Thursday, May 24, 2018

BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR

The core and crux of our best stories as far back as we can remember is the human ability to stay faithful to a worthy cause, defying even death.  The dilemma is that we CAN do such a thing, even when it is painful or deadly, but there is always a real chance that it’s for nothing — that our fealty is wasted on something unworthy.  That’s where many people in the United States are now — about a third of us, say the pollsters, still defending Trump.  They are responding to Trump’s call for loyalty to HIM, specifically himself and his wealth.  What happens next depends in part on them withdrawing their devotion.

Can they even do it?  The nature of conservatism is to stick to your guns, hang onto your loyalties, wave your flag.  To this third of the nation, Trump stands for what they believe and it’s simply impossible for them to give it up.  But what they believe in may also be just themselves and their own welfare.

On the other hand many claim that God died, so why should Trump think he’s safe?  Part of the reason the idea of “God” died is that people thought faith in him would make them rich.  When it didn’t, they were angry and went away, some in a huff and some weeping.  Because to them prosperity has come to mean survival and they fear that now they will die.  Or have to get along without the nouveau riche MacDonald’s mansions that they believe are prosperity.  They cannot imagine a richness that is abstract, enduring, and eternal — that of great ideas.

We can mostly imagine high ideals — a little confusion there — and we still deeply admire Antigone, Joan of Arc, Servetus and Jean Hus — all of whom suffered death rather than betray their beliefs.  But since Vietnam we’ve been inclined to ask whether that were practical.  Why die? they ask.  Why not lie and continue?  It’s the answer to torture.  Besides, you might not even be right.  Democracy and honor are overrated.  Ask Trump and Putin.  

When canvassed, the young people of our country say they would accept tyrants if they would just make the trains run on time.  Or at least keep them repaired so they don’t crash.  In other words they want to stay children and assume that all leaders will be parents and leave them alone to do their own thing, like music or whatever.  But this is only one class of young people who gets polled, part of Brooks’ 9% who are financially just below the 1% elite.  No one asks the kid taking shelter behind a dumpster what he wants.  That kid knows very well that if he doesn’t take his survival into his own hands, he won’t make it.

Beyond the heroism of those visionaries willing to die for a cause is the territorial imperative of claiming a country and its unique understanding of the world.  Democracies and whatever it is that post-Soviets are doing (?) compete with each other, partly to secure resources and crops and partly to save morale.  Like Trump, I believe that people in other countries are animals.  In fact, all humans are animals, including Trump: just the latest version of hominins over the millennia.  Admitting the body and guaranteeing the aspiring mind — not just the cunning part of it — is being human.

When the people of one country try to capture and oppress another, when one leader tries to become the dictator of everything, we call that treason and we drag that leader out behind the dumpster and shoot him.  Or at least we used to.  How can we even imagine that any Putin could control a country as independent and riotous as this one?  

But he did elect this president.  Oh.  But that proves the point, doesn’t it?  He can’t control Trump, who can’t even control himself.  What is a human with no self-control?  Berzerk.

What is a human who continues to defend such a president?  The quality we hate more than being poor is being stupid.  Yet that’s the trade we made.  Where are the clever people?  In the mafia?  We know where the dark and heedless one are: in jail.

The morality (practical decisions) and ethics (high aims) of humans are not simple nor easy.  That’s why they make such passionate and gripping stories.  The stakes can be as high as life itself or as trivial as crossing the street carelessly, which can lead to the same end.


“United States, most foreign-policy makers equate nation-building with democratisation. They believe that democracy is the best tool to achieve political cohesion . . .  The argument goes like this: democratic elections draw diverse ethnic constituencies towards the political centre and encourage politicians to build broad coalitions beyond the pool of voters who share their own ethnic background. And it is true that most states that failed at nation-building and are governed by the elites of a small minority, such as the Alawi of Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad, are autocratic. Conversely, democratic countries are on average more likely to include minority representatives in their ruling coalitions.”

