Widening the Field of Debate

In my life, I’ve known about as many people on the far left as on the far right. A comparison came to mind. This comparison is based on my personal experiences and so take it for what it is worth.

The most thorough critics of our society that I’ve met tend to be on the far left. Why might that be the case?

I suspect this relates to the outsider status that those on the far left have in American society. Unlike on the far right, far left positions aren’t particularly respectable or even always allowable in mainstream American society. The average American rarely, if ever, hears any left-wing perspective about anything. It is as if the left-wing perspective doesn’t exist, except as a Cold War spectre (although I also suspect this may be changing, however slowly).

All the time, right-libertarians and fundamentalists are seen in the MSM, as regular guests and sometimes even with their own shows. There have even been some genuinely extremist religious leaders on the right who have had the ears and personal phone numbers of major political figures, including presidents. Yet it is rare to come across Marxists, socialists, and anarchists anywere on the mainstream, whether media or politics. Could you imagine how shocking it would be to turn on the tv and see, on a primetime network news show, a panel of left-wingers discussing a presidential election debate where one of the candidates was as left-wing as is Ron Paul right-wing? In the US, liberals are the symbolic representatives of the entire left and, in most cases, they make sorry representatives at that.

Besides socialists and Marxists, there also have always been left-libertarians and many progressive evangelicals in the US, but you don’t even see them much in the mainstream. Most American libertarians I’ve met don’t even know that left-libertarians exist or know the origins of libertarianism itself. Likewise, most religious people on the right seem to assume that they have sole proprietorship of religion, especially evangelicalism, and are clueless about the large and growing religious left. Among the young generation, there are more progressive than conservative evangelicals (and the same is true for young Christians in general).

Furthermore, as a label, socialism is gaining majority of favorability among the young and certain minority groups, and still you don’t hear much about this in the mainstream. The Milwaukee sewer socialists were once highly praised in this country and yet today they are forgotten. Why is that?

None of this inspires politicians and pundits, reporters and journallists to take any of these views seriously.

Every newspaper has a business section where one regular comes across libertarian and other right-wing views. It used to be common for newspapers to also have labor sections, even including left-wing opinions and analyses, but not these days. Where in American society, besides the alternative media, is the far left supposed to be regularly heard? Why don’t they have a place at the table, even if only a voice to offer balance?

The left-winger’s outsider status probably radicalizes them more than otherwise might be the case. Because they are excluded from the system, they have less invested in the system and so are in a position to be the most critical.

This is why I argue that liberals need left-wingers. We liberals need them to keep us honest and keep us focused on what matters. Mainstream liberalism not unusually fails for a similar reason that equally applies to much of the right, a resistance to fully and radically challenge the status quo, the established order. From progressive to libertarian, from Democrat to Republican, they all are simply varieties of ‘liberals’ in the broad sense and all of them grounded in the classical libreralism, the Enlightenment Project that is the inspiration and foundation of American society.

Left-wingers aren’t entirely outside of the liberal order. In this post-Enlightenment age, no one entirely escapes the touch and taint of ‘liberalism’. But many left-wingers are definitely further than most people from the center of the American ‘liberal’ order. It is only on the far left that you find people genuinely struggling (beyond mere reaction) for a path beyond this ‘liberal’ era and hence beyond the mainstream debate that remains constrained within th narrow political spectrum.

I say this as a liberal, atypical but still more or less liberal in the mainstream sense. As a liberal, I find it surprising that I’m usually more radically critical than are many libertarians on the right. I see the problems within the liberal order, both in terms of progressivism and capitalism. I see these problems as someone who is part of this liberal order and hopes the best for it, but my vision has been made clear by listening to the views of those standing further out. I’m giving credit where it’s due.

Those on the left often know more about those on the right than vice versa. This as true as for politics and economics as it is for religion and science. I’ve noted this in my debates about genetics with hereditarians, specifically race realist HBDers. Many on the right think they are outsiders, that they are being excluded and no one is paying them the attention they deserve, but in my experience those on the left (especially the far left) pay them lots of attention — it’s just that those on the right are too oblivious of that attention, having the insider privilege to be oblivious to those truly on the outside. These right-winger’s views aren’t as challenging to the status quo as they’d like to think, often just a reactionary position that attempts to shift the status quo backwards slightly.

Right-wingers are more invested in the system. Like liberals, most want reform, not revolution. They are basically content with the established order.

