Later On

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Archive for the ‘Memes’ Category

Just how racist is the MAGA movement? This survey measures it.

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Jennifer Rubin has an interesting column (gift link, no paywall) in the Washington Post:

It has long been understood that the MAGA movement is heavily dependent on White grievance and straight-up racism. (Hence Donald Trump’s refusal to disavow racist groups and his statement that there were “very fine people on both sides” in the violent clashes at the white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville.)

Now, we have numbers to prove it.

The connection between racism and the right-wing movement is apparent in a new poll from the Public Religion Research Institute. The survey asked respondents about 11 statements designed to probe views on racism. For example: “White Americans today are not responsible for discrimination against Black people in the past.” The pollsters then used their answers to quantify a “structural racism index,” which provides a general score from zero to 1 measuring a person’s attitudes on “white supremacy and racial inequality, the impact of discrimination on African American economic mobility, the treatment of African Americans in the criminal justice system, general perceptions of race, and whether racism is still significant problem today.” Higher scores indicate a more receptive attitude to racist beliefs.

The results shouldn’t surprise anyone paying attention to the MAGA crowd’s rhetoric and veneration of the Confederacy. “Among all Americans, the median value on the structural racism index is 0.45, near the center of the scale,” the poll found. “The median score on the structural racism index for Republicans is 0.67, compared with 0.45 for independents and 0.27 for Democrats.” Put differently, Republicans are much more likely to buy into the notion that Whites are victims.

The poll also found that the religious group that makes up the core of today’s GOP and MAGA movement has the highest structural racism measure among the demographics it surveyed: “White evangelical Protestants have the highest median score, at 0.64, while Latter-day Saints, white Catholics, and white mainline Protestants each have a median of 0.55. By contrast, religiously unaffiliated white Americans score 0.33.” This is true even though Whites report far less discrimination toward them than racial minorities do.

The survey also captured just how popular the “Lost Cause” to rewrite the history of the Civil War and downplay or ignore the evil of slavery is on the right: “Republicans overwhelmingly back efforts to preserve the legacy of the Confederacy (85%), compared with less than half of independents (46%) and only one in four Democrats (26%). The contrast between white Republicans and white Democrats is stark. Nearly nine in 10 white Republicans (87%), compared with 23% of white Democrats, support efforts to preserve the legacy of the Confederacy.”

Americans who fully support reforming Confederate monuments have a much lower structural racism index score, while those who oppose it have a much higher score. The same is true when it comes to

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

29 September 2022 at 1:13 pm

Mental Health Is Political

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Dr. Danielle Carr, assistant professor at the Institute for Society and Genetics at U.C.L.A., writes in the NY Times:

What if the cure for our current mental health crisis is not more mental health care?

The mental health toll of the Covid-19 pandemic has been the subject of extensive commentary in the United States, much of it focused on the sharp increase in demand for mental health services now swamping the nation’s health care capacities. The resulting difficulty in accessing care has been invoked widely as justification for a variety of proposed solutions, such as the profit-driven growth of digital health and teletherapy start-ups and a new mental health plan that the Biden administration unveiled earlier this year.

But are we really in a mental health crisis? A crisis that affects mental health is not the same thing as a crisis of mental health. To be sure, symptoms of crisis abound. But in order to come up with effective solutions, we first have to ask: a crisis of what?

Some social scientists have a term — “reification” — for the process by which the effects of a political arrangement of power and resources start to seem like objective, inevitable facts about the world. Reification swaps out a political problem for a scientific or technical one; it’s how, for example, the effects of unregulated tech oligopolies become “social media addiction,” how climate catastrophe caused by corporate greed becomes a “heat wave” — and, by the way, how the effect of struggles between labor and corporations combines with high energy prices to become “inflation.” Examples are not scarce.

For people in power, the reification sleight of hand is very useful because it conveniently abracadabras questions like “Who caused this thing?” and “Who benefits?” out of sight. Instead, these symptoms of political struggle and social crisis begin to seem like problems with clear, objective technical solutions — problems best solved by trained experts. In medicine, examples of reification are so abundant that sociologists have a special term for it: “medicalization,” or the process by which something gets framed as primarily a medical problem. Medicalization shifts the terms in which we try to figure out what caused a problem, and what can be done to fix it. Often, it puts the focus on the individual as a biological body, at the expense of factoring in systemic and infrastructural conditions.

Once we begin to ask questions about medicalization, the entire framing of the mental health toll of the Covid crisis — an “epidemic” of mental illness, as various publications have called it, rather than a political crisis with medical effects — begins to seem inadequate.

Of course, nobody can deny that there has been an increase in mental and emotional distress. To take two of the most common diagnoses, a study published in 2021 in The Lancet estimated that the pandemic had caused an additional 53.2 million cases of major depressive disorder and 76.2 million cases of anxiety disorder globally.

Let’s think about this. The fact that incidences of psychological distress have increased in the face of objectively distressing circumstances is hardly surprising. As a coalition of 18 prominent mental health scholars wrote in a 2020 paper in The Lancet: “Predictions of a ‘tsunami’ of mental health problems as a consequence of [Covid] and the lockdown are overstated; feelings of anxiety and sadness are entirely normal reactions to difficult circumstances, not symptoms of poor mental health.”

Things get even less surprising when you look more closely at the data: If you bracket the (entirely predictable) spike in psychological distress among health care workers (a fact that itself only reinforces the idea that the major causal vectors in play here are structural), the most relevant predictors of mental health are indexes of economic security. Of course, it’s not simply a question of the numbers on your bank statement — although that is a major predictor of outcomes — but of whether you live in a society where the social fabric has been destroyed.

Before we go further, let me be clear about what I am not arguing. I am not arguing that mental illnesses are fake, or somehow nonbiological. Pointing out the medicalization of social and political problems does not mean denying that such problems produce real biological conditions; it means asking serious questions about what is causing those conditions. If someone is driving through a crowd, running people over, the smart move is not to declare an epidemic of people suffering from Got Run Over by a Car Syndrome and go searching for the underlying biological mechanism that must be causing it. You have to treat the very real suffering that is happening in the bodies of the people affected, obviously, but the key point is this: You’re going to have to stop the guy running over people with the car.

