IMHO. Others, she does not.

Writer at large, Ligaya Mishan, declares she is going to rescue "tribe" from "decades of anthropological study that privileged Western civilization." Okay. I guess. But that would be a tall order in a short New York Times T Magazine essay. Yes, the British Colonial Office hired anthropologists in the early-mid 20th Century to further colonialism, and help expand the privileges of Westerners beyond Europe.

I am not sure what decades of anthropological study the writer wants to rescue "tribe" from. Because later she rightly refers to American anthropologist Marshall Sahlins who objected to the term in the mid-20th century; and who was quickly joined by virtually all other American anthropologists, especially within US cultural anthropology. Within British social anthropology, on the other hand, is where the term "tribe" took root in academia and far beyond in the early-20th century. However, even among the Brits its professional usage declined significantly, especially so by the middle of that century. Regrettably, the British, via BBC, still to this day like to report on "tribal clashes" in Africa.

More importantly, there is much more to the anthropological use of "tribe" that Mishan does not address. At the end of this post, for example, there is a link to the use of "tribe" with reference to African ethnic groups, a very good article readers will find informative.

All that said, there are more important fish I want to fry here than the history of anthropology shortcomings in Mishan's essay. The real problems with her essay begin when she tries to "square this [early human within-band bonding] with the ethos of individualism."

Book Review: "Augustus" by John Williams

Caesar Augustus (63BC-14AD)

Over the past year or so, I have been reading ancient Roman history and biographies of notable Romans of that time. I have done so out of interest and at the recommendation of my doctor, a good friend who insists I need some mental popcorn to balance the nonfiction staple of my literary diet. Rather than the fiction he recommends I have opted for the grandeur that was Rome!
I finished my most recent book, Augustus, this morning, in my bed. I mention where I was to express how grateful I am to be retired and have the time to read as much as I want, of what I want. Happily, government reports and white papers, emails, congressional inquiries, immigration law books, have not appeared before my eyes since November 2007. With that and having in mind my friends many of whom are also in their good, old age, I offer below some excerpts from the last pages of Augustus. Pages that focus on the emperor’s final days, his summing the counts of his personal life and the accomplishments of his rule. As background, a good summary of Caesar Augustus’s life may be found here.
Augustus was written by John Williams, a native Texan who was educated at the University of Denver. Williams obtained his Ph.D. in English literature at the University of Missouri in 1954, and thereafter returned to the University of Denver to teach literature and creative writing. Williams’s previous books include Butcher’s Crossing (1960) and Stoner (1965). I have read neither.
Augustus was published in 1972 and received the (US) National Book Award in 1973. This book fits best in the category of historical fiction. The contents are factual but the book is no straightforward narrative of events through time. Its format is that of a collection of fictional letters and journal entries by members of Augustus’s family, friends, comrades in arms, enemies, and the prominent poets and historians of his time.
The entries are arranged in an out-of-sequence manner. For example, in one instance you will be reading a letter from 22BC and next a journal entry from 4AD. Then you might go back to 20BC. This took some getting used to for a non-classicist like me, but I adjusted. The method was effective for narrating events and for conveying deeper meanings from the reflective depictions and reminiscences of the writers.
Not being deeply knowledgeable of European classics and geography, I found using Google Maps and Wikipedia useful. I even listed the main characters in chronological order of the dates of their lives. One does not need to go to these lengths to enjoy and learn from this book. It is a true page-turner of mostly short entries written in a clear style, but a notch-up characteristic of the literati of that time. The editors and proofreaders of this great work were meticulous.
From the first page, I simply let my eyes flow and mind relish the vivid imagery of Rome, its people, and their Empire. I did not mark this 305-page masterpiece with marginalia until I reached its final forty pages or so. I then began very minimally placing brackets and asterisks in the margins. I would have begun marking key events in the earlier pages when I was younger. But now, I wanted to focus on writings about living, meaning, dying; understandings of such arrived at by Roman men and women at the close of long, virtuous and often unvirtuous lives.
It is from Augustus’s final letter my excerpts begin. This one is to historian, biographer, and the emperor’s friend, Nicolaus of Damascus. Nicolaus was a Jewish historian and philosopher and intimate friend to Roman client King Herod the Great of Judea. The following are for all of my friends and readers, young and old.

April 1, 2020

New Book by James E. Lassiter - From the Unknown into Uncertainty

James E. Lassiter

To purchase this book click the image or title above, or here.

From the Unknown into Uncertainty is a compilation of my essays and commentaries from 2010 to the present. Most of the material is from my blogs, Facebook (before I jumped ship), and published articles. I revised or rewrote all of the original writings. Much of the material in the essays and commentaries is new. Some essays contain extracts from written communications I have had with a few of you - presented in the book anonymously, of course. Revisions include eliminating run-on sentences and unnecessary jargon, adverbs, and adjectives, curses of my speaking and writing style.

This book is not the breezy, catchy read I somewhere in my mind wish it was. There are breezy, sometimes funny passages in it. But it is really a thinker’s book, of sorts. Something to study, criticize, and learn from. It provokes thought and persuades a reconsideration of a person’s ideas and values. 

From the Introduction and Preface:

The origin, evolution, and future of our species is part of the process of change over time in the universe, one of billions of stories of matter and energy in motion - ever changing, ever responding, often unpredictable; sometimes successfully adaptive, sometimes not. Most important for humankind in this evolution of the universe’s matter and energy has been emergence and agency.

March 11, 2020

Human Nature - Red in Tooth and Claw?

