Saturday, October 28, 2017

Ego and Evolutionary Psychology

Here's something I wrote (noticed and excerpted) in April 2017.  It seems to fit quite well with the evolutionary psychology books I read in September 2017...

Now for your intellectual stimulation, I bring you this excerpt from an article in the Archdruid Report:

Ethologists had discovered well before Jung’s time that instincts in the more complex animals seem to work by way of hardwired images in the nervous system. When goslings hatch, for example, they immediately look for the nearest large moving object, which becomes Mom. Ethologist Konrad Lorenz became famous for deliberately triggering that reaction, and being instantly adopted by a small flock of goslings, who followed him dutifully around until they were grown. (He returned the favor by feeding them and teaching them to swim.) What Jung proposed, on the basis of many years of research, is that human beings also have such hardwired images, and a great deal of human behavior can be understood best by watching those images get triggered by outside stimuli.

Consider what happens when a human being falls in love. Those who have had that experience know that there’s nothing rational about it. Something above or below or outside the thinking mind gets triggered and fastens onto another person, who suddenly sprouts an alluring halo visible only to the person in love; the thinking mind gets swept away, shoved aside, or dragged along sputtering and complaining the whole way; the whole world gets repainted in rosy tints—and then, as often as not, the nonrational factor shuts off, and the former lover is left wondering what on Earth he or she was thinking—which is of course exactly the wrong question, since thinking had nothing to do with it.

This, Jung proposed, is the exact equivalent of the goslings following Konrad Lorenz down to the lake to learn how to swim. Most human beings have a similar set of reactions hardwired into their nervous systems, put there over countless generations of evolutionary time, which has evolved for the purpose of establishing the sexual pair bonds that play so important a role in human life. Exactly what triggers those reactions varies significantly from person to person, for reasons that (like most aspects of human psychology) are partly genetic, partly epigenetic, partly a matter of environment and early experience, and partly unknown. Jung called the hardwired image at the center of that reaction an archetype, and showed that it surfaces in predictable ways in dreams, fantasies, and other contexts where the deeper, nonrational levels come within reach of consciousness.

The pair bonding instinct isn’t the only one that has its distinctive archetype. There are several others. For example, there’s a mother-image and a father-image, which are usually (but not always) triggered by the people who raise an infant, and may be triggered again at various points in later life by other people. Another very powerful archetype is the image of the enemy, which Jung called the Shadow. The Shadow is everything you hate, which means in effect that it’s everything you hate about yourself—but inevitably, until a great deal of self-knowledge has been earned the hard way, that’s not apparent at all. Just as the Anima or Animus, the archetypal image of the lover, is inevitably projected onto other human beings, so is the Shadow, very often with disastrous results.

In evolutionary terms, the Shadow fills a necessary role. Confronted with a hostile enemy, human or animal, the human or not-quite-human individual who can access the ferocious irrational energies of rage and hatred is rather more likely to come through alive and victorious than the one who can only draw on the very limited strengths of the conscious thinking self. Outside such contexts, though, the Shadow is a massive and recurring problem in human affairs, because it constantly encourages us to attribute all of our own most humiliating and unwanted characteristics to the people we like least, and to blame them for the things we project onto them.

Bigotries of every kind, including the venomous class bigotries I discussed in an earlier post, show the presence of the Shadow.  We project hateful qualities onto every member of a group of people because that makes it easier for us to ignore those same qualities in ourselves. Notice that the Shadow doesn’t define its own content; it’s a dumpster that can be filled with anything that cultural pressures or personal experiences lead us to despise.

Another archetype, though, deserves our attention here, and it’s the one that the Shadow helpfully clears of unwanted content. That’s the ego, the archetype that each of us normally projects upon ourselves. In place of the loose tangle of drives and reactions each of us actually are, a complex interplay of blind pressures striving with one another and with a universe of pressures from without, the archetype of the ego portrays us to ourselves as single, unified, active, enduring, conscious beings. 

The full article is here: 

Read more »

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Evangelical Unitarian Universalism

Evangelical Unitarian Universalism

  1. There is a big overlap between religion and culture.  
  2. It's not cool to force your culture on others.
  3. Therefore, liberal religions such as Unitarian Universalism and Baha'ism have not spread to other cultures to the same degree as aggressively evangelical religions.
One religion that is not aggressively evangelical, and which has prospered, is Judaism.  In this era, at a time when other religions have long histories of forced conversions, Judaism has stopped all activity for active outreach to non-Jews who are not connected in some way with the Jewish community.  Judaism wants the world to be good and does not need the world to be Jewish.

Why do so many UU's desparately wish for people from other cultures to become UU?

Monday, July 10, 2017

Updated Take on the 2016 Election

By a narrow margin, Americans elected Donald Trump as president in 2016.  He represented a rejection of the economic status quo, and an endorsement of the old cultural status quo.  In other words, he was and is a populist Republican.

It is widely recognized that the most popular national American politician today (mid-2017) is Bernie Sanders, a populist Democrat.

