Modernity as Death Cult

Humanity has wiped out 60% of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles since 1970, leading the world’s foremost experts to warn that the annihilation of wildlife is now an emergency that threatens civilisation. […]

“Many scientists believe the world has begun a sixth mass extinction, the first to be caused by a species – Homo sapiens. Other recent analyses have revealed that humankind has destroyed 83% of all mammals and half of plants since the dawn of civilisation and that, even if the destruction were to end now, it would take 5-7 million years for the natural world to recover. […]

“Between 1970 and 2014, the latest data available, populations fell by an average of 60%. Four years ago, the decline was 52%. The “shocking truth”, said Barrett, is that the wildlife crash is continuing unabated.”

Humanity has wiped out 60% of animal populations since 1970, report finds
by Damian Carrington

The United States was always this way

“The real difficulty is with the vast wealth and power in the hands of the few and the unscrupulous who represent or control capital. Hundreds of laws of Congress and the state legislatures are in the interest of these men and against the interests of workingmen. These need to be exposed and repealed. All laws on corporations, on taxation, on trusts, wills, descent, and the like, need examination and extensive change. This is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people no longer. It is a government of corporations, by corporations, and for corporations.”

―Diary and Letters of Rutherford Birchard Hayes: Nineteenth President of the United States, (from REAL Democracy History Calendar: October 1 – 7)

The Power of Language Learning

“I feel that American as against British English, and English of any major dialect as against Russian, and both languages as against the Tarascan language of Mexico constitute different worlds. I note that it is persons with experience of foreign languages and poetry who feel most acutely that a natural language is a different way not only of talking but of thinking and imaging and of emotional life.”
~Paul Friedrich, The Language Parallax, Kindle Locations 356-359

“Marketing professor David Luna has performed tests on people who are not just bilingual but bicultural—those who have internalized two different cultures—which lend support to this model of cultural frames. Working with people immersed equally in both American and Hispanic cultures, he examined their responses to various advertisements and newspaper articles in both languages and compared them to those of bilinguals who were only immersed in one culture. He reports that biculturals, more than monoculturals, would feel “like a different person” when they spoke different languages, and they accessed different mental frames depending on the cultural context, resulting in shifts in their sense of self.”
~Jeremy Lent, The Patterning Instinct, p. 204

Like Daniel Everett, the much earlier Roger Williams went to convert the natives, and in the process he was deconverted, at least to the extent of losing his righteous Puritanism. And as with Everett, he studied the native languages and wrote about them. That could be an example of the power of linguistic relativity, in that studying another language could cause you to enter another cultural worldview.

On a related note, Baruch Spinoza did textual analysis, Thomas Paine did Biblical criticism, Friedrich Nietzsche did philology, etc. It makes one wonder how studying language might help shape the thought and redirect the life trajectory of certain thinkers. Many radicals have a history of studying languages and texts. The same thing is seen with a high number of academics, ministers, and apologists turning into agnostics and atheists through an originally faithful study of the Bible (e.g., Robert M. Price).

There is a trickster quality to language, something observed by many others. To closely study language and the products of language is to risk having one’s mind unsettled and then to risk being scorned by those locked into a single linguistic worldview. What Everett found was that, in trying to translate the Bible for the Piraha, he was destabilizing his place within the religious order and also, in discovering the lack of linguistic recursion, destabilizing his place within the academic order. Both organized religion and organized academia are institutions of power that maintain the proper order. For the same reason of power, governments have often enforced a single language for the entire population, as thought control and social control, as enforced assimilation.

Monolingualism goes hand in hand with monoculturalism. And so simply learning a foreign language can be one of the most radical acts that one can commit. The more foreign the language, the more radical the effect. But sometimes simply scrutinizing one’s own native language can shift one’s mind, a possible connection between writing and a greater potential for independent thought. Then again, knowledge of language can also make one a better rhetorician and propagandist. Language as trickster phenomenon does have two faces.

