Jonathan Haidt explains why there are not any civilizations without temples, starting at minute 14 of this video. This is the 2013 Boyarsky Lecture at Duke University. About 10,000 years we went from an almost instantaneous transition from hunter-gathers to Babylon. A huge part of our evolutionary development is this newly learned ability of humans to circling around sacred objects (religious and political objects are two dominant examples) in order to form teams. As we circle around, we generate a social energy that knits the social fabric, but also encourages Manichean thinking–us versus them, blinding us to our own faults and faulty thinking. No shades of gray are allowed when we are intensely groupish. This kind of groupish thinking is radically incompatible with scientific thinking. Science is squeezed out, replaced by sacred objects, groupishness and authoritarian obeisance.
At min 24, Haidt gets to the crux of his talk. Those of us who focus on the “care” (empathy) foundation of morality, often circle about it bonding with others like us, rejecting and denigrating the impulses and ideas that tend to drive those who are politically conservative.
At Truthdig, Chris Hedges points out that our real rulers are invisible and that our purported Democratic process is largely a distraction:
Politics, if we take politics to mean the shaping and discussion of issues, concerns and laws that foster the common good, is no longer the business of our traditional political institutions. These institutions, including the two major political parties, the courts and the press, are not democratic. They are used to crush any vestiges of civic life that calls, as a traditional democracy does, on its citizens to share among all its members the benefits, sacrifices and risks of a nation. They offer only the facade of politics, along with elaborate, choreographed spectacles filled with skillfully manufactured emotion and devoid of real political content. We have devolved into what Alexis de Tocqueville feared—“democratic despotism.”
The squabbles among the power elites, rampant militarism and the disease of imperialism, along with a mindless nationalism that characterizes all public debate, have turned officially sanctioned politics into a carnival act.
Pundits and news celebrities on the airwaves engage in fevered speculation about whether the wife of a former president will run for office—and this after the mediocre son of another president spent eight years in the White House. This is not politics. It is gossip. Opinion polls, the staple of what serves as political reporting, are not politics. They are forms of social control. The use of billions of dollars to fund election campaigns and pay lobbyists to author legislation is not politics. It is legalized bribery. The insistence that austerity and economic rationality, rather than the welfare of the citizenry, be the primary concerns of the government is not politics. It is the death of civic virtue. The government’s system of wholesale surveillance and the militarization of police forces, along with the psychosis of permanent war and state-orchestrated fear of terrorism, are not politics. They are about eradicating civil liberties and justifying endless war and state violence. The chatter about death panels, abortion, gay rights, guns and undocumented children crossing the border is not politics. It is manipulation by the power elites of emotion, hate and fear to divert us from seeing our own powerlessness.
“Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country,” Edward Bernays observed in his 1928 book, “Propaganda.” “We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.”
Politics in the hands of the corporate state is anti-politics. It is designed to denigrate and destroy the values that make a liberal democracy and political participation possible. It is a cynical form of mass control. Corporate money has replaced the vote. Dissent is silenced or ignored. Political parties are Punch and Judy shows funded by corporate puppeteers. Universities, once the epicenter of social change, are corporate headquarters, flush with corporate money, government contracts and foundation grants. The commercial press, whose primary task is attracting advertising dollars, has become an arm of the entertainment industry. It offers news as vaudeville.
Genuine political activity, the organizing work needed to protect citizens from the abuses of power, exists only on the margins of society. Politics in America has gone underground.
[t]hink tank “scholars” don’t get invited to important meetings by “national security professionals” in DC if they point out that the US is committing war crimes and that the US president is a war criminal. They don’t get invited to those meetings if they argue that the US should be bound by the same rules and laws it imposes on others when it comes to the use of force. They don’t get invited if they ask US political officials to imagine how they would react if some other country were routinely bombing US soil with drones and cruise missiles and assassinating whatever Americans they wanted to in secret and without trial. As the reaction to Cornel West shows, making those arguments triggers nothing but ridicule and exclusion.
One gets invited to those meetings only if one blindly affirms the right of the US to do whatever it wants, and then devotes oneself to the pragmatic question of how that unfettered license can best be exploited to promote national interests. The culture of DC think tanks, “international relations” professionals, and foreign policy commenters breeds allegiance to these American prerogatives and US power centers – incentivizes reflexive defenses of US government actions – because, as Gelb says, that is the only way to advance one’s careerist goals as a “national security professional”. If you see a 20-something aspiring “foreign policy expert” or “international relations professional” in DC, what you’ll view, with some rare exceptions, is a mindlessly loyal defender of US force and prerogatives. It’s what that culture, by design, breeds and demands.
As usual, Florida is still undecided, a mess. According to NPR, though, it is leaning heavily toward Obama, despite the shenanigans of the state GOP in suppressing the vote.
I didn’t watch last night. Couldn’t. We went to bed early.
But then Donna got up around midnight and woke me by a whoop of joy that I briefly mistook for anguish.
To my small surprise and relief, Obama won.
I will not miss the constant electioneering, the radio ads, the tv spots, the slick mailers. I will not miss keeping still in mixed groups about my politics (something I am not good at, but this election cycle it feels more like holy war than an election). I will not miss wincing every time some politician opens his or her mouth and nonsense spills out. (This is, of course, normal, but during presidential years it feels much, much worse.) I will not miss…
Anyway, the election came out partially the way I expected, in those moments when I felt calm enough to think rationally. Rationality seemed in short supply this year and mine was sorely tasked. So now, I sit here sorting through my reactions, trying to come up with something cogent to say.
I am disappointed the House is still Republican, but it seems a number of the Tea Party robots from 2010 lost their seats, so maybe the temperature in chambers will drop a degree or two and some business may get done.
Gary Johnson, running as a Libertarian, pulled 350,000 votes as of nine last night. Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, got around 100,000. (Randall Terry received 8700 votes, a fact that both reassures me and gives me shivers—there are people who will actually vote for him?)
Combined, the independent candidates made virtually no difference nationally. Which is a shame, really. I’ve read both Stein’s and Johnson’s platforms and both of them are willing to address the problems in the system. Johnson is the least realistic of the two and I like a lot of the Green Party platform.
More . . .
Glenn Greenwald’s caustic article (accurately) sums up Mitt Romney’s foreign policy:
[W]e’re in a war for freedom against tyranny, and for justice against oppression – a war which Mitt Romney will fight in close alliance with the regimes of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. . . . [I]n light of extreme anti-American sentiment, we must drone-bomb more, kill Iranian civilians with sanctions, send more symbols of military occupation to their region, move still closer to Israel (which could only be accomplished by some sort of new surgical procedure to collectively implant us inside of them), and even more vigorously support the repressive Gulf regimes. In other words, to solve the problem of anti-American hatred in the region, we must do more and more of exactly that which – quite rationally – generates that hatred.
Here’s the problem: It’s almost impossible to distinguish Romney’s imperialist foreign policy from that of our “Peace President,” Barack Obama.
Sure, the Birthers and Truthers are ramping up their positions this election year. But how about this?
Step one: Note an uptick in gun violence as the weather warms up (as recently has been reported in places like Seattle).
Step Two: Encourage the “Liberal Media” like Fox News and CNN to run with the statistical spike, rolling out regular stories about gun violence.
Step Three: Sit back as the predictable political posturing by liberal politicians results in writing moderate gun control legislation.
Step Four: Respond in the early fall with a fervent campaign push saying, “See? We Told you Obama is after your guns!”
Result: Getting out the conservative voters who otherwise wouldn’t bother voting for that Mormon not-conservative-enough Romney.