Friday, December 05, 2008

'What ever he attach to he be I reject.'

First of all, you read that right. Bear with me please.

"Now, more than ever, people need to take control of their economic future," counsels the blurb from the "legendary" Dr. Joseph Murphy.* Murphy is
releasing a series of six new home-study programs despite the minor complication of having been dead since 1981 (and having looked dead even when he was alive, apparently). I assume this is his estate, or whoever has rights to his materials, opportunistically trying to make a posthumous buck off the guy, Elvis-like. So maybe the "legendary" fits after all. The series kicks off with "How to Create Wealth and Success through the Power of Your Subconscious Mind." It is one of several projects now rolling into view at the leading edge of the SHAMstorm that will attempt to cash in on today's tough times. And by the way, doesn't Peter Schiff look pretty damn prescient right about now?

The Murphy press release goes on to describe him as "one of the first individuals to recognize the enormous affect [sic] that our minds have in determining whether we achieve our life goals." Which brings us to the "famous" quote that will help explain my title for this post: "What ever you attach to I am you become." (I assume that it's to be read, "Whatever you attach to 'I am' you become.") That is supposed to remind us that "what we believe in our minds will create our destiny." If all this is beginning to sound like typical LoA fare, it was. And a long time before Rhonda Byrne and producer Drew Heriot started arguing over the proceeds from The Secret.

Murphy's official bio describes him as a scholar of the I-Ching. Actually, I think ka-ching is the operative principle here.


An open letter to CNN's Campbell Brown, who, the other day, gave PA governor Ed Rendell a tongue-lashing for his (admittedly dumb-ass) remarks on Janet Napolitano's suitability for her new Obamajob:

Dear Campbell,

I am sorry that Nature gave a woman the physical sanctuary in which to cultivate new life, and the vessel that conveys that life into the world, and the delivery system for the milk with which that life is then sustained. I ask only that you consider this: Perhaps there's some larger anthropological purpose (if Nature can be said to have a "purpose") in all that specialized biological equipment you females possess. Perhaps it was even intended that women have commensurate maternal feelings anddare I say it?that women provide the primary care-giving to children. That seems to be what Nature designed into the deal. And maybe it's what kids, given their druthers, would prefer: to have Mommy at home, giving care.
And remember, if you reject the "God model" and subscribe to Darwinism, as most enlightened media types do, then you must concede the anthropological legitimacy of the basic social/gender schema we have. It's what evolved through the natural, competitive order of things, ipso facto, it's what best enhanced the viability of the species.

It is no more sexist to say that, or at least put it out there for discussion, than to note the undisputed existence of the biological equipment in the first place.


And finally for today, in the category of "That Says It All" or "Oh Please Don't Endorse Me!", we have this: Jessica Simpson loves self-help books and relies on them for much of her personal growth.

I ask you: Is there anyone you'd less like to have as a champion of your product or service, except maybe Dubya, Britney or Amy Winehouse?

* Like many gurus who (inappropriately) make formal use of the "Dr." before their names, Murphy is, or was, a PhD and divinity-school alum, not an MD. Most American professional organizations frown upon the use of "Dr." in non-medical settings, and the ethical boards of several states
including California, where Murphy livedprohibit such misleading usage. As I point out in SHAM, this is a criticism often lodged against "Dr. Laura" Schlessinger, whose only actual honorific is a PhD in human kinesiology. As I've also noted before, that makes her closer to being a gym teacher than an honest-to-goodness healthcare professional.


Elizabeth said...

Murphy's official bio describes him as a scholar of the I-Ching. Actually, I think ka-ching is the operative principle here.


As tempted as I am to comment on your Campbell Brown letter, Steve, I will bite my tongue (which requires a superhuman expenditure of will power, as you can imagine -- or not, 'cuz you don't believe in will power ;). Judging by your somewhat defiantly defensive disclaimer underneath it, you seem to expect a certain kind of response, no? :) Alas, I'm not gonna be the first one to offer it (so help me god).

But since you've done a news medley format in this post, I'd like to pitch in with the most important story of the season and, as one journalist puts it, "basically the happiest thing in the world now" -- the puppy cam. If one's lived in the cave for the past several weeks, one may have missed it -- so for that one, here it is:

Do not procrastinate -- the pups and the cam are going away this weekend -- and we'll be back in the grim and cold reality of our lives, all alone in the unfeeling Universe, with no fluff and chub or happy bark to brighten our existence full of woe and pain and unending misery and... ahem.
O-kay, I think you get my point. Go see them while they last. :)

RevRon's Rants said...

I went to one of those puppy cam sites once, but the lady said she needed my credit card before she'd let me see the puppies. And she looked an awful lot older than nineteen!

I don't think she's leaving this weekend, by the way. Says her girlfriend Heather's gonna be there to show off her puppies, as well. I sure like that there are so many dog lovers on the Interwebs!

verif: pottingo (I think that's a link to Heather's website!)

Cosmic Connie said...

Eliz, I'm sorry to hear the pupcam is going away.

And Steve, I'm not surprised about "Dr." Joseph Murphy being resurrected from the dead and spun into a new product -- and a poorly edited and designed one at that. I'm only surprised that "Dr." Joe Vitale and his buds didn't latch onto it first (a la "Pelmanism" and "Psychic Demand" and other long-lost tidbits from long-dead writers).

But you're right about the shameless SHAMmers who are exploiting the heck out of the financial crisis. Most of their ad campaigns seem to be a variation on one theme: The only way to avert the financial crisis is to (1) refuse to acknowledge that it exists (because it really doesn't, unless you believe it to exist); and (2) to keep on giving the hucksters your money.

As for the inappropriate use of "Dr.", there are laws in the state of Texas about this too. But that hasn't stopped certain holders of phony doctorates from freely using it.

[Confirmation word: heeds]


Elizabeth said...

Thank you, Connie, for sharing in our collective loss. The world will be a different, much colder place, starting this Sunday. (And I'm not even talking about Ron's b-day yet.)

Yep, Ron, thems interwebs are the awesomest things ever! Happy birthday this Sunday, full of puppies 'n all. :)

Steve Salerno said...

Connie: You make a very important point about SHAMland's reaction to the current economic crisis, which has essentially been to exhort people to wish it away. Perhaps never in the 20-plus-year evolution of today's brand of "empowered" self-help has the bright shining line between subjective and objective reality been more stark. And yet the shameless guru will be right about one thing: By continuing to pitch his head-in-the-sand denial of reality to customers who desperately need to hear such a message (now more than ever), he will indeed manage to ensure prosperity, albeit perhaps at a slightly less exalted level than he's accustomed to, for himself.

Elizabeth said...

The only way to avert the financial crisis is to (1) refuse to acknowledge that it exists (because it really doesn't, unless you believe it to exist); and (2) to keep on giving the hucksters your money.

Sounds like a plan, Connie. Don't know if you watched Barbara Walter's 10 Most Fascinating People of 2008 special and specifically her fantastic* interview with Rush Limbaugh. When asked about the recession, Rush replied, "What recession?" I think having signed that gazillion dollar contract lately may have something to do with his response here, but then I'm not sure.;)

*As in exposing the fantasy world which Rush inhabits. In that wonderful world, he is "the most lovable, gentle and delightful" man on Earth (his words, paraphrased). Oh, and his nasty jab at Hillary ("who wants to watch a woman/the woman age in front of our eyes") was his clever attempt to expose the double standard that exists in the media with respect to women. Who knew that Rush was such a feminist? But I guess in that fantasyland anything is possible.

Steve Salerno said...

