Rape Pillage Plunder

Whitesburg Park is a small nature preserve at the end of our street.  We met a neighbor who insisted we visit a small rotting log containing a trio of the most beautiful flowers.  He showed us a picture, and we all hastened to see the real thing.  But his excitement turned to anger; the flowers, the entire log, were gone.  This fragile object of natural beauty had been taken by someone.

His anger continued, but we could only sympathize.  He strongly questioned the morals of the thief and the declining standards of our society.  My own thoughts wandered to a greater issue, one that defines our very humanity.

This small event, one that would not even merit mention in our small time newspaper, was rape.  Our park had something taken from it by force.  Our friend was outraged, but there the insult would stop.  The rapist would feel no guilt, in fact they probably exhibited the trophy to their friends, raising their own standing as the owner of something beautiful.

Rape, pillage, plunder, these are behaviors that we encourage as a society, mostly without thinking.  Consider today’s popular television shows:  Vikings and Game of Thrones.  In the recent past we’ve had shows featuring the excesses of the Romans, Vampires, Zombies; all strong violent motifs with equally strong leaders.

Part of us exalts in the strong leader.  We look for it as children in our parents.  We look for it as young adults in our peers and teachers.  Finally, we look for it in our entertainment and our government.  Whether they are super-heroes or super-villains, village councilwomen or sitting presidents, there is a part of us that gravitates and admires the strength of those leaders.

That part may be very small, giving grudging acceptance of that strong leader’s influence on society.  Or that part may be so large that we embrace that leader as representing the best of humanity, the way society should go.

Here’s where we should become scared.  Strong leaders of the past include Hannibal, Alexander of Macedon, Chingas Khan, Attaturk, Hitler, and Stalin.  Today we have Vlad Putin and Don Drumpf (Trump) among others.  Every single one of these men got away with something illegal, including outright murder.  Not only were they proud of it, but their followers admired them for being so bold.

Scared yet?  This tendency favoring a strong leader is natural, followers prefer someone who does whatever they want to whomever they want when they want; strong leaders are the alpha male.

The alpha male calls the shots.  The alpha male takes more than one mate.  The alpha male doesn’t follow laws, they make them and break them.  The alpha male is always the most powerful male in the room, and lets everyone else know that.

Societies that are run by alpha males usually also have rape, pillage, and plunder.  After all, that’s what makes the alpha male an alpha.  It’s true of chimps and apes, and it’s true of Vikings and Romans.  It’s also true of Putin and Trump.

The fact that white supremacists met in Charlottesville yesterday to idolize Robert E. Lee and Hitler worries many, but this extremism is part of the natural process.  These extremists want an alpha male.  These people want to protect their “tribe” at the expense of all other tribes.  Law, reason, even morals are not a consideration.

Why did the alpha male fall out of favor in the first place?  Why didn’t the Vikings and the Romans become the dominant form of society?  What was fundamentally wrong with Hitler and Stalin?

The answer lies within our genes some 100,000 years ago.  Sometime around then we not only wanted to take care of our babies, like almost every other successful species, but we also wanted to take care of each other.  We call this “family.”  Many species mate when they need to in order to reproduce.  Modern humans mate many times, making few babies.  All the other times we mate strengthens our bond with our spouse.

Many species hold onto their offspring tenuously, pushing them out of the nest the instant they reach puberty.  Humans hold onto their children, in many cases asking them to take care of their parents deep into old age.  In this way humans have reached incredibly long lifetimes, far longer than nature intended.

The desire to have a family, or family phenotype, means that there is something in us that wants to be part of a group, something larger than ourselves as individuals.  And it is this need that helped create the concept of democracy in all its forms.  Many feel that family is the most important part of being human.  And family doesn’t have to mean only those born to our mother, but can mean someone adopted, our living next door, or even someone of similar interests.  Family means what you want it to mean, and some of us embrace strangers more easily than others.

Those who wish to live with an alpha male look towards that male to determine who is part of the family.  For those who are not family, it’s rape, pillage and plunder.

For those who embrace the idea of family, laws and morals tend to direct their actions.  Throughout history, the struggle between alpha male lovers and family lovers has swung towards family, towards law, and towards reason.

Today, rape, pillage and plunder is increasing all around us.  There are little clues from the missing flowers, bigger clues like the events in Charlottesville, and big clues like the rise to power of Putin, Trump and Erdogan.  From big to small, all these point to the pendulum of history swinging in the direction of those who prefer the alpha male.

How far will it swing?  History tells us it will not reverse direction without the application of great pain.

Will we be able to learn from this, and become a better society growing beyond this planet?  History also tells us that we will learn and be better for it.  But history can not tell us if it will be enough to get us off our planet.  For time is almost up.

