On the Nature of Rules

rules

On the season’s first day of 60 degree sunshine, I take a leisurely stroll along our old suburban streets and ponder the notion of rules – those guidelines for human behavior. Something I read yesterday about “rules” comes to mind:

Someone once said: “Rules are for the guidance of wise men and the obedience of fools.” Rules replace thought. If you know the rules, you always know what to do. Rules are comfortable. If you know the rules, you never have to stretch too far. Rules are safe. You probably won’t get in trouble for following the rules. Unfortunately, you probably won’t make much progress either.

Because there are no sidewalks, I follow the rule and trod along the left side of the road so that I can see oncoming traffic. It seems that most rules are made for health or safety reasons: cross at the green and not in between; don’t eat yellow snow; beware the guard dog; don’t pick your nose. We tend to follow rules if they make sense to us, if they benefit us in some way. And we often ignore rules that don’t seem to have major consequences: keep off the grass; don’t pick your nose; no loitering. (Unless, these days, you are a person of color. There seem to be different consequences for people of color. But that’s a rant for another day.)

Laws are rules that require stricter observance. We obey laws because if we don’t, we get punished. (Unless you are rich and have powerful friends. But that’s also a rant for another day.)

And then there are customs, which, are not really rules but we tend to obey them so that we aren’t frowned up by our peers. For example: eat with a fork, don’t burp in public, wear your gang’s colors. (Unless, of course, you are in some other part of the world where those customs don’t apply. But then others do.)

Down the street, two teenage couples with skateboards are walking in the middle of the road. An oncoming car defers to their flaunting of the rule and drives around them. Young people often ignore rules. I’ve been reading lately that it has something to do with their frontal lobes, which are still developing. That’s the part of the brain that analyzes and confronts consequences.

As I stroll along, my frontal lobe notices that I am not following the rules for correct, healthy walking, and so I adjust my stride – heel to toe, butt tucked in, shoulders relaxed – better for my joints and muscles. I follow the rules that benefit me.

It occurs to me as I turn the corner toward home that the world is wrapped in the demands and expectations of all manner of laws, rules, customs, and instructions. A loss of freedoms is the downside of living in a civilized society, I guess.

Hammurabi had 242. Moses had ten. It is always those in power who make the rules and set the consequences. It’s a top-down thing. And, historically, it has been mostly men who are at the top. (And that’s another rant for another day.)

It makes me wonder what society would be like if rules – especially the hard-and-fast laws – evolved, organically, based on the needs, desires, and insistence of the people they most directly affect. Actually, I think that’s how it’s supposed to work in a democracy. Maybe it can only work in a very small one, like a tribe.

All in all, it seems to me that the only guidelines for human behavior we really need are the rules we learned in Kindergarten: don’t hit, punch, kick, or hurt anyone; share and enjoy; don’t make a mess but if you do, clean up after yourself.

Remembering Convict #9653

I have always hoped that the human race would evolve beyond greed and self-interest. Of course, there’s nothing in our human history that shows that there’s any hope of that happening.

I’m thinking about the

turn of the century 1900, the era of extreme capitalists, sometimes referred to as “Robber Barons,” that consisted of the very wealthy and everybody else. Those 1% of the 1% fought hard to keep regular people as poor as they could, and they kept every penny they squeezed from the working poor. (Remind you of another time, say … recently? Hmmm.)

I am thinking about Eugene Debs, who fought for the rights of the working class to organize and strike and who founded the Socialist Party. Eugene Victor “Gene” Debs was an American union leader, one of the founding members of the Industrial Workers of the World, and five times the candidate of the Socialist Party of America for President of the United States

I think that it’s important to note that:

He refused to allow the Socialist Party to join forces with the various Communist parties that were active at the time, believing that the more moderate Socialist Party platform would win more hearts and minds. Considering that we now take for granted a lot of the things it fought for, the platform was radical for the time. It included:
A minimum wage
An end to child labor
Rights for black Americans
Improving working conditions
Increasing the number of people who can vote

On June 16, 1918, Eugene Debs delivered his final speech before heading to prison. As World War I raged on across the world, he spoke these words near a jail where several of his fellow Socialist Party acquaintances were housed for “antiwar agitation.” 1,200 people attended the party convention. He took advantage of the audience, and the moment in history, to speak to the crowd….His words were later used to sentence him to prison for 10 years. It was from there that he received nearly 1 million votes for president in 1920, running as simply Convict No. 9653.

“These are the gentry who are today wrapped up in the American flag, who shout their claim from the housetops that they are the only patriots, and who have their magnifying glasses in hand, scanning the country for evidence of disloyalty, eager to apply the brand of treason to the men who dare to even whisper their opposition to Junker rule in the United Sates. No wonder Sam Johnson declared that “patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.” He must have had this Wall Street gentry in mind, or at least their prototypes, for in every age it has been the tyrant, the oppressor, and the exploiter who has wrapped himself in the cloak of patriotism, or religion, or both to deceive and overawe the people.