We mostly agree that democracy has its faults, but so far our brand of hominins hasn’t figured out what to do about it.  Even some strains that stayed in small manageable units of tribe hadn’t solved the problem well enough to survive.  Even democracy doesn’t work without idealism.  If people can’t get their heads up from the trough enough to think, talk peacefully, and vote, we’ll just have to hope there’ll be enough seed stock to start a new version of humans.  But we’re beginning to worry that we’ll all die of our bad decisions about pollution, warming, disease, drought, and low-grade war -- all of which demand a global response.

We’re fortunate that Trump and his associates were so stupid and clumsy that once we looked, we saw what they were doing.  The truth is that we could have caught them decades earlier and stopped them draining money out of the US.  Now that the evidence is laid out, there is no going back.  What Mueller does won’t matter in the long run.  They are plain criminals distracted by confusing the presidency with corrupt monarchy.  But this country was founded on the idea of preventing autocracy and there are many safeguards, including strong brave people who tell it like it is.  I’m thinking of Clapper.


Mysterious “heart attacks” among middle-aged Russians have begun.  Putin has to please his oligarchy, not Trump.  If the democratic countries who are our friends effectively end the money drain, Putin may not be around any longer than Trump.

WHAT INDIGENOUS AMERICANS WRITE


Indigenous Voices Awards, which recognize emerging Indigenous writers, reveal 2018 finalists

Carleigh Baker is nominated for an Indigenous Voices Award for her short story collection Bad Endings. (Callan Field/Anvil Press)
The Indigenous Voices Awards, established in 2017 to celebrate emerging Indigenous writers, have announced their 2018 finalists.
There are seven categories, which include works in English, French and Indigenous languages, and recognizes both published and unpublished work.
The winners will be announced on May 29, 2018, at an event in Regina, Sask. The prize was judged by writers Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm, Gregory Scofield, Jean Sioui and Richard Van Camp.
The shortlist for most significant work of prose in English by an emerging Indigenous writer ($5,000 prize) includes:
The shortlist for most significant work of poetry in English by an emerging Indigenous writer ($5,000 prize) includes:
The shortlist for most significant work in an alternative format by an emerging Indigenous writer ($5,000 prize) includes:
  • This is How We Got Here by Keith Barker
  • Huff & Stitch by Cliff Cardinal
  • Musical Selections by Mich Cota
  • Sakkijâjuk by Heather Igloliorte
  • Nipê Wânîn by Mika Lafond
The shortlist for most significant work of prose in French by an emerging Indigenous writer ($5,000 prize) includes:
  • Manikanetish by Naomi Fontaine
  • De Vengeance by J.D. Kurtness
The shortlist for an unpublished prose piece by an emerging Indigenous writer ($2,000 prize) includes:
  • Hair Raizing by Treena Chambers
  • Queen Bee by Elaine McArthur
  • The Hand Trembler by Tom Nazbah
  • Pejipug by Amanda Peters
The shortlist for unpublished poetic piece(s) by an emerging Indigenous writer ($2,000 prize) includes:
  • Poetic Selections by David Agecoutay
  • Two Poems by Brandi Bird
  • Poetry of a Northern Rez Girl by Francine Merasty
  • #haikuaday and other poems by Smokii Sumac

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

SPEAK THE SPEECH

“Skeptic” is a magazine published by the Skeptics Society.  It includes “Science Salon” which is hosted by Dr. Michael Shermer who actually teaches “Skepticism 101” at Chapman University.  (I’m skeptical about Chapman University.)

Dr. Gregory Hickok is the author of “The Myth of Mirror Neurons: The Real Neuroscience of Communication and Cognition.”  In other words, he tries to figure out how the brain works and through this focus puts “mirror neurons” in perspective, saving them from the pop magpie science promulgators.

The vid links below (Two addresses in case one doesn’t work) is fascinating, particularly because it confirms many things I learned as an undergrad, ’57-’61 in what was then considered a rather frivolous degree in the School of Speech. (Northwestern U, the department is now renamed “Communication Arts”).  I love it when something I’ve believed and acted upon for decades turns out to be not only true, but also significant.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=twS9dZXBql4  is a shorter URL without the intro.

In my own speech education there was a major idea and a minor idea.  The minor one was in a sub-category called “speech therapy” which includes all kinds of problems people have with actual speaking, the shaping of the tongue in the mouth and so on, but not the perception of sense context which is a brain function.  The major one was the study of acting in the context of theatre, which has a lot to do with imitation in terms of unique situation.

Speech therapy is done in pairs, usually after diagnosis by a school and often with a child who is struggling over the most difficult English sounds, like “l” or “r” which are in the back of the mouth where one can’t see what’s happening or “s” which requires the tongue to make a very small channel for the air to pass through, which is hard for young tongues.  The idea is that the mispronouncers sit across a table from a speech coach who gives advice and demonstrates.  Usually the therapist has some games to play so it’s not too boring.  

Another situation where therapy is common is with foreigners, esp. people whose language-pronouncing had never needed those mouth shapes in the past.  French is notorious (nasal) and so is Japanese.  Chinese is a whole new problem because they add inflection — voice going up or down a scale within the sound.  Diphthongs combine two vowels and are sometimes called “gliding vowels.”  There are special “letters” for print.  Southerners use a lot of diphthongs.

Lisping is a consonant problem.  This vid is an entertaining bit of advice that probably won’t get rid of your lisp, but is worth a laugh at people with a fancy English accent.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UgA5ZOp6Iko   There are other vids that help more.  Lisping also has a political overtone, like accusations of being gay.  This vid addresses that whole syndrome in a sensible way.  http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2015/11/where-did-gay-lisp-stereotype-come

Dr. Hickok’s original intention was to study the production of speech, but the entire aspect that begins in the brain and is linked to other stages and abilities until the intelligible sounds come out.  All the little knots and frills of brain tissue with names interact in constantly realigning ways that are sometimes age-related.  (Computer maps of the connections are presented with colored filaments.)  There is a window of opportunity when it comes to learning to speak (and eventually read).  Varying but present in pre-schoolers, it is dependent on being with people who speak.  A human can live without speaking but if their brain doesn’t catch on in those early years, it will be nearly impossible to communicate with words.

When people go from one language to another, they are often preoccupied with learning the names of things, but studies of animals who seem to understand speech, like dogs that know commands, suggest that what is learned first is verbs, “doing something.”  It is the dynamics among concepts that we define as “thought.”  Again, it is much dependent on the observation of other people, which is where “mirror neurons” come in.

The major concept from acting is that of managing observation/imitation/shaping by context (both culture and situation)/ and its expression in the whole body vividly enough for an observer to be empathic — to know what is happening in the character.  

Consciousness is a matter of taking in all of the senses, configuring them into concepts, and expressing them in a way perceptible to others.  In reality and when working with vid or film, this can be done with eye shifts and minute muscles, esp. in the face.  This is so complex and so dependent on opportunity to learn by interacting, that things can go wrong, both organically and in terms of managing one’s body systems, which is the work of the brain.

The present premise is that thought can be actually seen by using machines such as an fMRI and is a matter of changes within cells and among the various cells of that seeming jello mass in the skull.  The perceived senses of the moment are the indexes of thought, which is why a certain sound or muscle movement can bring back a recorded moment from the past.  Actors using the Method use this phenomenon to summon up their own indexed moment and using it to depict the character — memory is their key to expressed empathy.  

Hickok presents the surprising theory that it is not the side-to-side variation between the brain lobes that seems so obvious, but rather the top/bottom contrast, which is based on brain management difference.  The “superior temporal focus” and the “dorsal stream system” are Hickok’s name for two webs of interconnections among brain cells.  There are many of these distinct neural networks in the brain, all of them crucial to the understanding and expression functions, but studied so recently that it’s hard to find information about them.

  This url gives us a clip:  “Two principal higher visual pathways have recently been described, namely the dorsal stream and the ventral stream.  The dorsal stream passes between the occipital lobes and the posterior parietal lobes. This brain unit serves the functions of appraising the whole visual scene, and (along with the frontal lobes) attending to elements within the scene. It facilitates immediate visual guidance of movement through the scene, by interacting with area V5 (or the middle temporal lobes MT), the area of the brain responsible for processing perception of motion. The dorsal stream system is automatic and unconscious. It is ‘on‐line’ and is not memory based. Damage in this brain territory is associated with a range of visual behaviours. . .”  The url goes on to provide a table of clues to whether a child has a problem with this double network.


Two factoids stick with me.  Only 12 out of the 27 adults tested actually had detectable “mirror cells” (though primates have them) which might explain difficulties with communication, a kind of inability to perceive.  The other is that successful narrative, esp. fiction, is that story kindles empathy for other people, even if they are only imagined.  This has major political and artistic implications.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

PIKUNI INSIDER HUMOR

“by the time you’re 35 you should have run for council twice and almost been elected the second time except your auntie was talking ish about you bc she never forgave you for that one time you stole her car and wrecked it out by seville. ?

“by age 35 you should have almost dated two of your cousins and been saved at the last second by that auntie who knows how everyone is related. 

“by age 35, every blackfeet should have tried (and failed) to explain what caddy means to indians from at least 17 other tribes”

Above are twitters from Sterling HWM  @MrHWM 
“Writer. Lover of beauty. Nīītsiṫaṗii. Unrecognized citizen of the Ǎamskǎapii Ṗiiḱǔni Nation. dreamers / they never learn / they never learn”

He also posted this:  “Americans have a special horror of giving up control, of letting things happen in their own way, without interference. They would like to jump down into their stomachs and digest the food and shovel the shit out.”
—Burroughs, Naked Lunch

All posts were made within an hour this morning and since I follow Sterling, I read them.  And laughed.  Because Sterling is on an X in my experiences where the Blackfeet, esp. the ones who have gone to college (BCC counts), and another group, smart young MFA males who pick up that California “defiance of culture” culture in which one reads criticism of culture that would be obscene if it weren’t so serious.  It’s not stuff that goes over well on the rez back home.

Strangely, the rez kidding is what needs to be explained.  This is what you need to know:

Extended family is very important: a reservoir of information and sometimes a source of discipline since your mother loves you dearly and would hate to hurt you, even in a good cause.  This is different from black city culture where mothers hurt their sons in a good cause: saving their lives with disciplinary punishment about which there is no question.  Better slapped than shot.

White mothers?  They don’t know what’s going on.  They’re at work.

So a tribal auntie will use a time-honored method of discipline: “talking ish” which is slamming and not quite damning.  An anthropologist said that in old times out-of-control persons were addressed while in their tipi’s — not directly, but by two interested parties standing just outside where they can be heard by the person inside.  They “talk ish” and remark on likely consequences to get the message across.  Evidently it worked.  It would made a great short story.

“Seville” is a housing cluster just across the bridge from the rez to Cut Bank.  It’s on the rez but accumulates people who find action in the larger county seat where there are grocery stores and lawyers.  The Sheriff’s report in the weekly newspaper often mentions Seville, or “Seville Flats” which is the larger area.  It’s not Moccasin Flats, which used to be the west side of Browning, privately owned but never maintained so that water was at a street tap and streets were at your own peril.  Now the area is rebuilt as low rent housing.

The Tribal Council was theoretically supposed to recreate the population as a corporation, very modern, while purporting to imitate the old-fashioned leader council circles.  The history of this Tribal Council was written up by Paul C. Rosier who relied on first hand research by reading files and correspondence.  His book, “Rebirth of the Blackfeet Nation, 1912-1954” is hard to read because of its density, but there are notes on this blog starting at May 3, 2005.  Ideally, one would buy the book, read it, and make one’s own notes.  It’s good to learn the names which sometimes show up on the pale blue lines of old journal pages re-used by artists to draw battle pictures.  Tribal council politics prepares one for Trump.


“By age 35 if you took state in high school and you’re still not talking about it are you even a rezzer?”  This comment comes from Robeet oonokiykuttsis Hall, Sterling’s cousint who can speak Blackfeet and understands rez dogs.

In small prairie towns, sports are far more important than politics and basketball success in one’s teens can impress others for the rest of one’s life.  When very old men are buried, their success in participating in a team that stars in state competition is bound to be mentioned.  It has taken the place of war but will not get a person into the Veteran’s Administration Hospital.  But if you’re tribal, you’ve got the Indian Hospital until Trump ends it.

“by age 35 you should be so bitter about council corruption that you decide to run for council bc in the old days everyone had a chance to embezzle  Sterling again.  He’s being tactful.  There are still chances to embezzle — it’s just a little harder.  Might need a college education.

Age 35 is a cross between what 21 used to be — an indicator of adulthood, settling down, getting a job — and what 40 used to be — the point at which things are sort of over.  Lifespans are shorter on the rez — you can argue about whether it’s hereditary due to being killed in battle before it was an issue or whether it’s due to poverty.  All I know is that my first batch of students in the Sixties are dying now.  (I’m 78.)  But there are individuals with extremely long lives.

There are two preoccupations with heredity on the rez and they are contradictory.  One is that you might contribute to in-breeding which would weaken the attributes of the people.  This became a major preoccupation when human breeding was being compared to domestic animal breeding.  It became the darkest among the Nazis, who applied the ideas of culling faulty animals to humans they considered below their own standards.

The other preoccupation is the opposite: that tribal people whose enrolment membership in the tribe, entitlement to the profits and benefits might be weakened or eliminated by marrying non-Blackfeet, usually thought of as white people though they might be yellow or black.  Basing membership on heredity and provenance was a major mistake.  


These ideas assume that being “Indian” is genetic.  But the jokes exchanged by these clever young men (on the cusp of 35) point up the cultural attributes that define “Indians” or at least “Blackfeet”, which is to say Aamskaapii Piikuni.  I apologize that I’m not clever enough to use the proper diacritical marks for writing down an oral language.  ("Caddy" comes from sliding consonants from T to D.  Very common around here.  Think of "catty."  I am.)

Monday, May 21, 2018

CAN I GREET YOU BY SAYING "OKI"?

This post will be controversial in several different ways.  The first is that I’m not genetically Native American and there is a school-of-thought that only people like the subject can legitimately speak from their point of view.  So be assured that I’m not writing from the point of view of an enrolled Blackfeet/Siksika.  I'm just old and I was there.

Another attempt to control writing about NA’s is the Chamber of Commerce notion that any criticism will hurt the reputation and increase the stigma of the people written about.  This runs headlong into the idea that if a situation is truly dire, meaning people need help, and esp. if the general public has such a low consciousness of their reality, then it’s vital to publish the truth no matter how ugly, to impress the suffering on other people.  The split between these two notions gives rise to the image of NA’s as either saints or sinners, with no portrayal of the earnest and conscientious people who go through their days with honor.  These days honor is often considered boring unless it’s dramatic or even life-threatening.

Attempts to recover and bring life to ancient languages preserved only in writing go back to early Hebrew and have been evidence of the possibility since then.  But not many think this through.  The Plains Indians did not use writing in the sense of ink on paper.  Their language was spoken.  In fact, an alternative in use was “gesture language” which still persists.  We call it “sign language.”  In the Sixties when my students spoke of death they almost unconsciously made the gesture with their arm of something upright falling over.  

Under every written language is an oral language: people spoke Hebrew before it was written down.  But the natural milieu of the Siksika (their name for themselves) parallel to printing is radio and video.  Windspeaker is a radio station in Canada — not a publishing house.  If you explore YouTube, there are many videos.

A spoken language must be learned by speaking with others.  The Piegan Institute Cuts Wood Academy was founded as an immersion school for primary grades in 1987.  Darrell Kipp, Dorothy Still Smoking, Thomas Little Plume and Roslyn LaPier were at the core of the founding.  (I regret that I don’t know the names of the teachers, all Blackfeet speakers.)  They were helped by the earlier indigenous language movements in New Zealand and Hawaii.  One of the first insights was that bodies are as much involved in speaking as any sounds, so the words are taught with movements.

More than that, under the gestures are the images.  When one says “tree” in English, one imagines an English tree, so it is necessary to imagine a Siksika tree.  One cannot do such a thing without being there to see the aspen copse, the cottonwoods along the streams, the alpine twisted but persisting bull pine.  This cannot be learned from a book, no matter how subtle and complex one’s knowledge of the proper grammars and compositions of the people.  When “Dances with Wolves” was screened on the Sioux rez, the old people burst out laughing.  The woman hired to teach the actors had taught them women’s Sioux: in that tribe the people lived in gender-role separation and each developed their own versions.

Such emotional and implicating ideas are held in languages and behaviors.  The first task of the Piegan Institute people was overcoming the instilled fear of speaking their own language because the government punished them for doing it.  This past week in Havre, MT., a border patrolman challenged two women for speaking their own language.  Havre is close to a reservation and there is stigma about that.  But the two women were speaking Spanish.  They were American citizens with a Mexican background.  The patrolman was racist.  The law often is because under it is an unconsidered idea that sameness is good. ________________________________

This is from "Heartbreak Butte", a book I wrote after teaching in Heart Butte, Montana.  You can download it from Google.

THAT AIN'T ENGLISH

To get out of history, get into geography.
--James Hillman

SPEAKING COMES FROM THE HEART

At the end of the Eighties, members of the Piegan Institute did a language inventory of children ready for Head Start.  When they had screened the children for English, half a dozen were left in a category marked "non-English speakers."  Surprised that so many children had Blackfeet as a primary language, they did something no one had thought of before:  they screened the children to see how much Blackfeet they knew.  And the appalling truth was out:  the children didn't speak Blackfeet either.  

They didn't speak any accepted language, but only a kind of family-specific set of indicators for the basics:  water, food, sleep, the bathroom.  True babytalk.  The only people who really understood them were the slightly older children who had the duty of babysitting them.  This is not a circumstance peculiar to the Blackfeet or to native Americans or even to poor people.  It is something that happens whenever adults are too busy, numb, drunk, angry, depressed or otherwise "out-of-it" to pay any attention to their own children.  If the kids are lucky, the household will not be too chaotic for them to watch Sesame   Street.  Then they have a chance.

There is no way to know if there were children in the Sixties who spoke no language at all.  No one tested for Blackfeet speakers.  Some say that the children have come upon hard times because the boarding-school-educated grandmothers are gone-- already frail from old age in the Sixties.  Others say it was allowing alcohol to be sold to Indians on the reservation after the WW II veterans came back.  That was when the women began to drink.  In the Sixties I never saw a fetal alcohol child. (The Sixties was also a time when certain doctors felt entitled to sterilize Indian women with little cause and no consent.  Adopting Indian babies to white families was seen as giving the babies a chance.)  Some would point to the efforts to move Indians to the cities, where they lived in ghettoes and acquired the culture of despair.  They stopped living for the future and therefore stopped valuing children.


Human speech develops between specific ages of the child.  If the window of opportunity passes without language being learned, the brain closes down that option.  Children can be raised by wolves, but they will not speak.  They will not read.  Their culture will be the culture of wolves: eat, sleep, greet the known, fear the unknown.  This is why the early years of the children are the most crucial of all if the Blackfeet Nation-- or any other-- is to survive.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

TAKE DAVID BROOKS FOR INSTANCE

David Brooks is an interesting fellow who seems to be struggling with today’s politics, which is understandable given his background.  In 1961 he was born in Toronto to a marriage of humanities professors.  (That was the year I graduated from Northwestern University.)  Then in 1983 he graduated from the U of Chicago with a history degree, the year after I graduated — just across the quad —with a theology degree.  His thesis was on Robert Ardrey, who is patronized as a pop scientist by the Brooks wiki-bio but saluted as a major figure on Ardrey’s own bio as a playwright and anthropologist.  Brooks himself gets something like the same mixed reception from the anonymous wiki-biographers and, indeed, seems to feel that way about himself.

He’s much preoccupied with what may be the kernel of the anthropocene — that is, what is the nature of human beings?  He was uplifted in college, radicalized by working a crime beat, impacted again by William F. Buckley’s fast rich crowd, and currently called “radical conservative,” which seems pretty oxymoronic, probably due to riding the fence.  I mean, he tries so very hard to be wise and fair, but the world keeps baffling him.  He’s horrified by what happens now, but when he takes the evidence to Republicans, they don’t respond.  They don't even shrug.  Sometimes he just seems naive.

