The Stuff of Childhood

I like to run and walk in the forest and I like to draw.
When I grow up I want to be a runner, forest ranger, or an artist.

Those are words from my young childhood,from 2nd grade. I still like those same things. Then again, right before those words, I also said that, “I like pizza.” But apparently I was self-aware enough at the time to realize I didn’t want a pizza-related career.

Besides, I wrote elsewhere that I wanted to work in the Sears Tower. I can’t say that fits my present aspirations and lifestyle, although being employed as a parking ramp cashier is closer to the Sears Tower than to the rest. Maybe I need to rethink the Sears Tower option.

* * *

My mom was clearing out old paperwork. She had multiple folders of various official documents giving glimpses of my life, from birth to high school graduation. Most of it is boring stuff, including grade reports. But there were a few interesting things mixed in.

My birth certificate shows that Dr. Suk W. Lee brought me into this world. He was my mom’s doctor during her pregnancy. He jokingly gets credit for why I had epicanthic eye folds as an infant. My eyes were quite squinty to an extreme degree and remained that way into early elementary school. Along with my blonde hair, I assume that would be my northern European ancestry.

Along with some other papers and cards, I found a newspaper clipping. It shows the dismissals for the hospital. It lists my mother and I, but what is interesting is that my mother is referred to as Mrs. Daniel C. Steele. This is what makes genealogical research so difficult. In centuries past, most women went through their entire lives without ever having their name stated on an official document.

It was still very much a man’s world, even in the ’70s. To emphasize this point, I wrote in Kindergarten (obviously with some assistance) that, “My father works. He works at the office,” along with a picture of a smoke-belching factory (a massive sun overhead, a symbol of power); but on the next page, I write that, “My mother works. She sweeps the floor,” and the accompanying picture is of her as the stereotypical smiling housewife. In reality, my mom was a speech pathologist who had been working outside of the house for years. I feel I should apologize to my mom (I did end up seeking her out in order to apologize about my childhood stereotyping of her. And guess what? She was sweeping the floor. Ha!). She did all the housework, cooked all the meals, and took care of us kids while she held down a full time job. Feminism back then meant a women could do it all, quite literally.

Mothers are the best. Civilization would collapse without them.

On a different note, another thing that caught my attention was my baptism record. Four months after my birth, my parents decided to get me (along with my older brothers) baptized and Christened. It was done at the United Church of Religious Science, the church based on Ernest Holmes’ The Science of Mind. It was the first church my parents attended as a married couple. They began attending a year before my birth and following a period of non-religiosity and, on my father’s part, agnosticism.

I was surprised that such a New Agey church did baptisms and Christenings. Anyway, it is nice having a certificate proving that my mortal soul has been safeguarded with proper Christian ritual, not that damnation is a part of New Thought theology.

Some of the more enjoyable things to look back on are old writings. There is a collection of stories from third grade. It includes one of my stories and that of my classmates. The story of mine was about a guy named Vick with a space ship who gets captured by the evil magician Zork, but his lazer comes in handy in making an escape. My best friend at the time, Andy Armens, wrote a micro-story that amused me:

“A train came out of a tunnel and tried to go over a bridge. The bridge broke. The train fell into Dead Man’s River. They went down a waterfall and got killed.”

I noticed something about many of the stories. They involved fear of one sort or another and often taking action in response to the source of fear—being or feeling threatened by, being killed or hurt by, being attacked by or fighting with, being captured by or escaping from ghosts, monsters, bad men, robbers, evil magicians, or unfortunate events. Just last year, I came across a recent collection of stories from the same local elementary school. Quite a few of the stories had the same focus on fear. I guess that is a fairly uncertain and helpless stage of life, when kids are just beginning to learn to take care of themselves. Stories, like art work, gives children a safe outlet for their fears.

I remember one story I wrote at around that age. It was about a future dystopian world. There had been some catastrophe and the biosphere was destroyed. People were then living in enclosed cities for protection. I didn’t find a copy of that story in the papers, but it would be nice to see it now. That was the Cold War fears seeping into my childhood psyche. It obviously impacted me for life. Some of my first essays written for school were on topics such as ocean pollution and overpopulation. That is a heavy load to put on the mind at such a young age.

* * *

What interests me the most are the official school documents. And there are lots of them. They bring back some painful memories.

The worst year of my mildly troubled youth was in 7th grade, having begun when at the transformative age of twelve. I did not transition well from elementary school to middle school. It was traumatic, in quiet desperation kind of way. I utterly despised school, except for art class. I did gain my love of reading fiction that year and spent a fair amount of time in the library, one of the few happy places while at school. I almost flunked out of 7th grade. I would have been held back, if we hadn’t moved. On a report card from that year, my grades were mostly Cs and Ds–it states that:

“NEEDS TO LISTEN MORE CAREFULLY AND FOLLOW DIRECTIONS
IS TOO EASILY DISTRACTED
SHOWING IMPROVEMENT
HOMEWORK IS FREQUENTLY LATE OR NEVER HANDED IN
IS ENJOYABLE TO HAVE IN CLASS
SHOWS CREATIVITY AND IMAGINATION”

My difficulties began much earlier than that, which I discussed in some detail in a previous post (Aspergers and Chunking). Even after getting speech therapy, my learning disability dogged me for the rest of my education.

Looking back at the years of school records, I noticed some patterns of observations. I was described as getting along well with others, makes friends, cooperative, willing to participate, tries hard, creative, imaginative, thoughtful, requiring ‘thinking time’, slow (even neat, conscientious, and perfectionist), hard time understanding or following directions (needing directions repeated or looking to other students to understand), inconsistent in turning in homework, disorganized, easily distracted, etc. Basically, I often tried hard to fit in and do what was expected of me, but I wasn’t always successful.

I had a disorganized mind, and I simply did not learn and work in a normal fashion. I still have a disorganized mind of sorts—sprawling and unfocused and, of course, easily distracted. My mind runs around in circles and takes extended byways to get to what is sought, if it ever gets there. I’m a slow thinker and slow reader… or rather I’m inefficient. Why do something simply when it can be made complicated and convoluted? Straight lines of thought and simple, direct statements are boring.

Much of this had to do with language skills. I was late in learning to read. It was partly word retrieval, but it seems there was more to it than that. I apparently had difficulty in making complete sentences and clear phrasing, overusing interjections, understanding pronouns and tenses, formulating questions, and other similar issues. In 6th grade, my teacher wrote:

“Ben has good literal comprehension, but at times misses points which lead to deeper understanding in stories. he has some difficulty relating ideas from the real world to the context of a story.”

I’m not entirely sure what that meant. I did find some other clues. From a 2nd grade speech/language form, there were several important details noted:

  • “Ben continues to have some problems with re-grouping in math and makes number reversals. he also has problems with sequencing which have hindered him in math. (What number comes before or after another number, etc.) Sequencing in stories is also difficult for Ben.”
  • “Ben is stronger visually than auditorially.”
  • “Weaknesses: . . . Language dev.[elopment] lag hinders ability to use context clues”

Interestingly, I noticed even a comment about visual perception difficulties. I really don’t know what that could be, as I’ve always been visually adept. It is the one area where I’ve always excelled. When tested in the first grade, my visual problem-solving was at a 12th grade level.