This principle is what some health researchers mean by the idea that there are social determinants of health — that effective long-term solutions for many medicalized problems require nonmedical — this is to say, political — means. We all readily acknowledge that for diseases like diabetes and hypertension — diseases with a very clear biological basis — an individual’s body is only part of the causal reality of the disease. Treating the root cause of the “epidemic” of diabetes effectively, for example, would happen at the level of serious infrastructural changes to the available diet and activity levels of a population, not by slinging medications or pouring funding into clinics that help people make better choices in supermarkets filled with unregulated, unhealthy food. You’ve got to stop the guy running over people with the car.

But if the public health consensus around diabetes has shifted somewhat in response to what we know, it’s been remarkably hard to achieve the same when it comes to mental health.

Psychiatric sciences have long acknowledged the fact that stress is causally implicated in an enormous range of mental disorders, referring to the “stress-diathesis model” of mental illness. That model incorporates the well-documented fact that chronic stressors (like poverty, political violence and discrimination) intensify the chance that an individual will develop a given diagnosis, from depression to schizophrenia.

The causal relationship may be even more direct. Remarkably, all throughout decades of research on mood disorders, scientists doing . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

25 September 2022 at 8:11 pm

The Real Threat to American Democracy | NYT Opinion – Johnny Harris

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23 September 2022 at 5:16 pm

In Hasidic Enclaves, Failing Private Schools Are Flush With Public Money

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Hasidic schools seem to have embraced a deliberate strategy of using “education” to keep students ignorant to protect the power of their established religion. The report (gift link, no paywall) is by Eliza Shapiro and Brian M. Rosenthal, with photographs by Jonah Markowitz, and appears in the NY Times

The Hasidic Jewish community has long operated one of New York’s largest private schools on its own terms, resisting any outside scrutiny of how its students are faring.

But in 2019, the school, the Central United Talmudical Academy, agreed to give state standardized tests in reading and math to more than 1,000 students.

Every one of them failed.

Students at nearly a dozen other schools run by the Hasidic community recorded similarly dismal outcomes that year, a pattern that under ordinary circumstances would signal an education system in crisis. But where other schools might be struggling because of underfunding or mismanagement, these schools are different. They are failing by design.

The leaders of New York’s Hasidic community have built scores of private schools to educate children in Jewish law, prayer and tradition — and to wall them off from the secular world. Offering little English and math, and virtually no science or history, they drill students relentlessly, sometimes brutally, during hours of religious lessons conducted in Yiddish.

The result, a New York Times investigation has found, is that generations of children have been systematically denied a basic education, trapping many of them in a cycle of joblessness and dependency.

Segregated by gender, the Hasidic system fails most starkly in its more than 100 schools for boys. Spread across Brooklyn and the lower Hudson Valley, the schools turn out thousands of students each year who are unprepared to navigate the outside world, helping to push poverty rates in Hasidic neighborhoods to some of the highest in New York.

The schools appear to be operating in violation of state laws that guarantee children an adequate education. Even so, The Times found, the Hasidic boys’ schools have found ways of tapping into enormous sums of government money, collecting more than $1 billion in the past four years alone.

Warned about the problems over the years, city and state officials have avoided taking action, bowing to the influence of Hasidic leaders who push their followers to vote as a bloc and have made safeguarding the schools their top political priority.

“I don’t know how to put into words how frustrating it is,” said Moishy Klein, who recently left the community after realizing it had not taught him basic grammar, let alone the skills needed to find a decent job. “I thought, ‘It’s crazy that I’m literally not learning anything. It’s crazy that I’m 20 years old, I don’t know any higher order math, never learned any science.’”

To examine the Hasidic schools, The Times reviewed thousands of pages of public records, translated dozens of Yiddish-language documents and interviewed more than 275 people, including current and former students, teachers, administrators and regulators.

The review provided a rare look inside a group of schools that is keeping some 50,000 boys from learning a broad array of secular subjects.

The students in the boys’ schools are not simply falling behind. They are suffering from levels of educational deprivation not seen anywhere else in New York, The Times found. Only nine schools in the state had less than 1 percent of students testing at grade level in 2019, the last year for which full data was available. All of them were Hasidic boys’ schools. . .

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall) 

The deliberate de-educating of children strikes me as criminal, a plan devised by fanatical radical zealotry such as we see also in the Taliban and certain Evangelical Christian organizations. We also an abject abdication of responsibility and repudiation of duty by the officials who the state empowered to ensure that children receive a good education. Failure abounds in this situation.

Written by Leisureguy

12 September 2022 at 11:17 am

The Illusion of Truth

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Why Trump repeats his lies so often (and why Republicans follow along).

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10 September 2022 at 5:25 pm

What slavery and racism have to do with American gun ownership

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Maya Srikrishnan writes in the Center for Public Integrity Watchdog:

Gun politics in the U.S. are inextricably linked to race.

Two recent studies have found more evidence that for many white Americans who advocate for gun rights, it isn’t simply about owning and using a tool, but even more about identity and power.

One of the research papers found that the larger the percentage of enslaved people a U.S. county had in 1860, the higher the rate of gun ownership its residents have today.

The second found that white Americans who express high levels of anti-Black sentiments associate gun rights with white people and gun control with Black people, and they are less likely to support gun rights if they believe Black people are exercising those rights more than they are.

“I started thinking about what about race and racism might be particularly important when thinking about gun rights,” said Gerald Higginbotham, a University of Virginia researcher who was the lead author of the second study. “Because in mainstream conversation it isn’t necessarily framed in the terms of race, even though it is much talked about at least in Black communities that I’m a part of.”

Nick Buttrick at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, lead author of the study that found a significant relationship between enslavement rates and modern-day gun ownership, said he had long wondered why the U.S. has a different relationship with guns than most other places in the world.

“In the U.S., the dominant way of thinking of what a gun does is it protects you,” Buttrick said.

Surveys have shown that two-thirds of gun-owning Americans say it’s a way to stay safe, while people in other countries are more likely to believe the presence of a gun adds risk and danger to their lives.

