Wednesday, October 11, 2006


Some in the cognitive sciences are now suggesting that genetic evolution is no longer the primary force in evolution since the human animal is taking control, for good or ill, of his genetic future. Just think how many are being kept alive who would have died.

They now speak of cultural evolution. Can the way we adapt to our individual cultures create changes in our psychologies that will have survival repercussions? One of the things that struck me recently, thinking about cultural change, is the change I see from ancient Greek culture to primitive Christian culture and, now, to this culture. When I think about ancient Greek culture as revealed in its literature and drama, I imagine I can see entirely different psychologies as compared to now. Their dramas work out primitive sorts of emotions, such as revenge, deep family protective feelings, tribal relations, Dionysian revels, deeply seated taboos and what happens when one does not adhere to the cultural line, the bonding of comrades in arms, a mother love which is almost animal-like in its intensity, the earliest conscious acknowledgment of incest problems, pride in relation to gods. It’s all very rough and unconsciously deep stuff, not finely divided. It’s what you’d expect from people not too far from being animals themselves.

Then come monotheistic religions like Christianity, where, if one really thinks about it, humans begin to have “finer” feelings, feelings more subtle and less primitive. It’s the first really conscious expression of love for one’s fellow man which is not a comrade-in-arms sort of dependent love. But the Old Testament shows that a lot of the primitive psychology was still there, tribal stuff, superstitious madness, fortune telling (i.e. the Prophets). Next we leap 1500 years to the French “troveres”, the medieval singers, in whose songs the more delicate feelings of romantic love emerges—a love whose purpose is not just procreation. And then we come to our time when, if others are like me, we are, if we wish not to be manipulated by popular media, pulling back from the broader, sloppier, oten-manipulated emotions like, for example, patriotism and nationalism. This pulling back from simplistic feeling is for self-preservation. Our feelings are more finely tuned and guarded. We can’t be so easily manipulated. I think of the remaining warrior types who sadly can still be manipulated by politicians to go into unnecessary and stupid battle situations and who die without issue. How good is that for an adaptive survival plan? Or those stupid terrorist lads, out there blowing themselves up without children? A thread that runs all the way through my brief history, seems to me, is men's softening and freeing attitudes toward women in general, women taking their place in political life.

Finally, a historian whose name I've forgotten suggested that history is replete with tales of civilizations who prospered, grew soft, only to be overrun by more barbaric civilizations who were, in turn, civilized and grew soft only to be overrun. . . . I wonder if modern armaments have made that scenario obsolete?

The foregoing were my own rough and broad thoughts, thrown down on paper for your consideration. Still, I think they suggest some possible truths or ways of thinking about our forbearers. If the rest of us can just keep from letting the warriors start an atomic war which kills us all, they’re doing a tremendous job for us, eliminating their more grossly-tuned emotional outbursts that come from violent genes. The outcome has to be a generally less violent society, one in which the survival instinct overcomes the death instinct. Think about that!!!!!!!!!!


Just finished Kate Buford’s bio of Lancaster and got online to buy “Ulzana’s Raid” which Kate says is now a highly-rated film. I’m sure I saw it when I wa'r a younger man. But to buy it, I had to fork out 15 bucks for a very yellowed VHS copy. To get a better DVD version, I was looking at 75 dollars. Some people know the film business pretty well, don’t they? I was really disappointed by the visual quality of the film I got but am not willing to fork over 75 buck for better. I had not realized just how many fine movies he did make, and how many failed because they were too real for their time or too experimental. It’s not what one usually thinks when he thinks of Burt Lancaster. Now I know, and delighted in coming across the parts he played that I remember so well—once my memory was jogged.

That old atheist Burt died on my 57th birthday in 1994. October 20th. He spent the last 4 years of his life in a wheelchair almost unable to communicate with anyone until he died of a massive heart attack while lying in bed beside his wife, Susan Martin Lancaster. I just wonder what this very physical man would have decided? I wonder what he thought during those four years while others wiped his butt and tended to his every need? He was so proud of his physicality.


I just saw The Departed. Movies on my current list to see are The Illusionist, Marie Antoinette, The Good Shepherd, Stranger Than Fiction.

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