One thing that came up is visual cues were challenging for me in relation to any verbal task, and the challenge is that all of education is verbal. Both listening and reading were problematic for me. Language wasn’t easily connected to other aspects of my thinking and life, even such simple things as recalling a friend’s name. It wasn’t just word recall, but also information recall and making sense of it in any verbal context (e.g., being asked a question).

There was a particularly interesting psychological interpretive report. It was done because of my 7th grade problems.

The psychologist pointed out that my IQ was 102 on the Stanford-Binet intelligence test when it was given to me in 1st grade. That is only average, but she doesn’t mention the breakdown of the test between fluid and crystallized intelligence (i.e., between problem-solving and book learning). That was probably the same test that showed me with problem-solving skills at a 12th grade level. So, considering that my IQ was average, the book learning part must have been extremely low.

She adds that, “It was thought that he had difficulties primarily in transferring information from one modality to another in expressive areas.” Problem-solving, as long as it was non-verbal/expressive, wouldn’t involve that particular difficulty.

In another section about my 7th grade abilities and behavior, the psychologist made some useful observations:

“At this time Ben is functioning intellectually in the average range of intelligence, but there is significant discrepancies between his verbal task, just at the average range, and his work on performance tasks, which is in the gifted range. When Ben works on activities that do not involve interaction with people, he can be extremely productive. He does not use trial and error, but figures out exactly what has to be done, and then does it. In verbal tasks he gives minimal interaction. There seems to be a word retrieval problem, which has been noted in the past, and he would make comments such as, “I don’t know how to state it.” Also noted in verbal tasks that he sometimes missed directions, and then would ask to have them repeated.”

A lot of that resonates with me. I’ve always had social issues that go along with verbal issues. I often felt stupid and, worse, that there was something wrong with me. There was a disconnect between my potential ability to do something and the actual results of my trying to do it. I developed a massive deficiency in confidence and, along with depression, began to develop social anxiety or something like it. I just couldn’t deal with the pressure and the constant sense of failure and inadequacy. It plain sucked. I hated school and I hated myself. I’ve never gotten over that feeling.

There was one thing that I think the psychologist got wrong and, in talking about it, my mom agrees about this. The psychologist concludes that, my younger self’s “problems are related to a history of learning difficulties and a present style of covert resistance to pressure. That is, Ben does not ever exert open defiance or resistance, but instead gives minimal responses whenever possible. He is never actively uncooperative, but the feeling he communicates is very definitely that he does not like being pressured.”

That misses the point. I was feeling frustrated and hopeless, a lost cause and a failure. I had a low self-concept, thought of myself as unpopular and weak, was painfully shy and carried a debilitating sense of shame. I lacked social skills to the point of being socially oblivious, probably somehow related to my learning disability. I didn’t understand people or the world, much less how I was supposed to deal with all my educational problems. No one else seemed to understand me either or knew how to actually help me. Anything I did or didn’t do would be wrong and so what was the point. I was on the verge of developing a permanent state of learned helplessness. It is almost certain that I already had depression at the time, although I wouldn’t be diagnosed until college.

The psychologists response was to have perceived me as having been uncooperative. That probably wasn’t a helpful conclusion.

* * *

While reading such reports, it gets me thinking about early childhood. Mixed in with official documents, there were some photographs of my young self. I was a happy little kid.

One thing I was always good at was art. In the quote at the the beginning of this piece, I stated that among other possibilities I dreamed of growing up to become an artist. Later on, I would even win a scholarship for an art degree. But I don’t think my parents considered that practical and so I went into a botany major and was predictably overwhelmed by science and math classes.

No guidance counselor should have ever allowed me to take that major without voicing some serious concern. The only class I ever had to repeat was a chemistry class. That should have been a sign of problems. But all anyone had to do was ask me. I hated science classes, partly because how they were taught and how I learned. My troubles with learning disability would be magnified a thousandfold in college, and yet no one thought to offer me extra help. I was simply thrown into the deep end with the assumption that I’d just start swimming. Instead, depression fell on me like a ton of bricks.

* * *

It feels like for my whole life I was always being set up for failure. I have this basic sense of being out of sync with the rest of humanity. I’m a seriously dysfunctional person, but I hide it well. That is all that society cares about is as long as you can manage to hide your problems and not make them public concerns. Struggle and fail in isolation. Don’t make yourself a nuisance. It’s all your fault and there is no one else to blame. Feel ashamed, but suppress it and pretend your normal.

What is frustrating about all of this isn’t just my personal problems and the unhappy moments of my past. My personal issues are rather insignificant in the big scheme of things. Our entire society is dysfunctional to the point of self-destructiveness, some might even say sociopathy. We humans have a collective learning disability in that we are incapable of learning from our past mistakes, much less grasp our collective failings in the present moment. My granddad gave my infant self a framed copy of The New York Times’ front page for the date of my birth. The events reported were rather mundane, pretty much the same old crap we are still dealing with—mostly an obsession with such things as politics and troublesome socialists and civil rights activists, healthcare and education, crime and drugs, international conflict and the Middle East.

I just turned 40 years old. That feels like a new era of my life. I guess I’m old now, but it occurs to me that I’m now at the age my dad was when I entered first grade. Back then, my dad was hitting the high point of his career in the private sector and, although his prospects were bright, he had a midlife crisis. He was wise enough to wait to get well into adulthood before having such a crisis. As for me, I started my crisis in childhood and worked from there.

Mine was a generation with many problems. I had good company. As I’ve pointed out a number of times, this partly had to do with lead toxicity, possibly related to my own learning disability. It was also the entire shifting of society and economy, pollutants just being one small part. We don’t choose the world we are born into. I was my parents’ last child because of the fears at the time about overpopulation and the overtaxing of the environment.

When we are young, we dream of the future. This is usually expressed in personal terms. Teachers and other adults will ask us what we like to do and what we want to be when we grow up. But it doesn’t take long for the larger world to impinge on the developing mind and to shape the emerging individual. Each new generation grows up with a shared set of dreams and fears, opportunities and problems. It is what we inherit and what we carry forward through the rest of our lives, traces of it passing onto the following generations.

What will the kids of today find in the boxes of childhood stuff when they reach adulthood and then middle age? What will they make of the world that made them into who they are? How will they see those of us who helped create the world they were born into and inherited?

* * *

With those questions in mind, it occurred to me how so many of my generational peers are at the age of being ‘young’ parents. Both of my brothers have kids, one of whom is just starting school. I have a number of cousins and friends with kids as well, all at school age, many still in elementary school.

I see the issues they are dealing with, both the parents and the kids. There are, of course, various issues involved, as growing up is always a challenge—issues of: learning, development, behavior, etc. In some cases, the parents are struggling. It’s a tough position to be in as a parent, not always knowing how to best help your child and no doubt making mistakes in the process. Also, like in the past, school officials aren’t always helpful, considering the limits of funding, resources, and time.

What kind of childhood do kids have these days? What memories are they forming? It does seem like a strange time to be a kid.

One thought I had was how the world is becoming more impersonal. This is seen in education, where bureaucracy has taken over. I noticed the shift happening even in the records across my own grade school education. The early forms were often filled out by hand and contained personal observations made by teachers, school psychologists, etc. But later records were almost entirely type written and often obviously computer-generated, all personal aspects eliminated.

It also makes me wonder what will get saved. My mom apparently saved almost everything and there was plenty to be saved. All work was done on physical paper. Computers simply weren’t used when I was in grade school, even though they were around. We had computers at home, but they ultimately were just fancy typewriters.

