Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Chapter 5 from IF I WERE A TERRORIST

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
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
8. Distractions
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

5. The Human Factor: Individuals vs. Mobs
Let’s talk sense to the American people.
—Adlai E. Stevenson (Accepting the Democratic presidential nomination in 1952)
Humans are very smart animals that routinely act in truly dumb ways that are counter to their own vested interests. Thomas Frank’s book—What’s the Matter with Kansas?—is an easily read and devastating analysis of this phenomenon. But if you take a serious look at the really dumb behavior, you’ll see that most of it occurs when people are in groups, and especially so when relatively uneducated, simple-minded, often highly religious, and seemingly insecure men are in leadership positions. When alone, individuals usually act in much smarter and more rational ways than when they are in groups, mainly because individuals don’t always have as much power as groups, and furthermore, individuals have memory, which groups evidently do not. Finally, individuals typically have some sense of reluctance to get engaged in dangerous acts; groups—especially groups of men—seem to possess an illusion of power that overrides individual judgment when it comes to danger.
A corollary to this assertion of the difference between groups and individuals is that a truly well-educated, emotionally secure, rational, and mature king is probably better for a nation than a highly ideological, populist, and anti-intellectual elected president. If you are a terrorist, and want to accomplish your goal of destroying the United States, then you should be working overtime to make sure that mature, well-educated, and emotionally secure men and women do not rise to public office in America. You don’t have to assassinate such people; you simply have to dehumanize them somewhat by ridicule, especially if you start when they’re at an early age and can find any way to later label them as “liberal” or “socialist.”
If you’re a terrorist, you have plenty of help in this subversive endeavor aimed at neutralizing the United States’ human resources. That help comes largely in the form of social institutions that tend to promote conformity and, in the process, often enhance one’s self esteem or sense of worthiness because of membership: certain religions, athletic teams, etc. The help also comes from our pre-occupation with money—perhaps the most powerful of all homogenizing forces—although it’s fairly common knowledge that any claim for the destructive effects of such money-worship goes back at least to Biblical times, namely, to the Apostle Paul in his letter to Timothy (I Timothy, 6:10). Paul’s warning about the love of money being the root of all evil is actually a statement about this homogenizing force and he could just as easily have been talking about religion, including his own, as a means of making people behave like a mob.
It is simply a fact of life that we easily convert just about anything, including any social phenomenon, into common currency, and then can easily converse in such terms. The word “tax” for example, is sure to polarize any discussion of civic needs and responsibilities, and to do so very quickly, regardless of the really interesting relationships between people and their governments. But let’s really be honest, ladies and gentlemen: money is boring, and I do mean really boring. Indeed, money may be one of the most boring of all human constructs, although admittedly it is also one of the most useful of all technologies, one that contributed most significantly to the rapid distancing of ourselves from our lower primate relatives.
Humans differ in many ways from monkeys and apes, but possession and use of this technology called “money” is among the most distinctive and powerful of these. Money allows us not only to exchange items of value over vast distances and great lengths of time, but also to accumulate power and property far in excess of fellow primates. Money is also largely symbolic and trafficking in money is actually a highly metaphorical activity because there is very little about humans that cannot be bought or sold, including their time, talents, property, and even body parts.
Monkeys can’t do this kind of exchange, at least completely, with their currency, which is largely food. Lower primates exert power by use of their body size, coloration, emotional intensity, and age, all of which eventually disappear and cannot be saved, used to generate more, or passed on to heirs, although obviously some behaviors and physical traits are inherited. Humans, however, exert power largely by use of money, property that could be converted into currency, or legal access to other people’s money. A politician does not have to be rich in order to dabble in money; all he or she has to do is have words and ideas that make other people want to traffic in money, either through giving it up willingly, spending some that doesn’t belong to them, or saving some of their own.  
Paul’s warning to Timothy is probably based on our readily observed ability to subordinate everything tangible to its descriptive language or image, an ability most strikingly manifested in computers and digital files. Thus money was an early version of symbolic information. For example, a scrap of paper with poetry written on it is of no intrinsic value regardless of the fact that it might be of extreme value to the person who wrote the poem, although a few close friends and lovers may also greatly appreciate the item. Depending on the personality of the poet, anyone with enough money could buy it, including all rights to the use of it forever, copy that poem into an e-mail message and send it all around the world in a few seconds.