Eliz, yeah, I too have been surprised by Rush's apparent eagerness to keep selling that same Golden Mic imagery, even as the American economic infrastructure crumbles a little bit more each day. I'd have thought that at some point, even Rush himself would cringe at some of the upscalery that emerges from his mouth--for unlike Sean (DMoTV) Hannity, Rush is not a stupid man. But even people at his level are hurting a little bit nowadays (as silly as it may sound to use the word "hurting" when you're talk about eight-figure incomes), and I'm surprised that he shows no inclination to give even an inch in his robust appraisals of latter-day capitalism.

I guess--like the Murphys and Vitales and such--Rush knows what his audience wants to hear, and he provides it. That's why he gets $400 million contracts.

sassy sasha said...

how can you be so right about some things and then the next day be so wrong about others!? i think you know what i'm talking about here, i swear sometimes i think you're purposely trying to piss women off! we spent centuries getting to this point, to be taken seriously and you post something like this. shame on you steve salerno!

Elizabeth said...

Rush does provide what his audience wants to hear, no question, Steve. Though there were other surprises in that interview, apart from those we've mentioned. There was also Rush's (delightful to watch) discomfort with being asked direct questions by Walters, who, although kindly disposed toward him, clearly was not buying his BS (but she did let it slide). He wiggled out of it in such a clumsy and unconvincing way. Where was that big mouth of his, huh?

Whenever I watch Rush, I get an impression that I'm seeing an insecure little boy, one of those schoolyard bullies who want to intimidate others with their name-calling, but quiver and shake when you as much as stomp your foot in front of them. (I get the same impression, btw, watching Christopher Hitchens.)

Anonymous said...

'the bright shining line between subjective and objective reality'

I am very interested in how you manage to see this bright shining line that is so clear and fixed for you and so fuzzy and moveable for the rest of us.
How do you decide where that hypothetical line is, and why do you assume that the place you draw that line is where all us poor lesser saps 'should' also draw it?
Just asking.

The verif word, btw 'poliz'

Steve Salerno said...

Anon 7:06, if you look at my post from just a few days ago, "Two Wrongs Don't Make a Wrong," you'll see that I am--myself--very skeptical of the difference between objectivity and subjectivity. I was imprecise in writing what I wrote above, and I'm glad you called me on it. What I simply meant was that there are certain things going on in the environment at certain times that only utter fools--or self-help gurus--would pretend aren't there. I'm talking more, now, about provable facts than moral or philosophical beliefs. It is a fact that the unemployment rate is skyrocketing--as are foreclosures. It is a fact that banks and investment houses are failing left and right, and that some of our major industries are in the toilet. Etc. To deny all that and pretend that everything is fine just because you say so--and to do it for the explicit purpose of hoodwinking customers-- is more the phenomenon I'm referencing in my comment above.

Elizabeth said...

Alright, Steve, I've waited 24 hours -- and I'm not the first one to respond to this part of your post (phew!). So here goes:

And remember, if you reject the "God model" and subscribe to Darwinism, as most enlightened media types do, then you must concede the anthropological legitimacy of the basic social/gender schema we have. It's what evolved through the natural, competitive order of things, ipso facto, it's what best enhanced the viability of the species.

If that's the case, Steve, then you also must concede the anthropological legitimacy of the basic fact that in addition to the reproductive equipment, women are endowed with brains and talents that go beyond the childbearing/rearing and domesticity. This unique combination creates quite a conflict and havoc in lives of those (many, if not all) women whose brains have not been overtaken by mammary glands. I would hope that, in 2008 already, we could collectively develop at least a minimum of appreciation for the difficulty this conflict, between childbearing and rearing and realization of one's talents and ambitions, brings to women's lives, but also to men's -- because, as tough as it may be to admit, men too are affected by women's choices and their resulting happiness (or lack of it). I wonder why is it so difficult to acknowledge that women indeed still face tough choices with no perfect (and sometimes no good) solutions? I think that a bit of empathy (and sympathy) would go a long way in this respect. We are in this mess together, women and men, after all.

Additionally, the situation women face now in the American society is not necessarily "what evolved through the natural, competitive order of things," one could argue. You have rabid capitalism here that encourages cut-throat competition and individual success measured in terms of material gains by any and all means. (This is a country where healthcare is a for-profit enterprise, fer cryin' out loud.) I know that when you are raised and live in it, it seems like the "natural" order of things -- but consider that it may not be so. This system creates enormous and harmful pressures on human bonds. You have a predominance of the nuclear family here, alienated from extended more distant relatives, a family with (almost as a rule) fractured relationships between spouses, and parents and children. It may not be immediately obvious, but this situation is in part the result of the cut-throat competitive individualism which defines American society. Let me just say that there is nothing "natural" about it. For someone like me, who has been exposed to a different way of life, being born and raised in a country with a completely different set of values and priorities, this whole set-up seems absurdly inhumane at times (increasingly so as I get older). Women and children are always the first victims of any negative societal changes and pressures; this society is no exception.

And last but not least: do you know what is the surest way to bring about economic and social progress (read: democracy) in any society? It's empowering women, through education and humane employment that pays decent wages, and open access to political and business opportunities. This is a true and by now tried method of bringing about positive change in a society at-large, but also in families and individual lives. Sending women back to nurseries and kitchens, especially when isolating them from social supports, as is the norm in the US (hence the high rates of postpartum depression here, among other things), does not seem to be the best way to improve lives of children and families.

(I know we've been through the pain of daycare, etc, in our discussions here. I don't want to revisit that, just say that I understand it very well; but I think there are better, though probably not perfect ways to handle this problem without resorting to a fundamentalist "woman = uterus + mammary glands" view. I simplify your point on purpose in that last sentence, Steve -- I know this is not exactly what you are saying, is it.)

OK, off my soapbox now -- and... to the kitchen to fix breakfast (LOL).

P.S. Rendell's comment was plain stupid (though not earth-shattering stupid).

Steve Salerno said...

Eliz: You may be surprised to hear that I don't necessarily disagree with any of (or at least most of) what you say here. Understand, I wasn't saying that women should revert to being (basically) domestic slaves. I was saying that domesticity is what the natural order of things may have intended for women, and in demanding a changed social role for themselves, women are "going against" the natural order of things. I mean, I love baseball, right? Love it, love it. I've often said that the day I'm forced by age to hang up my spikes will be the same day I buy a .44 magnum and insert in mouth. I love to pitch a baseball almost as much as I love to hit. Now, the human arm was not designed to pitch baseballs; it was certainly not designed to throw curveballs. In the long-term--and sometimes the short term--throwing baseballs (hard) in general, and curveballs in particular, will do irreversible damage to the human arm. That is fact. You know what? I don't care. I want to play baseball so I assume that risk.

Similarly, a lot of women don't care, today, about what Nature might have meant for them to do; they want to do what they want to do. And of course women have brains and talent and everything else! I don't think anyone would seriously argue that point. What's that got to do with anything?

Elizabeth said...

What's that got to do with anything?

Everything, Steve. And specifically, the fact that there are only 24 hours in a day and some 20-25 years of the prime (productive and reproductive) woman's life. Raising children is a 24+ hour a day occupation for at least 18 years (in reality, it never ends, though the immediate demands on time investment and personal engagement lessen, obviously). It is physically impossible to both raise children in the mother-at-home fashion and have a meaningful career. There are trade-offs there which are inevitable and painful for women, but also for everyone else involved. There is almost always some kind of a (painful) loss involved in the choice women must make. I'm just hoping for a bit of empathy. Is that too much? (asks sheepishly)

Elizabeth said...

domesticity is what the natural order of things may have intended for women, and in demanding a changed social role for themselves, women are "going against" the natural order of things

I guess it depends on how you define domesticity. Traditionally, women, in addition to caring for children, have also been responsible for "bringing home the bacon," in the form of gathering food and supplies, tending to crops, etc. -- activities that could be accomplished with the assistance of children and other family members. What's changed is that now we "tend to crops" in offices and factories, which takes us away from our families. But women still do it and are expected to do it -- and, by and large, have to do it, because of the economic pressures and simple survival necessities.

