The five of us lounged in recliners and the two soft leather couches with wine or cocktails in hand. We had finished our saucers with portions such as artichoke dip with Mediterranean Herb or Sea-salted pita crackers. Fresh strawberries, grapes, broccoli and cauliflower bites and a crab-log dip were also available. After all, it was my small, modest birthday party — just as I like it.
When you die, how do you wish to be remembered and by whom?
We five had arrived at this question in a rather funny way. Ms. Lyncháge had been describing how when she and her late husband had friends over to their small farm cottage, his billy goats — particularly the bucks she explained — seemed to always mount the does just in time and en massé to show off the grandeur of raw masculinity to their human guests. Her and her late husband’s embarrassed… umm, excuses to guests about the loud pornographic show was essentially caused by the local water and/or the trees, bushes, weeds, or “Fescue-passion grass” as possible causes of untimely uninhibited goat-sex. “Is there much difference between goat-love and any other mammalian love?” I asked the room. My mother chimed in “Hah! As one of eleven children, I can safely say ‘HELL YES!’” She pointed over to a large picture of my maternal grandparents (below), specifically her father.
Grandpa & Grandma Bonnet
If there were a hundred different oral tales and stories about my maternal grandparents, the one that was always discernible was Grandpa Bonnet was cheerfully relaxed and content and Grandma Bonnet: easily agitated. Apparently twelve times and over 172 years agitated, if combining all their children’s rearing years! Ms. Lyncháge, my Mom, and Mrs. Mortician all vehemently gave their personal agreements, and with all being grandmothers too, in unison proclaimed proudly and resoundingly “Keep your damn thingy AWAY from me!“
When you die, how do you wish to be remembered and by whom?
Several months ago I learned from Mom more about the maternal side of the Bonnets: the Preece side. It was widely suspected among my maternal grandmother’s family that two, possibly three Aunts were ladies of the night. This apparently was one cause (among many I’m sure) to why one Preece-branch was Pentecostal Church goers, and the other… umm, “something else.” As our family story goes, my Grandpa and Grandma Bonnet would not talk much about “that part” of the family. At family reunions I often heard from other maternal aunts, uncles, great cousins, great aunts and great uncles that “not much is known about that side of the family.” No matter how many times Why was asked, the answers were short and vague. A family conundrum having lived within a few miles or half-day’s slow horse ride from each other!
When you die, how do you wish to be remembered and by whom?
Last July while visiting two days/nights with my Aunt and Uncle — my Dad’s younger brother and sister-in-law — I learned some fascinating details about my paternal grandmother’s side (Konzack and Tacquard) going back five and six generations to Xavier and wife Robin Gauthier, who in the early 1800’s lived southwest of Paris, France in Baillou near Le Mans. It was known much of the Tacquard side lived in and around Vauthiermont near Switzerland before some moved toward Paris. I read a copy of a personal letter written in French by Robin Gauthier to my grandmother’s maternal family (the Tacquards) in Alta Loma, Texas transposed into English by one of my French-English speaking great great aunts; see following images.
Learning about such intimate details of our Gauthier and Guyot ancestors, as well as life in 1850s France was not just fascinating, but very personal. They descended from a Germanic origin which in various socio-familial ways, timelines, migrations and immigrations found their way from 1830-1840’s Europe to Galveston and Indianola, Texas. As the personal letter reads, the story of our Tacquard family is one of genuine enthusiasm and some hardships. It explains in part why so many traveled so far to Texas for new opportunities.
The majority of otherwise less known white-Texas history — for example, the truer history as opposed to those families from southeastern and midwest slave states from early America and their versions — actually originates from German, French, and some Eastern European, Italian, and Spanish heritage. These various Texian-Tejano families typically settled in early 19th-century townships and counties with familiar cultures and customs. Several Texas genealogical historians today record that these groups of Texas-Europeans fled their native continent to escape political, religious, and racial tyrannies. This stands in clear contrast to what southeastern and midwest slave-owning U.S. families brought to mid-to-late 19th-century Texas which is more widely told or written. Most all of my maternal and paternal ancestral family sides were, in various degrees, libertarians, reformists, agorists, abolitionists, and/or egalitarians. Click here for a brief encapsulation of the first Tacquards arriving in 1844 Indianola and founding the town of Castroville, Texas. They tried to stick together through time and travels, usually succeeding. My Konzack-Tacquard line had what might only be described as (by wide comparisons)… unconventional spousal, parenting, passionate and lively social relationships within their innermost circle.
Romance, dancing, flirtation, absorbing enchantment, and frankly sex were never viewed or practiced as dirty, evil, or sinful. On the contrary, it was gladly embraced as quite natural, quite human; a necessary pleasure if you will. My paternal grandmother was a nationally competing ballroom dancer, and she was exceptionally graceful. Her mother, my great grandmother Lucile Tacquard-Konzack, I fondly remember as spunky, charmingly agile for her lofty age, forthright, and always ready to laugh. My father absolutely idolized her. She and her family loved life and those dearest to her. Every year the “Kiddo” Tacquard reunion, barbeque, spirited-beverages, and live music by bands that could play all the popular Texas 2-step and waltz songs, 1950’s jitterbugs and swings, as well as the traditional French-German polkas and schottisches out on Kiddo’s massive unwalled hay-barn with concrete foundation scattered with sawdust was a town spectacle. It was a gathering of all in-law families and close friends numbering in the hundreds. Through my adolescence into my 20’s this partying reunion was an event I feverishly looked forward to every July 4th holiday weekend! Some of my fondest happiest memories were there with everyone.
These family traits were and had been passed down from generation to generation, especially through maternal family lines. My father learned about intercourse from a live demonstration by his parents at the age of sixteen. Tis true. Upon the death of my paternal grandmother, my aforementioned uncle and aunt, while sorting through all her private belongings, discovered in one of her favorite books several nude photos of herself taken at their nearby rural bayou-property. Shy, as I remember, was never a Konzack-Tacquard quirk. Life was to be fully experienced, not feared.
So returning to my present-day birthday party-guests, I shared these family customs, with some discretion of course, and I asked the room…
When you die, how do you wish to be remembered and by whom?
My great grandmother Lucile Tacquard-Konzack, c. 1916
“I would destroy or burn anything like that!” replied Mrs. Mortician. “Oh, I have already done away with” Ms. Lyncháge explained, “items of that nature between my late husband and I.” We all laughed at such family secrets. Earlier in the evening in the kitchen they had heard my Mom and I briefly talk about our Preece Ladies of the Night and more family secrets. And why not? When you are among close dear friends who are very trustworthy, what are “appropriate” necessary boundaries? What constitutes truly endearing adoring friendships? What should immediate and extended family descendants be expected to understand about multi-faceted dynamics and expressions of love? Who best to learn from?
Over the last couple years my mother continues packing or unpacking to move out of her house going through very sentimental personal letters and items she and my father exchanged while dating. Reading and reminiscing she tacitly expressed to me how passionate and sexual their earliest years had truly been. My personality (family DNA?) warmly thought “How natural; how very human. As it should be.“
As a tribute from my own generation’s music, I offer this song I feel is my dance of life for my family of lifetime music-loving dancers going back at least five and six generations…
A Konzack-Tacquard heirloom – 1913 Edison Amberola Phonograph
When you die, how do you wish to be remembered and by whom?
In my own personal lifetime, I too have created and accumulated MANY cherished romantic, fervent, even wickedly primal moments, and many with photos, in letters, and on video. During our separation and inevitable divorce, my children’s mother made me burn everything intimate and/or sexual we had between us, including all the Swinging-BDSM photos and videos. At the time I did so in the earnest hope I might save our marriage and my family. Today, I understand why she demanded it all be destroyed, but I don’t agree with her reasons. To this day I still have 3-5 recently past relationships of cherished, romantic, steamy memories safely and secretly stored away. Those 3-5 ladies know I have them and the others. To them, or any intimate partner in my future, I do not hide this. It is my way of expressing to them how much they meant to me and still mean to me. All beauty and passion should be free. All have opportunities to be just as adored, just as loved if not more. Come what may!
