We Be Dumb, But We Survive–So Far

cavemanThroughout the years we have been tapping these keys, much of what has passed here for political discourse have involved relating in details the insane but often comical activities of fellow humans.

We are a motley lot, we homo sapiens sapiens species.  We range from brilliant gems of intellectual super nova to hard, dense white dwarfs. We are all else in between.

A couple of things I’ve come across in the last week or so have careened around inside my head, trying to find attachment to this or that theory of behavior. I have struggled mightily to understand my fellow brothers and sisters in humanity, and often come away thinking that I seem to have more in common with the average horny toad or muskrat, than I do with some of them.

I have often spoken of the “tenacity of life” and I admit that I find something Godlike in that, although it is not necessary I suspect. The woeful common dandelion bursts forth as a seedling and seeks the sun, finally finding a small possibility in the crack in the sidewalk. Up it marches, sending forth its flower, opening wide, being blessed by rain and sun and some small measure of nutrient. If lucky, and it must be surely luck, it goes to seed and blows it’s progeny forth, most of which will die, but a few of which will find purchase in some speck of soil and begin the process again.

As metaphor the dandelion is apt. For lichen struggles on the tundra as do microscopic organisms under the polar ice cap. Life just is hardy. And that provides an answer of sorts as to why we human who act in such awful ways, manage to continue.

It just ain’t that hard.

We are ostensibly at top of the food chain, the possessors of superior brains, able to build Space stations and microscopic computer chips. But such abilities are not required quite obviously, since we would not be here if they were. The amoeba carries on quite nicely, thank you very much, with no “brain” at all. Genetics promote those things that are conducive to life, and discard those that aren’t. Dogs and dinosaurs, the great evolutionary pinnacle. To a point.

Altruism is part of the natural world, although no animal or fish sees it that way. They are driven by forces that compel them to act as they do, sacrificing themselves in some cases for the “good of the rest”. Penguins gather in large “herds” to keep warm, and those on the outside bear the brunt of the cold and wind until they can take no more and force their way toward the warmer middle, others take up the perimeter in their “turn.” A mother moose will fight, including giving her life, to protect her calf from the wolf pack. Male lions will fight, sometimes to the death, to gain the right to father the next generation. None does it because it suits their own personal interest. Self-interest gives way to the greater interests of all or some.

We are different. We have the same genetic urges no doubt, for they have proven themselves essential to species survival. But because of those big brains, we can think. We can access dangers, and pluses and minuses to our behaviors and we can CHOOSE. And this is where it gets ugly.

We can choose to do what is right for our personal survival, at the cost of dozens, hundreds, or thousands of others. We can be selfish in a way that animals usually are not.

We are not so stupid as humans not to survive, for that would make us less than those who preceded us in evolution, and that logically cannot be. Dolphins and coyotes, rainbow trout, and mosquitoes do NOTHING to actively destroy their species. Only humans can do that. Only humans can orchestrate in some blindly stupid set of decisions the elements of their own destruction as a species.

Our ability to decide between the well-being of ourselves versus the well-being of others can be our undoing.

Any fair reading for instance, of the bible, makes it most clear in both the Hebrew Testament and the New Testament, that the over-riding concern of God and Jesus, as related by the writers, is concern for the poor, the disenfranchised, the widow, the orphan, the stranger. We are told time and time again that in the end we will be judged by how we treated the “least of these”. Yet, many among us choose to read all sorts of caveats into that, and turn much of the bible into a framework to work out one’s personal “salvation”, without reference to the rest of humankind. At least that humankind is of no concern other than its necessity to provide the “bodies” for which we offer our “charity.”

Thousands, if not millions of us “believe” that giving the rich tax breaks, cutting off the poor from government assistance, and bombing anybody who doesn’t heel to our needs, is somehow “right”. Tens of thousands ignore the plain face of history and capture people who ideologically share almost none of their values, and make them their own, i.e, Martin L. King, Jr., being a Republican “like us.”

I could go on.

booksLook at the this.

What in the world is this about?

Seriously, READ this.

See, we aren’t stupid, but we are ignorant. We are wildly ignorant.

Most of us are so ignorant that we should stay locked inside our homes, never venturing forth lest the rest of the world take note of our ignorance. Except that out there in the world, we find kindred spirits everywhere.

We have decided that an opinion is every bit as good as a fact.

Look to your education in high school, because most people don’t go any further. Do you still remember than Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492? What the hell does it matter? Do you still remember the names of the ships? The Pinta, the Niña and the Santa Maria? What the hell does that matter?

That’s what we were taught.

We were not taught by and large anything about the morality or lack of same in entering a foreign land, peopled by others and forcibly taking it from them, and essentially committing genocide upon them.

I can tell you, how many members there are in the House of Representatives, and how many Senators there are. I might even be able to tell you how a bill becomes a law.

