The Good, the Bad, and the Reality. A Better Metaphor, Part Eight.

I’ve been going on about this idea, the social meme or metaphor, what Benjamin David Steele ( @MarmaladeSteele ) calls a social parasite, although that sounds like a person. It’s a solid point, though, so perhaps it should be ‘parasitic social metaphor’ or something. That’s going to have to be close enough, because it’s these parasites that have their way with labels and not the other way around. I haven’t yet gotten back and read Dawkins’ definition myself, because the concept of the parasitic meme fills an irregularly shaped hole in our knowledge perfectly and so its shape seems to reveal itself; if you get what it does, then you see what it is. I don’t see how it couldn’t be real, or at least how the parasitic metaphor isn’t one of the better metaphors we have.

So, I think I’ve beaten the consequences meme into the ground in this series, ‘A Better Metaphor’ and today I would like to concentrate on the moral kernel of it. I think the world has turned on this “good and bad” thing.

I’ve talked around it a little maybe, but I’ve tried to say that the sort of “good” an organism can have beaten into it will be a response to what a beating is and not to what the organism delivering the beating may hope he’s achieving, meaning stress and pain and a need to either avoid them or at least unload the stress after the fact. Further to that, I’m trying to paint a picture of a near-universal human adaptation, that violence at home helps to support warrior societies against their warrior neighbor societies, keeps them strong and fighting, and so, beating their children is a “good” thing, because what could be more “good” than surviving the bloodthirsty apes next door? It is my position that this was our original foray into sculpting our children, the one that worked, that this has always been our proof of the “nurture” principle. The reason the socialization researchers haven’t found their evidence is because they’re looking for something “good,” maybe prosocialization, something like that. Our theory seems to be that parents did something “good” that worked at some point in the past, so now we can’t help but believe in the positive power of “nurturing,” but that it just can’t be found anymore? No, this is the secret: we’ve switched what is generally “good” in our minds between when we started this behavioural adaptation and now.

Now this conversation can take a hard left turn.

Trouble is, it’s still what we believe, deep down: pain is good, stress is good, and a “good” person is an antisocial one.

That is the fascist manifesto.

I think it’s all our built-in manifesto, or perhaps it’s only built into our cultures, or the parasitic social meme, but that in peacetime we live in a sort of balance, and when war and/or fascism looms, the balance has been lost and a sort of a positive feedback loop results. When that violence-masking consequences meme takes over, when peaceful memes fade, then we become caught responding to all problems with a single answer, the consequences. I can’t say why it may ever not happen with this model, but it seems clear that when the problems you are trying to solve are antisociability, then bringing the consequences only makes it worse. People start to get angry, so they lash out, angering one another further, and we get the picture: it’s a race to the bottom. It’s Jacob’s Ladder, but the stuff’s in the water. But this is fascism, and this makes everything that the current administration does make sense. Antisocializing is the purpose behind all their trolling, both rhetorical and legislatively homicidal.

Pain is good, stress is good, and a “good” person is an antisocial one.

Again, true enough and important in our evolving and aboriginal situation, so we believe it, deep down. This is how the president has gotten a pass so far: the strongman, the disciplinarian, the authoritarian promises to make things “good” with exactly the meme’s meanings and he is delivering, daily. We are confused, we can’t glean his meanings, what is it we’re supposed to do differently so he stops with the threats and punitive bills? It doesn’t matter, they are using the abuse as evolution uses it, to drive us to madness, violence, and war. It is antisocialism as bare as it can be: no-one can make the sense in it. The only operative thing must be the subtext, the abuse, the fear, and the bad feelings. No matter where it comes from, if we receive stress, we must unload it somewhere, whether we want to or not, so this administration’s torments drive even the pacifists inexorably closer to madness and therefore to war.

It was indeed shocking when American evangelical Christians continued to support the now-president after the recordings of him bragging to the reporter about his casual sexual abuse came out, but there’s a lesson in it. Sure, on the face of it, sexism, plain and simple, but sexism serves antisocialization when that is the dominant social meme and not the other way about, this president clearly hates women, but there’s more – he only likes white people too. If the white folks like the evangelicals want their strongman, their white warrior king to fight the brown tide, then his accusers, the women who came forward to attest to his predatory behaviour must also be punished, shunned, shamed and so antisocialized. They were abused already (all we know about them, abused by the now-president), but not abused enough, because they were trying to hurt the white warrior king’s chances for election, they were positioned against the hoped-for race war, they were peaceniks, weak links that wartime cannot afford. Abuse solves everything. As Rich Harris described among the Yanomamo (and other warrior societies, I think), boys who do not fight are tormented until they do or they die; it’s antisocial or dead in warrior societies, and either result for Forty-five’s accusers would serve the war effort better than holding their strongman to the law.

It’s not a happy story, but happy stories, like our metaphor about consequences bringing civilization, make for unhappy realities. We can hate and revile, we can call the voters who invited fascism into the light names like evil and such – I mean, it’s hard not to, same as it is for them, social groups are almost all human beings have for morality – but we need to understand what’s at work too. This isn’t just politics, or the adversarial courtroom process, I mean it is, it’s metaphors in competition – but it’s also real life. Maybe if we get a little closer to it, the truth can settle the argument.



Mar. 18th., 2016

Here’s the whole series:

and a bonus nipple-twister:

9 thoughts on “The Good, the Bad, and the Reality. A Better Metaphor, Part Eight.

  1. Benjamin David Steele March 18, 2017 / 5:03 pm

    The danger with unhappy stories is that they can be among the most powerful. It’s why so many people love the melodrama of soap operas and the catastrophic spectacle of a banana republic. Tragedy is compelling, similar to how fear can be invigorating. And repetition compulsion keeps pulling people back in to reenact the traumatic experience.