Conceivably, what originally appeared on that scrap of paper, which could easily have been a bar napkin, could be read by millions of people within an hour or two. Conceivably, those lines of verse could end up as song lyrics, recorded, and thus converted into lots of money. Many more millions of people would then hear the music and enjoy it for whatever personal reasons induced them to listen in the first place, having no clue that the sounds began as pencil marks on a bar napkin. If you think this scenario is unlikely, visit the National Country Music Hall of Fame museum in Nashville, Tennessee, and see some of those familiar platinum-record lyrics as they were first composed, often on bar napkins or whiskey-soaked cheap motel receipts, by an individual whose name you probably don’t know or care about.
But none of those millions who bought or listened to the music or read the poetry would know what it was like—mentally, emotionally, intellectually—to sit in that smoky bar, sipping a glass of wine, looking over the bare shoulder of your gorgeous girl friend at the long-haired college student, slumped in another booth scribbling something on a napkin, something that turned out to be that poem about a lost love, before dropping his head down on the table top and heaving with sobs and knocking his half-finished draught of Sam Adams onto the floor. (We’ll come back to this kid later.) Money does the same thing to our humanity that, in this example, the Internet or the recording industry has done. Both homogenize, dehumanize, and cleanse us of our individuality. Money and communication technology take away our memory, our individual emotions, often our creativity, our willingness to act in a manner counter to that endorsed by prevailing cultural influences, and our sense of shared responsibility for the natural world that supports us.
Thus we can easily consider money to be one of the major events in our cultural evolution, but there are others, too, that tend to homogenize us, building us into larger and larger clans that eventually, in turn, fracture into arguing, if not outright warring, groups devoid of rationality and memory. Communication technology is probably the defining trait of human existence in the 21st Century, so much so that we are in instant contact with people all around the globe. This contact provides an opportunity to rather easily see those who are different from us, a vision typically overladen with commentary. The real question, of course, is whether this access to other cultures, and individuals within those cultures, makes us want to communicate with them, perhaps in person, or whether it strengthens our fear and suspicion of “the other.” In this case, I contend, the speed of electronic communication strips us of an investment in the cross-cultural experience, thus enhancing our fear and suspicion. We’ve done nothing but clicked on a machine to see a Muslim mother in Syria crying over a maimed child, and something about our current national discourse suggests that both mother and child deserved their fate.
But this disconnection between money and experience—access with a click—was not always the case. For example, if you lived in Philadelphia two hundred years ago and wanted to actually see Muslims in Baghdad, for example, you’d have to undertake a long, sometimes arduous, and relatively expensive journey. You’d have spent a whole lot of your own time, energy, and resources into acquiring an experience that because of the investment would seem valuable and enriching. You’d have been convinced that your money was well spent regardless of the outcome because you’d chosen to spend it on that trip to the Middle East. Today, from Philadelphia, it takes about as much time and effort to see a Muslim halfway around the world as it takes for your TV to warm up and you to flip a channel. In other words, the ease with which you believe you acquire experience through information technology devalues the experience itself, making it vulnerable to being shaped by local cultural forces, including forces that reach deep into your natural suspicions and tap your fears for political gain.
That ease also allows cultural forces to manipulate information in an effort to influence large numbers of people, i.e., the mob. We have evolved into a species in which events and situations can easily be disconnected from their original context and put into another, perhaps totally misleading, one. On a show originally aired on March 24, 2006, for example, Bill O’Reilly, the king of conservatism in the United States, decried the secular assault on Easter, citing, to support his contention that there was indeed a secular assault on Easter, a case in which a St. Paul, Minnesota, city employee was asked by her supervisor to “remove a toy rabbit, colored eggs, and the words ‘Happy Easter,” presumably from her work station. We were not told on Mr. O’Reilly’s web site where these items were displayed, or what other city employees—including a devout but legal and law-abiding Muslim citizen whose mother might have died on Easter Sunday—may have had to look at them. We are told, however, that this truly minor and relatively trivial incident illustrated a “secular war on Easter” and “Easter under siege.” Nor did Mr. O’Reilly enter into any extended discussion of the legal and political differences between government—i.e., tax-supported—offices and private ones.
The fact that the suggestion to remove the “Happy Easter” sign was made by Tyrone Terrill, the city’s human rights director, also was completely glossed over. Today, anyone who holds the title of “human rights director” in a government agency is hyper-sensitized to details of the workplace environment. In terms of human resources, the cost of asking an employee to remove a bunny, eggs, and sign is likely to be far less than the cost of handling a complaint from an affronted employee, visitor, or, for example, a deeply religious, and powerful, Jewish politician. In a litigious society, Mr. Terrill could just as easily have been commended for wise management. Instead, O’Reilly suggests that St. Paul should be renamed “Comrade Paul” as a result of this incident, even as the nation’s conservative, evangelical, and borderline cult denominations are growing like Topsy and filling mega-churches with rapturous mobs.
