Sunday, June 26, 2011

It’s the Oligarchy, stupid

Like many in the freethinking community, I have been amazed at the changes in intellectualism in America over the last four decades.  We have gone from a culture that loved science and deep intellectual thought to one focused on fantasy and superficial musings.  Science has become the great scapegoat for many of our ills, as the conservative right encourages.

Is this really true? I don’t think so.

The oligarchic class has been the main driver of the dumbing down of America.  In their assault on progressive individualism, they have created the illusion that most scientists and academics are “lefties”  and used anti-intellectualism as the Red Badge of Courage of conservatism.  There is much support for this view, such as Ferris’ book (The Science of Liberty).  But, I think the issues have been muddled very well.

The real polarization in America is the wealthy versus everyone else.  This class warfare has been hidden for many years by the other big polarization, left vs right or democrats vs republicans.  The oligarchs don’t care about left/right; they use these moral issues as a means to concentrate more power within themselves; they don’t care which political party they have to buy off to get their way.  They encourage the public to be distracted by moral warfare while they steal all the assets and power they can.

There is plenty of evidence that both political parties desire to restrict personal freedoms in the service of oligarchy.  In Wisconsin, the republicans are taking away the right of collective bargaining.  Under Obama, the TSA is patting down children because we are all supposed to be afraid of terrorists.  Taking away collective bargaining allows the oligarchs to divide and conquer, and minimize challenges to their power.  Basically, they want many small oppositions instead of a big one.  Allowing TSA to grope our children continues the military-industrial-surveillance complex’s invasion of our privacy.  The goal of oligarchy is to restrict the number of successful people in the world.  They do that by controlling the small people.

So, I remain frustrated with the scientific community because they continue to argue from the wrong stance.  They are always trying to tell us what the Truth is instead of offering useful, doable solutions in offsetting the gains of the oligarchs.  Moreover, they are rarely willing to fight fire with fire.

An example of this is the book Merchants of Doubt that describes how much of the world of science has been undermined by big business interests and a few scientists willing to corrupt the facts.  The book “exposes how radical think tanks have created a cadre of scientists - motivated by money and ideology - to debunk established scientific facts on threats such as DDT, tobacco, nuclear weapons and global warming” (here, and see here).  Basically, oligarchs use intellectuals to promote anti intellectualism. 

Merchants of Doubt tells the story of how a loose-knit group of high-level scientists and scientific advisers, with deep connections in politics and industry, ran effective campaigns to mislead the public and deny well-established scientific knowledge over four decades.  Remarkably, the same individuals surface repeatedly-some of the same figures who have claimed that the science of global warming is "not settled" denied the truth of studies linking smoking to lung cancer, coal smoke to acid rain, and CFCs to the ozone hole.  "Doubt is our product," wrote one tobacco executive.  These "experts" supplied it” (here).

Yes, it is a history book, a history of science.  But couldn’t they offer ideas on how to combat the problem of oligarchy?  Can’t scientists run an effective anti misinformation campaign?  Or, is it too late in the cultural cycle and anti intellectualism must prevail for more years?

Scientists continue to be dumbfounded by the oligarchy's anti intellectual campaign and they try to counter it with intellectual arguments about Truth.  Scientists are fighting a war about truth and ideas when they should be fighting about money and power.  Can they offer ways to campaign against the oligarchs? 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Spock as Modernism

When I was in graduate school in the early 1980s important questions that guided Anthropology seminars were “what is human” and “what distinguishes humans from other animals.”  Of course, in those days, the answer often turned to the word “culture” as so many believed that it distinguishes humans from other animals.  Culture was also tied to the use of tools and having language.

I guess these questions are always relevant.  However, I think the answers change with the changing cultural seasons.

Soft modernist Kenneth Burke wrote in 1966:  "Man is the symbol-using (symbol-making, symbol-misusing) animal, inventor of the negative (or moralized by the negative), separated from his natural condition by instruments of his own making, goaded by the spirit of hierarchy (or moved by the sense of order), and rotten with perfection".

Modernists liked to focus on ‘exclusive’ ideas, ones that separate and distinguish humans from other animals and from nature.  They also suppressed and ignored studying human emotionalism because it is too animal-like.  Early modernists wanted to put emotional people into psycho wards along with the insane.  Inability to control ones emotions was thought to be abnormal.

Post modernists tend to be eclectic and they
a) are holistic were they recognize both inclusive and exclusive views, or
b) ignore the humanness issue, or
c) focus on naturalism, as in “it’s part of human nature for some to believe they are separate from nature.”

Post modernists now believe that studying emotions is important to understanding human cognition.

The shift from Modernism to Post Modernism occurred during the Fourth Awakening (ca. 1960-1990).  In those years the definition of what is human changed from ideas like Burke’s to those such as a, b, and c above. (My graduate school was conservative at the time).

