progressive enlightenment versus dogma, lake boat wallpaper, barbara stanwyck

There were some very acute observations in that article by Stephen Cave (Economists have more to learn from the natural sciences if they are to claim a realistic model of human behaviour). I covered some of the material about economics and human behavior in this post. In addition to Robert Trivers’ Deceit and Self-Deception: Fooling Yourself the Better to Fool Others he also delves into some of Dean Buonomano’s neuroscience based perspective on irrational behavior, Brain Bugs: How the Brain’s Flaws Shape Our Lives

Buonomano’s book Brain Bugs begins on more solid ground – the recent insights of neuroscience. His aim is to show how the specific structures of our brain have evolved over millennia in ways that have ill-prepared us for “the digital, predator-free, sugar-abundant, special-effects-filled, antibiotic-laden, media-saturated, densely populated world we have managed to build for ourselves”. And he begins well, with a fascinating account of the way memories are made, and how these particularities frequently lead us into error. As he makes clear, this has real world impact, from forgetting your phone number to identifying the wrong person in a police line-up to developing entirely false memories of parental abuse.

But where it leaves neuroscience for broader speculation, Brain Bugs is derivative or superficial. Like Trivers, Buonomano is at his weakest when theorising about what “brain bugs” lie behind religion. His astonishingly naive answer (that religion partitions off unanswerable questions so we can get on with the real work) only demonstrates that many scientists cannot resist using their pet theories to have a dig at the irrationality of spiritual belief, yet do so with a laziness that discredits the discipline whose very superiority they are advocating.

But Buonomano is spot-on when he applies his understanding of the brain’s inherent blips to the potential of Nudge theory. Generally, he welcomes the recognition of behavioural economics that we are frequently far from rational. Yet nudging, he argues, is “ultimately limited in reach … the effects are often relatively small, helping some people, but far from all, improve their decision”.

Buonomano, among others think we’re far less individualistic than we, especially in the U.S. We do and think much like our parents, either for better or worse we move on to doing or thinking like our friends, and finally many people go in for borderline idolatry of whoever – George Bush, Steve Jobs, Joe Paterno – generally people who have some kind of financial well being, the details about how or whether it was earned just so much piffling details. This last phase relives practitioners of doing too much thinking for themselves. It forms a nice narrative box into which everyone outside “doesn’t get it.” Don’t have a job? You’re obviously lazy, there is absolutely nothing keeping you from being a billionaire CEO. All the complex externalities of life – luck, genes, parents, economic status, educational opportunities, war, poverty, street crime, white collar crime, living in a flood plain, physical stature, eye color, ethnocentrism, gender – hey they do not affect you, you live in a bubble of your own making.

In what seems like a reactionary turn Cave’s comment about Buonomano’s of religion ( in this case what we think of as organized and dogmatic religion as opposed to some personal spiritual beliefs) Cave, otherwise rational and even humorous up to that point suddenly pulls a David Brooks. Cave’s sudden loss of lucidity mid essay is somewhat common among U.K. intellectuals. Brooks is probably the best known proponent of such thinking in the U.S. – for a good take on the convoluted lengths to which Brooks gets economics, culture and science twisted up into one big ball of wrong see Why David Brooks Gets the Meaning of Life Wrong and David Brooks’ dream world for the trust-fund set. Cave’s assertion that science is lazy or that proponents of a rationalistic approach to problem solving is what’s absurd. There is nothing lazier than using religion as a guide for life. By definition you never have to prove anything – and Martin Luther did away with the requirement to do good works. Whether it is Ganesha, Johovah, Allah, Siddhartha Gautama, Joseph Smith, Jr.(Mormon prophet), L. Ron Hubbard or the Virgin Mary it is all dogma and faith. Religion itself is responsible for very little in the way of progress – it has often been pulled kicking and screaming to the light by the shame of its history. Galileo stayed a Catholic after his persecution, but it was his insistence on rational empirical knowledge trumping literal interpretation of a fable that lead to mankind’s understanding of the heavens. Cave reminds me a a U.K. philosopher named John Gray. To call Gray a philosopher is generous. He rejects the concept of fact based inquiry, modern logic and while he is a writer he also rejects the established meanings of words. Gray once wrote against rationalism and science,

The history of the last century is testimony to the destructive power of rationalism, not fideism. Nazism and Communism were at one in their hatred of religion. Both claimed to be founded in science—“dialectical materialism” and “scientific racism.” Of course these sciences were bogus, but they show what horrors can be justified by appeal to reason. The worst acts of the twentieth century were committed by atheist regimes that claimed a scientific basis for their policies.

. How convenient to simply start defining trees as stones to prove your point about how hard trees are. Stalin warped science for his benefit. Hitler did the same. Science and enlightened thought were not the problem, individual fanatics and the people who followed them were the problem. Followers who had faith in their leaders and discarded rational humanistic thinking. Science itself does not give speeches, use propaganda, lock people up in camps, or commit murder. People do that, and for centuries up to the present religion still murders people, starves people, tramples over other religions in the eons long fight for supremacy. All based on what? Not any empirical evidence that we can repeat like a physic experiment. While it is mistaken to say that no good has ever come of religion it is also deeply wrong to deny that religion is not responsible for much of the evil perpetrated by humanity against itself. How Gray, Cave or Brooks can piece together this crazy quilt with a sprinkle of modernity there and a splash of utter irrationality, is an example of how deeply ingrained self-deception can be. Philosopher A. C. Grayling has been a long time adversary of Grays’. In this review he notes Gray’s tendency to make up new meanings for words, new histories and garbled interpretations as need be to fit his agenda, Through the looking glass

Actually one must suppose that there are further points than mere iteration of pessimism and negativism, which is Gray’s preferred (see Straw Dogs) and here iterated pose. The chief of them is that he is against the progressivist ambitions of the secular Enlightenment, and he hopes to annoy its proponents by giving it Christianity for a father and – that weary old canard – Nazism and Stalinism for offspring. His case for this is so massively wrong in its premises and so contradictory in its details that, alas, I should need as much paper to correct the mistakes as he consumes in making them. So what follows goes to certain main points only.