Me – Professor Taboo
My hope is that she/they would embrace all my moving past life-moments and for my own personal reasons, cherished memories from a window of time that made me who I am. Very fun unforgettable times, past. Moments captured in a time gone by, but not lost. Nothing more, nothing less. Or are they?
If you pass into the afterlife, or pass from this life sooner than expected, suddenly… should those cherished, sentimental, romantic, passionate things be (or have been) destroyed forever, never to be known or treasured by even your closest most meaningful persons or descendants?
When you die, how do you wish to be remembered and by whom? What will your true legacy be?
Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always
Finally! It’s here. The end. The last part! You are welcome to laugh with me, please. I am. Find a lounge chair, this is the last epic(?) post in persnickety. 😉
A Quick Prologue
I am completely aware that this post is over 11,000 words long. It is extensive to say the least. But I’ve written this much because I feel all the points covered are important, no, critical to drive home just how much day-in and day-out we humans miss so much detail, so much little and large bits of intrigue, mystery, and unrealized joy waiting to be seized and experienced. I encourage you to read the entire post. Read it in portions over two or three days, but please complete the entire post. There is likely something new for you that you had never considered which might catapult your existence into an entirely new dimension.
* * * * * * * * * *
Previously in Untapped Worlds – Retooling I closed with two suggestions. The first was to realize what compersion is and is not, and how we should embody its fullest meaning. Embracing a mostexpansive form of compersion is critical. The second suggestion plays off the first. While learning exactly what compersion means, open the flood gates of your lifestyle and deathstyle. Yes, you read correctly. Make your life practically inseparable from death! Sounds spooky and insane doesn’t it? Sounds contradictory doesn’t it? Shush! Hold on…
Put aside tendencies to understand death literally. Put aside for a moment the fear and obscurity civilization’s foreboding institutions have trained your brain to “escape” and disengage death. Now let’s ask the question once again, What does it mean to be more human?
What is personality? How it is formed. Is it set in granite from birth or is it molded throughout stages of life? In my May 2013 post DRD4-7R I shared what geneticists had found as the chemical brain messenger — the 7R variant of DRD4 — linked to curiosity and restlessness found in 20% of the population. This would suggest that a newborn infant comes with a basic blueprint, but one which expands (or retracts) in stages based upon external stimuli or influences, but interpreted by the internal (neurogenetical) reckoning birth-print. Many modern cardiologists and addictionologists would argue not a basic birthprint, but a familial-print or hereditary-print. Religious clergy, rabbis, and imam/ulama most certainly take it much further. They fall on the side of the ‘granite’ birthprint.
The spectrum of personality’s origin and expression probably falls somewhere in between the two extremes of the nomothetic and idiographic schools. Personally, I fall squarely toward the idiographic for two major reasons. One, human conception and gestation lasts only about 9-months. Granted, there is no denying that those genes passed down from approximately 500,000 generations over the last 200,000 years (start of Homo sapiens only), after those 9-months the experiential influences such as culture, social, and situational factors then interact over an average lifespan of 71-years by today’s figures. Two, psychological states such as PTSD clearly and unequivocally reveal just how sweeping an impact external factors effect personality.
As I also covered in Untapped Worlds – An Intro and Departure, the first two parts of the series, the human brain and body are quite malleable by environment and individually reckoned by our neurogenetic familial-print. As science becomes increasingly useful for verifying the Nature of life it shows the human brain and body are less influenced by general or monistic laws of exoteric or esoteric existence. Human personality is significantly formed and moved like a river which to exist requires tributaries, a landscape, a mouth, and its sea or ocean.
James G. Ballard. Abraham Lincoln. Or the some thousands listed in the Fathers Hall of Fame at the National Center for Fathering who did or now live and practice intimate intensive relationships nurturing and expanding their domestic responsibilities. There are a cut of men, fathers, who make great mothers. Many of them are single, waking early to make breakfast, drive their kids to school or extracurricular activities, and then in the late afternoon do the same and get them to bed. Repeat in the morning.
I did all the domestic duties for a year-and-a-half with my two children; one 7-years of age at the time, the other our newborn just home from hospital. Those 18-months were without a doubt the most exhausting and fulfilling times of my life. I will never again take for granted what millions of mothers do day in and day out. They never get near as much acclaim as they should.
A Lost History of the Full Household
How many of you men or fathers have managed a household with multiple children? Can you remember those late late nights and wee-morning hours? Sleep? What sleep.
Managing a romance and a household is really beyond a full-time job. It is your own small business but with your entire life savings, retirement, prospective growth-plan, budget, and all three areas of personal health invested… for better or worse. Talk about walking the edge, the fine line, it’s more than enough to put many a man into panic mode. Dads of the West Congo, called the Aka Pygmies, know exactly what I’m speaking about. The Arapesh of New Guinea also know. In the African Ituri the Mbuti are superb fathers. In Tahiti women can be chiefs of their entire tribe! What we industrialized workaholic Westerners see as primitive, they share all responsibilities of child-rearing and parenting equally; right down the middle. In some cases the fathers happily do more! In these “primitive” cultures, sharing domestic duties are not determined by biology or gender. That is a foreign concept. Their dynamic lives are full of everything humanly possible. Parenting and romance to them are embraced art forms in the same context and pragmatism as their neighboring animal counterparts. Long ago the peoples of the Western hemisphere had the same setups. But three major events changed the family households for centuries to come.
The industrial revolution was the first culprit of the household’s demise. In a mechanized civilization long setup to serve/benefit the males, the Western nations would soon see the wide-ranging consequences of fatherless households. The other contributing events were birth-control and rightly so Feminism. With these three changes came a complete revamping of Western families. But recently slight changes have started a small return to our specie’s natural equal roles. In Sweden fathers get 1-year off for paternity leave, unpaid. Though only around 14% of the leave is actually used, it is a percentage that is slowly growing.
Expanding and returning a man’s domestic roles are required. In those parts of the post-Industrial Revolution world like the U.S., it is more dire given our domestic violence, criminal, divorce, and homeless statistics. Since the early 19th century overhaul of the old traditional households, returning the husband/father back home seems today like an Untapped World.
How many elderly people have you heard reminiscing of lost family dinners and family time together? How many people do you know, myself included, that enjoy and look forward to family meals of an hour or more? What about for family reunions?
In our American culture of convenience, declining motion due to pay-others-to-do-it, and less patience for perceived problems, have we lost the benefits of friction-to-resolution which leads to a growing art of deeper adaptable conversation and understanding? Family conflicts are rarely solved unless people learn to talk WITH one another not at, and investing the necessary time and energy to do so. But how accurate are our great grandparents memories of a family closeness gone by?
Lost family time is probably a figment of the imagination by earlier generations. Before or after the industrial revolution, birth-control, and Feminism three historical barriers kept families detached:
Segregation. From Socratic Greece to Europe’s Black Death and industrialization, to the Nuer of East Africa or the Baikairi of Amazon, one’s age and gender determined what you could or couldn’t do with the men and family.
Silence. Foreign visitors to Elizabethan England, Beatrice Gottlieb writes, were silent occasions. Italian etiquette dictated that ‘talk is not for the table, but for the piazza.’ And the Rule of St. Benedict taught ‘days are to be spent in silent prayer, avoiding evil words and conduct’, and family meals were for listening to Scripture readings in reverence of God, not idle talk. The same reverent silence was found among Quakers and Buddhists of the time.
Emotional repression. By the 18th century the social norm of European conversation was one of intellect and wit turned into an eloquent social art to be displayed. One’s plumes could be presented in such coffeehouses where educated MEN could gather and match their show with colleagues about politics, business, art, literature, and current science. One such example was Turk’s Head Tavern, Soho, where women and children were strictly prohibited.