If I were a terrorist I’d be working overtime to promote such organizations as Focus on the Family, the Berean Church, and Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition. Even if I were inclined to be a suicide bomber, however, I’d draw the line at acting like Fred Phelps (www.godhatesfags.com, web site still active in October, 2016); this man was so dumb he was not an effective terrorist ally, and although his descendants might be effective, they have been largely eclipsed by the 2016 presidential campaign of Donald Trump and whatever social hangover persists in this country regardless of who wins (won) the election and ascended to our nation’s highest office.
In the opening years of the 21st Century, two Americans published books whose messages have spread throughout certain segments of our society, especially those offices concerned with economic development. The two people are Thomas Friedman, a Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times columnist, and Richard Florida, currently (as of this writing) a professor at the University of Toronto. Friedman was an accomplished and well known political pundit before his book The Lexus and the Olive Tree: Understanding Globalization established him also as a legitimate futurist and theorist; his Lexus was followed by a powerful, if sobering, statement about the power of individuals, entitled The World is Flat: A Brief History of the 21st Century.
Friedman makes a strong case that a very smart and well educated young person in Bangalore, equipped with a laptop and wireless Internet access, is an economic force with which to be reckoned. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that shortly after its publication, every college and university administrator in the country seemed to be reading The World is Flat, for the message, at least of the first half of the book, is aimed directly at the soft American education system, especially higher ed. The second half of that same book is just as futuristic and just as sobering as the first half, but far more focused on the humans who do not have ready access to adequate food, shelter, safety, and education, and on these people’s potential negative contribution to global stability.
Florida’s first high impact contribution to our national discourse was entitled The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It's Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life, and it was soon followed by The Flight of the Creative Class: The New Global Competition for Talent. Florida claims that tolerant societies have economic potential not available to intolerant societies, and indeed he puts tolerance on the same level as talent and technology when it comes to economic development, innovation, and business competitiveness in a highly charged and rapidly changing world. Intolerance, Florida claims, inhibits innovation, but in the information age, innovation drives business. Florida’s critics, and there are a number, often react to his definition of “tolerance, which includes tolerance of “life style” (code for sexual orientation, particularly homosexuality), for the arts (and thus artists, often stereotyped—not without some reason—as bohemian in dress and behavior), and for ideas (always a prelude to something new, thus to something potentially disturbing of the established order).
Florida could easily point to rap music as a perfect example of his thesis, namely that in a technological age, ideas and people, not necessarily manufactured goods and natural resources, make money and change society. Clearly the first rappers were not looking to imitate either Mozart or Stephen Foster; just as clearly rap evolved from deep cultural roots within the African-American population, roots that probably extend well back into the early days of slavery. I know there is a vast literature on rap, hip hop, jazz, and other forms emanating from American black community and that written analysis of all music—its history, meanings, phraseology, tonal structure, harmonic structure, and cultural impacts, just to name a few areas—fills our major libraries, including that virtual library known as the Internet. That we can analyze and study music without necessarily playing it ourselves, is not my point. My point is that music originates with individual human beings who assemble discrete packages of sound (notes), rhythms, and often words, and that once assembled, these products are sometimes worth a great deal of money.
Creativity in science is not as obvious as in the arts, but it still functions in about the same way, although the economic and social impact is not always immediate, or immediately obvious. The academic discipline known as History of Science shows us many cases in which curiosity drives exploration and the exploration in turn is sustained by creativity. The invention of the laser is a commonly cited example. Einstein’s theoretical work, published in 1917, provided a conceptual basis for the laser by suggesting the possibility of stimulated emission of electromagnetic rays. A number of physicists from around the world followed up on this suggestion (I know, it’s too weak a word!) during the 1950s, but it was not until the 1960s that what we now know as a laser, e.g., the familiar grocery store checkout scanner, came into existence as a practical, socially and economically important, as well as militarily crucial, device. So that kid in the bar, instead of writing that poem to a lost love, could easily be thinking about some esoterical subject that will completely alter the way humans conduct business half a century from now. That’s how creativity in science works.
