America Wasn’t Built for Humans

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America Wasn’t Built for Humans

by Andrew Sullivan

Tribalism was an urge our founding fathers assumed we could overcome. And so it has become our greatest vulnerability.

I don’t agree with the writer’s views of human nature expressed in the genetic deterministic just-so story he provides in the following two paragraphs. If our early cultural evolution had actually taken the path he describes – a predominance of in-group protectionist thinking over inter-group cooperation, accommodation and compromise thinking – all but one group would have been left standing, the rest annihilated, and the world today would have little to none of the genetic, linguistic and cultural diversity we actually have. In-group preferences and inter-group conflict have always been human tendencies but there is little evidence that they are default positions hard-wired into our genome. Avoidance and a wide range of non-violent inter-group options including inter-marriage alliances have far out-numbered our choices to fight and try to defeat others.

Excerpts

“The tribes that best survived (and thereby transmitted their genes to us) were, moreover, those most acutely aware of outsiders and potential foes. A failure to notice incoming strangers could end your life in an instant, and an indifference to the appearances of other human beings could mean defeat at the hands of rivals or the collapse of a tribe altogether. And so we became a deeply cooperative species — but primarily with our own kind. The notion of living alongside people who do not look like us and treating them as our fellows was meaningless for most of human history.

“Comparatively few actual tribes exist today, but that doesn’t mean that humans are genetically much different.”

I do agree with all else he offers. Especially the laying of the greatest blame for encouraging hardened tribalism on the Right and the Republican Party in particular. But more importantly I agree with his two ways members of the Left and Right tribes in the US can survive and prosper: 1) a renewed focus on individuality; and 2) forgiveness and magnanimity toward each other. In short, placing greater value on individuals, moderating the intensity of our beliefs and values, being more empathetic, and pursuing compromise.

“As utopian as it sounds, I truly believe all of us have to at least try to change the culture from the ground up. There are two ideas that might be of help, it seems to me. The first is individuality. I don’t mean individualism. Nothing is more conducive to tribalism than a sea of disconnected, atomized individuals searching for some broader tribe to belong to. I mean valuing the unique human being — distinct from any group identity, quirky, full of character and contradictions, skeptical, rebellious, immune to being labeled or bludgeoned into a broader tribal grouping. This cultural antidote to tribalism, left and right, is still here in America and ready to be rediscovered. That we expanded the space for this to flourish is one of the greatest achievements of the West. … And, [secondly] at some point, we also need mutual forgiveness. It doesn’t matter if you believe, as I do, that the right bears the bulk of the historical blame. No tribal conflict has ever been unwound without magnanimity. Yitzhak Rabin had it, but it was not enough. Nelson Mandela had it, and it was. In Colombia earlier this month, as a fragile peace agreement met public opposition, Pope Francis insisted that grudges be left behind: ‘All of us are necessary to create and form a society. This isn’t just done with the ‘pure-blooded’ ones, but rather with everyone. And here is where the greatness of the country lies, in that there is room for all and all are important.’ If societies scarred by recent domestic terrorism can aim at this, why should it be so impossible for us? … Nurturing your difference or dissent from your own group is difficult; appreciating the individuality of those in other tribes is even harder. It takes effort and imagination, openness to dissent, even an occasional embrace of blasphemy. … The actual solutions to our problems are to be found in the current no-man’s-land that lies between the two tribes. Reentering it with empiricism and moderation to find different compromises for different issues is the only way out of our increasingly dangerous impasse.”

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Evolving Ourselves – The Future of Our Cultural & Biological Evolution

 

img_1006.pngBeing human in Nature includes our biological responses to the physical world, and our ever-increasing number of new adaptive strategies and improvements to long-standing ones.

Revising the very notions of what ‘human’ and ‘Nature’ mean is also included here. Beyond our beliefs, values and behaviors, human cultural adaptation also includes improving the effectiveness and reach of our medical procedures and computer and pharmaceutical technologies.

As we have done with all past inventions and innovations, we will have to confront the ethical and moral challenges such interventions into humanness and Nature raise. In doing so we will seek to normalize those new ideas, methods and technological uses that provide the greatest good and least harm to the greatest number of people.

