Games of Unknowledging – Part III

Previously in Part II, methods of manufacturing uncertainty and five historical cases in which doubt was produced, the ignorance surrounding women’s bodies and pleasures both lost and suppressed, and the lost knowledge and worlds of West Indian abortifacients were briefly covered. Here in Part III I would like to cover cases of artful fabricated facts or conscious lying and how it might be recognized, how indigenous fossils have become lost worlds and knowledge, and finally how understanding the benefits and advantages of historical-interdisplinary hindsight can improve one’s bull-shit detecting skills.

Once again, I apologize for the length. I realize this Part is over 5,400 words, but its content is critical, too vastly unknown today by the general American public, that again I just couldn’t reduce the word-count anymore than I have. I hope you’ll understand why when finished reading. Thank you in advance for your patience.

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Fabricating Facts
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Profiling and discerning the who(m), what, where, when, and why of fabricators, their fabrications, infection, placebos and/or actual cures for individual or humanity’s honest betterment is not a Sherlock Holmes skill-set we are born with. It takes trial and error, often MANY trials and errors, over appropriate time, and hedged by just as many or more learners and teachers. Here are some uncinematic examples of prolific fabrication…

Secret Anecdotal History
In 6th century CE Palaestina Prima, Byzantine historian and scholar Procopius secretly wrote a collection of abusive defamatory works about Emperor Justinian and other aristocratic elite whom he glorified in actual published works. After his death the writings became known as Anecdota, which means a short obscure account of an event or events often for amusement and unsubstantiated. In our case here, truthy… maybe, possibly, probably fabricated. Political anecdotes are most suitable for casting degrees of public doubt.

Benjamin Franklin’s Boston Newspaper Hoax
In 1782 a Boston, MA newspaper, the Independent Chronicle, reported a Native American tribe allied with the British had committed atrocities on American frontier settlers. The hoax-article written intentionally by Benjamin Franklin was to rouse pro-American and anti-British Crown sentiments. It was a significant propaganda success and proved very beneficial at later peace negotiations with the British Ministry.

Old French Canards
17th and 18th century French tabloids, known as canards, disseminated propaganda, one about a Chilean monster being discovered and shipped to Spain. This animal supposedly had “…the head of a Fury, wings like a bat, a gigantic body covered in scales, and a dragon-like tail.” The report was completely fictitious, but nonetheless became one of the best-selling broadsides in the streets of Paris — readers couldn’t get enough of the fake-news and ate it up.

Delmer’s “Black Propaganda” Radio Show
From 1941 to 1943 in Nazi-occupied Europe, Sefton Delmer, known as Der Chef, regularly broadcasted what was thought to be actual news about the war and Nazi corruption to German listeners. The German High Command tried to block the radio signal, but unsuccessfully. As a result, Der Chef — who had a Berliner accent and came across as an old high-ranking Prussian officer — disclosed negative news such as German infantry receiving infectious blood-transfusions of syphilis from captured Poles and Slavs, two ethnic classes many Nazi-Germans despised. Delmer also gossiped on the airwaves that Italian diplomats in Berlin were bedding the wives of high-ranking officials and deployed officers. Through other radio stations, he introduced a youthful Nazi named “Vicki” that spread a mixture of real news taken from intercepted German intelligence sources and invented items like a nasty outbreak of diphtheria among German children. By most accounts of the radio broadcasts, as well as his Nachrichten für die Truppe (News for the Troops) air-dropped on the Western front, Delmer’s propaganda was insidiously effective and contributed at minimum to the disintegrating cohesiveness and morale of Nazi Germany.

The King Wizard of Fabrication
One of the biggest, recent fabricated-facts scheme in American history was accomplished over a seventeen-year period by Bernie Madoff. The HBO film below summarizes the impact and ripple-effects well…

Bernard L. Madoff masterminded a multi-billion dollar Ponzi-scheme, defrauding thousands of wealthy investors, over 17-years until the Wall Street market began collapsing and imploding in 2008 from a Made-off-esque, unregulated, financial culture of greed, dishonesty, and severe lack of protective measures for common Americans wanting to trust and invest in the free-enterprise market.

Why Fabricate or Lie?
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The June 2017 issue of National Geographic magazine writes specifically about this common, (natural? chronic?) human condition. According to the studies and researchers the article cites, We all lie, but not all lies are the same. People [and assemblies of people] lie and tell the truth to achieve a goal:  ‘We lie if honesty won’t work,’ says researcher Tim Levine. This graphic vividly illustrates the percentages of 11 reasons to fabricate, grouped under four general explanations:

The NatGeo article lists many other classic falsehoods, hoaxes, identity thefts, hoodwinks, scandals, and presidential untruths which infer the symptoms, behaviors, and mechanisms that manifest at certain rates from the cognitive psychology of one or a group. Hence, in this day and age an intimate familiarity with forensic psychology can be quite useful.

Be open as well as skeptical (to necessary degrees) to all sources of information and corroboration. When you have eliminated the impossible, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth or highly plausible, as I like to quantify. This does assist one in profiling, impeding and/or countering fabrications. In my limited subjective experience and education, I’ve learned that the larger a collective database with interdisciplinary methodologies, i.e. verifications, comparisons, variance including reasonably opposed or contrasting perspectives, offer at the moment the best hedge against fraud(s). Presently, even technology must not be solely trusted because even it has proven vulnerable — e.g. internet phishing — and Yudhijit Bhattacharjee writes, has opened up a new frontier for deceit.

Lost Worlds and Knowledge of Indigenous Fossils
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When the word “indigenous” is used here, it often indicates those peoples living on the continents other than Europe and Eurasia in the late prehistoric period, the ancient history period, and up until the Age of Exploration/Discovery (1400’s). Here specifically I will be referring mostly to the peoples of North America during those time-periods, also known as Native American Indians.

Secondly, it is probably important to quickly review modern techniques of fossil-dating before diving into this area, lost area of Indigenous Fossils Knowledge. How do modern archaeologists and paleontologists calculate the age of fossils? They have more than a dozen very reliable methods, all able to corroborate (or not) the others. Click here to learn more from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.

Adrienne Mayor is a research professor in the Classics-History and Philosophy of Science department at Stanford University. Her speciality is how ancient “folk science” precursors, alternatives, and parallels [that of] modern scientific methods. She calls attention to five cases from Imperial Colonization to the Enlightenment where indigenous people’s knowledge of Miocene-Pleistocene fossils are completely missing in Euro-American paleo-histories. Of Mayor’s five cases, I wish to introduce these three: Mather’s Claverack Giant, Cuvier’s Mastodons, and Simpson’s Dismissals, with a very short mention of the Lakota’s Agate Springs Corkscrews.

Mather’s Claverack Giant
Bear with me a moment while I state the obvious. Though the last of the Cretaceous dinosaurs went extinct over 65-million years ago, falling exactly where they were, then buried over several millenia under many levels of geology, erosion and/or excavation unearthed and still unearthed today all across the Americas. Native American Indians discovered these massive bones of giants long, long ago, countless centuries before the first Europeans set foot in the Americas. The bones became the oral traditions of the 800+ tribes (est. population of 50—100-million) on the N. American continent alone. When European settlers first heard of these bones from giants in 1705 from Iroquois, Delaware, Shawnee, Wyandot, and other tribes along the Hudson River, they had to see for themselves. Debates broke out between the Indians and European settlers over what the bones were and meant.

North American mastodon tuskIn 1712 Cotton Mather, a celebrated New England Puritan minister, wrote the Royal Society of London about the gigantic bones from Claverack, New York. What is a minister, a theologian doing interpreting archaeological finds? Dr. Mayor offers her expertise:

“Mather was a complex man: he demonized the “savages” as devil worshippers, but his writings show a keen interest in their knowledge of natural history, and Mather took the trouble to learn Algonquian. In his letter to the Royal Society, Mather argued that the bones belonged to a giant victim of the flood. This and similar finds in North and South America were “scientific proof” that giants had once inhabited the Americas and died when the flood inundated the whole world.”

Wanting to support his (and the world’s) Christian beliefs Mather used these Indian stories while at the same time asserting that the Albany Indian folklore was ridiculously unreliable. Though many Euro-American church ministers and theologians argued the massive bones legitimized native oral traditions of ancient giants. Adrienne Mayor:

“In contrast, Mather believed that all pagan mythology was inspired by Satan. Could the seemingly spontaneous interruptions in the letter [to the Royal Society of London] be an artifact of a collision between Mather’s faith-based belief system and his scientific impulse to be objective and inclusive by citing Indian giant legends as proof of Christian doctrine?”

Using contradiction for an end-game, Mather’s humoured dismissal of indigenous accounts further cloaked valid evidence to broader knowledge:

“With [his] decision to cancel out native fossil knowledge, Mather became the first authority on record in North America to deny Indians a role in interpreting fossil evidence. I suggest that Mather modeled his tactic on a similar strategy of the Roman historian Plutarch, whose reports of giant bones Mather cites in his letter. Plutarch described the amazing discovery of a gigantic skeleton in North Africa in the first century BC, but dismissed indigenous explanations as “fantastic legends” and scorned their language as “absolutely unpronounceable.””

