Monthly Archives: November 2016

Weaponizing Righteous Indignation

Physicist and Artificial Intelligence authority Eric Saund suggests “weaponized righteous indignation” drives the extremism we witness worldwide. More specifically, he offers the hypothesis that Trump has weaponized righteous indignation to a plane that rivals ISIS in its ferocity and detachment from reality. Our minds are programmed to respond with outrage, anger, suspension of reason, and forceful action.

Every six year old is aware of right and wrong. It is written in the genes. It is grounded in biology. Not true for a group. Every group creates its own culture and laws. The authority lies with itself.

In New Guinea, Jared Diamond observed some cultures flaunted the sexual mores of 21st century Hollywood, others those of 18th century puritanism. Such two cultures may have existed in adjoining valleys for 50,000 years. Each spoke a language from a different linguistic family. Obviously, even a normal quotient of righteous indignation permitted no contact – “just over that hill!” Like most hunter-gatherer tribes, however, each weaponizied its indignation for other tribes inexhaustibly, sustaining a staggering casualty rate from endless wars.

Every culture believes in the righteousness of its customs and beliefs. Like Americans, each holds its truths to be self-evident, always linked to a Creator. Long ago, Cicero observed that no nation is without religion. Saund has come up with a wonderfully heuristic concept:

THE INDIGNATION OF RIGHTEOUSNESS IS VULNERABLE TO WEAPONIZATION.

I will cite chapter and verse.

This data comes from the Bible, The Book of Joshua. Its similarity to ISIS is breathtaking.

“And suddenly the walls of Jericho crumbled and the people of Israel poured into the city. They destroyed everything in it – men and women,
young and old; oxen, sheep, donkeys – everything.”

“All the loot and cattle of the ravaged cities were taken by the Israelis for thmselves, but they killed all the people. Joshua did as he had been told: he carefully obeyed all the Lord’s instruction to Moses.”

Then the Lord said to Joshua, ‘Point your spear toward Ai, for I will give you the city.’ … When the army of Israel had finished slaughtering all the men outside the city, they went back and finished off everyone left inside. So the entire population of Ai, twelve thousand in all, was wiped out that day.”

Twelve thousand in all? Peanuts! How ’bout 12 million? That’s what Europe, weaponizing its righteousness, managed to kill in World War I. The new 20th century was ripe with promise. Thomas Edison took out 1300 patents. Albert Einstein formulated the Special Theory of Relativity. Marie Curie won two Nobel Prizes for her work in radioactivity, with its promise of medical use. Cities were bustling. Commerce was establishing trade routes around the globe. Yet, from the land of Beethoven and Goethe and Shakespeare and…well, you’ve heard that old refrain enough.

Obviously, upping the ante to twelve million slaughtered was no walk in the park. The great nations of civilization had to improve on their weaponry. No problem there – Machine guns. Tanks. Mustard gas. The first plane had flown at Kitty Hawk in 1903 for 212 feet. A mere 15 years later there were aerial dogfights all over Europe. By the time World War II ended, the slaughtered numbered 100 million.

And now, with Trump and Brexit and Syria and nationalistic fever sweeping the planet, President Obama warned yesterday at his press conference with Premier Angela Merkel of Germany,

DON’T WEAPONIZE!

(to be continued)

Righteous Indignation

Physicist and Artificial Intelligence authority Eric Saund suggests Donald Trump won because he harnessed “righteous indignation,” a belief system that holds a horrible injustice is being done to one’s in-group. This psychological force drives the extremism we witness worldwide, including our recent election. Trump hyper-weaponized righteous indignation to a plane that rivals ISIS in its ferocity and detachment from reality. 

I find this hypothesis remarkably heuristic – but not easy. Herewith, I propose two ways of unpacking Saund’s idea – two concepts, hypotheses, if you will. Each recognizes that the adminstration of justice is a basic requirement of every society. Each has experienced that when it comes to fairness, to equal treatment under the law, nothing fires up the human psyche more powerfully. The two concepts differ fundamentally, however, in their deep structure.

