In my previous essay I asked the question “what is a social species?” and gave operational and observational definitions in the form of if-then questions. A naturalist could go walkabout with these questions and see that primates, and in particular the great apes, tend to be found in groups with a species-specific typical range of sizes. With the exception of humans, the great apes have few activities away from their group or a sub-group. They are ‘groupies.’
A Tale of Two Stories
The Reverend Billy Graham died while I was writing the previous essay. He had an enormous impact on the 20th century and on one life in particular, Louis Zamperini.[note]Zamperini’s story has been well told by Laura Hillenbrand in Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption.[/note] Louis was a wild child in his youth, later a superb athlete, and a long-distance runner. He rejoined the Army Air Corps during World War II and became a bombardier. His plane crashed due to a mechanical malfunction and he survived 47 days on a raft in the Pacific Ocean. He was captured by the Japanese and survived 2 years torture in their prisoner of war camps. After the war he had nightmares about his captors. He had daydreams of killing his chief tormentor and drank to forget, to lose those terrible thoughts. His life was a mess. Today he would have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and hopefully treated for it. Instead he medicated himself with alcohol. In 1949 he attended a rally by Billy Graham and became a born-again Christian. His nightmares ceased, he stopped drinking, and he committed his life to helping others, particularly youth. He forgave his captors and torturers.
Luduology, noun, the study of play, from the Latin ‘ludus’ – play.
It was a great mystery, a marvel, played out in front of me hidden in plain sight. My great-grandson, Z, about 8 ½ years old, and I arrived at the park in the afternoon before the local schools were out, so he played by himself while I sat on a bench and read a book. Z and I have been to the park before and he has always made friends out of strangers. I later thought that we are a social species, curious about each other, and making friends is part of our behavior repertoire.
Just after I published my previous essay ‘Children’s Games,’ and while bathed in the warm glow of brain reward, I told myself that I had written a pretty good story. Then I asked “would a reader like it?” Based on my own experience reading essays, a reader might like or dislike it, might accept or reject it. The essay might resonate or dissonate in a reader’s mind. Then I asked myself “would a reader find it to be a true story or a false story?” And is it possible that a reader’s appraisal of the truth of the story might be simply that it resonated and that an appraisal of falsity may be that it dissonated? My mind whirling and twisting, I then asked “what is a true story and what is a false story?”
I read a story years ago in the Atlantic Magazine, a story told as true and which I wanted to be true. Ian Frazier, in his book On the Rez, tells of SuAnne Big Crow, and of her triumph over racial and socio-economic class taunting and heckling at high school basketball game. Her team from the Lakota Indian Reservation was about to play against the team from nearby Lead, South Dakota, a mostly white town and team. The team center did not want to go onto the court in the face of this invidious heckling so SuAnne went to center court, took off her warmup jacket, faced the hecklers, and performed the Lakota Shawl Dance. A silence came over the crowd and the hecklers were quiet as with her power of expression and evocation she wove them together into one commonness of humanity.
From Multi-culturalist to Tribalist: Rewiring My Brain
I used the word ‘tribe’ extensively in previous essays. It has become a portmanteau concept packing into one word various observations of individual and social relationships, and giving structure to my thought and essays. For most of my life I would have used tribe in the context of anthropology, for example, ‘there are Native American Indian and African tribes.’ I now have a more complex usage. How did that happen?
A history of the 20th century could be written as the end of empires and the counter-story of anti-colonial and independence movements, of the desire to associate with and be ruled by people like themselves rather than by foreigners with different languages, appearance, mores, and religions. That is a definition of tribalism.
I recently wandered into a local bookstore and in the display of recent releases I saw a copy of The Death of Truth: Notes on Falsehood in the Age of Trump by Michiko Kakutani. I don’t read any of the current lucubrations of the chattering class, Trump has certainly invigorated them, but I was intrigued by the title so I read the dust jacket blurbs and found the phrase “objective truth.” That was enough for me. I replaced the book on the shelf and wandered home. I carried in my mind those two phrases, ‘the death of truth,’ and ‘objective truth’ and thought about them with each footstep. I had previously written “I find that truth has an evolutionary history. Truly there was a time before truth” and now Ms. Kakutani was declaring the death of truth! Between those two assertions is an astonishing narrative arc – the birth, life and death of truth.
A Stone Age Mind in Suit and Tie
(The immediate motivation for this essay was reading about Gen Y gig workers searching Craigslist for short-term, low paid, and non-benefited jobs. That melded with much older motivations and this essay practically wrote itself.)