Was I ever taught about what representation ,should mean? What is government service meant to be? Was it explained to me what sorts of things justify asking other men and women to sacrifice their sons and daughters for the “good of America?”

I can tell you the basics of dissecting a frog, but I don’t remember any discussion about the ethics of life support systems, euthanasia, when life begins, what constitutes life, what is meaningful life?

What about the right to kill others of our kind?

What about the “right” to lock them up? For what and for how long? To kill who and for what reasons?

We were not educated to think. We were educated to be dutiful citizens, law-abiding for the most part, voting for elective offices at least the big ones, and raising children to do the same, all the time being “patriotic” which means being willing to sacrifice when the government asked us to.

So we don’t even know how to ask the right questions, and we don’t know how to evaluate the answers we get. And so we end up with a whole bunch of folks who believe that people who get food stamps are “lazy” and people who are receiving unemployment will go get a job when they can’t get it any more, and health care is a privilege, and that business is in business to “create jobs” and not get rich.

And it’s all just sad and frustrating.

Donald Trump made a joke about climate change, because “obviously” it isn’t happening, because it’s so awfully cold right now. The Donald may know better, but he may not. Ignorant people make lots of money some times. There is no correlation between the two.

We don’t read. We don’t learn. But we sure have opinions.

Just most of them aren’t worth the paper they aren’t printed on.

The point? I don’t really have one. I don’t really have one.

What’s Up? 06/03/10

Sooo, it’s Thursday, and you know what that means! Oh, maybe you don’t? Well, it means the weekend is only a coupla days away. That used to be the only thing I frankly lived for.

Now, not so much. Being REtired ( not more tired mind ya) but, as in not working a formal gig meaning job, I don’t pay as much attention to the humpy Wednesday, maudlin Monday kinda thing any more. But it’s hard to shake, cuz the rest of the world seems to, so well, I succumb to public pressure.

Which all means nothing whatsoever. But as usual, I aim to dazzle you with my wordy abilities.

Saying that, hey, ever wondered where all the smart people are? Other that moi and Contrarian here, well, things are probably a little intellectually bereft here in the hinterlands of northern Linn county Iowa. Not to cast aspersions upon my fellow Iowans or nuttin’ . I am not a caster, having no rod and reel, nor a bean to save my soul. Should those things work at saving one’s soul that is. Anyway, The Atlantic has a kinda weird story and charts about where all the smart people live. Take a look.

Oh I got a new word for ya from Dr. McGrath over at Exploring our Matrix. It’s sarchasm. Meaning those who are unable to grasp the sarcasm of what you said. I thought it was a good one. He had a couple of others. It was one of yesterday’s posts I believe. He’s a multiple poster, which might be sexually deviant, or maybe just an addiction. I don’t know for sure.

Apparently while I was a sleepin’ the dang old fundies have been at it again, here in I-O-WA. It seems 834 “pastors” of “churches” in Iowa have sent letters to all candidates informing them of hellfire and damnation opposition, should they not push for a constitutional amendment redefining marriage as between only a man and a woman. It will require that to pass muster before the Iowa Supreme Court. Ain’t these idiots got anything better to do? Like feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and such? This comes by way of Rightwing Watch.

Well, dintcha just know he would? Disgraced fundie gay blade, Ted Haggard and his stand by yer man wifey, are planning on starting their own church. I don’t think the New Life Church of which he was the head honcho before the, err, scandal, wanted him back. So, because of public demand he is baaakk. Shall we all say a prayer for the poor souls who will become his newest victims?

Speaking of fraudulent stuff (we were weren’t we?) the Bible and Interpretation has a great article on some folks penchant for stuff that “proves” faith. We are talking about shrouds and pieces of the cross, and other such stuff. If you are religiousy, you might enjoy it.

If you want some heavy duty reading about mind-body issues–how does our brain relate to our our mind–then read a thoughtful post from Robert Lawrence Kuhn, at Science and Religion Today. It’s fascinating if a bit complicated to untangle. Best I can discern is that there is no real consensus among the experts. Are we reproducible or is there something about us that is, well, not biological?

It’s long been my contention that having the ability to acquire most anything, leaves one with little enjoyment of much of any commodity so obtained. (If you can afford a 100 cashmere sweaters, how much do you enjoy wearing or looking at one of yours?) Psychology Today reports on some findings. (Hint: I’m sorta vindicated, sorta.)

Anybody notice? That old Dick “THE DICK” Cheney has been silent during this BP disaster? Mr. Bigmouth warning us how Obama was destroying Merika for the whitey man, has shut his pie hole tight as of late. I shouldn’t wonder since, Halliburton is busy lining the coffers of all those Rethugs up for election who just happen to sit on committees that will be investigating the oil spew. These asswipes have NO shame. Did I just manage to waste time stating the obvious? Sure did.