Ashley Strickland
March 10, 2020

Above is a link to a good report on recent archaeological evidence about human prehistory. Below are excerpts of key conclusions from that report. These findings are the results of only one of many excavations over many years and at many places around the world.

“Modern hunter-gatherer societies, like those in southern Africa's Kalahari Desert, use ostrich eggshell beads to begin and maintain a relationship with other groups. The process is called hxaro, ‘kindling and cementing bonds within and between communities,’ according to a new study. The word hxaro has become synonymous with ‘beadwork’ and ‘gifts.’“So it stands to reason that the network exchanging them has a time-honored foundation.”
“‘Humans are just outlandishly social animals, and that goes back to [sharing this] information that would have been useful for living in a hunter-gatherer society 30,000 years ago and earlier,’ said Stewart. ‘Was Ostrich eggshell beads and the jewelry made from them basically acted like Stone Age versions of Facebook or Twitter 'likes,' simultaneously affirming connections to exchange partners while alerting others to the status of those relationships.’”
“Stewart also believes the beads were exchanged during a time of climate shifts, between 25,000 and 59,000 years ago. This way, they could turn to each other when the weather worsened, sharing and pooling resources. Not only were the beads shared and exchanged over large distances, but also long periods of time. It hints at why modern humans survived.”
“‘These exchange networks could be used for information on resources, the condition of landscapes, of animals, plant foods, other people and perhaps marriage partners.’"

Archaeological artifact extrapolation and inference, and ethnographic present analogy are not direct evidence of prehistoric behavior. However, they do provide insight into how human groups related to each other before the beginning of sedentary agriculture and urbanism.

We in the West like to think of human nature as “red in tooth and claw,”* as the 19th Century Social Darwinistic saying goes. That is, this thinking goes, we were brutes until we settled down and became civilized. Before that, many of us like to think, we were dirty, tribalistic, cutthroat competitors.

Something I natter on often is my firm belief that our true human nature is cultural not biological - one of learned beliefs and behaviors supporting cooperation, and conflict avoidance and amelioration. This is who we are at bottom and were for the vast majority of the 200,000 years of human existence. We changed relatively recently, beginning between 10-15,000 years ago.

We turned away from a face-to-face cooperative way of relating to each other when we started growing food, amassing surpluses, living in increasingly dense settlements, and succumbing to authoritarian rulers and high gods.

January 13, 2020

You Choose - Democratic Socialism or Civilizational Collapse

Long Title
You Choose – Continue Satisfying Your Personal Passions or Begin Serving the Greater Needs of All. The First Will Lead to Tyranny and End in Revolution. The Second is Your and Humankind’s Only Possibly Viable, Sustainable Option

Politico Magazine
December 27, 2019

In each of the paragraphs in the above linked compilation are descriptions of what Americans (citizens of the U.S.) were and what we have become, and the precarious social, economic and political perch from which we and much of the rest of the world are now embarking into the future.

The good news is Humankind’s current problems are now more starkly revealed than ever before. The bad news is the stakes are higher because the decisions Americans and the rest of Humankind make to address these problems are more likely to be catastrophic if we choose to act wrongly, and more difficult to sustain if we decide and act wisely. We, US citizens and the rest of Humankind, are facing yet another crucial decision point in our species’ cultural evolution. At each previous point we chose directions that served our short-sighted and short-term interests.

Primal Accommodation
At Humankind’s first species-evolution decision point 200,000 years ago, the demands of the East African environment forced our earliest hominin ancestors to rely on complex language, high tool dependency, in-group egalitarianism, and out-group cooperation and occasional conflict. It worked. This newest mammalian accommodation of both individual and group needs proved adaptable in an evolutionary sense. Homo sapiens survived and produced viable, fertile offspring. In the process, we also began having more highly learning-dependent progeny. The norm was an in-group balance of liberty, equality, and brother/sisterhood. Out-group relations, despite occasional violence, were more often than not, maintained through periodic ecological knowledge and technology exchanges, and most importantly through extended family kinship ties. Politics, economics, and sociality functioned as an accommodative unity, within and between groups.

Settled Agricultural Autocracy
Next, as certain of our numbers grew, our store of ecological and technological knowledge advanced, and life-sustaining environmental conditions for hunter-gatherers in Mesopotamia worsened. In response the human inhabitants of that region chose settled agriculture, urbanism, and autocratic governance. This socioeconomic innovation also worked because it was supported by in-group food commodity accounting, laws, and out-group militarism. Populations grew in size and became ever more dispersed. Liberty declined in response to laws and autocratic dictates. Equality declined in that political power was moved from individuals to autocrats and their agents and functionaries. Local fraternal allegiance was retained but ultimate allegiance shifted from one’s personally known fellows to autocrats and their system. The unity of politics (liberty), economics (equality), and sociality (fraternity) ended.

Democratic Oligarchy
At the next decision point, the best thinkers among early Western Humankind gave their attention to moral philosophy and efforts at answering the most fundamental and perennial human question: How might people live optimally, both individually and collectively? This attempt at defining and implementing optimal living was different from those of 200,000BP or 10-15000BP. The impetus was less on addressing environmental challenges and more on achieving sustainable peace and prosperity. Liberty, equality and fraternity became the exclusive province of the free and wealthy, in particular, one’s male aristocratic fellows.

First, the Greeks followed by the Romans chose governance forms of exclusive, restrictive democracy. Women, slaves and the poor were excluded from participation. There was a degree of liberty for a self-exalted few but equality and fraternity in their broadest sense were not served. 

Archive for "Being Human"