All posts by Alton C. Thompson

Trump Supporters Under Analysis

A widespread view among observers is that Pres. Donald J. Trump is all about himself.  His main interest, during his presidency, has been his re-election.  For Trump, that is, re-election “trumps” the national interest!

And what’s so utterly ironic about the Trump presidency is Trump’s lack of interest in the well-beingor even continued survival!—of his supporters, but those supporters don’t seem to “get” that fact!  It should be obvious why I say that:

  1. We are in the “middle”1 of a Covid-19 crisis.
  2. Experts have advised us that in an absence of a vaccine for the virus, wearing a protective mask, maintaining “social distancing,” and washing hands frequently are ways to protect oneself and others from getting the virus.
  3. Attending a political rally, even if wearing a mask, puts oneself in danger of both getting, and spreading, the virus.
  4. If one gets the virus, one may die from it!
  5. One will not, then, be able to vote for Trump in November!
  6. Even if one does survive, how does one benefit from being ill for a time, and then being presented with a big medical bill?

The question in point 6 is obviously a rhetorical one!

Trump’s wanting to have, and having, rallies serve his ego needs, but do not serve the interests of his supporters!

Why are his supporters unable to understand this “obvious” fact?!!

This is a part of the larger question:  Why do people act against their interests?

One answer is provided in this article: Ethicist and leadership scholar, Joanne Ciulla, in a recent address at the International Studying Leadership Conference, suggested that some groups, frustrated by a lack of jobs and financial resources, may feel a sense of resentment against those who are better off.  This creates a “have-nots” versus “haves” mentality  If one candidate appears to represent the “haves” or the “establishment,” or even the status quo, people feeling resentment may automatically gravitate toward the candidate who offers change, or the candidate who claims to represent the “have-nots.”

The author adds that poor working-class whites may:

perceive that social programs don’t help them as much as they help (and are targeted toward), ethnic minorities.  In addition, white males from this group may resent recent advancements by women and therefore turned against candidate Hillary Clinton (her calling Trump supporters “deplorables” didn’t help the situation).

I believe that this explanation has merit, but would hypothesize that the deeper causal factor is the inequality that characterizes our society.

Epidemiologists Richard G. Wilkinson and Kate Pickett have been focusing on the consequences of inequality (in, e.g., their 2009 The Spirit Level:  Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better and 2019 The Inner Level:  How More Equal Societies Reduce Stress, Restore Sanity and Improve Everyone’s Well-Being explore the many consequences of inequality in societies.  As one might expect, the Cato Institute,2 in this long article, focuses on “myths about income inequality,” and avoids a discussion of effects.

However, we will probably have to wait until “hell freezes over” before that hypothesis is tested!  And before that occurs, our species is likely to go extinct!  As Robert J. Burrowes wrote on this site in 2018:

there is a group of courageous and prominent climate scientists who offer compelling climate science evidence that human beings, along with millions of other species, will be extinct by 2026 (and perhaps as early as 2021) in response to a projected 10 degree celsius increase in global temperatures above the pre-industrial level by that date.

And concludes his article this way:

There is a notable group of prominent climate scientists who present compelling evidence that human extinction will occur by 2026 as a result of a projected 10 degree celsius increase in global temperatures above the pre-industrial level by this date.

What I would add to this is that I would hypothesize that the ultimate cause of global warming itself is the inequality that has existed in “civilized” societies since the Neolithic Revolution!

  1. Or, are we closer to the beginning?!
  2. It is “a public policy research organization — a think tank — dedicated to the principles of individual liberty, limited government, free markets, and peace.”  Ideological?!

Human Development: Will It End Soon?

Our species—Homo sapiens sapiens—originated in Africa about 40,000 to 130,000 years ago.  Even before 130,000 years ago our ancestors were exposed to certain stimuli—from other members of our species, and from the physical surround—and engaged in certain behaviorsespecially behaviors related to the acquisition of sustenance, such as gathering, hunting, and even scavenging.  Because both occurred over an extremely long period of time, our ancestors became biologically “designed” to receive certain stimuli and to engage in certain behaviors.  In addition, because our ancestors lived “outdoors” in small groups, our ancestors also became biologically “designed” for life “outdoors” in small groups.

It follows from the above that our distant ancestors had a way of life that “fit” their biology and that, conversely, our biology “fit” the way of life that they had.

During the long period of time prior to the Agricultural/Neolithic Revolution (which began about 12,500 years ago), our biology changed very slowly; psychologist David P. Barash has used the word “tortoise” to refer to that fact.  During that period the way of life of our distant ancesors was also “tortoise”-like, of course.

When the Neolithic/Agricultural Revolution got underway, however, new ways of life began to develop (ones increasingly based on agriculture); and because those new ways of life were increasingly sedentary, that fact enabled groups to grow in population size—and that growth resulted in certain effects of great importance.  The most important of those effects was the beginning of the exploitation of some by some others, leading to the creation of social classes and growing inequality.

As societal changes were occurring (termed the “hare” of change by Dr. Barash!), human biology continued to remain basically the same.  The Discrepancy that thereby began to develop between (a) the way of life for which our ancestors had become “designed” and (b) the new ways of life that were developing itself became a factor that impacted human life negativelymembers of the lowest emerging class being most impacted negatively, of course.

Rather than pursuing that point further here I choose to note that only some of our distant ancestors remained in the area, in Africa, of our origin.   The map to the left (source) illustrates what’s believed regarding that dispersal.

As some of our distant ancestors left the area of our origin, they encountered environments that differed from their area of origin, which fact had an impact on their sustenance activities and, therefore, their ways of life to a degree.   And, with the passage of time, there also occurred some biological changes in migrants, as they adapted biologically to the new environments.  Those new environments also forced a need to protect oneself from the new “elements,” so that developments in clothing and shelter also occurred, of necessity.  Donna Hart and the late Robert W. Sussman would add (in their Man the Hunted:  Primates, Predators, and Human Evolution, 2018) that our ancestors were a prey species also had implications for them.   (Here’s a review of the book.)

