Sunday, August 29, 2004


As Doug MacArthur once said, "I have returned," or was that Jack Nicholson who said, "Here's Johnny!" that I'm thinking of? Anyhow, after soaking my head a few days at Ainsworth Hot Springs, me and my spouse are returned to the fray, rather the less frayed for wear and tear after a good soaking. Now, back to it, "out with my sword and to work withall!"


Bushman Cheney’s conservative idea to realign American troops from Western to Eastern Europe makes sense to conservatives no doubt because they better understand the more primitive governments of Eastern Europe. Conservatives are comfortable there, and those nations are more likely to be their allies against Western Europe’s progressive mind sets which they still equate with communist leadership. Those nations most recently freed from dictatorial regimes will still be sympathetic to dictatorial and authoritarian mentalities in ways even they don’t understand. Look at how the Russian people threw over church and czarist authority only to accept Stalin’s authority. They’ll be quite comfortable with Bush’s authoritarian mentality.

Cheney’s rabid attack on governments which still feel responsible for their citizens’ welfare and which are still controlled a great deal by worker’s unions reflects his fear of nations which put their citizens ahead of their corporations. Such liberal governments are a threat to the authoritarian mentality of the bushmen whose only goal is an increase in the power of money over the needs of the citizens. This battle may be as important in the history of the globe as the battle against fascism of another sort was in the 20th century.


Newsweek’s “Taking Depression On” (about college student depression), in the August 23, 2004 issue (p. 59) reminds me vaguely of a segment in an ancient Saturday Review which discussed student depression long ago.

In the first place, maybe book reading is itself a depression causing activity because it has so little to do with the hunter gatherer mentality we’re still chained to. To a hunter/gatherer, sitting still, reading a book, might have been an unbearable restraint on freedom of activity and movement. All of us, even daily readers, can recall times when to sit still and read is almost maddening. I recall stories of non-modern people cracking up when confronted with modern civilization.

That long ago Review article mentioned the difficulty of coming into college and actually being asked to read hundreds of pages of homework, and, even more importantly, suddenly confronting uncomfortable ideas which are taboo in high school. Imagine! Being asked to consider that perhaps there’s no free will in the world or that religions go way back into prehistory and that each is a passing fad and each is no more relevant or true than another? Imagine learning that Popes are corrupt, that Abraham did not exist and is probably an heroic creation like the Greek epic heroes, meant to represent a tribe or city state?

Of course, if your parents and school system protected you from these facts, you’d be pretty depressed too, and suicidal, to find out that fairies and angels really don’t exist. It’s a shock that each of us must go through if we’re to really become grown up persons and sophisticated thinkers rather than blind followers of ideas really not our own, things fed to us with our fairy tales at bedtime. Yep! Growing up’s tough!


If we are truly self-seeking, deterministic animals how do altruistic behaviors arise in such a way as to allow us to cooperate in larger social units? Evolutionary scientists are certainly measuring away to come up with explanations for free will mechanisms in the human animal. Many just believe we’re completely determined, that no free will exists.

First, let’s come up with an interesting finding with which to motivate us to try to be better altruists: “Altruists. . . do appear to do better economically: the experimental studies consistently find that altruistic behavior is positively correlated with socioeconomic status.” (Robert Frank’s, Passions Within Reason, p. 235.)

Can we tell if people are being “good”? “. . . Frank showed that people are surprisingly good—though far from perfect: between 60 and 75 percent accurate—at predicting who will [cheat] and who will cooperate.” (pp. 215-216)

Now back to Dennett’s “Freedom Evolves”: “Where does the oomph come from to overrule our own instincts? Tradition would say it comes from some psychic force called willpower, but this just names the phenomena and postpones explanation. How is ‘willpower’ implemented in our brains? According to Ainslie, we get it from a competitive situation in which ‘interests’ engage in what he calls ‘intertemporal bargaining.’ These ‘interests’ are temporary agents of sorts, homunculi representing various reward possibilities.”

I only intend to peak your interest with these paragraphs. Dennett’s arguments are subtle and lengthy, not easy for me to recap. (Specially today when I’ve got a slight sinus headache numbing my thoughts.) But, if we study the process of building a brain with altruistic wiring in it, Dennett finds that the processes of evolution are perfectly able to find a way to make it happen: “. . . if you want to get to genuine altruism, you should consider trying the evolutionary approach, sneaking up on it by gradual increments, with no Prime Mammals, and no skyhooks, passing from blind selfishness through psuedo-altruism to quasi-altruism (benselfishness) to something that may be quite good enough for all of us.” (p. 217)

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