Cuvier’s Mastodons
Following the 18th century Euro-American indifference of indigenous explanations of enormous ancient fossils, the 19th century records and accrediting was hardly improved. In spite of Georges Cuvier‘s extensive use of both native South and North American Indian traditions of their non-whereabouts, he went against popular prejudices. Cuvier is considered the founding father of paleontology and due to his exhaustive work in comparative vertebrate anatomy, his theories of Earth’s extinction-events were often aggressively challenged by mainstream socialites claiming why God, having created all things and commanded them good, would only turn around and raze it to into the ground. Mayor explains…

“Cuvier was especially impressed with Shawnee and Delaware legends surround the “astonishing abundance” of fossils of mastodons and other mammals in the Ohio Valley. In 1762, five complete mastodon skeletons were described and measured by “les sauvages shawanais.”

The details that emerged from indigenous accounts were consistent. The giant beings had lived in the remote past but were wiped out by some violent destruction event before the era of present-day Indians:  no one claimed to have seen them alive. These widespread extinction scenarios, from Peru to Canada, helped Cuvier to rule out migration and focus on catastrophic extinctions, and therefore were significant in developing the theories that established the new science of paleontology.”

Historians of paleontology today give no credit to Cuvier’s intimate deliberation over Greek and Native American fossil accounts and finds, nor any speculation of their impact on his theories. Only by reading Cuvier’s original memoirs and publications can one recognize the Native American sources. Cuvier’s modern translator, Martin J. S. Rudwick, does not disseminate any of the indigenous finds either. They’re simply ignored leading the audience to assume Euro-Americans found them.

Simpson’s Dismissals
In the July 1935 issue of the Journal of Paleontology, E.M. Kindle, from Cornell and Yale Universities in geology and paleontology wrote that Native Americans deserve credit for their fossil discoveries. This was not to happen. Not then, and for the most part, not in the 21st century either. Why? In 1942 – 1943 renowned U.S. paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson vowed to keep out Native American compensation or recognition in their field of science. In two popular monographs Simpson all but blocked any exchanges between the tribes and Euro-American “finds and accounts.” G.G. Simpson maintained:

“The first vertebrate fossils to be seen by Europeans in the Western Hemisphere were mastodon bones collected by the Indians in Tlascala, and shown to Cortez’s army in 1519. A few casual finds were made in the next two centuries but these also had no sequel and cannot be called scientific discoveries.
— Simpson, George Gaylord (1942 September). The Beginnings of Vertebrate Paleontology in North America. Abstract p. 130. Retrieved from: http://www.blc.arizona.edu/courses/schaffer/249/Ohio%20Animal/Simpson%20-%20Beginnings%20of%20VP%20in%20NA.pdf

Mayor continues about Simpson’s indifference toward indigenous involvement:

“Since there was no record of “continuous consciousness” of fossil knowledge in Indian culture, argued Simpson, their discoveries never resulted in scientific advancement and thus had “no real bearing on paleontological discovery.” Why would a towering figure like Simpson go to such lengths to deny Native Americans a role in the early history of paleontology?

Simpon’s drive to erase Indians from the story let to convoluted reasoning. In his descriptions of the historic 1739 discovery of mastodon fossils by Abenaki hunters in the French army, Simpson’s logic is torturous: “Even though Indians were probably involved in the real discovery” of the Ohio fossils, “they cannot fairly be called the discoverers.” Despite the Indians’ “absolute priority,” which has been acknowledged by French scientists since 1764, Simpson went so far as to create an ahistorical discovery scenario in order to give credit to the French commander of the expedition.”

This bias for Euro-American findings, procedures, and ingenuity Simpson ardently portrays can be further gleaned from the same web link above (Beginnings) pp. 132-138.

Agate Fossils Bed - Nebraska

Agate Fossils Bed Museum, Nebraska

As in many cultures around the world, including the U.S., there are longstanding mythos of elusive, mystical spirits or angels of good, as well as evil. Have any been caught on modern video which support or prove their existence? The validity of tangible paranormal activity with the aid of advancing electronics and technology is still an emerging (scientific?) field. In the case of the Agate Fossil Beds in Nebraska, the Lakota Indians named the site “Animal Bones Brutally Scattered About” because their ancient oral traditions — like those of the desert nomadic tribes of Judean Hebrews pre-Old Testament — were legends of Unktehi, ‘evil water monsters killed by Thunder Beings‘ long ago. Lakota elders believed that disturbing the giant bones of the dead was “bad medicine.” Hence, on moral grounds, or virtuous ignorance, these details were kept not just from outsiders, but within the general tribe too.

[The silent-secret virtue] “evokes some aspects of the Puritan witch hunter Cotton Mather’s anxiety about the satanic influences of Indian fossil legends 300 years ago. Mather deliberately created ignorance as a strategic ploy borrowed from Plutarch.”

The fact that many modern place names originated from antiquity’s legends and continued into the 14th century New World and through today indicates people, no matter their continental ethnicity or methods of knowledge-preservation, observed and theorized sedimentary traces of Miocene, Pliocene, and Pleistocene life-forms before “modern” Euro-American scientific investigations officially began.

These are a few cases of lost and/or dismissed knowledge. Would interdisplinarity help lower or uncover cases of knowledge-ignorance? Would that have positive or negative consequences on humanity’s progress?
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Advantages of Historical-interdisplinary Hindsight
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A Prelude — I feel it bears importance to mention or reiterate that with regard to all hindsights of history and science there are pervasive varying degrees of knowledge and ignorance inherent in their operations. Further still, there is no one extant human activity (e.g. religion; theology and their claims) that operates with complete impunity from interdisciplinary examination, verification, and universal collaboration. No one discipline of human activity should ever be above these jurisdictions, yes, including science and history. The concession to or theft of complete impunity, with its implicit power extensions, has too often had disastrous consequences for thousands-to-millions of souls.
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Ask yourself and answer this question, “Where will I be and doing what on July 15, 2023 at 12-noon?” Think about your answer for a minute before reading further.

Do you have a precise answer? Is your answer full proof and exhaustive? It might seem a silly exercise, but it does characterize several mechanisms involved in and constrained by ignorance. Dr. Alison Wylie of the University of Washington, USA, and Durham University, U.K., specializes in the epistemological unknowns of archaeology, its research ethics, and the social sciences relative specifically to feminism. It is her epistemic expertise in archaeology that I find useful in a broader spectrum. Allow me to summarize her archaeological approach to ignorance, in as few words possible, while also interjecting my own wider glimpses, then elaborate more the shadowing onto advantages of historical-interdisplinary hindsight.

Intro: Mapping Archaeological Ignorance
There are a number of factors and constraints to consider at archaeological sites when attempting to understand what is uncovered, unknown and why it might be unknown. Wylie examines several.

Epistemological Factors — a chief source of ignorance is the poverty of empirical data. For example, the scarce fossil evidence of hominid evolution compared to more plentiful prehistoric vertebrates of the Triassic through Cretaceous periods; the former strangely being significantly more recent! One might think most recent artifacts would be most plentiful. Another is technology which today can better locate, recover, analyze, and interpret data had not yet developed. Neurology and brain research are an obvious example. Epistemic deficiency isn’t the only factor; a noticeable inadequacy of theory also contributes. Observations without invigorating theoretical interpretations becomes mundane procedure. R. L. Gregory, Sir John C. Kendrew, and W. B. Webb, all contributors to the Encyclopedia of Ignorance (1977), elaborate:

[Mundane observations]“…are awash in detailed knowledge of form but not function, of correlations but not causal relations, of manifest pattern but not mechanism.”

Joined with historical-interdisciplinary hindsight, causal determinism, the language of precision, conjecture, and extraneous control, though always present everywhere, are further unpacked.

Ontological Constraints — levels of ignorance are often directly proportional to the expanding scope of knowledge, e.g. the more we know, the more we realize what we don’t know. R. W. Sperry explains this illusion of absolute certainty:

“A psychobiologist considers the implications of ongoing evolution:  it “keeps complicating the universe by adding new phenomena that have new properties and new forces.” […] But the most daunting for these scientists is any phenomenon that is conditioned by human action and intention.”
Sperry, Roger W., “Problems Outstanding,” Encyclopedia of Ignorance, pp. 432-433

In gathering evidence we must factor in the projection or contamination, if you will, of the observer’s limitless ability to construct new frameworks, new twists, and new endings. From an intrinsic standpoint this is in essence theory and valuable. However, it also means exact science is impossible. That said, degrees of probabilities — the infinite divisibilities notwithstanding — can be, well, more exact when complimented with expansive historical-interdisciplinary hindsights.

