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Creating Sustainability in the 21st Century, and Things Related

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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A recent, personal history of capitalism and the global depression

While David Harvey is a professor at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, he is relatively unknown in the United States. His fields are in the area of geography, social theory and political economy, yet, his views have had considerable influence on the study of capitalism, both positive and negative.



This video, created in 2010, offers a Marxist view of capitalism. Since the posting of this video, global capitalism has demonstrated even less reason to keep it around. Of course the question ultimately comes down to how we dismantle the current structure and begin to replace it with something that reflects a 21st century reality, a system that is capable of benefiting the vast majority of people on a changing planet.

                                                                     

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Thursday, May 08, 2014

Part 2: The consequences

No business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country
(President Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1933)

The story may be apocryphal but it caught my attention. A few nights ago in a television interview with Strobe Talbott, former U.S. diplomat and now president of the Brookings Institute, Talbott told a story about President Vladimir Putin of Russia when he was a young KGB officer in the 1980s. Seemingly Mr. Putin received a less than glowing performance review from his superiors because he was too much of a “risk taker.”

Take a psychopath to lunch

Well, but maybe you ought not to go to lunch with one, even though they can be charming and understanding, like Hannibal Lecter for instance. For that matter the person could be a relatively “normal” hedge fund manager or high government official. It's your decision. According to some scientists that study the “condition,” these folks may make up 2 to 5 percent of the human population.

For some experts the differentiation between psychopathy and sociopathy is important. Whereas the behavior of the psychopath may be more erratic and noticeable, the sociopath is more controlled. The psychopath may tend to act on impulse, while the sociopath usually wants to minimize exposure.

Psychopaths are oftentimes not able to maintain normal relationships, while sociopaths are generally well organized, normal in social relationships and are frequently quite successful in their profession. Risk taking may be a common characteristic, the psychopath being more impulsive and the sociopath more deliberate. As well, sociopaths can be very good at manipulating human emotions. At the extreme end of the spectrum, however, they are violent and dangerous. Probably best not to pursue a deep friendship with one.

Key components of what is referred to as Antisocial Personality Disorder might include a lack of guilt or remorse, a diminished capacity for empathy, abuse of others in various forms and “malignant narcissism.” These qualities are of course found throughout society today, in almost every profession, but it's likely that some professions are more attractive than others for those who have APD.

On the other hand, courageousness and the willingness to commit unremitting and continuous violence were valued qualities among our ancestors at one time, be they within the clan, the village or even the nation. These characteristics were likely important factors in the survival of our species, at least in our early days. Based on the number of television shows and movies we have about serial killers and assorted psychopaths, we clearly have a morbid curiosity about these people.

Speaking of Vladimir Putin, FP has a very interesting article entitled How Putin Is Reinventing Warfare. An entire region of Eastern Europe is a laboratory for Antisocial Personality Disorder, helped along by almost everyone including the U.S. 

What makes us human

While we know that our genes have been passed down through billions of years, from the very beginning of life, evolutionary biologists, geneticists and neuroscientists are now learning that some genes are much younger, in some cases only a few million years old. Some came from the common ancestor of both humans and apes and the very youngest emerged when we diverged from our cousins the apes some 6 to 7 million years ago. We're only just starting to understand genetic influences and the impact on humankind and what in fact shapes our behavior and makes us human.

What is referred to as the “big 5” classes of personality traits are (1) openness, (2) conscientiousness, (3) extraversion, (4) agreeableness and (5) neuroticism. It is thought that approximately 50 % are related to genetics and 50 % related to environmental factors. For example, there are genes associated with impetuosity and risk taking,. which could lead in the right environmental circumstances to some form of addiction. Yes, who are you?

It's story time

They were women “operatives” for the Republican party in the United States. These women were sitting around a table on some news show discussing how they would get the female vote in the next election, considering how the Republican men have done a terrible job attracting women voters and have demonstrated that they have not left the 1950s … or they long to go back.

This discussion was largely about selling a better message and not about whether or not the message itself was any good. It seemed to me to be more about manipulation and a lack of empathy, at least for anyone but the comfortable. Above all, it appears to be, among these operatives, that it was self-evident that a large portion of the women voters could be manipulated by clever messaging.

Agnotology is the study of the cultural production of ignorance. The term was first coined by Robert N. Proctor, a professor specializing in the history of science and technology. The gold standard for many years was the tobacco industry, little more than a criminal enterprise selling poison, aided and abetted by politicians, the media and certainly the citizens themselves.