When I was growing up, my mom made photo albums for the family and for each of us boys. But neither of my sister-in-laws makes photo albums for their kids. Most of the photographs remain on the computer, at best maybe getting posted on Facebook. Will those photos just get lost over the decades? Where will Facebook and all those pictures be when my nieces and nephew turn 40 years old? Will people go back to some archived Facebook to explore their childhoods and reminisce?

Many have noted how much childhood has changed in recent generations. It makes one wonder how the remembering of childhood will also change.

 

Local Service Replicant

I had a customer drive up to my ramp booth. She informed me that I had two lights on. The light for ‘Cashier’ was lit up over the light for ‘Credit Card Only’. She then told me she didn’t know if a person was there or not.

The booth is basically a fish bowl. It was well lit and I was standing right in front of the window. I was on display for all to see.

I must assume that when I’m not properly labeled with a sign indicating that I’m human it isn’t necessarily apparent that I am indeed an actual human. I’m going to spend the rest of the year contemplating this new existential crisis involving my exclusion from the human species. I have gone to such effort over the years to appear as a normal human, but my attempts have obviously failed.

They have been slowly mechanizng the ramps. I knew that one day my job might become obsolete. It just didn’t occur to me that my human identity might become obsolete as well. Management must have mechanized me while I wasn’t paying attention… or maybe I was always mechanized. Yet my memories of my human life seem so real. Maybe I should have been suspicious all these years that upon my inception date at this job I was given a number to identify me.

I guess there are worse things to be than an android. Besides, just because I’m not a real human doesn’t mean my feelings aren’t real. Be nice to your local service replicant. We do all the hard work so that you humans don’t have to.

Trolling Democracy

I had a week that was both frustrating and interesting. I made a New Year’s resolution to break my habit of wasting time on commenting elsewhere, including on my own social media. It can make me feel drained and dirty.

It’s a hard habit to break, though. I was drawn in by some fake reviews on Amazon. Dishonesty really really bothers me. I know they are trolls, but they represent so much of what is wrong with our society. I do see them as a genuine threat to what little democracy we have, as they make public debate nearly impossible. Their only purpose is to obfuscate the issues and derail discussion.

Still, it wasn’t an entire waste of time. I made a fascinating discovery. It fascinates me, anyway. One of these fake reviewers, Johan RF, must have a lot of time on his hand and he has learned how to game the Amazon system. I’ve been studying him and tracking down his activities across the web. But before I get to that, let me discuss the book reviews that got my attention.

I was reading a sample of a book about psychology and perception in relation to climate change. It is Living in Denial: Climate Change, Emotions, and Everyday Life by Kari Marie Norgaard. Be smarter than me by skipping the Amazon reviews and just go straight to reading the book. It is one of the more recent books that looks at the human side of the issue.

At first, I wasn’t sure I wanted to read it. I had other books on climate change that I had yet to read. But the human aspect was on my mind (because after all I’m human and my concern is accordingly biased). So, that is what led me to look at the reviews, to see if they would tip me toward getting a copy of the book. In this case, I will give the fake reviews credit for helping me decide. They made me all the more curious. Sometimes fake reviews have that effect on me.

I even left comments in response to some of the fake reviewers explaining that they had convinced me to buy the book. That was when the fun began. About a third of the reviews are critical, four out of eleven. One of the critical reviews is genuine and only moderately critical with a three star rating. The others are all one stars and, of course, they are dismissive while refusing to actually review the book itself. Two of these reviews are by a William Beahan and someone ironically calling themself Realist. The third is by the aforementioned Johan RF, and that is the troll that got my goat, so to speak.

There is a perverse side of my personality that almost enjoys engaging trolls. I had a troll on a blog post recently who threatened to make my life a living hell. He told me he knew who my family was and where I lived. My response was to tell him to stop by for coffee sometime and I’d personally introduce him to my family. He stopped bothering me at that point. The internet has given me a thick skin. I have more important things to get excited about than mentally disturbed people online. Unhappy people sometimes feel inclined to try to make other people unhappy. It sucks for them and everyone involved, but it usually isn’t anything of great concern. That kind of troll just needs a kindly pat on the head to send them on their way.

Johan RF, however, is a more intriguing species of troll. He somehow kept getting my comments deleted, not all of them but many. I’m not sure how he was doing it. He somehow knew how to game the system in getting the bots to delete comments. When that failed, he simply deleted his entire review and reposted it. This he did several times. I just kept putting my comments back up. I think he finally gave up on trying to censer and silence me, but he was almost as persistent as me.

In interacting with Johan RF, my first response was amusement, then frustration, and after that grim determination. I checked out all of his other reviews and I commented further. I was testing the water to see how he would respond. I began to see a pattern to his behavior and I adapted to it. If it was a game he wanted to play, I can go along with that for a time. Once my curiosity is piqued, I go into obsessive mode.

Who is this person? That is always the question. Names often mean nothing online.

In a comment under one of his reviews for Hoggan’s Climate Cover-Up, he stated that, “For the record I am a scientist. I believe humans are putting molecules into the atmosphere that may well indeed have an impact on climate. I am also a statistician and in that realm it is very easy to identify a HUGE hole in the man-made-climate change assumptions and claims being made.” He made a similar statement in a review of Mann’s The Hocky Stick and the Climate Wars: “I am just a scientist who likes rigour and adherement to basic principles of scientific investigation.”

I doubt any of that is true. His grasp of science appears to be slim to none. He even goes so far as to claim an author of a book (Haydn Washington, Climate Change Denial) is a “non-scientist,” when in reality that author has almost four decades of scientific experience. Ya know, typical troll behavior.

The thing is this guy is prolific. He has quite a few  reviews posted on multiple Amazon sites. Here are his Amazon profiles for the United States, Canada, and United Kingdom.

I would have been at a dead end, if I hadn’t come across someone speculating about Johan RF’s identity. It is from the Scott Mandia’s blog Global Warming: Man or Myth?, in the post Anthony Watts’ Minions Attack Mike Mann and Make Mockery of Amazon Review Process. There is a several year old comment by Lamna nasus:

.. JrF ‘Jonny old boy’.. jonathan frodsham.. same person/activist?.. JrF is definitely fond of leaving very low rating, ad hom filled reviews of AGW publications on Amazon at any rate.. also didn’t like being challenged over being the same ‘jonny old boy’ Climate Change Denier who frequently posted comments on Richard Black’s Blog at the BBC.. JrF has admitted changing his identity details on Amazon on a frequent basis (currently using Johan RF)..appears he or a supporter recently (10.09.12) threw a hissy fit and had all comments on his review of Mann’s book and identity removed from Amazon.. gotta love that Wingnut dedication to freedom of speech.. interesting that another Denier suddenly throws a necropost at this thread…

That is such an intriguing comment. I wish there had been some links offered or something. Still, it was a lead.

There apparently used to be an Amazon profile of JrF “Jonny old boy.” Michael E. Mann has an old Facebook post with an image with a dead link to a review by JrF “Jonny old boy.” Further down in the comments, Mann says that, “the guy has replaced his old review w/ an even more dishonest revised review, and apparently Amazon resets the ratings–which seems absurd. Could use some more attention.” That fits the profile of Johan RF who does the same thing, replacing old reviews with new ones (he did this to me several times, but I noticed others complaining about the same thing at some of his other reviews).

That doesn’t prove they are the same person. Even so, others apparently have made this connection.