That’s it for today. A mind is a terrible thing to waste. Use yours today!

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Intelligence, Education, and Me

geniusesI’m not a genius, in case you hadn’t noticed. I suspect most of you had. I’m not even “highly bright.” I am somewhat highly motivated to learn things. It just seems the smart thing to do, and besides, it’s interesting.

We’ve been talking here a bit over the last week or so about the anti-intellectualism that is rampant in this country. As I stated before, it’s well documented. The question is why it exists.

On the one hand are those who are religiously boxed in. Their understanding of their faith means that when science or advanced learning in say history, literary criticism or any such things, appears to them to butt up against their theology, the science has to go. It has to because their theology must be right, otherwise it’s all a fraud, faith is meaningless. So they think. This usually only happens to those folks who have decided that the bible is some perfect wonder book.

On the other hand, are those who through lack of interest or financial inability haven’t had the benefit of higher education. They can sometimes not understand the “big words” or the framework of discourse that makes them feel, rightly sometimes, that they are being talked down to, or being “dealt” with by those who don’t think they should be part of the process. They begin to distrust people of education, especially when it butts up against their cultural norms. Like faith, the norms give them a framework within which to exist and it is mighty uncomfortable to let go of what gives you security.

I didn’t become “changed” by education if you mean, I went from being a certain type of Christian to another, or that I changed political parties as a result. I was a Democrat going in, and fairly liberal, and I came out the same. Mostly I ignored most of that stuff and got on with making my way in life.

When faith came to me in my early 40′s it had to subsist with my scientific sensibilities, since I could never believe in a God who let the world “appear” to be one thing when it was utterly the opposite. Catholicism required no such suspension of belief in normative sciences like evolutionary biology, or astronomy. In fact the Big Bang theory was coined by a Catholic priest. Same for geology, anthropology, archaeology, paleontology, medicine, and who knows how many other scientific disciplines that are interdependent on the evolutionary model and the astrophysics conceptualizations, both of which depend on the earth being billions of years old.

My academic history was devoted essentially to securing a means to make a living. I don’t say that in an admiring way, I’d rather it had been different. But I certainly came away with a firm and utter conviction that science was correct, with its overwhelming mountain of evidence on these points. What in fact kept me from faith for so long was that I was only introduced to fundamentalist concepts and I could never accept the creation story as fact any more than by age 8 or so, I could believe that Santa Claus visited every little boy and girl during one night.

Faith found purchase on my soil when I was finally told that there was a huge difference between God inspiring writers to write honestly and spirit-filled, and dictating a book of life. The more I have learned over time of course has only cemented that more firmly. The more I learn about the bible, the more I respect and am in awe of it, but the more also, I am convinced that it is the work of human beings, inspired though they may be.

So for me, education, learning, and God have never been in tension. I have never had to dismiss what my senses tell me is true in order to continue in my faith.

What education has in the end done for me, is something that really didn’t occur until I got in graduate school. There, I interacted with religious women and priests in the Catholic church who were highly educated themselves, and didn’t seek to impart their beliefs on me, but rather something vastly more important.

They taught me to think critically. It has not been an easy thing for me to do, since I have something of a love affair with books, and have a tendency to think them valuable because they are bound. But I’ve gotten better at it over the years. When first I spot a book,  that suggests something interesting, before doing another thing, I search the inside back cover. Who is this author, what does he/she believe in. Credentials tell me a lot, but not everything.

Just this last week, I e-mailed a fellow parishioner, asking his opinion on a author on the subject of Genesis. I was unfamiliar with the author, and sought someone who had more of a background in Old Testament studies. There is much out there to read, no point in wasting time with authors who are either outdated in their conclusions, or on the fringe of what is normative in the field.

That lesson, critical thinking, of course has wide spread application in all manner of things. One can look at sources cited, and get a fair idea of the value of what is contained therein. I can determine that the “birthers” have no real evidence, but only racial hatred to motivate them. I can learn that the “deather” arguments are worthless as well. I can determine that there are significant points to be argued about financing health care, and that the right has contributions worth listening to there.

You don’t have to be especially smart to be critical in your reading. It’s just like many things, it improves with practice. Much of what we call education can be acquired on one’s own, without benefit of universities. Sure, you will miss some nuances, in fact a lot of them. And things like philosophy, and within that theology, are better dealt with in a classroom setting. But I learned a lot of astronomy and paleontology with out benefit of much college work. I learned a lot about art without formal classes.

It all depends on learning who can be trusted to have the credentials to offer you help. Read their books, read others, compare, contrast, develop your own ideas. It’s no different in how we determine what websites we can trust and rely on for news and information. Nothing scary about education folks, just learn how to use it.

