Nature, Nurture, Torture

Over at Ribbon Farm, Venkatesh Rao has a key theory of human development. Three factors are needed: nature, nurture, and torture. The key, notched and grooved, is the end result. After all of that, you are a real individual, a unique snowflake.

It sounds like another way of telling the story of the Velveteen Rabbit. He is a made object (nature) that is loved by a boy (nurture) until he is worn threadbare and then thrown out to be burned (torture) which leads a magical fairy to turn him into a real rabbit (key). The end.

A similar story is told with Pinocchio or the movie AI, both involving a blue fairy that makes them into real boys. Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly also follows this narrative pattern, but instead involves a blue flower that symbolizes what has been sought.

It’s quite a process to become real, if you survive the torture.

* * *

The Key to Act Two
by Venkatesh Rao

Nature, Nurture, Torture

The thing about becoming a key, unless you have a father who can curse you into one at birth, is that you can’t skip the tortures. Nor can industrial processes like cold-forging inflict the necessary kinds of pain. Not all tortures are equally horrendous of course. The truly horrendous ones don’t just carve a unique pattern of notches into you, they destroy you.

But what doesn’t destroy you only makes you uniquer.

Like that kid in Slumdog Millionaire who, through a series of horrifying ooga boogas, acquires exactly the set of answers required to unlock the million-dollar game show prize before he was out of his teens. Like I said, most people take till 40 or so, but some people get lucky, and become keys in nondeterministic polynomial time, which for a human life is anything less than 19 years.

This by the way, suggests, but does not prove, that becoming a key is a human-complete problem.

Here’s a mnemonic to remember this. You’ve heard of nature and nurture, right? Nature and nurture get you to the end of Act I and to the bathroom line in the lobby, but if that’s all you have, you aren’t a key.

Becoming a key is all about nature, nurture, and torture.

Nature is genes. It creates a space of life-script possibilities.

Nurture is some genes liking where they find themselves and choosing to express themselves through epic protein poetry, and other genes going, “fuck this shit, I’m not talking” and retreating into sullen, inexpressive silence. This is a narrowing of life script possibilities from 100% to say 7.8%.

It’s still a large class of behaviors rather than a specific path, because nurture only conditions you to produce behavior patterns, it doesn’t pick out a specific circumstantial path. Nature and nurture together only produce characters waiting for stories to happen to them.

If you understand that much, then my key-lock script can be understood as nature-nurture-torture. The last bit is what turns a character arc into a full-blown plot.

Torture is life experiences breaking you irreversibly in 8 ways, narrowing possibilities further, turning you into a unique key with exactly one life to live. Not a clod, which is what cold forging produces by erasing identity sufficiently to serve interchangeable-parts purposes, but a hardened stand-alone snowflake who doesn’t need a clod to protect them from the world.

Torture narrows life down to one possibility. Becoming a key means you have a shot at actually getting to that one possibility and making it your mission. A life lived with full intentionality, complete insufferability (which you earn through your tortures), and with no angsty what-ifs distracting you.

Harry Potter, for instance, was a 1/8 Chosen One because of that lightning-shaped scar he acquired at birth. The other key notches he had to earn through the first 6 books. Voldemort on the other hand, deliberately forged himself into the antikey with all that horcrux stuff. All that stuff was neither nature, nor nurture. It was key-forming torture.

See, the reason all this scarring and horcruxing is necessary is that nature and nurture are not enough. They leave life in what mathematicians call an under-determined state. And since most people instinctively address under-determination by creating symmetric variable bindings for the unused variables (it’s what you perceive as “beauty”), they foreclose on the option of becoming a key.

Yeah, becoming a key is an ugly business.

* * *

4/3/18 – Some additional thoughts.

Talk of torture reminds me of the oddity of modern civilization, specifically WEIRD societies. Other societies are less obsessed with individuality and some don’t seem to have any kind of identity that exactly equates to the individual self. Western society has required torture as part of the process in creating individuals. Sebastian Junger talks about this in his book Tribe, although I don’t recall him ever referring to ‘torture’ as a way of framing his view. The context is a bit different, but essentially he is contrasting individualism and tribalism, the latter once having been the normal experience of all humans. Rather than torture, he does discuss to great extent the issue of trauma, including in childhood and the consequences it has in adulthood.

Some of the practices that have taken hold in Western societies such as mothers ignoring crying babies is highly abnormal and forms a warped psychology. Instead, babies are given pacifiers, blankets, and stuffed animals (what Donald Woods Winnicot referred to as transitional objects) to teach them to soothe and entertain themselves — and other kinds of objects play a similar role: “Like pacifiers, books are tools of enculturation that help create the individual self. Instead of mommy’s nipple, the baby soothes themselves. Instead of voices in the world, the child becomes focused on text. In both cases, it is a process of internalizing.” This extreme form of torturous childrearing isn’t seen in traditional societies.

As I said in a comment elsewhere, “I see how the pacifier could be traumatizing to the developing psyche. Self-soothing is like empty calories causing you to eat more and more while never getting what you really need, the end result being obesity and disease. The baby isn’t seeking self-soothing. What the baby wants is nourishment along with maternal love and protection. The pacifier stunts human development by not allowing normal human bonding.” So, torture maybe a necessary component to the individuation of the modern self, but it comes at a high cost for each person and for society. Johann Hari in his recent books (Chasing the Scream & Lost Connections) goes into great detail about the problems caused by the disconnection and isolation of hyper-individualism. The key theory of nature-nurture-torture does explain how to create a modern individual, whether or not that is a desirable result.

Here is my second thought. There is different angle to consider, one that roots the key theory (or elements of it) in the premodern past. Another way of thinking about ‘torture’ is to look to stories, specifically fairytales and mythologies.

The story of Pinocchio is obviously rooted in European paganism and his torturous individuation has much mythological resonance. This is made clear with the blue fairy (the girl/maiden/goat with azure or turquoise hair), a tripartite child-maiden-crone goddess of death-and-rebirth (related to Philip K. Dick’s blue flower of A Scanner Darkly, there was dark-haired Donna who was a manifestation of the author’s favorite archetype, the dark-haired girl who took on many forms as characters in his stories: girlfriend, femme fatale, goddess, savior, etc). It’s similar to Isis as sister and consort to Osiris and then later mother to Osiris reborn as Horus. Pinocchio hung on a tree is an ancient portrayal of crucifixion which typically involved tree imagery (nailed to, tied to, pierced by an arrow below, or hung from).

Blue/azure/turquoise was a sacred color in the ancient world because of its rarity in nature. It is one of the last colors that is given a name in diverse languages, often originally being mixed up with black. It has been theorized that ancient people (e.g., Homer) didn’t even perceive blue as a separate color, not until blue dyes became common. Young children, even when taught the word for blue, will still sometimes mix it up with black.

Pinocchio’s blue fairy is related to the púca, fairies of Celtic religion typically described as black or dark. Fairies often are known as trickster/shapeshifters and sometimes in fairytales get portrayed as witches living alone in a house in the woods. Some goddesses, such as Saraswati, use shapeshifting in the myths about how they gave birth to the beings of the world.

Tricksters have the power of transformation, both within themselves and their effect on others, such as transforming a puppet into a boy or replacing a child with a changeling. They are powerful deities/spirits who are capable of good and evil, often making unclear such distinctions as they precede humanity and human notions of morality. But many tricksters take on roles of cultural heroes and salvific figures. Or else they become examples of moral consequences, as is the case with Pinocchio’s trickster behavior getting him into trouble.

Pinocchio, of course, has some elements of a resurrection figure. This goes beyond his crucifixion and rebirth as a real boy. Like Jesus’ father Joseph, Pinocchio’s father Geppetto is a woodcarver (this is related to the mythological motif of creator/father as a builder). It is Geppetto who calls for the blue fairy and so these two stand in as parents (the father of form and the mother of spirit) to the creation of this new being, Pinocchio.

This is rather fascinating. Let me break down the death aspect in more detail.

The blue fairy is first shown as a young girl and claims to already be dead, waiting for her coffin in a house of the dead. As a spirit-being or goddess of death, she removes Pinocchio from his crucified state on a tree. They become like brother and sister (reminiscent of Isis and Osiris). Later, after her own death and burial with her house having been torn down to become a tombstone, she reappears older and takes on the role of mother to Pinocchio (in the way Isis does in relation to her consort Osiris being reborn as the child Horus) and in that maternal role she offers forgiveness.

The blue fairy ends up dying multiple times in the story, defying death each time with mysterious and unexplained reappearances as being alive again. Her final (or seemingly final) death brings a boon to Pinocchio, in reward for his changed behavior and his growing maturity. He is a real boy becoming a responsible adult, on his way to individuation. But he had to go through extensive torture involving all kinds of suffering and harm along the way. Individuation by way of death and rebirth isn’t for the faint of heart.

Speaking of resurrection, the Christian holy day of Easter was yesterday. That has its origins in paganism. I just wrote about this, but I didn’t specifically mention the Germanic goddess from which comes the name of Easter. I was more talking about the other resurrection mythologies in the Mediterranean world before and during early Christianity. Still, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some crossover or shared influences between Northern Europe and further south. The Scandinavians had trade routes that connected with Egypt in the millennia before the Axial Age — by the way, this included trade of blue glass that was only made in Egypt.

In thinking about Easter, I can’t help noticing the similarity of the name Isis, a virgin mother goddess related to spring and resurrection (her tears for Osiris’ death cause the spring flooding of the Nile and of course that brings back life). Isis was also known as Meri and, as her worship was extremely popular in the Roman Empire, probably was the inspiration for Mother Mary worship, considering many of the early European statues of Mary were originally Isis statues.

Many have talked about the Jesus myth in terms of individuation. That is definitely a story about nature, nurture, and torture. Then Jesus as Christ, following crucifixion and resurrection, is taken by his believers to literally be the key to God’s Kingdom. As Pinocchio the marionette becomes a boy, Jesus the man becomes God. That takes the key theory to a whole new level. It’s not just about the reality of identity but of the world itself. For those who have eyes to see, the Kingdom of God is all around us. We each are made into keys to the Kingdom by partaking of Jesus’ sacrifice through his body and blood, in the form of bread and wine. We take in and internalize that suffering which then magically transforms us and connects us to a greater reality.

Such is Christian belief, anyway. The notion of torture as fulfillment of becoming is an ancient motif. That is true at least since the Axial Age. Similar mythological patterns can be found earlier, but it’s not certain what they might have meant. Prior to the Axial Age focus on individualism, what could development of self involved and toward what kind of self.

To Grow Up Fast

There are many questions that should be asked and answered. For example:

Why does it suck so much to be forced to miss having a childhood in order to grow up fast?

And related to it:

Why are people who grow up in poor, crime-ridden neighborhoods different than those who have coddled childhoods? Why do those living in violent, war-torn communities struggle so much? Why is it so hard for those without freedom, opportunity, and resources to live up to their full potential?

Why do desperate people act desperately? Why do isolated, stressed people become addicts? Why do unhealthy conditions create unhealthy people? Why does poisoning children lead to dysfunction and violence?

Many, many questions. But the most important question of all: Why do the privileged and comfortable so rarely ask these questions?

