The Drugged Up Birth of Modernity

Below is a passage from a book I got for my birthday. I was skimming through this tome and came across a note from one of the later chapters. It discusses a theory about how new substances, caffeine and sugar, helped cause changes in mentality during colonialism, early modernity, and industrialization. I first came across a version of this theory back in the late ’90s or early Aughts, in a book I no longer own and haven’t been able to track down since.

So, it was nice coming across this brief summary with references. But in the other version, the argument was that these substances (including nicotine, cocaine, etc; along with a different kind of drug like opium) were central to the Enlightenment Age and the post-Enlightenment world, something only suggested by this author. This is a supporting theory for my larger theory on addictive substances, including some thoughts on how they replaced psychedelics, as written about previously: Sugar is an Addictive Drug, The Agricultural Mind, Diets and Systems, and “Yes, tea banished the fairies.”. It has to do with what has built the rigid boundaries of modern egoic consciousness and hyper-individualism. It was a revolution of the mind.

Many have made arguments along these lines. It’s not hard to make the connection. Diverse leading figures over history have observed the importance changes that followed along as these substances were introduced and spread. In recent years, this line of thought has been catching on. Michael Pollan came out with an audiobook about the role coffee has played, “Caffeine: How Coffee and Tea Created the Modern World.” I haven’t listened to it because it’s only available through Audible and I don’t do business with Amazon, but reviews of it and interviews with Pollan about it make it sound fascinating. Pollan has many thoughts about psychedelics as well, although I’m not sure if he has talked about psychedelics in relation to stimulants. Steven Johnson has also written and talked about this.

As a side note, there is also an interesting point that connects rising drug addiction with an earlier era of moral panic, specifically a crisis of identity. There was a then new category of disease called neurasthenia, as first described by George Miller Beard. It replaced earlier notions of ‘nostalgia’ and ‘nerves’. In many ways, neurasthenia could be thought of as some kind of variant of mood disorder with some overlap with depression. But a passage from another work, also included below, indicates that drug addiction was closely linked in this developing ideology about the diseased mind and crippled self. At that stage, the relationship wasn’t entirely clear. All that was understood was that, in a fatigued and deficient state, increasing numbers turned to drugs as a coping mechanism.

Drugs may have helped to build modern civilization. But then they quickly came to be taken as a threat. This concern was implicitly understood and sometimes overtly applied right from the beginning. With the colonial trade, laws were often quickly put in place to make sugar and coffee controlled substances. Sugar for a long time was only sold in pharmacies. And a number of fearful rulers tried to ban coffee for fear of it, not unlike how psychedelics were perceived in the 1960s. It’s not only that these substances were radicalizing and revolutionary within the mind and society as seen in retrospect. Many at the time realized these addictive and often stimulating drugs (and one might even call sugar a drug) were powerful substances right from the beginning. That is what made them such profitable commodities requiring an emergent militaristic capitalism that was violently brutal in fulfilling this demand with forced labor.

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The WEIRDest People in the World:
How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous
by Joseph Henrich
Ch. 13 “Escape Velocity”, section “More Inventive?”
p. 289, note 58

People’s industriousness may have been bolstered by new beverages: sugar mixed into caffeinated drinks—tea and coffee. These products only began arriving in Europe in large quantities after 1500, when overseas trade began to dramatically expand. The consumption of sugar, for example, rose 20-fold between 1663 and 1775. By the 18th century, sugary caffeinated beverages were not only becoming part of the daily consumption of the urban middle class, but they were also spreading into the working class. We know from his famous diary that Samuel Pepys was savoring coffee by 1660. The ability of these beverages to deliver quick energy—glucose and caffeine—may have provided innovators, industrialists, and laborers, as well as those engaged in intellectual exchanges at cafés (as opposed to taverns), with an extra edge in self-control, mental acuity, and productivity. While sugar, coffee, and tea had long been used elsewhere, no one had previously adopted the practice of mixing sugar into caffeinated drinks (Hersh and Voth, 2009; Nunn and Qian, 2010). Psychologists have linked the ingestion of glucose to greater self-control, though the mechanism is a matter of debate (Beedie and Lane, 2012; Gailliot and Baumeister, 2007; Inzlicht and Schmeichel, 2012; Sanders et al., 2012). The anthropologist Sidney Mintz (1986, p. 85) suggested that sugar helped create the industrial working class, writing that “by provisioning, sating—and, indeed, drugging—farm and factory workers, [sugar] sharply reduced the overall cost of creating and reproducing the metropolitan proletariat.”

