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.



Nov. 28th., 2018

The New Naturists

The Old Naturists


I’m not as sure of this as I’d like to be, but the ‘Nurture’ side of the argument is the newer idea, right? It’s modernity, some analogue of science. It’s an increase in complexity in our understanding, the suggestion that not only are things what they are, but they are also what we make them. At least that’s how it looks from today, with the framework of progress superimposed on it. If we really thought in the past that we were simply as God made us, then that might be difficult to reconcile with any sort of strivings for change and success anyone ever had at it, so clearly even Christendom leaves us some ability to direct ourselves – even Jesus gives us the choice to believe or not, to choose the light or the darkness. The framing of that choice shows us that Nature ruled the world in Christendom, though: our choice was to deny our sinful natures or not. It would seem to have been the enlightenment, Rousseau and his ilk who were the early Nurturists, who suggested that our evil was not inherent, that we create it with our interactions.

During that time, while these ideas were being tossed about, the Nature side of the argument in Europe and European societies elsewhere was held most strongly by the church: if we don’t have specific natures, then we don’t all need the church’s cure for it. These were the Old Naturists, and their stance was Man is Evil by Nature, and if he were to direct himself without God’s laws, all that Man produced would be evil. If Man turned away from God, the Devil was already inside him and ruled him. There are still plenty of these sorts of Naturists around, but they may not be the only variety of them anymore.



The Old Chestnut



Ideas of Nurture appear to have derived from the evolved human psychological faculty, our ability to “read” one another, to glean other peoples’ intentions and motivations. This explains why psychology seems obvious to so many of us, because of course we’re able to understand some of what’s going on in one another’s minds, we need to. The workings we perceive in those minds and in our own are clearly changeable; if minds cannot be changed, why develop complex language? The ability to add to one another’s information (or misinformation) and alter their calculations would seem to be the definition of the Nurture idea. And it really happens, people tell each other things, people learn, people change their minds with enough time and evidence. Not every time, sure, but we do. ‘Nurture’ as such, is a real thing in the world.

Of course, ‘Nature’ is too, and like so many things, the old debate is always increasingly polarized. There have been famous grandiose pronouncements from the Nurture side of the house, declarations like the big three from Pinker’s book, the Blank Slate (also the title), the Noble Savage and the Ghost in the Machine and others, Watson’s claim to make whatever professional he wished to out of any child, all of which are regularly trotted out today to show the error of the Nurturists’ ways – but the Nurture principle is not really destroyed just because it doesn’t destroy all others. Just because there is more to life than the Nurture idea doesn’t mean there is no Nurture, the same as everything else in the world.

The Nurturists are still in the debate, despite their sometimes jingoistic denial of any human Nature at all, due to the innate belief in our natural psychology most people share, and in that sense they always will be – but this rift has biology and psychology on divergent paths. That situation is all too common in matters of human affairs, but intolerable to science and to true understanding.



Today’s Naturists


The above mentioned atheist fallacies that the enlightenment produced to replace the old world order of church and king – the blank slate, etc. – were loud, flashy, provocative ideas, and to some folks they were worth checking out. There have been famous failures, famous human rights violations. What they are today, though, I think, are strawman arguments. It seems today that all that is required to win the ancient debate is to show that any trait varies more with the presence or absence of a genetic connection more than it varies with some environmental factor, or rather, I suppose, with all the environmental factors we can reasonably vary within the law. Any measurable facet of Nature would seem to disprove any Nurture, which, perhaps I should just give it up: sure. Nurture has not yet been measured.

Rumours that it has actually been measured but in fact lacks dimension have been exaggerated – like all other negative propositions, like the existence of God. Of late, the Real Sciences have been giving the Nurture-based attempts at science like psychology the gears for their famous failures, for their lack of evidence. Of course, finding objective evidence for subjective processes is probably an impossible task in the first place, a setup for failure.

I recently saw a film that convinced me I’d been naïve regarding the existence of antisemitism as a real, distinct thing, its own species of racism. I mean, I knew it, but I must not have, because the experience of the film – The Woman in Gold – really drove the point home and I have a changed understanding of that phenomenon now. That is Nurture in action, isn’t it? Is it not an actual Nurturing event because there is no evidence other than my say-so? Nurture operates subjectively. There may indeed be no way to objectively quantify it – it hasn’t changed my understanding to the point where I might provide evidence, such as some sort of financial support for Israel, or write something pro-Israel, nothing concrete – but twenty such steps, if life somehow arranges them for us, and we have reversed ourselves completely. Some number of steps along that road and my voting habits can change.

