Filed under: Books, Endurance Sports, Enlightened Caveman Concept, Enlightened Living, Science
Here we go. Round two. It’s on the schedule. If you haven’t read Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen, tune in to hear why you should. If you have read this book, tune in and participate in the discussion. I’ll provide a brief overview of what’s there – for the uninitiated – and then we’ll get into the good stuff – from how I personally have changed as a result of reading the book to the notion that our society is slowly disintegrating the best of our humanity. The latter idea ties very well into the Enlightened Caveman concept, so I’m excited to get into that. And I’m excited to have some people call in with their own stories and points of view on these topics.
Same deal as last time – go to my Blog Talk Radio page at showtime and click the “Click to Listen” link. I hear that sometimes the page seems to have nothing on it. If that happens, just keep refreshing. The service is free, and I suspect they periodically make it suck to lure hosts like myself into paying for the premium service. Such is the strategy in a world of freemium. Anyway, when you get to my page, you’ll see a number to call in if you want to be part of the show. Be sure to send an email to me at the email address you see in the masthead above. In the subject line, put your phone number – the one you’re calling in on. Then in the body, tell me what you want to talk about. This is poor man’s phone screening, but I think it’s workable.
Okay – hope you can make it. If not, stop by after to grab the podcast.
Filed under: Caveman Radio, Culture and Society, Enlightened Caveman Concept | Tags: Enlightened Caveman, Intellectuals and Society, Intelligencia, Thomas Sowell
In case the radio thing isn’t your bag, here are my takeaways from Thomas Sowell’s latest (and perhaps most important) book – Intellectuals and Society. Most is paraphrasing what I took to be important points from the book, but some of my own interpretations are mixed in, as well.
1. Intellectuals are defined by Sowell as people who make their living off ideas. So this would be someone like a historian or sociologist, not a brain surgeon or engineer. This is key because the circumstances associated with being supported monetarily by the production of abstractions lead directly to many of the problems that are discussed in this book.
2. Intellectuals generally have very little likelihood of achieving mass acclaim by succeeding at their chosen area of expertise. For example, it is unlikely that a historian who is an expert on the Civil War will ever be famous for that expertise. Yes, he or she may be well-known among Civil War buffs, but that’s about it.
3. There are normally no external criteria for determining the success or failure of an intellectual’s ideas. Whereas an engineer who builds a bridge has objective external evidence of success or failure – the bridge stands safely for an extended period of time – intellectuals need nothing more than the approval of other intellectuals to succeed. For example, one intellectual is granted tenure by a group of other intellectuals.
4. Intellectuals find themselves in an emotionally unsettling place after they “arrive” in intellectual circles. Far from being the smartest person around – as most no doubt are as they are growing up – being a tenured PhD in a sea of other tenured PhDs leaves little room for distinction. In other words, the status engine that was stoked all through life is suddenly sputtering and choking. (This is my addition – connecting the book to the Enlightened Caveman concept.)
5. To assuage this emotionally unsettled feeling, many intellectuals venture thoughts and opinions in areas for which they have no expertise. For example, Naom Chomsky, the esteemed linguist, fancies himself a political affairs and history expert, so he holds forth ad nauseum about politics and foreign policy. Truthfully, he has no more expertise in these topics than the typical above-average college-educated person.
6. The reason an intellectual ventures beyond his or her expertise is due to perceived status. (Again, my interpretation.) That is, many, if not most, intellectuals think themselves cognitively superior to the masses – mainly because they have been treated as such for most of their lives. They “get it,” while the rest of us do not.
7. When intellectuals venture beyond their expertise, they almost always do so in an iconoclastic way. In other words, they say the opposite of what most people believe. (Yet again, I’m extending Sowell’s thesis based upon my own observations in the context of the Enlightened Caveman concept.) This only makes sense because an intellectual holding forth about something everyone already believes would have little, if any chance, of getting mass attention.