Concept One – “Righteous Indignation” based on a Moral System

Concept Two – “Righteous Indignation” based on a Secular System

Before we examine that difference, we have to identify a biologic reality, namely, The Moral Sense. In his Epistle to the Romans, St. Paul observes, “The truth about God is known to mankind instinctively. God has put this knowledge in their hearts.” Pascal Boyer reports, “Experimental studies show a specialized moral sense underlies ethical intuitions in all children the world over.”

The Moral Sense is a universal structure by way of evolution. It is innate, built into our genes. Darwin stated that every animal “endowed with well-marked social instincts” would acquire a moral sense. In response to the Moral Sense, we behave under uncodified, private “laws.” As social creatures, given the existential complexities of group life, we live under the codified “laws” of the group. The Moral Sense pushes from within, a biologic force, the social instinct from without, an historical force, particularly with our transition to sedentary societies.

The question before the house: Who is the Law-giver for a group, which does not come with a moral sense? By what authority, then, does it codify its laws? (I will limit my inquiry to the Western world.) For the Jews, it’s The Torah; for Muslims, it’s the Qur’an; for evangelical Christians, it’s Scripture. These three religions trace their beginnings to the same patriarch, Father Abraham, making The Bible “the single most influential spiritual creation in the history of humanity.” The three great Western religions are referred to as Abrahamic, highlighting their common heritage.

According to religious tradition, some 4,000 years ago, out of the blue, God showed up and spoke to Abram – his name at the time – an unknown pastoralist living in Ur of the Chaldees, a town near the Euphrates River. Abram was 75. God initiated the conversation and continued it throughout history, making prophets, dreams, angels, visions his vehicles of communication. His Laws he spelled out at great length in the Bible and The Qur’an.

Through the millenia since Abraham, the God of the three, great Western religions has been the personification of a moral sense, his entire focus on good and evil, sin and punishment, obedience and apostasy, salvation and damnation

As a scientist, Saund must necesarily conclude that believing the Abrahamic saga with its chatty monotheism requires a detachment from reality. Can Saund necessarily conclude that righteous indignation weaponized by the Moral System fundamental to the Abrahamic religions results in the ferocity of Isis?

(to be continued)

The Ancient Jews

Why has the story of the Jewish people remained alive and well for 3,000 years?

BECAUSE IT IS TRUE! FOR THE ISRAELITES. FOR EVERY NATION.

Over and over and over again, the Jews turned from what was working, what was resulting in peace and prosperity, and chose what brought suffering and despair. The Group made the fateful turn-around. The Bible doesn’t say why the people did that. They just did – sooner or later, as sure as the sun rises.

The Bible doesn’t indicate in any way the Elites made them do it, that the common folk had had it with the rich and powerful mistreating them for years on end. Quite the contrary. The people were doing just fine. There was peace and prosperity in the land. And, of course, they knew from their history that if they left the path of righteousness, terrible things would happen.

And what is their story?

The ancient Jewish people, like every people, time and time again, out of the blue, chose Evil over Good.

It is Europe’s story. In the years before World War One, progress and hope were in the air. After the horrors of the Napoleonic wars, European nations had created a so-called Concert, like the UN. There were seven times less casualties from war in the 19th century than in the 18th. All that went out the window in 1914.

It is the story of the Israelites.
It is the story of the nations of the world.
It is the American story.

Progress and hope were on our nation’s ballot yesterday. The Good achieved under President Obama was on the ballot. Hillary had policies ready to go furthering the Good. They were on the ballot. “Come let us reason together,” was on the ballot.

And Evil was on the ballot. We the People chose Evil over Good.

Thus Saith Our God

We made him the President of the United States. We the People made him the most powerful man in the world.

Thus saith our God: I brought you from the land of Egypt to a land flowing with milk and honey. I protected you from your enemies. I made you my people. I gave you my commandments. You were to worship no other gods. You were to obey no other laws. Now hear, you have lain with the daughters of the Philistines. You have brought burnt offerings on the altar of Baal. You have sacrificed your babes in the fires of Moloch.

And God has withdrawn from his people, and a terrible cry thunders through the land.

