Safety and Security and Nature Metaphors

Sure, in that order, too.

Safety, I want to say is a state of not having to worry. Safety would be the certainty that one could fall asleep out of doors and wake up intact, so, in a time and a place where unreasoning predators have been banished, and the human beings around you practice a live and let live attitude and have enough to eat that you are not seen as a resource they must exploit. Some lucky few in the history of our species have enjoyed this state, mostly the wealthy and well guarded, to be sure. I think this is my vision of the liberal utopia, and while it’s mostly been a privilege item, I believe this is the liberal vision that we hope to extend to all people.

Something like that. I want to define safety as again, not even having to worry, because all who can touch you are friendly or at least reasonable.

Security is best stated as the proposition that it’s a good life if you don’t weaken, meaning that the only measure of safety available in the world doesn’t rise to my definition above, because any safety requires the ability to fight. Security I define as détente, as deterrent, a peace only possible because we can damn well war as good as they can, a peace and safety where we’re afraid of our own, our fathers, our leaders, because their first priority becomes antisocialization, making sure we can fight. True safety under this arrangement of deterrents is only possible when all your enemies are dead, and so that is always the extreme dream at the far end of thought for those whose livelihoods depend on keeping us “secure.” I’m sure all involved are conscious of the self-perpetuating nature of this game, that our defenders are their attackers and vice versa, but what way is there to get off of this wheel?

One way to view the many nature metaphors we hear, capitalist and anti-capitalist imaging about wolves and sheep being almost all that come to mind, it’s so prevalent – might be as a form of nostalgia, meaning we often look to nature or to the past for solutions, it being very good and Earthy wisdom that there is nothing new under the sun, that things weren’t always so strange and bad as they are today, and things were “better back then.”

I haven’t pondered the conservatism of that attitude, the details of why we think it so much, that the past was better – but that’s where I want to stop the world and get off of that train of thought and onto a new one.

I think morality, a better life, the possibility of getting off of the security hamster wheel, these things aren’t in our past, and I don’t see as the other critters that walk, swim, crawl, etc., have a roadmap to them either. It’s something I say in nearly every blog, I think, but I’m trying to dedicate this one to just this proposition: we need to invent this good stuff. No, we didn’t just have it a minute or a few centuries or millennia ago, and no, the chimpanzees aren’t going to teach us what “altruism” is. This stuff only exists in our heads; if we want to see it in real life, we have to invent it, we have to envision it, plan it, build it, make it all happen.

The utopia, nobody’s utopia is going to be found in our animal past. It’s not hiding somewhere to be uncovered, it’s waiting to be built. The search for the “roots of altruism” is driving me spare. To explain it with costs and benefits is to explain the very opposite: altruism is doing something for someone else, by definition, and all these definitions alter the experiment, like quantum stuff. The choice to do something for someone else is invisible, just in someone’s head, a fleeting thought that comes into existence and fades out without a trace, as thoughts do. Steven Pinker said as much somewhere, that much of what humans do they do with this free-floating “thinking module” that can apparently be applied to any sort of problem, including hypothetical and future situations that no particular evolutionary past might explain. Surely this module of the brain evolved for material purposes, but it’s what does math and all sorts of abstract stuff that isn’t all mission critical for every human, and this is the part that we must use to create our moral world, any utopia at all, ever.

Now, I know there’s a lot of thinking, a lot of philosophy says we can’t.

I also certainly understand that asking seven and a half billion people to simply do better is no answer at all. I’m not arguing against people not knowing everything and making mistakes and screwing up their lives and maybe the lives of many others before they learn more about things, that is clearly as inevitable for us as it is for all else that walks, swims and crawls through the muck. I think I’m in the big game, in the conversation, and I’m arguing that at least our educators and public figures could stop with forever siding with our baser selves, could stop with forever with this nature nostalgia, with this myth that we ever did figure out how to live and just forgot or something. With this myth that somehow whatever we’re already doing and have forever until yesterday is somehow supposed to change things for the better. A return to a natural state is not the goal, it can’t be, Elon Musk wants to go to Mars, for one thing, and if I had to guess who was going to get their way, him or me, well.

If we try to build a moral world, a rational world, the most good for the most people and the least evil, it ain’t back in the garden.

I think we’ve proven that we can destroy this place, so it seems less impossible that we could manage it, doesn’t it? No-one would have dreamed we could accomplish that a few centuries ago, and look at us and our bad selves, now right at the precipice! We could if we understood enough to want to, if we understood that this nasty ape “following his heart” is really what got us here, that being “social,” and reinforcing one another’s natural evolved feelings is not the path to the utopia but the eternal path to war.

It is my personal stance that the “unreal,” invisible world of our thoughts is where some rationality may be found, and that morality will require rationality, but that we must learn to separate the social from the cerebral. One example of such would be not ever saying things like “my country, right or wrong.” It’s the right or wrong part we need to start focussing on. Not so much the “my” bit, the social part. Being social is what makes us secure, of course it is.

But it doesn’t make us safe.

 

Jeff

Nov. 28th., 2018

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Human Morality – or You’re Making it Worse

Basically, stop it; you’re not helping.

It seems as though the people who explain war and game theory to us are advocating for it; I personally expect a call for a pre-emptive attack whenever I hear “game theory,” and it seems to me that scientific sounding talk about theory and conflict is usually offered in support of some sort of aggression. That’s not it, and that’s not me. We need to talk about this stuff and understand it in order to free ourselves from it. That’s my goal.

“Game theory” is frankly, too lofty a title for a science only employed at the team level anyways, privately in the locker room. When you’re doing that, you’re not a developer, engaged in scientific theorizing, you’re a player. And the “game” is war, so you’re a soldier. I’m not a soldier, inasmuch as I have any choice. I’m trying not to be.