 

END

Quiet Conspiracy

Hello Friend,

The Zika virus has been in the news alot.  First drawing international attention when babies were born with abnormally small brains in Brazil, it has lately made news because we now find that it can be sexually transmitted between people.  The mosquito is no longer the only way to get it.

But there are some researchers who have found out something else about Zika, something that should be upsetting people almost as much as malformed babies.

Male infertility.

Several researchers have looked at what the Zika virus does to testicles in mice, and their conclusions were not good.  Others have confirmed that the virus has a great affinity for neurons and testicles.  This helps explain why babies are so impacted during pregnancy.  But it also may explain why it makes men infertile.

Except we hear all about the babies.  What about the babies yet to come?

Here is where we have some conspiracy fun.  For many governments feel that there are simply too many people.  Think of how much more joy you would have if you didn’t have to deal with so many people all the time.

Consider also the fact that fertility in the developed nations has been falling for decades.  Some countries do their best to encourage larger families, but the overall trend is down.  Some large countries, like Japan, have already begun to decline in population.

The fact is we know that Zika is going to contribute to the decline in global fertility.  We won’t see the impact for decades, but we already know it’s here.  And so does your government.  The fact that they don’t want to make a big deal out of it is simple.  They want fewer people.

 

PS: I’m leaving links to both science and news articles out for now.  Ask and I’ll update as needed, but you can find everything here on the web.

 

Brilliant Suffering

I finished Larry Brilliant’s autobiography today, and enjoyed it immensely.  If you read his book, you know what I mean and can skip the remainder of this paragraph.  If you haven’t read this, I recommend it highly.  His life truly begins as he joins the love of his life in pursuit of the meaning of life.  Germinating at the feet of Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, nourished by the Summer of Love and hardened by the abuses of that era, Larry becomes a radical doctor helping those no matter who they are.  His soul-mate decides their shared paths go through India, and to India they go in pursuit of enlightenment.  Guru Maharaji determines that Larry’s dharma lies in helping others, and that his karma yoga is through work.  The ultimate prize is eliminating killer smallpox, a disease that killed over half a billion people in the 20th century alone.  That’s more than all the wars and famines and tragedies all put together.  The adventures, the successes, and the failures are enjoyable told and hold many lessons.

Larry asks the ultimate question that every compassionate soul has asked through the ages: Why does suffering exist?  He typically pondered this while holding the body of a dead child.  I am going to answer this question in terms that rely on what we know of biology and ecosystems and philosophy.  I’m going to keep it as short as possible, so that much detail may be lacking.  And I’m going to answer it in such a way so that it addresses a related question: What is the best way to relieve suffering in the world in the long term?  Most recently, Jeff Bezos has asked this question, inviting his twitter followers to submit their suggestions as to how he focuses his charity.

However, neither Larry Brilliant or Jeff Bezos, or even most people are going to like the answer here.  For the truth is raw and uncompromising, much as Mother Nature shows Herself to be when in her full glory.  We tend to forget that to Mother Nature, all forms of life and death and joy and suffering, are all aspects of a single existence.

Moreover, when you look closely at the holiest of all holy texts in every religion, you see that they agree on that fundamental truth.  Life and death, joy and suffering, are all part of the same thing.  You can’t have one without the other.  A Tibetan monk explains to Larry, when he asks the question yet again, that suffering will always be part of the human condition as long as ignorance and obsession exist.  In the same scene, Larry is blessed for the simple fact that he is fighting a great scourge of humanity, and to alleviate any suffering is an act to strive for.

This is not an argument against charity, but an answer to the question “How can I be most charitable?”  At the same time, I hope to explain why suffering exists in any form, and why our best charitable efforts may in fact not appear to be charity.

Suffering may come from many sources, from outside ourselves, but also within.  We generally agree that some suffering is good for the soul, for it makes us tougher, makes us more willing to take risks.  But when is suffering too much?  Who is to decide?

Nature decides, using the most fundamental rules possible: life and death.  When she unleashed smallpox upon humanity, a third of its victims would die a gruesome and painful death.  Another third would be permanently handicapped.  The remaining third?  Survivors.

Now that we have eliminated smallpox, we will not know what made those survivors different from the rest.  What kind of world would this be if smallpox still existed?  Would it be a better world?  We simply don’t know.

And that’s the point.  For those of you who are spiritual and wish to second guess God, you can feel angry about the death of an innocent baby to such a gruesome disease.  But if God is playing the game for all of humanity, and not only that one baby or her family, then who are we to be critical?

