This is a work in progress. (At least I hope so...)
Notes from a thread on fb: https://www.facebook.com/DonnaLHaney
"As to autism, I suspect a complex brew of factors. There are definite changes or deficits in major neural pathways that explain or correlate to various types of autism. Some people are simply blind to the emotional states of others. Some people are blind to their own emotional states. Some people are very good at reading the emotional state of others, but absolutely do not care - as in sociopaths. Some people DO care, but the only feedback that can get through their damaged or deficient input pathways is way out on the extreme. They can only feel when torturing and/of killing.
Similar breakdowns occur in other areas of consciousness, such as music. Some people are totally oblivious and cannot tell Chopin from the Beach Boys. Others are capable of some degree of music recognition, but could care less. Others simply want it LOUD!!! And then there are the people who can hear a tune once and reproduce it precisely, but could not tell you what a Middle C sounds like, for their lives (I'm close to being there). Others can produce absolute tones dead on. Still others can listen to full on orchestras in their minds - and have been tested on it. And on the extreme, a few people can listen in their heads to several orchestras simultaneously, and tell you exactly where they are interrupted and every instrument being played and where the original instrument was located relative to the recording mic., without having experienced the original rendition live.
I.e., there is SO MUCH variation in human ability that we are just beginning to sort out, much less understand the combinations and permutations. Some of us have circuitry that is different than most people's. Sometimes that is a good thing in some respects and a failing in others. How to change such a multivariant beyond the basics is generally beyond our current competence.
Of course, we do know some things that are universal. Such as that sanity and happiness both require feedback. We build our minds from whatever genetic pattern we lucked into, but the process requires a method of self-experience and validation against reality, not just physical reality, but our relationships and the visibility of what is in our minds and who we are as experienced via interactions, especially those that transcend the banal and create the artistic, the unique, the paradigm, the essence
Sometimes just a dog is sufficient, but that reflects the way that our inner needs have been subject to manipulation and perversion, leaving us vulnerable, fearful and unable to act truthfully in the now, lest we reveal our weakness. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy."
"I'm fairly familiar with epigenetics - another of those cases of a religious mentality trumping good science. Lysenko was WRONG and corrupted biology in the USSR for decades, but Western medical science reacted by throwing out any evidence that could be used to support a Lysenkoist position, thus failing to notice what we now know to be a critical area of analysis - epigenetics. Because of the kind of pseudo-religious thinking all around, the truth was censored from bio-science for most of a century. See Kuhn's "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions."
See also my related blog: http://philosborn.joeuser.com/article/460975/Censored_Again
I would guestimate that about half of what we could and should know, based on my own observation of how easily uncomfortable truths are deleted or marginalized by people who have a profit interest in some set of more pleasing lies, is buried or lost. I could cite huge examples in many different branches of science.
Evil thrives and depends upon lies and the suppression of truth. When you meet someone who is suppressing information, you are likely dealing with primary evil. Science pretends to be above it all, but scientific intolerance is about as common as intolerance in general. The only saving grace of science is the scientific method, but that still requires access to the system, and the scientific/political/industrial complexes only allow that access as they choose and in line with their perceived interests."
Also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simon_Baron-Cohen *
*Note that Baron-Cohen's "The Science of Evil," coming from the dimension of neuro-psychology, dovetails nicely with my own work, focused on evolutionary psychology and feedback systems. The intersecting space seems largely congruent.
OK. Here's the foundation:
I'm taking a position that evil has no independant existence. As a concept, it only makes sense in relation to good. While it may count as a good to make harmless, hinder or destroy evil, it is only because there is good to begin with that evil has that potential.* However, it is often to evil's advantage to be discounted, trivialized or laughed away.** But the power of evil, while limited by its nature, can still be great. A single slash or bullet can undo a lifetime of work and achievment. A single sociopath can destroy all the good work of a great man or organization or nation.