Right-libertarians claim they’d like a smaller federal government that regulates capitalism less, but very few of them want to fundamentally change either the federal system or the capitalist system that is at the heart of our present social order and its attendant problems. Fundamentalists complain that religion should play a bigger role, but they tend to see this as simply as a process of putting the religious right into positions of power within the present system.

Except for the extreme fringe of anarcho-capitalists and Randian Objectivists, those on the right don’t seem willing to be so radical as to be a genuine threat to the social order. It requires a radical mindset to follow one’s principles to their fullest expression and furthest endpoint, a mindset that most liberals and most right-libertarians lack.

Why is it common to hear right-libertarians attacking big gov while defending big biz? And why isn’t it common for left-libertarians to do the opposite, attack big biz while defending big gov? Why do so many left-libertarians seem more consistently principled in criticizing all threats to liberty, political and economic? Why are left-libertarians more concerned than right-libertarians about all forms of concentrated wealth, centralized power, and hierarchical authority?

I hear conservatives and right-libertarians constantly talk about free markets. But if you question them, most have never given it much deep thought. Their views are mostly based on political rhetoric and talking points. They are repeating what they’ve heard, instead of thinking for themselves. It never occurs to them that even most people who disagree with them also want free markets. It never occurs to them to consider what freedom actually might mean or should mean. I’m almost shocked by how many right-libertarians take a globalized economic system as being a free market, despite all the social oppression and military force involved in maintaining it. What is libertarian about that? In a principled sense, it is the complete opposite of any meaningful sense of liberty.

The harshest critics on the right are those that even the right doesn’t pay much attention to. That is particularly true for the anarcho-capitalists. They at least have the balls to take free market theory as far as it can be taken. When an anarcho-capitalist speaks of free markets, they are touching upon the fundamentally radical essence to the freedom part of that equation.

I’d like to see more radical thought in general. It is what we need right now and I suspect people are becoming more open to it. I do want a far left to keep  liberals on their toes. For the same reason, I want a far right to keep conservatives (and other moderate/mainstream right-wingers) on their toes as well. Widening the field of debate at both ends will lead to more vibrant debate in between the extremes.

 

To Be Poor, To Be Black, To Be Poor and Black

Poor kids who do everything right don’t do better than rich kids who do everything wrong
by Matt O’Brien, The Washington Post

Poor Grads, Rich Dropouts

Specifically, rich high school dropouts remain in the top about as much as poor college grads stay stuck in the bottom — 14 versus 16 percent, respectively. Not only that, but these low-income strivers are just as likely to end up in the bottom as these wealthy ne’er-do-wells. Some meritocracy.

What’s going on? Well, it’s all about glass floors and glass ceilings. Rich kids who can go work for the family business — and, in Canada at least, 70 percent of the sons of the top 1 percent do just that — or inherit the family estate don’t need a high school diploma to get ahead. It’s an extreme example of what economists call “opportunity hoarding.” That includes everything from legacy college admissions to unpaid internships that let affluent parents rig the game a little more in their children’s favor.

But even if they didn’t, low-income kids would still have a hard time getting ahead. That’s, in part, because they’re targets for diploma mills that load them up with debt, but not a lot of prospects. And even if they do get a good degree, at least when it comes to black families, they’re more likely to still live in impoverished neighborhoods that keep them disconnected from opportunities.

White High School Drop-Outs Are As Likely To Land Jobs As Black College Students
by Susan Adams, Forbes

African-Americans college students are about as likely to get hired as whites who have dropped out of high school. So says a new report from a non-profit called Young Invincibles, which analyzed data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Census and examined the effect race and education levels have on unemployment. “We were startled to see just how much more education young African-Americans must get in order to have the same chance at landing a job as their white peers,” said Rory O’Sullivan, deputy director of Young Invincibles, in a statement.

RACE, CRIMINAL BACKGROUND, AND EMPLOYMENT
by Gwen Sharp, PhD, The Society Pages

Pager

joblessness prison

Group Membership

Life Event

 

 

 

The Science of Politics

Many have noted the odd relationship American conservatives have to science. It isn’t just anti-intellectualism. Nor is it even necessarily a broad attack against all science. It is highly selective and not consistent whatsoever. It is a reactionary attitude and so must be understood in that light.

I regularly interact with a number of conservatives. It gives me a personal sense of what it might mean.

