July 18, 2015

Honesty?

What about honesty and lies? While there is high value placed on honesty, a realistic look at human behavior reveals that deception is normal and story telling always involves dishonesty. Children learn quickly that there are advantages to lying. They are aware that adults lie routinely. Creative children are creative story tellers who are entertained by fictional stories and employ fiction-writing techniques in reporting events to parents and other adults. As children acquire more language skills and are held more accountable for their actions, they become increasingly skillful in their story inventions.


Each human projects the image of the honest one and denies taking part in any deception whatsoever. The root lie is “I am an honest man or woman”. This fundamental self-deception is practiced by all and usually believed by all. Even a when a liar is caught fabricating his or her story, he or she will usually persist in the claim “I am telling the truth”. The idea is that individuals in all groups compete for position and prestige; the drive is to at least maintain your social position or improve it if you can. The risk of losing your social position is so threatening that all means of protecting yourself arise spontaneously. Since humans use language as an important social tool, any use of language that protects or enhances social position is acceptable. A close examination of human behavior gives us the following precepts: 1. There is no absolute truth. 2. Memories are not accurate and factual. 3. Story telling is a small part fact and large part fiction. Stories always promote self-interest. 4. "No" and 'don't" are the two most important instructions for humans, young and old 5. Human problems can by solved by not repeating harmful behaviors. 6. Humans have a strong tendency to repeat harmful behaviors.


We admire people who deceive us professionally – magicians, movie directors, actors, psychics, faith healers, politicians, ministers and priests. We tell our children blatant lies about tooth fairies, Easter bunnies, Santa Claus, angels, heaven and yes, even God. The benevolent deception is designed in part to entertain, reassure and alleviate suffering. “Little white lies” involve omitting unpleasant information and changing small details that the story will be more acceptable: “… it will only hurt a little bit, dear.” Telling "little white lies" is not considered a moral crisis. Story telling merges with other forms of persuasion and negotiation in strategies of business and social success. Humans tell stories and make deals, all out of self-interest. The stories and deals are always tilted in someone's favor.


If you censored television ads and scripts to rule out displays of lying and systematic deception, the entertainment industry would all but disappear. If you believe you have benevolent motives, you will also believe that deception is a valid strategy when you negotiate with someone else, because you have to overcome their resistance, their prejudices and their ignorance to achieve a result that you desire. If you believe that the right deception will achieve the best outcome, you will lie with more confidence and soon believe your lies. The end justifies the means. Despite obvious ethical flaws in the ends justify means argument; human conduct is almost always based on this implicit assumption. Network television sitcoms depend on plots involving deception, lying and the consequences of being found out. The series, "Seinfeld" was popular, featuring characters who were inveterate liars. Seinfeld plots depended on the characters' inadequacies; their inability to form meaningful relationships or to cope well with the simplest of life problems. The main coping strategies were manipulation and deception. Laws are meant to be circumvented. The issues were petty and trivial and the characters’ dependence on deception both entertained and reflected life as the audience lived it.


From the book Children and Family by Stephen Gislason MD

June 12, 2015

Moral Distress

I discovered the term Moral Distress in the nursing literature. Hospitals are hot spots for important issues and engage diverse vested interests in daily interactions. Issues of life and death play out, often with conflicts among stakeholders who have different views of what is the right thing to do. Hospitals exist to serve the needs of sick or injured patients. Problems arise when hospitals grow larger, involve increasingly complex technologies, and employ different groups to fulfill the many functions that keep a hospital running. The logistics of managing such a complex institution have routinely overwhelmed patient care. You have armies of people running in all directions, attending meetings, conferences, generating and receiving reports but if you look in patients’ rooms, they are often alone and neglected.

Nurses remain the hospital group most directly involved in patient care. Epstein and Delegado summarized the nurses’ point of view: ”Moral distress occurs when one knows the ethically correct action to take but feels powerless to take that action. Research on moral distress among nurses has identified that the sources of moral distress are many and varied and that the experience of moral distress leads some nurses to leave their jobs, or the profession altogether.“

They and others identified the cognitive dissonance involved generated from several different sources; for example: power imbalances between members of the patient care team, lack of communication among team members, administrative pressure to reduce costs, fear of legal action and hospital policies that conflict with patient needs. Even greater issues arise when medical attitudes and methods are examined and questions are raised about medical prejudices, excessive drug use, inattention to patients, neglect of duty, technical errors and incompetence.

I have no doubt about the distresses nurses’ experience, but the description moral distress is less than accurate. We have understood the humans are critically disputatious and hyper critical of others so that conflict among interacting individuals is common and inevitable. Ethical questions gravitate toward the interfaces between individual freedoms and group discipline. Hospitals are interaction dense, so that anyone working in these institutions will be distressed by the actions of others, at least, some of the time. Coping mechanisms must involve submission to group interests and willingness to compromise, even when I am right and they are wrong. We have also recognized that there is no consensus about the common good, so if you claim superiority by having an ethical position better than others, be prepared for a debate, if not a dangerous fight.

From The Good Person, Morality and Ethics by Stephen Gislason

May 22, 2015

Rational Humanism

One important dynamic of change during the 20th century was the decline of religious institutions and the rise of secular humanistic philosophy. Rational humanism is the proper basis of civil societies, but innate human tendencies prefer the dogmatic and irrational.


Joseph Campbell celebrated the rational humanism that emerged about 2500 years ago in three manifestations – the Buddha in India, Confucius in China, and the poets and philosophers who emerged in the Greek civilization that shaped the culture of Rome, then Europe, and then the colonies in the Americas. These three traditions “generally realized local myths for what they were --versions of universal imagery.


Campbell epitomized the three approaches to rational humanism : The realization that an adult human being is autonomous and capable of self-government. The proper aim of education is not the imposition of rules or dogma from without but the opening of each person to knowledge from within his own genius, whether as an independent mind (Prometheus), the expression of an inborn nature (Confucius), or as enlightenment (the Buddha.) With the ascent of China in the 20th century, Confucius has returned as an important architect of civil society. Confucius lived in China from 551 to 479 BC. He was a philosopher and a sociologist, a practical man who advocated a civil society based on the understanding and discipline of citizens who sought social harmony. Ideas associated with Confucius were written by disciplines and then scholars over many centuries, representing a Chinese view of proper human conduct (virtue). Mencius in the 4th century BC, for example suggested that innate goodness is a source of the ethical intuitions that lead humans to Yì (right conduct). Others insisted that morality required adherence to tradition, education and discipline.


Campbell regretted the “the emphasis on local forms over and against all others…the cardinal dogma of Judaism, Christianity and Islam… Such calcification of the local masking means that archetypes  become locked and elementary ideas become ethnic. All the passion that might become illumination is short-circuited into inflating programs for the world. There is no sense of humor with regard to one’s own myths. Mistaken for natural and historic facts, they are especially vulnerable to science and when the light of day has dissolved them like a dream, there is no supporting ground to one’s life. This is a pity because the time has come when everyone of the world’s ethnic systems is dissolving. There are no more locally fixed horizons within which ethnocentric bigotry can be maintained.”


Campbell may have been overly optimistic about the disappearance of the divisive aspects of old myths and ethnic dogma. Old myths do look obsolete, but old myths continue to function as story-boundaries that support the tendency to form exclusive groups with special privileges. New religious groups often co-opt old stories with little or no understanding of the origins and significance of the original stories. In the 20th century USA, for example, the Bible  was co-opted by hundreds of small groups that use old biblical stories to support divergent points of view – some fanatical and most at odds with the large religious institutions that once regarded themselves as owners of the Bible. At the same time, old myths from many cultures have been revised and promoted by groups with motives that range from personal interest and inspiration, to inventing new religions to commercial exploitation of the gullible.


The commerce in old religious myths is something like the weight loss industry; the same old stuff is packaged and repackaged, apparently with no end in sight. Myths are packaged with renewed enthusiasm for superstitions and rituals that should be recognized as obsolete, but instead, have renewed currency in the marketplace. Lester suggested: “The assumption is that advances in the rational understanding of the world will inevitably diminish the influence of that vexing sphere of irrationality in human culture: religion. Inconveniently, however, the world is today as awash in religious novelty, flux, and dynamism as it has ever been—and religious change is, if anything, likely to intensify in the coming decades. The spectacular emergence of militant Islamist movements during the twentieth century is surely only a first indication of how quickly, and with what profound implications, change can occur. It's tempting to conceive of the religious world—particularly when there is so much talk of clashing civilizations—as being made up primarily of a few well-delineated and static religious blocs: Christians, Jews, Muslims and so on. But that's dangerously simplistic. It assumes stability in the religious landscape that is completely at odds with reality.”


