Archive for March 19th, 2017
A very interesting article in Psychology Today by Christopher Bergland on the evolutionary advantage of altruism. It begins:
I woke up early this Christmas morning. While I was waiting for the water to boil I noticed a book called “Essays of E.B. White” on the kitchen table and started flipping through it. I stumbled on an essay called Unity which E.B. White wrote in 1960. I had been reading a lot of science articles about the evolutionary importance of community, cooperation, and empathy lately and the words from his essay hit home:
“Most people think of peace as a state of Nothing Bad Happening, or Nothing Much Happening. Yet if peace is to overtake us and make us the gift of serenity and well being, it will have to be the state of Something Good Happening. What is this good thing? I think it is the evolution of community.”
My mom has a December 24th tradition of spending the day with her good friend and next-door-neighbor at “The Haven” which is a local food bank. They distribute food to individuals and families in the community who are in need. Last night she came home with heartwarming (and heartbreaking) stories of various people who had come to the food bank that day. My mom doesn’t consider working at The Haven “volunteering”, or a sacrifice. Not because she’s saintly, or more altruistic than most….My mom realized a long time ago that it made her feel better around the holidays to connect with other people in the community from all walks of life than to sit at home all day by the fire with family, indulging. Scientists continue to confirm that her empirical findings and intuitions can be backed up in a laboratory or clinical studies. . .
Whatever genes drive cooperative behavior would have a strong survival advantage when humans began to live interdependently in small groups, for at that point non-cooperative individuals would be a real problem. I cannot help but believe such people would be culled from the group—hunting accidents would be the most common method, I imagine, but simply have a (cooperative) few get together and kill or chase away the non-coperative one would also happen. Indeed, it still happens.
So it seems likely that a tendency toward cooperative behavior would be selected for, but the emergence of community as a supported entity seems more to be a matter of meme evolution and grows/emerges under the right conditions, a fruit of meme evolution, surrounded by meme thorns also arising meme evolution (wars, discord, oppression, and the like). And when community emerges, it’s great, but we don’t seem quite to know how to make it emerge. We don’t have a good grip on creating community, though we seem to have a good handle on what goes into it and what it consists of.
The problem, I think, is getting people to see it as a thing, and to see how their own actions can nourish or injure it. If people can see it and understand its benefits, then perhaps that can cooperate in creating and maintaining a community—and the maintenance requires maintaining some on-going renewal. It’s like keeping sourdough starter: you have to keep feeding it, and so it is with community, I would think. That can mean bringing in new people, incorporating them into the community, and see how the community grows in new directions.
The key is having people able to see how their actions affect it. And, of course, to care about it.
More on memes in The Meme Machine, by Susan Blackmore.
UPDATE: I just read this in The Week, March 24, 2017 issue:
Haitian immigrant Denis Estimon remembers how isolated he felt when he first immigrated to the U.S. Now a popular senior at Boca Raton Community High School, Estimon is making sure no other student has to sit alone at lunchtime. Estimon has started a club called “We Dine Together,” whose members seek out wallflowers in the courtyard and strike up a conversation. The club has sparked hundreds of unlikely friendships since it formed last fall, and jocks and geeks now sit side by side. “It’s not a good feeling, like you’re by yourself,” says Estimon, of his own experience. “That’s something I don’t want anybody to go through.”
Estimon is a community cultivator.
Very interesting piece, written under a pseudonym, obviously: “Busta Troll.” It begins:
This should get me plenty of hate mail.
I am a liberal. As such, I believe in progress and equality. I yearn for societal evolution and a government that works for the people it serves. I stand on the side of all that is good and fair and rail against the oppression levied on the American people by the oligarchal one percent.
Those are all ideologies that any liberal can get behind. Those are the kinds of things that if taken as a whole and implemented would create a utopia the likes of which people on the left dream about. The mere thought of such perfection makes us believe that we are on the side of righteousness. After all…we are more intelligent and far more tolerant than our opposition.
And yet we can’t seem to stop losing elections.
Yes, there is gerrymandering and voter suppression and lies and deceit and billions of dollars working against us. Those things are real and horrible and wrong. They are also only half of the story. Our enemies are easy to see — hate, fear, bigotry and greed. The driving forces of the modern day conservative and the Republican party they love so dearly.
The Republican base, particularly die-hard Trump supporters, are the worst our country has to offer. They are the lowest common denominator; fruit hanging so close to the ground it can be easily snagged up and eaten by the GOP elite. Those people represent a huge piece of the American voting puzzle. They do not, however, represent every single person who voted for Donald Trump.
That brings us to the subject of this article. How could it possibly be that with our superior intellects and wholesome ideologies that any independent could possibly be persuaded by our inferiors to vote against the best interests of themselves and their country? That’s not so hard to understand if you step outside the box and think about that statement. People in the middle of our battle against evil may find the right to be as ridiculous as we do…and yet many may feel the same way about us.
The issue here isn’t that we’re arrogant, intolerant know-it-alls who refuse to bend on anything or see anyone else’s point of view as valid, the issue is we look like arrogant, intolerant know-it-alls who refuse to bend on anything or see anyone else’s point of view as valid. That may seem harsh, but our political world is the epitome of the word…so maybe harsh is exactly what we need.
Before I go into examples, please remember that I am not nor will I ever defend the radical right-wing views of the people we fight with day in and day out. What I’m talking about here are typical American independents who only follow politics when they feel they are directly affected. It’s almost impossible for us to consider that there are people who aren’t completely polarized, but they not only exist, they decide elections.
The first and most important thing far too many liberals show intolerance towards is Christianity. We tend to take our contempt for Christian extremism out on anyone who follows the religion at all. We ridicule people who send “thoughts and prayers” after a tragedy and call God things like “Sky Daddy.” We forget that faith isn’t always something used as a front for hate and intolerance. In doing so, we alienate people who hold many of our same beliefs and have since Sunday school.
On the other hand, we show absolute tolerance for a religion that is currently the most dangerous on the planet. Yes, I completely understand why President Obama and the State Department refrained from saying “radical Islam,” but does that really mean we have to pretend there is no danger at all? We’re at war with terrorism, not Islam, but those terrorist are who they are because they follow a twisted version of that religion.
So…we admonish Christians because the right-wingers use a twisted version of that religion to justify hate, all the while defending all Muslims and denying that they are an inherent danger to our society. What if, and sure this may sound crazy, but what if we showed the same tolerance for the peace-loving versions of all religions and admitted that while right-wing extremists are the worst of their kind, they don’t represent their entire religion?
Sounds like a familiar argument doesn’t it?
It’s tough to consider that . . .