Adam Siegel, at the Get Energy Smart! NOW! blog, has something of interest at one of his posts, Amazon-ian challenge: what is the right thing to do?. In that post, he shows a review of JrF “Jonny old boy,” but when you click on the name it goes to Johan RF’s Amazon profile. The specific review is found as a screenshot at Scott Mandia’s post, which Siegel discusses. Here is the image:

1 Star Reviewer Shows His Lack of Understanding of Basics

Over at the Skeptical Science Forum, there is a discussion (LIVE NOW – Mike Mann’s hockey stick book now live at Amazon so post your reviews!), also from several years ago. The last comment is by Tom Smerling:

Just for fun….and as a sign of how things are trending over at Amazon…

The long-time record holder for “most helpful” one-star review (below) first appeared on Feb 8 and by Feb 12 was scoring about 50% “helpful” (that high in trollville).

But the author (“JrF” aka “Jonny Feese”) deleted his own post, and reposted the same review on Feb 13.

In doing so, he inadventantly, but helpfully, created a controlled experiment.

Now his post’s second incarnation, instead of scoring 50%, is running …9%. In fact, he’s gone from first to last among the 1-star crowd: in fact, it’s now the #1 least helpful review of all 65+.

It just shows how the tide has shifted. 🙂

P.S. Gotta love that headline. . .

————-

4 of 44 people found the following review helpful:
1.0 out of 5 stars i did read this and thinks its poor. I am allowed to think this., February 13, 2012
By
JrF “Jonny old boy” (UK) – See all my reviews
This review is from: The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines (Hardcover)
Had to repost this review after abuse from AGW nutters.

Like Siegel, the name JrF “Jonny old boy” is linked to the Amazon profile of Johan RF. I’m not sure if that means that it always has been the same profile, but the username changed. Can someone change the name of their profile while maintaining the profile itself with all the reviews? I don’t know, as I’ve never tried. Smerling also throws out the name Jonny Feese, but I have no idea where that name comes from and websearches weren’t helpful.

To return to the comment by Lamna nasus, the other name that popped up was that of Jonathan Frodsham. There is a JB Frodsham with a blog and a Youtube account, both of which show an interest in climate change. A jb frodsham left a comment at Watts Up With That? (WUWT), and at the same post there is also a comment by jonny old boy. Another post at the same blog has comments by jonathan frodsham and jonny old boy.

Those two WUWT posts are the only two results that come up in a websearch for those two names. I’m not sure what that might mean. By himself, I was able to get a lot more results to come up with variations of Frodsham: Jonathan Frodsham, J Frodsham, JB Frodsham, etc. The last is most interesting, in that it could easily be connected to JrF “Jonny old boy.” Along with Johan RF, all of these names are some combination of ‘J’ and ‘F’, sometimes with ‘B’ as well (or all three letters).

I noticed a comment by jonathan frodsham (at JoNova):

“Can you give me a hand?? This guy is calling me a shit eating denialist. There are a some real swine here:”

Following that, there is a link to an Amazon discussion. When you follow that link, it goes directly to comments by a Realist. In one comment, Realist calls himself Jo-the-former-Green. Other commenters refer to him as JB Frodsham or some shortened version of it, such as JBF. The other commenters all somehow seem to know who he is. If you go to some reviews by Realist, the comments also refer to him as Frodsham, and Realist always responds when called that name.

When I saw Jonathan Frodsham going as Realist, I began to see a connection. As I mentioned earlier, I first came across Johan RF on his review of Norsgaard’s Living in Denial. I remembered that Realist also had a one star review of the same book, and Johan RF (AKA JrF “Jonny old boy”) left a comment there in response to me.

It’s interesting to compare the two reviewers, including Johan RF’s profiles at the Amazon sites of other countries. There is at least one other book that both of them review. Their reviews fit the same basic profile. The style of writing and the sentence structure has some similarities.

They both always write very short reviews, often a single paragraph. They have a preference for non-standard usage of commas as a way of connecting two separate sentences or sentence fragments: Johan RF writes “not sure why , maybe because the author accepts spin as fact” and Realist writes “This woman is dangerous, she want to get rid of democracy and freedom.” Of course, they both tend to give either one or five star ratings to books on climatology. And, of course, in their negative reviews they attack the author’s credibility and dismiss them.

The main difference is that Johan RF less often capitalizes words and more often uses elipses (whereas Realist uses normal capitalization and rarely uses elipses, not at all in most reviews), but those are easy superficial things to change to make the reviewers seem more like different people. If he has managed to maintain multiple sockpuppet accounts, I’m sure he has done so by creating some basic rules for writing for each one, rules that would be easy to remember and implement.

Assuming that were the case, you might think at some point he’d slip up or that Amazon would eventually see a pattern. Still, I know that Johan RF is a somewhat clever guy, at least in terms of learning how to manipulate the system to get comments deleted and such. Looking at Johan RF’s other reviews, there are some where he maybe slips out of persona and writes more like Realist, with words capitalized and sentences ended with periods.

Let me give one other example of similarity. Realist likes to use the word ‘rubbish’, even in reviews not about books (in a review of anti-virus software, he calls it “absolute rubbish”). His review of Living in Denial is simply titled as “Rubbish.”

I must admit that I don’t hear that word used a lot, at least as an American, but Realist claims to be from Australia. By the way, Johan RF claims to be from London (AKA JrF “Jonny old boy” from UK). Johan RF uses ‘rubbish’ a lot in his reviews at the Amazon sites for UK, Canada, and Australia, although maybe not as much in his reviews at the US Amazon site.

Is Johan RF (AKA JrF “Jonny old boy”) and Realist (AKA Jonathan/JB Frodsham) really the same person? It would be hard to absolutely prove it without an open admission of guilt, but the gathered evidence could be interpreted as indicating a connection of some sort. That could mean they are the same individual with multiple sockpuppets. Otherwise, it could simply be two people who are in the same internet social circle and happen to think and write in a similar fashion. Either is possible.

Anyway, trolls are fascinating creatures, especially those of this variety. These aren’t just your average denialists. They have (or he has) brought contrarianism and obfuscation to the level of an art form. To this kind of person, everything is a game to be won at all costs. Defeating the enemy is more important than winning the truth.

It makes me wonder if such people simply have too much time on their hands. Or is someone paying them to distort the issues, derail debate, and drop the ratings of climate change books? In recent years, a couple of books were published about the highly organized and well-funded corporate campaign against science (or rather public debate of science): Doubt is Their Product (2008) by David Michaels and Merchants of Doubt (2010) by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway—the latter writing:

“Small numbers of people can have large, negative impacts, especially if they are organised, determined and have access to power.”

The manipulation of Amazon ratings is just a tip of the melting iceberg. The full effect of this kind of activity undermines democracy itself by making informed public debate almost impossible. It filters into mainstream media, given voice by pundits and politicians alike. And then it gets repeated endlessly by the disinformed public.

* * * *

Update (4/4/2017):

Someone pointed to a comment by a JonF. It immediately occurred to me that sounded familiar. Then I remembered this post. That wasn’t one of the names I came across before and it was in a slightly different context. The comment in question was about race

* * * *

(In case anyone is interested, I do have screenshots of most things mentioned in this post: reviews, posts, comments, etc. I figured that, as I went to so much trouble to research this, I better document it all. Johan RF showed that he has a habit of deleting things. So, if some of it does get deleted and anyone wants to see what it was, just ask me and I’ll offer you the screenshot.)