I am a dangerous, dangerous peacenik. If I succeed, I’m probably going to get us all killed.

I understand the player’s, the warrior’s response to the protestor, I do. The unthinking peacenik thinks there isn’t a world of everybody else’s soldiers coming for him if his soldiers weren’t out there. He doesn’t get it; the real choices are war or annihilation here on Earth in the real world.

Well, I exist in neither of these paradigms. I get it, but I’m still a peacenik. That really is the world today, and I see we’re doing what we can within those rules, but some of us hear “that’s just the way it is” and still aren’t happy, what can I say? If a player – someone participating in conflict as their answer rather than someone fighting against the conflict itself – says to me, “that’s the way it is,” and that’s the end of the conversation for him – well, he’s forgotten, or he never knew. It wasn’t always.

For a long time, and sure, I use the phrase “deep roots of war” endlessly, but, uh, science. But . . . evolution. Nothing “was always,” was it? There weren’t “always” humans, so there wasn’t “always” human behaviour, and so all of this has developed, over time, for specific reasons, right? If I agree somewhat, if I talk of war’s “deep roots,” and even go so far as to say, “this is who we are,” please, make no mistake. I’m no player, no warmonger, nothing is written in stone. This is who we have been, yes, but evolution, Baby, environmental control of gene expression. If we can realize the ways in which we are our environment – and stop saying things like “that’s just the way it is” about our own damned behaviour – then we will see that is who we wanted to be, who we needed to be, and so we created ourselves in that image, and that perhaps we can want and need to be something else if things change, if our solutions start to feel more like problems.

Because they already feel like that to some of us.

It has been my contention – sorry, I’ve been on this train of thought forever, hard to remember I’m alone in it – my contention that the human discipline of children is a slave function to our game theory existence, our lives of group conflict. Honestly, it’s the common denominator for all of it. In Afghanistan, we beat you into a “good” Afghan, in China we’re beaten into “good” Chinese, and all over the world people are beaten Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Muslim and everything else, and the variance of these educations, the details, the different lists of rules are not the point of any of it when we see all humans employ the same methods and that all peoples are “strong” and no peoples are pushovers in conflict. Considering the personalities of many of these peoples, if you’re here, your people are tough enough.

Now, there are two ways to talk about this discipline thing, and the secret of this dichotomy is, they’re both right. One is all morality, uprightness, strength, and defense – us, as I said above, “needing to be this,” and two, power, violence, damage, hard feelings, and mental illness – us, maybe starting to see price of being this way. They’re both in play, both the same function – a “strong” group deters attack, and so does a crazy one, and maybe more so. It’s not always easy to differentiate the two today, strong VS crazy, so imagine telling the difference between them among the apes this sort of behaviour probably began with! – what I’m saying is, functionally, evolutionarily, there is no difference. I offer euphemisms and dysphemisms; the truth is between them, or it’s all of them at once.

Along those same dual lines, on the happy side, we explain our discipline as a rational function, we use punishments to teach particular, real world lessons, don’t throw dishes – but no-one has explained how not breaking dishes increases our genes’ odds for replication and immortality. The beating about the dishes, however, that has real world effects beyond the life of your dishes, well documented effects about life outcomes, about violence and crime, and the preponderance of this data says this is the true function. I’ll go out on a limb and say the biologists are finding real gene expression functions and physiological developmental functions around abuse, trauma, and violence, and not so much around dishes and house rules. Right?

So, again, one view is morality, along with the “strength,” or as a rider to it. This relationship as it is in our minds isn’t completely clear to me, and things not being clear around this is a feature, not a bug, but I think it’s fair to introduce that in reality, if this sort of abuse induced “strength” does somehow keep our genes’ march to immortality alive, if it keeps us from annihilation, then it really is “good,” no? I mean, unless we and our loved ones are somehow just plain “bad” in the first place. So, life is “morality,” I think, that’s how I understand it, the life and quality of life of my loved ones and myself, and acts that aid in that are moral acts, at the simplest level, of course. Having said that, logic and reality are not a game of “telephone,” we don’t ignore that the best defense is a good offense and we can’t say, “offense is defense, defense is life, life is morality, so offense is “good.”” To say the best defense is a good offense, is using the word/meme “good/best” in only a tactical sense, and not a moral one, obviously.

Game theory says truly, defense alone is doomed to lose, because if attacking us has no costs, they will continue until our defenses fail, and it’s only a matter of time – this little talk for the nice folks who don’t dabble in this awful sort of thinking – so the theory is we are safer when we impose a price on those that would attack us, in the jargon, when we present a credible threat of our own. Even the smallest man in our aboriginal village may have a level of safety if the big guys know he will ambush them in revenge, or cut their throats in their sleep, meaning if he engages in offense.

Moral theory says offense is a moral failing, that the acts of taking lives and protecting lives are more different than they are similar – at least my moral theory does. What the ancient texts our cultures hold dear is what I’m saying we’re stuck with in game theory, as players: killing your enemies is “good.”

I’m not sure, but I think the biologists and Richard Dawkins in particular say that your genes wish to be replicated into the future and do not give a damn about my moral theories, however, and that explains why here we are, living the morality of the players, in game theory, where offense is defense, and therefore “good.”

Sigh.

Those are the texts we go to for moral instruction, those scrolls, written in ancient team locker rooms, just before the game, instructions to the players. Don’t fight against the conflict; the conflict is your job.

