More Is Better

 Philosophy  Comments Off on More Is Better
Mar 182018

This post is the twin to “Enough is Enough” which you will find here: This is an excerpt from the opening paragraph of that post:

Max Weber put economic systems into two broad categories which he called “modern economics” and “traditional economics.” Modern economics, by Weber’s standards, is roughly akin to capitalism, a system in which accumulating more and more wealth is everyone’s goal. I use the phrase, “more is better” to describe this system. A general way to put it is to say that if you like something, more is usually better. In particular, if you enjoy what money can do for you, the more, the better. Westerners tend to think this way as if it were an obvious dictum. I certainly thought that way, most of my life. I was always trying to earn a little more so that I could buy a better car, improve my house, go on trips abroad, and whatnot. It seems natural, doesn’t it? But not all cultures think this way.

I’m currently working on a chapter in a new book I’m writing that deals with life changes in general. The chapter is examining what happened to me as a teenager when I got my first job in a factory during my holidays. The bit I am wrestling with right now has to do with why I worked at the job at all since I had no need of money. My parents gave me what I needed – as long as I was frugal. I first took the job in 1968 over the Easter holidays for 2 weeks because it dropped in my lap, and it paid enough for me to buy a stereo radio/record player, which was an extravagant luxury back then. That’s fair enough – but it was a decided luxury. I continued to work at the factory for 2 summers, the second being the summer before I went to university, meaning I could work from the end of my A-level public exams in June until I went to Oxford in October. I was also offered overtime during weekdays and on Saturday mornings. I did it all. I worked like a dog – at one point putting in 11-hour days and 4 hours on Saturdays. For what?????????? I had absolutely no need for money. I was, however, caught up in the “more is better” philosophy. I earned a ton of money that summer, and there was absolutely nothing I wanted to buy with it. Sounds a bit mental, I know.

From that point in my life until I retired 8 years ago I was caught up in “more is better.” It’s an unthinking philosophy, really — one we rarely, if ever, question. I ended up with a 4-bedroom house in the Catskills, choked with possessions, on an acre of land beside a trout stream. I had three family cars (one for each family member), plus a 1976 Alfa Romeo Spider convertible for fun. All idyllic, of course. My garden was magnificent, with 2 koi ponds, several rockeries, a wood lot, gorgeous trees and fruiting brambles, a wildflower spot etc. etc. My books lined my study, plus the porch, and most of the living room. I had about 3,000 in total. I had thousands of slides (mostly for my anthropological work), and thousands of print photos. My clothes filled 3 closets, I had rooms full of antiques, . . . you get the picture.

Eight years ago, I packed a small suitcase, locked the door of my house, and took a plane to Argentina. Four years ago, I sold the house and contents, and never looked back. My life of “more is better” was finished. I now have two suitcases that hold everything I own. I live in rented apartments where I end up. So far it has been Argentina, England, China, Italy, Myanmar, and, now, Cambodia. Not sure where next.

I am not going to condemn “more is better.” That was how I lived for most of my life, and I managed fine with that way of thinking. I got immense pleasure out of working in my garden and then sitting in the cool of the evening surveying my work. I loved tootling around in the narrow country lanes in my Spider, or buying new kitchen gadgets. I always bought new books for pleasure or for my research. I had a special bow tie collection that grew and grew via eBay. All of it brought me happiness – and I am not going to be an annoying old git and say it was “fake happiness.” It was real enough. There were two negatives, however.

  1. My stuff tied me to one place.
  2. I had to work hard to maintain my stuff.

For most of my life I was OK with my stuff owning me as much as I owned it. Then I walked away from it all, and a huge burden was lifted. Sure, I left behind many things that had deep sentimental value, and for a while I was grieved at the loss. But the fact is that when I owned them and could take them out and look at them or use them, I rarely did. They were (and are) lodged in memory: their physical presence is unimportant. Everything of true value to me is within me. That realization brings me freedom.

To be clear – I am talking about me, not anyone else. If “more is better” works for you – have at it. All I can talk about is what works for me. “More is better” worked for a long time; now “enough is enough” is my watchword. The most I can hope for is that you consider your life from the outside for a moment.

Politically Correct

 Philosophy  Comments Off on Politically Correct
Mar 162018

The phrase, or accusation, “politically correct” is one of the few phrases that sets my teeth on edge. It is an insult, usually cast on people with left-wing leanings, that on the surface makes no sense. Supposedly “politically correct” actions include saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” working for equality for ethnic minorities and women, avoiding certain verbal slurs when describing people, seeking gun control measures, and the like. When people say that you do these things out of “political correctness” they are suggesting that you do them, not because you think they are the morally right things to do, but because you are going along with a partisan political herd. I repeat – that makes zero sense to me. The implication is that you do not want to do them, but feel you have to because others think they are correct. Here I believe we have a case of classic projection.

Plenty of bigots chafe at having to avoid certain terms for gays, African-Americans, Muslims, women, Jews, etc. etc. They want to use them, but feel they can’t because to do so would not be “politically correct.” Sorry – if you want to use those terms you are a miserable human being, and I don’t want to have anything to do with you. I avoid them, not because of my politics, but because I think they are objectionable terms. They are explicitly saying “I don’t like ‘those people’ and I am going to use a term that indicates my (negative) feelings.”

On FB I have friends who use certain terms once in a while that I find deeply offensive – in particular a four-letter word for a woman. If anyone who is a FB friend of mine uses that term they get a warning that if they use it again I will unfriend them without warning. So far I have lost 3 friends that way. Good riddance as far as I am concerned. Am I being “politically correct”? I don’t think so. I am working against two evils: (1) Stereotyping whole classes of people, and (2) Treating whole classes of people negatively.

Recently on my other blog a guy decided to leave a comment on a post about the hula hoop, telling me that WHAM-O (who patented the hula hoop) used to manufacture .22 rifles, but stopped “because of political correctness.” Where did that come from? I am leaving aside the fact that the post had zero to do with guns. Occasionally I get gun freaks barging in and spouting off about the 2nd Amendment etc. etc. If the comments are not too hateful, I let them stand, but I do not get into a big debate. The problem is that certain people see an attack where none exists. If a person wishes me Happy Holidays at Christmas, I take it as a nice gesture. Some people wish me happiness over Rosh Hashanah or at the end of Ramadan or for the birth of the Buddha. Why would I take offense?