Agnotology is very much about the “publication of inaccurate or misleading scientific data.” It's meant to confuse. The overriding goal of the tobacco industry for many years was to sow doubt between the connection of smoking to cancer, long after there was any scientific doubt. Today it's a full blown industry in America and across the globe. Climate denial, “trickle-down” economics, the “job creators,” weapons-of-mass-destruction in Iraq and hydraulic fracking are only a few examples. The idea is to confuse the public, protect the status quo and maintain the comforts of the comfortable.

Thomas Piketty, the enemy within

Piketty's book Capital in the Twenty-First Century is a best seller and has moved beyond the academic community and Washington policy wonks. The book may actually stir some serious debate about global capitalism, which is way, way overdue. It has upset the privileged, not merely the usual collection of bottom feeders but those who have built their careers on praising and perpetuating the glorious myth of the “free” market.

Some articles to better understand Thomas Piketty and his book Capital in the Twenty First Century:







And from the critics:


Alfie, what's it all about

It's about Revolution, let's not pretend it isn't. Ideally, revolution of the mind and quite possibly a little of the “soul.” A lot of critics will say that humankind is not capable—they haven't evolved sufficiently. In that case revolution will come the old fashion way, through carnage and violence—war of the psychopaths, and we know that story line. But more and more likely it will come down finally to climate change and its enormous consequences and we'll end up with, if humanity is “lucky,” with maybe a billion humans reliving the 19th century, give or take.

At least for those of us in America, it's a matter of finally making the decision to get rid of the status quo. We're not going back to some fanciful, bucolic past no matter how desperately some of us want to, nor is it a matter of some weekend protest, sending a check to our favorite organization, tweaking the tax code or even building some silly little libertarian village in the middle of a dying ocean. We don't really need everyone in order to get this going. It's a matter of recognizing that there is no alternative.

Finally, some data

On the climate:




Good article on language and climate confusion:

          
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Where does your country stand:


Psychopathic behavior: A terrific interview with Dr. James Fallon, Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior and what he learned about himself in the course of his research







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Thursday, May 01, 2014

Part 1: Consequences of low information citizenry—most everywhere

Born fictioneers, all of us, we quest for causes and explanations, and if they don't come readily to hand, we make them up, because a wrong answer is better than no answer. Also, a fast good-enough answer is better than a slow perfect answer
(An Alchemy of Mind, by Diane Ackerman)

Global corporate enlightenment in the 21st century




Inequality is becoming a 'wicked' problem like climate change—one in which a solution must not only overcome powerful entrenched interests, in individual countries but must be global in scope to be effective
(Jacob S. Hacker & Paul Pierson, American Prospect, commenting on Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century, 3/10/14)

For the last few months, the Kochs and other big polluters have been spending heavily to fight renewable energy, which as been adopted by most states
(New York Times, 4/26/14)

The truth-quest is always the same; the unwavering search for signs to match reality

(Truth, by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto)

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Monday, April 21, 2014

Emancipating the American serf

The whole world is festering with unhappy souls
(from 'The Merry Minuet,' sung by Kingston Trio 1959)

Maskirovka

Loosely translated, the word “maskirovka” means masked warfare. It could refer to Putin's use of local thugs, volunteers and disguised Russian Special Operations troops in eastern Ukraine to destabilize the region, thus avoiding the use of traditional forces crossing the border as an invading army.

Of course, we Americans know quite a bit about “special operations” across the globe; however, we know a good deal less about masked warfare inside our own country, partly because we're largely unaware of what is is but, more importantly, the idea is not to know it's actually happening. There are no men dressed in uniforms carrying automatic weapons and speaking in halting English. But our own unique masked warfare has been going on for a very long time, from the very beginning of the republic actually.

The men the American people admire most extravagantly are the most daring liars; the men they detest most violently are those who try to tell them the truth
(H.L. Mencken)

It's all mine

The confirmations continue to pile up on the expanding dung heap. Following rapidly on the heels of Thomas Piketty's “best seller” Capital in the Twenty-First Century (see previous article), detailing the level of American inequality, we now have Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens (see Additional Reading below).

Getting beyond the political science jargon and supporting data, all of which is revealing, the report pretty much demonstrates that the overwhelming majority of the American public has very little influence regarding the policies our government adopts. The full report will be available in the Fall.