Might we one day direct our species’ and Earth’s evolution? Not in the haphazard, often harmful ways we are doing it now but in a reasoned (scientific and humanistic), deliberative, sustainable manner that truly improves not only our species wellbeing and flourishing, but also that of our entire planetary home.

The following excerpts from the book, Evolving Ourselves: How Unnatural Selection and Nonrandom Mutation are Changing Life on Earth, by Juan Enriquez and Steven Gullans (2015), provide insights into some of what is already underway in ‘evolving’ our future, and what may come of our efforts to redefine the mechanisms and outcomes of our and Life’s evolution itself.

It is both a future of immense potential for good as well as one of innumerable risks. Scenarios abound that may lead to catastrophes and extinction, not only for ourselves but for all life on Earth.

These potentials for survival and flourishing or degradation and extinction have been within us for a quarter of a million years of Homo sapiens’ existence. What has changed through time – from the first stone chopping tools, language, and in- and out-group cooperation to present-day nano technologies and gradually less violent societies (Pinker) – has been the ever-increasing power of our tools and the influence of their products. There has also been change in the ever-enlarging content of the ethnosphere, that body of accumulated global knowledge that contains our collective experience, and our ever-expanding understanding of what is moral and ethical among the various beliefs, values, and behaviors that have been tried around the world through time.

The future shall be a continuation of our species’ journey from the unknown into a future of uncertainty. Choosing to be compassionate toward each other and having hope for the best outcome is all we fully control.

Excerpts from Evolving Ourselves

“No one has attempted a whole human brain transplant, nor should they. Nascent technologies and knowledge make the procedure far too risky and speculative, and the chances of success are minute, not to mention the ethical challenges of identifying and qualifying a donor. But as science progresses, if one became able to transplant a human brain or portions of a brain, then one could begin to answer some fundamental questions about the nature of consciousness, memory, and personality.”

“The most basic of human cells, stem cells, which program all functions in our bodies, are being inserted into species far and wide. As we blur species lines, as we ‘humanize’ parts of animals, we begin to see blind mice that grow human corneas. And because some of the organs and biological structures in pigs are so close to those of humans, there are more and more efforts to modify these animals’ immune systems, humanize some of their organs, and transplant them directly into humans.”

“In an attempt to find cures for various neurological diseases, more and more human brain cells are entering animal bodies, which often results in significant and noticeable upgrades. Alzheimer’s researchers found that transplanted human stem cells led to mice with improved spatial learning and memory.”

“If we can transplant human cells into animals’ brains and significantly improve their cognition, it is also reasonable to think that one could transplant and develop enhancements to the average human brain; recent stem-cell transplants into Parkinson’s patients’ brains show some promise, albeit inconsistently. … As we continue to seek cures for various neurological diseases, we are likely to find more and more examples of interventions that significantly alter and enhance various brain functions. And this will give us more choices in how to enhance, evolve, and build up the most human of our organs.”

“Meanwhile, we are continually attempting to ‘upgrade’ our brains through electronic inputs, both internal and external. … Drugs provide yet another path to enhance/modify human cognition. … And then there is the external cognition option. Back at the MIT Boyden lab, they are busily building tiny computer chips, embedded with thousands of needles 1/1000th of an inch wide, which allow measuring, and perhaps altering, activity inside individual neurons.”

Book Link

https://www.amazon.com/Unnatural-Selection-Nonrandom-Mutation-Ourselves/dp/B00VYV0JNM/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1506606049&sr=8-2&keywords=evolving+ourselves

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Higher Education in Africa Needs More Emphasis on Critical Thinking, Less on Rote Memorization

Educating Africa’s Youth for the 21st Century

“Learning in many African universities still happens in large lecture halls and rewards the ability to remember and repeat information. Researchers such as Nobel Prize winning physicist Carl Wieman have shown that this is one of the least effective ways of learning.

“Effective learning takes three things. First, students must be able to reflect on what they are learning. Reflection helps students assess what they know and what they don’t. It also helps them to integrate new ideas and concepts into their body of knowledge. When students reflect, they strengthen the neural pathways in their brain, and build new pathways that link information that was previously not associated. These links enable critical thinking.

“Second, true learning happens when students stop being passive recipients of information and become active experimenters. When students take an active part, they take responsibility for the results and ensure that learning is relevant to them. They develop habits that help them learn later in life, such as self-regulation, motivation and curiosity.