The reason I wanted to begin with him is that he is preoccupied with what he called an “education abyss” in our society.  That is, there are a lot of people who feel patronized by college grads.  The job gap seems to be the obvious cause, but it’s more than just being qualified for prosperity.  I’m not sure Brooks quite realizes that there is a change, a MAJOR CHANGE, in what truly educated people know that makes them different.  He’s still faithful to his original loyalties.

In the past decades there has been a huge jump in raw information made possible by high tech equipment and internet processing of the data that is collected.  Our understanding of the deep past — creation of stars as well as creation of our species — our sense of the universe, so much more vast and complex than just “space” — our awareness of all bodies as cells interacting and as producing “thought” — the degree to which we are unconscious and gripped by our pasts — all these ideas are new, authenticated, and challenging.  They demand a new way of understanding.

In the past a diligent and fairly smart person could get a Ph.D. — a traditional philosophy doctorate — based on precedents in its natural sequence through human history — and be a respected and authoritative person.  It didn’t have much to do with virtue, and only gave events a certain amount of accountability.  Rivalling theology, traditional philosophy searches for the essential meaning of life through reasoning, by using human consciousness in Enlightenment mode.  But the new cutting-edge philosophy challenges everything and uses the literary concept of metaphor, confirmed as the brain’s natural method, to reach whatever understanding of existence we can achieve.  We are not primary or essential. 

At present we are interested in emotion, the dislocation of mind by body, — the sharing of consciousness and bonding among people — some of it awareness that always persisted alongside the conventional assumptions of those who use Greek and Roman based Enlightenment as an index to a binary world with clear human hierarchies.  Our new knowledge about the deepest nature of everything, the co-existing multiplicity of realities, and the tragedy of our bonding with the transient — all these have changed some people.  This change is often attributed to education.  It is an abyss, a felt mystery.

The gap between rich and poor, which is not usually understood very well by either side, is less of the gap between those who know a few hundred people, share the world with them, and get along fine on those terms — and those who have accepted the necessity of a new vision both terrifying and reassuring.  Terrifying because it requires change and the unknown.  Reassuring because it embeds humans in a furor of process that doesn’t demand that individuals be obedient to some theory.  Not even the theory that existence is far too intricate and unsettled to ever really master.  The whole nutty notion that being “good” will make a person eternal goes away — a great relief.

Brooks, like many of us, is just not yet ready to make the leap.  It’s not a leap of faith but a leap of courage.  No guarantees.  I talked to a woman recently who was convinced that her low-prestige job was the result of not having a college degree.  At least she thought that learning computers, a route many take, was boring rote learning.  She was convinced that college was some kind of magic formula that would change her life, show her how to get ahead without becoming a machine or a wage slave.  

I found it very hard to describe to her what I learned at Divinity School, just across the quad where Brooks addressed history.  We were both drawing on an accumulation of writing that was full of wisdom and experience.  Maybe on my side we valued humility a little more.

Looking at video of committee hearings, it’s easy to imagine we’re seeing the reptilian dwellers in their swamp.  Reading their twitter quips, it’s easy to imagine that accurate lawyer-level grammar is one way to identify a mammal.  But these are metaphor and a bit cartoonish, not that those are bad qualities.  But there’s more.  Assuming that a college education is the entrance to a better job and a nicer lifestyle is not wrong, but it’s only an entrance, an access.  There are other ways and there is a danger of becoming preoccupied with sports and fraternities.  


The real key to full human-hood can be found in books, vids, conversation, all the humanities and sciences — even math.  But Brooks knows — indeed it’s the path to his level of understanding (which is high) that true human knowledge is based on empathy.  Even for serpents.  Because the real human knowledge is based on the interconnection of everything.  If an emaciated baby in Yemen is dying of starvation, so are we.  If a fuzzy ginger-man in England is marrying a starlet with dusky genetics, so are we.  If Hawaii is splitting open with molten rock, so are we.  Incredible!