Mobs, in general, neither understand nor tolerate the kind of creativity displayed by that young man who’s just knocked over his draught of Sam Adams and the mob doesn’t care because it wants answers, and results, right now. The mob also acts on emotion more than rationality. There is a massive literature on this subject of group action, and none of it is particularly encouraging. Many, if not most, if not all of the noble human traits you can observe routinely in individuals—generosity, compassion, foresight, rationality, memory, creativity, love, etc.—are lost when people get mixed up in groups, and the larger the group the greater the loss. A basketball team seems to be about the largest group that’s capable of actually working together to solve a problem. When such a team loses, sometimes the reason is lack of ability, but surprisingly often is their inability to function as an individual. The group has lost its memory, creativity, and ability to learn.
Sometimes the loss of individual traits is desirable, for example in a military operation where compassion and love must be abandoned if the goal is to destroy property and kill other humans. But history is littered with excellent examples in which loss of those noble individual traits results in disaster. Nazi Germany is only the most obvious example of many, and the first that comes to mind, but in the opening years of the Third Millennium, Kansas is closer to Americans than mid-century Germany, and is just as instructive as a European horror rapidly fading from our memory. Indeed, Kansas is a superb illustration of collective stupidity, one that’s worthy of some detailed analysis.
In an action that could have been predicted by Thomas Frank (What’s the Matter with Kansas), the state elected a simple-minded ultraconservative Republican who greatly reduced taxes, assuming that with all that free money, Kansans would choose to open businesses, hire people, and generally use their personal resources to create a thriving and prosperous state. All this economic activity was supposed to generate state revenue in excess of that lost by Brownback’s tax reduction plan. Exactly the opposite happened. An April 20, 2016 editorial in the Kansas City Star concludes: “It’s clear the governor is incapable of realizing the damage he’s causing to state’s future.” The state is closing public schools early and two fine universities, traditional sources of agricultural expertise and highly skilled workers appropriate for the technological age, are looking at major budget cuts.
During the summer of 2016, the Kansas legislature responded to the state Supreme Court’s ruling that the school funding system was so inequitable as to be unconstitutional by passing a $38 million aid bill. The court had threatened to close the state’s schools without an effort to establish equitable funding. Four school districts had sued the state over funding. A New York Times online story from June, 2016, contains a quote from Mike Hayden, a former governor:
“Being a Kansas conservative used to mean paying off debt, balancing the budget and not running up bills our grandchildren would be expected to pay . . . I’m eager to see Kansas restored to those principles and the upcoming election is our first opportunity.”
In the spring of 2016, the current fiscal year Kansas budget shortfall was estimated at $228 million. To quote the Topeka Capital-Journal web site, the Brownback administration sought to solve the problem with a plan to “strike at revenue dedicated to pensions, higher education, highways and children.”
I have a sneaking suspicion that if some Islamic fundamentalist got on Twitter and declared his intent to “hurt the heart of America by taking away money for pensions, education, and highway repair in Kansas,” the reaction in Wichita would be swift, patriotic, jingoist, and disdainful. In other words, Brownback gets by with his destructive behavior because it’s his mob supporting him, not the other guy’s mob. Thomas Frank was right; Kansas has a problem; acting against self-interest is the problem; and, Kansas is not unique, it’s just a handy example. In the heart, the very geographic center, of America. If I were a terrorist, I’d be pumping whatever money I could scrape up into the political campaigns of Brownback clones, and I’d be digging deep into my creative resources to convince Americans to act, collectively, against their own self-interest, especially in the area of education. Remember what that African gentleman told me, in chapter 1:
“But in your country,” my African acquaintance continued, “the politicians want you to be concerned with what they are doing to make you happy and safe and rich, and with local problems that seem very dramatic.” By “local problems” he could easily have been talking about everything from the O. J. Simpson, Michael Jackson, Scott Peterson, and Casey Anthony trials to the disappearance of a teenage girl in Aruba, the murder of children by their mother, the Christmas murder of a child beauty queen, or a lawsuit over display of The Ten Commandments—that is, the substance, the heart and soul, of American public discourse, cable news, and, arguably, Americans’ vision of our legal and social systems.
“So you grow up ignorant of the rest of the world.” He took a sip of his vodka. “You are happy because your leaders tell that they are not going to raise your taxes,” he continued, “but your indebtedness grows daily.” He smiled. “And you are losing your economic competitiveness because you are afraid of science.” He shook his head, looked over at his wife, then turned back to me. “Why does this happen?” I couldn’t answer; I was still stuck on his “ignorant of the rest of the world.”

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