Compassionate Conservativism, Where Art Thou?

In talking to those on the political right, I wonder why compassion is such a difficult thing for so many of them. Just basic human decency, it’s not complicated.

They give me endless reasons why not to be compassionate. Imagine if they spent all that effort thinking up reasons to be compassionate.

Anyway, why do they need reasons to act morally, to respond with basic human sympathy and care? If they allowed themselves to treat other people as humans as worthy as themselves, what horrible thing do they fear would happen?

Lem On Humanity, Society And Meaning

Below are two passages from Memoirs Found in a Bathtub, a novel by Stanislaw Lem. It is an odd story, but I enjoyed the weirdness. There is plenty of conversation like the following.

* * * *

But I digress . . . Where were we? My field, yes. What does it mean? Meaning. And so we enter the realm of semantics. One must tread carefully here! Consider: from earliest times man did little else but assign meanings— to the stones, the skulls, the sun, other people, and the meanings required that he create theories— life after death, totems, cults, all sorts of myths and legends, black bile and yellow bile, love of God and country, being and nothingness— and so it went, the meanings shaped and regulated human life, became its substance, its frame and foundation— but also a fatal limitation and a trap! The meanings, you see, grew obsolete in time, were eventually lost, yet how could the following generations discard their heritage, particularly when so many of their worthy ancestors had been crucified for those nonexistent gods, or had labored so long and mightily over the philosopher’s stone, phlogiston , ectoplasm , the ether? It was considered that this layering of new meanings upon old was a natural, organic process, a semantic evolution— yet observe how a phrase like ‘great discovery’ is bled of sense, devalued, made common coin, until now we give it freely to the latest model of bomb . . . But do have some more cognac.”

And he filled my glass.

“And so,” continued Dolt with a thoughtful smile, adjusting his nose. “Where does this lead us? Demisemiotics! It’s quite simple, really, the taking away of meaning . . .”

“Oh?” I said, then bit my lip, ashamed of my own ignorance. He took no notice.

“Yes, meaning must be disposed of!” he said heatedly. “History has crippled us long enough with its endless explanations, ratiocinations, mystifications! In my work, we do not simply falsify atoms and doctor the stars— we proceed very slowly , methodically, with the utmost care, to deprive everything, absolutely everything, of its meaning.”

“But isn’t that really— a kind of destruction?”

He gave me a sharp look. The others whispered and fell silent. The old officer propped up against the wall continued to snore.

“An interesting observation. Destruction, you say? Consider: when you create something, anything, a rocket or a new fork, there are always so many problems, doubts, complications! But if you destroy (let’s use that inaccurate term for the sake of argument ), whatever else one may say about it, it is unquestionably clean and simple.”

“So you advocate destruction?” I asked, unable to suppress an idiotic grin.

“Must be the cognac,” he said, refilling my glass with a smile. We drank.

(Kindle Locations 2035-2053)

* * * *

“You mean, the Building is Nature itself?”

“Heavens, no! They have nothing in common beyond the fact that they are both ineffably perfect. And here you thought you were a prisoner in a labyrinth of evil, where everything was pregnant with meaning, where even the theft of one’s instructions was a ritual, that the Building destroyed only in order to build, to build only in order to destroy the more— and you took this for the wisdom of evil . . . Hence your mental somersaults and contortions. You writhed on the hook of your own question mark to solve that equation of horror. But I tell you there is no solution, no equation, no destruction, no instructions, no evil— there is only the Building —only— the Building—”

“Only the Building?” I echoed, my hair on end.

“Only the Building,” he echoed my echo, shivering. “This is not wisdom, this is a blind and all-encompassing perfection, a perfection not of man’s making but which arose from man, or rather from the community of man. Human evil, you see, is so petty and frail, while here we have something grand and mighty at work . . . An ocean of blood and sweat and urine! One thundering death rattle from a million throats! A great monument of feces, the product of countless generations! Here you can drown in people, choke on them, waste away in a vast wilderness of people! Behold: they will stir their coffee as they calmly tear you to shreds, chat and pick their noses as they outrage your corpse, and brew more coffee as it stiffens, and you will be a hairless, worn-out and abandoned doll, a broken rattle, an old rag yellow and forgotten in the corner . . . That is how perfection operates, not wisdom! Wisdom is you, yourself— or maybe two people! You and someone else, that intimate flash of honesty from eye to eye . . .”

I watched his deathly pale face and wondered where I’d heard all this before, it sounded so familiar. Then I remembered —that sermon, the sermon about choking, evil and the Devil, the sermon which Brother Persuasion told me was intended as provocation . . .