*A friend who read this brought me a copy of FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE: On the Genealogy of Morality. I laughed my head off. What a clever, funny fellow. Someone who one might invite to dinner, with brandy and cigars after. (At some peril to one's self-opinion, to be sure.) I had read bits and pieces long ago, but Fred nailed it with his description of the slave morality. To define a code of values on the basis of a reaction to power - a code for the powerless, making the victim a hero, forever branding the competent and productive as inherently evil or at least suspect - the walking an affront to those confined to wheelchairs. To so define the good is to trap the aspiring would-be virtuous in an eternal hell of contradictions, as Rand delineated. Try to be perfect Christian and you risk the sin of putting yourself ahead. Who are YOU to pretend to be better? The better you are, the more you are a living insult to the sinners. How many times do we read in the "New Testament" that the "poor in spirit" shall inherit the earth, or some such nonsense?
**Adolf Hitler was notorious for his barbed sense of humor, as exemplified in a film I watched in my German language class. At one of the huge Nuremburg rallies, Hitler is discussing Chamberlin's proposed treaty of appeasement. He holds up a paper, waving it at the crowd. ~"And in return, Germany promises not to invade ... France, Belgium, Denmark, Greece, Finland, England ... the moon (actually, I threw that in, but it would have fit perfectly.) Hitler pauses dramatically between naming each nation on the list, and with each pause the ROAR of laughter increases.
Most often we seem to err in the opposite direction, discounting pervasive evil because it is dangerous to our reputation or social connections -or lives - to face reality. Recent examples of this include Manning, Snowden, Assange. Together they have uncovered crime at the highest levels, at great risk and real negative consequences to themselves and are either imprisoned or exiled for their efforts. Assange has managed to establish that there is a huge number of guards surrounding the Ecuadoran Embassy, far more than necessary to apprehend him on any conceivable attempted breakout. All song and dance, symbolism, neurotic surreality. Who are these egomaniacs who think that their truth matters over the needs of the populace to depend upon their leaders for guidance?
The general public seems to take the attitude that "well, it was their choice." Yes, it was their choice to do the right thing. It is our choice to be silent about yet another evil committed in our name or to speak out. As Maria Montessori put it in her final book, ~"It is just as important to destroy a great evil, as to create a great good."
What is good or valuable for a rock? Holding it's shape? Or, perhaps disintegrating or exploding? Maybe interacting in some fashion with other entities? Or rotating? Without a foundation in understanding the concept of value itself, we cannot establish what, if anything, could be considered either valuable or evil to that rock - or any inanimate object.
At some point, the reader may want to take a look at my blog "On Morals," (see link above) because, in fact, we can only identify what is bad or evil in a context of understanding what makes something good or valuable. Evil is that which has an essential nature that threatens, prevents or destroys what is good.
So, what is good? I define good in terms of the only context in which the concept of value makes sense, a living entity. A life form only exists as such by virtue of creating or acquiring the necessities of its continuation, which we call generically "values." Life is a system that converts local entropy (disorder) into local extropy (useful order). This process is never very efficient. Consider how little of the sun's radiation is actually captured by living things. Most of it pours relentlessly into the void, contributing its part to the heat-death of the cosmos. We and other living entities stand in the path of that rush to static equilibrium, trap a little of it, and convert it to structure and order - and more life.
To say that this reduces all to mechanics is to forget, once again, the conceptual context. From the outside, the non-living perspective, as a robot intelligence devoid of real consciousness might see it, life is one of various ways by which matter organizes and sustains itself and generates that very capacity. To the robot, existence is a function of correct programming and execution of code in the service of programmed ends.
To a living thing, some things promote its survival and some things hinder it. Those things that enhance it as a living thing are defined as values, or goods. Those that hinder it as a living entity are defined as disvalues or evils. I belabor the point because there is a plethora of religious or religiously-based discussion about what the good is or whether it even has any objective basis.
I contend that "good" and "evil" are simply descriptors adopted by virtue of usefulness and objective basis in the real world. They are concepts that integrate a set of related, essentially similar facts and differentiate them from other sets, no different in principle than the concept of color or mass. Think of a formula in a spreadsheet, with a name and a set of relationships to the other content. But let's look at other competing claims to isolate and clarify the issues further.
The theory of subjective values, on the one hand, declares that the good is whatever people choose. I choose to reject that line. Is that choice not permitted? If so, then there must be a valid source outside of choice to validate that objection, no?
The theory of value from authority likewise begs the question of how the choice of authority was made.
