The Self – The Commoners
“Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I’ve found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay – small acts of kindness and love.” – Gandalf the Grey
I use the term ‘commoners’ not as a pejorative, nor in a patronising sense. It should be a matter of pride to stand with the majority of humanity who, after doing all the work, being continually robbed of their resources, paying for everything and trying every way they can to be good, still retain their generally good sense in a world cloaked in misinformation. It is just a shame that, for complex reasons, they don’t get to implement their good sense because the elite take the power of decision making away from them.
The commoners may also be termed the people, the public, the working and middle classes, the proletariat or whatever you like. What the commoners have in common is that they all strive to provide their children with a better life than theirs and they must all rely on the same resources if they are to have any hope of achieving this. Which is incidentally exactly what the elite’s interests should be too, yet they have chosen to work against the best interests of the species. The commoner does not seek power, but justice. Injustice is intolerable to an informed commoner and so the elite are intolerable since their existence is based on injustice. But the commoners like to focus on solutions, not problems, and that is one of their problems. Their problems are many and complex but they all stem from the fact that the homo sapien has been placed outside of its natural environment. Humans have a nature, of that there is no doubt, but human nature is a difficult subject to breach because humans and their environments are so complex that no person can define what exactly is and isn’t included in human nature. Many dangerous political theories have been developed through a poor understanding of, or simply a non-acceptance of, human nature. Steven Pinker, in The Blank Slate quotes the world’s leading myrmecologist (studier of ants) E.O. Wilson: “Marxism – wonderful theory, wrong species.” So I don’t intend to define human nature, but identify some definitive, important information on the subject without which we cannot begin to shape a better world.
“Philosophers are people who know less and less about more and more, until they know nothing about everything. Scientists are people who know more and more about less and less, until they know everything about nothing.”– Konrad Lorenz
Whilst our world today may well be a natural result of evolution, it of course fails to obey the laws of nature. That is because it has been created by the dominant force of socio-cultural evolution rather than biological evolution. Nature could be programmed to destroy itself, and that ‘could’ is unlikely to be a question answered by historical and scientific discovery – more a question we, each of us as individuals, are destined to answer.
In a conference talk, Geoff Mulgan of the UK’s Young Foundation showed that predictions and forecasts of the future are quite historically revealing when looked at objectively. Whilst doing a telecommunications PHD at MIT, Mulgan had to read up on what had been said on the subject of networks in the 19th century and in the 1950’s, 60’s, 80’s and 90’s. He found that in all these periods, some forecasters expected network expansions to lead to increasingly fascistic workplaces and big brother states where every movement is measured and monitored. Others expected network expansion to liberate people and flatten work hierarchies.
So what happened? Contrary to doctrinaire understandings of world history, both happened. There was a lot of hopeful optimism and activity in the 90’s surrounding the potential of the internet and a great increase in the proliferation of liberating technologies; but at exactly the same time, there was a huge consolidation of corporate power and bureaucratic government control.
When you think about it, all subjects and all of history can be described in a similar way. As Forrest Gump concluded, it seemed that both momma and Lieutenant Dan were right. Life is like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re gonna get; yet at the same time everyone has their own destiny. It is hard or perhaps impossible to get our heads around this coexistence of two seemingly opposing realities, but it seems to be the truth anyway.
The views of Momma and Lieutenant Dan are essentially the two sides taken by many of the great philosophers on the subject of history – one side was the ‘great man’ theory construed by the Scot Thomas Carlyle, author of On Heroes and Hero Worship and The Heroic in History. The other view of history has its route in Georg Hegel’s ‘the spirit of his time’ theory, later to be known as Zeitgeist. One dictate says that it is great, inspired individuals who make history and the other that it is the conditions which make the man and not the other way around. The reality again is that both these views are true. As Jared Diamond covers in his work, conditions are created by flukes of geography and other chaotic factors. But it is those specific conditions which will allow on to the public stage and other positions of influence, individuals inhibiting a certain range of personalities. That range is limited, and only a minority of people can fulfil the place on the stage, but none of the individuals with that potential are exactly the same. Every significant historical figure, whether brilliant or psychopathic, has their own idiosyncrasies and it takes only miniscule differences amongst a person or persons with great power to produce a wholly different historical result.  
The easiest example is to imagine the Nazi party in the 1930’s run by some psychopath other than Hitler (the conditions of the time dictate that that place could only have been fulfilled by an essential psychopath) who’s first port of call for the concentration camps were Protestants or Slavs or Aryans instead of Jews. (Yes, it is true that conditions leant themselves towards Jews being the first minority out-group and irrelevant enemy to be targeted, but it could easily have been another group) Though all the ensuing bloodshed, suffering and psychopathic behaviour would have been no different and the war still gone ahead, years later we would not have the state of Israel and other such peculiarities which are the unpredictable outcomes of history. So maybe instead we would have an independent ‘Aryan state’ in Scandinavia – then its particular geography and politics would be very different to those in the near East and the world’s geopolitical conditions would have looked very different also. Both Carlyle and Hegel were right. Idiosyncrasies in individuals and in environmental conditions are both factors in the creation of history and they work off each other not against each other.
We can draw many comparisons between the variability of personality types in human societies, and their socio-cultural evolution to the variability of environmental niches in the natural world, and their biological evolution. One such comparison is with the hierarchy of vultures on the African planes. A number of different vulture species have evolved to specialise in terms of what they do at a carrion site. A better hunter, but with a poorer sense of smell than the other East African vultures, the Lappet-faced vulture arrives late to a kill having watched other species zone in on the kill. It is larger and more powerful than the others and can benefit the others by using its more powerful beak to penetrate the hide of a carcass. It specialises in eating the coarser meat tissues and tendons. The Ruppell’s vulture is also powerful and gorges on the meat, having backward-pointing spines on the tongue to strip meat from bone. Then there are the White-backed vultures, which are slightly smaller and reach into every nook and cranny on the carcass to make sure nothing is missed after the others have feasted.  These biological niches are somewhat mirrored by class systems in human civilizations.
Though homo sapiens as a species have not shown any marked biological evolutionary changes in the last 75,000 years at least, personalities vary enormously because of the vast complexity of the human brain and this has a major impact on socio-cultural evolution. The sheer size and complexity of the human mind (essentially the amount of wiring) means that it has a huge list of component parts to it. This means the likelihood of nature missing, adding or misplacing a part is very high (almost guaranteed) in comparison to other animals with less complex brains. It results in a situation where no two humans have all the same component parts arranged in the same order. We all have genetic mutations of the mind and so no two people on Earth are created with exactly the same character traits (apart from identical twins – though their character traits will still be subject to mutations after the embryo splits and of course their environment can shape their minds differently as they develop beyond the womb). The natural character differences produced in each human brain results in so much variability in behaviour that niches in the highly complex society we live in are filled by different personalities, if you take out the influences of hereditary positions, cheating and luck. The larger and more complex the society, the more behavioural niches there are to be filled, and though we are behaviourally flexible, behavioural mutations or rare behaviour types often get opportunities which they would not have in a tribal society.
Human socio-cultural evolution has outpaced human biological evolution, enabling some behaviours which are not consistent with the surrounding environment to exist. This would usually lead to an immediate evolutionary dead-end (extinction) for the individuals or group who deviated from their normal ecological function. But that dead end has been prolonged because those groups who deviated did so in such a way (practicing agriculture) that they changed the environment itself. And when there was feedback from the environment telling those agricultural societies (civilizations) that this new economic system was not sustainable, there followed not a return to an ecologically viable economic system, but a conquering of fresh environments in which to continue the same unsustainable economic practices. That feedback occurs every time the dominant civilization has sucked all remaining nutrients from its environment, causing a collapse. Now the dominant civilization is at the stage where it is searching to find whole new planets to conquer (most notably through the ‘Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence’ initiative), knowing that this planetary civilization is about to collapse.
The evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr has suggested that intelligence is a lethal mutation. Indeed, throughout the history of life, there is a pretty solid negative correlation between the intelligence level of a species and its biological success (lifespan of that species). And the most intelligent organisms are of a very high, and therefore very rare, level of biological complexity whilst the modal (most common level of) complexity has never altered. There is no reason why homo sapiens should be removed from this pattern.
Most everyday human activity is of almost the same order of complexity as it was 10,000 years ago and even 200,000 years ago. It is merely the maximum level of complexity which has increased through human history. The evolution of human world history seems to be governed by much the same processes as evolution in nature. It is the passing of information which differs. In genetic evolution, which we are just as much a part of, information is passed on through DNA whereas in cultural evolution information is passed on more quickly by communication. The more methods of communication there are, the larger the audience, the better the retention of information, and the quicker a culture can evolve, because information is spreading quicker. Because humans, and particularly civilizations, have more communicative methods such as language and writing, and larger social groups (continually increasing with globalization), our cultural evolution has continued to accelerate rapidly in comparison with tribal societies. This is why the internet, like the printing press before it, is so significant – it is loaded with information, as well as audiences to use it.
Jared Diamond, in Guns, Germs and Steel, has used the term the great leap forward to describe the time at which human history really began on its journey through socio-cultural evolution. And Diamond’s reason for writing his book is that until an agreed-upon explanation for the broad pattern of history is found, many people will continue to suspect that racist biological explanations, often based around intelligence, are correct after all. He talks about ‘Yali’s question’ – Yali being a New Guinean who asked him why the White men have so much ‘cargo’, and the New Guineans so little. This is another of the many reasons why well-meaning people like to subscribe to the blank slate theory – political correctness. They don’t wish to be seen as racist so fear discussion of genetic differences which may suggest differences in ability between races. But conveniently, we needn’t subscribe to the blank slate when explaining why human history developed the way it did, because racially based biological explanations are not even partly correct. Not even when we take into account the fact that genes play a huge, and often dominant role, in determining a person’s social status in the modern world.