If 18th century social conversation was about cerebral edification for the men, the 19th century was about hidden emotions scratching, clawing, and pushing out the nails and hinges of their locked basement doors. There is much irony found in the title-given period: the Romantic Movement. Though we find glimmers of primal passion in the poetry of Coleridge and Keats, for example, open displays of affection and emotions by men were reserved for paper only. Expressions of such raw instincts was considered irrational and a lack of masculinity! This was absolutely the case at home during family dinners at the table. All topics and conversation were lead and managed by the man of the house. The childhood and life of John Stuart Mill is a sad ‘family’ testimony of the repressed Victorian Era represented by his father.
Expanding Sympathy into Deep Empathy
Many might feel the Golden Rule catches the essence of empathy: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Though it is a popular notion, it is not concentrated properly. It centers on you — your own experience, your own subjective views — and thus how you feel you should be treated apart from a wider general view or consensus. The Golden Rule falls quite short. Empathy requires much more. It requires putting yourself into their life, their shoes, and metaphorically (or literally?) walking in them 100-miles.
Claiborne Paul Ellis (aka C.P. Ellis) was born into an impoverished North Carolina white family in 1927. His father was a white supremacist and active member of the Ku Klux Klan. C.P. inherited all of his father’s world-views and like Adolf Hitler hated all Jews, C.P. blamed all blacks for his socio-economic and occupational woes, indirectly the birth of his own youngest son born blind and mentally impaired, and finally despised the civil rights movement all throughout the South and his native state. When a $78,000 federal grant was given to North Carolina to aid in public school desegregation, as acting president of Durham County’s KKK chapter C.P. was asked how to spend it. Ironically Ellis was elected a member of that committee along with civil right activist Ann Atwater. What followed is nothing short of spectacular:
Because of a simple 10-days long collaboration at the same table as your “hated enemy”, your entire world-view and life can be overturned and done with the most incredible benefits: spending quality-quantity time with other humans, especially those very different than you, and a lifelong friendship begun. C.P. Ellis and Ann Atwater are proof that truer unabridged empathy unites.
Love and Compersion
A historically conservative United States as well as some similar nation-cultures have a general and quite limited notion of love and how it can be more fully received and expressed. The ancient Greeks had no such constraints but one. They recognized at least six varieties of love. Roman Krznaric, an author, cultural philosopher, professor of sociology and politics at Cambridge University and City University, London, and advisor to the United Nations on using empathy and conversation to create social change, describes these six Greek forms of love — notice the difference of Athenian eros versus modern notions of love or romance:
Eros – The first kind of love was eros, named after the Greek god of fertility, and represented the idea of sexual passion and desire. But the Greeks didn’t always think of it as something positive, as we tend to today. In fact, eros was viewed as a dangerous, fiery and irrational form of love that could take hold of you and possess you — an attitude shared by many later spiritual thinkers, such as the Christian writer C.S. Lewis. Eros involved a loss of control that frightened the Greeks. Which is odd, because losing control is precisely what many people now seek in a relationship. Don’t we all hope to fall “madly” in love?
Philia – The second variety of love was philia or friendship, which the Greeks valued far more than the base sexuality of eros. Philia concerned the deep comradely friendship that developed between brothers in arms who had fought side by side on the battlefield. It was about showing loyalty to your friends, sacrificing for them, as well as sharing your emotions with them. (Another kind of philia, sometimes called storge, embodied the love between parents and their children.) We can all ask ourselves how much of this comradely philia love we have in our lives. It’s an important question in an age when we attempt to amass “friends” on Facebook or ‘followers’ on Twitter — achievements that would have hardly impressed the Greeks.
Ludus – This was the Greek’s idea of playful love, which referred to the playful affection between children or young lovers. We’ve all had a taste of it in the flirting and teasing in the early stages of a relationship. But we also live out our ludus when we sit around in a bar bantering and laughing with friends, or when we go out dancing. Dancing with strangers may be the ultimate ludic activity, almost a playful substitute for sex itself. Social norms frown on this kind of adult playful frivolity, but a little more ludus might be just what we need to spice up our love lives.
Agape – The fourth love, and perhaps the most radical, was agape or selfless love. This was a love that you extended to all people, whether family members or distant strangers. Agape was later translated into Latin as caritas, which is the origin of our word charity. Lewis referred to it as “gift love,” the highest form of Christian love. But it also appears in other religious traditions, such as the idea of mettā or “universal loving kindness” in Theravāda Buddhism. There is growing evidence that agape is in a dangerous decline in many countries. Empathy levels in the U.S. have dropped nearly 50 percent over the past 40 years, with the steepest fall occurring in the past decade. We urgently need to revive our capacity to care about strangers.
Pragma – Another Greek love was pragma or mature love. This was the deep understanding that developed between long-married couples. It was about making compromises to help the relationship work over time, and showing patience and tolerance. The psychoanalyst Erich Fromm said that we expend too much energy on “falling in love” and need to learn more how to “stand in love.” Pragma is precisely about standing in love — making an effort to give love rather than just receive it. With divorce rates currently running at 50 percent, the Greeks would surely think we should bring a serious dose of pragma into our relationships.
Philautia – The final variety of love was philautia or self-love. The clever Greeks realized there were two types. One was an unhealthy variety associated with narcissism, where you became self-obsessed, and focused on gaining personal fame and fortune. A healthier version of philautia enhanced your wider capacity to love. The idea was that if you like yourself and feel secure in yourself, you will have plenty of love to give others (today this is reflected in the Buddhist-inspired concept of “self-compassion”). Or as Aristotle put it, “All friendly feelings for others are an extension of man’s feelings for himself.”
And that is compersion.
What struck me the most about the Greek’s emotional diversity was they sought it, embraced it, and refined it in its many forms with a wide-range of people, not just one. They extended it to friends, colleagues, immediate and extended family, spouses, lovers, strangers, and equally to themselves! Krznaric goes on to explain that this approach to human connection would be practically unrecognizable in today’s social circles — or relentlessly chastised for its pluralism and depth. The ancient Greeks would be shocked by our extreme narrow-mindedness and ideals.
Another modern extension of the Greek philia love (or pseudo-storge?) is the little known form of compersion. This love-form also combines possible sexual (eros) and/or emotional joy (philia) discovered outside a traditional binary monogamous commitment, but the compersive joy is experienced by the Giver or the one not literally participating within the outside relationship of their partner/spouse. The Urban Dictionary gives an excellent commentary stating:
“Compersion can be thought of as the opposite of “jealousy;” it is a positive emotional reaction to a loved one’s other relationship. It is analogous to the feeling of joy a parent feels when their children marry or that best friends feel for each other when they are happy in a romantic relationship.”
Personally, I have experienced this form of love numerous times not only with my own children, but with several of my partners and a spouse. The deepest impact it had for me was not just the pleasure and joy I had watching mesmerized by her unfiltered primal passions lost in the moment, but also how profoundly gracious she was for my comfortable willingness to indirectly enjoy it with her. “I have never known” she described “that level, that form of liberation — without any shame or fear — or deeper sharing-companionship with any man!” She fell into the soft couch as if all her breath was taken while melting in pure bliss and awe how much I loved seeing her so happy. This deeper love was ‘returned’ to me several times as well, and she raved about how pleasurable it was for her. That wasn’t all either. We both learned other aspects of each other we may have NEVER discovered on our own, together as a closed-off couple. What followed for us was the strongest trust and bond either had ever experienced. Gone was one social-romantic stigma neither of us had to fear anymore.
Yes indeed, a fictitous dragon was slain. A previously unchartered Untapped World now tapped.