There is a sense behind it that scientists are mere technocrats, puppets of political power. This mindset doesn’t separate science from politics. There is no appreciation that most scientists probably think little about politics while they are focused on the practical issues of doing research and writing papers. Most scientists aren’t trying to make a political argument or to change anything within or through politics. Scientists just have their small corner of expertise that they obsess over.

There is a paranoia in this mindset, typically unacknowledged. There is a suspicion that scientists somehow are an organized political elite conspiring to force their will on the public. In reality, scientists are constantly arguing and fighting with one another. The main politics most scientists are worried about is most often the politics of academia, nothing so grand as control of the government. Science involves more disagreement than anything else.

Getting all scientists to cooperate on some grand conspiracy isn’t likely to ever happen, especially as scientists work within diverse institutions and organizations, public and private, across many countries. They don’t even share a single funding source. Scientists get funding from various government agencies, from various non-profit organizations, and increasingly from corporations. All these different funding sources have different agendas and create different incentives. For example, a lot of climatology research gets funded by big oil because climatology predictions are important in working with big oil rigs out in the ocean.

There is also another even stranger aspect. I get this feeling that some conservatives consider science to almost be unAmerican. I had a conservative tell me that science should have no influence over politics whatsoever. That politics should be about a competition of ideas. a marketplace of ideas if you will, and may the best idea win or profit, as the case may be. That reality is too complex for scientists too understand and so we shouldn’t try to understand that complexity. So, trying to understand is more dangerous than simply embracing our ignorance.

This goes so far as to create its own vision of history. Many conservatives believe that the founders were a wise elite who simply knew the answers. They may have taken up science as a hobby, but it had absolutely nothing to do with their politics. The founders were smart, unlike today’s intellectual liberal elite and scientific technocrats. The founders understood that science had nothing to offer other than the development of technology for the marketplace. That is the only use science has, as a tool of capitalism.

This is a bizarre mentality. It is also historically ungrounded. The founders didn’t separate their interest in science from their interest in politics. They saw both science and politics as the sphere of ideas and experimentation. They didn’t just take someone’s word for something. If they had a question or a debate, it wasn’t unusual for them to test it out and find what would happen. They were very hands-on people. For many of them, politics was just another scientific experiment. The new American system was a hypothesis to be tested, not simply a belief system to be declared and enforced.

This view of science is widespread. This isn’t just an issue of cynical reactionaries, ignorant right-wingers, and scientifically clueless fundies. This worldview also includes middle and upper class conservatives with college education, some even in academia itself. Many of these people are intelligent and informed. Very few of them are overt conspiracy theorists and denialists. Much of what I’ve said here they would dismiss as an outlandish caricature. They are rational and they know they are rational. Their skepticism of science is perfectly sound and based on valid concerns.

When these people on the right speak of science, they are speaking of it as symbolizing something greater in their worldview. It isn’t just science they are speaking of. They fear something that is represented by science. They fear the change and uncertainty that science offers. They distrust scientists challenging their cherished views of present reality in the same way they distrust academic historians revising established historical myths about America. These intellectual elites are undermining the entire world they grew up in, everything they consider great and worthy about this country.

Conservatives aren’t wrong to fear and distrust. Indeed, their world is being threatened. Change is inevitable and no one has a clue about what the end results might be. But they should stop attacking the messenger. Scientists are simply telling us to face reality, to face the future with our eyes wide open.

* * * *

Gentlemen Scientists and Revolutionaries:
The Founding Fathers in the Age of Enlightenment
by Tom Shachtman

Science and the Founding Fathers:
Science in the Political Thought of Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and James Madison
by I. Bernard Cohen

The Invention of Air:
A Story Of Science, Faith, Revolution, And The Birth Of America
by Steven Johnson

 

 

To Control or Be Controlled

Control. A troubling word. To control or be controlled, the battleground of fate and freedom.

Most of us don’t feel like we have much control. We are influenced and manipulated by forces outside of our control. Some of those forces are human and others not.

In science, control is a good thing. Science represents the human desire for control in a world not solely designed for human purposes. The world doesn’t care about the fate of humanity or if we puny walking apes understand the greater cosmos. But science dares to seek what the old gods denied humanity, knowledge and power. Take that, ye old gods!