I’m not making this up. It’s in the Bible. Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, First and Second Samuel, First and Second Kings. Seven books. Over and over again the Children of Israel are blessed when obeying the Lord and His anointed. And without fail, they forget who delivered them out of bondage and go whoring after idols of gold and brass.

We have turned from the stranger in our midst. We have warred against our own people, shooting them in cold blood. We have abused our daughters and our mothers. We have demeaned women. We have laughed at the disabled. We have sought revenge, not healing. We have praised the unjust ruler and have lauded the tyrant that persecutes his own people.

We have kindled God’s wrath, for he has shut our ears. We could not hear the word of the Lord. A hundred prophets, a thousand cried out the evils of this man, and not one syllable passed through the porch of our ears. We heard nothing. He has paralyzed our powers to reason. The Lord has abandoned us. We are condemned to wander in a land of mindless desolation.

What have we done! The prophets tell us. We didn’t listen to the Word of the Lord.

Thoughts on Eve of Election Day

Bill Maher, in my judgment, is the most profound political observer “out there.” Last week he suggested, “There is a slow-moving, right-wing coup going on.” That struck me with the force of Hannah Arendt’s genius clarifying why Trump can lie with impunity – he presents an authoritarian reality from which everything else flows. Maher’s observation that a coup mentality energizes the Republican Party may also hit the nail on the head. Let me connect the dots:

Dot One – In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan states, “Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.”

Dot Two – The Iran-Contra scandal in 1987.

Dot Three – In the 1990’s, Newt Gingrich transmogrifies Congress by the principle, “Minority wins when government accomplishes less.” Thus is born The Obstructionist Minority.

Dot Four – In 2003, George W. bamboozles Congress by claiming Iraq possesses WMD’s.

Dot Five – In 2010, Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell, states the foremost priority of the Republicans is to make Obama a one-term President.

Dot Six – From 2012 to the Year of our Lord, 2016, led by Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell and House Speakers, John Boehner and Paul Ryan, Republicans obstruct everything President Obama proposes. Governing becomes impossible, except by Executive Orders.

Dot Seven – Republicans threaten to impeach Hillary before she’s even elected. They promise to shut down the government completely with her as President by unending investigations and hearings. They will not consider any nominee for the Supreme Court.

Dot Eight – Today, November 7th, the two Republican leaders, Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House, and Mitch McConnell, Senate Majority Leader, support Donald Trump for President, knowing full well he represents a National Emergency. Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, the RNC, also supports Donald Trump for President.

Dot Nine – Bill Maher documents in great detail that Trump is a Fascist. He stresses the well-known fact that Fascists never give up power. If elected, Trump will be the last American President.

Trump is the gravest threat to our democracy in 240 years. I am terrified by the unprecedented stakes in tomorrow’s election.

So is Bill Maher.

A National Emergency

Groucho posed the question, “Who do you wanna believe, me or your lyin’ eyes?”

November 8th will ask us, “Whom do we want to believe, Hillary or Trump?”

In a stunning Ed-Op piece in yesterday’s New York Times, Jason Stanley recognizes that Trump proposes an authoritarian reality, beyond lying.
He cites Hannah Arendt’s magisterial, The Origins of Totalitarianism,

“…the spokesmen for totalitarian movements possessed an unerring instinct for anything that ordinary party propaganda or public opinion did not care to touch. Everything hidden, everything passed over in silence, became of major significance, regardless of its own intrinsic importance. The mob really believed that truth was whatever respectable society had hypocritically passed over, or covered with corruption.The modern masses do not believe in anything visible, in the reality of their own experience … What convinces masses are not facts, and not even invented facts, but only the consistency of the system of which they are presumably a part.”

Everybody knows that Trump lies – brazenly, openly, in the teeth of evidence to the contrary. “Our borders are being violated in unprecedented fashion. Inner cities are nothing but centers of crime and violence. Our economy has never been more threatened with collapse.” Facts are irrelevant. Supposedly, Trump reveals what society has passed over, or covers with corruption.