“Mania Americana”: Narcotic Addiction and Modernity in the United States, 1870-1920
by Timothy A. Hickman

One such observer was George Miller Beard, the well-known physician who gave the name neurasthenia to the age’s most representative neurological disorder. In 1871 Beard wrote that drug use “has greatly extended and multiplied with the progress of civilization, and especially in modern times.” He found that drug use had spread through “the discovery and invention of new varieties [of narcotic], or new modifications of old varieties.” Alongside technological and scientific progress, Beard found another cause for the growth of drug use in “the influence of commerce, by which the products of each clime became the property of all.” He thus felt that a new economic interconnectedness had increased both the knowledge and the availability of the world’s regionally specific intoxicants. He wrote that “the ancient civilizations knew only of home made varieties; the moderns are content with nothing less than all of the best that the world produces.” Beard blamed modern progress for increased drug use, and he identified technological innovation and economic interconnectedness as the essence of modernity. Those were, of course, two central contributors to the modern cultural crisis. As we shall see, many experts believed that this particular form of (narcotic) interconnectedness produced a condition of interdependence, that it quite literally reduced those on the receiving end from even a nominal state of independence to an abject dependence on these chemical products and their suppliers.

There was probably no more influential authority on the relationship between a physical condition and its historical moment than George Miller Beard. In 1878 Beard used the term “neurasthenia” to define the “lack of nerve strength” that he believed was “a functional nervous disease of modern, and largely, though not entirely, of American origin.” He had made his vision of modern America clear two years earlier, writing that “three great inventions-the printing press, the steam engine, and the telegraph, are peculiar to our modern civilization, and they give it a character for which there is no precedent.” The direct consequence of these technological developments was that “the methods and incitements of brain-work have multiplied far in excess of average cerebral developments.” Neurasthenia was therefore “a malady that has developed mainly during the last half century.” It was, in short, “the cry of the system struggling with its environment.” Beard’s diagnosis is familiar, but less well known is his belief that a “susceptibility to stimulants and narcotics and various drugs” was among neurasthenia’s most attention-worthy symptoms. The new sensitivity to narcotics was “as unprecedented a fact as the telegraph, the railway, or the telephone.” Beard’s claim suggests that narcotic use might fruitfully be set alongside other diseases of “overcivilization,” including suicide, premarital sex (for women), and homosexuality. As Dr. W. E Waugh wrote in 1894, the reasons for the emergence of the drug habit “are to be found in the conditions of modern life, and consist of the causative factors of suicide and insanity.” Waugh saw those afflictions as “the price we pay for our modern civilization.”24

Though Beard was most concerned with decreased tolerance-people seemed more vulnerable to intoxication and its side effects than they once were-he also worried that the changing modern environment exacerbated the development of the drug habit. Beard explained that a person whose nervous system had become “enfeebled” by the demands of modern society would naturally turn wherever he could for support, and thus “anything that gives ease, sedation, oblivion, such as chloral, chloroform, opium or alcohol, may be resorted to at first as an incident, and finally as a habit.” Not merely to overcome physical discomfort, but to obtain “the relief of exhaustion, deeper and more distressing than pain, do both men and women resort to the drug shop.” Neurasthenia was brought on “under the press and stimulus of the telegraph and railway,” and Beard believed that it provided “the philosophy of many cases of opium or alcohol inebriety.”25

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Also see:

The Age of Intoxication
by Benjamin Breen

Drugs, Labor and Colonial Expansion
ed. by William Jankowiak and Daniel Bradburd

How psychoactive drugs shape human culture
by Greg Wadley

Under the influence
by Ed Lake

The Enlightenment: Psychoactive Globalisation
from The Pendulum of Psychoactive Drug Use