Freedom in capitalist society always remains about the same as it was in ancient Greek republics: Freedom for slave owners
(Vladimir Lenin)

The sound of black helicopters

Special operations at its very best are good at deliberate misdirection, pitting various groups against one another, stirring up old fears and superstitions, manipulating ignorance, creating new historical “facts,” which oftentimes includes nostalgic myths about the "good old days." The final act of the very best special operations is instilling fear in the dominant culture, be it at the local level or even throughout a nation-state. “My god, 'they' might take it from us.”

Picking on white America

There's something to be said for a national upheaval, even revolution in some cases. It can clear out the accumulated rot and fanciful misconceptions, as well as rid the nation of a corrupt and useless status quo. But, there is also a downside. In the U.S. in the 1930s it took a worldwide economic Depression and an extraordinary political leader like Franklin D. Roosevelt to create serious political, economic and social change.

In Europe the same Depression led to Fascism and WWII.. The 1918 Bolshevik revolution in Russia, by the 1930s, had turned into a reign of terror and the leadership of the sociopath Joseph Stalin. The world is full of similar dismal examples.

White America has been fortunate, in that it has not had a foreign army in its country since the British invaded the U.S. in the War of 1812. The same certainly can not be said of the Indian nation occupying the same territory as European-Americans but for a longer period of time. As for African-Americans, well, they were considered property until the 1860s and were subjected to second class citizenship until well into the 20th century. No, the American Civil War was not about state rights.

Louis Hartz, in his classic The Liberal Tradition in America, said in the mid-1950s, “that instead of recapturing our past, we have got to transcend it. As for a child leaving adolescence, there is no going home again for America.”

Your 'people', sir, is nothing but a great beast
(Alexander Hamilton, June 18, 1787, Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia)

Our Founding Fathers, while an extraordinary group of men, were not gods from Mount Olympus, and they certainly never put “democracy” on some elevated platform as we tend to do today. They were, understandably, fearful of excessive concentration of power. For our Founders, democracy meant preventing “mob rule and the triumph of passion over reason to serve the ambition of the demagogue.” They created a government which ended up over time serving the needs of the status quo. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in a television interview during a visit to Egypt said, “I would not look to the United States Constitution if I were drafting a constitution in the year 2012.”

I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country.... Corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow....
(Abraham Lincoln, 1864)

Had Lincoln not been assassinated, might the history of the United States been far different? Historians will likely be debating this question for years to come. Regardless, white America did not choose the high ground after Lincoln was killed. Four million former slaves were emancipated in 1865. At the same time some 8 million whites, largely illiterate, never owned slaves, but ended up regarding the freed African-Americans as competitors. The whites were easily manipulated, usually by the same people that were in control before the Civil War. By 1874 the white power structure had regained control and the former Confederacy descended into a “heart of darkness.”

The death of Sitting Bull removes one of the obstacles to civilization. He was a greasy savage, who rarely bathed and was liable at anytime to become infected with vermin. During the whole of his life he entertained the remarkable delusion that he was a free-born American with some rights in the country of his ancestors
(St. Louis Republic newspaper, December 17, 1890)

Abraham Lincoln wanted the West opened for all Americans after the Civil War ended and for the average American to own some land and be a citizen and a full participant in a democratic country. Well, once again white America did not choose the high ground. The opening of the West became the on-going story of genocide, violence, environmental destruction, class warfare and corporate predation and corruption. (For an excellent understanding of the role of the railroads in the West and the rise of the Gilded Age in the late 19th century, read Railroaded by Richard White.)

Wealth, as Mr. Hobbes says, is power
(Adam Smith)

Cow billy liberty, freedom and farmer Bundy

Today, in 2014, mythical American exceptionalism is all pervasive, reinforced by info-entertainers on cable news, politicians, corporations and certainly the many oligarchs with their own anti-democratic agenda. We Americans are somehow special and different we are advised and, if truth be told, a little better than all the rest. The glow, however, is wearing off the glorious fable, rather quickly. But remember what masked warfare is all about.

Cliven Bundy, a millionaire cattle rancher in Nevada may be an apt metaphor for a certain delusional albeit influential segment of America, wallowing in white entitlement and demanding its proprietary welfare capitalism in perpetuity.

Farmer Bundy has been grazing his cattle on “public” lands and has not paid the range fee, hardly onerous by any rational standard, to the Bureau of Land Management in some twenty years, which clearly begs the question: What the hell has the BLM been doing all this time?