Most of the problems that we humans currently have likely could be traced to the Discrepancy that began to occur as agriculture began to displace hunting and gathering as the main source of sustenance for humans.  Indeed, Dr. Jared Diamond declared, in 1987, that that replacement was “the worst mistake in the history of the human race”!  Dr. Diamond wrote, for example:

Besides malnutrition, starvation, and epidemic diseases, farming helped bring another curse upon humanity:  deep class divisions.  Hunter-gatherers have little or no stored food, and no concentrated food sources, like an orchard or a herd of cows:  they live off the wild plants and animals they obtain each day.  Therefore, there can be no kings, no class of social parasites who grow fat on food seized from others.  Only in a farming population could a healthy, non-producing elite set itself above the disease-ridden masses.  Skeletons from Greek tombs at Mycenae c. 1500 B. C. suggest that royals enjoyed a better diet than commoners, since the royal skeletons were two or three inches taller and had better teeth (on the average, one instead of six cavities or missing teeth).  Among Chilean mummies from c. A. D. 1000, the elite were distinguished not only by ornaments and gold hair clips but also by a fourfold lower rate of bone lesions caused by disease.

And Eugene Linden, in his Affluence and Discontent:  The Anatomy of Consumer Societies (1979), demonstrates no awareness of the occurrence of a Discrepancy, but the thesis of his book—that our history has taken a downward course, rather than being a story of “progress”!—is consistent with what one should expect, were the Discrepancy the key causal factor in our history.  Linden concluded his book by referring to the possibility of an “apocalypse of the consumer society.” (p. 178)  This was an extremely prescient remark to make 41 years ago, in light of; e.g., this article from 2018 that describes “Near Term Human Extinction in 5 Acts”!

As one reads Linden’s history, one may very well conclude that our history has been determined, so that there’s no point in trying to change the direction of our history.  However, as one with 3 children and 5 grandchildren, I must believe that that course can be changed, and in my A Road to Survival? and much shorter Viking Villages for Today I present my idea as to how our species might be “saved.”

I should add that my “plan” involves a return of sorts (to hunter-gatherer existence), at least in the sense of living in a smaller social unit, a “company-town ecovillage.”

“Reality Will Come Crashing Home”

Last night’s (October 23, 2013) Frontline program, on PBS—“The Pension Gamble”—featured David Sirota (author of the 2013 article, “The Plot Against Pensions”).1 The program focused on the bad shape that many pension programs for public employees specifically are in, with Kentucky’s case being the worst example.  Toward the end of the program, Kentucky Governor Matthew Bevin was quoted thusly:

The next governor, regardless of who they are or what ideology they represent, it won’t matter what lie they give. Reality will come crashing home.

From what I had learned, while watching the program, I had to agree with him.  However, it occurred to me that while many public employees are rightfully concerned about their pensions, there’s a problem that’s far more important than pensions—a problem that’s faced not only by public employees in the United States, but all humans.

A problem, though, regarding which few in our society are fully aware, because of “media silence” about it, and even “global warming denialism” in our media!   That article begins this way:

Emperor Nero may (or may not) have fiddled while Rome burned, but commercial U.S. TV networks definitely fiddled last year [2016] on climate coverage while the Earth grew dangerously hot.

An annual climate report issued this month by the World Meteorological Organization confirms that average global temperatures and global sea levels continued their inexorable rise in 2016, setting new records. Global sea ice dropped to an “unprecedented” extent.  Extreme weather conditions, probably aggravated by climate disruption, displaced hundreds of thousands of people, left millions hungry, and caused “severe economic damage.”

Yet in the midst of such frightening changes, and a national presidential campaign with enormous consequences for U.S. climate policy, the four major broadcast networks — ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox News Sunday — significantly decreased their coverage of climate issues on evening and Sunday news programs, according to a new analysis by Media Matters. Television programs like these are the major source of news for 57 percent of adult Americans.

It’s probably partially because of that lack of media coverage that many in our society fail to discuss it.  That failure has been noted by scholars at Yale University, which has established a Program on Climate Change Communication, and this article, posted in 2016, asks this question:  “Is There a Climate ‘Spiral of Silence’ in America?”  The article begins this way:

Our surveys have repeatedly shown that most Americans are interested in the issue of global warming and consider it personally important. Our studies, however, have also shown that for most Americans, climate change is not a common topic of conversation or something they hear about much in their daily lives. This suggests that there is a climate change “spiral of silence”, in which even people who care about the issue, shy away from discussing it because they so infrequently hear other people talking about it – reinforcing the spiral.

It’s been suggested that people don’t discuss global warming not only (a) because of a lack of knowledge (resulting from “media silence” about it), and (b) the fact that “they so infrequently hear other people talking about it,” but that (c) there are psychological reasons as well.  As Dr. John Fraser has said:

I think there’s been a lot of conversation about how people understand the facts of climate change, but very little about how we process it in our minds and that is really going to be key to any kind of future change and that’s where psychologists can be really useful.

The problem that I see, however, is corporate control of the media.  This report by the Union of Concerned Scientists state; e.g., that (p. 2):

Some companies, as shown in this study, have created confusion in the conversation on climate change by taking contradictory actions across different venues.  Even while cultivating a climate-concerned image in more public settings, these corporations have sown doubt about climate science both directly (such as by challenging climate science in government filings) and indirectly (e.g., by supporting politicians, trade groups, and think tanks that misrepresent the scientific consensus on climate change and oppose action to address it). This powerful subset of companies has been tremendously influential in dictating how the public understands (or misunderstands) climate science and how the national discussion on climate policy has progressed—or not progressed.

Given that those who manage/own corporations will be affected by global warming, like the rest of us, it is utterly irrational of these individuals to be “deniers”!  And someone probably has a sound explanation for their denialism.  If that’s the case, it’s of no value, however, given this recent statement by António Guterres, the United Nations secretary general who told global leaders this week that the world has less than two years to avoid “runaway climate change.”

If we do not change course by 2020, we risk missing the point where we can avoid runaway climate change,” Guterres said during a speech at the U.N. headquarters in New York.