    This danger even applies to those of us who wish to understand. We can be taken in by our own storytelling, lost in our own trauma writ large.

    That is what I see happened to Derrick Jensen. His personal trauma fueled his search for understanding, his compassion devolving into cynicism and anger. He tried to figure out what one does when faced with so much suffering and it doesn’t appear he ever found a good answer. The suffering itself maybe came to take on its own meaning.

    I’m always aware of this temptation. A theory to explain can become yet another story. When we become too attached to our theories, they come to seem all-encompassing and hence inevitable. We lose perspective as we get lost in our own ideas. The ideological parasite fully takes hold.

    How do we step out of this cycle? It won’t come from merely working on our personal issues, which can end up being just another form of escapism. The transformation that is needed would be revolutionary, which is to say it would be initially perceived as threatening or even violent in its intrusion. We don’t know how to change willingly for, if we did know how, we would have done so long ago.

    Yet I can’t shake the feeling that a different way is possible, even if it is hard to articulate and impossible to prove. We either find a way to change or we don’t. But if we don’t, we are coming toward a brick wall of development for our society, with global crises looming. It’s change or die. And when we are finally confronted with that forced option, we will suddenly be motivated toward innovative possibility. The risk is that, by that time, it might be too late.

    I keep thinking about how we could avoid that point of existential crisis. Instead, it seems like those with the most power and influence to potentially alter our path are the very people pushing us toward the cliff edge. As for the rest of us, how do we live our lives with this knowledge? I’m sure that is a question you ask, dealing with your own personal struggle, as are so many others.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff/neighsayer March 18, 2017 / 6:01 pm

      Yeah, you know, I don’t think I’m going any further with this obsession, I kinda think I’m done. i mean yes, I love my story, and it’s my story now, the explanation I was looking for – and no small deal for me, I’ve been bashing my head against this puzzle my whole adult life. Sure, I’m a moron and this solution should have taken a smarter fella maybe a year rather than the twenty-five or so I spent at it, but still. I had a question, something I didn’t accept the explanations I got for, and I eventually, in my own way and my own time got to the bottom of the mystery. I’m satisfied, sort of. It’s not a happy answer, but I’m happy that I got my answer. The world is a more understandable place for me now, like I say in this one, even the counter-intuitive support of Christian evangelicals for a sexual abuser becomes possible to understand. That’s a sign of a better theory when things that seemed upside-down start to make sense, right?

      My next thing I’m thinking about is another angle of this, just social/prosocial/antisocial stuff. I want to make the (sure, denial-based) point that improvement requires transcending the “social” because “social” means equal parts pro- and antisocial and we’re only good for someone in that sphere by being bad to someone else. When that’s the goal, we will always have high drama and opportunities to be a hero to one and a scourge to the other. I’d like to see a few more of those rare folks who advance us all, not just some over others.


      • Benjamin David Steele March 18, 2017 / 6:12 pm

        Your last paragraph resonates exactly with where is my own mind. I’ve been dealing with someone who identifies as ‘queer’ and sees all of the world through identity politics. This person apparently can’t imagine a win-win scenario and she wants her issues privileged over that of everyone else.

        It’s the group-mindedness that I find as depressing on the political left as on the political right. It’s a worldview of conflict and winner-takes-all. The demand that others be an ally, for such a person, means everyone else suppressing their own interests and submitting to the agenda of whichever identity politics is being advocated.

        This person apparently has suffered. It has turned her bitter in stereotyping and dismissing whole swaths of the population. She surely would never accept anyone else treating her this way.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Jeff/neighsayer March 18, 2017 / 6:15 pm

          said “I’d like to see a few more” but I think I meant I’d like to BE one . . . Jesus complex crap, but not only that . . .

          Liked by 1 person

        • Jeff/neighsayer March 18, 2017 / 9:47 pm

          Did I tell you I’ve got psoriasis? It was really bad during a vacation in Fiji – salt water, the ocean didn’t help at all, at all, LOL, I was livid, my entire back, feet to scalp, worst coverage ever – and guess what the locals figured would help, right, coconut oil, coconut something, ’cause guess what they got and pretty much nothing else? It was all three funny, and pathetic, and pretty depressing in terms of how people think. They got one thing so it’s the answer for everything, kinda thing. Gawd, I sound white. You get the point though.


          • Benjamin David Steele March 18, 2017 / 10:09 pm

            No, you did not mention that. And I didn’t know you were on vacation.

            So, are you doubting that coconuts can cure anything and be used for any purpose? In Fiji, I’m sure that is blasphemous.

            Next your going to tell me, as an Iowan, that there is more to life than corn. Well, you can eat corn, feed it to cows and pigs, make it into corn syrup, burn corn cobs in your fireplace/stove, and fuel your car with ethanol. Even coconuts can’t do all of that.

            Talking about psoriasis, have you tried rubbing corn oil on your skin? Ask any Iowan. It is far superior to coconut oil. Corn really is good for almost anything, although maybe you shouldn’t use corn husks for toilet paper.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Jeff/neighsayer March 19, 2017 / 11:20 am

              to be fair, Fijians don’t get psoriasis, so at least it wasn’t offered AGAINST evidence . . .


              • Benjamin David Steele March 19, 2017 / 12:23 pm

                I don’t know about coconut oil. But corn oil is highly effective as an elephant repellent. Living in Iowa, I’ve never known anyone to be killed by a stampede of elephants. If that isn’t evidence, I don’t know what is.

                Liked by 1 person

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