Suffering exists, and we must learn from it.  As long as ignorance exists there will be suffering.  Such is the wheel of life.  No matter what your religion or how you talk to your God, fundamentally they all say the same thing.  Sub ek, all one.

Which brings us to the final point, how then do we best spend our precious charitable resources?  If you are moved to help someone read a book, buy groceries, or weed their garden, then you should.  However, if you have access to billions more resources, then consider this.  You should be pushing mankind further, higher, faster.  For Jeff Bezos, every last bit of his energy should be directed to making his dream of colonizing space a reality.  Spending even a few moments on any other endeavor may make him more popular, but only increases the risk of getting humanity off the ground.

Improving humanity means greater knowledge, and that automatically means less suffering.  It’s not the same thing as putting silver into a beggar’s hand, but it is far more lasting.

Namaskar

 

May all beings have happiness and the cause of happiness.
May they be free of suffering and the cause of suffering.
May they never be disassociated from the supreme happiness which is without suffering.
May they remain in the boundless equanimity, free from both attachment to close ones and rejection of others.

 

Question Authority

I’m on a good sized airplane.  I’m comfortable, in my proper seat, and ready to fly.

So is the aircraft.  The pilots are almost through with their checklists, and the flight attendant is finishing up her required briefing to the passengers.

I look about, and the aircraft is only half full.  I have work to do, and it would be nice to spread out.

Since the attendant is still busy, I unbuckle and quickly switch seats.  In no time flat another attendant comes to hover above me.

We can’t have you changing seats sir.

Why?

I’m sorry, but I’ve been instructed by my superiors that no one can change their seats.  I’m sorry.

Alright.  I move back to my seat, and ponder.

Can’t move?  It’s not hard on the seats – they are designed for many butt touches.

It can’t be the airplane.  This one is large enough so that even an elephant could move around without bothering the pilots.

No, it can only be for the flight attendant’s convenience.  It makes it easier on them.  It’s for making their lives easier, not ours.  The more they can treat us like cattle, the better.

I realize that if the airline could figure out a way to put us to sleep and stack us up like firewood, they would.  No need for food, toilets, and more people on the plane.  Fewer attendants even.  Heck, they’re probably working on the idea even as I write.

More importantly, you and I live in this world, in this society, and are customers of that airline.  To the degree that we don’t question their authority in order that we can have better lives is our fault.  To the degree that we don’t insist on questioning their authority so that our children can have better lives is a sin.

I looked in that attendant’s eyes and said “sorry to have upset you.”

But in my heart, if it had been something important that I was fighting for, I wouldn’t have stopped.  The future is worth it.

 

President Trump

What goes through your mind when you hear these words?

President Donald Trump.

My brainy and / or more liberal friends shudder.  Then they gag.  Then laugh, hug each other, cry, and finally acknowledge that it could happen.

Quite a few other people are counting on it.  In fact, they plan to vote for him.

And why not?  Who’s to say he won’t make a great president?

The sad news is that our country doesn’t have any standards for what make a president good or bad.  Popularity got George Washington in for two terms and he’s voted our best president ever.  But the second-most successful president was also one of the least popular; Abraham Lincoln.

So Trump may become president, and he may be a great one.  At least, by his standards.

We have a pretty crazy country going on here.  It’s run by millionaires for one thing.  And those millionaires take lots of advice from very rich friends who make lots of money off the rest of us.

Anyone can be president in the USA.  Of course, certain conditions apply.

So, my advice to all of you who may be feeling a political chill, is to put on a sweater and deal with it.

Should you still be afraid?  Sure.  But not because Trump got in.  He’s just the symptom.

The reason someone like Trump gets elected (or any other idiot you’d like to nominate) is because not enough of us ordinary people care.

The reason Trump may be president is because there are too many special interests who are allowed to spend as much money as they want.

The reason our government feels like it’s going to hell in a handbasket is because it mirrors exactly what is happening in our society as a whole.  Yes, our poor government is also a symptom of our disease, not a cause.  What is that cause?

We’re getting older.  We’re getting poorer.  We’re getting dumber.

Perhaps worst of all, we are all of us getting tired of fighting the tide.  We don’t want to stand up in public and debate the issues.  We don’t want to demand better performance out of our candidates, out of our government, and out of our journalists.

I’m also getting older.  And poorer.  But I’m fighting the dumber.  And I haven’t given up fighting, not yet.

This is my weapon; the pen, and education.

So, to all of you who also haven’t given up as yet, get up and get out there.  Fight!

If you don’t, you’ll have to live with the alternative.

 

Humility Helps

“Oh! why should the spirit of mortal be proud?”