From Human Nature by Stephen Gislason

May 7, 2015

Problems Created by Religion

Any discussion of religion invites misunderstanding and conflict. No discussion of religion will make sense until the importance of group identity is understood. Humans may sometimes look like individuals, but the truth is that all humans are members of local groups that determine what they know, how they communicate and how they treat other humans. Each local group develops stories, beliefs and rules. Collections of local groups with special beliefs into larger organizations are often described as “religion.” Members of local groups are described as “religious” if they recite group slogans, attend meetings and celebrations.

"Religions" often claim special privileges for their members so that the term “religious” is used to claim advantages and superior moral authority where none actually exists. The idea of large multinational organizations called “religions” is misleading. At best, the idea of religion is a fuzzy category that implies more coherence than can be found in the real world. Religion is a convenient fiction.

There are several problems with strict religious orthodoxy. The first problem is that humans must learn to live in a complex world that includes people of diverse beliefs and different affiliations. The challenge is to become adapted to a larger society while maintaining loyalty to a local group. Often religious groups claim special privileges and moral superiority. While these claims are spurious, the idea that religious beliefs can be equated with superior morals is stubbornly held and must be refuted. Inside a religious container, you are consumed by the specific language and beliefs of the religion, its symbols, assumptions and claims.

There is a voluminous literature that describes, explains and advocates affiliation with one or other of the religions. In the worst case, if you live inside a theological construct you are committed to fixed beliefs that persist beyond any reasonable currency, resist revision and review. To others who live outside your container, your beliefs are false. Membership in a religious organization limits freedom and expression of thought and often disables friendly, intelligent interaction with other groups. Strict religious orthodoxies in many countries retain political control and leave little or no room for personal freedom, nor democracy. Orthodoxy also creates belligerence. The penalty for opposing strict religious authority is death.

For idealists who assumed that progress toward free, rational and secular societies would be a natural evolution, the re-emergence of belligerent Christianity in the US and belligerent Islam in many parts of the world has been alarming.

Lilla stated: “For more than two centuries, from the American and French Revolutions to the collapse of Soviet Communism, world politics revolved around eminently political problems. War and revolution, class and social justice, race and national identity — these were the questions that divided us. Today, we have progressed to the point where our problems again resemble those of the 16th century, as we find ourselves entangled in conflicts over competing revelations, dogmatic purity and divine duty. We are disturbed and confused. Though we have our own fundamentalists (in the USA), we find it incomprehensible that theological ideas still stir up messianic passions, leaving societies in ruin. We had assumed this was no longer possible, that human beings had learned to separate religious questions from political ones, that fanaticism was dead. We were wrong…Even the most stable and successful democracies, with the most high-minded and civilized believers, have proved vulnerable to political messianism and its theological justification. "

You may enjoy social benefits when the family belongs to a religious organization affiliation with other members, regular meetings, picnics, rituals and assistance coping with three key events of a human life- birth, marriage and death. Religious affiliation in many countries is essential to obtain social status and economic privileges. However, the social and political benefits of belonging to a religious organization override any inclination to self-determination and freedom.

From Human Nature by Stephen Gislason

(Lilla, M. The Politics of God. NYT August 19, 2007 (adapted from his book) The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics and the Modern West.)

April 30, 2015

Sociology

The social sciences aspire to understand social phenomena with theories, case studies and statistical descriptions of populations, or they may explain individual experiences using general principles derived from other fields such as psychology, anthropology and economics. In this book, Human Nature, I aspire to review general principles and suggest 21st century revisions based on an understanding of human nature.

The term “society” tends to be a fuzzy word that refers to the inner workings of groups of different sizes. As an abstract term, society refers to ideas and beliefs about how groups work. Society is often treated as an agency that does things to people and causes humans to act one way or another. But there is no actual entity, society; just humans interacting with other humans.

The adjective “social “ refers to interpersonal dynamics and also to devices invented to regulate human behavior such as fences, gates, roads, stores, schools, churches and prisons. In this chapter, we view society as a product of human-primate behavior. Social devices grow in size and complexity as communities expand, but human nature does not change.

We recognize that humans are social animals and generally depend on each other to provide context and meaning. However, because of the construction of the human mind at birth, each human has difficulty reconciling self-identity and group membership. There are discrepancies between self-interest and group interest; between bonding, belonging and being a free independent soul. While there is a strong tendency to conformity in every group, selfish interests often motivate deviance. Token conformity or simulated conformity provides a good disguise for deviant individuals who seek to exploit others.

The word ”community” describes a group of people who live together. As groups enlarge, factual kinship is replaced by a sense of identity or similarity and cooperation to achieve some stability and security of the home. Communication is one of the tools of community. Communion is a ritual of the community.

Sociology is typical of academic disciplines with different schools based on the writings of single individuals or small groups. The names for different point of view become academic commodities and membership in the right group will determine academic success or failure. Sociology has tended to be a cognitive box with a specialized literature. Insights that occurred to non-sociologists long before appeared in the discipline as new and sometimes controversial innovations. Poore suggested that different schools of sociology such as the Functionalists, Marxists and Symbolic Interactionists were divergent except that they all assumed that the social world is orderly, that patterns of behavior and interaction in society are regular and systematic rather than haphazard and chaotic. Poole described American sociologist, Harold Garfinkel, as an innovator who introduced and old-new perspective to sociology in his book "Studies in Ethnomethodology." Poole stated: “Functionalists regard society as the outcome of value consensus in society, which ensures that behavior conforms to generally accepted norms. Marxists see it as a result of the subordination of one class to another, it is precarious and prone to disruption by revolution but nevertheless it exists. Interactionists differ from these macro-perspectives by viewing social systems as something that is created in a multiplicity of interactions. It is order which results from the processes of definition, interpretation and negotiation. In contrast, Ethnomethodologists recognize that social order is illusory… in reality it is chaotic. For them social order is constructed in the minds of social actors.” Garfinkel suggested that individuals make sense of their social world by recognizing patterns that are used as frameworks for interpreting new experiences.

For example, Garfinkel asked a number of students to take part in an experiment, telling them that it involved a new form of psychotherapy. The students were invited to talk about their personal problems with an ‘advisor’ who was separated from them by a screen. They could not see the advisor and could only communicate with him via an intercom. They were to ask him a series of questions about their problems to which he would respond by answering either ‘yes’ or ‘no’. What the students didn’t know was that these responses were not authentic answers to the questions posed but a predetermined sequence of yes and no answers drawn from a table of random numbers. Although there was no consistency in the answers given to the questions, the students made sense of them by attempting to recognize an underlying pattern in the advice they were being given. Most found the advice reasonable and helpful. This was so even when, some of the advice was contradictory. Thus in one case a student asked: "so you think I should drop out of school then?" and received a ‘yes’ response. Surprised by this he asked, "You really think I should drop out of school?" only to be given a ‘no’ answer. Rather than dismissing the advice as nonsense, the student struggled to find its meaning, looking back for a pattern in the advisors' responses, referring back to previous answers, trying to make sense of the contradiction terms of the advisors’ knowledge of this problem. Never did it occur to the student to doubt the sincerity of the advisor. What the students were doing throughout these counseling sessions, Garfinkel argues, was constructing a social reality to make sense of an often-senseless interaction. They were able to bring order to what was in fact a chaotic situation.

Garfinkel recognized that people make sense of a remark or action by reference to the context in which it occurs; that is they index it to particular circumstances. The counseling experiment had sufficient prestige that led the students to accept the situation as authentic. The problems with pattern recognition involve bias, cognitive boxes and perseveration. Garfinkel recognized that pattern recognition can become so fixed that it is incapable of accommodating new experiences.

Erving Goffman is another innovator who extended sociology toward an empathetic view of the chaotic. Collins and Makowsky in their brief history of sociology described Goffman’s method: “to look at places where smooth-functioning public order breaks down in order to see what normally holds it together. The method has produced insights that have begun to restructure sociological theory; we have come to see how social reality is constructed out of tacit understandings among people meeting face to face… A person is not an isolated thing, but an image carved out of the whole life space of his or her interactions with others.”

Goffman compared normal interactions with presentations seen on the stage in theatres. His view is entirely consistent with the view of anthropologist who recognized the dramatic performances common in preindustrial human societies and by ethnologists who recognized the dramatic aspects of animal behaviors, especially territorial and courtship displays. Humans have not invented anything new. In his classic text, Asylum, Goffman, described his experience working in a mental hospital and criticized total institutions such as hospitals, prisons, and military boot camps. Collins and Makowsky suggested that:” the hospital is a place to keep patients away from normal society – the patient spends every hour of every day within the same walls, subject to the same monolithic controls and facing the abiding scrutiny of a regular staff that keeps permanent records. The social sources that reflect his or her self are degrading; they offer the patient no escape into privacy or to alternative audiences.”