Living vs. Alive
Should an extraterrestrial scientist decide to study the human species and our daily routines, it would quickly realize that a few similar mechanized devices were the cornerstone of our organization. Case and point, the Lilliputians examining Gulliver:
“Out of the right fob hung a great silver chain, with a wonderful kind of engine at the bottom. We directed him to draw out whatever was at the end of that chain; which appeared to be a globe, half silver, and half of some transparent metal; for, on the transparent side, we saw certain strange figures circularly drawn, and thought we could touch them, till we found our fingers stopped by the lucid substance. He put this engine into our ears, which made an incessant noise, like that of a water-mill: and we conjecture it is either some unknown animal, or the god that he worships; but we are more inclined to the latter opinion, because he assured us, (if we understood him right, for he expressed himself very imperfectly) that he seldom did any thing without consulting it. He called it his oracle, and said, it pointed out the time for every action of his life.” — Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels
We are indeed slaves to insufficient time! Our clocks, watches, cell phones, are all idols of religious worship or talismans to scare away Chronos and all his hungry minions! Working mothers in the West are perhaps the epitome of daily famines of time. Can you blame them as the father’s are away obsessing of gaining “more”? Time has become tyrannical in the U.S. and losing to it is a most sensitive and shaming fear.
You may be surprised how time lives in your language. ‘Time is money. Give me a moment of your time. Living on borrowed time. My time is my own. Take time off. It’s time to move on. What time is it? How much time do you need?’ Time has become a commodity; something to barter with to own or give. How ridiculously ego-centric to think we have ANY sort of time-management control over a cosmological force which is completely immune to our petty desires.
In western Texas near the town of Van Horn, writer Stewart Brand and musician Brian Eno founded The Long Now Foundation. They are two of many behind the constructions of prototype clocks and the final 10,000-year clock in Ely, Nevada. The concept and proposed paradigm shift offers “In a world of hurry,” explains Brand, “the Clock is a patience machine.” Its long slow bongs ring out only once every thousand years.
Since the Industrial Revolution humankind has been appallingly obsessed with minutes and seconds, the hear-and-now, and ‘Friday evening can’t arrive soon enough!’ The Long Now Foundation and Clock encourages our caffeinated species to bring it down several notches, to thinking bigger and broader in much longer terms, thus being more responsible and implementing an attitude against our environmental ravaging.
Put on a 10,000-year watch and think about the next time its chime resounds from your wrist. What will your home look like then? Hmm, another Untapped Worldtimeframe to explore! Are you simply living day-to-day, week-to-week or are you alive inside these 1,000 years? Both worlds are completely compatible.
If you had been born in the Dark or Middle Ages, in all likelihood you would not have been a noble prince, princess, a knight with full armour with Clydesdale underneath, or a Lady-in-waiting. Despite our civil-social evolutions into the modern era from fate and family necessity to freedom and choice with our labors and spouses, there are still obstacles for some who do not enjoy a robust life in the 21st century.
In today’s labor markets it can often feel as if your duties and performance merely contribute toward the success, status, and wealth of a few owners, shareholders, or top executives. In most free-world economies this isn’t far from the truth. Losing one’s sense of purpose, much less finding one, has some devastating effects. How might purpose be protected and cultivated? How might losing it or neglecting it be avoided? Here are four ideas…
Value – Albert Einstein once said, “Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.” Albert Schweitzer understood exactly what that meant. After gaining many accolades in philosophy, theology, and music, Schweitzer’s life and social status were set and waiting. Instead of a life of comfort, luxury, and popularity, at the age of 38 he founded a hospital in French Equatorial Africa. He died there doing what he loved best: attending to other’s needs. “Even if it is a little thing,” he said, “do something for those who have need of man’s help, something for which you get no pay but the privilege of doing it.” In medieval times or centuries after, doing such things would have required your holiest vows to make such work and values coincide. Not today.
Calling – While in the Nazi camps Theresienstadt, Auschwitz, and Dachau between 1942 and 1945, Viktor Frankl learns firsthand the meaning of life. He notes that between prisoners with a vigorous nature for the present do not survive as well as those less hardy but with an unfinished calling beyond the walled fences of barbed wire. On one such prisoner he wrote was an accomplished scientist who had not yet completed writing a series of books before the war started and his arrest. This author/scientist realized no one else could finish his work and write it correctly — he had to stay alive. He knew his calling and it was not dying in the concentration camps.
Respect – if there is anything in today’s rat-race that rivals wealth/money, it is surely recognition. Simply watch a live news interview, TV sporting events, or a tourist recording a trip to a landmark, and you’ll witness the popular act of “bomber-invasion” from random strangers wanting to be seen. It seems to be human nature to achieve some level of status, good or bad in some cases. Deeper respect and admiration are found through meaningful thriving human relationships. They are not found in corporate cubicles or on a factory-line as a cog-in-the-wheel where no human interaction exists. And real respect is rarely found within the mega-efficient lean-staffed corporations of 500-800+ employees spread out over 20-acres, or many sky-high floors, or regional-global offices unless the owner(s) strive and spend their “pocket-change” to make those intimate employee off-the-clock activities between coworkers and supervisors happen on a regular basis.
Talents – What does it mean to be a High-achiever rather than a Wide-achiever? One is extremely specialized and educated in one or two specific areas. The other is a craftsperson, a jack-of-all-trades capable of beginning a project, completing every phase, and finishing it all with little or no outside assistance. Diversity, or what financial investors term spreading out your risks or hedging your bets. From the 2014 film Interstellar, a 2-minute clip about the need for a diversity of talents:
Become a virtuoso like Leonardo De Vinci was of many fields transferring your natural and learned talents across a labors of love spectrum. Be a generalist happy to learn more in order to do more for others.
Job with Spirit – Everyone has a spirit, a youthful zeal just waiting to come out and play or work. But due to social occupational fears and low self-confidence, that enthusiasm rarely gets released, at least in public and at work. Why? Why must your spirit be left at home or for private enjoyment only? The days of feudalism and medieval strictures are long gone! Overcome those fears. Gain more self-confidence. Start or expand a new Renaissance! “Fear stifles, courage fulfills.” Tap into your youthful creative energy, that Wide-achiever and simply smile at naysayers as you pass them by. In fact, invite them to come along!
Our Natural World
In the first two parts of this series we explored how our brain imperfectly perceives our surroundings and others. Though our many senses — the organisms that feed our cerebral organ for interpretation and organizing — accurately pick up the details around us, but unfortunately the brain can create in various degrees a distorted reality. This happens more often than not.
The Myth of Five
To say our bodies have five senses does not do justice to how incredibly complex our body’s sensors really are and how ‘sensitive’ they should be in picking up information. Though neuroscience is still in its adolescence, many neuroscientists assert there are at least 12-14 different sensors and possibly up to twenty. A quick rundown:
Light sensors in the eyes; 2 types: rods and cones for intensity of light stimuli.
Sound sensors in the inner ear.
Orientation-Gravity sensors for your sense of balance.
Nerve sensors in your skin: heat, cold, pain, itch and pressure.
Chemical sensors in the nose for different odours.
Chemical receptors in the tongue for taste.
Muscle & Joint sensors telling the brain about motion and muscle tension.
Bladder, Intestinal & Colon sensors to inform the brain it is time to urinate, when you’re full, and when to excrete.
Hunger & Thirst sensors indicating those needs.
Various body sensations tell the brain when one of your legs have fallen asleep — a lack of proper blood circulation, for example. When your about to sneeze is another.
There are many people which have extra-sensory perceptions like sensing approaching weather changes, or psychic abilities such as clairvoyance, mediumship, precognition, or remote viewing that many law-enforcement increasingly use to solve otherwise unsolvable cases.
“Failing to nurture our senses not only detracts from our appreciation of the subtleties and beauties of everyday experience, but also strips away layers of meaning from our lives. Yet curing ourselves of sensory deprivation is not, as you might expect, about indulging in luxuries like dining on truffles or locking ourselves in a dark room and listening to a Beethoven symphony at full volume, exhilarating though this may be. It is much more about gaining a deeper understanding of how our various senses have come to shape, filter and even distort our interactions with the world — and also how culture has moulded our sensory experiences.” — How Should We Live?, Roman Krznaric.