“Why is it that Americans think guns will keep them safe?” Buttrick said. “What is the history of this?”

Two things stood out to Buttrick and his colleagues. Chattel slavery was different here than in other countries. So was the exit from slavery, called Reconstruction in the U.S.

Reconstruction was a time of instability and extreme violence in the South, when whites saw the destruction of the antebellum norms they knew. The chaos and distrust of the government bred an environment where they turned to guns to maintain order, Buttrick said.

He and his co-author found rates of enslavement prior to the Civil War from Census data. They then used a common proxy to determine current gun ownership levels in counties — a figure that isn’t tracked by the U.S. government — by looking at suicides by firearms.

That’s how they found the link between  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

9 September 2022 at 12:23 pm

Men have fewer friends than ever, and it’s harming their health

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Subtitled: “The “male friendship recession” is having dire consequences.” In Vox Aubrey Hirsch has an excellent graphic overview of the friendship desert in which most men dwell and the damage that they suffer as a result. Well worth reading. Here’s one panel as an example:

Written by Leisureguy

6 September 2022 at 6:54 pm

Libertarians on the loose in New Hampshire

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Libertarians strike me as hopelessly naïve and determined to ignore the times Libertarian has been tried — and failed. Some examples:

Von Ormy, TX
Sears corporation
Colorado Springs CO
Grafton NH

The last example is particularly relevant because, even with a failure right at hand, New Hampshire is still home to a network of Libertarians determined to throw off the yoke of democracy (“a soft form of communism”) and install … what?

Libertarians, it strikes me, use blind logic. That is, they follow their logic regardless of what experience has shown. But, as Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., pointed out, “The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience.” Mere logic is too thin until and unless it is leavened by experience. Libertarians ignore experience. They are logic-proud.

Brian MacQuarrie has an interesting article in the Boston Globe (no paywall) on the New Hampshire effort:

MANCHESTER, N.H. — The doormat outside Carla Gericke’s house carries the warning “Come back with a warrant.” It’s a stark reflection of her broad distrust of government bureaucracy, an attitude that is the driving force behind the Free State movement, which has led thousands of like-minded people to move to New Hampshire on a quixotic quest — to build a libertarian utopia.

Gericke helps lead that movement, and her agenda is broad and unapologetically radical. More than 6,000 people have relocated to New Hampshire since the effort was launched 21 years ago, according to its organizers. And while some dispute that claim, legislators on both sides of the aisle in Concord agree that Free Staters have come to wield outsize political influence.

Inside her home, Gericke explained why an independent New Hampshire is a good idea, why its public schools are hopelessly broken, why Washington, D.C., is pervasively corrupt, and why Free Staters who believe big government is the enemy of personal freedom are determined to turn society upside down.

“I’m a problem-solver, I’m a solutionist, I am an innovator, I’m a visionary,” said Gericke, a former corporate attorney who moved to New Hampshire from New York in 2008 as part of the Free State movement. “I want to take a swing at making one place better, and this is the place I picked.”

But where Gericke and other “porcupines” — a nickname Free Staters have adopted — see a blueprint for shrinking government and protecting the rights to privacy and private property, critics see a back-door assault on democracy itself.

Their end game, detractors say, is to infiltrate New Hampshire government at all levels — from select boards to the State House — with the aim of dismantling it. State support for public schools is a priority target.

“Their whole mission is to take over state government and to use the threat of secession as leverage” against the federal government, said Zandra Rice Hawkins, executive director of Granite State Progress, a progressive advocacy group.

Jeremy Kauffman, a Free State Project board member, describes democracy itself as a threat.
“Democracy is a soft form of communism that basically assures bad and dangerous people will be in power,” Kauffman said by e-mail. The Manchester resident, a tech entrepreneur, is running for US Senate as a Libertarian.

The movement began with a 2001 essay by Jason Sorens, then a Yale graduate student and now director of the Center for Ethics in Society at St. Anselm College in Manchester. The goal was at once simple and sweeping: attract 20,000 libertarians to a single state with a small population, get elected to public office, concentrate power, and enact change from the inside out.

In 2003, Free Staters chose New Hampshire, with its deep vein of conservatism and “Live Free or Die” motto, as their prospective homeland, and more than 19,000 people have since signed a pledge to move to the state, organizers said. Only a third of that number are estimated to have relocated so far, but Sorens said they have made a major impact.

“There’s been the emergence of a significant group of libertarian legislators, and some of them are in leadership” in Concord, the state capital, Sorens said. “I’ve been pleased overall with what we’ve achieved. I may have hoped that we would reach 20,000, but I’m not sure I ever expected we would.”

House majority leader Jason Osborne, for example, . . .

Continue reading. No paywall.

They are ideologues, and ideologues value their ideology more highly than facts or experience. Because their ideology is part of their identity, they cannot see that they can part with it until and unless they experience a paradigm shift (cf. Covey’s Habit 1).

It’s a sad situation that will get worse.

Written by Leisureguy

4 September 2022 at 7:57 am

Peeling Back the Myth of a “White” Midwest

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Britt Havorson and Joshn Reno write in Sapiens:

A DESOLATE WINDSWEPT field, bisected by a two-lane road, fills the television screen. The camera pans over a man’s dusty hat on the seat of a truck, the tip of his cowboy boot, then up to a pair of grain silos, and finally to a tiny clapboard Christian church. A gravelly masculine voice intones, “There’s a chapel in Kansas, standing on the exact center of the lower 48.” Swaying wheat stalks move through the frame, light filtering through their silhouetted branches.

The narrator of this two-minute Jeep ad, which aired to around 96 million viewers during the Super Bowl in February 2021, is none other than singer Bruce Springsteen. With few visual references to Jeep products, the ad is focused instead on reaching across political divides by identifying commonly shared U.S. values. “All are more than welcome to come meet here,” Springsteen says, pausing before adding, “in the middle.”

He continues: “It’s no secret the middle has been a hard place to get to lately, between red and blue, … between our freedom and our fear. Now, fear has never been the best of who we are.”