There is no war on Christmas. How ludicrous can you be? It is no more than a sign of insecurity. I do not know of any Jew, Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist who would be offended if I wished them Happy Easter in a couple of weeks. Let me repeat: these perceived “attacks” on Christmas, guns, or whatever, are desperate signs of insecurity – projections of feeble minds. They are also rampantly bigoted and xenophobic. If someone wishes me Happy Holidays, the world is not going to fall apart. Why are people so insecure? If I had to be definitive I would say that insecurity is the single biggest problem in the world today. Insecurity stemming from the fact that there is a creeping acceptance of – EQUALITY – would be laughable if it were not all too real, and generates terrible actions.

The term “politically correct” is simply dog whistle for “I hate this behavior.” When I challenge people who use the term on my blog to define it for me they cannot. Usually they ignore the question. By examining their own language they are forced to state their own bigotry openly, and they don’t want to. That is no more than cowardice. Insecurity and cowardice are a toxic mix.







 Posted by at 2:09 am

Enough is Enough

 Philosophy  Comments Off on Enough is Enough
Mar 032018

My title today is deliberately misleading. I am not going to launch into a rant about things I have had enough of. I will save that rant for another day. This post is about economics: personal and social. Max Weber put economic systems into two broad categories which he called “modern economics” and “traditional economics.” Modern economics, by Weber’s standards, is roughly akin to capitalism, a system in which accumulating more and more wealth is everyone’s goal. I use the phrase, “more is better” to describe this system. A general way to put it is to say that if you like something, more is usually better. In particular, if you enjoy what money can do for you, the more, the better. Westerners tend to think this way as if it were an obvious dictum. I certainly thought that way, most of my life. I was always trying to earn a little more so that I could buy a better car, improve my house, go on trips abroad, and whatnot. It seems natural, doesn’t it? But not all cultures think this way.

I use the phrase “enough is enough” to describe Weber’s alternative, traditional economics. I am not convinced that the term “traditional” is quite apt, but it certainly seems to be the case that “enough is enough” came earlier historically than “more is better.” When you work on the principle of “enough is enough” you have to first decide what you need (not what you desire), calculate how much money you have to have to pay for what you need, and then work only as long as it takes to earn that amount – then quit working.

When you work on the principle of “more is better” the sky’s the limit. Even after you have earned enough to satisfy your needs, you keep working because desires take over. If you are on an hourly wage and you are offered overtime, you take it even if your basic wage is sufficient for all your expenses. Having a little extra is always a good thing. You’ll take a promotion or change jobs if they pay more. More money means more stuff – clothes, cars, furniture . . . etc. Let’s leave aside complexities such as inflation for the moment, and just focus on the big picture.

Some cultures follow traditional economics, some follow modern economics. I have lived under both systems and on the whole they both manage well enough. Each system has advantages and disadvantages. It is when they come in contact with one another that we have a problem. When people raised in a modern system encounter people working according to traditional economic values their routine assessment is that the traditional ones are “lazy.” This is exactly how British colonial administrators described African and Indian cultures in the 19th century. Let me give you a hypothetical example to illustrate my point.

Imagine there is a colonial officer working in a culture that works according to traditional economics, and he needs to hire some workers for a project that will take several months. He offers 10 men £2 per day for several weeks until the job is completed. On Monday and Tuesday the men show up on time, work a full day, get paid for their day’s work each day, and go home. On Wednesday no one shows up for work. The colonial officer goes to their homes and discovers that they do not want to work that day or the next (or the next). On Monday the workers all show up on the job again. The colonial officer’s judgment is that the locals are lazy. What is really going on?

By local standards, £4 per week is all the locals need to live on. So, when they have worked for 2 days at £2 per day they have met their weekly needs and they quit. They do not see any value in work for its own sake, nor do they see any need to accumulate more money than they need. You can call this “lazy” if you want, but a more neutral term would be to say that they are being pragmatic. Modern Westerners find in hard to get their minds around this idea because for them “more is (always) better.” The idea that “enough is enough” does not compute. For “enough is enough” to function you have to be content with your situation as long as your needs are taken care of. That also means that you have no desire to “improve” your situation, in whatever way you define “improve.”

For most of my life I lived according to modern economics and did not think too much about it. Now I live according to traditional economics and am content to do so. Let me flesh that out a bit, because my situation is not usual, and my understanding of what I need versus what I desire is also not straightforward (although not atypical). Like all humans I need food and shelter. Here in Cambodia that costs me about $600 per month. But I do not consider mere survival to be adequate. I am a committed anthropologist and writer. Without doing these things I am merely staying alive. In that sense, I need my camera, a computer to write on, and the ability to travel and meet people. In that sense I consider my work to be one of my needs. Different people will have different needs of this sort to feel alive. I need about $1,000 per month to do the things that make me feel alive.

Some people need other things to feel alive. Obviously, the line between what you need and what you desire can get a bit blurry. It takes really deep self analysis to get at the heart of the matter, and, furthermore, things can shift. There was a time in my life when having a partner was really important to my wellbeing; now it is not. In fact, I am really content to live alone these days. The opposite was true 20 years ago.

So . . . my question to you is: What do you truly need besides food and shelter? What makes you feel alive? Then I will ask the related question: How much of your life is spent in wasted effort? I ask these questions only if you would like to live according to the concept of “enough is enough.” If you are a “more is better” type, you are on a different path.

To be continued . . .


 Philosophy, Religion  Comments Off on Mindfulness
Feb 032018

The term “mindfulness” has a vogue these days both in clinical psychology and pop psychology. Supposedly “mindfulness” is a translation of the Pali term “sati” used in Theravada Buddhism. It may be in principle, but the reality is often quite different.

Critics call the popular (mis)conception of mindfulness McMindfulness. I like it. Putting “Mc” in front of a term, such as McMansion, makes it clear what is happening. Any McSomething, is taking that Something, whatever it is, and mass producing it for popular consumption. To be fair any McSomething is not necessarily intrinsically bad. A Big Mac is loaded with lots of stuff I don’t want to eat, but I am not going to criticize people who do. Neither am I going to criticize people for living in McMansions. That is their choice. But . . . we have to acknowledge that Big Macs, for example, are very different from hamburgers made from hand ground sirloin patties grilled over a wood charcoal fire. Big Macs are mass produced for a commercial market. Locally made and grilled hamburgers are not.

Thus, it is with McMindfulness. It gets characterized as “being present” or “living in the moment” or some such. Sometimes the practice of McMindfulness is linked to meditation technique, sometimes not. I am all in favor of being present in the moment; it is an intrinsic part of my life. My version of this philosophy is PAY ATTENTION. A great many people wall themselves off from their environment. When walking they have on earphones playing music; when driving they turn on the radio. They do not want the world they are traveling through to impact them. I am the opposite. I listen to music only when I want to REALLY LISTEN – to PAY ATTENTION. Otherwise I do not want pretty musical wallpaper cluttering up my life. I want to focus on ONE THING at a time. When walking, I want to take in what is around me.

