September 15, 2017

Roundabout VI


TRIBALISM, A COMPUTER SIMULATION

September 14, 2017


I'm not sure I understand this article's title and if the question it poses is answered in the narrative. Your thoughts?
"On this line between beastly machines and angelic rationality, where do we find the human species? If we humans are super-rational, or at least on our way there, there is reason to be optimistic. ... Our cultures are evolving today, but not, it seems, toward any harmony. The chaos of the 21st century makes our simulations feel immediately familiar. ... As intellectuals at both political extremes increasingly see the possibility of a rational political order as a fantasy, Shibboleths take up their role in defining racial, national, and religious boundaries and appear once again to be ineradicable features of political life."

...

"The [computer simulation] models, at least, encourage a guarded optimism. ... Even the genocidal machines at the violent end of the spectrum may carry a heartening lesson. They emerged from the depths of a circuit board, simulated on a supercomputer in Texas. They had no biological excuse to fall back on. Maybe we, too, shouldn’t make excuses: If a behavior is so common as to emerge in the simplest simulations, perhaps we ought neither to fear it, nor to idolize it, but to treat it, the same way we do cancer, or the flu.

"What if we saw tribalism as a natural malfunction of any cognitive system, silicon or carbon? As neither a universal truth or unavoidable sin, but something to be overcome?"



THE CASE AGAINST CIVILIZATION

September 13, 2017


"[T]he lives of most of our progenitors were better than we think. We’re flattering ourselves by believing that their existence was so grim and that our modern, civilized one is, by comparison, so great. Still, we are where we are, and we live the way we live, and it’s possible to wonder whether any of this illuminating knowledge about our hunter-gatherer ancestors can be useful to us."

...

"A key to that lost or forsworn ability [anthropologist James] Suzman suggests, lies in the ferocious egalitarianism of hunter-gatherers. For example, the most valuable thing a hunter can do is come back with meat. ... The secret ingredient [to living a Keynsian life of less selfish greed] seems to be the positive harnessing of the general human impulse to envy. As [Suzman] says, 'If this kind of egalitarianism is a precondition for us to embrace a post-labor world, then I suspect it may prove a very hard nut to crack.' There’s a lot that we could learn from the oldest extant branch of humanity, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to put the knowledge into effect. A socially positive use of envy—now, that would be a technology almost as useful as fire."




WHY RELIGION IS NOT GOING AWAY AND SCIENCE WILL NOT DESTROY IT

September 12, 2017


"In brief, global secularisation is not inevitable and, when it does happen, it is not caused by science. Further, when the attempt is made to use science to advance secularism, the results can damage science. The thesis that ‘science causes secularisation’ simply fails the empirical test, and enlisting science as an instrument of secularisation turns out to be poor strategy. ... Historically, two related sources advanced the idea that science would displace religion. First, 19th-century progressivist conceptions of history, particularly associated with the French philosopher Auguste Comte, held to a theory of history in which societies pass through three stages – religious, metaphysical and scientific (or ‘positive’). ... The 19th century also witnessed the inception of the ‘conflict model’ of science and religion. This was the view that history can be understood in terms of a ‘conflict between two epochs in the evolution of human thought – the theological and the scientific’. ... The conflict model of science and religion offered a mistaken view of the past and, when combined with expectations of secularisation, led to a flawed vision of the future. Secularisation theory failed at both description and prediction. The real question is why we continue to encounter proponents of science-religion conflict. Many are prominent scientists. ... [S]cience needs all the friends it can get. Its advocates would be well advised to stop fabricating an enemy out of religion, or insisting that the only path to a secure future lies in a marriage of science and secularism."



THE PRIME MOTIVATION FOR TERRORISM IN AFRICA IS NOT RELIGION, IT’S RETALIATION FOR STATE OPPRESSION AND INTERNATIONAL MEDDLING

September 8, 2017


"Authorities are battling jihadi groups such as Boko Haram in west Africa and al-Shabaab in east Africa, as well as Islamic State and al-Qaida offshoots in the Sahel, often with the support of the US and other western powers.
"Violent extremism in Africa has killed more than 33,000 people over the last six years and caused widespread displacement, creating or aggravating humanitarian crises affecting millions of people and hitting economic prospects across the continent.
"'In a majority of cases, paradoxically, state action appears to be the primary factor finally pushing individuals into violent extremism in Africa,' the new [UN] report, Journey to Extremism, says.
"Of more than 500 former members of militant organisations interviewed for the report, 71% pointed to 'government action', including 'killing of a family member or friend' or 'arrest of a family member or friend' as the incident that prompted them to join a group."

...

"The interviews, conducted over the last three years in west and east Africa, pointed to political and economic marginalisation as key.

"The majority of recruits to violent organisations come from peripheral areas and frontier zones that have suffered generations of marginalisation, the report says."

...

"The most common emotion when joining was 'hope/excitement', followed closely by 'anger', 'vengeance' and 'fear'.

"Those who join extremist groups tend to have lower levels of religious or formal education and less understanding of the meaning of religious texts, [UN report lead researcher Mohamed] Yahya said.
"Although more than half of the respondents cited religion as a reason for joining an extremist group, 57% also admitted understanding little to nothing of the religious texts or interpretations, or not reading religious texts at all."

...

"Many analysts and policymakers have blamed religious education for the spread of violent extremism. Yahya and his team found, however, that receiving at least six years of religious schooling reduced the likelihood of joining an extremist group by as much as 32%.

"The idea that their 'religion is under threat' was found to be a common perspective among many respondents.
"'The success of the ideology is that it gives the individual a chance to fight back against their conditions, which are portrayed as due to the government or some global conspiracy,' Yahya said."



MARTHA NUSSBAUM – MORAL PHILOSOPHER, PUBLIC INTELLECTUAL

September 6, 2017


"[Philosopher Martha Nussbaum] argued that certain moral truths are best expressed in the form of a story. We become merciful, she wrote, when we behave as the 'concerned reader of a novel,' understanding each person’s life as a 'complex narrative of human effort in a world full of obstacles.'"
...
"Unlike many philosophers, Nussbaum is an elegant and lyrical writer, and she movingly describes the pain of recognizing one’s vulnerability, a precondition, she believes, for an ethical life. 'To be a good human being,' she has said, 'is to have a kind of openness to the world, the ability to trust uncertain things beyond your own control that can lead you to be shattered.' She searches for a 'non-denying style of writing,' a way to describe emotional experiences without wringing the feeling from them. She disapproves of the conventional style of philosophical prose, which she describes as 'scientific, abstract, hygienically pallid,' and disengaged with the problems of its time. Like Narcissus, she says, philosophy falls in love with its own image and drowns."
...
"Nussbaum once wrote, citing Nietzsche, that 'when a philosopher harps very insistently on a theme, that shows us that there is a danger that something else is about to ‘play the master’': something personal is driving the preoccupation."
...
"Nussbaum went on to extend the work of John Rawls, who developed the most influential contemporary version of the social-contract theory: the idea that rational citizens agree to govern themselves, because they recognize that everyone’s needs are met more effectively through coöperation. ... For a society to remain stable and committed to democratic principles, she argued, it needs more than detached moral principles: it has to cultivate certain emotions and teach people to enter empathetically into others’ lives. She believes that the humanities are not just important to a healthy democratic society but decisive, shaping its fate."
...
"Anger is an emotion that she now rarely experiences. She invariably remains friends with former lovers, a fact that Sunstein, Sen, and Alan Nussbaum wholeheartedly affirmed. In her new book, 'Anger and Forgiveness,' which was published last month, Nussbaum argues against the idea, dear to therapists and some feminists, that 'people (and women especially) owe it to their self-respect to own, nourish, and publicly proclaim their anger.' It is a 'magical fantasy,' a bit of 'metaphysical nonsense,' she writes, to assume that anger will restore what was damaged. She believes that embedded in the emotion is the irrational wish that 'things will be made right if I inflict suffering.' She writes that even leaders of movements for revolutionary justice should avoid the emotion and move on to 'saner thoughts of personal and social welfare.'"
...
"We began talking about a chapter that she intended to write for her book on aging, on the idea of looking back at one’s life and turning it into a narrative. 'Did you stand for something, or didn’t you?' she said. She said that she had always admired the final words of John Stuart Mill, who reportedly said, 'I have done my work.' She has quoted these words in a number of interviews and papers, offering them as the mark of a life well lived. ... She said, 'If I found that I was going to die in the next hour, I would not say that I had done my work. If you have a good life, you typically always feel that there’s something that you want to do next.' ... 'I think last words are silly,' she said. 'Probably the best thing to do with your last words is to say goodbye to the people you love and not to talk about yourself.'"



U.S. WORKING CLASS HISTORY

September 6, 2017


"Working-class history is often about heroics and radicalism and solidarity at the plant gate and the union hall. But those bright stories should not distract us from the other side: the dark, hard, claustrophobic, insular, racist, angry, fearful, even bitter, social burn of a group of people who have little standing in American civic life."
...
"While the working class is a fractured multicultural mosaic, white guys remain its most volatile and angry part, even if, objectively, they have a lot less to worry about than working-class women and minorities do. We know, for instance, that those white men are less optimistic about their lives than are minorities, that their longevity is literally decreasing, and that their occupational mainstays are dwindling. They have fallen from grace. And they are explosive."
...
"What’s interesting about Trump is that he won, not that his strain of politics is new. It’s always been around. Let’s not go wild trying to figure out what happened: The crazy train of American history happened. The lineage that winds from Andrew Jackson to Tom Watson to Joe McCarthy to George Wallace to Pat Buchanan to Trump is not just 'conservative,' nor is it just 'working class' in any way an intellectually driven conservative or Marxist or liberal would recognize or celebrate. The conservative/liberal divide is a deeply tenuous construct. Looking for a populist savior, however, is bedrock Americana. ... [America] is a messy stew of populist, communitarian, reactionary, progressive, racist, patriarchal, and nativist ingredients. Any historical era has its own mix of these elements, which play in different ways."




SAVING SOUTH AFRICA’S FIRST LANGUAGE

September 4, 2017


"Ms Esau worked with linguists, Professors Sheena Shah from the School of Oriental and African Studies (Soas) in London and Matthias Brezinger of the Centre for African Language Diversity in Cape Town to create a N|uu alphabet and basic rules of grammar for teaching purposes."
...
"'When you look at the African languages, you learn that they help communicate different perspectives on life, relationships, spirituality, the earth, health, humanity,' says Mr Brezinger.
"'There is a wealth of knowledge on survival that has been passed down through the years in indigenous communities that the Western world knows very little about and when these languages die, that unique knowledge is also lost,' he continues."



A NEW WORLD MAP

September 4, 2017




IT’S OKAY TO FORGET WHAT YOU READ

September 4, 2017


Here's a problem, a false problem really, that has troubled me since grammar school through college, and to the present. Others remember details from what they read but I have much difficulty doing so. So, I often read things over and over to make up for my "deficiency." Still, I cannot remember details in what seems to be the easy manner others do. I've learned and been somewhat comforted that there are many others like me. Perhaps you're one.
Of course I wish I was like those fortunate ones who remember details from what they read, but we are a varied lot among creatures. There are different types of learning and learners. Fortunately, Humankind, over the long arc of our species' existence, has tolerated and in fact encouraged a wide range of learning approaches and people.
So stay calm and read on! Worry over a spotty memory be gone! There's more to be gained from those important facts we read than the facts themselves.
"What we get from books is not just a collection of names, dates and events stored in our minds like files in a computer. Books also change, via our mental models, the very reality that we perceive."



TIME TO STOP USING JOSEPH CONRAD’S ‘HEART OF DARKNESS’ AS A GUIDEBOOK FOR AFRICA

September 3, 2017


"[C]ontemporary writers continue to use Heart of Darkness as a metaphor and guide to their own views of Africa. Most recently, Maya Jasanoff, a Harvard University history professor, retraced Conrad’s journey up the Congo River in a New York Times op-ed. Her essay reflects the research for her upcoming book, The Dawn Watch: Joseph Conrad in a Global World. In her article, Jasanoff compares her trip to that of Conrad and, in the process, falls right into the same racist tropes of Africa that he can be forgiven for, but not Jasanoff today."
...
"African stereotypes continue to dog the continent perhaps because they still reward the European and American journalists who trot them out. Just recently, the New York Times’ East Africa bureau chief Jeffrey Gettleman wrote a memoir that showed how “ooga booga” journalism made its way into his own Pulitzer-winning reporting.
"Fortunately, as the outrage over Jasanoff’s piece shows, the subjects of these Africa memoirs are no longer as silent as they were in Conrad’s day. They respond through their own books and reporting, as well as through increasingly powerful social media. Foreigners trying to sell their still colonial-minded views of Africa are being forced to apply much more nuance than they were a century ago."



DECOLONISING DRESS AND FASHION: AFRICAN WEAR IN GHANA NIGERIA, KENYA AND UGANDA

August 31, 2017


"This article considers the prevalence and acceptance of African print, fashion, dress and designs in four African countries, two in East Africa (Kenya and Uganda) and two in West Africa (Ghana and Nigeria) to argue for conscious decolonisation of post-colonial dress and fashion cultures and the encouragement and adoption of contemporaneous African fashion and dress. We shall see that in some countries, political leaders directly encourage wearing African dress while in others it is illegal and considered indecent to wear African designs."



HOW SHOULD WE PROTEST NEO-NAZIS? LESSONS FROM GERMAN HISTORY

August 30, 2017


What to do?
"One solution: Hold a counterevent that doesn’t involve physical proximity to the right extremists. The Southern Poverty Law Center has published a helpful guide. Among its recommendations: If the alt-right rallies, 'organize a joyful protest' well away from them. Ask people they have targeted to speak. But 'as hard as it may be to resist yelling at alt-right speakers, do not confront them.'
"This does not mean ignoring Nazis. It means standing up to them in a way that denies them a chance for bloodshed."



THE MISGUIDED DREAM OF A WHITE EUROPE. IT WAS NEVER WHITE IN THE FIRST PLACE

August 30, 2017


"In 'Stranger in the Village,' Baldwin pointed out the sheer futility of the nostalgia residing at the heart of white supremacy, noting that 'No road whatever will lead Americans back to the simplicity of this European village where white men still have the luxury of looking on me as a stranger.' He concluded even more powerfully: 'This world is white no longer, and it will never be white again.' Our goal, as classicists, should surely be to finish the disassembling of this dangerously misguided dream of white Europe. To join hands with Baldwin and add: it was never white in the first place."
...
"It cannot be said often enough: the ancient Greeks and Romans did not perceive race the way we do today. Most significantly, they did not in any way identify as, or invest any racial meaning in being, 'white.' We need to stop corroborating assumptions that they did with our silence.
"So, as classicists, let’s make it a priority to state clearly and repeatedly: if Europe was a world in which black men did not exist, it was a world in which white men did not exist either."



PSYCHIATRY AND THE ‘HARD PROBLEM’ OF CONSCIOUSNESS

August 29, 2017


I think this essay provides insights into why the 'hard problem' of consciousness remains unsolved. The living mind, self, or person that hard problem researchers seek in the brain to an almost total exclusion of all other aspects of the psychosocial life of an individual is, in fact, much more than what takes place in any single individual's brain.
"Until the underlying causal pathways for disorders such as schizophrenia are found, the biomedical model cannot define individual disorders by means of their actual known causes, as we do with cancer. This is so because psychiatry has yet to find any simple biological cause for any major mental disorder."
...
"The biomedical model concerns itself with providing an explanation for both the nature and causes of mental illness. Just as cancer is understood to be a term for diseases in which abnormal cells divide without control and can invade nearby tissues, mental illness is a term for diseases in which certain dysfunctions of brain processes lead to the destruction or dysregulation of brain systems.
"It is paramount to note that this is where the biomedical model diverges from the biopsychosocial: in giving us an account of the nature and causes of mental illness, the biomedical model will ultimately provide an explanation that is mechanistic. The ultimate aim is to show how the parts of a system (the brain) possess certain structures and activities which give rise to (cause or produce) the phenomena in question. It is a reductionist account that explains the nature of mental illness by appealing to underlying processes within that system itself.
"By contrast, the biopsychosocial model eschews the reductionist approach by appealing to factors external to the brain that play an equally important role in the development of mental health disorders. External factors such as child abuse, the state of one’s marriage, history of substance abuse, as well as stressful environmental events like unemployment or bereavement. The objection is that by focusing our attention and research on causal factors within the brain, we are neglecting equally important links in the causal chain without which a complete explanation will be impossible."
...
"Psychiatry’s biomedical model, in virtue of privileging the alleged biological underpinnings of mental disorders, gives us only a crude model of the vastly more complex web of the internal as well as external forces whose constant interactions create the inner mental life of the patient."



ON THE VERGE OF A GRAVE GLOBAL SYSTEMIC CRISIS?

August 25, 2017


"It is hard for me to see how American efforts in the world are being purposefully directed in any meaningful way.
"Also, as a government, the U.S. is not well informed or well equipped for strategic works of catalytic construction. Here we are in this information age, with our more than $70 billion intelligence enterprise, and as a government and as a country, I feel we are less able to reconstruct the policymaking world in the really crucial, swing countries than we were in Marshall’s time 70 years ago. And U.S. capacities for working with foreigners to solve their problems were also smarter and more functional 70 years ago than they are now.
"That does not mean Washington is not busy. A poorly functioning government is not inert. Instead, it lives the life of a pinball. The life of a pinball can feel quite busy. So many bright lights, so noisy, so bounced about.
"Maybe any more constructive moves will just have to wait a few years. Yet it does seem to me that the world is drifting toward a truly massive general crisis."



SOME CLARITY ON ANTIFA

August 25, 2017


Some clarity on Antifa....
"A petition submitted to the White House on August 17, demanding that the Trump administration ‘formally recognize AntiFa as a terrorist organization,’ has obtained over 270,000 signatures at the time of this writing, on August 23.
"Considering that antifascist activists ('antifa(s)') have injured few and killed none, the (technically misguided) petition’s success is chilling, though unsurprising. At a rally held yesterday in Phoenix, Arizona, Donald Trump elicited loud boos from thousands of his supporters as he shouted: 'They come in the helmets and black masks! Antifa!' This comes at a time when the Trump administration has eliminated spending on fighting white power extremism. A 'terrorist' label for domestic antifa groups would permit even those who have condemned white supremacy to cheer federal prosecutions, and approve the police harassment and arrest of persons attending protests who wear black, cover their faces, or bear antifascist insignia. Mass detainments have already taken place. Currently, the names of people who visited the anti-inauguration 'Disrupt J20' site are being collected by the federal government.
"Commenters on the left, right, and at the center will state disapproval of antifa’s methods and ideology, while maintaining concurrent disagreement with President Trump’s 'both sides' argument. This exploratory essay responds to criticisms of antifa that, when not simply reactionary, displays a deep misunderstanding of the relationship that defensive violence and skepticism of law—to the point of breaking it—has to political activism. Rather than rehearse left defenses of radical activism, I concentrate on two interrelated legal aspects that, to my view, invite further thinking: 1) the interactions and incompatibilities of rights and antifascist action, and 2) the criminal nature of some antifascist actions. I begin to identify tenses of violence, and hope to point up how violent potentialities are embedded within different ideological, legal and historical contexts."
...
"Detractors on the left argue that meeting violence with violence and breaking laws hands moral capital to those who don’t throw punches, even when their politics are reprehensible. The corollary argument appears to be that reprehensible politics may seem less reprehensible because its holders are nonviolent followers of law. Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement’s nonviolent strategy are invoked, as antifascists are called, not only impractical and irrelevant—because nonviolence works—but committers of sacrilege against the legacy of proper anti-racist activism."

"This view of nonviolent protest during the Civil Rights Era is common, but selective and theoretically suspect, especially when applied ahistorically. Martin Luther King practiced nonviolence, but regularly used bodyguards until he died (see, for example, Bernard Lee, who was with King in Memphis in 1968). Despite deserved admiration for his commitment to nonviolence, King wasn’t always effective. His criticisms of the American economy, the Vietnam War, and even on the snails’-pace of racial desegregation, were resented and ignored by white officials."



POSTMODERNISM, THE ENLIGHTENMENT PROJECT, AND THE FUTURE

August 24 2017

HELP WANTED. Here are some notes on a project I created for myself. Your assistance in the form of comments, including suggestions, is kindly requested.

PROJECT TITLE
Postmodernism's Alternative to the Western Enlightenment Project? Still Waiting For It To Emerge From the Rubble of Deconstruction. Timeline, Means and Prognosis Unknown

NOTES
- Egocide and Ecocide as prerequisites for a better future?
- Cosmopolitanism, Pluralism
- What exactly is PM's argument that the EP is doomed to fail? Is it a good argument?
- Why do its initiators and subsequent supporters think PM will produce something better than the EP? Is their 'optimistic' view based on a reasoned argument or merely a hope in the face of impending doom?
- Populism and PM's Alternative Truths/Facts

Your thoughts, please.

Brett Welch Jim, a FB friend of mine named Karla McLaren wrote two short web articles on PM and its relationship to EP-like thinking several years back. I've gone back and read them and still find a lot to agree with. Enlightenment Project thinkers love to use Post Modernism as one of the 'big bad guys' to ruining or sabotaging critical thinking - and there is admittedly a lot to their critiques. And yet, these broad brush strokes sometimes fail to locate some of the good intentions or ideas that could be found in the core of some PM thought before it got stretched beyond reason into silliness and absurdity.
Here is part 1 of the article:
https://missingthesolstice.wordpress.com/.../truth-is.../


Jim Lassiter "The enlightenment has its own problems. It's distaste for the irrational and subjective prevents it from attaining to the insights that post modernism can so easily grasp, even if it seems it does not quite know what to do with them beyond crush, topple and destroy."

Thanks, Mark, for taking the time to reply. Your views are very helpful. I will be re-reading and digesting your comment and those of Nathan, Brett and others.