It just so fortunately happens that there are no, or at least very negligible, differences between different groups of humans around the world because our shared last common ancestors existed just 75,000 years ago – a blink of the eye in evolutionary time. Since then, no group of humans has needed to develop different modes of life up until just 12,000 years ago because all have been using the same cognitive abilities to shape the various environments around them rather than be shaped by their differing environments. We all come from, at most, 12,000 year old tribal hunter-gatherer stock. And in this last 12,000 years of agriculture, survival of the best adapted has not been functioning in the usual way. Some people have evolved genes to process animal milk or have red hair, but no significant biological changes shaping human behaviour have taken place. If you could take a new born baby from 12,000 or even 70,000 years ago, other than genetic immunities and the like, they could be brought up and turn out no different to any other person. Of course, had there been Neanderthals alive today, we would have to admit that there were inherent ability differences, but that would still not justify inhumane treatment by one group or the other. The real reasons for why some parts of the world developed a faster rate of socio-cultural evolution than others ultimately derived from chaotic influences – essentially flukes of geography.
As Diamond puts it, population size and population density interact to influence a society’s technology and economic, social and political organization. He summarizes the reasons as to why the Inca leader Atahuallpa was so easily outfoxed by the Spanish conquistador Pizarro in Cajamarca in 1532: “In short, literacy made the Spaniards heirs to a huge body of knowledge about human behaviour and history. By contrast, not only did Atahuallpa have no conception of the Spaniards themselves, and no personal experience of any other invaders from overseas, but he also had not even heard (or read) of similar threats to anyone else, anywhere else, anytime previously in history. That gulf of experience encouraged Pizarro to set his trap and Atahuallpa to walk into it.”
Diamond refers to the settlement of Polynesia as a natural experiment whereby thousands of very differing types of islands were settled until around A.D. 1000 by peoples descended from the same ancestral group out of the Bismarck archipelago just over 3000 years ago. Within this fairly short time-span, closely related Polynesians with much the same domesticated plants and animals at their disposal, developed vastly differing societies and customs. These differences were purely as a result of the environments each group of Polynesians were presented with on the islands they settled. Polynesian history then, is the first place to go when one needs to dispel any racist biological explanations of human history. 
Tasmania, Daimond points out, is possibly the most extreme example of a lack of ‘cargo.’ The aboriginal Tasmanians, cut off from mainland Australia and the rest of the world for 10,000 years, neither developed nor inherited much technology because inventions could only be come upon by a small pool of people, therefore their collective intelligence was limited. And the Tasmanians also developed a culture unreceptive to new technologies, so they had little more than stone tools tens of thousands of years after these had been superseded in Europe.
There are in fact many examples of an apparent lack of creativity in humans depending on the different environments in which they live. Today, we are often blind to this because communication is so all encompassing, instant and wide reaching that one idea diffuses around the whole world without the rest of us having to think much about innovation. Whilst agriculture itself is the worst development in history, ploughing has always been a central element because it allows far quicker preparation of the ground for agricultural use. Yet European farmers spent 2000 years, right up until the 16th century, toiling away with flat, inefficient ploughs needing several oxen to pull. The Chinese had invented the far more efficient mouldboard plough around 500 B.C. – it only needed one oxen to pull it. But how could Europeans not work out that a V-shaped edge would drag less than a flat edge? These people can’t have been intellectually inferior to the Chinese and there were other inventions which China itself missed. Conditions in China were just more conducive for the invention of the mouldboard plough while Europeans were perhaps preoccupied with other things or had restrictions on the materials or skills needed for whatever idiosyncratic reason. And idiosyncratic Individuals also play their part. Da Vinci, for example, was unique. But there may have been dozens or even hundreds of Da Vincis in through history. Only in the likes of a banking Medici dynasty of Florence though, could there be enough spare wealth to employ a clever man to spend his time in well-stocked workshops thinking about art and innovation.
It is the development of technology and accumulation of information which has gradually allowed humans to break free of their natural environmental constraints. And the most significant developments were made by both Homo sapiens and by our ancestral species. First sticks and stones, then knives, fire, axes, spears, fishing nets, clothing, baskets, traps, dogs, horses, wheels, gunpowder and so on. Each technological development has broken down barriers into new environments which our ancestors could exploit. New technologies and techniques that didn’t work were discarded and only the useful tools survived through the generations. Most useful information – from how to use a particular tool to what food sources are to be found where – was passed on to future generations through imitation and teaching. Biologically, our evolution has focused on selecting better communication and social skills, until we developed complex language – an advancement which further accelerated the rate of our social evolution.
There is surely a relationship between the rate of information flow and division of labour – the route of compartmentalisation. Since the beginnings of modern humans, societies have always exchanged and passed on lots of information. But until writing developed – because of agriculture – that information was limited merely to what was needed for living a hunter gatherer mode of life. There was no need for writing as people passed information on to the next generation through word of mouth, stories and physical instruction – unsurprisingly these are more effective methods of communication since this is what we are designed for. But the development of written text allowed information to be stored and absorbed at a later date even when no longer needed. And so, as more and more text is created, the vast majority of information available to a society is not needed in everyday life. But because this is now an agricultural system, everyday life is different for different people and one person’s useless information is another person’s very useful information. New inventions and techniques quickly began to spread far and wide, and so the development of writing massively accelerated the rate of socio-cultural evolution.
Adam Smith lays out a good example in The Wealth of Nations: “In the first fire-engines, a boy was constantly employed to open and shut alternately the communication between the boiler and the cylinder, according as the piston either ascended or descended. One of those boys, who loved to play with his companions, observed that, by tying a string from the handle of the valve which opened this communication to another part of the machine, the valve would open and shut without his assistance, and leave him at liberty to divert himself with his play-fellows. One of the greatest improvements that has been made upon this machine, since it was first invented, was in this manner the discovery of a boy who wanted to save his own labour.”
As a major driver of socio-cultural evolution, these simple labour-saving innovations and their accompanying inventions have been occurring since the beginning of humanity, exponentially decreasing the amount of labour needed to be productive. Of course, in a world of not full employment where people don’t have a stake in their means of production and are paid by the hour, there is zero incentive for wage slaves to think like that boy. Consequently, small businesses and co-operatives are far more economically efficient and innovative. Anybody who does have a stake in their means of production will know that over time, profits will increase and/or hours decrease, depending on preference, due to these continual innovations,.
More efficient exchange of information (communication) allows people not to make the same mistakes in whatever economic activity they are involved in, but follow well-honed instructions. Over time then, in an economically rational world, training, design and observation should increase whilst manual labour decreases faster. And for every minute spent in training, design and observation, 10 minutes of human labour may be saved on manual production. What we should see today is a world in which work hours for every person are vastly reduced with no less overall pay, with proportionally more work time spent in training, design and observation than in manual labour, which would mostly be done by machines in non-biosphere production and by nature in biosphere production.
Author of Zombie Economics, John Quiggin, asserts that the 15 hour working weeks and utopian lives of leisure envisaged by John Maynard Keynes are still very much possible, and soon, but only if the West were to return to the economic policies of ‘Keynesian social democracy’, which were the prevailing policies from the end of the second world war until the 70’s. In his essay Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren, Keynes sets out his utopian vision. His take, in 1930, on the great depression was thus: “We are suffering, not from the rheumatics of old age, but from the growing-pains of over-rapid changes, from the painfulness of readjustment between one economic period and another. The increase of technical efficiency has been taking place faster than we can deal with the problem of labour absorption; the improvement in the standard of life has been a little too quick.”
If the nations’ economies had not been messed around with and exploited by the elites, specifically by the neoliberal agenda implemented by the global elite since the 70’s and spelled out in the Trilateral Commission’s Crisis of Democracy, then Keynes 15 hour week would be with us already. Despite the psychopaths’ manipulation of markets and capital and their suppression of technology, “Germany’s work hours declined from 2,387 hours annually in 1950 to 1,408 in 2010. France’s declined from 2,241 hours annually in 1950 to 1,552 in 2010.” In the current hysterical climate, mainstream corrupt politicians and economists would and do, no doubt, use this as an explanation for declining levels of employment and insist that it would be better if people worked more and longer. They will say that a free market cannot divvy up work hours equally, for that is evil socialism, but will select the most experienced to work more hours and the less experienced to work less; and all the while these differences are politically manipulated to create further societal division. Had the conspiratorial neo-liberal revolutions of the 70’s onwards not taken place though, it would simply have been a case of those in full employment (virtually everyone) having their hours gradually reduced and today everyone would be working around 20 hours per week and with higher overall incomes, just as Keynes envisaged.  
The most important missing factor then, in Keynes’ macroeconomic prediction, was that of inevitable psychopathic intervention and the iron law of oligarchy. ‘Keynesian social democracy’ was always going to precede a period of psychopathically driven wealth centralization like neoliberal globalization. Had the subjects of psychopathy, ponerology and the iron law of oligarchy been more well known and understood in Keynes’ day and informed him further, perhaps his dreams would have been given the necessary protection for them to survive through until today and we would have some sort of socialist utopia. Unfortunately though, we are humans, not ants and Keynes’ utopia was never going to happen since it didn’t acknowledge what the natural state of humanity is (tribal hunter-gatherer) and that the type of economic environment that agriculture-based socialism (or state-socialism) envisages is not one we are evolved for.