If one wants to make sense of Trump’s unprecedented rise to power -unprecedented in our country at this level! – then the problem is not that Trump lies. Liars in political life are a dime a dozen. They rise and fall with the regularity of the tides, liars like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell. Something entirely different is going on. Tutored by the incomparable Hannah Arendt, a political thinker of genius, Stanley hits the nail on the head.

Trump presents an authoritarian reality, which means he is the center from which everything else flows. He is the System which the mob is a part of. Authoritarian reality begins with a person, an alive, flesh and blood human who gets transmogrified into The Leader. Or The Divine King. Or der Fuehrer. And make no mistake: Trump is a magnificent authoritarian. His TV shows may be schlock, but he himself bestrides the world like a colossus. His “significant other” may be Putin, as ilustrated on a recent New Yorker cover, but as an American President he will have access to far greater power than Vladimir.

I’ve listened to every speech Obama has made this week on the campaign trail. The President is dead serious. He speaks with all the brilliance and thunder he can manage. He is genuinely, deeply concerned for the fate of our country.

He knows Trump, and no one but Trump, has created a national emergency for our beloved America. Obama might not be our greatest President, but for certain Trump is the most formidable Totalitarian in the last 240 years to threaten our democracy.

Election Stress Anxiety Disorder

A dear friend sent me this email yesterday,

“I’ve been ill the past few weeks – Election Stress Anxiety Disorder. Had a panic attack last week and broke down in the office. I’ve had to turn off the news because I can’t stomach (literally)  that orange monster and all the hate and ugliness anymore. My heart is breaking for our country. ”

Luckily, I made a healing discovery these last two days, and I want to share it with my friend and with so many of us suffering the same Anxiety Disorder.

The greatest achievement by a single mind, in my judgment, is The First Folio of Shakespeare published in 1623.

As for the greatest achievement by a Group Mind, I have two candidates. The first is the KIng James Bible, the translation begun in 1604 and completed in 1611.  Sixty brilliant, university trained scholars, despite severe disagreements, worked together in harmony year after year. The translators “were greater in other men’s eyes than in their own, and sought truth rather than their own praise.”

My second group candidate is the fifty five men who put together the United States Constitution in 1787, that Miracle in Philadelphia.

I discovered a third candidate today, this very day! The timing could not have been better. “Hope deferred breaketh the heart.” Like my politically astute friend, how is one to survive the madness, how not to panic knowing full well we are in the throes of a national emergency?

Well, I have a song in my heart, that’s what! Nothing’s busted. I just may dance a jig. I have faith again in the human race. At our best, we are a teeny, teeny bit lower than the angels. We can do the most amazing things. This third candidate has left me, like Wordsworth’s nun, breathless with adoration.

No one knows how large the third candidate group. No knows any member of the group by name. They did their work in the seventh century BCE. You know what they created? They made up all tnose stories I loved in Sunday School! Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph’s Coat of Many Colors, The Ten Plagues the Lord and his servant, Moses, fired at Pharoah, The Exodus from Egypt, the Parting of the Red Sea, Samson and Delila, the Walls of Jerico Tumbling Down. Elijah and the Prophets of Baal, Gideon and his Three Hundred.

Well, the list goes on and on. It all came together, ultimately, in the thirty nine books of the Old Testament. It became The Bible, the most remarkable document in the history of the planet. In the final paragraph of their exhaustive, brilliant, astonishing, difficult book, The Bible Unearthed, Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of its Sacred Texts, Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman write,

“In specific historical terms, we now know that the Bible’s epic saga first emerged as a response to the pressure, difficulties, challenges and hopes faced by the people of the tiny kingdom of Judah before its destruction and by the even tinier Temple community in Jerusalem in the post-exilic period. Indeed, archaeology’s greatest contribution to our understanding of the Bible may be the realization that such small, relatively poor and remote societies as late monarchic Judea and post-exilic Yehud could have produced the main outlines of this enduring epic in such a short period of time. Such a realization is crucial, for it is only when we recognize when and why the images, and events described in the Bible came to be so skillfully woven together that we can at last begin to appreciate the true genius and continuing power of this single most influential literary and spiritual creation in the history of humanity.”