The special case of authority from God, or the Supernatural, merely moves the target into the zone of mystery, like the similar arguments about needing a creator for the universe. Where did that creator come from? Oh, "faith" steps in to fill the gap. But how is "faith" then differentiated from "unproven assertion." Is it not simply a hyposticization of an unknown "X?" Show me a case in which "faith" can be differentiated from "X?" Sticking in an "X" does not itself add any knowledge, comforting as the term "faith" may be.
We are left with the position taken by Ayn Rand, that of objective values, which I think I have successfully restated above. Value only makes sense applied to an entity that has the alternatives of life or death. To such a being, there are no neutral elements. Everything has some valuative weight, for or against its success and survival. Every "is" implies an "ought."
This, BTW, is one of the fundamental weaknesses in the current attempts to design a true AI. Without a real value relationship, which is only possible to a true life-form (whether based on Carbon or Silicon or whatever), judgments as to which course to pursue in the face of alternatives require an essentially arbitrary rule-based approach. No set of such rules can cover all posibilities, and the final choices will have flawed weighting. This is not to say that such non-living entities cannot pursue programmed or derivative goals in a fairly coherent, integrated fashion, or that such robots cannot be highly useful within the limits. One of the earliest works to get this right was James Hogan's "The Two Faces of Tomorrow," which describes essentially how to move a robotic AI to a state of living consciousness.
OK. So, next we look at "evil." Promise...
I recall reading Rand's classic, "The Fountainhead," around 1960, and - despite the disappointment that it wasn't science fiction, like her "Atlas Shrugged," - noticing that the characters all had very wierd personalities and values. The hero, Howard Roark, attached his whole life meaning to his work as an architect. This was clearly considered by Rand to be a good thing, which mystified me at age 12. Roark was up against it. Virtually the whole of not just physical architecture, but the core of the culture in every aspect seemed to be out to get him personally on principle. What was so magic about architecture anyhow?
Dominique Francon was supposedly a flawed soulmate for Howard, a woman who had a fine sensitivity to art and values, but rejected the idea that real value was in fact possible in the real world. For her, the triumph of a boring, banal evil was inevitable, so why fight the issue? She recognized that real virtue and value could exist temporarilly, isolated bumps of extropy against a background of soulless entropic perversion, so she took it upon herself to destroy whatever perverse good did come into being, saving it from suffering an agonizing downward spiral into dissolution. She would purchase art from some starving genius, only to gleefully destroy it before anyone else could be contaminated with futile hope, and pay the artist never to paint or sculpt again.
But the crowning jewel of Rand's super-distilled artistic renderings was Ellsworth Toohey, a relentless advocate of pure evil, a jerk who killed the spirit slowly, letting the victim's own weaknesses come full circle so that someone who might have been salvageable as a person, even a hero, ends up crucified on their own cross. Toohey finds real value not only impossible, but also a personal affront to him, an insult to his fine appreciation of the subtleties of decay, misery and death.
Much of this was beyond my meager 12-year-old comprehension and not even especially believable, as I had never to my knowledge met anyone like any of the central characters of the novel. Did such people actually exist?
In brief, yes. With age sometimes comes experience, with luck, wisdom. I came at the issue of evil initially in the mid-'60's as a philosophical puzzle. Why would someone choose to do something wrong? Was it in the nature of a simple mistake, or was there something else involved? How did one get to evil from a starting point of rationality?
In the late '70's, I found myself dealing with a real sociopath, and I assumed that I could simply go to the CSULB library and find reams of analysis of sociopathy. How about NOTHING? Oh, there were a couple of tomes from Freudian psychoanalysis that tried to wedge sociopathy into their convoluted mysterium of penis envy or Oedipus complex, but there were NO practical measures in the literature, which was what I needed...
Defining evil in terms of good may be the only rational approach, given that evil only exists as a threat to good, but it begs the question as to what good is, of course, and why one would choose one over the other. I won't try to replicate my work in "On Morals," so I suggest that the reader first check out that.
Next: A real-life encounter with evil incarnate.
I don't claim to be better than Ayn Rand in creating fictional representations of abstract essentials, but there is a certain gravitas to the real-life anecdote.
This is a long one. Be warned. Note that the real names of people as well as the company name have been altered for privacy.