If you’re not with us, you’re against us – George Bush, Anakin Skywalker
Humans have evolved to live in economically functional groups of a certain size, known as Dunbar’s number after anthropologist Robin Dunbar. This is estimated to range somewhere between 100 and 300 individuals but the most commonly used value is 150. The figure is a theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom an individual can maintain ‘stable social relationships’. It has also been suggested as the maximum number of ‘friends’ a person can have. It means that beyond this number, the average individual is incapable of being able to track who each person is by character, role and circumstance and how each person relates to every other person.
Dunbar started out by coming across a correlation between the size of the brain case and the social group size in different primates. He extrapolated the results to make a prediction of the natural group size for humans. It checks out with observations of indigenous hunter-gatherer societies, who mostly hover around this number though bands can be as low as 30 individuals and tribal cultures as high as 2500. 150 is also a similar size to the populations in Neolithic villages, Hutterite settlements, specialized disciplines in academia and army units in both modern and ancient times. There are also various governments and companies which have limited office size to 150 whilst virtual communities on social media average out at a similar size. 
There are other observed limitations to what humans are capable in groups of different sizes. Groups of two or three are effective for being able to make complex decisions, while groups of between 3 and 8 are the most creative. Work groups, as evidenced by the sizes of sports teams, range between 10 and 30. Dunbar’s number means that economies are most efficient at populations of around 150 and people tend to be able to recognise around 500 to 1000 different faces. And crowd psychology really kicks in at 5000.
Australian aborigines have perhaps demonstrated the most stable complex and functional social organisations that have ever existed. Their marriage laws and kinship systems are examples of the pinnacle of stable and natural socio-cultural evolution. Aborigines often arrange themselves into ‘Nations/Tribes’ of around 500-600 individuals which have a shared language and culture. In addition, the ‘Moiety’ system divides all the members of a tribe into two groups, based on a connection with certain animals, plants, or other aspects of their environment and only people in different moieties can marry. In Northern Australia, nations can be further divided into ‘Skins’ of four sections or eight subsections. The ‘Totemic group’ is another grouping of familial relations, where a totem is an animal, plant or other object believed to be ancestrally related to a person and so ascribed to a person at birth. A ‘Clan’ is an economic group of 40 or 50 people, all of the same totemic group. These are a land-owning or ‘land-belonging’ group of patrillineal extended families and sisters and daughters will leave to live with their husband’s clan. A Horde is a working group of 10 to 20 people – a few families who band together for hunting and food gathering. Finally there is the smaller family group consisting of a man and his wife/wives and children. These physical and social structures and organising principles have no doubt been developed by the trial and error of 50,000 years of relatively stable human occupation in Australia in order to build the most efficient economies possible, reduce warfare as far as possible, retain social cohesion and maintain a healthy gene pool and it results in a culture where there are 70 different relationship names (equivalents for mother, uncle, sister etc.). This rich accumulated knowledge of social organisations and structures was destroyed as far as possible by the genocidal North-Atlantic Empire and its Australian government, but much of it could still be rescued to give us a great deal of guidance on how to organise a future society. 
In management theory, Meredith Belbin has formulised nine distinct team roles teams from his research into how members of teams interacted during business games run at Henley Management College in Southern England. These roles are: ‘The Plant’ – an unorthodox, creative, ideas person; ‘The Resource Investigator’ – the networker of the group; ‘The Chairman/Co-Ordinator’ – the good communicator who clarifies and delegates; ‘The Shaper’ – a dynamic enthusiast who loves a challenge and thrives under pressure; ‘The Monitor-Evaluator’ – a dispassionate, strategic analyst who makes sure all options are considered and the right decision is made; ‘The Team Worker’ – the socially oriented people-person who seeks to ensure the group’s cohesion; ‘The Implementer’- the rooted, practical operator who can turn ideas into workable solutions; ‘The Completer Finisher’ – has an eye for detail and ensures that schedules and deadlines are met with precision. ‘The Specialist’ – single minded, dedicated and provides expert skills or knowledge. Roles are not limited to one person as the roles do not describe the personalities of individuals or the number of individuals in a team but simply the roles which need to be fulfilled for the most efficient team work to take place. Several roles may be fulfilled by one individual whilst several individuals may contribute to fulfilling one role. Managing teams and social structures is by far the most difficult aspect of economics, and it is key to understand the serious limitations humans have when thinking about politico-economic structures.
Steven Pinker’s explains how, in the 20th century in particular, the whole of Western society have come to religiously believe in this ancient philosophy of ‘tabula rasa’ – the idea that babies are born with no inherent nature, behaviour or character – the concept that everything that a person amounts to comes from their environment. Of course it makes sense to focus on environmental factors when bringing up children since those are the only controllable factors. But they still only account for half the story – the other half is genetics (including those random wirings of the brain). This becomes obvious when you ask anyone who subscribes to the ‘tabula rasa’ doctrine whether they could raise a dog, cat or pigeon to speak English. We may be unable to control what genes and characters our children inherit, but they still account for at least 50% of the reasons as to why people develop as they do. And ignoring that has meant sociologists, politicians, doctors, teachers, economists and the public at large have come up with some very strange and dangerous theories indeed.
There is of course ample evidence that environmental and genetic factors do interact in an often extraordinary way. Epigentics – the process by where genes can be switched on or off by environmental influences, is still a new field of study, but it was found recently that the trauma experienced by holocaust survivors was, to a very significant extent, passed on to their children and grandchildren. These descendants of are known to have increased likelihood of stress disorders when compared with Jewish families who were living outside of Europe during the war. This is yet another example of the negative feedback loops and cycles of despair which can be set up in society even if just one rock is thrown in the pool. 
An article in an issue of the Mother Jones magazine in 2013 raised a rarely talked about issue which completely blows apart the world of criminology and both liberal and conservative outlooks on crime – and perhaps because it does so, acceptance of its conclusions has been fairly muted. It draws attention to several papers which have proved beyond all reasonable doubt that Lead molecules are largely responsible for variations in crime rates all across the world.
We have long known about the horrendous effects of lead on the human body and to the rest of nature, with the Greek physician Dioscorides writing that lead makes the mind ‘give way,’ but it seems most of the scientific studies over the years have still been drastically underestimating the extent of the damage. Since lead hangs around in the soil, the lead levels found in most people today are still vastly greater than they were of people living before the industrial revolution even though we are past the days of leaded petrol.
Whether inhaled or ingested, Lead is about as poisonous as a substance can get and there is no safe level of exposure and no safe concentration of lead in blood. It has adverse effects on every organ and system in the body. Childhood lead exposure even at extremely low levels can permanently reduce cognitive capacity, with ADHD (attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder) and many learning disabilities becoming far more likely with higher levels of lead exposure. These neurological affects result from the permanent damage lead can do to the prefrontal cortex – the area or the brain responsible for aggression and impulse control.
A 1999 paper by Housing department consultant Rick Nevin, published in Environmental Research charted ‘the rise and fall of atmospheric lead caused by the rise and fall of leaded gasoline consumption over the second half of the 20th century in the US. The result is a pretty simple upside-down U: Lead emissions from exhuast pipes rose steadily from the early ’40s through the early ’70s, nearly quadrupling over that period. Then, as unleaded gasoline began to replace leaded gasoline, emissions plummeted. And violent crime rates followed the same upside-down U pattern. The only thing different was the time period: Crime rates rose dramatically in the ’60s through the ’80s, and then began dropping steadily starting in the early ’90s. The two curves looked eerily identical, but were offset by about 20 years.’
The lag time turned out to be 23 years and lead emissions from road vehicles can account for up to 90% of the variation in violent crime in America. If the airborne lead is ingested by toddlers, it makes them far more likely to turn into violent criminals upon reaching adulthood.
A study by Professor Jessica Reyes of Amherst University in 2007 also found that ‘childhood lead exposure can lead to psychological deficits that are strongly associated with aggressive and criminal behaviour’ whilst Nevin’s next paper showed there had been exactly the same correlation throughout the rest of the world.
His 2007 study ‘shows a very strong association between preschool blood lead and subsequent crime rate trends over several decades in the USA, Britain, Canada, France, Australia, Finland, Italy, West Germany, and New Zealand. The relationship is characterized by best-fit lags consistent with neuro-behavioural damage in the first year of life and the peak age of offending for index crime, burglary, and violent crime. The impact of blood lead is also evident in age-specific arrest and incarceration trends. Regression analysis of average 1985–1994 murder rates across USA cities suggests that murder could be especially associated with more severe cases of childhood lead poisoning.’
Howard Mielke and Sammy Zahran of Tulane University published a paper showing the same old correlations on a city specific level. Mielke actually overlay maps of neighbourhood lead levels with crime maps of New Orleans.
We are all aware that murder rates in big cities are traditionally higher than in small towns. Nevin supposes that, with lots of cars in smaller areas, the largest cities had the high densities of atmospheric lead between the 40’s and 70’s. But as airborne lead levels decreased as leaded petrol was phased out, the differences between big and small cities largely dissolved. Today, homicide rates are similar in cities of all sizes.
‘Even when researchers do their best – controlling for economic growth, welfare payments, race, income, education level, and everything else they can think of – it’s always possible that something they haven’t thought of is still lurking in the background’ says Kevin Drum, the author of this excellent article. ‘It may be that violent crime isn’t an inevitable consequence of being a big city after all.’ But then Drum obviously hasn’t read up on psychopaths lately, has he?