Climate change is the defining issue of our time, and we are at a defining moment,” he said.  “Scientists have been telling us for decades.  Over and over again.  Far too many leaders have refused to listen.

“Runaway” is something to be taken seriously!  As this article states:

Runaway climate change or runaway global warming is hypothesized to follow a tipping point in the climate system, after accumulated climate change initiates a reinforcing positive feedback. This rapid acceleration in climate change may lead to potentially irreversible damage to the climate system, making timely mitigation efforts unfeasible. This is thought to cause the climate to rapidly change until it reaches a new stable condition.

In other words, “reality will come crashing home”!  For:

(a) The “road” to the “new stable condition” is likely to be a rough one!

(b) It’s entirely conceivable that that “new stable condition” will be one that is such that Earth System will no longer be able to support human life! May, in fact, not be able to support life, per se!

Is there still time to prevent this?  That seems highly doubtful!

  1. Here’s a transcript of the program.

Correcting Gregory Bateson

Forty-five years ago the late Gregory Bateson [1904 – 1980] wrote these ominous words:

If you put God outside and set him vis-à-vis his creation and if you have the idea that you are created in his image, you will logically and naturally see yourself as outside and against the things around you.  And as you arrogate all mind to yourself, you will see the world around you as mindless and therefore not entitled to moral or ethical consideration.  The environment will seem to be yours to exploit.  Your survival unit will be you and your folks or conspecifics against the environment of other social units, other races and the brutes and vegetables.

If this is your estimate of your relation to nature and you have an advanced technology, your likelihood of survival will be that of a snowball in hell.  You will die either of the toxic by-products of your own hate, or, simply, of overpopulation and overgrazing.  The raw materials of the world are finite.1

Although Bateson was prescient in asserting that the “likelihood of survival” of our species is “that of a snowball in hell,” his statement needs to be corrected/updated in several ways:

  1. When some humans began conceiving deity as transcendent—i.e., as existing apart from Earth System—(rather than immanent), this “advance” was not the beginning of our problems as humans.
  2. Although conceiving deity as transcendent did play a role in the downward path that our species has been on since the Neolithic, many other factors have come into play since that time.
  3. Bateson’s “overpopulation and overgrazing” causes are in need of updating.

Let me next, then, address each of these three points.

Our “Apartness”

During the Neolithic agriculture began to replace foraging as the source of sustenance; the groups affected began to grow in population size, and the erosion of bonds that had connected one member of the group with other members fostered the development of societal changes—most notably the development of social classes, and the beginning of exploitation.

One way to express what was occurring is to say that a Discrepancy was beginning to develop between:

  1. The way of life for which humans had become “designed” prior to the Neolithic.
  2. The way of life that those involved in these changes were now beginning to actually have.

Put still another way, those involved in the “revolution” were beginning to have a way of life that was increasingly “unnatural”—with some being affected more adversely by this change (i.e., those now being exploited) than others (i.e., the “exploitees”).  As a part of this “revolution,” the change in way of life fostered a gradual abandonment of thinking of oneself as a part of Earth System in favor of thinking of oneself as apart from it—which thinking also helped precipitate the creation of a series of transcendent Beings, created for explaining various features of the world within which they were living.

In ancient Israel some individuals sensed the “wrongness” of the exploitation that was occurring, and spoke out about it.  Someone among them “recognized” that his pronouncements of “wrongness” might gain more “force” if attributed to one of the transcendent deities then existing in the society, and Yahweh was “recruited” for this task.  We have come to call these individuals “prophets.”

The prophets likely had some measure of success, but basically failed in their “goal” of returning their fellows to a more “natural” way of life.  The priestly element in the society, however, perceived it desirable to retain Yahweh as the society’s principal Deity, but “tame” Him—e.g., by giving Him other jobs, such as being a Creator.

As a transcendent Being this Deity helped contribute to feeling—and thinking about—ourselves as apart from Earth System; and Bateson was correct to point this out.  However:

  1. The “apartness” matter developed as a consequence of the prior growing Discrepancy—one consequence of which was the emergence of the concept of Deity as transcendent.
  2. That Discrepancy resulted in numerous other developments—those developments  all being a part of our downward course, that began with the Neolithic.

Our Downward Path

The conventional view of world history is that it has been a story of virtually continuous progress—with, though, a few “bumps” along the way, such as World War II and the election of Donald Trump.  However, I find the history offered by Eugene Linden in (Affluence and Discontent: The Anatomy of Consumer Societies (1979, p. 63 ff.) much more convincing.  Rather than summarizing Linden’s history2 here, though, I simply give two quotations from it:

  1. “Monotheism effectively decontrolled nature, clearing the way for the identification and exploitation of resources that had previously been protected by the sacred mantle of animism.” (p. 84)
  2. “Just as [p. 87] monotheism allowed the Hebrews to turn the intellect on nature, so this retreat [from nature] cleared the Athenian mind for reason to offer up its account of the marvels of the universe.” Unfortunately, (p. 88), “the shift from [an] animistic to [a] rational world view turned us [humans] into strangers on our own planet.  It has also saddled us with deep-seated psychic disorders:  alienation, schizophrenia, and anomie.”

Linden’s focus was on the environmental implications of the developments that he discussed, and he concluded his book with this statement (p. 178):

We will continue on our present course, and . . the probability of one or another proposed disasters [discussed earlier in the book] will rapidly increase until some small event triggers the apocalypse of the consumer society.

Thus, Linden reached the same conclusion in 1979 that Bateson had reached in 1972—the difference being that Linden provided a fairly elaborate explanation for our eventual demise as a species (that made no reference to the Discrepancy concept, however).

Our Demise as a Species

Bateson believed that our species would be “done in” by “the toxic by-products of  . . . [our] own hate” or “overpopulation and overgrazing,” Today, what appear to be the key factors that will be responsible for our extinction are:

  1. Global warming.
  2. The unleashing of thermonuclear weaponry.

As to global warming, there is, e.g., this statement posted in May of this year:

With little or no action taken on global warming, it appears that the Anthropocene will lead to extinction of the very human beings after which the era is named, with the Anthropocene possibly running from 1950 to 2021; i.e. a mere 71 years and much too short to constitute an era. In that case a better name for the period would be the Sixth Extinction Event. … (Because of a 10° C rise in temperature by 2021.)