Steve Salerno said...


Elizabeth, I have tons of empathy. (I demonstrate that by using your full name here. Wink. And I'm just kidding in saying that, so please don't accuse me of being patronizing.) I don't think that people should heap expectations on other people. I don't think that men should come home and "expect" to find dinner on the table, or the house spotless, or the kids' needs all taken care of for the day so that he can enjoy some quality time with his woman. I cook and do housework (hell, I even do windows and baseboards). If I find a pile of laundry, I do it. Kathy says she enjoys cooking, but if I feel like eating when nothing has been cooked, or if she appears to be comfortable on the couch or whatever, I'll cook for myself (or both of us, if she wants to join me). It's not because I'm a "great guy"--I'm not; I have many flaws and idiosyncrasies--but it's because I never expected anyone to do anything for me, certainly not in any sense defined by so-called gender roles. I'm merely talking in this post about women getting all upset whenever men (or "traditionalist-type" women) point out what seems so obvious that I can't imagine people getting upset about it: that throughout Nature, especially among mammals, it's primarily the females who care for the cubs. And throughout human history, it's primarily the women who have cared for the kids. And it seems that Nature "meant" for it to be that way (otherwise Nature would have also given men wombs and vaginas--notwithstanding that freakish guy who keeps getting pregnant and showing up on Oprah--or would've built a parthenogenetic component into the species). And also, if a woman wants to work and leave her kids in daycare all day, because she values her own sanity more than her kids' emotional health, that's fine, too, I guess, but take responsibility for it--"I'm selfish and my own happiness means more to me than the welfare of my children"--and don't try to deny the reality of what's happening or justify what you're doing on some higher philosophical plane.

Steve Salerno said...

P.S. Let me be clear in the previous comment that I am talking about women who "choose" to work--not single mothers (though there are all sorts of other issues that come into play there) or those who suddenly are forced by circumstances to support themselves.

Elizabeth said...

(as you see, I can empathize with the best of them:) -- you do windows *and* baseboards? And cook too?!

Forgive me, but this revelation does indeed take my breath away. It'll take me some time to process this and recover. (Seriously.) Till then I shall remain speechless (hope not for long -- though perhaps you hope otherwise...:).

ps. verif word, jockin. I swear, this is too much sometimes.

Stever Robbins said...

I think trying to guess "what nature meant" is little more than a blank canvas onto which we can project our own suppositions, biases, and desires.

If you believe in Darwinism, you have no idea what evolutionary purpose (if any!) any given characteristic or trait played.

What's societal and what's evolutionary is very hard to disentangle when it comes to social behavior (as opposed to simple physical traits).

An anthropologist friend of mine was telling me that the "natural" bond between mother and child, that we in Western culture take for granted, is apparently a rather recent social belief. Three hundred years ago, it it wasn't part of the zeitgeist.

I also saw a woman named Marti Barletta at a conference several years ago present the results of organizational research showing that organizations--governments or companies--with >= 50% women in the upper management outperform their mostly-male counterparts on many different measures, including profitability and growth.

If this is true, perhaps nature intended women to run business and government, and men are inappropriately forcing themselves into this absurd "bread winner" role when they should be playing at home with the kids.

(Once the system is set up to prefer either gender, you can't examine the system to know the "natural order," since bizppl-must-be-gender-X becomes a self-reinforcing belief with hiring practices, expectation bias, etc.)

Or maybe after a certain point, mostly-women companies would start performing poorly. Maybe performance peaks around 50/50, suggesting that women and men should be about equally represented.

In any event, nature clearly (as measured by the first 89,000 years of homo sapiens existence on the planet) did not intend us to have technology, clothes, baseball (sorry, Steve), chapstick, or indoor plumbing. Yet, we have them.

Even if we knew it, what 'nature intends' doesn't matter, anyway.

Although "nature intended..." discussions can be fun and entertaining, they're useless in my mind as the basis for any further conversation. We don't take nature's intentions into account except when it suits us. My observation is that it rarely suits us. As I happily drive my car around a city for days without seeing a single non-man-placed tree or blade of grass, while belching out hydrocarbons, I just don't see where we hold "nature's intent" as relevant to our behavior or policies.

What I do see, though, is that people who use "nature's intent" as a premise to justify a policy or attitude usually seem to be doing the whole "decide on emotion/bias and justify on logic" thing. So while I ma participate in such discussions, I don't take them as seriously as some.

Steve Salerno said...

Stever: I think we can see more of what Nature "intended" by taking an atavistic approach to humankind: What did things look like back in cave-man days? Or maybe by looking at the behavior(s) of our closest genetic relatives down the primate scale (again, assuming Darwin). That strikes me as pretty much what Nature intended. I have no real agenda here. I know what I may think is best/worst for us as a culture, but that has little or nothing to do with how others live their lives. In fact, I think I'm doing just the opposite: I'm trying to separate the agenda from the (seeming) fact of it. I'll give you another example. There are few people who are more avidly gay-rights than I am. With me, it's to the extent where I don't even see how there can be a debate on the subject. At the same time, I don't think there's any question that gays are freaks, aberrations, "biological errors," as Dr. Laura famously called them. What does one thing have to do with the other? A 7-foot-9-inch guy is also a freak, as is a dog with three legs or a double-jointed Olympics phenom like Michael Phelps. That does not imply judgment; it simply posits indisputable difference from the norm. Gays are not normal. But should they be discriminated against? Why?? On what basis? Who do they hurt by wanting to marry, etc.? So if the anthropological and evolutionary thrust of Nature was for women to be home-makers--but today's women don't want to do that--hey, to each his own. Just don't get all pissy when someone who believes that you're departing from your "intended" role (again, making the large assumption that that's what Nature intended) points that out.

Eliz: See, you made a mistake again in your perception of one of the "givens." My name is actually Stephen. :)

RevRon's Rants said...

Given that it's an absolutely beautiful day here at the ranch, and that I somehow lack the capacity for seriousness this morning, I thought it only appropriate to offer this highly offensive (but non-pornographic) definition of the term "Death Wish" for your consideration. It just seemed to go with (or completely sidetrack; I don't know which) the flow of the thread! :-)

PS - Don't shoot the messenger... he knows not what he does!

Stever Robbins said...

I guess where we differ is that I don't think we have enough of a "big picture" perspective to judge what is and isn't an aberration. Put up against the 450 million years the dinosaurs survived, I look at my own estimate of the survival lifetime of the human race and sometimes think our entire race is likely just an evolutionary dead end.

With regard to things like homosexuality, there is same-gender attraction all throughout the animal kingdom. That makes it pretty natural, to me. If you think "gays are freaks," it doesn't mean
there isn't an evolutionary reason for them, only that you don't know, understand, or agree with that reason.

I look to things like group mimicry for guidance. Butterflies that on their own are so colorful they would be instantly snatched up travel in groups and mimic a local flower. At the level of individual analysis, color seems meaningless or counter-intuitive. At the level of the group and environment, it takes on a whole new meaning.