My effort in this is to ground myself and in doing so make sense of what the Trump phenomenon (his presidency and that which preceded it ideologically, culturally and socially) means for the best the Enlightenment has to offer and for Humankind and Earth's future.

I have cathartically arrived at a level of acceptance of Trump that has helped me address my anger. But I'm yet to accept what his surprising and disturbing arrival says about Humankind and may mean for our species' future. His ascendancy has knocked me akilter on my anthropological foundation of what I understand about Humankind. I'm still in a cauldron of disbelief, denial, negotiation and, yes, anger about what Trump's rise and triumph say about the Enlightenment and what they portend for Humankind's future.

Right now I am neither assured that such an improved understanding is possible nor optimistic that Humankind's postmodern future will be one of wellbeing, much less one of flourishing. I am hopeful that I might improve my foundation for understanding what has happened. And I'm reasonably certain that anthropology, in terms of its theories, and as a method and body of knowledge, remains useful. I'll say more later. Thank you for helping.


Mark David Dietz I had promised you another post, but I'm not sure anymore... The other post was to look at modernism.

The primary accomplishment of modernism, I suspect, was not the revival of reason which we attribute, somewhat carelessly to the enlightenment when, in fact, reason had never left us. I don't think that reason was ever hidden beneath religious belief to any greater extent than it is today (or isn't today depending on your perspective).

No, modernity, which I see beginning in the Renaissance, had one major revelation. It placed humanity into an historical context that was constantly changing. As such post modernism is its continuation, not its condemnation.

That's all I had to say. Not very interesting or notable, is it?

Jim Lassiter Very useful. I fully agree about reason. I sometimes argue it has been an ever-improving tool in Humankind's kit for 200,000 years. As for postmodernism being a continuation not a condemnation, I can grasp that but will have to dig through it to find when, how and why it evolved from intending to be a continuation into a condemnation for many of its proponents, which seems to have been the case. Not so?


Karla McLaren Hello everybody! For me, PM was always about questioning structure and meaning, and that's a good thing to do, though structuralists and meaning-makers tend to abhor and misconstrue it.

I don't think there's a coherent PM approach to this moment in time, except to say that it is true. It is a very true thing about the U.S., about our level of trust in structures, about our understanding of process, and about our willingness to elevate our tribe and denigrate the other. It also says a lot about our degree of emotion regulation skills and basic emotional intelligence. People on the right and the left are falling for the most absurd emotional manipulations! Yet they have been doing so for quite some time.

I too have been thinking a lot about the rise of this seemingly sudden authoritarianism, hatred of government and institutions, and loss of unified civic life, but I see it following a through-line that was obvious long before the election. I'm reading "Strangers in Their Own Land" by sociologist Arlie Hochschild right now, and she was concerned enough about it in 2011 to devote years to a study of the extreme polarization of the right and the left in the U.S. I think that for people who study structure, this moment in time is a shame but not a surprise.

I've been thinking back to an early assignment I had in one of my first sociology courses, where the instructor asked us to choose one of the main sociological theories and explain the rise of Nazi Germany. As a reminder, the main theories are: Conflict Theory; Structural Functionalism; Symbolic Interactionism; Utilitarianism; and sometimes Postmodernism.

I grabbed SF and ran with it, and fully expected to return to class to destroy the other theories. But to my astonishment, each theory held a crucial piece of the story, and each theory could stand on its own. Which is why I became a sociologist!


Jim Lassiter Thank you, Karla, for your comment. I will read Hochschild's book and the two-part article of yours Brett suggested.

"I too have been thinking a lot about the rise of this seemingly sudden authoritarianism, hatred of government and institutions, and loss of unified civic life, but I see it following a through-line that was obvious long before the election. ... I think that for people who study structure, this moment in time is a shame but not a surprise."

I think it's that "through-line" I'm after. A shame indeed. More later, after I read and catch up. Thanks again. Jim


Karla McLaren I've been watching my educated leftist friends whipping themselves into endless lathers about Trump, and I'm astonished at the simple-mindedness of it. Where did they live prior to last year? He did not create this moment, but he did capitalize on it, with a lot of help. Reviling him only strengthens him, and getting rid of him will do almost nothing.

I'm reminded of a saying that I can't track down, darn it: "There was only one Hitler, but there were hundreds of Albert Speers."

Many people are focusing on the structure, and supporting existing organizations that may be able to help, but an astonishing number of people are focusing on specific personalities while missing the entire multi-pronged and decades old movement.


Jim Lassiter The following describes my starting point in my little project for which I have asked for help.

I can accept that the American Left allowed itself to be estranged from the labor unions and workers in general during the 1960s. That members of the white working class abandoned the Left because they thought the Left's protests of the Vietnam war were unpatriotic. That the locus of the driving force of the Democratic Party shifted from a coalition between the educated liberal elite and the labor unions toward a center of gravity on the campuses and among the faculties of the down-talking, pretentious and patronizing universities. And that working folks of the 1960s and thereafter found abhorrent the Left's disdain of capitalism and the pursuit of material prosperity, the very "system" blue collar workers supported and the material objects they desired and pursued through their labor and consumer purchasing. That, coupled and perfectly timed with the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, the Republicans seized on a significant portion of this sentiment through their Southern Strategy and rode it to power in the 1980s and thereafter. A moral sentiment that Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and fundamentalist Christians also seized upon.

Now, I can also accept the position of many on the Left (Rorty and others) that the Left, in large part, brought this situation, now manifest in Trump's presidency, onto itself. What I cannot accept, however, is the sneering and vileness that accompanies this Left on Left condemnation; and that the same level of outraged condemnation is not equally directed by these members of the Left at the Right's immoral positions and tactics from the 1960s to the present.

Yes, the Left must accept the charge of arrogance and elitism. But, though deserving of blame for what began as an estrangement from the working class and contributed to and culminated in Trump, blame for the highest betrayal of the highest beliefs, values and goals of the Enlightenment, and subsequently the founding moral and governing principles of the American experiment in democracy and pluralism, must be laid squarely at the feet of the Right.

The Left occupies the moral high ground in this regard and has consistently done so since the Enlightenment. Their arrogance and lack of foresight (wisdom?), however, should be called out and soundly criticized, even blamed for what they have contributed to. There is plenty of blame for everyone. How about a good dose of blame for a public education system that, up until the last few decades, has whitened the history that is taught and refuses to make courses in critical thinking and comparative cultures and comparative religion compulsory beginning in middle school?

We should, however, give what is by far the biggest, most bitter portion of our outrage to those that most deserve it, the Right. Direct our greatest outrage at the nefarious, despicable pseudo-moral socioeconomic policies and actions of the Right. The greatest acts of arrogance and elitism on the part of the Left pale in comparison to the moral depravity of the policies and actions of the Right. If the outrage that I so often hear directed at the Left is intended to make me and others abandon our support of and membership among them, it's not working. I will stay with and remain a member of those who favor and work for greater pluralism, humanism, freedom, and justice for all, the Left.

Those on the Right who insist on maintaining an ill-fitting sociocultural status quo on a dynamic, fast- and ever-evolving society, and place the accumulation of individual wealth and power above the pursuit of the greatest wellbeing for the greatest number in society, deserve our angry condemnation far more than the transgressions of arrogance and shortsightedness by the Left.

And, yes, fascism from either the Left or the Right is unacceptable. The likelihood of fascism from the Left is, at present, far less than it is from the Right. Arrogance from the Left deserves criticism. Inhumanity from the Right deserves strong resistance. I'd rather try and reform the pride of the Left than try and humanize the hearts and minds of the Right. The former effort is more likely to succeed and lead to human wellbeing and flourishing.

That said, I shall read more and hopefully hear more from you, my friends. Then I will know what, if anything, in my understanding and positions needs adjustment.

Thank you once again.



HUMANKIND’S PROSPECT FOR SURVIVAL AND FLOURISHING

August 24, 2017


A counter to the Dark Mountain Project's prediction of Western liberalism leading to ecocide? See also Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming by Paul Hawken, another possible way to prevent ecocide.
With Trump's victory and the world's continuing obsession with zero-sum nationalism, I've let go of my optimism about Humankind's prospects for survival and flourishing based on our 200,000 year record. It's a crap shoot.
The powerful continue to rule more through money and might-makes-right than through reason. Their lust for wealth and control appears insatiable. Catastrophe seems the only thing that has potential for getting them to rethink their priorities and methods. Behaving humanely and sustainably in an ecological sense continue to be secondary to the pursuit of nationalistic hegemony and economic growth. The question becomes: How many catastrophes of what magnitude can Humankind and Earth withstand?
Your thoughts?
WHITE SUPREMACISTS ARE VICTIMS OF THE WHITE ECONOMIC ELITE

August 23, 2017


Salon is not always a good source of objective information but I think it is accurate here.
"As [Kevin] Williamson writes derisively in the conservative National Review, 'What does an angry white boy want? The fact that they get together to play dress-up — to engage in a large and sometimes murderous game of cowboys and Indians—may give us our answer. They want to be someone other than who they are. That’s the great irony of identity politics: They seek identity in the tribe because they are failed individuals. They are a chain composed exclusively of weak links. What they are engaged in isn’t politics, but theater: play-acting in the hopes of achieving catharsis.'"
"But Williamson only hints at what they seem to want — and it’s exactly what Slavin nails. [Steve Slavin, author of the new book, “The Great American Economy: How Inefficiency Broke It and What We Can Do To Fix It.] These angry whites are being bypassed by structural changes in the economy that are narrowing their options. Needless to say, most people in dire straits do not embrace violence and racism. But it seems the heart of their grievances appear to be based on class frustrations, not race. If the white marchers want to blame someone, they ought to point their fingers at the wealthy whites on Wall Street and in Washington."



WE ARE NOT HARD-WIRED

August 22, 2017


"The idea that we are 'hard-wired' for language or for other aspects of our biology and behavior should be viewed with some skepticism. Biological anthropologist Barbara J. King argued that the hard-wired concept is fuzzy and not very well defined, especially when applied to humans. Does it mean something is inexorable, the inevitable product of our genes, or is it more like an inclination? Still, the term remains popular, which likely has an effect on the way we think about nature and nurture. A quick Google search reveals that people have suggested that we may be hard-wired for: religion, war, beauty, social connection, compassion, racism, even doodling. It’s pretty clear that some of these are contradictory. If we are hard-wired for them, then they certainly cannot come out all at once. After all, doodling might not be your top priority during a war. If we are predisposed to any of the above, this at least suggests that circumstances matter when they are expressed. And, being able to respond to circumstances is part and parcel of being an organism...."



LIES, HALF-TRUTHS AND IRRELEVANCES ABOUT SLAVERY

August 22, 2017




POSTMODERNISM, ALTERNATIVE FACTS, AND THE RISE OF THE ALT-RIGHT - WHAT 'TRUTHS' WILL SURVIVE?

August 21, 2017


Postmodernism did not teach college students and the West at large "how to defend truths as such once the status quo was torn asunder."
"Postmodern theory's ... main idea was that 'truth' was unstable, contingent, contested. We were told this would make us feel uncomfortable, but that recognizing it was a first step toward liberation from the cultural hegemony that prevented positive social change.
"The post-truth political world we live in now is the result of social fragmentation and the disintegration of what was left of the old 20th century establishment. Many factors contributed to this fragmentation, including neoliberalism, social media, and globalization. Nonetheless, postmodernist thought also played a role. Its celebrators trained a generation of college students to deconstruct social norms, to call out what’s wrong or racist or sexist about a particular social arrangement, and to question any stabilizing rhetorical move invested in maintaining the status quo. But it didn’t teach them how to defend truths as such once the status quo was torn asunder. And as Angela Nagle’s recent Kill All Normies shows, it has been the alt-right that has most effectively used postmodern ideas to 'deconstruct' what it sees as a distinctly liberal hegemony.



WARNING SIGNS OF MASS VIOLENCE – IN THE U.S.?

August 21, 207


"Do Trump’s implied claims of a moral equivalence between neo-Nazis and counterprotesters in Charlottesville move us closer to the stage of polarization?
"Certainly, there are reasons for deep concern. Moral equivalence – the claim that when both “sides” in a conflict use similar tactics, then one “side” must be as morally good or bad as the other – is what logicians call an informal fallacy. Philosophers take their red pens to student essays that commit it. But when a president is called on to address his nation in times of political turmoil, the claim of moral equivalence is a lot more than an undergraduate mistake. We suggest this is a deliberate effort to polarize, and an invitation to what comes after polarization."



WHAT THE WEST WANTS FROM AFRICA REMAINS UNCHANGED

August 18, 2017


"The narrative of African rising can only be complete when our leaders realise that to move forward, Western ties with the continent have to be re-evaluated to the benefit of those who live in it."



RACISM IN THE U.S.

August 14 & 15, 2017

Why are people still racist? What science says about America’s race problem.

Excuse me, America, your house is on fire: Lessons from Charlottesville on the KKK and “alt-right”



PSYCHEDELICS AND THE SELF

August 13, 2017


I have expressed my views on the self many times on my blog jameselassiter.blogspot.com.
Now there's this, a report on the self-transformative effects of psychoactive substances, particularly psilocybin (‘magic mushrooms’) and LSD.
"We actually know quite a lot about the neurochemistry of psychedelics. These drugs bind to a specific type of serotonin receptor in the brain (the 5-HT2A receptor), which precipitates a complex cascade of electrochemical signaling. What we don’t really understand, though, is the more complex relationship between the brain, the self and its world. Where does the subjective experience of being a person come from, and how is it related to the brute matter that we’re made of?"
...
"Here’s where psychedelics come in. These drugs put a spanner in the works of maladaptive self-models, because they affect the neural mechanisms that self-awareness springs from. At the point of ego dissolution, two things seem to happen. One, the integrity of the self-model degrades. And two, we no longer take it for granted that our experience must be interpreted by that model."
...
"When the self falls apart and is subsequently rebuilt, the role of the self-model seems to become visible to its possessor. Yes, this offers a psychological reprieve – but more importantly, it draws attention to the difference between a world seen with and without the self. For an anxious or depressed person, psychedelics make it possible to appreciate the intermediate, representational role of the self-model. Ego dissolution offers vivid experiential proof, not only that things can be different, but that the self that conditions experience is just a heuristic, not an unchangeable, persisting thing."



LIVE LONG

August 7, 2017


'Keep a quiet heart, sit like a tortoise, walk sprightly like a pigeon and sleep like a dog.' - Li Ching Yuen
"Li maintained that inward calm and peace of mind combined with breathing techniques were the secrets to incredible longevity. Obviously, his diet would have played a large role. But it’s fascinating that the oldest living person in recorded history attributes his long life to his state of mind."



FINDING MEANING IN A REFUGEE CAMP

August 7, 2017


From 1996 to 2007 I visited Kakuma refugee camp in northwest Kenya many times. Over those years, on trips lasting from two weeks to two months, other immigration officers and I resided there and interviewed thousands of people for resettlement as refugees in the US. [The tax money spent and numbers of refugees that legally enter the US are minuscule compared to the total US economy and Federal budget, and compared to the number of illegal immigrants. Refugee resettlement does not hurt Americans, it helps the neediest of the needy and upholds the US's humanitarian standing in the world.]
Kakuma is a mostly tent and mud hut camp established by the UN in 1991 in the arid homeland of the warrior-herding Turkana ethnic group of Kenya, a very hot and dusty place. However, equal to my years with the US Peace Corps, refugee resettlement in Kakuma and elsewhere was the hardest, most humbling yet best work I've ever been privileged to do.
Welcome to a portrait of Kakuma camp where birds sound like cats, frogs sound like birds, and wolf spiders, snakes, scorpions, stink beetles, and malarial mosquitoes abound. And where camp residents, mostly Sudanese, try to hang on to their sanity and dignity for years, in an impermanent and often dangerous present and an uncertain future. Sports and other forms of entertainment help.



HAVE SMART PHONES DESTROYED A GENERATION?

August 4,2017


To a chimp, language and tool use among hominids was surely the ruination of the primate line. Then came writing, paper, the printing press. Then typewriters, radio, movies, television, sound and video tape recorders. Then there came personal computers, pagers and cell phones. Smart phones are merely the latest tool wielded by Humankind.
All these abilities and technologies have allowed us to broaden the exposure and deepen the quantity and quality of knowledge among more people. And allowed those same newly empowered people unprecedented options to personally benefit from, and in many cases contribute to, the ever expanding storehouse of human knowledge. Has each of the innovations listed above had its down side? Have they given voice to and contributed to an increase in the number of impaired psyches in the world? Have they, for some, led to more social isolation and decreased social participation? Yes, to all.
Overall, however, I think a good argument could be made that the benefit gained from each innovation and invention in terms of informing and educating more and more people has far outweighed the negative impact they have had on sociality and society. In fact, there may be a good argument that they have increased human social abilities, if not in terms of interaction quantity then in terms of the quality of interactions.



BLACK LIVES MATTER, 1917

July 31, 2017


This essay and especially its links are revealing of not only a dark time in US history but also of a deep racial hatred that remains in the minds of many Americans today. See especially the link 'mob lynching and the violence' to an NAACP pamphlet 'Thirty Years of Lynching in the United States, 1889-1918' (https://ia800405.us.archive.org/…/thirtyyearsoflyn00nati.pdf); and the link 'collected firsthand accounts' of descriptions of incidents that occurred during the East St. Louis Massacre of July 2, 1917 (http://gildedage.lib.niu.edu/island…/…/niu-gildedage%3A24051).
Regrettably, such have never been and still are not required readings at US high schools. Our youth need to learn about this part of US history and while reading such accounts allow the lynching descriptions to touch their natural potential for compassion and empathy for their fellow human beings.
From the essay:
"On the afternoon of Saturday, July 28, 1917, nearly 10,000 African-Americans marched down Fifth Avenue, in silence, to protest racial violence and white supremacy in the United States. New York City, and the nation, had never before witnessed such a remarkable scene."



CHRONICLING AND PREPARING FOR THE ECOCIDE

July 28, 2017


I post this and the following essay to provoke a questioning of the Liberal Enlightenment Project to prepare us for its possible failure. It is my hope that if it does fail we, rather than give up, continue on trying to survive and flourish, and continue trying to become better Earth stewards, anyway.
Continuing on through cultural adaption is what we do, it is what and who we are. It humanizes us and I prefer to think, for the better.
I remain convinced that the LEP is the best prospectus for Humankind's survival and flourishing. But I am not convinced of this by any fateful or wishful notion of its inevitable success, or any myth of Humankind's favored status or specialness. And I am not blind to the very real possibility of the LEP's and civilization's failure.
All that can be done is a giving of our best efforts, individually and collectively; and a tempering of our hope for success by an honest consideration of what we must do if the LEP fails.
I have frequently written elsewhere on my optimism about Humankind's future based on our long-term, for a primate, survival and flourishing as a species; and, within that, a prospective, self-correcting and successful future offered by the ideals and methods of the Western Enlightenment.
I could be wrong, very wrong. According to members of the Dark Mountain Project (http://dark-mountain.net) I am, especially about the self-correcting part. In fact, members of the DMP are convinced there is no slowing down much less turning back from the 'ecocidal' path Humankind is on. They believe we must find new ways forward through and beyond the end of civilization.
According to the Dark Mountain Project Manifesto (http://dark-mountain.net/about/manifesto/) here is the future we face:
"[H]uman civilisation is an intensely fragile construction. It is built on little more than belief: belief in the rightness of its values; belief in the strength of its system of law and order; belief in its currency; above all, perhaps, belief in its future.
"And so we find ourselves, all of us together, poised trembling on the edge of a change so massive that we have no way of gauging it. None of us knows where to look, but all of us know not to look down. Secretly, we all think we are doomed: even the politicians think this; even the environmentalists. Some of us deal with it by going shopping. Some deal with it by hoping it is true. Some give up in despair. Some work frantically to try and fend off the coming storm.
"Ecocide demands a response. That response is too important to be left to politicians, economists, conceptual thinkers, number crunchers; too all-pervasive to be left to activists or campaigners. Artists are needed.
"This response we call Uncivilised art, and we are interested in one branch of it in particular: Uncivilised writing. Uncivilised writing is writing which attempts to stand outside the human bubble and see us as we are: highly evolved apes with an array of talents and abilities which we are unleashing without sufficient thought, control, compassion or intelligence. Apes who have constructed a sophisticated myth of their own importance with which to sustain their civilising project. Apes whose project has been to tame, to control, to subdue or to destroy — to civilise the forests, the deserts, the wild lands and the seas, to impose bonds on the minds of their own in order that they might feel nothing when they exploit or destroy their fellow creatures.
"It is writing, in short, which puts civilisation — and us — into perspective. Writing that comes not, as most writing still does, from the self-absorbed and self-congratulatory metropolitan centres of civilisation but from somewhere on its wilder fringes. Somewhere woody and weedy and largely avoided, from where insistent, uncomfortable truths about ourselves drift in; truths which we’re not keen on hearing. Writing which unflinchingly stares us down, however uncomfortable this may prove.
"The shifting of emphasis from man to notman: this is the aim of Uncivilised writing. To ‘unhumanise our views a little, and become confident / As the rock and ocean that we were made from.’ This is not a rejection of our humanity — it is an affirmation of the wonder of what it means to be truly human. It is to accept the world for what it is and to make our home here, rather than dreaming of relocating to the stars, or existing in a Man-forged bubble and pretending to ourselves that there is nothing outside it to which we have any connection at all.
"We tried ruling the world; we tried acting as God’s steward, then we tried ushering in the human revolution, the age of reason and isolation. We failed in all of it, and our failure destroyed more than we were even aware of. The time for civilisation is past. Uncivilisation, which knows its flaws because it has participated in them; which sees unflinchingly and bites down hard as it records — this is the project we must embark on now. This is the challenge for writing — for art — to meet. This is what we are here for.
"This is a moment to ask deep questions and to ask them urgently. All around us, shifts are under way which suggest that our whole way of living is already passing into history. It is time to look for new paths and new stories, ones that can lead us through the end of the world as we know it and out the other side. We suspect that by questioning the foundations of civilisation, the myth of human centrality, our imagined isolation, we may find the beginning of such paths.
"We don’t know quite what we will find. We are slightly nervous. But we will not turn back, for we believe that something enormous may be out there, waiting to meet us.
"The end of the world as we know it is not the end of the world full stop. Together, we will find the hope beyond hope, the paths which lead to the unknown world ahead of us."
Excerpts from the essay below:
"'The world is entering an age of ecological collapse, material contraction, and social and political unravelling,' the network of writers, artists, and thinkers called the Dark Mountain Project believe. 'We want our cultural responses to reflect this reality rather than denying it.' In Dark Mountain’s view, the reformist stance of big environmental groups who stump for 'sustainability' is delusional; civilization as we know it is toast and deservedly so. It’s time everyone stopped pretending and time we started acknowledging humanity’s impending diminishment into a ragtag smattering of survivors."
...
"The monsters who walk among us and want to kill us are made of our fellow human beings, and soon enough we’ll all be monsters, too. Contrary to what Kingsnorth and his Dark Mountain cohorts believe, the stories we prefer to amuse ourselves with are haunted by the sense of an approaching catastrophe, and our imaginations are preoccupied with what might be required of us on the other side of it."



