[Paleopsych] Meme 047: Frank's Abandonment of Reality, One Year Later

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Meme 047: Frank's Abandonment of Reality, One Year Later
sent 2005.10.28

My themes for the next year: "Deep Cultural Change" and "Persistence 
of Difference."

You'll recall that a year ago, on my sixtieth birthday, I decided to 
abandon reality for fiction, on the grounds that I think I know, at 
least in general outline, what is really known about human nature from 
the social and biological sciences. Novelists have a way of getting at 
the human condition that eludes scientists, and to novels I would 

I decided to confine my reading of books to, alternatively, Western 
fiction (includes Russian), non-Western fiction (includes Latin 
America), science fiction, and religion (both sacred books and books 
about them).

Here's what I have read, since abandoning reality at age 60 on 


1. Kerouac, Jack, 1922-69. On the road. 1957.
2. Wilson, Sloan, 1920-2003. The man in the gray flannel suit. 1955.
3. Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von (1749-1832), Elective affinities. 1809.
4. Andrews, Alice, ca. 1966- . Trine erotic. 2002.


1. García Márquez, Gabriel, 1928- . One hundred years of solitude. 1967.
2. Pamuk, Orhan, 1952- . Snow. 2002.
3. Truong, Monique, 1968- . The book of salt. 2003.
4. Mistry, Rohinton, 1952- . A fine balance. 1995.


1. Stephenson, Neal, 1959.10.31- . The diamond age. 1995
2. Herbert, Frank, 1920-86. Dune. 1965.
3. Laxness, Halldór, 1902-55. Under the glacier. 1968.

4-6. Philip Pullman, 1946- . His Dark Materials (trilogy):
      1, The golden compass, 1995.
      2, The subtle knife, 1997.
      3, The amber spyglass, 2000.


1. Gregg, Steve, 1953- . Revelation: Four views: A parallel 
commentary. 1997.
2. Cleary, Thomas, translator, 1949- . The essential Koran. 1993.
3. MacDonald, Dennis R., 1946- . Does the New Testament imitate Homer?
Four cases from the Acts of the Apostles. 2003.
4. C.S. Lewis, 1898-1963. The four loves, 1960.

Science Fiction: I got a little ahead in science fiction, since I read 
an entire trilogy. I found these science fiction books hard to follow, 
except Under the Glacier, a comic Icelandic masterpiece, which is much 
else besides science fiction. The books I read are supposed classics, 
and I think I see why science fiction is ranked low down by literary 
scholars. Actually, I added science fiction more to catch up on my 
reading in this area than to gain new insights into human nature.

Religion: I'm glad to have read at least an abridged Koran, but the 
selector chose mostly the nice verses, which talk more about praising 
Allah for his message than lay out what a believer is supposed to 
think and how to act. The Psalms do the same thing, but in a far, far 
better way. The book about the Book of Revelation got tedious. 
MacDonald's findings of parallels is not nearly as good as his 
earlier, The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark, which makes the 
case, conclusively I think obvious, that that Gospel is a literary 
creation, compiled of sayings of a preacher railing at hypocrisy, Old 
Testament prophecies, and parallels with Homer. Rather than 
reduplicate his efforts for another NT book, I wish he has gone on to 
present a complete theory of the NT, working in esp. the letters of 
St. Paul. The C.S. Lewis book was often insightful, but not the 
chapter about charity as a kind of love. Unlike the other chapters, it 
dealt only with man's relation to god, as though charity does not 
happen between people.

Western novels: I enjoyed all four Western novels, and they were 
generally easy to follow. On the Road paints a more devastating 
picture of the mañana mentality of Mexican immigrants than anything I 
have read in the anti-immigration literature. Kerouac, for all his 
boozing and whoring, has a more distant time horizon. The Man in the 
Gray Flannel Suit book does not turn his hero into a cartoon the way 
his critics have. One should always read the originals. Elective 
Affinities is a little-known novel of Goethe that portrays well-off 
people ensnared in traps of their own making. And Trine Erotic is the 
first novel to incorporate evolutionary psychology. It has tales 
within tales and deals with introspection and intimate discussions 
about sex and evolution, all within a nifty postmodern context.

Non-Western Novels: It was reading non-Western novels that prompted my 
abandoning reality. My overall aim was to find out how non-Westerners 
apprehend the world differently from Westerners. I must report that I 
failed, at least with the four novels I read. Garcia Márquez knows too 
much Western modernist literature, though the magical thinking 
characteristic of Latin American did come through. One Hundred Years 
of Solitude may well be the greatest novel of the last half of the 
last century. The plot is complicated and Cliff and Monarch Notes were 
indispensable. Orhan Pamuk's Snow is a superb novel of a Turkish exile 
to Germany who came home. He was torn between the secularism of 
Germany and the increasing fundamentalism of home. But, his photograph 
reveals him to be very much a White man, so I don't think I got a 
non-Western viewpoint. Monique Truong's The Book of Salt was the one 
disaster in the pile. What might have been a lively fictional 
portrayal of literary Paris in the 1920s from the standpoint of 
Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas's Vietnamese cook was only about 
the plight of the cook, who was also a homosexual. All the fashionable 
leftist noises were made. Though the book got excellent reviews, the 
high praise was forced, as the author apparently has exhausted her 
fame. On the other hand, A Fine Balance is another mixture of comedy 
and tragedy and covers four characters caught in the midst of the 
Emergency declared in India in 1975. The balance is between giving in 
to despair and persevering.