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Plugging the Holes

"First Kiss," by Ron Draine, Art.com

"First Kiss," by Ron Draine, Art.com

I have a bad habit of thinking, and so periodically, I have to post a lot of drivel, just to clear out the debris to make room. I tried using corks to plug up the oozing tidbits of extraneous info, but that both gave me a headache and increased my hat size a bit too much. People were starting to stare, if you get my drift.  So in no particular order:

Animals just continue to freak me out. It’s not just the variety and so many shapes and sizes, so many attributes and such. It’s the personality that, as I get older, gets more and more complex. I realize indeed that we human have just upped the ante a small bit, we are no great leap.

Take our dogs. No, no not literally. First we have Bear, the “A” dog.

bearBear is a singular example of the dog in charge. He is willful and stubborn, yet level headed, basically quite kind, and he watches over the girly girl Brandy as any big brother ought to.

He is a stern task master, and during Brandy’s youth, she was tumbled and shaken a good many times until she properly learned the ways of a “B” dog.

Bear will behave, unless he doesn’t wish to. Then you get the blue eye, and well, it’s best to just back off and let it be. Brandy learned that freshly caught game was off limits, sometimes for days. Just because he wasn’t hovering over it didn’t mean she could take a close whiff.

Yet, dear Bear is monumentally afraid of thunder. Has been since day one. It must be embarrassing for him, yet he succumbs to the first rumbles and gets into the house fast, and lays close to any human. Brandy, heck you have to order her in the house. She could care less.

On  the other hand, Brandy has her own oddity.

brandy3When the Girly is asleep, everyone treads carefully and away from her. If she is even breathed upon, she erupts a snarling fang bearing behemoth, ready to kill.

All the cats, all the humans, and even the King, Bear, know this and respect it. Bear will even whimper to have help getting around her, should she fall asleep in some way that boxes him in.

In every other respect, Brandy is pure love. The tail never stops wagging, and she has yet to figure out that anyone has ever been mad at her. You can yell your fool head off, and she wags away. She pretends to not know the meaning of any word that would limit what she wants to do, but has an amazing vocabulary of words that symbolize things she likes.

Both are adept at going out alone, barking up a storm, thus enticing the other to come out, then coming in and grabbing the best seat in the house, their couch! Don’t tell me they aren’t smart.

***

I’m given to understand that the religious right is having some name pangs. Seems they can’t settle on how they would like to be addressed. For reasons that escape me, they don’t like being called fundamentalists, though that describes their religious theology quite well I believe. They don’t like  religious right either, again I’m not sure why. They do seem to like Christian Right. Not sure how that’s really different from religious right. They don’t like American Taliban and things like that. I can understand. I guess they have come to realize that the term “moral majority” is a bit presumptuous. They seem to have abandoned that one.  They don’t like extreme right, and well I guess I can see that.

I call them idiots. It seems descriptive to me. Sometimes I call them the wacko right, sometimes the wingnut right. But that is as much political as religious I guess. I guess I’d settle on Extreme Radical Religious Right. I’m sure they won’t like that either. But heck, I don’t find them sensible anyway so why should I care?

***

I’m puzzled as all get out at what has been happening here on this blog. One day I opened up the stats to discover that nearly 400 people had visited. That would be double the usual flow. I checked the forum here to see if there was a bug or glitch. No one else was reporting bizarre numbers, and seldom is a problem singular to A blog. I added another counter, and it is keeping pace as best I can tell.

I’m confused. The second day, it fell off a tad, but was still around 350. Yesterday it fell back to 175, respectable, but still a significant drop. I don’t know if I had some tag that just got picked up or what. I find the “key words” thingie most unuseful in figuring things out. Most of the terms used are artists for some reason, or weird bastardizations of phrases that make no apparent sense.

It’s one of those shrug the shoulders kind of things. Perhaps just more evidence of my universe shopping.

***

It’s cold here in Iowa again. Much too cold for me. I’m through with this chit and ready for spring. I don’t want to see a snow flake again. It would suit me if I never saw one again. That is unlikely as long as we live in Iowa of course.  Less than two weeks until spring by my calculations. March can’t come too soon, and I mean that in every respect. Of course it will come exactly on time no matter what I want or need.

***

It’s meatloaf today. I made up a big batch and will freeze one. I decided to cook both though. Figured it wasn’t a good idea to refreeze raw meat. It will come in handy one day when I don’t feel/have time to cook. The Contrarian loves meatloaf, more for the cold sandwiches afterward, but meatloaf means mashed taters and gravy, and well, if you read yesterday, you know about gravy.  Just a tip on the meatloaf: I don’t use filler in mine, but if you put about 1/2 a packet of unflavored gelatin in your raw mix, it will be nice and solid. I cook mine free standing, having molded it in a bowl or pound cake pan. It slices nicely and holds together well.

Well, the brain feels a bit more comfortable now, room to stretch out a bit. Unburden your heavy brain here if you need to. There seems an endless ream of paper on this Internet. You can write forever and never run out!

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