When I lived in Buenos Aires I was fascinated by just about everything – fountains, statues, tops of buildings etc. I was especially fascinated by doors. Architects in Buenos Aires go to great trouble to design doors that are intricately carved, sometimes inlaid with bronze, sometimes with other metals. I took thousands of photos of doors when I first arrived. I even got in trouble with the police once who thought I was casing a residential neighborhood for a burglary because I was photographing so many doors. I had to talk fast to the cop who stopped me because he could not see that the doors were intriguing. When I showed my album to my friends, who had lived in Buenos Aires all their lives, they were amazed: “I never knew there were so many different doors in Buenos Aires, Juan.” Well, yes you did – you just weren’t paying attention.

Paying attention is one thing (and it is a good thing); mindfulness is quite another.

Mindfulness in the Theravada Buddhist tradition, that is, sati, involves much more than simply being in the moment. First of all, sati must be linked with meditation, and not just any old meditation. In the Theravāda tradition alone, there are over 50 methods for developing mindfulness and 40 for developing concentration, while in the Tibetan tradition there are thousands of visualization meditations. Most classical and contemporary Buddhist meditation guides are school-specific.

The Buddha is said to have identified two paramount mental qualities that arise from wholesome meditative practice:

“serenity” or “tranquility” (Pali: samatha) which steadies, composes, unifies and concentrates the mind.

“insight” (Pali: vipassana) which enables one to see, explore and discern “formations” (conditioned phenomena based on the five aggregates – khandas in Pali).

The five khandas are form (or matter or body) (rupa), sensations (or feelings, received from form) (vedana), perceptions (samjna), mental activity or formations (sankhara), and consciousness (vijnana).

Among other things, meditative practice is directed towards losing a sense of self, because self is an illusion. There is no self; it is a product of wrong thinking, and limits vision.

When we come back to McMindfulness we see that it has nothing whatever to do with sati, because McMindfulness is all about self-help or self-improvement, and sati is about getting rid of the self. THERE IS NO SELF. You cannot improve what does not exist.

Sati is also linked to an array of actions within Theravada Buddhism, such as lovingkindness, acts of merit, and the like. Practicing Theravada Buddhism entails a whole lifestyle. It is not something you can pick a few pieces from and discard the rest. Trying to practice mindfulness without adopting the whole philosophy of Theravada Buddhism might help you in some ways, but it is rather missing the point. Try being a hunter/gatherer on the weekends while commuting to an office job Monday to Friday. Will you take on a hunter/gatherer mindset that way? Of course not. You would not be nomadic; you would not be utterly reliant on the environment; you would not need to live with a foraging band in makeshift housing, etc. You would just be playing at foraging for fun. That is how it is with McMindfulness.

To be continued . . . (I promise)


 Philosophy  Comments Off on Listening
Jan 202018

Last post I talked about depression and the importance of listening – really listening – to a person who is depressed: If you read that post you will remember that my late wife’s mantra was, “I don’t want you to cure me, I just want you to listen.” Listening is not something many people are skilled at. Conversation is vital to our lives, of course, but many people have the bad habit of not listening when they engage in conversation. Often people want to respond or react to what you are saying instead of just listening. There are many problems with reacting instead of just listening, the chief of which I can put under the umbrella of narcissism. Reacting is a way of saying, “Here’s what I think.” Well, if you are really listening – really listening – what you think is not important. When my wife wanted me to listen, she wasn’t interested in what I thought; she wanted to know only that I had heard her and that I understood her. That’s a mighty hard lesson for many people to learn. It took me years to learn.

My wife belonged to a women’s group in Santa Fe when we lived in New Mexico. It met once a week to sit and just talk. Its purpose was to empower women to say what was on their minds. Topics varied enormously. Some had problems with their partners, some had personal fears, some were uncomfortable with the political situation . . . you name it. They were open to discussion within the group, but they had a rigid policy about speaking and discussing. One person, ONLY, could speak at a time, and she had the floor for as long as she wanted. No one could interrupt. When she was finished talking, she indicated that fact to the group, and others could then respond. BUT . . . no one could respond to the first speaker until she had paraphrased what the first speaker had said, and the first speaker had to acknowledge that the paraphrase was accurate. After the first speaker accepted the accuracy of the paraphrase, the second speaker could respond. This would be an enormous improvement on formal debates in place of Roberts Rules of Order.

Roberts rules govern most formal debates in the US. We used them at faculty and senate meetings at my university. I know them very well. They are designed to keep debate and voting orderly. They insist that, when possible, debate on a motion should alternate between speakers pro and speakers con. Speakers on one side don’t have to listen or pay attention to speakers on the other side. They can, and frequently do, speak past one another, not taking the other side’s points into account. They are also free to skew, misinterpret, or misrepresent the other side. There is little or no real listening. The rules of discussion for my wife’s group were meant to battle that system.

If you have to repeat back to someone something they have said, you have to really listen and really understand. In the process you may find yourself shifting your own opinion on the matter. Or, you may get some insight into why the speaker holds a particular point of view. Conversely, you may not change your opinion at all. At the very least, you have listened.

Eugene Gendlin in his book Focusing, talks about a specific way of listening, that is specifically designed to help the speaker, and is not about responding at all. Read the book for more details. The basic idea is that when someone wants to talk, and their purpose is primarily is to be understood, often they are as much interested in understanding what they themselves want, as in explaining what they want (or mean) to others. Focusing, in a nutshell, involves paraphrasing back to a speaker their own words (or thoughts) until the speaker has a “felt sense” of the correctness of the thought. This can be a difficult and long-drawn-out process, and requires a strong ability to listen on the part of the person helping a speaker to focus. The person listening does not try to react or respond to what the speaker is saying. Their job is to listen and repeat in paraphrase – ONLY.

Many people new to focusing find it difficult or impossible at first. I certainly did. It’s easy, subtly, or unsubtly, to insert your own thoughts into the paraphrase. You are tempted to ask questions, which is a no-no. So, for example:

Person 1: I always feel hungry at the end of meals, no matter how much I eat.

Person 2 could respond with a question, rather like a therapist or prompt for more information. For example:

Person 2: Does being hungry feel bad to you?


Person 2: Tell me how feeling hungry makes you feel.

Both are misguided responses from the point of view of focusing. They are concentrating on a component that Person 2 wants to hear more about. It is not paraphrasing, so it is not really listening. Better would be:

Person 2: What I think you are saying is that eating does not satisfy you.

