What Facebook Kitties are Really About

In my college years, the 1960s, scientists were telling us that animals have no emotions. This struck me as patently ridiculous, but they insisted. As someone much later said, “Don’t any of these guys have dogs?”

Somehow these brilliant scientists seem to have missed out on fundamental brain anatomy. We differ from other animals in that we have a greater cerebral cortex. But the cortex is not the seat of emotions. The “seat of emotions” is found in the Limbic system, one level up from the “reptilian” brain, the brainstem and cerebellum. Obviously, then, a bigger cortex cannot separate our emotions from those of other animals. Hell, even reptiles are easily shown to have emotions. Even fish.

Franz de Waal, in one of his earlier books, relayed a story told to him by Nobel winner Conrad Lorentz, who researched geese in the early 20th century, among other things. A visiting woman read the look on a goose’s face and remarked that she must have had a tough life. Indeed she had. Lorentz explained that she had lost two mates to violence.

It pleases me very much that our understanding of animals has improved greatly since my college years. But still, there are still many who make use of the “rubber ruler”. That is they claim that we differ from “the animals” (somehow neglecting to realize that we are animals ourselves) because “animals can’t do”… and here they mention some specific thing. Then they learn that certain animals can indeed do that certain thing, and so the ruler is stretched and some other thing that animals can’t do is found. But then the process repeats, requiring the ruler to be stretched again. This has been going on for some time but it has become more and more difficult to pretend the idea makes sense. The ruler won’t stretch any more.

This brings us to our favorite source of all wisdom, Facebook. Even though it is now becoming more difficult to winnow out the nonsense, I still like Facebook for all the animal photos and videos, if nothing else.

Recently I saw a photo of a cat embracing the back of his busy human, eyes closed. The love was obvious, as it often is in photos. Remember the huge tiger, all but bowling over his favorite person as he slurps his cheek with that big tongue, eyes closed. Or the baby elephant who came running whenever his fave guy drove up. Or the big owl who was in bliss when his head was scratched. I’ve also in person seen birds who wantonly turn belly-up for a good scratch. Facebook swarms with photos of all kinds of animals, big and small, from all over the animal world, who very obviously love and are loved. They can love their own species, another species, or specifically the human species. Is there any other reason a dog would come to his human’s grave every day for years?

Videos can be priceless because we are amazed, or because they make us laugh. One of my recent favorites showed a smallish rabbit watching a border collie herding sheep. Apparently that seemed interesting enough to try, because the video next showed the rabbit taking a shot at it. To everyone’s great surprise, he was pretty good at herding sheep. I howled at a video of a mischievous dog watching the cat as it stood on the edge of the bathtub, watching it fill. Then the dog pushed the cat in, and in an instant took off running, knowing the cat would be in hot pursuit, which it was, and furious, with laid-back ears and a snarl on its face. Then there’s the one with two dogs seated on the stairs. A woman’s voice demands, “who made this mess?”. Two noses turn in synch to point to a third dog, who immediately looks embarrassed. I come across the video now and then, and laugh every time.

We’ve all seen various parrots do hilarious things, like really get down and dance in perfect rhythm, or make up operatic songs with nonsense lyrics, or be swung around on clotheslines. I saw the wild blackbird “sledding” down a snowy roof on a jar lid. And the magpie stealing clothespins, and hanging on the bottom of the sheet a woman was trying to dry, between the times he was harassing his dog friend.

Hardly a day goes by that there isn’t some really interesting video of an animal doing something we might not have believed if we hadn’t seen it ourselves. There are hundreds of them.

This is why the kitty videos on Facebook are important. Not because kitties are cute, but because they and all the other animal videos show us that we are not nearly so different from animals as we once thought. They do very many of the things we also do, and express sadness, surprise, and pride. Facebook shows us that their emotional lives are virtually identical to ours.

How dare we mistreat an animal when we know we are so close to them, and they are capable of deep love. Cruelty to animals is deeply offensive, and earns hefty jail sentences. And if we dare not mistreat the animal that shares all of our emotions, how dare we mistreat someone of our own species?

A Little Education Might Help

As we head farther into the great Trump Cash Harvest that has already begun, we might contemplate the dwindling role of critical thinking in the US that brought us to this point. Critical thinking, the lack thereof, is behind the sheeplike mass think-less-ness of so much behavior, particularly in the US. God, look at the election!