The classic, well-trodden line of criminologists, sociologists and the general public is that upbringing and social spheres are largely responsible for behavioural patterns, especially crime. Not only is human nature not taken into account nearly enough, but the actual environment tends to be ignored also. The recurring theme is not necessarily that we keep denying human nature, but that we think of ourselves as being totally and directly in charge of our environment – yet again, it is the agricultural mindset. We have shaped and moulded our environment enormously, it’s just that most of the results of those changes have been completely unforeseen and have actually hindered us, not helped us. And this is why we must deal with our innovations with a completely different approach – we must make our first premise that nature knows better than us and if we want to improve on it, we must prove that we can.
But despite all these environmental and epigenetic factors, humans are not ants, cats, dogs, blue whales or great-crested newts. We are – as every morsel of evidence suggests – complex, keystone, sub-social, tribal, hunter-gatherer, landscape architects. And we are not changing anytime soon.
Pinker defines a “tentative but defensible” list of cognitive faculties and core intuitions which the human mind is programmed to have. These are: an intuitive physics, used to understand how objects fall, bounce and bend; an intuitive version of biology or natural history, used to understand the living world around us; an intuitive engineering, used to make and understand tools; an intuitive psychology, used to understand other people; a spatial sense, used for navigation; a number sense, used to think about quantities and amounts; a sense of probability, used to reason about the likelihood of uncertain events; an intuitive economics based on the concept of reciprocal exchange; a mental database and logic; and language, used to share ideas from our mental logic.
What we are naturally lacking, are intuitive senses of modern quantum and nuclear physics; cosmology; genetics; evolution; neuroscience; embryology; economics; and mathematics. Unfortunately, many of humanities cognitive faculties, core intuitions and behavioural tendencies can be manipulated once humans are placed outside of their natural environments.
Pinker references The Expanding Circle by Peter Singer, in which it is explained that the moral circle has embraced more and more entities as ‘persons’ worthy of moral consideration through the course of history and socio-cultural evolution. “The circle has gone from the family and village to the clan, the tribe, the nation, the race, and most recently (as in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) to all of humanity.” In fact it now extends to apes, cetaceans and even octopus. One day the circle will no doubt include every living and perhaps even non-living thing. We can also see this pattern when looking at who has (theoretically) had voting rights through history – from white privileged elites only, to every adult of all races and sexes.
The ‘moral circle’ is the term Pinker uses to describe the separation between co-operation within the tribe and competition outside of the tribe. He points to the fact that the Wari tribe of the Amazon have a set of noun classifiers distinguishing edible things from inedible things, and the edible class includes anyone who is not a member of the tribe. So with that, plus the Stanford prison experiment, the Holocaust and so on, the evidence strongly suggests that dehumanization (anything outside the moral circle is fair game) has few limits. If we can be manipulated to believe that some are outside of the ‘moral circle’ – essentially ‘the tribe’ – appalling acts can be committed against the innocent.
People do care very deeply about their own children, but frankly don’t care in anything like the same way about millions of other people in society. To care about people on the other side of the world, as Stalin new, it takes a good story to bring it closer to home: “If only one man dies of hunger, that is a tragedy. If millions die, that’s only statistics.” This comes from the tribal in-group mentality and Pinker points to the historical trend of leaders trying to unite social groups through training their members to think in terms of family – using terms like brotherhood, sisterhood, brethren etc. – when thinking about an unnaturally large social group like a nation. There is proof that political speeches using kinship metaphors seem more convincing to people. And the universal social relation of communal sharing, as described by Alan Fiske, ‘arises spontaneously among the members of a family, but is extended to other groups only with the help of elaborate customs and ideologies. This can lead to groupthink and cultish behaviour. 
Bruce Parry, a former Royal Marine officer turned documentary maker, made a series of phenomenal, ground-breaking films about tribal people in different parts of the world. The three series’ of Tribe has popularised the subject of anthropology in Britain and Parry continues to campaign for tribal people. In the Omo valley of southern Ethiopia, a cradle of hominids for millions of years, there is much competition for land between the tribes of the Suri, the Nyangatom, the Hamar and the Dassanech among others. Parry records how the Suri call the Nyangatom ‘bume’ – a pejorative term meaning bad smell. These tribes seem to have been coming close to a Hobbesian trap in recent years – futile and everlasting feuds where one act of vengeance follows another – exacerbated or caused by regional environmental and government problems. The Nyangatom are surrounded by enemies and each tribe’s hatred of each other is intense and, obviously, tribal – in the negative sense. But that doesn’t mean any of them want war and they try to keep confrontation to a minimum. Plenty of battles take place and death happens, but they still live in a more natural environment than those of us in civilizations, and besides these group have been interfered with constantly by various civilized societies for thousands of years, resulting in all sorts of negative consequences – intended or not. When people in civilizations get into such instinctive mentalities of hatred, the results are far worse – genocides and holocausts.
Human conformity too, is instinctive. It is an evolved instinctive behaviour which allowed our ancestors to take advantage of collective intelligence to share information on tool-use, fire making, foraging, cooking and pack hunting as well as to follow the norms of their community so as to build better relationships and to better coordinate their economic activity. This has led to, despite our intelligence, a tendency for imitation and Pinker lays out the common phrases we use to describe this phenomena: monkey see, monkey do; aping; parroting; sheep; lemmings; copycats; and a herd mentality. So when a herd mentality and dehumanisation come together, the results are disastrous.
Other human traits, which on the face of it seem positive, can produce some undesirable outcomes because of the evolution needed for those traits to have come about. Reciprocity, for example, helps build relationships between different groups and unrelated people. But as Pinker says, “The tragedy of reciprocal altruism is that sacrifices on behalf of nonrelatives cannot survive without a web of disagreeable emotions like anxiety, mistrust, guilt, shame, and anger.” And those negative emotions can also be manipulated once in an alien environment.
Leadership is another result of reciprocal altruism, and whilst leadership is not problematic in a tribal environment, history shows that people have continually failed to recognise that in a civilized society leadership is always a danger. “The reason that dominance got melded with morality in the first place is that reciprocity depends not only on a person’s willingness to grant and return favours but on that person’s ability to do so, and dominant people have that ability.”
Hierarchical organisation is not just a case of psychopaths manoeuvring themselves into positions of power. It is in the nature of a sub-social species like ours to look for leadership, which means there must have been an evolutionary advantage to it. Groups of Elephants look to the Matriarch for experience, knowledge, wisdom and guidance – without her ability to provide that, their survival would be greatly jeopardised. It is a similar case in hunter-gatherer and other small tribal societies. Though group leaders can occasionally abuse their position in even these societies, the extent to which they can do so is very limited, and they will usually be demoted since the smaller group enables more accountability. Besides, leadership in tribal societies is often based on wisdom, trust and spirituality. Sadly in civilizations, these are easily confused with political leadership despite all evidence to the contrary.
The Asch experiments were a series of tests carried out in the 1950’s to explore human conformity. The degree to which humans conform to the beliefs and even observations of their peer groups is quite extraordinary. Out of eight male college students, seven were actors. All were asked to answer very simple questions to which 99% correct answers were normally given. The group were asked in turn to answer, with the experiment’s one subject seated last and the actors unanimously answering correctly or incorrectly. Out of 50 separate subject experiments, incorrect answers were conformed to 36.8% of the time. That said however, each of the 50 subjects had very different personal results. 5% of subjects were always swayed by the crowd whilst another 25% were never swayed and always answered correctly. That means that in society in general at least 75% of people have the potential to conform to group think. Perhaps those 5% represent the kinds of people who are either psychopathic or would be ‘good soldier material’, whilst the 25% non-conformers represent the radicals, dissidents and wiser people in society.
A pretty universal human emotion which is said to be problematic in many tribal societies as much as in the civilized world is not violence, but vengeance – a unique paradox. Jared Diamond’s The World Until Yesterday as well as Lawrence Keeley’s War before Civilization and Pinker’s The Better Angels of our Nature suggest that many pre-state and tribal societies are frequently brutally violent, and according to the shamed and discredited Napoleon Chagnon’s time with the Yanomamo, this is supported by evolutionary theory. Chagnon argued that men in the Yanomamo who had been participants in killing had more wives and offspring than those who had not, but this is highly questionable. The problem with studying hunter-gatherer societies is that once a Westerner contacts them, they are no longer un-contacted, and in most cases they have been interfered with numerous times by civilizations, often setting up negative feedback loops such as alcoholism, unemployment and suicide as on Australian Aboriginal or Native American reservations. What is being studied is usually a society that has been pushed off the rails rather than something socio-culturally pristine. Nor is it possible to study an untouched human society in a rainforest and draw universal conclusions from it. Humans evolved in the savannah of East Africa, and we may have mastered living in every other environment, but that has meant some socio-cultural changes taking place with which our biological evolution may not have caught up. In War in the The Tribal Zone: Expanding Sates and Indigenous Warfare, Brian Ferguson and Neil Whitehead take apart Pinker and Keeley’s statistics about violence and war in pre-state versus civilized societies, clearly showing that it is civilizations influence which acts as the violent rock thrown into the pool of indigenous societies where there is violence. 
But there are plenty of imperfections amongst indigenous societies because human beings are imperfect. Solving the problem of revenge, like many other issues indigenous people come up against in their natural environment, may only be possible once a certain level of stability and wisdom is established – and the experiment of time is one that hasn’t yet taken its course.
Vengeance probably is a human universal. It is hardly surprising that natural selection would favour the strategic use of violence, but that should not be confused with psychopathic behaviour being common amongst human societies – rather it is vengeful behaviour and not violence itself that has been sometimes favoured in human evolution – psychopathic behaviour is not particularly related to revenge and has only ever been a marginal feature practiced by a minority of intra-species predators/parasites.   