A scientific control is a simple concept. It is so simple as to be almost boring. Few care about the controls of the study. It is the results that everyone gets excited about. But without effective controls, there are no useful results. For probing minds, the real story of science is in the controls. It is the greatest challenge of science. Without control of conditions, scientists have a hard time making headway.

This touches most sensitively upon human research. Humans can’t be controlled in the way animals can, for ethical reasons and for other reasons as well. Humans as social animals are complex, and so not easily studied. The best animal research puts human research to shame.

I noted this problem recently in relation to race realism. Many people would want to know more than we do know or presently know how to know. We humans want to know. It really pisses us off how ignorant we still are. But we are always certain that it is the other a-hole who is ignorant and clueless. Not us.

Science is ambitious. You have to give it credit for that. We humans love knowledge. What little knowledge we are able to gain we make much ado about. While what we don’t know or can’t know we’d rather ignore.

People like race realists don’t deal well with uncertainty and ambiguity. Most of the data from human research doesn’t lead to clear simple conclusions. The mouse study I mentioned at the link above shows how far science has to go. That study is better controlled than any study has ever been done in the entire history of human research. Yet it proved how much remains uncontrolled.

Even many scientists get duped by this state of affairs. No scientist wants to admit how near futile is the endeavor to pin humans down. A lot of medical research is of low quality, not simply because much of it involves humans, but for other reasons as well. Those scientists who have dedicated their entire lives to the human research fields don’t want to admit how shaky is the ground upon which all human studies are based. So, scientists will sometimes speak confidently about all kinds of things about which they can’t possibly know (e.g., the percentage of genetic vs environmental influence).

Science isn’t well suited for dealing with society-wide problems that includes science itself. The challenge with scientists studying humans is that the scientists are also humans, a specific demographic of humans with attendant biases they rarely can see. The trickiest part is how do scientists control for the problems scientists themselves bring to their own research.

This confusion offers wonderful fodder for those invested in the status qo. It is a fog behind which to hide their intentions and self-interests, conscious and unconscious. This is why race realist research is the perfect match for those not wanting to face uncomfortable issues straight on.

Race realism is based on an entrenched racial social order and on an centuries-old legacy of racism. Race was an idea designed specifically for the purpose of control, that is to say social control of one set of humans by another. It was a product of the Enlightenment when science took hold.

Racism and science have intertwined pasts. The early rhetoric of science was about controlling nature and controlling the human world, the rhetoric often being quite explicit in its violence and visions of power. Nature was anthropomorized often as a woman to be forced into submission, often with sexual connotations of the male virility of the scientific hero. And certain humans were portrayed as animals, from Africans to the Irish.

It is unsurprising that very little scientific research has sought to control for racism itself in studying human differences. Racism is taken as a given, even an inevitability of human nature and human society. Humans are different, the differences often framed as superior and inferior. It is an old quest to prove that the inferior races, ethnicities, and classes are deserving of their oppression and impoverishment.

Anyway, we simply don’t know how to control for racism, even if those in power who give most of the funding wanted to control for it. It has been a slow slog for researchers to begin to grasp how pervasive is racism in our society, the prejudices and biases, the unconscious motivations and the more overt forms found in institutions. Racism is everywhere. Scientists ultimately can’t control for racism because there is no control group that exists outside of racism to compare against.

The mercurial nature of racism allows for plausible deniability. No one has to claim it for it claims our entire society, hidden at the root like a grub.

In promoting a worldview of hyper-individualist self-control, the dominant social order wants to deny its own position of control. Those who have the most power would rather deny any responsibility and hence any blame. Shifting the focus to hypothetical racial genetics is just old bigotry taking new forms.

Control is the name of the game.

Beyond the Stereotype of the Liberal Elite

I was rereading a few articles by Joe Bageant. He wrote about many topics, but one stood out to me this time: liberalism. He sometimes uses liberals as the contrast to the stories he tells about his fellow Appalachians from his hometown. I realized he was using liberal in a specific sense, not uncommon in the US, at least in the mainstream.

I was reminded of how many different liberalisms there are, most of them having to do with the dictionary definition of the word as liberal-minded. In my previously reading another author, Domenico Losurdo, it took quite a bit of struggle to grasp his European perspective of liberalism, which I came to realize included and emphasized what in the US would be called conservatism. Maybe Losurdo is onto something, as I discovered looking at Pew results showing a significant number of Americans self-identify as conservative even as they hold stereotypically liberal views across the board, socially and economically.