There are probably no countries that can exceed the US in pure pride in ignorance and critical thinking. Isaac Asimov called it a “cult of ignorance”, and Carl Sagan said it was a “celebration of ignorance”. A photo of characters looking like Sunday-after-the-Saturday-night-pipe-fight claimed they like Trump because he “don’t use none of them big words”. Indeed he doesn’t. Some have rated his vocabulary at sixth grade level.

Why is this ignorance—or is it actually stupidity?—a point of pride rather than a deep shame that should make people want to stay indoors during the day? Why is the quality of these people’s thinking on the decline, particularly measured against the civilized nations?

How is it, with centuries of scientific progress behind us, that one entire political party is opposed to science? Opposed to climate change. Opposed to technology that not long ago could have saved us from now inevitable global warming. Has it not occurred to them that science explains stuff regardless of their opposition, that climate change cares not the slightest for their opinion, that the technology they apparently oppose fills every moment of their lives? Have these people never had the benefit of modern medicine? Do they not understand that the cellphone in their pocket is possible because of science research? How do they think the weather forecast is possible?

This ignorance, minus the stupid pride, is one of the main causes of individual terrorism coming from radicalized young Muslims in the West. The Daesh have learned how to exploit this ignorance to create indiscriminate murderers in the name of Islam.

Most of these people, mostly men, learn their hatred of the West by watching videos recorded by radical imams whose beliefs are more seriously outdated and false even than fundamentalist Christian preachers. These latter say the stupidest things, and make nonsense claims they say are unalterable biblical truths, but they don’t say whole segments of humanity must be murdered. The radical imams do, and these ignorant young men listen attentively. They hear no one who would tell them differently.

Unfortunately, many of these poor doomed souls don’t get an education that teaches them to think, because they attend madrases where the curriculum consists entirely of memorizing the Q’ran. No one tells them how to bring the Q’ran’s teaching into the present, or even that it’s possible.

Now, I will be the first to deny the innocence of the Western world in its relationship with Islam, but the atrocities these Daesh guys espouse are well beyond the pale. And I simply don’t understand how the intelligent and supposedly educated young Muslims of the Daesh can believe that everyone else in the world is fair game and should be murdered. Must be murdered. Because that’s basically what they believe. They even murder Muslims with slightly different beliefs. What they want doesn’t even agree with their own beliefs, not to mention that the highest Islamic scholars condemn them in no uncertain terms, and call them un-Islamic, barbaric, traitors to Islam.

The problem is that those from all parts of the spectrum fail to address the Daesh in their own mode, and so the Daesh are winning what should be a totally lost cause. The innocent naifs who become murderers for Islam don’t read scholarly articles, if they read at all. They get their info from videos of radical imams who kind of like the idea of murdering westerners. The Daesh, in spite of their barbaric practices, get their ideas across by sophisticated use of the internet and modern technology. And this is how they must be defeated.

This is not Marquis of Queensbury. What is needed is an army of hackers to chop up the Daesh sites in little pieces, crash them off the face of the planet. To plant quotes from the Q’ran to follow the radical lie. Cleverly disguised buttons to click on that lead to more reasonable sites. Sites of passionate reason. Sites that shout at the West and its exploitation and call for realistic ways to battle it, ways that don’t involve killing decent and innocent citizens.

It’s all called education, which doesn’t mean sitting at a desk in a classroom. We all get education whenever we learn something new. But we don’t learn something new if it’s not presented to us in a form that we recognize. We won’t learn if we don’t understand the vocabulary.

Wisdom is found in books, but it can be found elsewhere, even on commercial TV and the internet. In fact, the most effective mode of learning for many is the visual image, not the printed word. That being the case—and the dismal stats about the almost total lack of reading by large parts of the adult population attest to it—education has to find acceptable ways to show the benefits of thinking critically and questioning assertions and assumptions. Drama sounds good to me. Cartoons sound good to me. Songs sound good to me. Public service announcements don’t.

What Should We Do About the Haters?

Fifty people were dead at a gay nightclub in Orlando not long ago, and what did some of our supposedly Christian preachers say: too bad there weren’t more; the government should be killing LGBT people; they had it coming, and many more sickening and repugnant things that violate our moral sense, to say nothing of the Christian morality they claim to follow.

Donald Trump’s KKK supporters blame—well, most everything—on the Jews, whether or not Jews had anything to do with whatever they want to blame them for. Then there are those Israelis who want us to believe that they are entitled to move into Palestine, destroy what was there, build wherever they feel like it, and kill Palestinians, 10 or 20 for every Israeli killed. And the lovely imams who every week tell their followers that everyone who doesn’t follow their own particular brand of Islam to the letter should be punished with death, which of course includes maybe 98% of the world’s population.