Contextual & Normative Factors — standing opposed to the above factors and constraints are those doctors, scientists, and scholars who move their figurative microscopes away from ontological and epistemic ignorances, focusing instead on normative cultural, economic, and social factors. With chemical addiction general society has a complex and robust reaction to drug dependency, so much so that what defines addiction is less precise than the convictions about our knowledge of its causes. Geologists ask why is so much ignorance allowed right under our feet when scientists and engineers have been drilling in the deepest oceans with technology available for many decades? Considering epistemic, ontological, cultural, economic, and social factors within their contexts Dr. Wylie continues:

“…it is striking that these [geologists and addictionologists] do not chiefly blame biasing intrusions from outside science for the failures and limitations of inquiry they describe. […]

With the benefit of hindsight — specifically, thirty years of development in science studies — there is clearly considerable scope for asking why particular lines of evidence and theoretical insight had languished while others were avidly pursued, rebalancing the weight of the factors [above] in the direction of the political economy, the institutional structure, and the culture of the sciences in question, as well as the larger social contexts in which they operate.”

Dr. Wylie has begun inferring a symmetry thesis on ignorance she firmly believes:  that contexts and factors which produce knowledge “are quite relevant for understanding the production (and maintenance) of ignorance.” She insists that though these factors are symbiotic, we cannot always predict at any given time what all factors might be, their full impact, or the exact interactions.

How might these afflictions in archaeology or ignorance be minimized? Perhaps refining our powers of identification, a hearing the silence, if you will, can offer guidance.

Historical Silence
Regarding the hazards of ignorance, the definition or composition of ignorance is inevitably sucked into battles of “objectivity” versus relativism and constructivism. The anxieties over error and ignorance, at least in archaeology admits Wylie, had created emergencies about every 30-years since these scientific disciplines began to professionalize as well as commercialize early in the 1900’s. It wasn’t until around the 1960’s that this fixation with ontological and empirical constraints on the depravity of insufficient theory shifted to political and sociocultural factors. Enter Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s study of “Silencing the Past.” Wylie finds Trouillot’s analysis of history very useful here:

“…there is no prospect, [Trouillot] argues, for eliminating the systematic ambiguities inherent in the way we use the term history to refer both to events in the past and to the narratives by which we understand the past in the present. History, the narrative, is produced at innumerable sites, few of them controlled by professional historians and all of them deeply structured by contemporary interests and power relations. What we do not know, as much as what we do know, tracks power as it operates in social contexts both past and present.”

Trouillot considers four stages of historical productions:

  1. genesis of textual clues or traces
  2. collection of these clues/traces into an archive
  3. retrieval of clues/traces as facts for deposit into historical narratives
  4. development of narratives with retrospective impact

At every juncture of the aforementioned epistemic and contextual-normative factors, coupled with the ontological constraints, these four stages symmetrically outline our knowledge and ignorance. Dr. Wylie probes these stages with three lenses.

Empirical & Ontological Factors — empirically speaking, the attrition or decay, displacement, or destruction of material traces and artifacts, as well as hyped optimism over the nature of garbage, are significant imprinting factors upon Trouillot’s first and second stages. Regarding a peoples garbage and artifacts, explains Wylie…

“…the production, consumption, circulation, and discard of material culture are as deeply structured by power relations as is the creation [and collection] of a textual record. […]

Here ontological constraints enter:  what archaeologists can know (or know reliably) is conditioned by the differential survival of stone tools and metal artifacts, fired ceramics, and architectural features, by contrast, for example, [to biodegradable items].”

Silencing-the-Past_Trouillot

Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Further still, the seemingly egalitarian nature of a population’s waste or discarded items (which does provide a general theme of the people’s lives), is not represented equally from the rubble. Hence, this takes us to Trouillot’s third stage:  retrieval of facts for entry into a narrative. “Here the entire spectrum of epistemic and sociopolitical factors are in play” says Wylie. What is understood about a subject is as dependent on visibility, the means to find it/study it, and manage it technologically, as it is to what the observer finds valuable. Retrieval and formation of usable facts of an archive or pool of data “…is very largely a function of what questions we know to ask and what material traces we know (how) to look for in attempting to answer them” for a narrative.

Given these considerations, factors, and constraints, archaeologists and historians alike must respect the reasonable parameters of evidence, taking care not to indulge too deeply in the forms and speculative practice of social configurations or religious dynamics, both with their hazards. Consider Diogenes of Sinope and his large wine cask — the researcher-observer may find his tub, but altogether miss its resident.

Theoretical Considerations — by the 1960’s and 70’s there was a strong reaction to the traditional skepticism of reliable archaeology. New modern archaeologists insisted the limitations of full understanding reflected, not ontological obscurity and empirical scarcity of extant clues/traces, but rather deficiencies of the valuable theories supplied to inquiry. As a result, the New-Era Archaeologists brought two strategies for redesigning Trouillot’s stages three and four to the skeptics:

  1. reorientation of all retrieval modes:  all evidence and artifacts (excavation, data analysis, survey) should be tested to problem-oriented questions, not (random?) open-ended exploration, i.e. theorem building on evidence/artifacts.
  2. increased expansion of stage three and four:  frame or rent independent background knowledge, “mid-range theory,” within and from the sociocultural contexts and norms.

Dr. Alison Wylie cram-packs her summary of these two strategies. Get your oxygen tank and mask, take a deep breath, and bear with me (and her):

“The contours of possible knowledge and probable ignorance are shaped by the resources—technical, empirical, theoretical, economic, and social—that archaeologists [and historians] recruit for the purpose of constituting facts of the past:  identifying, recovering, recording material traces, and, crucially, interpreting them as evidence. What facts (of the record and of the past) archaeologists can establish has everything to do with what resources they have internally, or what connections they cultivate with the collateral fields that supply  the crucial linking principles, and this is a function of institutional dynamics as much as of internal, problem, and theory-driven judgements of relevance; of conventions of authority and prestige, and the shifting availability of research funds, as well as accidents of personal interest and connection.”

As we continue analyzing the historical silences, a less-fuzzy picture is emerging. Compared to our pool of knowledge, we are finding ignorance to be atlantic! Indeed, the distant horizons where “dragons” lurk, recede and turn into minnows as we frequently embark. Not necessarily as authorities, but as explorers, finding other explorers in unchartered and newly charted seas. However, there has risen a new phenomena, a strengthening storm, if you will. It is loosely known as modernized scientific skepticism.

Sociopolitics — since the early 1980’s, with an increased fervor in the 2000’s, there has been a strengthening reaction to whether science can know and understand the past, particularly archaeology. This storm challenge is explicitly cast in sociopolitical terms, even with threads of religiosity mixed in — the Christopher Hawkes top-rung of his Inference Ladder (Evans, C. (1998). Historicism, chronology and straw men: Situating Hawkes’ ‘Ladder of inference’. Antiquity, 72(276), 398-404. doi:10.1017/S0003598X00086671). The eye of the storm is directly against Trouillot’s fourth stage, narrative construction.

These new warriors against archaeology, science, and history argue that stage-four narratives about the past are inescapable from contemporary bias and significance. Though this is a plausible, universal argument, it overlooks genre or discipline-specific credibility-tests designed to expose possible contemporary bias and significance. What exactly is meant by this?

One could characterize this modern reliability debate as Exclusion vs. Inclusion. Consider Ian Hacking’s counter-argument to these new warrior’s skepticism. In 1986 Dr. Hacking presented his lengthy essay-argument to the Canadian Journal of Philosophy, and I paraphrase:

In the field of lucrative high-stakes weapons-research, when boards and scientists target specific troubles, time and resources are not only rechanneled away from other equally bright lines of research, but future options of research are also revamped before given a chance of success. This diverting reshapes the “world of mind and technique” where science operates.

Accurate and reliable scientific research and development takes necessary time, sometimes years, and the ripple-effect of these redirections, refunding, and defunding has consequences, as Wylie explains:

“By extension, this canalization of inquiry in any one field has implications for what is or becomes possible in other fields, determining what technologies of investigation, what collateral knowledge, is available for application in the kinds of interdisciplinary exchanges that have enriched archaeology [and history] from its inception.”

The present-day skepticism and worries by new warrior-critics has formed and morphed into an implicitly uncompromising constructivism for which at its core assumes there is little archaeology, history, and sciences, perhaps even technology can exhaustively account for other than layered silences; “expansive ignorance and exuberant invention” says Wylie. Trouillot would certainly take exception to this new-age opposition and posture.

In his Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History, Trouillot superbly uses the folklore, myths, and legends surrounding the battle of the Alamo in Texas — today and for almost two centuries a popular lucrative tourist-site and sociopolitical extension of Texas’ proud Anglo-American image, “history(?)” and heritage intensively taught throughout primary and secondary public school levels — to make the crucial point of just why strategies and credibility-tests are necessary for historical silences or ignorance. I am also inserting two pieces of embellished artwork highly treasured inside our Texas state capitol.