Person 2 is simply trying to find a different way of expressing what Person 1 has said. Person 1 may then reply in a number of ways:

Person 1: Yes !! It’s about not being satisfied.


Person 1: No, that’s not it. What I am saying is . . . .

So it goes on. The key skill is listening.

I am what you might call so-so about listening. Once my wife and I got on the same wavelength about it, I got pretty good at it. But I can slip these days. My last girlfriend quite often would look at me impatiently and say, “Can I talk now?” I do talk a lot. The thing is that I too want people to understand me. I’ve mostly solved that problem by living alone, and “talking” by writing. That’s my way of focusing. If I write enough, my thoughts become clearer to MYSELF. That’s why I say that if 10,000 people or none read my posts it does not matter to me – because I am writing them for myself. Having an audience is rewarding in its own way, but that’s not why I do it.

Some people need listeners, however. We should know how to listen for their sake. If a person wants me to listen, I do – on one condition. I will not react or give advice. My job will be to listen and that’s it. I can sympathize, give a hug, and so forth, of course. I’m not a robot. But listening is one of the greatest gifts you can give: it is a very rare gift.










New Year’s Resolutions (2)

 Philosophy  Comments Off on New Year’s Resolutions (2)
Jan 022018

Last year I started my little pondering on New Year’s Resolutions here: This year I’ll continue. Last year I noted that giving up a habit requires adequate planning, otherwise you will fail. My goal for 2017 was to give up worrying all the time. Well . . . I did !! It was not as hard as I thought it would be because I had a solid plan in place, and I stuck to the plan. This year I’d like to talk a little bit more about setting goals – and achieving them. Once again I’ll stress that I am not giving advice; I am going to talk about what I do. You are not me. What I do may work for you; it may not.

Last year I spent some time exploring the problem of giving something up – smoking, sugar, alcohol, caffeine, whatever – without taking adequate stock of all the parts of your life that that thing impacts. I’ll start now by going back to that point and adding another issue.

As I said last year, New Year’s Day is not a great day to begin a new regimen, whatever it is, because the day is a holiday when your whole routine is disrupted, and there’s a strong chance that you’ve overindulged the night before. One particularly nasty problem arises when you realize that in the morning you are no longer going to allow yourself (fill in the blank), so one urge is to indulge as much as you can the night before. Clinically, it is well understood that this is the worst thing you can do. If you plan to go on a strict diet in the morning and in preparation eat like a pig the night before, your stomach will expand, and in the morning you will be much hungrier than you normally are in the morning. That’s going to be how you start a stringent diet? Hungrier than you’ve ever been? The same problem results from smoking more than usual, drinking more than usual – whatever. A more sensible approach is to come at your resolve from the opposite direction. That is, not to quit all at once on a given day, but to reduce the intake of whatever it is according to a well planned out agenda. Thus, for example, I quit drinking coffee a number of years ago when I realized that I was drinking a minimum of 2 pots per day, sometimes much more, and that it was affecting my health (and my sleeping patterns). I worked out a schedule so that first I counted the exact number of cups I drank per day, and then over a period of about 2 weeks I slowly weaned myself off coffee altogether.

On the other side of the coin, I quit smoking 40 years ago, by setting a date and stopping cold turkey. So, I am not saying that one method is better than another. I am telling you simply what works for me now: baby steps (to borrow a line from What About Bob?). I’ve become accustomed to baby steps in many spheres of my life – including both eliminating habits from my life, and goal setting. For all of my adult life until I turned 40 I weighed 128 lbs (58 kg), and it made no difference what I ate. I wasn’t a big eater, but even if I did have a giant session, I just burned it off. Then after 40, things changed. Without paying complete attention, I grew to 155 lbs (70 kg). The fact that I had been buying larger sizes of clothes for some time, should have been a giveaway, but I ignored the evidence, and kept growing until one day I looked at a recent photograph someone had taken of me, and was horrified by what I saw. Immediately I resolved to lose weight. I wanted to get back to 128 lbs, but I did not set that as a clear goal, nor establish a time frame. I simply determined to lose some (undefined) amount of weight, and established a protocol for reducing my food intake – slowly, over time. I didn’t find any kind of special diet plan, nor stringently cut out any foods in particular. I simply determined to eat less – over time.

One key factor in reducing my food intake was figuring out when I ate – and what I ate. My meals had not changed substantially since I was a teenager: little, or nothing, at breakfast time, a sandwich or soup for lunch, and a full meal of meat, vegetables, and carbohydrates at dinner time. What had changed was that, as a teenager, I never ate anything except at meal times, and now I was eating quite regularly between meals, and before bed. The first step in my plan, therefore, was figuring out when I ate between meals – and why. One small hint was that I never ate at work – nothing – even though I often had long periods between lectures or meetings. When I left in the morning until I came home in the afternoon, I almost never ate anything, not even lunch. I never ate in the car to and from work either. Watching television was another matter. I didn’t watch many shows, but there were a few, such as Dr Who, followed by Torchwood, that I watched faithfully for stupid reasons. When I watched television, I ate incessantly. I was not hungry; it was just a habit.

I also have another habit that I find hard to explain. When I start a package of something – anything – I finish it. It can be potato chips, cookies, chocolate, ice cream – it doesn’t matter. Even if I am not remotely hungry, when I take a bite of chocolate or eat a cookie, I end up finishing the whole bar or package. The trick, therefore, is not to start in the first place. Trying to stop in the middle is fruitless, but not starting in the first place works just fine. In other words, for me (and me only !!!), I can quit something that I want to quit if I have a proper grasp on when I do it and why. In this case I was overeating partly because of a stupid addiction, and partly because I wanted something to do while kicking back. When I was working I was not remotely interested in eating; while relaxing I was antsy. Simple solution: find something else to occupy myself with when I was at loose ends.

Next step: I did not set a specific goal or time frame. All I wanted was to lose some weight over an unspecified time – which I did. I am now back to what I consider a comfortable weight, 135 lbs (61 kg). That is, I shed around 20 lbs (10 kilos), so when I see my shadow, look in the mirror (which I do very rarely), or see a photo of myself (also very rare), I’m content with what I see. I didn’t weigh myself constantly, nor did I keep a record of my weight, or fret about it. I simply cut out eating between meals, and found other things to occupy myself when I was slacking off. I’m guessing that it took about a year to lose 20lbs – around that amount of time. The chief thing I noticed over time was the hole I used to buckle my belt. At the outset, I buckled my belt at its widest, and gradually I had to make it shorter. Now I buckle it at the last hole but one – sometimes the last one.

