The Enlightened Caveman

From the Mailbag – Taking Aim At The Caveman
December 25, 2004, 4:08 pm
Filed under: Enlightened Caveman Concept, Philosophy, Politics

Original Post (with comments)
Here’s a comment that was posted to the site recently by a new reader. Without coming right out and saying it, this person pretty much disagrees with my entire Enlightened Caveman concept. So, I’ll mount a modest counter-argument and leave it to you to decide. Keep in mind – my interest here is truth. If someone comes along and reasonably discredits these concepts, I’ll pull the plug right away. But it’ll take more than this offering, I can assure you of that. Here’s his comment:

Just found this blog, so this is a response to your basic thesis and not the above article.
As a species, we are domesticated. The human cranium has decreased in size since “caveman” times. This is typical of any animal that has become domesticated. Dogs have 30% less brain size than wolves. Another trait displayed by domesticated animals is that they retain juvenile characteristics into adulthood. They really never grow up. The instincts disappear. Many of the attributes you are contributing to our “old” brain are actually the result of domestication. We’re not nearly as intelligent as we used to be. Our sensory capacities are pitifully lacking. We are no longer wild…or free. Evolutionarily, we are going down a one way street that’s a dead end. Between the ages of 10 and later adolescence when the brain is done developing, a pruning of the neurons takes place. It’s not our nature for that to happen. We are not receiving the complex stimulation that is necessary for complex neural systems to completely develop. Do some research on the behavior and the proper care of lab rats. The parallels to our society may surprise you. There are still wild undomesticated cultures surviving on this planet, preserving the precious genetics that have taken hundreds of thousands of years to perfect. We have not progressed. What other animal is stupid (or arrogant)enough to completely destroy the environment they depend on for survival? We live in cages, someone else feeds us, and we even have exercise wheels. We are conditioned to peck at the right buttons on the ATM and out comes our reward. Once domesticated, an animal’s survival instincts are gone. It can’t be reversed.

Let me start by saying that cranium size is a major red herring. It’s irrelevant to any discussions of this type, mainly because no one (as far as I can tell) has been able to correlate minor differences with specific differences in mental ability. Here’s what we know. The trend in hominid evolution has been toward larger and larger brains. However, following the last ice age, there has in fact been a decrease (albeit relatively minor) in cranium size, but not just for humans. According to William Cromie of the Harvard University Gazette (read more), “As the severe climate of the ice ages ended, the bodies and faces of most large animals have gotten smaller. In humans, chewing softer, processed food also has contributed to reducing face size by decreasing the largeness of our jaws and jaw muscles. ” But again, even if we call Cromie a hack with an agenda (given his employer – it might be a safe bet), this shrinking human cranium has not taken place since we have been “domesticated.” Ergo, it does not follow that domestication had anything to do with it. (Oh yeah and the softer food and jaw aspect probably explains the dog/wolf thing, too, even though it’s also irrelevant.)

With the amateur stuff out of the way, let’s get to the meat of this discussion. This reader seems to feel that our modern world has dulled our senses and left us less mentally able than our “wilder” ancestors. While I’ll forcefully agree that our cultural evolution has become progressively kinder and gentler, I’m not about to assent to the notion that we are nothing more than genetic terriers when we were once wolves. This sounds absurd to begin with, and then the evidence offered confirms it.

We are not nearly as intelligent as we used to be? Uh. Pardon me? Come again? I realize that our society can come screeching to a halt if Nick and Jessica get into a tiff, but let’s get real – we’re smarter as a species than we have ever been. Not only do we simply know more stuff, but more of us actually know how to think than ever before. That’s probably, and I’m guessing here, the defining trend in modern human cultural evolution – the march toward rationalism. Every year, more and more people choose science over superstition, evidence over revelation, and knowledge over ignorance. So, I’ll vehemently disagree with that point.

A pruning of the neurons? It’s not in our nature? This is where I started thinking maybe someone was playing a joke on me. If, by pruning of neurons, this person means that the number of brain cells decreases after the brain is fully developed, then my response is, “duh.” It’s called aging, and it IS in our nature, since our genes code for this process to happen exactly as it does. It has nothing to do with reproduction so, again, it’s irrelevant to the original point, if there is one.

“We are not recieving the complex stimulation that is necessary for complex neural systems to completely develope. ” (Spelling error that reveals disdain for proofreading – his.) OK, this one we can do something with. The consensus, from my reading, among evolutionary biologists and evolutionary psychologists is that the dominating adaptations of the human mind over other hominids were socially oriented. This is to say that the complex stimulation necessary for our complex neural systems to completely develope (it’s kind of fun to pronounce it like envelope) is interaction with other humans. It was the human ability to figure out how to play well with others that launched mankind to the heights to which he has risen. And it’s true even today.