There have been many observers and critics of prisons that come in different sizes, shapes and flavors, but all share the common feature of entrapment and control of inmates. Some prisons such as mental hospitals pretend to be serving the needs of mentally ill patients. Even general hospitals retain some of the features of prisons, leaving significant doubts that the best interests of patients and their families are being served. In an ideal world there would be no prisons in any disguise.

From Human Nature by Stephen Gislason

April 29, 2015

Nature and Wilderness

When I was a child, my family moved a new suburb on the edge of Toronto, a typical North American city, beginning its post-war growth spurt. My back yard was a forest that led down into a river valley - still natural and full of wonder. For a few years, I enjoyed this natural environment and made friends with trees, flowers, birds, raccoons and fish in the river. I discovered peace and joy in the natural environment.

The city grew, as I grew, and I watched the cherished natural environments of my childhood disappear -swallowed up and replaced by houses, roads, and shopping malls. I adapted to an increasingly urban existence and enjoyed parts of it, but for many years I dreamed of returning to a place of nature. Eventually, I found my way back to a more natural environment on the West Coast of Canada and restored there a sense of well being and kinship with the ocean, forest and mountains. I regretted the destruction of the natural world of my childhood and to this day have a deep, relentless sense of foreboding- little good can come out what we have done to our precious Mother Earth.

I see the health of individuals and populations all inextricably meshed with world ecology and I see our species in trouble. We are creatures with a tragically split personality. Part of us is destructive, selfish and confused. The other part of us is tender, affectionate and feels reverence and awe whenever we make ourselves available to perceive the natural world as the divine temple. Nature stands apart from whatever humans have made and Mother Nature is a term of reverence for the principles and energies that infuse the living world with structure and meaning. Most humans retain a sense of kinship with natural environments. Even urban dwellers will seek out little moments of nature and will feel deep satisfaction when they can sit for a moment in park, watch birds or find their way to a beach to hear and feel the reassuring action of waves. A sense of natural beauty is rooted in old primate preferences for food-rich, flowering plants and trees, for savannahs with abundant game and vistas that are simple and easy to understand.

One essence of being human is that you are an adaptable and nomadic creature. Your innate preferences are layered like layers in sedimentary rock that allows geologists to read the history of a place over millions of years. Your deepest feelings come from the oldest parts of your brain that still recognize features of an environment that appealed to early mammals and perhaps to more ancient creatures such as reptiles and dinosaurs. Hominids evolved in Africa and followed a lineage from tree-living primates who ate plants and insects to ground-dwelling creatures that wandered further and further as time went on, perfecting the attributes and skills of nomadic hunters and gatherers Humans in the past 200,000 years have wandered all over the planet and settled in every place that could sustain their life.

Our deepest recognitions come from contact with rocks, wood, fire, metal, bone and water. The history of the unique features of our mind is rooted in a very slow, gradual transformation from creatures who lived in nature to creatures who transformed the nature of rocks, bone and wood into tools, weapons, clothing and shelters. The finest of homes to this day display rock, wood and fire. Civilized humans still cook meat over fires in back yards and fires improvised on beaches, feeling more peaceful and authentic on a camping trip when they are closer to their inner and wilder nature.

The term “Umwelt” was introduced in 1930 by biologist, von Uexküll to describe the different "real worlds" that animals perceive with different sensory systems. He built mechanical devices to simulate their perceptual Weltanschauungen or worldview. The compound eye of insects saw the world in multiple images, for example. Snyder suggested that: “Wilderness is a place where the wild potential is fully expressed, a diversity of living and no-living beings flourishing according to their own sorts of order. When an ecosystem is fully functional, all members are present at the assembly. To speak of wilderness is to speak of wholeness. Human beings came from that wholeness. Deep Ecology thinkers insist that the natural world has a value in its own right, that the health of natural systems should be our first concern, and that this best serves the interests of all humans as well...Environmental concerns and politics have spread worldwide. In some countries, the focus is almost entirely on human health and welfare issues. It is proper that the range of the movement should run from wildlife to urban health. But there can be no health for humans and cities that bypasses the rest of nature... A sophisticated postindustrial citizen will be asking: is there any way we can go with rather against nature?"

Umwelt can refer to the both the perception of the natural world and the deep sense of belonging that most humans feel in some natural places. You could argue that we like wide-open spaces because we can see what is going on and feel safer. You can see predators and enemies at a distance and take action before they are close enough to attack you. It is better to be high rather than low. Climb any tree, hill or mountain and you feel a sense of calm, power and liberation. Trees have a special significance since our distant primate ancestors all lived in, or at least, slept in trees. Children spontaneously climb trees and want to build tree houses. Adult humans seldom climb trees because they become too heavy and lack the upper body strength to climb easily. Our bodies have adapted to the ground. Our legs are heavier and stronger than our arms.

From Human Nature by Stephen Gislason

March 11, 2015

Information and Misinformation

I want to identify basic principles that govern the interaction of the media with vested interests with the viewer. We know that the media audience, the "public", is made up of different groups with vested interests that conflict. We are not indignant when we discover that one storyteller has distorted the truth. We know that everyone makes up stories that support their own point of view, that everyone lies, that everyone plans to persuade and deceive others and that there is no absolute truth. We know that a general audience contains individuals with different mental abilities and that most humans have distinct limitations on what they can and will understand.

We know that the root human struggle between self-interest and the interests of groups is ubiquitous, pervasive and is not going away. We know that each new human is born with an old brain and has to be brought up to date rather quickly and efficiently and must learn to override innate programs to develop skills of peaceful co-existence. We know that a small number of humans will be alpha animals and lead a much larger number of humans who are followers and will not have the inclination nor the ability to "think for themselves." We are not surprised. We are not indignant. We are concerned.

The best-motivated, fairest reporter or government spokesperson will face obstacles when presenting information and reasoning to a general audience. The best-motivated, brightest viewer will be overwhelmed by the mountain of daily information - mostly bad news - that he or she is asked to evaluate.

I see the human media world as competitive, noisy and confusing. Wrong ideas proliferate like weeds. This journalistic and promotional activity provides “pseudo-knowledge,” also known as "nonsense." I advise everyone to treat media hype as the major obstacle to understanding what is true and really real.

Obviously, we all like the idea of easy understanding and we like quick fixes to complicated problems. We are constantly tempted by promises that a quick fix is available; hawkers want to sell you something quick, cheap and easy to use -- you do not have to be responsible for yourself. All claims of quick fixes are false claims. This is a law of the universe. There is a vanishing middle ground that lies between orthodox authority and the wild chaos of commercial claims, hyperbole and the incessant chatter of popular media and the internet .There remains a need to locate the middle ground of reasonable policy, good science, respect for others and common sense.
">From Surviving Human Nature by Stephen Gislason

February 19, 2015

Religious Wars

I am grieving the loss of hope for any redemption of human nature. My main understating is that there is no news, the same ancient patterns of human conduct, mainly conflict, fighting and killing, recur relentlessly. It appear that even leaders of affluent countries with a semi-intelligent infrastructure to guide them can only respond to violence with more violence. Humans die in great numbers from bullets and bombs. Their homes, towns and cities are destroyed. The word "terrorist" has become meaningless, or it describes everyone who kills and destroys regardless of their motivation or justification. I wanted to share my attempt to epitomize the relationship of religion, beliefs and wars in my book Religion for the 21st Century.

Religious Wars

There is no place and time in human history that was free of wars. Human males enjoy fighting and when they do, they destroy property and kill other humans, often in a cruel, extravagant manner. Large fights with much property destruction and deaths of large numbers of combatants and civilians are described as wars. As populations increased, the magnitude of wars increased. Somehow, even in relatively civilized countries, war was and is still viewed as a normal expression of nations and war-making governments as valid expressions of the people. In an ideal future, war would not be considered a legitimate expression of governments. Instead humans who proposed war would be recognized as mentally ill and would be confined to special institutions for the politically insane.

History records wars that appeared to have a religious purpose or justification, although many group dynamics are usually at work, including the sheer delight one group enjoys when waging war against other groups. The delight is enhanced by winning a war and growing richer. The delight is diminished by losing a war and growing poorer. The convergence of three conflicting religions at the Sinai Peninsula, a tiny piece of land, continues to this day. This modern version of an ancient conflict promises to generate increasing human paranoia and militarism that will obstruct efforts to replace war with negotiation and compromise.  The adjacent regions, mostly Islamic  Arab countries are mired in perpetual conflicts, property destruction, death and fleeing refugees seeking to survive local insanity.

The Christian Crusades were a series of military campaigns the occurred in the 11th through 13th centuries. The goal was to send warriors from European countries to take Jerusalem and the Holy Land from the Muslims. Noble knights leaving England might have shouted pro-Christian, anti-Muslim slogans, but, once on the road, they were easily distracted by other opportunities to pillage, plunder and rape. A 1250 French Bible illustration depicts Jews being massacred by Christian Crusaders. The Crusaders' atrocities against Jews in German and Hungarian towns, later in France, England left strong hostility on both sides. The security of the Jews in Western Europe was threatened; legal restrictions on Jews increased following the Crusades. Jews fought as allies of Muslim soldiers to defend Jerusalem against the Christians.   Once allies against Christians, Jews and Muslims are now enemies and some Christians, especially in the US, support the Jewish settlement of Israel with money, weapons and belligerent slogans directed against Islamic states.

