Note: see the blog post for Monday, October 3, 2016, for an explanation of how and why this manuscript came about. If it seems dated in places, especially chapter 3, it’s because most of it was written about 10 years ago. You are welcome to copy this material, use it for any non-commercial purpose, and distribute it as widely as you want, so long as you give me author’s credit and indicate the copyright date. The chapters will be posted periodically, I hope once every week or two, but a couple of them might take a little bit longer. Thanks for reading this material; it’s my personal response to the political craziness that seems to have swept our great nation. JJJr
Explanation for IF I WERE A TERRORIST – See blog post for October 3, 2016
Foreword – See blog post for October 10, 2016
Chapter 1. Why I Wrote This Book – See blog post for October 10, 2016
Chapter 2. Evolution: The Most Effective Weapon – See blog post for October 11, 2016
Chapter 3. Women: The Most Feared of All Natural Disasters – See blog post for October 17, 2016
Chapter 4. Energy: The Achilles Heel – See blog post for October 23, 2016
Chapter 5. The Human Factor: Individuals vs. Mobs – See blog post for November 8, 2016
IF I WERE A TERRORIST
John Janovy, Jr. © 2016
1. Why I Wrote This Book
2. Evolution: The Most Effective Weapon
3. Women: The Most Feared of All Natural Disasters
4. Energy: The Achilles Heel
5. The Human Factor: The Individual vs. The Mob
6. Hero Worship: Stupidity in High Places
7. Fear: The Mother of Fundamentalism
9. American Vulnerability
10. The Ultimate Fate of the United States of America
11. Solutions and Options
I. Evolutionary Principles Summarized
II. How to study evolution
III. Sources and Resources
6. Hero Worship: Stupidity in High Places
Ordinarily he is insane, but he has lucid moments when he is only stupid.
—Heinrich Heine (commenting on an ambassador to Frankfurt, 1848)
Among the most mysterious of all phenomena is the rise to power of narcissistic simpletons. Napoleon Bonaparte is an excellent example, Adolph Hitler is another, Benito Mussolini is a third, and of course, Donald Trump, the 2016 Republican Presidential nominee (now President-elect), is a fourth, although there are undoubtedly several million people, maybe several tens of millions, in the United States alone who believe that George W. Bush is a fifth. But Hitler is the hands-down winner in this narcissistic simpleton competition because he’s one of the best known figures of history, his rise and fall are documented so extensively, and he’s the perpetrator of humankind’s most indescribable evil, at least in modern times. Accessible views into Der Fürer’s mind can be found in John Cornwell’s two books: Hitler’s Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII and Hitler’s Scientists: Science, War, and the Devil’s Pact, especially the latter, primarily because science is a strong selector against those who ignore evidence in favor of ideology. Both of these books reveal processes that not only are at work in the world today, but also probably have always been a feature of human societies, processes associated with hero worship and the power of charismatic but deeply flawed leaders. So perhaps we should ask ourselves: What were Adolph Hitler’s defining traits?
I believe the answer is very simple, almost as simple as, apparently, was Hitler’s mind, and I also believe that answer should be a warning to us all, not because we are Neo-Nazis, but because Hitler was able to reach deep into our most damaging fears and compel us to become an irrational mob—by “our” and “us” of course, I mean human beings. First of all, there is plenty of evidence the man was outright dumb (again, see Cornwell’s Hitler’s Scientists). Second, there is also ample evidence that he was quite uneducated, which, we all know, exacerbates the condition of dumbness. Third, he didn’t want to hear anything that was counter to his beliefs. This particular trait could easily be a manifestation of stupidity and ignorance, although perhaps tinged with a slight sense of self-recognition that leads to insecurity and delusion. Finally, and perhaps most important, he was a superb actor. Any one of these traits should, in any rational society, disqualify a person for public office; any two of them together are a potentially dangerous combination; and, three are a sure-fire disaster just waiting to happen, especially in a technologically powerful and self-righteous society. If you’re reading this paragraph and thinking “Donald Trump” you are probably not alone.
The combination of simplicity and acting skills is especially deadly to a modern civilized nation. The world is not simple; it is exceedingly complex and becoming more so daily. Humans in general, however, probably because of some genetic characteristic, seem to fear complexity, or at least become quite uncomfortable in the presence of complexity. Thus regardless of a few truly complex individuals in our midst, and in our history, the vast majority of us gravitate toward situations in which it is easy to make distinctions between like and dislike, approve and disapprove, good and bad. Perhaps the best illustration of this phenomenon is the political discourse in the United States during the late 20th and early 21st Century. If I were really a terrorist, I’d be working overtime to enhance the partisan hostility that has paralyzed our government since the election of Barack Obama in 2008.