Fearful Perceptions

They all look the same.

That is a stereotypical racist statement, an excuse for generalizing, but it isn’t just rhetoric. It is directly related to perception and so is the basis of racism itself. You first have to perceive people as the same in order to perceive them as a race in the first place.

I’ve even heard otherwise well-meaning people make comments like this, with no self-awareness of the racist implications of it. Most racism operates unconsciously and implicitly.

Then this informs specifically how an individual is seen. For example, all people perceived as ‘black’ also are perceived as older and guiltier—see the MNT article:

“The evidence shows that perceptions of the essential nature of children can be affected by race, and for black children, this can mean they lose the protection afforded by assumed childhood innocence well before they become adults,” said co-author Matthew Jackson, PhD, also of UCLA. “With the average age overestimation for black boys exceeding four-and-a-half years, in some cases, black children may be viewed as adults when they are just 13 years old.”

Consider another aspect of perception, that of generations over time. Most people, especially as they age, look to the past with nostalgia. The world used to be a better place and the people were better too.

I’ve explored this before with the rates of teen sexuality and all that goes with it. Many older people assume that a generation of sluts has emerged. It is true that kids now talk more openly about sex and no doubt sexual imagery is more easily accessible in movies and on the web.

Even so, it turns out the kids these days are prudes compared to past generations. Abortion rates are going down not just because of improved sex education and increased use of birth control. It’s simply less of an issue because the young’uns apparently are having less sex and it sure is hard to get pregnant without sex. To emphasize this point, they also have lower rates of STDs, another hard thing to get without sex.

On top of that, they are “partaking in less alcohol, tobacco, and drugs.” Not just prudes, but “boring prudes.”

None of that fits public perception, though. Everyone seems to know the world is getting worse. I’m not necessarily one to argue against the claim that the world is going to shit. There is no doubt plenty going wrong. Still, I do try to not generalize too much.

The other article I noticed, by Mike Males at CJCJ, is also about changes in crime rates.

Imagine that a time-liberated version of vigilante George Zimmerman sees two youths walking through his neighborhood: black, hoodied Trayvon Martin of 2012, and a white teen from 1959 (say Bud Anderson from Father Knows Best). Based purely on statistics of race and era, which one should Zimmerman most fear of harboring criminal intent? Answer: He should fear (actually, not fear) them equally; each has about the same low odds of committing a crime.

So, why are young blacks such an obsession of our collective fear?

In the town I live in, white kids commit crimes all the time and it rarely get covered by the local media, but any black kids step out of line and it is major news. Over about a decade (1997-2009), there were two incidents where police shot an innocent men, one white and the other black. Guess which caused the most outrage? Guess which one now has a memorial in the local city park? Let me give you a hint: It wasn’t the black guy, despite his having been fairly well known in town and well liked by those who knew him.

Further on in the CJCJ article, the author points out that:

We don’t associate Jim and Margaret Anderson’s 1950s cherubs with juvenile crime—but that’s based on nostalgia and cultural biases, not fact. Back then, nearly 1 in 10 youth were arrested every year; today, around 3 in 100. Limited statistics of the 1950s show juvenile crime wasn’t just pranks and joyriding; “younger and younger children” are committing “the most wanton and senseless of murders… and mass rape,” the chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency warned in 1956.

We certainly don’t associate 1950s white kids as having been dangerous criminals. Even so, if you look back at the period, you quickly realize that adults during that era were scared shitless of the new generation, between the new media of television and the emergence of full-blown Cold War paranoia. To get a sense of how kids were perceived back then, watch the movie “Village of the Damned.”

And, with immigration barely a trickle, that was when whites came to hold the largest majority in any time of American history. Following decades of racial laws and practices, it was the perfect white utopia or as perfect as it was going to get.

It is true that there was a decline, having begun with Boomers and perfected with my own GenX peers. I’ve written about that issue a lot. The economy was heading down its slow decline and lead toxicity rates shot up like never before. So, the parents were losing their good jobs while the kids’ brains were being poisoned, a great combination. The whole world was shifting beneath the American population, and it didn’t tend to lead to good results. Communities and families were under extreme stress, often to the breaking point.

Since the sainted Fifties, America has seen rapid teenage population growth and dramatic shifts toward more single parenting, more lethal drugs and weapons, increased middle-aged (that is, parent-age) drug abuse and imprisonment, decreased incarceration of youth, decreased youthful religious affiliation, and more violent and explicit media available to younger ages. Horrifying, as the culture critics far Right to far Left—including Obama, who spends many pages and speeches berating popular culture as some major driver of bad youth behavior—repeatedly insist.

It used to be that blacks were blamed for almost everything. They still are blamed for plenty and disproportionately so. Yet the political right has started to viciously turned on its own favored group, the white working class. Charles Murray did that in his recent book, Coming Apart, where he almost entirely ignored blacks in order to focus on the divide emerging between whites, sorting into the low class losers and the upper class meritocracy.

In a post from last year, I pointed to some articles discussing Murray’s book. One article (by Paul Krugman over at Truthout) makes a relevant point:

Reading Mr. Murray’s book and all the commentary about the sources of moral collapse among working-class whites, I’ve had a nagging question: Is it really all that bad?

I mean, yes, marriage rates are way down, and labor force participation is down among working-age men (although not as much as some of the rhetoric might imply), but it’s generally left as an implication that these trends must be causing huge social ills. Are they?

Well, one thing oddly missing in Mr. Murray’s work is any discussion of that traditional indicator of social breakdown, teenage pregnancy. Why? Because it has actually been falling like a stone, according to National Vital Statistics data.

And what about crime? It’s soaring, right? Wrong, according to Justice Department data.

So here’s a thought: maybe traditional social values are eroding in the white working class — but maybe those traditional social values aren’t as essential to a good society as conservatives like to imagine.

Nell Irvin Painter at NYT offers this thought:

Involuntary sterilization is no longer legal, and intelligence is recognized as a complex interplay between biology and environment. Indeed, the 1960s, the era that Mr. Murray blames for the moral failings that have driven poor and middle-class white America apart, was the very same era that stemmed the human rights abuse of involuntary sterilization. (Not coincidentally, it was the same era that began addressing the discrimination that entrenched black poverty as well.)

The stigmatization of poor white families more than a century ago should provide a warning: behaviors that seem to have begun in the 1960s belong to a much longer and more complex history than ideologically driven writers like Mr. Murray would have us believe.

Considering it all, who should we fear? That is who should we fear, besides Muslims, immigrants, and foreigners. Should we fear blacks? The young? Or the Poor? Fortunately, we don’t have to choose between our fears. Any combination of black, young, and poor will do—all three together, of course, being the worst.

When fear drives perception, we perceive a fearful world. To release the tension of anxiety and paranoia, someone has to be the scapegoat, whatever group is easiest to generalize about without any confusing emotions of empathy, which in practice means those with the least power to speak out and be heard. The generalizations don’t need to correspond to reality, just as long as a good narrative can be spun in the mainstream media.

On Being Strange

The human mind is fascinating. Did you know that? I thought I should mention it, just in case.

The capacity of the human mind leads in various directions. Many have wondered what psychiatric conditions say not just about those who are ‘afflicted’ but for human nature in general.

Take schizophrenia, which is always a popular topic, as it is fairly common. Schizophrenia includes several types of experience that get me thinking.