THE WAY THROUGH THE ECOCIDE

July 27, 2017


"I came across the work of Paul Kingsnorth, a British writer who called himself a 'recovering environmentalist.' He was one of the founders of The Dark Mountain Project, a movement of philosophers, writers and artists that had emerged from the 2008 economic crisis, and he believed the planet was experiencing an 'ecocide that nobody seems able to prevent.' Ecocide — the total destruction of our home — seemed inevitable to them, and to me, given the things I’d seen and any number of ongoing catastrophes: mass extinction, climate chaos, flooded coasts, mega-drought; oceans turning to acid, permafrost to muck. We humans are a disastrous species, as bad for the Earth as a meteor strike..."
...
"'I COME FROM A CULTURE OF TAKERS. No white male, certainly not from the American West, can claim otherwise. The takers flowed out of the Bronze Age, from riders of the Carpathian steppes of Eastern Europe, who put together the unbeatable combination of horse and wheel, who buried their warriors with their steeds, their chariots and their javelins. The takers spread as far as India, Europe and Scandinavia, to Vikings and the 'Northmen' of what is now France. In 1066, these Normans invaded England and usurped the Anglo-Saxons, raiders named for their swords, who had ousted the Celts.
...
"When their descendent, my great-great-grandfather, came to Wyoming as a scout for the Army and the Union Pacific Railroad, he was the sharpened tip of that culture of conquest, the same culture that colonized and subjugated places I found myself in, decades later, as a journalist.
"These takers are Marlow’s 'conquerors' in Heart of Darkness: 'The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much.' Indigenous people of South America call them 'termites.' In Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates calls them Dreamers: 'Once, the Dreamers’ parameters were caged by technology and by the limits of horsepower and wind. But the Dreamers have improved themselves, and the damming of seas for voltage, the extraction of coal, the transmuting of oil into food, have enabled an expansion, a plunder with no known precedent.'"
...
"Relying in part on Jeffers’ work, Kingsnorth built an idea he called 'dark ecology.' In the Orion essay (https://orionmagazine.org/…/confessions-of-a-recovering-en…/) where he coined the term, he offered five answers to the ecological crisis, most of them suggestions for reconnecting to the wilder world: preserving nonhuman life; rooting oneself in the work of land or place; insisting that nature has intrinsic value; and 'building refuges' where non-human life can flourish. 'Withdraw,' Kingsnorth advised, 'so that you can allow yourself to sit back quietly and feel, intuit, work out what is right for you and what nature might need from you. Withdraw because refusing to help the machine advance — refusing to tighten the ratchet further — is a deeply moral position.'"
...
"Perhaps, then, the way through the ecocide is through the pursuit of integrity, a duty toward rebalancing the whole, toward fairness, in both senses of the word. ... The pursuit of beauty can create a form of justice, a healing of injury. When I allow my backyard to grow unchecked, when the un-mown lawn becomes a tangle of blade and seed, the garden a mess of roses, grapes and hollyhocks, I have created a refuge and put something to right, returning wild to the world that has been taken away elsewhere by violence, trespass or dominion. ... Conversely, the creation of beauty can come from advocates of justice. A human rights lawyer, a sanctuary church, protesters for women’s rights or science or both, demonstrations against police violence — these heal injury also, rebalance the whole, adding beauty to the world."



BOOK REVIEW
DEMOCRACY IN CHAINS: THE DEEP HISTORY OF THE RADICAL RIGHT’S STEALTH PLAN FOR AMERICA by Nancy MacLean

July 24, 2017


"[Libertarian Nobel laureate economist and 'foot soldier' for the US Right, James Buchanan] came to believe that the best way to bring about radical change was to focus on the rules, not the rulers. Freedom would flourish only by imposing legal and constitutional shackles that prevented public officials from responding to the will of democratic majorities. In the late 1990s, [Duke historian and author Nancy] MacLean writes, a like-minded billionaire, Charles Koch, seized on Buchanan’s ideas as a 'personal operational strategy' for his campaign to 'save capitalism from democracy — permanently.' Because most Americans didn’t support their ideas, that strategy required stealth: small, piecemeal moves that could win approval without provoking an outcry. The result, MacLean suggests, is much of what has run amok in the modern Republican Party, including efforts to suppress voters, erode union rights, slash school budgets, privatize public resources, and dismantle environmental protections."
...
"...a 'vibrant,' well-researched history that illuminates the Southern roots of today’s right..."
...
"'Libertarians are not going to get what they want through the political system unless they use subterfuge, because most Americans don’t agree with those policies.'"



THE RISE OF POPULISM IN THE WORLD

July 21, 2017

Here are two excellent essays that well explain the rise and staying power of the current surge of populism in the world, and what it will likely lead to. Regrettably, they offer no suggestions for what might be done about it.
Like others and I have said, maybe there's little to be done. Yes, continue to pursue the Liberal Enlightenment Project through legal and activist channels and means, nationally and internationally. But in doing so accept that achieving success, though the LEP is, perhaps, rational and morally right, will not be certain.
This current convulsion in the longer arc of Humankind's prehistory and history must play itself out "naturally." How else will we affirm if the LEP is a truly viable human adaption to the biosphere and the best accommodation Humankind can make to the needs of individuals, society, and the global community of nations and cultures, or not?
Reasonableness and occupying the moral high ground are insufficient tests for finding this answer. Only experience, through trial and error, will tell what path will lead to the greatest wellbeing and flourishing for the greatest number of people.
Your thoughts?
Excerpts and links:
"Crowds tell us something troubling about ourselves and our political subjectivities. They disturb liberal critics because they challenge the composition of the liberal subject – as a political being who possesses reason, intent and individuality."
...
"Democracy and liberal democratic values and ideals became humanitarian necessity in the theatre of war. Civilizational discourse gave place to humanitarianism, empathy and development.
"Crowds are the reflection of the Other both within us as well as outside as a residue of a collective origin and a past, which disturbs as well as assures us of our humanity and civility."
...
"The rise of nationalist democratic-authoritarianism within the West re-poses a conundrum to liberal critics and thinkers, enticing them to raise apocalyptic alarms."
..,
[The current] surge of populism has given life to a new set of fears and uncertainty, it has also imparted a sense of empowerment to many who had increasingly been feeling marginalized. This, I suggest, is democracy’s revenge."
...
"Crowds uncomfortably blur the line between us and the Other, reason and passion, and, most troubling for the liberals, democracy and authoritarianism. They are the mirror, in which we face ourselves and our fears."
http://criticallegalthinking.com/…/crowd-want-populism-ori…/

* * * * * *

"The main clash of the first half of the 21st century will not oppose religions or civilisations. It will oppose liberal democracy and neoliberal capitalism, the rule of finance and the rule of the people, humanism and nihilism.
"Capitalism and liberal democracy triumphed over fascism in 1945 and over communism in the early 1990s when the Soviet Union collapsed. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the advent of globalisation, their fates were disentangled. The widening bifurcation of democracy and capital is the new threat to civilisation.
"Abetted by technological and military might, finance capital has achieved its hegemony over the world by annexing the core of human desires and, in the process, by turning itself into the first global secular theology. Fusing the attributes of a technology and a religion, it relied on uncontested dogmas modern forms of capitalism had reluctantly shared with democracy since the post-war period — individual liberty, market competition and the rule of the commodity and of property, the cult of science, technology and reason.
"Each of these articles of faith is under threat. At its core, liberal democracy is not compatible with the inner logic of finance capitalism. The clash between these two ideas and principles is likely to be the most signifying event of the first half of a 21st-century political landscape — a landscape shaped less by the rule of reason than by the general release of passions, emotions and affect.
"In this new landscape, knowledge will be defined as knowledge for the market. The market itself will be re-imagined as the primary mechanism for the validation of truth."
...
"In a world set on objectifying everybody and every living thing in the name of profit, the erasure of the political by capital is the real threat. The transformation of the political into business raises the risk of the elimination of the very possibility of politics."
https://mg.co.za/…/2016-12-22-00-the-age-of-humanism-is-en…/



SCIENTIFIC NATURALISM – A MANIFESTO FOR ENLIGHTENMENT HUMANISM
by
Michael Shermer


Best, most straightforward yet comprehensive essay I’ve read on this subject in a long time.

“Scientific naturalism is the principle that the world is governed by natural laws and forces that can be understood, and that all phenomena are part of nature and can be explained by natural causes, including human cognitive, moral and social phenomena. … In the centuries following the Scientific Revolution, the gradual but systematic displacement of religious dogmatism, authority and supernaturalism by scientific naturalism, particularly its application toward explaining the human world, led to the widespread adoption of Enlightenment humanism, a cosmopolitan world-view that places supreme value on science and reason, eschews the supernatural entirely and relies exclusively on nature and nature’s laws—including human nature and the laws and forces that govern us and our societies—for a complete understanding of the cosmos and everything in it, from particles to people. … Scientific naturalism and Enlightenment humanism made the modern world. … Thanks to the world-view of scientific naturalism and Enlightenment humanism, never again need we be the intellectual slaves of those who would bind our minds with the chains of dogma and authority.”



A TRANS BIOLOGIST PROVIDES MUCH NEEDED CLARITY ON SEX AND GENDER CATEGORIES

July 19, 2017


A long but excellent essay. Essential reading.
"Sex is a collection of traits that, while generally dimorphic, can vary greatly in the population, and some can change over time. While the terms 'male' and 'female' have some utility, we should not view them as strictly dichotomous or mutually exclusive. Rather, 'female' and 'male' are best thought of as umbrella terms that describe groupings of people (or animals) who generally share many of the same traits, albeit with considerable variability and some exceptions."
...
"The gender/sex distinction is rooted in mind/body dualism, which was once commonly accepted, but has since been rejected by contemporary biologists, cognitive scientists, philosophers, and psychologists (as well as many feminists!)."
...
"Both the body/mind and sex/gender distinctions are related to 'nature versus nurture' debates, wherein people will point to some human trait (e.g., intelligence, personality, or in this case, gender) and argue that the outcome is entirely due to biology/genetics or entirely due to environment/socialization."
...
"Saying that sex is 'socially constructed' does not mean that biological sex differences do not exist or do not matter. It simply conveys that our definition of sex, and the way that we categorize people into sexes, is determined by society and our assumptions about how the world works."



THE PENTAGON’S UNDERSTANDING OF ‘FACTS’ AND THE FUTURE OF U.S. GLOBAL DOMINANCE

July 18, 2017


This article blew me away! The info on "facts" was stunning enough but the overall thinking of the Pentagon and the shortcomings of their approach, as pointed out by the writer's analysis, were frightening.
"Fact-free," "fact-inconvenient," "fact-perilous," "fact-toxic"!?
"In short, the U.S. Army War College study team believes that the spread of ‘facts’ challenging the legitimacy of American empire is a major driver of its decline: not the actual behavior of the empire which such facts point to."
...
"The research methodology [used for this study] manages to systematically ignore the most critical evidence surrounding the drivers undermining U.S. primacy: such as, the biophysical processes of climate, energy and food disruption behind the Arab Spring; the confluence of military violence, fossil fuel interests and geopolitical alliances behind the rise of ISIS; or the fundamental grievances that have driven a breakdown in trust with governments since the 2008 financial collapse and the ensuing ongoing period of neoliberal economic failure.
"A large body of data demonstrates that the escalating risks to U.S. power have come not from outside U.S. power, but from the very manner in which U.S. power has operated. The breakdown of the U.S.-led international order, from this perspective, is happening as a direct consequence of deep-seated flaws in the structure, values and vision of that order.
"In this context, the study’s conclusions are less a reflection of the actual state of the world, than of the way the Pentagon sees itself and the world.
Indeed, most telling of all is the document’s utter inability to recognize the role of the Pentagon itself in systematically pursuing a wide range of policies over the last several decades which have contributed directly to the very instability it now wants to defend against."
...
"But nothing put forward in this document will actually contribute to slowing the decline of U.S. power.
"On the contrary, the Pentagon study’s recommendations call for an intensification of the very imperial policies that futurist Professor Johan Galtung, who accurately forecasted the demise of the USSR, predicts will accelerate the 'collapse of the U.S. empire' by around 2020.
"As we move deeper into the 'post-primacy' era, the more meaningful question for people, governments, civil society and industry is this: as the empire falls, lashing out in its death throes, what comes after?"



REFUGEES AND ASYLEES IN THE UNITED STATES

July 18, 2017


"Fewer than 1 percent of formally recognized refugees worldwide are resettled annually, with about 125,600 individuals departing to resettlement countries in 2016. The United States has historically led the world in terms of refugee resettlement, and today remains the top resettlement country. In fiscal year (FY) 2016, the United States resettled 84,994 refugees. Beyond accepting refugees for resettlement from countries of first asylum, the United States also grants humanitarian protection to asylum seekers who present themselves at U.S. ports of entry or claim asylum from within the country; in FY 2015 (the most recent data available), the United States granted asylum to 26,124 individuals."



THE GLOBAL DECLINE OF POVERTY

July 15, 2017


Contrary to the shrieking of Trump, his followers, and his spineless, self-serving GOP cheerleaders, this reduction in global inequality has been good for Humankind AND the US.
The naysayers have no clue what maintaining the inequality of the 1970s would have led to in terms of overwhelming numbers of illegal immigrants trying to enter the US; and the threats to our national security and global leadership that global instability, arising from ever more and more peasant and other rebellions, would have contributed to.
I feel deeply for my compatriot coal miners and other working Americans who have been hurt by corporations moving their jobs overseas. Overall, however, globalization has been good for Humankind AND the US.
"In 1970, around 60% of the world’s 3.7 billion people lived in extreme poverty. ... Today, only 0.7 billion of the world’s 7.5 billion people live below the extreme poverty line."
...
"It’s true that globalisation has been unkind to many people, especially in places like the United Kingdom and the United States. These countries have been eating their poor for decades, and the political consequences have become very apparent in the last few years. But we are talking about a very small proportion of the world’s total population. How many column inches have been dedicated to the livelihoods of a few thousand coal miners in the US, compared to the few hundred million people in Latin America, almost all of whom live in countries where inequality has dropped in the last decade?"



STOP OBSESSING OVER RACE AND IQ

July 14, 2017


John McWhorter, author and linguist at Columbia University, is a conservative I seldom agree with on social and political matters. In this essay on race and intelligence, however, I fully agree with him. His primary claim is there is no constructive purpose, or personal or social benefit, in discussing or debating the difference in IQ between blacks and other races; even if now or in the future, there is conclusive evidence there is one. I also agree with other important points he makes about race, society and culture in this excellent essay.



AFRICA’S ‘CIVILISATIONAL’ PROBLEM

July 14, 2017


"Responding to a question about the possibility of a Marshall Plan for Africa, the French President dismissed the idea purporting that, unlike Europe after 1945, Africa’s problem is ‘civilisational’ and, therefore, an intervention along the lines of the Marshall Plan would be a waste of billions that would not stabilise anything. Macron’s response is striking, and telling not only of a certain inherited colonial mentality towards Africa, but about European ruling classes’ contemporary imperial tendencies and the links between these tendencies and attempts at restructuring capitalism at home and abroad."
...
"[F]rom the last quarter of the 19th onward the language of ‘civilisation’, including rhetoric about the ‘mission civilisatrice’ or ‘civilising mission’ depending on the colonial power, became a powerful tool in order to legitimise, rationalise and legalise practices of imperialism or outright colonialism. The idea was that humanity is divided in distinct civilisational stages (civilised-semicivilised-uncivilised) that exist in a relationship of clear and indisputable hierarchy between them. Western states were on the top of the hierarchy, even though it is worth pointing out that the working classes, especially when militant, were also conceptualised as backward or uncivilised. ... Africa was at the bottom of this civilisational hierarchy, and even though achieving civilised status was theoretically possible, pseudo-scientific theories of biological racism combined with embedded interests of colonial powers and colonial bureaucracies, meant that the prevailing view was that it would take decades, if not centuries for it to be achieved. It was only then, at some point in the distant future, that African societies could (theoretically) become independent."
...
"Macron’s comments about Africa should not only be read as outrageous inaccuracies informed by crude racism and France’s imperial hangover. Rather, it is imperative to understand that ‘civilisation’ and its derivatives emerged and acquired their meaning through the ruthless process of colonisation and capitalist expansion since the last quarter of the 19th century. Therefore, the public resurrection of the terminology by a French President, who has also stated his intention to transform France into a ‘startup nation’, needs to be properly contextualised, so that its full implications are understood: it is European (and other) ruling classes that have a ‘civilisational’ problem and they plan to inflict it on the rest of us."



MEMORIES, POINTS OF VIEW AND THE SELF

July 12, 2017


Michael Shermer's forthcoming book, Heavens on Earth: The Scientific Search for the Afterlife, Immortality, and Utopia (2018), https://www.amazon.com/dp/1627798579/…, should be a good one.



‘FAKE NEWS’ AND THE ENLIGHTENMENT PROJECT

July 11, 2017


This essay may be contain an answer to what can and must be done about 'fake news' and the threat it and Donald Trump's presidency pose for the Enlightenment Project, and it's shining example of hope for all Humankind, US democratic society.
Very little, except acknowledging that it will be the interpretation, the story, the myth, not an anthropomorphic truth, that persuades the greatest number of people, that might lead Humankind into a sustainable Enlightened future.
Retain yet 'temper' your all-consuming faith in, reliance on, and desire and quest for an absolute truth, one pursued via the provisional truth of science and/or a revealed truth of religion.
Formulate your Enlightenment values clearly and simply, and tell your story well, very well. Expect and count on nothing.
Excerpts from the essay:
'There are no facts, only interpretations.' Nietzsche, Notebooks (Summer 1886 — Fall 1887)
"Science [like politics] is also value laden.... This means that appealing to ‘science’ as the most complete arbiter in disputes - particularly the very fleshy disputes of politics - is foolish.
"That is not to deny science’s tremendous power, but its power derives from its very perspectival nature - its ability to exclude certain truths."
...
"We are coming to a general consciousness of that which was known in the 20th century but rarely openly stated.
"The death of God, and the revaluation of all values.
"In Trump’s election we see generalised bewilderment, universal consternation, a whirl as potent and total as the Milky Way.
"'The total character of the world, however, is in all eternity chaos — in the sense not of a lack of necessity but a lack of order, arrangement, form, beauty, wisdom, and whatever names there are for our aesthetic anthropomorphisms…. Let us beware of attributing to it heartlessness and unreason or their opposites: it is neither perfect nor beautiful, nor noble, nor does it wish to become any of these things; it does not by any means strive to imitate man… Let us beware of saying that there are laws in nature. There are only necessities: there is nobody who commands, nobody who obeys, nobody who trespasses…. But when will we ever be done with our caution and care? When will all these shadows of God cease to darken our minds? When will we complete our de-deification of nature? When may we begin to 'naturalize' humanity in terms of a pure, newly discovered, newly redeemed nature?' from Nietzsche’s The Gay Science, s.109, Walter Kaufmann translation."



HUMAN TOOL-USE AND CULTURAL EVOLUTION ON THE EAST AFRICAN SAVANNAH, 2017

July 8, 2017


“Recent studies have found that phones are critical new technologies to combat pastoralists’ greatest challenge: uncertainty. For generations, herders have moved across the landscape in search of forage and water for their livestock. Social networks are paramount for sharing information, but communication has long been challenging. Now, with phones, herders can share information easily, quickly and over great distances. … Maasai use phones to support traditional herding activities. Herders call each other to locate resources or notify others when health emergencies arise. We also learned that they use phones for many other activities, including getting information that helps them farm. … Phones are also drawing Maasai into less traditional activities. Young people use phones to play video games, store music and flirt on WhatsApp and Facebook. … Our respondents also told us that some people are using them to lie and cheat and steal. As the Samburu herders of Kenya found, Maasai people also lie to callers about the locations of valuable forage or water. Young brides use phones to arrange extramarital rendezvous. And criminals can use phones to lure victims to “meetings” to ambush them en route. … As traditionally spiritual people, Maasai can be superstitious about phones. Respondents described instances of witchcraft where people received calls from mysterious numbers and instantly died. … Taken together, these issues seem to have weakened community ties. Respondents told us that while phones make group meetings easier to arrange than in the past, it’s harder to get people to attend. In many ways, phones help people to be more independent – and individualistic. … Generally, phones support longstanding, culturally ingrained activities – they don’t transform them. One change, though, is that phone use amplifies issues of trust and distrust.”



