"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Myth, Fiction, Virtuality, And Legend - Reality Is Not All It Is Cracked Up To Be

Vladimir Nabokov was a self-described memorist, and from a very early age began recording memory.  He precociously understood that the past is far more defining of human existence than the momentary present or the possible future. We are what we were, said Nabokov, and those whose memories are full, vivid, and as complete as possible are themselves more complete.


However, most people are far from accomplished memorists.  In fact recent scientific research has shown that most memory is imagined, influenced by the accounts of others, events subsequent to the initial memory, and simple erosion.

Erika Hayasaki writing in The Atlantic (11.18.13) summarizes the conclusions:
Writers of memoir, history, and journalism yearn for specific details when combing through memories to tell true stories. But such work has always come with the caveat that human memory is fallible. Now, scientists have an idea of just how unreliable it actually can be. New research released this week has found that even people with phenomenal memory are susceptible to having “false memories,” suggesting that “memory distortions are basic and widespread in humans, and it may be unlikely that anyone is immune,” according to the authors of the study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Jill Neimark, writing in Psychology Today (6.9.16) echoes Nabokov in suggesting that ‘memory is the bedrock of the self’, but goes on to agree with Hayasaki that memory is very fallible:
Memory, it turns out, is both far more complex and more primitive than we knew. Ancient parts of the brain can record memory before it even reaches our senses--our sight and hearing, for instance. At the same time, "there are between 200 and 400 billion neurons in the brain and each neuron has about 10,000 connections," notes psychiatrist Daniel Siegel, M.D. "The parallel processing involved in memory is so complex we can't even begin to think how it works."
The one thing that we can say for certain is this: If memory is the bedrock of the self, then even though that self may seem coherent and unchanging, it is built on shifting sands.
So Nabokov’s prized past may be nothing more than a fictionalized composite of imperfectly-recalled experience, the recollection of others, and the additive ‘corrections’ of books, films, and drama.  We are not what we were, but what we think we were.

Our immediate perceptions of the outside world are, according to the latest psychological inquiries, just as fallible.  Eye-witnesses rarely agree on what they see, even though the event seems straightforward and incontrovertible.  Trials are not about getting at the truth but arriving at a semblance of it.

Browning’s The Ring and the Book; Durrell’s The Alexandria Quartet; and Kurosawa’s Rashomon all tell about events seen through the eyes of different observers – all of whom conclude quite differently about what they saw.


Since character and personality are unique, formed by a combination of genes, upbringing, and early experience, everyone views the world differently; and therefore there can be no consensus on ‘reality’.  To co-exist we have developed conventions – streets, sidewalks, trees, and elephants are all what they seem; but each of us transforms them into our own personal vision.

None of this is new.  Philosophers from Aristotle and Plato to Hume, Kant, and Paul Weiss have considered the nature of reality, whether such a thing exists, and how meaning can be derived from what may be fictitious. 

There must be at least one unequivocal truth, we say.  Without some firm foundation, some absolute, commonly-derived and agreed-upon facts, we would all be adrift.  History is nothing but a reassembly of events according to contemporary perceptions.  Archduke Ferdinand may indeed have been assassinated, but the real causes of the First World War are far less clear and depend on the age in which a particular history is written.

Despite the insistence on facts, policies, and positions, political campaigns are all won or lost on the basis of image and perception.  Although this seems to be more true now than ever before, even a cursory look at past campaigns is enough to see that nothing has been changed, only magnified by media.  Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are currently (7.16) spinning their own particular emotional appeals to voters.  Both rely more on creating a vision rather than issue-based policies.  They know that the voting public will vote for them, not their policies.  They know that they must project, invent, or re-invent themselves not on the basis of fact, but feeling.

Myth helps to provide the context for image.  Conservative politicians often run on the basis of America’s legendary past.  Donald Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ evokes an age of frontier justice, independence, enterprise, and heroism – a simpler age when America was uncomplicated and when a great cultural consensus occurred.   There is some truth to the legend, but progressives are quick to criticize most points of valor.  American is based not on unsullied heroism but on greed, venality, territorialism, and racial indifference.  Donald Trump’s America never existed.