My son’s pediatrician told me that in his first six months of life, the world alone was enough to wire and myelinate the synapses of his brain properly – he could just hang out in his crib listening, watching, smelling, tasting, and feeling his environment and his brain would put it together perfectly. So we just left him alone in his stroller for hours at a time and you know what, she was right. Just kidding. Seriously, from there, however, she said that it was critical that he get lots of human contact. If he did not, the future would not bode well for him. This is common sense and it’s also anecdotal evidence that supports the idea that our mental focus is, first and foremost, on other humans, which is exactly what’s causing us many of our problems.

“There are still wild undomesticated cultures surviving on this planet, preserving the precious genetics that have taken hundreds of thousands of years to perfect.” Here’s where this intrepid reader betrays his ignorance regarding evolution (and maybe even his allegiance to the sham of multiculturalism). To say that some “undomesticated” cultures are preserving genetics would seem to imply that the domesticated ones are not preserving their genetics. Hogwash. This is no way to think about evolution. It’s simple – is there anything in the genome of any population on earth that is providing either a reproductive advantage or a reproductive disadvantage? If there is, then you can bet Mother Nature is on the scene making her cuts, getting ready for next season, but the answer is pretty much no. Sure, we still have some genetically-based childhood diseases that manage to persist due to their recessive nature. However, for the most part, anyone can reproduce. Or maybe it’s better to say that not being able to reproduce is significantly less likely to be genetic than it is cultural. The bottom line, the most granular idea you’ll find on this site, is that our genes have not changed significantly in tens of thousands of years. This is not my personal thesis. This is widely accepted by folks infinitely smarter than I (though I wonder how we’d compare in terms of cranium size – since that apparently matters now).

At the end of the day, I think I smell a socialist, or at least a multi-culti, anti-capitalist. “What other animal is stupid (or arrogant)enough to completely destroy the environment they depend on for survival?” Before I answer, please tell me the first animal to do this. It certainly isn’t humans, considering the fact that there are more of us now than there have ever been. “Once domesticated, an animal’s survival instincts are gone. It can’t be reversed.” This is operating on the flawed premise that our genetic survival instincts have disappeared. As I’ve said before, they’re there, lurking beneath the surface. If we were to suddenly find ourselves in a post-apocalyptic era, you can be sure that they’d take center stage in short order.

The few survivors would band together and look after each other. Family members would form the tightest circles. Outside the family (even sometimes in the circle), those who betrayed trust would be ostracized. Also, a leader or leaders would emerge possessing the skills necessary to survive in the new harsh environment. All others would pay very close attention to (and defer to) the actions and desires of the leaders, for this would be their life line. Most would die. The ones that lived would be the best at keeping the group strong. This is caveman 101.

This site exists to make the point that even though our lives are comfortable and we are not in a bloody daily struggle for existence, our genetically-driven social tendencies are completely unaware of that fact. They still focus on status and appearances at the expense of practicality and reason. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Sure, “domestication” is a factor, but only in so far as it indicates just how far we’ve come from needing the kinds of solutions our genes have to offer. We can either mount vapid arguments such as this one, insisting that doom and gloom are all the future holds (standard anti-capitalist rhetoric), or we can get to know ourselves and where we come from, and then deliberately decide what we want to be going forward. As I am an eternal optimist, I’ll take the latter, thank you very much.

Thanks for the fodder, lefty.

The Low-Down on Global Warming
September 24, 2004, 3:35 pm
Filed under: Culture and Society, Politics, Science

Original Post (with comments)
Every few weeks, we see some crackpot story about how mankind is working feverishly to destroy the earth. Last week, Tony Blair, who has heretofore come off as a fairly sensible guy, made an “urgent” appeal to the international community to tackle the problem of global warming. Blair’s rationale, it seems, is based upon the same so-called science that is behind the Kyoto Treaty. The problem is that the research is worthless. It is based upon long-term projections of the weather. Somehow, a very large population of intelligent people have fallen prey to a con of gigantic proportions, a con that, like the 60 Minutes con of late, is obvious with even the most cursory of examinations.

Meteorologists can’t accurately predict the weather from week to week, so it is truly astonishing that so many buy the climate projections that supposedly demonstrate the effects of human industrialization on the weather 100 years into the future. This is absurd, to say the least.