A paper published by Ian McKee, PHD in the Social Justice Research journal suggests several links between attitudes to vengeance and culture. It seems that an American is more likely to seek a small amount of revenge when their rights are violated whereas a Korean is more likely to feel vengeful if they are publicly embarrassed according to research by Michele Gelfand, Professor of psychology at the University of Maryland. In McKee’s study, it was found that, of the 150 students surveyed, those whose answers showed deference to authority and a respect for traditions and social dominance, had the most favourable opinions about revenge and retribution. Those same students “tended to be less forgiving, less benevolent and less focused on universal-connectedness-type values.”
More interestingly, it seems that revenge doesn’t actually seem to ever achieve its goal, which is catharsis. Social psychologist Kevin Carlsmith, PHD at Colgate University, along with his colleagues, conducted a series of experiments where a tit for tat-like game was set up and students had to cooperate for everyone to benefit equally by investing money. But moles were planted in each group and were invited to cheat their way to more money. Once the other students found out about the free riders, selected groups were offered the chance to take financial revenge, and they all did.
Students were then given a survey to measure their post-revenge feelings. The groups who had been allowed to punish the free rider reported worse feelings than the non-punishers, but still predicted that if they hadn’t been allowed to punish, they would have felt worse. The non-punishers said they thought they would feel better if they had been given the opportunity for revenge, even though the survey identified them as the happier group.
Diamond outlines the effect when someone doesn’t have their vengeance against an unfair person. He tells the story of Josef Nabel, a Polish Jew who was recruited into the Russian Red Army after being imprisoned in the Second World War. He had become an officer and, in 1945, took a platoon to Klaj to find his family. He found that whilst his father had been taken to a concentration camp by the Nazis, his mother, sister and niece survived in hiding until a local gang killed them. Nabel found the gang leader and put a gun to his head. But he did not shoot, having had enough of people behaving like animals, so he handed the killer to the police. The killer was released after just a year and Nabel admitted only in his late 80’s that the grief and the feeling that he had not properly avenged his family had tormented him all his life.
The reasons behind our predictive illiteracy when it comes to emotion, according to German psychologists Ernst Fehr and Simon Gechter, are down once again to the social roots of our evolution. We don’t feel good about revenge but our brains are wired to think we will do so that misbehaviour is not allowed to persist in our communal groups. But of course humans are adaptable and flexible when it comes to social organisation and revenge massively differs between societies.
So what do we do – an eye for an eye? Or does that just leave everybody blind? Whether you choose forgiveness or punishment, the emotional turmoil still persists and does it really have to be a choice between bad feelings and very bad feelings? McKee studies institutional punishment and victim participation. When victims are allowed to describe their ordeal and offer input on an offender’s sentencing, which is now common in U.S., Australian and Finnish courts, their vengeful feelings are partially satisfied while also putting the responsibility for punishment on the state, protecting the victim from the post-revenge negative emotions. “Then victims sort of get the best of both worlds,” McKee says. In this case, the third, impartial, party is the state but it needn’t be. If some kind of higher authority is needed, that could be achieved by invoking the spirits or by tribal elders or less partial juries from several different tribes coming together in a small, loose confederacy of sorts – something documented in many indigenous societies if there is social stability. The organisation of systems to control violence is a complex and difficult task but the answers exist in both civilized and indigenous societies if you know where to look.
The wiring in our brains works in rather a strange way. We tend not to pay much attention to language, but rather we use word association. Take the word ‘economics.’ What do we think about when hearing that word? For most if not all of us, we tend to think of mathematics, complicated formulas, banks, GDP, growth, finance, industry. Compare that with our associations with the word ‘ecosystem.’ Then we tend to think nature, biology, ‘green’, wilderness, biodiversity etc. The fact that ‘eco’ is contained within ‘economics’ probably escapes our notice most of the time. Clearly the ‘management of the home’ and the ‘system of the home’ are indivisible functions.
The word association problem almost certainly stems from the way we humans learn as children. Studies have shown that we get outperformed by a number of animals with supposedly lesser intelligence. This may not be conclusive but you would certainly expect better considering how much larger our brains are than Chimps and even lower order primates. What human children are however, are superb mimics and memory banks. This sponge-like absorption of information must surely still effect, to some degree, the way our brains function as adults, even after other areas of our brains have developed. And it is probably for this reason that we are so susceptible to the forces of propaganda.
The ‘I’m not Spartacus syndrome’ is my definition of what human nature is lacking – the one behavioural tool which evolution has not equipped us with. We aren’t equipped with this tool because we didn’t need it during the course of our evolution. And unfortunately, the last 12,000 years have not managed to produce this trait since the changes we have made to our environment have been too quick for our biology to catch up with. Alex Jones talks of the lack of instinctive rejectionist response to tyranny being humanity’s greatest weakness. When we ingest something poisonous, our vomit reflex is activated. When we are confronted by dangerous animals, our fight or flight instinct is activated. When we are exposed to extremes of temperature, our bodies respond by various means instinctively. Our metabolisms shift to suit our various eating and drinking habits.
Though we are social creatures, we seem to lack the ability to stick together just at the moments we most need to – when we are being oppressed. Because sticking together and fighting together for a common cause is the defence against oppression which our evolution has failed to equip us with. The Republicans in the Spanish Civil War tried to warn people to fight creeping oppression with a famous poster, as sung by the Manic Street Preachers, saying “If you tolerate this, your children will be next.” Oscar Wilde was right, but optimistic to say: “Disobedience, in the eyes of anyone who has read history, is man’s original virtue. It is through disobedience that progress has been made, through disobedience and through rebellion.” Unfortunately, this disobedience is not an instinctive virtue for most people, but it has to be a learned one. Perhaps one day our evolution will catch up, but that will obviously take an awful amount of suffering in-between. Perhaps it is possible, and also a necessity, for us to overcome this lack of instinct with good informedness and a good strategy.
As Pinker observes “A recurring event in human history is the outbreak of ghettoization, confiscation, expulsion, and mob violence against middlemen, often ethnic minorities who learned to specialize in the middleman niche.” Due to the idiosyncrasies of the different Abrahamic religions, the Jews in Europe have specialized in this middleman niche for a long time, and that is why they have had a history of being persecuted. Pinker quotes an economist who spent time in a prisoner of war camp in World War II and witnessed this behaviour develop firsthand, directed against the few prisoners who began trading and lending commodities like chocolates and cigarettes through camp. “[The middleman’s] function, and his hard work in bringing buyer and seller together were ignored; profits were not regarded as a reward for labour, but as the result of sharp practices. Despite the fact that his very existence was proof to the contrary, the middleman was held to be redundant.”
The middleman is an enabler for wealth to be put to the most efficient use in another time or place. In larger social organisations however, it is possible for some middlemen to have so many disconnected clients that don’t communicate with each other about their experiences of that middleman, and so no particular resentment is fostered. Since the resentment is undeserved, this may seem like a good thing, but without a certain degree of consumer pressure and accountability, the middleman may be able to get away with more. Most would not take advantage, but a certain minority do, and amass great profits in doing so since their customers do not know whether they are being fleeced. In this growing gap, grows the psychopathic middleman – the mafia gangster or bankster – using their profits as political capital to unfairly profiteer even more, and then enact their psychopathic will upon society.
In medieval Europe, Jews were often put as front of house political scapegoats involved in banking, having been denied the right to earn money any way other than usury by Lord’s who exploited them. So some psychopathic bankers happen to be Jewish since only Jews were allowed by various religious limitations to be involved in monetary services and so people have often adopted the idea that Jewish people are evil. It is ironic then, and tragic, that our tribal nature turns us against the good middlemen, and yet leaves us defenceless against the bad.
Homo sapiens are beyond ecological niches. Plenty of animals use tools – and some do so with greater ingenuity and dexterity than humans. Plenty of animals manipulate their environment – an individual beaver can change its landscape almost beyond recognition. These strategies enable animals to carve out their own niches from an environment in which they otherwise wouldn’t be able to survive. But our ability to manipulate the environment around us and use tools to fulfil our needs and desires and the unlimited extent to which we can do it, via the phenomena of socio-cultural evolution, is what makes humans really stand out. Given time, we can carve out niches everywhere and anywhere. And we can do this to the point where there are practically no barriers, unless we practice unsustainable home management whilst manipulating our home.
But there are so many different environments on Earth. So many different tools, methods and strategies are needed to carve out our endless ecological niches. And this means evolution has equipped humans with great adaptability and flexibility. As hunter-gatherers in tribal groups, it is natural for us to learn and practice many skills so that we maintain that flexibility. In tribal societies, it is normal for there to be some division of labour. But never to anything like the degree seen in this globalised civilization.
Marx, in particularly utopian mood, observed in The German Ideology (1846): “For as soon as the distribution of labour comes into being, each man has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a herdsman, or a critical critic, and must remain so if he does not want to lose his means of livelihood; while in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.”
Humans are mostly generalists with some ability to specialise for short periods and we must take care to remember this if we want to create a better world. In an episode of The Permaculture Podcast, Scott Mann hits the nail on the head when he says we should look to be a jack of all trades and master of one.
In a TedX talk, TJ Dawe goes through the main barrier to a fuller implementation of collective intelligence in our society. That barrier is dualistic thinking, much as described by Richard Rohr, a progressive Franciscan Friar and founder of the Centre of Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Dualistic thinking is essentially a survival mechanism which remains deeply imbedded in our every day thought processes says Dawe: “Are you for me or are you against me?; are you my friend or are you my enemy?; are you right or are you wrong.” There is an ‘either, or’ category for everything. Rohr believes that the original point of Jesus in the New Testament was that he was both human and divine, not one or the other. But over the years, dogmatic, dualistic thinking has turned that into ‘Jesus is divine’, ‘Humans are human.’