8. Mass attention, by the way, is always available to intellectuals who stray beyond their expertise to alert the masses of how wrong they are about this and that. This is because of what Sowell calls The Intelligencia – “…individuals would include those teachers, journalists, social activists, political aides, judges’ clerks, and others who base their beliefs or actions on the ideas of intellectuals.” The Intelligencia loves intellectuals because, by peddling their ideas, the halo of superiority of rubs off on them. They, too, can think themselves cognitively more advanced than the average rural dolt, since they can both recognize “the truth” when they see it and they have the job of delivering that truth as far and wide as possible. This, incidentally, stokes their status engines, which is why the distribution of nonsense is so pervasive.
9. By being insulated from reality, intellectuals are free to see the world as they would like it to be (versus as it really is). They, therefore, reject the constrained vision, which suggests that man is deeply flawed by nature, and that no institution or understanding is going to change that. Instead, they prefer to see mankind as unconstrained – that is, humans are perfectible if only the broken institutions and culture surrounding them are fixed. This unconstrained vision underlies the ideas that emerge when most intellectuals stray beyond their areas of expertise. (Examples – capitalism is bad, poverty is responsible for crime, etc.)
10. Sowell distinguishes between what he calls special knowledge and mundane knowledge. Special knowledge is what intellectuals have – it is very narrow in scope, but deep and comprehensive in understanding. Mundane knowledge, however, is very wide in scope and often is very simple. Intellectuals naturally think of special knowledge (which they alone have) as far more important than mundane knowledge, which is distributed haphazardly among the masses. In other words, knowing about the mating habits of the Kalahari in Africa is much more important than knowing how to frame a house.
11. This disregard for the critical importance of mundane knowledge in the day to day affairs of most people leads intellectuals to conclude that their special knowledge (confined as it may be to a particular area of expertise) gives them the right, nay, obligation to direct the social and economic affairs of society.
12. Intellectuals, therefore, frequently weigh in on matters for which they have very little knowledge, no stake, and no consequences for being wrong. For example, rent control. Intellectuals assert that rent should be affordable to poor people, so rent prices should be controlled. However, they know nothing about the role of the price of rent in conveying the realities of real estate scarcity in a particular area. They have no stake in the property they seek to control – that is, they lose nothing by not being able to charge enough for rent to cover the mortgage. And there are no consequences if the objective – providing affordable rent to poor people – is not achieved.
13. In fact, success for an intellectual pursuing a policy is the enactment of that policy, not the results of the policy. Intellectuals do not go back to see if the policy and/or program they advocated actually led to what they wanted to happen. And if the results of those policies turn out to be the opposite of what they asserted, they will either attack the person bringing the results as biased with an axe to grind, or they will suggest that the policy was not executed properly. In no case will they admit that either the vision – affordable housing for all poor people – was flawed (i.e. not possible) or the means by which they chose to achieve it – rent control – was intractable. Again, there are no consequences for being wrong when you’re an intellectual.
14. Intellectuals, though they claim to be the purveyors of reason and intellect, rarely engage in logical, dispassionate discussions with people who disagree with their assertions. This, in my opinion, is directly tied to their perceived status. How dare we, the inferior masses, question them? Instead, they resort to personal attacks as to the moral (or rather, immoral) driver behind the criticism. If you’re against rent control, they accuse you of wanting poor people to freeze to death. They rarely, if ever, actually discuss the pros and cons of whether rent control actually helps poor people. (Here’s a hint – it doesn’t.)
15. In summary, in conjunction with a willing Intelligencia, intellectuals are ruining our Republic at a breakneck pace. No doubt, they occasionally help push us forward when the grip on the status quo has long since been unnecessary (i.e. legalizing gay marriage). However, on the whole, the damage they do far outweighs the good.
16. To counter this, we need only return to reliance on the principles of logic in our public discourse. Obviously, we need intellectuals in society, but we need them to stick to what they know, and we need a society that knows when they venture too far afield. For example, if a person offers an assertion, he or she must be willing to be met with a counter-assertion and must be willing to defend the first assertion on logical grounds, if possible. When this does not happen – because the critic is attacked or there are no logical grounds – we must reject immediately the original assertion. Next, we must cease conferring credibility on experts in one field when they hold forth in another for which they have no expertise at all. And when the media is a party to this intellectual shell game, we need only change the channel or stop reading.