Tea Tuesdays: How Tea + Sugar Reshaped The British Empire
by Maria Godoy

Some Notes On Sugar and the Evolution of Industrial Capitalism
by Peter Machen

Coffee, Tea and Colonialism
from The Wilson Quarterly

From Beer to Caffeine: The Birth of Innovation
by Peter Diamandis

How caffeine changed the world
by Colleen Walsh

The War On Coffee
by Adam Gopnik

Coffee: The drink of the enlightenment
by Jane Louise Kandur

Coffee and the Enlightenment
by Stephen Hicks

Coffee Enlightenment? – Does drinking my morning coffee lead to enlightenment?
from Coffee Enlightenment

The Enlightenment Coffeehouses
by David Gurteen

How Caffeine Accelerated The Scientific Enlightenment
by Drew Dennis

How Cafe Culture Helped Make Good Ideas Happen
from All Things Considered

Coffee & the Age of Reason (17th Century)
from The Coffee Brewers

Philosophers Drinking Coffee: The Excessive Habits of Kant, Voltaire & Kierkegaard
by Colin Marshall

Coffee Cultivation and Exchange, 1400-1800
from University of California, Santa Cruz

Noble or savage?

From about a decade ago, in the last year of the Bush era, The Economist published the article “Noble or savage?” It is a typical piece, a rather simplistic and uninformed view, as expected. Rhetoric like this gets spun on a daily basis, but this particular example hit a nerve.

“two-thirds of modern hunter-gatherers are in a state of almost constant tribal warfare, and nearly 90% go to war at least once a year.”

That is plain fricking idiotic. Modern hunter-gatherers are under social, political, military, and environmental pressure that didn’t exist to the same degree until the modern era. Plus, they would be experiencing greater levels of pollution and introduction of new diseases that has been causing further stress and instability.

“Richard Wrangham of Harvard University says that chimpanzees and human beings are the only animals in which males engage in co-operative and systematic homicidal raids. The death rate is similar in the two species.”

Like modern hunter-gatherers, modern chimpanzees are living under unnatural conditions. The territory of chimpanzees has been severely impacted by human encroachment, environmental destruction, poaching, and violent conflict. Why would any halfway intelligent person expect anything other than dysfunctional behavior from populations of two closely related species experiencing the same dysfunctional conditions?

“Constant warfare was necessary to keep population density down to one person per square mile.”

Not necessarily. Hunter-gatherers have a lower birthrate, partly because of later puberty. Plus, they have higher infant mortality. Overpopulation is simply not much of a problem for most hunter-gatherers. They are usually able to maintain a stable population without needing warfare to decrease excess numbers. During boon times, population stress might become a problem, but that isn’t the norm.

“Hunter-gatherers may have been so lithe and healthy because the weak were dead.”

Maybe to some degree. But this would have to be proven, not claimed as empty speculation. Once past early childhood, hunter-gatherers have lifespans that are as long as and health that is superior to modern Westerners. Adult hunter-gatherers have low mortality rates, regularly living into old age with few if any of the stress-related illnesses common among WEIRD societies (low or non-existent rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, depression, psychosis, trauma, etc).

“Notice a close parallel with the industrial revolution. When rural peasants swapped their hovels for the textile mills of Lancashire, did it feel like an improvement? The Dickensian view is that factories replaced a rural idyll with urban misery, poverty, pollution and illness. Factories were indeed miserable and the urban poor were overworked and underfed. But they had flocked to take the jobs in factories often to get away from the cold, muddy, starving rural hell of their birth.”

Along with being ignorant of anthropology and social science, the author is likewise ignorant of history.

Most rural peasants didn’t freely choose to leave their villages. They were evicted from their homes and communities. The commons they had rights to and depended on became privatized during the enclosure movement of early capitalism. Oftentimes, their villages were razed to the ground and the then landless peasants were forced into a refugee crisis with their only option being to head to the cities where they found overcrowding, homelessness, unemployment, poverty, and starvation.

In comparison, their rural life had been a quite secure and pleasant. Barbara Ehrenreich discusses this in Dancing in the Streets. During much of feudalism, specifically earlier on, as much or more time was spent in socializing and public events (celebrations, holy days, carnival, etc) than in labor. The loss of that relatively easygoing and healthy rural life was devastating and traumatizing. This set the stage for the Peasants’ Revolt, English Civil War, and the revolutionary era. Thomas Paine saw firsthand the results of this societal and economic shift when he lived in London. It was a time of near continuous food riots, public hangings, and forced labor (either as convicts or indentured servants).