This brings me back to baby steps. Setting a massive goal to be accomplished overnight has always seemed foolish to me. You are going to fail, and fail miserably. Setting a massive goal can be managed, however, IF it is broken into baby steps. One summer I had a book contract which required me to produce 450 pen and ink drawings in 3 months. This would have been formidable under any circumstances, but at the time I had a one-year-old who barely slept. He did take 2 naps of an hour apiece, though, so I parceled out 450 drawings daily for a 3 month period. 92 days for 450 drawings is 450 ÷ 92 = 4.89 (about 5 per day). Doing 2 at morning nap time, 2 at afternoon nap time, and 1 at bedtime in the evening worked fine. In fact I finished with time to spare. 450 drawings to complete was MASSIVE; 5 per day was tough, but manageable. Losing 20 lbs was MASSIVE; losing an ounce every few days was manageable.

Baby steps is my answer to all my life goals. Added to that, I don’t set goals that have little or no chance. It might be nice to be a best-selling author, but it’s not a goal – not this year or ever. To get some manuscripts accepted by publishers IS a goal, and I will work on it this year using baby steps. I have 5 book manuscripts that have been sitting on my hard drive for over 8 years. Time to get moving. But it will be baby steps: one agent or one publisher per week. I have letters to compose, chapters to edit or revise, and so forth. Little by little I’ll get it all done, and maybe by the end of 2018 I’ll have good news to report. But I don’t mind if it takes a whole year.



 Posted by at 1:54 am

Science and Religion (Again)

 Philosophy, Religion, science  Comments Off on Science and Religion (Again)
Dec 302017

I’ll begin my discussion on science and religion this time around by asking a beguilingly simple, yet important question: Why have so many brilliant scientists and mathematicians from the Enlightenment to the present day been theists? Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, and John von Neumann immediately spring to mind. I just wrote a post on my other blog concerning von Neumann — — so he is uppermost in my mind.  He once wrote: “There probably is a God. Many things are easier to explain if there is than if there isn’t.” On his death bed he had a priest come to his room and deliver the last rites, and he had nominally been a Catholic since his first marriage, when he was baptized, although he came from a Jewish background.

I am not going to make the claim that the likes of von Neumann, Einstein, or even Newton were dogmatic believers. That would be absurd. Newton was as much involved with alchemy as he was with Christianity, and it’s quite likely that von Neumann (like Pascal) was hedging his bets about heaven and hell. My point is simply that none of these great scientists thought that science alone was enough to explain everything in the universe. Von Neumann also said, “If people do not believe that mathematics is simple, it is only because they do not realize how complicated life is.” In other words, “life” is not reducible to science or mathematics or even logic of any kind. Great scientists do not believe that they have the answer to all of life’s mysteries, and, more important, do not believe that science alone will ever be sufficient: mediocre scientists do, however.

Certainly, when I use terms such as “science” and “religion” I am being atrociously general and simplistic. I’m certainly not alone in this. Countless times I’ve read attacks on “religion” which are usually attacks on the writer’s view of the religion he was brought up with, or is familiar with in some way – often a crude perversion of what Christianity is, or claims to be. Richard Dawkins rails against creationists because evolution is obviously correct, and also makes the – completely uninteresting – claim that you can have a morality without religion. Ho hum. Got any other windmills to tilt at? How many times have I heard critics foam about the damage that “religion” has done, such as the Crusades and other Holy Wars? War is not the fault of “religion” but of the people who use their religious convictions to justify their actions. People of all faiths can use their sacred texts to bolster prejudices they hold, even if those prejudices are at odds with the principal tenets of their faith. There are machine-gun toting Buddhist monks in Myanmar who justify their violence using sacred texts. But . . . their actions are fundamentally at odds with the teachings of the Buddha.

When I talk about “science” and “religion,” therefore, I may have to be simplistic, but I’ll try not to be too stupid. When I use those terms I am, at heart, equating modern science with a particular method: a method that attempts to explain phenomena in the natural world using rigorous experiments. I am equating “religion” with a different method: a method based (in part) on spiritual intuition. They are coming at the world from completely different angles, and, as I have said many times before, pitting the one method against the other is rank idiocy. Face off a baseball team against a football team and see who wins. When you play by different rules you can’t compete. In fact, even within the separate realms of “science” and “religion” there can be disagreement about the rules – less so in “science” than in “religion,” but the disagreement is there.

What is quite patently false is the distinction between science being about facts and religion being about belief (or faith). I’ve already killed that one, stone dead I hope ( ). ALL human thought ultimately rests on principles of faith. Von Neumann made it very clear that even in mathematics THE TRUTH is impossible. All we have are approximations. Those approximations can be very good, but they are approximations. He also said that when pure mathematics gets too caught up with itself the mathematician sometimes has to rely on aesthetics, and sometimes has to retreat to the empirical world as a systems check. Neither is exactly a rigorous approach.

There is a story told of von Neumann that I hope will not lose you in mathematics. There is a famous problem concerning a fly and 2 bicycles which someone once asked von Neumann to solve. The problem is as follows. “2 bicycles begin 10 miles apart and ride directly towards one another until they crash an hour later. Meanwhile, a fly starts flying at 15 mph at the time the bicycles start towards one another. He starts on the tire of one bicycle, flies to the tire of the other bicycle, then immediately flies back, over and over again until the tires crash, and the fly is crushed. How far does the fly travel before it is crushed?” Through a very complicated series of geometric equations (an infinite geometric series), you can calculate the distance the fly travels on each leg of his journey, and sum them all together to get the answer. The answer will be correct, but this is an ugly way to solve the problem. A simpler way to solve it is to say that the fly travels at 15 mph and the bicycles crash after 1 hour. Therefore, the fly flew a total of 15 miles. Both approaches get the same answer, but the second method is much more elegant than the first, and mathematicians prefer it. Apparently, von Neumann, when set the problem, came up with the correct answer instantly. When asked if he figured out the simple trick of dividing speed by time, he answered, “No, I summed the geometric series.” You’re supposed to laugh here. The anecdote is pointing out that von Neumann was so facile with mathematics that he could do extremely complex calculations in his head in times that mere mortals find staggering. It’s probably an apocryphal story anyway, and, besides, von Neumann was an advocate of elegance. But what makes elegance a preferred method? Why do scientists apply Occam’s razor? Put simplistically, Occam’s razor states that when 2 fundamentally different solutions give the same answer to a question, choose the simplest. Why? What gives elegance (or aesthetics) a privileged place in the quest for THE TRUTH?

