July 19, 2010

Perseveration: Clinging to the Past

“For what I am seems so fleeting and intangible but what I was is fixed and final. It is the firm basis of what I will be in the future and so it comes about that I am more closely identified with what no longer exists that with what actually is.” Alan Watts, The Way of Zen.

Despite the advantages of letting go of memories and artifacts of the past and being fully present, humans cling to the past. Humans find it difficult to change old routines even when circumstances change and the old routines are no longer effective; this is perseveration, a reptilian tendency. Clinging also involves myths and histories and the repetition of stories and collections of artifacts, used in ritualistic behaviors. The endurance of groups often depends on re-telling stories and repeating stylized behaviors.

The persistence of the past is not a feature of time or the really real out there in the universe, but a feature of the brain. All learning involves changes to the structure of the brain that tend to persist. Once learned, a behavioral routine is part of brain structure. New routines can override old routines, but older patterns persist and often prevail.

Children are more adaptable than adults because they are learning new things every day and their brains are more likely to change through experience and formal learning. Adults tend to be more fixed in their learned routines and fundamental changes require major reconstruction of their brain structure that occurs slowly over months to years.

Perseveration is maladaptive in proportion to the rate and degree of change in the environment. Adaptation requires behavior changes when big events alter the environment or new information requires behavior change. Humans who cannot learn new strategies and do not update their information tend to perish when circumstances change.

The lethal effects of preservation are apparent when you consider the adverse health effects of smoking, overeating, alcohol and drug use. At least half all diseases prevalent in affluent countries can be avoided by changing behavior, but the majority of humans will not or cannot change deeply imbedded habits.

You could argue that if conditions are stable, perseveration is allowed and there are some advantages. The first benefit is that established routines that have worked in the past are reassuring and if circumstances stay the same, the same routines continue to work. The second benefit is that familiar people, landscapes, sounds, smells and tastes are understood and trusted; whereas new and unfamiliar experiences require a major effort to learn, adapt and overcome the uncertainty inherent in change.

As humans age and lose much of the randomness, curiosity and adventure of youth, old familiar, experiences become increasingly attractive. The family album is brought out, old songs are played, and stories of events long ago are repeated endlessly. As dementia progresses new events are confusing or immediately forgotten, old stories are recalled and recited repetitiously with evidence of pleasure. There are stories of the “good old days” but painful past events tend to be recalled more often and are repeated and embellished as casemaking. The case argues that someone or some group has wronged you in the past; the wrongs are detailed; revenge and retribution are sought. Revenge and retribution become cultural activities. Much human drama depends on case-making stories with revenge as the goal. Hatred is the most entrenched version of casemaking that focuses story-telling skills on diminishing an enemy and promoting the right to revenge.

Education tends to perseveration. Children are required to learn facts about the past and are rewarded for reading old books, learning obsolete ideas and methods. Most discussion of educational reform focuses on achieving literacy and better math-science scores rather than producing happier, more cooperative more creative, more compassionate humans.

From Surviving the 21st Century by Stephen Gislason.

July 16, 2010

Religion and Wars Past and Present

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 is 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 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, 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 enduring 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. In Canada, a French-speaking, Roman Catholic province, Quebec, continues to assert its cultural independence from the rest of Canada which is secular, multicultural and polylingual.

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, although Armenians were Christians and Turks were Muslims. The 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 was to defend Muslim territory. The second priority was 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 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.

From Religion for the 21st Century by Stephen Gislason.
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 is 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 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, 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 enduring 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. In Canada, a French-speaking, Roman Catholic province, Quebec, continues to assert its cultural independence from the rest of Canada which is secular, multicultural and polylingual.

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, although Armenians were Christians and Turks were Muslims. The 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 was to defend Muslim territory. The second priority was 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 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.

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