The phenomenon Dawe describes as dualistic thinking may also be called self-serving bias or cognitive dissonance. We all regularly reject feedback that suggests our pre-conceived understanding of the world is wrong in order to preserve our ego and self esteem. Mark Twain summed it up: “It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled.” The reason being that to fool people, you only have to give a person new information which they have not yet formed an opinion on, whereas to convince them they have been fooled, you have to change an already existing belief which is being protected by their ego and serving their self esteem. This is why people reject conspiracy theories so readily.
We are all instinctively defensive of our beliefs and reactionary when they are questioned. Dawe says when two people are thinking dualistically – which most of us do most of the time – in conversation, that conversation is destined to end as soon as they come to the first point of difference. This is the point at which each person’s ego becomes invested in their opinion. The result is that both people lose out – even if one wins the argument. Winning the argument only confirms one’s biases and opinions and in fact further entrenches them, whilst losing it causes humiliation to some degree and also further entrenchment. Nobody learns anything.
In addition to the dualistic philosophies of Hegel and Carlyle, Steven Pinker talks of how Thomas Sowell’s A Conflict of Visions explains how there are broadly two visions about human nature: The Constrained (Tragic) Vision, which sees human nature as inherently limited in knowledge, wisdom, and virtue and a well built society must recognise those limits; and the Unconstrained (Utopian) Vision, which sees humans as having psychologically unlimited capacities. Again, both views are correct to a large degree, but dualistic thinking stands in the way of either side accepting that, and so people continue to subscribe to the fake left-right paradigm. Dualism is a constant theme in mainstream mass media and is a key tool of manipulation.
Humans have a real problem in understanding some simple concepts even though they have the ability to understand such complex things. You would not think that the message of Jesus Christ would be difficult to contemplate – and indeed it isn’t. Jesus was preaching for the most obvious and basic of humanitarian messages – freedom, liberty, unity, tolerance, economic rights and so on – the same message that has been preached by every true prophet and supported by the vast majority of human beings who have ever existed on the planet. Yet whole nations will argue over the most mundane and irrelevant details of the accounts of Jesus’ life. A significant proportion of believers in religions are sucked into arguments over which miracles did or didn’t happen – arguments obviously provoked and exploited by the elite through the traditional divide and conquer political tactics.
The popular rebel economist Max Keiser regularly laments the state of the activist left in Europe and America, essentially because of their obsession with smashing capitalism and their sympathy with so-called socialist systems in various parts of the world, when their focus should be on smashing the established ‘capitalist’ system, smashing the established ‘socialist’ system or smashing any other system promoting hierarchical divisions. There is always a tendency in human society to have a specific enemy, whether that enemy is the real enemy or a false one. If activists can pick out the correct enemy – the elite – their movements could really gain traction and actually achieve something.
The so-called capitalists could also be termed captains of industry, monopolisers, fraudsters, party members (in the Orwellian or Soviet sense) or the super rich. Or for the especially influential individuals: oligarchs, emperors, party leaders, Bilderbergers, pathocrats or the ultra rich. It seems fair to assume that the majority of these people have pathological anomalies of some kind. Technically, they are neither capitalists nor communists by the original definitions, however by modern commonly used definitions, they are both.
The activists are looking at the problems in a rational, systematic manner, citing the capitalist system as the root cause of the problem. But this is a logical fallacy because it is based on a false presumption – that capitalism is causing all the problems. The capitalist system, like all systems, is inert and its development is a function of the intentions of those who set it up. It is irrelevant what the system is, and how it is drawn up because if the people in charge of it always have the same intentions, the system – whether it starts out being called capitalism, communism, fascism or anarchism – will turn out the same in the end. There will be a power struggle between those who set up the system and those who take it over but, inexorably, the psychopaths end up in charge because the iron law of oligarchy has never been overcome.
The problem of dualistic thinking still exists even amongst those who are awake to the elite agendas and understand that the elite exploit the left-right dichotomy. Even with the full knowledge that they are being taken advantage of, people still cling somewhat to their left or right side. The dualism stems from an ingrained belief in ‘conserve’ versus ‘progress.’ So an awakened person coming originally from the left, who has a yearning for progress, will defend many of the ideas and values held in ‘liberal’ elite circles, such as those found in Agenda 21 and manipulative ‘conservation’ movements which seek to ‘save nature and the environment’ (though called conservation, protecting nature is very much seen as progressive). At the same time, an awakened person coming originally from the right, who has a yearning for conserving what is good, will defend many of the ideas and values held in ‘conservative’ elite circles, such as nationalistic readings of history and patriotism surrounding traditional values.
Even as I was writing those two sentences, I realised I had originally instinctively replaced ‘some of the ideas’ in the first sentence with ‘many of the ideas’ in the second sentence. That would be my lingering left-sided bias creeping in again and if one or other of those sentences seemed more disparaging than the other then I apologise, or perhaps that is your bias creeping in.
The reason even awakened people cannot agree on some perceived deep left-right differences is because we are all programmed to instinctively think dualistically. And no outside observer can seem to solve these loggerheads either because every individual has invested their ego, to some degree and at a very base level, in either the left or the right – specifically, to progress or to conserve. Based on the historical patterns though, I think it safe to assume that, on these loggerhead issues where there is genuine and fundamental disagreement, both sides are correct in equal measure. It sounds too convenient, but it is probably true. So getting out of the dualistic mindset is essential to conserving anything good and progressing to anywhere good – because both are needed.
The solution is to break out of our biological instinct for closed-mindedness. If we approach a conversation with an attitude of being on the same side, both parties can listen, ask questions and both sides end up seeing the subject from at least one new point of view – both end up learning and so greater collective intelligence is amassed. Our instinctive reaction of defensiveness will always remain but our large brains provide us with the opportunity to logically overcome that part of our nature and channel our instinctive behaviour.
“I never let schooling interfere with my education.” – Mark Twain
IQ tests are a poor measure of anything other than academic success – which includes success in selling ones labour – something unique to cities. Steven Pinker is right that there are inborn differences in intelligence and that the modern world unhealthily overlooks this. But there is a logical fallacy here because we have not yet reached the stage where we know what intelligence is. We have a rough idea of academic intelligence, which can be inferred but not confirmed by IQ tests. But for basic intelligence, spatial intelligence, coordination intelligence, creative intelligence, social intelligence and many others, we have not the faintest idea yet as to how to go about measuring them. And really – is there any point? It would be a bureaucratic waste, regardless of the concerns people may have of the potentially divisive results (actually it seems to me that there are so many aspects to intelligence, that practically everyone is likely to have skills in some area or another). In this world, IQ tests and other tests of intelligence have value but in a better world, they would be a waste of time since a proper educational and economic system would find places for everyone’s talents naturally and without quotas whilst naturally discouraging specialization.
Jacob Barnett, an American child prodigy with Aspergers Syndrome who works at the Perimeter Institute and is tipped to one day win a Nobel Prize, gave a Ted talk in New York emphasising the importance of individual thinking. Though he, like Einstein and Newton to whom he refers, is clearly a genius by most of our definitions, he claims that what Einstein, Newton and he had in common most, was that they stopped learning and started thinking. They ignored conventional wisdom and educational doctrine and used their own minds, as extraordinary as those minds were. Though few of us will be able to think with their level of ability, that message holds true no matter what subject you are tackling.
In a sense, all mainstream scientific studies start out as biased because our opinion of the world starts out as biased. For example, studying the effects of GM food, E numbers, air pollution, deforestation, nuclear energy production, climate change, walking, running, standing up, sitting down or pretty much anything related to the health and wellbeing of our planet and ourselves starts out with a question: “Can we prove X negatively affects this, that or the other.” Perhaps a better route to go down would be to start with the assumption that, having evolved as hunter gatherers with a particular pattern to everyday life, any changes that cause a significant deviation from our original mode of life and the Earth’s pre-existing ecosystems are assumed to have negative impacts on ours and the planets health. So instead, the question should be “Can we prove X doesn’t negatively affect this, that or the other.” There is no need to be pedantic about the way we analyse the world around us but we could at least keep in mind that what existed before our agricultural, industrial civilization was what comes naturally to us and the Earth. It is more a change in perception than a change in scientific techniques which is needed.
John 8:32: “So Jesus said…. and the truth will set you free.” And without truth there will be no freedom. Therefore, knowing the truth is the route to freedom. The only difficulty is knowing what the truth is and what the truth is not. So what is ‘the truth?’ Well, to know the whole truth you would have to be in all places at all times since the beginning of the universe, observe everything and remember everything. So no person, civilization or species can possibly know the whole truth. Just like no person can read every book in the world. In fact, no person can read every book in the library. If you read ten books a week – a ludicrously high reading rate which even a Greek philosopher would find hard – for eighty years, you would manage to gain nearly 42,000 books worth of knowledge in a very long life, which would easily fit into a small library. And if you absorbed all that information, you would be considered a very knowledgeable person. Yet if just the books on the Nazis were missing, you would be missing a great deal of perspective. Not because the Nazis were a particularly unusual example of fascism and not because it represents some great gap in historical knowledge. It is because this part of recent history has an important influence on our lives and can put a lot of the modern world’s developments into context. So if you had a gap in your knowledge of, say a huge North-Atlantic military empire which indiscriminately killed millions and forced billions into poverty and continues to do so, you would most certainly find it difficult to put your life within that empire into context.
As the media has been swallowed up by an increasingly narrow group of government sponsored corporations, the quality of journalistic output has declined to such a point that swathes of people around the world are turning their backs on it and looking – helped by internet access – for alternative sources of information.