I predict that if there are historians—as we currently define the term—three or four hundred years hence, they will mine the diatribes produced between January 22, 1973 (the date of Justice Blackmun’s majority opinion on Roe vs. Wade) and sometime around 2050 in an attempt to discover exactly what happened to the most militarily and economically powerful nation to have ever evolved. I also predict that most of what they’ll find will be easily placed into either of our current, highly polarized, “values” debate categories loosely labeled “liberal” and “conservative” because—I contend—the average person in the United States quickly translates these terms into good or bad, us or them, right or wrong, dumb or smart, gay or straight, friend or enemy, me and “the other,” etc.
This binary view of the world is indeed primitive and not particularly flattering to a great, sophisticated, and powerful nation, especially one that houses universities such as Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, and the University of California Berkeley. Back when we were evolving our behavioral traits and associated mental equipment—probably three to five million years ago—there was no Bach to confuse but mystify us with his fugues, no Escher to challenge our sense of cause-and-effect with his insoluble visual paradoxes, and no Einstein to transform reality into abstractions and equations that defy common sense. In the late Miocene, our primate ancestors didn’t have the luxury of arguing over whether a bear at the cave door was gay or pro-choice or maybe both; quick yes/no decisions were as essential to our survival back then as food, water, and shelter. Furthermore, we are a species with extended immaturity, so stability is also one of our basic needs, regardless of the fact that when we first evolved, stability was in short supply, like it is still for all animals that play ecological roles of both predator and prey.
Even though we’re five million years beyond the Miocene, stability is still in short supply, as is the simplicity commonly associated with it. Compounding, if not actually complementing, our frustration over instability is our concept of transcendence—a trait that is probably of genetic origin (see Dean Hamer’s The God Gene: How Faith is Hardwired into our Genes)—that inevitably leads us to see an alternate, and usually “better” (except for those we believe are going to Hell!) existence, an eternal condition and eternal purpose to our temporary Earthly existence, and a personal vision of nobility, good, and evil. Routinely, throughout history and within this transcendent context, change has been seen as undesirable if not outright evil (see Robert Hughes’ The Shock of the New). And in our Western view most of the instability and complexity are provided by people who are not Americans. But what we Americans need to remember is that not only are we a melting pot of ethnicities and were long before the US-Mexican border became a political issue, but also that we are the grand suppliers of complexity and instability for the rest of the world. Thus whatever fear we feel because of our so-called enemies, that fear is mirrored, because of our own behavior, by those people who call us their enemies.
This reciprocal fear is the reason why great actors who can paint the world in good = us/bad = them, terms, using only inflection and body language, are probably the ones we should be fearing instead of the targets these actors have chosen. Twentieth Century history contains a number of such people, most of them dangerous. Unfortunately, during the early years of the Third Millennium, the United States of America was “blessed” with one of the greatest actors of all time, George W. Bush, as President, although his acting skills were not strong enough to hide the fact that he was not particularly smart, nor was he able to use the English language with Kennedyesque ease. It’s somewhat debatable whether he’d have acquired his acting talent without the 9/11 World Trade Center attack, but that’s a moot point. Such acting skills give a President great power well beyond whatever power may accrue to him or her as a result of holding the office and having his or her finger on the big “nuc-u-lar” [= “nuclear”] trigger. On the other hand, if I were a terrorist, I would have campaigned for Bush like crazy in the 2004 election, and I would have campaigned like crazy for his closest clone in both the 2008 and 2012 Presidential elections, promoting as much fear as possible, not only of suicide dirty bombers potentially in our midst, but also of intelligent, well-educated, people, especially if they are women (see Chapter 3, again), e.g. Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Why would I be doing this seemingly incongruous behavior? Because at the time Mr. Bush was spending the nation into bankruptcy, and not only in terms of hard currency, but also in terms of the human currency so necessary to survival as a relatively free nation over the next century. The powerful Neo-Conservative movement, with its heavy-handed application of pure power—both political and military—thrives on polarization, especially when they can link the debate to fear of “the other.” That human currency we need so badly is reasoned debate, a well-informed and cunning interaction with our fellow humans instead of a brutal and polarizing one, and a statesmanlike admission that our ideological adventures have staggering costs and no clear evidence of any value to what I defined, in the first chapter, as the Great American Experiment. A few people cannot destroy the United States of America with bombs or airplanes; a very few people can easily destroy the United States with words and ideas.