While Springsteen talks in a solemn, almost reverent tone, more images follow in quick succession: a shiny-coated horse, a waving American flag, a diner. Springsteen himself kneels and lets a handful of soil fall through his fingers as he reminds viewers to remember their “common ground.” A crescendo of fiddle strings sonically closes out the ad, the setting sun again visible across the rural landscape.

There is a lot going on in this ad, pointedly titled “The Middle.” Perhaps most obviously, it communicates an overriding sense of mourning or nostalgia for a certain version of the United States—a tacit understanding of the way things once were and perhaps should be. In some ways, this longing is connected to the real hardships of deindustrialization in the Midwest and beyond. What the commercial does not do, at least not in a direct way, is talk about race. And yet, it is implicitly about white folks—or, better said, about white suffering and white loss.

Our new bookImagining the Heartland, is about the Midwest and its role in shaping white supremacy in U.S. culture. Whiteness, we argue, is often inchoate and hard to recognize—and that’s key to its enduring power. Not only is it a form of identity or a reference to a person’s skin color but also a cultural system of power and resources that many individuals participate in without being fully aware of it. Narratives and practices centering white individuals and families remain dominant precisely because they are so ubiquitous and seem neutral.

Public discussions about Black experiences in the U.S., by contrast, are often framed as inherently political. School book bans have recently surged nationwide, with many targeting titles about Black experiences—from Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give to George M. Johnson’s All Boys Aren’t Blue, among others. As part of a broader wave of book bans and removals motivated by issues of race, gender, and sexuality, proponents of banning often use coded claims that censored titles contain “divisive” or “controversial” material, particularly if they deal with race and racism.

Meanwhile, the implications of banal cultural messaging like the Jeep ad often go unnoticed. While the ad did draw some criticism, it failed to spark widespread public conversation about race and white supremacy back in 2021, even though it was shot and aired just weeks after the January 6 insurrection. That’s because U.S. Midwestern tropes—verdant fields, small towns, flat terrain—have long been associated with whiteness and the traits that supposedly represent the best of America: white virtue and hard work, as well as white self-governance and practical reason.

Among other things, white loss and white nostalgia are central but less publicly discussed dimensions of so-called replacement theory. This racist fantasy foretells of a future U.S., supposedly deliberately engineered by (usually Jewish) elites, when white people will no longer be a numerical majority. Replacement theory relies not just on fear of “others” but on imagining an ideal community, self, and world in peril.

Replacement theory moves people, at least in part, by producing an emotional state of longing: a desire for a particular way of life, one that seems worthy of protecting and fighting for. This longing incites a select few—such as the recent mass shooter who targeted Black shoppers at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York—to extreme violence.

As we see in the Jeep ad, the desire for such a mythical past is tied not only to whiteness but also, even more explicitly, to . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

26 August 2022 at 3:10 pm

So where is the number designated by “1”?

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The comic strip at the left ponders a well-worn question: Is the subject of mathematics real? or not? Or, to put it another way, are mathematical entities discovered? or invented?

My view is that mathematics has a kind of intermediate reality. The reality of mathematics, unlike, say, the reality of the Moon, is restricted to human culture. Within human culture, the number one is real, but if there were no humans, there would be no number one.

In other words, math is as real as a human language. Sounds exist within nature, and humans can make complex sounds, but language — those sounds together with their meaning — exists only insofar as there are people who understand the meaning of sounds. The meaning is not “out there” — where the sounds are, in the vibration of air — but “in here,” where the brain extracts the meaning conveyed. 

The meaning clearly exists in a sense, and indeed has consequences “out there” in the “real” world — the Industrial Revolution and the consequences (such as the climate change we now are experiencing) wold not have occurred without language. But once all those who understand some language are gone, the language is no more. There may be carvings in rocks or marks on vellum, but the meaning of those is absent, so the incisions and marks no long longer are language but just physical things, bereft of the meaning they once conveyed.

(For that matter, sound is not “out there.” What’s “out there” are vibrations in the air. Sound is the way our brain interprets air vibrations that have been fed to it as electrical impulses from the motion of tiny hairs in the liquid contained in the cochleae of our ears. Until that transition is made, there is no sound, only air vibrations. Thus a tree falling in a remote forest with no animals nearby will produce air vibrations but not sounds, because there’s no one to translate air vibrations to brain signals.)

So a sheep on a hillside is not “one” sheep unless it is observed by a person who has learned the human idea (the meme) of counting, and only such a person might observe that there are “zero” horses and “zero” cows on the hillside.

Math, like language, like music, like fashion, and like religion, is a cultural construct, a set of memes. Math has the reality of memes (as does, say Don Quixote or unicorns) but it is “in here,” not “out there.”  And even “in here” there are problems, as Kurt Gödel pointed out.  

And yet, consider this poem by Clarence R. Wylie Jr.:


Not truth, nor certainty. These I forswore

In my novitiate, as young men called

To holy orders must abjure the world.

‘If…,then…,’ this only I assert;

And my successes are but pretty chains

Linking twin doubts, for it is vain to ask

If what I postulate be justified,

Or what I prove possess the stamp of fact.

Yet bridges stand, and men no longer crawl

In two dimension. And such triumphs stem

In no small measure from the power this game,

Played with the thrice-attentuated shades

Of things, has over their originals.

How frail the wand, but how profound the spell!

Written by Leisureguy

25 August 2022 at 11:32 am

Bacon & God’s Wrath

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Written by Leisureguy

23 August 2022 at 2:33 pm

Historical prevalence of slavery predicts contemporary American gun ownership

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Nicholas Buttrick and Jessica Mazen authored an interesting study published in PNAS Nexus, Volume 1, Issue 3, July 2022. The abstract:

American gun-owners, uniquely, view firearms as a means of keeping themselves safe from dangers both physical and psychological. We root this belief in the experience of White Southerners during Reconstruction—a moment when a massive upsurge in the availability of firearms co-occurred with a worldview threat from the emancipation and the political empowerment of Black Southerners. We show that the belief-complex formed in this historical moment shapes contemporary gun culture: The prevalence of slavery in a Southern county (measured in 1860) predicts the frequency of firearms in the present day. This relationship holds above and beyond a number of potential covariates, including contemporary crime rates, police spending, degree of racial segregation and inequality, socioeconomic conditions, and voting patterns in the 2016 Presidential election; and is partially mediated by the frequency of people in the county reporting that they generally do not feel safe. This Southern origin of gun culture may help to explain why we find that worries about safety do not predict county-level gun ownership outside of historically slave-owning counties, and why we find that social connection to historically slaveholding counties predicts county-level gun ownership, even outside of the South.

