Posted BoL 5/24/10 http://www.behavior.net/bolforums/showthread.php?p=6874#post6874
Fairness Flipped: A Review of Melanie Phillips, The World Turned Upside Down
James Brody, Ph.D.
May 23, 2010
Phillips, Melanie (2010) The World Turned Upside Down: The Global Battle over God, Truth, and Power. NY: Encounter Books.
In 1998 Ed Wilson praised the French Enlightenment as if it were the Second Coming. I no longer agree with him, Melanie Phillips probably never did.
1) The Enlightenment – started by Rousseau and Robespierre and cheered by the intellectuals, including Thomas Paine – was a victory of our left cortex over our right. Logic and rules ascended while faith and intuition fell. Our cerebral “pattern maker” gave way to our “pattern manager.” We endorsed uniformity in the name of liberty and rules in the name of invention.
The French Enlightenment either changed balkers, quibblers, and doubters, or – in a manner similar to that used by termites, ants, or bees – executed them. The guillotine killed royalty but she also took the heads from individualists. Thus, the Enlightenment made a prison that many of us still occupy, the cell doors guarded by the high verbals in our public schools and courts, our social and biological sciences, and on Channels 3, 6, or 10 and in Saturday night movies.
2) We also have an epidemic of “millenarianism.” That is, religions – Christianity, Judaism, Marxism, Islam, and scientism – draw recruits who complain about today and insist that riots now will tomorrow open prosperity, equality, and deliver 72 virgins to each of us. Such are the millenarians. They’re kind of crazy.
3) Secularism – a product of the Enlightenment – grants equality to every fanatic. Materialism, Darwinism, Islam, Palestine, and Anthropogenic Global Warming head Phillip’s list. Add homosexuality, feminism, the right – usually for a black woman – for a woman to kill her unborn child, and the freedom to immigrate and bring relatives or drugs and young girls across national borders. Even our response to Princess Diana’s death and Obama’s election grew from discontented fanatics. If you’re miserable and talk about it, you easily make or find yourself in a crowd.
4) Secularism is comfortable with a neutered culture, one with lower birthrates, careers for women instead of homes and families, and passive men who are content if she goes out with the girls on a Friday night. Our new religion believes – like Nazism did – in turnpikes that blend with forests, cereal diets, and exercise for everyone but butts or booze for no one. It is also consistent with gossip, name-calling, and hive-tactics wherewith the few are mended or ejected if they don’t fit with the masses. (The guillotine was in our comparatively recent history!)Also expect more depression, anxiety, and mutual cross-checking before even minor decisions. And – pushed by genomic imprinting – females move into traditional masculine patterns and males into feminine ones. (These guys cannot care about one virgin, far less 72 of them! The women might…)
5) The new slaves: Those who have accomplished are obligated – because they cheated – to support those who have not accomplished. The economic game has been rigged and is to be corrected by rules, scorn, taxes, and tax audits. The ropes and whips are managed not by paunchy, goateed white guys in white suites and holding mint juleps but by any nut with a high voice, a high verbal score, and high on dopamine, a microphone, a camera, and a keyboard.
Both Phillips and I object to these outcomes. Resistance is within our nature. We find life to be something of a horserace and neither of us want all the nags to finish at the same instant. (Mets and Cubs fans might benefit because losing usually intensifies their frenzy and makes them more loyal.)
Further truths: Materialism is bread made from processed flour but without meat or mustard, atheist Dick Dawkins is both incredibly rigid and possibly mad, Islam is Dawkins multiplied by tens of thousands, Gaza and Palestine have been Jewish land for millennia (Jordan was the original Palestinian homeland), and there is no Anthropogenic Global Warming just as 150 years ago there was no particular value in Dutch tulips or the Brit’s South Sea Bonds. Phillips gives the details for most of these observations; Charles MacKay in 1844 gave them in regard to tulipomania, Brit bonds, and twenty other mass contagions.
Collectivism makes contagions probably for reasons that we just now glimpse in the influences of pre-natal environments on adult behavior. That is, mothers and fathers fight about the size, activity level, muscularity, and brain mass of their child. Mom’s bias is for smaller but more inhibited, dad’s for larger and more adventuresome. She wants a cooperator and a saver; he wants a hustler who earns tomorrow what he needs tomorrow. Stabilize environments, thin out their resources and mom beats dad.