While this project of supposedly abandoning reality did not give me 
great insights into non-Western mentalities, it certainly did save me 
a lot of money on books! But the problem is that I'm addicted to the 
Internet and spent way too much time finding articles and sending them 
to my lists. Almost all of these articles don't expand my thoughts.

I must focus, a problem I've always had. So for the coming year I have 
two themes: "deep cultural change" and "the persistence of 

No more wasting time over controversies. I hope it has been 
instructive to you to have gotten coverage of many sides on various 
issues, to get a better feel for how to distinguish good and bad 
arguments and, just as important, to consider why certain 
controversies never end, why there is no convergence of opinion over 
time. As you wade into new controversies and revisit old ones over the 
next year, look for all sides and try to discern why convergence of 
opinion is so often slow. So, for a while, no more coverage of Supreme 
Court fights, paleoconservatives, neoconservatives, liberals, Arab vs. 
Jew, Intelligent Design, Lincoln, the energy "crisis," even black 
holes. And not nearly so much coverage of religious controversies, so 
often humorous as they are.

And I have spent too much time tracking incremental changes. What has 
happened during the year since I turned 60? The collapse of the 
Standard Social Science Model (SSSM) has been the big event, though it 
will be a while before its political repercussions are felt, for 
political lag is the severest form of culture lag. Even so, there has 
been a decided shift from equality vs. inequality as the principal 
left-right political divide to pluralism vs. universalism. Resistance 
to U.S. foreign policy has replaced race as the major U.S. domestic 
political issue.

Well, maybe not a complete collapse within one year, but the speed-up 
of the shift is the biggest general trend during the last year. It is 
hard to think of anything else that comes close. I'd like to report 
some deep technological (transhuman) breakthroughs, but they occur 
over five to ten years or more.

Now to my two main themes for at least the next year:

1. "Deep cultural change" means the effects of the Internet, the 
change from modernism to postmodernism, commodification, 
globalization--in short the topics covered in The Hedgehog Review, 
http://www.virginia.edu/iasc/hedgehog.html. Over the last year, I have 
read all but two issues of this journal, published by the Institute 
for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia. 
Transhumanistic developments fit here absolutely, though they seem to 
be arriving more slowly than anticipated. Brain-enhancing medicines 
and hookups strike me as the most likely new development: embryo 
selection also, but it takes a generation to raise the children.

2. "Persistence of difference" is the obverse of deep cultural change. 
In spite of globalization, Americanization, the use of the military to 
spread "democratic capitalism," McDonaldization, many cross-cultural 
differences remain the same. There is much resistence, too. As a 21st 
century leftist (pluralist), I hope that different ways of processing 
the world persist, so that different approaches to problems will 
continue and thrive. The difference that intrigues me most now is that 
Westerners think more in analytic (bottom-up) terms, while Easterners 
(North-East Asians, in particular) think in synthetic (top-down) and 
holistic terms. Psychologically, Westerners are more individualistic, 
Easterners more collectivist. Richard Nisbet has been prodigiously 
active in exploring these differences, differences that go down to 
perception and "folk" physics, most notably in The Geography of 
Thought. A more comprehensive book is Edward C. Stewart and Milton J. 
Bennett, American Cultural Patterns: A Cross-Cultural Perspective 
(revised edition. Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press, 1991, 192 pp.), 
which I intend to read for the third time.

Nisbet remarks that it took analytic thinking to get science off the 
ground. But scientific investigation has been finding ever since 
Darwin and the earlier rise of sociology that the whole affects the 
parts: the environment selects which organisms survive; society shapes 
the self. And so the Eastern mentality may have a jump on forging a 
more comprehensive view of the world than an overly Western mentality.

This remains to be seen, though it is striking that my 
exhaustive--well at least exhausting!--surfing of the Web has not 
turned up any Eastern sociology. Books on how the Chinese view the 
West are all written by Westerners! I hope I'm wrong. Furnish me Web 
pages! Or I'll just have to wait.