It’s interesting how cultural learning can persist for generations. Their significance statement:

We suggest that the distinctly American belief that guns keep a person safe was partially formed in the backlash to Reconstruction after the American Civil War—a moment when a massive increase in the availability of firearms coincided with a destabilization of White politics in response to the emancipation and empowerment of Black Americans. We show that the historical prevalence of enslavement in a county predicts present-day frequency of firearms, and we show that the relationship between feeling unsafe and county-level firearms ownership is stronger in counties with a history of enslavement. Looking outside the South, we further show that social connection to historically slaveholding counties predicts firearm ownership.

The paper itself begins:


Over 45% of all the civilian-owned weapons in the world are owned by the 5% of the world population that is American (1). Firearm-owners in America are distinct in how they think about their weapons: Over two-thirds report that they own a gun, at least in part, to keep themselves safe (2). Despite these beliefs, studies show that gun ownership doubles the likelihood that someone in the household will die in a violent homicide and triples the likelihood of a death by violent suicide (3), while offering little-to-no protection against assailants (4). These risks are understood by citizens of comparable nations, where people are more likely to think of firearms as dangerous than as safe (56).

Why do so many Americans look to their firearms for safety? According to the Coping Model of Protective Gun Ownership, gun-owners use guns symbolically as an aid to manage psychological threats stemming from their belief that the world is a dangerous place from which society will not protect them (78). American gun-owners are more likely than non-gun-owners to believe that the world is dangerous (9) and that institutions of order, such as government or police, are unable or unwilling to keep them safe (10). These beliefs trigger worries in gun owners concerning their fundamental needs, including their safety (11), their control and self-efficacy (12), and their place in society (13). Guns, in turn, become more salient to owners when core identities are threatened (14). Gun owners use their weapons to defend against all these meaning-threats (15), with owners more likely to believe that a gun keeps them safe (2), keeps them in control (16), and keeps them belonging to important social groups (17).

Where does this culturally unique belief that guns can be an effective coping mechanism come from? The belief that guns keep one safe was not widespread in the American antebellum era, where guns were more often viewed as tools (18). We argue that this changed during the Civil War. The end of the war and the demobilization of over half a million men, with their guns, left America as one of the most heavily armed societies in the world (19). With the destruction of the Southern economy after the war, these guns took on an important role. A contemporaneous estimate, for example, suggested that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 August 2022 at 2:19 pm

The river Loire is NOT in fact running dry

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I shared on Facebook a post that I also blogged, and I just got a Facebook fact-check that showed the information I shared was in fact misinformation. From that link:

Did the Loire River, the longest in France, run dry for the first time in at least 2,000 years due to an unprecedented drought in southwestern Europe? No, that’s not true: The Loire River did not run dry, nor did it fall to a record low flow rate. This photo shows a branch of the Loire that dries up when the water level falls. This fact check is intended to add context about the path of the river and the supplemental water from the reservoirs.

It is true that the river’s flow rate was extremely low, and at its lowest since dams had been installed in the 1980s. Drought conditions did require some crisis measures to conserve water in mid-August. The riverbed is engineered to contain the flow to one main channel. The Loire splits and flows to either side of an island, “île Batailleuse.” The trees visible on the right side of the photo are on the island. The road connecting the former communes of Varades on the north side of the river and Saint-Florent-le-Vieil to the south crosses the island by way of two bridges. The second bridge, not visible in this photo, spans the narrow but navigable portion of the Loire River hidden by the trees.

A series of photos of the Loire riverbed by press photographer @DubrayFranck was posted to Twitter on August 9, 2022, by the newspaper Ouest-France. One Twitter post featuring just one of the photos began to get attention online around August 10, 2022. An August 14, 2022, Facebook post with a caption that claimed “nowhere in the past 2000 years has the Loire run dry” was shared over 30,000 times. That post was updated on August 20, 2022, to include some additional links and context.

Apologies to my readers. I shall be more careful in the future, particularly with quoting things from Facebook. I do applaud Facebook for the correction.

Written by Leisureguy

23 August 2022 at 2:55 am

The Only Woman in the Room

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Jessica Bennet posts on Wait, Really?:

It’s what’s known as the “Smurfette Principle” – the idea that, in works of art, but also in real life, there is often exactly one woman amongst an ensemble of men, despite the fact that women make up half the human race. The original Smurfette was the lone female in the comic book series (and, later, TV series) The Smurfs, who – amongst her little blue creature friends, each named according to an occupation or personal quality, such as “Carpenter Smurf” or “Fireman Smurf” was simply… the girl.

The reality of being a smurfette in real life is significant; research shows that it requires a certain number of women (about a third) to have an impact on a majority-male space – what’s called the point of “critical mass.” Without it, women speak up less, they have less influence, and people tend to think that because she’s speaking as a woman that she’s speaking on behalf of all women. No pressure, right?

In her new photo book, The Only Woman, the author Immy Humes gets at this idea through historical photos of lone women who have persisted throughout history: Politicians, athletes, artists, scientists, and even some criminals, all of them in a sea of men. A documentary filmmaker by trade, Humes didn’t set out to make a photo book. But she kept stumbling across these photos in her work (or her procrastination). “I felt like I was playing Where’s Waldo – or rather, Walda,” Humes writes. And yet, “Once you start to look for the Only Woman, she is easy to find.”

There is fascinating history behind the women she chosen to feature, many of whom I’d never heard of. Like Lucille Kallen, a comedy writer in 1950s New York, who once said she had to “stand up on the couch and wave a red kerchief” to get her male colleagues’ attention. Or the 1930s stickup artist Virginia Right – a “blonde gungirl,” as the New York Daily News dubbed her – pictured in a glamorous fur coat in her mug shot alongside 10 men.