The Crusades also involved battles among Christian groups in different countries. In 16th century France, wars between Roman Catholics and Protestants were popular. In the 17th century, German states, Scandinavia, and Poland hosted battles between Roman Catholicism and Calvinism. In Northern Ireland, bloody battles between Roman Catholic and Protestant groups continued through the 20th century.

Puritan families left England in opposition to some of the expressions of the Anglican Church. They established New England on the Atlantic coast of what would become the USA. The first great migration to the new world occurred between 1630 and 1640. The influence of protestant groups in Canada and the US continues to this day, although intergroup wars have been replaced by political battles and litigation.

I have mentioned the rise of the Muslim empires, first by the Arabs and later by the Turks. While the battles that continued for centuries can be viewed as Muslims against Christians, the quest for territorial domination and wealth superseded other motivations. In the early 20th century, the Turks brutally suppressed political opposition in Armenia in what is now known as the “Armenian genocide.” Talat Pasha, the Turkish interior minister at that time ordered the arrest of Armenian leaders in 1915 and initiated large scale deportations and massacres of the Armenians. The stated reasoning was political; Armenians were accused of collaborating with invading Russian forces. You could argue that, all political excuses aside, the policies of the Ottomans were Islamic and that the first priority of an Islamic state is to defend Muslim territory. The second priority is to extend Muslim territory. The laws of the state were Islamic laws. Islamic states often tolerated members of other religious groups who paid taxes and enjoyed inferior status; however opposition to the Islamic state was not tolerated.

If you advance to 21st century USA, you find growing numbers of militant Christian and Jewish fundamentalists ready to fight with Islamic fundamentalists. You time travel back to the 7th century. The documentary film, Obsession, was a brief course on radical Islam that increased concern among US viewers in 2007. The film featured clips from Arabic TV, interviews with former terrorists, videos of suicide bomber initiations, secret jihad meetings, indoctrination of young children, and private celebrations of 9/11. To US viewers, the most shocking revelations were the hatred of the US taught to children and the support for a global jihad (battle of God) with the goal of Islamic world domination.   On the other side, both radical and reasonable Muslims view footage from US television, news and movies. They see US extremists and their expressions of belligerence toward Islam. They recognize the belligerence of a US federal government with a policy of attacking any country that poses a threat to the US. The Muslims consider the US to be a country of greed, corruption and duplicity. The political equation is balanced with hatred growing on both sides.

In the middle east a confusion of conflicted groups has arisen with Arabs, Jews and Christians fighting with each. There are schisms in every group that lead to internal conflicts. The Islamic world is split with fighting between the Sunni majority and the minority Shia .  Israel with its population of immigrant Jews from many parts of the world has become a militant oppressor of the Palestinians, the former occupants of the land now claimed by Israel.

There will be no easy solution when angry, fanatical humans with religious disguises practice hate and threaten others. Fanatics will attack communities of nicer, more rational humans. The tendency is for nice, rational humans to become fanatical in response. The law of Karma is that conflict escalates and everyone loses. The law of revenge, Lex talionis, produces an endless cycle of property destruction and killing. You can argue that human nature can change and permit sustainable, free societies. Or you can argue that a number of social constructs can identify and constrain the bad guys, leaving the good guys time and space to enjoy peaceful lives. Or you can argue that human nature will not change and belligerent groups cannot be constrained by any combination of social constructs. A study of the chaotic, paranoid response in the US to the September 11 2001 attack on the twin towers in New York, USA does not support an optimistic view of social constructs. The US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq produced devastation, death and global hatred directed at Americans. The US remains a paranoid nation searching the world for "terrorists" also known as Islamic militants.

History records an interminable series of wars of revenge. Wars are contagious. Social order and peaceful intentions fade as belligerence increases. The wealth of every great civilization has been squandered on war. The results are predictable – death, destruction, and sooner or later, the collapse of warring states. There are no winners. The main lesson from the US in the 21st century is that belligerence can prevail in “free” societies and assumes many forms. Countries with big investments in military equipment and armed personnel are primed to fight the enemy and will seek opportunities to go to war. 
Quote from Religion for the 21st Century by Stephen Gislason

January 15, 2015

Future & Predictions

There is no future and talk of the future is an invention based on past experience. The truth is that no-one really knows what will happen next. The human sense of the future is an important survival strategy, however. What we can do is pay attention to the most relevant information we have right now, compare current circumstances with past events that are well known and use intelligent extrapolations to guess what is most likely to happen next. Smart humans are extrapolators who develop a sense of consequences from experience.

My premise would be that the economy of the 21st century will have a different set of operating rules and projections based on the 19th or early 20th century are academic amusements of little practical value; nobody knows what will happen next. The world's stock markets are testing grounds for predictions. All methods of analysis are based on extrapolation. You assume that stock’s future performance can be predicted if you review past performance and analyze stock values using charts and computer programs. Analysts study sales and earnings rates, historical stock prices and calculate numeric measures such as price-to-earnings ratio. If stock performance prediction were simply a matter of applying mathematical equations to past performance data, then everyone could become rich investors. However, accurately predicting the future is impossible, so that uncertainty prevails and all investment involves risk.

Stock prices fluctuate with general market factors, investor mood and confidence, factors that cannot be calculated in advance. It does not matter if you are a well-informed rational analyst, a gambler, a prophet, a psychic or just a woman with "good intuition" - all fail to accurately predict what will happen next. Two predictions -- that stock values will change and that human nature will not change -- are reliable prophecies. While social and economic conditions are unprecedented in the 21st century, human nature has not changed ,Stock markets go up and down because investor confidence goes up and down. The formula for wealth is to buy for less and sell for more. People buy stocks when they have extra money and feel confident and sell stocks when they are afraid or just want to spend the money. Most investors are conservative, since they do not want to lose money. At the same time, conservative investors will gamble, when they see or hear of others making more money. The “me too” mimetic motive often interrupts or replaces a more reasonable long-term plan. Promoters and traders use gossip to excite “me too” buying or “not me too” selling. The expansion of market commentary in the last decade of the 20th century established an unprecedented level of investor gossip that involved every citizen who reads newspapers, magazines, television or browses the internet. The increasingly chaotic interactions of markets, currency exchanges, government policies and failing countries in the 21st century make predictions conspicuously untenable.

I have often admired the mass movement of flocks of birds and schools of fish and wondered at how the behavior of so many individuals could be so well coordinated. The mass movement of investors is coordinated by messages broadcast in multimedia, in a self-referential, recursive manner. Technical traders make money on price changes and are indifferent to the real value of the stock. Equity and commodity markets reveal human tendencies. The dialectic of optimism and pessimism is always at play. At times, over confident investors will feel powerful and in control; they overestimate their knowledge and ability when they mortgage the house to buy stocks or commodity futures. At other times paranoid, pessimistic attitudes prevail; the relevance of bad news is exaggerated, fear of impending doom renews interest in superstitious ideas and market values decline, sometimes precipitously. `

Krugman asked: “Will limited supplies of natural resources pose an obstacle to future world economic growth?” He described three competing views: “1. Speculation caused by investors, looking for high returns at a time of low interest rates has gambled on commodity futures, driving up prices. This inflationary bubble will burst and high resource prices will decline.2. Soaring resource prices are based on fundamentals especially rapidly growing demand from newly meat-eating, car-driving Chinese. Given time we’ll drill more wells, plant more acres, and increased supply will push prices down again. 3. The era of cheap resources is over for good — that we’re running out of cheap oil, running out of land to expand food production and generally running out of planet resources to exploit. Concerns about what happens when an ever-growing world economy pushes up against the limits of a finite planet ring true. For one thing, I don’t expect growth in China to slow sharply anytime soon. That’s a big contrast with what happened in the 1970s, when growth in Japan and Europe, the emerging economies of the time, downshifted and took a lot of pressure off the world’s resources... the bad weather hitting agricultural production is starting to look more fundamental and permanent than El Niño and La Niña, which disrupted crops 35 years ago. Australia, in particular, is now in the 10th year of a drought that looks like a long-term manifestation of climate change. “

In late 2014 world oil prices dropped and surprised almost everyone with vested interests. Oil-dependent economies suffered sometimes drastic reduction in government revenues. Two consequences are in competition: 1. increased fossil fuel consumption and 2. reduced production. Reduced oil and gas production and increased cost worldwide would be a long-term benefit for all humans. Reduced consumption reduces air water and land pollution and is a perquisite of controlling climate change. The sustainable solution has three components: 1. Reduced populations 2. Non fossil fuel energy sources 3. Economies with no dependence on oil and gas revenues

A study funded by the UK Energy Research Centre concluded that the world should forego extracting a third of its oil and half of its gas reserves before 2050… The majority of the huge coal reserves in China, Russia and the United States should remain unused along with over 260 thousand million barrels oil reserves in the Middle East, equivalent to all of the oil reserves held by Saudi Arabia. The Middle East should also leave over 60% of its gas reserves in the ground. The development of resources in the Arctic and any increase in unconventional oil – oil of a poor quality which is hard to extract – are also found to be inconsistent with efforts to limit climate change.