“The lesson of the [Alamo] debate is clear. At some stage, for reasons that are themselves historical, most often spurred by controversy, collectivities experience the need to impose a test of credibility on certain events and narratives because it matters to them whether these events are true or false, whether these stories are fact or fiction.

Dawn-at-The-Alamo

“Dawn at the Alamo” – click here to enlarge, Texas style

That it matters to them does not necessarily mean that it matters to us. But how far can we carry our isolationism [exclusionism]? Does it really not matter whether or not the dominant narrative of the Jewish Holocaust is true or false? Does it really not make a difference whether or not the leaders of Nazi Germany actually planned and supervised the death of six-million Jews? […]

But how much can we reduce [oversimplify, extrapolate, biasedly project] what happened? If six-million do not really matter, would two-million be enough, or would some of us settle for three-hundred thousand? If meaning is totally severed from a referent “out there,” if there is no cognitive purpose, nothing to be proved or disproved, what then is the point of the story? [Hayden] White’s answer is clear: to establish moral authority. But why bother with the Holocaust or plantation slavery, Pol Pot, or the French Revolution, when we already have Little Red Riding Hood?

Siege-of-the-Alamo

“Siege of the Alamo” – click here to enlarge, Texas style

Constructivism’s [anti-science warriors’] dilemma is that while it can point to hundreds of stories that illustrate its general claim, that narratives are produced, it cannot give a full account of the production of any single narrative. [his emphasis] For either we would all share the same stories of legitimation, or the reasons why a specific story matters to a specific population are themselves historical. To state that a particular narrative legitimates particular policies is to refer implicitly to a “true” account of these policies through time, an account which itself can take the form of another narrative. But to admit the possibility of this second narrative is, in turn, to admit that the historical process has some autonomy vis-à-vis the narrative. It is to admit that as ambiguous and contingent as it is, the boundary between what happened and that which is said to have happened is necessary.

It is not that some societies distinguish between fiction and history and others do not. Rather the difference is in the range of narratives that specific collectivities must put to their own tests of historical credibility because of the stakes involved in these narratives.” — Trouillot, Silencing the Past, pp. 11-14.

And personally I would add “…must put to their own tests disclosed and compared to those of interdisciplinary credibility tests as well for increased accuracy” because of the stakes involved between fact-or-fiction!

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Given the hitherto three-part coverage and hopefully amplification of some of the intricacies and mechanisms constituting knowledge-ignorance, how it’s produced, and why it has silences, it becomes clear that a form of enlarged intellectualism is presently needed, especially in the U.S., and nurturing (versus uncompromising) in the general population, or at minimum a trust in those few credible experts who have obtained it, in order to better monitor and counter severe imbalances. Therefore, in Part IV, the conclusion, I will examine social theorems of ignorance, perhaps white (yes, Caucasian/Anglo) ignorance, should time permit and you readers/followers demand it in your comments below, and then finally ask Where are America’s Public Intellectuals?… to help in this imperative movement. I hope you will join me. Meanwhile, please leave your thoughts about Part III below and I will do my best to respond.
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Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always

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Games of Unknowledging – Part I

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“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance,
it is the illusion of knowledge.”
— Stephen Hawking

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How much do we know? How much do we not know? How much or how little should we know or shouldn’t know? Why do we either know it or don’t know it? What creates ignorance, keeps it alive, hidden, distorted, or used for political-military purposes?

Agnotology, according to Wikipedia, is a recent new field of study about culturally induced ignorance or doubt. Renown cosmologist and theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking (above) sums up our task well. In our current age of technological devices and data, the internet (particularly social media) and the speedy access to and dissemination of information, as well as the instability or unavailability of quality broader education, it has become more paramount than ever before in human history for us to recognize, grapple, dissect, and understand exactly what state, who for, and how well knowledge and ignorance coexist or are imbalanced, and if it is significant or insignificant and why.
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Ignorance is generated in many various forms. Naivety, neglect or apathy, myopia, secrecy, disinformation, extinction, censorship or suppression, faith, and forgetfulness. They are all sources and surrogates of ignorance. By it’s very definition it permeates many recognized and unrecognized domains. Writing about women’s rights and their social issues past and present, Penn State University’s Dr. Nancy Tuana says:

“…it is important that our epistemologies not limit attention simply to what is known or believed to be known. If we are to fully understand the complex practices of knowledge production and the variety of features that account for why something is known, we must also understand the practices that account for not knowing, that is, for our lack of knowledge about a phenomena or, in some cases, an account of the practices that resulted in a group unlearning what was once a realm of knowledge. In other words, those who would strive to understand how we know must also develop epistemologies of ignorance.”

Dr. Tuana has several poignant scholarly publications about the epistemology of ignorance, especially regarding women’s treatment throughout human history. I will be diving into and swimming in her research and philosophies later in Part II of this series.

Perhaps for now it is best to start with general taxonomies of ignorance (the horse) before diving into the depths of the key agents of modern ignorance I personally want to cover in later parts (the cart).

General Classifications of Ignorance

Native or Innocent State is the first class and it defines ignorance that is a deficit to overcome, or something to grow out of, as a naive child would eventually learn that getting 8-hours of sleep per day is actually beneficial in the long-term, or that lying necessarily leads to more lying.

Time and Mental Constraints is the next class. We cannot possibly study and understand all things. We must leave some alone, select what subjects deserve our needs and attention. As a result, this form of ignorance is a product of inattention and can be lost for a period of time or forever.

Moral-Exemplary Caution is the third class and it includes ignorance for the sake of survival, protections, or mental, physical, and emotional stability. For example, jurors in court for a criminal case are strongly urged to remain ignorant (unbiased) to publicized facts, rumors, opinions, or news stories about their case. The various cinema movie-ratings by the Motion Picture Association of America currently have five designations for films suited to particular age groups. Which uranium and plutonium combinations are highly classified so as not to fall into the wrong unethical hands. And certain forms of torture on prisoners have specific classifications.

Strategic Subterfuge is the last classification of ignorance and the hardest to detect in real-time. Two prime examples of strategic subterfuge would be the World War II Allied Manhattan Project from 1942-46 and Operation Fortitude/Bodyguard in 1943-44, both highly successful webs of deception that shortened the war with Germany and Japan.

There are times and conditions that do warrant ignorance — it is not always bad. And yet, these four classes of ignorance give rise to other important questions. For instance:  Are there other sorts of events/conditions that ignorance creates which we might be unaware? When and how does knowledge create ignorance? What other forms of resistance, tradition, inattention, apathy, calculation, or distraction creates more ignorance? When does ignorance generate confidence, timidity, or arrogance, even megalomania? Because of ignorance what patterns of competence or disability are thereby brought into existence?

I hope to answer some of these questions, but I will also leave it to you my readers to answer some yourselves.

Bias and Concealment

One of the most catastrophic probabilities facing humanity is climate change. In few other global crises has there been more profound, proliferated bias and concealment than on climate change.

They are the world’s most distinguished minds of geophysics, meteorology, atmospheric science, geography, and other disciplines and they comprise the IPCC. Their studies and publications encompass the work of over 800 scientists and over 1,000 peer-reviewers from 130 nations around the world. Inside the U.S. the American Geophysical Union, the American Meteorological Society, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science have all ratified their findings. Abroad, the National Academies of Sciences in Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and three others also verified and confirmed the IPCC’s findings. See consensus image below.

IPCC Abstract

Despite the fact that worldwide theory, evidence, and consensus support the claim that anthropogenic global warming is underway, there is a remarkably high number of doubters, particularly in the U.S., that believe these reports are inaccurate, acts of worldwide(?) political-economic conspiracy, or completely fabricated. How is this possible? Six reasons, says Erik M. Conway and Naomi Oreskes.

The Six Main Cold War Contenders

It could be convincingly argued that there are only two or three main contenders against climate change science, but Conway and Oreskes reveal all major contenders and their interconnected allies during the Cold War, an era of mega-business and even bigger deep-pocketed business moguls. Would you consider these six listed below having direct and indirect mutual interests?

The George C. Marshall Institute — was founded by Robert Jastrow, Frederick Seitz, and William Nierenberg. The institute’s influence and popularity on post-war policy, Congress, and public opinion cannot be overstated. It was originally formed to streamline national security and defense policies in the Cold War against the Soviet Union. Its public mission statement at the time was “to encourage the use of sound science in making public policy about important issues for which science and technology are major considerations.” However, after the end of the Cold War the institute turned its attention to environmental issues receiving major funding from oil and gas corporations like Exxon-Mobil, at least $715,000 between 1998 and 2008. In 2001 after only 5-months as executive director, Matthew B. Crawford resigned explaining “[the Institute] is fonder of some facts than others.

SDI_TimeMagazine

April 1983 issue

Robert Jastrow — a planetary physicist and lead scientist with NASA, Jastrow, along with Seitz, Nierenberg, and Siegfried Fred Singer, together headed all major skepticism to climate change and other health and environmental crises between 1982 to the 2000’s. How these four scientists are closely connected will be covered below.

Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) — SDI was a proposed missle-defense “shield” with orbiting space-lasers presented in March 1983 by President Ronald Reagan. When 6,500 academic scientists unionized to not accept or solicit any government funds for the program, Robert Jastrow was so furious that he rallied several well-known scientists of specific fields within the Defense Department and the military-scientific community to combat SDI opposition via the George C. Marshall Institute. He would also accuse the Union of Concerned Scientists, a big challenger to SDI, of being agents for Mikhail Gorbachev and the Soviets.

Big Tobacco — Fortune 100 tobacco corporations like R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company (aka Nabisco Group Holdings) spent $45-million between 1979 and 1989 toward finding and publishing evidence or arguments casting doubts about cancer, heart disease, and other smoking-related adverse effects, cases and deaths with their supporting research and publications. The principle advisor for these doubt-publications:  the aforementioned Frederick Seitz.

Acid Rain — is contaminated rainfall from sulfate emissions from power-plants and nitrous emissions from auto exhausts. In 1970, 1977, and 1990 emission standards legislation addressed and updated this growing atmospheric contaminants begun by the Clean Air Act of 1963. Just these measures, from the already established scientific studies and results, took as they say, acts of Congress, over a 50-year period to be adopted! Oh, and the aforementioned S. Fred Singer and Reagan’s White House stalled reports from OSTP, the Office of Science and Technology Acid Rain Panel in which Singer served.

Chlorinated Fluorocarbons (CFCs) — sulfate emissions and nitrous emissions soon lead to higher public awareness of refrigerators, AC units, hair spray, and other various stratospheric contaminants which deplete the ozone layer, known as CFC’s. In 1995 Sherwood Rowland, Mario Molina, and Paul Crutzen won Nobel Prizes for their contributions in Chemistry identifying the damaging effects of CFC’s to the ozone layer. The twice aforementioned S. Fred Singer argued against these men and afterwards even to Congress opposing their findings!

The Impact of These Tactics

During the 1992 mid-term elections, Republican pollster and media advisor Frank Luntz sent out a memo instructing federal Republican candidates to implement the political counter-strategy of scientific uncertainty:

“The scientific debate remains open.

…you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate.”
“The Luntz Research Companies – Straight Talk”, p. 137, http://www2.bc.edu/~plater/Newpublicsite06/suppmats/02.6.pdf – See also Mooney, The Republican War

A 2007 Gallup poll showed that 60% of Americans believed global warming was happening, which meant too that 40% felt there was still “a lot of disagreement among scientists.” Yet, in fact by 1979 — 28-years earlier! — scientists around the globe were increasingly unanimous that what Charles David Keeling had proven about rising CO² in the 1960’s was increasing more in the ’70s. Surveys of the scientific literature worldwide from 1965 to 1979 found only 7 articles predicting cooling and 44 predicting warming. What is also strangely peculiar is that the bulk of the scientific work was done in the U.S. As of March 2016 little has changed in the public eye at only 64% believing it is happening. Why the snail’s pace? No surprise, it isn’t a quick easy answer, but there are two major contributing factors:  1) the IPCC with the Kyoto Treaty (and Doha Treaty) and 2) the Republican-held U.S. Senate ten out of the twelve relevant years concerning the 1997 Byrd-Hagel Resolution (S. Res. 98).

US_Senate_floorSince 1990 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) along with the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and their scientists from 191 member nations and territories, found irrefutable cumulative evidence of global warming. In 1997 a protocol for fighting global warming and reducing greenhouse gas concentrations, the Kyoto Protocol, was adopted in Kyoto, Japan based on the consensus of these scientists around the world and how to reduce and reverse the effects of human-sourced causes. Sadly, the U.S. Senate voted on July 25, 1997 (95 to 0) rejecting this protocol if it did not impose firm emissions limits on the developing nations like India or the People’s Republic of China, both major sources of carbon dioxide emissions along with the United States. This S. Resolution 98 effectively shut-down the Kyoto Treaty before President Clinton could have an opportunity to push for ratification. As of today, the U.S. is the only major industrialized nation refusing participation in the Kyoto and Doha agreements.

After many articles in Business Investor’s Weekly, Forbes Magazine, and The Wall Street Journal S. Fred Singer continually challenged the work of these scientists around the world including those winning the Nobel Prize, others did so as well, mimicking Singer such as political scientist Bjørn Lomborg. Four renown scientists countered Singer and Lomborg with their publication “Misleading Math About the Earth” in January 2002. John Bongaarts, John Holdren, Thomas Lovejoy, and Stephen Schneider demonstrated that the majority of Lomborg’s citations were not from reputable scientific sources, but media-entertainment articles and non-scientific publications. But the damage and impact of the media onslaught had been done. Time Magazine named Lomborg one of the most influential thinkers of 2004.

The Cold War “old guard,” the market fundamentalists, the paranoid contrarians like Singer, Jastrow, Seitz, and Nierenberg saw any challenge or questioning of America’s proud free-market system as anti-capitalist, pro-communist, pro-socialist, and pro-regulatory on suffocating scales! Thus, without the broader information of evidence, data, and pure science from all points, favorable and oppositional, too many doubts were biasedly cast about the science and scientists. Capitalism triumphed over Soviet communism, but now it has to rectify its own excessive waste and impact on the ecosystems. Leave it to the mega-corporations of the world and it goes unchanged and buried. Though unfettered sourcing of our planet’s fossil-fuels was our “free lunch,” our Industrial Revolution, and our two World Wars, followed by the prosperity of the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s, global warming is now the rising bankrupting unreckoned invoice. The accumulated interest, charges, and principle-balance could have and should have been confronted and corrected during the last 50+ years. Instead, warehouses of well-funded doubt and unknowledging were produced in its place.

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In Part II of Games of Unknowledging, I will delve into the widely used, but less known exercises of Manufactured Uncertainty, some Women’s Rights and Equality (or non-rights and inequality), and the lost worlds and knowledge of Abortifacients. I do hope you’ll return for it.

Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always

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Untapped Worlds – Retooling

This is the fifth-part of the series continuing from Untapped Worlds — Reside and its previous four posts.
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The prude is in fact the libertine,
without the courage to face their naked soul.
—- A. S. Neill

 

Exclusion makes us suffer. Inclusion makes us thrive.
—- E. O. Wilson

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performing-artsWhat does it mean to be more human? Looking back from where humans come can help. Comparing that past to where we are now helps. What would it mean to be more than human? Less than human?

If our history has shown us anything, the great and the horrid, humans must keep up, must be proficient learners, empathizers, and adapters, to best act and react, to fail better and succeed better in a world and Multiverse which perpetually challenges us every minute of every day. This inevitably means breaking old conventions and forming new healthier refined ones…even if it means our initial discomfort and ridicule, and in extraordinary cases, our imprisonment or death. To me personally, this is what it means to be human and more human.

How might we gauge our natural humanity?

Humans and Animals: The Near and Far

Perhaps a first observation can be differentiating humans from other animals starting with body structure. Even the rest of Earth’s other primates have noticeable differences to ours. But delve deeper beyond outer features and there is an overwhelming amount of continuity, until you reach the brains. At the University of Queensland in Australia, Professor of Psychology in Cognition and Evolutionary Psychology-Cognition, Dr. Thomas Suddendorf finds…

The physical similarities between humans and other mammals are quite plain. We are made of the same flesh and blood; we go through the same basic life stages. Yet reminders of our shared inheritance with other animals have become the subject of cultural taboos: sex, menstruation, pregnancy, birth, feeding, defecation, urination, bleeding, illness, and dying. Messy stuff. However, even if we try to throw a veil over it, the evidence for evolutionary continuity between human and animal bodies is overwhelming. After all, we can use mammalian organs and tissues, such as a pig’s heart valve, to replace our own malfunctioning body parts. A vast industry conducts research on animals to test drugs and procedures intended for humans because human and animal bodies are so profoundly alike. The physical continuity of humans and animals is incontestable. But the mind is another matter.

social dolphinsMany would guess our brains to be “another matter” because they are the largest on the planet. Incorrect. The human brain comes in at fourth, technically fifth place. Sperm whales have the largest at 17.5 pounds followed by blue whales at 12.5 pounds, then elephants at 10.5 pounds. In fourth place are dolphins at 4 pounds. Our brain is a distant fifth place at 2.8 average pounds. At a close sixth is the walrus at 2.4 pounds, followed by all remaining animals. Yet it isn’t size that sets us apart, but intelligence. Bertrand Russell asserted that “speech, fire, agriculture, writing, tools, and large-scale cooperation” significantly widens the gap between us and animals.