“Homo sapiens wrought havoc on many ecosystems as Homo erectus had not. There is no longer much doubt that people were the cause of the extinction of the megafauna in North America 11,000 years ago and Australia 30,000 years before that. The mammoths and giant kangaroos never stood a chance against co-ordinated ambush with stone-tipped spears and relentless pursuit by endurance runners.”

That probably had as much to do with environmental changes. There is still scholarly debate about how much of those extinctions were caused by over-hunting versus environmental stress on species. It was probably a combination of factors. After all, it was large-scale climate shifts that even made possible the migration of humans into new areas. When such climate shifts happened, ecosystems were dramatically altered and not all species were equally adaptable as their former niches disappeared. For example, neanderthals probably died because they couldn’t handle the warmer temperatures, not because they were massacred by invading homo sapiens.

“Incessant innovation is a characteristic of human beings. Agriculture, the domestication of animals and plants, must be seen in the context of this progressive change.”

That is rhetoric being used to justify an ideology. All societies and species experience change, as they are forced to adapt to changing conditions or failing that to die out. That is the natural state of earthly existence for all species. But the narrative of ‘progress’ is a particular view of change. All of evolution has not been heading toward Western Civilization, as an inevitable march of history as foreordained by God’s plan for the dominance of the white race over the beasts and savages.

“It was just another step: hunter-gatherers may have been using fire to encourage the growth of root plants in southern Africa 80,000 years ago. At 15,000 years ago people first domesticated another species—the wolf (though it was probably the wolves that took the initiative). After 12,000 years ago came crops. The internet and the mobile phone were in some vague sense almost predestined 50,000 years ago to appear eventually.”

How shockingly simpleminded! Nothing is predestined. That sounds like the old Whiggish history of Manifest Destiny. This entire article is a long argument for Western imperialism in its genocide of the natives and the stealing of their land. No one is arguing that the hunter-gatherer lifestyle is or was perfect, but let’s at least acknowledge the aspects of that lifestyle that were relatively better, such as low levels of social stress and mental illness. Do we really need yet another apologia for neoliberal hegemony and modern globalization? No, we don’t.

“There is a modern moral in this story. We have been creating ecological crises for ourselves and our habitats for tens of thousands of years. We have been solving them, too.”

There might be a modern moral in this story. But it might not be the one promoted by the ruthless dominators who have willfully destroyed all alternatives. The royal ‘we’ that supposedly have been solving these problems just so happens to be the same ‘we’ that has eliminated the natives and their lifestyle, often by way of one form of death or another, from war to disease. These hunter-gatherers, as representing an alternative, may seem problematic to the ruling class of capitalist nation-states. And no doubt that problem has been solved for the endless march of capitalist ‘progress’, such as it is.

“Pessimists will point out that each solution only brings us face to face with the next crisis, optimists that no crisis has proved insoluble yet. Just as we rebounded from the extinction of the megafauna and became even more numerous by eating first rabbits then grass seeds, so in the early 20th century we faced starvation for lack of fertiliser when the population was a billion people, but can now look forward with confidence to feeding 10 billion on less land using synthetic nitrogen, genetically high-yield crops and tractors. When we eventually reverse the build-up in carbon dioxide, there will be another issue waiting for us.”

So, the vision offered by the ruling elite is endless creative destruction that pulverizes everyone and everything that gets in the way. One problem ever leading to another, an ongoing Social Darwinism that implicitly presumes Westerners will continue to be the winners and survivors. They shall consume the entire earth until there is nothing left and then they will isolate themselves in post-apocalyptic biodomes or escape to the stars following their tech-utopian fantasies.

As for the rest of us, are we supposed to be apathetically submit to their power-hungry demands and world-weary pessimism threatening that resistance is futile, that no other options remain? Are we expected to unquestioningly accept how ideological realism denies moral and radical imagination, denies our freedom to choose anything else?