In order to establish that secular Whiggish Enlightenment-derived aspirations are the child of Christianity, Gray begins by calling any view or outlook a “religion”. Everything is a religion: Torquemada’s Catholicism, the pluralism and empiricism of 18th-century philosophers, liberalism, Stalinism. He speaks of “secular religion” and “political religion”. This empties the word “religion” of any meaning, making it a neutral portmanteau expression like “view” or “outlook”. He can therefore premise a gigantic fallacy of equivocation, and assimilate secular Enlightenment values to the Christian “narrative” of reformation aimed at bringing about a golden age.

For starters this misreads Christianity, for which truths are eternal and the narrative is a very short story indeed (obey, get to heaven; disobey, do not get to heaven); but more to the point, it utterly misreads the secular view. The secular view is a true narrative of incremental improvement in the human condition through education and political action. Gray thinks that such a view must of necessity be utopian, as if everyone simplistically thought that making things better (in dentistry, in the rule of law, in child health, in international mechanisms for reducing conflict, and so forth for many things) absolutely had to be aimed at realising an ideal golden age to have any meaning. But it does not: trying to make things better is not the same as believing that they can be made perfect. That is a point Gray completely fails to grasp, and it vitiates his case. Since that is so, the point bears repeating: meliorism is not perfectibilism.

The David Brooks comparison may not go far enough. In the U.S. it is difficult to choose who mangles meanings and history as badly as Gray and with such arrogant insistence. Glenn Beck comes to mind. His assertion that progressives are the political heirs of Nazism is so wrong that noting the jaw dropping malicious stupidity does not begin to describe the inaccuracy.

As to the weary old canard about the 20th-century totalitarianisms: it astonishes me how those who should know better can fail to see them as quintessentially counter-Enlightenment projects, and ones which the rest of the Enlightenment-derived world would not put up with and therefore defeated: Nazism in 17 years and Soviet communism in 70. They were counter-Enlightenment projects because they rejected the idea of pluralism and its concomitant liberties of thought and the person, and in the time-honoured unEnlightened way forcibly demanded submission to a monolithic ideal. They even used the forms and techniques of religion, from the notion of thought-crime to the embalming of saints in mausoleums (Lenin and Mao, like any number of saints and their relics, invite pilgrimage to their glass cases). Totalitarianism is not about progress but stasis; it is not about realising a golden age but coercively sustaining the myth of one. This indeed is the lineament of religion: it is the opposite of secular progressivism.

clouds and boat on a lake wallpaper

barbara stanwyck as a Ziegfeld girl c1924. If her birth date on Wikipedia is correct she would have still been in her teens. I was looking through my old photos collection when I came across this one. That reminded me of this recent post from MF – Barbara Stanwyck 

Yet by 1944 the IRS named Barbara Stanwyck the highest-paid woman in America. From 1930-57, she did a minimum of two pictures a year, sometimes even four or five.

She made lots of movies so to pick a few to recommend is difficult. Her acting style and thus many of the movies she made endure because her technique was so modern. She was particularly good in The Lady Eve (1941), Double Indemnity (1944) and Sorry, Wrong Number (1948).


self-deception and economics, park leaves wallpaper, killing two memes

The study of knowledge, what we know and how we know it is called epistemology. Philosophy in general has been pretty modest about the subject. It is not difficult to find a philosopher in their later years, after a lifetime of study suggesting we don’t know much. Yet  too much metaphysical post-modern theory can use clever or obscure thinking to blind us to some practical realities. Having your legs cut off in a train accident hurts. Legs, while made of atoms, should not be confused with some doubts within the quantum mechanical theory about how matter behaves. Since most of the very people who study what we know and how we know what we know tend toward understatement that leaves a little crack in which those who place on emphasis on unjustified beliefs to posit some strange propositions. The choice is between making a home of shaky ground or that where it is more rational. It seems like it would be a contradiction, nevertheless the ignorant, the purveyors of unjustified beliefs are the ones who are most inclined to just know. Charles Darwin put in well when he said, ” Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science. (Introduction to The Descent of Man, 1871)”. The contradiction most likely exists for reason rooted in immaturity and fear (fantasy worlds of beliefs can be very comforting). As philosophy and the natural sciences struggle with facts and truth – the struggle for more degrees of certainty along with new knowledge, one of the social sciences in particular has long been in need of catching up to the realities of the world. Of the three social sciences which is most likely to have at least a mild allergy to rational empiricism? Nudge thyself – Economists have more to learn from the natural sciences if they are to claim a realistic model of human behavior

You’ve come to a canteen for lunch: at one end of the counter, you see juicy fat burgers sizzling on a grill and, at the other end, healthy-looking salads. After a little hesitation, you choose the burger. “Cheese and bacon with that?” Well, why not?

Classical economists, perhaps uniquely among members of the human race, would assume you made your decision fully aware of the implications of your actions, that you weighed up those implications and came to the conclusion that, all things considered, the cheese and bacon burger is the better choice. But I for one am rarely so rational and frequently rue my failure to take the healthy option. Considering there are more than a billion people worldwide who are overweight, I’m guessing I’m not alone.