This is, admittedly, a rather extreme projection.  However, given that:

  1. Rapid change in the global mean temperature has occurred in the geologic past.3
  2. Global warming is not only occurring now, but is accelerating. (See this graph, e.g.—which shows that except for the early 1940s, the trend has been upward since about 1910.
  3. Our “leaders” seem to lack a serious interest in global warming.

Given those three facts, there is every reason to believe that:

  1. Runaway” will begin soon (assuming that it is now already underway!).
  2. It will then be impossible to halt rapid warming.
  3. Our species will then join the many other species now going extinct, during this period of “the sixth extinction.”

Although “salvation” may be impossible for our species; why don’t we at least change our species name from sapiens (meaning “wise, sensible, judicious”) to idiota! Abraham Lincoln famously said:

You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.

However, enough people (referring here especially to our “leaders”) have been fooled into thinking that global warming is not a serious problem—or not a problem at all!—that some time during this century they will be proved wrong!  That’s not, by any mean, a comforting thought.

  1. Gregory Bateson, Steps to an Ecology of Mind (1972), p. 468.
  2. The explanation of which I would attribute to the Discrepancy—a concept of which Linden was unaware when he wrote his book.
  3. During the PETM, earth’s temperature may have increased by 5° C in a mere 13 years—in response to a doubling of the CO2 level in the atmosphere! The author (Joe Romm) adds: “Note that if we stay anywhere near our current emissions path, we are headed for a tripling or quadrupling of CO2 concentrations from preindustrial levels.” Also, as this article points out:  “… the PETM seems to have been caused by greenhouse gases just like modern-day climate change.”

“I Prefer Not To” …

Several days ago “I prefer not to” popped into my mind.  That sentence is from Herman Melville’s Bartleby, the Scrivener:  A Story of Wall-street (1856)—a short story that I had first encountered in an American Literature course, while an undergraduate.  (Bartleby first speaks this sentence on p. 8 of the version to which a link is provided above.)

As I had no recollection of this story—except that I had somehow remembered the “I prefer not to” sentence—and hadn’t even thought of the sentence in question for years, I was puzzled as to why it entered my consciousness now.  Not being able to discern a reason, I thought it best to search for how others had reacted to this sentence, and began an internet search.

In doing so, I found these opinions, for example:

Bartleby is the archetypal working man, described as “pallidly neat, pitiably respectable, incurably forlorn!”  Bartleby is instantly swept into the hustle of the Wall-Street atmosphere.  Bartleby is placed in the corner of the narrator’s office and shielded by a curtain from anyone’s view.  Bartleby is expected to work rigorously yet he is ultimately ignored by his co-workers and employer, called upon only when he is needed.  It is only when he begins to protest his position that any attention is paid to Bartleby.   The narrator becomes obsessed with Bartleby’s refusal to do any sort of work or comply with any request made of him.   Bartleby’s desperation becomes the catalyst that reveals the narrator’s sympathetic quality; however, the narrator refuses to make any personal connection with Bartleby.   Every attempt by the narrator to reach or aid Bartleby is impersonal; whether he offers money or to write to a family member.   It becomes clear that the narrator really only cares enough about Bartleby to make him someone else’s problem.   Eventually the narrator, unwilling to forcibly remove Bartleby from his office, abandons Bartleby for another office uptown, leaving the problem of Bartleby for the next unfortunate occupant of the office.   In the Tombs Bartleby is left alone by the other prisoners and guards and the only person who offers to associate with Bartleby is the “grub-man” Mr. Cutlets, who offers to take care of Bartleby, but for a price.   Bartleby refuses the false concern of Mr. Cutlets and begins the slow and lonely path to eventual starvation.  In the last lines of the story, the narrator realizes the inhumanity of Bartleby’s life and his own unwillingness to help Bartleby crying out “Ah Bartleby!  Ah humanity!”

That is, “Bartleby” is interpreted as a commentary on American society of Melville’s time—how a concomitant of increasing urbanization was the creation of boring jobs, impersonal relationships in the workplace; in short, the creation of inhumane working conditions, virtually forcing people to have meaningless lives.

That interpretation of the “Bartleby” story caused me to realize that a deeper factor was at work—one of which Melville would have been unable to recognize:  The Discrepancy.

The basis for this concept/factor is that prior to the Neolithic Revolution a co-development had occurred between (a) humans as biological entities and (b) their (foraging) way of life.  That is, humans had developed certain “design specifications” (see pp. 39–118 in this) prior to the Neolithic, and had lives that accorded well with those “specifications.”

As the Neolithic “progressed,” however, new ways of life began to develop, whereas human biology changed but little; sociobiologist David P. Barash has referred to the former as a “hare,” the latter as a “tortoise.”  Put another way, a “discrepancy” was developing between the (a) way of life for which humans had become “designed” and the (b) new ways of life that were developing—the ways of life that they now had.

A history of humans that uses the concept of a “discrepancy” has yet to be written, but these two speculative comments seem to be highly plausible:

  1. Human problems began to develop and fester (such as poverty, anti-social behavior, health problems, etc.).
  2. Humans—although never before conscious of the fact that they were a part of Earth System—began to think of themselves as apart from Earth System.

Neither of these developments was of a positive nature, but the latter development was of particular importance.  As Eugene Linden asserts, in his concluding words in (Affluence and Discontent: The Anatomy of Consumer Societies, 1979, p. 178):

We will continue on our present course, and . . the probability of one or another proposed [earlier in the book] disasters will rapidly increase until some small event triggers the apocalypse of the consumer society.