* * *

The Bilingual Mind
by Aneta Pavlenko
pp. 25-27

Like Humboldt and Sapir before him, Whorf, too, believed in the plasticity of the human mind and its ability to go beyond the categories of the mother tongue. This belief permeates the poignant plea for ‘multilingual awareness’ made by the terminally ill Whorf to the world on the brink of World War II:

I believe that those who envision a world speaking only one tongue, whether English, German, Russian, or any other, hold a misguided ideal and would do the evolution of the human mind the greatest disservice. Western culture has made, through language, a provisional analysis of reality and, without correctives, holds resolutely to that analysis as final. The only correctives lie in all those other tongues which by aeons of independent evolution have arrived at different, but equally logical, provisional analyses. ([ 1941b ] 2012 : 313)

Whorf’s arguments fell on deaf ears, because they were made in a climate significantly less tolerant of linguistic diversity than that of the late imperial Russia and the USSR. In the nineteenth century, large immigrant communities in the US (in particular German speakers) enjoyed access to native-language education, press and theater. The situation began to change during the period often termed the Great Migration (1880–1924), when approximately 24 million new immigrants entered the country (US Bureau of the Census, 1975 ). The overwhelming influx raised concerns about national unity and the capacity of American society to assimilate such a large body of newcomers. In 1917, when the US entered the European conflict declaring war on Germany, the anti-immigrant sentiments found an outlet in a strong movement against ‘the language of the enemy’: German books were removed from libraries and destroyed, German-language theaters and publications closed, and German speakers became subject to intimidation and threats (Luebke , 1980 ; Pavlenko, 2002a ; Wiley , 1998 ).

The advisability of German – and other foreign-language-medium – instruction also came into question, in a truly Humboldtian fashion that linked the learning of foreign languages with adoption of ‘foreign’ worldviews (e.g., Gordy , 1918 ). The National Education Association went as far as to declare “the practice of giving instruction … in a foreign tongue to be un-American and unpatriotic” (Fitz-Gerald , 1918 : 62). And while many prominent intellectuals stood up in defense of foreign languages (e.g., Barnes, 1918 ), bilingual education gave way and so did foreign-language instruction at the elementary level, where children were judged most vulnerable and where 80% of them ended their education. Between 1917 and 1922, Alabama, Colorado, Delaware, Iowa, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and South Dakota issued laws that prohibited foreign-language instruction in grades I through VIII, while Wisconsin and Minnesota restricted it to one hour a day. Louisiana, Indiana, and Ohio made the teaching of German illegal at the elementary level, and so did several cities with large German-speaking populations, including Baltimore, New York City, and Philadelphia (Luebke , 1980 ; Pavlenko, 2002a ). The double standard that made bilingualism an upper-class privilege reserved for ‘real’ Americans is seen in the address given by Vassar College professor Marian Whitney at the Modern Language Teachers conference in 1918:

In so far as teaching foreign languages in our elementary schools has been a means of keeping a child of foreign birth in the language and ideals of his family and tradition, I think it a bad thing; but to teach young Americans French, German, or Spanish at an age when their oral and verbal memory is keen and when languages come easily, is a good thing. (Whitney , 1918 : 11–12)

The intolerance reached its apogee in Roosevelt ’s 1919 address to the American Defense Society that equated English monolingualism with loyalty to the US:

We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language, for we intend to see that the crucible turns our people out as Americans, of American nationality, and not as dwellers in a polyglot boardinghouse; and we have room for but one sole loyalty, and that is the loyalty to the American people. (cited in Brumberg, 1986 : 7)

Reprinted in countless Board of Education brochures, this speech fortified the pressure not only to learn English but to abandon native languages. This pressure precipitated a rapid shift to English in many immigrant communities, further facilitated by the drastic reduction in immigrant influx, due to the quotas established by the 1924 National Origins Act (Pavlenko , 2002a ). Assimilation efforts also extended to Native Americans, who were no longer treated as sovereign nations – many Native American children were sent to English-language boarding schools, where they lost their native languages (Morgan, 2009 ; Spack , 2002 ).

The endangerment of Native American languages was of great concern to Boas, Sapir , and Whorf , yet their support for linguistic diversity and multilingualism never translated into reforms and policies: in the world outside of academia, Americanization laws and efforts were making US citizenry unapologetically monolingual and the disappearance of ‘multilingual awareness’ was applauded by academics who viewed bilingualism as detrimental to children’s cognitive, linguistic and emotional development (Anastasi & Cordova , 1953 ; Bossard, 1945 ; Smith, 1931 , 1939 ; Spoerl , 1943 ; Yoshioka , 1929 ; for discussion, see Weinreich, 1953 : 115–118). It was only in the 1950s that Arsenian ( 1945 ), Haugen ( 1953 , 1956 ), and Weinreich ( 1953 ) succeeded in promoting a more positive view of bilingualism, yet part of their success resided in the fact that by then bilingualism no longer mattered – it was regarded, as we will see, as an “unusual” characteristic, pervasive at the margins but hardly relevant for the society at large.