One of the grand arrogances of the 20th/21st centuries (IMHO) is this belief that we have sufficient perspective, intelligence, and information to justify forming judgments about issues around evolution, survival, and desirability of traits. I just don't buy it. The leap from "here's how evolution works" to "... therefore certain things are normal/abnormal/desirable/etc." is too far a leap for me.

Labeling anything an aberration is a statement about me and what I happen to choose to believe, not a statement about nature. Nature made gays, blue-eyed people, ADD, nerds, and jocks. Which are aberrations depends solely on your perspective.

(I guess I'm subscribing to the perspective of Rawls' Veil of Ignorance, here.)

a/good/lysstener said...

Sasha: Agreed with you the last time and again here. Email me sometime through my site ( It sounds like we share some common experiences and I'm a stranger in a strange land these days.

Steve Salerno said...

Stever: You're getting dadaistic on me. To say that we don't know what's an aberration because--in essence--the sample is always too small or too flawed in some way (or we're too close to the problem) is to say, e.g., that we don't really know if a Pap smear is positive because we just think the cells are aberrant when, in fact, they could be a variant of normal. Therefore we'll do nothing and simply wait for more evidence to come in as the years pass. That is interesting reasoning that I myself have toyed with at times, but it's not a practical prescription for living life.

I still think that when I use terms like "freak," you're inferring judgment (probably of the moral kind) when in fact none exists. Same-gender attraction is indeed common throughout the animal kingdom--and is also, when it occurs among females, the leitmotif of many low-budget porn flicks (file that under lowbrow comic relief)--but you and I both know that same-gender attraction on an absolute basis would likely rule out the perpetuation of the species. It is not "the natural way of things" in an evolutionary sense. Is it?

Elizabeth said...

My apologies, Stephen. But what do you mean that I made a mistake *again* in my perception of the givens? Hmm. What other given have I misperceived? (I shudder to think...:))

I think we can see more of what Nature "intended" by taking an atavistic approach to humankind: What did things look like back in cave-man days? Or maybe by looking at the behavior(s) of our closest genetic relatives down the primate scale (again, assuming Darwin). That strikes me as pretty much what Nature intended.

There are a couple of problems with this approach, Steve/Stephen.

First, if we were to take at face value that "what nature intended" for us was the caveman mentality -- and/or social organization -- we would, well, live in caves, club each other over a piece of meat, rape our women as a way of reproduction, and rip to shreds the offspring of the rivaling tribe.
I agree with Stever that it is pretty dicey to divine "what nature intended" in terms of our social organization and development beyond observing the basic physical characteristics.

Second, if we were to take "what nature intended" at face value, we (you) would have to admit that "nature," as referring to our cave ancestors and other primates, never intended for women to be a) *only* mothers, and b) exclusive caretakers of their offspring. In prehistoric times, females have contributed equally to the economy of the "household" (maintenance of the family/group) by engaging in other activities besides child-rearing (my previous point on tending to crops and food/supplies gathering).

And women (mothers) have never been expected to perform the exclusive child-care roles the way they are expected to do it now in the US. It literally "took a village" to raise a child. And it is still does; but we have perverted the process here by severing the ties to "the village" and appointing the mother as the exclusive source of the emotional and social care of the young. As Stever noted, this is a relatively new development, characteristic of the industrial societies. We have created this unrealistically romantic (and rather monstrous in its demands) notion of the Holy Mother who does nothing but selflessly tends to her child to the exclusion of everything else in life. But this simply ain't so, and it's never been so -- not even among other primates.

On that other, related issue -- gays as "freaks:" I hear you and I agree (or rather not totally disagree, yes, that beautiful phrase). But I'd note that being a "freak" (a three-legged duck, for instance) should not prevent anyone from obtaining equal social and legal rights, services and protections. At least in the modern human society (it may be different among ducks). And personally, I'm all and always for some-sex marriage.

Elizabeth said...

One of the grand arrogances of the 20th/21st centuries (IMHO) is this belief that we have sufficient perspective, intelligence, and information to justify forming judgments about issues around evolution, survival, and desirability of traits.

I agree, Stever. In fact, one of my major "beefs" with the discipline of evolutionary psychology is its (too frequent) dogmatism and a tendency, on the part of evol-psychologists, to use (and justify) one's emotional biases as arguments that appear scientific but are not necessarily so upon a closer inspection. Which is something you have already noted here as well.

Steve Salerno said...

...if we were to take at face value that "what nature intended" for us was the caveman mentality -- and/or social organization -- we would, well, live in caves, club each other over a piece of meat, rape our women as a way of reproduction...

Yeah, and your problems is...?


Anonymous said...

Regarding your example of a Pap smear, there is generally no absolute positive identification of what is aberrant and what is not--the trained inspector of the smear makes a judgement call which can be more or less accurate or not depending on that persons training, application, attention to detail that day--at its best its going to be an educated guess.

Having had an episode of cervical cancer, I will take that educated guess as the best on offer at the present time.

When one is faced with such a scary development as cancer it rapidly becomes clear (if one has honest medics) that all disgnoses are educated guesses.

Cancer researchers have postulated that cancer cells--which are aberrations in that they are immortal-- may in fact be evolution's finest achievement.
They have certainly achieved what man has been yearning for and signally failed to accomplish since he became aware of his own death.

That doesn't do much for me when my cancerous cells bid for immortality is the direct cause if my demise as an individual, but hey, its what nature intended and who am I to quibble with Mother Nature?

It strikes me that the 'What nature intended' argument is exactly the same as the 'What God wants argument' and none of us has sat down for a face-to-face yet with the Big Mama.

Stever Robbins said...

Actually, I'm not thinking that "freak" implies judgment. I'm thinking that "freak" implies "somehow not part of the natural order."

You're assuming that procreation is the only evolutionary function of sex. We don't know that. Strong attraction between people may also be evolutionarily useful for bonding a community (regardless of the genders thereof), and if gay people (or ADD people or autistic people or blue-eyed people) fulfill some social/community evolutionary function, then there could be other reasons for them to be there, too.

If by "freak" you simply mean, "N standard deviations from the mean in terms of how many people engage in the behavior," then we're in violent agreement.

(And let me be clear--I am only addressing the idea of humans inferring evolutionary purpose here. The civil rights issue is completely separate and I am hearing that you're not advocating discrimination or the like.)

Steve Salerno said...

It strikes me that the 'What nature intended' argument is exactly the same as the 'What God wants argument' and none of us has sat down for a face-to-face yet with the Big Mama.

Well, it may strike you that way, but I think I can make a good case for the fact that you've been improperly struck. Remember that I predicated this whole argument on the presumption of a Darwinistic, natural-selection-based view of society. (Isn't that the argument that all those oh-so-smug "intellectual elites" have been making for years? That we need to ignore religion and focus on science and evolution?) According to that argument--in essence--whatever we end up with, anthropologically, is what was manifestly the best adaptation to ensure ongoing viability of the species. That's why we learned to walk upright and eventually ended up with shorter thumbs. So if you're a Darwinist--as opposed to embracing the Creationist view of life--you pretty much have to subscribe to the belief that what we see around us, biologically, is what Nature "wanted." (I put quotes there because obviously Nature doesn't "want" anything; however, the Darwinist argument is that the "best adaptation" wins out. Which is essentially the same thing as saying, "It's what Mother Nature wanted."

Secondly, how can you compare a realm in which we are literally SURROUNDED BY thousands of years of empiricism with a realm--religion--where there's almost nothing tangible to go on? No, nobody has sat down with The Big Fella. But science has been analyzing man and biology and the workings of the body for almost as long as man has existed. There is no comparison.