None of this is remotely acceptable to the civilized world, but what is the best way to stifle it?

A big part of the world problem is that many who preach violence slavishly follow books that are some 18 centuries out of date. I mean, what do those books have to say about Instagram and sexting? Such books supposedly encourage love, but at the same time they prescribe death for dozens of offenses, many of which are natural manifestations of human life. Being gay, for instance, but also being left-handed.

Being gay, of course, is the “crime against nature” that gets practically everybody exercised, and is often cited as reason to murder, en mass and individually. But none who propose that remedy address the inconvenient fact that homosexual people have heterosexual parents, and not a single person in all history chose to be either gay or straight. If all gays were to suddenly vanish from the face of the Earth, in 20 years we would be well on the way to having some 250 million of them, same as now.

Now, this most recent gay-hating killer was said to become enraged by two men kissing. This sort of rage is not uncommon among people who are gay themselves, as he was. It’s similar to all the Republican Congressional members who propose law after law to punish gays for being gay, and in time prove to be gay themselves. It’s almost an axiom.

Antique religious belief is the most commonly expressed reason for the mass killings that regularly occupy the news. Even though the thinking world rejects that reason, after each mass murder there are those who wish there were more killings. These people are morally bankrupt.

The central authorities of the world’s religions are the only ones with the moral authority and the power to bring their believers into the 21st century. But they themselves must embrace liberality and modernity, and reject strict conservatism, and many do not. They may be among the authorities who believe the ancient books were actually written by God, and are therefore infallible. Given the hundreds of contradictions in each of these books, it defies reason that they should believe in their infallibility. Even the Pope says so.

But the fact remains, the central authorities are the only ones who could reasonably even try to modernize their faith. Unfortunately, some of the more important figures are also the least amenable to reason and modernization. What was true in the seventh century must be true today.

If these central religious authorities are to have any effect on those who think killing is a noble idea, they must make frequent strong statements that reject violence. Each of them, every time. They must repeatedly pound out the idea. They must strongly reject the killers, in every instance, with remarks directly addressed to the killer(s).

They need to be very public, and very angry. And brave. The utterly worthless and amoral Daesh, who regularly murder groups of people who don’t believe exactly as they do, Muslim or not, can be inspired to murder individuals who speak out. But their task becomes impossible if everyone who opposes them denounces them frequently, at least every time they commit a new atrocity.

Published in: on 2016/12/19 at 11:57 am  Comments (3)  
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A Few Minor Observations for the Coming Age

Hillary Clinton was elected to the presidency, but it’s the fifth time the loser will move into the White House, thanks to the obscenely useless electoral college. Republicans and their disaffected are rejoicing.

Donald Trump is a despicable person, a persistent liar, philanderer, misogynist, and cheat, singularly unqualified to be president. A man with the attention span of a kindergartener, who has probably never actually read a book in its entirety. He won with lies and appeals to hatred, telling white America they have been cheated by Democrats. Trumpsters have short memories: it was Obama who rescued Michigan from economic oblivion, yet they voted for Trump.

I read what he wants to accomplish, and agree with some of it. But most of it is the usual Republican nonsense that gives money to the rich at the cost of those who aren’t, the triumph of Big Money. Not only will we now have a billionaire for president, the very rich will have complete control of all parts of the national government. The very rich and their Republican puppets will rearrange things so they can burn unlimited fossil fuels, which will affect the entire world in calamitous ways.

Unfortunately, Republicans and the very rich have almost no understanding, or even belief in, the most significant issue in the entire history of humankind, the inexorably changing climate. A Republican carried a snowball onto the Senate floor to “prove” that warming is a hoax, and too many others presented such stupidities like, warming can’t be real because carbon dioxide isn’t poisonous. 

But climate change is already here, increasingly obvious, and can only get worse. Melting of “permanent” ice is already decades old, and now it looks like the entire ice mass of Greenland and both polar ice caps will melt over the next century or so. This will increase the depth of the ocean by over eighty feet. Likewise, temperature increase is already advanced. In several parts of the globe extended periods of 120ºF or higher cause tens of thousands of deaths every year, and the hottest US cities and regions experience a month or more when the temperature never drops below a hundred. Eventually the average ambient temperature will cross the 125ºF mark, above which human life is not possible.

But these concerns are long range. Besides casual attitudes toward our descendants, Republican dominance means thoughtless voiding of laws that protect the lives of us all right now.