The fact is that this preoccupation with global warming is a symptom of man’s natural inability to grasp time on the scales that really matter. If we look at the average temperatures of the earth over the last 20 years, we might conclude that the our planet is indeed warming. However, 20 years is nothing. If we back out to 100 years, we see that the average temperatures have been fluctuating considerably. There was a time in the 70’s where the concern was global cooling. The sky is falling crowd was predicting that the earth would freeze over by the year 2000. Oops.

I’m not going to say that the activities of our species haven’t had an impact on the weather. I will, however, say that our impact is negligible when it is placed against nature’s own predilections. As George Carlin says, “The earth’s not going anywhere…WE ARE! Pack your shit, folks.” This is his conclusion after rattling off an exhaustive list of predicaments that have faced planet earth over the eons. The idea is that it is supremely self-important to suppose that humans will do the earth in before the earth does the humans in. I would think that the recent spate of hurricanes would drive this point home. Alas, there is another explanation for the insistence upon human-driven global warming.

This is, quite simply, guilt. Far too many of the haves on this planet feel very bad about the disparity between their lives and the lives of the have nots. They have found a very handy tool to assuage their guilty consciences. This tool is anti-capitalism. Capitalism, in their minds, gives rise to the chasm in prosperity, and it also happens to give rise to the industrialism that they believe is the direct cause of the destruction of the earth’s environment. By battling capitalism, they kill two birds with one stone. To be an environmental extremist is to be an anti-capitalist, plain and simple. Unfortunately, the racked with guilt fail to recognize that it is capitalism that has led to the spread of prosperity for common people on this planet. Were it not for capitalism, there would be no such thing as a middle class. There would be no life-saving medicines, at least not medicines available to regular folks like us. Agriculture would still be dependent upon beasts of burden. However, despite these realities, the environmentalists proceed undaunted. Theirs is a cause that has no use for facts.

I have done a good bit of research on global warming and the conclusion I have come to is that no reputable meteorologists seriously believe that humans are responsible for any significant changes in temperature. Furthermore, they do not believe that the earth is any imminent danger from global warming. In fact, the global warming crowd has been around long enough to have made predictions that can now be evaluated. The results are in – they’ve been wrong…every time. But don’t take my word for it.

Here’s a link to a great article written in 92′ (amidst Gore’s environmental “genius” days) that pretty much makes it clear that global warming is “the mother of all environmental scares”. The author is Dr. Richard Lindzen, a distinguished climatologist from MIT.

Here are a few factoids from it (italics are my comments):

  1. The amount of carbon dioxide in the air (the main reported cause of global warming) has been increasing since 1800. Hmm, and I thought it was all of our industrialized pollution that was causing the increase.
  2. The total source of carbon dioxide reportedly increased exponentially until 1973. Since 1800, it has increased 50%. But…from 1973 to 1990, the rate of increase has been much slower. Considering the fact that our industrialized byproducts certainly did not slow down in the 70’s and 80’s, this would seem to refute the idea that industrialization is causing the increase and thus global warming.
  3. If we removed all carbon dioxide and methane from the atmosphere, we’d still have 98% of the greenhouse gasses. This means that the relative impact of carbon dioxide is far too small to correlate it with any major change in climate.
  4. The global average temperature record shows an average increase in temperature of about .45 degree centigrade plus or minus .15 degree centigrade since 1800, with most of the increase occurring before 1940, followed by some cooling through the 50’s, 60’s, and early 1970s and a rapid (but modest) temperature increase in the late 1970s.This is the nail in the coffin for the global warming wackos. They have predicted a 4 degree temperature change with a 100% increase in carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide has increased 50% but the temperature has only increased by less than half a percent. More importantly – the temperature has been fluctuating (regardless of carbon dioxide levels) – as a thinking person might expect of a freaking PLANET!!! This clearly indicates that it is impossible to correlate carbon dioxide increases with temperature change. That is the common opinion among objective climatologists – one that Gore, Hollywood, and the media managed to suppress. See the part about how Gore intentionally misquoted this guy and published lies in his book – infuriating!
  5. The global cooling trend of the 1950s and 1960s led to a minor global cooling hysteria in the 1970s!  Check out books like, The Genesis Strategy by Stephen Schneider, Climate Change and World Affairs by Crispin Tickell, and The Cooling by Lowell Ponte. These all call for immediate action to avoid the catastrophe of global cooling. Ironically – or maybe not so ironically – these so-called experts are now global warming advocates. You never hear anything about that, do you?