THE RETURN OF THE CARNIVAL GROTESQUE AND ITS ARRIVAL AT THE WHITE HOUSE – THIS TIME NO-ONE’S LAUGHING

July 7, 2017


Return of the Grotesque - The postmodern carnival has arrived, and there are good reasons to prefer François Rabelais’s version.
"Laughter is no different than political systems, commercial relations or artistic practices: it evolves over time, the result and cause of material and social transformations. For medieval man, laughter was the great leveller."
...
"Carnival laughter is ‘directed at all and everyone, including the carnival’s participants’. Inclusive and communal, this laughter has a ‘deep philosophical meaning, it is one of the essential forms of the truth concerning the world as a whole’. As such, medieval laughter challenges medieval seriousness."
...
"Several thousand miles away, and several centuries later, the United States has plunged into a similar kind of liminality gone awry. Here, too, grotesqueness lurched from the aesthetic to the political realm during the presidential primary season. Donning costumes replete with images of Hillary Clinton in prison garb or shackles, and demanding at rallies that she be locked up, the carnivalesque at times morphed into physical violence. Those scorned or ignored by the elites insisted on their feast days during these mass rallies. On 8 November 2016, however, the carnivalesque was transformed: from a sharply limited and defined ritual, it was granted a four-year lease on our political institutions.
"Since then, even our ceremonies of state – from the selection of cabinet secretaries and Supreme Court justices, to the staging of press conferences and executive-order signings – exemplify the carnivalesque. Individuals lead government departments that they had once dedicated their lives to destroying; press secretaries treat the media as ‘enemies of the people’; presidential security advisors are employed by foreign powers; presidential flaks turn the world of facts upside down, insisting that down is up and up is down.
"[T]he carnival-grotesque form freed medieval man ‘from conventions and established truths … from all that is humdrum and universally accepted’. Today, however, the carnival that has been catapulted into power promises a lasting, and not passing, liberation from established truths that, until now, guided our world. Alternative fact, once the nonsense spouted by fools who were crowned for a day as kings, now informs the worldview of a man, long dismissed as a fool, crowned for four years as president. In his send-up of pre-modern scholasticism, Rabelais captures the insanity of our post-truth world: ‘Why should you not believe what I tell you? Because, you reply, there is no evidence. And I reply in turn that for this very reason you should believe with perfect faith. Faith is the argument of non-evident truths.’"
...
"Laughter is not among the many things that spill from the gaping mouth, housed at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, that now demands the attention of the world. His incapacity for awe, respect and shame has transformed the role of comedians in our society. They are everywhere praised for their irreverence. Yet a funny thing happened to these comics: they were crowned, by popular demand, not as kings (and queens) of comedy, rulers of a world upside down, but instead as kings (and queens) for the world right-side up, where words matter and reality abides. In a sign of just how topsy-turvy the world has become, contemporary comedians have become the defenders of reverence – a virtue ... to have 'feelings of awe, respect and shame when these are the right feelings to have.'"
...
"Here is the golden rule for the mockery of those in power: leave them laughing at ourselves no less than at them. Excuse yourself from the mockery and you run the risk not just of compromising the finer political institutions, but also our humanity."



TEACHING CHILDREN SELF-CONTROL – AFRICAN APPROACHES TO PARENTING

July 5, 2017


"[O]ne reason may be the Nso parenting style, which is completely different than Western parenting."
I've observed - firsthand, up close and from a distance - parenting styles in many Sub-Saharan African societies in their rural and urban settings for many years. In my experience, what these researchers observed about parenting and child behavior during their testing in Cameroon is widespread in many Sub-Saharan African societies, especially in rural areas.
Parenting or enculturation in all societies is an expression of the culture - the beliefs, values and adaptive behavioral strategies - of a people.
Generally speaking, members of Sub-Saharan African societies have, and teach their children, a balanced understanding of an individual's personal and social relations. That is, a balanced approach between satisfying personal needs and desires and the group's need for persons to comply with, feel allegiance and trust toward, and fulfill certain key obligations to their families and communities.
This, of course, is not the case in every instance of parenting or in the behavior of every child in Sub-Saharan Africa. But it is true overall and represents the ideal that most members of these societies, especially in rural areas, strive for. Overall, the sub-Saharan African approach to parenting, I think, is very beneficial and necessary for the wellbeing and flourishing of individuals and the groups, small and large, they belong to.
Don't let this lead you to think that African children, or later when adults, lack or have a diminished sense of individualism or initiative. Or that African nations' post-Independence struggles with economic development and governance are testaments to the failure of this approach to parenting or indigenous African believes, values and lifeways. The cause of these "modern" African problems are many and complex but have little to nothing to do with "traditional" African child-rearing practices or the ancient and time-tested beliefs, values and adaptive cultural strategies of Sub-Saharan African peoples. (See Indigenous African Institutions by George B N Ayittey https://m.alibris.com/booksearch.detail…)
An interesting report on a very important topic.



U.S. GLOBAL LEADERSHIP BY EXAMPLE STILL STRONG – ‘FAKE NEWS’ FLOURISHING IN KENYAN POLITICS

July 3, 2017

Not long ago in Kenya there was an expression used when someone dressed in, say, a very smart suit and tie: "My, you are looking very mzungu (white/European) today!" In some instances, it was said as a sincere compliment. In others it was said half disparagingly, tongue-in-cheek. In the first instance, it reflected the admiration many Kenyans had (and some still have, admittedly or not) of a wide range of British things, ideas and behaviors. In the latter instance, it was a jibe at a person the speaker thought wasn't proud of his Africaness. Now, we have the following example of Kenyans following Donald Trump's approach to the media and election campaigning.... Very mzungu, indeed.
"In Kenya, attempts at propaganda and misinformation are becoming more discernable as the election season gets underway. The stakes are also elevated by the ubiquity of connectivity among the electorate: mobile penetration among Kenya’s 44 million people is up to 87%, and the country has one of the fastest mobile internet speeds in the world. Kenya also boasts some of the most youthful voters in the east Africa region, who tweet a lot, and are increasingly dependent on online news for information. And in a nation where politics is often considered the ‘national sport,’ and where ethnicity defines the electoral agenda more than issues, observers say misinformation can be used to play at inherent beliefs and biases."



THE ABUSE OF AFRICAN MIGRANTS

July 3, 2017


This is not an immigration, migrant or refugee problem. It's a symptom of the North's failure to adequately address the global inequality problem. And a failure of developing country leadership.



THE RISE OF THE THOUGHT LEADER

July 30, 2017


At college in the '70s & '80s I was taught that nurture trumps nature. That individuals and societies and their respective cultures evolve and flourish through the power and usefulness of the ideas they create, test, uphold, and pass to successive generations. Minority and generally disdained views of the time were anthropologist Marvin Harris's "techno-economic determinism" and biologist E.O Wilson's "sociobiology." You will recall popular book examples of the latter as Desmond Morris's, The Naked Ape and Robert Audrey's, The Territorial Imperative. We were also introduced to Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan's "the medium is the message" pronouncement. A quirky notion at the time but one that did seem to make some sense.
Fast forward to the present. We now are led not only by the standard method lawyer-politicians and professors, but also and ever increasingly by "public intellectuals" and "thought leaders."
Now, personal media technology and mass media are wielded by all these idea peddlers with evermore reach and intensity. This to a degree where we are all reaching an intellectual, emotional, existential breaking point. Now, economics, material purchasing power and fun or entertainment drive our beliefs, values, and politics more than critical thinking and compassion for each other. Oh, and now our "selves" are illusions and brain matter and emotion trump learning and reason, we are told.
Welcome to the REAL Brave New World where we are enslaved by the powerful purveyors of culture by falsely believing we are becoming smarter, richer and happier. Run for the hills, or anywhere "modernity" hasn't yet fully reached and corrupted! Protect your brain, "self" and ability to think truly freely and critically, that is, for yourself!
Is this what the sciences of Humankind have produced? Among them being anthropology, a minority voice on the periphery in the back of the room? The "yes, but cultural diversity throughput the world and throughout history and prehistory tell us" guys and gals? The ones the economists, political scientists, lawyers, and natural scientists laugh at and ignore? The ones members of the public ignore as egghead elitists? Yep.
EXCERPT:
"The rich have, [author of the new book The Ideas Industry (2017) Daniel] Drezner writes, empowered a new kind of thinker - the 'thought leader' - at the expense of the much-fretted-over 'public intellectual.' Whereas public intellectuals like Noam Chomsky or Martha Nussbaum are skeptical and analytical, thought leaders like Thomas Friedman and Sheryl Sandberg 'develop their own singular lens to explain the world, and then proselytize that worldview to anyone within earshot.' While public intellectuals traffic in complexity and criticism, thought leaders burst with the evangelist’s desire to 'change the world.' Many readers, Drezner observes, prefer the 'big ideas' of the latter to the complexity of the former. In a marketplace of ideas awash in plutocrat cash, it has become 'increasingly profitable for thought leaders to hawk their wares to both billionaires and a broader public,' to become 'superstars with their own brands, sharing a space previously reserved for moguls, celebrities, and athletes.'
"Drezner does his best to take an objective view of the thought leader as a new kind of intellectual who fulfills a function different from that of the public intellectual, though an equally legitimate one. 'It is surely noteworthy,' he writes, optimistically, 'that a strong demand has emerged for new ideas and vibrant ways of thinking about the world.' But he seems to portray this thirst for new ideas as a positive development even while conceding that the ideas currently thirsted for are at best shallow and banal, at worst deeply anti-democratic, and at times outright fraudulent."
...
"What intellectuals [and you and I] need is the same as what everyone else needs: a society that prioritizes human flourishing over private profit, and strong political networks that guard public goods against the prophets of an atomized, high-tech future. However difficult that society may be to achieve, one thing about the present gives hope. We are finally getting clear about who its enemies are."



‘YOU COULD LEAVE LIFE RIGHT NOW’

June 29, 2017

"You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think." - Marcus Aurelius
...
"Too many people realize the preciousness of life only at the end of their lives. This is why today - before you go on living your life - think about how short it really is. The Stoics understood how critical it is to remind ourselves of our own mortality. Why? It helps us reorient our priorities, realize how petty our concerns are and how wasteful we've been of our time. With death constantly 'on our lips' as Montaigne put it, or with, as Shakespeare said, every third thought on our grave, we have an easier time rejecting pointless trivialities and we develop a keen sense of priority and time."
Image: Philippe de Champaigne's "Still Life with a Skull"



THE UNIVERSE MAY BE CONSCIOUS

June 25, 2017


John Wheeler, Christof Koch, Roger Penrose, Gregory Matloff, Bernard Haisch, Giulio Tononi. These eminent scientists are open to panpsychism, that consciousness pervades our universe, that consciousness is a universal and primordial feature of all things.



WHY YOUR BRAIN HATES OTHER PEOPLE?

June 24, 2017

A long but very good essay - "Why Your Brain Hates Other People". A better title would have been, "You Are Not Compelled Or Morally Free to Behave Emotionally When Your Brain Responds Emotionally To Other People." Regrettably, such an alternative title wouldn't be as catchy and wouldn't capitalize on the current neuroscience obsession (philosophical materialism and brains rule, nature dominates nurture), particularly in the US.
"Humans universally make Us/Them dichotomies along lines of race, ethnicity, gender, language group, religion, age, socioeconomic status, and so on. And it’s not a pretty picture. We do so with remarkable speed and neurobiological efficiency; have complex taxonomies and classifications of ways in which we denigrate Thems; do so with a versatility that ranges from the minutest of microaggression to bloodbaths of savagery; and regularly decide what is inferior about Them based on pure emotion, followed by primitive rationalizations that we mistake for rationality. Pretty depressing.
"But crucially, there is room for optimism. Much of that is grounded in something definedly human, which is that we all carry multiple Us/Them divisions in our heads. A Them in one case can be an Us in another, and it can only take an instant for that identity to flip. Thus, there is hope that, with science’s help, clannishness and xenophobia can lessen...."
...
"If we accept that there will always be sides, it’s challenging to always be on the side of angels. Distrust essentialism. Remember that supposed rationality is often just rationalization, playing catch-up with subterranean forces we never suspect. Focus on shared goals. Practice perspective taking. Individuate, individuate, individuate. And recall how often, historically, the truly malignant Thems hid themselves while making third parties the fall guy."



WHO’S AFRAID OF SPEECH? WHAT CRITICS OF CAMPUS PROTEST GET WRONG ABOUT THE STATE OF PUBLIC DISCOURSE

June 20, 2017


"This highlights a paradox of free speech, and of our relationship to it. On the one hand, Americans are encouraged to be tolerant of opposing ideas in the belief that 'the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market,' as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes put it in his landmark 1919 opinion in Abrams v. United States.
"On the other hand, unlike the government, Americans are not expected to remain neutral observers of that market. Instead, we are participants in it; the market works only if we take that participation seriously, if we exercise our own right of expression to combat ideas we disagree with, to refute false claims, to discredit dangerous beliefs. This does not mean we are required to be vicious or uncivil. But viciousness and incivility are legitimate features of America’s free speech tradition. Life is not a debating exercise or a seminar room, and it would be naïve to insist that individuals adhere to some prim, idealized vision of public discourse."
...
"Does this mean any form of social pressure targeted at speakers is acceptable? Not at all. One of the reasons government censorship is prohibited is that the coercive power of the state is nearly impossible to resist. Social pressure that crosses the line from persuasion to coercion is also inconsistent with the values of free speech.
"This explains why violence and threats of violence are not legitimate mechanisms for countering ideas one disagrees with. Physical assault—in addition to not traditionally being regarded as a form of expression —too closely resembles the use of force by the government."
...
"[C]ritics are well within their right to push for a more elevated, civil form of public discourse. They are perfectly justified in arguing that a college campus, of all places, should be a model of rational debate. But they are not justified in claiming the free speech high ground. For under our free speech tradition, the crudest and least reasonable forms of expression [and protest] are just as legitimate as the most eloquent and thoughtful."



THE GREAT MIGRATION

June 19, 2017


"Historians would come to call it the Great Migration. It would be­come perhaps the biggest underreported story of the twentieth century. It was vast. It was leaderless. It crept along so many thousands of cur­rents over so long a stretch of time as to be difficult for the press truly to capture while it was under way.
"Over the course of six decades, some six million black southerners left the land of their forefathers and fanned out across the country for an un­certain existence in nearly every other corner of America. The Great Migration would become a turning point in history. It would transform urban America and recast the social and political order of every city it touched. It would force the South to search its soul and finally to lay aside a feudal caste system. It grew out of the unmet promises made after the Civil War and, through the sheer weight of it, helped push the country toward the civil rights revolutions of the 1960s."



LOVE AND WILL – ROLLO MAY

June 18, 2017


"We stand on the peak of the consciousness of previous ages, and their wisdom is available to us. History — that selective treasure house of the past which each age bequeaths to those that follow — has formed us in the present so that we may embrace the future. What does it matter if our insights, the new forms which play around the fringes of our minds, always lead us into virginal land where, like it or not, we stand on strange and bewildering ground. The only way out is ahead, and our choice is whether we shall cringe from it or affirm it.
For in every act of love and will — and in the long run they are both present in each genuine act — we mold ourselves and our world simultaneously. This is what it means to embrace the future" - Rollo May



WOMEN AND AFRICA’S FAST-GROWING PENTECOSTAL MEGA-CHURCHES

June 18, 2017

"While churches in the economic north are emptying out those in the Global South – and especially Africa – are growing. Pentecostal and charismatic churches have mushroomed, many influenced by a wave of American-exported evangelicalism in the 1970s and 1980s."
...
"On the one hand, the brand of masculinity espoused by the [mainstream Christian] 'men of God' encourages behaviour that can be advantageous for many women in relationships: they generally eschew violence, advocate monogamy and companionship between spouses, and underscore the responsibilities of fathers and husbands.
"On the other hand, the [Pentecostal/charismatic] 'Men of God' portray women as the 'weaker sex' emotionally and intellectually, who need protection and guidance. Sometimes they emphasise women’s 'limitations'. This leads to a devaluing of women, re-inscribing male domination and undermining female autonomy."



AFRICA’S DYING LANGUAGES

June 18, 2017


"Across the world, African languages are slowly taking the center stage and are being recognized for their importance. For instance, you can now learn Zulu on an app, read a growing list of articles in African languages on Wikipedia, and receive thousands of dollars in awards for your fictional Swahili piece or poem. And many universities from Ethiopia to South Africa are making African languages like Afan Oromo and isiXhosa a compulsory subject.
"But Africa still has some of the world’s highest concentration of at-risk languages. And that can be reversed by first understanding and studying the past history, present evolution, and future use of these languages."



DECOLONIZING THE SOCIAL SCIENCES AT AN AFRICAN UNIVERSITY

June 13, 2017


“I am a member of the Social Science Faculty at the African Leadership University. Part of our task is to build a canon, knowledge, and a way of knowing. This is happening against the backdrop of a movement by South African students to decolonise their universities; Black Lives Matter protests in the United States; and in the context of a much deeper history of national reimagination across Africa and the world.” – Jess Auerbach



COMMUNION – CONNECTING THE SELF, SOCIETY AND THE COSMOS

June 9, 2017


"By communion, I mean any kind of experiential integration of the individual being into a larger whole. The communion experience might be ephemeral or enduring; it might come as part of formal ritual or arise spontaneously."
...
"Ecology in particular speaks of our connection with the great cycles of energy and matter that make life possible. It tells us that the very warmth and energy of our body is the warmth and energy of the sun carried through food chains, and the water of our blood comes from a hydraulic cycle that connects us to oceans and clouds. Even further afield, the existence of the element water is dependent on a galactic ecology of massive stars wherein the various elements heavier than hydrogen are forged, and of supernovae that throw these elements throughout the galaxy. Moving back even closer to the ultimate source, we learn that the galaxies have their source in something termed the Big Bang.
...
"To experience communion with Nature is to feel a deep sense of connectedness and meaningfulness in existence."
...
"Scientific method divides the world into subject and object, an observer and that which is observed. This division is necessary for science, but it is artificial. In fact, the observing scientist is fully a part of the world and can never be separate from it. Since by definition the Universe (or Multiverse) is all that is, nothing can stand outside of it. It can only be observed from within."
...
"Throughout the ages and across the globe, people have spoken of the experience of ultimate oneness. In one form or another the idea expressed is that in this experience the inner and outer, the subject and object, the observer and the observed are one and the same. The separation of subject from object is an idea created by the mind, the world itself contains no such division."
...
"The experience of communion with Nature can provide us with an inner, felt experience of the very essence of Big History. If the ideas of Big History can make us feel small, this sense of communion with Nature reveals that we are part and parcel of Nature, and thus no smaller than the whole."



PHILOSOPHY FOR CHILDREN AND THE PURPOSE OF PHILOSOPHY

June 8, 2017

"Although the noted developmental psychologist Jean Piaget was of the impression that children were not capable of critical thinking until age 11 or 12, the experience of many philosophers and teachers with young children gives reason to believe that children benefit from philosophical inquiry even in early primary school. Furthermore, there is empirical evidence that teaching children reasoning skills early in life greatly improves other cognitive and academic skills and greatly assists learning in general."
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophy_for_Children
~~~~~~~
"Primary school children are instinctively good at philosophical problems the moment they are presented with them."
...
"I have seen six-year-olds energetically and brilliantly address the question, ‘what happens to the hole in the doughnut when the doughnut is eaten’ and 12-year-olds become animated when discussing whether or not the classroom table exists when no-one is there. I have seen sixth-formers [Grade 13] become deeply engaged with ethical and political questions of genuine importance regarding how we live our lives and treat others."
...
"If I were given the chance to devise a philosophy programme for schools, I would begin with-six year-olds and the delightful play of ideas and questions they so enjoy. By drawing attention to what we take for granted, they begin to learn to think for real purpose."
https://www.schoolhousemagazine.co.uk/…/philosophy-core-s…/…
~~~~~~~
"I think that philosophy has made lots of progress—it’s just not made progress towards truth. If that sounds strange, you might have too parochial a view of what progress is. We tend to think of progress on the model of scientific progress—that is, progress towards truth. But why adopt a one-size-fits-all conception of progress? Why think that progress in philosophy is the same kind of thing as progress in science, or any other empirical discipline?"
...
"What’s the goal of philosophy? What are we after—or rather, what should we be after—when we’re doing philosophy? Whatever the answer to this question is, it’s not the pursuit of truth."
...
"I think that philosophy is in the options business rather the truth business. Its job is to show that there are many ways of addressing a problem, and to spell out the implications of these alternatives."
https://www.philosophytalk.org/…/truth-and-progress-philoso…



IS THE ENLIGHTENMENT PROJECT STILL A WORTHWHILE AND NOBLE PURSUIT?

June 7, 2017


Maybe the Enlightenment Project as a grand theory is still a worthwhile and noble pursuit. Maybe it's Humankind's only real hope for a reasoned way of life that allows the greatest possible level of liberty, justice, and brotherhood, and therefore is our best chance for wellbeing, flourishing and survival. Maybe it's this or anarchy or tyranny.
"The World as Will and Representation is a very long book — around a half million words in total. But the basic premise of Schopenhauer’s worldview is extremely simple. In fact, he tells everything in his title. Our knowledge of existence is limited to just two certainties: the representations in our mind, which are the only reliable source of information about the external world, and the willing in our consciousness, which gives us the only available clues to the inner life of the universe. Using these two guides, Schopenhauer proceeds to assess and reinterpret every aspect of human existence...."
...
"He lived in an age when European thinkers loved totalizing systems; but unfortunately for Schopenhauer, Hegel and his followers were the dominant role models for systematic philosophy during the 150 years following the publication of The World as Will and Representation.
...
"[T]he dark moods that prevail in society today may be the most salient indicator that we have reached the end of the demolition derby dominating intellectual currents for the last generation. From this perspective, our pessimism is the direct result of worldviews that put too much faith into deconstructing and critiquing and debunking. Put simply, looking at rubble is depressing, no matter how valid the reasons for the wrecking ball. If that’s the case, Schopenhauer’s zeal for pulling everything together into a pristine, unified vision is not just a viable role model, but — strange to say — perhaps the most optimistic one available to us."