Trump never failed to play to the anger and racial hatred of people who feel they have somehow been wronged by people with darker skin. This is a common tactic of tyrants, one played masterfully by Adolph Hitler. The “wronged” come to believe that Those Others are the reason they are not rich and respected, and therefore they are treacherous and inferior. In so doing Trump earned the full support of the KKK, the neo-Nazis, and every other racist, white supremacist hate group in the country. In effect, Trump gives them all license to commit violence against Jews, blacks, homosexuals, Mexican-Americans, Muslims, immigrants—anyone. Nazi graffiti appeared even on election day. In many places it will become dangerous for anyone who seems even slightly different to walk down the street. With some 350-million guns in the country, Trump has issued a general license to kill.

One wonders why white supremacists believe as they do, since their only achievement is accidental paleness, and not one of them has accomplished anything of real significance.

A third element lies in the realm of economics. Trump has repeatedly proven to economists that he knows nothing about the subject. In fact, Republicans in general tend to be ignorant of it. Paul Ryan, majority leader of the House, is widely admired by Republicans for his economic plan for the nation, a plan of sheer nonsense that depends on many billions of dollars of phantom cash from mysterious unexplained sources that not even the GAO can find. Or perhaps they expect that doing away with their favorite boogiemen will put money into the budget and somehow make it work.

They will almost certainly rescind social programs they don’t like, programs that millions depend on: Social Security and Medicare, particularly Obamacare. This will throw Americans by tens of millions into abject poverty with no escape, including millions who believed Trump’s fantasies. These cuts will have absolutely no effect on the budget, but many bureau budgets will be cut enough to make their departments ineffective, thus crippling essential government programs. Since Obama already cut the bureaus, it’s hard to imagine how further slashing will help.

Trump himself brags about his business prowess, but it doesn’t really exist. As economist Robert Reich pointed out, if he had simply invested his entire inherited fortune in an index fund, he would be at least four times more wealthy than he is. Even the money he did make was largely due to up-front payment for use of his name, as well as out-and-out cheating of his clients and employees. Most of his ventures either went bankrupt or earned far less than he claimed. Frankly, he’s a liar and a cheat, which his election is unlikely to change. The economic benefits he promised followers simply do not exist.

Perhaps he didn’t really expect to win, and now finds himself confronted by his own ignorance, with a plan that will punish his followers. How long will it take them to realize that? What will happen when they do?

White Guys’ Burden?

Some years ago I was only moderately surprised at learning that virtually every black man in the country has been stopped without cause by the police, sometimes more than once a week.

But the reaction to the revelation of Donald Trump’s gross misogyny threw me aback. Not only were the reactions of women to what he says about women fierce, but one woman who asked for Tweets about their first assault—their first assault—found that millions of women responded within hours. It’s safe to say that assault is the norm. It really is a rape culture. It’s not a figure of speech.

For many it was difficult to determine which was their first. For literally all of them, sexual assault was the norm. It occurred everywhere, at any age, on the street, in subways, in stores, at work, at school… In short, we live in a society where men think that they don’t need to have the permission of a girl or a woman to touch her, to grope her, to beat her, to rape her. They don’t even have to know her. There are endless stories of men drugging women in order to rape them, which sounds to me little different from necrophilia.

College males seem to have grown up expecting to be able to force sex with any woman they choose. Consider the dozens of court cases. Consider the numerous rape reports of women in college. We have lost something important. Aren’t relationships that are interesting and loving worth something anymore?

Are women just too brazen these days? Not at all. These first assaults often occurred at the age of seven or eight, and were perpetrated by old men who were strangers, or others who were family acquaintances.

But no matter the degree of sexual assault, the bodies of women virtually everywhere are being violated, their psyches damaged, their freedoms diminished.

I’m saddened, because I love the beauty of the world. A warm day in spring is sublime. Baby animals are always impossibly cute. Mountains and water make us happy and peaceful. Good food and good company are the epitome of happy living.

I find the beauty of small children wonderful. A third-grade girl breathlessly telling her mother about the important events of the day is utterly charming. The beauty of women is of a different sort, but I am thrilled that little girls can become beautiful women.

But these feelings are tender, and they are crushed by whatever it is that makes men think it’s OK to fondle little girls, or put hands on any part of any woman one wishes. Tender feelings don’t exist under the onslaught of misogyny and coarse talk spewing from Donald Trump’s mouth, which in the meat market that is his tawdry election campaign, becomes permission for other men to behave the same way. And they do.

