Category: American Culture

The dark underbelly of competition

| October 12, 2016 | Reply

From Truthdig,

Societies worldwide are suffering epidemics of mental illness because “human beings, the ultrasocial mammals, whose brains are wired to respond to other people, are being peeled apart,” writes George Monbiot at The Guardian.

“Though our wellbeing is inextricably linked to the lives of others, everywhere we are told that we will prosper through competitive self-interest and extreme individualism.” The consequence? “[P]lagues of anxiety, stress, depression, social phobia, eating disorders, self-harm and loneliness.”


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Odds of getting killed by armed toddlers, terrorists and falling out of bed

| September 8, 2016 | 2 Replies

Excellent compilation of various risks of death.



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Why we SHOULD talk to strangers

| September 4, 2016 | 2 Replies

Kim Stark has made a career of talking to strangers. She made it her task to try to understand why she does that, in this TED talk. She has decided that it is better to use one’s perceptions than to use categories, such as the category of “stranger.” Using this category means that we are not treating others as fully human. There are other benefits. Some studies show that people are more comfortable opening up to strangers than to people they believe they know. We expect that people we know understand us–we expect them to read our minds. Not so with strangers, with whom we start from scratch. Sometimes they do understand us better. Maybe we need strangers, but how should we interact with them, how do we balance both civility and privacy, which are the guiding rules in the U.S. In other countries there are other rules. In Denmark, many folks are extremely adverse to talking to strangers.

Stark offers and exercise that involves smiling, and then “triangulation,” commenting on a third person or a thing. Or engage in “noticing,” such as complimenting the other person on something (and you can most easily talk to a stranger’s dog or baby). Or engage in “disclosure,” sharing a personal experience, and this tends to cause the “stranger” to reciprocate.

Stark’s main message is that we need to stop being so wary of strangers and to make a place for them in our lives.

At The Atlantic, James Hamblin follows up with his own explorations on talking to strangers.


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Glenn Loury discusses racism with Sam Harris

| August 31, 2016 | 2 Replies

I found this discussion of race issues by Glenn C. Loury and Sam Harris to be a lively, challenging and candid discussion.

Consider, for example, this excerpt on “structural racism”:

This is one of the reasons why I think the term “structural racism” is so compelling to many people. But I, a social scientist, find the evocation of that kind of one-size-fits-all narrative—structural racism—inadequate to getting an account of what’s actually going on.

It’s not as if there’s a bunch of white people meeting somewhere deciding to make the laws in order to repress blacks. And it’s not as if the outcomes that people are concerned about—in the example at hand, disparities in the incidence of incarceration—are independent of the free choices and decisions that are being made by people, in this case black people, who might end up finding themselves in prison. They made a decision to participate in criminal activities that were clearly known to be illicit and perhaps carried the consequences that they are now suffering, didn’t they?

Sometimes the decisions they make have enormous negative consequences for other black people. Do we want to inquire about what’s going on in the homes and communities and backgrounds from which people are coming who are the subjects of this racial inequality? Or are we to assume that any such deficits or disadvantages that are causally associated with their involvement in lawbreaking, and that are related to their own community organization, structures of family, attentiveness of parenting, and so forth, are nevertheless themselves the consequence of white racism? Black people wouldn’t be acting that way if it weren’t for white racism. If there were greater opportunity, if the schools were better funded, if it hadn’t been for slavery, the black family wouldn’t have… So forth, and so on.

[more . . . ]


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Bill Nye on the foolish concept of race

| August 18, 2015 | 1 Reply

I completely agree with Bill Nye on the issue of “race.” We should all reject the concept of “race.” It is wholly and completely unscientific. We are all of the same species: We are all human beings. Yes, we humans come with different skin colors and we have various features that differ based on our ancestry, but we are all human. In rejecting the concept of “race,” I would urge that we maintain and vigorously enforce laws that protect people from other people who foolishly continue to believe in “race” and act on that foolish belief. If we keep clinging to unscientific unsupported notions of “race,” though, we will FOREVER be divided for an idiotic reason, regardless of how well-intentioned our belief in “race.” Unfortunately, the belief in “race” has long been widespread; and it has long been institutionalized and repeatedly used as a tool for oppression, power and financial gain. Rooting it out of every little corner of the planet will be an immense task requiring that people listen closely to those who do careful science on this issue, and then do their utmost to recognize that every person is of the same species.