All in all, this whole thing is nothing but a politically driven sham. Note a quote from a guy named Aaron Wildavsky, professor of political science at Berkeley: “Warming (and warming alone), through its primary antidote of withdrawing carbon from production and consumption, is capable of realizing the environmentalist’s dream of an egalitarian society based on rejection of economic growth in favor of a smaller population’s eating lower on the food chain, consuming a lot less, and sharing a much lower level of resources much more equally.” That thought must be delicious to the guilt-ridden anti-capitalists that are really behind the global warming scare.

To Blair and pals, I say, get a therapist and leave the rest of us alone.

The Docilization of America
September 10, 2004, 3:17 pm
Filed under: Culture and Society, Parenting, Politics

No, I’m not trying to be one of the Williams of obscure words (that’s Buckley and Safire). Don’t bother with your dictionary; I made it up. Docilization is the process of making people docile. That, it appears, is what some of our social engineers are after, and it may surprise you to learn that they are primarily Republicans. I am referring to Bush’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health, which came about in 2002, and is now recommending comprehensive mental health screening for “consumers of all ages,” including pre-school students. Schools, so they say, are in a perfect position to screen 52 million students and 6 million adults who work in the schools. As I read about this, I could feel a chill going up my spine.

The rationale for this program is well-meaning (as are all social engineering plans). They say that mental health problems, though they are very prevalent, are often missed or misdiagnosed. I’d buy that. They also say that, each year, many young children are expelled from schools for unruly behavior and for emotional problems. I’d buy that, too. The solution is to screen for mental problems and recommend treatment, which happens to center on anti-depressant and anti-psychotic drugs. This I cannot buy. It’s a load of crap.

There’s no question that medication is sometimes required to deal with mental problems. However, we are on the verge of eerily playing out the vision of Aldous Huxley in his classic, Brave New World. Huxley wrote the book in 1932 to be a piece of satirical fiction. In it, he describes a futuristic society where individuals are genetically engineered to be stratified into several levels. Those at the top live the best lives and make all the key decisions. Those at the bottom are designed to be workers, workers who are content to only be workers and to have no say in the direction of their lives. To keep this utopia humming, among other things, every person takes a pill daily that keeps him or her happy and comfortable with life. When criminals commit crimes, which is rare, they are not incarcerated, they are given a heaping dose of this “soma” drug. So, I guess what is happening is that our little people are the equivalent of Huxley’s criminals – instead of dealing with their actions, they are going to be drugged. I have problems with this on multiple levels.

For one thing, we’re talking about a government administered plan. That, alone, should scare the bejeezus out of just about anyone. To think that 52 million kids are going to be screened, with the results being a thumbs up or thumbs down on anti-psychotic and/or anti-depressant medication, is truly frightening. Even if they have only a 1% error rate in their diagnosis, that’s 52,000 kids who will either be put on drugs unnecessarily or who will do without when they really need them. But there’s a bigger issue – whether a drug actually solves a problem or masks it.

In many cases, there is no doubt that chemicals in the brain are off, which is causing the child to behave in a rambunctious or otherwise undesirable way. Personally, I say suck it up and learn to live with it. That’s how character is developed. But putting that aside, what about the tons of kids who exhibit bad behavior for reasons other than brain chemicals? What about the kids who act out because mom and dad regularly engage in violent disagreements? What about the kids who act out because mom and dad could care less about them? What about the kids who act out because they’re bored with the curriculum that is geared for the lowest common denumbinator (that’s my word, too)? If Bush’s gem of a little program is enacted, these kids will be put on drugs like Ritalin, which will most likely curb their deviations from teacher and parent expectations. But will the problem will be solved? Not even close. It will be masked. It will remain hidden in the background until something comes along that even Ritalin can’t control. Then what? Admission to an institution? Prison? Come on.

The bottom line is that the behavior of children is all that should be evaluated. If Jimmy can’t control himself, discipline him. If it doesn’t work, get his parents involved. If that doesn’t work, get him out of the classroom and send him for mental health screening. That’ll keep the numbers of kids being screened manageable enough for us to expect good results. It’ll also make drugging our kids a last resort, which is exactly what it should be. Even if something like Ritalin can improve Jimmy’s behavior, isn’t everyone better off if he learns to control it himself? Will he not take the lessons learned along the way into the rest of his life? Will he not use the ability to overcome personal hardships to overcome the inevitable barriers that will stand between what he wants and what he can attain?

So, once again, Bush and pals prove themselves to be unable to see the ramifications of their so-called principle-driven actions. I think everyone applauds when politicians vote their conscience. We all appreciate it when our public servants commit to what they believe in, even when it could cost them politically. But sometimes, their altruistic ideals do not translate into policy without undue harm to some group of people. In this case, that group of people is all of us. If we have a bunch of docile kids who’ve used pharmaceuticals to help themselves and their parents avoid facing reality, we’ll eventually have a bunch of docile adults who don’t know what to do when reality gets tough. And with a war on terror going on, this is bad news for everyone.