In the USSR, on the other hand, linguists’ romantic belief in linguistic rights and politicians’ desire to institutionalize nations as fundamental constituents of the state gave rise to the policy of korenizatsia [nativization] and a unique educational system that promoted the development of multilingual competence (Hirsch, 2005 ; Pavlenko , 2013 ; Smith , 1998 ). It is a little-known and under-appreciated irony that throughout the twentieth century, language policies in the ‘totalitarian’ Soviet Union were significantly more liberal – even during the period of the so-called ‘russification’– than those in the ‘liberal’ United States.

“Everything is Going According to Plan”: Being an Activist in the Anthropocene

“Everything is going according to plan. I don’t know whose plan it is, and I think that it’s a really stupid plan, but everything is going according to it anyway.”
— Dmitry Orlov


“What If It’s Already Too Late”

I had a terrible thought recently …

“What if it’s already too late?”

Actually, this idea has been haunting me, hovering on the boundary between my conscious and unconscious mind, for some time.

In 2016, Bill McKibben, founder of the climate activist organization, came to speak at a rally at the BP tar sands refinery in my “backyard” in the highly industrialized northwest corner Indiana.  The occasion was a series of coordinated direct actions around the world against the fossil fuel industry, collectively hailed as the largest direct action in the history of the environmental movement.

What struck me about McKibben’s speech, though, was its tone of … well, hopelessness. Here’s how he concluded his 10 minute speech:

“I wish that I could guarantee you that we’re all going to win in the end, the whole thing. And I can’t, because we…

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Reactionary Revolutionaries, Faceless Men, and God in the Gutter

First there was revolution. And then there was counter-revolution. Therefore, reaction follows what it is reacting to.

This is a simple analysis and, I’d argue, overly simplistic. It is the narrative reactionaries have been telling about themselves for a couple of centuries. It is also the narrative that Mark Lilla repeats in his recent work, The Shipwrecked Mind, which is a useful survey, summary, and synthesis of modern ideological history but not essentially original in framing.

The problem is the reactionary mind is not a modern invention. Many arguments could be made about when it first emerged. For example, I’d place it firmly in the Axial Age or, better  yet, in that earliest of dark ages when the Bronze Age civilizations collapsed and the Jaynesian bicameral mind was lost.

By the time Plato came up with his authoritarian republicanism as a reaction to Athenian democracy, the reactionary mind had already been developing for some time. That was the era when, as Julian Jaynes points out, lament rang out across many populations of the silence, loss, or abandonment of the divine. Nostalgia in one of its most potent form was born.

As with Corey Robin, Mark Lilla is right to mark out nostalgia as an expression of the reactionary. But focusing too much on that can be a red herring. Robin is better than Lilla in pointing out that reactionaries can co-opt almost anything, even radical utopianism or revolution itself.

That is where my own thoughts come in. The modern reactionary mind initially took shape not after the early modern revolutionary period but during it — maybe before it, depending on when one defines the beginning of that period. The reactionary mind as a modern phenomenon was well on its way at least by the English Civil War, what some consider the first modern revolution, although some consider the Peasants’ Revolt an incipient form of this societal shift through conflict and class war.

The point is that the French Revolution was late to the game. That reactionaries finally found their voice following that is not entirely relevant to understanding the reactionary mind and its historical development. What the French Revolution does help us with is in showing another example of how reaction arose within the revolution itself, co-opting it as happened with the American Revolution (related to the rarely acknowledged fact that the American Revolution was a precedent for what followed, including large-scale destruction and violence).

Thomas Paine demonstrates the connections well, but his example also serves to show the complex relationship of reaction to revolution. He was a radical in the American Revolution and his radicalism was profound in its democratic vision. When he was welcomed into the French National Assembly during the French Revolution, he actually sat on the right side with the moderate reformers. It was actually his radicalism for democracy that made him moderate or aligned with more moderate forces.

What Paine specifically advocated was a democratic constitution and leniency to the king, rather than violent despotism and violent vengeance. The Jacobins are called radicals but in reality they were reactionaries or at least the leadership was. They were using the same means that the monarchy had used in enforcing power and silencing opponents. So, the Jacobins, as is typical with reactionaries, wanted to create a new and improved version of the old order by ensuring a rigid hierarchy remained. They weren’t interested in democracy, that is for sure.