If one accepts Linden’s perspective on history (I do!), one will not be surprised to read the following ominous statement, posted in May of this year:

With little or no action taken on global warming, it appears that the Anthropocene will lead to extinction of the very human beings after which the era is named, with the Anthropocene possibly running from 1950 to 2021, i.e. a mere 71 years and much too short to constitute an era. In that case a better name for the period would be the Sixth Extinction Event . . . .

Professor Michael E. Mann’s famous “hockey stick” figure, shows an upward trend in mean temperature since about 1850—and there is no reason to expect that this trend will not continue, adding plausibility to the assertion that our species will “be no more” after 2021!  Hurricane Harvey, which has been affecting the Gulf coast of Texas and now Louisiana is likely a “product” of the global warming now occurring—as were the wildfires in the West earlier this summer.

What’s likely, as we look to the future, is that:

  1. Droughts, and consequent wildfires, will become more common.
  2. Severe storms—hurricanes and tornadoes, with consequent flooding—will increase in both frequency and severity.
  3. Unusual weather will increase in frequency, causing crop failures to become increasingly common.

We should see these weather changes as “signaling” the occurrence of global warming; and should perceive global warming as a serious threat—but few do.  Thus, because of both (a) what we humans have been doing to Earth System and (b) our failure to (1) recognize what we’ve been doing and (2) react meaningfully to what we’ve been doing, it appears that we humans have doomed ourselves!

John Gowdy and Lisi Krall, in their recent “Getting Control of the Superorganism by Managing Evolutionary Change” (a copy of which was provided to me by Dr. Gowdy) wrote that they have been led to:

consider the possibility that the evolution of human society is, to an extent not fully recognized, driven by forces not under conscious human control.

I agree with this, and have even argued—facetiously, I might add!—that a puppet master has been directing human history, wishes to remove that “cancer,” humankind, from Earth System—and will soon succeed!

“I prefer not to” think about this possibility—as one with five wonderful grandchildren; but think about it I must!

A Global Warming “Bubble”?

In this article Harry S. Dent, Jr. states that:

Despite mountains of evidence and historical proof that bubbles inflate and burst all the time . . . we somehow can’t seem to see bubbles when we’re in one.

In behavioral finance, they call this phenomenon the “status quo bias” and it’s just one of the many cognitive biases that makes people naturally bad investors.

You see, most people are awful at predicting the future because they think reality moves in a straight line. That is, they take where they are right now in time and just project out into the future from there.

Gene Epstein, of Barron’s, has referred to Dent’s predictions as “dented” (!), and I have no reason to question Epstein’s assertion.  What caught my eye in Dent’s article, however, was his reference to “status quo bias”—a term that I had not encountered before.  That encounter led me to do a Google search of the term, which resulted in me finding this article, along with this article, which addressed the question of how “powerful” the bias is.  Here are the two concluding paragraphs of the latter article:

When military members are considering their choices as their contract comes to an end, many consider re-enlisting simply because they are unaware of the many opportunities that exist for them.  Even when we understand our current path is no longer beneficial or no longer makes us happy, we must still overcome the natural urge to stay on the path unless the alternative is sufficiently attractive.  In order for us to readily pursue an alternate path, we must believe that the alternative is clearly superior to the current state of affairs.

The status quo effect is pervasive in both inconsequential and major decisions.  Oftentimes we are held back by what we believe to be the safe option, simply because it is the default.  Bearing in mind our natural propensity for the status quo will enable us to recognize the allure of inertia and more effectively overcome it.

In learning about this “status quo bias”—and given my recent preoccupation with the threat to our continued existence as a species posed by global warming—I began to wonder if that bias helped explain our USan1, in particular, failure to address this threat in any meaningful way since, e.g., 1988.2

Here’s a definition of the bias:

Status quo bias is an emotional bias; a preference for the current state of affairs. The current baseline (or status quo) is taken as a reference point, and any change from that baseline is perceived as a loss.  Status quo bias should be distinguished from a rational preference for the status quo ante, as when the current state of affairs is objectively superior to the available alternatives, or when imperfect information is a significant problem.  A large body of evidence, however, shows that status quo bias frequently affects human decision-making.

Status quo bias interacts with other non-rational cognitive processes such as loss aversion, existence bias, endowment effect, longevity, mere exposure, and regret avoidance.  Experimental evidence for the detection of status quo bias is seen through the use of the reversal test. A vast amount of experimental and field examples exist. Behavior in regard to retirement plans, health, and ethical choices show evidence of the status quo bias.

Shortly, I will comment on the possibility that “status quo bias” might help explain our failure, adequately, to address the threat posed by global warming, but first some related comments.

In terms of my perspective on the matter, since the early 1980s I have been convinced that our various problems (including the environmental one), as USans, were attributable to the nature of our society; so that the “obvious” solution to our problems was societal system change of the right sort.  I therefore developed, and got published, a 5-“wave” strategy for “converting” our society in the proper direction.  Because my strategy involved “creative subversion” of the Existing Order, I was convinced that the strategy could be successful.3 Not being an “entrepreneurial” type of person, however—and lacking, besides, the financial means to pursue my “plan”—nothing came of the “plan,” by either me or anyone else (i.e., a reader of the article).

Since 1984 I have continued to “believe in” my strategy—although recently I modified it somewhat (this eBook, p. 26).  However, I have also become increasingly conscious of the fact that our country has become an oligarchy, and that that fact has helped me realize two important implications, of that fact, for our society—given, that is, that members of “our” elite don’t give a damn about global warming!4:

  1. The rich in our society tend not only to be fixated on the short term, but because they control “our” politicians, force “our” politicians to have that same fixation (which says something important about the {lack of} integrity of “our” politicians!).
  2. The rich, through their control of corporations, also control the media in this country—thereby ensuring that one rarely hears/reads any significant “news” about global warming in the mass media.  For example, the lead meteorologist at one of the television stations here in Milwaukee has told me that his management forbids (!) them from talking about global warming—and I assume that this policy prevails not only throughout Milwaukee, but the rest of the country as well!5

What I’m forced to conclude, as I write this essay today (July 29, 2017), is that:

  1. Although “status quo bias” might be somewhat of a factor in explaining why the global warming threat has not been given serious attention in recent years, the high degree of societal inequality that has characterized our society recently is a more important factor—via the control, by the rich (and large corporations), of “our” politicians and the mass media.
  2. Had my 1984 “plan” gotten underway in 1984, the “status quo bias” would not have been a factor in limiting its success—for the reasons that (a) the “vanguard” in my “plan” would have consisted of those who were dissatisfied with the status quo, and (b) because the “plan” involved “creative subversion” of the Existing Order, members of the elite, because of their obtuseness:
  1. Would not have recognized the fact that the Existing Order was being subverted until the Movement had acquired a good “head of steam.”
  2. Enough of a “head of steam” that the legal structure of this society would have enabled sufficient protection of the Movement to enable it to be

That is a big “What if . . . ,” however!  It is certainly presumptuous of me to suggest (as I’ve been hinting here) that had my 1984 “plan” for societal system change been initiated in 1984, it would have met with success—and the human situation would be much better today, and that the threat now posed by global warming would not, now, exist.  It’s at least conceivable, however, I would assert.

But whether or not that’s the case, it’s reasonably clear to me that a puppet master has been directing human history since the Neolithic, with the goal of rendering our species extinct (by 2026?!)  I agree with Eugene Linden (Affluence and Discontent, 1979) that human history since the Neolithic has been on a downward course6 (see pp. 7 – 14 in this eBook), and would give The Discrepancy as the direct explanation of this. I am aware of no ultimate explanation of this other than the “puppet master” one!

  1. Given the presumptuousness of residents of the United States referring to themselves as “Americans,” I have gotten in the habit of referring to us as “USans.”
  2. Noted climate scientist James Hansen addressed the U. S. Senate about this threat in 1988.
  3. Although I didn’t know this at the time, I now perceive my “macro” solution as complementing Robert Owen’s [1771 – 1858] “micro” solution.
  4. See this, this, and this—with the latter giving the alleged science behind non-belief in global warming.
  5. How, I ask, does one decide to continue working as a meteorologist, given this limitation?!  Do television meteorologists have no integrity?!  How, then, is one able to live with oneself?!  I am reminded here of what chief counsel for the U.S. Army Joseph N. Welch said to “my” late Senator Joseph McCarthy:  “Have you no sense of decency, sir?  At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”  I SO ADMIRE Welch for saying that!!  I have quoted only part of what Welch said; his entire statement is well worth reading!  As to McCarthy:  fortunately, “On December 2, 1954 [my future wife’s 12th birthday!], the Senate voted to censure Senator McCarthy by a vote of 67–22, making him one of the few senators ever to be disciplined in this fashion.  McCarthy died at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland on May 2, 1957, at the age of 48.  The official cause of death was acute hepatitis.  Some biographers say this was caused or exacerbated by alcoholism.
  6. Linden concluded his book with this prediction (p. 178):  “We will continue on our present course, and . . . the probability of one or another proposed [earlier in the book] disasters will rapidly increase until some small event triggers the apocalypse of the consumer society.”

Does Capitalism Exist?

My starting point here may seem rather remote from the question posed in the title of this essay, but certain background subjects must be given attention before addressing that question.

Thorstein Veblen [1857–1929] closed his “Some Neglected Points in the Theory of Socialism1 with this paragraph (p. 74):

Certainly, the fact that constitutional government—the nationalization of political functions—seems to have been a move in the right direction is not to be taken as proof of the advisability of forthwith nationalizing the industrial functions.   At the same time this fact does afford ground for the claim that a movement in this direction may prove itself in some degree advantageous, even if it takes place at a stage in the development of  human nature at which mankind is still far from being entirely fit for the duties which the new system shall impose.  The question, therefore, is not whether we have reached the perfection of character which would be necessary in order to a perfect working of the scheme of nationalization of industry, but whether we have reached such a degree of development as would make an imperfect working of the scheme possible.

If we ignore here the fact that Veblen should have said “socialized nature” rather than “human nature,” what’s implicit in the above statement is that we’ve grown used to thinking of there being a political realm and an economic realm in our society.  We have, that is, become used to thinking of two distinctly different spheres in our society.  However, by Veblen asserting that there had been a nationalization of political functions in our society, he in effect asked why there could not be a nationalization of economic functions as well.

Veblen pointed out that a “nationalization” of political functions seems “to have been a move in the right direction . . . ;” but that that fact should not be “taken as proof 2 of the advisability of forthwith nationalizing the industrial functions.”  Veblen then added that the “nationalization” of political functions that had occurred does “afford ground for the claim that a movement in this direction may prove itself in some degree advantageous . . . .”  That is, there was enough evidence in support of the claim that the “nationalization” of political functions had been a “good thing” to give consideration of the possibility that a similar “nationalization” of economic functions could be a “good thing” as well.

By claiming that there had been a “nationalization” of political functions, Veblen was asserting that a process had been initiated in the political realm that could be—if so chose—continued by simply expanding that process into the economic realm.  Although the word “process” does not occur in the above passage, the concept is implicit in the passage—and indicates the important role that the concept of evolution played in Veblen’s thinking.

Implicit in the concept of “process” is that change is a fact of life, and an implication of that fact is that our descriptive words, because they imply stasis rather than change, may become obsolete and, thereby, misleading.  This fact has been recognized in the field of what might be termed “classification science,” where the “logical division” procedure of classification—which has been the dominant procedure for centuries—has increasingly been recognized as having limitations.3

An example of a logical division classification is the Dewey Decimal System that was designed for use by libraries.  With this system, first general categories are identified, then subcategories under each category, subsubcategories under each subcategory, etc.  The result is a hierarchy, with the most specificity existing at the lowest level in the hierarchy.

Such a classification can be termed an a priori classification, to distinguish it from the a posteriori type of classification.  Here’s a brief clarificatory discussion:

These terms are used with respect to reasoning (epistemology) to distinguish “necessary conclusions from first premises” (i.e., what must come before sense observation) from “conclusions based on sense observation” (which must follow it). Thus, the two kinds of knowledgejustification, or argument may be glossed:

(a) A priori knowledge or justification is independent of experience, as with mathematics (3 + 2 = 5), tautologies (“All bachelors are unmarried”), and deduction from pure reason (e.g., ontological proofs).