From the book Surviving Human Nature by Stephen Gislason

January 12, 2015

Hostility and Hate

Hatred is often misrepresented as an emotion. Hatred is another complex of cognition, behavior, emotions and feelings. Hatred is based on casemaking and story telling and thrives on misinformation. Hate can be defined as persistent, recurrent story telling that treats outsiders as aliens who are to be feared and despised.

The emotions associated with hatred are fear, disgust, anger and rage. Hostility is a broad term that refers the mix of cognitive structures associated with hatred, the frequent expression of anger, threatening displays and the dysphoric feelings that are prolonged and/or recurrent. A hostile human usually has a well-developed case against the targets of his or her hostility. The case is prejudicial and unyielding.

Hostility is a feature of discrimination that is practiced systematically and may become a permanent feature of an individual human's life. Hate is mostly a cognitive process that is constructed slowly but surely; the emotional components may erupt only occasionally. Angry hate is destructive and leads to acts of aggression that, from time to time, disrupt efforts to establish peaceful co-existence in many areas of the world.

The beliefs that support hate tend to be enduring and resist modification by new learning. Strong beliefs associated with religious fundamentalism almost always have a hate component and underlie enduring or recurring conflicts. Religions involve groups with strict boundaries, inclusion-exclusion rules and belief in the superiority of group leaders, icons and gods. All groups, large and small, define and defend their boundaries with hate stories.

The benefit of hate is to enhance the readiness of a group to defend itself or to motivate an attack to weaken by killing members of and stealing scarce resources from a neighboring or rival group. An alien is any creature, real or imaginary, who is not a member of the group.

The dynamics of hate involve repeated telling of a hate stories to arouse fear and anger. Hate groups, preparing for an attack, will meet and use story telling, dancing, chanting, music, drama and ritual to arouse the emotions of the group to energize an attack. Mobs, hostility and hate go together. The reptilian part of the human brain clings to old routines even when circumstances change and the old routines are no longer effective. Painful past events tend to be recalled more often by selftalk and are repeated and embellished as casemaking. The hostile case argues that someone or some group has wronged you in the past and/or will harm you in the future; the wrongs are detailed; revenge and retribution is sought. Grudges and revenge motivation, as hate, can be maintained for generations.

From Emotions and Feeling by Stephen Gislason

January 10, 2015

Conversations with God

Like Moses, I have made special preparations and often climbed heights of land with some difficulty-- mountains in BC, for example--- to have a conversation with God. This has occurred eight momentous times in my life so far. One exceptional encounter occurred when I was meditating on a Texada Island beach. I had begun one warm summer evening early when the water was calm and the sky clear. I entered Samadhi with a wonderful sense of relaxation. I became one with the rocks I was sitting on and with the water that lapped over my legs. The air seemed to thicken with world lines that channeled micro events in curved paths.

Suddenly, I heard my name called out in a giant whisper, just once. The whisper was very loud and low-pitched, but not disturbing. The conversation that followed was all in mind with no audible component. I could ask questions and wait for answers. The answers were brief and concise. I stated that many groups believed they were chosen by God to have special status and privileges. I asked if she preferred one group of humans over another. God stated: ”I have no preferences.“

I suggested that humans were in trouble. They fought with each and were relentlessly destructive. Perhaps, a slight modification in brain structure could resolve this problem. She informed me that she has a non-interference policy toward planet earth. None of her people are allowed near our planet.

I asked if there were any destinations or rewards away from planet earth when humans or other animals died. God replied: “No.” She stated: “Earth is a self-contained experiment in life and spontaneity. I like to watch occasionally, but never intervene.”

I asked if human astronomers and astrophysicists were on the right track with their amazing discoveries of galaxies, exploding stars, dark matter and black holes. God replied: “These exceptional humans display the kind of intelligence that interests me. I have scheduled more frequent visits to monitor your progress in understanding the dynamics of the universe. “

I asked the next obvious question about space travel. Will humans be able to locate and travel to other planets? God replied: “Humans are creatures of location, specialized to the conditions on your home planet. You will not be able travel to and adapt elsewhere. You fate lies with your success or failure on planet earth.”

Needless to state, I was disappointed with the non- intervention policy. I appealed, saying that the human mind was a work in progress but there were many problems, even beyond the delusions of moral superiority that dominated human interactions.

I suggested that intelligent intervention in the genome could fix the more obvious mind problems and give humans a better opportunity to thrive on earth. I appealed on behalf of all animals whose existence was in peril because of human activities to no avail. The God in charge of our corner of the great universe is too busy to pay much attention to planet earth. The God is not moralistic and the non-intervention policy is strict – no interference with life on Earth or other planets. The divine being explained that Gods never interfere with planetary life; there have only been rare exceptions. I attempted another approach and asked; “Can you offer some advice or guidance for humans?” But, she declined, explaining again that humans are the authors of their own destiny and will rise or fall on their own merits or weaknesses. God said that that is the interesting part – to see what happens as life forms evolve.

My impression is that God gets interested in planets that host advanced intelligence. My God suggested the time allotment for earth was increased recently to something like 30 human minutes every 50 human years. Before, it was 4 minutes per 1,000 earth years. Of course, She works at ultra high speed and learns a lot in a few minutes of earth-time. Unlike Job’s Yahweh, my God was feminine and, despite her policy of non interference with earth’s affairs, I felt only her benevolence. There was not a hint of criticism or blame.
From Religion for the 21st Century by Stephen Gislason

January 5, 2015

Status and Privilege

Success depends on who you know more than what you know. When a society is described as traditional, social status and mobility are strictly linked to the status of your family and your mate. "Traditional" means the groups within the society are well defined and the boundaries that separate groups of different social status are well defended. Social privileges are linked to economic privileges so that wealth is distributed in traditional societies according to social status. Communities of humans divide themselves into classes with rules about who interacts with whom. Behavior protocols are well defined in terms of etiquette, privileges and duties.

Racial segregation and discrimination in the United State and South Africa have been well studied examples of racial boundaries and white oppression of blacks, but everywhere on planet earth there are small groups of privileged humans who maintain oppressive authority over everyone else. An obvious racial or ethnic boundary is not required. The worst expressions of high status individuals oppressing low status individuals occurs within relatively homogeneous groups of the same-race, same ethnicity and same religion

An ideal of free states is to recognize the merit and ability of individuals and allow social mobility based on learning and achievement. Racial and ethnic boundaries, at least in the ideal model, are undesirable and are suppressed by social policy, law and the good will of citizens. American (self-made) heroes such as astronaut and Senator, John Glenn, advised young Americans that they can achieve anything they want; that intelligence, courage and determination can overcome all obstacles. While this is the aspiration of an egalitarian society, the reality is somewhat different.

The growth of a middle class of "self-made" men and women has shaped free societies and a large, thriving and proactive middle class is essential for the survival of democracies. While there is an undeniable ethos of individual freedom in the best countries, human nature does not change. Group rules and boundaries remain in place. Instead of a rather simple traditional society with three class groups, we now have elaborately stratified societies with hierarchies built inside of hierarchies. The society is partitioned horizontally and vertically to keep incompatible groups separate.

The freedom to start poor and gain great wealth and social status has existed in Canada and the United States and many notable individuals have been self-made men and women. The paths to higher social status, however, are few in number and are blocked by a succession of obstacles. Even if you are one of the unusual individuals who rise to the top, humble origins return to haunt you and the wealthy folks who belong to the old establishment will speak disdainfully of the gauche tendencies of the "newly rich." Political schemes to redistribute wealth and power mitigate the extreme social consequences of concentrating wealth, power and privilege, but true equality is a fantasy.

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Human Nature is a 21st century description of anthropology, neuroscience, sociology and psychology - disciplines that need to be integrated as they are in this book. The topics are essential to understanding human nature, its origins and its problems. You could treat each topic as module of a larger system that develops emergent properties as the modules interact. Each reader discovers the features of human nature in himself or herself and then discovers similar features in others. After you understand more about the dynamics of close relationships, you can look at larger groups. You can continue by applying your insights into human dynamics to governments, countries and international affairs. Other Persona Digital books describe the same dynamics but emphasize different vantage points and concerns.