Becoming more acutely aware of these additional sensory systems is the start to a more enhanced human experience. Yoga or juggling on one leg can refine the equilibrioceptors. Having someone pinch you, bind you, or spank you can refine the nociceptors. Varying temperatures like a cool bath/pool followed by a hot tub then repeat, refines the thermoceptors. Closing the eyes or being blindfolded while moving refines the proprioceptors. Embracing and expanding ALL of the human senses only widens and deepens one’s awareness and full interaction with this spectacular world! Tap deeper into it.
Over the last 5-6 centuries the visual cortex has become the dominant and largest sensory bank in our brains. “We have fallen into a sensory decline” says author and cultural historian of the senses Constance Classen. And it might be worse than imagined.
Everywhere around us is non-stop visual bombardment. Mass advertising relies heavily on imagery — television, billboards becoming increasingly eye-catching and illuminated at night, websites are packed with pics and motion — more than any other medium. And our cell phones? Almost all iPhones and Androids are graphically interactive. In supermarkets produce is a kaleidoscope of vivid colors (genetically?) designed to please the eyes. Wealth and status are paraded by glitzy high-end vehicles, lavish large homes, and landscaping rivaling the Château Versailles. We often judge people by their appearance, facial features, the shape of their body, or the clothes they wear. As the popular diction goes ‘love at first sight’ represents how our English language is pervaded by visual idioms. How often do you hear ‘love at first sniff’ or ‘love at first honk/blast’? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, look before you leap, a sight for sore eyes, and seeing is believing are all common jargon. Vacations today are incomplete without an album of photos or phone video-clips. We now swim in a world largely governed by surface appearances.
What happened to the nose and ears? How can we return them to their natural equality with the eyes? One quick easy way is to close our eyes…more! Keep them closed for extended periods of time. Doing this on a consistent basis forces us to heighten the ears, tongue, nose, and other sensors and receptors. Return to the days of the 14th and 15th centuries when spices, perfumes and pomanders prevailed every day. Sitting in an arboretum or botanical garden, eyes closed, and breath long breaths picking out all possible aromas. If it is outdoors and secluded from noisy traffic and commotion, listen for every tiny insect or bird that sings. If you must, blindfold yourself or your companion to really absorb everything around you which isn’t visual. Do it for much more than 10 or 15 minutes; more like a half-hour or hour to genuinely tap into a world we too often ignore, take for granted, and eventually lose.
The remarkable, mysterious, and later refuted tale of Kaspar Hauser, the imprisoned German boy deprived of any light in a dark 2-meter by 1-meter cell most his childhood, and the narrative of Helen Keller — blind and deaf her entire life since almost 2-years old — can both teach us about how acutely compensating the other human senses develop when one is denied or deprived of sight or sound.
In a post several months ago I shared the rising popularity of new restaurants serving in complete darkness. Here are Restaurant.com’stop 10 establishments for pitch black dining enhancing the body’s other multiple sensory receptors! Tap into their little world of alternate sensor-ramas! If you don’t live near these major cities, check for local or nearby 3-star (or higher) restaurants that might host the event once or twice a year.
Travel & Cultures
When you leave home for a long week or extended vacation, do you go looking to deepen your soul or suntan and gift baskets? The Roman poet Horace warns against merely getting from point A to B: “They change their climate, not their soul, who rush across the sea.” Visiting strange lands and its inhabitants should be the fullest experience possible, not just tolerated until B then back again to A. What are four methods of being a cultured traveler?
Prior to the mid-19th century very few people had the means or luxury to travel beyond their region, much less their country or crossing oceans to far away continents. Tourism didn’t explode into a thriving market until the last third of the 19th century as the middle class began earning enough money for railway passenger trains and ocean liners. As this market began entrepreneurs like Karl Baedeker and Thomas Cook (of Thomas Cook & Son) stepped in to capitalize but with very contrasting ideas of travel. The former published step-by-step sequentially numbered tour guidebooks of exactly what to visit at what precise time. The latter, however, organized packaged trips to find literal sojourns to God with the assistance of pious ministers, pseudo-sabbaticals if you will.
Packaged tourism today with a tour guide isn’t much different. Visiting famous landmarks, museums, festivals, beachfront resorts, or hotels in mountain tops, are quite popular vacations. When you travel though what do you do? Follow an airtight itinerary by guidebook or tour group, or do you discover the human landscape, the human story behind and within the landmarks, museums, and inanimate objects in your camera?
There are living monuments not only in foreign lands, but just as well in your own backyard and hometown! Grand hotels should have as a standard feature open nurseries and playground where children of guests interact with native children while parents converse sharing family and cultural stories at nearby benches and tables. In Denmark and followed later in the U.K. social activists came up with an ingenious project in 2000 called Human Libraries where actual people share a story of their life from personal experience to a guest/visitor. The guest then interacts with the storyteller breaking down prejudices and other barriers that typically divide, cause unfounded fears, and subsequent fabricated contempt. Tap into the experience of being a living library for visitors.
Pilgrims are perhaps the original traveler. The word travel is derived from “travail” which means to suffer or toil without much relief, conveniences or luxury. Matsuo Bashō and Satish Kumar are two perfect examples of pilgrimages. Both men set out on walking journeys without consideration of provisions, possible relief, or shelter. They began with just three destinations: deep significant self-meaning, very challenging, and cultivate the Wander spirit. In other words, find the roots of yourself as well as the journey’s and destination’s. Find the tiniest details of life and the world around you which are too often lost in convenient rapid travel. Have no strict dates or times. And do not obsess about arrival; find the art of living, not motion! Tap into the world of a pilgrimage.
When you think of nomads how would you describe them? One popular image are the Bedouins of the Syrian and Arabian deserts prior to the 20th century. They were known to be traveling camel and goat herders across vast regions of North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, to the Middle East covering 21 various countries. In today’s highly urbanized and flourishing societies, these nomadic cultures are slowly being swallowed up by encroaching civilization. How then might we experience in the 21st century what is meant by gypsy or nomadic living according to necessity like the Bedouins? What might be the closest thing to Bedouin life?
It isn’t RV’ing like many retirees do trekking across the continent from national park to national park with all the amenities of a fully furnished 45-foot or larger $200,000 Class A motorhome. It isn’t even staying in a luxurious 3-room log-cabin with massive kitchen and hot-tub/sauna. No, the closest thing today to gypsy nomadic life is basic camping. In other words, throwing a light tent onto your large backpack and hiking to isolated locations camping for a week or two with friends or your tribe; living IN and with the land without your iPod, hairdryer, and television. All you need are what nomads and gypsies had over 100-years ago: some food, matches or fire-starter kit, a knife, and wet-weather gear. Everything else you might need find in or on the land. At night, have your fire going and gaze above, listen to every single sound, and smell the Earth around you — and perhaps your fellow hikers too (wink). Simplicity is the essence of the gypsy-nomadic experience. Tap into the simple world of basic camping.
As a young boy I was spellbound by the stories and travels of the 13th century Venetian explorer Marco Polo along with his father Niccolò and uncle Maffeo. The vivid details of all their stops and their encounters with diverse peoples and cultures utterly captivated my imagination. The Travels of Marco Polo was not like the other romanticized tales of Columbus, Magellan, or Drake that we learned in school. It didn’t take too much reasoning to realize that most of the textbook stories of the Age of Exploration and Colonialization were simply about exploitation laced with racism. None of the 15th to 18th century world Empires had the least bit interest in being taught or enlightened. Neither should our modern desires to explore reflect the Age of Exploitation.