Some economists have realised this and, given the failure of classical models to predict the financial crisis, their young discipline of behavioural economics is now enjoying something of a heyday. They are convinced that accurate models and good policymaking require accurate approximations of real-life human behaviour. They therefore try to take into account our most predictable foibles, such as a tendency to short-term thinking. Economists’ knowledge of these foibles comes from other disciplines – psychology mostly – so they are always playing catch-up. But ever more research on the depths of our irrationality suggests they are still way, way behind.

While this trend might present the thinnest ray of hope I would not bet on some national or world-wide epiphany in the near future. Even most Democratic policy makers are still in love with the Chicago school of economics, though not the purists that the far right are. As most of Europe is also still on the austerity bandwagon. The U.S. and much of the world has a large corner to turn before anyone is ready to accept markets and people do not act rationally, especially in the short-term.

The “nudge” phenomenon is probably more common in Europe than here. Though we are likely to see more of it. It is simply a way to influence the public to do things in their own self interests, not by taking away choices, but slightly manipulating the way choices are made. If that sounds ominous just think about your local grocery store and the way it is laid out. Products are where they are to encourage profitable buying behavior. That is not necessarily healthy buying. Rearrange some stock and you have people buying more whole grains than bleached out grains. Buying more fruit than hamburger. You can still have the kind of high fat diet that the far Right prefers if you like. Though as a consumer you’re presented with featured choices that are healthier. Political correctness aside, fat people cost the nation a lot of money in health care costs. So nudging is not simply a little game without consequences. Nudging is relatively benign behavior. So much so that liberals and conservatives are rather pleased with themselves on finding something on which they generally agree. It might not be enough. It relies to a large extent on incorporating self-evident rational behavior by markets and the general public.

  (Robert) Trivers’ Deceit and Self-Deception(Deceit and Self-Deception: Fooling Yourself the Better to Fool Others) is the most original and important of these works. In it, he attempts to construct a grand theory of deception, arguing that we continually paint a distorted picture of the world so that we might more easily get our way with others. So we inflate our achievements, play down our failings and rationalise away our mistakes.)

[  ]…The book is vast in scope, covering every aspect of our lives from sex to religion, family to war. But Trivers reserves particular ire for the failings of economic theory: it “acts like a science and quacks like one” he writes, but it is not one. Its key ideas are naive and circular: it assumes we make our choices as rational utility maximisers, for example. And what is utility? It is whatever we, in fact, choose. There is no room in such a theory for me to plan to buy a salad, then persuade myself when faced with the cheeseburger that it is the superior option (“just this once”) only to regret it later. “Yet,” he rages, “such is the detachment of this ‘science’ from reality that these contradictions arouse notice only when the entire world is hurtling into an economic depression based on corporate greed wedded to false economic theory.”

Trivers might be on shaky ground when in brings in some evolutionary psychology. Though one can discard the background noise and focus on the insight. Humans are adept at lying to themselves. Today I was going to have the lean broiled chicken and a little fruit, but I’ll get the half pound cheese burger and get on the tread mill when I get home. Some people manage to live their entire lives with that kind of behavior, what Trivers calls “split selves”. Where one part of you is having a grand old time fooling the other part. Since this behavior is so common it is at least worth considering it might be a deeply ingrained evolved behavior. Of course we do the same splitting when it comes to markets. In the U.S. it is unwritten law not to be eternally optimistic about economic growth. No wonder Wall Street felt deep in its black heart they could create a kind of ponzi scheme and some kind of miracle was just around the next trading day, or the next or the next. It also follows that just as the big cheese burger induced bulge around the middle can be self-lied away, so can the collapse of the perfect rational market with a big lie. A lie so audacious that if lies could be natural wonders of the world this one would easily make the top ten.

to be continued….

fall leaves, autumn wallpaper

golden park leaves wallpaper

Two memes that need to end. One is who was the world’s first computer programmer, Weaving the computer age.

With this post I’m going to lose whatever reputation I might have with all the feminist and politically correct denizens of the blogahedron. Why, because I intend to explode one of the greatest myths in the history of the computer. It is universally claimed that Ada Lady Lovelace was the world’s first programmer, the US Department of Defence even named a computer programme after her to celebrate this fact; this claim is total rubbish. Already in the 19th century Babbage’s son pointed out that the credit given to Lovelace for her memoir on his fathers Analytical engine was due to his father and not to her. Lovelace has the role of a populariser, deliberately exploited by Babbage to help him in his never ending search for financing of his computer projects. The programme that Lovelace describes for generating Bernoulli numbers was created by Babbage and not by her.

He suggest that the first real programmer was French silk weaver, Joseph Maria Jacquard, 7th July 1752. Which does open up at l;east some discussion on exactly what constitutes programming language. The other meme is the role of PERF( Police Executives’ Research Forum) in somehow coordinating or endorsing  the type of violence used against OWS. I linked to an article previously that finds PERF guilty. Which is part of an internet meme that seems to have spiraled out of control. I apologize to readers for not doing my homework on that one –  Crooks and Liars: The Shocking Truth About Naomi Wolf’s Factless Assertions..Piggy-backing on the PERF meme is that somehow the Department of Homeland Security coordinated some of the violent crackdowns. As of this writing the evidence for that is also lacking. Individual mayors and police departments seemed to be suing excessive violence for their own misguided and stunningly expensive reasons.