CHOOSING THE STOIC PATH

June 5, 2017


"The popularization of Stoicism has led some people to believe it is a philosophy for everyone; it is not, and it never was. ... To argue that Stoicism is the only viable path to well-being in modern times is exclusionary. It is the best path for some, not for all. Those who feel compelled to convert the entire world to Stoicism - something the ancient Stoics never did - are likely to create the same arrogant, holier than thou, self-righteous attitude and judgmental environment they reject in religion. In fact, some signs of that are already appearing on social media site where self-proclaimed Stoics gather. What is a modern to do then?
"Consider all the paths, then pick the one that resonates with you and follow it for a while. If you like it, stay on it. If you don’t, pick another and follow it for a while. If you feel a strong affinity to one path then you may want to self-identify as a Stoic, Epicurean, Sceptic, or Cynic. However, that is certainly not necessary. Even if you commit to one path, you can still borrow from other schools like Seneca did and remain true to the fundamental doctrines of a specific school. If you like elements from several paths you may choose to create something new."



POST-TRUTH, AN ANTHROPOLOGIST’S VIEW

June 4, 2017


"Facts, beliefs, lies, ideas, and so forth don’t exist in a vacuum. They are always embedded in larger networks of social relations, and the extent to which their propositional content gets absorbed, downplayed, criticized, or indeed ignored very much depends on how they intersect with these networks. As I found in Borneo, sometimes it’s not what people believe but how they believe in things (or people) that ultimately makes the difference.
"Where, then, does this leave the matter of post-truth politics? The fact that politics, like belief, is always wrapped up in specific relations is a pretty basic anthropological point. But it’s one that we would be wise to keep in mind as reactions to post-truth politics grow louder and ever more insistently focused on facts. It reminds us that there’s a lot more to politics than truths and untruths—as there always has been—just as there’s a lot more to voters’ decisions than politics, narrowly defined.
"What is required is a renewed commitment to understanding the relational contexts—right- and left-wing, conservative and liberal—in which such politics thrive. Trying to understand these contexts means taking seriously the often surprising power of relations and allegiances to shape reality, whether in a small village in Borneo or in one of the world’s largest, richest nations. As such relations remind us, the battle to lift politics from today’s post-truth mire has to be waged with far more than just the facts."



EAST AFRICA LEADS THE CONTINENT’S GROWTH

June 4, 2017


"Facts, beliefs, lies, ideas, and so forth don’t exist in a vacuum. They are always embedded in larger networks of social relations, and the extent to which their propositional content gets absorbed, downplayed, criticized, or indeed ignored very much depends on how they intersect with these networks. As I found in Borneo, sometimes it’s not what people believe but how they believe in things (or people) that ultimately makes the difference.
"Where, then, does this leave the matter of post-truth politics? The fact that politics, like belief, is always wrapped up in specific relations is a pretty basic anthropological point. But it’s one that we would be wise to keep in mind as reactions to post-truth politics grow louder and ever more insistently focused on facts. It reminds us that there’s a lot more to politics than truths and untruths—as there always has been—just as there’s a lot more to voters’ decisions than politics, narrowly defined.
"What is required is a renewed commitment to understanding the relational contexts—right- and left-wing, conservative and liberal—in which such politics thrive. Trying to understand these contexts means taking seriously the often surprising power of relations and allegiances to shape reality, whether in a small village in Borneo or in one of the world’s largest, richest nations. As such relations remind us, the battle to lift politics from today’s post-truth mire has to be waged with far more than just the facts."



ON JOURNALIST BROOKE GLADSTONE'S BOOK, THE TROUBLE WITH REALITY: A RUMINATION ON MORAL PANIC IN OUR TIME (2017)

June 3, 2017


"'[F]acts, even a lot of facts, do not constitute reality. Reality is what forms after we filter, arrange, and prioritize those facts and marinate them in our values and traditions. Reality is personal.'"
"Filtered reality is troubling for a democracy, particularly when coupled with arrogance and an unwillingness to listen. As philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer said, 'Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world.' Even if citizens are willing to admit large gaps in their knowledge, it doesn’t get them far. They’ll still only know what they know. So, as Gladstone says, 'we have to live somewhere. So we construct cozier, more comprehensible versions [of the world], move in and hunker down.'"
...
"'If [there were] two rational people, after pooling and verifying each other’s evidence, [they] would come to the same conclusions, right? They would revise their views to fit the facts. But there are never two rational people. There is only one. And it is me. My facts are correct.'"
...
"The distances between the realities of people living in the United States of America have been widening for a long time, perhaps since Fox News launched in 1996, or since President Bill Clinton signed welfare reforms into law, or since candidate Ronald Reagan’s southern strategy, or since CNN’s launch in 1980, or since candidate Richard Nixon’s southern strategy, or perhaps always.
"Gladstone’s confidence that the facts will eventually assert themselves is galvanizing, but the book can’t tell us when, or how, or why. Still, her case that our realities need to be closer together is unassailable, and making the invisible visible is a good place to start."



ON CONSCIOUSNESS AND HUMAN CULTURAL NATURE

June 3, 2017

"I think the imagination is the single most useful tool mankind possesses. It beats the opposable thumb. I can imagine living without my thumbs, but not without my imagination."
...
"The imagination is an essential tool of the mind, a fundamental way of thinking, an indispensable means of becoming and remaining human."
...
"All of us have to learn how to invent our lives, make them up, imagine them. We need to be taught these skills; we need guides to show us how. Without them, our lives get made up for us by other people."
...
"Human beings have always joined in groups to imagine how best to live and help one another carry out the plan. The essential function of human community is to arrive at some agreement on what we need, what life ought to be, what we want our children to learn, and then to collaborate in learning and teaching so that we and they can go on the way we think is the right way. ... Nobody can do anything very much, really, alone. ... What a child needs, what we all need, is to find some other people who have imagined life along lines that make sense to us and allow some freedom, and listen to them. Not hear passively, but listen. Listening is an act of community, which takes space, time, and silence. Reading is a means of listening."
- Ursula K. Le Guin, from Words Are My Matter: Writings About Life and Books
~~~~~~~~~~
"Consciousness comes with organized chunks of matter. It is immanent in the organization of the system. It is a property of complex entities and cannot be further reduced to the action of more elementary properties. We’ve arrived at the ground floor of reductionism."
...
"Despite the naysayers, science will ultimately understand consciousness by combining empirical and clinical studies with mathematical theories and, increasingly, the engineering of conscious artifacts."
- Christof Koch, from Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist
https://www.brainpickings.org/…/christof-koch-consciousne…/…
~~~~~~~~~~
"Psychological reality is not a separate 'substance', and it is not just matter either. Our psychological states and processes are as real as anything going on inside us – as real as our weight, our metabolism, our body temperature – and the fact that they are invisible is no more an objection to their existence than the fact that our weights and temperatures are invisible is an objection to theirs." - Tim Crane, from "How We Can Be"
http://www.the-tls.co.uk/…/pub…/mind-body-problem-tim-crane/



DONALD TRUMP POISONS THE WORLD

June 2, 2017

"Of course people are driven by selfish motivations — for individual status, wealth and power. But they are also motivated by another set of drives — for solidarity, love and moral fulfillment — that are equally and sometimes more powerful.
"People are wired to cooperate. Far from being a flimsy thing, the desire for cooperation is the primary human evolutionary advantage we have...."



U.S. FOREIGN POLICY PLAYS A PART IN TERRORISM

May 30, 2017


“[In] addition to the clash of civilizations thesis and the radicalization thesis] there is a third explanation that world-leading terrorism experts (and also Corbyn) understand as one of the fermenters of terrorist violence. This relates to the role of structural violence (poverty, oppression, racism) which may include foreign policy. One of the leading security experts, Robert Pape, in what is considered one of the most extensive studies of suicide bombers, concluded that the dominant motivation for these styles of attack was primarily geo-political. ... Individuals that commit acts of political violence, whether they rightly or wrongly perceive it, interpret military interventions as what rationalises their conduct.”
...
“Part of the public’s, politicians’ and the commentariat’s rejection of the military intervention link, may be explained as follows. Firstly, it appears to absolve responsibility of the individual that commit acts of political violence. Secondly, such classes of explanations are interpreted as justifications or even exhalations of these types of violence. Thirdly, and related, it offends our yearning for simplicity.”
...
“Structural violence, as one of the contributory explanations of terrorism, offends both our predilection for simplicity and holds governments to account to a very high standard- and for those reasons, we often reject them to our peril.”



WHAT IS THE OPPOSITE OF ‘POST-TRUTH’? IT’S NOT SIMPLY ‘THE FACTS’

May 26, 2017


"Part of the reason it may seem we are living through an extraordinary crisis of truth is that we have a news culture in which everything must be described as a crisis."
...
"[E]verywhere the intelligentsia and the tech industry are loudly worrying about truth and how to save it. It’s as if truth, far from having become irrelevant, has shot to the top of the cultural agenda."
...
Rather than attempt to reason anyone out of a false position, Davis argues, we should try to understand why they hold it. People choose to believe things for reasons of group belonging and it is not necessarily irrational for them to do so.
He also points out, cleverly, that voters are rational to judge prospective leaders on their perceived character rather than their policies – because “most of what their elected representatives have to do in office is ­react to things that haven’t come up yet”.
...
d’Ancona thinks the downgrading of truth in our time has trickled down from the French and American academies, in the work of Foucault, Lyotard, Derrida, Baudrillard and Rorty....

Yes, the “often incomprehensible” work of the postmodernists, he thinks, is where the rot set in. For “if everything is a ‘social construct’, then who is to say what is false”? D’Ancona asks this plaintively, as though there can be no answer and so the premise must be false. But of course there is an answer: the people who are to say what is false are the people who have acquired the generally acknowledged and demonstrated expertise in judging which social constructs are more or less accurate in making predictions about, say, the operation of machinery. And this has always been how things have worked. It does not entail that we are doomed to a chaotic free-for-all.

The underlying difficulty of today’s polemics about post-truth is that many well-meaning residents of the reality-based community are talking as though it is ­always obvious and uncontroversial what is a “fact” and what isn’t. And yet the very idea of a fact is a social construct with an origin. (As the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre has written: “Facts, like telescopes and wigs for gentlemen, were a 17th-century invention.”) Facts are fuzzy and changeable; in scientific practice, matters of truth and evidence are always at issue. The best scientific theories are social constructs. Whether they should be taken as accurately describing reality is still an unresolved debate in quantum physics; and, as the biologist Stuart Firestein has written: “All scientists know that it is facts that are unreliable. No datum is safe from the next generation of scientists with the next generation of tools.”
...
[T]he naive positivism espoused by aggrieved liberals who insist on a simplistic portrayal of “the facts” and “the science” does nothing but reinforce the lines of tribal warfare.
...
Both Evan Davis and Matthew d’Ancona agree that it is we, the audience, who have the greatest power to push back the tide of fake news. Davis ends his book with the sunny prediction that this peak in the historical graph of public bullshit will pass, as others have done before it, and d’Ancona makes the sensible suggestion that children should be taught methods of source evaluation and sceptical analysis, or what is sometimes seen as coming under the umbrella of “critical thinking”.

I would add that you could even go so far as to make philosophy compulsory in schools, as it is in Brazil. After all, philosophy actually has a branch of study that specialises in issues of truth and knowledge, called epistemology – which is why New Scientist magazine rather sweetly called a few weeks ago for more epistemologists to wade into the public debates.



A YALE PSYCHIATRIST'S TAKE ON TRUMP AND THE DANGER HE PLACES US IN

May 26, 2017


"[S]imply respecting the choices of the electorate when the electorate is not entirely well can spiral into situations like fascism. Remember fascism is not necessarily an ideology. It could be on the right or the left. It is also an emotional experience to a certain political structure, and people will cling to it regardless of how destructive it is to their lives, regardless of what path it takes them toward. The pull is emotional, not ideological or even rational. It’s a situation that needs intervention, healing and treatment. The way to do that is to improve societal conditions."
...
"The Trump administration, and I might argue to a large extent the Republican Party, has been leading up to a need to impose a distorted reality and a kind of imperviousness to facts onto others. Facts and evidence almost do not matter. What matters is the emotional commitment to either an ideology or what they believe will make America great again, restore their position, or give them the kind of pride or self-esteem that they feel they have lost."



TO POST-TRUTH, POSTMODERNISM, ALTERNATIVE FACTS, AND FAKE NEWS, AH HELL, LET'S JUST GO AHEAD AND ADD "PARADOXOLOGY"

May 24, 2107


The absolute need for leadership, role models and enculturation among Homo gullibleensis is undeniable. Without enculturation as to some truth about ourselves, society, and the natural world and cosmos, we, along with our genetic potential, would have become extinct long ago.
To our credit our ancestors responded to our will to cooperate, reason, enculturate, and technologize by forging a rational, secular truth based on common sense and experiential learning - a truth bequeathed to us by a small handful of sages, inventors, tinkerers, and curious weirdos, and their kinsmen and followers who were wise enough to tolerate and learn from them over the past two hundred millennia.
But there has cropped up a problem, one that worsens almost by the day. To our 'natural truth' there has been added over the past five thousand years the visions of an unending assortment of messiahs, prophets, theologians, preachers, politicians, grand theory thinkers, and snake oil salesmen - each finessing, bellowing or elbowing each other to the forefront to (mis)lead and exploit our various masses. We have consequently ended up with quite a mess. A mess where enculturate, truth, virtue, morality, wellbeing and human flourishing are so divergently understood and accepted that they are all now near meaningless.
It's a damn wonder the Enlightenment ever occurred at all, much less that it has since been sustained in some quarters of some societies. (The verdict on its sustainability and survival in US society remains deadlocked by religion and politics, and is currently and rapidly heading toward a cliff.)
With a real truth - a provisionally objective, reasoned, evidence-based , humane, secular truth - apparently so hard to come by and spread, it's a damn wonder, in the cacophony of babble, we as individuals of our species have sense or confidence enough to get out of bed each morning much less the savvy to survive the day.
Being a long time gone by then I shall never find out, but I sincerely hope, when the dust, smoke, and flying bovine fecal matter finally settle, there will be something left of our humaneness, rationality, and planet to rebuild on.
Book Review: Paradoxology: If It Doesn’t Make Sense, It Must Be True by Tim Callahan, eSkeptic, May 24, 2017, a review of the book Paradoxology: Why Christianity Was Never Meant to Be Simple (2017) by Krish Kandiah.
"'Paradoxology' makes the bold claim: that the paradoxes that seem to undermine belief are actually at the heart of our vibrant faith, and that it is only by continually wrestling with them—rather than trying to pin them down or push them away—that we can really worship God, individually and together."
"'It is certain because it is impossible' —Tertullian (160–215CE) on the Resurrection"
"In other words, those things that argue strongly against the God of Christianity are actually arguments that support a belief in such a God. Ergo God exists. Q.E.D."
...
"In his first chapter, 'The Abraham Paradox,' [Krish] Kandiah first tells the story of Gyeoung Son, a teenage girl from North Korea who lost her mother to leukemia and whose father disappeared and was probably executed because of having converted to Christianity. Why, Kandiah asks, would God ask so much of the faithful. He says (p. 12):
'Here lies the heart of the paradox: an all-powerful, self-sufficient God who asks for costly worship. This paradox challenges us not just at an intellectual level, but at an emotional one. It strikes at the core of our faith, because it is about the very character of God. Is God loving, kind and compassionate? Or is he cruel, insecure and greedy?'"



ARE HUMANS ‘BUILT’ TO LIVE IN THE MOMENT?

May 21, 2017


The book the following essay is based on looks very interesting – Homo Prospectus
by Martin E. P. Seligman, et al. See https://www.amazon.com/…/B01GTYHW…/ref=mp_s_a_1_1_twi_kin_2…
My only concern is the writer’s lofty prose in the essay’s concluding sentence: “He became Homo sapiens by learning to see and shape his future….” But maybe there is some truth in this statement if one considers the long term trajectory of human cultural evolution. We do in fact add to and remake the ethnosphere in order to address our future. That is, our needs in the present and future. And perhaps we do the same in the arc of our individual lives as microcosms of that larger evolutionary pattern. Perhaps we have been doing this, individually and collectively, for the entire 200,000 years of H. sapiens’ existence.
“We are misnamed. We call ourselves Homo sapiens, the ‘wise man,’ but that’s more of a boast than a description. What makes us wise? What sets us apart from other animals? Various answers have been proposed — language, tools, cooperation, culture, tasting bad to predators — but none is unique to humans. What best distinguishes our species is an ability that scientists are just beginning to appreciate: We contemplate the future.”

“A more apt name for our species would be Homo prospectus, because we thrive by considering our prospects. The power of prospection is what makes us wise. Looking into the future, consciously and unconsciously, is a central function of our large brain, as psychologists and neuroscientists have discovered — rather belatedly, because for the past century most researchers have assumed that we’re prisoners of the past and the present.”

“But it is increasingly clear that the mind is mainly drawn to the future, not driven by the past. … Our emotions are less reactions to the present than guides to future behavior. [contra Jonathan Haidt’] … Most prospection occurs at the unconscious level as the brain sifts information to generate predictions.”

“If ‘Homo prospectus’ takes the really long view, does he become morbid? That was a longstanding assumption in psychologists’ ‘terror management theory,’ which held that humans avoid thinking about the future because they fear death [see: http://chronicle.com/article/Mortal-Motivation/230303/]. … But there’s precious little evidence that people actually spend much time outside the lab thinking about their deaths or managing their terror of mortality. … ‘Homo prospectus’ is too pragmatic to obsess on death for the same reason that he doesn’t dwell on the past: There’s nothing he can do about it. He became Homo sapiens by learning to see and shape his future, and he is wise enough to keep looking straight ahead.”



HUMANS; UNUSUALLY MURDEROUS MAMMALS, TYPICALY MURDEROUS PRIMATES?

May 18, 2017


The sensational language of "ancestral bloodthirst " aside, this article about the evolutionary prehistory and history of human violence is interesting. It's important to note however that there is something crucial hidden within the statement "when our species arose, around 2 percent of us (1 in 50) would have been murdered by other people." That is, the 98%, or 49 in 50, who were not murder victims were survivors for a reason - our long-standing and still prevalent propensity for mutual caring, mutual protection, cooperation through learning as a cultural adaptation.
"[A]t the origin of Homo sapiens, we were six times more lethally violent than the average mammal, but about as violent as expected for a primate. But time and social organizations have sated our ancestral bloodthirst, leaving us with modern rates of lethal violence that are well below the prehistoric baseline. We are an average member of an especially violent group of mammals, and we’ve managed to curb our ancestry. Gómez’s team predicted that when our species arose, around 2 percent of us (1 in 50) would have been murdered by other people."
...
"[R]ates of lethal violence originally ranged from 3.4 to 3.9 percent during Paleolithic times, making us only slightly more violent than you’d expect for a primate of our evolutionary past. That rate rose to around 12 percent during the bloody Medieval period, before falling again over the last few centuries to levels even lower than our prehistoric past."
...
"As we moved from small bands to medium-sized tribes to large chiefdoms, our rates of lethal violence increased. But once we formed large states, 'institutions like the rule of law reduced rates of lethal violence below what one would expect for a mammal with our ancestry and ecology, and below what has been observed in human societies in earlier periods and with simpler forms of social organization,' says Steven Pinker from Harvard University."
...
"'The study demonstrates the importance of recognizing humans as animals more generally, and primates more specifically,' says Patricia Lambert, an anthropologist at Utah State University. 'There is a tendency to see human behavior as distinct from that of all other members of the animal kingdom and I think this hinders our understanding of the human brain and behavior.' That being said, she adds that rates of lethal violence vary considerably between different human populations, ranging from 0 to 65 percent. Average values 'do not characterize the spectrum of human violence all that well,' she says."



IN DEFENSE OF ‘TRANSRACIALISM’?

May 15, 2017


This article, which provoked an uproar among some academics and civil rights activists, contains much to consider for discussions of race, truth, self, and the social dynamics of conservative/progressive and group responsibility/individual rights.
It raises the question of what or who bears the onus of responsibility for human wellbeing and flourishing - the group or the individual? Or is it a variously defined combination of the two that must be decided issue by issue in the marketplace of ideas, courts or, that failing, in the streets? This author tends toward the primacy of the individual.
Your thoughts?
"I have taken it as my task in this article to argue that a just society should reconsider what we owe individuals who claim a strongly felt sense of identification with another race, and accordingly what we want race to be. I hope to have shown that, insofar as similar arguments that render transgenderism acceptable extend to transracialism, we have reason to allow racial self-identification, coupled with racial social treatment, to play a greater role in the determination of race than has previously been recognized. I conclude that society should accept such an individual's decision to change race the same way it should accept an individual's decision to change sex."



INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT EDUCATION FAIL

May 12, 2017

“Parachuting in courses from the West does African entrepreneurs no good.”




IS TRUMP A THREAT TO OVERTHROW DEMOCRACY IN THE U.S.?