History will show, as it has in several previous cases, that the fundamental Neoconservative Republican ideas are quite destructive to any powerful, complex, technology-dependent, nation. What are these ideas? They are the ones expressed by numerous writers, paraphrased here:
(1) Government is inherently bad;
(2) Trickle down economics works and money does flow from rich to poor;
(3) Science is just another view of the world;
(4) Religion trumps science;
(5) We are a good and chosen people at war with the forces of evil.
Perhaps we should examine these principles as objectively as we can, from the perspective of an intelligent, well-educated, person, but admittedly using examples to illustrate the points. The ideas are interrelated in the sense that actions intended to promote one tend to also promote another. For example, if you are a very rich conservative Republican, there is a great statistical probability that you are not very scientifically literate, that you have an unshakable belief in the trickle down theory of economics, and that you practice a powerful religion. It is a hallmark of conservative and powerful religions that texts are the word of God, and in particular a God defined by a group with which one agrees. Thus, in your mind, because God is omnipotent and omni-present, texts constitute a legitimate authority in all matters, including ones related to the natural world. Competition between texts (Koran vs. The Bible)—inanimate objects exerting enormous power through the medium of language—sets the stage for conflict that history has shown time and time again to turn violent.
Religion is most useful, and least destructive, when allowed to retain the mystery of myth for individuals. See Karen Armstrong’s writings (A Short History of Myth; The Battle for God), for an explanation of this phenomenon. Religion is least useful, and most destructive, especially to individuals, when myth and fact become indistinguishable in the minds of believers. The so-called inerrancy of Genesis as cosmology, geology, and biology is an outstanding example of this equation of myth with fact. Similarly, most conservative churches’ condemnation of homosexuality, a position supported by various Biblical characters, completely ignores all we have learned (the facts) about human biology in the last thousand years, especially that relatively modern information on sexuality. There is nothing inherently wrong with faith, transcendence, and adherence to values that promote tranquility and stability in interpersonal relations; use of religious faith as a political weapon, however, especially when done so effectively, leads inexorably toward an intolerant, vindictive, judgmental, and ultimately dangerous world. This assertion need not be supported by reference to scholarly works; the validation is in your morning newspaper and on Fox News.
Here are some illustrations of these fundamental ideas at work:
(1) Government is inherently bad:
If, in addition to being a financially stable conservative Republican, you are also owner or CEO of a relatively large, perhaps complex, business, then you encounter almost daily the regulatory arm of government, and it quickly becomes obvious that the climate created by this regulation has a negative impact on your human resource management, thus your profits. Today, regulatory compliance is indeed a burden on virtually every kind of endeavor, including non-profits, government agencies, businesses, religious organizations, and especially education. It’s not completely clear how the United States arrived at this condition, but it is easy to spread the blame among attorneys and liberals, especially liberals with environmental and humanistic agendas. But an alternative view is that for the average individual, the office and factory are now safer, more humane, and dignified places than perhaps they were fifty years ago, and certain environmental issues of obvious public health significance, e.g. lead and mercury contamination, are being addressed. Among the most burdensome of all regulatory initiatives, however, is one perpetrated by the poster kid for conservatism, none other than George W. Bush himself, namely, the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation.
Regardless of how this legislation, and its goals, might have evolved, or been in fact modified by the way states and schools deal or dealt with it, the concept is still very much alive in American education. Thus we have regular testing, Common Core and its political ramifications, and the over-arching idea that by testing students, all of them with the same instruments, we can then assess the “quality” of their schools. Remember that on these tests, there are no questions about home life, nutrition, books in the home, parental finances, etc., all of which have major impacts on the performance of students.
In its basic design, NCLB is a system lifted almost directly from conservative Christian doctrine: You are tested, uniformly, as we all are by the Supreme Being; you are expected to perform up to a high standard imposed from above; you are to be held accountable (disaggregated statistics and reporting); and, if you fail you are punished. There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that this combination of uniform testing and punishment, or the threat of punishment, is effective pedagogy, especially for a nation facing demographic upheaval. There is plenty of evidence, from throughout history, not only in education but also in social realms far removed from inner city public schools, that an intellectual environment characterized by uniformity, testing, and punishment stifles creativity, inhibits innovation, and is a wholly inadequate model for highly diverse audiences.