There are women who were the “first” to do something, such as Jeannette Rankin, the first U.S. Congresswoman, pictured in a skinny black and white photo among hundreds of men. There are those whose jobs had simply brought them there (nurse, cook, servant, actress); those elevated by a husband or father (Benazir Bhutto, the former Prime Minister of Pakistan, for instance, was stepping into the family business) and those who, like the Smurfette, might have been perceived as tokens.

There are 100 photos in all, spanning 1862 to 2020. Here are five of them….

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 August 2022 at 11:37 am

The Psychiatrist Who Warned Us That Donald Trump Would Unleash Violence Was Absolutely Right

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Joshua Kendall writes in Mother Jones:

On the afternoon of February 1, 2016, as Iowa voters prepared for that evening’s caucuses, Bandy Lee sat by the bedside of her mother, who was terminally ill with cancer. An assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at Yale, Lee had been too preoccupied with her mother’s condition to pay attention to the nascent presidential race, so she was taken aback when she saw footage of a Donald Trump rally airing on the hospital room’s small TV. What shocked her was the way Trump interacted with the crowd. “He said something about how his supporters should knock the crap out of hecklers,” she recalls, “and that if they did, he would pay their legal bills.”

His belligerent behavior meant more to Lee than it might to a casual viewer. As part of her clinical work in prison settings, she had evaluated and treated hundreds of violent offenders, including leaders of prison gangs. A native New Yorker, she had assumed that Trump “was just a shady businessman,” Lee told me, but “I suddenly realized that he had a lot in common” with those patients. “Trump was engaging in the predatory manipulation of his vulnerable followers.” In some cases, gang leaders might “ask their members to engage in violence and then issue bogus promises of protection. Like Trump, these leaders also often project extreme self-confidence, and that appeals to their followers, who tend to feel a deep emotional need for protection, connection, and identity.”

Fast forward to November 9, 2016, the day after the election. Lee’s friends and colleagues were bombarding her with calls and emails. Would Trump’s victory herald an increase in hate crimes? “You are a violence expert,” one implored. “Can you do something?”

She decided to jump into the fray, organizing an academic conference that took place in New Haven the following April. Titled “Does Professional Responsibility Include a Duty to Warn?” the meeting featured a handful of prominent psychiatrists, including Robert Jay Lifton, author of The Nazi Doctors (1986), who addressed Trump’s mental state and the risks they believed it posed to the health and safety of Americans. Their consensus was, as Lifton put it, that psychiatric professionals had a compelling ethical duty to “bring our experience and knowledge to bear on what threatens us and what might renew us.” The event was initially sponsored by Yale’s schools of public health, medicine, and nursing, but Lee ended up running it independently to avoid the perception of “politicization.”

On the day of the conference, when only two dozen people filed into the 450-seat auditorium, the speakers—who also included clinical psychiatry professor Judith Herman from Harvard Medical School, and New York University psychiatrist James Gilligan, who also specializes in violent behavior—were “disappointed,” Lee says. “We assumed that our effort was a failure until we saw the press coverage, which included write-ups in news outlets in [many] different countries.” She proceeded to solicit papers on Trump’s potential for violence from a couple dozen other mental health experts and published the entire collection that fall. The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump was a surprise bestseller, hailed by the Washington Post as “the most daring book” of 2017.

Shortly after the book came out, leaders of the American Psychiatric Association began publicly attacking Lee, arguing she was acting irresponsibly. Her alleged offense was violating the 1973 Goldwater Rule, an APA guideline stating that “it is unethical for a psychiatrist to offer a professional opinion” of anyone without conducting a personal examination and getting proper approval.

The rule was the APA’s response to a 1966 lawsuit by Barry Goldwater, the late Arizona senator and presidential candidate. Goldwater had successfully sued Fact magazine, which, shortly before the 1964 general election, ran a piece in which dozens of leading psychiatrists offered crude armchair assessments of the state of Goldwater’s psyche. “His impulsive, impetuous behavior…reflects an emotionally immature, unstable personality,” wrote one doctor, who went on to cite Goldwater’s “inability to dissociate himself from vituperative, sick extremists.” (While the archconservative’s fiery campaign speeches were startling to many Americans at the time, they now seem relatively tame compared with Trump’s.)

This was the heyday of classical Freudianism, and most of the Fact magazine commentary was rooted in theoretical mumbo jumbo rather than empirical facts. One psychiatrist declared that the “core of [Goldwater’s] paranoid personality is…his anality and latent homosexuality.” The legacy of these off-the-cuff evaluations is a primary reason that today’s APA leaders were so eager to quash Lee’s Trump commentary.

“Anything a psychiatrist says without examining a patient is likely to be inaccurate, so it can harm the public figure,” says Paul Appelbaum, a Columbia University professor who has served as the APA’s president. Appelbaum is also concerned that diagnosing people from a distance casts the profession in a negative light: “These seemingly cavalier and politically motivated public statements can prevent people from getting the psychiatric care that they need.”

And yet Lee’s Cassandra-like warnings turned out to be remarkably prescient. On the morning of the insurrection, as former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson revealed in sworn testimony to the January 6 committee, Trump had no compunction about unleashing armed loyalists on the Capitol, and was furious when told he could not accompany them. Two days later, as Bob Woodward and Robert Costa reported in their book, Peril, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi seemed to channel Lee when she told General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “This unhinged president could not be more dangerous. And we must do everything we can to protect the American people from his unbalanced assault on our country.”

We also know from January 6 testimony that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

18 August 2022 at 4:28 pm

The Swedish philosophy of lagom: how “just enough” is all you need (a lesson often learned the hard way)

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Jonny Thomson writes in Big Think:

The night is going well. Everyone is laughing, and there is a happy energy in the air. The conversation flows easily and you’re the merry, relaxed kind of drunk. Then Josh swaggers over with a tray of something. Then you see what it is. Oh no.