There is the oceanic feeling that is typical, something they share with many mystics, meditation practitioners and anyone who has imbibed psychedelics. It is a loss of boundaries or rather a fluidity between self and other.

This is part of a generally fluid way of experiencing reality. Schizophrenics often think others can hear their thoughts and that they can hear the thoughts of others. It also goes along with hearing voices, especially command hallucinations. Instead of thinking ‘I will do such and such,’ they hear ‘You will do such and such’.

This is where we touch upon the theories of Julian Jaynes and Iain McGilchrist. If we take the ancients at their word, we have to conclude that command hallucinations were considered a normal experience. Even today normal people hear command hallucinations when under extreme duress and stress. What if we all possess immense potential in how we can experience reality and identity? What might this mean for societies, in the ancient world and maybe in the future?

A different aspect is how schizophrenics view the world. People, objects, and concepts aren’t perceived as being individual. Rather, they are experienced as inseparable members of ever larger subclasses. This emphasizes a sense of larger wholeness beyond individuality.

Related to this, Iain McGilchrist explains this in terms of hemisphere functioning (p. 51):

“At the same time it is the right hemisphere that has the capacity to distinguish specific examples within a category, rather than categories alone: it stores details to distinguish specific instances. 148 The right hemisphere presents individual, unique instances of things and individual, familiar, objects, where the left hemisphere re-presents categories of things, and generic, non-specific objects. 149 In keeping with this, the right hemisphere uses unique referents, where the left hemisphere uses non-unique referents. 150 It is with the right hemisphere that we distinguish individuals of all kinds, places as well as faces. 151 In fact it is precisely its capacity for holistic processing that enables the right hemisphere to recognise individuals. 152 Individuals are, after all, Gestalt wholes: that face, that voice, that gait, that sheer ‘quiddity’ of the person or thing, defying analysis into parts.”

This isn’t just about schizophrenics. This difference between hemispheres exists in everyone, even if it doesn’t normally show so starkly as in psychiatric conditions.

In terms of bicameral societies, this makes me think that it isn’t an issue of there being no boundaries. It simply would be different and larger boundaries. Society itself, instead of the individual, would define self and reality. Individuality wouldn’t be the locus of experience and so individual perspective wouldn’t necessarily be understood as such, much less privileged as the basis of all else. This is shown in the odd examples throughout ancient literature where body parts are spoken of as if they had their own minds, their own thoughts and emotions.

This brings to mind a book I’ve been reading. It’s Evolution and Empathy by Milton E. Brener. He doesn’t reference either Jaynes or McGilchrist, but his thinking is in line with theirs. Brener discusses how the ancients apparently didn’t see spatial relationship between things as we moderns do. Closer and further objects lacked perspective, both being shown the same size. And multiple sides to a person or object would be shown simultaneously (e.g., all wheels of a wagon shown equally or different body parts shown from different angles).

Why did the ancients portray their world in such strange ways? And why do some people even today experience the world in strange ways that seem to match aspects of what the ancients portrayed? Maybe we are all a bit stranger than we realize.

* * *

Here are a few previous posts of mine:

Radical Human Mind: From Animism to Bicameralism and Beyond
Making Gods, Making Individuals
Synesthesia, and Psychedelics, and Civilization! Oh My!
Developmental Differences: Preliminary Thoughts

Also, if this kind of thing fascinates you as it fascinates me, you might want to check out another blog:

Gary Williams’s Minds and Brains

Learning to Die

I just finished Learning to Die in the Anthropocene by Roy Scranton. It’s a quick read, only having taken me a couple days to slowly enjoy. For such a compact text, it still packs quite the punch.

To get an idea of where Scranton is coming from, consider him to be the love child of Peter Wessel Zapffe (“The Last Messiah”) and Morris Berman (The Twilight of American Culture) who was raised watching Carl Sagan’s Cosmos and then sent off to war with an anthology of ancient Greek literature stuffed in with his military gear. He actually doesn’t mention either Zappfe, Berman, or Sagan. But Zappfe in particular came to mind while reading, as he was the original inspiration of Deep Ecology.

Even though I doubt he is in the same intellectual tradition as Zappfe, Scranton with his stoical and cosmological attitude does capture the mood of philosophical pessimism. Still, there is an odd far-reaching optimism in his sympathetic view of humanity. He is no misanthrope.

The idea that most captured my attention came from another book, Carbon Democracy by Timothy Mitchell. I haven’t read Mitchell’s book. All I know of it is from what Scranton wrote. But from that little taste it was satisfying. It seems a potentially compelling explanation of how the modern world came to be and what changed.

The basic idea is that coal made democracy possible. Coal mining and transportation required large numbers of workers. It was also very localized, both in terms of the communities of workers and in terms of infrastructure. It gave citizens great power and leverage to demand their rights. This is what the very essence of democratization.

Oil changed all of that. Fewer people were needed. And the infrastructure was no longer as limited, pipes and ships could be redirected to avoid conflicts and disruptions. The oil giants swept the legs of democracy, as Johnny Lawrence did to Daniel LaRusso in “Karate Kid.” It was inevitable and predictable.

This is why no one in power is going to do anything about climate change. Their power is dependent on oil. And this is why the general public is so complacent. It’s not just that they feel powerless. It goes deeper than that. Our entire society is dependent on oil. We traded democracy for consumerism, comfort, and convenience.

Governments, politics, and activism won’t solve this problem. Our world is determined by our dominant energy source, what fuels it all and makes it all possible. Unless we find new energy sources and new ways of using that energy, we will continue on this path to wherever it leads.

Considering the hard data of the options before us, it is hard to imagine what that new world might look like. At this point, we are hoping for a technological miracle to save us. For those like Scranton who are staring down stark reality, this leads to a philosophical view of humanity, a stepping back to see the big picture. I think that is a good thing, better than our present state of being driven by the dynamics of fear and hope, denial and desperation.

We need to stop, take a breath, and look with clear eyes.

Climate Change, Refugees, and Terrorism

Climate change is already here.

We are past the point of preventing it, decreasing it, or even managing it well. There is nothing we are going to do about it at this point. What we will do is react to it, as it happens, crisis by crisis.

Politics are irrelevant. But no doubt there will be many speeches and much posturing, on all sides.

* * *

Learning to Die in the Anthropocene: Reflections on the End of a Civilization
By Roy Scranton
Kindle Locations 860-888

“Consider: Once among the most modern, Westernized nations in the Middle East, with a robust, highly educated middle class, Iraq has been blighted for decades by imperialist aggression, criminal gangs, interference in its domestic politics, economic liberalization, and sectarian feuding. Today it is being torn apart between a corrupt petrocracy, a breakaway Kurdish enclave, and a self-declared Islamic fundamentalist caliphate, while a civil war in neighboring Syria spills across its borders. These conflicts have likely been caused in part and exacerbated by the worst drought the Middle East has seen in modern history. Since 2006, Syria has been suffering crippling water shortages that have, in some areas, caused 75 percent crop failure and wiped out 85 percent of livestock, left more than 800,000 Syrians without a livelihood, and sent hundreds of thousands of impoverished young men streaming into Syria’s cities. 90 This drought is part of long-term warming and drying trends that are transforming the Middle East. 91 Not just water but oil, too, is elemental to these conflicts. Iraq sits on the fifth-largest proven oil reserves in the world. Meanwhile, the Islamic State has been able to survive only because it has taken control of most of Syria’s oil and gas production. We tend to think of climate change and violent religious fundamentalism as isolated phenomena, but as Retired Navy Rear Admiral David Titley argues, “you can draw a very credible climate connection to this disaster we call ISIS right now.” 92