I think that’s a little more organized version of what I took away from Sowell’s book. (More organized than the hour-long radio rant.) As I said, it’s an important book, and nothing would please me more than the general recognition of the doom that is being brought upon our society by these alphabet soup children who know nothing of reality and who are clamoring to be important at any cost.
Filed under: Enlightened Caveman Concept
These video clips are from the Humanists of Georgia monthly meeting, which happened last weekend (4/19/09). The talk is called “Artifacts of the Caveman Mind.” This is yet another experiment in communicating the enlightened caveman concept. What do you think?
(You can click on the icon to the left of the word “Vimeo” to see the full-screen version. The quality is actually pretty decent. Thanks to my man Radlmann for the use of the HD Cam. Badass.)
Filed under: Enlightened Caveman Concept
I spoke at an Atlanta Freethought Society meeting a while ago. Finally got the video online. Check it out. It’s a good background on how I arrived at The Enlightened Caveman concept.
Picking up from the Introduction to Integral Thinking I posted a while ago, it’s time to put my book into integral terms. I’ll go chapter by chapter so as to keep things manageable.
The first chapter of Healing The Unhappy Caveman is called, “The Truth About Truth.” It is essentially about the relationship between UL (upper left quadrant – individual subjective) and UR (upper right quadrant – individual objective). Though I had no knowledge of integral thinking at the time I was writing the book (2002-2004), I had a sense that my message would lack real gravitas if I didn’t immediately address the relationship between objective reality and what we, as individuals, experience of it.
The gist of my stance is there is theoretically such a thing as absolute truth. In integral terms, there is an objective reality (the two right quadrants) that is quite independent of what subjective minds (the two left quadrants) might think about it. (Yes, I believe a tree falling in the forest makes a sound even if no one is around.) Of course, the trouble comes when you try to do something with that reality – measure it, describe it, manipulate it, etc. At that point, subjective interpretations of that objective reality are in play. And for us, with our impressive, yet limited, abilities to truly perceive reality, the result is a mental model of our world that is both massively reliable and relative to its core.
The model is reliable because the pieces fit together most of the time. Though the notion of red as a color is an artificial construct of our minds, it works well enough that we can use it to describe things that are similar in color, even if they’re different in every other way – apples and fire trucks, for example. It is relative to the extreme because everything we know (or believe we know, to be exact) is related to something else we know (or believe we know). And if you keep deconstructing things you know or believe into their component pieces, you eventually wind up in the land of the very, very, very small – the quantum world. And there…well, everything is a guess, an approximation, a probabilistic measure of absolute reality.
So, I assert that a critical step in making progress toward ridding our lives of unhappiness is coming to grips with the limitations our minds impose on us when it comes to interpreting reality. Now, I’m not suggesting, not even for a moment, that we should just interpret reality however we want because we acknowledge that we can never be sure. Quite the contrary. I argue that there are two very important things to take from this realization.
- We need to get comfortable with uncertainty, and we need to run like hell from anyone or anything that requires us to maintain a stance of certainty about anything
- Though we recognize that we can never be sure, we should endeavor to get our subjective version of reality to align as closely as possible with absolute reality</li?
And what exactly does all this truth talk have to do with happiness? Well, the short answer is that the more your UL perspective on reality differs from a UR perspective on reality, the more likely it is that you’ll be unhappy. I believe unhappiness generally comes from pervasive frustration – life just isn’t turning out as it was supposed to turn out. If this happens for long enough, we become unhappy. And what is the number one source of frustration? I say it is mis-set expectations. Things aren’t turning out like they were supposed to because our expectations were unrealistic (the UR kind of realistic, that is). And why would we have unrealistic expectations? Bingo! Because there’s a disparity between our UL interpretation of reality and the more concrete UR perspective of reality.
So… it makes good sense to be aware of the significant differences between these two perspectives. Chapter 2 discusses a method for aligning them with one another as much as possible. Stay tuned…
One of the most important changes in my world view has come in the last few months as I’ve digested a lot of the writings of Ken Wilber. Now, keep in mind, that I am very much a “pick and choose” kind of guy, so I have yet to find a personality/thinker with whom I wholeheartedly agree on all topics. Wilber is no different. Nevertheless, his efforts at Integrating disparate and seemingly unrelated bodies of knowledge (and experience) are nothing short of brilliant. And best of all, what he has come up with – a true feat of integral thinking – is amazingly useful when it comes to analyzing and communicating about most anything, including the enlightened caveman concept.