Democrats base their appeal on a different myth – that of New Deal and Great Society compassion, equality, and cooperative justice.  Liberalism, they say, has been an essential brake on laissez-faire capitalism, tempering American individualism and enterprise with social values of cooperation, tolerance, and good will.

Conservatives will be quick to say that the human nature evident in human history will never be subject to artificially-constructed government programs to modify it.  Justice, equality, and tolerance come only from economic and social parity, and free enterprise and aggressive capitalism is the only way to assure it.

Every culture has its sustaining myths.  The French still consider themselves la fille aînée de l'Église, the eldest daughter of the Catholic Church, defender of Christianity, valiant conquerors of the Muslims at Roncesvalles, heroic Crusaders liberating Jerusalem.  Conservative politicians are always quick to recall this storied history and stress its relevance to today even though the situation in France and in Europe bears little resemblance to the past.  Yes, there is a threat from radical Islam, but a revisionist revival of the heroic myth of Charlemagne has no relevance whatsoever.

At the same time, given our predisposition to myth, legend, and fiction, why not persist in creating alternate truths?  We are headed in the direction of an all-virtual, post-human era in any case.  Within a few generations a mind-machine, brain-computer interface will be complete, and virtuality will replace reality.  We will no longer be constrained by our senses, obliged to see only those colors determined by rods and cones, smell only those scents which our highly individualized olfactory nerves dictate.  Our human interactions will be limitless when social networks become fully integrated into a virtually mediated world.  We will travel with whomever, wherever, whenever.  Fact, reality, actuality will cease to have meaning.

The abandonment of our insistence on fact, truth, and the way things are is the first preparatory step to this new electronic virtual world.  The faster we loosen the tethers which tie us to reality; and the quicker we reject the archaic perceptual framework which limits vision, spiritual growth, and full self-actualization , the sooner we will be truly free.

Reality is not all it’s cracked up to be, and the sooner we jettison our hardened preconceptions about it, the better.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Misogyny And Misandry–Don’t They Have A Legitimate Place In Civil Society?

Stereotypes exist, and by and large they are not hysterical inventions but have at least a grain of truth in them.  Women, because of their centuries-long domination under male patriarchy, can indeed be uppity and demanding on their way to the glass ceiling.  Men, because of their hardwired genetic configuration and years of public adulation and private obeisance, can certainly dismissive of female concerns for truthfulness, family integrity, and feelings.

The bitchy Devil Wears Prada female executive and the duck-hunting, male-bonding philanderer are stereotypical images which may be exaggerated versions of reality, but nonetheless both women and men alike retain hardened perceptions of the opposite sex.


This is not surprising. The war between men and women began in the Pleistocene and continues today. Although women – and feminized men – may claim citizenship in a post-sexualized world, nothing could be further from the truth.  Men are always suspicious of their wives and partners because the political balance has been tipped in women’s favor, giving them a moral authority and a political power which they – women – have up until recently never have enjoyed.  Women will never be convinced that the New Age Sensitive Guy is really serious about his commitment to women, women’s rights, or feminism. 

Most women understand that human nature and X and Y chromosomes being what they are, men will never change.  They will always be skirt-chasers, womanizers, and generous with the truth.   They will construct a system of deception, prevarication, and outright deceit to preserve and protect their right to prowl.

Most men understand that women, regardless of  feminist rhetoric are still Daddy’s girls.  Too few generations have passed to expunge all patriarchy and male dominance; and the most savvy, if not most manipulative men take advantage of women who will always defer to them.

Women understand that men will always be restive and dissatisfied with the best of marital relationships.  In the movie Moonstruck, the matriarch of the Italian American clan asks her would-be paramour why men chase women.  He has no answer except that he can’t help it. Men, like wolves or tomcats are born to roam.  She says it is  because men fear death more than women; and that sex with younger women is the elixir of youth and longevity.

Whatever it is, women know that no matter how devoted and committed their husbands might be, they will fall off the rails at a moment’s notice.

Men understand that today as well as in any previous generation, women are hardwired to protect and defend the family unit they have chosen.  They will do all they can to prevent their mates from straying and will resort to the most extreme measures to return them to the fold.