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Noble or Savage? Both. (Part 1) And (Part 2)
by Jason Godesky

Romantic primitivism
by Evfit

Eating the Poor

Early in their careers, the Wachowski brothers (or rather sisters) wrote a movie script about eating the rich. “The script was too disturbing,” Andy (now Lilly) Wachowski said, as quoted in a 1999 New York Times piece. “We showed it to some people in Hollywood who said: ‘This is a bad idea. I can’t make this. I’m rich.’ ” They never could find anyone to fund it and so it was never made.

What immediately occurred to me simply reversing the roles in the script make it perfectly acceptable to the moneyed interests in Hollywood. A quarter century earlier in 1973 the novel Soylent Green was made into a major movie with a well known lead actor, Charlton Heston. It received multiple awards and honors and, remaining popular, has had repeated releases in every format. At this point, it has made immense profit.

So, why is it that Hollywood is fine with portraying poor people being eaten but not rich people? Well, as one Hollywood figure explained, “I can’t make this. I’m rich.”

Hollywood is a business, but not everything is about profit. Even if a movie about eating the rich could make more money than hundreds of other movies that get made every year, the profit motive can only go so far. The rich are as or more concerned with maintaining their position in society, which means maintaining the image that the dirty masses can’t touch them, literally and metaphorically. The Wachowskis didn’t only make a movie about the rich being eaten but specifically eaten by the poor and homeless. That is a step too far in a capitalist plutocracy.

Fantasies are fine, except when they hit too close to home. Class war isn’t something we are supposed to talk about. Or rather we are only supposed to talk about it when it portrays the rich winning. Hollywood companies are fine with rich people being portrayed as evil, as long as they are also portrayed as dominant and powerful. But even making portraying the reality of plutocratic rule too starkly can be considered unacceptable.

When Jonathan Swift wrote “A Modest Proposal”, many criticized the eating of babies. In his defense, he pointed out that the killing of babies was what was already happening to the poor, specifically in Ireland, and he simply made it explicit. The sensitive souls in respectable society were fine with mass torture and murder. They simply didn’t want to be forced to acknowledge it. Even so, he was able to get his writing published and widely read. But if he had written a similar piece about eating the rich, he would have been censored, his career destroyed, and probably imprisonment following. Although considered in bad taste, it was acceptable for him to write about eating the poor. As true then, still true today.

In a talk, William McDonough spoke of a visit to Birkenau in Auschwitz: “I stood in the center Birkenau camp which is a mile in diameter three, miles in circumference. And I realized that engineers and architects had come together to design a giant killing machine. If design is the worst, the first signal of human intention, this was the signal of the worst of human intention. And I thought to myself at what point is a designer standing there say wait a minute you’re asking me to do this.”

He describes how every aspect of the camp and all that supported its functioning was carefully designed by architects, engineers, and scientists. This included how humans would be processed and used, including the bodies. From slave labor in the factories to stacking the bodies, it all had to be carefully calculated and planned out. Efficiency was key. It was a modern project embodying scientific principles. Many of the chemicals still in use today were first experimented on humans in these camps.

McDonough came to the realization that this mentality applied to the modern world in general. The way we design buildings and infrastructure is toxic and self-destructive. Our society is a highly efficient killing machine that results in illness, suffering, and early death. He wasn’t being merely dramatic for effect. We see this in the increasing use of carcinogenic chemicals and the rise of cancer. The modern world is designed to be efficient and profitable, not to be sustaining of life and well being.

One might note that the greatest victims, as always, are the poor. The rich can escape the pollution of old industrial centers, distance themselves from toxic dumps, and hide away from environmental destruction. The poor, on the other hand, are trapped. In the Swiftian sense, the poor are being eaten by this system that processes and uses their life and labor to build the beautiful world of the rich. According to the Social Darwininan aspirations and capitalist realism dreams of plutocrats, that is how it should be. But you won’t find a well-funded blockbuster Hollywood movie portraying this real world dystopia in all of its gory details, much less such a movie that radically imagines an inversion of power and a reversal of victimization.

To understand how this society operates, you have to notice not only what is present but also what is missing, what is allowable and what is not.

Society and Dysfunction

on anxiety & modernity by isthmus nekoi

I still think about trauma these days, although I tend to think more about the anxiety spectrum. There is afterall, something very fetishized or at least, detached about anxiety. Anxiety is not an emotion oriented towards something present, but rather, is future oriented. Anxiety is our fear of the future. It is a ghost fear, a fetish fear, it is at once less present yet more pervasive than fear itself. It is fear intellectualized, no, grotesquely magnified beyond reason by a reason derailed.