What follows is mostly groundwork, to set the foundation for interpreting the content of my book in Integral terms. I’ll start to connect the dots at a high level toward the end. A subsequent post (or posts) will dive deeper – taking the book chapter by chapter. (This is a serious case of, “If I knew then what I know now.”)
Moving on…The core of Wilber’s Integral framework is the notion of quadrants. I internalize this as perspectives – there are four that you can (and should) take when viewing a serious topic. (Non-serious topics do not require such rigor, and failing to recognize this usually results in missing forests for trees.) Anyhow, here’s a look at the four quadrants, lifted shamelessly from Wilber’s Wikipedia entry.
The upper left quadrant (UL) deals with the internal side of things for an individual entity. In other words, it addresses the subjective interior of an individual mind. Upper Right (UR), on the other hand, deals with the objective exterior of the same individual entity. So, borrowing some insight from Smokey Robinson, “People say I’m the life of the party (UR), but deep inside I’m blue (UL).”
Similarly, the lower left (LL) quadrant focuses on the subjective side of things for a collective of individual entities – this is the culture view. The lower right (LR) deals with the external collective – the social side of things. For example, consider the difference between say a chess club and a religious sect. In LR terms, they’re pretty similar – a free-formed gathering of people. But in LL terms, they’re vastly different. One is a group of people who share a common interest – pretty tame as far as culture is concerned. The other, however, has much more going on from a shared subjective experience perspective.
Another way to look at the quadrants is in terms of I, We, It, and Its. The “I” is represented in the UL quadrant, and the “We” is LL. The “It” and “Its” are UR and LR, respectively. Or, if you prefer Plato, you can think of the UL as the beautiful (as in “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”), LL is the good (as in, morality is a “we” thing), and the right quadrants (UR and LR) are the true (as in, the objective truths of our world).
Right away, you can probably see how useful this quadrant thing can be. It provides an additional bit of context for whatever we happen to be interested in. And when it comes to the enlightened caveman concept, it gives me a serious leg up.
In the most simplistic terms, my book is a method of improving one’s UL experiences by understanding more of the UR and LR reality of the human species. It is about improving the experience of “I” by really understanding the “it” of myself. It’s similar to how wild-life experts, such as Jeff Corwin, have to learn a great deal of objective information about animal behavior – as in, what kinds of circumstances cause what kinds of responses – in order to successfully navigate their trips into the bush.
For us, we have to learn objective information about how our brains are organized, what kinds of capabilities they have, how our emotions work, and when they come into play. Most importantly, we have to learn how much of the “out-of-the-box” human mind can be changed (read: improved), and we have to learn how to change it. When we absorb all this, we can discern how to better navigate the modern world we live in – in interior subjective terms.
Happiness is a subjective thing, no? So is unhappiness. There’s a lot of truth to the notion that choosing to be happy and to look at things in a positive way are the keys to happiness. Unfortunately, that’s a little vague. And it’s bringing a knife to a gunfight. The objective reality (UR) of the human mind includes a battery of emotionally-mediated modules that were designed to facilitate man’s survival in a world that no longer exists. Those modules are working against us all the time, until, that is, we become aware of them and we learn how to tame them. So there are two parts to Healing The Unhappy Caveman – the first provides the UR information; the second provides the method for integrating that knowledge into our daily UL experiences. (Incidentally, Part 2 also calls upon LL and LR perspectives to elaborate on the method.)
My next task is to place each chapter in its integral quadrant context. Stay tuned…
The current furor over the Dubai Ports World deal brings to light an important aspect of our nature as human beings. We’re the purveyors of prejudice, all of us, which is far from the evil thing it is always made out to be. Indeed, it is the utility of our prejudice that tells us that it is indeed legitimate to argue against the close proximity of Arabs (an ethnicity with a clear record of anti-US sentiment and actions) to our ports. Let’s consider the idea from an evolutionary perspective.