(b) A posteriori knowledge or justification is dependent on experience or empirical evidence, as with most aspects of science and personal knowledge.

The key point in the above discussion is that a posteriori knowledge has an empirical basis; so that an a posteriori classification would have its basis in empirical data. To illustrate this, assume that (a) our observational unit is national economies, (b) for a given set of variables, observations have been made on each national economy, that (c) a mathematical grouping procedure (e.g., principal components analysis) has been applied to the observations, that (d) two “principal” components have been discovered, and that (e) the graph above displays the results of the analysis.

Although real-world data have not been used in creating the graph, I suspect that had such data been used, the results would have been rather similar to those depicted on the graph.

Visual inspection of the graph is likely to lead most observers to perceive three groups (3 units in one group, 7 in a second, and 5 in the third), with three isolates. Now if we are “reading” this graph with such concepts as “capitalist,” “socialist,” “communist,” etc., in mind (highly likely!), we are likely to be puzzled by the results of our analysis. Concepts such as “capitalist,” etc., lead us to expect “tight” clusters on the graph, with one of the clusters clearly warranting the label “capitalist.” However, we perceive no “tight” clusters!

Some implications of this “exercise” are that:

  1. Real-world economies differ one from another; and even if we feel comfortable labeling some economies as “capitalist,” it’s clear that even “capitalist” economies are not clones one of another.
  2. The graph might even cause some to ask whether “capitalism” even exists (to allude to my title)!  Is “capitalism,” one might ask, a word without a real-world referent?!  A word, therefore, that should be expunged from our language?!
  3. An economy as perceived by, e.g., Adam Smith [1723–1790] decades ago differs greatly from any now-existing economy.4 As Veblen might say, change in economies is simply a fact of life.

Language was created in the first place to enable communication between people.  However, the nature of one’s language affects how one perceives things, and also how one thinks about things.  Regarding the latter, a point of relevance for the present essay is that language tends to cause us, quite “naturally,” to create logical division classifications—i.e., classifications that can lead us to “misread” the real world!

Of perhaps even more importance is the fact that language enables the formulation of ideologies—which misrepresent and, therefore, mislead.  Whether a given ideology was deliberately created or not, ideologies function to create a “fog” which serves the (apparent) interests of some at the expense of others—those “others” not being able to see this, because of the “fog” that prevents their seeing clearly.  The importance of that “fog” being compounded by the failure of the press to inform us adequately.

One might view the Veblen statement quoted at the beginning of this essay as an effort to dispel the “fog” surrounding the word “socialism.”  In a sense, he succeeded here in Milwaukee—where “Socialism meant honest, frugal government5—but not elsewhere in the United States.

Could that be part of the reason why the claim was made last year that our species might go extinct by 2026?!

  1. This article was published in 1891, in The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science.
  2. I added the emphasis.
  3. This article about Pauli Murray proves my point!
  4. Although Smith is often touted as the creator of the concept of “capitalism,” Smith did not use that term.  For a discussion of the term, see this, for example.
  5. When I returned, in 1976, to Wisconsin (the Milwaukee area) from Ohio, I made a point of visiting former mayor Frank Zeidler [1912-2006] in his office.  I felt blessed to be in the presence of that great, wonderful man!!

That Cancer, Humankind!

Yesterday (May 27, 2017) I spent some time with my copy of the late [1927 – 2015] Eli Sagan’s At the Dawn of Tyranny: The Origins of Individualism, Political Oppression, and the State (1985), and this morning (perhaps because of having done so) felt a need to spend some time with my copy of the late [1929 – 2007] David Maybury-Lewis’s Millennium: Tribal Wisdom and the Modern World (1992)—and did so.  After spending about an hour with Millennium, I turned to CBS Sunday Morning, and quickly perceived the accuracy of the “BS” in “CBS”!

For what I was seeing, and listening to, this morning was pure BS—in the sense that it was utterly “out of touch” with what is currently occurring, of  utterly huge1 importance, in our world: global warming (or, as some prefer, “climate change”).  The facts that (a) some Arctic climate scientists predict that our species could be extinct by 2026 (!), and that (b) the Arctic is today’s “canary in the coal mine,” mean that few other issues today are as important as the warming now occurring!

Ignoring this problem—as our media are doing (under pressure from advertisers, I assume)—is a “head in the sand” approach (obviously!), which accomplishes nothing!  It amounts, in fact, to “action” of a negative nature, for warming (and its corollaries, such as severe storms, flooding, drought and consequent wildfires) continues apace—and is now even  accelerating—while our heads remain in the sand!

Not only is ignorance about global warming widespread today (largely because of “media silence”—i.e., the media’s failure in its “mission” to inform); most of us have been taught a version of human history that insists that human history is a story of virtually continual “progress.”  What’s believable about this story is that we observe continual “advance” in technology and, therefore, find it easy to conclude that that “advance” proves that the human story is one of continual “progress.”

We have deceived ourselves, however; and that fact—in conjunction with the activities that we have been engaging in that have been causing “anthropogenic” global warming—are the two fundamental reasons why our current situation is so perilous—i.e., why some scientists believe that our species will “soon” join the many other species now going extinct, during this period of “the sixth extinction”!

I first came to perceive the fallacy of the “history as progress” in the early 1980s, as a result of reading Eugene Linden’s brilliant Affluence and Discontent:  The Anatomy of Consumer Societies (1979).  In that book he presented a “contrarian” perspective on human history,2 identified and discussed a number of problems that had developed in consequence, and ended his book with this prediction (p. 179):

We will continue on our present course, and . . the probability of one or another proposed [earlier in the book] disasters will rapidly increase until some small event triggers the apocalypse of the consumer society.