When are they and the well-meaning social engineers going to learn that anomalies in the populations of humans are far too complex to “fix” with broad, sweeping government solutions? The one thing that works every time is simple – hold people accountable for their actions and their actions alone. That goes for kids, too. Docilization is not the answer.

Education and the Time Horizon of Maturity
August 20, 2004, 3:11 pm
Filed under: Culture and Society, Education, Enlightened Living, My Theories, Politics

Original Post (and comments)
Over time, I have become increasingly convinced that maturity is a function of how much considerations of the future play into one’s decision-making process. Now that I am a father and am able to witness the development of a little human from birth, my belief is stronger than ever. My nine month old son is light years from mature, and it shows by the fact that his actions are dictated entirely by whatever happens to be occupying his attention at any given moment. As he grows, I expect that he’ll start to develop the ability to see into the future to predict the consequences of his actions. This will happen as he learns the physics of this world – action and reaction. Right now, he presses keys on the piano to make a sound. Before long, he’ll press specific keys to make specific sounds. Then he’ll transition into being aware of time. This, in my view, will be the real start of his maturity, and it will continue to progress as the time horizon of his considerations gets longer and longer.

My job as a parent, beyond seeing to it that my son knows he is number one to me and my wife, is primarily to ensure that he grasps the concept of consequences, but not just immediate consequences. If he is to reach maturity, he will have to develop the ability to consider both the long-term and short-term consequences of his actions, which implies that he’ll be concerned about the future. The short-term consequence of doing something dangerous may be having a good time. However, the longer-term consequence is likely to be a severe beating. Just kidding. He’ll actually be facing some sort of undesirable punishment, and the nature of that punishment will have to be consistent with his concept of time if it is to be effective. I can’t expect a three-year old to be swayed by the threat of missing a birthday party that is a week away. Five minutes of time-out (man, do I hate that phrase) will do nicely. The point of all this is that our society is chocked full of immature individuals, individuals who have a very short time horizon.

It is a commonly held view in many circles that poverty is a mental problem. I am inclined to agree. The vast majority of individuals who are poor are that way because of the choices they have made in life. But the point that I never hear about this is that the root cause of their poor decisions is their inability to see far enough into the future. For whatever reason, these people do not respond to arguments such as, “If you don’t study for the test you have tomorrow, you won’t be able to get a job that is years away.” This, to them, is no different than threatening a toddler with punishment that will not take place for a week. So, it isn’t helpful to just point out that these people chose to goof off when they should have been studying. And since the problem is deeper than that, so must the solution be.

I believe our educations systems need a time-horizon component to them. At the beginning of every school year, children need to be reminded that each advance in grade brings with it a requirement for more consideration of the future. Again, they should be held responsible for considering time horizons that are realistic for their ages. But the key is to make sure that the concept of time horizons is one that is pounded into their heads on a continuous basis. When children engage in actions that demonstrate their failure to sufficiently consider the future, they need to be counseled immediately. But this has some implications that our current educators seem unprepared to accept.

The current trend in education is focused on the self-esteem of all students, and it is virtually guaranteeing that the children emerging from US schools will be the most immature that this country has ever seen. If failing makes kids feel bad about themselves, and feeling bad about one’s self is unacceptable, the only option is to see to it that no one fails. That is exactly what is happening. Unfortunately, the real world doesn’t care about self-esteem. It cares about results. That means we have to abandon this touchy-feely approach to education, and we have to do it right away.
The consequences for failure as a child are minimal. So what if you fail a spelling test in third grade. In fact, failure, in the presence of skilled educators, is a good thing. It makes for the best possible object lessons. Kids should be allowed to fail so that they can be instructed as to what they did wrong and how to avoid failing the next time. It is a mistake to assume that failure automatically means feeling bad about one’s self. That’s where skilled educators come in. When a child fails, he or she must be made to understand that failure is explicable. Rarely does it boil down to inherent inferiority. It is almost always a function of effort, education, or mindset. The educator’s job is to figure out which is the culprit and then to guide the student to the solution, all the while reinforcing the time horizon component of the equation. If this simple little change happens, we’ll see our test scores relative to the rest of the world come up dramatically in almost no time. More importantly, we’ll graduate students with the ability to understand the long-term consequences of their actions. Given the aging population and the fact that when these kids are adults, there will be more retired people than working people, this is something that we simply cannot live without.