Steve Salerno said...

Stever: I don't think we're as far apart as it sometimes might sound based on the reading of individual sentences/arguments. My overall thesis (and this is the same thesis that gets me into so much hot water with folks like, say, RevRon, who argue for a more "mediated, balanced" view of life) is that once you open the door to the idea that X is normal--simply because X exists--then everything is normal. I don't think that's true. If we're going to have a concept of normalcy, it should refer to the norm. Ya think?

Once, in a gay bar*, I proposed that if homosexuality is not aberrant behavior, then neither is bestiality. Or, for that matter, pedophilia, which in fact is fairly common. It didn't go over very well, because people reacted emotionally to the comparison. There was no judgment intended. At all. (If you take a deterministic view of life, which I do, then there's really no intellectual judgment of anything. Of course there will be times when we react viscerally, because we're human and weak in that manner. That doesn't legitimize the visceral reaction.)

My philosophical beliefs (as well as my hatred of the corrupting effect of political correctness on rational thought) are totally separate from my feelings on civil rights and have no bearing on my interactions with people. As I think you intuit, Stever.

* I was there with my female love interest at the time and her gay brother, just FYI.

RevRon's Rants said...

"once you open the door to the idea that X is normal--simply because X exists--then everything is normal..."

Here's where I think we differ most, Steve. *normal* doesn't really even exist. It is a subjective assessment, based upon the majority element in a statistical model.
"Normal" to me is what I can understand and relate to. Might well be something else entirely to you.

Furthermore, equating homosexuality with bestiality or pedophilia isn't valid, since both of these have significant potential for harming the participants. The practice of bestiality is what brought about human syphilis and - it is theorized - HIV/AIDS. Pedophilia inflicts some pretty severe emotional scars on the child, and contributes to further obsession in the adult. Homosexuality, on the other hand, does not pose any inherent risk to the participants, so long as both are willing and mentally/physically sound*.

Perhaps we would do well to look more closely at our need to ascribe or deny the label of normalcy to a given behavior. As a teenager, I thought it was my *duty* to "roll queers." That "duty" was in reality nothing more than a peer-induced need to dissociate myself from homosexuals, in order to proclaim my own masculinity. My own behavior was far more abhorrent and "abnormal" than the sexual antics of my targets, yet was condoned - even encouraged - by societal standards of the time. Fortunately, I outgrew at least that aspect of my violent nature before I seriously injured anyone. I have no doubt, however, that my behavior and that of my peers left some emotional scars on a number of people, myself included. Mine have healed, and I'd like to think others have, as well.

Steve Salerno said...

I beg to differ, Ron. Consequences are irrelevant in reckoning "normalcy." Pedophile = gay man = 6-foot-8 guy = rooftop sniper = the world's greatest good Samaritan. Both Einstein and Manson were equally abnormal.

RevRon's Rants said...

Beg away, Steve! "Normal" is a purely subjective qualification, based upon majority characteristics. Sure, Manson and Einstein were both "abnormal," because they didn't fall within a specific, narrow spectrum of humanity. Just between you & I, however, *nobody* truly fits within that spectrum. Each and every human deviates from any standard one can assign to "normality." Where we get into trouble, however, is when we assign judgment to traits, independent of behaviors. Behavior can and should be regulated by societal standards, but only so far as deviation from those standards poses the threat of harm, either to individuals or to society as a whole. Individual desires, no matter how idiosyncratic, do not warrant our response or even our judgment, so long as destructive desires are not acted upon. Assigning judgment to another person when there is no evidence or immediate danger of behavior that warrants control is an act borne of prejudice. We do it simply to make ourselves feel more virtuous. At least, that's how I see it.

Elizabeth said...

Consequences are irrelevant in reckoning "normalcy."

Wait, Steve -- are you saying then that there is no difference between, say, Einstein and a deeply mentally challenged man who cannot make a single sentence and feed himself? Both are significantly away from the mean, possibly by the same number of standard deviations in the opposite directions, yet this statistical (and abstract) description is the only thing they have in common (apart from belonging to the same species). Isn't it a bit radical to state that there is no difference between them, that both are equally abnormal (whatever *equally abnormal* may mean here to begin with)?

Elizabeth said...

It didn't go over very well, because people reacted emotionally to the comparison. There was no judgment intended.

(If you take a deterministic view of life, which I do, then there's really no intellectual judgment of anything. Of course there will be times when we react viscerally, because we're human and weak in that manner. That doesn't legitimize the visceral reaction.)

Steve, you make it sound as if emotional reactions were inferior to a dispassionate intellectual judgment, or, in the above example, a lack of judgment altogether. Is that correct?

If it is, then I would beg to differ. We humans do react with emotions and form moral judgments (based on those emotional reactions, in a large measure) for excellent survival, as well as other, reasons.

Do you indeed believe that there is no difference between actions of a pedophile and those of a consensual gay couple?

If so, I would like to invite you to look into experiences of people who were sexually abused as children.

Following your reasoning (if I read it correctly), they are reacting "viscerally" -- and thus erroneously -- to the trauma of their abuse. Is that what you would say? That they are "weak" and their trauma is not legitimate (since it is a "visceral" reaction)?

Furthermore, do any of our emotional responses have any legitimacy in your POV (if I interpret it correctly)? Say, love, grief, joy, sadness -- all illegitimate?

OK, am I following your reasoning correctly, or am I missing your point(s) altogether and got lost in deep woods now?

Elizabeth said...

BTW, see what Arianna Huffington had to say about Rendell's comment:

This morning on the CBS Early Show I was asked about Ed Rendell's off-mic assessment that Janet Napolitano is a "perfect" choice for Homeland Security Secretary because she has "no life," "no family" and "can devote, literally, 19-20 hours a day" to the job. Did I think his comment was sexist?

I didn't. But I do think it is emblematic of a pervasive misperception in America: the idea that to be a success you have to drive yourself into the ground, and that making work the be-all and end-all of your life is a good thing.

Full text:

Anonymous said...

Anyone who has made a close study of any natural phenomena will understand that every manifestation of nature differs from the next in some subtle way or very obvious distinction.

Nature does not replicate, ever. Nature also does not label or judge or categorise or attempt any proofs--it is all 'good' in so far as anything that has existence is simply there and requires no explanation.

The tiniest speck of dirt is an aberration compared to the the pile of specks heaped on your shovel. When you look at each individual speck that collectively make up the pile you will find that each speck is an aberration.

The concept of the norm, or normal is a subjective human imposition used in an attempt to bring the uncontrollable under control of the limited capacities of human thinking. Show me this mythical 'normal' human.

The fact that out thinking capacities are limited and our POV forever constrained by subjectivity, can lead to humility in the face of the vastness of what we do not know about natural phenomena in those with any intellectual integrity.

Insisting that we know something for certain when we clearly do not says more about our own fears and insecurities than about the object of our scrutiny.

Steve Salerno said...

Wow. Where to begin. And I doubt that I can do justice to these questions--in a blog comment!--in a way that won't raise 514 additional questions. But I'll try.

Eliz: I think it's the overlay of "value" that's creating the problem here in terms of my use of the word "normal." If both people are x-number of standard deviations away from the mean, yes, they are both equally abnormal. And since Einstein didn't choose to be Einstein any more than Manson chose to be Manson, they are both equally abnormal and equally good or bad, in a deterministic sense. (Is a tree "bad" for falling during a hurricane and killing a pregnant woman? Maybe the event is bad...but is the tree?)

Emotional reactions are, I think, a poor way of arriving at Truth, or anything close to it. They too were determined and are part of life and living, but they are not "valid" in a scientific sense. Look at it this way: Most of us, when we marry, are grateful for having found our "soul-mate." That is an emotional reaction and it makes life feel better for us. But with 6 billion people on earth, what are the odds that we just happened to find "the one"? In fact--though I haven't thought this through, so don't hold me to it--the odds would seem to tell us that we probably end up marrying someone who's not anywhere near the upper quartile of the mates who are best for us....

As for your question about gay/pedophiles, I'm not sure the "consensual" part has anything to do with it. Normal is normal. Abnormal is abnormal. And we shouldn't bring emotional words like "weak" into this discussion. If someone killed my beautiful, precious granddaughter, who is 10 today, I would be filled with homidical rage and want the person to suffer and probably die for it. The fact that there is no justification for that feeling on my part--in a deterministic sense--has nothing to do with my being human and feeling it, especially since the feeling itself was predetermined. (I know, it sounds like a paradox, but it really isn't.)

Anon: Where do the fears and insecurities come into this? Sheesh. Are you telling me that if woman who was 7-foot-9 walked into the room, you wouldn't react with a startle? Now why do you do that? Because it's abnormal! You know it, I know it. It's not what the usual person is. Maybe we have no scientific basis for that reaction in that moment, but we could find one easily enough, and that scientific database would tell us, say, that the "average" woman is 5-foot-4 (even though we may not be able to find a single woman being who is precisely 5-4), and that this 7-foot-9-inch woman is therefore quite abnormal. Again I say, there is no value judgment attached. Just as there is no value judgment attached to saying that gay people or pedophiles or Ken Jennings (the guy who lasted on Jeopardy for, like, a year) or Olympic champions are all abnormal. Maybe we're all abnormal in some limited sense. But don't tell me there's no such thing as "normal" or "average," because there is, and in fact the recognition of that concept is as necessary to living one's life in a successful manner as anything else.

Steve Salerno said...

Also, Anon, I realize that you were just using the phrase "it's all good" idiomatically, but in the context of this discussion I think it should be pointed out that, to Nature, it's not all good. Or all bad. It

Elizabeth said...

Steve, before we go on -- if we go on, that is, because I think this just could be another of those unresolvable discussions on somewhat abstract matters where one grows confuseder and confuseder trying to comprehend the incomprehensible (i.e. the other one's POV:) -- I gotta point out something (confusing).

You say:

And we shouldn't bring emotional words like "weak" into this discussion.

Okay... But you are the one who brought it up, no?


Of course there will be times when we react viscerally, because we're human and weak in that manner. That doesn't legitimize the visceral reaction.

RevRon's Rants said...

Steve, I can see your perspective, from a "deterministic" viewpoint. However, to ascribe no greater degree of volition to a Manson than to a tree is, in my admittedly non-deterministic worldview, absurd. Such an assertion completely negates the concept of personal responsibility. Why even pretend to be responsible for our behavior if our actions are written in stone before we even approach the situation?

Yeah, we've played this game of tennis a few times already. You might even posit that it's just "predetermined" that one of us is gonna fall on the "wrong" side of the argument. :-)

Elizabeth said...

I happen to agree with Ron, Steve. Comparing a falling tree to actions of a human being is puzzling to me -- and yes, I too get your impersonally deterministic viewpoint here, at least I think I do.

But see, with all due respect, using that perspective to assess human matters misses the point -- and the truth of the human matters.

A tree is not a sentient being able to form an intent and carry this intent to fruition through its actions. Human beings, on other hand, do both -- form a deliberate intent and act consciously, thus, one would assume, responsibly.

And that soul-mate example -- yes, again, in that impersonally deterministic truth it just may be that our soul-mate is not even in the upper 25% of all of our most compatible companions in the whole world. But it does not matter, at all. What does matter, however -- and the only thing that truly matters -- is what we feel, that visceral emotional truth that you discount here (if I'm not mistaken) as illegitimate or somewhat unimportant in the so-called "large scale of things."

My distilled point: this "large scale of things," i.e. the kind of philosophical impersonal determinism you postulate here, is an interesting thought experiment, but it is irrelevant in our human scale of things, in our personal approach to life, which is, rightly so, based on emotions and values more than on an intellectual analysis.

The problem is, however (as I see it), that we, as the human society, are largely illiterate on the subject of both emotions and values and the role they play in our lives. As a result, we tend to get confused by them and/or dismiss them as inferior or irrelevant. IMO. (Granted, the subject can be confusing, but it is profoundly relevant. IMO again.)

Alright, that's enough of soapbox action for one cold Sunday. Time to face the tangible -- and fix something to eat for the family. (Though, wait, in that deterministic POV does it really matter if they eat...? Or if I fix the meal for them? Hm. Good questions, eh? Maybe I will come around to appreciate the "large scale of things" after all... ;)

P.S. Kidding there, at the end. :)

Steve Salerno said...

Eliz (et al), I don't understand why the tree/person analogy seems so farfetched. If you believe--as I basically do--that every single thought, feeling, impulse, etc. is totally inevitable based on a prior thought, feeling, impulse etc., then we have no more control over what we say and do than a tree does. If the wind blows hard enough, the tree falls. If the rage builds high enough, the person kills. If the right nutrients are in the soil, the tree flowers. If the right combination of factors develop between two people, love (inevitably/inexorably) flowers.

Just this morning as I left my house I saw a Hershey wrapper blow across my lawn, and I thought: That wrapper has been on its journey to that spot on my lawn since long before the earth existed. I truly believe that. You don't have to agree with me. Most people won't. But please try to recognize the legitimacy of my argument for me. OK? Personally I don't understand how anyone can believe in free will or choice. So we're even. ;)

Elizabeth said...

You don't have to agree with me. Most people won't. But please try to recognize the legitimacy of my argument for me. OK?

OK. :)

Elizabeth said...

P.S. That is, as soon as I understand your POV, Stephen. Because I'm not sure I do. (That's not a judgment on my part, BTW, it is a genuine admission of my difficulty to comprehend your deterministic thinking, on both intellectual and emotional levels. It literally boggles my mind -- and, again, please do not read judgment into it, as there isn't any. I'm just perplexed and grasping, is what I'm doing here.)

Steve Salerno said...



OK. If your computer crashes, is it your computer's fault? You recognize that what happened was annoying but inevitable: that it happened in the software, or maybe some external influence (like a short/power surge), or the introduction of a virus, or some such; you recognize that the interplay of such variables caused the computer to crash. There was no volition involved. That's what I believe happens with people. What's so hard to follow? We're computers with skin. We do what the programming tells us to. We have conscious thoughts, and those conscious thoughts (which are also fully predetermined) may or may not have anything to do with our actual actions. In restaurants, we order items that we enjoy eating, because we enjoy eating those items. That is not a choice. You're not (voluntarily) going to do something you hate doing, and you don't choose what you love or hate. It just "is." You're not going to suddenly, for no reason, pick up a hatchet and kill someone you love. Are you? Do people ever do random things? Or is everything we do the byproduct of something else? I believe the latter.

Steve Salerno said...

P.S. And if you do pick up a hatchet and kill someone you love, it's because an aneurysm burst, or you just went nuts for some biochemical reason that was already in the works, or maybe a tumor kicked in (as with Charles Whitman, the guy who climbed that tower in Texas and started shooting people, and was later found to have a brain tumor). Do people ever do anything for no reason? No. There's always a cause. And if there's a cause, there's no choice.

Elizabeth said...