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December 24, 2014

Paranoia - Possibility Becomes Probability

The psychiatric literature describes paranoia as mental illness, but, unfortunately, everyone is paranoid to some degree some of the time. What is paranoia? This a cognitive bias, best described as the tendency to suspect others of conspiring against you and wanting to hurt you. You could argue that there is healthy kind of paranoia, useful whenever people are really out to get you. A sick version of paranoia exaggerates this possibility. Sick paranoia involves suspicion and projection of suspicions and fears unto others. The sick paranoid suspects and blames others too often, too intensely and may attack innocent others who are seen as hostile.

Where does suspicion fit in? We are all obligated to scan our environment in search of signs of danger. Often, we detect subtle clues that there may be danger lurking but we are not sure. Suspicion is the tendency to treat uncertainty as threatening. Suspicion triggers anxiety and fuels gossip and self-talk.

Underlying suspicion is subconscious evaluation of the danger potential of your environment. Correct evaluation of danger potential is difficult and is not always possible. You could argue the healthy aspect of aspect of paranoia is that by being wary and looking for clues of danger, you are protecting yourself from harm that might lurk behind every tree, in every alley, in every park, and on every busy street. For as long as life has existed on earth, more vigilant animals have survived longer than less vigilant animals.

However, vigilance need not turn into paranoia. Although many humans now enjoy relative safe environments, information about crime, accidents and natural disasters, raises the level of suspicion and fear. Some humans adapt better to safer environments and become less vigilant and more trusting. This is a “taming” process. Others remain wary and some are possessed by excessive suspicion.

Wild animals can be tamed. The essence of taming a wild animal or human is to replace wariness and suspicion with relaxation and trust. The result is that in safer environments, tamed humans are less likely to anticipate danger and perceive most events most days as impersonal, routine and safe.

One of the technical challenges in evaluating the meaning of events is to connect events that are likely related to one’s own activities and interests and to treat other events as more or less spontaneous and unrelated to oneself. Normal vigilance and appropriate suspicion are successful in sorting events into the relevant and non-relevant categories. Sick paranoia involves an exaggeration of event relevance and poor judgment in assessing the meaningful connections among events that are essentially unrelated.

The human tendency is to invent relationships that are non-existent, to be superstitions and to believe in magical connections that relate unrelated events.

What if you become overly sensitive to mild or even innocuous signals that you should ignore? You pass a nice man on your walk and he smiles. You could think:”… that’s nice; he’s a friendly guy who probably likes the way I look.” Or you could think: ”..that smile is suspicious – he must know something about me; he must be part of the conspiracy that is tracking my movement; he was probably reading my mind.” The latter style of thought is paranoid. The paranoid person exaggerates his or her importance and exaggerates the ability of others to sustain secret, well-focused conspiracies. We invent stories and talk with others to probe the meaning of clues about danger that may be lurking in the shadows. These stories blame others for any distress and misfortune.

Paranoid stories that focus on conspiracies and imminent danger might be true; however, they are usually improbable. When paranoid thinking takes over a person’s cognitive processes, even remote possibilities turn into probabilities. The self-centered nature of the human mind tends to go this way and can move into an absurd form of narcissism.  You become so important that it is entirely plausible that the CIA, FBI, your co-workers, your family, even creatures from outer space have nothing better to do but to watch you and conspire against you.

Psychiatrists tend to think of paranoia as personal – one isolated person with false beliefs, but paranoid thinking is characteristic of group activity. If you tell a friend: “I think they are out to get me.” Your friend agrees and says: “Yes, they are out to get me too.” You have moved from paranoia to consensus. With three people agreeing, you have a local reality system.

Conspiracy theories are common and almost everyone in conversation with friends will join in a conspiracy talk. This is distance paranoia. The mildest form is to refer to an anonymous but powerful group called “They”.They are distant or concealed and you know very little about them except they are up to no good.  A common subject for gossip is to speak about what “They” are doing. They are spying on us. They are incompetent. They are to blame.

If you look closely at any human group, large or small, you find constant disagreement and a tendency for all affiliations to fall apart. Agreements within and among groups are notoriously difficult to achieve and hard to maintain. Real conspiracies do exist, of course, and most human groups are busy creating and attacking enemies, but there is a reassuring, irregular and inconsistent incompetence in all this activity even among professional conspirators.  Coherent conspiracies are not long-lived and a single dominant conspiracy is not usually part of the enduring fabric of any society.

If paranoid thinking progresses towards a disabling mental illness, “They” take over NBC and sitcoms have cleverly disguised messages directed at you alone. You have to decipher the code since the true message is hidden in the dialogue.

In the good old days of science fiction, the plots were placed in a fictional spacetime zone – there was no confusion about fact or fiction. The paranoid drama of the 1990s and beyond was sicker, occurred in the suburbs and presented itself as almost true if not truly true. I am concerned that too many members of the audience were encouraged to develop their paranoid tendencies. If you practice paranoid thinking, you can get good at it. Television programming and movie scripts thrive in paranoid territory. Increasingly, scriptwriters hold large audiences with conspiracy plots, aliens, and all the weird stuff that plagues paranoid schizophrenics. The TV series, the X-files, was good example of psychotic material and, while I liked the look and calm demeanor of the actors that play FBI Agents, Mulder and Scully, the plots were demented and the success of the series spoke to a troubling receptivity to paranoid ideation. The actors put a more or less reasonable face on script content that was fundamentally insane.

Paranoia flourishes in larger organizations where people compete for power, money and prestige. Larger organizations generate more paranoia because each human can only know and understand a small number of co-workers and all the people who are out of close-range tend to blur into one large “conspiracy.” Large organizations do best when they inspire company loyalty and provide an abundance of common signals that reassure participants that they are safe and part of a cooperative family.

In complex societies such as the USA with enclaves of political and economic power and organizations that employ secrecy and engage in covert actions, a high level of suspicion is common. Suspicion is appropriate if you are involved in competitive and covert transactions. The history of covert CIA operations, for example, is not reassuring that things are as they seem. Professional conspirators, working in their “nation’s best interest” have a tendency to get it wrong and often to do more harm than good. One version of USA paranoia is the belief that the federal government and its military are conspiring to end the rights and freedoms of average Americans and must be opposed by internal revolution. There have been many versions of anti-government groups; some are militant and others form legitimate lobbies The White House administration of Bush and Cheney appeared to be successful in confirming the worst fears of the most extreme paranoiacs as well as confirming the fears of better informed, more rational critics of the government.

Paul Wolfowitz was Deputy Secretary of Defense for President, G.W. Bush from 2001 to 2005. His chief responsibility was starting the Iraq war. New York Times columnist, Maureen Dowd described Wolfowitz as a “demented visionary” who helped Vice President Cheney get rid of anything cooperative and multi -- multilateral treaties, multilateral institutions, multilateral alliances, multiculturalism. Dowd reported: “Multi, to them, meant wobbly, caviling, bureaucratic and obstructionist. Why be multi when you could be uni?Wolfowitz mismanaged the world most powerful army. Shattered the system of international diplomacy that kept the peace for 50 years. Undermined the credibility of American intelligence operations. Needlessly brought humankind to the brink of nuclear war and destroyed Iraq.”After leaving his US government job, Wolfowitz became the President of World Bank: 2005-2007. In this job, Dowd suggested that he: “Paralyzed the international lending apparatus to the point where small countries had to max out their Visa cards to pay for malaria medicine. He learned the traditions of many cultures, including those of Turkey, where you apparently are not supposed to take off your shoes at mosques to reveal socks so full of holes that both big toes poke blasphemously through
Although American law forbids government agencies from engaging in illegal activity close to home, the evidence that leaks out or is declared by whistle-blowers reveals that the CIA and other secret organizations, including paramilitary groups sponsored by the CIA, routinely engaged in illegal and immoral activities at home and abroad. These revelations support paranoia in a regrettable way.

The idealist hopes that a free democratic society can achieve 100% honest and lawful activities even among its agencies that specialize in secrecy and deception. The idealist assumption is that an honest, right-thinking citizen should have confidence that his or her government is trustworthy and obeys its own laws. A desirable assumption? Yes. Realistic? No.

From Surviving Human Nature by Stephen Gislason MD

Human Belligerence is Here to Stay.

Many of us felt great relief and renewed hope when the Soviet Union fragmented and Russians met with Americans to reduce the insane stockpiles of nuclear weapons. At this writing, the relief and the hope has been cancelled. In my book, Surviving Human Nature, I wrote a brief summary of Russian alienation from the USA and European countries. My thesis is always that human nature involves inevitable belligerence and sustainable progress toward peaceful co-existence has never been achieved:

NATO and Russia

European countries have a long history of shifting alliances and wars. Most battles were fought because of territorial ambitions or disputes, conflicting religious beliefs, ethnic animosities and the petty quarrels among aristocrats. As Europe emerged damaged and confused after the second world war, it seemed like a good idea to maintain and expand the alliances that defeated Germany. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was created from an alliance of 26 countries from North America and Europe in 1949. The stated role of NATO was to safeguard the freedom and security of its member countries by political and military means.