Fast forward to Robert Lanza, founder of biocentrism, who wrote, “What we perceive as reality is a process that involves our consciousness. … Biocentrism is a new theory of everything and is based on the idea that the universe arises from life and not the other way around.” This is an update on the old tree-falling-in-a-forest question, which Bishop Berkeley made famous, but vastly improved upon. Biocentrism is a radical new approach to “Life, the Universe, and Everything” that I am taken with because it puts consciousness at the center of EVERYTHING. We’re not talking about the “simple” process of observation any more. That was tricky enough. We are talking about life – about consciousness – now. Among other things, Lanza is proposing that consciousness is everywhere, even in sub-atomic particles. Furthermore, consciousness is not limited in its ability to communicate across vast distances in space by such trivialities as the speed of light. If Lanza is on to something, and I am not prejudging the issue because I have not read enough, this would be a monumental paradigm shift in both science and religion. If you have to add consciousness to space and time, the equations get much more difficult. I’d hazard to guess that, in fact, equations not only become complex, they become impossible because they are a much too limited tool. Could this be a much-needed synthesis of science and religion?

Stay tuned . . .



 anthropology, Philosophy, Religion  Comments Off on Money
Oct 192017

The first epistle to Timothy is frequently misquoted as “money is the root of all evil.” The actual quote (plus context) is:

9 Those who want to be rich, however, fall into temptation and become ensnared by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. By craving it, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows. 11 But you, O man of God, flee from these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness (1 Timothy 6:9-11).

Pedants will correct you if you come out with the misquote, but I actually like the misquote by itself. I’ll explain.

I’ll start by saying that the epistle is quite right in saying that the love of money leads people astray. I’m impelled to this topic by my post today on Gerrard Winstanley in Book of Days Tales:  Winstanley was the kind of leader who comes along once in a while and asks, “Have you really read the Bible – ALL of it?” Many people get attracted to Christianity because they follow leaders who pick and choose the bits of the Bible that suit them and explain away the bits they don’t like. So, we’ve got televangelists in the US who preach that their flock should give them a ton of money and they will be rewarded in turn. As Ray Stevens once asked, “Will Jesus wear a Rolex on his television show?” Of course not. Jesus preached the importance of the spiritual over the material, but a lot of so-called Christians didn’t get the memo apparently.

Winstanley was what I would call a true “Bible-believing Christian” – not what politically motivated scum think that phrase means. Winstanley looked at the early church and saw a group of believers living together communally, and sharing everything they produced for the betterment of the community as a whole. If they earned money, they pooled it. If they produced food for a living, they shared it. Everything was held in common. The Acts of the Apostles is very clear on this point. The Pastoral Epistles, which include 1 Timothy, come out of late 1st or early 2nd century attempts to codify what the church was all about. I’m reasonably certain that these epistles are treated as “minor” these days, not just because they are short and lacking in the sophisticated theology of Paul’s epistles, but also because they preach socialism as inherent to the Christian way of life. Heaven help us !!! Socialism ???? Well, in my oh-so-humble opinion, capitalism and Christianity are mortal enemies, even though I’m happy to go along with the general idea, espoused by Max Weber, that puritanical Protestantism was the breeding ground of capitalism in Europe.

To be fair, it was Weber’s contention that the puritanical aversion to the love of money was what bred capitalism in the first place. He argued that the Puritans saw it as their Godly duty to work hard, which led to financial success – BUT . . . they could not spend their hard-earned money on frivolity, so it grew and grew. All they could do is re-invest it in their businesses. Bingo – you have capitalists. Fair enough. There have been some thoroughly decent Christian capitalists. The Cadburys are a great example. Their Bournville factory and model village were paragons of how a capitalist industry could be both profitable and profit the workers. But it was, still, a master/worker system. The Cadburys were Quakers, but the Quaker ideology of consensus and sharing did not extend to their business model. They were the bosses and made the rules.

Without the proclivity towards love and fellowship enshrined in Acts and 1 Timothy, capitalism simply breeds greed. You don’t need capitalism to breed greed, however. 1 Timothy was written well before capitalism came along. The uneven distribution of wealth is the key issue. Rich and poor have existed for millennia.  The rich are rich because the poor are poor. Karl Marx saw this clearly but his words got perverted as Jesus’ words did. So-called Marxists are no better than so-called Christians. Even “communism” is now a dirty word because of the likes of Mao and Stalin, even though it is patently obvious that the early Christian church was communist in the basic meaning of the term: work together, live together, and share equally – no rich, no poor.

The inherent problem nowadays is that everyone wants to be rich, so that the ideas of sharing and equality are anathema. Put simply, a lot of people (not all) are happy with inequality as long as they are on the plus side of the ledger. And, all the time that the people with the money have all the power things cannot change. Matters are not helped by the fact that the poor, while not happy with their personal situation, are happy with things in general as long as they are given hope that one day they will be on the plus side of the ledger themselves. Hence, you have poor people voting for Trump who promised riches for all. Riches for all cannot happen in an inherently unequal system. Someone has to be poor. Duh !!! But fair shares for all can lead to a comfortable situation for all.

Clearly in the capitalist situation the LOVE of money creates all kinds of evils. But there’s more to it than that. The existence of money itself is a problem. Some foragers (hunter/gatherers), notably the Bushmen of the Kalahari, have become legendary for their indifference to money. They don’t need it and see no point in accumulating wealth of any kind. The world provides them with food, clothing, and shelter. What else would you want? Need food? Pick fruits and vegetables or hunt for meat. Need clothes? Weave some cloth from natural fibers that you collect. Need shelter? Cut down some trees and build a hut. They live in a modern Garden of Eden.  Of course, they don’t have cell phones and cars and dishwashers and whatnot, so most modern people would not want to live in the same way. Just as well, because the contemporary world cannot support the current population through foraging alone. We need modern agriculture to survive, and, even so, millions barely do.

Where the idea of domestication of plants and animals came from is fiercely contested among anthropologists. It was certainly independently invented 5 times, and maybe more, and the impulses were probably different in each case. What we do know with absolute certainty is that domestication led to social inequality in all manner of ways. I won’t wear you out with the details now. In a (very small and limited) nutshell, with domesticated plants and animals you get social divisions between sedentary agriculturalists and nomadic pastoralists, cities, divisions of labor, war, empires . . . and vast inequalities. In the process, the development of a medium of exchange becomes inevitable. Very simple economies can use barter or other forms of exchange of goods that do not require money. But the more complex a society becomes, the more it needs money as a neutral intermediary. If all I do is raise vegetables, I cannot rely on finding a person who has something I want or need who will barter that thing in exchange for my vegetables. But if I sell my vegetables for money I can use that money to buy the things I want/need. Money greases the wheels, but it’s also a trap. When money becomes an end in itself and not a means to an end, the game is lost. Marx knew this.