This is attempt number twenty or something, of summing up my worldview as it relates to morality, of what I think are my not so common insights into these matters, this is the thing I’ve had in front of me for a year or two now, the thing I’ve been waiting to be able to put together. I feel I’ve had a bunch of thoughts, and there is some grand expression of them to be made, but the connections are difficult to show, difficult to see, and I’ve been letting my subconscious digest it and hoping it would wake me up with the answer eventually. That hasn’t really happened, but I’m writing again, for the first time in a long while, the longest while in a few years, and that feels better. For a long time, I’ve had a sense of the overview, that our ideas of “good” and “bad” are upside down and backwards, and so our morality is confusing and solving our troubles seemed impossible . . . it’s sort of what I’m after, that we want a certain kind of “good” in the world, but we’re stuck working for another kind altogether. I cannot escape an image I have, like a one-line poem more than logic, but I see our self-induced ferocity that keeps the Hun away from our door as mostly wandering our own streets, bringing those attitudes and skills evolved for the enemy to ourselves, to each other, our loved ones – and to be old fashioned – to our women and our children. Crime, as the trade-off for annihilation, I’d take it too, as we do, if I were as sure as our genes seem to be that there is no other way, but I’m not. Full disclosure – I think that may just be me.

Of course that’s what our genes think.

I’m not saying it much, but it’s all about group conflict, offense is life supporting and moral “for us,” for our group, those are the players in game theory, groups of humans, while our offense “appears” (LOL) life destroying and therefore immoral to the other groups. So now we have a game theory and we know they have one too, two identical theories in two identical frameworks, and within each group’s theory the central dogma that offense is the best defense is the pinnacle of the logic, and we know we all know it, but that’s the game.

Now, we are here, living in this group scenario for a long time, and we are absolutely talking about simple fighting and war, a basic, fundamental adaptation to group conflict (as well as perhaps discipline and antisocialization), meaning it’s undeniable that a violent response to violence is often necessary and it’s certainly an evolved and logical trait to fight. Never mind sometimes we can’t seem to communicate with our best friends, you can’t expect to converse with the human group coming over your walls, so game theory, conflict theory is fundamental, of course talking skills alone won’t guarantee your genes’ safety. But was it supposed to end there? There is fundamental and then there’s fundamental, isn’t there? Are group conflict and war really as intractable as the need for water and air?

Because therein lie all of our hopes and dreams, don’t they? In the space between those kinds of “fundamentals?”

All of our literature, all of our ponderings regarding our own natures and the nature of life, all of our struggles for good things take place in this space, all of this is an attempt to solve this puzzle of free will because we feel, we feel that we know there is a difference, that human enemies and droughts are different sorts of problems. We know the enemy is us and we are them, so it’s frustrating. Things are not so harsh all the time, so we know it doesn’t always have to be, and still, despite not having to be this way in as solid a manner as the needs for food, etc., it’s still always this way.

We need to spend a little time away from the battle, see if there’s any way to stop playing this stupid, lethal, forced game of murder ball, any way to support each of our lives and our life beyond simply threatening each other’s. I think “morality,” within our group, in the game theory paradigm, has too “good” a name, it’s describing saving ours and killing theirs – I’m sorry, missed a step, didn’t I? I mean saving ours and disciplining ours so that we can kill theirs when need arises – I think we can see that’s a rather limited morality, and best thought of as something else, simple survival, perhaps. Something I read in a novel about the Battle of Thermopylae said that to be ready for war, you must practice, that simply being prepared for an existential war means war is always your vocation, that you live with war always. It’s not true because that writer said it, but it’s true.

On maybe a purely aesthetic level, morality should serve as a goal, shouldn’t it? An ideal, not just an attribute we give to everyone in our group automatically, just for adhering to some group norm. Analogous to the widening of our moral circles meme, but perhaps more fundamentally progressive, I propose a wider moral goal for us, one above the level of our social groups, because I fear the expanding of our “moral circles” – who’s in and who’s out of the group – is doomed to failure since our brains and our societies are evolved for a much smaller group than any real group in today’s world.

The planet has gotten small and our social groups have gotten huge, we can start to imagine wanting a morality, a goal, that doesn’t require an “other,” at all – and I know freedom is the freedom to kill your enemies and what I’m suggesting is something like wildlife management of ourselves, population VS resources. Players, idealists, freedom lovers, a lot of folks aren’t going to like that idea, but I’m searching for a way to “be good” that doesn’t involve killing and war, some slightly more objective measure for what is morally “good” than whether the people we hurt are “our people” or “their people,” you know? Some moral concept that at least takes the “good” people off of the battlefield. The existence of vast amounts of a military sort of “good” available today doesn’t seem to be a solution for the collateral damage, for victims of violence away from the front lines, and this can be seen as the present, probably eternal political divisions we all live with, the hawks that promote the eternal “solution” at the borders and abroad, and the doves that complain about the violence abroad and at home. Also, all this military “good” isn’t changing, isn’t evolving, isn’t growing up. Morally, this is our upper limit, this game theory crap, and we’ve plateaued.

What makes the world seem so much less clear and understandable than this rather short assessment of mine is the connection between the two, the discipline.

That’s where bad becomes good, the magic trick. Our parental violence is “good” because if our young are strong (or better yet, crazy), then they are less likely to be attacked or exterminated and we are more likely to see those grandchildren, our genes are more likely to see the future. This is not news, anyone who has endured an old-fashioned trip to the woodshed has been told that at least some of the good that would come of it would be that they were tougher for it. That is a little bittersweet to me, a difficult thing to accept in all of this nasty talk, that the old-time patriarch types who understand the function are the ones who are very much into it, while the nice guys and the ladies who would oppose this lifestyle don’t seem to grasp it. Again, a lot of folks think being good is about not breaking dishes and such, but it doesn’t seem to be. Certainly that couldn’t be as important a way to be “good” as serving us all in conflict, a part of which is breaking the enemy’s dishes and a whole lot more than that.