That is what Mark Lilla misses. The French reactionaries, like the American reactionaries, took over the revolution through political coup — and this happened during the revolution itself, not afterwards. In France, it happened by the Jacobins seizing power. But in the United States, the Federalists did it through an ironically unconstitutional Constitutional Convention and then afterward they crushed the ongoing revolution.

The relationship between revolution and reaction is entangled. If this isn’t understood, it is likely that the reactionary mind itself can’t be understood. This creates a trap for the mind, in not understanding history we dangerously don’t understand ourselves.

Reactionaries aren’t limited to those other people, Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables”. The potential for reaction exists within all of us. A surprising number of Marxists, socialists, communists, and anarchists fell under the sway of early 20th century fascism. The same pattern is seen today with left-wingers who almost unconsciously become fascinated with or drawn toward reactionary thought, often with the rationalization of studying the enemy but it is clear with some that it is more than mere curiosity. The reactionary mind is dangerous for the very reason we see it as something other.

The confusion in all of this is that the reactionary mind is chameleon-like. I’ve come to call them Faceless Men, based on Game of Thrones. Reactionaries rarely present themselves as reactionaries. That means that anyone, under the right conditions, can get pulled into the mindset without realizing it. Reaction is simply an expression of fear an anxiety, once it fully takes hold. The human mind gets weird under high levels of stress (Keith Payne examines one angle on this by way of inequality, in his book The Broken Ladder). It really is that simple.

We need to develop intellectual, ideological, and psychological defenses against the reactionary mind. None of us are born with an immunity. But before we can do that, we have to learn how to identify the pattern of thought and behavior, to discern its incipient forms and the development that follows, to recognize the conditions and causes that make it possible.

This leads to me to another thought. Philip K. Dick has the notion of God in the Gutter. Let me decontextualize it from the monotheistic tradition of deus absconditus. Any powerful ‘god’ that rules over us, over our minds our society, such a ‘god’ is always hidden. And its ability to remain hidden is what I call symbolic conflation, a method of deception, obfuscation, and most importantly misdirection. That is the source of its power. That is also what makes it hard to analyze. Someone like Mark Lilla is taking the reactionary mind at face value, how it presents itself. That is problematic for obvious reasons. Corey Robin is more effective in peeling away the mask to see what is behind.

That is what we all need to be doing in these reactionary times. Lets start rummaging around in the gutter, looking below our normal line of vision, looking through the garbage or what appears to be garbage. But let’s do so with great care.

The Creed of Ancel Keys

A popular documentary out right now is The Magic Pill. It’s about the Paleo diet with some emphasis on ketosis (low-carb consumption causing fat to be primary energy for cellular metabolism). There are several varieties of the Paleo diet, as there was much diversity in ancient dietary patterns, but there are some key commonalities.

Earlier humans ate little if any grains or beans, often even well into the agricultural period (hunting and gathering remained a mainstay of the American diet for many up into the early-to-mid 20th century, such as my mother’s family when she was growing up). In the distant past and continuing into about a century ago, it was typical to eat lots of raw, fermented, and cultured foods — including meats.

And of course, animal fats with plenty of saturated fats have always been a major food component until the past few generations. It turns out some of the healthiest populations on the planet, including the Mediterranean people, traditionally ate high levels of saturated fats. The Masai, for example, are about as carnivorous as a population can be with heavy emphasis on saturated fats and their health is amazing:

“The Masai are almost pure carnivores, eating mostly milk, blood, and meat. A Masai man drinks up to a gallon of whole milk daily, and on top of that he might also eat a lot of meat containing still more saturated fat and cholesterol. Mann expected the Masai to have high blood cholesterol but was surprised to find it was among the lowest ever measured, about 50 percent lower than that of the average American.”
(Real Food by Nina Planck, p. 61)

Interestingly, Americans too used to load up on animal-related foods and saturated fats, also with a ton of raw whole milk, cheese, and butter. It was only after decades of decline in this earlier diet that Americans began having high rates of all the major diseases that now plague us: obesity, heart disease, diabetes, etc.