[snip]

But they themselves did not go to war any more than the modern feudal lords, the barons of Wall Street. The feudal barons of the Middle Ages, the economic predecessors of the capitalists of our day, declared all wars. And their miserable serfs fought all the battles. The poor, ignorant serfs had been taught to revere their masters; to believe that when their masters declared war upon one another, it was their patriotic duty to fall upon one another and to cut one another’s throats for the profit and glory of the lords and barons who held them in contempt. And that is war in a nutshell. The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and all to lose — especially their lives.

They have always taught and trained you to believe it to be your patriotic duty to go to war and to have yourselves slaughtered at their command. But in all the history of the world, you — the people — have never had a voice in declaring war. And strange as it certainly appears, no war by any nation in any age has ever been declared by the people.

And here let me emphasize the fact—and it cannot be repeated too often—that the working class who fight all the battles, the working class who make the supreme sacrifices, the working class who freely shed their blood and furnish their corpses, have never yet had a voice in either declaring war or making peace. It is the ruling class that invariably does both.

They alone declare war, and they alone make peace.

Yours not to reason why; yours but to do and die.

That is their motto, and we object on the part of the awakening workers of this nation. If war is right let it be declared by the people. You who have your lives to lose, you certainly above all others have the right to decide the momentous issue of war or peace.”

Check out the Democratic Socialists of America: Democratic Socialists believe that both the economy and society should be run democratically to meet human needs, not to make profits for a few. We are a political and activist organization, not a party; through campus and community-based chapters DSA members use a variety of tactics, from legislative to direct action, to fight for reforms that empower working people.

Low Empathy: the root of all evil

LOW EMPATHY

I am obsessed with the conviction that our human race is devolving because we are losing our capacity for empathy. And I am not alone in believing that is the root of all of the evil in this world.

On the other hand, there is increasing research that is proving how other mammalian species are actually evolving in their capacity to feel and demonstrate empathy. All you have to do is do an online search for “animal empathy,” and you can spend the rest of the day being amazed and gratified at the increasingly widespread “humane” behaviors of our non-human brothers and sisters. (Do an online search for any of the areas of human violence in the world today – shootings, rapes, war zones…. — and you will spend the rest of the day, perhaps, starting to believe as I do.)

The tendency for humans seems to be violent. An online search for “human violence” will provide support for that assertion.

But it’s really more complicated – and overwhelming – than most folks are willing to admit.

Individual research projects are showing that there are complex connections among the healthy functioning of the brain’s “empathy spot,” the levels of the aggression hormone testosterone, the harmful psychological (and, perhaps neural) effects of violent sports/games/language, and this crisis of morality that is plaguing our species.

After spending the past few days searching online for perspectives on this issue, the best piece I have been able to find (although there are others) is “Why a Lack of Empathy is the Root of All Evil,” by psychologist Simon Baron Cohen, who offers this general definition:

Empathy is our ability to identify what someone else is thinking or feeling, and to respond to their thoughts and feelings with an appropriate emotion,” writes Baron-Cohen. People who lack empathy see others as mere objects.

And so we have rampant misogyny, bigotry, border disputes, extreme nationalism, racism,war, violence of all kinds.

What is fascinating to me is that the home of “empathy” seems to be in the brain itself. Scientific research has identified an area of the brain associated with empathy – the anterior insular cortex.

In other words, patients with anterior insular lesions had a hard time evaluating the emotional state of people in pain and feeling empathy for them, compared to the controls and the patients with anterior cingulate cortex lesions,” said the researchers.

This area of the brain that has been proven to be affected by a variety of variables, including testosterone levels and exposure to violent media.

One of Baron-Cohen’s longitudinal studies – which began 10 years ago – found that the more testosterone a foetus generates in the womb, the less empathy the child will have post- natally. In other words, there is a negative correlation between testosterone and empathy. It would appear the sex hormone is somehow involved in shaping the “empathy circuits” of the developing brain.
Given that testosterone is found in higher quantities in men than women, it may come as no surprise that men score lower on empathy than women. So there is a clear hormonal link to empathy. Another biological factor is genetics. Recent research by Baron-Cohen and colleagues found four genes associated with empathy – one sex steroid gene, one gene related to social-emotional behaviour and two associated with neural growth.

Contrary to what gamer developers would like us to believe, ongoing research is tending to prove that areas of the brain associated with empathy are being affected by constant exposure to violent video and other games.

New preliminary findings suggest that brain activation is altered in normal youths with significant past violent media exposure while viewing violent video games.

The reasons for our devolution are obviously complicated and involve some combination of nature and nurture and the opposite of nurture. As a culture and society, we seem to be intent on denying how we actually are encouraging a diminishment of empathy in favor of greed, selfish amorality, and vested interests — whether they be political, religious, economic, or national.

Of course, it’s easier to deny – from climate change to chemical food contamination, to promoting and glorifying violence – than it is to tackle the daunting job of trying to undo what we have done. But if we don’t, we will be a dead species before long. We will destroy ourselves from the simple lack of empathy.

I am hoping that some less corporate-manipulated and more holistic researchers will be able to bring together all of the factors that are pushing our species over the precipice of widespread violence and come up with a convincing argument for the necessity to put the brakes on across the board. Coming up with a plan after that is maybe more than government is capable of now. But if we don’t….

Having been a fan of speculative fiction my whole life and witnessing the manifestations of many of those “fictional” speculations, I don’t hold much hope.

my secular blue America

Every once in a while I post something of substance. Eight years ago I posted two pieces that, unfortunately, are just as relevant today. Two years ago, I re-posted them (with some parts missing as a result of changing blog designs).

Today, I link to those old posts in case someone winds up here by searching for terms like
“the roots of American democracy”
“Christian Puritans as persecutors”
“Founding Fathers on mixing government and religion”
“Iroquois Confederacy and our Constitution”

In reverse order (because that made more sense) those old posts are:

My Blue America: Our Secular America (Part 2)

Our Securlar America: The Truth is Out There (Part 1)

And so it goes.

purity is bullshit, she says

Can you feel it? That big downhill slide we’re on?

Pipe lines wrecking the rain forest, fracking wrecking the water, greenhouse gases wrecking the weather. The “big picture” is all wreck [sic] and ruin.

My way of coping with that awareness is usually by focusing on my own little picture. And blogging about it — grandsons and gardens, nostalgia and nuisances.

But when it comes to the way, across the globe, that women are treated, portrayed, denied, discouraged, wrecked and ruined, I take it personally, especially since I remember the early days of our feminist struggle, when so many of us joined with each other, and with wise and willing male supporters, to push back against a sexist system set to designate who we were and are and could or couldn’t be.

If you think it’s any better these days, all you have to do is look and listen to know that you are wrong. Cultural attitudes. in general, and the attitudes of many males, in particular, have become even more misogynistic.

NPR’s article about the Amanda Knox case points up one aspect of this rampant “cultural sexism.”

If Amanda Knox had been Andrew Knox, the breathless and prolonged excitement around his sex life would be greatly diminished, or absent altogether. If Amanda had been Andrew, he wouldn’t have been labeled “a sex-mad flatmate” in the media.

No, just in last Sunday’s New York Times, the “veritable drumbeat of sexual shaming” heaped on Amanda Knox amounts to sexism run rampant.

While we should have already evolved way beyond the gender roles that our early progenitors adopted as necessary for survival (see NPR article linked above), the attitudes and behaviors of too many young males indicate that the opposite is happening. As a culture, we are not only backsliding; we are slipping into a subversive hatred of women that is triggering both vocal and physical violence against females.

Voicing the young, strong, liberated, and angry perspective of women who refuse to let sexist male attitudes intimidate, suppress, and repress their sexuality is Lindy West’s article in Jezebel entitled Female “Purity” is Bullshit.

She says:

Girls and women, if no one has ever told you this before, or if you just have trouble believing it: you are good, you are whole, you are yours. You do not exist to please men, and your value as a human being is not contingent upon your sexual capital. “Purity” is a lie. Do not even worry about any of this garbage, because it’s about as real as a fucking unicorn. And like my Nana always used to say, “Never take life advice from a grown man who believes that unicorns are ‘extinct.'”

And this “good girl” shit isn’t just limited to odious ding-dongs like dude-who-doesn’t-know-the-difference-between-extinct-and-fucking-mythological. I know plenty of progressive, liberal, adult men who openly say they’re looking for a “good girl”—who prioritize some paternalistic illusion of “self-respect” over personality and chemistry. And to those dudes, I say, HOW DO YOU NOT SEE HOW CREEPY THIS IS. Can you imagine if women went around saying they were just looking for a “good boy” and sometimes they “jokingly” scout kindergartens for promising baby virgins?!?!?! Groooooooooss!!!!!

West’s article is a hoot and holler to read. It is raw. And truthful. And angering. It is the way it is but shouldn’t be.

I don’t know how the bad attitudes of misogynist males can be changed. I don’t know how to prevent their younger brothers from becoming just like them. Is there a warped Y chromosome or strain of testosterone that is being unknowingly spread to each generation of males? Is it something in the water? Is it something that we should put in the water?

I don’t know the answer. What I do know is that there needs to be more females refusing to put up with stupid men’s bullshit.

I’m joining the Snatchel Project

What’s a “snatchel”?