Modern society has no roots, no history, no grounding. We drift in a perpetual freefall, this strange sensation of exhilaration, panic, and numbed boredom, that tight feeling in our chests, the wind in our faces. The dream and the nightmare of the modern man, his most deepest desire and most fervent fear, that which lies below our perverse fusion of lust, anxiety and reason, is the belief that he might actually be falling into something…

+ + +

atomic-bomb

 – – –

Nice article!

It makes me think of certain people: Arnold Mindell, Paul Shepard, Derrick Jensen, etc.  I’m also reminded of someone like Carl Jung.

Both Jung and Reich were students of Freud and also both were interested in the significance of UFOs in terms of society.  Jung saw UFOs as a symbol of change, of potential.  UFOs became popular during a very traumatic era of world history.

I mention all of those people because they either have an alternative view on trauma or they see the problems of modern life as being part of a larger context.  Paul Shepard would trace the problems of society back to the beginning of civilization.  Along with Derrick Jensen, Shepard would say our traumatized state isn’t merely personal nor merely an issue of our human condition but instead about our relationship to the larger world.

That is where I see the ideas of Jung and Mindell fitting in as they present humans as being essentially interconnected.  The problems of society can be seen in the individual, and vice versa.

I would add that, similar to Shepard’s view, the Axial Age was a particularly traumatic shift in society.  That was the historical period when cultures were clashing and urbanization was developing.

The foundation of the modern self was being set at that time.  For example, religious practitioners of the time were attracted to a rootless lifestyle with ascetic monks and preachers who would travel from town to town.  Also, this is when people started idealizing a perfect world that was located elsewhere.  This world and human nature was flawed.

It seems to me that the industrial age and the 20th century international conflicts are the delayed effects of the Axial Age.  The ideals of that time (equality, freedom, etc.) took a couple of millennia to fully take hold.  But humans have never really adapted to this social change in a healthy way and maybe it isn’t even possible.  The human animal simply isn’t designed for modern civilization.

Of course, people are traumatized.  All of human society is traumatized.

Related to the above article, here are some additional thoughts from another blog and from a forum thread:

The Mad Liberation Front from the Red Star Cafe blog

R.D. LaingWith the exception of Freud’s eccentric disciple Wilhelm Reich, it was not until after WW II that a school of  psychology appeared that was willing to take Freud’s hypothesis of collective insanity seriously and to launch out along a different route. R.D. Laing, whose background was as much Existentialist-Marxist as it was Freudian, was among the first to assume an adversarial position on the issue of insanity.

Convinced that the mad, or at least some portion of those designated schizophrenic, may be a rare and endangered species desperately in need of protection, Laing argued that psychological breakdown could be the first step toward enlightened breakthrough. It might be an incipient assertion of true sanity by those who were still at least resilient enough to feel the pain of society’s oppression. It is therefore the psychiatrist’s responsibility to take the side of the mad against wrong-headed social authority.

“We live”, said Laing, in the midst of  “socially shared hallucinations…our collusive madness is what we call sanity”.

orwell’s 1984 and the early theories of wilhelm reich (starting post by peebo in a thread on the Wrong Planet forum)

it appears to me that one of the main premises of george orwell’s 1984 is the idea of sexual repression rendering the population open to oppression by the party. the repression of freely expressed sexuality by the party is clearly an overt theme in the novel. junior anti-sex league, winston and julia’s “subversive” affair, etc. this idea is very similar to the ideas put forward by wilhelm reich in his “the mass psychology of fascism”.

http://www.whale.to/b/reich.pdf

reich’s main point in this book is that oppressive fascist regimes are manifest only in situations where sexual repression is endemic in a society. he covers more than this, but this is the main thrust. i wonder whether orwell had been exposed to reich’s ideas, or whether they just came to a similar conclusion independently?