“How can I believe you?” I groaned. He shuddered.

“O sinner !!” he screamed in a whisper. “Dost thou still doubt that what may be a harmless conversation or joke on one level doth constitute , on another, legal action and, on yet another, a battle of wits between Departments? Verily, if thou followest this line of thought, thou shalt end up nowhere, since here anything, hence everything, leadeth everywhere!”

“You’ve lost me.”

“Treason is inevitable. But the Building’s purpose is to make treason impossible. Ergo, we must make the inevitable evitable. But how? Obliterate truth. What’s treason when truth is but another way of lying? That is why there is no place here for any real action, whether legitimate despair or honest crime— anything genuine will weigh you down, drag you to the bottom for good. Listen! Come in with me! We’ll form a secret alliance, a conspiracy of two! This will liberate us!”

(Kindle Locations 2333-2354)

Derrick Jensen (& Henry David Thoreau)

Playing for Keeps
By Derrick Jensen

“PEOPLE WHO READ MY WORK often say, “Okay, so it’s clear you don’t like this culture, but what do you want to replace it?” The answer is that I don’t want any one culture to replace this culture. I want ten thousand cultures to replace this culture, each one arising organically from its own place. That’s how humans inhabited the planet (or, more precisely, their landbases, since each group inhabited a place, and not the whole world, which is precisely the point), before this culture set about reducing all cultures to one.”

Endgame, Volume 1‎ (p 56)
By Derrick Jensen

“It is the BLU-82, also known as the Daisy Cutter. This fifteen-thousand-pound bomb, filled with an aqueous mix of ammonium nitrate, aluminum powder, and polystyrene soap, is so large that it can only be launched by rolling it out the rear door of a cargo aircraft, the MC-130 Hercules. The slowness of the cargo plane means Daisy Cutters can only be dropped when there are no defenses, in other words, only on those who are defenseless. A parachute opens, then the Daisy Cutter floats toward Earth. The parachute slows the descent enough to give the transport plane time to get away before the bomb explodes. The bomb detonates just above ground, producing what are called overpressure of one thousand pounds per square inch (overpressure is air pressure over and above normal air pressure: overpressures of just a few pounds are enough to kill people) disintegrating everything and everyone within hundreds of yards, and killing people (and nonhumans) at a range of up to three miles. General Peter Pace, vice-chair of the US joint chiefs of staff, put the purpose clearly: “As you would expect, they make a heck of a bang when they go off and the intent is to kill people.” Marine Corps General Trainer was even more specific about the effect of Daisy Cutters on the people of Afghanistan: “Besides the physical degradation, these — along with the regular ordinance dropped from B-52s — provide great psychological punishment, as victims begin to bleed from the eyes, nose, and ears, if they aren’t killed outright, of course. It’s a frightening, awesome assault they’re suffering, and there’s no doubt they are feeling our wrath.””

The Heart of Thoreau’s Journals (pp 83-4; April 11, 1852)
By Henry David Thoreau

“If I am too cold for human friendship, I trust I shall not soon be too cold for natural influences. It appears to be a law that you cannot have a deep sympathy with both man and nature. Those qualities which bring you near to the one estrange you from the other.”

Synesthesia, and Psychedelics, and Civilization! Oh My!

The Coast to Coast AM radio host George Noory just interviewed David Eagleman.  I only heard part of the interview, but what little I gleaned seemed quite interesting. 

Dr. Eagleman spoke of synesthesia.  He said that around four percent of the populartion has synesthesia which is a fairly high number (more common than scientists used to think).  He pointed out that it isn’t considered a neurological disorder because there is no negative consequences for those who have it and in fact there are benefits.  Those with this condition (who are called synesthetes) actually have improved memories because abstract information is grounded in sensory experience (this relates to localized memory which is an ancient mnemonic device).  There are many ways senses and concepts can link together and almost everyone experiences this in mild forms.

I wondered if it might’ve been more common in the past.  Maybe our modern rational ego has helped to compartmentalize the mind and thus created more clear demarcations separating perception and thought.  This possibly could relate to Julian Jaynes theory about the bicameral mind.  Jaynes theorized that a natural function of the human brain was hearing other voices, and that a shift in ealry civilization changed something fundamental in how our brain operates (or rather how we operate our brain).  The theory is that primitives used to hear voices outside of them and the world was experienced animistically.  As such, there was no clearly defined separate sense of self, no inidividual ego with a sense of being in absolute control.  Everyone still hears other voices in their head such as the words of advice from your parents, but we’ve learned to compartmentalize our sense of self and disidentify with these other voices.  Schizophrenics don’t have this ability.