So begins Abraham Lincoln’s favorite poem.  It’s all about mortality, and poetically reminds us that our time on this Earth is short.  Many act as if they are immortal, yet all of them eventually return to dust.

Why was it that Abe had to remind himself of this fact?  Certainly he already knew this.  Being surrounded by the Civil War must also have been a constant reminder as to everyone’s eventual end.  And he was the first President to start receiving actual death threats (as far as I know).  So what’s with the poem?

Another way to ask this same question is why don’t modern politicians and leaders remind themselves of the same thing?  How many actually acknowledge their mortality, not only in words, but in deeds?  The newest pope comes close, by the way.  Why does admitting their own mortality matter for leadership?

Because the sin of pride distorts your world in your favor, and increases the distance between your view of reality and the rest of us.

If you are proud enough you expect to have a 747 at your beck and call.  You expect to live in a palace with a staff of 100.  You expect a legion of photographers to follow your every move.  And the more you come to expect these things as normal, the more likely you are to make decisions that reinforce your reality.

Do small airplanes get in the way of your 747?  Tell them all to stop flying wherever you fly.  Are the parks around your palace looking dingy?  Ask the government for a few million to tidy them up.  Are the paparazzi getting a bit too close?  Ask for laws to keep them at bay, or decide you’re above the law and do whatever you want to mislead them – like speeding.

But if you’re serious about making great decisions and seeing the world as the rest of us, then mortal, be not proud.

Don’t be afraid of your public, take a regular flight from Washington to Chicago in the economy seats.  Palace park has litter?  Go pick it up yourself!  Paparazzi want your pictures?  Give it to them, and stand there till they get bored.  Heck, hire some yourself and make some money yourself.  Better yet, lead a modest, quiet regular life and bore them to exhaustion.  If you really want them to go away, that is.

Abe was humble because he wanted to be the best leader possible.  He knew he was smart and powerful, he didn’t need sycophants for that.  But he also knew he had to understand, to the best of his ability, what the world looked like for ordinary Americans.

He may have been afraid that fateful night when he went to the theater.  He certainly knew he had enemies and crazy people threatening him.  But he also knew that he could not live in fear, not if he wanted to be a great leader.  Especially when his country needed a great leader the most.

I like to think that Abe would still go to the theater that night, even if he knew what was going to happen.  And to me, that is the greatest attribute of leadership – humility and the loss of fear.

Thank you Mr. Lincoln.

 

50 shades of self-loathing

There’s a popular book and movie running around at the moment that features a young woman being sexually manipulated.  The fact that he’s a older man is not important for now, because the subject of today’s observation is the fictional young woman. [1]

Many cultures have ways of keeping themselves organized.  The British have always been good about tracking their families; what schools they go to, what lands they own, what titles their ancestors have carried.  In Britain, you can be part of the nobility and upper class, or an ordinary person without status.  How they indicate this is both obvious and secret.  Obvious signs of status might be your title, or your school tie, or the fact that you live on an estate.  Secret signs might be the very way you pronounce “heredity” or “worcestershire.”

Signs of status are more numerous in India, where the caste system has been in effect for thousands of years, well before England even spoke English.  And in Japan, there is a very well engineered caste system embodied in the language itself!  Women speak to each other differently than men speak to each other, speaking to elders is different, and speaking within your social rank is different from speaking up or down in rank.

Now we have a popular fictional character submitting to acts of sexual stimulation for another person, and as a culture we find this acceptable.  What does it say about us?

It says that a new form of status expectation is forming.  It reinforces the stereotypes of young versus old and woman versus man.  It re-emphasizes the importance of sex as part of that relationship, and sends an unambiguous signal to everyone that these are considered acceptable behaviors.

As an indifferent observer, I’m not going to label these developments “good” or “bad.”  They simply exist, and whether or not society is a better place because of them will be for others to decide.

But as a parent and husband, I choose to teach and reinforce self-respect and confidence in my daughter and wife.  They never need to bow or pretend for anyone.  They stand equal with anyone on this planet, including the queen.

And in this there is no grey – only black and white.

 

 

[1]  Spoiler alert: I know nothing about this story, and don’t have enough popular culture curiosity to find out.  I do know it makes older women giggle and whisper among themselves.  And I’ve read the first few paragraphs on wikipedia.

 

Foster Parenting for Fun and Profit

Want to drive a social biologist crazy?  Look them in the eye and ask them to explain “altruism” in 25 words or less.  It’s fun to watch them stammer and melt.  Have a drink handy, they’ll need it.

Altruism means helping others even though it hurts you.  It’s love in its most extended form, because sometimes those you help aren’t related to you.  Heck, you may never even meet them.  They might not even be alive yet!  I call this long-distance altruism.

