Sunday, August 22, 2004


As we view photo after photo of angry Shiites in Iraq, waving their guns and defying their American occupiers, we get an idea of the sort of America the National Rifle Association hopes for with every angry man armed and ready to kill government officials they don’t agree with. Their vision is not of an America ruled by law, but of an America ruled by the force of guns. Hello, you “pry the gun out of my cold dead hands” Americans—is this truly what you want? An American culture like Iraq’s?


I came across a priceless picture of Laura Bush smiling at the back of her husband’s head as he courts Nancy Reagan during a visit to Reagan’s home in Bel Air, California. In our Spokesman Review paper (August 13, 2004), the picture’s on p. A8, but it’s furnished from wire reports. I was unable to find a locus from which to link to my blog.

Laura stands behind and to the right, with blank eyes seemingly focused on her man. She stands the correct amount of steps behind her man that the obedient Bible wife needs to remain behind her man. She couldn’t be more posed and more phony. You’ll notice that the only public comments Laura makes are to attack her husband’s enemies. She has no real opinions of her own. This is what the weak, Republican Bible man needs from his woman, adoration and obedience. Sad, sad, sad....


In several postings, I’ve been passing on Dennett’s ideas that morality or religious feeling may very well have their roots in evolutionary genetics.

In thought experiments, Dennett discusses the idea that into every successful culture some “free loaders” make an appearance. There are several bird species, for example, who lay their eggs in the nests of other birds. A few free loaders make little difference to a culture, but what if they use the free ride to propagate themselves until they overwhelm the workers in the culture? But this overwhelming assumes there is no “reactivity” in the culture. By that, Dennett means no type evolves to “catch” the free loaders at their work and take measures to stop their increase.

If evolution is true, however, some reaction will always evolve to meet the conditions and to better fit the biological niche. Dennett distinguishes between two types in the original population which is being overwhelmed by the free loaders: the “benselfish” [good selfishness, Dennett’s coinage] and the “too pure altruists”, those who allow themselves to be used.

“So any mutations that permit the benselfish to distinguish themselves from pushovers will be favored, but then any freeloaders or pushovers who can disguise themselves as benselfish will tend to thrive, until the next phase of the arms race. A group’s evolution of the capacity for policing its members, by adopting the disposition among its members to punish violators (of whatever its other policies are), opens the floodgates to the social or cultural evolution of all manner of local norms.” (pp. 200-201)

“So far, then, our evolutionary story has suggested the sorts of conditions that could have brought us... to a prudent disposition for cooperation, reinforced by the disposition we share with our fellow citizens to “punish” those who don’t cooperate, but it is still a cold, robotic sort of mutually enforced nonaggression.... Broadly moral, but not purely moral. There is still no sign yet of treating the welfare of others as an end in itself....” (p.201)

“The very simplicity and relative rigidity of the abilities to discriminate the freeloaders from the good citizens, and the dispositions to ‘punish’ show that as far as this feature of culture is concerned, it could predate language and convention and ceremony. We’re not talking about trial by jury and public denunciation here; we’re talking about an unreflective, ‘brute’ inclination to channel some risky aggression against those of one’s group one has discriminated as norm-violators.” (pp. 201-202)

We can see, here, the rudimentary beginnings of morality and justice, based firmly in evolutionary processes of survival. Religion sneaks in by a side door. Groups will become the cultural repositories of this recently discovered “knowledge” that leads to conformity. The groups don’t have to wait for genetic accidents to improve the culture’s total but cautious “benselfish altruism”. They can begin to pass on knowledge from generation to generation.

“A price well worth paying for access to this brighter tempo of discovery is a certain vulnerability ot something like myth [religion], local misdiscoveries that nevertheless sell like hotcakes in the structured conformism of the group.” (p. 202)

"A philosopher is a blind man in a dark room looking for a black cat that isn't there. A theologian is the man who finds it." —H. L. Mencken

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