In recent weeks I have been asking my fellow Freethinkers to engage in a discussion on how much of Trump and the GOP's harm to our government, institutions and society we should tolerate; more specifically, how do we decide on thresholds for deciding and what might some of those limits be?
The response has been minimal and mostly lukewarm. However, one person did say "no violence, ever, it's just what they want us to do so they can retaliate;" another "we're not there yet," and another reported one of my posts to Facebook as inappropriate or something worse. I think the reasons for this aversion to vigorously discuss aggressive resistance have to do, in part, with the liberal bubble of comfort and denial many of us live in. Maybe it is fear.
In recent days I have finally encountered a local Freethinker willing to talk freely about and actually describe thresholds for deciding when to drop civil, peaceful protest and other non-violent means and turn to more aggressive, and possibly violent, tactics for resisting Trump and the GOP.
Here is where that person draws the line: 1) the beginning of mass arrests, incarcerations, and/or deportations of persons based primarily on race, religion, or political persuasion, and 2) a concerted, marked reduction in the hiring of minorities by federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.
The following interview suggests two more thresholds: 3) Trump tries to take full control of the government and country by declaring a national state of emergency, and 4) protest is made illegal.
Are these four thresholds necessary and sufficient? They certainly seem necessary but I think there are other less severe thresholds that should be
considered. I've mentioned severe, violence inciting hate speech before.
Where do you draw the line?
Forget that the source of the interview below, Salon, is sensationalist, ultra-left. Just consider what the interviewee, a prominent scholar, has to say about the degree of danger Trump poses to the US and what we the people can do to resist him:
"Timothy Snyder, [is] a professor of history at Yale University. He is the award-winning author of numerous books including the recent 'Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning' and 'Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin.' Snyder’s new book, 'On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century,' explores how the American people can fight back against Donald Trump’s incipient authoritarian regime."
...
"I don’t want to dodge your question about whether Trump is a fascist or not. As I see it, there are certainly elements of his approach which are fascistic. The straight-on confrontation with the truth is at the center of the fascist worldview. The attempt to undo the Enlightenment as a way to undo institutions, that is fascism.
"Another thing that’s clearly fascist about Trump were the rallies. The way that he used the language, the blunt repetitions, the naming of the enemies, the physical removal of opponents from rallies, that was really, without exaggeration, just like the 1920s and the 1930s.
"And Mr. [Steve] Bannon’s preoccupation with the 1930s and his kind of wishful reclamation of Italian and other fascists speaks for itself."
...
"I think it’s pretty much inevitable that they will try [to take full control of the government by declaring a state of emergency]. The reason I think that is that the conventional ways of being popular are not working out for them. The conventional way to be popular or to be legitimate in this country is to have some policies, to grow your popularity ratings and to win some elections. I don’t think 2018 is looking very good for the Republicans along those conventional lines — not just because the president is historically unpopular. It’s also because neither the White House nor Congress have any policies which the majority of the public like."
...
"The last lesson in “On Tyranny” is to be as courageous as you can. Do you actually care enough about freedom that you would take risks? Do individuals actually care about freedom? Think that through. I think if enough of us take the little risks at the beginning, which aren’t really that significant, this will prevent us from having to take bigger risks down the line.
"We are still at a stage where protest is not illegal. We’re still at a stage where protest is not lethal. Those are the two big thresholds. We are still on the good side of both of those thresholds and so now is the time you want to pack in as much as you can because you could actually divert things. Once you get into a world where protest is illegal, then the things that I recommend like corporeal politics, getting out on the streets — they have to happen but they are much riskier. It’s a much different kind of decision."



FREE SPEECH AND HARM

May 1, 2017


This is about allowing college campus free speech that promotes white supremacy, fascism, alt-right hate and the merits of allowing conservative plutocrats to have greater power and accumulate ever more wealth.
The debate is over! The major questions concerning the nature and role of modern governance and morality were debated during the Enlightenment. The ideals and values that were judged optimal for human flourishing were then validated by the outcomes of the American and French Revolutions, American Civil War, World War II, the Holocaust, and American Civil and other Human Rights Movements. Let's take a look at those foundational principles of modern civilized life.
Liberty and justice for rulers only? Bad. Liberty and justice for all? Good.
Governance based on church authority? Bad. Governance based on deliberative reason and democracy? Good.
Pursuit of the greatest good for the ruling class and not the greatest number of all the people? Bad. Pursuing the greatest good for the greatest number of ALL the people? Good.
Inequality under the law based on race, ethnicity and religion? Bad. Equality of all under the law? Good.
Allowing alt-right, white supremacist, fascist advocates to speak to promote plutocracy and racism because it is good to hear and evaluate their ideas is nonsense. Their ideas and goals for society are known and have been thoroughly evaluated and contested, sometimes violently.
There is nothing to reconsider about the myth of white supremacy, the harm of spreading racial stereotypes and prejudice, and the unsubstantiated and unproven argument that ultra-conservative plutocrats and their free market supporters should be allowed to impose their will on all the people.
Yes, allowing such expression fulfills our rightful obligation to individual liberty. But in doing so, in the case of these speakers, the cost in terms of harm to the wellbeing of society is too high a price to pay. The greatest good for the greatest number of people is not served by such, nor is the quality of intellectual debate or the education of our youth.
Here's a better, more thorough discussion of the matter:
"Debates about free expression often divide along clear lines. At one end, an established civil libertarian tradition inevitably applies some version of John Stuart Mill’s familiar harm principle (https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/mill-moral-political/…). Law, they claim, must always assume the background norm of free expression. That default position may be overridden only when some palpable risk of harm can be demonstrated, something more than ‘mere’ offense. The law must not penalise the sheer expression of repugnant ideas.
"Such an approach is commonly called ‘liberal’. However, that label now covers such different meanings that phrases like ‘civil libertarian’ or ‘classically liberal’ are used to avoid confusion. Civil libertarianism once stood as the obviously progressive stance. Throughout much of European history it had been conservative forces of monarchy and church that were censoring provocative views. In the early and mid-20th centuries heavy censorship continued to be associated with dictatorial regimes. Yet distinctions between democracy and dictatorship were already blurring. States liberal in principle contradicted their declared values in practice. African-Americans in Southern US states spoke ‘freely’ only at great risk to their lives and to their families, with scant protection from the law. Other ethnic minorities, along with women or sexual minorities, fared little better.
"Since the late 20th century, post-colonial, black empowerment, radical feminist, queer, and other critical movements have waged forceful challenges to the civil libertarian tradition. Their advocates have questioned the classical liberal assumption that all citizens can speak with equal voices within an open ‘marketplace of ideas’. White, middle-class, patriarchal and hetero-normative interests, they argue, inherently prevail through unequal arrangements of power, wealth, and influence."



FROM THE BASTILLE TO TRUMP TOWER?

April 29, 2017

Yes, and the US under Trump is quickly becoming like "all too many other societies [where] imprisoning, torturing, or simply refusing freedom of movement is not a clumsy threat, but a daily reality."
The problem is, the rule of law in the US is now in the hands of Trump and the GOP who control all branches of government. These are people whose notions of justice, liberty and reasoned governance are deviant forms of their original meanings as established during the Enlightenment. These leaders, and their supporters, are pseudo-patriots who have forsaken one of the most noble goals of the Enlightenment - doing the greatest good for the greatest number of people. They have perverted and subverted the ideals of the Enlightenment to serve their selfish quest for total power and ever more wealth. The time to once again "storm the Bastille" is coming if not, as the Antifa and others are convinced, at hand.
"Ultimately President Trump is merely the latest in a long line of rulers to look to the doctrine of raison d’état to justify his stance, and in doing so he unconsciously echoes debates that had a profound influence on the development of the American Constitution and our broader understanding of individual rights."
...
"The executive, whether the king, or more commonly those acting in his name, should not act as both judge and jury, and to imprison or banish individuals without trial was an offence to natural rights and the principles of justice and liberty. Thanks to a constitution written against the intellectual background of these debates, the American judiciary will preserve its independence in the new era of the “executive tweet.” Yet Trump’s unorthodox introduction to high office is a reminder that in all too many other societies imprisoning, torturing, or simply refusing freedom of movement is not a clumsy threat, but a daily reality, and, that today, as in the eighteenth century, without the rule of law there is neither justice nor liberty.



WHY DOES JOSEPH KONY OF THE LORD’S RESISTANCE ARMY REMAIN AT LARGE?

April 29, 2017


“As the LRA threat has dissipated, most NGOs have left Dungu [in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo] , but the town still hosts, at least for a few more days, American military advisors at a nearby airstrip, part of the $100-million-a-year counter-LRA effort. It is part of a larger push by US Special Forces in sub-Saharan Africa over the last decade: last year, more than 17% of all US Special Operations forces deployed abroad were sent to Africa, up from just 1% in 2006. In Obo, Central African Republic, the US has for years maintained another airbase for counter-LRA missions. … And yet for all the money spent, not much reaches the front lines.”
“The trial of Kony’s former lieutenant, Dominic Ongwen, continues at The Hague. The cost is staggering. The ICC’s proposed budget for 2017 estimates that the trial will require 164 days of hearings, with 28 witnesses, real-time video translation into two local languages and more on-the-ground field support. ICC investigators have been to Lukodi [northern Uganda, 10 miles north of Gulu] repeatedly to gather evidence. Mementos of their visits are stored in a small shed: a plaque, presented by ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, and poetry, tucked in cheap frames, that was coaxed from survivors by court-dispatched counselors. In 2015, the court spent €2.48 million ($2.7 million) on the Ongwen case, a figure likely to skyrocket for 2017. The court’s budget, meanwhile, has grown from €53 million in 2004 to a projected €150 million for 2017.

“Cost-benefit criticisms of the ICC are not new or novel. But the fact remains that the people of northern Uganda have many problems. Ensuring that Dominic Ongwen spends the rest of his life in a warm cell with cable television in the Netherlands—when Lukodi residents saw him on TV, they remarked how chubby he’d gotten—is not high on that list. Ditto for capturing Kony, who is reportedly holed up in the Kafia Kingi region of Sudan, some 700 miles away from Gulu, with his few remaining followers.”
“These people [especially the Acholi of northern Uganda] needed money. Billions of dollars had gone a lot of places. It had gone to Kampala and The Hague and San Diego. It had purchased plane tickets and assault rifles and espressos. In Lukodi, where the sun bakes the painted names of the dead on a crude memorial, it has purchased not very much at all.”



ANTI-FASCIST RADICALS (ANTIFA): LIBERALS DON’T REALIZE THE SERIOUS DANGER OF THE ALT-RIGHT

April 28, 2017


Let me understand something. Violent white supremacy and fascism have a long history in the US and Europe. The violent French and American Revolutions that succeeded in extending the Enlightenment ideals and values of freedom, justice and rational governance to greater numbers of people than before, were and continue to be held as righteous uses of violence.
Later, abolitionist and civil rights movements were mostly non-violent reactions to slavery and other forms of oppression based on race. The notable exception was the American Civil War. The greater reason for fighting that war, among other lesser justifications, was to rid the US of slavery based on white supremacy and violence. The violence and threat of violence by black militants in the US during the 1960s was pivotal in prompting the white establishment to respond favorably to the non-violent Martin Luther King, Jr.
Now, those in the US such as the Antifa and others who engage in violence to oppose white supremacy and fascism and their violent expression in the US are NOT celebrated for defending liberty, justice and reasoned governance for the greatest majority in society. On the contrary, they are shunned by liberal progressives and demonized by the mainstream media and many of the intellectual elite.
At the same time white supremacist, fascist and alt-right groups cry foul, rail about liberal hypocrisy and seek protection for their hate and cover for their history and future of racist, hate-based violence under the First Amendment of the Constitution?! What?! And most of the liberals, liberal media, and intellectuals cower before them from an insane belief in speech false equivalence.
The Antifa and other strong liberals have decided two things. One, they have defined what of the white supremacist, fascist, alt-right agenda they will not tolerate; what of the liberal Enlightenment project they will not allow to be dismantled or destroyed. They have drawn a line at hate speech by groups whose hate has been violent historically and continually up to the present.
Two, they have grasped and acknowledged that the non-violence recommended to liberal progressives by the media and intelligentsia is exactly what the racists, fascist alt-right want and need and are counting on to succeed and help further their racist, fascist, and evil agenda.
I think Antifa and other violent liberal efforts are a necessary supplement to the nonviolent efforts.
"...the left need to do more than wear safety pins and post Facebook denunciations...."
...
"Liberals cling to institutions: They begged to no avail for faithless electors, they see 'evisceration' in a friendly late-night talk-show debate, they put faith in investigations and justice with regards to Russian interference and business conflicts of interest. They grasp at hypotheticals about who could have won, were things not as they in fact are. For political subjects so tied to the mythos of Reason, it is liberals who now seem deranged."
...
"...leftists need to take direct action to make being a white nationalist as difficult as possible."
...
"Only by fighting and destroying fascism can we actually defeat it...."
...
"...understanding that white nationalists are deadly serious about instigating a 'racial holy war' is the key to countering them."
...
"'During the rise of the Nazi regime in Germany, while anarchists and communists were literally fighting the fascists in the streets, the liberals and social democrats attempted to debate the Nazis point for point in the halls of power,' the anonymous activist continued. 'This did nothing, and also normalized the positions of the Nazis and also made them into legitimate positions.'"
...
"Liberalism [has] proven itself unable to prevent the rise of fascism over and over again.... By the time liberals are comfortable with cracking down on fascism, it’s almost always too late. Antifa wants to make sure that no roots can take hold; that every attempt to organize and recruit for the fascist agenda is physically confronted and shut down."
...
“There is nothing ‘objective’ about writing [an] article about alt-right neo-nazis without including perspectives of their ideological opposites,” argued the Nebraska [Antifa] activists. “We have noticed a marked lack of Antifa views in the mainstream media; we are denied a voice while they are elevated and made to seem mainstream.”
...
"Antifa activists also take issue with liberals who think that letting people with racist or anti-Semitic views state them publicly somehow serves as a method of relieving societal pressures. Instead, as an anonymous essayist on the anarchist website CrimethInc wrote, such expressions merely increase the reach and influence of the far right:
Fascists are only attempting to express their views 'peacefully' in order to lay the groundwork for violent activity. Because fascists require a veneer of social legitimacy to be able to carry out their program, giving them a platform to speak opens the door to their being able to do physical harm to people. Public speech promoting ideologies of hate, whether or not you consider it violent on its own, always complements and correlates with violent actions. By affiliating themselves with movements and ideologies based on oppression and genocide, fascists show their intention to carry on these legacies of violence — but only if they can develop a base of support."
...
"Radical and even violent action against the far right probably does alienate some people, Antifa activists are quick to admit, but direct street action also attracts support in ways that political speechifying or angry letters to the editor simply cannot, they say.
"It is certainly true that more extreme supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement have made many right-wingers more antagonistic toward police reform advocates. And mainstream Democratic and Republican hierarchies were completely ignoring the issue before fires began burning in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore."
...
"Liberals and much of the Left claim that confrontational tactics hurt us more than they help, from breaking windows to blocking streets. But in reality, each and every time this plays out in our communities, it is simply not the case. In fact, confrontation and disruption, in other words: physically fighting, brings more people in than sign holding or writing letters to the editor ever did. If anything, the wet blanket and attempts to control things by protest managers and liberals kills social movements, not combative actions which can be disruptive and at times violent."
...
"Liberals and Leftists claim that confrontational actions scare away people from getting involved. But we find the opposite to be true. When people see a struggle is real; when there is skin in the game, something to fight for, and people are putting their bodies on the line, they often come out in droves. It is symbolic and legalistic protest which is pointless and doesn’t work and ends up turning many people away."



THE MYTH OF A SUPERHUMAN ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

April 28, 2017


This writer makes some convincing arguments that the future impact of AI is not as threatening as many claim. I lack the computer expertise to fully assess his views. I'm hoping those of you having knowledge of computing will kindly help by leaving a comment. Thanks!



BEING YOURSELF IS THE LUXURY MOST IMMIGRANTS DON’T HAVE

April 26, 2017


Great essay on the self, identity and much more from a useful standpoint - that of an immigrant in the US, a perspective we Merkans seldom opt for. Self is far from an illusion, it is very real as something we build, maintain, assess, and change to suit our personal and social needs. This is a human "being" thing. Jonathan Haidt's (The Righteous Mind) model of his alleged "moral foundations" of our biological versus cultural human nature explains little to nothing when applied in this crucial, in fact essential, sociocultural context. Your thoughts?



THREE ON DEATH AND DYING

April 21, 2017

Cicero’s Tusculan Disputations: I. On Contempt of Death
https://howtobeastoic.wordpress.com/…/ciceros-tusculan-dis…/
Emil Cioran: The Anti-Philosopher of Life and Death
"The impotence of philosophy in the face of death was intimately connected to Cioran’s other central tenet: that while death was a fearful catastrophe, the inescapable tragedy was having been born in the first place. Life itself is fleeting and uncertain, full of frustration and disappointment. We know not what we are to do nor why we should do it. Death is one of the few certainties. 'We do not rush toward death, we flee the catastrophe of birth, survivors struggling to forget it. Fear of death is merely a projection into the future of a fear which dates back to our first moment of life.' Death is only because birth was."



YOU WANT THE TRUTH?!

April 21, 2017


You want the truth?! We can no longer handle the truth. We therefore no longer value much less care about the truth. We have abandoned it because it no longer serves our needs (desires?), in public or political life. It has been swept under the rug of 'sincerity' and the 'illusion' of a responsible, accountable 'self'. A self that demands authenticity and conformity of its understandings and beliefs with reality based on reason, science, and learned virtues and moral systems is no longer how we define our selves or our 'nature'. We are protoplasm expressing the 'moral foundations' residing in our emotions and genes, we are told. Sincerity is preferable over truth, we've come to believe. What a sorry lot Homo sapiens is becoming. But there is hope. A negation of truth cannot be sustainable over the long term. A shared truth is the basis of the bonds that bind us, that which makes us human, and makes cooperation a viable evolutionary adaptive strategy. Without that we are merely individuals, not human 'beings'.
Excerpts:
"However old-fashioned the conception of sincerity, it is crucial to today’s politics. But sincerity, importantly, is not concerned with the agreement between word and deed, or theory and practice, which determines hypocrisy. Sincerity rather depends on the relationship, the harmony between word and belief. Far more important than what one says, in other words, is whether one believes it. The former British prime minister Tony Blair has provided perhaps the first contemporary example in the West of the return of sincerity to politics. In a rambling press conference in July 2016, he defended his key role in the invasion of Iraq. As a defence, Blair invoked the genuineness of his belief, on the eve of the Iraq War, in the imminent threat he thought Saddam Hussein’s regime posed to the West. He did not rest his case on the rightness or wrongness of his views, nor on his consequent actions.
"It is facile to see Blair’s emphasis on the state of his own beliefs, his quasi-religious faith, merely as a self-serving evasion.
"Blair’s statement is representative of our age. Not only does it concern the historic Iraq War, it presumes throughout that when ‘facts’ are either unavailable or doubtful, sincerity reigns. Sincerity becomes more important than one’s position, more important than whether one is promoting or repudiating facts. Of course, our media-saturated, or ‘mediated’, age has not brought clarity of facts, but something closer to the opposite. All facts can now be questioned, precisely because outside such media they seem to possess no verifiable existence. Truth is therefore made in decision as a kind of wager, rather than discovered by knowledge in the form of certitude."
...
"Today, sincerity is no longer defined by conformity. Sincerity rather presupposes the elimination of an inner life, the same inner life required for generating either authenticity or conformity. With the disappearance of inner life, one of the traditional hiding places of truth has also ceased to exist.
"The disappearance of an inner life, in one sense, fits well in a world dominated by media and spectacle."
...
"The logic of sincerity in political life today operates by a kind of short-circuit. Being true to oneself refers neither to conformity with a social ideal nor to some authentic break from it. Sincerity instead requires the willful belief in something unproven or uncertain."
...
"The truth, or falsehood, of a claim is less important than the sincerity with which a claim is made. That’s what counts."



IN DEFENSE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION

April 21, 2017


I'm seldom in agreement with David Brooks' opinions but he makes some good points in the following short essay. I do, however, take issue with his allegation that many at the universities have brought a halt to the teaching of Western civilization as something laudable. He writes:
"Starting decades ago, many people, especially in the universities, lost faith in the Western civilization narrative. They stopped teaching it, and the great cultural transmission belt broke. Now many students, if they encounter it, are taught that Western civilization is a history of oppression."
Yes, "many" academics have remained deeply critical of how the West has misapplied the intentions of the liberal Enlightenment project (LEP), but they have not thereby broken the passing of it on to the young. It is alive and well in the collective American conscience. But the packaging and implementation of the narrative has been given to the political elites. One of the two dominant political elites, the liberal progressive Democrats, has more closely adhered to the narrative than have their counterparts, the Republicans.
Brooks lays the blame for the alleged foundering of the liberal Enlightenment project (LEP) at the feet of academics. He is wrong.
Politicians, and especially the Republican Party, the party Brooks most times favors, are those who have hijacked, misconstrued and malapplied the ideals of the LEP. How? By recasting the core Enlightenment principles - freedom, justice, and reasoned governance - to suit them and the wealthy, not to suit the greatest number of the people nor improve the wellbeing of the structures, functions (protections), and institutions of US society, nor those of the global community of nations.
A leader like Trump is what a majority of GOP voters want, as shown in the last election. Now they have him and the Trump-led (Trump-hijacked) GOP agenda is exposed for what it has always really been. An agenda no longer cleverly hidden under the GOP rhetoric of pseudo-patriotism, the pseudo-righteousness of Christian magnanimity, and the pseudo-promise of prosperity for all via their unproven yet beloved trickle-down economics. They would have you believe theirs is the path to the true Enlightenment ideals. It ain't.
Where has the US's commitment to freedom, justice, and reason (including science) based governance for the greatest number of people and their wellbeing gone? Into the GOP portfolio, redefined and mixed with the interests of the wealthy, and sweetened to suit the pallet of lower and middle class white GOP voters. Those voters who aspire to accumulate the great possible amount of personal wealth, which most will never acquire, over societal and human protection and wellbeing.
Go ahead and paint the Democrats with the same political pseudoisms above because some of it will surely stick. But the GOP, far and away, by any objective standard or measure, has done more to benefit the wealthy, harm US society and the greatest number of its people, and undermine the liberal Enlightenment project than have all the academics and liberal progressive Democrats combined. Prove me wrong on this.
I am writing and will soon post a review of two books that address what has happened to the LEP. One focuses on technology and the humanities, the other on politics: In Bluebeard's Castle: Some Notes Towards the Redefinition of Culture (1971) by George Steiner, and Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth-Century America (1997) by Richard Rorty.
Spoiler Alert: It ain't the readers and thinkers at our universities, the only ones in US society who have the most complete and accurate understanding of the LEP, who have dehumanized, mongrelized and thereby subverted the true ideals of the Enlightenment.
Aside from his misplaced blame on the universities, Brooks' essay and the links it contains have some good points of view worth considering.
Your thoughts?