“A few hundred miles away, Israeli soldiers spent the summer of 2014 killing Palestinians in Gaza. Israel has also been suffering drought, while Gaza has been in the midst of a critical water crisis exacerbated by Israel’s military aggression. The International Committee for the Red Cross reported that during summer 2014, Israeli bombers targeted Palestinian wells and water infrastructure. 93 It’s not water and oil this time, but water and gas: some observers argue that Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge” was intended to establish firmer control over the massive Leviathan natural gas field, discovered off the coast of Gaza in the eastern Mediterranean in 2010.94

“Meanwhile, thousands of miles to the north, Russian-backed separatists fought fascist paramilitary forces defending the elected government of Ukraine, which was also suffering drought. 95 Russia’s role as an oil and gas exporter in the region and the natural gas pipelines running through Ukraine from Russia to Europe cannot but be key issues in the conflict. Elsewhere, droughts in 2014 sent refugees from Guatemala and Honduras north to the US border, devastated crops in California and Australia, and threatened millions of lives in Eritrea, Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Uganda, Afghanistan, India, Morocco, Pakistan, and parts of China. Across the world, massive protests and riots have swept Bosnia and Herzegovina, Venezuela, Brazil, Turkey, Egypt, and Thailand, while conflicts rage on in Colombia, Libya, the Central African Republic, Sudan, Nigeria, Yemen, and India. And while the world burns, the United States has been playing chicken with Russia over control of Eastern Europe and the melting Arctic, and with China over control of Southeast Asia and the South China Sea, threatening global war on a scale not seen in seventy years. This is our present and future: droughts and hurricanes, refugees and border guards, war for oil, water, gas, and food.”

90. Francesco Femia and Caitlin Werrell, “Syria: Climate Change, Drought and Social Unrest,” The Center for Climate and Security, February 29, 2012. http://climateandsecurity.org/2012/02/29/syria-climate-change-drought-and-social-unrest/.
91. Colin P. Kelley, Shahrzad Mohtadi, Mark A. Cane, Richard Seager, and Yochanan Kushnir, “Climate change in the Fertile Crescent and implications of the recent Syrian drought,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, January 30, 2015. Early edition. http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2015/02/23/1421533112.
92. Quoted in Eric Holthaus, “New Study Says Climate Change Helped Spark Syrian Civil War,” Slate.com, March 3, 2015. http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2015/03/02/study_climate_change_helped_spark_syrian_civil_war.html.
93. International Committee for the Red Cross, “Gaza: Water in the line of fire,” news release, July 15, 2014. http://www.icrc.org/eng/resources/documents/news-release/2014/14-07-israel-palestine-gaza-water.htm. Ahmed Hadi, “Health crisis looms in Gaza after Israel bombs water infrastructure,” Al-Akhbar English, July 17, 2014. http://english.al-akhbar.com/content/health-crisis-looms-gaza-after-israel-bombs-water-infrastructure
94. Nafeez Ahmed, “IDF’s Gaza assault is to control Palestinian gas, avert Israeli energy crisis,” The Guardian, July 9, 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/Earth-insight/2014/jul/09/israel-war-gaza-palestine-natural-gas-energy-crisis. Julie Lévesque, “Israel Steals Gaza’s Offshore Natural Gas: $ 15 Billion Deal with Jordan,” Global Research, September 06, 2014. http://www.globalresearch.ca/israel-steals-gazas-offshore-natural-gas-15-billion-deal-with-jordan/5399736.
95. Jeff Wilson, “Ukraine’s Wheat, Corn Face Mounting Drought Risk, Martell Says,” Bloomberg.com, March 5, 2014. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-03-05/ukraine-s-wheat-corn-face-mounting-drought-risk-martell-says.html.

* * *

What Will Become of the Climate-Change Refugees?
By Julian Spector

Climate change already affecting migration patterns around the world
By Renee Lewis

Climate change could already be displacing more people than war
By Jason Margolis

How Climate Change is Behind the Surge of Migrants to Europe
By Aryn Baker

Bill Nye Explains the Link Between Climate Change and Terrorism
By Matt Miller

Why Climate Change and Terrorism Are Connected
By Justin Worland

GROWING CONNECTION BETWEEN CLIMATE CHANGE, TERRORISM AFFECTS POLITICS
By Jack Martinez

New Study Says Climate Change Helped Spark Syrian Civil War
By Eric Holthaus

The Connection Between Global Terrorism And Climate Change
By Kimberley Johnson

The Link Between Climate Change And ISIS Is Real
By Joe Romm

Worried About Refugees? Just Wait Until We Dust-Bowlify Mexico And Central America
By Joe Romm

Heat Waves And Drought Are Already Having A Devastating Impact On Important Crops
By Natasha Geiling

What do we inherit? And from whom?

Our parents don’t just give us our genetics. They also give us microbes. Add on top of that the factors of epigenetics and environment that our parents give us and it makes one wonder about the complexity of it all.

Microbes are fascinating. Our entire life is dependent on them. And they make up a large part of our body mass. They don’t just impact our health but also our moods and who knows what else.

Or consider parasites. There is the toxoplasmosis gondii parasite which can have major impact on mammalian psychology, at least for rats and humans. Like rabies, toxoplasmosis changes behavior of the infected in order to spread the infection to others. These little buggers literally control your mind. Conniving clever creatures!

This gives a whole other perspective to parasite load. Parasites are more common in warm regions. It isn’t accidental that some of the poorest countries are also the warmest, as their populations have higher parasite loads. This effects both physical and mental health, stunting development and lowering IQ, among much else.

We’ve barely even researched this area. Most microbes and parasites remain unstudied. We have no clue what they do, good or bad. Most of the genetic material we carry in our bodies isn’t human, and that isn’t even including RNA with its bacterial origins. That should give you pause.

Anyway, genetics are only around 2% of the human genome, the rest being so-called Junk DNA, but scientists have come to realize it serves other purposes. By the way, viruses living in us like to snip out pieces of our DNA and mix them up, just for shits and giggles.

What all of this might mean genetically and epigenetically (i.e., across generations) is entirely up in the air. We live in a fascinating time of ignroance and discovery. Genetic determinists can put that in their pipe and smoke it.

On a positive note, this inheritance isn’t fatalism, as much of it can be changed as an adult. In particular, it should be relatively easy to improve gut health. Just introduce new microbes. And new foods that they like. Be sure your microbes are happy!

‘The Diet Myth,’ ‘The Good Gut’ and ‘The Hidden Half of Nature’
By Sonia Shah, NYT

“Using the improved detection capacity of genetic sequencing techniques, scientists have discovered that 100 trillion microscopic creatures live in and on the body, influencing everything from the intensity of our immune responses and our moods to our dietary preferences and propensity to gain weight.”

‘Infectious Madness,’ by Harriet A. Washington
By Meghan O’Rourke, NYT

“Indeed, a handful of researchers are wondering whether mental illnesses are really caused by our immune system’s response to powerful microbial infections. As Harriet A. Washington reports in her new book, “Infectious Madness: The Surprising Science of How We ‘Catch’ Mental Illness,” some researchers in the field believe microbes may be responsible not only for clear-cut diseases like typhoid and tuberculosis, but also for mental illnesses such as anorexia, obsessive-­compulsive disorder and schizophrenia — but in a less tidy manner. As she reports, research has found that 10 to 20 percent of mental illnesses, including autism, are partly caused by pathogens.”