The ability to group individual entities into categories was of paramount importance in the early days of our species. For example, suppose your caveman buddy got eaten by a lion. Then, a few weeks later, you’re cruising through the bush and you see a tiger. Now, you’ve never seen one before, so you have no frame of reference for this animal. Or do you? You know what a lion looks like, and this gigantic cat looks a lot like it, just with stripes. Two possibilities – you either generalize (that is, invoke some level of prejudice) that this cat is likely to be dangerous (like the lion is) or you give Tigger a fair shake, assuming that he is probably harmless. Who lives in this scenario? You got it – the prejudiced caveman, the one who successfully generalizes. That’s basically where we are today.
Our minds are equipped to generalize like crazy. It’s an extricable part of the way our minds do business. Of course, as the cheeky old saying goes – all generalizations are bad, including this one. So what are we to make of this? Should we see our tendency to generalize as an anachronistic holdover from our caveman days, an attribute that should be rationally stricken from our mental repertoire? Or should we be happy that we have it? I say the latter.
This does not mean that we should embrace all generalization to the detriment of evaluating individuals objectively. It isn’t an intellectual milestone to suppose that we can both generalize and be objective in evaluating individuals. Prejudice need not dictate actions. I can assume when a kid dressed in a “thug” getup approaches that he’s a complete moron (most are), but I can easily hide that assumption and treat him fairly (while secretly waiting for him to confirm my bias). Is this shady? Is this being duplicitous? Maybe, but everyone does it.
Our experiences shape our prejudices. There’s no way around it. The more enlightened among us manage to set prejudices aside when dealing with unknown individuals, but that doesn’t mean they go away. It just means we don’t act on them. But when the question is about a group, the best tool we have is our ability to generalize. if we do not for fear of misjudging an individual or two, we virtually guarantee that we’ll misjudge the whole situation. In other words, if we worry that the tiger we’ve come across in the bush is the one sweetie of tiger in the area, we’re not likely to live to regret it.
This brings us full circle to the political and national security hubbub over the ports. My take is that it makes exactly zero sense to do the deal. Sun Tzu didn’t say, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” for nothing. Even if every worker for the Dubai Ports World organization is an NSA-approved America-lover, the fact is that those who would do us harm in the name of Allah are nothing if not patient – America-lover today; going to home to Allah and 72 virgins two years from now. So, it’s fair to suggest that giving one of these potential terrorists daily exposure to the affairs at our ports is just about the height of stupidity.
Now, apologists for the deal are saying that the Arabs really pose no threat because they’re only going to be executing stevedore duties. I’ll confess that I don’t know where those duties begin and leave off, but I’ll hazard a guess that they entail being at the ports all day, right next to the customs offices and the security shift-changes, and so on. Therefore, we have people with the one completely common characteristic of every terrorist involved in 9-11 (being Arab) potentially being given access to our ports, with the ability to observe our security measures. Is it me? What kind of boob buys into this?
The irony of the whole situation is that many politicians who have heretofore decried discrimination (the execution of prejudice) when it comes to racial profiling and the like are now vehemently objecting to the ports deal. Whether they are being politically opportunistic, seeing an opportunity to bash Bush, or genuine in their concern over the issue, it doesn’t matter. (We can’t trust them anyway. Remember?) The fact is that the basis for any real objection to the ports deal is founded in prejudiced thinking, and that, friends and neighbors, is a good thing.
Too bad the politically-charged landscape (and often a supremely misguided worldview) prevents those who are against the ports deal from recognizing that what works for ports also works for crime. If three weeks went by and every night on the news, we heard stories about women being raped by a guy in a red sweater, would it be wrong to be on the lookout for men in red sweaters? Of course not. It’d be the only sensible thing to do. Sadly, when it comes to crime, where so many believe the extenuating circumstance (and there always is one) trumps the action, the tendency to discriminate based upon reasonable prejudice is vilified as horrific and unjust. The result is that the guy in the red sweater never worries about getting caught…or even getting a different colored sweater.
One thing is for sure, whether you’re talking about domestic crime or national security, no law or policy will ever eliminate the human tendency to evaluate the world in generalized, prejudicial ways. It’s a constraint, as Thomas Sowell would say, and a good one. Best to try to work with it. All other options are futile.