Nurture is a stealth operation. No evidence for each of many steps in the execution – but people do change their minds, we do learn. Perhaps that is the question that should be asked in this discussion. Is our inner life not a real thing, does our inner life not have its effects in the real world? What may be the New Naturists’ Bible, The Blank Slate, is all about that it does, that those three toxic atheist ideas have had huge effects on the world, not all desirable. So how has the geneticists’ objective evidence somehow shifted the point from the importance of the subjective world to ‘give us some proof or step aside?’

Does the Nature VS Nurture argument mean it’s like “Highlander” for scientific disciplines? There can be only one?

I think the Nurturists bought into it, is what it is, at least to some degree. Some of them must have gotten overly excited about the twin and adoption studies, they maybe thought they had a chance, thought they were going to be able to compete on that playing field, numbers and graphs. Of course, we all want objective success for psychology, for a potential cure for our hurt. But Nurture stepped into Nature’s home ground with some piss-poor assumptions with which to build their evidences, and they got their asses kicked. The geneticists had real numbers; it was hardly even a battle. Now the narrative (written by the anti-narrative explanation of life people) is that social science has lost the war. Of course psychology, the subject of which shares its subjective nature with religion, can also never be killed objectively – but I too search for the Holy Grail, the connection to objective science from psychology.

Everyone knows of times when they themselves had an inner life experience that changed at least their inner life going forward and many will say they’ve had ones that changed their lives objectively as well, and so psychology can’t ever die. This apparent divergence however, the perception that a good and thorough search for objective support for evidence of parental or environmental influence has been done and the hypotheses of social science have been debunked and the implication that psychologists are pushing ahead regardless of having been disproved – this is a clue about the New Naturists over and above their limited, disciplinary point of view. First of all, the scientists railing against the blank slate tainted psychology paradigm are failing at science: they’ve accepted the classic psychology studies’ data as valid data, bugs, bad assumptions (blank slate included!) and all. Apparently the geneticists don’t know what was wrong with those classic studies today anymore than the psychologists who did them at the time, because they’re comparing data, as though they’ve signed off on the conception, assumptions, and parameters of the old studies.

That is my clue: no improvement in the science, and no desire to improve social science. These folks are saying “psychology has done as good as it ever can and they haven’t proved anything. Let it go.” That is sort of an incurious attitude, coming as it ostensibly does from scientists, who are normally rather sensitive to the closing of avenues of study.

If we consider that psychological disciplines began from a positive place, from a repair point of view, that it began as the study and search for the cure for some our more extreme subjective hurts, we know it’s something we hope would work out. Adding to that the obvious subjective importance of our narratives, the data and the causal relationships by which we understand our lives that is the Nurture principle‘s subjective apparent proof of existence and we may have to wonder. Who wants to win the argument against Nurture? And why?


The New and the Old


Of course Pinker laid it out: the toxic, pure reason sort of ideas that seemed to arrive with atheist science, the blank slate, etc. He tells of how it’s destroyed social science and delayed better science, and he tells of some horrific communist experiments, breaking families up, that resulted. That’s all well and good, and politically those ideas created nightmares, and they certainly stained social science and all of that, just as he says. Who am I to argue with him? But that isn’t enough to explain anti-nurture sentiments. Just as there is more to any religion than it’s most radical, fundamental sect, Nurture generally is not the enemy of Man because blank slate extremists would take things too far. Further to this idea, that blank slate paradigms do not represent the Nurture principle, I must add that blank slate paradigms took over some politicians’ minds, some governments, and some universities – but not the world generally. Blank slate ideas may be the unreasoning ancient, incumbent evil to be fought at the universities – but there are sure to be a whole lot of Naturists lining up behind the geneticists that never went to school and never gave the blank slate a second thought.

In fact, it may be the older kind of Nurturists lining up in front of the geneticists too, there may be funding from the larger world’s incumbent rulers, the churches and their associations. A lot of money still flows where the churches think it should, and in issues like this, the original polarized debate almost, there are only two sides. Nurture is psychology and atheism. Religion, with all of its inertia and ties to the ancient world of God-kings and emphasis on bloodlines and inheritance, is naturally aligned with the geneticists, on the Nature side of the argument.