Morality, Politics, and Psychology

Below is a comment I wrote to a blog post on the website of my local paper.  In it, I’m pointing out the problems of ideology that lacks a larger context of knowledge.  I do think that sometimes its necessary to declare a moral principle as valid even if it affronts the commonsense of the majority.  This is the ideal of natural law which makes sense to me personally.  Besides, its what our country is based on and heck it’s even what early Christianity incorporated from the Greeks.  Morality isn’t an issue of majority opinion.  There simply are certain inalienable rights that democracy stands or falls by. 

However, I don’t think it useful to invoke universal moral principles in order to dismiss intelligent discussion.  Standing by one’s principles is important, but so is basing one’s opinion on facts and logic.  If the data (objective and subjective, scientific and psychological) seem to undermine the practical usefulness of a principle, then that is very important info to consider.

Why are Condoms a Liberal Idea? , by IowaArtist

My response:

I’ve always thought it odd that people support abstinence only programs when they’ve been shown to increase the rate of pregnancies. I think there are two reasons.

1) The attitude is ideological. It’s a principle they believe in so strongly that it would go against their sense of morality even to consider the practical implications.

2) Also, the fact that teens still get pregnant just proves their belief that liberals have undermined our moral society. The teens getting pregnant is the direct fault of liberals and so giving into the liberal agenda would be even worse.

They don’t consider the possibility that teens would have sex whether or not liberals had political influence. What they seem to believe is that if they hold onto their principles long enough then maybe all of society (including teen sexuality) will change to fit their ideological vision of reality.

Another important factor is that, because of chemicals in our diet, girls mature at a younger age than they used to. Also, college has become a necessity for more people than in the past and so people now marry much later. Many kids start having sexual urges at 10 or so when they lack psychological maturity and they’re not likely to get married until their late 20s or early 30s.

Considering those facts, is it practical to promote abstinence? How likely is it for the average kid to remain abstinent for the next 2 decades of their life?

In hunter-gatherer cultures, people marry as soon as they sexually mature. This is unimaginable in our society. It works for them because kids sexually mature much later with a non-agrarian diet. The problem with modern society is that it creates an unnatural situation, and so our moral ideologies become out of step with our own biology.

   —

There is another perspective to all of this.  Disagreements over such socio-political issues might not be all that directly related to either what is moral or practical.  Much research has been done on politics and personality.  The first two links are articles I just came across from The New York Times and the last link is to a post of from my Gaia blog in which I cover all of the research and theories.

Op-Ed Columnist: Would You Slap Your Father? If So, You’re a Liberal, by Nicholas D. Kristof

Across the Great Divide: Investigating Links Between Personality and Politics, by Patricia Cohen

Politics, Personality, and Character by Me

It makes me wonder what actually motivates people.  Much of our psychological tendencies are based in genetics and some show as early as infancy (look at twins research for very clear evidence of genetic predispositions), but there are many other factors as well.  Here is one factor I mentioned in the comments in the above blog post:

An interesting complexity is the fact that personality correlates to party affiliation but not to party registration.  So, its possible that conformity to social standards of family and community may play a stronger role than does personality. 

How or rather where we’re raised is infinitely important.  My parents were raised in conservative communities and they grew up to be conservative.  However, they went through a slight liberal phase as young parents maybe because they moved to a more liberal community during a transitional period of their life.  This liberal community of my childhood had a strong influence on me and, along with my brothers, I became mostly liberal.  This shows that community may have more influence than family, and I believe I’ve seen research that shows peers are the most influential for kids (rather than what kids are taught and modelled by their parents). 

As examples, I’m a liberal child of conservative parents and  my dad is a conservative child of liberal parents, but my mom is a conservative child of conservative parents.  Personality might predict, though, to what extent one is influenced by other factors such as community and family.  My mom, according to MBTI, is and ISTJ which is one of the most conservative personality types and also the type that is most likely to follow authority (such as parents) without question or rebellion.  So, maybe it isn’t surprising that her views are more in line with her parents.  I’m an INFP which is a personality type that tends to have more of an independent streak than, for instance, an ISTJ.  But also INFPs tend to be more liberal. 

The question, then, is to consider why people end up with particular personality types.  Research has shown that certain traits are inheritable, but not all.  My parents are ISTJ and ENTJ, and so where did my INFP come from since the last two letters representing Introverted Feeling are completely opposite my parents’ shared Extraverted Thinking.  It still may be genetic as my grandmother (my father’s mother) seemed likely to have been an INFP.  On the other hand, one of my brothers has a personality almost exactly like my mom and yet the two are on opposite ends of the political spectrum.  I assume that is where non-genetic influences come in. 