Ironically, shortly after I read Linden’s book, I read a book by sociobiologist David P. Barash, and learned of the “discrepancy” concept (briefly, the idea that during the Neolithic a “discrepancy” began to develop between the way for which we had become “designed” prior to the Neolithic, and the new ways of that were developing).3 What this concept helped me perceive is that since the Neolithic, there have been two basic “strands” constituting human history—which might be conceived as a “battle” between the forces of darkness and those of light (á la Zoroastrianism!).

I came to see (a) the bulk of human history, as presented by Linden, in “forces of darkness” terms, and (b) a Tradition,4 beginning with the Hebrew prophets, of “light” being “in battle” with the forces of darkness throughout human history, since the Neolithic—with the forces of darkness being the ultimate victor, however!

This morning, however, I came to perceive a “flaw” in the “forces of light” strand of human history that began with the ancient Hebrew prophets—as I remembered something that I had read yesterday in the Eli Sagan book:

The gods were of little concern to most primitive societies, priests hardly existed, and there was no organized priesthood.  The characteristic functionary in the sacred world was the shaman, who was essentially a worker of magic.  Witchcraft, not a moralistic religion, made the world go round.

This point by Sagan helped me recognize that there have long been two basic concepts of “god”—as (a) on the one hand, a transcendent Being (or beings) and (b) as an ineffable “something” imminent in the surround—with certain implications being associated with each concept.

In the ancient Israel of the Bible, at least, gods were perceived as transcendent beings, and the god concept evolved over time (as Mark S. Smith has pointed out) into monotheism.  Such a God exists apart from Earth System, and is conceived as a human-like Being.  A Being, then, who has done things (and perhaps still does).  Such a conception of God promotes:

  1. The idea that Earth System is not something to regard as sacred.  The “light” Tradition that I perceive in human history valued people, but not Earth System!
  2. A control mentality, rather than an adaptational one—because of how God was/is perceived.  That control mentality not only manifested itself in the “darkness” strand of human history (via the exploitation of some by others), but in the “thingification”—and, hence, exploitation—of Earth System.

We humans—we USans,5 in particular—still have such a mentality, and that fact helps explain why we humans are now “on the road” to extinction!  That is, it is a factor that is “behind” the more direct causes of the global warming now occurring—the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation activities, and reproduction (giving us a current world population of over 7.5 billion).

Had, rather, the sort of mentality associated with indigenous peoples been common over the centuries, the human situation today would undoubtedly be rather different (in a positive sense)!  Such a mentality was expressed beautifully in Chief Seattle’s 1854 speech.6 Here are some excerpts from Version 1 of that speech:

Your God is not our God!  Your God loves your people and hates mine!  He folds his strong protecting arms lovingly about the paleface and leads him by the hand as a father leads an infant son.  But, He has forsaken His Red children, if they really are His.  Our God, the Great Spirit, seems also to have forsaken us.  Your God makes your people wax stronger every day.

If we have a common Heavenly Father He must be partial, for He came to His paleface children.  We never saw Him.  He gave you laws but had no word for His red children whose teeming multitudes once filled this vast continent as stars fill the firmament.  No; we are two distinct races with separate origins and separate destinies.  There is little in common between us.

Our religion is the traditions of our ancestors—the dreams of our old men, given them in solemn hours of the night by the Great Spirit; and the visions of our sachems, and is written in the hearts of our people.

Your dead cease to love you and the land of their nativity as soon as they pass the portals of the tomb and wander away beyond the stars.  They are soon forgotten and never return.  Our dead never forget this beautiful world that gave them being.  They still love its verdant valleys, its murmuring rivers, its magnificent mountains, sequestered vales and verdant lined lakes and bays, and ever yearn in tender fond affection over the lonely hearted living, and often return from the happy hunting ground to visit, guide, console, and comfort them.

Every part of this soil is sacred in the estimation of my people.  Every hillside, every valley, every plain and grove, has been hallowed by some sad or happy event in days long vanished.  Even the rocks, which seem to be dumb and dead as the swelter in the sun along the silent shore, thrill with memories of stirring events connected with the lives of my people, and the very dust upon which you now stand responds more lovingly to their footsteps than yours, because it is rich with the blood of our ancestors, and our bare feet are conscious of the sympathetic touch.  Our departed braves, fond mothers, glad, happy hearted maidens, and even the little children who lived here and rejoiced here for a brief season, will love these somber solitudes and at eventide they greet shadowy returning spirits.

Thus, Chief Seattle and his people—perhaps because they had a way of life that was definitely within Earth System—perceived Earth System as not only sacred, but beautiful (suggesting that these two concepts are related!).  Associated with their perceptions of Earth System was an adaptational mentality, one  foreign to that possessed by “civilized” peoples, such as USans.

We USans must continue to live with a control mentality that recognizes nothing as sacred—because our way of life requires such a mentality!  We won’t have to live with it long, though, for Earth System will “soon” respond to the mistreatment that it has been suffering at our “hands” by “getting rid” of us!

Oglala Sioux Ed McGaa (“Eagle Man”) stated in his 2004 Nature’s Way:  Native Wisdom for Living in Balance With the Earth (p. 269):

Will Nature eventually be forced to rid itself of Human, as antibodies attack a spreading, life-threatening infection?

My answer:  Since the Neolithic, and especially since the Industrial Revolution, humans have become a cancer on Earth System, and Earth System—with its self-healing properties—will “soon” destroy that cancer!

  1. No allusion to Donald Trump intended here!
  2. My brief world history, on pp. 7 – 14 of my Explanations:  Useless and Otherwise, draws heavily upon Linden’s presentation.
  3. For further information, see my The Discrepancy:  Concept and Consequences.
  4. See my Explanations, as well as my Continuing the Tradition by Further Developing It.
  5. Maybury-Lewis noted on p. xv of Millennium that “the citizens of the United States so often use ‘America’ and ‘American’ to refer exclusively to themselves, as if Mexicans, Peruvians, Brazilians, and so on were not Americans, too.”  He then added that “I know of no other adjective to refer to United States-ers” than “Americans”—but I suggest “USan”!
  6. Maybury-Lewis quotes from the more famous Version 3 of this speech on p. 59.