To many it seems that the social fabric is disintegrating.  One of the main remaining planks of bi-partisan consensus is the need for fiscal responsibility -- i.e. balancing the budget over the long run.  Yet, as I have argued extensively elsewhere, this is an idea that needs to go.  Which populist faction will move forward by severing this thread of our remaining bipartisan consensus?

There has been extensive talk by the Republicans of moving forward with this, and it could catch the Democrats off guard.  Suppose Republicans pivoted on middle class tax cuts (e.g. payroll tax), Medicare-For-All, or some other such populist measure that would greatly improve life for the middle class.  Would Democrats oppose this on the grounds that the Republicans were violating an (yet another) unwritten rule of the bi-partisan consensus?

In addition to arguing against the desirability of fiscal prudence as conventional construed, I have repeatedly argued, and continue to believe, that a financial crash is in our near future.  If and when this happens, the populist pressure will soar.  Democrats should get in front of this and embrace economic populism sooner rather than later.  The cultural wars that Hillary's faction led will be reduced in significance.

The recent Democratic defeat in the suburbs of Atlanta is also relevant.  In this election, the Dems poured big money into the cultural (anti-Trump who is characterized as racist, misogynist, etc) as opposed to economic issues, but weren't successful.  This was a relatively prosperous suburb, and even the Dems were unsuccessful in winning by appealing to cultural and economic prudence.

I could be wrong.  The economy may continue to muddle along; people may tire of Sanders' economic populism; cautious centrism may become popular again with a youthful face such as Emmanuel Macron or Kamala Harris.  Stay tuned.

UPDATE:  The same day as I wrote this, Kate Aronoff published a similar take:  Don’t Fly Like a GA-06.  Excerpt:

One of Ossoff’s more well-circulated ads (entitled “Table”) found him sitting alone at a kitchen table, aping a line from Margaret Thatcher to bemoan how “both parties in Congress waste a lot of your money.” In the folksy imagery and call to reduce the deficit, he invoked a trope that’s been circulated for years by pollster Frank Luntz and other right-wing goons to justify painful spending cuts: if hard-working American families have to make tough choices about their finances, then why doesn’t Washington?
The line — as several economists have pointed out — is nonsense. Households do not have the power to set interest rates and print money; the US government does. But from a political perspective, the logic is even more troublingly misguided. That “fiscal responsibility” is a popular, common-sense stance widespread among voters is a prevailing myth of neoliberal economics, and one now embraced across party lines.
It also has no discernible base of support with actual voters. Beating the GOP will mean taking that message to heart, and giving voters a bold vision to support rather than status quo austerity politics and a madman to revile.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Proposed 8th Principle

Proposed 8th Principle

In Black Lives of UU Organizing Collective Urges Adoption of 8th Principle in Unitarian Universalism, members of Black Lives of UU make the case for adopting the following as an 8th principle of Unitarian Universalism:

We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote: journeying toward spiritual wholeness by working to build a diverse multicultural Beloved Community by our actions that accountably dismantle racism and other oppressions in ourselves and our institutions.

The points in favor of adopting this include the following:
  1. White supremacy practices and antiblackness in the hearts of parishioners must be rooted out of the UU community.
  2. Why would we not adopt the 8th principle, since it is a logical step toward the UUA’s thus far unfulfilled 1992 and 1997 resolutions to intentionally become a multicultural and anti-racist institution?  We need the 8th principle to bring accountability to our good intentions.

My Opinion

After reviewing the proposal and reviewing our current 7 Principles, I oppose the adoption of this additional principle, for the following reasons.

1. The principles are and should be universal and constructive.

  • The proposed 8th principle focuses on one of many types of “isms”. Racism is the paramount form of oppression for some people, but not for others.  
  • The call to accountably dismantle racism and other oppressions is more political than I believe is appropriate for a basic religious principle.  A principle should be personal and inspirational, as opposed to a call to action.
  • There is no universal understanding of white supremacy practices.  Practices must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.  The hearts of parishioners must be given even more leeway for individual history and circumstance.  Thus, we’re better off letting people wrestle with their own deeds and innermost beliefs, guided by our principles of reason, tolerance, democracy, and compassion.

2. Multiculturalism should not necessarily be an end in itself for every congregation.

  • For society at large, a multicultural perspective is critical.  Thus, the current 7 principles stress democracy, tolerance, human relations, world community, etc., with no mention of specific cultures.  The principles are the same whether everyone is of the same or different races, the same or different economic backgrounds, the same or different ethnic backgrounds, the same or different religious traditions.  We should not negatively judge a group solely on the basis of its cultural composition.
  • The UUA as an institution is not the same as the UUA congregations which affirm and promote the Principles.  It might be appropriate for the institution, at the national level, to have a somewhat unique vision with regard to multiculturalism, including hiring practices.
  • It is possible that the UUA made a mistake in focusing on race and cultural identity in 1992 and 1997.  It is good to welcome different cultures, and to encourage people of diverse backgrounds to join our religion.  However, there are good reasons why people may choose to spend their religious time with people from similar cultural backgrounds.  We can invite people of various cultures to join us, but should not necessarily be offended or overly self-critical if they choose not to.
  • Accountability with regard to a general principle such as the proposed 8th is not best achieved in this manner, in my opinion.  If our previous efforts didn’t work out, why should we expect yet another such statement to be more successful?  We do not use the Principles to hold ourselves accountable so much as to focus our thoughts on what we hold most sacred.