So, to my mind, that’s our central conflict. Peace is “good,” the sort of “good” thing we want but being here to enjoy it seems to require that war be the mode of operation. Discipline is an inoculation, a vaccine against the existential threat of peace entering our hearts and minds, keeping us “strong” – while of course also working in the enemy’s camp, keeping him “strong.” If only we could talk to him – but again, not a system of talking. We’re having trouble reaching our own young men with talk, aren’t we? This strength that makes the international neighbors think twice, so “good” in it’s deterrent and defensive properties, is all things bad and immoral at home, the oppressive social structures, crime, violence, the whole suite. We pretend we’re “fighting crime” with our deterrents and our punishments, when those are in fact evolved behaviours that ramp up our aggression for our life of group conflict and war, and so we are hardened rather than softened by it.

So this is my take on our morality.

We’re only making it worse.

I don’t mean now, today, in modern times or anything, I mean eternally, or the evolutionary version of that. With our answer for misbehaviour and crime always being pain and deprivation, we harden ourselves as the neighbors do and no-one is soft, so that we have settled into a morality where our group gets preferential treatment, meaning a lot of well intended, mostly non-lethal punitive violence and some collateral damage from crime. It is a few steps better than it might be, I suppose.

But the empty talk, the rhetoric we hear about solving that damage within our own group, about “fighting” the crime! Understand, I don’t know if I’ve convinced anyone else – but I am convinced of what I’m saying here, discipline boosts aggression and so crime – and so the folks solving it are causing it. The folks talking about morality and punishments are advocating for abuse, which is the cause and not the cure for our madness and our aggression. I’m only asking one thing. Don’t change your ways today, just spread the word. We can’t change this by ourselves, at home, within our groups, this only helps if all nations learn this, the whole world. We need one of those hundredth monkey things – I know, they’re not a thing, it’s learning, social learning. It just looks like magic, right?

Just think about it, just talk about it.

There is a cloud over our minds about this, a great power suppressing this idea, it seems like survival itself, but things have changed, it might be survival itself if we don’t find a way to think about it.

Pithy ending, I’m sorry.

I think I may have finally gotten there, though.

 

Jeff

June 26th., 2018

Psychology as Abuse

Feminism, in its present, barely conscious state, isn’t going to work out, and further to that, psychology, in the same state, is fuckin’ bullshit.

I’ll break a case down, someone I know – well, half the people I know, as you’ll perhaps agree: a woman, neglected, with or without corporal punishment to boot, by her father, father is detached, unavailable, woman discovers a pattern, later in life of blindness to this sort of treatment, choosing the same sorts of men, always suffering the neglect, with or without ‘corporal punishment’ until, with psychology she sees the early unmet need, becomes more conscious of the issue and is safer from making the same choice next time. A classic psychology success story, I think, not to mention a near ubiquitous one. To be clear, none of that was the ‘bullshit’ part, I’m with all of that, within that conversation. I think many women and many feminists are familiar with this meme, and it’s an example that defines the popular idea of psychology quite well.

I’m sorry! This ‘meme’ idea, it seems to me to be a definition of consciousness, isn’t it, to recognize, name, and classify thoughts, and then further to address their viability, and guess their functions in the world, as an exercise in a sort of biology? Psychology, in this sort of equation, is the dominant meme in my western world about how to solve many of our personal problems.

Of course, if the conversation is a feminist one, or just an old-fashioned man-hating session, then we might see it a little more simply: a woman, neglected and/or beaten by her cold and/or violent father (and/or surrogates) finds every man she ever gets to know intimately to be the same sort of dickhead, until with the help of someone who will talk to her, she realizes that the first one was lying, she never deserved any of it and she starts to make a serious, more informed try at escaping from this sort of abuse.

Now, despite that the Venn diagram of fucked-over women and ‘women’ are the same circle and that even feminism and psychology have massive overlaps in their demographics, I’m sorry, I see a conflict, and I’m going with the second story, because I hear a simple victim’s truth in the second one. What I hear in the psychology story is a lecture from a parent, a teacher, a priest. In the second story, again, a simple, painful truth, and in the first, the finger of blame: it’s not a series of awful men, it’s the woman’s choices – you know “psychology” like this was concocted by men, don’t you? Worse, it’s an evil, misogynist bait and switch, because if one man in a thousand won’t beat you, then we’re talking about you, about your bad choices. This should make you sick to your stomach if you’re a man who can hear it, it does me. Of course, for the ladies, this is what do you call it, Friday.

I know, ‘Tuesday’ is the joke – but it’s Friday. I know the positive story too.

In the first story, it’s her life, and this puts the power to change it in her hands, it’s not her fault, but her opportunity, it’s not of her creation, but it is her problem and no-one would benefit so much from its solution more than her, and no single person has as much power or chance to solve it, I know, and I have an answer prepared for that.

If it were any sort of level playing field, if the woman or the woman child in question had a chance, if all those other associations of mine were not already in place, the parent, the priest, if pretty much everything else in the woman’s life didn’t also tell her everything is her fault and her responsibility to fix, then maybe the “positive” side of that story wouldn’t be a lot of evil, misogynist bullshit, just like the “psychology” it supports.

As it is, it’s one more bait and switch from the warrior society.

So, again, I’m with the second story. We can try to apply psychology to explain all those dickhead men, that sounds a little more useful and a lot more moral. There’s a point to be remembered about psychology: as things stand today, it’s only practiced on victims. This is a massive weakness of psychology as well: there is no test for truth, so psychological “health” is whatever seems to be average; it’s an automatic status quo conformity machine. Again, when all men beat their wives, psychology will treat the victims. I think it’s a matter of piling on; one suffers trauma, and then one must repair the damage oneself, someone else’s way, and almost on someone else’s schedule too. It’s our “opportunity” and “we have the power” and we had bloody well better show we’re “trying,” or else.