* * *

Young Mice, Like Children, Can Grow Up Too Fast
by Alison Gopnik, WSJ

In the new experiment, published in 2015 in the same journal, the researchers looked at how the young mice reacted to early stress. Some of the mice were separated from their mothers for 60 or 180 minutes a day, although the youngsters were kept warm and fed just like the other mice. Mice normally get all their care from their mother, so even this brief separation is very stressful.

The stressed mice actually developed more quickly than the secure mice. As adolescents they looked more like adults: They were less exploratory and flexible, and not as good at reversal learning. It seemed that they grew up too fast. And they were distinctive in another way. They were more likely to drink large quantities of ethanol—thus, more vulnerable to the mouse equivalent of alcoholism.

These results fit with an emerging evolutionary approach to early stress. Childhood is a kind of luxury, for mice as well as men, a protected period in which animals can learn, experiment and explore, while caregivers look after their immediate needs.

Early stress may act as a signal to animals that this special period is not a luxury that they can afford—they are in a world where they can’t rely on care. Animals may then adopt a “live fast, die young” strategy, racing to achieve enough adult competence to survive and reproduce, even at the cost of less flexibility, fewer opportunities for learning and more vulnerability to alcohol.

This may be as true for human children as it is for mouse pups. Early life stress is associated with earlier puberty, and a 2013 study by Nim Tottenham and colleagues in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that children who spent their early years in orphanages prematurely developed adultlike circuitry in the parts of the brain that govern fear and anxiety.

Type and Development

I’m fascinated by both horizontal and vertical models, but most integral discussions emphasize the vertical. What I’m curious about is how the whole picture becomes more complex when the two are combined.

Introduction to Volume 7 of the Collected Works

As for types, see figure 3, which uses the enneagram as an example. What I have done here is take only one developmental module or stream (it can be anything–morals, cognition, defenses, etc.), and I have listed the eight or so levels or waves of development through which this particular stream will tend to unfold (using Spiral Dynamics as an example of the waves). At each level I have drawn the enneagram as an example of what might be called a horizontal typology, or a typology of the personality types that can exist at almost any vertical level of development. The point is that a person can be a particular type (using Jungian types, Myers-Briggs, the enneagram, etc.) at virtually any of the levels. Thus, if a person is, say, predominately enneagram type 5, then as they develop they would be purple 5, red 5, blue 5, and so on (again, not in a rigid linear fashion, but in a fluid and flowing mesh). [20]
Figure 3

And this can occur in any of the lines. For example, in the moral line, a person might be predominately enneagram type 7 at the green wave in the context of the workplace; under stress, the person might move to type 1 at the orange wave (or even blue wave); cognitively, the person might be type 4 at turquoise, and so on. Notice, however, that what the enneagram alone cannot spot is the shift in vertical levels; an orange 7 under stress might go to orange 1, but under real stress, the orange 7 will regress to blue, then purple. These are not just different types, but different levels of types. Again, by combining horizontal typologies with vertical typologies, we can make use of second-tier constructions for a more integral view.

For many radical feminists, male and female orientations also constitute a type. Based mostly on work by Carol Gilligan and Deborah Tannen, the idea is that the typical male orientation tends to be more agentic, autonomous, abstract, and independent, based on rights and justice; whereas the female orientation tends to be more permeable, relational, and feelingful, based on care and responsibility. Gilligan, recall, agrees that females proceed through three (or four) hierarchical stages of development, and these are essentially the same three (or four) hierarchical stages or waves through which males proceed (namely, preconventional, conventional, postconventional, and integrated).

The reason that many people, especially feminists, still incorrectly believe that Gilligan denied a female hierarchy of development is that Gilligan found that males tend to make judgments using ranking or hierarchical thinking, whereas women tend to make judgments using linking or relational thinking (what I summarize as agency and communion, respectively). But what many people overlooked is that Gilligan maintained that the female orientation itself proceeds through three (or four) hierarchical stages –from selfish to care to universal care to integrated. Thus, many feminists confused the idea that females tend not to think hierarchically with the idea that females do not develop hierarchically; the former is true, the latter is false, according to Gilligan herself. [21] (Why was Gilligan so widely misread and distorted in this area? Because the green meme eschews and marginalizes hierarchies in general, and thus it literally could not perceive her message accurately.)

As you will see in The Eye of Spirit , contained in this volume, I have summarized this research by saying that men and women both proceed through the same general waves of development, but men tend to do so with an emphasis on agency, women with an emphasis on communion.

This approach to gender development allows us to utilize the extensive contributions of developmental studies, but also supplement them with a keener understanding of how females evolve “in a different voice” through the great waves of existence. In the past, it was not uncommon to find orthodox psychological researchers defining females as “deficient males” (i.e., females “lack” logic, rationality, a sense of justice; they are even defined by “penis envy,” or desiring that which they lack). Nowadays it is not uncommon to find, especially among feminists, the reverse prejudice: males are defined as “deficient females” (i.e., males “lack” sensitivity, care, relational capacity, embodiment, etc.).

Well, we might say, a plague on both houses. With this more integral approach, we can trace development through the great waves and streams of existence, but also recognize that males and females might navigate that great River of Life using a different style, type, or voice. This means that we can still recognize the major waves of existence–which, in fact, are gender-neutral–but we must fully honor the validity of both styles of navigating those waves. [22]

Finally, a person at virtually any stage of development, in virtually any line, of virtually any type, can have an altered state or peak experience , including those that are called spiritual experiences, and this can have a profound effect on their consciousness and its development. Thus, the idea that spiritual experiences can only occur at higher stages is incorrect. However, in order for altered states to become permanent traits (or structures), they need to enter the stream of enduring development. [23]


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Andy Smith Permalink Reply by Andy Smith on January 9, 2008 at 7:04pm
“I’m fascinated by both horizontal and vertical models, but most integral discussions emphasize the vertical. What I’m curious about is how the whole picture becomes more complex when the two are combined.”

I won’t address the rest of your post right now, but there is a very simple answer to this opening statement. The vertical occurs through horizontal or what Wilber calls translational interactions. Molecules emerge through translational interactions of atoms, cells through translational interactions of molecules, tissues through cell interactions and so on, including societies emerging from translational interactions of individuals. At every level, emergence of the next higher level begins with translational interactions of holons at that level.

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marmalade Permalink Reply by marmalade on January 9, 2008 at 7:27pm
I wasn’t thinking about it in that way. The term ‘translational interactions’ sounds intriguing. I’d like to go more into it. Do you have any nice quotes or links where this term is explained further?
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Andy Smith Permalink Reply by Andy Smith on January 10, 2008 at 6:26pm
Just do a search in Integral Spirituality or any other Wilber book, you will find lots of references to translation. Your post, which I take it is a quote from Wilber, treats types as properties of individuals, but of course they are social properties as well, in fact, first and foremost social properties. Any type by any classification one cares to mention is basically a description of the way an individual interacts with other individuals, and even more, with society. These are translational interactions, the glue so to speak which holds societies together.
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marmalade Permalink Reply by marmalade on January 11, 2008 at 7:31pm
Everything below the link is pure Wilber.

I follow what you’re saying. The individual and the social are inseparable.

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marmalade Permalink Reply by marmalade on January 11, 2008 at 10:25pm
Wilber uses the Enneagram as his example. As a side note, I’ve heard a theory that the personality aspect of this system may have been borrowed from Jung, but I don’t know if this is true. I have see other correlations between the two systems also. However, the Enneagram doesn’t have much research behind it. Most Enneagram theories focus on it as a model of defense mechanisms. Whereas, the MBTI is looking at deeper cognitive structures that are largely inborn. Wilber shows how a person may have different Enneagram types in different situations depending on such things as which level of which line… but, theoretically, someone’s MBTI type should remain the same. I’d like to see how development over a lifetime influences how people test on the MBTI.

Here is a research paper that compares MBTI with the AMSP. I’m not familiar with the AMSP, but it says that it focuses on the propensity of people to change with situations. So, it seems comparable to how Wilber is presenting the Enneagram here.

This paper doesn’t go into any developmental models, but the focus on changeability in the AMSP gives room for a developmental perspective. However, there are some theories in typology about development.

First off, a brief primer. There are 8 Jungian functions. According to some theorists(eg Beebe), all types use all functions, but simply use them in different ways. There is the matter of whether a type is used consciously or not and this relates to development, and there is a specific order that each type will likely develop each function. This is highly theoretical and I don’t know what research has been done on it. Another theory presents how each function itself develops which is equivalent to saying that each function represents a separate line of development. There is some correlation of MBTI with models of psychological development.

For instance, how the Judging functions(Thinking and Feeling) have much similarity with Gilligan’s work on gender differences and the hierarchy of development that either gender will tend to follow. Typology brings a slightly different slant to this. Statistics have shown that their is a slight preference of males for Thnking and females for Feeling. Also, Thinking males tend to have stronger Thinking preferences than Thinking females, and Feeling females tend to have stronger preference for Feeling than Feeling males.

However, this gender preference is only around 60-70%, and that leaves a good portion that doesn’t fit the social expectations. David Deidda recognizes that gender patterns are only general. He says that his advice for men doesn’t apply to less masculine men and does apply to more masculine women. As a Feeling guy, I don’t entirely resonate with his advice.

I’ve looked at Gilligan’s work before, but not lately. Going by the above quote of Wilber, it seems her description of gender also incorporates a Intuition function bias for males(ie abstraction). But research has shown that men are no more likely to be abstract than women. Its only been in recent time that our society has started to idealize the man who is capable of abstraction. So, I’m not sure about this part of this model.

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Developing Technology, Controlling Society

Developing Technology, Controlling Society

Posted on Jan 2nd, 2009 by Marmalade : Gaia Explorer Marmalade
There is a lot of technology that is quite impressive, but most of it feels like its still in development.  The whole internet and computer industry feels like its in permanent Beta mode (similar in concept to Orwell’s endless, permanent war).  There always glitches and compatability issues.  They always come up with a new product or service before ever quite perfecting what they provided before.  The companies are more afraid of controlling their product than offering the best possible service.  Its a shame considering the potential.

There are the cable and dish tv companies that have near monopolies.  These monopolies are being challenged.  Also, the monopolies of other media (newspapers, networks, etc.) are likewise being challenged.  And they’re all fearful of the internet and wary of investing too much in it.  But mostly its just the monopolies from one industry butting heads against the monopolies of another industry.

Its not all negative.  A few companies are paving the way.  Starz and CBS have stood out as companies who are willing to make deals and experiment.  As for internet companies, Google and Amazon seem to be the leaders in bridging to non-internet companies.

The problem is that integration and standardization is happening slowly and in a very flawed fashion.  For example, Blu-ray won the war of new video format and has been out for years, and yet it has so many flaws as to be almost utterly worthless to the average person. 

Three companies that personally interest me are Netflix, Amazon, and Rhapsody. 

Netflix has a great service, but you can’t buy movies from then and instead have to go to another site such as Amazon.  Amazon has a wide selection of services including two that I’m attracted to.  The Kindle is revolutionary, but relevant to Netflix is Video On Demand and the Unbox.  However, in order for Amazon to make its deals with the movie industry they have to control the data.  So, you buy a movie and yet you don’t own it.  Its very convenient and reliable, but whenever they lose rights to a movie you lose the product you bought.  You can download it to your computer and that is fine as long as you keep using the same computer.  Netflix is also having a constant change in the movies available in the online streaming.  The movie industry seems to be fidgety and unwilling to come to any final agreements. 