Be careful where you place your resources for “science.”

Ancient forces have them pitted against each other, and the “winner” here is not the new kid, as he may want you to think. He may not be working for himself. Nurture is real, so psychology needs a hand up – not to be finished off or shut out of the conversation.



April 5, 2016


Other Than Every Other Kind Ever Tried . . .

. . . social science is the worst.

You know what? I’m tired of being four steps behind what’s going on in the worlds of social and brain science, really, really tired of still finding myself beating that nature versus nurture horse, an argument that’s really more of an elephant burial. That horse is dead and gone, trampled to dust and there is nothing to mark the spot where it was except memory.


I’m sure it was less than half a year ago that while reading The Blank Slate that I was forced to confess that my conception of the mind was suffering exactly the errors Pinker described, that I really wasn’t giving chemistry, biology, etc., their due, and I still unconsciously and tacitly thought of the mind as somehow magical. I could reject the soul, but it had only morphed into the magic, pure energy of the mind or something. I hadn’t thought it all the way through, clearly. I’m cured now, or at least I’ve taken the cure. On the one hand, I feel its immediate effect, and it certainly will work – but on the other, I’ve just seen how patient this disease is, so, vigilance, I guess.

All the ramifications of the work summarized in The Blank Slate are boiling over these days, and yes, it’s true: Left wing ideology has had far too firm a hand in social science generally. However, contrary to what all the talk out there about irreplicable  studies and the beating social science is taking, this isn’t news, that ideology is what drives the studies of human things, crime, child-rearing, politics, etc.

Most of those things have been the province of religious teaching and law, forever, right? That’s ideological. So let’s put this thing in perspective. Religious teaching and law is pretty static. The religious – fair to associate today’s political Right with religion, I think? – weren’t interested in social science, and if the great preponderance of social scientists were from the Left, then it’s probably true enough to say that the Right just wasn’t f@#$%^g interested. So social science just marched off towards the future and turned Left at nearly every fork in the road.

Right? I mean, correct?

So now, that’s the debate, between a science that has been left to its own devices, the checks and balances of the opposing viewpoint absent during the centuries of its development (maybe this is one major cause for the apparently widening divide between the secular and the religious generally) – and the same old static, incurious attitudes of the world’s churches (not to mention the world’s parents), now armed with the tools of medical and brain science and knee-jerk Twitter clickbait headlines. Of course the researchers in the articles rarely share the world-shattering enthusiasm of the headlines . . .

That is today’s academic scandal: headlines that say what their articles do not support, sometimes even saying the opposite. I wonder, how many times when we see “an internet search produced 10,000 articles that support X” was it only the flashy headline that did and not the text?

The point is that, just as Leftist ideologies emerged as a potential solution for the existing power structures of the church and aristocracy (remember, democracy was leftist and revolutionary against the conservative systems it replaced too), so too has the more particular Leftism of social science come into being as a counterpoint to the existing way people understood our human interactions. The existing system that the new Leftist social science would replace was religious, authoritarian and often brutal. The idea perhaps, that it was a new field of knowledge and that it somehow wasn’t ideology that drove it before, or that it doesn’t matter that it was, is bogus. The battle in this sense isn’t Left VS Truth as some might narrate it, it’s Left VS Right as always. Of course, as always, there’s not much room for truth in either camp.

From what I understand, ‘authoritarian’ is exactly the complaint levelled at the Leftist professors directing their researchers, so we should probably view that as an old problem, authority, not as an inherent failing of the Left alone. (That’s my focus, authority and force or not, there’s a meaningful way to view people and the world if you like social science.)

So yes, the political Right should keep a foot in the door of social science, get involved in the debate, provide necessary criticism and keep it from straying into dogma, it’s just that the political Right  may not have the will to do any science themselves and if they’re going to correct these wandering Lefties, they’ll need to get up to speed in the subject matter, they’ll need an opposing theory, and maybe one that’s better than ‘that’s just the way it is,’ that is to say, more detailed. It’s point by point that we (social scientists and Lefties, separately and together) have slid into an ideological compromising position, but it’s still going to have to be a point by point refutation. No scientific community is going back to the Church and rolling over to the doctrine of ‘that’s just the way it is’ anytime soon. Scientists aren’t declaring that the world is changed with the discovery of every new allele, that’s a writer’s function, and it’s there – here – where ideology has always ruled. Not a lot of academics are looking for a way to eviscerate liberal sciences, even geneticists . . . it’s cultural, this little war.