Furthermore, any system of testing and punishment is highly vulnerable to subversion, especially if the testing is a standardized multiple-choice academic exercise (or equivalent) carried out in the public schools, and the punishment involves something short of imprisonment or death. What NCLB has created is a system in which it is in the strong vested interests of educators and educational administrators—for once, allies against a common enemy that seeks to take one of their most precious resources: time!—to evade, by any means possible, the stipulations and consequences of NCLB. In a very large number of cases, these educators and administrators are people who have spent their professional lives dealing with problems little understood by the consumer public, problems that have served them well as a training ground for survival in a NCLB environment. If I were a terrorist, I’m be singing the praises of NCLB or its clones in every venue available to me, with particular emphasis on standardization and punishment—the hallmarks of repressive states. That’s a sure fire way to increase the ignorance and lower the creativity of a nation that desperately needs less of the former and more of the latter, especially in terms of foreign policy.
The striking number of government actions based on anti-terrorist efforts, including those resulting from application of the Patriot Act, are a second and fairly obvious example of a strongly conservative government doing things that seem, inherently, given the wording of the United States of America Constitution, bad. To quote the ACLU web site regarding the Patriot Act: “There are significant flaws in the Patriot Act, flaws that threaten your fundamental freedoms by giving the government the power to access to your medical records, tax records, information about the books you buy or borrow without probable cause, and the power to break into your home and conduct secret searches without telling you for weeks, months, or indefinitely.” Admittedly, the American Civil Liberties Union is not a completely unbiased observer of government actions, but in the opening years of the Third Millennium, ACLU sounds far more like a mainline, hard core, conservative (Government is bad) than like a subversive, anti-American, leftist group.
This exposition of phenomena that illustrate heavy-handed government actions instigated by Neo-conservative, highly religious, and ideological elected officials could go on for several pages. At the end of that exposition, the take-home message would still be: by bad, as in government is bad, elected officials can be, if not regularly are, highly selective in their characterization of government actions as bad. If I were a terrorist, I’d be picking out those actions that truly erode the American Dream and make us more vulnerable to collapse, and touting those actions as good, while at the same time condemning those actions that would truly strengthen the American human resource pool—think some kind of universal health insurance, for example—as bad, if not outright un-American and decidedly unpatriotic.
(2) Trickle-down economics works and money does flow from rich to poor:
Unfortunately, for Marxist-type critics of Neo-conservatism, there is some merit to this assertion. When money is invested, by the very wealthy, in corporate structures that provide decent employment and generate buying power then the principle is working relatively well. When corporations benefit the stakeholders—employees, suppliers, associated service personnel—instead of, or even in addition to, the shareholders then money trickles down, somewhat. On the other hand, people with money, or the skills to make money, tend to make it regardless of reasonable constraints (given that we can disagree on the definition of reasonable in this case), successful hip-hop performers being a prime example. But this principle of financial success—money accrues to those who know how to make it—applies not only to drug cartels, but to more staid occupations such as investment banking, insurance, and construction. The state of Nebraska, for example, with one of the most predatory tax structures in the nation, has neither stripped Warren Buffet (Berkshire-Hathaway) of his billions, nor run Mutual of Omaha out of business. This taxing machine has not really crippled ConAgra (although that company moved its headquarters from Omaha to Chicago), or defeated Peter Kiewit and Sons’ efforts to become one of the world’s major construction firms.
The socialist-type concerns over trickle-down economics are focused primarily on the working conditions and opportunities for those less fortunate than the upper financial 10% of our population, and particularly on the access of economically middle-tier families to amenities such as health insurance, adequate housing, effective transportation, and high quality public education. In other words, when the tax code achieves an equitable balance between progressive taxation, as in many states’ and the nation’s income tax systems, and regressive taxation, as in sales taxes, the result usually is a fairly healthy society. The political discussions, of course, focus on how progressive and how regressive a taxation system should be. I don’t have an answer to that question, but in 2016, it might be informative to compare Kansas and Minnesota in terms of economic health. Kansas is a disaster; Minnesota is doing okay; their approaches to wealth-sharing are very different.
On the other hand, when corporate power answers to shareholders instead of stakeholders, the trickle-down system is shut off and there is little or no trickle down. Instead, there is a relative torrent of buying power that flows upward (see Hedrick Smith’s Who Stole the American Dream?), the result being a constantly growing financial gap between rich and poor. That gap drives social and political unrest, especially in certain urban areas, and eventually that unrest will boil over into violence. Any elected official who does not recognize this problem and try to find a solution is unworthy of public office.