Bageant was certainly not using a European perspective or thinking about complicating survey results. He never clearly defines what he means by liberal, but it became clear through his usage. He seemed to be using the category, in the American context, as representing people with all or most of the following:

1) White, ancestrally and/or culturally WASP, identified with the dominant culture and social order.
2) Native-born American, with unconscious or unadmitted tendencies toward nativism and ethno-nationalism, their loyalty ultimately being to the status quo of white America, multiculturalist rhetoric aside.
3) Mainstream, born into privilege along with relatively more power and influence, a part of the system and invested in the system.
4) Gatekeepers of the mainstream, defenders of the status quo, middle-to-upper class economic elite, well-educated intellectual elite, salaried professional employees in academia, media, and other respectable fields.
5) Secularists and atheists, critics of the lower classes and low culture.
6) Democrats, partisan voters, politically involved as activists, leaders, politicians, pundits, and talking heads.

It is the stereotype of the liberal elite. As a liberal, I don’t fit much of that. I question this stereotype, popular both on the far right and the far left. I’m not arguing that only I, as a liberal, get to define liberalism. My point is just that there is more to liberalism than a stereotype.

One of the problems is that many people who get labeled by others as liberal don’t self-identify as liberal nor necessarily hold strong liberal views, maybe even holding some rather illiberal views. I like to use Obama as a case in point. He doesn’t claim to be liberal. Liberal rhetoric aside, he doesn’t act overly liberal. If liberal rhetoric is all it takes to be liberal, then most people in this post-Enlightenment world are liberal. That doesn’t seem helpful in understanding liberalism.

There are many Americans, like myself, who identify as liberal or who otherwise consistently hold strong liberal views. Most of these people probably don’t fit the stereotype of liberalism. There are working class liberals. There are even poor liberals, some of whom are homeless or unemployed. There are liberals in prison and in ghettoes. There are liberals in rural farming states. There are disenfranhised liberals and radical liberals. All kinds of liberals in all walks of life.

I might go so far as to argue this is the silent majority of liberals. They aren’t the liberal elite and so they aren’t heard. The average liberal gets less attention than the average conservative, because the mainstream narrative portrays the average American as conservative. But polls don’t support this assumption, this stereotype of a liberal elite versus the conservative masses. In many ways, the masses are more liberal than the elite.

It was unfortunate that an otherwise insightful thinker like Bageant fell into that trap of political rhetoric. He was asking about how do we get the poor and working class to become better educated and informed. A good question, if framed correctly.

What Bageant didn’t note was that there are and always have been many liberals like me. I’m well read and put a lot of effort into undersanding the world, but I’m not an elite of any kind, especially not an intellectual elite. My mostly working class family arose out of poverty in recent generations and, working class myself, I’ve lived below the poverty line before and don’t live far above it now.

There is a whole new generation that has been hitting adulthood during this new century. They are more well educated and have more access to info (including alternative sources) than any generation in history. They also have high rates of unemployment and poverty. It is becoming ever more common to find people with college degrees working minimum wage. Relevant to the discussion here, this young generation is also more liberal than previous generations, whatever they may label themselves.

I’m not sure what Bageant thought about these people. Most young whites in many Southern states are also quite liberal, according to the data. Many of the bought Obama’s hype, but they are hardly a partisan stronghold of Democratic loyalty. In writing about his hometown, what Bageant doesn’t talk about are the younger generation, many of whom have left behind that world but have not forgotten it.

Bageant’s Scots-Irish kinfolk aren’t represntative of most poor and working class Americans. They are a sub-population under great stress, a population with a specific history and culture. Generalizations shouldn’t be based upon them. They aren’t the heartland. They are just one of the many dark corners, places growing ever darker as the following generations merge on the socially liberal big cities and metropolises.

In speaking of liberalism and conservatism, we need to look beyond the stereotypes of the past, whether or not those stereotypes ever corresponded to reality.

A Sign of Decline?

Considering the fall of early civilizations, decentralization and privatization come into focus as important for understanding. They have, in at least some major examples, been closely associated with periods of decline. That doesn’t necessarily imply they are the cause. Instead, it may simply be a sign. Decline just means change. An old order changing will always be perceived of as a decline.