The Principles are very high level, inspirational ideals. Fundamental religious principles should not be conflated with specific political agendas and action items.  The path of political resistance may not be right for all people, at all times. I’ll close with these thoughts from Sophia Lyon Fahs (responsive reading #657 in our hymnal -- It Matters What We Believe), which I find beautiful and relevant.

Some beliefs are like walled gardens. They encourage exclusiveness, and the feeling of being especially privileged.
__Other beliefs are expansive and lead the way into wider and deeper sympathies.

Some beliefs are like shadows, clouding children's days with fears of unknown calamities.
__Other beliefs are like sunshine, blessing children with the warmth of happiness.

Some beliefs are divisive, separating the saved from the unsaved, friends from enemies.
__Other beliefs are bonds in a world community, where sincere differences beautify the pattern.

Some beliefs are like blinders, shutting off the power to choose one's own direction.
__Other beliefs are like gateways opening wide vistas for exploration.

Some beliefs weaken a person's selfhood. They blight the growth of resourcefulness.
__Other beliefs nurture self-confidence and enrich the feeling of personal worth.

Some beliefs are rigid, like the body of death, impotent in a changing world.

__Other beliefs are pliable, like the young sapling, ever growing with the upward thrust of life.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

NeoLiberal Democrats on the Economy

NeoLiberal Democrats on the Economy


Kevin Drum hates the term neoliberal.  Yet I find that it matches his brand of thinking very well, and is emblematic of the status quo (e.g. Hillary) wing of the Democratic Party.  This is where I come from, although I moved to the Bernie camp last year (progressive), and the two groups are having major arguments these days.
Drum has a large following at Mother Jones, and I am a regular reader of his blog, although I frequently disagree with the folks there and am something of an outsider now.  Anyway, in the last couple of days, he has made a couple of comments regarding the economy which are representative of my disagreement with Drum and his wing of the Democrats.

Financial Sector is Healthy

On a variety of measures, financial sector performance is cranking along this year at the very-healthy-but-non-bubble values of 2003.  
Sources: Employment via Bureau of Labor Statistics; stock performance via Financial Select Sector SPDR Fund via Google Finance; earnings via Yardini Research.
My instinctive reaction, based upon long standing disagreements with Drum and the consensus, is that something is wrong in an economy where stock prices grow much faster than the economy.  Drum uses "employees" as a proxy for the economy, which is probably not the best choice.  To show that stock prices are reasonable, he shows that they are in line with earnings.  I also disagree with this logic.
I hope to revisit this later, but for now I still disagree vehemently with Drum’s assertion that the financial sector is healthy.

Death of Malls

For some reason, the death of malls is suddenly an obsession of newspapers everywhere. I’m not sure why
He goes on to point out that electronic commerce growth is accelerating.  I find it odd that he questions the newsworthiness of the death of malls.  Surely this is a big deal in terms of employment, use and value of real estate, and has many societal implications.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

My Worst Nightmare

I'm not a big fan of the NY Times -- take a look at this and let me know what you think:  Lee Camp: How to Write Propaganda for the NY Times – As Demonstrated in an Article About Me

With regard to the specifics regarding Trump and the Republicans, my opinion is that they are both headed for electoral disaster.  As Leonhardt (Weak Trump, Strong Paul Ryan) and Chait (why Republicans won’t impeach Trump) make clear, Trump has abandoned many of his campaign promises to the relatively numerous working class.  Tomasky (the backlash in Kansaspoints out that the Republican Kansas legislature has just overridden Governor Brownback's veto and passed a sizeable progressive tax increase.  And today we read that Austerity is over, May tells Tories:
Theresa May is poised to bring to a close seven years of austerity after Tory MPs warned that they would refuse to vote for further cuts.
Republicans and Tories like power, and generally this is attained by cozying up to the wealthy.  But, occasionally, maintaining power requires more populist measures.  We may find ourselves confronting big-spending Republican budget busters -- my worst nightmare.  While Dems are consumed (unproductively) with Russia, Republicans may take the political high ground.

So Leonhardt's missive is encouraging in the sense that Republican legislators seem to think that passing tax cuts for the wealthy is a winning electoral strategy, and they are probably wrong in that regard.

All opinions expressed above may well be wrong (c:

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Progressive Tide About to Come In

Progressives are knocking on the door to governance in the U.K. (Corbyn), U.S. (Sanders), Spain, Italy, and France.  Trump is a last gasp for the conservatives, and the centrist social-democrats are weak everywhere (Clinton, UK Labour, French Socialists, etc.).  In my opinion, it's only matter of time before the dam breaks and change sweeps across the western world.