More Words

I’ve written so often about knowledge and ignorance, truth and denialism. My mind ever returns to the topic, because it is impossible to ignore in this media-saturated modern world. There are worthy things to debate and criticize, but it is rare to come across much of worth amidst all the noise, all the opinionating and outrage.

I don’t want to just dismiss it all. I don’t want to ignore it and live blissfully in my own private reality or my own narrow media bubble. I feel compelled to understand the world around me. I actually do care about what makes people tick, not just to better persuade them to my own view, but more importantly to understand humanity itself.

Still, noble aspirations aside, it can be frustrating and I often let it show. Why do we make everything so hard? Why do we fight tooth and nail against being forced to face reality? Humans are strange creatures.

At some point, yet more argument seems pointless. No amount of data and evidence will change anything. We can’t deal with even relatively minor problems. Hope seems like an act of desperation in face of the more immense global challenges. Humanity will change when we are forced to change, when maintaining the status quo becomes impossible.

It is irrational to expect most humans to be rational about almost anything of significance. But that doesn’t mean speaking out doesn’t matter.

I considered offering some detailed thoughts and observations, but I already expressed my self a bit in another post. Instead, I’ll just point to a somewhat random selection of what others have already written, a few books and articles I’ve come across recently—my main focus has been climate change:

Apocalypse Soon: Has Civilization Passed the Environmental Point of No Return?
By Madhusree Mukerjee

It’s the End of the World as We Know It . . . and He Feels Fine
By Daniel Smith

Learning to Die in the Antrhopocene: Reflections on the End of a Civilization
By Roy Scranton

Reason in a Dark Time: Why the Struggle Against Climate Change Failed – And What it Means for Our Future
By Dale Jamieson

Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World
By Timothy Morton

Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor
By Rob Nixon

The Culture of Make Believe
By Derrick Jensen

The Elephant in the Room: Silence and Denial in Everyday Life
By Eviatar Zerubavel

States of Denial: Knowing about Atrocities and Suffering
By Stanley Cohen

Living in Denial: Climate Change, Emotions, and Everyday Life
By Kari Marie Norgaard

Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change
By George Marshall

What We Think About When We Try Not To Think About Global Warming: Toward a New Psychology of Climate Action
by Per EspenStoknes

How Culture Shapes the Climate Change Debate
By Andrew Hoffman

The Republican War on Science
By Chris Mooney

Reality Check: How Science Deniers Threaten Our Future
By Donald R. Prothero

Climate Change Denial: Heads in the Sand
By Haydn Washington

Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming
By James Hoggan

Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming
By Naomi Oreskes & Erik M. Conway

The man who studies the spread of ignorance
By Georgina Kenyon

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate
By Naomi Klein

Climate Change, Capitalism, and Corporations: Process of Creative Self-Destruction
By Christopher Wright & Daniel Nyberg

Exxon: The Road Not Taken
By Neela Banerjee

Poison Spring: The Secret History of Pollution and the EPA
By E.G. Vallianatos

Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil
By Timothy Mitchell

Democracy Inc.: How Members Of Congress Have Cashed In On Their Jobs
By The Washington Post, David S. Fallis, Scott Higham (Author), Dan Keating, & Kimberly Kindy

Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism
By Sheldon S. Wolin

There are no conservatives.

There are no conservatives.

Someone can choose to be a regressive, rather than a progressive. A reactionary, rather than a radical. A right-winger, rather than a left-winger. But it is impossible to be a conservative in the world today.

We live in a liberal era. It is what frames our entire sense of reality, at least since the Enlightenment, although the basic framework has its roots in the Axial Age. There are many varieties of liberalism, and at this point all of us are liberals of some kind.

One of the most radical liberal ideas ever implemented is capitalism. So-called conservatives have embraced it, even though there is nothing conservative about it. That is because they aren’t conservatives, no matter what they claim.

We live in a world where there is nothing left to conserve. We’ve had continuous ‘progress’ and creative destruction for a very long time. Nothing has remained untouched and unmoved. Even fundamentalist religion is a modern invention. Tradition is an empty word, a talisman we shake to fend off the monster lurching out from the future’s shadow.

We can embrace this brave new world or fight it. Either way, conservatism isn’t an option. Change is inevitable, like it or not. Fantasies about the past are simply a form of entertainment, as the world collapses around us… and becomes something else.

* * *

If one reads carefully what I wrote and thinks carefully about what it means, it becomes obvious that this isn’t a paean to liberalism. It is simply noting the world we live in. Liberalism must accept the blame as much as the praise for where we find ourselves.

The past is gone. It won’t be saved or revived. I don’t think that is necessarily a good thing. Part of my motivation for writing this is that I wish I lived in a world where conservatism was possible, where there was something capable and worthy of being conserved. But the changes we are making to society and environment are permanent.

There is no turning back. We are past the point of no return.

* * *

“If Homo sapiens survives the next millennium, it will be survival in a world unrecognizably different from the one we have known for the last 200,000 years.

“In order for us to adapt to this strange new world, we’re going to need more than scientific reports and military policy. We’re going to need new ideas. We’re going to need new myths and new stories, a new conceptual understanding of reality, and a new relationship to the deep polyglot traditions of human culture that carbon-based capitalism has vitiated through commodification and assimilation. Over and against capitalism, we will need a new way of thinking our collective existence. We need a new vision of who “we” are. We need a new humanism— a newly philosophical humanism, undergirded by renewed attention to the humanities.

“Admittedly, ocean acidification, social upheaval, and species extinction are problems that humanities scholars, with their taste for fine-grained philological analysis, esoteric debates, and archival marginalia, might seem remarkably ill-suited to address. After all, how will thinking about Kant or Frantz Fanon help us trap carbon dioxide? Can arguments between object-oriented ontology and historical materialism protect honeybees from colony collapse disorder? Are ancient Greek philosophers, medieval poets, and contemporary metaphysicians going to save Bangladesh from being inundated by the Indian Ocean?

“Perhaps not. But the conceptual and existential problems that the Anthropocene poses are precisely those that have always been at the heart of humanistic inquiry: What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to live? What is truth? What is good? In the world of the Anthropocene, the question of individual mortality— What does my life mean in the face of death?— is universalized and framed in scales that boggle the imagination. 21 As environmental philosopher Dale Jamieson puts it, “The Anthropocene presents novel challenges for living a meaningful life.” 22 Historian and theorist Dipesh Chakrabarty has claimed that global warming “calls us to visions of the human that neither rights talk nor the critique of the subject ever contemplated.” 23 Whether we are talking about ethics or politics, ontology or epistemology, confronting the end of the world as we know it dramatically challenges our learned perspectives and ingrained priorities. What does consumer choice mean compared against 100,000 years of ecological catastrophe? What does one life mean in the face of mass death or the collapse of global civilization? How do we make meaningful decisions in the shadow of our inevitable end?

“These questions have no logical or empirical answers. They cannot be graphed or quantified. They are philosophical problems par excellence. If, as Montaigne asserted, “To philosophize is to learn how to die,” then we have entered humanity’s most philosophical age, for this is precisely the problem of the Anthropocene. 24 The rub now is that we have to learn to die not as individuals, but as a civilization.”

Learning to Die in the Anthropocene
By Roy Scranton
Kindle Locations 141-166