The creation of centralized government is at the heart of the civilization project. Prior to the city-states and empires of ‘civilization’, people governed themselves in many ways without any need of centralization for most everything had been local. It required the centralization (i.e., concentration) of growing populations to create the possibility and necessity of centralized governance. A public had to be formed in opposition to a private in order for a public good to be spoken of. Privacy becomes more valued in crowded cities.

Early hunter-gatherers seemed to have thought a lot less about privacy, if they had any concept of it at all, certainly not in terms of sound-dampening walls and locked doors. In that simpler lifestyle, most everything was held in common. There was no place that was the Commons for all of the world was considered the commons, for the specific people in question. Personal items would have been the exception, rather than the rule. Before the modern condition of extreme scarcity and overpopulation, there would have been less motivation to fight over private property.

It should be no surprise that periods of decentralization and privatization coincided with periods of population dispersal and loss. The decline of civilizations often meant mass death or migration.

We live in different times, of course. But is it really any different now?

When people today advocate decentralization and privatization, what does that mean in the larger sense? When some fantasize about the decline of our present social order, what do they hope will result? What is motivating all this talk?

If it is a sign, what is a sign of? What changes are in the air?

* * * *

1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed
Eric H. Cline
pp. 152-4

DECENTRALIZATION AND THE RISE OF THE PRIVATE MERCHANT There is one other point to be considered, which has been suggested relatively recently and may well be a reflection of current thinking about the role of decentralization in today’s world.

In an article published in 1998, Susan Sherratt, now at the University of Sheffield, concluded that the Sea Peoples represent the final step in the replacement of the old centralized politico-economic systems present in the Bronze Age with the new decentralized economic systems of the Iron Age— that is, the change from kingdoms and empires that controlled the international trade to smaller city-states and individual entrepreneurs who were in business for themselves. She suggested that the Sea Peoples can “usefully be seen as a structural phenomenon, a product of the natural evolution and expansion of international trade in the 3rd and early 2nd millennium, which carried within it the seeds of the subversion of the palace-based command economies which had initiated such trade in the first place.” 57

Thus, while she concedes that the international trade routes might have collapsed, and that at least some of the Sea Peoples may have been migratory invaders, she ultimately concludes that it does not really matter where the Sea Peoples came from, or even who they were or what they did. Far more important is the sociopolitical and economic change that they represent, from a predominantly palatial-controlled economy to one in which private merchants and smaller entities had considerably more economic freedom. 58

Although Sherratt’s argument is elegantly stated, other scholars had earlier made similar suggestions. For example, Klaus Kilian, excavator of Tiryns, once wrote: “After the fall of the Mycenaean palaces, when ‘private’ economy had been established in Greece, contacts continued with foreign countries. The well-organized palatial system was succeeded by smaller local reigns, certainly less powerful in their economic expansion.” 59

Michal Artzy, of the University of Haifa, even gave a name to some of the private merchants envisioned by Sherratt, dubbing them “Nomads of the Sea.” She suggested that they had been active as intermediaries who carried out much of the maritime trade during the fourteenth and thirteenth centuries BC. 60

However, more recent studies have taken issue with the type of transitional worldview proposed by Sherratt. Carol Bell, for instance, respectfully disagrees, saying: “It is simplistic … to view the change between the LBA and the Iron Age as the replacement of palace administered exchange with entrepreneurial trade. A wholesale replacement of one paradigm for another is not a good explanation for this change and restructuring.” 61

While there is no question that privatization may have begun as a by-product of palatial trade, it is not at all clear that this privatization then ultimately undermined the very economy from which it had come. 62 At Ugarit, for example, scholars have pointed out that even though the city was clearly burned and abandoned, there is no evidence either in the texts found at the site or in the remains themselves that the destruction and collapse had been caused by decentralized entrepreneurs undermining the state and its control of international trade. 63

In fact, combining textual observations with the fact that Ugarit was clearly destroyed by fire, and that there are weapons in the debris, we may safely reiterate that although there may have been the seeds of decentralization at Ugarit, warfare and fighting almost certainly caused the final destruction, with external invaders as the likely culprits. This is a far different scenario from that envisioned by Sherratt and her like-minded colleagues. Whether these invaders were the Sea Peoples is uncertain, however, although it is intriguing that one of the texts at Ugarit specifically mentions the Shikila/ Shekelesh, known from the Sea Peoples inscriptions of Merneptah and Ramses III.