“Time to do shots!” he shouts. You’re not sure, and you see others aren’t too keen either. But you don’t want to be a spoilsport. A grimace and a cough later, and the night changes. You feel sick, the room is spinning, and within a few minutes, everyone is too drunk to talk.

There comes a point when a thing becomes too much. If you’re not the outgoing, drinking sort, you could replace the opening example with something else. It might be at the end of the meal when that final slice of pizza turns you from “comfortably full” to “ergh”; when the car karaoke goes from being huge fun to a throat aching chore; or when that Tarantino movie you’re liking so far still has another two hours to go. Anything in excess becomes miserable, even the good things in life.

The fact that humans have unquenchable thirst and insatiable appetites is not new wisdom. It’s found in early Vedic texts, in Ancient Greece, and in most of the world’s religions today (most starkly in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism). But in the Swedish idea of lagom (lah-gomm), it has been given fresh life.

It’s an idea that might change how you see your life.

Just the right amount

Lagom translates as “just the right amount.” It means knowing when enough is enough, and trying to find balance and moderation rather than constantly grasping for more. Lagom is that feeling of contentment we all get when we have all that we need to make us comfortable. It’s neither a millionaire’s splurge in Vegas, nor a pauper’s cold winter night. It means having a roof over your head, food in your belly, friends at your back, and money — just enough money — in your pockets. If Goldilocks had a catchphrase, it would be “let’s lagom this bear house.”

There are two separate strands to lagom. The first is a kind of social awareness that recognizes that what we do affects other people. In this, we might see lagom more as a kind of “fair use” policy. If you take three cookies from the plate, two other people aren’t going to get one. If you hoard and grab everything you can, elbowing and cursing your way to the front of the line, then at best, that makes you a bit of an ass. At worst, it leaves others in ruin.

The second strand, however, is a mental shift that . . .

Continue reading.

The article has a link to a “fulfillment wheel.” Here is such a wheel. (See this post for explanation.)

Written by Leisureguy

18 August 2022 at 10:09 am

How Was Abortion Understood Historically?

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Nautilus‘s newsletter today had a one-question interview by Brandon Keim:

One question for Claudia Ford, an herbalist and midwife turned environmental historian at SUNY Potsdam whose Ph.D. dissertation examines the use of plants for reproductive health by women in 18th and 19th century America.

This idea of a fetus as a person is only as recent as this incredible book that came out in the 1960s, A Child Is Born, which was the first time that somebody made high-quality pictures of live fetuses in utero. When that book came out, it really changed things. Until we could actually visualize that, we understood pregnancy and periods and cycles, but not to the extent of naming a fetus as a person.

Going back time, there was no moral restriction against abortion, even in the Catholic church. For many millennia the fetus was not considered an entity until quickening, which is when the mother can feel the fetus move. In the first baby, that’s usually around 16 weeks, and it can be a little earlier in subsequent babies because you know what to feel. But until such time as that movement started to happen, it was not a thing. Even if a woman realized she wasn’t having her menses, and she might know she was pregnant, still there was no association with a fetus.

So terminating a pregnancy was seen more as part of the menstrual cycle, not part of pregnancy. Pregnancy is something that led to labor and childbirth; terminating a pregnancy was part of your menstrual cycle.

At that time, somebody with a uterus is bleeding every month unless something else is going on. And that “unless something else is going on” was pretty big because we didn’t have as much knowledge. If you had a late period, the first thing people would think would not necessarily be pregnancy. They might know that, but they would be thinking “OK, how do I bring on this period?” Not, “How do I not have a baby?”

I know that is semantics. But Dobbs is all about semantics, right? And that’s a really important thing. I think somebody else has said that abortion is not an alternative to having a baby; let’s separate those things. Historically the termination of pregnancy was seen as part of the menstrual cycle. Some women were having periods that were too little; some, too much; some were too painful, too frequently, not frequently enough. There was always a desire: What can I do? Are there some plants that can help me to regulate these cycles so that I can feel healthy? And sometimes that absolutely included, “I’m late. I want my period to come. How can I bring it on?”

There was knowledge that if the period didn’t come, it would lead to a pregnancy. But in those first three months, it wasn’t thought of as, “I’m pregnant, I’m going to stop this.” It was thought of as more, “I haven’t had my period. Do I want my period? Or do I want to see where this is going to go?” I know it sounds like it’s splitting hairs, but it’s a very different perspective.

Written by Leisureguy

16 August 2022 at 8:00 pm

When Parents Tell Kids to ‘Work Hard,’ Do They Send the Wrong Message?

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Michael Blanding writes at the Harvard Business School:

It takes more than grit to succeed in a world rife with systemic inequity. So why don’t we tell children that? Research by Ashley Whillans and colleagues shows how honest talk about social barriers could empower kids to break them down.

“Work hard, and you’ll be successful.”

How often do we tell children that the key to success is putting forth effort? That advice might seem like admirable inspiration to encourage kids to work hard as they pursue their goals. However, new research in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology suggests that those messages may have an unintended consequence, making people believe that someone who isn’t succeeding isn’t bothering to try. And those perceptions can perpetuate inequality in society.

“How do all of these lessons about working hard potentially carry over to our beliefs about other people?” asks Ashley Whillans, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School, who co-authored the study. “If you are learning that effort is the way to achieve success, and you see people who have less, you might assume they didn’t work hard enough—as opposed to recognizing the systems and institutions we know can stand in the way.”

Whillans explored these questions in a trio of studies of parents and children along with Antonya Gonzalez, assistant psychology professor at Western Washington University; and Lucia Macchia, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Public Policy.

The research is particularly relevant, they say, given that many early educators today are focusing on willpower, grit, and a “growth mindset,” teaching kids that intelligence can be grown like a muscle, and that it’s not inherited or predetermined.

“There is such an emphasis now with kids on effort and taking control of your own learning and abilities,” says Gonzalez. “But it’s not possible for everyone to overcome certain challenges.”

The belief that effort is the key to success could also influence people’s perceptions of workers in various jobs, particularly low-wage positions, the researchers say.