Women and feminism figure huge for me, but psychology pulls that shit on all of us. I’m a man, but it’s all my “opportunity” too. If I didn’t before, there’s nothing like a man finding himself in the subordinate position to help him understand something about feminism, and the sympathy I maybe once had for writers and practitioners of psychology I have now shifted to their subjects – or objects, as the case may be – people, victims. Like me, sigh. Again, if you hear a hundred words, it’s the inclined playing field I would ask that keep your attention on. Psychology has great insights, lots of good stuff, and I know it’s trying, it’s one of the ideas that would benefit all of humanity for all of humanity to absorb it.

It may do more harm than good when it puts its thumb on that balance, when it takes the higher end of that sloping moral pitch of responsibility and blame, is all I’m saying, and it’s a tendency to do just that, that’s sort of the human game. I think if we can use some of those great insights looking upstream, towards the abusers and the abuse, we’ll see a lot less collateral damage, and maybe change the world for the victims instead of trying to change the victims’ minds to match the world created by the un-diagnosed abusers.

Just sayin’, as the kids say.

 

Jeff

Feb. 23rd., 2018

Alphas, Betas, and Human Beings

Alphas, Betas, and Human Beings

 

Brainstorming session.

Our line split with the chimps’ line about five million years ago and the chimpanzee and bonobo line halfway between then and now. To infer some simple three-way split on any behavioural vector over that sort of timeframe is crazy, we all could have played one another’s parts a thousand times over by now, but it looks today, within my paradigm, antisocialization theory, that we split by winning some sort of a war, by finding a way to rule the drying world and the savanna and thus relegating the cousins that became the chimpanzees to the shrinking rain forests. We split, we changed, and we became dominant, took over the world.

Now the general, hippy-dippy environment that produced antisocialization theory would like to see a continuum, that we got meaner and split from the root-stock, and if that’s a repeatable biological function, that today’s chimps perhaps also split from the rootstock by getting meaner, and the rootstock maybe resembles the bonobos, that is to say, only as mean as an animal needs to be who isn’t at war with its own, tough enough for nature but not apparently genocidal and specicidal like homo sapiens. If there were anything else to support this sort of a trend, then we might see the chimpanzees as a few steps down our road to antisocialization and wars.

As it stands, these are just tempting just-so stories.

I’ll elaborate, and build an edifice on these shifting sands, of course, because I’m trying to make thinking this way possible, trying to create a different paradigm. New ideas need a lot of preparation, decades of groundwork. Trivers has said that his first big theory and book was well purchased and even well read, but not understood. I think it took a long tome – oops, long time – to change the field, because it took a long time for people to understand it (was it “Social Theory?”). A long tome and then a long time, ha.

If anyone’s following my latest purges, you’ll see that I struggle; I think I have a brilliant new insight, and I write it down, irresponsibly publish, and then realize I’m using all the wrong words, or at least a few critical ones. Case in point, just lately I’m excited about this flash I’ve had about alphas and “betas” – and that “beta” word is probably the opposite of what I’m looking for, the Beta is like the Prime Minister if the Alpha is the king, right? I wasn’t looking for the second most successful randomly violent and oppressive male in the troop, I was going for the opposite of an alpha, not an alpha wannabe – I need to be saying “non-alpha” or “affiliative males” or something, right? I’m sorry. It’s the basic alpha meme still working in me – friggin’ genius figures out the alpha’s an asshole, but he’s pretty sure the asshole’s lieutenants are all right still, and so, meet the new boss, same as the old boss. No.

That wasn’t the idea.

The point was to say that a better definition of altruism is mostly non-alpha group members cooperating in such a way as to manage, limit and control the destructive power of the alphas, that the benefits are for the group.

Still in just-so storyboarding mode, my first attempts to flesh this out will follow my heart and postulate that altruism is not a group function, not only a non-alpha strategy against one’s own alphas but rather a status or class function that seems able to work across groups, as in the parable of the good Samaritan, or as with the global goals of political movements, rather than an inter-group competitive one, which inter-group competitive strategies I’ll postulate as alpha methods.

Back to our cousins. First, I got questions.

One, it’s clear that the bonobos have a hierarchy, isn’t it? Bonobos got alphas? I mean, my just-so story here says, “no, they don’t,” or at least they’re not the be-all, end-all of their social structure like they are with the baboons.

LOL – apparently the female alpha bonobo is the big Kahuna!

Two, same for chimpanzees, I guess, they got alphas? I know their aggression is portrayed as a result of male bonding and spare time, very much a group hunting party, but where is the alpha in that? Again, that’s inter-group stuff, the raiding parties and it’s what’s brought out in discussions of primate aggression, but I need to research, find out for sure if Sapolsky’s baboons’ champagne fountain of stress is observable among all the versions of chimpanzee as well – meaning not just humans and baboons. Well, having accidentally put it that way, I guess that’s my answer, so I’m just gonna push ahead.

Along that same just-so vector, bonobos as some degree of mean and dangerous, chimpanzees as more so and humans as the most, or the worst, this probably correlated to an increase in the relative power of the alpha within groups of these apes – whups, starting to sound a little Nazi, like it’s a good thing, leader worship insures world domination – nope, that’s not it. Alpha rule insures harsh nature. Alpha rule exists today among all sorts of creatures that cannot read or write or think not to eat their last bit of food the minute they’re hungry.

