Notebook Entries August 2007

Notebook entry, August 30th, 2007

Vacation was nice, but it is getting more and more crowded at the Vail resort in the summer. There are even rush hour traffic jams getting into and out of the village. Also, the resort is being flooded with money for their new expansion project.....over 1.5 billion dollars....all just to put in new condos with air conditioning (which were never used in 1962 when the place was opened)...something about global warming....

I finished the essay about re-thinking Possee Comitatus and decided to break it into two parts. I've begun research on the second part, but realize that there is much to cover; I'm looking for charities that mainly do work with the poor, centered around urban areas and be can poured into one funnel: the US military.The purpose: Social engineering.

Notebook entry, August 11th, 2007

The family and I are off for our yearly "Busman's Holiday," by spending a week up in Vail at Diana's one-week time share that she has owned for over 20 years. See ya next week with the new essay.

Notebook entry, August 10th, 2007

There was an interesting major piece in The New Yorker about bonobos, entitled: "Swingers": Bonobos are celebrated as peace-loving, matriarchal, and sexually liberated. Are They?" The piece is written by Ian Parker and is found in the July 30th, 2007 issue of The New Yorker; the magazine, of course, which is the literary playground for the Upper East Side Uber Rich in Manhattan and its environs. It was a surprise to find the article, as the magazine is more known for its intellectual snobbery and elite consumerism.

It's a major piece - I estimate around of 10,000 words and started with a poor frame of attempting to attach the species to the modern, 2007 "Hippie" movement of the 1960s. The article starts off with the emphasis on the "make-love-not-war" behavior of the highly sexual, yet gentle creature. Here is a quote that I thought the frame to be inexcusable.

"The pop image of the bonobo - equal parts dolphin, Dalai Lama, and Warren Beatty - has flourished largely in the absence of the animal itself, which as recognized as a species less than a century ago."

But, the article hits its stride after it introduces "Gottfried Hohmann, a research associate at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, in Leipzig, Germany" and follows him into the jungle with his associates. The article then goes into depth about the discovery, and unfortunately, takes a swipe at de Waal for publishing a book about captive bonobos without every stepping into the jungle.

Here are two very well-written paragraphs about that very topic:

"Though de Wall stopped short of placeing bonobos in a state of blissful serenity (he achknowledged a degree of bonobo aggression), he certainly left a reader thinking that these animals knew how to live. He wrote, "Who could have imagined a close relative of ours in which female alliances intimidate males, sexual behavior is as rich as ours, different groups do not fight but mingle, mothers take on a central role, and the greatest intellectual achievement is not tool use but sensitivity to others?"'
"The appeal of de Wall's vision is obvious. Where, at the end of the twentieth century, could an optimist turn for reassurance about the foundations of human nature? The sixties were over; Goodall's chimpanzees had gone to war. Scholars such as Lawrence Keelye, the author of "War Before Civilization (1966), were excavating the role of warfare in our prehistoric past. And, as Wrangham and Peterson noted in "Demonic Males," various non-industrialized societies that were once seen as intrinsically peaceful had come to disappoint. Margaret Mead's 1928 account of a South Pacific idyll, "coming of Age in Samoa," had been largely debunked by Derek Freeman, in 1983. The people identified as "the Gentle Tasaday" - the Philippine forest-dwellers made famous, in part, by Charles Lindbergh - had been redrawn as a small, odd community rather than as an isolated ancient tribe whose mores were illustrative. "The Harmless People," as Elizabeth Marshall Thomas referred to the hunter-gatherers she studied in southern Africa, had turned out to have a murder rate higher than any American city. Although the picture was by no means accepted universally, it had become possible to see a clear line of thuggery from ape ancestry to human prehistory an on to aggression. If chimpanzees are from Hobbes, bonobos must be from Rousseau."
It is really important to note those last few sentences. I have always maintained the argument that the lack of resources made the chimpanzee aggressive and the bounty of the local environment for the bonobos made them docile. Why would one have to fight for things found in abundance around them? They would be no evolutionary point. The other piece of the puzzle would be the selection of the aggressive male by the female as the best bet for progeny. And since, the evolutionary pressure would be reduced with the bonobos, the "selecting" of docile males in assisting in child care would be lowered.

The next to final paragraph in Ian Parker's article seems to suggest that the field scientist, Homnann is leaning toward that conclusion:

"Because of Hohmann's disdain for premature theories, and his data-collecting earnestness, it had sometimes been possible to forget that he is still driving toward eventual glimpse of the big picture - and that this picture includes human beings. Humans, chimpanzees, and bonobos share a common ancestor. Was this creature bonobo-like, as Hohmann suspects? Did the ancestral forest environment select for male docility, and did Homo and the chimpanzee then both dump that behavior, independently, as they evolved in less bountiful environments?..."