(3) Science is just another view of the world:
This view is quite remarkable, given the United States’ scientific prowess, its ready and abundant supply of truly remarkable scientific minds, its politically active (at least in Ivory Tower terms) scientists, and its extreme dependence on technology (the product of science). The explanation probably lies in the distinction between human behavioral traits described by the terms “want” and “believe” on the one hand, and “know” and “understand” on the other. Politicians, preachers, and psychologists have demonstrated repeatedly that if we want to believe something strongly enough then such desire easily converts belief into a perception of knowledge and understanding. Conversely, when knowledge and understanding are prerequisites to belief, and belief is always considered negotiable depending on knowledge and understanding then want tends to be tempered to match reality.
What I have just described is the difference between and the basis for conflict between, religion and science respectively. Behaviors driven by such distinctions—between religious and scientific thought patterns—are not particularly important when they are confined to academia or local arenas such as a small town. The two types of behavior become extremely important, however, when they are played out on an international stage with sophisticated weaponry.
If I were a terrorist hell-bent on destroying the United States I would exploit every opportunity to demean and devalue the scientific habits of mind and exalt the religious, especially in public life at high levels. Although not directed specifically at scientists, or even the scientific mind-set, Ann Coulter’s book Godless: The Church of Liberalism should be the envy of every terrorist who wants to bring this country to its knees but is afraid that blowing himself up won’t quite do the trick. I am not claiming that whatever comes to mind when we use the term “liberal” is correct, or even desirable. But if there were any way to measure the so-called liberal attributes, and analyze them statistically, I strongly suspect they would map fairly closely onto concerns for people with real problems, appreciation for the arts, tolerance of various (non-criminal) life styles, and serious questions about the value of military action as a one-size-fits-all problem-solving device.
(4) Religion trumps science.
As the popular television personality, Neil deGrasse Tyson, the “science guy,” says: “the good thing about science is that it’s true whether you believe it or not.” It’s the disbelief that makes religion a problem for any society heavily dependent on science and technology. However, even scientists can agree that religion is, or at least seems to be, a deeply embedded human trait, likely of genetic (evolutionary) origin and sustained, at least during pre-industrial times, by the need for strong leadership. If kings, dictators, and tyrants accomplish nothing else, they simplify life on Earth. Freedom complicates matters considerably for human beings, and the intellectual, social, and political freedom of the Great American Experiment complicates matters very considerably. So it’s pretty easy for a reasonably uneducated and socially insecure individual, stressed out over immigration, loss of buying power, LGBT rights, and abortion, to take refuge in religion.
Such refuge-taking does not make these people dangerous unless, of course, they become so numerous they believe they can elect people who will simplify their lives by unifying those lives around some idiotic ideology. If you need an example of this phenomenon at work, study the United States Presidential election of 2016, with a focus on Donald Trump. His simplistic rhetoric is exactly what frightened and uneducated people like to hear, and they easily translate the phrase “Make America great again!” into “Get all those Mexicans, blacks, gays, Muslims, and liberals out of my neighborhood and out of my life!” Remember that not too many decades ago you could have added “Catholics” and “Irish” to that list and been well within the majority of your neighborhood voters.
Sorry, folks, Neil deGrasse Tyson, the “science guy,” is right when he says: “the good thing about science is that it’s true whether you believe it or not.” Scientists measure and count things, including people. That’s what scientists do. They use a wide variety of techniques to make these measurements and counts in order to test hypotheses about all kinds of natural phenomena, ranging from the effectiveness of new cancer drugs, to the movement of planets around distant stars, to the acquisition of traits during human development.
So what have scientists discovered about our species Homo sapiens? The short answer is: a lot. In fact, our knowledge of humans is so vast it’s pretty much indescribable. We can summarize that vast body of knowledge in a very simple way, in a few words, and that summary can be checked for its veracity by anyone in the world with an Internet connection. Here is a brief and correct description of the human condition in 2016, and there is absolutely nothing you, or any President of the United States, can do about it:
The human population is growing exponentially against fixed planetary resources of land and water, and most of that increased population consists of people with brown and black skin, living in relative poverty. The result of this growth is movement, competition for resources, and genetic diversity. What you’re seeing on television is Obama’s fault, or the result of a liberal media. Instead, it’s a fact of life on Earth. Any minimally-educated biologist could tell you that. So Donald Trump supporters: get over it.
(5) We are a good and chosen people at war with the forces of evil.
It does not take much of an effort to find this concept, or belief, everywhere on Earth. Do a Google search for the term “ISIS” and you’ll quickly come up with