Alpha rule is well documented by Sapolsky, again, a champagne fountain of cortisol would seem to be the structure of baboon life. I think it’s a mistake to assume that structure is associated with increased cranial capacity, though. We’re fairly sure that it was something about the inter-group conflict that did that, I think mostly, the daunting task of gleaning friend from foe. Social hierarchy among primates would seem to be more foundational than the giant human brainpan – random alpha violence and all.

(Oh no, new disruptive thought: alpha-ism increases with human dominance of other creatures, providing our own predator audit on the old and sick, the weak links, when external predation is successfully controlled? Never mind! Later.)

This is a thought I would rather avoid, but that’s not a voice to follow if you’re lucky enough to notice it, so, what about this – altruism developed as a cooperative strategy among the non-alphas, eventually evolving to civilization and law, morality, religion, all the nice things in modern human life – art? Sure, why not? LOL. Unfortunately, despite all the great things the non-alpha’s strategy has produced, success in the original venture isn’t one of them. Law has not replaced the alpha or the primate social hierarchy. The truth may be somewhere on a spectrum between that the best examples of humanity’s highest moral achievement show that the non-alphas and their altruism are making inroads and on the other hand that this non-alpha strategy simply can also provide a terrifying level of organization for the alpha’s violence.

That’s an awful thought and it means it’s a very high stakes contest.

Perhaps, with this little bit of apparent success, now it is time to step it up and get conscious about it, if we knew what the goal of being good was, which we didn’t, we might have a chance at more progress. The current, Trivers’ defined version of biological altruism, that’s the opposite of the altruism we need in this shrinking world, altruism just for your existing social group, that is not morality, that is a recipe for war. In conversations about morality, altruism is much bigger, more global – and this idea, that it’s a hedge against alpha-ism, well.

That might be closer to the right order of magnitude. That might work. This is one we need to stop going to our archetypal “leaders” for, and start to think in terms of reigning those guys in instead.

. . . continued, probably, still thinking.

Jeff,

Dec. 5th., 2017

No Room in the Warrior Society

. . . for a boy who won’t fight. I thought I read it in The Nurture Assumption, Judith Rich Harris, but I can’t find it. It may have been in one of some shorter papers I’ve read by her, or one of Steven Pinker’s books, I’ll keep looking, but it was in one of those very popular science books, so the idea is out there. If it was in anything I’ve read, then it wasn’t one of those author’s own papers originally . . . I’ll have to find it to cite it, won’t I? Anyhow, I think the story was in support of the Nurture Assumption’s main idea, that parents do not create child culture, and she describes how in some straight-up forest warrior society, that warrior training occurs in boyhood and timid, won’t fight sorts of boys are abused and goaded into fighting. Those that never do, in this group, according to these anthropologists – Mead? The Yanomamo? – those that never return the blows, are killed as the logical end of the process of fighting them to make them fight. I believe it was the author’s punch line I’m paraphrasing in my opening. No room for weak links, we might need you some day.

Not that I think it would have helped, but I wish I’d had a man around to tell me that fifty-some years ago. Between that and a little info on inherent family conflicts, maybe I would have had a chance not to believe everything Momma tol’ me.

I’ve been a good boy, tried hard and mostly succeeded, but by women’s standards, abused women’s standards. In the boys’ culture of game theory, in the warrior society where I’m supposed to be a man, I am useless. I mean, I passed the tests, the boys’ tests, when I was little, I was a fearless little Irish terror for a while there, but that ended at the beginning of puberty, apparently. The fights I got into after I was twelve or so, I never had any interest in, and I talked the fellow down when I could and avoided him if it seemed like the encounter was destined to imprint the warrior life on my pretty young face. I absolutely let fear rule my life, I switched high schools once and wound up giving up school entirely after that. There were other reasons, but that was absolutely one of them. I just realized something.

I never fantasized winning the fights I avoided.

I mean, I fantasize fight situations, I’m a man, I run little simulations, I tell myself that if some badass walked in my door to do me in, that I would have a chance, a plan – but I don’t think I have ever had a daydream where I won a fight against these bullies from my life. Realism may be a factor, I really had zero chance, size, experience, and everything else would have been a hundred to one sort of a thing. My only chance would have been to surprise them with a knife or something, and even then, size and experience. Plus, these dudes guaranteed had switchblades of their own – and experience. But to never fantasize a thing like that? My gonads aren’t working, right? I lived in terror, changed my life – but I wouldn’t want the fight even if I knew I could win it. It’s not like I’ve been going around getting into fights I think I can win either! Are we there yet?

No room for me in this world, is what I’m saying. No room for a man who won’t be a man. Maybe I was nine or ten when I stopped fighting, it was one my childhood experiments, I guess I thought I’d try to unload on someone.

There was this Zeta (I better look that up too) juvenile male, the one everybody seemed to unload on, it seemed that everyone beat this kid, I don’t know why, but he was my age, nine, ten, and he looked like The Battler already, anything that was going to flatten out or break on Rodney’s face already was, you know? This is certainly an unfair characterization; it’s a childhood memory and I know I’m using Rodney now for my own ends. I’m sorry, Rod, if you’re still out there. All I really remember is his wide forehead and hard, sharp nose – he kept his chin tucked, I guess. I’m not happy with my impulse in this story, all I can say is, I’m happy it only happened once.

I decided I would unload on this kid, that I would give beating someone up a try, see if I liked it or something. I don’t think I thought “unload” at the time, that’s how I see it now, having taken from schooling from the Master of Stress, Dr. Robert Sapolsky. I found him after school or something, cornered him and started throwing punches at him, hurting my hands on him and then I just had this WTF am I doing moment right in the middle of it and I stopped, apologized, told him I had no idea why I was doing it and I think I promised him he’d have no more to worry about from me. I think I also realized at that moment that he was five times tougher than me, and to this day I count myself very lucky he didn’t turn the fight around and give me the stomping I deserved.