In any event, even if decentralization and private individual merchants were an issue, it seems unlikely that they caused the collapse of the Late Bronze Age, at least on their own. Instead of accepting the idea that private merchants and their enterprises undermined the Bronze Age economy, perhaps we should consider the alternative suggestion that they simply emerged out of the chaos of the collapse, as was suggested by James Muhly of the University of Pennsylvania twenty years ago. He saw the twelfth century BC not as a world dominated by “sea raiders, pirates, and freebooting mercenaries,” but rather as a world of “enterprising merchants and traders, exploiting new economic opportunities, new markets, and new sources of raw materials.” 64 Out of chaos comes opportunity, at least for a lucky few, as always.

Dualistic Thinking and Intellectual Self-Defense

Duslistic divisions often bother me. When dualisms are conceptual, they are most irritating because at that level they can cause the greatest mischief, and of course all dualisms are ultimately conceptual.

Maybe it is the Western frame of mind that exacerbates the risk of dualisms. What I mean is that dualisms appear to be inherent to human thought and so, to that degree, they are neither good nor bad, just something to take note of. But as many have noted, dualisms play a particular role in the Western tradition (with its Zoroastrian/Manichaean monotheism), that of polar opposition leading to conflict and antagonism. Western dualisms at times bring up a battle mentality, of a line being drawn.

We have become more conceptually sophisticated in recent generations, but I would argue not yet sophisticated enough. More people seem to understand in theory about the potential problems of dualistic thinking. Nonetheless, people continue to get easily get drawn into and polarized by old conceptual dualisms.

In genetics debates, this is obvious. The standard division of nature versus nurture, genetics versus environment are ultimately meaningless. Almost everyone agrees that no such division exists in reality, but that doesn’t stop people thinking in those frames and arguing as if they were real. Many people seem to think that they can still hold onto this old dualism just by tinkering with it a bit, as if the problem wasn’t really the dualism itself but just finding the right formulation of it.

The actual problem is much deeper, though. In reality, there is no such thing as genetics separated from environment. Genetics are just one aspect of the larger environment. Similarly, environment exists within genetics and other factors related to genetics. The best example of this is epigenetics, where the environment of an individual influences or even determines the genetic expression of the following generations of their offspring.

These are just words, genetics and environment. Not reality.

Yet, even many scientists go on making claims that some trait is some particular percentage genetic influenced and a corresponding percentage environmental influence. Heated debates regularly happen in arguing over these percentages. It is complete and utter nonsense, but old narratives die hard. If we were to speak of the complexities of reality, we would have to come up with a new way of speaking about it. That would require immense effort and, more importantly, it would require us to be collectively humbled by our near inability to come to terms with reality.

There are many examples. There is the simplistic thinking of race realists who actually believe the division between black and white is genetically and biologically real. This simplistic thinking is  so powerful and pervasive that few know how to challenge it. There is much power in even the simplest of ideas.

Another example is that of economics, even more overtly mixed up with conceptual confusions. The ideological battle lines of dualistic thinking are often quite stark. We speak of politics and economics, public and private. These social constructions seem real to us. A social construction is basically an idea in the social sphere, but many people can’t comprehend how something so powerful can be a mere idea. That is the main deficiency in our understanding, that we don’t fully appreciate the power of ideas.

Ideas are powerful because they are the justications for power and so they shape how power is used. To say something is private, it is to say this is my territory and I claim it before all challengers. They are fighting words. It’s just in the modern world we use trained officials do the fighting for us. Police defend our property for us. Or if we kill someone on our property, the courts defend us and this usually keeps the family of the killed from seeking out vengeance.

All of this in defense of a fiction, the private. I’m making no moral judgment here. I’m not saying private ownership is necessarily bad, but I am pointing out that it isn’t necessarily good as based on an inherent reality. It is a fiction and we should choose our fictions wisely. If we are going to kill people over a fiction,we better be sure that fiction offers some great value.

The challenge we face is few people are educated in or well-read about philosophy. Most people don’t understand and appreciate the history of ideas. That collective state of ignorance is what allows social constructions to have so much power over us. This as true for the scientist as for the layman, as true for the economist as for the average citizen. We lack intellectual self-defense, as Noam Chomsky calls it. We are easily controlled by ideas and easily manipulated by those who control ideas.

More basically, it just leads to a lot of confused thinking and pointless debate.

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