1930s movie posters

a college degree is no longer the guarantor of a middle-class existence, the economic circle jerk, evolution pioneer dies

Nothing like an article in the NYT to confirm what many had suspected years ago – The Dwindling Power of a College Degree

One of the greatest changes is that a college degree is no longer the guarantor of a middle-class existence. Until the early 1970s, less than 11 percent of the adult population graduated from college, and most of them could get a decent job. Today nearly a third have college degrees, and a higher percentage of them graduated from nonelite schools. A bachelor’s degree on its own no longer conveys intelligence and capability. To get a good job, you have to have some special skill — charm, by the way, counts — that employers value. But there’s also a pretty good chance that by some point in the next few years, your boss will find that some new technology or some worker overseas can replace you.

Though it’s no guarantee, a B.A. or some kind of technical training is at least a prerequisite for a decent salary.

Those who hate to study or parents tempted to sigh in relief at not having to deal with the financial burden of college, still need to figure something out. What to do to have a good job and financial stability over a lifetime. Those who stop at a secondary education are generally doomed to low skilled jobs fast food, grocery stocking and janitorial work ( all honest and honorable work, but barely pay a living wage). There are some relatively high paying jobs that do not require a college degree, but they still require skills or special aptitude – air-traffic controller, sales – a business sales person can make good money if they have the personality for it. Many Americans that were in the great middle that used to be able to get a manufacturing job. While we still makes things – it might be years before the electronic manufacturing we used to – now done in Asia – migrates back to the U.S. It’s just more miserable news for those who do not go to college and just what has become the same old bad news for college grads.

black and white park lake

In the perfect world of pure unregulated capitalism – as we all know anything less is either creeping communism or the road to hell – companies could buy and sell each other without any interference. That has always lead to oligopoly or outright monopoly. In such cases the unregulated free market is no longer about competing for business, but seeing how much a company can squeeze out of its customers without causing consumer riots. At this point unregulated capitalism will have led to the demise of any actual free market activity. This phenomenon is other wise known as the conservative or libertarian economic circle jerk. AT&T, T-Mobile Merger: Companies Will Push Ahead Despite Big Concerns

They took the step to consider “all options at the FCC and to focus their continuing efforts on obtaining antitrust clearance for the transaction from the Department of Justice,” which filed a lawsuit in August to stop the deal, AT&T said in a statement.

“Both companies are continuing to pursue the sale of T-Mobile USA to AT&T,” Deutsche Telekom stressed.

Both U.S. agencies worry that the deal would hamper competition and lead to higher prices for consumers.

“Competitive Shopper” Pepper Sprays Fellow Black Friday Shoppers At California Walmart. Which none of the victims should complain about because Fox News assures us that pepper-spray is just a food product. No harm, no foul. Fox News would not foist a load of doublespeak on the American public now would they.

traveler wallpaper,

Venice wallpaper

Seaweed gel transforms drops into edible beads. Besides being used to hold spices for cooking, scientists are also using the beads to package cancer cells so they can be studied in a 3D environment.

Lynn Margulis, Evolution Theorist, Dies at 73

The manuscript in which Dr. Margulis first presented her findings was rejected by 15 journals before being published in 1967 by the Journal of Theoretical Biology. An expanded version, with additional evidence to support the theory — which was known as the serial endosymbiotic theory — became her first book, “Origin of Eukaryotic Cells.”

A revised version, “Symbiosis in Cell Evolution,” followed in 1981, and though it challenged the presumptions of many prominent scientists, it has since become accepted evolutionary doctrine.

Endosymbiotic theory holds that the mitochondria and possibly the other organelles once thrived as independent organisms or other organisms had some of these structures and in the course of evolution absorbed those structures and made them part of the cell. There were and might still be ( I don’t read molecular cellular journals daily) some issues with the theory in that mitochondria for instance are unable to survive in a rich oxygen environment. This article among may others has tended to quiet such objections – Mitochondria Share an Ancestor With SAR11, a Globally Significant Marine Microbe.

World’s 10 Worst Toxic Pollution Problems [Slide Show]. Contrary to the first set of photos, never hold a drop of mercury in your bare hand.

Live – Lightning Crashes (acoustic)

Wild Nothing – Bored Games

enlightenment, river winter wallpaper, get drunk but don’t get uppity



For the most part I like HBO’s ‘Enlightened’. One of the angles it has going for it is the subject matter. I don’t think a dramedy about personal enlightenment and self-actualization would ever make it to the networks. Which brings up an issue that might doom the show. It is about enlightenment, but it just as much about anger, loneliness, individuality, selfishness, generosity of spirit and yet it also satirizes those things. The characters seem earnest enough. If nothing else it does get the audience to ask themselves questions. One of the aspects narrative that TV can do well when the powers that be let it. The twin narratives push against one another. Not to disparage them, but I read some of the comments at HBO and some of those people have a fairly deep emotional investment in the Laura Dern character ( Amy). They see her relatively good intentions and the walls she meets as she tries to help other people see what she sees. What some of them do not see is the anger, frustrations and some retentions on Amy’s part. She came back from a retreat after a kind of breakdown enlightened, but there is still plenty of journey left on her path to, let’s say inner peace. Seeing the twin narratives, almost contradicting, yet complimentary in a yen-yang way, I was wondering if that was what the shows creators had intended. Laura Dern and Mike White ( he plays her desk-mate Tyler in the show and does a lot of the writing as well) are the creators/executive producers. So anyway this interview with Dern caught my attention. I’m kind of right, though she does see the character a few degrees differently than I do. Laura Dern’s ‘Enlightened’ New Role

…She is so honest with everyone around her, which is why she is so hard to be around. She confronts everyone for their “lacking” -– she wants her mother to be better, she wants her ex-husband to be healthy, she wants the corporation she works for to be not based in greed, but the problem is that she has this need to fix it herself. Because there isn’t a real connection to faith, whether it is faith in herself or something greater, she still has this need to control.