This leads us to Ancel Keys, the many who promoted much of the present mainstream dietary myths. More than a half century ago, he did some research comparing diets in different regions of the world, but he did so by cherry-picking what fit his preconceptions and ignoring all else (great analysis can be found in numerous videos, articles, and books by Sally Fallon Morell and Mary Enig and at the Weston A. Price Foundation). In Nourishing Diets, Morell writes that (pp. 124-5),

“Critics have pointed out that Keys omitted from his study many areas of the world where consumption of animal foods is high and deaths from heart attack are low, including France — the so-called French paradox. But there is also a Japanese paradox. In 1989, Japanese scientists returned to the same two districts that Keys had studied. In an article titled “lessons fro Science from the Seven Countries Study,” they noted that per capita consumption of rice had declined, while consumption of fats, oils, meats, poultry, dairy products and fruit had all increased. […]

“During the postwar period of increased animal consumption, the Japanese average height increased three inches and the age-adjusted death rate from all causes declined from 17.6 to 7.4 per 1,000 per year. Although the rates of hypertension increased, stroke mortality declined markedly. Deaths from cancer also went down in spite of the consumption of animal foods.

“The researchers also noted — and here is the paradox — that the rate of myocardial infarction (heart attack) and sudden death did not change during this period, in spite of the fact that the Japanese weighed more, had higher blood pressure and higher cholesterol levels, and ate more fat, beef and dairy foods.”

About the Mediterranean diet, Morell considers the historical context to Keys’ study:

“The question that the believers haven’t asked themselves is this: was the lean, so-called Mediterranean diet they observed after World War II the true Mediterranean diet? Or were they observing the tail end of deprivation engendered by half a decade of conflict? Were the inhabitants of Crevalcore and Montegiorgio abandoning the traditional diet, or were they taking it up again? And did Keys miss the sight of Italians enjoying rich food in the early 1950s because Italians had never done such a shameful thing, or was the visiting professor too poor at the time to afford anything more than plain pizza in a sidewalk cafe?” (pp. 157-8)

Morell then goes on to look at numerous books, including cookbooks, from the region. All the evidence points to the traditional Mediterranean diet consisting largely of whole fat dairy products, meat products (lots of sausage), oils and animal fats, and eggs. As emphasized in the paleo diet,

“Italians love their vegetables for sure, and that’s because they know how to make them taste good. They know that salads taste better with a good dressing of aged vinegar and olive oil; and cooked vegetables blossom when anointed with butter, lard or cream” (p. 160).

Keys didn’t really understand the societies he was studying, much less the societies he chose to ignore. Yet he was charismatic and, though other contemporary research contradicted his data, he was able to promote his views such that they became adopted as mainstream ideology. This new belief system was enforced by the US government and by corporations, often in heavy-handed ways. Adelle Davis was a biochemist and nutritionist who was inspired by Weston A. Price’s research on traditional diets. In response, as described Joann Grohman, “The FDA raided health food stores and seized her books under a false labeling law because they were displayed next to vitamin bottles” (Real Food by Nina Planck, p. 30). “I find it dismaying that,” Planck says in another section (p. 201),

“the dangers of trans fats were known for sixty years. Weston Price cited 1943 research that butter was better than hydrogenated cottonseed oil. In the 1950s, researchers guessed that hydrogenated vegetable oil led to heart disease. Ancel Keys, the proponent of monounsaturated fat, showed in 1961 that hydrogenated corn oil raised trigydcerides more than butter. Year after year, the bad news piled up. [So, even Keys ultimately knew that saturated fat wasn’t the real culprit.]

“One dogged researcher, Mary Enig, helped get the word out. The author of Know Your Fats, Enig waged an often lonely battle. I’m afraid her efforts were not always welcomed with bouquets of roses. In 1978, Enig wrote a scientific paper challenging a government report blaming saturated fat for cancer, in which she pointed out that the data actually showed a link with trans fats. Not long after, “two guys from the Instituted of Shortening and Edible Oil — the trans fat lobby, basically — visited me, and oh boy, were they angry,” Enig told Gourmet magazine. “They said they’d been keeping a careful watch to prevent articles like mine from coming out and didn’t know how this horse had gotten out of the barn.”

“The stakes were high. “We spent lots of time, and lots of money and energy, refuting this work,” said Dr. Lars Wiederman, who once worked for the American Soybean Association. “Protecting trans fats from the taint of negative scientific findings was our charge.””

That sounds a lot like the corporatist defense of profits as happened with the decades of lies, spin, and obfuscation pushed by the tobacco and oil companies. Another more recent example is given in The Magic Pill documentary. In South Africa, the government put a doctor on trial for daring to give dietary advice that was in line with millennia-old traditions of human eating habits — fortunately, the doctor won his case but only after the government spent immense amount of taxpayer money trying to destroy him.