Steve, I cannot comprehend your deterministic POV, but it's not for your lack of trying to explain it. I follow your words here and their logical progression (I think), but the argument could as well be made in a foreign language and no matter how many times you repeat it, I would not get it (yet?). At best, I can see this kind of determinism as a type of behavioristic stimulus-response approach to our functioning, an approach that dismisses the reality of human consciousness and conscious intent (which, I gather, is probably not the most adequate representation of your POV -- or perhaps not even close to it).

I have to admit -- and I am perplexed to even acknowledge it -- that this kind of thinking is alien to me. Read: incomprehensible foreign language alien, and *not* abhorrent alien. (As if I started to type in the Polish here and expected you to understand my thoughts, that kind of alien.)

To put it simply, I don't get it (no judgment whatsoever -- just utmost puzzlement). Which, as far as I get it, is not my fault, correct? Because I was pre-determined/pre-programmed not to get it -- is that right? I'm 99% serious in asking this.

On a related note (and we've noted it before already), it is very clear to me that determinism vs. free will discussions, just like atheism vs. religious belief ones, belong in that endlessly unsolvable (and perhaps mutually incomprehensible) category. Strange creatures we are, LOL...

Steve Salerno said...

I have to say, I'm always amazed by the level of non-belief in deterministic thought. Look at it this way: You accidentally hit your thumb with a hammer, you're going to flinch, swell and probably curse. Why is it so hard to conceive of a view of human nature wherein the same thing is constantly going on inside you (albeit in far more complex fashion, with multiple hammers and thumbs)? Stimulus and response, all day long, event after event, "decision" after "decision."

Elizabeth said...

Are you amazed the same way at the human propensity to believe in the intangible (God) or downright absurd?

Steve Salerno said...

Yes. And I have a feeling they proceed from the same cause: the need to ennoble life somehow, to find comfort and, especially, larger meaning in pursuits that have none.

Elizabeth said...

But "they" would include you too, Steve, since you have admitted to a belief in God, despite your intellectual objections.

My point is that perhaps this human belief in the illusory free will (or, in your words, a non-belief in deterministic thought) may just be less amazing (and more acceptable?) if you can use your belief in God as a comparison.

And I have a feeling they proceed from the same cause: the need to ennoble life somehow, to find comfort and, especially, larger meaning in pursuits that have none.

I would agree, with the exception of "pursuits that have none" (meaning). Because, again, in our human scale of things (hold that impatient frown) we imbue many different pursuits with meaning -- and because of this, they become meaningful. Yes, in 100,000,000 years, they will not matter one bit, but within the limited span of our earthly existence they do indeed matter -- a lot.

Love is a good example: it may be meaningless in the "large scale of things" (and it does not possess a tangible form as such), yet it is felt and real and vital to us, and quite meaningful -- so much so that we are willing to change, or even risk our physical lives in order to give and receive it. In addition, the person we love may not be "lovable" in any objective sense -- and others may indeed react very differently to him/her -- but the fact that we love him/her makes him/her love-worthy and lovable. And loved. :)

So there is quite a bit of meaning in our pursuits, even though not only they will not matter 100,000,000 years from now, they already may appear ridiculous and pointless to those who do not experience their meaning. But, so what? :)

RevRon's Rants said...

Steve, I understand the logic behind your adherence to determinism as a (the) fundamental element of existence. I just don't buy it.

You've stated that you believe in a higher being (a God). The core question I'd ask is, what kind of an a**hole would create beings, have them acquire consciousness, yet deny them free will. Talk about jerking humanity's collective shain!

I would assume that you have allowed your children to make choices, even some that you might not have felt were in their best interests. Would the deity in which you believe be any less generous to its progeny? Or would that deity demand absolute acquiescence to "His" Holy Plan? Perhaps it's a recovering Catholic thing, or at least a recovering religious thing. But we obviously aren't going to agree, beyond "wimping out" and agreeing to disagree. :-)

Anonymous said...

Elizabeth, you're missing the point. Predestiny encompasses everything, every last thing, including for example your own belief that it doesn't exist, which you were, of course, hardwired to believe. Predestiny encompasses thoughts and feelings that are totally incompatible with predestiny. If America someday votes on whether to reject the idea of predestiny and never speak its name again, that very act will have been predestined. There is no escape.

Meaning is a human concept. As Anon 6:33AM suggests, the human search for meaning is itself a product of predestiny but does not negate the validity of the base concept, even if that search ends up in a place that contradicts predestiny.

Steve Salerno said...

I am busy and somewhat unwell tonight, so I'm going to wait and see if anyone else leaps to my defense. I do plan to come back to this. I think the Anon who just posted makes my point rather well, however. My belief in God is an artifact produced by my evident need to believe in God. (And I've often said that I believe in God while at the same time knowing, or at least strongly suspecting, that I'm wrong.) It has nothing to do Truth or validity. It just has to do with my "software."

RevRon's Rants said...

"Predestiny encompasses everything, every last thing, including for example your own belief that it doesn't exist, which you were, of course, hardwired to believe.

And it would be equally valid to state that humans have the freedom of will which allows them to embrace even the most ludicrous of notions... such as absolute predestiny. :-)

The key word here is "embrace." We each embrace concepts that fit logically within the framework of our personal perspective. A concept that fits quite nicely in one person's framework may well seem absolutely nonsensical in another's. No amount of argument is likely to inspire anyone to abandon their logic structure. Steve may well continue to believe in determinism for the rest of his life. I may well continue to embrace the existence of free will for the rest of mine. I can't say Steve's (or your) perspective is wrong; only that it is wrong *to me.* It would seem that a mutual agreement along those lines would be the only sensible solution to the "argument," unless there is some compelling need on either side to claim possession of absolute Truth. In that case, the "need" is probably a more worthy topic for analysis than the underlying conflict in principles. Just a thought...

RevRon's Rants said...

"It has nothing to do Truth or validity. It just has to do with my "software."

Yet if determinism is real, there is no software. It's all hardware. Even individual, independent thought would be nothing but illusion. To me, that crosses into the land of nihilism.

Methinks you read one too many issues of "Despair" Comix in college! :-)

Steve Salerno said...

Ron, first of all, there's no need to be patronizing, and secondly, there's no need to associate determinism with despair. Happy events can be (and are) predetermined too. Also, I couldn't help notice your use of the phrase "that fits quite nicely in one person's framework" in describing belief systems and the adherence to same. See, that's part of my point. Your "framework" is one of many elements that circumscribes possibility. It doesn't open up a world of choice; it limits it. It is because of your "framework" that, among other things, you can't be open to the idea of determinism. (Just as my framework prevents me from embracing your notions.) I'll say it again: If you detest vanilla ice cream (as I do) you're not going to "choose" it at the ice-cream stand. That's not a choice. It's the absence of choice.

RevRon's Rants said...

"Ron, first of all, there's no need to be patronizing,"

Aw, c'mon, Steve. It's one of the things I do best! :-)

Actually, I wasn't trying to be patronizing - just trying to point out that East is East and West is West...

"and secondly, there's no need to associate determinism with despair."

To one who believes that we have free will, the notion of a completely predetermined existence is so illogical that it does equate with nihilism and thus, despair.

"It is because of your "framework" that, among other things, you can't be open to the idea of determinism. (Just as my framework prevents me from embracing your notions.)"