People who practice long-distance altruism are the kind of people who believe that being good today has great effects on all of society down the road.  An economist could argue that this is ultimately selfish, because if you are part of society this means that you or your offspring will ultimately profit.  Economists are big on selfishness.

I’ve recently met several people who are very active foster parents.  In one case he and his wife had 4 of their own children, have adopted four others (youngest is only 12), and have fostered over 20.  Incredible dedication and investment on their part.  Yet they are not revered by society, heck we hardly even notice them.  And there is a tragically large backlog of children of all ages who need a safe haven from their current conditions.  Foster parents are in short supply.  What are we to do?  From the perspective of a great nation that staunchly believes in profit,

Let’s open up the profit gates!  Let’s calculate the cost to society for abusing and tormenting children today, because tomorrow they may have to be retaught, or worse, simply caught and put away.  Let’s pay these wonderful people a significant fraction of what we think the long term cost is, and let them use the money as they see fit.  Of course there will be oversight, but let’s bring this out in the open!  Let’s have a reality show featuring the best and worst of these foster homes.  Let’s make it a competition of sorts.  Why not?  We’re a competitive society, let’s see if it can’t be entertaining?  After all, if we enjoy watching families swap their wives, what’s wrong with swapping out a few kids?

Not enough praise can be given to today’s foster parents.  They do it for themselves, with only a small amount of help from the government.  But as a society we leave them alone, and as a result many children “fall through the cracks.”

Anyone want to join me in patching up the cracks?

 

Altruism, for fun and profit

July is a great month for birthdays; birthdays of Democracy, that is.

The US of A was effectively born at the beginning of the month, and the next great democratic experiment was born in the middle.  That second country was France, and we here in the US owe the French a bit of a debt for our birthday.  They were sort of a midwife, helping us into the world.

From there our paths quickly split; France got an emperor and had lots of middle age nonsense to deal with.  Even today they are pretty big on letting the central government decide everything (not always a bad idea) while here in the US we try to go to the other extreme.  Keep decision making local, because many times it’s the person closest to the problem that knows what to do, and how best to do it (also not always a bad idea).

Another way the US and France differed back then is what we consider the best motivation.  The US went the way of laissez faire – free enterprise.  The French pretty much stayed back in the middle ages, telling people what to do and letting them grow into their professions through family associations or apprenticeships.  The fact that today’s France fully embraces the idea of profit and risk means that they also think it’s a good idea to run a society.  Let’s make money!  That get’s a whole lot of us motivated.

But there’s a lot of things that go on in our society that don’t really lend themselves to this whole “making money” thing.  Like giving women the vote.  Or trying to prevent child abuse.  Or cutting back on residential drug use.  Or reducing our carbon footprint.  So what’s a good modern society to do?

Let’s get creative!  It is one of the best things in our nation that we are allowed to get creative.  And it’s about time all citizens start exercising that right.  Tomorrow, I’m going to exercise my right and see if we can’t take a behavior that is very hard, very much in demand, and yet imposes a heavy load upon those who perform it.  Foster parenting.

Got any ideas?  Let’s hear them!

 

Growing Politicians

Here we are, back at the beginning.

These are our axioms so far:

1 Politicians make lousy laws.

2 Politicians are mostly lawyers.

3 Lawyers become politicians because they are trained in laws.

4 Politicians protect themselves and are resistant to change because of how they are trained, and because of the ecosystem they have built around themselves.

Now what?

It’s time that other academic institutions start fighting back.

Medical schools, hear this!  Create a scholarship program that anoints one student every year for FREE medical school training.  This student will not only be required to take the full suite of medical courses, but should also be taking a few courses in practical law, morality, philosophy, and communication.  Their commitment?  After medical school and a few years of training, they must run for office.  With the full backing of the medical profession, they will find out what their chances are in the political arena.  After they have served at least 4 years, they can return to a ‘normal’ life.  But if they can survive and thrive, they can rise through the ranks.

Does this mean they will rise to a position of power untarnished, unblemished, and be able to cure all the ills of our democracy?

What it does mean is that there will be more members of an honorable profession active in politics.  These honorable members can act as a slight deterrent against those less honorable members we currently support.

You don’t think it will work?

Consider this.  If every medical school put out only one political hopeful every year, that would be hundreds of medical politicians within a decade.

Now, don’t stop there.  What about engineering schools?  What about math departments?  What about English programs or theater departments?

It’s time academia woke up and smelled the frying pork.  In order to change our world, we’re going to have to start standing up for it in the only place that matters – Congress.  And the only way to do it is to start fighting the law schools in the same way that they create politicians.

Grow your own.