Regrettably, Russia was not included in NATO, but instead remained a principal adversary. The blind paranoia that developed in the US and the willingness of all parties to engage in nuclear insanity was the greatest accomplishment in human perversity. NATO was not off to a good start with mutually assured destruction. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia resigned as enemy number 1 and a rather weak alliance was formed between Russian and NATO, first with a reciprocal commitment “to work together to build a stable, secure and undivided continent on the basis of partnership and common interest” in 1997.

A NATO-Russia Council was established in 2002 with the idea that representatives from the 26 NATO countries and Russia would meet regularly “to pursue opportunities for joint action as 27 equal partners.The expansion of NATO into East Central Europe was alarming for Russia. Their concerns were increased when the US made deals with Poland and the Ukraine to build their radar and missile sites in the countries, formerly controlled by Russia. One can only guess what the Putin Russians really thought about the US, but the conspicuous aggression and delusions of grandeur displayed by the Bush administration could hardly be reassuring.

Among the discussions of the NATO-Russia Council in 2003, arms control and confidence-building measures were a priority. The assurance of NATO member states was that “decisions taken by the Alliance at its summit meeting in Prague are not directed against the security interests of Russia or any other Partner state.

Russia invaded its neighbor, Georgia, a recent NATO member and Russian/NATO collaboration began to disintegrate. Anti-government protests in the Ukraine in 2014 have led to Russia asserting its historical alliances with military might. Russia exploited unrest in the Ukraine and annexed Crimea. NATO woke up to the consequences of keeping Russia isolated and resumed referring to a new "Cold War". No NATO coalition could or should enter into battle with the Russians. For those of us who grew up with the cold war, a recurrence of US-Russian, aka NATO-Russian hostilities has been a dreaded possibility. But the law of Karma suggests if it happened before, it will happen again. It is hard to shake the conclusion that the reptilian brain remains in control of human affairs. People elected to office and diplomats are no exception. NATO is obsolete, but since perseveration is the major operating principle of human groups, some version of NATO will likely persist in a dysfunction manner, helping to create more conflicts than it can resolve.

From Surviving Human Nature by Stephen Gislason

The Belligerent Parent

Most parents become angry and punish children who make mistakes or who are disruptive and defiant. Anger is the dominant obstacle to human happiness and peace. All anger is destructive and the best parent will learn to control angry outbursts in favor of a more diplomatic approach to child management.
No-one is perfect and anger is a powerful innate program so that even the best parent will sometimes become angry and cause some harm to children. An average parent will become angry several times everyday and will shout, criticize and blame children for their own shortcomings. Children of average parents adapt to a level of disturbance and uncertainty. They copy and display their parents’ angry behavior and later will pass on the legacy of anger, criticism and blame to their own children. Belligerent parents are tyrants who routinely criticize, blame, punish and injure their children. They live beyond the boundaries of a civil society and create problems that extend well beyond the walls of their unhappy homes.

Some belligerent parents belong to groups who support child abuse and even proclaim old doctrines such as the absolute power of fathers over their children. Strict fathers set strict rules, demand complete obedience to their rules and beat their children with belts, sticks, and other weapons. Often male authority over children is linked to male authority over adult women who are abused in a similar manner. Children who suffer from rough treatment and abuse learn that that is the way you behave and treat others with the same hostility that their parents manifest for the rest of their lives.

Corporal punishment in schools is less common than it was. The President of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Steve Berman stated:” Schools have no business meting out punishments on children that society has deemed too barbaric for use in prisons or the military. Americans are striving to teach children not to use violence to solve problems, not to bully others, and to respect themselves and other people. I don't see how children can learn these lessons when the very people who give them guidance -- their teachers and principals -- are leaving them bruised and battered. “ *

Progress in the creation of a civil society involves a more enlightened approach to parenting and more intervention by social policy and law when parents abuse their children. I have no doubt that children do best when they have loving parents who sing, dance, hug and kiss. When a happy, loving parent becomes angry, a trusting child experiences a crisis in confidence which the excellent parent resolves with an apology, an explanation, and a promise to do better next time.

* Berman S .Spare the Child. Letter to the Editor. NYT. May 12, 2001

From Children and the Family by Stephen Gislason MD

December 13, 2014

The Common Good

One ethical argument is that group interests should have priority over selfish interests. An investigation of ethics must consider this argument and develop metrics for the common good. No-one should assume that it is easy to define the common good. In political battles, clearly divergent if not contradictory ideas of the common good prevail and efforts to achieve consensus are difficult to impossible. The ethical implications are profound.

Michael Sandel asks What’s the Right Thing to Do? He teaches political philosophy at Harvard and offers the most popular course on campus -- Justice One of his intellectual anchors is Jeremy Bentham who wrote Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation in 1780. Bentham proposed a utilitarian test to evaluate the morality of any action: ask the question will my action produce the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of people? John Stuart Mill later argued that respect for individuals rights as "the most sacred and binding part of morality" is compatible with the idea that justice rests ultimately on utilitarian considerations In simple terms, the two arguments compare individual interests with group interests.

Sandel also reviewed the philosophy of Immanuel Kant who argued that reason tells us what we ought to do, and when we obey our own reason, only then are we truly free. Kant’s ideas seem oddly unrealistic in the 21st century. Reason is in short supply. Every person assumes that he or she is more reasonable than others who disagree There is no consensus about the “common good.” We know that some humans are bad and will harm others as a matter of course; their behavior will not be altered by rational argument or laws and must be constrained by force. Some of these bad people arrive in positions of authority and power. Some bad people are elected, even to the highest positions in government where they can do much harm without insight or remorse.
We know that the audience, the "public", is made up of different groups with vested interests that conflict. We know that everyone invents stories that support their own point of view. Everyone deceives others and there is no absolute truth. We know that the voting public contains individuals with different mental abilities and that most humans have distinct limitations on what they can and will understand.

Human destiny as a species still lies with the programs in the old brain that offer only limited empathy and understanding and insist on the priority of local group survival at any cost. Individuals can transcend the old programs by diligent learning and practice but individual effort and learning does not change the genome, so that there can be no enduring civility without the persistent and relentless initiation of new humans into a rational and compassionate world order. Whatever we value about civilized human existence - culture, knowledge, social justice, respect for human rights and dignity must be practiced anew and stored as modifications of each person's neocortex.

From the Good Person - Ethics and Morality by Stephen Gislason

December 8, 2014

Television and Dystopia

A.O. Scott, film reviewer for the New York Times summarized his view of television programming in the 20th century:" …much of what's on television, whatever its scale or country of origin is garbage…even as disparate cultures can sample and appreciate each other’s stupidity, each one remains stupid in its own way, and no one's stupidity is inherently superior to anybody else's… in the global village, we are all idiots watching our reflections in a box."

You might argue that television programming ranges from the sublime to the psychotic. The sublime presentation includes intelligent exploration of the planet earth, its animals, plants and people. Science can be accessible to everyone and even the most abstruse concepts, when creatively presented, can be understood by most viewers. Even sports news, weather reports and banal sitcoms have a reassuring aspect; their daily presence provides a sense of continuity, an image of a society that wakes up every morning and carries on regardless. You could argue that sports on TV are a healthier expression of otherwise destructive human tendencies.

The most sane and reassuring cable channels are devoted to exploration of the natural world, cuisine, gardening and golf. The most insane show homicides and other crimes, vampires, ghosts, horror movies, war and actions involving fast cars, fighting, guns and bombs. News reports and much TV journalism wobble between intelligently informative reporting and misleading commentary. Since TV is a mass media, there is implicit understanding that half the population has an IQ below 100 and has limited knowledge and limited ability to understand complex issues. Too many programs assume that viewer is semi-literate, uneducated and 9 years old. The whole point of commercial television is to make your mind available to be programmed by the sponsor and to implant key messages in the viewer. Sponsors track the audience’s behavior in their sales figures and they buy more TV time when viewers obediently buy their goods. The most watched television program in the world is a football game, the US Superbowl. An estimated 111 million people watched the game in 2014; advertisers paid $4 million for a 30 second commercial.

TV journalism is inherently deceptive since many programs appear to be informative but only provide brief introductions to subjects and inadequate information to properly understand any subject. Bias is common, if not inevitable. Big money corporations and lobby groups effectively manipulate TV journalism. In the worst case, there is an intention to control consensus using the blunt tools of propaganda. News reports contain enough bad news to make any viewer despair but not enough information to understand what has really happened and what relevance events have to the viewer's own life. News reporting assumes that the audience has an endless capacity for moral outrage, one of the innate features of the human mind. Real progress begins when we drop the moral outrage and get on with fixing whatever is broken, knowing that the job is ongoing and endless. Clearly, more discrimination and restraint are needed before viewing news reports.