It looks like deep wisdom to me now, Rodney, you schooled me, let he who is without sin, kind of thing. You were a huge influence on my mind and my life – is it Brown, Rodney Brown? White guy, Mount Pleasant Elementary, around 1970? I was a fledgling bully for a second there, and my first victim was an experienced one, a goddam expert. Maybe I’m giving too much credit, but the last guy in the world who had any obligation to be modelling peace for anybody accepted my apology and that was the end of it, which, in hindsight was Mandela-esque. I don’t know how life’s been or if you’re still out there, but you sure did right by me, even if I’m romanticizing your agency in the matter. You probably had fighting back thoroughly beaten out of you, no doubt what made you so attractive as a victim, right?

You hear that? Me, thanking Rodney and the Academy for my pacifism?

Truth to tell, I lost track a little there, memories intruding; I was supposed to be complaining about my low-T, not bragging, but that’s it, isn’t it? I’m talking about the downsides of my own attitudes. I have a low testosterone attitude, and proud as I may be of it, society doesn’t reward that sort of thing – just abused terrified women like to encourage that sort of thing, for obvious, understandable sorts of reasons, that don’t help me in my situation at all. So here I am today, with a fuzzy, half-formed consciousness of the origin of my passivity, and I know it exists for someone else’s survival strategy and is almost certainly detrimental to my own, meaning my morality is the morality provided for me by abused and fearful women, it’s all based on the idea that men are beasts or something and all their desires should be denied, me and mine expressly included – what are my options?

I’ve said it before: I looked at something I oughtn’t to have. Having questioned punishing, and so force and dominance, all of that, I don’t really think I have the option of just changing my mind, I mean it’s not a change of mind, it’s a learning thing. I am not going to just start trying to dominate anyone (sorry – it’s coming up soon, I mean I can’t start exercising any traditional male power in my family now, having never done so before. I found myself with no place in my female household, and standing up and demanding one wasn’t going to get me one the same way just complaining and asking didn’t), bring the people around me around to my way of thinking, like some young man who simply believes in himself, simply believes he deserves to and should dominate anyone. Even if I need some control to mitigate my own stress, even so, my having some share of dominance may be a biological need for me, I have seen the downside of that sort of attitude in the world, and it is no longer available to me. It always comes back to Bluebeard for me, you’ll never get any killin’ done if you go around thinking all the time – this is a piece of social sort of advice that I simply cannot take. I assume Sapolsky has come to the same conclusion, he seems to be a genuine fellow, despite of, or because of his revelation that he and all his famous professor author peers are alpha types.

In practical terms, it means the MRAs and the howl at the moon sorts of men’s retreats are exactly the opposite of what I’m looking for, save your invitations to the brotherhood. More importantly in my personal life, because those guys are not going to be part of it, it means I didn’t and can’t sit my girls down and tell them how it is going to be, I cannot make anything happen, despite that it seems to mean that the right thing isn’t happening, despite that all our lives are destroyed because an adult has supported a child’s decision rather than making an adult one themselves. I know I’m talking about both of my kids’ parents, I know it was an immature sort of decision of mine to abstain from my male power, a shirking of the responsibility for that power . . . should I have been normal? Should I have dominated my girls, which is normal, to make sure something like this could never happen to me, that I would get voted off the island and my kids would somehow have been used to do it? You know what it means, right?

Maybe my kid would have been domesticated, maybe when her teen conflict came up, she’d have toed the line and submitted, stayed home and in school – and maybe not. How much of the choice I didn’t make is right and proper and works for our goals, and how many of those folks’ kids simply move out into poverty? In those terms, I can’t and couldn’t make a different decision either. I had given up the option to act like a man and put my foot down about anything at the start of the child-rearing experience. That wasn’t going to be a solution at this late juncture, in fact, the girls all seemed to think that’s what I was doing already, or that I was getting ready to, and so any manly thing I might attempt would only prove their case; I did raise my voice a few times and it was over, they feared things were going to get worse and they had me leave, “to get better and then come back.” They’ve made it clear that they feel my attempts to communicate with them as manipulative and aggressive, so for me to prove I’m not trying to hurt them, I am left only the option of never speaking to them again – and I am very committed to proving it to them, so there we are. I love you girls, and to prove it, I’m going to do what you say and take half our money and leave forever.

(To my mind, that is sort of the fatal, mountain to climb to forgive sort of a sin, that they cut off communication with me. It was clear to me immediately that both there was nothing to “get better and go back” to, I’d given away my spot and my voice was forbidden, and that “getting better” from this, being abandoned by the family during a breakdown, wasn’t the most likely outcome. I begged them on this basis, to deaf ears. I know, they were scared, and if I have to tell you that knowing it was their fear, my wife’s fear that was the matter helped me not a fucking bit, then welcome to the second level of the conversation. You may defer to her fears if you wish, they have nearly killed me, and the outcome is not yet assured.)

I’m not looking for sympathy and I’m not trying to recruit anyone to my side of my divorce fight, I’m only laying it out to demonstrate what happens to a man who won’t play the dominance game, a man who recuses himself of authority, a boy who doesn’t fight. OK, there is something under my skin. We’re invisible too, boys who don’t fight. Life sucks for us because we are like Pit Bulls, it’s not what we do, it’s what we can do – I recused myself from the rewards that a strong man receives, but recusing one’s self from the liabilities, that doesn’t seem to be in my power. My soon to be ex-wife never seems to have understood or believed me that that is what I am, despite that I am the only man she ever heard of who wouldn’t so much as “pat a kid on the bum,” as they say.