Before I get to that, let me just explain that I have in my life marched in protests carrying banners with symbols proclaiming my positions on critical issues. During the wartime 70s, I sewed a gigantic “Peace” banner and hung it from a tree limb that hung over our driveway. I believe in the power of symbols. I believe that sometimes you have to get in the faces of those who refuse to hear what you’re saying.

So, I’m joining the Snatchel Project.

First, go here to find out about the project, supported by a group that proclaims:

– We are women, we are strong, we are smart. And we have a sense of humor.
— We do not need government interference with our doctors or our healthcare.
— We do not need government probing our vaginas to help us make decisions about abortion.
— We do not need government to give us guidance about whether or not to take birth control.


So, here’s my original knitted interpretation, my contribution. I am thinking that I might just make a bunch of them and send them to the group to distribute appropriately. I will make a little card that says:

Get your pre-historic laws out of my personal private parts.

The Snatchel Project already has received considerable media coverage, as listed here.

I realize that there are lots of people who think sending uterine and yonic representations to legislators who are trying to drag us back into the Dark Ages is a waste of time.

Well, maybe it is. But for us pissed off feminist knitters, it’s a hoot.

And hey, you never know. At least it will get their uncomfortable attention. Works for me.

Books. I….

One for my ears and one for my eyes. That’s how I do books — usually two at once. Maybe it’s an escape — a way not to think about the things I really don’t want to think about. You know what I mean — female infanticide in India, the GOP debates. You know what I mean.

The book I just finished was on digital audio, and I just couldn’t stop listening to it until I was finished. Everything about it was unique — the format, the characters, the premise, the language.

The Night Circus.

The author is incredibly talented on a number of fronts. I was particularly fascinated by her Flax-Golden Tales. Be sure to take a look.

The Night Circus was nominated for a Golden Tentacle Award, which

ts awarded annually to the debut novel that best fits the criteria of progressive, intelligent and entertaining. The book must be the author’s first published work of novel-length fiction in any genre.

Take a look at the other nominees if you are into “progressive, intelligent, and entertaining” reading.

Of course, I download almost all the books I read from my library’s digital catalog. I was surprised to see that they even had The Night Circus. Usually I wind up with a mystery or suspense, which is what’s on my mp3 player now. Not on the level of The Night Circus, but it keeps me from thinking about the things I don’t want to think about. You know what I mean — malnourished people, malnourished animals, malnourished dreams.

Seducing Spring

It’s not even 20 degrees outside, but I’m sprouting a sweet potato vine on the kitchen windowsill. By the time Spring is really here, I should have a hearty vine that I can keep rooting from cuttings. And then I can hang the vines in a basket outside my window. If I keep rooting the cuttings, I can hang a basket indoors all year.

I need something to plan toward, look forward to — something other than the solitude of a long cold winter.

Views

All kitchens should have windows
double wide, Windexed clear
if not into sunny vistas at least
into frames of sky

beyond a stand of trees bordered
by day lilies in clumps, maybe
a lilac bush or two, certainly
a bird feeder busy with wings and

morning light. Not to mention a deep
indoor sill where seeds sprout green
even when winter shrouds the pane.

(elf 2003)

what the Occupiers want

They’ve been bludgeoned, batoned, pepper-srayed, arrested, and purposely misrepresented by the 1%’s representatives, who keep insisting that the protesters in the Occupy (Everything and Everywhere) movement don’t know what they want.

Well, according to Naomi Wolf’s article in The Guardian, this is what they want, what we want, what we the 99% want. (Can you hear us now?)

Wolf reports,

The mainstream media was declaring continually “OWS has no message”. Frustrated, I simply asked them. I began soliciting online “What is it you want?” answers from Occupy. In the first 15 minutes, I received 100 answers. These were truly eye-opening.

The No 1 agenda item: get the money out of politics. Most often cited was legislation to blunt the effect of the Citizens United ruling, which lets boundless sums enter the campaign process.

No 2: reform the banking system to prevent fraud and manipulation, with the most frequent item being to restore the Glass-Steagall Act – the Depression-era law, done away with by President Clinton, that separates investment banks from commercial banks. This law would correct the conditions for the recent crisis, as investment banks could not take risks for profit that create kale derivatives out of thin air, and wipe out the commercial and savings banks.

No 3 was the most clarifying: draft laws against the little-known loophole that currently allows members of Congress to pass legislation affecting Delaware-based corporations in which they themselves are investors.

In her frightening article, Wolf exposes “the shocking truth about the Crackdown on Occupy.”

We should all be outraged at the official conspiracy to try to keep a lid on what is the most rightfully forceful populist movement since the similarly persecuted Civil Rights and Anti-War protests of the 60s. Those movements forced the beginnings of positive and necessary changes in America that are still unfolding.

It is time for another major shift toward reclaiming what American democracy is meant to be.

(See this and other posters created by the Occupy movement here.)