Marx distinguished between “use value” and “exchange value” and that to me is a crucial distinction. Use value is the inherent purpose of a particular product: clothes keep you warm; soup nourishes you. Exchange value is the price in money someone is willing to pay for a product. So, a $5 shirt is equivalent to a $5 meal IN MONETARY TERMS.  They are not the same at all when viewed according to use value, but exchange value evens them out. Without money this equivalency cannot exist. Furthermore, in a society based on sharing through loving-kindness, there is no need for such a medium of exchange. You can parse this fact in many different ways, but at heart money is a problem whether it is a product of inequality or the cause of it. Whichever way you look at it, money is a problem. Money reduces everything in the world, including people and ideas, to a common denominator. The worst equation of all in my mind is the expression, “Time is money.” NO !!!!! Time is time. Capitalism equates time and money, but they are different – very different.

The sting in the tail of this analysis is that there is nothing that I or anyone else can do to change the system at this point. Even if I were able to effect an enormous cultural revolution that would set the world on a path of sharing and cooperation – which I can’t – we’d still be stuck with money as the basis of the system, and as long as money exists its weaknesses stay with us.  Apart from anything else, the existence of money breeds greed. It’s built in. So, for the moment I’ll disagree with 1 Timothy slightly and say that the love of money does indeed breed all manner of evils, but money itself is an evil to begin with.

To be continued . . .

 Posted by at 4:51 am

Education (2)

 Philosophy  Comments Off on Education (2)
Aug 142017

Over and over, nowadays, I read complaints that education is not practical, and these voices are getting louder and louder. What exactly does that complaint actually mean? I am more than a little tired of hearing that subjects taught in school or university have no practical application. “Why must I learn the Pythagorean theorem, or Latin, or (fill in the blank)? I am never going to use them.” Sure. I can’t remember the last time that I needed to solve a simultaneous equation outside my academic writing (and I haven’t done it much within my writing either). The great mistake hidden within this question is the unquestioned assumption that the TOPIC must be relevant to some life goal for the study of the subject to be “important.” One variety of this great fallacy I see all the time in the media is the assumption that the point of a university education is to get a good job, and the road to that goal is to study a subject that will enhance your career prospects, whether it be business studies, computer science, nursing, or whatever. History, Literature, Sociology etc. are, therefore just a waste of time and money because they can’t lead to a good job (except, perhaps, in teaching). Science and mathematics are on the cusp (political science too), not because they are perceived as intrinsically useful, but because they can lead to training that will be marketable.

Vocational subjects are certainly necessary: I don’t want to go to a doctor who does not have a medical degree, obviously. But there is much, much more to education than vocational training. In my oh-so-humble opinion, education (at least my kind of education) is about learning how to think, and to learn how to think the subject matter is not relevant.

Let’s start with the obvious. In business these days, especially in the US, the supposed path to a “good” job (that is, pays a ton of money) is, at minimum, a bachelor’s degree in business, and preferably a master’s. My first (not so obvious) question is: “How did the titans of 19th century industry succeed without any formal training in business studies (because such university programs did not exist)?” Answer: “They were smart, creative, imaginative people.” They didn’t get that way by studying pi charts or sales analysis in university. Actually, in many cases they had no formal education at all, but I’ll get to that later (probably in another post).

I will confess that teaching students how to think is a wretched enterprise – usually doomed to failure because it’s very poorly understood. But I don’t think we should give up because it is hard. That’s pretty weak kneed. The problem, as I see it, is not that teaching students how to think is a complicated endeavor, it’s that the vast majority of teachers don’t see this as their primary mission: they see communicating their subject matter as their main goal, whether it be social work, mathematics, Chinese language, or world religions. Generally, this is because they love their own subject matter (or are expert in it), and think that (at best) by simple enthusiasm they can convince their students of its intrinsic value. That ploy does not work. I can’t count the times I have taught an arcane subject with passion only to be met with bored stares. You really can’t make people care about what you care about by simple enthusiasm. Mostly you get laughed at or ignored.

Of course, it’s easy to get students to learn the rudiments of any subject by threats and intimidation – that is: “Learn this set of principles and be able to regurgitate them as needed or receive a failing grade.” Brilliant. This kind of mechanical “education” is worthless on any number of counts. Chief of these counts is that rote learning does nothing when it comes to applying the materials you have learnt. I taught English to dozens of university students in China who had, in theory, been learning the language for years, but what they had been learning (by rote) were the answers to standard grammar and vocabulary questions which they could reel off unerringly and score 100% on tests (and all had). But . . . they could not really speak English, even after years and years of such tests, because they had never encountered actual English speakers nor engaged in genuine conversations in English.

One simple conclusion you might draw from this basic example (which I could multiply many times) would be that less emphasis on theory and testing, and more on the application of principles taught would improve education. Maybe. But that’s not really what I am getting at. You’re not going to get much traction with that argument when it comes to conjugating Latin verbs or solving quadratic equations. There’s a deeper issue at stake – much deeper. For a great many years I taught subject matter without really thinking too much about why I was teaching it beyond the needs of the university and the department I was in. I argued, for example, for the need to make Fieldwork Methods a requirement for anthropology majors and the faculty readily concurred. The curriculum I put in place is still unusual for undergraduate anthropology programs in the United States in requiring a course in fieldwork. My reasoning was that anthropological theory was just a bunch of words without the experience of actually collecting and analyzing data for yourself – in the process seeing all the messy problems that data collection produces. I taught the Fieldwork Methods course under this aegis for 20 years, and I always began the course by explaining WHY it was required. Now we have the crux.

Maybe about 15 years ago I extended my ideas outward from Fieldwork Methods to EVERY class I taught. First lesson started with my statements as to why I was teaching the subject matter that I was teaching, and why I thought it was important. Every course had its own particular rationale, of course, but at heart there was one principle that was invariant: To help students to think critically. As I’ve already said, this is a thankless, sometimes futile, maybe impossible, task – but it was my goal – always. I stated it plainly so there was no mistaking my deepest intentions.