The scientists are producing some gems on the nature side of the old argument, and some folks are employing them as projectiles against social science generally, which is already hurting from no fault of anyone else’s, but there’s a too-easy mistake to make here. It looks for the world like good, secular science VS old, ideologically-tainted science, but that is a rare, PR friendly battle in a nasty old war. The general flow of this war is the world’s old guard, old money, authority structures, still the Churches, all against modernism, liberalism and against the science that supports it.

The geneticists, the scientists, they’re doing the tests, and they don’t seem to be doing it for any particular ideology today so far as we know, although it may be possible to say that the entire political spectrum has been sliding to the Right and so maybe that effect hasn’t exempted all scientists. If the gene crowd is Leftist, perhaps they are perceptually more so than in past days, but in reality probably a bit less. I mean logically, a committed Lefty’s motivations towards genetics while it’s making such gains would be comparable to the conservatives of the past’s enthusiasm for psychology anyway, but the point is, the geneticists are probably not pooling their money to fund campaigns against the psychology department, are they? Hmm. Come to think of it, maybe they are competing for the same funds . . . please don’t tell me that’s all there is to this!

The science that conflicts with the old social science, that’s how science works, point, counterpoint. The PR that’s out there about it, though?

That’s not really coming from science, at all, is it?

That’s an anti-science interest using one branch of science against the other and ultimately against secular science generally, maybe. It’s either that or it’s just the Biology department being sore winners and taking it upon themselves to finish the Psych department off once and for all.




Dec. 4th., 2015

A Revolution in Nature VS Nurture, Part One

It has come to be understood that without some form of Nurture there can be no Nature; that an organism’s genetic coding develops in interaction with the environment, and there is no “normal” or neutral environment. Eliminate the environment and you have eliminated the organism. Of course, all living things have both influences, and they are deeply enmeshed.

With this in mind, I would like to re-visit the seemingly astounding things unearthed in the many twin studies, separated twins, adopted out to different families, and tested later in life for personality traits etc. In short – very short, I admit – these studies famously showed that twins are twins, especially monozygotic twins, even when raised apart in separate families, separate towns, separate states, even sometimes in separate countries, many shared traits to an impressive degree.

(Some, and not a small number of people, have used the apparent triumph of the Nature over Nurture argument that the twin studies seemed to assure to justify some unpopular ideas of social Darwinism and the like. Personally, I too thought the results of these studies appeared to hurt the cause of those people invested in the Nurture side, myself included – although for me it’s a hobby, a train of thought, and not my livelihood. I confess to have been searching for a way out of that disillusionment, mostly from an intuitive thing, a sense that if Nature and our genes rule all, then there seems no point to life, to thought, to the choices we make. Life in that world seems mechanical and rather pointless. But a new – at least to me – insight seems to have the power to save my hurt feelings in the matter. I hope to provide some reason and logic; I hope I am doing more than asking that anyone simply share my feelings about it.)

In terms of evolution, it would be basic to say that over the long term, environment, and living things’ responses to it, have shaped our genetic makeup, and for a few decades now, genetic science is showing that this is also true in the short term, that during the development of a single organism, environment is in interaction with genes, activating and making dormant different genes. In other words, it seems that it takes a creature’s genes and the creature’s environment to produce an adult, developed creature of a particular, identifiable phenotype. I’m sure I’m not saying anything intelligible there, but the point is simply this, that it takes both, genetics and environment to produce a creature that would seem to be within the parameters of what we might require to identify it. Too much genetic variance, it’s a different sort of creature, a different species. That we all know, but considering the interaction of genes and environment, we can also very possibly assert that if the environment were not also similar enough during the creature’s development, a different creature may also emerge, a different phenotype.

Now if that were true – and I have a blogger or two to run this past, people who know better and will no doubt try to correct me in ways I may still not understand – if that were true, then what might that mean about the twin studies?

It might mean that the genes these people share are not the only thing they share. It could very well mean that different families, in different towns, different states, even sometimes in different countries are actually similar enough environments to produce such strikingly similar phenotypes.

It could very well mean that the assumption of those who would interpret the results of the twin studies to support unpopular things like social Darwinism (and worse), the assumption that these separated twins were actually raised in meaningfully different environments – is false.

Here’s Part Two: