[Paleopsych] Meme 047: Frank's Abandonment of Reality, One Year Later
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Sat Oct 29 01:22:30 UTC 2005
Meme 047: Frank's Abandonment of Reality, One Year Later
My themes for the next year: "Deep Cultural Change" and "Persistence
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
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
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
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,
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
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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