“Third, learning happens when students apply new concepts or skills. This is the most natural test for a student’s comprehension of what they are studying. Doing something, receiving feedback about it, refining the approach and then doing it again also builds neural pathways for retrieval and association.”

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The Pursuit of Power and Wealth is Hidden and Abetted by Focusing on Ethnicity, Religion and Race Divisions, and Poor Media Reporting

Religion Is Not The Only Reason Rohingyas Are Being Forced Out Of Myanmar

This article provides another example where ethnicity and religion become the focus, the arena for ambitious power- and wealth-pursuing perpetrators and the media. This focus obscures the underlying political and economic ambitions. For the media it makes for better headlines and entertaining but not always true distinctions between victims and evil doers. For perpetrators such as national and local governments, and the wealthy in pursuit of more wealth, and the opportunistic poor of neighboring ethno-religious groups it provides cover and moral justification for the persecution and displacement of those of different ethnicity and religions. Another instance is the Western media reporting of politician-fueled “tribal clashes” in Africa, most recently in Kenya and Ethiopia. Again, such tactics and reporting obscures, under-reports and provides cover for the economic and political factors driving and contributing to violence and injustice.

Here’s more on the media’s substandard reporting on Africa: http://jameselassiter.blogspot.com/2012/04/how-not-to-write-about-africa.html

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Diamonds From Africa

Africa is Rich in Diamonds But Still Poor

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“Last week Tanzanian police struck a blow against international diamond smuggling. A consignment of diamonds worth around 28 million euros ($33.4 million) was seized at the country’s main airport. Petra Diamonds, the biggest listed diamond company in the world, based in the tax haven of Jersey, had registered a consignment of 14 kilos (30 pounds.) However, according to the Tanzanian authorities, it actually weighed 30 kilos. The rough diamonds from the Williamson mine were intended for export to Belgium for processing.

“The Williamson mine in the north of Tanzania is a joint venture. 75 percent belongs to Petra Diamonds, 25 percent to the Tanzanian government. Tanzania’s president, John Magufuli, has declared that combating corruption in the mining sector is a priority for his government. His anti-corruption platform played a large part in helping him to power in 2015.”

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Taking Control of Your Participation in the Ethnosphere – But Can You, Really?

Free-Will & Willpower Are Becoming A Thing Of The Past. Here’s What You Can Do About It. – Benjamin P. Hardy

“Although people instinctively believe they are making their own choices, in today’s trigger-laden environment, the opposite is more true.

Most people are not making their own choices. They are unconsciously and reactively operating in a world that was creating for them, not in a world that was created by them.”

“Although most people are unconsciously losing their free-will, there has never actually been a more liberating time in human history to live, to thrive, and to experience freedom.

But the only way to thrive is by consciously designing your environment.

There’s really no other way.

The opposite approach is attempting to overcome your environment through grit and willpower.

Again, this doesn’t work anymore. Perhaps it worked in previous eras, where the external environment was not so intrusive, addictive, and constant.

But the truth is, your environment is no longer static and passive. Rather, it is aggressively seeking to influence, persuade, and even sell you stuff. And it’s doing its job very, very well.

You have a digital identity that knows your behaviors and habits more than you do. Technology allows markets to put exactly what you want right in your face non-stop.

Consequently, you must create and control your environment. Cryptocurrency will help with that in the near future. Soon, you’ll be able to completely block out people and media you don’t want.

But until then, you’re going to need to become proactive and aggressive about blocking stuff out.

You’ll need to create systems to avoid addiction, distraction, and self-sabotage.”

“All you need to do is shape the environment that organically supports desired behaviors, goals, and values.

Your ability to create conditions that make success happen is essential to your success.

It’s essential to your very free-will. Because unless you create an environment that allows you to act, you will be an unconscious object which is acted upon.

Free-will is not a zero-sum game. “Free will” actually doesn’t exist. Instead, all of us have a contextual agency — our ability to act in desired ways is based on our context.

But who creates that context?

For most people, someone or something else.

For you? Well, that’s your choice.

If you take control of your environment, you can overcome addiction. You can outsource desired behavior to a congruent and empowering environment. You don’t need to tax your willpower — only to adjust your environment when you’re triggered to self-destruct.”
View at Medium.com

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