Now go back and review what I have written in the opening pargraphs to my Politics and Evolution section:

(Ultimately, in regards to politics and evolution), "It's about the resources, people." William A. Spriggs, 1995
"It's the economy, stupid" James Carville's advice to presidential candidate Bill Clinton, C. 2000.
"During the course of the 1990s I did my best to keep up with the various lines of grievance developing within the several sects of the conservative remonstrance, but although I probably read as many as 2,000 presumably holy texts,…I never learned how to make sense of the weird and too numerous inward contradictions. [Remember that] How does one reconcile the demand for small government with the desire for an imperial army, apply the phrases "personal initiative" and "self-reliance" to corporation presidents utterly dependent on the federal subsidies to the banking, communications, and weapons industries, square the talk of "civility" with the strong-arm methods of Kenneth Starr and Tom Delay, match the warmhearted currencies of "conservative compassion" with the cold cruelty of the "unfettered free market," know that human life must be saved from abortionists in Boston but not from cruise missiles in Baghdad? In the glut of paper I could find no unifying or fundamental principle except a certain belief that money was good for rich people and bad for poor people. It was the only point on which all the authorities agreed, and no matter where the words were coming from…the authors invariably found the same abiding lesson in the tale - money ennobles rich people, making them strong as well as wise; money corrupts the poor people, making them stupid as well as weak." Lewis H. Lapham, Harper's magazine, "THE TENTACLES OF RAGE," September, 2004 [pp. 40 & 41].
"The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness." John Kenneth Galbraith, progressive economist, b.1908 to d. 2006
"In this book, we argue that both scarcity of resources and unequal access to those resources are the most important sources of conflict at any level of analysis." P. 3, Bare Branches: The Security Implication of Asia's Surplus Male Population, Valerie M. Hudson & Andrea M. den Boer, MIT Press, 2005.
"Given the popular use and abuse of evolutionary theory, it's hardly surprising that Darwinism and natural selection have become synonymous with unchecked competition. Darwin himself, however, was anything but a Social Darwinist. On the contrary, he believed there was room for kindness in both human nature and in the natural world. We urgently need this kindness, because the question facing a growing world population is not so much whether or not we can handle crowding, but if we will be fair and just in the distribution of resources. Will we go for all-out competition or will we do the humane thing?" (emphasis mine) p. 168, Our Inner Ape, by Frans De Waal, Riverhead books, 2005.

Notebook entry, August 1st, 2007

A fascinating piece was placed online at The New York Times, July 31, 2007 edition. The title was "Who's Minding the Mind? By Benedict Carey. The piece is about the psychological mechanism known as "priming." This is not framing, which is perhaps a bit higher on the conscious level, but is truly subconscious.

In several studies, research has found that…

"…people tidy up more thoroughly when there's a faint tang of cleaning liquid in the air; they become more competitive if there's a briefcase is sight, or more cooperative if they glimpse words like "dependable" and "support" - all without being aware of the change, or what prompted it.
"When it comes to our behavior from moment to moment, the big question is, 'What to do next?' " said John A. Bargh, a professor of psychology at Yale and a co-author, with Lawrence Williams…we're finding that we have these unconscious behavioral guidance systems that are continually furnishing suggestions through the day about what to do next, and the brain is considering and often acting on those, all before conscious awareness."
"The Brain appears to use the very same neural circuits to execute an unconscious act as it does a 'a conscious one…This area is located in what used to be called the reptilian brain, well below the conscious areas of the brain,' said the study's senior author, Chris frith, a professor in neuropsychology at University College London who wrote the book "Making Up The Mind:How the Brain Creates our Mental World."
"The results suggest a "bottom-up" decision-making process, in which the ventral pallidum is part of a circuit that first weighs the reward and decides, then interacts with the higher-level, conscious regions later, if at all, Dr. Frith Said.
"This bottom-up order makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. The subcortical areas of the brain evolved first and would have had to help individuals fight, flee and scavenge well before conscious, distinctly human layers were added later in evolutionary history. In this sense, Dr. Bargh argues, unconscious goals can be seen as open-ended, adaptive agents acting on behalf of the broad, genetically encoded aims - automatic survival systems."

I think that all of the studies tell us that the human brain makes decisions first on an evolutionary basis because in the ancestral past, one had to make life or death decisions in a fraction of a second. Today, I suppose we can see a spill over in this "non-thinking" decision making-process when we humans see a commodity, person, or ideology that "they would 'kill' or 'die' for." It also makes you stop and think about the political process and all of us slobs sitting in front of the tube worrying about the "disease de jour" medical treatment ad on the evening news and God help us if we continue to sit in front of the telly and become sponges for products or political ideas we don't need or are bad for our own self-interests..

The studies also confirm my broad brush stroke Math of 40% nature, 60% nurture, 40% DNA, 60% local environments -- concerning human behavior. It also confirms my "elevator" anonolgy that human consciousness and behavior have several "floors" of consciousness, and that we humans can zip up or down to these different floors in a nano-second.