Instead, modern exploration should be derailing ourselves from local daily routine. This can be just as easily accomplished in a 10-mile radius as it can transcontinentally. The power of existential exploration — going without a specific destination — is a strange mix of certainty and uncertainty. Going but not knowing where. You feel compelled to leave the past (and its knowledge) behind, but in not knowing the destination you remain open to embrace other ways of living, thinking, and interacting beyond anything you could’ve possibly imagined. Ask yourself, how many world cultures have you experienced firsthand? Did you know that according to UNESCO World Heritage List there are over 800 cultural sites/regions around the world? Forty-eight of them are endangered of becoming extinct.
Jump off the ordinary vacation of “time off” and sit or walk firmly with time on travels tapping into the world and journey of the intrinsic and extrinsic explorer!
In the January 2016 issue of National Geographic magazine journalist Florence Williams wrote her article This Is Your Brain on Nature. The magazine issue and Williams’ article complimented the Jan. 10th Explorer television episode Call Of the Wild on the NatGeo Channel.
“Nature nurtures us. It boosts our mood too. According to the attention restoration theory, spending time in nature relieves the stress and mental fatigue caused by the ‘directed attention’ that work and city life require.
Directed Attention is the ability to voluntarily focus attention and ignore distractions crucial to solving problems and completing tasks. But modern life sometimes requires more of this resource than we have — and once it’s depleted, prolonged and concentrated effort leads to mental fatigue, loss of effectiveness, and stress.
Involuntary Attention is attending to the stimuli in peaceful, natural environments — trees, flowing water, mountain shadows — is a different type of experience. It doesn’t require a prolonged effort or an act of will to avoid distractions. Researchers say this kind of focus allows the brain to disengage and restore its capacity for directed attention.”
Williams continues stating that nature improves human creativity by up to 50% and every walk through a park and forest decreases stress hormones by as much as 16%. What does this tell us about too much hectic civilization? After all, aren’t we humans part of Nature since that is exactly where we originated? Is it any wonder that research studies are finding that human mortality rates are indirectly connected to an area’s forestation or trees? Millions of years ago they were literally our homes.
“In a ‘forest kindergarten’ in Langnau am Albis, a suburb of Zurich, Switzerland, children spend most of the school day in the woods, regardless of weather. They learn whittling, fire starting, and denbuilding; they’re able to explore. Supporters say such schools foster self-confidence and an independent spirit.”
Sounds very much like another school in England founded by A.S. Neill doesn’t it?
How should we view Nature today? Is it friend or foe? It wasn’t so long ago that humankind decidedly viewed it as foe. Throughout the Middle Ages, particularly in Northern Europe, the outside world was seen as owned by Darkness, very feared, and home to all sorts of hungry wild beasts, evil spirits, ogres and trolls. In Anglo-Saxon folklore like Beowulf, nature clearly was menacing and completely opposed to human happiness. J.R.R. Tolkien picked up that legacy in the 20th century with stories of hobbits being petrified if passing through the haunted Fangorn Forest or eery Mirkwood. Our words savage and panic are derived from these ancient and Medieval imagery: savage is from silva, meaning a wood; panic comes from the Greeks’ fear of encountering Pan, the half-man, half-goat Lord of the forests. When William Bradford — a conservative Separatist from Plymouth, England and the Church of England — first landed at Cape Cod, Massachusetts in 1620 he described his impressions of the scene as a “hideous and desolate wilderness.” In many parts of 17th century Europe mountains were criticized as deformities, warts, boils and monstrous excrescences, likely due to the harshness to cultivate. It wasn’t until the Romantic Movement that this view of nature significantly changed and it became no longer foe, but friend. And more than just friend.
Our Biosphere, Biodiversity, and Biophilia and the Ecological Self In the previous Untapped Worlds I introduced Harvard sociobiologist and naturalist E.O. Wilson. I was particularly intrigued by his definition of eusociality. But the social human side of Nature is only part of the story.
For more than 3-million years we have lived and survived in an intricately connected environment. Tibetan Sherpas and Buddhist lamas say that we and all living things on this planet are always touching like smoke reaches everywhere in the wind. They would be absolutely correct. Every second of our lives we touch unseen elements and forces like the air we breath, the sound waves to our eardrums, and the traveling light-photons our retinas pick up. We are therefore very vital, integral, active parts of our biosphere. Whether we grasp this reality or not, we are effecting Nature even when we are not literally out in Nature. At any given time every single day we directly and indirectly influence our lithosphere, geosphere, hydrosphere, and atmosphere. Think about that impact for a moment. If you think your wood and brick home is ‘your home,’ think again.
Biodiversity isn’t just the categorization of living species on Earth. We must distinguish between genetic biodiversity and ecological biodiversity:
“Genetic Biodiversity is the variation in genes that exists within a species. A helpful way to understand genetic diversity is to think about dogs. All dogs are part of the same species, but their genes can dictate whether they are Chihuahua or a Great Dane. There can be a lot of variation in genes – just think about all the colors, sizes, and shapes that make up the genetic diversity of dogs.
Ecological Biodiversity is the diversity of ecosystems, natural communities and habitats. In essence, it’s the variety of ways that species interact with each other and their environment. The forests of Maine differ from the forests of Colorado by the types of species found in both ecosystems, as well as the temperature and rainfall. These two seemingly similar ecosystems have a lot of differences that make them both special.”
How important are every single genetic and ecological systems we live within? For starters the National Wildlife Federation lists these six reasons:
Foods and materials to live healthy and happy. Without the diversity of pollinators, plants, and soils, our supermarkets would have a lot less produce.
Medicinal uses. Research into plant and animal genetics and biology have allowed humans to live extended lives and cure diseases. Every time a species goes extinct our genetic diversity is lost, we will never know whether research would have given us a new vaccine or drug.
Ecological services. Biodiversity enables the cleaning of water and absorbing of chemicals, which wetlands do, to providing oxygen for us to breathe — one of the many things that plants do for everyone.
Ecosystem rebalancing. If given enough time, adjusting to eco-disturbances allows for ecosystems to adjust to interferences like extreme fires and floods. If a reptile species goes extinct, a forest with 20 other reptiles is likely to adapt better than another forest with only one reptile.
With genetic diversity disease prevention is more successful. This allows species to adjust to changes in their environment.
Sheer wonderment and intrigue. There are few things as beautiful and inspiring as the vast diversity of life — between 3-30 million species, possibly over 100-million — that exists on Earth. And that diversity is constantly changing.
Biophilic office space
Biophilia is a term and concept that E.O. Wilson popularized in the 1980’s. Earlier I was mentioning a few facts about how much Nature reduces stress hormones and significantly increases human creativity. Because we humans inherently enjoy the diversity of natural life, this is called biophilia. If we as a species do not become much more aware, educated, and a responsible part of Nature’s delicate interacting systems, we will permanently cut our and our descendant’s virtual umbilical cord to life. Period. It is (way?) past due that everyone become a scientist, a member of the Biophilia Foundation, a Naturalist that cares deeply about a quality life today and for our children, grandchildren, and the human species.
The real possibility that Nature could end should move us away from a high-carbon consumerist ethos and closer to a sustainable intimate ecological relationship with our fragile world. Tap into the many varieties of a low-carbon lifestyle and become a Conservationist rather than a programmed Consumerist.
Conventions and Baggage
In the scientific world, especially Quantum Physics, it is often said that the only thing that is permanent is impermanence. Fighting or denying this law is futile. Embracing it and working within it brings liberation and contentment. Progress is achieved by movement. Stagnation is achieved by an accumulation of heavy baggage. History has repeatedly shown that breaking away from antiquated socio-economic and religious norms begins small until it grows into an inevitable movement with sweeping change and enlightenment. But the overhaul and liberation cannot start without a few courageous movers and shakers; the “radicals” if you will.