[  ]…So I said to HBO that it would be interesting to see if someone who had rage could heal from the damage, heal from the rage, and that might be the gift that propels them towards a more conscious version of their own anger.

Pema Chodron speaks very beautifully about useful anger. We have a misguided understanding in many cultures that to be a true servant of God, or monk or minister, that attainment of peace is a constant, but I think anger is a part of it.

So I was really interested in playing someone who was going through all that but in a really misguided way; who gets it all wrong — like Lucy becomes Norma Rae. Having been so moved by the film “Network” many years ago, when I heard the line “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore,” I was really interested in playing a character who was going to do that, but possibly in a really misguided way.

Immanuel Kant wrote a famous essay about enlightenment called What is Enlightenment? (1784). In comes the subject from both an historical perspective ( it is important to note that this was 1784) and from a philosophical perspective,

“Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one’s understanding without guidance from another. This immaturity is self-imposed when its cause lies not in lack of understanding, but in lack of resolve and courage to use it without guidance from another. Sapere Aude! [dare to know] “Have courage to use your own understanding!”–that is the motto of enlightenment.

Laziness and cowardice are the reasons why so great a proportion of men, long after nature has released them from alien guidance (natura-liter maiorennes), nonetheless gladly remain in lifelong immaturity, and why it is so easy for others to establish themselves as their guardians. It is so easy to be immature. If I have a book to serve as my understanding, a pastor to serve as my conscience, a physician to determine my diet for me, and so on, I need not exert myself at all. I need not think, if only I can pay: others will readily undertake the irksome work for me. The guardians who have so benevolently taken over the supervision of men have carefully seen to it that the far greatest part of them (including the entire fair sex) regard taking the step to maturity as very dangerous, not to mention difficult. Having first made their domestic livestock dumb, and having carefully made sure that these docile creatures will not take a single step without the go-cart to which they are harnessed, these guardians then show them the danger that threatens them, should they attempt to walk alone. Now this danger is not actually so great, for after falling a few times they would in the end certainly learn to walk; but an example of this kind makes men timid and usually frightens them out of all further attempts.”(emphasis mine)


Not a complete eclipse of Kant but certainly more modern was Bertrand Russell’s take. Russel’s writing can be a little obtuse so I’m using this summary which continues that theme of a kind of immaturity, Bertrand Russell and science

According to Bertrand Russell, there were many conflicts between science and religion throughout the history of humanity and science is always emerged victorious, because it was based on concrete evidence instead of relying on the illumination as did religion. When a man of science tells us the result of experience, it also tells us how the experiment was performed. If other people can repeat it, it holds for real. In terms of religion, we must rely on the vision of a mystic who believed himself invested with a divine mission to assert something without real proof. According to Bertrand Russell, it is useless to talk to the mystic who claims to have experienced enlightenment and who has strong beliefs, but why should we force others to believe as well?

Actress Diane Keaton made a documentary in 1987 called Heaven. There is a remarkable echo of what Russell was saying in that film. The religious followers she interviewed share a belief in some fundamentals yet each has a different vision, a different take on the specifics of their enlightenment. Where as astronomers all have the have version of the earth’s rotation around the Sun. Chemists are all going to identify the same oxygen in a compound. Physicians are generally going to agree on the nature of physical pain.

Mary Wollstonecraft also wrote about what we think of as the historical Enlightenment, and within that both political and personal enlightenment. From A Vindication of the Rights of Woman(1872)

When women are once sufficiently enlightened to discover their real interest, on a grand scale, they will, I am persuaded, be very ready to resign all the prerogatives of love, that are not mutual, (speaking of them as lasting prerogatives,) for the calm satisfaction of friendship, and the tender confidence of habitual esteem.  Before marriage they will not assume any insolent airs, nor afterward abjectly submit; but, endeavouring to act like
reasonable creatures, in both situations, they will not be tumbled from a throne to a stool.

[  ]…Parental affection, indeed, in many minds, is but a pretext to tyrannize where it can be done with impunity, for only good and wise men are content with the respect that will bear discussion. Convinced that they have a right to what they insist on, they do not fear reason, or dread the sifting of subjects that recur to natural justice:  because they firmly believe, that the more enlightened the human mind becomes, the deeper root will just and simple principles take.  They do not rest in expedients, or grant that what is metaphysically true can be practically false; but disdaining the shifts of the moment they calmly wait till time, sanctioning innovation, silences the hiss of selfishness or envy..

river winter wallpaper

Militarized to Its Bones: The police occupation of the Wall Street area in response to the Occupy protests is the result, since 9/11, of a transformation of this country into a full-scale surveillance-intelligence-homeland-security state

At one level, this is all mystifying.  The daily crowds in the park remain remarkably, even startlingly, peaceable.  (Any violence has generally been the product of police action.)  On an everyday basis, a squad of 10 or 15 friendly police officers could easily handle the situation.  There is, of course, another possibility suggested to me by one of the policemen loitering at the Park’s edge doing nothing in particular: “Maybe they’re peaceable because we’re here.”  And here’s a second possibility: as my friend Steve Fraser, author of Wall Street: America’s Dream Palace, said to me, “This is the most important piece of real estate on the planet and they’re scared.  Look how amazed we are.  Imagine how they feel, especially after so many decades of seeing nothing like it.”

