Just 200 years ago, slavery was legal and widespread in the US. Even more recently, women were considered inferior and were not allowed to vote. Unfair discrimination based on gender, ethnicity or race, was acceptable and normal
On top of all that, violent crime has been decreasing in recent decades, and there has not been a world war in 70 years.
Obviously humanity has been improving morally. Obvious to some, that is, but is it really true? And if it is true, what is the real cause?
Steven Pinker is a cognitive psychologist who believes humanity is improving, and he believes it is because of modern scientific education and secular humanism. Among other things, but mostly he credits advanced, rational, “enlightened” thinking.
If Pinker is correct, then we would expect people who are less educated and sophisticated and “enlightened” to be more prone to acts of cruelty and violence. We would expect other animals, who are not educated of course, to be less moral and compassionate than humans.
Pinker’s views are shared by many other atheist secular humanists.
If you think carefully about those ideas, which may seem obviously true, can you find any logical holes in the reasoning?
“You pick your nose, you scratch your ass….and the world goes by.” wrote Ted Williams in his book My Turn At Bat. It’s been one of those days for me. If I could make “Contemplative Laconic” a paint color, I’d be in the mood to do a lot of painting.
Yeah, I did get some things done, grocery shopping, a LOT of reading. I’ve been loving all the thoughtful comments in the post previous to this one. Huh! I just thought how rarely I refer to a post as “previous”, even though it does make some sense.
The phone! Be right back…..and here I am. Was it a long call for you? I hope not!
On this Mothers Day, I am thinking about my mom, but I’m also thinking of a friend whose relationship to her parents was close to my own. This has been a big bonding point with us ever since. It’s funny that we often have family conversations that many of our mutual friends don’t understand. This bond means even more to her than I, and we share confidences about other things because of that relationship. On her mother’s deathbed, her mother asked my friend to take care of her siblings who struggle more than she does. I had a “deathbed scene” with my mother too….which was just trauma topped with sadness. I still suppress remembering it; I’ve got enough other reasons for trauma and sadness.
I sat out on the lawn drinking Watermelon Cucumber Cooler (thank you, Trader Joe’s!) watching traffic go by. I’ve always loved watching traffic; spotting car models was the Detroit equivalent of identifying animal tracks for outdoors types. There are a couple of car magazines here and you’ll see an exotic or two because of that. A gold Lamborghini Aventador! There’s a rare bird….but the rain drove me back indoors.
I could talk about life….but why not just live it and let the chips fall where they may?
People who complain about aging sound old. But “Grace and Frankie” is a senior angst comedy that somehow doesn’t seem fusty and out of date. . . . Together, [Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin] pull this comedy about 70-somethings back from the brink of ridicule. . . . This series covers a later phase in life, somewhere between late-blooming love and assisted living.
And it’s been a while since a series was so intently centered on the early-bird-special set.
Television shows tend to reflect the preoccupations of their creators, and ageism is a fact of Hollywood life. It’s not just older actresses who feel discarded. [It’s e]ven [the] people behind the camera . . .
Reviews reflect the preoccupations of their creators, too. Stanley is reportedly 60 herself, and every line of this screams, “I am NOT one of THEM!!!” Ageism is also a fact of New York media life—hell, of American life. And milking that fact for bittersweet laughs (after all, there’s a large, retiring demographic coming along, the death-diminished bulge in the python, with lots of TV-watching time on its hands) is what this sitcom is all about. Toward the review’s end, Stanley stops sneeringly editorializing with every phrase and simply describes a scene from the sitcom:
Grace and Frankie find that without important husbands, they vanish. Old friends don’t call and strangers don’t even acknowledge them. In one scene, the normally poised Grace is incensed when a male supermarket cashier doesn’t turn to serve them or even acknowledge their waves, pleas and yoo-hoos. He has eyes and time only for a pretty young woman who saunters up asking for lottery tickets.
Grace has a screaming meltdown, and Frankie ushers her back to the car and reveals an upside: She stole a pack of cigarettes. “We have a superpower,” Frankie says slyly. “You can’t see me, you can’t stop me.”
Grace and Frankie feel invisible, but here they stand out.
So this has made me think about the perennial subject of age and ageism: how getting old really sucks, and how it actually doesn’t; why our culture dismisses, derides, and despises the old, and what it misses thereby. (Disclaimer: I don’t think this is all or even the main thing we should be talking about, in some last baby-boomer bid to monopolize the cultural conversation.)