And *that* is why I believe the only resolution to this argument is for *both* of us to acknowledge that the other viewpoint, while apparently valid for someone else, doesn't stand up to our individual logical processes. The implication that such an unwillingness to accept the other's viewpoint is the product of a flaw in logic is both counterproductive and condescending, and speaks to that need to claim the mantel of Truth. So... I'll see your condescension and raise you two patronizings! :-)

Elizabeth said...

if anyone else leaps to my defense

Steve (et al), I would hope we can have an exchange of ideas without attacking each other and/or creating a need for "defense." This is one of those deeply personal topics that, like religion, engages us intensely. So I would genuinely hope (please!) that we dispense with the offense/defense mode of discourse (as much as it is possible in what, after all, is a polemic).

Ultimately, following Ron's suggestion, we may have to agree to disagree in the best meaning of the phrase, accepting each other's POV as is. There is, most likely, no common ground here, as it often is the case in discussions about our beliefs. But at least we can talk about them.

Anon, you are totally right. I agree, I miss the point. (I'm also missing a whole bunch of other things, but that is not the point.;))

P.S. Sorry about that last sentence, I couldn't resist. English as a second language is so much fun sometimes. :)

Elizabeth said...

Hey, Steve, this should interest you:

How they shot "The Godfather"

Hope you're feeling better.

Sarsabu said...

Therefore this comment was inevitable?!

Steve Salerno said...


Look at it this way: A dozen years ago--when you and I had no knowledge of the other's existence, and I hadn't yet even gotten the germ of the idea for SHAM--our paths were destined to cross at this precise moment in time. Ain't that wild? When I think about that stuff too much, I get chills. Then again, it could be that my house is so poorly insulated.

Sarsabu said...

I suppose the fun in the deterministic system is that one knows not what will happen next. Other than that it would be hard not to just give up. TG life is full of surprises good and bad and in between.

RevRon's Rants said...

I can't help but wonder whether the Grand Puppeteer Himself must get bored, knowing the precise moment the strings will be pulled, how sharply the pulls will be, and the exact reaction of all the little puppets.

I'd think it more amusing (at the very least) to just let go the strings and see what the little Pinnochios would do. Even the GPH deserves a bit of entertainment from his toys. :-)

verif: wisdon!

Elizabeth said...

Then again, it could be that my house is so poorly insulated.

Which, you would argue, has been inevitable as well. (And Kathy, I imagine, would disagree.;)

On a completely unrelated note, the CEO of Merill Lynch, John Thain, who has been described by people who know him as a man with "no remorse and no empathy" (, demands his 10 mil bonus this year:

Who said that recession can't be fun?

Elizabeth said...

Going back to the fun part of fundamentalist determinism ;):

Steve, does the concept of predestiny imply the presence of a guiding hand in human (and other) affairs?

If so (and if there are no accidents in life), would you say that the phrase "everything happens for a reason" has merit after all?

Still trying to wrap my mind around it, so be patient, please.

Elizabeth said...

But Ron, who's pulling the Grand Puppeteer's strings?

Sarsabu said...

Maybe The Man (or Woman) Above just had to push the ON button and is having a great time watching the whole process develop. A hands off approach. So there is freedom in the system per say. What determined the precise moment of hitting the switch I wonder?

Steve Salerno said...

OK, people, while you're all having great fun with this... In fact, the concept of mechanistic determinism, which is the school of thought to which I happen to subscribe, does not conceive of any "puppet-master" or "guiding presence" or what-have-you. Life's slow lurch forward is a function simply of the interaction of all things. Look at it this way: Suppose you had a giant vat of some substrate or whatever, and you poured a whole bunch of differing solid ingredients into that vat. Now, you have no way of knowing in advance where those ingredients are going to end up. You can't, as the observer, predict it. But those elements have a very specific destiny, based on their respective sizes, weights, the position they were in when they landed in the base material, the amount of contact between them as they landed, etc. Their fate is fixed; they are going to end up in a very precise location in that vat. Or some may dissolve. In any case, that's what I believe is happening inside us all the time: the interaction of all forces + the forces that act on us from without. It has nothing to do with any puppet-master or God-being or any such thing. It's a purely mechanical/biochemical process.

And I ask again: WHY WOULD THAT MAKE ANYONE SAD or WANT TO GIVE UP?? What does it change?

The weakness of this conception of life is clear: Who created the substrate and the materials in the first place? But that's no more an obstacle for determinism than it is for any other way of looking at life. We must all struggle with that great mystery of Origin.

Anonymous said...

'And I ask again: WHY WOULD THAT MAKE ANYONE SAD or WANT TO GIVE UP?? What does it change?'

I don't see that it does.
We might mourn the loss of the concept of the guiding hand of 'god' or of a benificent mother nature but that is similar to what we go through growing up and away from our parents control and guidance.
We trade that parental control for a measure of freedom--but the catch is that we are now responsible for our mistakes--we need to understand causation and the 'real-life' consequences of our actions.
Your concept of the giant vat is still a product of limited human thought, its a short cut to allow you to think about such things as origins, a short cut that cannot come close to the real complexity of the vastness of life.
Problems arise when we become attached to our concepts and mistake them for the real thing, for 'reality' which is forever unknowable to our limited thinking apparatus.
There's an ancient hindu story that addresses origin and Ron's question about who created the great puppete: the world supposedly rests on the back of a turtle according to hindu myth. Bright kids invariably ask what the turtle rests on--answer: 'another turtle.' And what does that turtle rest on? Answer:(with some exasperation) 'Its turtles all the way down.'

Steve Salerno said...

Your concept of the giant vat is still a product of limited human thought, its a short cut to allow you to think about such things as origins, a short cut that cannot come close to the real complexity of the vastness of life.
Problems arise when we become attached to our concepts and mistake them for the real thing, for 'reality' which is forever unknowable to our limited thinking apparatus.

Well, I'll say one thing, Anon. For someone who sells the idea of the "unknowable" and "limited human thinking," you sure can pontificate. Where did you find such a big soap box? :)

RevRon's Rants said...


'S okay, Steve. We can hear you just fine. And can comprehend what you're saying, as well. It simply doesn't ring true for me. If the outcome of every situation is predetermined, it renders any effort to modify that outcome pretty much futile and superfluous, at least to my way of thinking. I've accepted that you see things differently. No problem with that.

I can only speak to my own beliefs Re: the existence and nature of a divine entity, but it has nothing to do with parental oversight or control. IMO, that identity is and has long been a tool of religion, used to establish and maintain control over followers, and bears little resemblance to an actual supreme Being. Even the attributes we so typically assign would, I think, fall far short of being accurate descriptions. Not loving, not benevolent, and certainly not vengeful. Perhaps "complete" would come closer, so long as we don't attempt to establish an absolute definition of even that word. But I digress...

Anonymous said...

'you sure can pontificate'
Which is obviously predetermined.
What else should I spend my time on while I'm taking my pre-determined swim in that vat, waiting for my inevitable demise?

Elizabeth said...

Steve, I apologize for segueing all over the place (blame mad cow), but this story has taken my breath away:

A 25-year-old woman with no arms has become the first pilot ever to fly a plane using only her feet.

08 Dec 2008

Jessica Cox suffered a rare birth defect and was born without any arms.

The psychology graduate can write, type, drive a car, brush her hair and talk on her phone simply using her feet.

Ms Cox, from Tuscon, Arizona, USA, is also a former dancer and double black belt in Tai Kwon-Do.

She said: "I never say, 'I can't do that'. I just say, 'I haven't worked it out yet,'" said Jessica.

"Putting my hair in a pony tail and rock climbing are still on my list. Those rubber hair ties get me every time."

She explained "I was born this way so I've just learned to adapt."

Steve Salerno said...

Anon 9:30: I agree. Only, one would think that someone with such expansive "life awareness" would have a slightly higher degree of self-awareness.