If you were just having a casual conversation with my police friends they would tell you that Saturday night is not their favorite night to work. In the south, and California as I remember, and the northeast as well – its get drunk and beat your wife, slap your husband, act threatening towards the kids so they hide in their bedrooms and kick the dog if you can keep your balance night. The lock-ups will be full of people who have no economic or social agenda. Yet the pepper-spraying, flak vest wearing, club wielding police are generally not out in the neighborhoods where this happens. It’s still OK to get drunk and violent in America without calling in the riot squad. It is still OK to steal billions from the U.S. economy. What is not OK is to get all uppity about economic justice.

action indeed is the sole medium of expression for ethics, the personhood sham continues, legislating for the 99 percent

Doing the Ethical Thing May Be Right, but It Isn’t Automatic

As much as we would like to think that, put on the spot, we would do the right — and perhaps even heroic — thing, research has shown that that usually isn’t true.

“People are routinely more willing to be critical of others’ ethics than of their own,” said Francesca Gino, an associate professor at Harvard Business School, and two other authors in the journal article “See No Evil: When We Overlook Other People’s Unethical Behavior.” The article appeared as a chapter in the book “Social Decision Making” (Psychology Press, 2009). “People believe they are more honest and trustworthy than others and they try harder to do good.”


One of the experiments in ethics Tugend references is the Stanley Milgram in the early 1960s. That experiment attempted to find an explanation as to why or how mass lapses of ethics, as in the Nazi death camps could happen. Milgram found that people were willing to inflect pain on others ( the subjects were led to believe they were applying electric shocks for each wrong answer to a list of questions) if authority figures said that it was OK to do so. Many people were troubled by the fake screams of the victims, though most proceeded with the shocks anyway. If they said they wanted to stop the experiment supervisor would give them three prompts – Please continue.The experiment requires that you continue. It is absolutely essential that you continue. You have no other choice, you must go on. – Most of the participants would continue. There were some ethical issues with the experiment itself, even though no one was actually electrically shocked, many of the participant did suffer from emotional trauma. Astounding to me was that some of the participants said they continued because they did not want to be rude to the person ( the authority figure) conducting the experiment.

There is a link to this paper which goes into how unethical behavior can become the norm – When misconduct goes unnoticed: The acceptability of gradual erosion in others’ unethical behavior (pdf). Just one paragraph from the introduction,

Four laboratory studies show that people are more likely to accept others’ unethical behavior when ethical degradation occurs slowly rather than in one abrupt shift. Participants served in the role of watchdogs charged with catching instances of cheating. The watchdogs in our studies were less likely to criticize the actions of others when their behavior eroded gradually, over time, rather than in one abrupt shift. We refer to this phenomenon as the slippery-slope effect. Our studies also demonstrate that at least part of this effect can be attributed to implicit biases that result in a failure to notice ethical erosion when it occurs slowly. Broadly, our studies provide evidence as to when and why people accept cheating by others and examine the conditions under which the slippery-slope effect occurs. (emphasis mine)


Even though I am already familiar with these studies including the Philip G. Zimbardo experiments at Stanford University in the Stanford Prison Experiment where students very quickly engaged in sadistic behavior towards pretend prisoners – reading about how easily and quickly morality breaks down is depressing. There is hope. In the Milgram experiment a few did refuse to continue. In addition Professor Zimbardo has set up the Heroic Imagination Project, already implemented in a few California schools. The project’s aim is to teach people how they can act individually to be cognizant of ethically compromising situations and still do the right thing.

One of the aspects of societal, governmental or corporate culture that weighs against acting ethically is how groups respond to whistle-blowers – the example they use in the NYT article. In most cultures people grow up with the peer pressure attached to being a “rat” or a tattletale. I was amazed at once hearing a grown man who was harassing an employee call someone a rat for reporting his behavior to upper management. Like most people I let some everyday behavior slide as long as no one is getting hurt, but when you report someone for being threatening, trying to intimidate someone, you’re not a rat, you’re a decent human being. One of the things discovered in a study by some Australian researchers (When groups are wrong and deviants are right*) is that we say we admire people who stand up for the right thing, but in actual practice a peer group ( co-workers, students, police, politicians) can be hostile toward the person who went against the prevailing group behavior. People might respect rats and whistle-blowers, but not like them or feel uncomfortable around them.

“Action indeed is the sole medium of expression for ethics.” – Jane Addams

“A man without ethics is a wild beast loosed upon this world.” – Albert Camus

*Deviant as used here is in the classical sociological definition of any behavior which has been deemed different from norms established by the group. If you lived in a small village in 1649 and did not attend church services on Sunday that would have made you a deviant within that group.

pond reflection autumn colors wallpaper

Personhood Proponents To Rebrand, Revamp Effort

Anti-abortion forces are pushing ahead with the so-called personhood initiatives, despite suffering defeat in Mississippi, where a mostly conservative electorate soundly rejected the notion that life should begin at conception. The group, Personhood USA, plans to hold a press conference later today to announce their renewed efforts to pursue personhood amendments in Colorado, Oregon, and Montana…

[  ]…Personhood initiatives have failed twice before in Colorado by a 3-1 margin, as the medical community and women’s groups used public forums to “cast the measure as misguided, arguing that, beyond ending abortion, declaring fertilization as the starting point for life would lead to a prohibition of emergency contraception in rape cases and limit treatment for miscarriages, tubal pregnancies and infertility.”


I wonder about the ethics of forcing other people to believe that the rights of a zygote are greater than that of a 16 or 32 year human being.