A REPLY

"At the end of the day, the collapse of Western civilization — and perhaps all of civilization — is less likely to be a consequence of cultural factors than economic and ecological ones. Indeed, just a few days before the Brooks column was published, the BBC posted a noteworthy article titled 'How Western civilization could collapse.' According to the computer models of system scientist Safa Motesharrei, the leading factors will likely be 'ecological strain and economic stratification.'"



TRUMP - PLATO'S PHILOSOPHER KING HE AIN'T

April 16, 2017


'Until philosophers are kings, or the kings and princes of this world have the spirit and power of philosophy, and political greatness and wisdom meet in one, and those commoner natures who pursue either to the exclusion of the other are compelled to stand aside, cities will never have rest from their evils — no, nor the human race, as I believe — and then only will this our State have a possibility of life and behold the light of day.'
- Plato, The Republic, Book V, 473c

"One ought to know the moral character of any action one is contemplating. And to know that, one must be as well aware of what one does not know as of what one does. Otherwise, no confident judgment about the rightness or wrongness of one’s own action is possible.

"[T]here are two types of ignorance: ignorance of whether an action is right or wrong; and ignorance of what one does and does not know about right and wrong. This latter form of unawareness – ignorance of one’s own ignorance – is Trump’s most troubling characteristic....

"As Trump’s chaotic presidency continues to unfold, one thing that we can know for sure is that any policy he introduces, and any action he takes, will occur against a backdrop of deep ignorance, and even meta-ignorance. Sadly, nothing could be more dangerous for the United States, other countries, or the planet."



I THOUGHT I UNDERSTOOD THE AMERICAN RIGHT. TRUMP PROVED ME WRONG

April 15, 2017


I Thought I Understood the American Right. Trump Proved Me Wrong. - A historian of conservatism looks back at how he and his peers failed to anticipate the rise of the president.



A CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER YOU’VE LIKELY NEVER HEARD OF

April 14, 2017


THE MANY LIVES OF PAULI MURRAY - She was an architect of the civil-rights struggle—and the women’s movement. Why haven’t you heard of her?



GENIUS, INTERRUPTED - THE LIFE, TIMES, AND TRIALS OF SCULPTOR CAMILLE CLAUDEL

April 13, 2017


"An artistic genius whose talent was undervalued, a single woman without money or social status, and a resolute nonconformist in a culture that punished women who moved even slightly outside accepted norms, Claudel could not beat the odds stacked against her. She became a recluse...."



WHAT, THEN, MAKES YOU YOU? AND WHAT IS INSIDE THAT COCOON OF CERTITUDES WE CALL A SELF?

April 9,2017


"There is no whole self. Any of life’s present situations is seamless and sufficient. Are you, as you ponder these disquietudes, anything more than an in­difference gliding over the argument I make, or an appraisal of the opinions I expound?
"I, as I write this, am only a certainty that seeks out the words that are most apt to compel your attention. That proposition and a few muscular sensations, and the sight of the limpid branches that the trees place outside my window, constitute my current I.
"It would be vanity to suppose that in order to enjoy absolute validity this psychic aggregate must seize on a self, that conjectural Jorge Luis Borges on whose tongue sophistries are always at the ready and in whose solitary strolls the evenings on the fringes of the city are pleasant."



HOW DO YOU KNOW THAT YOU LOVE SOMEBODY?

April 9, 2017


"Love … is a permanent structural feature of our soul."
...
"The alternations between love and its denial, suffering and denial of suffering … constitute the most essential and ubiquitous structural feature of the human heart. In suffering we know only suffering. We call our rationalizations false and delusive, and we do not see to what extent they express a mechanism that is regular and deep in our lives. But this means that in love itself we do not yet have full knowledge of love — for we do not grasp its limits and boundaries. Sea creatures cannot be said to know the sea in the way that a creature does who can survey and dwell in both sea and land, noticing how they bound and limit one another."



PANPSYCHISM - AN ANSWER TO THE HARD PROBLEM OF CONSCIOUSNESS?

April 7, 2017


"Monism holds that all of reality is made of the same kind of stuff. It comes in several varieties. The most common monistic view is physicalism (also known as materialism), the view that everything is made of physical stuff, which only has one aspect, the one revealed by physics. This is the predominant view among philosophers and scientists today. According to physicalism, a complete, purely physical description of reality leaves nothing out. But according to the hard problem of consciousness, any purely physical description of a conscious system such as the brain at least appears to leave something out: It could never fully capture what it is like to be that system. That is to say, it captures the objective but not the subjective aspects of consciousness: the brain function, but not our inner mental life."
...
"[Bertrand] Russell’s dual-aspect monism tries to fill in this deficiency. It accepts that the brain is a material system that behaves in accordance with the laws of physics. But it adds another, intrinsic aspect to matter which is hidden from the extrinsic, third-person perspective of physics and which therefore cannot be captured by any purely physical description. But although this intrinsic aspect eludes our physical theories, it does not elude our inner observations. Our own consciousness constitutes the intrinsic aspect of the brain, and this is our clue to the intrinsic aspect of other physical things. To paraphrase Arthur Schopenhauer’s succinct response to Kant: We can know the thing-in-itself because we are it.
"Dual-aspect monism comes in moderate and radical forms. Moderate versions take the intrinsic aspect of matter to consist of so-called protoconscious or 'neutral' properties: properties that are unknown to science, but also different from consciousness. The nature of such neither-mental-nor-physical properties seems quite mysterious. Like the aforementioned quantum theories of consciousness, moderate dual-aspect monism can therefore be accused of merely adding one mystery to another and expecting them to cancel out.
"The most radical version of dual-aspect monism takes the intrinsic aspect of reality to consist of consciousness itself. This is decidedly not the same as subjective idealism, the view that the physical world is merely a structure within human consciousness, and that the external world is in some sense an illusion. According to dual-aspect monism, the external world exists entirely independently of human consciousness. But it would not exist independently of any kind of consciousness, because all physical things are associated with some form of consciousness of their own, as their own intrinsic realizer, or hardware.
"As a solution to the hard problem of consciousness, dual-aspect monism faces objections of its own. The most common objection is that it results in panpsychism, the view that all things are associated with some form of consciousness. ... A second important objection is the so-called combination problem. How and why does the complex, unified consciousness of our brains result from putting together particles with simple consciousness? ... I and other defenders of panpsychism have argued that the combination problem is nevertheless not as hard as the original hard problem. In some ways, it is easier to see how to get one form of conscious matter (such as a conscious brain) from another form of conscious matter (such as a set of conscious particles) than how to get conscious matter from non-conscious matter."



AT DEATH, THE SELF DEGENERATES INTO THE NETWORK OF RELATIONSHIPS

April 6, 2017


“The fundamental nature of life may be not atomistic but relational,” Haskell says. “Life is not just networked; it is network.”
Haskell sees life, as exemplified by trees, as less about the stories of individuals and more as “temporary aggregations of relationships.” And death, then, is the de-centering of those relationships, as the “self degenerates into the network.”
...
This tendency to focus on individuals at the expense of networks has, Haskell believes, led us to distance ourselves from nature. “I don’t buy either the religious view that we’re separate, or the view from the environmental community that we don’t belong anymore, and the planet would be better off without us,” he says. Seeing nature as an untouched land that we wall off in national parks is, Haskell argues, just as damaging to our sense of belonging as the religious view that we have dominion above all creation. “Dogmas of separation fragment the community of life; they wall humans in a lonely room,” he writes.



THE INVISIBILITY OF ATHEISM  - "WORLDLY" RELIGION IN AFRICA

April 6, 2017


"Religions wield a lot of worldly power and influence and use their power to sustain the belief in God or Allah. They hold atheists and atheism hostage. Propagators of god-belief take advantage of the harsh economic situation in Africa. They make god-belief rewarding socially, politically and financially. And in a situation where state institutions are weak or are under the total control of these worldly ‘world religions’, there is limited space for atheists and atheism to thrive and flourish. So, atheists are mainly in the closet. The future of atheism lies in effectively confronting, counteracting and resisting the power and pressure of worldly religion."



BOOK REVIEW: THE EVANGELICALS: THE STRUGGLE TO SHAPE AMERICA
BY FRANCES FITZGERALD


"Trump has a style that seems like no style to the 'proper' viewer, the 'politically correct.' His antiestablishment pose could not, all by itself, make 81 percent of evangelicals vote for him. They had ancillary reasons for doing that—the hope of outlawing abortion, Hillary hate, feeling scorned by 'the elite.' But his style helped ease the godly toward this godless man. They felt he was 'talking their language'—little realizing that it was the language of Father Divine among others, of evangelicals as tastelessly rich as Donald Trump. It is the 'tastelessly' that assures them he is no snob. As Fran Lebowitz says, 'He’s a poor person’s idea of a rich person'—living in a vulgar gold splendor the poor man would embrace if he had 'made it.'"



HAPPINESS AND OPTIMISM IN AFRICA

April 2, 2017


"Africa, home to 16% of the world’s population, is the unhappiest continent. The continent featured at the bottom of the list of the World Happiness Report, a survey released this month that ranks global happiness in 155 countries. People in the 44 African countries surveyed faced ‘happiness deficit’ because they scored low in key indicators that lead to well-being and happiness such as freedom, good governance, health provision and income equality.
"However, enduring poverty or living under authoritarian rule doesn’t necessarily translate to espousing a grim view of the future. As the Africa chapter of the report notes, Africans showed 'exceptional' global levels of optimism and resilience to their less-than-perfect circumstances. The optimism was underwritten by the coping mechanisms developed over decades of dealing with poor infrastructure; lack of water, food, and electricity; and poor living standards.
"This positive expectation of the future is also buoyed by the resolution that happiness is not just a personal project, but a social one. Over the decades, communities across the continent have developed collectivist values rooted in African humanism and Ubuntu, a philosophy that promotes the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity. These familial or tribal networks ensure societal well-being especially during trying times...."



FIXED VS. GROWTH: THE TWO BASIC MINDSETS THAT SHAPE OUR LIVES

April 2, 2017


The Power of Learning
"At the heart of what makes the 'growth mindset' so winsome, [author Carol S.] Dweck found, is that it creates a passion for learning rather than a hunger for approval. Its hallmark is the conviction that human qualities like intelligence and creativity, and even relational capacities like love and friendship, can be cultivated through effort and deliberate practice. Not only are people with this mindset not discouraged by failure, but they don’t actually see themselves as failing in those situations — they see themselves as learning."



HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR CRITICAL THINKING SKILLS

April 1, 2017




WHEN FASCISM COMES TO AMERICA IT WILL BE WRAPPED IN THE FLAG AND CARRYING A CROSS – SINCLAIR LEWIS

March 30, 2017


"The drive by the Christian Right to include crackpot theories in scientific or legal debate is part of the campaign to destroy dispassionate and honest intellectual inquiry. Facts become interchangeable with opinions. An understanding of reality is not to be based on the elaborate gathering of facts and evidence. The ideology alone is true. Facts that get in the way of the ideology can be altered. Lies, in this worldview, become true. Hannah Arendt called this effort 'nihilistic relativism' although a better phrase might be collective insanity."
...
"All debates with the Christian Right are useless. We cannot reach this movement. It does not want a dialogue. It cares nothing for rational thought and discussion. ... They hate us. They hate the liberal, enlightened world formed by the Constitution. Our opinions do not count. ... They hate us. They hate the liberal, enlightened world formed by the Constitution. Our opinions do not count.
"This movement will not stop until we are ruled by Biblical Law, an authoritarian church intrudes in every aspect of our life, women stay at home and rear children, gays agree to be cured, abortion is considered murder, the press and the schools promote 'positive' Christian values, the federal government is gutted, war becomes our primary form of communication with the rest of the world....
The spark that could set it ablaze may be lying in the hands of an Islamic terrorist cell, in the hands of the ideological twins of the Christian Right. Another catastrophic terrorist attack could be our Reichstag fire, the excuse used to begin the accelerated dismantling of our open society. The ideology of the Christian Right is not one of love and compassion, the central theme of Christ’s message, but of violence and hatred. It has a strong appeal to many in our society, but it is also aided by our complacency. Let us not stand at the open city gates waiting passively and meekly for the barbarians. They are coming. They are slouching rudely towards Bethlehem. Let us, if nothing else, begin to call them by their name."



TOWARD A SANE SOCIETY:
CAPITALISTIC OR COMMUMUNISTIC ROBOTISM
OR
HUMANISTIC COMMUNITARIAN SOCIALISM

March 26, 2017


“Man [Humankind] today is confronted with the most fundamental choice; not that between Capitalism or Communism, but that between robotism (of both the capitalist and the communist variety), or Humanistic Communitarian Socialism. Most facts seem to indicate that he is choosing robotism, and that means, in the long run, insanity and destruction. But all these facts are not strong enough to destroy faith in man’s reason, good will and sanity. As long as we can think of other alternatives, we are not lost; as long as we can consult together and plan together, we can hope. But, indeed, the shadows are lengthening; the voices of insanity are becoming louder. We are in reach of achieving a state of humanity which corresponds to the vision of our great teachers; yet we are in danger of the destruction of all civilization, or of robotization.” – Erich Fromm



TEACHING YOU HOW TO THINK VS WHAT TO THINK

March 21, 2017


"Young people need to be taught how to think to immunise their minds against ideologies that seek to teach them what to think."



NO, REPUBLICANS ARE NOT MORE PATRIOTIC THAN DEMOCRATS

March 21, 2017

Recently, I wrote about the idea of a nation-state and the difference between a nation and a state: https://www.facebook.com/groups/59473487722?view=permalink&id=10154010527952723
Patriotism pertains to the love of and deep commitment to defending one's nation, and the founding documents, laws and institutions underpinning one's state.
Patriotism does not require that one love and defend a particular state, that is, any incumbent government administration. This is especially so when an administration in power abuses the founding documents, laws and institutions of the nation.
Relatedly, I have written against prominent psychologist Jonathan Haidt's purported proof that Republicans and Democrats differ morally (in terms of Haidt's conflation of loyalty and implied patriotism); and his ill-founded and therefore spurious idea that their differences arose as a "natural" part of human biological and cultural evolution. See my critique of Haidt's book, http://jameselassiter.blogspot.ug/…/critique-righteous-mind….
No, Republicans are not more moral, loyal, or implicitly patriotic than Democrats. In fact they are less so.
In fact, the focus and object of their, the Right's, loyalty and "patriotism" - an ever greater accumulation of money, absolute power, material possessions and wealth, and insistence upon little or no amount of oversight and control of the private sector by the representatives of the people - is immoral. Their approach places the needs of the greatest number of people and the nation and its canon, laws and institutions, a distant second to their primarily material interests. The people - their constitution, laws, institutions, and the state - are seen as an indirect means for achieving the Right's desired material ends; not the direct object of any humane, philanthropic concerns and efforts they, in fact, don't really have despite their hollow protestations to the contrary.
And no, a related libertarian notion of the people as an absolutely free, unrestrained, unprotected horde in a wholesome Hobbesian free-for-all that will "naturally" lead to human flourishing, is neither a strategy compatible with the greater moral arc of human cultural evolution, nor one that has ever been successful implemented in any modern, complex society. Libertarianism is an ill-founded notion with roots in social Darwinism, an ill-founded, long-debunked misplaced application of evolutionary biology to human sociocultural evolution.
When protests against US government militarism began in the mid-1960s, most notably prompted by the Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley, and exhibited most dramatically at the Democratic Party Convention in Chicago in 1968, the protestors were behaving very patriotically....
For more please see my postscript to my critique of Haidt's book: http://jameselassiter.blogspot.ug/…/the-righteous-mind-by-j…
And no, I am not in favor of a secular Leftist-socialist, intellectual-elitist led oligarchy intent on destroying religion and individualism. A falsehood members of the ultra-Right delight in claiming the Leftist Democrats are all about.
I am in favor of a pluralistic democracy comprised of a highly and accurately, scientifically informed and critically-thinking population. An enlightened populace that holds the achievement of human flourishing through humane, reasoned governance as it highest goal. A pursuit of paramount importance above all parochialism or political partisanship.
The current struggle between the Left and the Right is a playing out of the modern phase of a longstanding cultural evolutionary dynamic - finding the best path toward a sustainable flourishing of the greatest number of Humankind, a wellbeing that optimises the needs of a free and vibrant individualism while retaining the stability and wisdom of the time-tested collective.
May it end with the beginning of a peaceful, sustainable accommodation of both.



A LETTER TO THE USA FROM AN AFRICAN
BY
JOY ODERA

March 21, 2017


I've been visiting Uganda for nearly a month now and have found an enlightened response to 45's election. I've been in contact with a full range of folks - subsistence farmers, drivers, pastors, priests, atheists, paramount chiefs, professors, govt. ministers. To the man/woman, each is shocked by 45's election. "You and others must do what you can to blunt his destruction of all we admire and try to emulate about your great country and the majority of your people," they tell me in so many words. "His actions impact us, too," they say. Here's a letter to America from an African, Joy Odera, a Kenyan born and raised in Uganda, that sums up the Ugandan elite's views I've been hearing.



THE FUTURE CALLED: WE’RE DISGUSTING AND BARBARIC

March 20, 2017




HOW WILL WE KNOW WHEN TRUMP AND THE GOP HAVE GONE TOO FAR? WHAT WILL WE DO IF THEY DO?

March 13, 2017

In recent posts on a Freethinker Facebook page (posts that were quickly taken down), I provocatively asserted we have reached the limit of what we should allow of the current US administration's dismantling of our government and institutions, rending of our social and cultural fabric, and destruction of the progressive liberal Enlightenment project. I was seeking a discussion, not making a call to bear arms in violent revolution. I could have written my posts better. Here's another go at it.
We, liberal progressives, should begin asking: Have we really reached that limit, that point where irreparable damage has been done? If so, should we add aggressive, perhaps violent, resistance to our non-violent, civil resistance?
If not, we should begin trying to determine what that threshold of destructiveness should be, and how we will know when we have reached it.
This is how civil, reasonable patriots assess the effectiveness of their social participation and citizenship. From this deliberative process citizens are also able to determine if their leaders are capable guardians of liberty, freedom, and democratic institutions; and in general, are their leaders willing and able promoters of true human flourishing for the greatest number of citizens.
Or, are their leaders doing irreparable harm to liberty, justice, and equality among their compatriots, and damaging the institutions established to support and preserve these freedoms?
In response, citizen action may be civil, non-violent activism and resistance, or stronger measures depending on the severity and immediacy of the damage the incumbents are inflicting on society and its governmental, and non-governmental institutions.
Here is what one of our most revered Founding Fathers had to say about assessing governments and choosing among citizen responses:
"[W]hen a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce [the people] under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security." --Thomas Jefferson: Declaration of Independence, 1776. ME 1:29, Papers 1:429
"When patience has begotten false estimates of its motives, when wrongs are pressed because it is believed they will be borne, resistance becomes morality." --Thomas Jefferson to M. deStael, 1807. ME 11:282
"As revolutionary instruments (when nothing but revolution will cure the evils of the State) secret societies are necessary and indispensable, and the right to use them is inalienable by the people." --Thomas Jefferson to William Duane, 1803. FE 8:256
"We are not to expect to be translated from despotism to liberty in a feather-bed." --Thomas Jefferson to Lafayette, 1790. ME 8:13
I am not advocating violence, now or ever. But it would do the liberal progressive cause good to remember that 45 and the GOP know that they can and will go to great lengths to dismantle our government and block the liberal Enlightenment project, and the Left will only protest, not fight. They themselves are not averse to using the violence of the state, local and federal, to fight for their cause. The Left should likewise not be averse.
I think there will come a time during 45's term when stronger measures may be called for. It is no crime to begin asking when and how will we decide that that tipping point has arrived. Let us hope will we not have waited too long.
The British were not politely persuaded to go home, they were forcibly driven out of power. The Boers only conceded power in South Africa when they faced an ever-mounting prospect of violent revolution, following decades of Mandela's morally correct peaceful protest. Also, there is merit in the argument that the methods advocated by Malcolm X, the Black Panthers and others got the attention of and moved "the man" to finally act, and that they thereby greatly bolstered the efforts of King and Ghandi's reasoning and peaceful resistance.
It's time to begin considering when 45 and the GOP will have gone too far. Any ideas on this?



IN SEARCH OF A BETTER WORLD: KARL POPPER ON TRUTH VS. CERTAINTY AND THE DANGERS OF RELATIVISM

March 11, 2017




TRUMP IS MERELY THE POINT OF THE SPEAR AIMED AT AMERICA’S DEMOCRACY AND CULTURAL DIVERSITY

March 4, 2017


Trump is merely the point of the spear aimed at America's democracy and cultural diversity. The Zulus of South Africa, before they were defeated by the superior firepower of the British colonials in 1879, used the head of the bull pincer movement against their previous opponents with great success. The main body of King Shaka's army was the head and body of the bull. His two most ferocious divisions, the horns, were dispatched in a fast flanking movement to the left and right. The opposing army, transfixed by the thunderous roar and shield beating in front of them, were quickly surrounded. They were then destroyed, to the last man. Trump is the head, Bannon and Sessions are the horns.
"[F]or Bannon, Sessions and Miller, immigration was a galvanizing issue, lying at the center of their apparent vision for reshaping the United States by tethering it to its European and Christian origins."
~
"Sessions, who has received awards from virulently anti-immigrant groups, described the present day as a dangerous period of 'radical change' for America, comparing it to the decades of the early 20th century, when waves of immigrants flooded the country. He said that the 1924 immigration quota system, which barred most Asians and tightly capped the entry of Italians, Jews, Africans and Middle Easterners, 'was good for America.' Bannon is also uncomfortable with the changing face of the country."
~
"Why would the Trump administration paint a picture so starkly at odds with reality? It’s simple: A vision of the nation besieged provides clear justification for policies that will advance Sessions, Bannon and Miller’s divisive nationalism. In the administration’s early moves, we can already see the contours beginning to take shape."
~
"It is through the Justice Department that the administration is likely to advance its nationalist plans — to strengthen the grip of law enforcement, raise barriers to voting and significantly reduce all forms of immigration, promoting what seems to be a longstanding desire to reassert the country’s European and Christian heritage."