The music industry is similar, but is quite a bit more established online.  Rhapsody is one of the best models ever created.  They have a reasonable subscription price for an all-you-can-listen-to service which has an immense selection.  Also, they’ve copied Amazon in selling MP3s and they’ve made them DRM-free which puts them above iTunes.  Rhapsody is doing what most companies fear.  Besides offering compatability with players they don’t make, they’ve also encouraged scrobbling with Last FM.  They’ve have made their own player, the ibiza which does what no other player does.  It uses a similar concept to Amazon’s Kindle in that it directly connects to your account.  The downside of Rhapsody is that they don’t have much in the way of spoken word and no audio books.  Also, they don’t have movies.

What I want is to have tv, movies, music, music videos, spoken word, audio books, and electronic text from a single company… instead of needing multiple companies and constantly having to search around.  What I want is fairly simple in that its not beyond present technology.  If Netflix, Amazon, and Rhapsody merged or integrated their services, that would be awesome.  And if they could make permanent deals with the entertainment industries, they’d have a perfect product.

The problem at the moment is that there isn’t enough cooperation and neither is there enough competition.  There are just a few mega-corporations that own practically everything in the world, and so its not that far off from being a complete monopoly.  These companies have no reason to be in a hurry to offer a great service because they have the only game in town.  And any company that attempts something new (such as Youtube) eventually has to chose to go out of business or sell out to one of the large mega-corporations.

Another reason that companies don’t want to cooperate is because they probably think they can get more by nickle-and-diming the customer.  If something you bought a few years ago isn’t compatable with somethin new you’ve bought, then you have buy a new version of that or a new upgrade.  Also, it would seem like more money if you paid for all these technologies and services together.  Separately, the customer is less likely to notice how the cost adds up.

Humans are strange.  If we wanted to, all kinds of things could be possible… but something always holds us back.  There were all these utopian dreams from the ’50s (and also from the 1800s).  The thing is the only thing unrealistic about those visions is that they didn’t take into account the limitations of human nature.  Technologically-speaking, we could have fully functioning colonies throughout the solar system by now.  We could have robots that did almost all manual labor and people could be freed from long work hours of drudge work.  War, famine, and poverty could be ended almost instantaneously.  Humans have proved themselves capable of near miraculous leaps in development during certain periods… often periods of war, unfortunately.

However, it comes down to control.  Change doesn’t happen because those in power would rather have control than change and those not in power would also rather the world stay predictably the same.  Companies only create new services if it helps them control consumers better.  Corporations have become quite talented at manipulating people.  We aren’t free because the manipulation is unconscious to us in that its seamless.  There is no way to protest except to feed back into the system which is something Tim Boucher talks about.

Its to companies advantage to keep customers contented.  But its also to their advantage to control development and feed it slowly to the public.  People in power have a vision and it takes decades or even generations to fulfill that vision.  Its no accident that most politicians come from the same set of families and that those families have royal blood.  Its no accident that politicians have good jobs waiting for them in the industries they used to oversee.

The one nice thing about this internet age is that the world is becoming more complex.  Its less clear who is manipulating who.  Its easier for the oppressed masses to manipulate in return.  The real hope is in the potential for cooperation.  Humans have never been good at equal-opportunity cooperation especially on a large-scale.  This is becoming a real potential with the internet, but its still yet to be seen whether it will ever become more than potential always just beyond the horizon.

From a spiritual perspective, maybe seeking for freedom in this world of power games and materialism is looking in the wrong place.  Still, it seems we humans are incapable of giving up on the hope that the world might eventually be transformed.  Places like this here Gaia seem to be all about that hope.  Gaia maybe primarily about the connections between people, but human connection is inseparable from human technology. 

Even our understanding of God is limited by our technological metaphors.  That is an area that is explored by many Sci-Fi stories and movies.  I guess I managed to bring this blog back to my recent thinking.

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Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

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Marmalade said

My personal motivation is that I’m very curious, but of limited means. I can only explore my curiosity so far. I’d love to own an Amazon Kindle and I’m thinking I’d enjoy Rhapsody’s ibiza. Its not that I can’t afford either of these, but that these technologies are imperfect.

This goes back to the idea of technology in eternal Beta mode. If I buy an expensive piece of technology, I’d like to know if it will work well several years from now and continue to be compatible with other developing technologies. And there is always the possibility that one can buy a technology for a specific company’s service and that service is discontinued for any number of reasons.

I’d love to see both more competition and more integration. However, the more integration that I’d like to see might lead to less competition. Google has done a lot to integrate many different technologies and services. If Google gets any more powerful, it might become a near monopoly of the whole internet.

Monopolies are a natural tendency of human nature. It goes with globalization. People seek ever greater power, and people seek ever greater forms of social connection and cultural aggregation.The development of civilizationhas been primarily a history of the slow but sure concentration of power… political, religious, and capitalistic. Along with this, its also been the concentration of human knowledge and wisdom.

So, this is far from beingan inherently bad tendency. Much benefit has come from civilization of course. Anyways, even if the tedency is inevitable, the specific direction it takes isn’t. Many people would like to control the direction of this development, but I suspect its an unpredictable phenomena.

To bring inthe spiritual angle, I think there is an obvious and direct relationship between this tendency and Monotheism. And this reminds me of the conflicted relationship between mainstream Christianity and Gnosticism. Gnosticism, even though Monotheistic, was wary of how Monotheism could be used politically to oppress the individual.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

about 15 hours later

Nicole said

eternal Beta mode, that’s a great way of stating it.

I’d never thought of the connection between monopoly and monotheism. Monogamy too I guess? 🙂 Singularly focussed…

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

about 19 hours later

Marmalade said

I didn’t come up with the “eternal Beta mode” on my own. I came across that idea a few times this past year in my various researches. It makes a lot of sense to me. The original contribution I made was in relating it to Orwell’s idea of continuous war… which is a dystopian idea that seems to have come true or maybe was always true. I think I remember reading that America has been continuously involved in one war or another since it became a country.

The connection between monopoly and monotheism is something I thought of on my own, but I’m sure others have thought of it before. Itsa simple and somewhat obvious view. And, yeah, I’d add monogamy in the mix. Stories of polygamy in theOld Testamentrepresent a time when polytheism still had major influence in Jewish culture.

Monotheism isn’t really any great insight limited to the Judeo-Christian tradition. Any culture that develops a centralized government will come to a conclusion like this about the divine. Even seemingly non-theistic religions will end up focusing their “worship” on some singular ideal.

Marmalade : Gaia Child

about 21 hours later

Marmalade said

Its kind of funny that this isn’t the blog I intended to write when I started it. I think I originally just wanted to write about technology. I’ve had all these other ideas on my mind for a while. I suppose it all goes together, but my mind wasn’t very focused when writing this.

Let me add a different factor. No monopoly will ever be absolute. Its just one tendency amongst many. Similarly, if “monotheistic” religions were completely monotheistic, then they wouldn’t have these complex hierarchies of spiritual beings. Likewise, if monogamy was the only tendency of humans, then studies wouldn’t show that possibly between 10 and 20 % of children aren’t of the father that claims them and married women wouldn’t be more likely to cheat when most fertile.

As for capitalism, that which undermines the monopolistic tendency is two-fold.

Specific to computers and the internet, the open source community has many loyal followers. This levels the playing field, but open source will never be the central player. Mega-corporations aren’t entirely against open source because it gives them a free resource of ideas that they can co-opt.

More generally speaking, the black market is the closest that capitalism gets to being a free market. Black markets force companies to be more competitive and hence innovative. The main motivating force behind coporate innovation online is to provide a better product than what people can find illegally for free. The music industry was the first that had to come to terms with this. The plethora of nice music services such as Rhapsody is a direct result of free file sharing.

1Vector3 : "Relentless Wisdom"

1 day later

1Vector3 said

An interesting intersection of ideas !! I’d like to address some underlying ideas, even though I recognize they don’t contribute much to your actual discussion, but to me they are super-important. Part of my mission in life is to make sure people are clear about these economic ideas, because almost no one IS clear, and there is a lot at stake in our way of living, if misunderstandings persist and we make choices and decisions based on them.

Based on my research and studies, we don’t really have “capitalism” in this country, never have. We have a so-called “mixed economy” which technically is a Socialism-Fascism mix. Capitalism is synonymous with “free market” – the government does not interfere with the economy in any way. In Fascism the government regulates or controls some or all of the economy. In Socialism, it owns some of the economic entities. (In Communism, it owns all of them.)

I found it interesting you called for a big conglomerate, and then recognized you were suggesting something akin to a monopoly.

In capitalism, there are “natural monopolies” but they come and go. Whenever a monopoly persists, you will – with sufficient research – find government regulations are the force keepingit from its natural dissolution (from a significant competitor emerging.) Utility companies that you mentioned, are not “natural monopolies.” In fact, most of them are not just allowed or supported by government, they are government-mandated/created.

Thanks for letting me hold forth. I hope this was seen as somewhat relevant. I really enjoyed your thoughts !!


OM Bastet

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

1 day later

Marmalade said

Its all good, OM. I don’t even know what my actual discussion is. Myset of ideas feels rather sprawling.

I think I agree with all that you said. Yep, “capitalism” doesn’t exist in the US. That is what I was implying with my comment about black markets. I don’t know exactly what kind of economy we have, but your description of a “mixed economy” sounds about right.

I’m glad you noticed the conflict in my view… which I was conscious of. The concentration of power and knowledge has advantages… and disadvantages. I like your idea of “natural monopolies”. I wasn’t thinking in those terms, but it does clarify the problem of how utility companies are forced into a permanent monopolistic structure by the government itself.

I don’t know how it works in other cities, but here the government disallows competition. There is one electricic company and one cable company. You have no other choices other than turning to other forms of technology. Also, the city runs a monopoly their own monopolies on certain utilities such as water and parking. Maybe this is a necessary evil for utilities such as water, but not for most utilities. However, maybe even water could be provided in new innovative ways if it weren’t controlled as a monopoly.

I shouldn’t complain too much as I personally benefit from the City government’s monopoly on the parking industry… where I’m employed. Its run innefficiently with way too much overheadand doesn’t even provide that great of service considering the money spent. If every parking ramp downtown was owned by different private companies, then there might be cheaper parking or else at least improved options. Besides, there is no reason for the government to run parking ramps. Its not as if their isn’t a market to motivate private companies to invest.

I’m glad to have you hold forth. Its all relevant in my book. Enjoyment is all around.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

2 days later

Nicole said

yes, I can see the connection to Orwell’s continuous war.

I’m intrigued by the stat about married women cheating more when fertile, it seems a difficult thing to establish with clarity. But more importantly, are human tendencies away from monogamy a sign that it’s a bad idea or … something else? Worth pondering especially for those in monogamous relationships 🙂

Marmalade : Gaia Child

2 days later

Marmalade said

I first heard about such stats on a tv show that was about human sexual behavior. I did a websearch and tons of pages came up, but most of it is discussion. The Wikipedia article about evolutionary psychology is interesting, and I thought this quote relevant:

“In particular, Haselton and Miller (2006) showed that highly fertile women prefer creative but poor men as short-term mates. Creativity may be a proxy for good genes. Research by Gangestad et al. (2004) indicates that highly fertile women prefer men who display social presence and intrasexual competition; these traits may act as cues that would help women predict which men may have, or would be able to acquire, resources.”