Dominant paradigms die hard and only after an immense fight, backed by the full power of the government and millions of corporate dollars. But that is only one part of what slows down change. Ideologies as worldviews hold on so long because they become entrenched in our minds and cultures. As often is noted, old scientists (along with old doctors, professors, bureaucrats, etc) don’t change their minds but eventually die and are replaced by a new generation with new ideas.

This was demonstrated with Michael Pollan’s latest documentary, In Defense of Food (transcript). In it, the professor of nutrition Marion Nestle adds a note of caution: “And it should be written on every single epidemiological study, ‘Red flag, association does not necessarily mean causation.’” Does that stop Pollan from basing conclusions on Keys problematic research? Nope. Instead, he promotes the belief that Keys’ conclusions are still valid: “But based on the strong association Keys saw in his data between heart disease and saturated fat, he advised people to eat less of it.” Not a single mention of any doubt or criticism.

It might be noted that Pollan was born in 1955. That was right in the middle of this now dominant ideology coming into ascendance. He reached adulthood as Keys’ ideology was being promoted by the USDA and as it became the new creed in mainstream thought. Now in his sixties, he is one of the older generation still clinging to what they were taught growing up. Yet, as a Boomer, his influence is still at its peak. Despite all the Western ailments, conventional medicine has allowed people to live longer and that means ideologies will remain entrenched for longer.

It’s going to be an uphill battle for younger generations to challenge the status quo. But the shift is already happening. From a personal perspective, this time lag of common knowledge creates a sense of disorientation, as it will take at least decades for official advice and public opinion to catch up with the research that has been accumulating over this past century.

This point was emphasized for me in reading a book published two decades ago in 1998, The Fats of Life by Caroline M. Pond — the author, a mainstream academic and researcher, notes that, “Heart attacks are thus seen as arising from a deficiency of polyunsaturated fatty acids rather than from an excess of saturates of cholesterol” (p. 293). This is far from being new knowledge. Pond doesn’t mention Weston A. Price, but she does discuss “the Oxford physician and biochemist, Hugh Sinclair (1910-1990), who studied the diet and habits of the Eskimos in northern Canada in 1944. Sinclair noted that Eskimos rarely suffered from the heart disease or strokes in spite of a very high-fat diet that included reindeer meat.” She goes onto say that, “The Masai people of Kenya eat large quantities of ruminant milk and meat, and Jamaicans eat saturated fats in coconut oil, but few of them die from heart attacks.”

In The Magic Pill, it is pointed out that Americans have been following the USDA Food Pyramid in eating less red meat and saturated fats while eating more grains, legumes, vegetables, and fruits. More Americans have been eating as they were told. What has resulted of this drastic dietary change? All the diseases this diet is supposed to prevent have gotten worse. This stark reality has yet to sink in because it would require thousands of officials and authority figures to not only admit they were wrong but that they caused immense harm to so many.

But why do others continue on with the sham? We’ve known much of this info for a long time now. Why are we still debating it as if the conventional view still has any relevance?

What is a gene?

Now: The Rest of the Genome
by Carl Zimmer

In this jungle of invading viruses, undead pseudogenes, shuffled exons and epigenetic marks, can the classical concept of the gene survive? It is an open question, one that Dr. Prohaska hopes to address at a meeting she is organizing at the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico next March.

In the current issue of American Scientist, Dr. Gerstein and his former graduate student Michael Seringhaus argue that in order to define a gene, scientists must start with the RNA transcript and trace it back to the DNA. Whatever exons are used to make that transcript would constitute a gene. Dr. Prohaska argues that a gene should be the smallest unit underlying inherited traits. It may include not just a collection of exons, but the epigenetic marks on them that are inherited as well.

These new concepts are moving the gene away from a physical snippet of DNA and back to a more abstract definition. “It’s almost a recapture of what the term was originally meant to convey,” Dr. Gingeras said.

A hundred years after it was born, the gene is coming home.

Genome 2.0: Mountains Of New Data Are Challenging Old Views
by Patrick Barry

This complex interweaving of genes, transcripts, and regulation makes the net effect of a single mutation on an organism much more difficult to predict, Gingeras says.

More fundamentally, it muddies scientists’ conception of just what constitutes a gene. In the established definition, a gene is a discrete region of DNA that produces a single, identifiable protein in a cell. But the functioning of a protein often depends on a host of RNAs that control its activity. If a stretch of DNA known to be a protein-coding gene also produces regulatory RNAs essential for several other genes, is it somehow a part of all those other genes as well?