While those abilities may seem to us and our brains as “higher intelligence”– brains which are prone to deception, memory-errors, superstition, and ambiguity — closer comparisons find Russell’s claims inconclusive. I argue along with Suddendorf that moving the intelligence-bar lower, and maybe less arrogantly, we can find “parrots can speak, ants have agriculture, crows make tools, and bees [as well as ants] cooperate on a large-scale.” Nevertheless, Suddendorf also points out that in those six advanced-intelligence domains:

I’ve repeatedly found two major features that set us apart: our open-ended ability to imagine and reflect on different situations, and our deep-seated drive to link our scenario-building minds together. It seems to be primarily these two attributes that carried our ancestors across the gap, turning animal communication into open-ended human language, memory into mental time travel, social cognition into theory of mind, problem solving into abstract reasoning, social traditions into cumulative culture, and empathy into morality.

Humans are avid scenario builders. We can tell stories, picture future situations, imagine others’ experiences, contemplate potential explanations, plan how to teach, and reflect on moral dilemmas. Nested scenario building refers not to a single ability but to a complex faculty, itself built on a variety of sophisticated components that allow us to simulate and to reflect.

Though we may be the only creatures on the planet with the capacity to time-travel with our imaginations, simulate possible outcomes, and carry out mid-term and long-term plans based upon those imagined scenarios, how much of a contrast does that really create when we still know so little about aquatic mammals (not to mention those oceanic invertebrates and their languages), while the neurobiology and neurocognition of our own brains aren’t fully known? Despite his 2011 scientific misconduct in other areas, former Harvard University professor and evolutionary biologist Marc Hauser expounds on our higher-evolved cognitive abilities and notes four distinguishing abilities…

  1. Generative computation
    Humans can generate a practically limitless variety of words and concepts. We do so through two modes of operation recursive and combinatorial. The recursive operation allows us to apply a learned rule to create new expressions. In combinatorial operations, we mix different learned elements to create a new concept.
  2. Promiscuous combination of ideas
    Promiscuous combination of ideas allows the mingling of different domains of knowledge such as art, sex, space, causality and friendship thereby generating new laws, social relationships and technologies.
  3. Mental symbols
    Mental symbols are our way of encoding sensory experiences. They form the basis of our complex systems of language and communication. We may choose to keep our mental symbols to ourselves, or represent them to others using words or pictures.
  4. Abstract thought
    Abstract thought is the contemplation of things beyond what we can sense. This is not to say that our mental faculties sprang fully formed out of nowhere. Researchers have found some of the building blocks of human cognition in other species. But these building blocks make up only the cement foot print of the skyscraper that is the human mind. The evolutionary origins of our cognitive abilities thus remain rather hazy. Clarity is emerging from novel insights and experimental technologies, however.

I’d draw into further question Suddendorf’s assertion that humans have fully “moved social traditions into cumulative culture” or “moved empathy into morality” or more disconcerting, on a planet of abundant food sources, have we moved jealousy into civil negotiation and altruism, especially toward compersion and less famine? I will explore later what is meant by compersion. Hauser’s four points however, particularly #2 and #4, help us recognize the “haziness” of supreme beings without discrediting the reasons why we may never be able to claim total planetary supremacy for the foreseeable future. Maybe the smarter question is “Why seek supremacy?” Or supremacy in any context. What responsibilities come with supremacy and are human brains capable of such a lofty position? I’d also ask Why not promote more lateral mobility instead of vertical mobility? Certainly less bodies and cadavers under heavy foot with the former than the latter.

Alexander Neill meets Ed Wilson

In the previous post I introduced A.S. Neill and his unconventional approach to parenting and education. I wish to return to him and the impact of external stimuli and nourishment (and malnourishment) for the human heart and mind.

asneill_cottage-storyWhen a child is born do you consider them at that instant to be inherently good, bad, or indifferent? Immediately after an average healthy normal 9-months in the womb, is a newborn significantly altered or influenced toward goodness, evil, or apathy? Do moral and ethical measurements begin during gestation, minutes after birth, or weeks and months after birth?

Believe it or not this is a very controversial topic in parts of the human world. A. S. Neill believed the only source of humanity’s worst behaviours start with parents, then socio-familial groups (their parents), and eventually nation-state ideologies. Neill therefore began a radical form of education by opening a new type of school.  “The merits [of Summerhill School] will be the merits” he explains “of healthy free children whose lives are unspoiled by fear and hate.” Students at Summerhill are not required, forced, or coerced to attend classes. They go of their own accord because they are genuinely interested and want to learn; or they can stay away from classrooms, for years if they choose.

When I first read Neill’s school policies I was stunned. As a teacher of five years in traditional public schools, I could only relate to my students, my campuses, and my childhood as a student with other students. My boyhood schools and the schools I would later teach in classrooms would have been zoos had the students had that much freedom! When I was a school boy I probably would’ve been just as deviant. I soon recognized I now had a serious conflict — I do not believe children are inherently evil at birth, nor into their toddler years. This caused me to seriously re-evaluate major and minor aspects of my life; aspects as a father, former teacher, and active U.S. citizen! Change was again in my front door.

In an October 2011 article by The Independent (U.K.), correspondent Sarah Cassidy interviews several alumni of Summerhill School.

It is one of the most famous schools in the world; a place where every lesson is voluntary and where youngsters can vote to suspend all the rules. Founded by the liberal thinker AS Neill, Summerhill turns 90 years old this year.

Famous alumni of the democratic or “free” school include actress Rebecca de Mornay, children’s author John Burningham and Storm Thorgerson, the rock album cover designer.

Other graduates include Michael Bernal, PhD in Mathematical Physics, Hylda Sims, novelist, poet, songwriter, event organizer in greater London, and Freer Speckley, International Development consultant for online facilitation and training. Author Hussein Lucas in his book After Summerhill interviews twelve other graduates and concludes:

The key feature that sums up the distinctive nature of the Summerhill experience is the virtual absence of fear: fear of failure; fear of authority; fear of social ostracism; fear of life and the consequent failure to engage with it with a feeling of optimism and a positive outlook.

If Lucas, Summerhill School, and its graduates, as well as founder A.S. Neill don’t sum up the enormous impact of human influence and interaction on a child’s and teenager’s formative educational years, then it certainly highlights social coping mechanisms during the adult years; years rot with fears of failure, authority, ostracism, life (suicides?), agoraphobia, and pessimism. I’ve watched several of these toxins develop in my sister for 40+ years and in a span of 7-days my father’s suicide. Personally, it took about four years of therapy for me to conquer my unhealthy codependency; as opposed to much healthier forms of human connection and love. I will explore several of these forms later. Meanwhile, where do these fears originate? Are they hardwired into us prenatally or do we contract them like air pollutants when we encounter other fear-bearers? How is fear justified or unjustified?

a.s.-neill

Alexander S. Neill

The question of fear’s origins is as much a question of timing as purpose. For an adult or a person capable of self-evaluation and adequate self-reliance, fear in its most basic form is a matter of life or death. We know or have been conditioned and/or educated that running red traffic-lights at intersections is taking your life into your hands, other driver’s hands, and others inside the vehicles and of nearby innocent bystanders. We know that fire and extreme heat along with smoke inhalation will kill us. We know that various weapons will terminate life (immediately?) when put to and/or fired at the head. We know that massive brain aneurysms or coronaries usually end in quick death. We know approaching certain wild animals who are in fear for their own lives or their offspring’s, or are merely very hungry, is chancing a violent death. The “timing” of this recognition comes much later in age after conditioning or retained educated fear. They are healthy fears or respect to those specific dangerous situations learned over time, i.e. realized fears. Infants, toddlers, or adolescents have not had the luxury of time or experience to learn necessary life-or-death fears. For better or for worse, the teaching and protection for life-safety and avoiding death, or realized fears, are in the parent’s or guardian’s hands. However, there can be the improper mixing of unrealized fears with life-or-death ones. This is where A.S. Neill diverges from traditional child-rearing and education. His postures can easily traverse our age groups.

It may be no exaggeration to say that all children in our civilization are born in a life-disapproving atmosphere. The time-table feeding [the mother’s breast milk or later] advocates are basically anti-pleasure. They want the child to be disciplined in feeding because non-timetable feeding suggests orgastic pleasure at the breast. The nutriment argument is usually a rationalization; the deep motive is to mold the child into a disciplined creature who will put duty before pleasure.

Neill goes on to give specific child-student scenarios denouncing repressive conditioning to fit-in, be acceptable, and fulfill duties of the state while being ashamed of individual passions and emotions, even self-awareness. Furthermore, these “unfree” conditions repress imagination and ingenuity, the very building blocks of refinement, progressiveness, adaptation, and pragmatism.

To sum up, my contention is that unfree education results in life that cannot be lived fully. Such an education almost entirely ignores the emotions of life; and because these emotions are dynamic, their lack of opportunity for expression must and does result in cheapness and ugliness and hatefulness. Only the head is educated. If the emotions are permitted to be really free, the intellect will look after itself.