IS CONSCIOUSNESS AN ILLUSION?


An excellent book review.
"Our manifest image of the world and ourselves includes as a prominent part not only the physical body and central nervous system but our own consciousness with its elaborate features—sensory, emotional, and cognitive—as well as the consciousness of other humans and many nonhuman species. In keeping with his general view of the manifest image, Dennett holds that consciousness is not part of reality in the way the brain is. Rather, it is a particularly salient and convincing user-illusion, an illusion that is indispensable in our dealings with one another and in monitoring and managing ourselves, but an illusion nonetheless."
...
"Dennett believes that our conception of conscious creatures with subjective inner lives—which are not describable merely in physical terms—is a useful fiction that allows us to predict how those creatures will behave and to interact with them."
...
"The trouble is that Dennett concludes not only that there is much more behind our behavioral competencies than is revealed to the first-person point of view—which is certainly true—but that nothing whatever is revealed to the first-person point of view but a 'version' of the neural machinery."
...
"There is no reason to go through such mental contortions in the name of science. The spectacular progress of the physical sciences since the seventeenth century was made possible by the exclusion of the mental from their purview. To say that there is more to reality than physics can account for is not a piece of mysticism: it is an acknowledgment that we are nowhere near a theory of everything, and that science will have to expand to accommodate facts of a kind fundamentally different from those that physics is designed to explain. It should not disturb us that this may have radical consequences, especially for Dennett’s favorite natural science, biology: the theory of evolution, which in its current form is a purely physical theory, may have to incorporate nonphysical factors to account for consciousness, if consciousness is not, as he thinks, an illusion. Materialism remains a widespread view, but science does not progress by tailoring the data to fit a prevailing theory."



THE MAGNIFICENT CROSS-CULTURAL RECORDINGS OF KENYA’S KIPSIGIS TRIBE

February 26, 207


”In 1950, on his trip through the Rift Valley, Tracey collected three vernacular songs about a creature called Chemirocha, a mystical half-man, half-antelope figure, beloved by the Kipsigis for his lunatic singing and dancing. The most transfixing of the three sides, ‘Chemirocha III’ is credited to ‘Chemutoi Ketienya with Kipsigis girls,’ and was described by Tracey as ‘humorous’ in his notes, although the record sounds, to me, like an emanation from some heaven or another.”



CORRUPTION IN TRADITIONAL AFRICA

February 11, 2017


"One of the recurrent myths about Africa is the notion that corruption is culturally ingrained among Africans. The traditional practice of offering a 'dash' has often been used by scholars to provide a 'cultural' explanation to the pervasive incidence of bribery and corruption in Africa. In most West African countries, a bribe is often called 'a dash.' This appellation, however, is a misnomer that reflects a confusion or misunderstanding of the traditional practice."
~
"There is some serious looting going on in Africa and the amounts are staggering. What the despots, kleptocrats and the vampire elites steal is not chump change. Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo once charged that corrupt African leaders have stolen at least $140 billion (£95 billion) from their people in the decades since independence (London Independent, June 14, 2002). From small pickings in the 1960s, the looting has become more egregious, brazen and mercenary in the new millennium."
~
"The Atlantic Monthly (May 20, 2010) provided an analysis of the net worth of all 43 U.S. presidents – from Washington to Obama – and found the combined net worth to be $2.7 billion in 2010 dollars. Evidently, Abacha, Babangida, Bashir, Houphouet-Boigny, and Mobutu each stole more than the net worth of all U.S. presidents combined!"



THE U.S. AND HUMANKIND’S FUTURE IS NOW IN THE HANDS OF DELUSIONAL AND DESTRUCTIVE FORCES

February 8, 2017

The US electoral system has given control of the US and Humankind's future to delusional and destructive forces. The future no longer belongs to those seeking a gradual, peaceful progression toward realizing Enlightenment ideals. Instead we are being led toward the destruction of the global system. This will clear the way for Trump to establish Western Christian supremacy throughout the world with the US in charge. For details about this vision and plan, read anything you can find (including the links below) about top Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon's view of history and plan for the world's future.
No, what you're reading now is not the ranting of a hare-brained, politically correct, snowflake; a quiche-eating, progressive liberal whiner, a pinhead urban intellectual who doesn't know what he's talking about.
I'm a sergeant's son and Vietnam era veteran; former Peace Corps Volunteer in rural Africa; former Peace Corps country director in two African countries; former assistant immigration attaché and diplomat; retired Department of Homeland Security refugee resettlement manager; and an ethnographer who has studied people's beliefs, values and behavior for over forty years.
I have learned, lived through, and know something about the strengths and shortcomings of the US Left and Right, Democrats and Republicans, Marxists (African socialists) and capitalists, communists and libertarians, believers and atheists. I'm no self-righteous, egghead elitist who refuses to consider and give a fair hearing to other points of view.
In writing this I'm not trying to tell you how to think or act. I'm asking you to read and understand the ideas of the people now in power in the US, and the great and unnecessary risks Trump's ideas and actions pose for US society and Humankind. I hope doing so will convince you that the risks they are taking are too high. The return to greatness Trump promises is a falsehood for a society that is already great, and a cover for a broader global movement he sees himself leading.
No, blame for the shortcomings and unfinished business in the US and around the world are not equally or more blamable on the Democrats and progressive liberals than the Republicans and conservatives, as Trump and others have convinced many to believe. Granted the liberal progressive Democrats have made mistakes. But their positive results in making the Western Enlightenment a reality, overall, far outweigh their shortcomings and failures. The US humanistic society and world they have worked for is far from the carnage and hopelessness Trump has proclaimed in order to increase white fear and get himself elected.
On that note, talk about whining snowflakes, consider that many white Americans, whose votes made all the difference in November 2016, were and remain unhappy they are no longer getting what they think is their fair share - that being the lion's share - of US wealth, power and privilege. Trump's approach places Humankind at its greatest risk ever in history. For what, because many mostly white working class members in the US are now experiencing the hardships that blacks and other minorities have suffered since our nation's beginning? But, you say, it was the white Christian working class who made this country great, and they therefore have a right to the privileges and prosperity they feel entitled to, and the right to share or not that wealth with non-whites!
No, America's success is not first and foremost the result of white working class effort. The success of the US was founded primarily with the money of a wealthy, land-owning aristocracy and built using the wealth of industrial tycoons - on the land, resources and graves of Native Americans; and from the blood, sweat and tears of African slaves. Without these resources and efforts, white American workers would not have succeeded. Without the efforts of progressives such as Teddy Roosevelt, FDR and labor unionists, white US workers would still be laboring under late 19th, early 20th Century sweatshop conditions.
The division we now see between working whites and blacks and liberals began during the earliest years of American colonialism. The landed aristocracy, realizing that poor whites and black slaves were establishing a close economic and moral affinity, succeeded in convincing indentured and free working whites that they, primarily because of their race, were better and more deserving than the less-than-human slaves they toiled alongside and were establishing a sense of unity with. Through racist propaganda and small economic incentives the wealthy made racial separation more attractive to working whites than economic solidarity with enslaved blacks.
Trump's campaign strategy and presidency are the latest effort to sow fear and divide the working class against itself, in order to retain wealthy, white-dominated power and privilege. Yes, the Democrats helped in this working class division beginning in the late 1960s by cutting themselves off from the labor unions and discrediting patriotism through its anti-war efforts.
The main point here is that the power Trump has been given, according to Bannon's vision and plan, will be used to: dismantle the federal government; reestablish white Christian supremacy in the US; stun the global financial system; and start foreign wars to win a global victory for Western Christian civilization with the US at the top. Again, read Bannon's views and plans.
The Trump administration, inspired by Bannon, has a vision and strategy for achieving national and global grandeur using governance and military power. However, they have no plan for the high probability that their destructive actions and outcomes will not be fully within their control. What China, Iran, North Korea, Israel, and Russia and others might do in response to Trump's provocations, encouragement and unpredictability are completely beyond his control.
Given the magnitude and time frame of power Trump has been given, there is little to nothing the people of the US and the world can do to stop the destructive, uncontrollable forces he and his leadership plan to unleash. Again, see the links below for the visions that guide them and the severe means they plan to use.
We must fight them to save the liberal Enlightenment project from destruction. But we will likely fail despite such an effort being just and noble. Do what you can but also prepare for severe damage to and violence in our society, and the bilateral and global wars that are coming.
You don't believe me or think I'm exaggerating? If you haven't read the following please do so and kindly come back and tell me how you think I am wrong. At the end of this list is a book and documentary that describe the Trump (Bannon) vision and plan in detail.
"What Steve Bannon Really Wants"
by Gwynn Guilford
https://qz.com/898134/what-steve-bannon-really-wants/
"Donald Trump and Steve Bannon's Coup in the Making"
by Ruth Ben-Ghiat
http://www.cnn.com/…/bannon-trump-coup-opinion-b…/index.html
"What Steve Bannon Wants You to Read" by Eliana Johnson and Eli Stokols
http://www.politico.com/…/steve-bannon-books-reading-list-2…
"The Flight 93 Election" by Publius Decius Mus
http://www.claremont.org/…/basicpage/the-flight-93-election/
"Steve Bannon's Obsession with a Dark Theory of History Should be Worrisome"
http://finance.yahoo.com/…/steve-bannons-obsession-one-book…
"Is Steve Bannon the Second Mist Powerful Man in the World?" by David Von Drehle
https://www.google.com/…/steve-bannon-dona…/%3Fsource%3Ddam…
or
http://time.com/4657665/steve-bannon-donald-trump/
"The LifeCourse Method: Introduction" by LifeCourse Associates
http://www.lifecourse.com/about/method/insight-overview.html
The Fourth Turning: What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America's Next Rendezvous with Destiny by William Strauss and Neil Howe
https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B001RKFU4I/ref=mp_s_a_1_1…
Generation Zero, Full Documentary by Citizens United
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=k3SLtP10NQ8



PEOPLE OF THE U.S. – WHO ARE WE?

February 6, 2017


"Nation" - "a large aggregate of people united by common descent, history, culture, or language, inhabiting a particular country or territory."
The US is a nation-state. Politics, governance and our relations with other countries are important matters of state. But equally if not more importantly we are also a nation defined by our common humanity and diverse racial and cultural makeup. Our state apparatus can alter the social conditions under which we live but it cannot alter our racial and cultural makeup. Only we can do that, one individual and voting bloc at a time.
Those things we choose to value in common - culturally, socially, nationally - are individual choices. Politics and governance can drastically alter society but they cannot dictate our beliefs, values, and identity, in short, our sense of nationhood. This, our individual and collective sense of nationhood, is the ultimate power of the people, the power we have over politics and governance, the power we exercise every election we vote in. A true citizen and nation member never relinquishes his/her power over governance and politics by choosing not to vote. Not voting is a choice for tyranny. A true citizen reserves and exercises his/her national and cultural power over government and politics, s/he always votes.
State and sub-state governance and politics are powerless unless they are given power by the individuals of the nation. Find common ground with your fellow nation members and vote in a manner such that politics and governance serve the broadest sense of the nation, not one faction or another. I think the following essay is useful in this sense.



“INVICTUS”

February 5, 2017

"'Invictus' is a short Victorian poem by the English poet William Ernest Henley (1849–1903). It was written in 1875 and published in 1888 — originally with no title — in his first volume of poems, Book of Verses, in the section Life and Death (Echoes).
Early printings contained a dedication To R. T. H. B.—a reference to Robert Thomas Hamilton Bruce (1846–1899), a successful Scottish flour merchant, baker, and literary patron. The title 'Invictus' (Latin for 'unconquered') was added by editor Arthur Quiller-Couch when the poem was included in The Oxford Book of English Verse. With the message of displaying fortitude in the face of adversity, the poem evokes Victorian stoicism and a 'stiff upper lip.'
"Henley's literary reputation rests almost entirely upon this single poem. In 1875 one of Henley's legs required amputation due to complications arising from tuberculosis. Immediately after the amputation he was told that his other leg would require a similar procedure. He chose instead to enlist the services of the distinguished English surgeon Joseph Lister, who was able to save Henley's remaining leg after multiple surgical interventions on the foot.
"While recovering in the infirmary, he was moved to write the verses that became 'Invictus'. This period of his life, coupled with recollections of an impoverished childhood, were primary inspirations for the poem, and play a major role in its meaning. A memorable evocation of Victorian stoicism—the 'stiff upper lip' self-discipline and fortitude in adversity, which popular culture rendered into a British character trait, 'Invictus' remains a cultural touchstone." - Wikipedia

Invictus
William Ernest Henley (1849–1903)

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeoning of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.



TRUMP’S PLACE IN HISTORY?

February 4, 2017


Here is the greatest threat Trump's presidency holds for Humanism and Humankind - Trump's determination, at Bannon's urging, to go down in history as supreme victor and savior in a Samuel Huntingtonian civilizational clash between the righteous Christian West and all heathen others, especially those professing Islam.
The GOP is selfishly - passively and actively - standing by and allowing Trump to provoke a civil and global war. Hey, I guess for them it will be good for achieving hegemony accumulating further wealth. Or, giving them the benefit of any doubt, is this Trump and the GOP's way of nobly defending and ensuring the triumph of their cherry-picked, spun take on the Enlightenment ideals? Whichever, their aggressive, strong-armed approach may not leave any form of civilization or a life-viable planet remaining.
I'm still committed to the liberal progressive Enlightenment project - pluralism, justice for all, reform over revolution, secular democratic governance, reason and science, and a balance between individualism and cooperation, with violence as a last resort.
Your thoughts?



THE TWILIGHT OF THE LIBERAL WORLD ORDER

January 28, 2017


The Enlightenment Project - Game Over or Postponed Until Further Notice?
I've written before that the only things that seem to get the attention of Homo sapiens and influence the shape and direction of our cultural evolution are threats or actual crises of catastrophic proportions, nationally and globally. We only rely on cooperation and reason when we are forced to - after relying on our inherent preferred first response, individualistic/tribal emotion, to the point it has failed and harmed us, and threatened our desire for wellbeing and flourishing.
Maybe Trump's contribution toward loosening the "blood-dimmed tide" will help bring on a global crisis that will rekindle the Enlightenment Project. Regrettably, such a restart would not come quickly and would happen only after much inhumanity and wastefulness. But it seems only fitting for Humankind at our current, still primitive level of evolutionary development - emotion over reason until it hurts and horrifies us so much we decide to put reason and cooperation first.
Your thoughts?
Great essay below.
"It has been the great accomplishment of the U.S.-led world order in the 70 years since the end of the Second World War that this kind of competition has been held in check and great power conflicts have been avoided.
...
"[T]here has emerged a crisis of confidence in what might be called the liberal enlightenment project. That project tended to elevate universal principles of individual rights and common humanity over ethnic, racial, religious, national, or tribal differences.
...
"[T]he past decade has seen the rise of tribalism and nationalism; an increasing focus on the 'other' in all societies; and a loss of confidence in government, in the capitalist system, and in democracy.
...
"This crisis of the enlightenment project may have been inevitable. It may indeed have been cyclical, due to inherent flaws in both capitalism and democracy, which periodically have been exposed and have raised doubts about both....
...
"With the election of Donald Trump, a majority of Americans have signaled their unwillingness to continue upholding the world order."



THE U.S. REFUGEE RESETTLEMENT PROGRAM

January 27, 2017


Having had the privilege and honor of serving in the US refugee resettlement program (USRP) for eleven years and interviewing thousands of refugee applicants mostly in remote, harsh areas in Africa, I am deeply saddened and disturbed by this unnecessary action. It will only succeed in causing additional suffering to refugees.
This move by Trump and his supporters in Congress will lead to an unnecessarily severe and ineffective tightening of restrictions on refugee nationality selection criteria, interview adjudication approval thresholds, and admissibility security vetting standards.
Of the hundreds of thousands of refugees that have found safety in the US since 9/11/2001 only three have engaged in terrorist related activity, and all three had become radicalized after, not before, their admission to the US. The resettlement program is not even a remote choice of terrorists for entry into the US for three reasons: the wait to be interviewed can be from 1.5 to 3 years or more; approval is not guaranteed; approval criteria and security checks are the most rigorous of all legal methods of entering the US.
Attacking the USRP is part of politically motivated fear-mongering that benefits rich politicians in search of votes at the expense of refugees. These actions by our government should be vigorously opposed for humanitarian and US international standing and leadership reasons.
"The international refugee system, constructed in the aftermath of World War II, has enabled millions of refugees in every region to find safety in other countries. President Trump’s expected action to suspend all refugee resettlement to the United States and to impose additional restrictions on refugees from largely Muslim countries is a sad day



DARK TIMES AHEAD?

January 25, 2017


Dark times ahead? Or is this the only twisted yet effective way to protect and further Enlightenment ideals in the current head-on global, civilizational confrontations the West is having with Russia, China, and radical Islam, global forces that have no allegiance to such ideals? No, this is not a normalization of Trump. It has always seemed to me that Russia, China, and Jihadists scoff at what they see as the West's naïve insistence on reason and dialog to craft a peaceful, prosperous future. At bottom the contest for the planet and our species' future may in reality be just a brawl of might over right. Recall that Neville Chamberlain's dialog with Hitler led to naught. Who ever said Enlightenment must proceed without force, especially against opponents whose first interest is themselves not Humankind? Your thoughts?



CRITICAL THINKING: CHALLENGING DOGMA AND EFFECTING CHANGE IN AFRICA

January 20, 2017




‘THE SACRED EMERGENCE OF NATURE’

January 20, 2017


“Basically, the idea is that during the brain/language/culture co-evolutionary trajectory outlined earlier, the pro-social emotions of our common ancestor with chimpanzees were not left in the evolutionary dustbin. Nor, however, are these emotions experienced as those common ancestors experienced them, nor as modern chimps experience them. Rather, they are experienced as humans experience things: via the cognitive-emotional juxtapositions that undergird our symbolic subjectivity. One’s moral framework is not some instinct that just bubbles up. It is something that each of us constructs, amplifying and reconfiguring primate social emotions in the context of cultural stimuli and teachings. In Aristotle’s words, ‘We have the virtues neither by nor contrary to our nature. We are fitted by our nature to receive them.’

“Importantly, the outcome of developing one’s capacity for virtue is to experience pleasure and incur admiration: those who are courageous, reverent, fair-minded, and compassionate report deep satisfaction with these frames of mind—they are experienced as good, as beautiful—and they are held in high esteem by others. Geoffrey Miller (2000), in fact, goes on to argue that such developed traits are adaptive, in that they are substrates for sexual selection: persons who display these qualities may be more likely to be chosen as mates and to nurture their children with care and wisdom.

“In any case, the emergentist perspective allows us to understand the human not as some discontinuous moral entity but as an emergent moral entity, expanding core primate capacities and sensibilities and celebrating their beauty and value in art, literature, and religious teachings. Indeed, the myths and metaphors that come to us from thousands of religious traditions convey timeless hopes and understandings of how best to be good.”



‘THE GREAT LEVELER: VIOLENCE AND THE HISTORY OF INEQUALITY FROM THE STONE AGE TO THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY’
BY
WALTERN SCHEIDEL

January 10, 2017


Homo sapiens, over the past 200,000 years, has become increasingly adept at reasoning, cooperation, economics and technology; and over the past few centuries has made a commitment, at least in the West, to pursuing Enlightenment values as a means of continuing to survive and flourish as a species. Are we still a good bet for rationally achieving greater global peace and prosperity for the greatest number of people?
Like me, you may have recently begun reconsidering the placing of your confidence in such. Our belief that we - government, the private sector, and/or individuals and local groups - can rationally, peacefully control and reform the trajectory of human cultural evolution may be a myth. It may be that the only thing that will slow down or stop the stampede of Humankind down the self- and planet-destructive path we are currently on, the present course of Homo economicus titanicus, is societal or global catastrophe.
Bringing the concern expressed above to bear on the US, are you, like me, concerned about socioeconomic inequality increasing under Trump's presidency? Although Trump claims he can lead us to greater peace, security and prosperity, he and his autocratic, uber-capitalist lieutenants and followers may well be unwittingly fueling and hastening a catastrophe - the very socioeconomic "correction" US society needs. Buckle up and hang on, I think we are all in for an ugly and painful journey here in the US and elsewhere in the world.
Here's Amazon's blurb on a new book I received today. Even if the book offers no escape from or solace for the madness and destructiveness that seem inevitable, maybe it has some suggestions for making the best of it.
"Are mass violence and catastrophes the only forces that can seriously decrease economic inequality? To judge by thousands of years of history, the answer is yes. Tracing the global history of inequality from the Stone Age to today, Walter Scheidel shows that inequality never dies peacefully. Inequality declines when carnage and disaster strike and increases when peace and stability return. The Great Leveler is the first book to chart the crucial role of violent shocks in reducing inequality over the full sweep of human history around the world. Maybe this book, even if it offers no escape or solace, had some suggestions for surviving the coming madness.
"Ever since humans began to farm, herd livestock, and pass on their assets to future generations, economic inequality has been a defining feature of civilization. Over thousands of years, only violent events have significantly lessened inequality. The "Four Horsemen" of leveling--mass-mobilization warfare, transformative revolutions, state collapse, and catastrophic plagues--have repeatedly destroyed the fortunes of the rich. Scheidel identifies and examines these processes, from the crises of the earliest civilizations to the cataclysmic world wars and communist revolutions of the twentieth century. Today, the violence that reduced inequality in the past seems to have diminished, and that is a good thing. But it casts serious doubt on the prospects for a more equal future."



HAPPY NEW YEAR 2017!

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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