Nye does not reject that there are such things as social tribes but warns that they can be destructive: “There have always been tribes . . .but what we have to appreciate now is that we live in a global community. Tribal loyalties are fun when it comes to the Superbowl but they are not relevant when it comes to our future. We are all in this together.”

We can fully recognize the need to protect people from racism and racialism while rejecting the concept of race. In my view, we should all be fighting a two front war. Deny the existence of race while at the same time protecting people from the ravages of racism. To anticipate objections to this post, yes, race is social construct that is as real as any social construct. But it is inevitably and ultimately a destructive social construct. It’s time to dismantle it while carefully protecting people from bigots.

We can fully recognize the need to protect people from racism and racialism while rejecting the concept of race. In my view, we should all be fighting a two front war. Deny the existence of race while at the same time protecting people from the ravages of racism. I thought I made this clear. Yes, race is social construct that is as real as any social construct. It is an ultimately destructive social construct. Time to dismantle it while protecting people from bigots.

I’m too impatient to wait for those who embrace “race” to wear each other out with insults, wounds and killings. I’m certainly not willing to wait for an interplanetary diaspora. I want the stupidity (and consequent mistreatment of innocent human beings) to stop NOW. There is no need to wait any longer. We can get entirely rid of the notion of race while yet embracing friendships, communities, extended families and extended ancestry, as well as 80,000 types of diversity rooted in real life things. And let’s keep in mind that ALL of us have ancestry that undeniably extends to the same place: Africa. We are all ultimately African. Starting now, let’s seek diversity only in meaningful things, such as the content of our character.

It will take many people immense effort to break out of the racialist matrix. One of my early steps out was reading about Star-Bellied Sneetches, a book demonstrating that even young children understand the problem. The concept of race is poisonous–used for mischief wherever it is used What I propose is that we embrace people while rejecting race.

this topic really frustrates me because we are all victims of this “race” scam yet we all continue to cling to this empty dangerous concept that you can use a smattering of physical characteristics to judge an entire person. And why is it that a President who has a “white” mother and a “black” father end up being called “black” or “African American”? Are we that low on brain wattage that we oversimplify like this? Why do so many of us cling to race? Ask cui bono, to whom does it benefit? It benefits many in many ways. For some it provides evidence-free victimhood. For others, an instant community. For others, evidence free scapegoats. And for most of us, “race” is a concept born out of laziness – we don’t want to do the hard work of really getting to know each other

Addendum 9-8-15

Path dependence plays into this issue big time. If people had been getting along, oblivious to skin color or other trivial physical characteristics we associate with “race,” and if someone came along and suggested, “Hey, let’s start generalizing about what kind of person we are dealing with on the basis of ‘race,” a totally unscientific and incoherent concept that I have invented based on trivial physical characteristics of humans. As people with geographically correlated trivial characteristics intermarry over time, it will become more and more absurd to determine who is of what race. I propose in fact, that a President who has a “white” mother and a “black” father will be deemed “black,” and this will invite people to treat him/her with unwarranted presumptions as to what kind of person he/she is.” If someone had made that proposal in this hypothetical scenario, it would (or at least, in an intelligent world) SHOULD be immediately rejected as absurd, divisive and dangerous.

My conclusion: the only reason we continue to divide people by “race” is because ignorant people from long ago started doing so, and they did it for horrible reasons related to power-mongering and economic advantage.


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About legality

| August 4, 2015 | Reply

legalityFound this graphic on Facebook.


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Pushback against anti-GMO

| July 15, 2015 | 1 Reply

From Slate, questions about the integrity of the anti-GMO food movement:

That’s the fundamental flaw in the anti-GMO movement. It only pretends to inform you. When you push past its dogmas and examine the evidence, you realize that the movement’s fixation on genetic engineering has been an enormous mistake. The principles it claims to stand for—environmental protection, public health, community agriculture—are better served by considering the facts of each case than by treating GMOs, categorically, as a proxy for all that’s wrong with the world. That’s the truth, in all its messy complexity. Too bad it won’t fit on a label.


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Alan Grayson’s new Declaration of Independence

| July 4, 2015 | Reply

I received this new Declaration of Independence in a mass emailing from Alan Grayson:

We need a new declaration of independence. FDR took a stab at this, with his “Four Freedoms.” Freedom of speech. Freedom of worship. Freedom from want. Freedom from fear. That’s a good start.