To make things even messier, the genetic code for a protein can be scattered far and wide around the genome. The ENCODE project revealed that about 90 percent of protein-coding genes possessed previously unknown coding fragments that were located far from the main gene, sometimes on other chromosomes. Many scientists now argue that this overlapping and dispersal of genes, along with the swelling ranks of functional RNAs, renders the standard gene concept of the central dogma obsolete.

Long Live The Gene

Offering a radical new conception of the genome, Gingeras proposes shifting the focus away from protein-coding genes. Instead, he suggests that the fundamental units of the genome could be defined as functional RNA transcripts.

Since some of these transcripts ferry code for proteins as dutiful mRNAs, this new perspective would encompass traditional genes. But it would also accommodate new classes of functional RNAs as they’re discovered, while avoiding the confusion caused by several overlapping genes laying claim to a single stretch of DNA. The emerging picture of the genome “definitely shifts the emphasis from genes to transcripts,” agrees Mark B. Gerstein, a bioinformaticist at Yale University.

Scientists’ definition of a gene has evolved several times since Gregor Mendel first deduced the idea in the 1860s from his work with pea plants. Now, about 50 years after its last major revision, the gene concept is once again being called into question.

Theory Suggests That All Genes Affect Every Complex Trait
by Veronique Greenwood

Over the years, however, what scientists might consider “a lot” in this context has quietly inflated. Last June, Pritchard and his Stanford colleagues Evan Boyle and Yang Li (now at the University of Chicago) published a paper about this in Cell that immediately sparked controversy, although it also had many people nodding in cautious agreement. The authors described what they called the “omnigenic” model of complex traits. Drawing on GWAS analyses of three diseases, they concluded that in the cell types that are relevant to a disease, it appears that not 15, not 100, but essentially all genes contribute to the condition. The authors suggested that for some traits, “multiple” loci could mean more than 100,000. […]

For most complex conditions and diseases, however, she thinks that the idea of a tiny coterie of identifiable core genes is a red herring because the effects might truly stem from disturbances at innumerable loci — and from the environment — working in concert. In a new paper out in Cell this week, Wray and her colleagues argue that the core gene idea amounts to an unwarranted assumption, and that researchers should simply let the experimental data about particular traits or conditions lead their thinking. (In their paper proposing omnigenics, Pritchard and his co-authors also asked whether the distinction between core and peripheral genes was useful and acknowledged that some diseases might not have them.)

Jeff Biggers on Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine’s Truth-to-Power Message in 1776
by Jeff Biggers

“Without the pen of the author of Common Sense,” John Adams begrudgingly admitted, “the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain.”

Rarely in history has the extraordinary power of writing galvanized such an armed resistance. Paine was a living icon in his own age, an 18th-century romantic figure as reviled and revered as Argentinian revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara in the 1960s; Paine would go on to play a key role in the French Revolution. While he was tried in absentia for treason in Britain, his Rights of Man book on the natural rights of people over monarchy would become a global literary phenomenon and upend England’s social order.

Intentional or not, the conviction of Paine’s writing underscored the role of writers in the resistance. He was a truth-teller, contentious and bold, and adamant about holding accountable the brokers of authorized versions of history, calling out their hypocrisy, omissions, and mistruths—and the betrayal of an American credo of “we the people.”

Paine had not cornered the market on this literary tradition, of course. And his own select vision, especially in recognizing a more perfect vision of “we the people,” would be challenged in the process.

The Literary Instigator of the American Resistance
by Jeff Biggers

His letter to the abbé sought to define the transformative impact of the resistance movement on Americans in the aftershock of their triumph. “Our style and manner of thinking have undergone a revolution more extraordinary than the political revolution of the country,” he explained to the French. “We see with other eyes; we hear with other ears; and think with other thoughts, than those we formerly used. We can look back on our own prejudices, as if they had been the prejudices of other people. We now see and know they were prejudices and nothing else; and, relieved from their shackles, enjoy a freedom of mind, we felt not before.”

High-minded perhaps, but hardly delusional, Paine claimed this new way of thinking had “opened itself toward the world” and brought Americans into the world of nations. He didn’t trumpet the military triumph of Washington and his French allies; nor did Paine make an inventory of the natural resources and wealth now at American disposal. The future of the United States of America—and consequently the world—rested in the hands of “science, the partisan of no country, but the beneficent patroness of all,” which served as the great “temple where all may meet.”