How getting old sucks is perfectly obvious: your body starts to fall off. And sometimes, and therefore, your mind too. And it’s simultaneously happening to all your friends. Nature is through with you and starts looking for a way to kill you. And it is perfectly clear to you that it is not a matter of if, but when, and how, and how bad. From now on you’ll be occupied with tossing parts of yourself you can live without to Captain Hook’s crocodile to postpone the inevitable; then, you’ll be smashing the crocodile in the snout with your rifle butt as its bad breath engulfs you. It’s the price of life. And it’s amazing to arrive at the threshold of old age and discover how very little of a dent the triumphs of science have made in it. Okay, more of us now make it to our three score and ten. And then, if not before, the shit starts hitting the fan, right on schedule. Knees are replaced, stents put in, breasts and bladders turn cancerous . . .
What’s more amazing to discover, though, is that it isn’t all loss and fear. If you have your mind. If you have your mind, it becomes like a study glowing with burnishing lamplight, with a deep, comfortable chair, with shelves of books on all sides receding into the darkness of the infinite. As you sit in that chair you have a magical arm that can reach out past Alpha Cygni in a languid gesture and pluck just the right apple from the farthest twig of the great tree.
Of course there’s more — the detachment and perspective we call “wisdom,” which feels like rising to stratospheric heights above the busy surface of the globe and taking it all in with an eagle’s-eye sweep—the patterns, the vanishing tininess—on the way to leaving it all behind. And if thinking has new, powerful pleasures, so does stopping thinking—paradoxically recognizing how futile, inadequate, and disconnected from actual life are all efforts to systematize and understand. You know so much more about what you don’t know—the pinnacle of education!
Why doesn’t our culture find any value in this? I think mainly because it’s invisible, or hidden in homely vessels. We’re an almost exclusively visual culture, obsessed with the charm of surfaces. We’re also obsessed with marketing, which goes for the lowest biological common denominator, locus of the strongest impulses and the broadest base—therefore the surest profits. (Profits über prophets!) Sophisticated presentations of the most basic drives and arousals are our entirely worldly focus. In the heat of the prime of life, the insights of wisdom are impotent cobwebs, or snowflakes, to be shouldered off. Only loss reveals them to be weighty anchors and deep wells.
It’s holding on that makes age ridiculous. If you’re too busy fighting the loss, you can miss the gain.
For which I apologize. Skip it if you like.
Today, Dave Schuler commented on his blog The Glittering Eye that
The president strikes what I think is essentially the right tone in commenting on the riots in Baltimore….
My response, edited slightly, follows:
Almost everyone agrees that compassion is good. Most religions say we should be compassionate. Compassionate behavior has been shown to increase your mental and physical health.
So we are all compassionate of course, right? Yes we are, because compassion is a natural instinct, found in all the higher animal species. Maybe in some of the lower species also, who knows.
Compassion is all good, for everyone everywhere. So there should be no problems in the world, right? Everyone knows they should be compassionate, so everyone tries to be. And since it’s a natural instinct we don’t even have a choice — we are compassionate like or not. Except maybe some depraved sociopaths.
As long as everyone behaves with compassion, things should go well for our society. Oh, but darn, there are all those greedy selfish people who tend to be in charge. They ruin it for all the rest of us, right? The 99 percent are good, it’s that greedy 1 percent that ruins things.
Tell me if you think I’m wrong. Isn’t that a summary of how compassion is seen in our society? So why do I care enough to write about it, since we all agree and there is nothing else to be said.
I am writing about it because I think it is total BS. I think it is all wrong, and it can’t be right, because if it were right then nothing would make sense.
The extreme pro-compassion view is more likely to be associated with progressive, or leftist, politics. However it isn’t limited to that. It is everywhere in modern society, in all ideologies and philosophies and religions.
One problem I see with the compassion craze is that ironically it promotes hatred. People who value compassion are likely to despise the greedy villains who ruin everything for the rest of us because of their lack of compassion.
But the main problem I see is that the whole theory is wrong, because it is rooted in modern reductionism. And what do I mean by reductionism oh this post will be a hundred pages if I try to explain, so I will skip ahead and say I am promoting a holistic, systemic, view of things. The holistic perspective is mostly ignored in our society, which I think is really too bad. Yes we have holistic medicine, but we also need a completely holistic way of thinking about everything.
The trouble with the ideal of compassion is that all concepts are completely empty unless they are seen in context, in relation to other concepts. The word “love,” for example, is thrown around all the time with no attempt to say what the concept means. And the word “compassion” has the same problem.
I want to give a simple example that I hope will easily explain what I mean. Let’s say there is a big male gorilla who is the boss of a bunch of females and their babies. The females are responsible for protecting their babies (and they know this because nature has given them the compassionate maternal instinct), and the big alpha male is responsible for protecting the whole bunch. He also knows this because of his natural instinct for compassion, for loving his “neighbors,” his social group.
