Status

I’ve been contemplating, lately, the mystery of how exactly certain people gain status these days. Apparently material wealth is a significant factor, but one must wonder what else is required for one to attain pre-eminence. I get that prehistoric cave dwellers and school yard children look up to those larger and stronger than average, maybe quicker-witted as well but the rule doesn’t seem to follow for today’s notables. Observing those in the public eye these days has me wondering how so many of modest abilities and unexceptional skills could have gained attention except through happenstance, luck or inheritance.

At any rate, once realized, status holders seem reluctant to relinquish the attention. The tendency seems to be to remain in the spotlight by what ever means available. Conspicuous display of wealth through ostentatious consumption is an age-old tactic meant to ensure special recognition: it was a traditional status move by the indigenous people of the Northwest Coast in their Potlach ceremonies and such behavior is easy to observe in today’s affluent culture.

The problem now is, so many are affluent that it’s pretty difficult to attract much attention through wastefully excessive behavior. Some have upped the ante by exercising conspicuous outrage: offering incendiary commentary that demonizes groups and individuals which is then readily picked up by the media always interested, as they are, in feeding controversy.

Such self-serving mean spiritedness, one would think, should provide short-lived attention but the opposite seems to be the case. I guess too many of us are comfortable viewing reality as melodrama.

Our Primitive Brain

I’ve been reading about parallels between biological evolution and cultural progression over the years. Biologically humankind has evolved over the millennia to produce, over thousands of generations, a fitter specimen, better able to sustain and thrive in a sometimes hostile natural world.

Similarly, I’m led to understand, ideas arise, catch on for their beauty and usefulness, spread from brain to brain and sometimes mutate into more useful variations. These ‘memes’ will evolve to become part of our common knowledge and humankind’s cultural sophistication grows accordingly.

Problems occur when our biological selves which are pretty much now what they were 50,000 years ago must reconcile our primitive brains with a rapidly evolving culture. Our essentially tribal inclinations tend to interfere with our ability to assimilate the pluralism our intellects assure us is a reasonable way to coexist in our culturally shrinking world, which, I guess, somewhat explains the populism rampant in today’s politics.

It’s one thing, though, to understand all of this, something else to have to live through it.

Natural Selection

I’ve been reading that evolutionary progress will proceed through natural selection. Generational changes to an organism, occurring as the demands of existential pressures require, upgrade survival abilities; which suggests, I guess, that those beings that evolve with the fittest genetic make-up will be the ones that thrive and reproduce, passing on their fitness to their offspring. But I’m led to understand, the system isn’t fool proof; occasionally a glitch in the system will cause unfavorable genetic mutations to be passed on which results in less than desirable progeny.

One does have to wonder sometimes at the actions and decisions some people choose; maybe it’s the ‘choice gene’ that has mutated or perhaps it’s missing altogether in those folks who seem to proceed through life in a more or less spontaneous and thoughtless manner. These unfortunates may find themselves making bad life choices that result in a failure to mate and reproduce or prematurely exit existence, which I suppose, is how nature cleans up the gene pool.

 

 

Politics and Reason

I’ve been reading that one’s political affiliation is the primary determiner of the position one assumes regarding the hot-button issues of the day. Well, maybe not everyone’s, but the suggestion is that a political stance is determined to a great extent by social relations, how one identifies with those around her: a kind of in-group, tribal association that leads to consumption and regurgitation of the appropriate sound-bites consistent with the ‘correct’ political view.

To support such a perspective my very credible source suggests that, when questioned, most on the political fringes (which now make up around 40% of the electorate) have little knowledge of the nuances of the issues: global warming, health-care for all, world trading agreements, capitalistic regulation, the social safety-net, the plight of immigrants are all seen through the lens of political bias; which accounts, pretty much, for the divisiveness in the contemporary social dialogue: each side demonizing the other aided and abetted by profit-seeking punditry.

So, I guess the question is, how to discourage unreasoned dogmatic belief and encourage critical thinking: thinking carefully about both sides of issues and side-stepping political flashpoints. It may all be left up to a younger generation to re-find enlightened thinking; their power is growing, after all, funeral by funeral.

Populism

It appears populism has become a significant factor in world events these days. I guess the term refers to, among other things, belief in the need to protect the homeland against outside pressures and influences; the homeland being the small segment of the world where the populists reside. Ideas like establishing a world community where important issues like environmental degradation, global conflict, world hunger or the potential spread of catastrophic diseases might be addressed isn’t on the agenda apparently.

I’ve been reading that populist movements are made up, primarily of old white guys that oppose, for the most part, in-coming populations of people of other ethnicities, who, they apparently think (the old white guys, that is) are weighing too heavily on limited resources. Other fears surface as well: fears of being over-run by alien cultural beliefs and being relegated to minority status if the influx is allowed to continue.

There’s a sense here of not wanting to think too hard about the big picture, or, maybe even acknowledging there is a big picture. It seems a bit like, you know, when you were a kid, pulling the covers over your head to escape the unknown entity that is making the noises under the bed and then in the morning manning-up and informing the authorities of the presence of aliens.