Part of the land that Bundy grazes his cattle on has been reserved for the endangered desert tortoise. The land does not belong to Cliven but is held in trust for all Americans, thanks to the intelligence and foresight of the Republican president Theodore Roosevelt at the turn of the 20th century. Supposedly the fee Mr. Bundy now owes to the citizens of the United States is approximately a million dollars.

Recently, like a tired cowboy fable, when the BLM decided it was about time to enforce the law and round up Bundy's cattle, this odious freeloader claimed he didn't “recognize” the Federal government and started yapping on cue about his freedom and liberty, which naturally brought out the various “patriot” groups and the lunatic militia movement, who were armed to the teeth and threatened violence against BLM officials. This dreary “range war”story is not yet over.

A judicious hanging in Wall Street would be a good measure with which to begin the reformation
(Ignatius Donnelly, in The Representative, August 29, 1894)

No fairy tales to believe in anymore

The population of the United States is over 300 million people. The total number of eligible voters is approximately 206 million people. The number of registered voters in the U.S. are approximately 169 million, with some 86 million registered Democrats, 55 million registered Republicans and some 28 million falling into various categories. Now consider one to five percent of the population.


Oligarchy, for all practical purposes, is the government we now have in the United States. Masked warfare has been quite successful. The obvious question is what will be done about it? Who will do it?
How many people constitute a serious movement with the discipline, the knowledge and the ability to sweep out the accumulated rot and toss out a corrupt and useless status quo? There will be in the near future no national uprising, no college students successfully confronting para-military police forces on a part-time basis, and most definitely no “glorious” revolution. It will, however, not be pain free.


Five percent of 86 million registered Democrats is some 4 million people; three percent of 169 million registered voters is 5 million people; two percent of 300 million residents of the U.S. is 6 million people. The numbers are there.


Credit must be given where credit is due. The current Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Roberts, and his majority of reactionaries could be dressed in top hats and tails and sent back to the late 19th century. They'd fit right in. Antonin Scalia could ponder his doctrine of “original intent” until the cows come home.


From voting rights to unlimited money in politics, the Roberts court has done its duty well. It was a television comedian that said of the Chief Justice that he was either a liar or too naïve to be serving on the highest court in the land, if he believed that large sums of money did not corrupt the political system.


The U.S. Congress, a corrupt, pompous debating society for millionaires, is merely irrelevant. The Executive branch—who knows? Certainly having a political system allowing for a wider pool of talent to run for the presidency would be a good beginning.


Our 18th century Constitution, a remarkable document for its time, is now a relic of a distant past and needs to be rewritten for the 21st century.


Who will rid this country of the oligarchs?



Additional Reading:







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Friday, April 11, 2014

A sociopath and an oligarch go into a bar....

I can hire one-half of the working class to kill the other half
(Jay Gould, 19th century financier and speculator)

Exceptional American exceptionalism

Thomas Piketty, the French economist, with the publication of Capital in the Twenty-first Century has seemingly stirred up the sleepy and bloodless world of modern economic theory and its bland, oftentimes, pseudo-scientific gibberish. Yes, inequality cannot be understood independently of politics. Some of those 19th century economists, like Karl Marx and David Ricardo, did have some extremely important insights about how the world actually works—then and now.

In regard to income created by work, inequality (the level of inequality) in the U.S., according to Piketty, is “probably higher than in any other society at any time in the past, anywhere in the world.”

The Jones Plantation


Mind of the sociopath

Martijn van den Heuvel of the University Medical Center in Utrecht, the Netherlands recently announced that they have completed the first detailed map of any mammal's neural network. It's called the Allen Mouse Brain Connectivity Atlas.

While a similar mapping of the human brain is still many years away, this is a first step in understanding medical conditions such as bi-polar disorders, schizophrenia and autism. It is about connections and the complexity of brain connectivity. Now, if we are able in the not too distant future, to understand human predation and how to make the necessary adjustments to those neural networks, we could possibly look forward to a future where humankind might make a positive contribution to our planet's well being.

Of course, economic theory and neuroscience aside, how do you actually go about—in this day and age—of bringing the existing structure to an end and rebuilding anew? Possibly remembering some old ideas.



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Monday, March 17, 2014

Nasty, brutish and short--or not

The sky gods know

Will there be titanium-skinned creatures with oversized heads and bulging eyes running planet Earth in 500 years? Only Steven Spielberg knows for certain. I think the “leash” over the approximately next 50 to 100 years will be climate, religion and economics. What we do or don't do in these areas simultaneously will have a bearing on who or what will be our progeny.