In Tennessee Williams’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Maggie will do anything to ensure that her husband, Brick, will inherit the family fortune.  “I was born poor”, she says, “and raised poor; but I, as certain as the sun rises in the morning I will never die poor.” She is willful, determined, and absolutely destined to keeping Brick as a husband and to having children with him despite his indifference and alcoholic melancholy.

Cleopatra in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra cares little for Antony, considers herself superior to him, but plays and manipulates him in order to secure her place and especially that of her children in the Empire.   The women in Shakespeare’s Tragedies are as protective as she-bears for their children, and as cunning as any man in working the court to their advantage.

If anything, four decades of feminism have hardened, not softened male perceptions of women.  The most secular and progressive among them might back campaigns for the civil rights of women and even speak out publicly in favor of women’s rights; but the more conservative resent the political, financial, and political preference given to women in hard times.

Socially conservative men often feel that they have labored in the vineyards and fought  in the trenches to provide for themselves, their wives, and their families, and now they are tossed into the dust bin as sexual supernumeraries.

The Father by August Strindberg expresses  best the frustration of men who sense the absolute control of women.  Only a woman knows the father of their children, and husbands will always wonder.  Laura cruelly manipulates her husband, The Captain, and drive him insane so that she can gain legal control of her daughter.  You have provided the rooster’s contribution, she says, and now your duties, responsibilities, and privileges have come to an end.

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Women now seem to have the upper hand.  Physical strength counts for very little in the battle of the sexes; and  intellectual maturity, social savvy, and emotional subtlety win the day.  Men increasingly feel outmatched and outgunned.

Men, understanding that they have fewer cannon, are taking stock and regrouping.  Women’s belief in patriarchy, regardless of how quickly it is becoming discredited, is still a point of vulnerability.  There is still room for the sexually confident, emotionally strong, and socially willful male.  Despite women’s absolute sexual authority (viz. parentage, paternity) and increasing gender status, women still fall for potent rogues.

Since the War Between the Sexes is far from over and even farther from being resolved, then sexual dynamics are still in play.  An outgrowth of this healthy, evolutionary and social struggle is sexual frustration, anger, and misogyny.

Is quite normal for American men in this election year (20016) to think of Hillary Clinton as a dry, humorless, and desiccated bossy old woman.  It is as normal for women to think of Donald Trump as a typical male braggadocio, pompous, strutting Chanticleer, arch-predator, and misogynist hater of women.

Why are these feelings condemned?  Why stifle and strangle what is in everyone’s throats.  I know of few men who have bought the feminist line lock, stock, and barrel and who believe that subservience to women is the least they can do as reparations for past male abuse.  Most others, even the most progressive of them, feel that for all women’s obvious intelligence and ingenuity, they are still emotionally and genetically dependent on men.   It will take quite some time for them to prove their worthy comparison to Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, and Adams.

Women, no matter how much they will profess love and affection for their husbands, are still in the business of corralling them, fencing them in, and limiting their opportunities to prowl.  It is normal for women to express their frustration at men’ seeming intractability and inability to reform.  There is no harm in calling them ignorant pricks.

In other words, the war between the sexes would end far more quickly if the gloves were taken off now and if bare-knuckle brawls replaced kindly skirmishes.  The same is true for race relations.  No less animosity and hostility occurs between the races than between the genders.  Unless and until every racist, hateful, and barbaric insult is thrown, rejected, and countered, nothing will ever change.  Internalized hatred is far worse than externalized frustration.

It has been argued that without the Geneva Convention, there would be fewer wars; for no one would want to face absolute, amoral barbarity for doubtful causes.   The same is true for any other battle.  It is far better to strip down and face the enemy than make nice and then fight.

So there is indeed a place for misogyny, racism, and misandry.  Stop the parlor games and get real.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Insanity, Deranged Terror, And Mass Killings–Germany Has Caught The American Virus

The Munich shooter (7/16) was not a member of nor motivated by ISIS.  He was a mentally disturbed teenager who had been obsessed with mass killings.  He went on his rampage with a Glock semi-automatic, fled the scene, then killed himself.

It seems as if Germany has been infected with the American virus that causes psychotic, deranged individuals to go berserk.  This mass killing in many ways is worse than any organized terror attack, for there is virtually no way for even the best-trained civil authorities or members of an extensive security apparatus to anticipate such events.  In the United States there must be tens of thousands of unhappy, disaffected, chemically imbalanced psychotics who need only a nudge to push them over the line into violence and mayhem.