Trump seems incapable of expressing anything but crude and degrading talk. I doubt he understands anything about love, or anything at all that doesn’t involve some sort of financial conquest for his own profit. He fails completely to understand that other people’s lives are not his oyster, to devour if he wants to.

Nor does he appreciate a cardinal characteristic of beauty: You cannot possess beauty. You can’t even own beauty in a painting, say, because something that is beautiful will always be beautiful in and of itself. You can’t own it; it cannot become part of you. You could perhaps destroy it, and you might buy it, but you cannot possess it. You can’t even possess your wife, even with sex. Any real man knows he shouldn’t even try.

Mysteries of Hate and Bombs

Would you go out into the street and kill someone at random? Of course not, yet there are people who would do not only that, but would plot for months, and blow themselves up into bloody chunks to kill as many total strangers as they can.

A few months ago a bunch of Muslim idiots decided some woman had burned a Koran, and brutally murdered her and dismembered her body. She was innocent, and had done nothing of the sort. A supposedly atheistic man was killed with machetes in front of his house. He wasn’t an atheist. And several peaceful advocates for gay and trans persons have been hacked to death.

Not too long ago in Japan a radical cult released poison gas in the subway, killing many total strangers. Timothy McVeigh in the US exploded a truck bomb outside a government building, killing a lot of people, including many children, all total strangers. I can make no sense of any of these things, or the numerous others that offend our sense of right, because they make no sense.

The latest is several people shot total strangers and blew themselves up at the airport in Istanbul. What next, where? Why? Don’t these people have something better to do?

I’m mystified. I just don’t get it. What makes these people think any of this is a good idea?

Too much hothead stupidity in the world, particularly religious hothead stupidity, particularly fundamentalist Muslim religious hothead stupidity. Killing total strangers at random.

A few weeks back some guy in the US attacked a Buddhist monk, bashing his head against a rock while raving about Muslim terrorists. A Buddhist monk. The monk was hurt, but not seriously injured, and commented about how horrible the guy’s life must be to do something like that. I chalk this one up to right wing stupidity, mostly. It’s the brand of stupidity that imagines committing violence against a random person is some sort of revenge. Revenge is impossible to extract from a random stranger. 

You can’t get revenge against someone who has blown himself up. Nor can you get revenge against his family, or his religion, because none of these are the one who committed the presumed offense to begin with. Revenge, in fact, is the most indefensible of motives, even if you do attack the one who committed the original offense, because that just adds to the sum of violence in the world, and creates still more useless revenge motive.

Some violent Muslims in the West strike out to “protect Muslims” by killing people at random. Now, protecting people from violence is a noble goal. There are plenty of intolerant fools who would commit some sort of violence against anyone they perceive as Muslim, and there are many potential ways to protect Muslims. But killing random strangers to “protect Muslims” makes no sense at all. It protects no one, and makes everything worse.

The apparent bomb-maker in the recent attacks in Brussels had everything going for him. He had reached adulthood, had a loving family, was doing well in college, and had a bright, useful future in front of him, while so many others like him had turned to petty crime in their bitter, unrewarding lives. Yet it was the best one among them who built bombs and killed himself in order to murder a couple dozen bystanders he had never seen before, not the embittered cohorts who might at least claim more reason. I don’t get it.

Do the Muslim terrorists who shoot tourists or people in a restaurant or at a musical event think they will change the world and bring everyone to Islam? Fat chance. The opposite is far more likely, and various hotheads will react by committing violence against innocent Muslims. Do those who attack ordinary people they have never seen before imagine that they are wreaking revenge for some person or government that has done them wrong? Stupid as that may seem, Sunnis and Shiites have been killing each other without pause for some 1400 years.

One of the main characteristics of terrorist groups is an imagined class wrong in the past that they seek to rectify by their acts. But of course they cannot do that, and the transgression is usually not real anyway. Hitler famously made the Jews into villains, as so many in history have. The Jews were a sophisticated and highly educated people who made notable contributions to German society, and brought many important qualities and achievements to Germany. Albert Einstein escaped Germany in 1933, and contributed world-changing achievements that Nazis scoffed at and rejected as “Jewish science”—as stupid an appellation as you will find. But Adolph needed a villain, and Jews served the same purpose they had historically. Jews serve the same purpose for fundamentalist Muslims today, but violent fundamentalists are quite happy to kill practically anyone.

Published in: on 2016/06/29 at 10:16 pm  Comments (3)  
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