But now, eight decades later, we need to declare our independence from other forms of oppression.

We hereby declare our independence from bigotry, in all its evil forms. We declare our independence from racism, sexism, homophobia, language discrimination and chauvinism. Everyone has equal rights, no matter where you’re from, what you look like, what language you speak, and whom you love. Everyone deserves respect.

We hereby declare our independence from narrow-minded, extremist or violent religious fundamentalism. We live in a land where church and state are separate. Religious belief, no matter how sincere, is no license to dictate to others whether to terminate a pregnancy, whether to use contraception, or whom to marry. Earlier this year, I placed my hand on the Bible and swore to uphold the Constitution; I didn’t place my hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible.

We hereby declare our independence from the greedy. Malefactors of great wealth have no right to buy and sell elected officials thorough the legalized bribery of “independent expenditures.” They have no right to despoil our land and our water, the air we breathe and the food we eat. They have no right to manipulate or gut our laws in order to increase their lucre. They have no right to jack up the price of what we buy, or determine what we see on TV or on our computer screens.

We hereby declare our independence from “1984”-style surveillance. Neither the Government nor a private company has any reason to monitor the activities of innocent people, without their express, informed and freely given consent. Who I’m with, what I say, what I buy, what I read; that’s none of anyone else’s business. Privacy – the fundamental right to be left alone – is an essential part of what it means to be a human being.

We hereby declare our independence from exploitation. Bad bosses are today’s King George. They want to work employees as hard as they can, and pay them as little as possible in return. They call the difference profit. If workers are organized, they can fight back. But if not, then they need legal protection from exploitation. If you have a job, you should have a living wage, and time-and-a-half for overtime. If you have a job, you should have health coverage. If you have a job, you should have paid sick leave. If you have a job, you should have a pension. As John Mellencamp would say, “Ain’t that America?”

We hereby declare our independence from misinformation. Fox News is a lie factory. Special interests used to lie to us about the dangers of smoking; now they lie to us about the dangers of pollution and climate disruption. They claim a right to “free speech,” but we have a right to honest speech. We have to be part of what a Reagan aide once dismissed as the “reality-based community.”

We hereby declare our independence from hubris. No, we can’t bring peace through war. No, we can’t force our way of life or our way of thinking on seven billion other people. No, we aren’t going to end the 1200-year-old civil war between the Sunnis and the Shia. No, we aren’t going to go and kill everyone everywhere in the world who harbors some harsh views of us. And no, they won’t greet our soldiers with flowers, bake apple pies for them, and salute the American flag with a hand on their hearts. They want to be them, not us. We can care for victims, protect ourselves and help our friends without sticking our nose into every else’s business.

We hereby declare our independence from a rigged system of fake trade. We buy their stuff, creating tens of millions of jobs in other countries. But they don’t buy an equal amount of our stuff. Instead, they buy our assets — $11,000,000,000,000.00 of our assets. They not only rob us of our jobs, but they drive us deeper and deeper into debt. When did Uncle Sam become Uncle Sap? If we don’t declare independence, the endgame is national bankruptcy.

And me? I hereby declare my independence from the corrupt system of campaign finance. I will not carve up the law into little pieces, and sell it to the highest bidder. I will not make “friends” with lobbyists and special interests and the minions of multinational corporations, and then “help” those “friends.” I will not forsake my real job – doing something good for the 700,000 people who chose me to be their Congressman – in favor of begging millionaires and billionaires for a few crumbs from their tables.


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Stop attending your kids’ organized sports games

| July 4, 2015 | Reply

Why shouldn’t you attend your child’s organized sporting events? It’s a form of helicopter parenting:

Compared to other parts of our children’s lives, sports are bizarrely parent-centric. We don’t gather in the back of algebra class and watch students solve quadratic equations. In music and dance and theater, we don’t attend every single practice, lesson and rehearsal. We just show up for an occasional performance, keep our mouths shut and applaud like crazy when it’s over.

So, here’s a better idea, especially for the legions of paunchy, stressed-out, middle-aged souls out there. Let’s banish parents from youth fields, courts, and diamonds, and let’s arrange for moms and dads to play soccer, softball, basketball, whatever, themselves when their children have a game.

Our kids would get more freedom, we parents would get more exercise, and all of us would remember why we love sports.


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