Some TV programming is frankly demented and I worry that less discriminating viewers will take the weird stuff too seriously. If you examine network TV programming closely, you find short clips lasting seconds rather than minutes. Scenes shift recklessly in a most unnatural manner. Video story telling is remarkably convincing even though the image selection is biased, brief and always incomplete. Television storytelling and gossip is one of its more important features. With multi-channels and 24 hours of potential programming on each channel, the format of people talking spontaneously or answering questions has emerged as time fillers. Talk and interview shows express a range of interests, attitudes and beliefs. The desirable result is that any viewer will recognize a diversity of human expression and may, hopefully, develop more tolerance. Even when you dislike someone on TV and oppose their point of view, there is subtle shift toward more tolerance, especially when other people model for you polite and rational ways of expressing disagreement. Gossip, however, is seldom informative.

Stanely described the psychotic content in proliferating apocalyptic movies and TV Shows:" Dystopian parables like “The Walking Dead,” where zombies rule the earth, are an increasingly fashionable genre of entertainment, but the degree of apocalyptic pessimism is very different depending on the size of the screen. The dividing line between television and movies seems to be class conflict. Television shows posit a hideous future with a silver lining; survivors, good or bad, are more or less equals. Movies like “Divergent,” “Snowpiercer” and “Elysium” foresee societal divisions that last into Armageddon and beyond and that define a new, inevitably Orwellian world order that emerges from the ruins of civilization. There is something positive about the end of the world on shows like “The Walking Dead,” and “Z Nation” on Syfy and “The Last Ship,” on TNT. True, civilization as we know it is gone, but so is social stratification. Survivors don’t group into castes according to birth, race, income or religion. People of all kinds bond with whomever seems friendly, or at least unthreatening. In the third season of “The Walking Dead,” a charismatic leader known as the Governor did establish a totalitarian community, Woodbury, but even there, people weren’t divided into social subgroups. And happily, his cultlike dictatorship was eventually destroyed. The world is all but destroyed and almost unspeakably grim in movies like “Snowpiercer” and “Elysium” and “The Zero Theorem,” but that’s not even the half of it. There isn’t much left except the enmity of haves and have-nots: A tyrannical ruling class — or Big Brother — hoards precious resources and enslaves the mob."


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December 7, 2014

Civility

The term “civil” refers to strategies and devices use to regulate the interface between individual interests and community interests. A civil society is characterized by a multilayered system of organizations that meet, discuss, vote and contribute to the well-being of the community. In an ideal civil society, individual and civil interests are congruent and there is no conflict.

 The maintenance of civility requires the imposition of attitudes, expectations, beliefs, rules and the enforcement of codes of conduct. The main dynamic in a free society involves the defense of social civility by law and the defense of civil liberties by individuals and groups who champion personal freedom. Socialism refers to political movements based on the idea that citizens of a state should own and manage the means of production and distribution of life’s necessities.
In the best case, an ideal egalitarian society distributes resources equitably and provides safety and security for its citizens.

The basic problem with social idealism is that human nature cannot be changed. Humans naturally compete and distribute resources through hierarchical networks. To change a more or less spontaneous order, a revolutionary group needs to arbitrarily reconstruct a political and economic system. There have been many versions of imposed socialism and many revolutions that failed. A reasonable historian can conclude that communism introduced by revolution in Russia and China failed and is being replaced by hybrid economies that combine “free enterprise” with state-owned enterprise.

What is remarkable about socialist ideas in the US is the paranoid resistance that arises from advocates of capitalism, a resistance organized by dominant humans who will fight to maintain control of resources and wealth. Ideological battles are disguises for old battles to defend and expand territory, wealth and dominance.

Large aggregations of humans grew beyond reasonable limits in the 20th century. The tendency for the largest coalitions of nations to break up into smaller units is probably adaptive and represents an old primate tendency. The tendency in business for large companies to merge and form international conglomerates is driven by rational goals and means, but goes beyond human cognitive abilities. These large organizations are not likely to endure. Large assemblies become unfriendly and inefficient and eventually fail unless they are re-organized into subgroups that are small enough to allow individuals to work effectively together.

The Masses

From the viewpoint of a single person, only a small number of other humans can be recognized as individuals. Only individuals have thoughts, feelings, status and rights. All the rest turn into "the masses". As humans adapt to living in large groups, some peculiar attitudes emerge in an attempt to cope with a large number of other humans out there that you cannot know, cannot understand and cannot trust. While categories are inevitable, the human tendency is to rely on broad generalizations. A distinction has to be made between concepts, principles and axioms that reveal the essence of human tendencies and categories that lack cogent information.

Humans often lack a sense of appropriateness when they go beyond names and concepts that apply to a well-known, local community. Categories are improvised to collect faceless people of indeterminate numbers into imaginary groups. An American will tell about Europeans in a few sentences and a European will tell you about Americans. These broad categories have almost no informational value, but they do serve the cause of prejudice. Every human walks around with a collection of generalizations and categorical prejudices and generally feels comfortable with this "knowledge base."

The reader will be reassured to know that I have been on duty for many years, notebook in hand, studying the masses. One of my vantage points was a local café where I listened to conversations and studied human behavior as I read newspapers. One sunny afternoon on the café patio, a loud male speaker in his early 20's was holding forth about the "masses" and what the "masses want" and what the "masses don't know." There was a bit of conspiracy theory thrown in for good measure. This young man didn't score high on the impromptu coffee shop IQ test - he got 100- but his remarks epitomize an approach that is common "among the masses". Since identities blur as the distance increases, there is a tendency to use all inclusive, general and vague categories for everyone who does not belong to your inner circle. As you move further and further away from home, even these general categories blur.

The dangerous aspect of the young man's concern is the possibility that he, in all his wisdom, will figure out what the masses really need and, with a small band of trusted cronies, he will set out to save the world. Despots are people who know what the masses need and impose their will. As the distance from other humans increases, the other humans lose their humanity and may become victims of despots who treat them as tokens in the video game of life.

From Human Nature by Stephen Gislason

December 6, 2014

Advertising

 

One way to control the public mind is to use mass media to persuade entire populations to think and behave in specific ways. You could argue that the knowledge and skills used by good advertising agencies are the same tools of used by political propagandists. In the best case, advertising is more benevolent, designed to entertain, inform and motivate you to purchase a product. In an even better case, the skills of advertising can be used to persuade citizens to behave in a more constructive manner, improve their heath and to treat others with more kindness and concern. In the worse case, advertising is intrusive, dishonest and devious. In any case, good advertising works to sell products, just as skillful propaganda can turn lies into public policy. Since most citizens of affluent countries are tuned into multimedia every day, advertising and propaganda are pervasive influences determining their beliefs and behavior.

Marketing consultant Jerry Bader stated:" Great advertising isn't real, it's hyper-real: hyperrealism is a communication approach that generates desire and motivates action by presenting a stylized version of reality through a focused perspective. Reality is messy and confused; hyper-reality is concentrated and clear, and when it comes to marketing messages, concentrated and clear is the goal." Bader described the human tendency to copy what others are doing and saying. He compared copying to cloning in US marketing practice. He stated:" somebody makes a profitable movie about vampires, and the next thing you know we're all inundated with movies, television shows, books, blogs, websites, and every form of blood-sucking permutation you can imagine." Every successful product, brand or advertising message is copying many times. Bader suggested:" Most of the copycats fail because the clone-masters behind them don't understand why the original worked, and as a consequence, they clone all the wrong elements. Clone marketing is just rote copying of technical elements without any reference to why the original worked, whereas Slipstream marketing takes a familiar idea and plays off it like a great jazz musician reinterprets an old standard.

"An example was Kimberly Clark's success at branding a commodity, facial tissue, as Kleenex. They recognized the need to transform their commodity product into something of higher value by showing an emotional connection between the product and the consumer. Their Let It Out video commercials featured an interviewer who asked people to sit down on a couch in the middle of a busy street to describe a meaningful moment in their lives. People cried, and people laughed, until tears came to their eyes, at which point, the interviewer handed each person a Kleenex along with a memorable music message. Kleenex became the most successful brand name and eventually became the generic name for all facial tissues."

In an ideal world, commercial advertising would not exist. In Canada, the Canadian Broadcast Corporation offered  advertising-free radio. I tuned into their programs for many years and grew used to commercial-free CBC FM broadcasts that featured classical music, jazz, radio plays and educational radio essays. To this day, I have little tolerance for commercial radio or television broadcasting. In an ideal world, marketing products and services would never intrude on a citizen’s privacy and never be pushed by media without the consent of the listener-viewer.


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Surviving Human Nature