In the politically-divided, contentious environment of America today, when racial, ethnic, and gender hatreds are fueled by the force-feeding of a progressive agenda, it is no surprise that those on the edge of a psychotic episode need little to incite them to violent action.  In the unreal world of the schizophrenic there are no consequences, guilt, or responsibility.

It is not possible to cool down the rhetoric.  Identity politics have given license to the most marginal groups, legitimizing their grievances and tolerating if not promoting any actions taken to seek redress.  Black Lives Matter is only the most recent example of such intemperate progressivism.  Within an atmosphere of collective anger and hostility, and within a movement without a highly-structured hierarchy, a borderline psychotic may be infected by the hysteria and act violently.  


In societies where multiculturalism and pluralism are celebrated and where ethnic, religious, and religious factions have become more numerous, tensions caused by initial social and economic inequality are exacerbated by progressive identity politics.  I want mine, and everybody wants theirs.
More broadly, in a society where airing frustration and anger at perceived injustice is encouraged, and where self-image and almost universal sanction for the expression of individual feelings, grievances, and abuse are canonized, no one should be surprised at employees ‘going post office’; at unstable marginalized teenagers acting out fantasies of power by killing classmates.

Coverage of tormented rampages are given 24/7 coverage by all-news networks and details quickly go viral.  To the sane, such killing sprees are unconscionable and unthinkable; but to borderline schizophrenics, they can be blueprints for carrying out twisted desires.

Since little can be done to censure the press for the coverage of violent events; and since no self-control has ever been exerted when ‘If it bleeds, it leads’ has been a media axiom for decades; other means of addressing the epidemic must be found.

Similarly, until a much more conservative administration is elected – one which will publically challenge identity-sponsored violence and mob rule – the tolerance for displays of black, Latino, American Indian, LGBT, etc. grievances, no matter how legitimate will only increase.
There are, however, certain steps which can be taken. 

Current privacy regulations restrict the sharing of personal medical histories with civil authorities.  Doctors who have diagnosed and chronicled a patient’s emotional instability and potential threat to others cannot inform the police.  Yet this new disease –schizophrenic violence – could easily be treated as typhoid or other infectious diseases were before the politicization of AIDS.  There is no reason why medical records of ‘infected’ individuals should not be shared.

As every civic institution has been mobilized in periods of epidemic disease, so could they now.   Most of the money spent on metal detectors, body scanners, and other security measures could be spent on the intensive training of teachers, counselors, and school administrators to detect problems before they become fully blown.

Mental illness should not be treated like any other disease except in the metaphorical infectious sense.  Extreme psychosis is not the same as invasive cancer or pernicious hypertension.  It can cause injury and death to others.  The normative culture should change.  Avoiding stigma should not be foremost in the minds of civil or medical authorities.  Avoiding harm to others should.  The severely deranged should be stigmatized and taken out of circulation.  It was wrong to empty mental hospitals; and it is just as wrong to treat serious mental illness as just another disability.

As was recently (7/16) seen in Nice, guns are not the issue.  The person who mowed down scores of people with a truck had a firearm with him, but did not need it.  A heavy vehicle at high speed had the inertia to be just as explosive as a bomb or an automatic rifle. 

Guns are never the issue.  The motivating forces behind gun slaughter is.  There is no doubt that a country which makes access to guns nearly impossible,  mass killings with firearms would be fewer; but the number of murderous incidents would not decrease.

Germany has a right to be concerned about the Munich shootings.  It is proud of the discipline, rationality, and morality of its population.  Yet they only have to look at Norway, a country similarly homogeneous, socially conservative, and morally sound, to see that unhinged rampages can occur anywhere.

If a new, more conservative American administration wins in November (2016) and begins to roll back the progressive-inspired Politically Correct hysteria of the past decade; if psychotic violence is classified as a public health problem and treated with as much surveillance and intrusion as any other disease; and if resources are moved away from physical security and gun control to prophylaxis (preventing violence by anticipating it), then perhaps the number of mass shootings by psychotic individuals can be reduced.

Germany and Norway have a chance to institute such measures before it is too late.  We can only hope that it is not too late to catch up.