Climate scientists, using such methods as geological analysis, ice cores, fossil remains and historical records, have determined that CO2 levels in the atmosphere remained between 180 and 300 parts per million (ppm) for some half-a-million years, but in recent centuries (the start of the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th century) CO2 levels rose to at least 380 ppm. The greenhouse effect is not an obscure hypothesis recently put forward.

The Roman philosopher Seneca said that, “Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful.” Artifacts of one kind or another at burial sites go back to at least 70,000 years ago. It hardly seems a mystery as to why we have religion. Among other things, religion binds groups, helps take the fear of death away, sanctions the killing of other groups and provides the “answers.” Today there are some 10,000 different religions all possessing the Truth. Religion at this point in time is a genuine obstacle to confronting a potential planetary disaster.

Last but not least is the economic system that entwines the entire planet. It's little more than a perpetual ponzi scheme, regardless of the “wonders” it may have helped produce—for some—in the past. Most important, it's unsustainable. It deserves to be tossed into the ashcan of history along with mercantilism and the “divine right” of kings.

Immortality and the Kurzwellian phantasmagoria

Superheroes are popular and ubiquitous across the globe and not just among children. Immortality, master-of-the-universe, infinite choices, exceptionalism, privilege, entitlement and certainly narcissism all beckon to even the most rational among us. Ca plus changes, ca plus la meme chose.

Ray Kurzwell, inventor and “technical” futurist, who now works for Google, believes that by 2045 machine intelligence will surpass human intelligence in all aspects, which he refers to as the “singularity.” For Kurzwell, human immortality is only a few blocks away.

Well, 2045 seems a bit optimistic, or pessimistic, depending on your point of view. Would Aunt and Uncle Sahelanthropus, whom we haven't seen in some 7 million years, still love us? Of course, many of these superhero dreams violate the known laws of physics. Gravity can be inconvenient, mass increases faster than the fundamental strength of our bones and we can't walk through walls even though the atom is mostly empty space. But … technology springs eternal, and Ray Kurzwell thinks he'll become immortal; after all, he demands to become a system.

Believing what we believe

Why do we do what we do? One of the most interesting new subject areas at the present time and yes, it's controversial, is the field of Genopolitics. Political beliefs may have a genetic component. Feelings about contraception, gay marriage, capital punishment, animal rights, climate change, etc are personality traits that could be ancient and way older than humans.

If the evolution of the human brain was driven by a need for more complex social cognition, then might the understanding of human biology in a “sociopolitical” context be of paramount importance, perhaps for our very survival?

The amygdala in our very old limbic brain is connected to the cingulate cortex, an area critical to self awareness. It is the cingulate cortex that “thinks” about the responses of the amygdala—threat, not a threat, your imagination and so forth.

What do we think we know now? Some research has shown that people with larger emotional responses to threats are more likely to have right-wing opinions. Oxytocin is released in sex and orgasm and believed by many neuroscientists to smother the amygdala responses, which may lead to increased generosity, trust, etc. Lower serotonin levels in the brain have been associated with criminality and anxiety. People with a less active MAO allele “tend” to be more impulsive and aggressive. No, there are no specific genes for criminality, but personality traits are heritable.

In a 1980s sexual preference study conducted by David Buss, professor of psychology at the University of Texas, it was determined that the top two qualities in a male for both sexes were kindness and intelligence, outweighing such things as money and physical appearance. Geoffrey Miller of the University of New Mexico has suggested that our ancestors who were more intelligent and kinder attracted a higher quality mate thus creating our success.

Regardless of what Genopolitics ultimately uncovers, a better understanding of human behavior and how we make decisions is, it seems to me, not merely nice to know but absolutely critical if we want to get beyond the “reptilian” mindset and consider a future beyond something like the unrelenting nightmare of Cormac McCarthy's The Road.

Back to a future

Every part of the planet has warmed except for Antarctica and at this point in time it may have more to do with circulating winds and the hole in the ozone layer. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts a minimum temperature rise of 1.8 degrees Centigrade by 2100. Some 120,000 years ago when it was 1 to 2 degrees warmer, sea levels were 5 to 8 meters higher. Three million years ago when the temperature was 2 to 3 degrees C higher, the sea levels were 25 meters higher.

It's called the tipping point and is a term that has been used in reference to climate change. Is there a point where the change is irreversible? Climate scientists have spoken about such things as a global temperature rise of 2 degrees C and CO2 levels going over 400 ppm. We have now reached CO2 levels of 400 ppm. IPCC estimates have been revised, perhaps because of the sudden collapse of ice sheets and a better understanding of “feedback loops,” which can speed up the process. Several decades of global warming are already in the pipeline. Time, where is it when we need it?