The difficult to establish part is something I’m not sure about as I don’t know about all of the research. I haven’t come across any research (not that I was looking that much) that was based on direct observations of human women cheating. The research I have heard of is various.

There are direct observations of animal behavior, and research is starting to show that even animals considered monogamous still cheat. The human research is about studying how women dress in more sexually attractive ways when fertile (skirts instead of pants, showing more skin, etc.) and that fertile women shift their behavior to a pattern that fits mating strategy.

I really don’t know the research that well, but there seems to be plenty of it out there if you wish to spend the time to ferret it out.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

3 days later

Nicole said

hmm! 🙂 well, not at the moment, but thanks for sharing what you do know.

Marmalade : Gaia Child

3 days later

Marmalade said

I didn’t think you would necessarily be. I’m not all that inspired to research it much myself. Its just an interesting piece of info… whatever its validity or meaning.

My personal theory is that (most? many?) humans are genetically programmed to be polygamous but not openly. I suspect that the outward display of monogamy is necessary for social order and peacable relations.

My personal attitude towards life is that I prefer monogamy. I’m too lazy to deal with multiple mates. I hardly can handle a single one. Throw in the normal tendencies of human jealousy, and polygamy doesn’t seem worth it to me.

I don’t see it as primarily a moral issue. Our moral ideals cause us as many problems as they attempt to solve, but I don’t think idealizing the opposite of the social (genetic?) norm is helpful either.

But all of that is neither here nor there as it pertains to this discussion.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

4 days later

Nicole said

yes, I do see your points – from a practical standpoint one person is more than most of us can handle! LOL!

Myth, Religion, and Social Development: Part II

Myth, Religion, and Social Development: Part II

Posted on Apr 8th, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Child Marmalade
(This is also posted in the God Pod.)

I want to bring together the evolutionary causes at work behind myth and religion.  I mentioned these earlier: Campbell’s view on the transition from hunter to planter societies, Philippe’s ideas about the paganism incorporated into Christianity, Spiral Dynamics, and the Axial Age.

To this I want to add Paul Shepard’s theory about Pleistocene man.  Shepard believes that the transition between hunters and planters was the most important shift in social development… or disruption rather.  This shift was world-wide and is comparable to the Axial Age.

Add this all up, and it gives us 2 major shifts connecting 3 major eras.  Its Spiral Dynamics that allows us to map this out.  (It goes without saying that this is all tentative.)

First Era: Prior to the post-Pleistocene shift, we have the vmemes of beige and purple.  It seems that Campbell and Shepard are treating these two inseparably.  As we know very little about the myths of beige, we don’t need to worry about it.  Still, its beige that Shepard is somewhat romanticizing.  In addition, I think the individualistic focus of red vmeme gets mixed in because the myths were written down during the development of the blue vmeme, and red came to represent all of the past.  There is the theory that the vmemes switch between a focus on the individual and a focus on the collective, and it makes sense to me.  So, beige and red would be individualistic which isn’t to say the individual has yet fully developed.

Anyways, to simplify, this first era is the Age of the Shaman… Campbell’s Shamanistic Titan seeking personal power through personal sacrifice.  But the Shaman isn’t a monk… the Shaman is also the Warrior and the Hunter.  Visions have power.

Also, this was the time when the divine man-animal was worshipped, the prototype of all later dying/ressurection gods.  Here is a quote from a review of a book by Paul Shepard(along with Barry Sanders) titled The Sacred Paw:

They give a really good argument for the shifting of the emphasis of the myths from the Bear Mother to the adventures of her sons, who eventually become purely human heroes. The Underworld and Rebirth themes of the Bear Mother are slowly stripped form her until she is nothing but a memory.

Post-Pleistocene(or rather post-hunter/gatherer) shift: The cause of this is explained variously.  Did the Ice Age traumatize the collective psyche of the human species?  Or, according to Shepard, did the shift occur from within… for some unknown reason man falling out of alignment with his environment?  Or was it some kind of Telos(God?) that propelled social evolution?  And was this shift a good thing(an evolugionary advantage) or a bad thing(Shepard’s collective madness)?  For our purposes, answering these questions isn’t necessary.  All we need to know is that a major shift happened.

As for Spiral Dynamics, my guess is that this shift was red vmeme and also red shifting into blue.  This shift probably occurred over a very long period of time.

Second Era: This is the beginnings of civilization proper: agriculture and city-states, and the great Matriarchies… this is very early blue vmeme which isn’t blue as we know it now.  This era was blue in a more pure form, not adulterated by orange and green as found in the Third Era.

At this time, society became hierarchical and the caste system came about… and with it the division of labor.  Life was extremely organized including religion… the visions of the shaman became the oracles that served the priesthood, and the myths became complex rituals.  Life revolved around the seasons and the seasonal celebrations.  This was where we got our celebrations of the Equinxes and Solstices as Solar symbolism was the focus.

(A shift within the Second Era)  In the later part of this era, the Matriarchies lost power and written history began.  But the Patriarchies were also blue and they retained the hierarchical structure even if a different gender was on top.  The primary difference was that orange was beginning to develop with a reemergence of individualism, meaning the hierarchy was not quite as strict as previously.  The shift between Matriarchy and Patriarchy is significant, but it isn’t my focus for the moment.  The development of Patriarchy was a disatisfaction with the old ways.  One explanation(that Jeremy Taylor brings up) is that the precession of the equinoxes altered the timing by which the Matriarchies had planted and harvested.  This led to priesthood no longer being able to predict the seasons and so social unrest followed.  This disatisfaction with the prior Goddess worship can be felt in the myth of Gilgamesh.

Axial Age: (Karl Jaspers first wrote about this, and Karen Armstrong wrote a whole book about it.)  This is when first arose all of the world religions that we know today.  Or, in the case of Hinduism and Judaism, when previous religions were revisioned.  The Old Testament was written down for the first time during this time.  Christianity and Islam were later manifestations of this Age.

Blue is still in power, but orange has developed enough to allow some incisive questioning of tradition.  Also, green is first showing itself to any significant degree.  So we have the development of rationality and self-inquiry along with a sense of social equality and justice.  Liberation was the spiritual response and democracy was the political response.

Mythologically, we have the development of the savior stories as we know them today.  Jesus doesn’t change the world by conquering nations.  He changes the world by confronting himself, challenging the human condition.  The prophets of this age tended to turn inward.

The agricultural city-states were being forced to develop new modes of politics.  The Greeks developed democracy and philosophy.  The great myths were being written down and questioned which meant man was no longer controlled by the gods, but could choose their own destiny.  The heroes of this time often challenged the gods.  Man could save himself, man was coming of age.

Third Era: The age of empires… symbolized in the West by the Romans and the later Catholic Church.  Blue is still very much the dominating paradigm, but orange has become established.  However, the green that showed itself in the Axial Age is squelched back out of existence not to be seen again until the Rennaisance.

Religion becomes more ritualized and homogenized than it had ever before.  Using the Roman Empire as its structure, the Catholic Church destroys and/or incorporates every religion it comes into contact with.  And this is why we have such a strange mix of mythologies in Christianity today.  But also this paved the way for us moderns to see the universal truths behind all myths.  (Buddhism did something similar for the East.)

During this time, Jesus the prophet and savior becomes the Ruler of the World.

To be continued…

Access_public Access: Public 3 Comments Print Post this!views (190)  

Nicole : wakingdreamer

about 1 hour later

Nicole said

i’m really enjoying this series… thanks so much for cross posting!

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

about 9 hours later

Marmalade said

I’m glad you’re enjoying it, but I do hope some others will respond.  I really don’t know to what degree this all makes sense.  My knowledge of Spiral Dynamics is pretty basic, but its not the most important part of my thinking here even though I’m using it as a central context.

I don’t have any perfectly clear ideas at the moment.  I’m just pondering the possibilities of patterns.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

1 day later

Nicole said

excellent! yes, we are in a bit of a lull at the moment on the God Pod… just catching our breath before the next waves of activity i’m sure! 🙂

Psychology of Politics, Development of Society

I’ve been thinking out some complex issues and data.  In particular, my mind has been stuck on the issue of liberal and conservative. 

This relates to personality types and traits, but furthermore it relates to genetics.  Scientists have discovered specific genes that correlate with specific tendencies of political attitudes.  That isn’t exactly surprising as trait research has already determined many psychological differences are passed on from parent to child.  But this is particularly paradigm-shifting on the level of politics.

I plan to write more about this, but I just wanted to outline my thinking for the moment.  There are multiple facets that interrelate in ways I’m trying to determine.

There does seem to be an evolutionary angle that would be very important.  Different genetics enhanced species survival as humans developed ever more complex societies.  One theory I came across proposed that liberal genetics are a more recent evolutionary adaptation.  As humans spread out from Africa, specific traits became more desirable: curiosity, openness to new experience, adaptability, empathy, diplomacy, ability to imagine new possibilities and consider multiple perspectives, etc.  These are all traits that research has proven are correlated with each other, and they together seem to create the framework for the liberal attitude.  Still, the older genetics remained useful because any given society would still need the majority of its population to be fairly conservative in order to create social stability and cohesion.

This development happened when humans were still hunter-gatherers, and so at that time the genetic differences wouldn’t have been as magnified.  With the rise of settled agrarian cultures, an entirely new way of social organization became possible.  This was a traumatic time in the devlopment of the human species.  It’s been a while since I’ve read Paul Shepard, but as I recall he saw this era as being pivotal where something irreversibly switched in the human brain.  This was the beginning of civilization.

I was just tonight reading again some of Derrick Jensen’s The Culture of Make Believe.  I consider him to be one of the most important writers of the twentieth century.  I’d forgotten much of the specific ideas in this book, but one particular thing stood out.  He goes into great detail about how civilization rests on the back of slavery.  Every civilization was built with slave labor (including the early democracies).  Even the modern industrialized nations with their supposed democracies and free markets are dependent on slave labor and sweatshops in the third world countries.  Many of the earliest immigrants to the Americas were indentured servants and slaves.  Civilization as we know it would collapse if there wasn’t some class of people enslaved or in oppressed servitude. 

(I also wonder how this fits in with prostitution as the oldest profession and temple prostitutes who lived in servitude.  In early civilization, prostitution represented the civilizing of primitive desire as the temple prostitutes served the highest ideal of their societies and the temples they worked in were at the center of those cultures.  The example that comes to mind is “The Epic of Gilgamesh” where the wild man is civilized by a prostitute.)

Jensen’s explanation of all of this is just brilliant.  Combined with Shepard’s work, this explains a lot about how we became this way.  The earliest records of humans are about the laws upholding civilization and these laws speak about slavery (e.g., Code of Hammurabi).  The Old Testament in various stories and the 10 commandments promotes slavery.  The Christian Gospels even promote slavery.  The Greeks, Egyptians, and Romans all were dependent on slavery.  Until modern times, few people even thought too much about slavery being a bad thing.