So let’s say a lion wanders in to the gorilla’s territory, hoping to eat some gorilla babies (I don’t know if lions really eat gorilla babies, this is just an illustration of a concept). The big alpha gorilla has NO compassion for the lion. He fights it off or scares it off, or whatever. Because the gorilla has compassion for his females and their babies, he MUST NOT have compassion for the lion. He would be glad to kill it if possible.
Ok, that example wasn’t very good? Here is another one. Our bodies are constantly at war with things that try to make us sick. There are immune system cells that try to destroy any cell that does not belong in the body. These immune system cells are acting out of compassion (well, something like it anyway), but they have NO compassion for the invading cells they try to destroy.
Ok, here is one more example and then I promise I won’t give any more examples, I will just hope you get my point. A mother wolf is protecting and feeding her babies, because she is naturally compassionate and she loves them and wants them to live. And her babies are so cute, after all.
The mother wolf goes out and finds some baby rabbits and kills them and brings them to her babies. The baby rabbits are cute too, but she doesn’t care. She has NO compassion for the baby rabbits.
I hope I have explained what I have tried to explain. I suspect people will either say that’s ridiculous, or else they will say well duh that’s so obvious.
Hi all, Ron here….Sunday I went with my friend Mike Perini to the Ark here in Ann Arbor to see Altan, an Irish band I’ve seen for a long, long time now. How long? I’ve managed to get them over time to sign all my disks!
They’re enormous fun….I strongly recommend seeing them if you can.
I also got an interview about the new album with lead singer Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh, seen in this pic with Mike and I
And here’s the interview!
Nothing much to say. Some things are good, some things are not so good, a lot of things are middlin’ to fair. About the only thing that’s even remotely interesting that I can think of is that I discovered last night that my wife had never heard of Willie Sutton. Huh. But that tells you how uneventful things are down here in Central Florida. (Or up here, to Annie.)
That is all. Next month Ron will hit you with an update. I’ll see y’all again in May!
ADDED: I did have one more bit. This is me telling on myself a bit. I discovered just last week that an obit really can make my day. I’m a little embarrassed by that fact, which may be a sign that I’m human after all.
Hi all, Ron here…..yes, yesterday I turned 57! I had a fine birthday dinner with my old amigo Mike Perini, at the Zingerman’s Roadhouse. Any and all Ambioids who get up here to Ann Arbor…we’ll go and have a great time.
What was birthday dinner you ask? Andouille sausage Mac ‘N Cheese….luxurious cheddar cheese with Z’s house made red-hot (spicy hot) sausage….it was sublime. Plus a side of their fantastic mashed potatoes. And of course aided and abetted by two Old Fashioneds. one with Rye, one with Bourbon…for taste testing! You do get a free desert on your birthday, and I chose the raspberry white chiffon cake….
Sorry I haven’t been around much…things are looking poorly for me at the moment, and soon I will have no where to live. (long story) But I haven’t quit, and am trying to make things better. My OT, Jodie, has been my strongest support of late. She is convinced that this will be my year. Me…I wonder. Also the Noble Karen from this watering hole, has been both a support…and a delight. She channels the power of Cow Luck, through the phone to me. There are many disadvantages to getting older….but one of the many advantages is that you know more who you are and what has meaning to you. I’m surprising happy with me, despite a life of one damn disaster after another. This is not a trivial thing. For example I recently found out my younger (of two) sisters died at age 65…and she died in December 2012! No one told me, and I wasn’t even in the obit. I went the website of the funeral home she was in, and found 15 family pics…that I have never seen… I enclose one taken in 1960 with Baby Ron looking like Bismarck sitting on Mom’s knee…the late sister is on the far left, Diane. Grandma is in the middle.
This led to a very ugly confrontation with the older sister…but it was good for me to get all that anger out, and I’m now done with scant family I thought I had.
It’s funny to say, but my online friends, many of whom I’ve never met, including Amba, mean much more to me than many of my “real world” acquaintances. Thank you all for just being there and being yourselves. I’m a better person for that. Let’s add some ketchup to this year and make it better than the last…well, too many!
Tonight my daughter, four and a half years old, stayed up to ring in the new year for the first time in her young life. While she was dancing to Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” around 11:45, it occurred to me that she’s just going to get more energetic in coming years as Kim and my energies fade. DEFINITELY should have done this whole parenting thing when we were younger!
Anyway, hope you’re all set for a better 2015 than 2014, no matter how good the last year was. ‘Night, all.