The tragedy of man is that, like the dog, his character can be molded. You cannot mold the character of a cat, an animal superior to the dog. You can give a dog a bad conscience, but you cannot give a conscience to a cat. Yet most people prefer dogs because their obedience and their flattering tail wagging afford visible proof of the master’s superiority and worth.

Much of this Western social-political thinking and lifestyle stems from Antiquity between 300 CE until, in various subtle forms, the modern 1960’s and 70’s. The mentality is known as total depravation indoctrination as taught to the world by extreme Abrahamic religions upon the uneducated illiterate subjects of the empire. Neill writes…

The problem child [and adult?] is the child who is pressured into [holiness and piety] and sexual repression. Adults take it for granted that a child should be taught to behave in such a way that the adults will have as quiet a life as possible. Hence the importance attached to obedience, to manners, to docility.

If the condition of depravity isn’t taught outright by Abrahamic clergy and churches, it is certainly perpetuated by the obsessive perfectionists or tyrants of the world intolerant of responsible and total human freedom.

“The prude is in fact the libertine, without the courage to face their naked soul.”

Indeed. And there is another renown scientist and Naturalist that would echo much of what A.S. Neill claims. He advocates a return, if not at least a constant remembrance, to who we really are and where we actually come from. His name is Harvard graduate, social-biologist, and naturalist Edward O. Wilson. In 1979 his book called On Human Nature won the Pulitzer Prize. He has since authored other acclaimed books such as The Diversity of Life, Naturalist his biography, Concilience: The Unity of Knowledge, and in 1990 co-authored and published with German behavioral and evolutionary biologist Bert Hölldobler the book The Ants that won his second Pulitzer Prize.

Advanced Social Behavior and Who Has It

Sociobiology has only recently become a scientific field of study: the mid-1970’s. E. O. Wilson defines sociobiology as “the systematic study of the biological basis of all social behavior” whether human or non-human. Because many human intellectuals and human groups regard Homo sapiens as highly advanced, Wilson’s theories and definition of sociobiology flew in the face of old “supremacy” traditions, particularly of the divine persuasion. But as I reflect back on human history, the brilliant and the atrocious, and how Homo sapiens behave toward and treat each other despite social labels and imaginative beliefs, I want to hear-out everything Wilson has to say. In fact, it might be intellectual suicide or quicker extinction not to.

eo.wilson.ants_.men

Edward O. Wilson

Earlier I compared differences between humans and animals. Bertrand Russell asserted that what sets us apart from other species was intelligence; speech, fire, agriculture, writing, tools, and large-scale cooperation or social behavior. Thomas Suddendorf further expounds that humans are avid scenario-builders and time-travellers, being able to bring into existence what our minds created in the past. And Marc Hauser asserted that with our highly cognitive brains we are able to generate complex computations, promiscuous combinations of ideas, mental symbols, and construct and contemplate abstract thoughts. Along with these advanced abilities and skills we seek to share them with our own kind in order to survive better, easier, and advance our species, especially those we love and cherish. This is called eusociality. From the field of biology, Wilson asked “Why did any animal, whether human or insect, evolve complex societies and behavior?” and from his research he defines eusociality as exhibiting three characteristics:

  1. Groups of individuals within that species living together for more than two generations.
  2. Adults caring for the young; usually intimately caring for them.
  3. They have to have a reproductive division of labor, i.e. some of those individuals in that society have to be giving up part of their longevity, perhaps, or at least reproductive capacity to serve the others; in other words, real altruism inside the group.

Out of the 10-million estimated living species on Earth, we only know about, study and understand 2-million; and of those 2-million living species, only 19 of them are truly of eusocial evolutionary lines. Sixteen of them are insects. Another aspect of eusociality in insects, like ants or bees, is that an individual serves the survival of the whole and act in almost perfect syncronization with other individuals in the entire colony, called the superorganism. This same behavior is called altruism in human contexts.

The only eusocial primates are Homo sapiens, us. Therefore, being the only primates with the advanced social behavior of eusociality coupled with highly developed cognitive skills Suddendorf and Hauser point out, can we learn anything more from the species who have been eusocial the longest, over 120-million years? Wilson thinks so. He has spent his entire life studying insects like ants. In fact, Wilson asserted in the 70’s that human social behavior, origins of human emotional mechanisms and instincts, evolved in the same ways as those other 18 eusocial species: in nature. This caused a firestorm not only among biologists, but social scientists and activists as well.

The Sociobiology Wars

In 1975 Ed Wilson suggested that social behaviors like human bonding and morality must have a biological neurological basis. They must have evolved. “The time has come” said Wilson, “for ethics to be removed temporarily from the hands of the philosophers and biologicized.” Social scientists and activists of that time did not take too kindly to his “regressive” claims. Back in the 1970’s the fields of psychology, sociology, and philosophy had fought long hard battles against late 19th century, early 20th century ideals of racism and sexism, and won or at least made progressive strides toward winning. Ed Wilson was seen as regressing backwards to those barbaric racial hierarchies and patriarchal ideologies. His naysayers at that time imagined he was attempting to revive those old discredited social systems and that human nature could only be understood through biology and genetic manipulation benefitting a race or gender.

Jonathan Haidt, social psychologist at New York University and Yale University/University Pennsylvania alumnus, explains the heated controversy Wilson found himself:

“The most sacred value of anti-racism and also related, anti-sexism was anything that remotely threatened those values would trigger a nerve and those groups would go haywire! And that’s what happened [in 1975-76]. Ed was simply saying ‘Well, maybe human nature is innate, maybe we evolved with a division of labor between men and women.’ Woah! You’re saying that there could be genetic differences between men and women!? But that could justify sexism. That could justify paying men and women differently! Therefore, it must be wrong!”

There was even a manifesto entitled Against Sociobiology written by several of Wilson’s colleagues at Harvard from their biology department denouncing Wilson’s sociobiology and that it could license racism, sexism, slavery, and genocide. Some demonstrations and picket-lines on the campus turned verbally abusive. After a class lecture Wilson gave he required a police escort out the back doors. But Wilson withstood the storm and stood his ground.

As more studies, research, and data poured in over the 1990’s and into the 21st century in the fields of psychology, genetics, anthropology, neurology, and other related fields, it seems to be increasingly plausible, Wilson says there are indeed “general properties of the way the human mind develops and children acquire culture, preferences, and biases adopted by people that have a biological nature.” If there is one benefit afforded the modern fields of psychology, genetics, anthropology, and neurology by E. O. Wilson’s battle scars, it is the free-range deeper exploration and study of human nature against the backdrop of biodiversity.

Being and Becoming More Human

A. S. Neill and E. O. Wilson have opened the roof on human nature by examining human sexuality, human aggression, human dominance, human collaboration and learning, and human emotions like fear, anger, jealousy, pride, guilt, sympathy and empathy through a biological lens.

“It is one thing to observe that we must have a human nature, quite another to discover what it is and how we came by it.

Exalted we are, written to be the mind of the biosphere without a doubt, our spirits uniquely capable of awe, and evermore breathtaking leaps of imagination. But we are still part of Earth’s fauna and flora, bound to it by emotion, physiology, and not least, deep history.”

Neill and Wilson show we are inexplicably part of the natural world. Our minds and emotions evolved in and from nature and with each other. Understanding nature and biology means understanding that evolution. That evolution began between 100,000 and 200,000 years ago on the continent of Africa.

Just as our biosphere supports us and is supported by some 10-million estimated species today in various ecosystems all over the world, paleoanthropologists have revealed we humans also come from a diverse background of at least 13 different bipedal hominids to-date: Homo sapiens likely from Homo naledi, less likely Homo neanderthalensis or Homo floresiensis, then from Homo heidelbergensis or Homo erectus, then from Homo rudolfensis or more likely Homo habilis, then Australopithecus sediba, a yet unknown or unspecified but likely Homo species now being studied, then less likely the Australopithecus garhi or A. africanus, then Kenyanthropus platyops, then Australopithecus afarensis, to finally Australopithecus anamensis from 4-million years ago and at least four more species (Ardipethicus) dating back to around 6 to 7-million years ago. Every single one of these above listed species have similar body traits to modern humans; less so further back in time, increasingly so nearing our 100,000 – 60,000 year genetic markers.

It wasn’t just the physical human form that originated in Africa. It was also our human nature; our biological-neurological natures. Today, paleoanthropologists have a much clearer picture of how our human brain developed. How the frontal lobes expanded over millions of years into the 2.8 pound mass and shape we have today. But what has been lacking in science the last several centuries has been the meaning of humanity…the origin of our social behavior. When and how did humans go from being social, like primates today, to being intensely cooperative building astounding civilizations together?