However, some people back then began to question such issues.  During the Axial Age, the origins of modern Enlightenment ideals began to take root.  Those early ideals were in complete conflict with the very structure of civilization and that conflict persists to this very day.  So, where did this conflict come from?

Earlier in social development, humans perceived the world animistically.  According to Julian Jaynes, the very understanding of the individual as clearly separate from the world didn’t even fully exist throughout much of early civilization.  It was a slow shift while individuality formed.  As division of labor in society became more important, so division of labor within the human mind became more important.  The world and the gods stopped being experienced as immediately alive realities.  The world became objectified and so did humans.  Individuality and objectivity go hand in hand, and this is what allows for the objectivication of humans in the form of slavery.

This growing sense of individuality came to a crisis point during the Axial Age.  The brutality of slavery had become very apparent, and people began hoping for something more.  People were less satisfied to simply be in servitude whether to other people or to the gods.  The divine had become distant within hierarchical society, and in response the desire for divine closeness became extremely strong.  Humans started to perceive the divine as being among humans which is reminiscent of the animistic past, but this divine closeness was now built on a relationship of individuals as equals.  The first communes formed which was out of which Christianity took root.  However, Christianity and all of the Axial Age religions were brought back in line with hierarchical slave society, and the brief glimmer of the Axial Age prophets was almost entirely forgotten for the next thousand years.

However, it was never entirely forgotten.  The Axial Age ideals were the liberalism of their day.  I wonder if that liberal urge that kept popping up relates back to the genetics that first formed when humans left Africa?

It seems like there has always been this push and pull within human society that is shown in the the earliest historical records.  Since civilization began, this concept of progress formed.  Civilization is dependent on endless progress and this seems to relate to its dependence on slavery.  In order to maintain a slave population, the early civilizations (as well as later civilizations) were forced to be constantly at war by attempting to conquer other people.  Enslave or become a slave.  Endless progress, endless growth, endless conquering, endless usurpation… which continues to modern civilization as well (even if endless wars now have a larger global context). 

This is where I’m feeling a bit murky.  Civilization is simultaneously built on this ruthless progress, but civilization wouldn’t have been possible without those early liberal traits of diplomacy and whatnot.  This seems to be a part of that internal conflict that is the very fabric of civilization.  As society became more hierarchical and more divisioned, the liberal traits of curiosity and experimentation were focused towards technological innovation.  Even fairly early in Greek society, a well-educated leisure class had already taken hold (with Socrates being the ultimate representative).  The liberal instinct in some ways became even more important as empathy and diplomacy would’ve been absolutely vital during this time of cultural clash.

There was a shift that happened after the Axial Age.  The liberal instinct had a temporary burgeoning in society, but the liberal instinct was looked upon with ever greater suspicion as Empire building became the central impulse.  The Roman Empire as it was inherited by Christianity was quite oppressive, and it didn’t take long for the heresiologists to oppress the liberal impulse within Christianity itself.  This is where many see the proper beginning of Western civilization.

Ever since that time, the conflict between the liberal and conservative impulses has led to much violence.  But, with the Protestant Reformation and the Renaissance, the liberal impulse began to have greater influence than it had in a long time.  Also, progress began to happen more quickly.  The liberal impulse is the gas pedal of civilization, but this is balanced with the brake of the conservative impulse.  The fight between the two hasn’t been pretty.

The main issue isn’t specific beliefs or values.  Liberalism and conservatism are relative tendencies.  What was liberal during the Axial Age has become the norm for modern Western civilization.  Generally speaking, even modern monotheists have forsaken their own texts in denying slavery.  The conservative impulse wants to hold on to what has become the norm which is perceived as being traditional.  It’s not important, however, that the perceived traditional values actually correspond to the actual historical tradition.  For example, family values have been centrally important for all of Christian history, but what Christians today consider as family values isn’t what the early Christians considered family values (and Jesus himself didn’t value family at all).  So, liberal and conservative are dependent on the historical context which is always changing with the endless progress that we call civilization.

This has served us moderately well up to this point.  Even so, we find ourselves at a new crisis point and so some people conjecture that we’re experiencing a new Axial Age.  It does seem that the level of cultural mixing in modern society hasn’t been seen in Western civilization since the earlier Axial Age.  The religious sensibility forming now is to Christianity as Christianity was to Judaism, and I think this would explain why fundamentalists have essentially created a new religion that has little to do with early Christianity (which fits into the ideas of Karen Armstrong).

Much of what I’ve talked about can be explained using the model of Spiral Dynamics which would add a lot of much-needed detail.  The history following the Axial Age I somewhat explained in my post Just Some Related Ideas and Writers which basically follows a Jungian view of Western development.  But there is a further aspect that is more central to my thinking at the moment.  Along with Jensen’s The Culture of Make Believe, I’ve also been re-reading Compass of the Soul by John L. Giannini.  The two books make for good companions as they both analyze Western society from different perspectives. 

Giannini’s book is helpful because he is coming from the Jungian tradition, and more importantly he combines his roles as Jungian analyst and MBTI practitioner.  He carefully considers Jung’s view on personality as it fits in with Western sociohistorical development.  He sees a split in our society between tendencies towards the personality types of ESTJ and INFP with the former dominating the Western psyche since sometime shortly after the inception of Christianity.  Essentially, ESTJ and INFP are just a more complex way of saying conservative and liberal.

However, this more complex language is helpful because it’s grounded in decades of psychological research.  Also, it brings me back to where I began this post.

(I want to note one other book: The Trickster and the Paranormal by George P. Hansen.  The author discusses two issues relevant to this post.  He discusses Max Weber’s theory about how rationalization and bureaucratization increases as society becomes more complex and hierarchical.  He also discusses Ernest Harmann’s boundary types.  He mentions research that shows thick boundary types with their conservative attitudes tend to promoted to upper management in hierarchical organizations.  Any major organization is hierarchical and so our society in general is ruled by thick boundary types which is just another way of stating the theory Giannini puts forth.  These highly promoted people tend to have thicker boundaries than even the average person and so the people at top perceive and behave differently than the lower classes.  A seeming implication of this is that even Washington Democrats will be more conservative than the average liberal.) 

The reason I’m so interested in all of this is two-fold. 

The most obvious reason is that the conflict between liberals and conservatives is the most intense that I’ve seen in my lifetime.  And it’s a rather personal issue as I’m liberal and my parents are conservative. 

Secondly, I suffer from obsessive curiosity syndrome.  I feel compelled to try to understand the society I was born into.  There seems to be a narrative to our culture and I suspect that it’s our collective unawareness of this narrative that keeps us stuck in it.  We play these roles we are given and we come to identify with them.  Some of this is genetics and so can’t be changed, but genetics are just predispositions.  I want to believe that the liberal and conservative impulses don’t have to be eternally at odds.  Maybe I’m just a dreamy-eyed liberal with my head in the clouds.

 – – –

Let me give this some more contemporary context.

I’ve been doing some web research on personality types/traits, political attitudes, and career predispositions.  Here are some of the ideas I’m tossing about at present:

The problem with liberal and conservative as labels is that they’re highly relative.

The vast majority of scientists and journalists identify as liberal (or at least they do in the US), but it just means that these groups of people identify as more liberal than how they perceive the general population of their particular society.  In the most general usage, conservative means what is traditional or conventional and liberal means what is not limited to the traditional or conventional.  As such, liberal journalists are only moderately liberal.  They’re liberal because they aren’t perfectly aligned with the average person (or rather they don’t perceive themselves as such), but they’re clearly moderate in their being closer to the mainstream than they are to radicals on the fringe.

However, different societies will vary greatly in their political spectrum.  It’s probably true, though, that scientists and journalists in any society will be comparatively more liberal because those professions seem to demand a liberal mindset (at least liberal in terms of personality traits).

The further issue is how close is the correlation between liberal as political self-identification and liberal as personality trait.  Research on personality traits show that they can’t be categorized as either/or, black/white.  Some people are on the extreme ends, but most people are near the middle.

There is no one way to define these terms.  Liberal and conservative can apply to many issues, and so a person can be simultaneously liberal on some issues and conservative on others.  And any given issue can only be labelled as liberal or conservative relative to the context of the societal norms and the historical era.  Many political positions that seem conservative in a modern industrialized society would be deemed liberal (even radically liberal) in pre-modern and non-industrialized societies.  Liberal and conservative are labels that are inseparable from confounding factors of individual and collective development.

With development, other issues such as intelligent and morality have to be considered as both of those relate to intelligence.  There is a correlation between liberalism and IQ (i.e., traditional methods of testing intelligence), and so that probably explains much of the reason for scientists and journalists identifying as liberals.  As a personality trait, liberalism signifies openness towards new experiences and curiosity towards new information.  Higher education is largely defined by new experiences and new information.

Nonetheless, plenty of people with more conservative personalities go to college as most of the population is fairly conservative personality wise (or rather according to MBTI statistics the conservative SJ temperament represents the largest portion of the population; the question then is how well does the SJ temperament represent the normal definition of political conservatism).  These college educated conservative types tend to be drawn to careers in law, politics, and business.  Most interestingly is the fact that policymakers tend to identify as conservative.  But, even in liberal fields, the top administrators in hierarchical organizations (which includes every major private and public organization) will be more conservative than what is the norm even for the general population.  Scientists may be liberal, but the administration of scientific labs and the corporate funding for science likely is controlled by conservatives.  Journalists may be liberal, but the editors, owners and CEOs of media companies are generally more conservative. 

(The so-called liberal media bias is false.  It may have once been true when newsrooms were independent and reporters were more free to do their own thing.  But in recent decades (because of pressures to increase profits) reporters have been increasingly told what to do by upper management (this is based on a lot of research I’ve done and isn’t an just an ideological claim).  However, this isn’t to say that media is precisely conservative biased in any simple sense.  Let us just say there is conflict of biases where the conservative bias at the moment has gained the upperhand.)

Social liberals are going to be more interested in intellectual inquiry and social conservatives will be more interested in ideological norms.  Because of this, most social scientists and those interested in social science will be moral liberals (research supports this conclusion).  As for moral conservatives, they’re either less interested in or else actively mistrust social science research and theory.  For example, the evidence that certain psychological traits and types (personality, moral inclinations, political ideology, behavior, etc.) are largely inheritable undermines the idea that everyone is completely responsible for themselves as individuals (which is a major aspect of moral conservatism).  The tendency to see human nature as complex is more attractive to the social liberal, and so the liberal attitude is more open to the possibility of nature being equal to or greater than nurture (which could explain why they have a more open view of family values).  The reason why evolution vs creationism seems so central to the culture wars may be because it reflects on the large-scale the same issues of nature vs nurture (I’m a bit unclear on this point).

I’ve come across the theory that conservatives tend to look at media and art in terms of how it serves or undermines their ideology (i.e., the perceived ‘norm’).  This would be supported by the Christian cultural critic who I heard speak a few years ago.  She discussed the need of morally conservative Christians to use film and pop culture to promote their views.  Immediately after this talk, I went over and looked at a William Blake exhibit which presented his vision of the relationship between religion and art.  

There couldn’t have been a better contrast between the conservative and liberal views.  Blake’s art was inspiring because it didn’t represent ideology in any simple way (i.e., no overt political messages, no promotion of group norms).  Instead, Blake’s art pointed towards truths that transcended mere politics.  I sensed that Blake wasn’t limiting himself to his own preferred bias.  