Some of us might recall friends and acquaintances “dropping acid” (LSD) some years ago and having spiritual experiences and “being one” with the universe. We know now there are hormonal and biochemical factors at work in the brain during many of those religious moments, resulting in such things as increases in dopamine levels and serotonin being released. “Spiritual” experiences can change brain activity. A book worth reading on this subject is by D.F. Swaab, a physician and neurobiologist, entitled We Are Our Brains: A Neurobiography of the Brain, From the Womb to Alzheimer's

To believe that some supernatural entity gave us the planet and dominion over all life on it is both irrational and narcissistic to the extreme, but also more understandable today. We're also learning that extreme religiosity may be associated with such illnesses as schizophrenia, dementia and obsessive-compulsive behavior.

Difficult as it might be, we have to move beyond the supernatural and magic. Even more important is finally realizing this planet is all we have--but--real spirituality is all around us. Turn off your I-Pad and move your head. You can even “friend” biodiversity.

Adams Smith, often cited as the father of modern capitalism, once said of the capitalists, “It comes from an order of men, whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public...” What is striking today among the governments of the world is the apparent obtuseness, be they the corrupt autocrats in Beijing and Moscow, the feckless and uninformed politicians in Washington or many among the rising developing nations who claim it's “everyone else” who bears the responsibility. Our ancient short-term thinking is alive and well … and dangerous.

Mounting scarcities, growing ecological disequilibrium, expanding population, economic stagnation, increasing disparities between rich and poor, individual selfishness (including nation selfishness), human redundancy, unproven economic myths like the market's “invisible hand” are more than likely to lead to greater forms of coercion across the globe, and the amount of coercion can be an approximate measure of the system's validity. Once the system is deemed illegitimate, another tipping point has begun, this time rippling across the planet.

It is very much a matter of enlarging the global tribe and accepting the idea unequivocally of reciprocal obligation.

Summary

Gerald Crabtree, a Stanford University geneticist, believes our intelligence may have peaked some 2,000 years ago. It's been pretty much downhill ever since. Really?

Will the last remaining clan of Homo sapiens end up in a cave on Gibraltar squinting at the shadows of their cousins the Neandertals? Does it matter? After all, it's estimated that about 100,000 species are going extinct each year. What's one more, especially the most destructive predator the planet has known. Down deep, we know we're here “by the luck of the draw.”






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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

More than a mere science discussion

The American citizen thus lives in a world where fantasy is more real than reality, where the image has more dignity than the original.
(Daniel Boorstin, American historian)

Blissfully ignorant

Watching the United States commit its self-inflicted unraveling (budget and debt ceiling nonsense being merely two of many reasons), ought not to give any real comfort to those outside the U.S. Waiting in the wings to “take over” is nothing to make one gleefully optimistic.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) recently issued its 2-year study, which included 23 countries and thousands of adults. The study tested for skills in literacy, basic math and technology. We Americans—along with the British--didn't do so well, especially in technology and math. See blow for the actual results.

One of the many things the study concluded is that poor educational opportunities in school as children continues on through adulthood. Inequality of access to good education is “harmful” to adults, and the increasing inequality in America is only making things, overall, much worse. While a lot of information that is in the study may appear to be obvious and the correlations striking, it clearly has not translated into any wide scale public policy changes. If anything, we're going in the opposite direction in the United States.

The DNA thing

Shortly after the OECD study came out an interesting article appeared in the NYT entitled, Are OurPolitical Beliefs Encoded in Our DNA? The article was about the new field of genopolitics, which this blog has written about previously. Did my genes make me do it or was it all my mother's fault? I will be surprised if we don't see more articles about this subject, outside of scientific journals.

The science however, as the article points out, is only in the earliest stages and disagreements abound. To say the least, it's complicated. Political scientists have now joined the field along with evolutionary biologists and molecular geneticists. Will we have to understand human biology in a “sociopolitical context.” Did the human brain develop to solve social problems—which are political? But as Thomas Edsall, the author of this article points out, “If genopolitical analysis holds up under continued scrutiny, its explanatory potential is enormous.”

Edsall is right. A better understanding of all sorts of conflicts in the U.S. and across the globe is absolutely essential if we humans have any real chance of succeeding as a species. The “chickens” are coming probably sooner than we think.


Additional Reading:








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