Paine’s message to the abbé reflected the ongoing negotiations in Paris—and a clear admonition to its leaders. Instead of pursuing that “temper of arrogance,” he warned, “which serves only to sink” a country in esteem and to “entail the dislike of all nations,” Paine called on all leaders to find a way for the world to live in peace.

Here’s an excerpt from the letter:

Letters, the tongue of the world, have in some measure brought all mankind acquainted, and by an extension of their uses are every day promoting some new friendship. Through them distant nations became capable of conversation, and losing by degrees the awkwardness of strangers, and the moroseness of suspicion, they learn to know and understand each other. Science, the partisan of no country, but the beneficent patroness of all, has liberally opened a temple where all may meet. Her influence on the mind, like the sun on the chilled earth, has long been preparing it for higher cultivation and further improvement. The philosopher of one country sees not an enemy in the philosopher of another: he takes his seat in the temple of science, and asks not who sits beside him.

REAL Democracy History Calendar: June 25 – July 1

This is another example of the ruling elite re-creating the conditions that caused the American Revolution. It was public outrage against this exact kind of corrupt abuse of power in usurping local self-governance that inspired the Declaration of Independence and the original constitution, The Articles of Confederation.

Is there some reason those in power want to start a second American Revolution? Or are they as clueless as the British ruling elite were, in not being able to imagine the people would revolt and could win?

June 30

2008 – Publication of Gaveling Down the Rabble: How “Free Trade” Is Stealing Our Democracy by Jane Anne Morris, corporate anthropologist and former POCLAD principal

“The several themes in this book all connect around the subversion of unrepresentative government democracy by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court has usurped from Congress the role of making public policy, with judicial decisions based on the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause. These rulings have built a body of law favoring large corporate interests over the rights of states, municipalities, labor, minorities, and the environment.”

As of 2008 according to Morris, 219 state laws had been overturned by Supreme Court just on commerce clause grounds. A complete list of state laws held to be unconstitutional is at
Info on the book is at

June 25

1975 – Release date of the film “Roller Ball”
“In the film, the world of 2018 (referred to in the tagline as “the not too distant future”) is a global corporate state, containing entities such as the Energy Corporation, a global energy monopoly based in Houston which deals with nominally-peer corporations controlling access to all transport, luxury, housing, communication, and food on a global basis. According to the tagline, in this world, ‘wars will no longer exist. But there will be… Rollerball.’

“The film’s title is the name of a violent, globally popular sport around which the events of the film take place. It is similar to Roller Derby in that two teams clad in body armor skate on roller skates (some instead ride on motorcycles) around a banked, circular track. There, however, the similarity ends…

“The various global corporations own Rollerball teams, named after the cities in…

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REAL Democracy History Calendar: June 18 – 24

“We’re fed up with behaving like subordinates content to influence the decisions of corporate boards and the corporate class. Having influence is valuable, but influencing is not deciding. We’re weary of waging long, hard battles simply for the ‘right to know.’ Knowing is critical, but knowing is not deciding. We’re tired of exercising our right to dissent as the be-all and end-all. Dissent is vital, but dissenting is not deciding. Influencing, knowing, dissenting, participating — all are important to a democratic life, but not one of them carries with it the authority to decide, the power to be in charge.

…”We’re not taking the subordinate role of asking the Enron Corporation to behave a little better. We’re not content with putting a corporate-designed and -controlled regulatory agency on Enron’s trail. Regulatory law protects corporations from pesky people. It enables and protects the corporate agenda as it was intended to do…If we seek democratic outcomes, we must frame activism in the people’s sovereign authority to rule.”

~ Virginia Rasmussen, The Struggle for Democracy: Activists Take the Offense

June 18

1849 – Birth of David K. Watson, Ohio Republican Attorney General
Watson sought to revoke the charter of the Standard Oil Company in 1892 for forming a trust. In his legal brief to the Ohio Supreme Court, he stated, “Where a corporation, either directly or indirectly, submits to the domination of an agency unknown to the statute, or identifies itself with and unites in carrying out an agreement whose performance is injurious to the public, it thereby offends against the law of its creation and forfeits all right to its franchises, and judgment of ouster should be entered against it . . .” State v. Standard Oil Co., 30 N.E. 279 (Ohio 1892)

June 19

1902 – Death of Lord Acton, English historian, politician and writer
“The issue which has swept down the centuries and which will have to be fought sooner or later is the people versus…

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