One of the means of making this shift was by representing humanness in new ways during those Awakening years.  Star Trek was one of the popular series that made it all happen.  The original series ran 1966-1969 and it then became a major franchise of new series and spin offs that continue to today.  The original series focused on Capt Kirk and Mr. Spock with Kirk showing the range of feeling and characteristics of humans and Spock as the Vulcan alien who suppresses emotions and pursues logic--the ultimate modernist. Throughout the Star Trek franchise the contrast of Vulcan as the pinnacle of Apollonian pursuit versus “human” is a major theme.  See this video montage of Mr Spock the Logic Man

What these clips reveal is that pure logic and rationalism were challenged during and after the Awakening as being exceptional human traits; they are, in fact, deemed too cold, too clinical, often flawed. Modernism is flawed humanity.

Over the whole Star Trek franchise there grows a fairly well defined sense of what is human and what is beyond it.  Vulcans are eventually softened into having feelings and their cousins the Romulans are shown to be pure Dionysian.  The Klingons start out as enemies but become allies; they are a warrior culture similar to samurai Japanese and Plains Indians (Dionysian).

By surrounding humans with species with extreme traits then humanness get defined as the balanced center, a typical awakening posture.

Now that the Awakening is far behind us, has American culture changed from the modernist scientism of Spock to the eye bedazzling sneaky Romulan? or are we more like the honorable Klingons?

Spock photo here; Romulan photo here.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Flash is the Word

The word flash is everywhere lately.  So I compiled some.

Flash as a verb; as a noun; as an adjective; as an adverb.

Older more common uses:
Flash back, flash flood, flash card, news flash. Flashings, as in metal & rubber, for doors, windows, roofs, chimneys, etc. Flash tape, often fashion tape. Flash photography (flash bulbs, flash lamps, flash units, flash umbrellas). Flashlight.  Flash tattoo, generic tattoo designs often seen on the walls of tattoo studios.

Flash Gordon: Flash Gordon is the hero of a science fiction adventure comic strip originally drawn by Alex Raymond. First published January 7, 1934. Followed by various Flash comics characters. “All incarnations of the Flash can move, think, and react at superhuman speeds. Some, notably later versions, can vibrate so fast that they can walk through walls, travel through time and can also lend and borrow speed. Furthermore, all members have an invisible aura around their bodies that prevents themselves and their clothes from being affected by air friction as they move at high speed.”

Flasher: multiple meanings but probably best known for “A person who displays his or her body in a form of indecent exposure (flashing genitals, breasts, buttocks, etc.)”.

Flash, a 1980 song for a Flash Gordon movie.
Flashdance, a 1983 romantic movie about dancing.

Flashforward: a 1999 novel and a 2009 TV series.

Flash ability: a spell in Magic the Gathering, here.

Flash drive: a flash memory data storage device.

Adobe Flash:  is a multimedia platform used to add animation, video, and interactivity to web pages. Flash is frequently used for advertisements and games. More recently, it has been positioned as a tool for "Rich Internet Applications" ("RIAs").  A flash player is used to view the animations.

Related to Adobe Flash
Flash animation:  a “Flash cartoon is an animated film which is created using Adobe Flash or similar animation software and often distributed in the .swf file format. The term Flash animation not only refers to the file format but to a certain kind of movement and visual style which, in many circles, is seen as simplistic or unpolished. However, with dozens of Flash animated television series, countless more Flash animated television commercials, and award-winning online shorts in circulation, Flash animation is enjoying a renaissance.  Also:  Flash ads/banners, flash effects, flash earth, Flash video, flash audio, flash cookies, flash games. Flash index, FlashQuran.  The use is endless.

Flash quizzes = quick quizzes; flash test (a school quiz or a test of the flash player.)
Flash work out = quick exercise
Flashseats, a place to buy tickets, quickly.
Flash sales:  “sales in a flash. They are excellent deals, sometimes up to 70% off but they only last for a very short period of time”.  They used to be called Blue light specials, as in K Mart.

Flash prose/literature fiction and nonfiction of under 1000 words, plays of less than ten minutes in duration, and one of several journals and magazines for it.  Also, ‘daily flash’ a dose of flash prose.

Flash report; “One providing highlights of key information promptly to the responsible managerial accountant; also called exception report. An example is an exception report such as performance reports that highlight favorable or unfavorable variances. A flash report allows managers to take a corrective action for an unfavorable variance. “

Flash mob: a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual and sometimes seemingly pointless act for a brief time, then disperse, often for the purposes of entertainment and/or satire. Coined in 2003.

Flash volunteer, get involved with your neighborhood.

Flash crash of 2010 in the stock market.  And, subsequent usage for quick stock or market downturns.

If there are some others that are interesting,  let me know.