To get down to one specific aspect of personality, Thinking vs Feeling in MBTI is very central to political attitudes.  Thinking types (especially Extraverted Thinking) fit the typical attitude of conservatism in which a principle is held as true no matter what.  Feeling types (especially Introverted Feeling), instead, are more likely to consider the people involved to make a decision.  Basically, its a difference of whether someone believes that people should serve their moral values or else believes their moral values should serve people. 

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This translates to the original example in that a conservative is less likely to change their attitude even when it seems counter to the evidence of how humans actually behave.  To the conservative, we should strive to live up to our ideals (even if it means failing) rather than to lower our ideals.  That is a worthy attitude in certain situations, but problematic in other situations.  An interesting additional definition of conservatism is a common belief that human individuals are limited in their ability to change and so in a sense conservatives are in certain ways more accepting (or rather more expecting) of people failing moral standards.  The fact that kids still have sex and get pregnant even when taught abstinence isn’t an argument against the socially conservative belief in abstinence.  For a conservative, that is besides the point or if anything proves their point.

The ironic thing to me is that teenagers don’t have sex because of moral failing but because biology drives them to do so.  It’s natural for animals to feel an instinct to procreate.  It’s how our species has survived this long and grown so large.  It’s a very effective instinct.  The ironic part of this is that the socially conservative attitude against pre-marital sex is also embedded in human biology.  Conservative beliefs, despite what some conservatives may think, didn’t fall from the lips of God.  Besides biology, there are also socio-cultural factors to no end.  For instance, Spiral Dynamics gives a detailed account of why certain values are held by societies during specific stages of development.  Or, as another example, the generational theory of Strauss and Howe seems to explain why certain values follow cyclical patterns of popularity.

I don’t mean to just pick on conservatives as we’re all equally influenced by factors we have little control over.  It’s the sad fate of being human that civilization evolves quickly and biology evolves slowly.  And it’s a major problem that modern civilization is so far out of sync with human nature… which applies to everyone whether conservative or liberal or whatever.  In this, the conservatives have intuited an element of our dire straights.  They are right in a sense that our human nature fails us in the situation of modernity, but it would be better to understand that it’s modernity rather than human nature that is the problem.  We have to either develop socially to a new stage more in balance with our own nature (and in balance with nature in general) or else eventually destroy ourselves. 

My criticism of conservatism is that their answer is unhelpful to say the least.  Social conservatism, as we know it now, is as mired in modernity as anything else… related to the idea that fundamentalism is a direct result of modernity meaning it isn’t actually a return to pre-modern values.  If looked at closely, the socially conservative ideals such as family values don’t fit the truly traditional values that we as humans held for thousands upon thousands of years prior to civilization (and actually they don’t even fit the traditional values of a few centuries ago).  If we’re going to attempt a revival of traditional values, then we should really take it seriously and revive hunter-gatherer lifestyle which is the only way to support values of the most traditional variety or at the very least return to an agrarian-based society of small villages and close-knit communities (from which America was first born).  The problem with Christianity is that its a religion that arose in an imperialistic society and in an urban setting.  It’s a religion very much of modern civilization.

I’m not dissing civilization, but humanity is now facing probably the largest obstacle it has ever faced.  We are in an unsustainable situation which is potentially an endgame scenario.  Derrick Jensen explains this all very well, but I hope that he is wrong that the only solution is for civilization to end.  Humans are innovative when the stakes are high.   I’m sure we humans will (eventually) give a noble effort in attempting to save ourselves from the predicament we created for ourselves… and we might even succeed to create some new form of society.  If future humans do succeed in not only surviving but thriving to boot, I suspect they’ll look back with bemusement at the idiocy of both liberals and conservatives.

Anyways, disagreements about the sexual proclivities of teenagers is the least of our problems.  I say let them enjoy their youth because they’ll grow up soon enough and realize the mess they’ve inherited.

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In case anyone is further interested in this subject, here is a post I made in this blog a while back:

Political Party, Morality, Personality, Gender