Tomasello-chimps-childrenDr. Michael Tomasello is the co-director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Liepzig, Germany. A Duke and University of Georgia alumnus and comparative psychologist, since the 1990’s he has studied “the unique cognitive and cultural processes that distinguish humans from their nearest primate relatives, the other great apes.” Tomasello’s work has earned him many awards, the latest being the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award by the American Psychological Association in 2015. In his developmental research he has focused on how human children become cooperating members of cultural groups, focusing in recent years on uniquely human skills and motivations for shared intentionality: joint intentions, joint attention, collaboration, prosocial motives, and social norms. Tomasello:

“If the last common ancestor of humans and apes was like modern-day great apes, it was a pretty competitive individual. Fighting for food every day and maybe cooperating a little bit. And what had to happen in human evolution is that humans had to become more cooperative to live in the kind of societies that we live in today.”

The transition from being somewhat social and cooperative within not just familial ties, but in a small group, to being ultra social and cooperative beyond family and small groups was indeed our species greatest moment. It is exactly what removed us from the majority of all primates and other animals, and into that unique distinctive group of 19 advanced eusocial species, and arguably above those other eighteen. Ants did it about 150-million years ago. Humans followed about 1-million years ago when our ancient ancestors developed advanced cooperation defending their campsites and young. Dr. Haidt adds…

“…that transition from being like chimpanzees, that are highly social, to being eusocial, being able to work in very large groups, even with strangers, as we are doing here today. None of us are siblings, but we’re all working together really well because we got all these moral emotions. We are built for this stuff.”

Comparing today’s chimpanzees — the closest genetic relative to humans at about 0.1% difference! — with young children age 1 to 6 years in controlled experiments, time after time shows one singular significant difference in social behavior. Dr. Tomasello determined through cooperation tests one innate feature which sets us apart, as children, from chimpanzees and other apes.

“There is food on a board, and a rope is strung through [carabiners] in the board, so that if one [child or chimp] pulls, it just comes out [disconnected]…you have to pull at the same time to get the board to come inward. If you split the food, one part of the food on one side of the board and one part on the other side, both children and chimps pull it in and are quite successful. But when you pile the food in the middle, the children are still quite good at [cooperating and sharing], they take around half each, and they keep cooperating trial after trial, but with the chimpanzees, everything falls apart because the dominant takes all the food, the subordinate says, ‘What’s in it for me?’ and that’s the end of it.”

Another experiment Tomasello and the Max Planck Institute uses to demonstrate innate eusociality and altruism in human child behavior versus chimps is this fascinating 5-minute video:

A. S. Neill would be extremely pleased with these experiments, with Tomasello, and the Max Planck Institute because they show how toddlers and young children have been wired for altruism, cooperation, and fairness over hundreds of thousands of years. When the opposite behavior is exhibited — e.g. bullying, greed, debasement, psychological egoism, rational egoism — suffering ensues and it begs the question, has that person or group devolved or succumbed to very ancient primate behavior due to choice, genetics, or environment, or all three? Neill and Wilson say humans from birth cooperate instinctively. Whether we stop or continue is a question of teaching, parenting, and community. And sadly to some extent, the available (and shared) wealth and resources and ecosystems Earth abundantly provides. Here we learn what it means to be more human, or less human.

Pushing Beyond “Advanced” Homo Sapien

The term Homo sapien is derived from the Latin homo, meaning man + sapien, meaning wise or rationale. I would like for us to soon become a new species, Humana participatio. This is already happening in certain pockets of the world.

What does it mean to be the Latin Humana participatio? Well, humana is Latin for human being, and participatio means simply sharing. But the act of sharing isn’t just giving what we are or have, it is also about connecting, or in Latin connectens. Thus, I also need to state Humana connectens-participatio! What I mean by that is a sharing of our entire being and a receiving of another’s. It is a flowing two-way connection. And since all humans have the innate want to “distribute knowledge” and experience (more sharing via strong, weak, or absent interpersonal ties) as well as receive knowledge and experience from others and our world, it isn’t or shouldn’t be limited to just two-way connections, but multiple connections. After all, that is how Homo sapiens took the giant leap ahead…over all other primates! Can it be done again? More fully? Personally, I think so; much of the genetic wiring is already present.

Where can we start?

There are a number of human areas to tackle and a number of biological-ecological areas too. The biological-ecological domains are already being addressed, several with fierce opposition, like global climate change and social inequality, but the noble efforts have been recognized, awareness and education has risen, and there are changes in progress. But by comparison and contrast, those advancements seem to be the easiest of the two. They are external changes and progression, not intimate internal ones. Why are outward external issues typically addressed more quickly compared to internal intimate ones?

There seems to be at least two hurdles that give us, advanced homo sapiens, progressive problems:  1) those unrealized fears mentioned earlier, and 2) the Path of Least Resistance; in other words, simply because we are such eusocial beings, it is important that we FEEL included and not excluded by our peers…so we are greatly tempted to take or remain on the Path of Least Resistance. This sometimes (often? always?) does not bode well for progress, for needed evolution, or for dire adaptation.

On the other hand, there are many primus Humana connectens-participatis around the world without or little unrealized fears or lounging in/on the PLR. Their prominence and times around the world might surprise you…

  1. Abolitionists, or opponents to any type of human slavery; at least 70 groups worldwide and well over 260 individual leaders, historically and contemporary. Some 200 of those 260 individuals were/are not of African decent.
  2. Chinese Dissidents, or intellectuals who push the boundaries of society or criticize their governments; currently 36 individuals detained or jailed, 17 to be arrested upon return to China, 13 to be refused reentry into China, and 29to be dealt with” by the Chinese authorities and leadership.
  3. Civil Rights Leaders and their organizations; at least 126 individuals throughout history and today.
  4. Activists for Disability Rights, fighting for equal treatment for those with physical and mental disabilities; some 59 individuals.
  5. Feminists, or the advocacy of women’s political, social, and economic rights to equality with men; at least 772 advocates (male and female) from the 13th century up to today.
  6. LGBT Advocacy Groups, or social-support groups or organizations advocating equal rights for sexually non-traditional, non-binary, non-hetero relational people, couples, and groups; 13 international groups, and well over 1,000+ groups in various nations around the world and on most continents, along with twice as many individuals, and growing annually.
  7. Anti-war and Peace Groups, with over 200 anti-war organizations worldwide, past and present, and well over 300 prominent individual activists.
  8. Women’s Suffragists and Rights expands even further the Feminists list above, past and present.

As you can well see, there have been plenty of primus Humana connectens-participatis among us and there are many around us today who ignore those hurdles of unrealized fears and the temptation of the PLR. They have helped humanity push beyond our walls of 200,000 years as Homo sapien and they invite the rest of us to leap forward with them.

A Further Proposal

I mentioned earlier that there are two domains in which modern humans can influence change and progress:  A) the external and outward biological-ecological systems which truly need our utmost steadfast attention and care, and then B) the internal emotional and cognitive systems. It is the latter domain that is much less known and understood, as a group and species, and therefore by default too often falls by the wayside. If this “default” does not change in time, then it is my personal opinion that we are doing a great disservice to ourselves, our loved ones, our species, and our planet…and as a consequence we will continue to struggle or stagnate in near-primate social conundrums incapable or crippled to keep up as proficient learners, empathizers, and adapters; to best act and react, to fail better and succeed better in this beautiful daunting world and Multiverse we live on, in, and amongst. Diversity gives us the strength and higher virtues to become more human. Singularity, strict conformity, judgement, individualism makes us weaker, less human.

“Exclusion makes us suffer. Inclusion makes us thrive.”

I propose two assignments, two goals to achieve. First, learn and live compersion or higher levels of compersion. If you are a parent, you have experienced or are likely already familiar with compersion. It is the feeling of joy one has experiencing another’s joy, such as in witnessing your toddler’s joy or another’s toddler and feeling joy in response. There have been many wise axioms that expand the essence of compersion. One such adage is if you love someone/something, let it go. If it returns, it is yours. If it doesn’t, it never was. But that’s not all. It is also the feeling of joy associated with seeing and feeling a loved one love another, including your intimate partner(s) or spouse. This is perhaps one of the ultimate forms of compersion in an age-old society of restrictions and repression. What those confining social dynamics cause are unrealized potential, even brilliance and/or unknown euphoric levels of happiness, joy, and connection. Clearly what is NOT present during compersion are its opposites:  jealousy, greed, anger, verbal or physical abuse/threats, selfish-hoarding, and even hints of solipsism. Learning to better manage our “darker” emotional traits (in controlled structured environs; BDSM?) is a means to rule over them rather than they rule over us and others — when and how to switch them on and off. In some respects, those darker behaviors are used to benefit individuals and groups, much the same way an athlete and athletic teams painfully push physical and mental limits to become better.

The second assignment or goal is therefore to redefine, or retool, or liberate our lifestyle, our personality, relationships, affecting our world and environment, and our conventions, then doing the same to our deathstyle. These are the six areas I will explore in the next post of the series Untapped Worlds — Maior Liberatio. I hope that I have not encumbered your reading brains and eyes too much here, and you will join me for the next installment, the last one… I think. 😉  Meanwhile, please feel free to share your thoughts and comments on this series and post below!

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Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always

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