Landscape with House and Ploughman, 1889 Vincent Van Gogh.

Some pretty smart people, one here – Here’s what attempted co-option of OWS looks like – have argued that OWS does not need to mature and evolve into an actual political force that gets legislation passed and people elected who truly represent the interests of the 99%. Certainly the real world of politics or joining the corporate world to change it from the inside are akin to diving into a mud bath. Still I’m not so sure that is not the way to go. Nicholas D. Kristof argues OWS has already succeeded in changing the national focus of the conversation about the economy, Occupy the Agenda

The high ground that the protesters seized is not an archipelago of parks in America, but the national agenda. The movement has planted economic inequality on the nation’s consciousness, and it will be difficult for any mayor or police force to dislodge it.

A reporter for Politico found that use of the words “income inequality” quintupled in a news database after the Occupy protests began. That’s a significant achievement, for this is an issue that goes to our country’s values and our opportunities for growth — and yet we in the news business have rarely given it the attention it deserves.

The statistic that takes my breath away is this: The top 1 percent of Americans possess a greater net worth than the entire bottom 90 percent, according to an analysis by the Economic Policy Institute.


Kristof also thinks the Super Committee Democrats and Democrats behind the scene dug in their heels to protect Medicare because of OWS. Maybe. Politicians generally only fear one thing – not being reelected. Unless OWS can make that a permanent state of mind in regards to the 99% it seems doubtful this effect will last for long. I have not noticed much difference in Wall Street’s behavior. One item on OWS’s semi-agenda was Bank Change Day. That did seem to scare off some of the big banks from enacting the new debit card fees they were talking about.

The Whales of Three Deserts

How did 75 whales end up in the desert? Rows of prehistoric bones unearthed in one of the most significant discoveries of its kind

Some believe they became disoriented and beached themselves, while others claim they were moved by a landslide and became trapped in a lagoon.

But scientists remain baffled as to how exactly scores of whales ended up in a desert more than half a mile from the sea.

The skeletons of 75 whales, believed to be more than two millions years old, were unearthed next to one another, just yards apart, in one of the world’s best-preserved graveyards of prehistoric whales.


Chilean scientists and researchers from the Smithsonian Institution are studying how the whales, many of them the size of buses, were found in exactly the same corner of the Atacama Desert in Chile.


This story reminded me of another large find of whale fossils in the desert in Egypt. Valley of the Whales. An Egyptian desert, once an ocean, holds the secret to one of evolution’s most remarkable transformations.

Thirty-seven million years ago, in the waters of the prehistoric Tethys Ocean, a sinuous, 50-foot-long beast with gaping jaws and jagged teeth died and sank to the seafloor.

Over thousands of millennia a mantle of sediment built up over its bones. The sea receded, and as the former seabed became a desert, the wind began to plane away the sandstone and shale above the bones. Slowly the world changed. Shifts in the Earth’s crust pushed India into Asia, heaving up the Himalaya. In Africa, the first human ancestors stood up on their hind legs to walk. The pharaohs built their pyramids. Rome rose, Rome fell. And all the while the wind continued its patient excavation. Then one day Philip Gingerich showed up to finish the job.


Two mysterious mass graves of ancient whales is intriguing enough, but three is even better. In the summer of 2010 the L.A. Times reported on a find of one whale fossil in the Peruvian desert, Giant whale fossil found in desert in Peru

Paleontologists have discovered remnants of the fossilized skull of an ancient whale in a Peruvian desert — and named it after Herman Melville, the author of “Moby Dick.”

The newly discovered species, Leviathan melvillei, lived about 12 million years ago. Scientists believe it feasted on smaller whales that shared what were oceans at the time, as seen in the artist’s rendering at left.

The international team that discovered the fossil announced its findings last week in the journal Nature. The whale skull was found in late 2008 in the Pisco-Ica desert in southern Peru, known as a veritable “Jurassic park” for paleontologists.

Upon catching glimpse of the whale skull’s giant teeth, the researchers at first thought they had come across elephant tusks.

“This part of the Peruvian coast, about 500 kilometers south of Lima, is probably the richest place in the world for fossil marine mammals,” says one of the scientists involved in the study, in this video at Nature.


This video is of the fossil find in Egypt, Whales of the Desert

frosted autumn leaves wallpaper, rethinking what we want in a partner, the police and the OWS

Rethinking What We Want in a Partner

When it comes to romantic attraction men primarily are motivated by good looks and women by earning power. At least that’s what men and women have been saying for a long time. Based on research that dates back several decades, the widely accepted notion permeates popular culture today.

But those sex differences didn’t hold up in a new in-depth study of romantic attraction undertaken by two Northwestern University psychologists.

In short, the data suggest that whether you’re a man or a woman, being attractive is just as good for your romantic prospects and, to a lesser extent, so is being a good earner.

“Sex Differences in Mate Preferences Revisited: Do People Know What They Initially Desire in a Romantic Partner?” was published in the February issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

For a month, the romantic lives of study participants were scrutinized, including their prospects within and outside of a speed-dating event.
What people said and did in choosing romantic partners were two different matters.

“True to the stereotypes, the initial self-reports of male participants indicated that they cared more than women about a romantic partner’s physical attractiveness, and the women in the study stated more than men that earning power was an aphrodisiac,” said Paul Eastwick, lead author of the study and graduate student in psychology in the Weinberg School of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern.

But in reality men and women were equally inspired by physical attraction and equally inspired by earning power or ambition.