Is the conservative view of art as ideology comparable to the conservative view of news as ideology?  I’ve noticed that many conservatives don’t see a difference of the bias of Fox News from the bias in more liberal news, but to many liberals this is an insult.  I’ve noticed that quite a few liberals seem to idealize intellectual objectivity as a moral value, and they’re not content with the cynical view of extreme conservatives.  The social conservative tends to see humanity as fallen and traditionally this fallen nature included the failure of human reason.  Social conservatives are more mistrusting of reason which explains why they mistrust science (be it Darwinian evolution or climate change).

By the way, this also relates to the tendency of most comedians to be liberal.  Humor is very much related to curiosity and openness to experience.

Anyways, it’s all very interesting.  Journalists, Scientists, and comedians all are dominated by self-identified liberals and Democrats.  I remember offhand that only 6% of scientists (including in the hard sciences) identify as Republican.  That does seem to be saying either something about human nature (psychology, genetics, etc) or something about modern culture… or, as I suspect, a bit of both.

 – – –

I’m, of course, speaking of liberal and conservative in their most extreme manifestations (i.e., exaggerated stereotypes).  It’s important to keep in mind that as personality traits the population distribution is found mostly in the middle rather than on the polar opposite ends.

Also, liberal and conservative don’t always equate with Democrat and Republican.  For example, earlier last century Republicans were the liberal party especially in the South.  So, when I speak of liberal I’m talking about an attitude based on personality traits and not party affiliations which represent shifting labels of shifting demographics.  I was looking at data from the Pew Research Center.  Their definition of liberal corresponds with Democrat only slightly more than it corresponds with independent.  I’m willing to bet, though, that if Democrats dominated for a couple of decades the number of liberals identifying with independent would increase just as how recently many have left the Republican party.

As for psychological attitudes, I do wonder if the way society is structured is causing these genetic traits to become increasingly magnified.  I was thinking that this possibility could be a contributing factor to the present intense political conflict.

Here is a theory I’ve been thinking about the last couple of years.

I’ve looked at mappings of demographic data.  Liberals are concentrated in urban areas in and around cities.  Conservatives are spread out in rural areas.  However, a confounding factor is that ever since the Industrial Age began people have been slowly migrating to cities.  This is how liberals became concentrated in cities in the first place, but the population in general has now become concentrated in cities.  For this reason, cities are more ideologically diverse and so liberals have been forced to adapt to diversity which happens to be one of their talents anyhow. 

The other result is that rural areas have become less diverse and more extremely conservative.  This makes me wonder if conservative politics has become more radicalized partly because of this concentration.  Even the moderate conservatives would tend to move to the cities leaving behind the most extreme conservatives (those who are so resistant to change that they’d rather remain even in poverty-stricken areas).

Ignoring the possible genetic component, our political system by itself would magnify the concentration of extreme conservatives in the rural areas.  American democracy is representative.  In an attempt at fairness, sparsely populated rural areas get more representation per capita.  What this means is that extreme conservatives get more representation per capita.  The result of this is that public debate gets pushed to the right.

This is important as sometimes presidents get elected even though the majority of the population voted against them.  How does a president lead a country when he doesn’t represent a majority of the population?

Also, the media focuses on the extremes.  The rural areas represent the far right-wing.  The Republican politicians tend to be moderate conservatives, but the more radical conservatives of rural areas hold great sway.

 – – –

I don’t know what to make of this, but it’s very interesting.  It seems our entire political system is rather messed up.  I’m hoping by placing US politics in a larger context that I’ll be able to see beyond the polarizing tendency of public debate as it gets shown in the media.

Anyways, it goes without saying that all of this is largely speculation and hence tentative.  I am basing my speculations on actual data, but it is very complex.  Trying to disentangle the threads is difficult if not impossible.  The challenge of making sense of it is only slighly lessened by the fact that some great minds before me have written some insightful books.

Morality: Religion and Science

My mind has been focused on morality as of recent.  I’ve been trying to understand morality in terms of the attitude of righteousness (i.e., the sense of moral certainty; also, the superiority complex of zealous believers) and the ideal of truth (i.e., authenticity and honesty; also, being well informed by maintaining a sense of curiosity and intellectual humility).

Part of the problem is terminology.  When speaking about morality, people have different understandings.  Morality ia a very general and ambiguous term.  The most evil behaviors that people commit often are justified by a sense of morality, whether based on emotional or logical arguments.  Almost everyone has a “good” reason for what they do.

So, this brings me back to ignorance.  It’s not simply that it’s common for people to have a sense of morality based on ignorance.  Most people are ignorant of even what morality means beyond some vague notion of goodness.  People often confuse morality with some particular ideology such as the 10 commandments.  But few people know about the historical development of morality.  For example, few Christians understand Natural Law despite it being the basis of Christian morality and few Christians know that the version of Natural Law that took hold within Christianity originally came from the Stoics.  Natural Law is a very advanced understanding of morality, but few Christians live up to it or even try to live up to it (see my previous post, Morality: Christians vs. Jesus).

The reason I wrote this isn’t to analyze morality.  I’m mostly interested in what science can determine about morality because otherwise it’s just a matter of ideological declarations.  If morality is true in any fundamental sense, then it should have objectively measurable results.

There has been much psychological and neurological research done on behaviors related to crime, self-control, empathy and social adaptation/conformity.  People’s behavior can be largely predicted in many ways and much of it relates to inheritable personality traits.  Freewill is impossible to prove because every thought and action has a physical correlate in the brain and the vast majority of brain activity isn’t conscious.  However, research also shows that behavior can be altered, but it’s hard to distinguish between cause and correlation.  Research also shows people are easily influenced and manipulated.

Whatever morality may be, it certainly is far more complex than how most people think about it and how most moral systems portray it.  Also, most moral debates often get simplified and polarized.

Take as an example the pro-choice/pro-life debate.  When you look at the details, most pro-lifers aren’t against abortion in all cases and most pro-choicers aren’t for abortion in all cases.  Very few people are philosophically against such notions as “life” and “choice”.  So, people end up getting hurt and killed over misuderstandings.  Although, there is one interesting aspect to this debate which is relevant to morality.  From research I’ve done, more violent crimes have been committed by so-called pro-lifers than by pro-choicers.  I don’t know if this shows that the personality of conservatives is more prone to violence or if it’s simply a result of various social factors.  Either way, it demonstrates the strange and unclear relationship between moral arguments and moral behavior.

There seems to be two main ways of looking at morality.  For many (especially those of traditional religions), morality is about ideological rules.  There is the assumption that the rules work.  And if the rules don’t work, it’s either the fault of the individual or the society.  The convenience of this argument is that it divorces morality from having to prove itself.  It’s true because it’s true even if it shows no tangible, practical results.  Believers know it is true because it was taught as true for centuries.  Even if this were the case, the modern world has changed greatly even if human nature has remained mostly constant.

To return to the example of abortion, women have been getting abortions for a very long time.  Moral rules and laws don’t stop women from getting abortions.  They might decrease the numbers of abortions, but they also increase the number of deaths from botched abortion attempts.  To the strictly ideological moralist, this is an acceptable loss.  The women who died deserved to die or else their deaths are simply irrelevant to the larger moral issue.  This same type of person will also argue for abstinence sex education in schools even though research shows it increases pregnancies and STDs.  Morality against sex and abortion are worthy even when ineffective because there purpose to set a standard humans are supposed to strive towards.  Human failure to meet these standards is expected.

Universal laws of morality could only be true if human nature were unchanging.  However, science shows that human nature evolves along with human biology and neuroanatomy.  And science shows that humans are still evolving even as we speak.  Some even see evidence that the modern world has speeded up the evolutionary process and so it could be that we are becoming markedly different in certain ways than humans were when these ancient moral laws were first written (as a similar example see the massive shift in religious morality and the human mind during the Axial Age or see Julian Jaynes’ theory of bicameralism).  There is research that shows nutrition, chemicals, drugs, and social factors have altered or influenced aspects of human nature.

Related to sexual morality, children sexually mature many years ahead of children a few decades ago (possibly because of chemicals in plastics, hormones in food, or else psycho-pharmaceuticals) and children a few decades ago sexually mature many years ahead of children in hunter-gatherer societies (because an agricultural diet causes people to mature more quickly).  Combined with the fact that the modern world necessitates people to delay marriage for years, this causes traditional morality about sexual behavior to be not as applicable to the facts of modern life.  In traditional societies, someone got married when they became sexually mature.  However, when a child today becomes sexually mature at age 10 or 14, it isn’t even legal for them to get married.  To teach them abstinence is to embrace ignorance.

 A further issue that traditional morality often doesn’t take into account is that development occurs both in society and the individual (heck, even religions develop).  Numerous models have been developed.  There are models developed by Piaget, Kohlberg, Gilligan, EganKegan, Loevinger, and Erikson.  There is also Cowan and Beck’s Spiral Dynamics which is popular and has been applied to religion (and which has been further developed by Wilber).  The only model that has gained some popularity in traditional religion are Fowler’s stages of faith development.

My main point is that the static view of morality isn’t helpful.  Some would counter my argument with the question, “So what?”  And that is a good question.  Why does theory matter?  Isn’t it important that peple simply do good?  Yes, but as I pointed out good intentions don’t always lead to good results.  If we don’t understand why people do good, we can’t understand how to help people do good.

Also, I wonder about this concept of “doing good.”  Does doing good prove someone is good?  Does it matter if one is good as long as one does good?  And who measures the good of each individual.  For example, consider someone who has gained much power and wealth through immoral (or at least morally questionable) means.  If they use their power and wealth towards moral ends, does that lead to an overall moral outcome?  When research shows that wealth and power is unevenly distributed in the world, what is the great moral merit of those born of privilege sacrificing a small percentage of the benefits from their unearned privilege?  Basically, can moral outcomes come from an immoral or amoral socio-politcal system?

Interestingly, this relates to Spiral Dynamics which correlates the moral development of individuals with the moral development of society.  Spiral Dynamics seems like a rather hopeful vision.  I don’t know if it’s absolutely true, but I do think it provides one of the more helpful models.

Anyways, in this post, I’m not so much arguing for what morality but instead am trying to clarify what morality isn’t.  To think of it another way, I’m trying to understand the most inclusive view of morality and hence the view that is applicable to the most situations.  My conclusion is that traditional morality fails in this regards.  My motivation for coming to this conclusion is that moral righeousness annoys me.

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Here are some previous posts of mine about these or related topics:


Debate b/t Religion and Science: Theists, Atheists, Agnostics, Integralists

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This response profoundly misunderstands Karen Armstrong’s arguments.  This isn’t a fair portrayal.  As far as I understand her arguments, the criticisms presented here don’t seem to touch upon what she actually writes about.

Armstrong’s books are very scholarly.  She isn’t against rationality and science.  What she supports is making subtle intellectual distinctions in order to create a rational context to discuss otherwise non-rational issues.  She backs her arguments with historical evidence which is the best one can do when trying to analyze the development of religion and society.  And nothing she states contradicts any known scientific facts or theories.

Armstrong offers great insight into the religious mind.  Her explanation of the origins of literalist fundamentalism make more sense to me than any argument I’ve come across.