Now Nisbet is a leading antiracist and repeatedly asserts that 
geographic differences in thought are wholly cultural, but without 
marshaling evidence for his whole-hog cultural view. Yet this would 
imply that geographic variations, from the Arctic to the steppes to 
the Fertile Crescent to darkest Africa, have had no selective effect 
for the last 10,000 or 100,000 years on the distribution of 
psychological traits, even as they has manifestly have had for 
everything from the neck down. Nisbet does indeed invoke the evolved 
Pleistocene character of our minds. He is not upholding the SSSM in 
its full glory, but effectively he's an evolutionist up to the Stone 
Age, a creationist afterwards. It will be up to others to boldly 
conjecture gene-culture co-evolutionary explanations for the 
geographical variation in thought.

As I said, I am a particularist and hope that the Americanization 
steamroller won't make everyone think like Americans. I certainly 
favor the pragmatic mind set of my culture, but not for every culture. 
But I also realize that American culture has changed deeply over the 
course of its history (whence my first theme, "deep cultural change"), 
and I'm certainly no conservative who thinks the final method for 
discovering the world and operating within it has already been found, 
much less that we need to go back to previous models.

My hope is that there will be genetic as well as cultural resistance 
to making the world uniform. Perhaps I should write an essay, "Why I 
Want to Become a Racist"! To date the best documented, and saddest, 
difference is human populations is in general cognitive abilities, but 
it is also the least interesting. I will leave this problem to future 
generations of scholars, to quote Thomas Sowell,^ while I will seek to 
learn more about other geographical and cultural differences in 
thought. I can't become a racist in any comprehensive sense until 
others make conjectures about gene-culture co-evolution since the 
Stone Age, conduct experiments, and interpret the results.

^[On April 25, the entire issue of Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 
2005 June, Vol. 11(2), a publication of the American Psychological 
Association, went online. It featured J. Philippe Rushton and Arthur 
R. Jensen, "Thirty Years of Research on Race Differences in Cognitive 
Ability," four responses, the best of which was by Richard Nisbet, and 
a reply by Rushton and Jensen. I have yet to read it, as it covers 
territory utterly familiar to me.]

Will a consensus emerge? No more than in social science without 
gene-culture co-evolution. You see, we all routinely accept social 
science explanations, invoking concepts like peer pressure, the 
routinization of charisma, die Entzauberung der Welt, without 
realizing that these all rest upon very vague and general concepts. 
It's like explaining a child's behavior as conforming to his parents 
and, a moment later, another child's behavior as rebelling against his 
parents! To the trees, then, many social scientistz repair, to all 
those Big Mac articles in social science journals and away from grand 
theory. The forest, the big concepts in the social science, is 
abandoned, even though the routinization of charisma, and so on, are 
quite real, even if immune to quantification.

If not quantified, then the historian can only give his opinion about 
the causes of an historical event. Was the American Civil War caused 
by disagreements over slavery, by the desire of the South to remain 
true to the American Revolution's principle of non-interference from a 
centralized power, to the different economies based on agriculture and 
manufacturing? How much of each? Each champion for one factor piles up 
his evidence. So do his rivals. No emerging consensus, since none can 
quantify the importance of the factors.

And so it will be when historians add gene-culture co-evolutionary 
factors to the mix. (Anglo-Saxon vs. Celt keeps popping up in 
reflections on the Civil War, and this may be racial, or rather 
sub-racial. It merits yet another unearthing.) American hubris will be 
much reduced as racial explanations emerge. As a 21st century leftist, 
I approve.

My focus, then, for at least a year: "deep cultural change" and 
"persistence of differences." Help me with my projects by sending me 
things, and please excuse the great reduction of forwardings of 
articles while I do this.

Meanwhile, you can use my favorite sources to find more things on your 

The New York Times, http://nytimes.com
Arts & Letters Daily, http://aldaily.com
The Last Ditch: http://thornwalker.com/ditch, the best 
paleolibertarian site

Also various Yahoo! groups, for which to get add to 
Evolutionary Psychology: evolutionary-psychology
Rael Science: rael-science-select
Rational Review of the News: rrnd (libertarian newslinks)
Transhuman Tech news: transhumantech

You may also join various discussion groups of the World Transhumanist 
Association, esp. talk and politics (the latter I no longer take) at 

I have passwords for these, but there's much public content:
The New Scientist, http://www.newscientist.com (www is essential)
The Economist, http://economist.com
Foreign Policy, http://foreignpolicy.com
The Times Literary Supplement, http://www.the-tls.co.uk
The Chronicle of Higher Education, http://chronicle.com

Wikipedia should be regulary consulted:

Laird Wilcox, who founded The Wilcox Collection of Contemporary 
Political Movements in 1965 at the University of Kansas, which deals 
with extreme groups both left and right, runs a list forwarding 
articles like mine. He concentrates more on civil liberties issues 
than I do and has a mostly paleo bent. Drop him an e-mail at Laird 
Wilcox <LWilcox3 at aol.com> to subscribe.

[I am sending forth these memes, not because I agree wholeheartedly 
with all of them, but to impregnate females of both sexes. Ponder them 
and spread them.]

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