What You Trust
When you purchase a computer or laptop, it typically comes preloaded with the newest MS Windows operating system, all the many drivers to run various external devices, programs to do office work, Norton or McAfee protection, perhaps Netflix for movies and TV shows, and also personal duties like online banking, perhaps home security and monitoring, and a few games that you and the family enjoy. Basically the computer/laptop is setup to hit the ground running moments after booting up. Seconds after birth the human brain is not setup to immediately perform adult tasks; not in the least.
The human operating system, the brain and neurology, are gradually programmed in through our 10-14 receptors over the span of about two decades. This is not to say that we are prenatally blank. We do receive a very basic genetic coding, a few simple sequences of 1’s and 0’s if you will, that give our bodies the necessary information to stay alive — or attempt to — with the mandatory help of our mother and (perhaps?) father.
The implications of these pre-natal facts are probably far more reaching than one realizes. It means that during those first years we learn an emotional risk-reward protocol; this behavior results in that reward or consequence. In the latter portion of those two decades based upon our parental, familial, and community, we develop the core of our beliefs on religion, nationalism — perhaps monarchy in certain countries — our young opinions, politics, various mechanisms of emotional relationships, and depending completely on our birthplace and the influences during the first two decades we develop how we “fit in” this world. Much of what we think are truths are simply shaped by our first 10-20 years.
To say it more poignantly, religious, political, and social beliefs are largely an accident of birth, geography, and history. There are degrees of “truth” scattered throughout those three accidents.
Facts and Impermanence
All throughout recorded history there have been monumental events or discoveries that forever change human civilization. For at least 100,000 years or more humans assumed that walking or running were the only means of transportation over distances. That truth was overturned around 3,500 BCE with the domestication of the horse. For about 4,500 years humans assumed precious metals or merchandise were the only forms of commercial trading until China began using paper currency in the 7th century CE. For some 50,000 years or more humans assumed the world and their entire existence entailed only what they could see with the naked eye, until the 13th century CE when magnifying lenses were invented. For approximately 4,500 years humans assumed there were only two methods of higher learning: verbal stories, pictographs, or from slow scribed papyrus that only ‘divine’ authors could record from the god(s). That truth was overturned by the invention of the printing press in the 15th century CE. For probably at least 5 or 6,000 years humans assumed that diseases, ailments, and physical malformities were from angry god(s) until the 19th and 20th centuries when antibiotics were introduced, followed by a growing plethora of other medical cures and treatments today.
I will not go into how monumental Galileo Galili’s confirmation of Copernicus’s heliocentric theorem was to humankind. It literally changed everything European and Near Eastern religious and political leaders had believed and taught their subjects and all the masses for almost three millenia. John Maynard Keynes is perhaps one apropos example of just how profound impermanence molds human facts or truths. During the Great Depression, Keynes shifted his position and monetary policy more than once and came under heavy criticism by other fellow economists. His response was “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do sir?” How often do we scrutinize our own beliefs, let alone change them, as so many forces, factors, and limitless diversity exists, moves, and evolves into newer forms? Often facts and truths are a matter of human perception, not necessarily universal permanence.
Beliefs vs. Practice
How much are your beliefs and practicing those beliefs worth to you? Can you put a price on them? Henry David Thoreau said “The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.” When you consider all the various definitions of what life is I believe Mr. Thoreau was spot on. What is most valuable to you in life? Why do people hold certain beliefs? The majority of the human race believe in a Divine Being or God. Why? Regional Director for the Council for Secular Humanism and a former Publicity Coordinator for the Campus Free-thought Alliance, Austin Cline lists seven reasons from his research:
Indoctrination — The high and consistent degree of religious concentrations suggests that people believe their religion because that’s the one they were indoctrinated into and which is consistently reinforced around them. People acquire a religion before critical thinking skills and that religion is promoted without most people noticing.
Indoctrination into Anti-Athiest Bigotry — questioning or going against social norms can be very risky; e.g. being a Zionist Jew inside Syria. Children learn in public schools that America is a nation for people who believe in God and this message is reinforced throughout their lives by preachers, politicians, and community leaders of all sorts. This leads to number 3…
Peer and Family Pressure — People who step outside [social] expectations are not simply choosing a different way of life, but can in fact be perceived as rejecting one of the most important bonds which keep a family or community together. Even if this is never communicated in so many words, people do learn that certain ideas, ideologies, and practices should be treated as vital to communal bonds and should therefore not be questioned. The role of peer pressure and familial pressure in maintaining at least a veneer of religiosity for many people cannot be denied.
Fear of Death — This is self-generated hope out of fear of what will happen after dying — either going to hell or simply ceasing to exist. People don’t want to think that [the possibility of] physical death is the end of all experiences, emotions, and thoughts so they insist on believing that somehow their “mind” will continue to exist without any physical brain in an eternity of sustained bliss — or even will be reincarnated in a new form.
Wishful Thinking — Many Christians seem to wish quite strongly that there exists a place of eternal punishment awaiting all those who dare to deny them political and cultural dominion in America. Many conservative believers from many religions seem to wish that there is a god which wants them to exercise unchecked power over women and minorities.
Fear of Freedom and Responsibility — I personally find this reason very telling. It promotes lack of ownership. [Believers] don’t have to be responsible for ensuring that justice is done because God will provide that. They don’t have to be responsible for solving environmental problems because God will do that. They don’t have to be responsible for developing strong moral rules because God has done that. They don’t have to be responsible for developing sound arguments in defense of their positions because God has done that. Believers deny their own freedom because freedom means responsibility and responsibility means that if we fail, no one will rescue us.
Lack of Basic Skills in Logic and Reasoning — Most people don’t learn nearly as much about logic, reason, and constructing sound arguments as they should. Given how important believers claim the existence of their god and truth of their religion are, you’d think that they would invest a lot of effort into constructing the best possible arguments and finding the best possible evidence. Instead, they invest a lot of effort into constructing circular rationalizations and finding anything that sounds even remotely plausible.
It has been my personal experience living most of my life in the Deep South (Texas is on the fringe of the Bible Belt) that the most common foundation for fundamental beliefs once a person reaches their 20’s and 30’s is a question of convenience really. What do I stand to lose or gain with these beliefs? What is worth dying for or spending years in prison? What is my personal integrity worth? How would this belief-system benefit me? In my opinion, those are the more pragmatic questions the majority of adults ask about religions and not anything concerning a consensus of truth or what extensive scrutiny reveals.
Transcendence Things are very often bigger than ourselves. We cannot possibly understand all extenuating factors that contribute to human behavior. Though the weight of peer pressure, governments, family, social trends, money, or global dynamics can push us to apathy, paralysis, or disillusionment, we must find ways to take the higher road. A blind ideologue or unexamined do-gooder is not enough. Healthy scepticism should always remain active. Fortunately Gandhi and Galileo understood this risky concept for the eventual betterment of all.
Tap into the unexamined life and your belief systems beyond your own tiny world.
Many Fortune 500 companies have latched on to the new idea that creativity within their workforce is a valuable asset and should be encouraged. Modern psychologists are in general agreement that a blue-sky attitude at the office and home have many health benefits. But what exactly is the act of creating and creativity? What are the best ways to cultivate a thriving ambiance of creativity? Let’s start with what isn’t.
Conformity: The Subtle Virus
The Renaissance of the 14th through 16th centuries undoubtedly ushered in a rebirth of classical learning and values. It ushered in a broader spectrum of science, language, and literature. For the most part feudalism and religious dogma crushed any spirit of self-expression or free thinking throughout the Middle Ages. But the Renaissance brought about greats such as Da Vinci, Machiavelli, and Dante. However, it also created an eventual elitist and disempowering movement by the 17th and early 18th centuries: individual creative genius. In other words, touched by the divine and untouchable by mediocrity. Michelangelo and Mozart received this illustrious title with full honors postmortem too.