Her argument is that a new way of thinking about religion arose with the Axial Age.  In particular, this involved the ability to think metaphorically.  But I don’t think she disagrees that it was initially (and for many centuries to come) a style of thinking limited mostly to elite theologians.  It was only with the Enlightenment that the the Axial Age ideals started to take hold more clearly and science provided a new paradigm by which metaphorical thinking could be contrasted.

In response to science, the idea of religious literalism arose as entirely distinct from allegorical interpretation.  It’s not that literalist thinking didn’t exist to an extent earlier, but it only became an ideology unto itself in modern times.

Armstrong isn’t an enemy of atheism.  The only thing she is an enemy of is closed-mindedeness and simplistic thinking.  Her criticism of the New Atheists isn’t a criticism of atheism in general.  She is simply pointing out that certain arguments made by some popular atheists aren’t the best arguments to be made.  Her main issue is that, by talking about religion in literalist terms, the atheist just plays into the hands of literalist fundamentalists.  She wants to undermine religious literalism at it’s base.  She wants to show fundamentalism for what it is by showing how it developed.

 – – –


We seem to be talking past each other or something.

And you apparently have me mistaken for someone else.  I’m far from being a religious apologist.  I can’t stand apologetics and I harshly criticize anyone who uses it.  I do have some interest in religion and I study religious scholarship, but I’m not an overly religious person as I usually think of myself as an agnostic.  I look for insight where ever I can find it whether from religion, science, psychology or whatever.  But I especially appreciate quality scholarship.
Straw-men arguments? I have no clue what you’re talking about.  My basic argument was that you didn’t understand Armstrong’s ideas, and I then explained my own understanding of her work.  Have you read her books?  If you haven’t, then I don’t know why you have such strong opinions based on such limited info.  Or if you have, you need to reinforce your argument with more specifically quoted examples.
“Of course, Armstrong doesn’t say she is against science. I never claimed this. She is completely misrepresenting it’s place in history, that’s all.”
Well, so far, you’ve mentioned science 25 times and mostly in reference to Armstrong.  Going by your own words: Your argument is that she undermines and blames and ignores science, that she doesn’t care about scientfic facts, and that she is dangerously usurping science for a liberal anti-scientific agenda.  If this isn’t your true opinion, then you need to edit your previous statements or else better explain what you actually meant by these words.
“I am amused at how you built your assumptions into the statement while cloaking Armstrong’s revisionism in the language of tolerance.”
All statements have assumptions built into them.  My argument was fairly simple and straightforward.  I wasn’t cloaking anything.
“Firstly, she is not so much making ‘intellectual distinctions’ as she is making stuff up.”
Generalized judgments and dismissals aren’t helpful.  Give me precise quoted examples of her making stuff.   Show in detail that your allegation is correct.  Explain how her supposed “making stuff up” disproves her entire argument and undermines all of her scholarly respectability.
“Secondly, your implicit assumption that there is no other rational context to discuss such issues is wrong.”
No such assumption was implied.  I’m fond of many other rational contexts.  I wasn’t arguing that Armstrong has the market cornered on rational contexts.  She isn’t even an author I obsessively read or even think about that much.
“There is one very powerful rational context that is always relevant- objective reality.”
I like objective reality.  Are you implying that my arguments or Armstrong’s arguments deny or contradict objective reality?
“No preferential treatment of facts is necessary, thanks a lot (read up on sociobiology- really read- to get a rational context for understanding religious fundamentalism).”
I don’t understand your complaint.  Preferential treatment of facts isn’t necessary, but emphasizing the importance of facts is always a nice thing.  And, yes, I do read up on many fields of study.  In particular, the relationship between biology and behavior is a topic I often read about.
“Literalist fundamentalism was always there.”
It seems we’re defining literalism differently.  I can’t assess your definition as I don’t know what facts and theories you’re basing it on.  As far as I can tell, you seem to be using a very general and vague sense of literalism.  In terms of cognitive ability, however, literalistic thinking is more narrowly defined.
“Religion is the political remnant of a system of belief that told a narrative of factual events. For modern religious moderates, when it comes to everyday issues they can understand that there is such a thing as the real world and there is the emotional world, but when it comes to religion they forgo this distinction.”
It’s not that all fundamentalists dismiss this distinction.  Many of them simply don’t understand it.
The definition of literalism I’m using is from a developmental perspective.  On the personal level, people have the potential to learn how to make clear rational distinctions at a particular stage of development, but this depends on the person’s intelligence and their social environment.  As such, development can be stalled or even permanently stunted.  Plus, integrating this ability into all aspects of one’s life involves even further stages of cognitive development that are even less common.  There are also theories that discern stages of development in societies.  A person is only likely to develop to the extent that most others have developed in their society.  Our modern understanding of literal facts didn’t exist thousands of years ago.  Even when this understanding began to develop, it was a minority of the population that grasped it.
I openly admit that it’s hard to figure out the cognitive processes of ancient people.  But plausible theories can be formed using historical data, anthropology, psychology and neurology.  Anyways, my main point isn’t that all ancient people didn’t have some basic sense of an external reality that they perceived as being separate from their own subjectivity.  I’m simply pointing out that religious literalism as we know it today has become influenced by a scientific worldview which wasn’t the case in the past.
“Please spare me the Axial age BS. It is a half-baked hypothesis that relies on amateurish post hoc reasoning. Such ideas are designed to appeal to those who have already made up their minds. In this case, it is the mind of the religious moderate who desires above all to find a way to make all the religions work together in harmony.”
You have many biased assumptions about many things.  Half-baked?  Amateurish post hoc reasoning?  Please do explain!
Armstrong didn’t simply invent the idea of the Axial Age as it (along with similar ideas) has been discussed by many scholars.  It’s common for scholars to analyze history according to ages of socio-cultural development such as tool-making, agriculture, city-states, etc.  In terms of the Axial Age, there was a specific time period when many cultures were developing written language and when certain new ideas arose such as monotheism/monism and variations of the golden rule. 
The term Axial Age is merely a way of labelling and describing a broad period of cultural transformation.  That such a transformation happened is a matter of historical record, but the cause of it is a complex issue.  Even though cultural transmission is one possibility, it’s implausible as being the sole cause as there were many separate cultures experiencing similar changes at around the same time.  It is true that correlation doesn’t prove causation, but obviously something was causing massive change.
“To understand cultural patterns on such large scales one needs to take into account a lot more real variables that Armstrong can grasp.”
Why do you presume what Armstrong can grasp?  Do you personally know her and have you scientifically tested her cognitive abilities? 
She is a religious scholar.  That is what she is an expert in and so that is what she focuses on.  Why would you expect a scholar of a specific field to take into account all possible variables including those outside their field?  Yes, there are other areas of scholarship that are relevant.  So what?  That doesn’t disprove Armstrong’s contribution to her area of scholarship. 
Her ideas are just another possible piece of the puzzle, but I’m all for trying to understand the whole puzzle.  For that reason, I turn to such things as Integral theory in order to get a conceptual framework to put the pieces together.  Even so, you can never know that you’ve completely figured it out because theories about human cultural development are impossible to scientifically prove beyond all doubt.
“For example, briefly, the ‘ability’ to think metaphorically evolved at least 70,000 years ago, but possibly up to 300,000 years ago. However, the ability to perceive our world around us evolved with the first intelligent ancestors we ever had. For intelligent biological organisms to survive, they needed to be convinced that certain things were true. Metaphor as a semantic tool is pointless when faced with a hungry lion. Literalism is the default setting.”
I’m not using literalism as referring to the perception of external reality, though there are theories that propose that early humans didn’t clearly distinguish between internal and external experience (such as Julian Jaynes’ theory of bicameralism or Lloyd deMause’s theory of schizotypal personality).  Instead, what I am focusing on here is the cognitive ability to think in terms of black and white absolutes.  This is how a person cognitively processes perceptual experience rather than the process of perception itself.  So, metaphor as you are using it seems to be equated with mythological thinking which according to some theories of development represents an earlier stage of development.
“It is an insult to say that these people did not believe that stuff literally.”
I’m not saying that and I don’t think that Armstrong comes to that conclusion.  For example, consider Christianity.  Some of the earliest theologians relied heavily on allegorical interpretations.  Yes, they believed they were true but not necessarily true in a physical sense.  Christianity arose at the end of the Axial Age when the distinction between allegorical truth and objective facts was becoming more common.
In a sense, even these early Christians believed their allegorical interpretations were literally true for they conceived the spiritual realm as being the highest truth.  Still, they were making a distinction which is different than the earliest religions where the spiritual and physical were inseparable (and so mind and world were connected through magical thinking).  Nonetheless, even this conflation doesn’t deny that they may have had some understanding of reality as external to them.  If a hungry lion attacked, they would defend themselves against it.  But afterwards they probably would interpret it as an animistic encounter with a spiritual being.
I don’t know if I’m communicating this in a way that you understand.  I’ve been studying these kinds of ideas for years and I can’t claim to have it all figured out.  It’s a very complex topic involving many different theories by many different scholars in many different fields.  However, I often return to Ken Wilber’s Integral theory as it connects more of the puzzle pieces together than any other theory I’ve come across, though I don’t agree with everything he claims.  It’s first and foremost a descriptive model, but to the degree it accurately explains objective facts it can be considered potentially predictive in that all individuals and all societies tend to follow certain patterns of development.  According to Wilber’s use of Spiral Dynamics (which represents only one line of development), there are distinct stages.
 – The earliest stages see the world in terms of animism and magical thinking, and so mythology is “literally” a part of the world.
 – After the earliest stages, humans began to develop a more individual sense of consciousness meaning that that the mind was showing some independence from the environment (i.e., people could think about rather than merely react to the world).  Likewise, spiritual beings also were perceived as being more clearly distinct from the world and from human individuality.  The sense of something being “literally” true meant that it existed outside of mere human experience.
 – The stage where “literal” thinking shows itself most clearly is when humans start emphasizing binary opposites that are polarized into absolute right and wrong, absolute true and false.  Self and other become absolutely distinct.
 – After this stage, experiential data and evidence take on greater value.  Standards and methods are developed to ascertain what is objectively true.  What is “literally” true is what is verifiable.  
 – This is where postmodernism and cultural relativism come in.  “Literal” truth becomes just one perspective and what is considered true is whatever allows for and includes the most perspectives.  As such, science and religion are perspectives and there is neither is inherently superior to the other in that there simply separate paradigms of reality.  However, within multiple perspectives there is a sense that some things are universally true and I suppose that this might be taken as “literally” true in some way.  This is primarily where Armstrong is arguing from, but I don’t know if this is where her thinking ends.
 – Beyond all of this, further stages of development are proposed where inclusion of different perspectives is allowed while maintaining a meta-perspective to discern the value of different perspectives.  These higher stages supposedly emphasize the ability to understand the different stages and different perspectives toward practical ends.  Something is “literally” true to the extent that it effectively works towards some clearly defined goal.  So, there would be no singular truth per se as there are many goals.  These goals aren’t seen as necessarily in conflict for it would be considered most optimal to find where lesser goals can be directed towards more encompassing goals.
By the way, this isn’t mere theory.  Spiral Dynamics was formulated according to research Clare Graves did, and Ken Wilber correlated it with other research and other models.  My point being that Armstrong’s arguments can be placed in this larger context of diverse scholarship.  Whether it’s absolutely true or not, time will tell.  But for certain this does offer a plausible explanation of cultural development that clarifies the relationship between religion and science.
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 “After the publishing of this response,the commenter responded by ignoring my entire rational argument in favor of more confirmation bias.”