Shortly after I began writing essays, I was walking home from my daily journey to the local library and upon espying a brass washer lying in the street I picked it up, and put it into my pocket thinking that I could use it someday. I chuckled as I thought about that incident saying to myself “now that was typical hunter-gatherer behavior: find it and eat it, or use it.” And I continued thinking with “picking it up might be hunter-gatherer behavior, but putting it in a box for future use is more characteristic of civilized behavior.” Why would I associate picking up a battered piece of scrap metal with Stone Age hunter-gatherers and then contrast that with storage in civilization? Here is the rest of the story:
“The Desire to be Heard Never Really Goes Away”
This is my thirtieth essay, telling a variety of stories and from them deriving meta-stories. I write about that most fascinating, endearing and enduring subject, me, and what I can think of. I am occasionally surprised and often pleased with what pops into my mind and out of my fingers. I value my thoughts and suffer a disappointment from their loss, so I write my stuff on note cards and printer paper which I index and file. That is my memory system because otherwise those thoughts would be lost. Why are my words and stories valuable? Why do I suffer grief upon their loss? There is an opportunity cost for the time spent writing to save them. I could be doing something more valuable such as making or fixing something. I have plenty of that to do, but I write instead. What is the value of writing, of story telling?
I concluded the previous essay on communication with “Stories develop within the ambit of the tribe and tribalism thus dividing one tribe from another.” This essay will develop the demographics of social groups that underlies tribalism. The point of view of this essay is mostly of the human condition ab initio – of hunter gatherer societies prior to the development of demographic compression, sedentism and civilization.
Years ago, when I was still gainfully employed, after dinner I would work in the shop making or fixing something until about 9 PM and then go for a relaxing walk. In the winter I would avidly sniff the smoke from wood fires and got to thinking that we have a long association with wood fire – probably our oldest and most fundamental technology. For millennia out of mind the smell of burning wood has been a signal of hearth, home and happiness, and of warmth – we are naked apes without an insulating fur coat. Fire dries and warms.
What is an Explanation?
I closed the previous essay with a neologism ‘unsane’ as a portmanteau for my perception, my meta-story, about the interaction of human neural, perceptual, and behavioral systems within the context of civilization: “we are unsane.” I thought I should explain this in more detail, and I shall in a future essay, but then was attracted to the word ‘explain’ and got to wondering what is an explanation? I should explain explanation! Now that is an interesting problem contained within a circular phrase. I first thought that this might become an example of circular reasoning in which there is no point of entry that allows the circle to be broken and stretched out for examination.
Explanation Redux 1
Here are provisional theses for this and succeeding essays: a brain is a survival device. Neurons somehow symbolize the signals of the sensory systems and form a mental model – perceptions, patterns and connections – of the reality external to the brain, which, together with the survival rules of the species, generates neural and neurochemical output signals which modulate various systems in the body as a response to the sensory signals to enhance survival and reproduction: the neural system mediates between inputs and outputs. Neural systems are, on the whole honest systems, that is, they have inherent discipline of reality. But they do make mistakes. And our neural systems invent things. We call that imagination. Imagination is both wonderful and terrible. It may be beyond discipline yet need it.
Wildfires and Conspiracy Explanations
California, the green and gold state, floods during the winter while greening the grass, and burns during the summer dry and brown. It is well and good that some of the winter water is saved in lakes and reservoirs to combat the summer fires. In a previous essay I told about fire being our most useful and valuable tool, but fire wears a Janus face and in structural and wildfires it is a most ferocious enemy. It is also fascinating. I well remember that many years ago everyone had an incinerator in the back yard to burn paper goods and garbage, and I would watch in wonder as the roaring flames rose from the blackening paper, twisting, turning, and disappearing.
The previous essay was titled ‘Explanation: Conspiracy Stories and Theory of Mind.’ My interest in conspiracy stories was piqued by reading a newspaper account of wildfire conspiracy theories and almost simultaneously reading an essay on the science of extreme wildfires. These are two completely different types of explanation. Fire science resonated in my mind, the conspiracy stories did not. I found them to be fantastic exudations of minds that I did not understand. From that is was only a short step to trying to Read more
This preface is really another Afterwords to my previous essay[efn_note]http://jackofafewtrades.com/2019/02/the-sentinel-the-warrior-and-the-social-group/[/efn_note] in which I ruminated on fear and danger in a social group and posited that the media are one source of our heightened perception of danger and fear despite living in relatively safe environments. I want to return to two of the topics of that essay and add some detail.