Let’s now take a step back. How many times in class did a teacher explain to you WHY you were learning a certain subject? If you ever questioned why you were learning a particular subject, what was the answer? The simple fact is that most teachers can’t give a coherent answer. I am sure that most teachers teach what they were good at in school, and can’t explain why they excelled at it or what excited them about the subject. For me, subject matter is utterly irrelevant. I’ve taught anthropology, history, sociology, chemistry, physics, biology, dance, music, anatomy, archeology, computer science, political economy, Biblical analysis, technical drawing . . . and on and on. I’ll teach whatever you want. I don’t care because it’s not the subject that’s important. I’m trying to spark creativity, imagination, and mental agility. I’ll do it using lab equipment, computers, novels, drawing boards or a piece of chalk (or nothing at all). Teaching in any other way is, to my mind, nothing but drudgery, and I’m not surprised if students rebel. Many of my students rebelled. Many just wanted to know what would be on the final test, and, if possible, wanted a neat list of all the answers to memorize so they could get 100%. With me they were plain out of luck. One student asked me on the first day what it would take to get an A in my class. He didn’t like my answer: “Be creative, imaginative, and intelligent. Impress me.” He didn’t.

To be continued . . .

Education (1)

 Philosophy  Comments Off on Education (1)
Aug 072017

This post is the first in a series on education which will, of course, sprawl all over the map.

In these days of vile politics preying on fear and bigotry amongst the general population I often hear the cry: “They need more education.” Really ???? That’s the solution? Somehow if people were “better” educated they’d stop succumbing to fear and make more reasoned judgments about who they elect, and what propositions they vote in favor of? It’s going to be hard for me to sum up all the flaws in that argument in a short post. In the simplest terms, “They need more education” is as sensible a statement as the phrase I see written on social media from one person to another all the time: “You should write a book.” Sure. Writing a book, finding a publisher, and selling hundreds of thousands of copies to eagerly awaiting readers is a breeze !!! Anyone who airily makes such a statement is clueless.

The hardest nut to crack here is to decide what exactly people mean by “education” followed by getting some grasp on why these people think it’s a good idea. Education comes in a host of flavors. Should we all learn more about certain subjects? Mathematics? History? Physics? Geography? Anthropology? Which ones? Which are most important and why? We can start with these questions before moving on to more challenging ones.

I can see a crying need in the West for the general public to have a better grasp of mathematics but I’m not certain at all how to achieve that goal. Simply taking more classes in mathematics is not going to help. Most of my college students had a blind spot when it comes to mathematics and their eyes would glaze over when I introduced even the most basic of mathematical equations in my classes. They were all required to achieve a certain level of mathematical competence on entry or in their first year, but it did no good. Simply taking classes is not the answer.

Knowing more than the most basic arithmetic is not only useful in such arenas as personal budgeting and planning, but also in more arcane areas such as statistics which forms the cornerstone of climate science, medicine, polling and the like. For example, when my wife was pregnant at age 36 doctors told us that she should have amniocentesis because the risk of Down syndrome in babies doubles for women over age 35. DOUBLES. Wow !!!! This is actually completely useless information unless you know the statistics that this statement is based on (and can interpret them). If the normal chances of having a Down syndrome baby are 1 in 10, then doubling would mean 2 in 10. That’s a pretty serious increase and one would be foolish not to take note. But if the normal chances are 1 in 10 million, then doubling would be 2 in 10 million. I certainly wouldn’t waste my time worrying about those odds. This reminds me of a favorite saying: “Lottery tickets are a tax on the stupid.” Some people will blow $100 per week on $1 lottery tickets because they have 100 times more chances of winning than buying just 1. True. But 1 versus 100 out of tens of millions are just not great odds. They fall back on the old chestnut, “Someone has to win.” Also true; but it’s not going to be you. The odds are heavily against you no matter how many you buy. If you take the same money weekly and invest it in indexed stocks you will be a guaranteed winner, but few seem willing to take that lack of risk. Education might help there, but I doubt it.

Many people continue smoking or eating fat-strewn diets etc. on the grounds that they had an uncle who smoked 2 packs a day and lived to be 90 (or whatever). What is their brilliant conclusion? This one case “proves” that statistics are useless. Rubbish. The statistics are not saying that EVERYONE who smokes will get cancer or heart disease. Many do not. But the CHANCES increase if you smoke. Are you willing to take the risk? I wouldn’t be surprised if these same people go to casinos even though it is a statistical CERTAINTY that they will lose more than they will win over time. Casinos get rich on this public ignorance. I will concede that some people like the atmosphere of casinos, and don’t mind losing because they like the thrill. Fair enough. I don’t.

I will also point out that you need to understand statistics to use them wisely. They have no end of problems in themselves (sampling error being the prime one), and their interpretation is not simple. For example, statistics can tell you about correlations but are silent about causation. I can tell you from statistics that 9 out of 10 New York businessmen wear black shoes to work. I can’t tell you WHY.

Enough about mathematics. What about other subjects? Being a professional anthropologist I could tout anthropology as an antidote to xenophobia, bigotry, racism etc., but I know very well that it isn’t. At my university it was a general education requirement that all students take a course from a list called “Other World Cultures” most of which were anthropology classes. It was great for my department’s numbers but I doubt that taking an anthropology course changed anyone’s behavior. Racism etc. are deeply held beliefs that are generally rooted in family and cultural experiences. Anthropologists and biologists have shown over and over that there is no biological basis for racial classifications. The concept of race is a cultural prejudice. Will pointing that out to students eradicate racism? Of course not.

Maybe you believe that getting people to think more clearly in general is the great panacea. Also a huge problem. Many people believe that thinking clearly means “thinking like me.” For starters, that’s the last thing I want as a teacher for many reasons. I want my students to think for themselves, not to think the way I think. About the only thing that ever made me angry as a university lecturer was having a student agree with me because he/she thought I would like it. I didn’t. I was more than happy to have students disagree with me, but . . . they had to support their arguments.

Here’s the meat of the problem. What is thinking clearly? Reasoning comes in a host of flavors too. Logical reasoning is only one and it is not always applicable. Nor is reasoning from self interest (the bane of classical economics). There is a good case to be made in economics and anthropology that self interest is NOT the normal driving force in culture, although it has its place. Pundits are frequently puzzled as to why people vote for candidates who are quite obviously going to work against their self interest. Are these voters blind or stupid or both? Not at all. For many people self interest is secondary to other values. Whether we find these other values important or relevant is a judgment call, not a matter of clinical logic. Candidate A’s policies will help me directly whereas Candidate B’s will help a number of other people, but not me directly. Must I inevitably, therefore, vote for Candidate A? By no means. If I think that the needs of the people that Candidate B will help are more important or urgent than mine it would make sense for me to vote for Candidate B. To vote for Candidate A out of self interest also requires that I trust Candidate A. Here intuition and experience may play as large a part as logic.

I’m going to have more to say on the subject of education if coming weeks, but this should serve as the appetizer.

To be continued . . .

 Posted by at 4:39 am