Confirmation bias simply means that people tend to seek confirmation to their own view which is something everyone does to an extent, but it’s generally used to describe extreme examples of someone biased thinking.  However, making this allegation against an opponent can just as well be used polemically to dismiss another person’s view and evidence.  In this case, Kamal’s allegation of confirmation bias appears to be an example of confirmation bias.

“My statements were twisted in typical religious fashion, using the all-too-common religious dance between objective and subjective concepts in order to obscure naturalistic truth.”

Twisted?  I merely pointed out Kamal’s exact words.  I didn’t even take them out of context.  Anyone can look at his comments and see for themselves what he wrote (assuming he hasn’t since edited out these statements).

Typical religious fashion?  I presented carefully explained rational arguments supported by diverse theories and evidence.  All of the references I made can be found within the mainstream intellectual tradition.  Many of the ideas I was using for context are taught in universities and in some cases are based on social sciences research.  If Kamal considers this “typical religious fashion”, he must interact with some very intelligent and well-read religious people.  I wish he would give me their contact details because I’d love to meet such intellectually respectable believers.

“I am not interested in arguing with religious people since there are plenty of more useful things that I can occupy myself with.”

I explained to him that I’m not religious.  Some atheists can’t differentiate being interested in religion and believing in religion.  Anyone who has studied religious scholarship in any depth would quickly realize that many religious scholars aren’t religious believers.

“The writing of this article, contrary to what religious folk may think, has nothing to do with actually arguing against religious folk and everything to do with ridiculing Armstrong’s incoherent religious apologetics.”

He states his true intentions.  He isn’t interested in actual debate no matter how intelligent.  His main (and maybe only) purpose is to ridicule Armstrong because he has categorized her as a mere believer.  As his perception of her opposes his atheistic ideology, she must be attacked at all costs even if it means sacrificing intellectual honesty.  Polemically winning the debate by silencing one’s opponent is more important than the open puruit of truth.

“Such ridicule is well within my right, and I believe it is essential to the process of developing a strong freethought response to institutionalized superstition.”

Free speech is definitely everyone’s right, and it’s his right to choose whose comments he wants to post.  However, if his purpose is genuinely to promote freethought, then he should support the free speech of others rather than attempting to silence disagreement.  New understanding comes from the meeting of different perspectives.  Freethought isn’t about any particular ideology or theory.  Freethought is dependent on respect for open discussion and respect for all rational viewpoints.  His opinion that my viewpoint is wrong simply doesn’t matter from the perspective of freethought.  An intellectual argument deserves an intellectual response… which is what Kamal refused to do and so he loses any rational justification for calling himself a defender of freethought.

“In view of this, I have decided to not publish any further comments form religious folk. If you think you have won the debate, good for you. Please continue to feel good about yourself.”

Thank you.  I do feel good about offering you opportunity to have a rational discussion, but it saddens me that you apparently have embraced pseudo-intellectualism.

“We rationalists have our hands full trying to build real moral alternatives to religion and I would rather not waste my time arguing with those who cannot let go of primitive superstitions.”

Primitive superstitions?  Is that the best you can do?

Oh well… 

 – – –


I posted the first two comments to Ajita Kamal’s blog.

However, the second comment apparently wasn’t allowed to be posted.  I can only assume that Ajita Kamal had no rational response to my dismantling of his argument.  I don’t know if Ajita Kamal is an example of a pseudo-intellectual, but his actions seem to show a lack of intellectual humility and maybe honesty.  After my comment was posted there and not approved, an earlier commenter returned to praise his writing.  He accepted this praise, but didn’t mention my having refuted his criticisms of Karen Armstrong.  Ajita Kamal is the type of ideologue of the New Atheist variety who gives atheism a bad name.

For obvious reasons, I made no attempt to post the third comment to Ajita Kamal’s blog.  Kamal did finally acknowledge in his blog the existence of my comment, but he still didn’t offer any rational response.

 – – –


I’m no expert on Armstrong’s scholarschip, but she is someone I refer to on occasion.  She is highly influential and probably can be considered to have taken up the position of authority that Joseph Campbell once held.  If you don’t like or understand Campbell, then you’ll probably have the same attitude about Armstrong.  Both began as Catholics and both sought a non-literal understanding of religion.

As for Armstrong, she was a nun who became an angry atheist and then later came to accept the label of “freelance monotheist“. 

I usually describe myself, perhaps flippantly, as a freelance monotheist I draw sustenance from all three of the faiths of Abraham.  I can’t see any one of them as having the monopoly of truth, any one of them as superior to any of the others. Each has its own particular genius and each its own particular pitfalls and Achilles heels. But recently, I’ve just written a short life [story] of the Buddha and I’ve been enthralled by what he has to say about spirituality, about the ultimate, about compassion and about the necessary loss of ego before you can encounter the divine. And all the great traditions are, in my view, saying the same thing in much the same way, despite their surface differences.

My sense is that she just means that she has the sense of something profoundly true, but she is unwilling to making any ideological claims about it.  She separates her scholarship from her experience, but at the same time sees scholarship as a way of exploring possible universal aspects of human experience.  From what I can tell, she isn’t trying to apologetically convince anyone of a particular position.  Her own position is an attitude of openness and acceptance (which I would deem intellectual humility).  She takes her role as scholar very seriously and so her attitude of openness is also an attitude of intellectual curiosity.  She doesn’t seem to start with the position of having anything figured out (either theistically or atheistically), but neither is she resigned to relativism.

What is interesting about Armstrong is how differently people react to her ideas.  Some religious believers agree with ideological atheists in their belief that she is the ultimate enemy (whether of “faith” or of “reason”).  On the other hand, many religious believers, agnostics, atheists, and generally open-minded curious people consider her to be a proponent of freethought and religious insight.  What is clear is that those who disagree with her are forced to come to terms with her very popular scholarship.


If you’re interested in further criticisms of the New Atheists, see these other posts of mine:

Here is a thoughtful criticism of the atheist response to religion:

A Mission to Convert
By H. Allen Orr
The New York Review of Books

And some other interesting blogs, articles, and videos:

Synesthesia, and Psychedelics, and Civilization! Oh My!

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

A developmental theory of synaesthesia, with long historical roots
by A.O. Halcombe, E.L. Altschuler, & H.J. Over (full paper)

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

Terence McKenna’s “Stoned Ape” Theory of Human Evolution (or here)

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

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

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

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

Graveyard of the Gods

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

Globalization, Romanticism, and Owen Barfield
by Jim Davis

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

Developmental Differences: Preliminary Thoughts

This post is a continuation of my thinking from a previous post.

Psychology and Parapsychology, Politics and Place

I’m feeling a bit uninspired in trying to organize my thoughts on this subject.  There are many factors… and, of course, many connections between them.  

There are the personality differences between people such as found in psychology and philosophy (in particular Jung’s typology as developed with MBTI, traits theory, and Hartmann’s boundary types).  There is William S. Burroughs distinction between the Johnsons and the Shits, and there is his idea about the One God Universe (OGU) and his criticisms of the Word God of Christianity.  Along with Burroughs, I’d be tempted to throw in Philip K. Dick’s division of the human from the robotic in terms of emotions and relationships.  So, questions of where humanity is heading would be essential.  In terms of the personality differences, I’d need to further discuss the basic distinctions between liberals and conservatives.  I could possibly add further context with the difference between Athenian and Spartan democracy and the differences between egalitarian and hierarchical social structures (especially as they relate to anti-structure, the trickster archetype and the paranormal).

These ideas touch upon the subject matter in George P. Hansen’s The Trickster and the Paranormal.  There is Max Weber’s theory of rationalization in terms of Western culture and there is the disenchantment of the world which many deep ecologists have written about (some books that come to mind are Sherry Weber Nicholsen’s The Love of Nature and the End of the World, David Abram’s The Spell of the Sensuous, and Leonard Shlain’s The Alphabet Versus the Goddess).  There is the idea of charisma as it relates to Victor Turner’s theories of liminality and anti-sturcture and as it relates to the paranormal and shamanistic religions.  Also, there is the philosophy of phenomenology and it’s relationship to existentialism… the being in the world and the direct experience of the world (in context of ontology and epistemology).  All of this would be contrasted to the mainstream attitude of academics.  Most significantly, I would include Hansen’s analysis of science and the paranormal.  In relationship to science, I’d bring up Hansen’s ideas about Hartmann’s boundary types.  I’d specifically detail the boundary types’ correlation with Jungian/MBTI types and detail the research that shows the type of person who is promoted to positions of power in hierarchical organizations.  In context of all of this, there is the conflict between the pre-modern and the modern and between the modern and the post-modern.

There is the article “Magic and Gnosticism” by  Will Parker from The Gnostic journal and the distinction between the attitudes of universalism and pluralism.  There is Karl Jasper’s theory of the Axial Age which I’m familiar with through Karen Armstrong.  There is Julian Jayne’s analysis of the primitive mind in his book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (and his ideas supposedly influenced William S. Burroughs and Ken Wilber).  There have been many interesting theories of social development including spiral dynamics (which would clarify the issues of pre-modernism, modernism and post-modernism) which Ken Wilber heavily relies upon and, less optimistic than Wilber, the ideas of Paul Shepard.  In terms of the latter, other connected writers would be Derrick Jensen, Peter Wessel Zapffe and Thomas Ligotti, but I’m not sure how they’d fit in with the other writers I’ve mentioned… other than maybe how civilization has developed the way it has based on the human response to suffering  and thus development of the modern self-identity.  I would also add Terrence McKenna’s view on the relevance of psychedelics in the evolution of self-consciousness and Jungian ideas about ego development would also connect.

Related to Parker’s article and Karen Armstrong writings, I’d need to clarify the subject of religion in the Western world.  Gnosticism is very important in how it relates to both Hellenism and Christianity, and in how it has had a continuous impact on the development of Western thought.  To bring in Weber’s rationalization, I’d need to argue for the connection between the Christian tradition and science which is something Parker and many others have written about.  Furthermore, it could be helpful to bring up the subject of specialization that civilization has allowed.

A related issue would be of genetic evolution.  How has our evolutionary past influenced us?  Paul Shepard believed we essentially are the same genetically as we were before civilization and that this explains many of our problems.  As such, we simply weren’t designed to live this way.  However, has civilization itself irreversibly altered evolution itself?  Is the evolution of the human species slowing down or speeding up?  What are we becoming?  In terms of specialization, genetics might become specialized in terms of which people tend to procreate together.  There could be an intensification of certain genetic traits.

Anyways, those are the ideas that fit together.  The central idea around which all of this is ordered probably is Max Weber’s rationlization and the largest context that holds it all together would be George P. Hansen’s book.  In my previous post, I was discussing different types of people in terms of basic differences we’re born with.  In this post, I’m trying to clarify the issue of differences in people in terms of psychological, social and evolutionary development.  If I feel more inspired later, I’ll go into more detail.