Possibilities and Fun
1) Phillips heart, like mine, is with Israel. She discusses the myriads of bombast and bombs shot into Israel while politicians and generals – whether Arab, German, French, or Brit – ignore aggressors and blame the target. The world really is not upside down and backwards but those who interpret it are!
2) Phillips gives lots of data – 408 pages plus notes and index – but ran out of words before she found solutions. (In fairness, her title mentioned a “global battle” but not its end. Maybe she has a second volume in mind!)
3) Hoffer felt that it is fairly simple to change one extremist into a different kind extremist – either a fascist or a Japanese immediately after the last war was easily converted to a rigid Catholicism. German Marxists and German communists preferentially recruited from each other.
Turning an extremist to a moderate centrist, however, is nearly impossible. Don’t try it! Find the moderates, find a baton-waver, and give him a microphone, and the rabble should follow along in reasonable synchrony.
It could also be that many of us need to abandon our assumptions of a universal human nature. It is probable that time, glaciers, droughts, floods, famines, and wars have not affected all of us equally. Racism is still in our nature and could yet be a winner if we can buy the idea that a difference is a gain or loss only in relationship to a particular environment. Diversity in human traits is insurance against diversity in rapidly shifting environments.
4) Yoshiki Kuramoto in the 1970s designed the math that accounts for synchrony between oscillators – any number of them and of any kind, whether pendulums, neurons, or street demonstrators. (Yes, you are an oscillator. More later.) Increase the similarity of oscillators and increase the frequency of contact between them and expect a synchronized mass of arm-waving, stone-hurling agitators. Hitler grew his audiences with radio; we do it with cell phones, broadband, and YouTube. Today’s interconnections between the rowdies, however, amplify their nonsense over greater distances and up greater peaks and down deeper valleys. And no matter how weird you are, you can find someone on the Internet who agrees with you. Maybe our civilization does need piles of melted transistors.
5) This one is a BIG leap! I.Q. is the controversial but unmentioned player in our debates about immigration and about national prosperity. We may have some influence over that resource. That is, omega-three fatty acids are essential for neural maturation. Neuroscientist Stephen Suomi has also found them to obliterate many aspects of impulsiveness and aggression in his maternally-deprived rhesus infants. Psychiatrists sometimes find them useful for stabilizing moods and tempering the rages of bipolar disorder. Give omega-threes to Islamic mothers and with this one step raise their children’s I.Q. and lower their fanaticism. It’s not impossible even though the mullahs will bitch!
Bottom Lines: We have only a small step to Yeats: “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?” First, I am a singleton madman but there is no more generalized craziness today in the rest of you than in past centuries: Connectivity and toys are different but still used for very old purposes. Second, physicist Peter Csermely argues that collectivist, “winner-take-all” organizations are often the last stage in a society before collapse, reorganization, scavenging, and recycling.
As for Phillips’s book: Buy it! Read it! Love her chatter! Treasure her honesty! We still have a little time…
Csermely, Peter (2006) Weak Links: Stabilizers of Complex Systems from Proteins to Social Networks. NY: Springer.
Goldberg, Jonah (2007) Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning. NY: Doubleday.
Hoffer, Eric (1951) The True Believer: Thoughts on the Origins of Mass Movements. (About $2 at Alibris)
Mackay, Charles (1841/1980) Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. NY: Three Rivers Press.
Orwell, George (1946) Politics and the English Language. Nine pages. Widely available on the Internet. “The essay “Politics and the English Language” was published nearly simultaneously with another of Orwell’s essays, “The Prevention of Literature“. Both reflect Orwell’s concern with truth and how truth depends upon the use of language. Orwell noted the deliberate use of misleading language to hide unpleasant political and military facts and also identified a laxity of language among those he identified as pro-soviet. In The Prevention of Literature he also speculated on the type of literature under a future totalitarian society which he predicted would be formulaic and low grade sensationalism.”
Sowell, Thomas (2009) Intellectuals and Society. New York: Basic Books.
Strogatz, S. (2003) Sync: The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order. NY: Hyperion.
Wilson, E.O. (1998) Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge. NY: Knopf.