I told the Pergola Story about the woman who exploded in fear and anger when her 4-year-old son played hide and go seek around a power pole and I thought that one source of her unreasonable response was to be found in the news. I told about George, who was so enraged by a talk show host telling him of the danger posed by liberalism that he sputtered and spat upon me while trying to talk, is another example of the power of the media. He listens to talk shows all day every day and is perpetually fearful and angry. I think he likes those emotions for it gives him the illusion of having superior knowledge and thereby more power. He displays complete cognitive capture by the media sources, unable and unwilling to think anything else. He is a sentinel with knowledge beyond that of the dupes and sheeple, and continually warning of the dangers of liberalism and socialism.
In the previous essay I posited the existence of a Functional Social Survival System:
“I then asked myself if the sentinel would be analogous to the eyes of the social group and the warrior to the muscles. It was then only a short step to the idea that the social group was itself a functioning system and that temperaments were the attributes that mediated between the needs of the group and the function(s) of the individual. In a social species, the group, a set of individuals, is a higher-level system than the individual. An individual is a functional element for the survival of the group just as an organ is a functional survival element within our bodies. I can ask, “what are the needs and motivations of the group? How does the individual serve those needs? And could the individuals together be the eyes, mind, and muscle – the organs – of a system analogous to those of a body? Are individuals part of an information system which has inputs, processing and outputs?” Read more
Overdrawn on the Future Account?
Thoughts consequent to the passage of the economic stimulus bill:
Once again, we have borrowed from the future to solve a problem of today and this may be thought of as transferring fitness1 from the future to today. That is a definition and purpose of debt: more today and less tomorrow, stealing from the next day. On the other hand, tomorrow may be brighter, and we more fit, because we built today something that is beneficial for tomorrow. Read more
I use ‘fitness’ as a trope for economic resources and the efficient utilization of those resources, and in the process truncated its full evolutionary range of meaning. I hope that it transfers at least a similar meaning into your mind. ↩
Stimulating the Economy in the Time of Covid 19 Redux
I concluded my previous essay1 with: “We have ridden the tiger of artificially stimulated demand and consumption for decades to generate wealth, and we have suddenly dismounted, turned a segment of the world-wide economy off almost instantaneously without the slightest idea of the consequences.” Then we borrowed from the future to regain, to re-energize, that artificially stimulated demand and consumption. What if that does not happen?
The shutdown of significant sectors of the economy may be medically necessary. I fear what happens next. Stimulating the economy by borrowing from the future assumes that ‘now’ is short-term and that the future will support the debt of now and the future itself. The size of the debt may be a significant drag upon the economy of the future. What if the future cannot or does not support both? That is a simple question with an unknowable answer. The world has seen a number of economic slowdowns and shrugs them off as ‘business cycles.’ It has seen one catastrophic shutdown of demand in the previous century, the Great Depression, and the Tiger feasted upon a shattered economy. Artificially stimulated demand can disappear instantly. Are we about to be eaten by that metaphorical tiger? I can see him grinning in anticipation.
From Utilitarianism to an Evolutionary Morality: We Were Moral Before We Were Civilized
The link to this essay: https://www.cnn.com/2020/04/23/us/reopening-country-coronavirus-utilitarianism/index.html arrived in my email inbox, so I read it. The author1 contends that utilitarianism, a philosophical moral system, originated as “an equalizing force in utterly unequal 18th century England,”2 utilizing the moral argument that a just society will promote the greatest good or happiness for the greatest number of individuals. There is a variety of utilitarianisms but the author confines his argument to this rubric and proceeds to develop his thesis that a utilitarian moral argument can generate immoral conclusions and acts. That implies that either utilitarianism is defective as a moral system, or that there is a superior moral principle, perhaps even a hierarchy of moral principles, upon which a moral judgment may be made upon another moral system – a meta-morality.
This is a truncated history as utilitarianism has an earlier history. Utilitarianism in the mid-18th century became a principle, a tool for social reform, and a political statement. It was essentially a variety of Utopian fiction intended to exculpate the opposition of these intellectuals to the economic and social class structures in England of that time. Never mind that I over-stated and under-explained that idea. It gets an essay of its own in due time. ↩
The Evolutionary Morality of Sex
I started writing this essay late last year, immediately upon reading the book Mercenary Mom. I liked the author. I had become fond of her as we all become fond of good writers. Her story of a sexual assault set me off upon this essay. I didn’t realize that I was writing the first major essay on evolutionary morality until I annunciated that concept in the previous essay. This one is not written in quite the same concept set as that one as a result.
We were evolutional-chemo-emotional-moral under foraging hunter gathering long before we became cultural-econo-philosophical-political-moral under civilization. How, when, and why did we impose all of those artificial moralities?
This will be a fun ride. Here we go:
“…(they) have no truck with women except as fee’d or forced vehicles for their lust.”1
Fritz Lieber, “Ill Met in Lankhmar” ↩