This relates to psychedelics as well.  Psychedelics loosen the constraints that civilization has placed on our brains.  Any normal person under the influence of psychedelics will experience such things as synesthesia, animistic perception, external voices, etc.  Psychedelics are able to to do this because they are processed in our brains like any other neurochemical.  In fact, the most common psychedelic in nature  is DMT and the human brain produces it in small quantities.  Terrence McKenna theorized that psychedelics helped to develop human consciousness.  McKenna’s theory might find support in other theories that synesthesia is common to all humans early in their individual development (which might be a carryover from when humans permanently lived in such a state of mind).  Other theories claim that language itself originated in synesthesia as language began with concrete experiences and vocalizations that then became abstracted.

Further related to all of this are Ernest Hartmann’s boundary types.  People tend towards either thin or thick boundaries which correlate to personality factors, but certain substances can influence our boundaries.  Psychedelics create thinner boundaries and amphetamines create thicker boundaries.  Besides perceptual alterations, thin boundaries also are necessary for the simple ability to sympathize with others.  Interestingly, creative types tend to have thinner boundaries and have an extremely higher rate of synesthesia.

If you want to check out some of my previous analysis of the topic of human experience of the world, then here is a blog post of mine from

And here is some interesting info I found around the web:

The recent surge of scientific investigation into synaesthesia, ably reviewed by Hochel and Milan (2008), is representative of an increasing recognition that our various sensory modalities are intimately interconnected rather than separate. The origin of these interconnections is the subject of an intriguing theory by Maurer and Maurer (1988). They suggest that all of us begin life as synaesthetes, with subsequent neural development reducing the connections among the senses. We present some historical roots of the idea that human life begins with the senses intertwined. The influential 18th-century philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau described an early theory of child development in his book Emile (1762), hypothesizing that if “a child had at its birth the stature and strength of a man . . . all his sensations would be united in one place, they would exist only in the common ‘sensorium’.” A half-century later, a young Mary Shelley (1818) brought this idea into popular culture with the Frankenstein creature’s recollection of his early experience: “A strange multiplicity of sensations seized me, and I saw, felt, heard, and smelt, at the same time; and it was, indeed, a long time before I learned to distinguish between the operations of my various senses.” William James in The Principles of Psychology (1890) expressed a similar idea. In this context, the assumption of many 20th-century scientists that the senses were largely separate appears to be an historical aberration.

Perhaps the most intriguing of Terence McKenna’s fascinating theories and observations is his explanation for the origin of the human mind and human culture.

To summarize: McKenna theorizes that as the North African jungles receded toward the end of the most recent ice age, giving way to grasslands, a branch of our tree-dwelling primate ancestors left the branches and took up a life out in the open — following around herds of ungulates, nibbling what they could along the way.

Among the new items in their diet were psilocybin-containing mushrooms growing in the dung of these ungulate herds. The changes caused by the introduction of this drug to the primate diet were many — McKenna theorizes, for instance, that synesthesia (the blurring of boundaries between the senses) caused by psilocybin led to the development of spoken language: the ability to form pictures in another person’s mind through the use of vocal sounds.

About 12,000 years ago, further climate changes removed the mushroom from the human diet, resulting in a new set of profound changes in our species as we reverted to pre-mushroomed and frankly brutal primate social structures that had been modified and/or repressed by frequent consumption of psilocybin.

Metaphor is based in the relationship between metaphier and metaphrand, strengthened by paraphier and paraphrand. A metaphor’s effectiveness in conveying meaning is not inherent to the structure of language or the words themselves, but the range of associations and connections between all elements (some of which are mostly unconscious) – the most receptive and accustomed to these elements will be most affected by metaphor. Cross modal abstraction increases the power of metaphor by bolstering the connective elements of the words we choose (the metaphiers and paraphiers) when attempting to express something – this probably why such as high percentage of artists display synesthesia (1 in 7 artists as opposed to 1 in 200 normal population).

Abram (1996), McLuhan (1964), et al argue that the phonetic alphabet led to a kind of synesthesia, wherethe visual was transformed into written symbols experienced as sounds. Early cultures were auditory cultures, wherelanguage was only spoken. The phonetic alphabet enabled an efficient writing system. It also resulted in thediminution of memory as the sole repository of tradition, and the fixing of standardized and “official” versions inauthoritative text. Following this line of thinking, the spread of the corresponding consciousness tracks the spread ofliteracy and the technology of writing reproduction.


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