Delving seriously into the world of the so-called conspiracy theorists for the first time is a rather cathartic and useful experience. Trained scientists and liberal lovers of ‘rationality’, with their Dawkinsian delusions, naturally recoil and never return to this world. But that is a bizarre reaction if you are interested in finding out the truth, as ‘rational, educated’ people claim. It is wise to be sceptical about conspiracy theories, but only whilst looking at the evidence. The initial approach should be an open minded one for any person claiming to adhere to scientific rigor. Scientists seem to have been trained to be sceptical without realising that true scepticism is double edged. One should be sceptical about both the conspiracy theories and sceptical about those who ridicule them. One of the most enlightening things a rational person can do is to start listening to conspiracy theorists. Not only do you realise that some theories or parts of theories are actually facts, but it can also train a person to see patterns in the information and become critical yet open minded enough to pull out the good bits whilst leaving the bad. In fact, this sort of exercise should be one of the first proper science lessons we are given. A better trained sceptical eye can then be used in the wider world as well, guiding us better through a world of misinformation and propaganda, and making it all impotent.
It is fair to dismiss David Icke’s alien theories straight off the bat because we are all aware there is not yet any substantial, confirmed evidence of alien life inhabiting Earth, let alone intelligent alien life and let alone still intelligent alien life with evil intentions to enslave mankind. There are though plenty in the scientific community who believe Earth’s DNA based life came originally from meteorites – the panspermia theory. And statistically speaking, the Drake equation makes it seem very likely that ‘intelligent’ life does exist elsewhere in the universe. We can also prove beyond doubt that there are people in this world with very evil intentions indeed, some wishing to do even worse than enslave mankind. And David Icke’s understanding of the world – up until he talks of aliens and lizards – is actually very logical.
There may be plenty that ‘conspiracy theorists’ talk about which is true and should be listened to. Believing it all is totally irrational but believing none of it is even more irrational. As Einstein observed, “Condemnation without investigation is the height of ignorance.” Some stories on the Infowars website and other alternative media may contain false information and can be picked apart though surely a lot less so than in mainstream media. We have all met those extremely right-brained people who, though responsible for so much art, invention and creativity in the world, can have a tendency to ‘go down the rabbit hole’ as the phrase goes. Going down the rabbit hole is fine as long as you know to stop when you have found the den. Becoming ‘awake’ to the state corporate control grid and the many real conspiracies designed to oppress the masses should allow people to make better decisions in everyday life but there are those who, for lack of training or innate ability, go off the rails with irrelevant ideas about alien abduction and so on. People can get caught up in the idea that they must spend every waking hour fighting the system, to the detriment of their family and economic interests. Unfortunate as this is, these people are not the norm when it comes to those who believe in conspiracy theories. Most normal people do actually distrust the government and the corporations and believe that politicians serve the rich and powerful rather than the common person, so most people are conspiracy theorists of some sort.
A conspiracy is defined as: two or more people secretively doing or planning something illegal or immoral. You can go to the public gallery in any law courts, watch the trials go through, and see how many of them involve conspiracy: conspiracy to defraud, conspiracy to commit theft, conspiracy to murder etc. Conspiracy is an everyday occurrence the world over and anyone with a half-decent grasp on civilized history will know of all sorts of conspiracies – from Nero to Lance Armstrong – which have profoundly affected the course of history and culture. A theory gives an explanatory framework for observations and is necessary for any scientific work. So putting together conspiracy theories is essential to understanding the world. Police detectives are essentially professional conspiracy theorists and they need to be to get to the truth.
There is a body of evidence which strongly suggests people known as ‘conspiracy theorists’ are more sane than people who hold mainstream opinions. The evidence is summarized by Professor Lance deHaven Smith in his book Conspiracy Theory in America. A study called ‘What about Building 7? A social psychological study of online discussion of 9/11 conspiracy theories’, by Michael J. Wood and Karen M. Douglas from the University of Kent compared ‘conspiracist’ and ‘conventionalist’ online news website comments. Not only were there many more ‘conspiracist’ comments than ‘conventionalist’ comments, but the ‘conventionalists displayed higher levels of hostility, displayed conformation bias and were fanatically attached to their own officially recognized theory, whereas the ‘conspiracists’ rarely put forward a theory to 100% explain the events of 9/11. Dr. Kevin Barrett says the study suggests that the negative stereotype of the conspiracy theorist – a hostile fanatic wedded to the truth of his own fringe theory – accurately describes the people who defend the official account of 9/11, not those who dispute it.
James Corbett of The Corbett Report calls the term conspiracy theory a Pavlovian conditioning technique. Ivan Pavlov was the Russian physiologist famous for the conditioning reflex understood from his work on dogs. He would bring out food at the same time as ringing a buzzer and the dogs would obviously salivate. After becoming used to the routine, the dogs would still salivate even when the buzzer was pressed without being accompanied by food. Similarly, when the conditioned masses hear the term conspiracy theory, they reflexively back off since they have been trained to associate the term with irrationality and ‘crazy people.’
DeHaven Smith gives some background to the term ‘conspiracy theorist.’ It is in fact a simple piece of psychological manipulation – an originally neutral term circulated and propagated by the CIA and their media assets after the JFK assassination as part of their highly successful propaganda campaign. It is a ‘thought-stopping cliché’ or ‘weaponized term’ used to ridicule and discredit dissenting voices – a real conspiracy. Don’t believe me – well check out the declassified CIA document #1035-960. Labelling a person a conspiracy theorist acts to remove them from the debate rather than addressing their queries or examining their evidence. Anti-conspiracy people are unable to think clearly about such apparent state crimes as 9/11 or the JFK assassination because they are unable to process information which conflicts with pre-existing beliefs, according to psychologist Laurie Manwell of the University of Guelph.  In fact we now live in a society where the term ‘truther’ is a pejorative. As Orwell said, “First they steal the words, then they steal the meaning.”
It is my contention that morality equals empathy multiplied by truth and wisdom is the application of morality. There is the freedom to choose your fate and the freedom to choose the fate of others; the freedom from slavery, or the freedom to have slaves. This difference was defined formally by John Stuart Mill and Isaiah Berlin. Negative liberty is the absence of coercion, whilst positive liberty is the freedom to act. Clearly, we all should have the right to negative liberty, but we also want to be able to act as we wish for the most part. So Mill introduced the harm principle: “The sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant.”
Basically, you can do anything you like, unless it harms other people. This principle is simple and true and every moral debate in history has taken place in this space. People never debate the harm principle, but only ever the definitions of ‘harm’ and ‘other people’. Just what constitutes harm to others? Are those others always human? Is harm only physical pain? Must those others be living today or does it include those in the future? These are the questions which have been and will continue to be debated. Only common sense can solve moral dilemmas because they are always dependent on context – different definitions apply in different circumstances. But some dilemmas are unsolvable because we don’t have all the facts and it is therefore impossible to agree upon a definition. It is why issues such as abortion are so hotly debated – in these cases nobody knows what defines ‘harm’ and nobody knows what defines ‘other people’, and we will probably never know. Unfortunately people get into such heated states of dualism that they miss the point of having the moral discussion in the first place. Morality isn’t about preventing all suffering – suffering is a fact of life. But it is about reducing the amount of suffering as far as is humanly possible. So the answer to the dilemma of abortion, if you understand the economics of supply and demand, is that we want to reduce the demand to as low as it will go – that is what will bring suffering down to a minimum. And reducing the demand for abortions means changing the economic, social, cultural and political landscape first and foremost. All sides of the debate should agree on that.
This libertarian harm principle is certainly what our moral compass should fall back on, however there is the issue of defining harm. Killing an innocent person is obviously harmful and an absolute wrong. Taking possession of someone else’s land is certainly a harmful act, and therefore wrong, but does not the nitrous oxide coming out of a car exhaust or secondary smoke from cigarettes also equate to being harmful to others?
A prophet is, in a religious sense, a supernatural or divine individual bringing a message from God. By my reckoning, prophets – translated as spokesperson – are simply historical political dissidents whose messages hold true and moral enough for them to garner a significant following amongst the people despite the establishment claiming them to be false messages. These prophets are always attacked by the establishment but loved by the people – just as God said to Jeremiah ‘Attack you they will, overcome you they can’t.’ The best interpretation of this is not that the individual cannot be overcome, but that the message cannot be overcome. A false prophet is an individual who may garner a following, but whose messages do not hold innate truths and are supported by the establishment. The life of a prophet must always be on the line, with all their energy committed to a good cause, whether or not they ever achieve that cause – they will always be insulted and castigated, usually up until their time has passed.
Something different is certainly needed to break through the Western propaganda system, so well developed as it is today. It is a remarkable and haunting achievement of that system that it has managed to mould such a dystopic and powerful empire in nations whose people get most of their spiritual and moral beliefs from Jesus Christ. His message, still fully understood and known in its original form by the vast majority, is as opposite as it is possible to be to the culture of today’s North-Atlantic Empire. Some of the most obvious intentions of the Bible were to teach readers how to spot prophets and truth-tellers, how to spot false prophets, how to treat others and how to resist tyranny. And it is these truths we must keep reminding ourselves of. The information is all there, even in quite mainstream sources, it just needs a truly critical eye and common sense to dissect it.
Alain De Botton writes a compelling article in the New Statesman where he asserts that education is what makes us human. He argues persuasively that it is not only facts and figures which we need to pass down the generations, but wisdom as well. Of course much propagandised education that we pass down the generations is false anyway, especially when it comes to subjects like economics and history but De Botton defines what education, not indoctrination, should be: “The purpose of all education is to spare people time and error. It’s a tool whereby society attempts to teach reliably, within a few years, what it took the very brightest and most determined of our ancestors centuries of painful effort to work out.”