All men must be treated as armed and dangerous, we must all be muzzled, apparently, and a life of good behaviour doesn’t change that. I gave it up for nothing, a liberal principle, and my daughters are as fearful of men as they were evolved to be, as though I had beaten them spare. There is a whole lot more to it, mostly just more reasons why they couldn’t have felt otherwise and maybe more of me saying I couldn’t have thought otherwise, a lot of reasons why I need to find a new way forward. Men are indeed dangerous and I worry that by responding to my ouster with passivity and obedience, I am teaching my girls a lesson that will get them hurt the next time they attempt it with some more regular fellow. It was an experiment, my life. It was looking like a spectacular success until suddenly it was over.

I hope the results can help someone someday, because the cost of this experiment was the quality of life for all of us.

 

 

 

Jeff

September 15th., 2017

Us and Them, Vegan version. Vegetarians and Intelligence

OK I can’t lie for long, that’s clickbait manipulation. It’s about both of those things, but not the way it sounds – “they” ain’t smarter or dumber. Vegetarianism is only offered as an example, it’s my stepping off point. I’m no doctor anyhow, I can’t speak to that.

I want to talk about something, something I see in myself and so struggle not to despise. I mean, give us a rest, I know school’s out, but you can’t know everything. Remember, evolution hasn’t required that we do. Critical thinking, formerly known as “thinking,” is applied where it is useful, unavailable where it is not, and declaring one’s self to be critical doesn’t make one omniscient. I’m just talking about how we think, or don’t, as the case may be.

This must be the same sort of insight comics have, and maybe that’s all it is, is a joke, but it has occurred to me that plants probably don’t enjoy being killed and eaten either. I’m not going to cite it, but it’s out there, the science that plants communicate and display some sort of active interactivity with their environments that is at least analogous to intelligence – and barring that, how intelligent do you need to be to not enjoy being killed and eaten? Never mind that for plants it’s possibly even more common than for animals that when this event ends your life, it’s actually the other way around: you’re eaten first and then digested to death!

Of course, this is an argument to the apparently emotional vegetarian and vegan arguments about animal cruelty, as well as the not so emotional ones. I mean, truly, it would be possible for meat eating to continue without a whole lot of the unnecessary cruelty, wait, that sounds like I think it should or must, and I’m not really decided about it. But it doesn’t have to be all or nothing, full on disregard for animals or equal status – wait again.

I’m afraid that with us, it does seem that way, doesn’t it? It shouldn’t be, is what I’m saying. All or nothing positions are what is required for the battle, but the battle is supposed to be a form of détente. These all or nothing ideologies aren’t supposed to win, because without their opposites, they are just madness. (It’s 2017, talking to all of you with that bit, America, not just Wendy’s and the vegans.)

Back to food, that all on one side madness is evident in the cruelty we see in the meat industry. If it exists among the vegans etc., it’s a lot less visible and a lot less harmful, I mean except if you’re a soybean plant, I guess. Someone tell me, am I missing something? Do vegans differentiate between a plant you have to kill and one you trim or pick? Oops, my “critical thinking” lobe just kicked in again and said being trimmed probably sucks too, tea trees probably aren’t happy either. Wait – I’m outta tea, BRB.

I’m wandering badly today, apologies. The point is, that science about plant intelligence is out there, even popularized in the “The Happening,” the M. Night Shyamalan movie a few years back, but this sort of thing either takes time, or there are things we cannot look at, I mean, you gotta eat, right? But this is what I mean by intelligence, that we as a society put two and two together here and there, pretty haphazardly, but we don’t synthesize our data if it’s not in our interest to do so.

(Data that is not in our interest, unfortunately, seems to be my calling.)

We have this data coming in, we can say we know that plants hurt, but what can we do with it? First, you gotta eat, and second, what does saying this do except hurt the ‘stop cruelty to animals’ movement, in the present circumstances, by just making it impossible to do the right thing? I’m sorry, underneath all of this, it’s 2017 and Nazi America is on the rise, the parallels won’t end, plus of course it’s not just parallels, is it?

Of course, Plants’ Rights is a ridiculous position.

If there is such a thing as moral progress, it’s coming though, is what I’m saying. Animal rights are beginning, and it means our moral circle is expanding, at least for some of us, and this is in one sense that battle, the expansion of our moral circles versus our basic us and them moral configuration. The ‘stop cruelty to animals’ movement would have animals, at least mammals, brought into our circle, make our animals part of us, and not of them, the “them” that get the dark side of our morality. All I’m saying here, is that plants remain firmly on the “them” side, and that is pragmatic of us, because again, you gotta eat something. The line between us and them has always been no more than pragmatic.

            It’s not “do plants hurt?” of course. It’s “do we worry about that?”

That isn’t different, it’s just us and them, as always, and of course that’s how it has been all the way along, in the expansion of our moral circles. Jesus, I just had the new to me and possibly racist thought that that’s what the blues are all about, clear, emotional, difficult to deny expressions of pain, an attempt to reach across the us and them barrier of race in such a way that whites have the best possible chance of seeing the pain that they do not wish to see. If the pain is out there and on record, then we can hope white folks can see the first question has been answered and answer the second question like a human being would, and say, yes, we worry about that.

Some day, God willing, we can ask the question does there have to be a “them?” We are running this planet, we could in theory be managing things as though it were all us, and doing what we can to lessen cruelty generally, for us, for all of us, and for all of them, who are going to be us someday.

Abusewithanexcuse.com. Your best online source for knowledge that hurts your feelings and you really can’t use.

Sorry.

 

Jeff

Sept. 5th., 2017