Tuesday, February 10, 2015


I save too much internet stuff and I don’t want to stop doing it long enough to find a techie solution, like a sorting-and-labeling app.  Part of the problem is that I subscribe to atypical and absorbing feeds: the Economist, Al-Jazeera, the Guardian, Edge, Aeon, OZY, MedPage Today.   I rarely correspond with individuals, partly because they stay in compartments and I hate compartments.  I’m a cross-disciplinarian (but not a dominatrix), which is a major advantage when a lot of disciplines are collapsing or merging anyway.  This means that some people are stuck in 1950 and others, feeling they are very modern, are stuck in 2000 which was fifteen years ago.  They are often discouraged about life, because the media reporters constantly cry “danger, danger,”  because the editors and publishers want money and crying danger is one effective way to get it.

But the subject is trying to keep track of my downloads.  The one I’m looking for this morning is about the consequences of the leap in brain function that separates us from neanderthals.  I use google to search and find other wonderful things.

The First Narcissus

http://aeon.co/magazine/science/marek-kohn-neanderthals/  a  link which is illustrated with this classic and wonderful image.  I try to save images of the reconstructed neanderthals done by brothers Kohn specifically for museums.  I see a book called “The Singing Neanderthals.”  Oh, I WANT it!  Much of this is coming from brain research -- a shift from sociology or anthropology to instrument data collected inside the skull -- and much of it is coming from the gnomic post-modern thought.  In the past we made an immense social “shift” when we went from governance by power to governance by laws.  Some places or individuals have not caught up yet.

But there was another earlier big shift in brains that made that governing shift possible.  First we had to develop the cell-ability and organ-power to abstract social theories and also to intensify our ability to know what other human beings are feeling and to reflexively look at ourselves.  The main thing that changed between neanderthals and ourselves was our capacity to handle metaphor as a source of order and meaning.  Not little literary comparisons: organizing principles for life itself.

The paragraphs I saved were about the religion-defined culture wars that are destroying so much.  The idea was that right-wingers think that the metaphors they have known since childhood are real.  That is, the abstract felt meanings of the world in baby terms, like the idea that there is some big Person who can control one’s entire life -- which is true for most surviving babies -- becomes an idea they simply cannot give up.  If there is no high being called God or Jehovah or Allah, then there is no meaning to life and the whole thing collapses, so there is a desperate drive to make sure that idea is never challenged.  All theology must begin with an argument about whether there is a God.  But it matters more whether there is a human father.

A religious metaphor with intense survival-level meaning --  giving power to institutions that resort to killing -- is biologically based on competition for resources and ethically justified by seeing rivals as “Other,” as though they were another species in competition for territory.  It takes post-neanderthal sophistication to understand ecology, evolution, and emergence (mutation) with enough confidence to see that the more different peoples (or species) can specialize into related niches, the less competition there is for resources.  

My key principle is that it was not the gold rush miners who got rich, but rather the suppliers and transporters: the guys who got the groceries and equipment to the miners.  In modern terms it is not writers who are making any money, which has been true for a long time, but rather the publishers, the agents, the venues, the reviews, the promotion.  In both cases there is a near-religious belief that if a person strikes gold or writes a best-seller, they will be in paradise.  Those beliefs fuel desires so strong they can become obsessions worth any sacrifice.

Consider our current frenzy about sex and our infantile belief in return to the transcendent bliss of an embrace as though it were not a metaphor but a reality that can’t be put into words.  It’s almost impossible to get people to admit the truth of this.  They also insist on the metaphor of “money” which is not at all real, entirely invented, and infested with theological-level rules and assumptions that justify destruction.

The generator of all these passions is not conscious but part of the "animal brain" that precedes and supports both rationality and consciousness.  We have the desire first, and then justify it before we recognize it.  It’s “well-known” that rationality and ethics are “higher” orders of thought, allowing us to shape and control our “animal emotions.”  And writing, or spoken language, are assumed to be what makes us “better” than animals.   But all words are metaphors.  All written language, whether on paper or via pixels, is metaphor.  Before they can be words they are “felt meanings,” direct experience, sensory life.  

One of the short downloads I can’t find was a discussion of how our (English-writing mostly Euros) alphabet emerged from the eye of the hunter who had learned to perceive and understand tiny cues like the patterns of eyes or tails of prey.  Turn a capital A upside down and you can see the face of a deer -- if you respond to a very old metaphor.  And recognize a deer only from National Geographic vids.

In our obsession over writing we have cut ourselves off from the meanings of the senses that used to be acquired from working fields or doing child care.  In some ways we’ve made the living stories of our surroundings into mathematical constructs.  The next step -- to my mind towards thought impoverishment -- is machine-generated algorithms -- guiding one’s life according to statistical formulas.  So I go to the doctor and she gives me meds based on a predictive curve, though she has no way of knowing where I am on that curve.  Or whether there is another intersecting bell curve.

My most cherished correspondents are poets who live in dreams, images, arts of every kind.  They are renegades who make their livings by taking care of people who are irrational -- either by damage, by unique physiology from the beginning, or by social definition.  Don’t define it as “compassion” because it is not pity-based or even "love" in the romantic story of engulfing someone.  Rather it is dignified sharing of “interior” life without even defining it in words -- as equals.  

To those who need everything to conform to their life-metaphor, this work is incredibly threatening, world-crashing, overwhelming.  In short, heretical.  By their metaphorical construct, people who do not conform are animals -- of course they are!  we all are! -- and must be captured, controlled, or destroyed.  These strict judges don’t know they are acting like species defending territory against other species.  They truly believe anyone different from them is another species.  As our favorite dwarf says,  “We are under attack by many brave men who are fine warriors.  Let’s go kill them!”

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