“We accept this principle when it comes to science. We accept that a university student enrolled today on a physics degree can, in a few months, learn as much as Faraday ever knew – and within a couple of years will be pushing at the outer limits of Einstein’s unified field theory. This same principle tends to meet fierce opposition when it comes to wisdom. Here educationalists often say that wisdom is not something that one person can ever teach another. But it is: there is more than enough information about overcoming folly, greed, lust, envy, pride, sentimentality or snobbishness in the canon of culture. You can find answers in philosophy, literature, history, art and film. But the problem is that this treasury is not sufficiently well filleted and skilfully dissected to get the good material out in time.”
In the globalised society, wisdom is rare to come by. People do not follow advice learnt through experience, but instead follow trends, fads and fashions. This behaviour is pervasive and detrimental to every aspect of life. Those who welcome the specialisation which comes with a globalised economy and the cultural unity brought with the free movement of trade and labour forget that rootless, changing and unstable populations are more prone to economic turmoil. Omat Ochan, an Anuak villager from Gambella puts it like this: “In our culture, going to a different place is unusual. You get different people and there is quarrelling. We should remain in our own area. We won’t go unless we are forced. God gave us this land.” People instinctively protect what little they have and want to remain at home since they understand the social and economic capital around them is greater when they are surrounded by relatives and long-time friends and acquaintances. Pinker observes: “In traditional foraging societies, genetic relatives are more likely to live together, work in each other’s gardens, protect each other, and adopt each other’s needy or orphaned children, and are less likely to attack, feud with, and kill each other.”
The pretty universal human behaviour of nepotism is often made out to be a bad thing and said to conflict with the concept of equal opportunity, but that is only the case in civilized societies and large organizations. In localized situations, nepotism is a stabilising behaviour which ensures hard earned wealth is passed down the generations. Nepotism is only immoral when that wealth is founded on the monopoly of common resources or the exploitation of labour.
We might compare populations of people to forests which are easier to understand, as an analogy. If the roots in a forest are shallow, the trees don’t have access to all the nutrients they need to grow and the forest is less resilient to environmental shocks. In a forest, the best recyclers of nutrients are those organisms with the largest networks to tap – ancient trees and fungi. The nutrient in the human economy is wisdom – not simply information or knowledge, but useful and important information.
As Ben Law observes in Woodsman, “I feel in touch with the woodsmen of old when I sit down around the brash fire and contemplate the previous cut, and the one before that. Coppice woods carry history within them, and with it they carry hope for the future. A truly sustainable landscape is one where the sustainable practices of previous generations are being repeated in the present in order to leave resources and opportunities for the future.”
Our society today is at such an exponential rate of socio-cultural evolution and so much in elite control that there is virtually no stability. In the past, people passed down their accumulated knowledge to the next generation and for that reason those who had a lot of knowledge – elders – were highly valued, respected and cared for. Just as elephant herds are dependent on the knowledge and wisdom of their Matriarch, human hunter-gatherers and indigenous societies always were dependent on their elders. This economic necessity in part led evolution to come up with the socially reinforcing instinct of altruism. In a famous archaeological site in Dmanisi, Georgia, a toothless skull belonging to an early homonin and dating to 1.77 million years ago shows that this individual was dependent on the kindness of others for its subsistence for a few years in old age. Compassion may have been the instinctive driver to keep this individual alive, but it is safe to assume that this individual had knowledge which contributed to the group’s survival and well-being. 
In the 21st century, the young generation have barely anything economically useful to learn from their grand-parents and not much from their parents either. And when they have children, they themselves will be even less useful. The economy functions in an entirely different way compared to 50 years ago or even 5 years ago, as new technology comes along at an ever increasing rate. We don’t have elders, but old people who are incapable of advising us on the best way to acquire jobs, meet or contact people, cook, clean, feed ourselves, train for jobs, educate children or anything else. Thankfully, we retain our caring instincts – our altruism – since we aren’t evolving biologically at the rate that we are evolving socio-culturally. But if biological evolution were to somehow speed up to match our changing environment, it would choose to make us disregard our grandparents and probably our parents by the time our teenage years are out. It might even chose for altruism to be removed from our nature and for us to kill our parents and take any wealth they have for ourselves, just as some spiders get eaten by their offspring. It is a frightening thought, but this is what our sick environment is pushing us to do – is it any wonder that psychopaths, who lack altruism, are so successful? Despite our altruistic instincts, economic reality pushes us to act in ways better suited to our environment and the result has been the atomisation of the family and society in general. Many in the West live far away from their parents and rarely see their grandparents. Old people become lonely, young people become lonely, middle aged people become stressed trying to keep any semblance of a family culture alive and wisdom is virtually non-existent. These are just a few of the numerous negative side-effects that come from rapidly evolving civilizations, and it is elites themselves who continue to develop policies which encourage these negative trends in order to inject fear and create division, enabling them to further centralize their power.
Political, economic and social stability are also key to the health of our wider environment and the planet itself. Though Yuval Noah Harari and others are partly wrong about the causes of the extinction of the mega fauna of Australia and North America, logic suggests there is some truth in this suggestion. The truth is that when faced with a totally new environment, such as been stranded on a desert island to give the simplest example, humans must consume whatever it takes to survive, whether it is a sustainable practice or not. As Tom Hanks’ character discovered in Castaway, it takes time to build up the knowledge capital needed to live in an alien environment. It takes even longer to develop sustainable practices, which are always instinctively desired since they are the way to ensure the survival of future generations. But knowledge accumulates and is passed on, and after a period of time the descendants of the first settlers will become finely tuned creatures of their land practicing sustainable economics, with the concept of mere survival barely thought about. It is no surprise then, that having once played some small part in the extinction of the Australian mega fauna, after 50,000 years the Aboriginal Australians had become the wisest and most artful living dwellers in the land there has ever existed in Earth’s history, capable of not just living freely and happily but of even enhancing Earth’s biosphere.
There are some examples from the recent past where, through fairly random factors, some level of societal stability has been achieved and humans have flourished to some extent. The Edo period, lasting between 1603 and 1868 in Japan was a rather unique experiment of isolationism where the Japanese feudal government cut their country off from trade with the rest of the world. Though still based on agriculture and therefore involving elites no better than any other societies’, the stability of this environment enabled the Japanese people to develop excellent sustainable practices of resource use, grow their economy surely and steadily and farmers became revered figures in society.
In 1970’s and 80’s Hungary, according to Zsuzsanna Clark who lived through it as a child and details it in her book Goulash and Solidarity, was an unusually happy place. Goulash communism was a unique brand of liberal communism. There was full employment, good education and free healthcare and virtually no violent crime. People lived an independent and often self-sufficient ‘good life’, enjoyed holidays and there was nothing like a police state. Clark admits that “There were petty restrictions and needless layers of bureaucracy and freedom to criticise the government was limited. Yet despite this, I believe that, taken as a whole, the positives outweighed the negatives.” Go to Hungary 10 years earlier or 10 years later, and the situation would be very different but those peculiarities of geopolitics allowed such an existence for a time. The fact that such real wealth can be achieved in such a short period of time given political and economic stability is exactly the sort of threat of a good example which elites fear so much.
Other elements which help stability, such as the spiritual side of indigenous societies, are often scoffed at by intellectualised westerners. But this actually performs some very important practical functions with regards to social cohesion and organisation. Necessary laws and customs as well as sensible economical and ecological practices are often kept to because of the spiritual element whilst spiritual ceremonies and rituals also re-enforce social bonds, and, as with Australian aborigines, can serve to maintain genetic diversity.
The modern world is bad for our brains in all sorts of aspects. Such busy lives and an overload of information from, largely inappropriate, technological gadgets can lead to the idea that multitasking is a way to be more productive, but this is not the case. Earl Miller, a neuroscientist at MIT and one of the world experts on divided attention, says that our brains are “not wired to multitask well… When people think they’re multitasking, they’re actually just switching from one task to another very rapidly. And every time they do, there’s a cognitive cost in doing so.” “People can’t do [multitasking] very well, and when they say they can, they’re deluding themselves.”
Harari argues convincingly that the purpose of economic growth, if you were to push any politician about it, comes down to making people happier or, as I have put, it fulfilling human needs and genuine desires. Little science has been done on the long term history of happiness. Harari explains the ‘Whig view of history,’ which “sees history as the triumphal march of progress. Each passing millennium witnessed new discoveries: agriculture, the wheel, writing, print, steam engines, antibiotics. Humans generally use newly found powers to alleviate miseries and fulfil aspirations. It follows that the exponential growth in human power must have resulted in an exponential growth in happiness. Modern people are happier than medieval people, and medieval people were happier than stone age people.” It is thoroughly disproven of course, yet even many radical commentators still subscribe to this idea. An offshoot of this is the idea is to admit that peasants 200 years ago were worse off than hunter gatherers 10,000 years ago, yet since the industrial revolution the average Western citizen has become happier. The vast majority of people in the West would probably say that they are happier than people in the stone age, yet any unbiased analysis would ultimately come to the opposite conclusion. Harari observes that “humans are not adapted by evolution to experience constant pleasure, so ice‑cream and smartphone games will not do. If that is what humankind nevertheless wants, it will be necessary to re-engineer our bodies and minds. We are working on it.” But this is far too chilling a future to ever make people happy – transhumanism is obviously not what commoners want. Why bother working on re-engineering our bodies to suit a new environment which is unsustainable anyway, when we already know how to live in and engineer the environment which best suits our bodies and minds.
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