“In other words good looks was the primary stimulus of attraction for both men and women, and a person with good earning prospects or ambition tended to be liked as well,” said Eli Finkel, assistant professor of psychology at Northwestern. “Most noteworthy, the earning-power effect as well as the good-looks effect didn’t differ for men and women.”

One of the reasons women consistently answer that personality and earning power are the two most important attributes is they understandably do not want to be caught giving the most shallow answer. Though requirements for earning potential can be shallow beyond a certain point. also shallow to a degree. Requiring that a mate earn what it takes to provide a fairly comfortable and basic living is reasonable. No one wants to be haunted by the need for bare necessities. Having to provide luxurious lifestyle might be pushing it. Though as most sociological data show most people marry within their economic class. An average income man might or might not be with his soul-mate or the best approximation because the woman from a wealthy family who went to Princeton and has a six figure job is not likely someone he would ever meet, much less get a chance to romance. Much of the mate choice data suggests that men look for attractive partners because that beauty signifies good health, that fertility, with those qualities leading to the belief his genes with be propagated. That might only be what he thinks he wants when it comes down to sitting across from someone and talking to them for a few minutes. Suddenly he finds their similar taste in music alluring. Maybe there is some other quality about her – she volunteers at an animal shelter, works as a police detective – qualities that are intriguing. I’ve talked about this subject with friends, as we all have, we generally agree that most couples are about equal in looks. That seems to be a universal. When Angelina Jolie was with Billy Bob Thornton, that was an anomaly. As the study news says this new study – the sexes are generally about equally shallow – just begs more questions. Do we continue to behave this way because of remnants of eons old evolutionary behavior or is it also modern behavior which still serves some purpose.Even if one realizes that one dating choices yield good looks, but less than stellar character, can one really change what they seem naturally attracted to. Not that 5s on the ten-scale are necessarily better human beings. Though that is another topic where acquaintances generally agree that average looking people are more humble and less arrogant.

frosted autumn leaves wallpaper

“Sociology – Subject matter ranges from the micro level of individual agency and interaction to the macro level of systems and the social structure.[4]

Sociology is a very broad discipline. Its traditional focuses have included social stratification, social class, social mobility, religion, secularisation, law, and deviance. As all spheres of human activity are sculpted by social structure and individual agency, sociology has gradually expanded its focus to further subjects, such as health, medical, military and penal institutions, the Internet, and even the role of social activity in the development of scientific knowledge.” With that in mind this brings up an interpreting phenomenon; If your curious about what police officers think of the average person they are supposed to protect check this out.

These pages were deleted from the forum a few hours ago. Thanks to oldnumber7 for the links

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The forum has been scrubbed of this discussion thread, but the links above will – for a while anyway – lead to the Goggle cache of the discussion. Some of the offers were generally sympathetic to OWC, but wished they would behave better. Some were less tolerate. At least one officer saw OWS in the tradition of police unionizing at the turn of the 20th century and women’s suffrage, and a few saw OWS this way:

You really believe these Occupiers speak for the majority of civilians? Not even close. They are an extreme minority that more closely align themselves with anarchists than anything resembling law and order.

As with every social justice movement there are extremists and crackpots who have associated themselves with OWS. There is no group of people who are perfect. One of the main tenets of Christianity is that we are all born sinners – flawed even as we take our first breath. Recently a Salon writer posted that all the coaches associated with the child rape scandal at Penn. State were Republicans. As I noted it would be a terrible leap in logic to paint all Republicans as sexual predators because of the actions of one and the negligent inaction of a few others. The same fairness and logic should extend to the OWS as well. There are lots of reasons a civilized society should want the truth about any group and not fall for this ages old logical fallacy of painting the majority in a negative light because of the actions of a very small minority. One obvious reason is that if we pause for a moment and consider every police officer in the U.S. as being part of a cohort, a group with similar characteristics – one police union is even called The International brotherhood of Police Officers – than they too could be painted a group which poses a danger to civilized society. After the Boston Police Strike of 1919 Governor Coolidge called the strikers “deserters” and “traitors,”. Two NYPD police officers dumped a 14 year old boy at a Staten Island swamp to teach him a lesson, one of them later bragged about being a “gangsta” on his MySpace page. NYPD police are currently being investigated for crimes such as ticket fixing, planting drugs on innocent suspects and gun-running. In 1998-1999, 23 domestic violence complaints were filed against Boston police employees, but none resulted in criminal prosecution. “Two studies have found that at least 40% of police officer families experience domestic violence, (1, 2) in contrast to 10% of families in the general population.(3) A third study of older and more experienced officers found a rate of 24% (4), indicating that domestic violence is 2-4 times more common among police families than American families in general.” One police union officer in Michigan threatened  legislators over the attempt to pass anti-union laws. You get the idea. I could literally do this every day. Does this vast accumulation of police violence, police crimes, police brutality, police hypocrisy and generally piss poor judgement mean all police are horrible human beings or “anarchists” or ‘socialists” or “pigs” living off our tax dollars. No. Police work tends to attract authoritarian personalities. These authoritarianism can range from having a personality that prizes order over other virtues. At worse they have led to cases where police have brutalized and murdered people. Even though these reports about police do come over the news reports daily, the vast majority of police are pretty decent people – I’m related to a couple of police officers so that might be an influence on my overall judgement. At the same time I realize my relatives are human and thus not always perfect.

Also worth a read – Paramilitary Policing of Occupy Wall Street: Excessive Use of Force amidst the New Military Urbanism.

 Copper engraving illustrating Kepler’s Geometrical Model of the Copernican System., J. Kepler, 1597