Well, anyway, I’m hopeful that an enlightened view will reappear in the not-to-distant future and a cooperative, inclusive humankind will re-emerge and the light of reason will break through the momentary darkness.

Optimism

I’ve been reading a very credible, in-depth commentary suggesting that never at any time in history has humankind enjoyed a better, more favorable existence than we do right now. Economic growth world-wide has increased longevity, relative health and safety; social strife, whether racial or religious has seen significant reductions as has conflict between nations. Relatively speaking, I’m led to believe, the potential for living a long happy and satisfying life has never been better anywhere.

As I read these optimistic observations and being, as I am, a regular consumer of the daily news and commentary, filled, as it is, with notions of potential doomsday scenarios, from terroristic infiltrations of our homeland to environmental devastation of our good earth not to mention even more dire possibilities like cyber attacks potentially destroying democracy as we know it and genocidal viruses being loosed upon us which could in all believability kill millions, I have to wonder how long, if I were to jump on the optimist’s bandwagon, such a deluded sense of well-being would be sustainable.

I don’t think it’s responsible to quit paying attention to the news altogether but maybe I might do a bit better sorting the sensational from the truly dire. Is it worthwhile to be conjuring images of ant-biotic resistant pathogens consuming one’s body from the inside-out or should I perhaps temper my news consumption a bit, maybe focusing on the truly useful issues like reducing my carbon footprint, being a more responsible consumer? I’ll try to take a more balanced approach to information consumption.

Violence

I’ve been reading that, by nature of our very existence at this point in time, most everyone has been endowed with the genetic propensity to behave violently. Given the necessary provocation, or not, our ancestral drive for survival has instilled the will and desire toward physical aggression in the interests of protecting kith and kin on the positive side and for some of us who may be leaning toward the psychopathic, rape and kill for personal gain. Violence may be the prevailing characteristic of humankind given our histories of Wild West lawlessness, clannish feuds and nearly constant warring.
Passivity is, I guess, a logical reaction against having to deal with any sort of revenge perpetrated upon us by survivors of aggressive behavior on our part, who, then, would have to be back-watching for retributive response from us, which would likely create a stand-off and perhaps perpetual distrust, which would place everyone in a fairly constant state of tension.
So, I’m sticking with passivity; I’m anxious enough as it is.

Human Nature

I’ve been reading that in France in the mid-20th century various fringe groups instigated massive protests against the government, building barricades across streets in Paris and causing as much mayhem as they could muster, which was considerable, energy being particularly high when an appropriate evil is made tangible.

Although the demands of the anarchists weren’t well articulated it appears the rub essentially was about class struggles; a class-less communism seeming to be the desired end; freedom to be equals through re-distribution of resources. The result of all the chaos turned out to be a ruthless police crack-down and excessive prison sentences where abominable conditions led many inmates to suicide, which led to more protests and civil unrest.

It all seems too familiar: the tendency toward mayhem for mayhems sake, even all-out anarchy appears hidden beneath mankind’s benign exterior. Human nature seeks opposition; someone or something to cast as enemy, the cause of their difficulties, emotions rise, factions unite, shouting occurs, and all Hell breaks loose: another revolution of sorts happens.

The human psyche being what it is I sometimes wonder how periods of peace happen at all.

The Cave and the Light

I’ve been reading a quite in-depth account of how, throughout history, two particular strains of thought have been instrumental in quidding our understanding of the world around us.

Platonic thinking attributes essential truth to an eternal reality in relation to which our world is but a temporary, fleeting imperfection. The ultimate answers we seek, according to this philosophy, will be realized in contemplation of the eternal ideal forms of true reality.

On the other hand, Aristotelian thought is, that to know, to gain knowledge of the world in which we live requires sensory observation. Experiencing first hand, gathering information and applying inductive logic to what we see around us will unravel the mysteries of this life.

The thinking is, I guess, that pretty much all our philosophical tendencies will fall into one of these two modes. The Plutonic tending toward (or rationalizing) religious engagement with an heavenly realm, while the Aristotelian thinker gravitates toward science with its logical processes and empirical observations.

On a personal level it seems to me both perspectives can be embraced to some degree without contradiction. In fact remaining open to all possibilities would appear a smoother road to travel and with better scenery along the way.

 

 

 

 

The Romantic Sublime

The romantic inclination to solitary communion with nature in order to find truth in beauty is beyond doubt appealing and resonates with anyone who enjoys an invigorating walk in the woods.  The thoughtful Romantic realizes, of course, that nature has her darker side. The sun isn’t always shining, the birds sometimes are silent and Nature can on occasion lose her nurturing aspect, may in fact turn violent and even hostile, threatening the well-being of humankind. Nature’s beauty isn’t lost, though, in the violence of a hurricane or snow-storm but is re-characterized as sublime: an overwhelming and awesome power beyond human imagining.

It seems Nature’s sublimity is increasingly apparent these days, extreme weather events occurring with regularity. A thoughtful Romantic might wonder if perhaps there’s anger being leveled at a humanity exploiting her realm, encouraging us to take heed, to realize a necessary respect for the nurturing environment that sustains us.  Well, being the timid Romantic I am, I’m doing my best to reduce my carbon footprint in the hope Mother Nature will see fit to allow my continuing existence.