Fortunately for all aspiring virtuosos and maestros, by the 1960’s the history of creativity shifted from innate, divine genetic gifting… to ‘technique’ that could be learned just like typing, riding a horse, or playing an instrument. The trick was to learn all the various techniques to find your own unique style! Instead of God’s favour, creativity (within all of us) stems from a grounding of appropriate techniques and hard work through extensive broad education or training. For example, Edward de Bono’s technique-based approach to “lateral thinking.” See exercise below:
Have you tapped into the untapped worlds of non-conformity? How many technique-based creativity skills have you really unleashed?
A long held practice in Buddhism is to seek out life’s marrow in mindful awareness to ordinary routine tasks like brushing your teeth or singing in the shower Need You Tonight by INXS. This is how it should be with creating too. Whether it is cooking, spice and/or vegetable gardening, learning and playing an instrument, writing-blogging, beginning new friendships and romances outside of convention, painting, making wood furniture or interior decorations, walking the family pet, give yourself a daily or at least weekly varied dose of complete self-expression. Tap into that simmering creativity and let it all burst out and consume! Homo faber is good… very, very good!
Creativity and creating has been one of the most historic heavily mythologized aspects of human endeavor. Too many people still believe it is the preserve, the jurisdiction of a small group chosen or born with a ‘special gift’ whereas fuller history tells us it is so much more inclusive! And the methods the elite geniuses implement to keep their lofty social, religious, or economic status is cunningly specialized through guilds, dominions, or foundations. Yet real joy, real fulfillment, real challenge, and real accomplishment doesn’t strictly depend on current convention, especially within a macro and subatomic existence that is always impermanent. Fear stifles, courage fulfills.
There is an old saying in professional sports that you are only as good as your last defeat. In other words, in the highly competitive field of modern professional sports and coaching resting on your laurels is very bad for job security, even if your overall record is worthy of an eventual Hall of Fame induction. There is literally just a miniscule amount of grace to be mediocre, let alone losers. I argue up and down, sideways and backwards with U.S. men’s soccer fans about our national team performances, players, and coach Jurgen Klinsmann all the time because they ignorantly feel that the United States should now be competing for the World Cup semi-finals and soon the World Cup Championship — hysterically being in the world’s top four or top two TODAY! — like we dominated in baseball and basketball decades ago, and like we will dominate if the rest of the world starts playing American football NFL style as they are promoting (in hopes to expand the revenue markets) in Great Britain and Europe.
What fair-weather naive American futebol fans don’t realize or thoroughly understand is the intrinsic value — and to a degree extrinsic value — Jurgen Klinsmann brings to our USMNT and youth feeder programs. They have no clue as to what and where Klinsmann grew up inside (Germany), played with and against, and intimately understands about world class futebol/soccer in Germany, and Europe inside UEFA. That wasn’t something the average American sports fan was even remotely interested in the 1980’s and 90’s. American sports fans and the financial backers/sponsors are mostly (only?) concerned about revenue and profits via high winning percentages and dynasties. Today, I think pro coaches, their staff, and general managers have less than 3-years to make it all happen. Win, win, win; nothing more than extrinsic value. Period.
Measuring something or someone’s value cannot and is not strictly done by a dollar amount or the win column. And it certainly cannot be accurately measured in one or two years, let alone a few months.
Have you tapped into both the intrinsic and extrinsic values of yourself, someone or something?
Death is always as close and real as life. The minute you are born, every subsequent minute gets you closer to death. In the Western mindset death has become more distant, more detached from every day life than any other point in history. I feel this growing separation is undermining our ability to live more fully.
The rise in medicalized death in hospital or hospice and the erosion of old funeral and mourning ceremonies attended by all family and community have pushed death into an invisible state in modern society. Death and dying has become a taboo topic of conversation or awkward silence at a dinner party. Why? Why has ‘out of sight, out of mind‘ become so trendy and expected? What has become of the old deathstyle of growing old, facing our mortality with courage, dignity, honor, and dying well? First of all, this can only be reintroduced if we talk about death openly and frankly, as if it were our intimate dance partner. It is a little known fact that being equally obsessed with death as we are with an inspiring life, creates an INTENSE appreciation for the value of life.
A Danse Macabre
In medieval and Renaissance Europe as well as Native North and South American tribal cultures, death was viewed as an unavoidable bed partner. Cemeteries of medieval London, Paris, and Rome were popular meeting places where wine, beer, and linen tradesmen, especially on Saints Day when pilgrims travelled through, were the busiest bustling places in town. People strolled, socialized, and made merry amongst the graves — children played with human bones in the charnel houses by the churches because skeletons were stacked to make way, make room for new residents. Auguste Bernard, historian of French burial locations, wrote cemeteries were “the noisiest, busiest, most boisterous, and most commercial place in the rural and urban community.” The morbid fascination with skulls, arm and leg bones, and cadavers that filled medieval life is more than a historical curiosity: it holds a crucial lesson for us today. It is the same concept, the same lesson as appreciating something immensely valuable when you no longer have it.
The Reach of Death
There was a time when a death in a community affected everyone in the community. Before the 20th century in Western countries, death of an individual caused a major social occasion altering the space and time of everyone in town. It was part of everyday life like the passing of the seasons. In the 21st century this is no longer the case. Death is treated like an unwanted guest and should be ignored and out of sight of our youth and children.
If life is to be respected, cherished, and held as momentary, then death should be equally respected, cherished, and held as a visiting next-door neighbor.
Caring For Our Elderly
There is no denying that the modern longevity of life has increased exponentially. Medical advancements have improved the quantity of extended years, but in Western nations has the quality of life for eighty, ninety, and centurion aged retirees kept up? Prior to and during the 1950’s many elderly moved in and lived with their children. However, this practice has been in steady decline as more and more women entered the workplace and left behind the traditional roles as caregivers to the children and grandparents. This accounts for the extraordinary rise in nursing homes and hospice. Are there alternatives?
Yes there are alternatives. In Japan and China the Confucian lifestyle of filial piety as lived by the great and learned emperor Han Wendi in caring for his ailing mother at the expense of his own luxury and convenience, is one alternative. If one or both of your parents were emotional or illegal causes of tremendous hurt and instability in your childhood and reconciliation is an impossible outcome, there are plenty of other good, funny, and deeply wise elderly patients without family visitors and caring loving treatment at their nursing home where both of you would benefit immeasurably. Otherwise, there are few legitimate reasons not to invite your parents or grandparents to live with you or for you to move in with them. Much life-and-death wisdom can be shared and learned with those on the doorstep of death; any nearby St. Jude’s Childrens Hospital could teach the same lessons. But our parents helped bring us into this world, survive it, and grow to be adults so we can help them leave it with contentment and dignity whether we always saw things eye to eye or not.
How much have you tapped into the world of the aging and elderly? How immediate, frank, and open is a dignifying death promoted and taught in your house? Do you have a danse macabre that deepens the beauty and frailty of life… the paradox of death giving more life?
* * * * * * * * * *
“He who cannot draw on three thousand years
is living from hand to mouth.”
— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
“To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child. For what is the worth of human life, unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history?”
This final message from Goethe and Cicero is this: if we truly want to change how we live, to be more human, live a fuller extraordinary life, there may come a point where we simply stop thinking, stop planning, and act, go, just do it. There is another aspect to this command: giving is very good for you and those around you. Examining 3 – 4,000 years of history enable us to rethink our habitual (blind?) ways of loving, creating, working, and dying and are NOT the only choices facing us! All we have to do is throw open the wonderbox of all life, people, and Nature and discover a perpetual art of better deeper living.
Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always
“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
What 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.
Many 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 Russellasserted 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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
When 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?
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.
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:
Groups of individuals within that species living together for more than two generations.
Adults caring for the young; usually intimately caring for them.
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.
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?
Dr. 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…
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.
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 29 “to be dealt with” by the Chinese authorities and leadership.
Civil Rights Leaders and their organizations; at least 126 individuals throughout history and today.
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.
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.
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 unrealizedpotential, 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!
Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always