Our Inherent Flaws

I’ve been thinking about the subject matter I’ve been seeking, lately, in the books I’ve been buying, titles like: The Coddling of the American Mind: How good intentions and bad ideas are setting up a Generation for Failure, and How America Lost Its Mind: The Assault on Reason that’s Crippling Our Democracy, might seem to suggest an inherent skepticism on my part regarding the general intelligence of my fellow citizens. Before even opening the covers on these books, just the fact of selection would appear to suggest critical assumptions on my part, and I’m realizing that such an assessment of my intentions is probably pretty accurate.

These books are filled with criticisms of the ‘cancel culture’ removing statues and place names of statesmen in our past found to no longer be P. C. or racist or worse; ‘helicopter parenting’ (pretty self-explanatory); ‘safetyism’: protecting ‘fragile students’ from having to face unpleasant truths; how we have ‘woke’ to subtle, systemic racism (no complaint here); how the ‘heckler’s veto’ shouts down views unfavorable to the shouters.  And I find out about how ‘deep state’ conspiracy theorists are undermining our trust in social institutions.  Alternative realities, fed by misinformation and half-truths presented by dubious sources whose real aim is the lucrative income outrage can produce.

Anyway, this deliberate move on my part to find and delineate the flaws in contemporary society, reinforcing what I already believe, has me rethinking my intellectual consumption as I sit back in my armchair with furrowed brow. I fear I’m probably not serving the common good to any great extent, realizing as I do that others following their own intuitive inclinations, consuming information supportive of their perspectives, are as unlikely as I am to be swayed in their beliefs.

The chasm seems to be widening.  It’s hard to oppose the ‘democratization of truth’ in a free society no matter how much misinformation abounds.  I wonder if we’ll be able to unite when push really does come to shove?

Images of The Apocalypse

It doesn’t take a lot of imagination these days (for scifi buffs especially) to envision the collapse of civilization, an ensuing dark age in the not so distant future. For those suffering the hardships of living paycheck to paycheck when there isn’t one, a harsh reality has set in and shouldn’t be made light of. But for fans of apocalyptic literature a certain symmetry is to be found and acknowledged, if not enjoyed, as the various narratives and behaviors brought on by fear of the dreaded disease plays out.

The ever-present media coverage reveals incidents of hoarding of basic needs, stand-offs with armed militias, the spreading of deep-state conspiracies, but also compassion and self-sacrifice of many not the least of which are health-care workers. All these scenarios can be found in the best doomsday fiction. The zombie invasions of ‘World War Z’ come to mind as does the devastating epidemic in ‘The Stand’ and the cannibalism in Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’. And then, after civilization’s total collapse, centuries pass and the remnants of the 21st century are discovered, archaeological artifacts, as in ‘A Canticle for Liebowitz’.

Such fictional story lines remain entertaining because, of course, no one really believes things will become all that dire. Maybe there’s a bit of cathartic relief, after all, in imagining how much worse things could be.

Where the Truth Lies

I’ve been wondering, lately, about the public discourse with its multiple narratives, each of which attempting to rationalize and validate perspectives of what was, is and eventually will be.

These conflicting views that are clearly apparent in the political and religious realms are adhered to sometimes vehemently and with little room for compromise, the facts offered in support varying according to the narrative embraced. Support for the facts appears pretty flexible, based on political expediency or scriptural sources that have evolved over the centuries to accommodate changing world views.

So, without any sort of absolute truth I guess one’s preferred philosophical beliefs must derive from some sort of intuition: an intuitive sense of the social milieu and one’s personal stake in it all. In the interests of a sustainable future I can only hope that more than a few of us choose a humanistic perspective in support of our fellow man.

The Walking Dead

Heading to Arizona as I am, masked, buying gas at the pump, maintaining a safe distance from others, in constant use of antibacterial wipes, eating in my car I feel pretty safe although people in the streets stare, seem suspicious and I speed by them. The recent health scare, the pandemic, has me thinking of ‘The Walking Dead’, you know, the TV series in which a few stalwart survivors find themselves in constant danger, being pursued by the ravenous infected hoards. Civilization has collapsed and our heroes are on constant lookout for temporary safe havens and stores of canned goods on which to survive.

I really don’t think civilization is in danger of imminent collapse, but my journey has taken on an air of excitement (trepidation?) and as someone of advanced age I’m led to believe my very mortality may be at risk. If you don’t hear from me next week you might possibly suspect the worst: I may be quarantined in a senior retirement community.

Devious Narratives

It’s pretty clear, these days, that some of the narratives emanating from the public stage are motivated by special interests with ulterior motives being presented, of course, as irrefutable fact.

To the astute listener, aware of the possibility of unsavory manipulations at the hands of a smooth-talking narrator, a degree of skepticism will always be present in determining the validity or falsity of the narration, but, if the story being told, truthful or not, is consistent with the chosen beliefs or inherent inclinations of the listener caution may very well be swept aside in favor of an open embrace of the narrators ‘factually truthful’ account (nothing like the re-enforcement of one’s beliefs to build personal self-confidence) which then opens the door a bit wider allowing for the inclusion in one’s belief system, other fringe ideas that would have been unthinkable only a couple of narrations ago, and, the louder and more often the narrative is repeated the more legitimate it appears to be.

It’s frightening to consider what innate anti-social tendencies we may harbor, masked, as they are, by our supposed spiritual upbringing.

Why We Laugh

I’ve been reading that laughter is a means of communication. It’s an infectious behavior that manifests in social groups particularly but not exclusively in party settings. It’s understandable I guess as a stress reliever given the social pressures we all endure. What we laugh at though is often, more than likely really, about disparaging someone.

Humor may be self-deprecating or gentle teasing but a good laugh generally requires a victim and the focus of derision will often be someone seen as holding a position of superiority, a boss perhaps, or someone seen as feigning dignity. So, it’s a status thing. Put-downs level the playing field psychologically, distill our insecurities and are great sources of raucous laughter shared with friends.
Certain comedic routines feed the same need. There are comedians who play the dunce card; who display an incompetence or obliviousness that makes us all feel better about ourselves.

In any case it appears that humor tends to focus on subjects who are clearly inferior to us, a true doofus or two who allow us the illusion we are good and well-functioning individuals, at least for a little while. Which, I guess, is reason enough for a little fun-poking, realizing, of course, each of us is likely to be the recipient of the poking at some point.

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.

 

 

Superior Intelligence

I’ve been reading that there is evidence to suggest that the world is getting smarter, that world-wide, IQ scores have been steadily rising at a rate much faster than an evolving humanity can explain, which doesn’t necessarily mean, I guess, that a person of average intelligence one hundred years ago, transported by time machine to the present would be borderline retarded by our standards. But the presumption is our great grandparents would be sorely lacking in the intellectual flexibility we’ve become adapted to in recent generations to deal with the complexities of technological advancements not to mention the inter-connectedness communications with the world-at-large has impressed upon us. It appears our existence, the intellectual world we occupy, is larger and multi-faceted in ways unimaginable in the world of the 1920’s.

One wonders, though, if living in a smaller reality back then, restricted even to a limited geographical existence, you know, knowing less, didn’t have its advantages in terms of less anxiety, stress, working longer days and weeks making for less time to contemplate, anticipate all of the potential evils one might imagine. Living as they did through the devastation of WWI and the 1918 flu epidemic, did a naïve faith make it possible for them to realize a peace we will never again be able to grasp?

We’re healthier, wealthier and longer-lived than our great-grandparents could have ever hoped to be, but I have to wonder if our increased awareness makes us happier.