“This overemphasis on effort could lead people to believe that workers in low-wage jobs are not deserving of increased pay or better working conditions,” says Whillans, which is an idea that is consistent with some of her ongoing research with HBS doctoral student Elizabeth Johnson.

Studying luck, ability, or effort—with aliens

To test the effects of these messages, the researchers considered three possible explanations for why one person might be more successful than another. The cause might be situational, based on where a person grew up, the family they were born into, or the educational opportunities they had—in other words, luck. It might be individual, based on factors beyond a person’s control, such as raw intelligence or athletic skill—meaning ability. Or it might be individual but based on controllable factors, such as hard work or persistence—in other words, effort.

The researchers conducted an online survey of 200 Americans, presenting them with a fictional story about a planet with two alien species, Blarks and Orps, who differed in their amount of wealth, educational attainment, job status, or hierarchy. Parents were asked to imagine how they might explain a discrepancy in achievement between the two species to their children—attributing it to luck, ability, or effort. They chose to use these study details based on past research to make the study cleanly about inequality as opposed to pre-existing beliefs about certain groups in society.

More respondents, about 41 percent, chose to explain the species with lower achievement levels as . . .

Continue reading.

And see also “The Making of the Self-Made Man” in Current Affairs.

Written by Leisureguy

16 August 2022 at 7:43 pm

The Conscious Universe

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Joe Zadeh wrote in Noéma in November 2021:

London was a crowded city in 1666. The streets were narrow, the air was polluted, and inhabitants lived on top of each other in small wooden houses. That’s why the plague spread so easily, as well as the Great Fire. So did gossip, and the talk of the town was Margaret Cavendish, the Duchess of Newcastle.

Cavendish was a fiery novelist, playwright, philosopher and public figure known for her dramatic manner and controversial beliefs. She made her own dresses and decorated them in ribbons and baubles, and once attended the theater in a topless gown with red paint on her nipples. In his diaries, Samuel Pepys described her as a “mad, conceited, ridiculous woman,” albeit one he was obsessed with: He diarized about her six times in one three-month spell.

The duchess drew public attention because she was a woman with ideas, lots of them, at a time when that was not welcome. Cavendish had grown up during the murderous hysteria of the English witch trials, and her sometimes contradictory proto-feminism was fueled by the belief that there was a parallel to be drawn between the way men treated women and the way men treated animals and nature. “The truth is,” she wrote, “we [women] Live like Bats or Owls, labour like Beasts and die like Worms.”

In 1666, she released “The Blazing World,” a romantic and adventurous fantasy novel (as well as a satire of male intellectualism) in which a woman wanders through a portal at the North Pole and is transported to another world full of multicolored humans and anthropomorphic beasts, where she becomes an empress and builds a utopian society. It is now recognized as one of the first-ever works of science fiction.

But this idea of a blazing world was not just fiction for Cavendish. It was a metaphor for her philosophical theories about the nature of reality. She believed that at a fundamental level, the entire universe was made of just one thing: matter. And that matter wasn’t mostly lifeless and inert, like most of her peers believed, but animate, aware, completely interconnected, at one with the stuff inside us. In essence, she envisioned that it wasn’t just humans that were conscious, but that consciousness, in some form, was present throughout nature, from animals to plants to rocks to atoms. The world, through her eyes, was blazing.

Cavendish was not the only one to have thoughts like these at that time, but they were dangerous thoughts to have. In Amsterdam, the Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza wrote that every physical thing had its own mind, and those minds were at one with God’s mind; his books were banned by the church, he was attacked at knifepoint outside a synagogue, and eventually, he was excommunicated. Twenty-three years before Cavendish was born, the Italian Dominican friar and philosopher, Giordano Bruno — who believed the entire universe was made of a single universal substance that contained spirit or consciousness — was labeled a heretic, gagged, tied to a stake and burned alive in the center of Rome by the agents of the Inquisition. His ashes were dumped in the Tiber.

If the dominant worldview of Christianity and the rising worldview of science could agree on anything, it was that matter was dead: Man was superior to nature. But Cavendish, Spinoza, Bruno, and others had latched onto the coattails of an ancient yet radical idea, one that had been circulating philosophy in the East and West since theories of mind first began. Traces of it can be found in Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Christian mysticism, and the philosophy of ancient Greece, as well as many indigenous belief systems around the world. The idea has many forms and versions, but modern studies of it house them all inside one grand general theory: panpsychism.

Derived from the Greek words pan (“all”) and psyche (“soul” or “mind”), panpsychism is the idea that consciousness — perhaps the most mysterious phenomenon we have yet come across — is not unique to the most complex organisms; it pervades the entire universe and is a fundamental feature of reality. “At a very basic level,” wrote the Canadian philosopher William Seager, “the world is awake.”

Plato and Aristotle had panpsychist beliefs, as did the Stoics. At the turn of the 12th century, the Christian mystic Saint Francis of Assisi was so convinced that everything was conscious that he tried speaking to flowers and preaching to birds. In fact, the history of thought is dotted with very clever people coming to this seemingly irrational conclusion. William James, the father of American psychology, was a panpsychist, as was the celebrated British mathematician Alfred North Whitehead; the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Max Planck once remarked in an interview, “I regard consciousness as fundamental.” Even the great inventor Thomas Edison had some panpsychist views, telling the poet George Parsons Lathrop: “It seems that every atom is possessed by a certain amount of primitive intelligence.”

But over the course of the 20th century, panpsychism came to be seen as absurd and incompatible in mainstream Western science and philosophy, just a reassuring delusion for New Age daydreamers. Karl Popper, one of the most influential philosophers of recent times, described it as “trivial” and “grossly misleading.” Another heavyweight, Ludwig Wittgenstein, waved away the theory: “Such image-mongery is of no interest to us.” As the American philosopher John Searle put it: “Consciousness cannot be spread across the universe like a thin veneer of jam.”

Most philosophers and scientists with panpsychist beliefs kept them quiet for fear of public ridicule. Panpsychism used  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

3 August 2022 at 5:53 pm

How the NRA has blocked gun control in the U.S.

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Written by Leisureguy

2 August 2022 at 10:58 am

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