In 1978, I got a job as a Teamster warehouseman at a company that went by it's initials "C&Y." I was told that C&Y had been run by some one or two individual owners for many years as a major general grocery warehouse. The original owner(s) finally sold out to a megacorp that decided to convert C&Y into a health-food warehouse, and they apparently felt that the somewhat down and dirty rep of the new Teamster-operated C&Y needed a sophisticated facelift if they were to attract customers such as Mother's Market, which was essential.
Someone from the megacorp who they had moved into management actually had an MBA degree, I believe, and decided to try to attract kids right out of college, instead of the usual blue collar sources, and thus a new crew of us who had seen the C&Y ad at the Cal State Long Beach Student Center were hired to work along with the existing hires. This was during the Carter recession, so an $8/hr warehouse job was highly attractive, compared to nothing. (There was NO WAY that the local Teamsters were going to allow any Teamster of the old crew to be kicked out, of course.)
It all ultimately boiled down to the need to counter the flood of mostly illiterate Samoans who were being brought in by the other night manager, who just happened to be a tribal leader back in the islands. I've nothing against tribal Samoans as such, but being able to read is kind of essential to picking orders from an invoice, especially vitamin orders, where a single wrong or extra bottle or mini-case could easilly be worth a day's wage. Shrinkage was also a problem, and I'm certain that it wasn't the Samoans in particular who were responsible.
(My impression was that the typical worker smuggled out typically $20 in merchandise per day, for a total of perhaps $10,000 loss per week. Women workers had their purses, and we know how sacrosanct they are. The male workers typically had a big boombox lashed to their cherry picker or picking cart, with plenty of room for concealed compartments. The only worker caught stealing, however, in the five years I worked there was already in an overtime wage dispute with management. Apparently the word went out to floor management to get him.)
The megacorps night manager ("N") came from Los Angeles high society, and you could tell it immediately. For him, everything was capable of calm and cheerful rational resolution. The other night manager ("P") had reportedly made it on the basis of proving that he could kick anyone else's butt. He boasted about having a 5th grade level education, which was better than most of the young tribesmen he brought in. He HATED anyone with an education, said so explicitly, and made sure that we all knew it.
The General Manager was equivalently suited to his position. He had been a truck driver for the company, and was allegedly notorious for being a slacker. In fact, the story goes that when the new owners sent a trouble-shooter to assess the situation and recommend changes, especially a new GM, a vacant position, the first person he met in approaching the loading dock was "Jack," who was asleep in the truck's cab while it was being loaded. The cab door made it impossible to see that he was asleep, so the Corporate rep banged on the door, seeking directions to the office, and Jack woke up and so impressed the suit that he decided right then and there to appoint him to be GM. He performed about as well as one could expect, given his background.
My general impression from the five years was that floor management consisted of people who were on everyone's s**t list as employees. The only out for them was to either quit or move into management. As a manager, they had no Teamster job security and would be given tasks that involved rank injustices, such as persecuting particular employees who had complained about health or safety issues. (C&Y finally went out of business a few years after I was terminated, mainly, I was informed, because of the cost of Workman's Comp. accidents, which were numerous - and preventable.)
That's the background. The conflict arose between myself and another of the college grad employees - "M." "M" and I got along famously at first. His degree was a Masters in theater arts. Mine was a BS in physics, but I chose that painful route so that I could write credible, ground-breaking hard science fiction. So, both of us inclined to the arts. M had the advantage of real charisma, and could pour on the charm and apparent warmth and empathy to fool anyone into thinking that he was their long-lost brother, for a while, anyway.
M had actually produced some stage play, I was told, but somehow, despite his lone success, his obvious wit, intelligence, and looks could never quite sync without a scary dark side also peeking through the cracks in the facade to undermine it all. I do not tolerate being screamed at in my face for stumbling over someone else's pathological trip wires, a common experience in dealing with M. My first experience of this was not aimed at me at all, but it was still rather scary.
M drove a tiny Honda CVVC, the original two-seater powered by a motorcycle motor. The starter did not work. Thus, M had to recruit other people to give him a shove and then pop into gear. One late night, no one was eagerly volunteering and so M went into a towering rage and started screaming at everyone. Finally, out of either intimidation or the desire to be rid of him, a couple of guys volunteered.
After being hired by C&Y, M and I had been ride-sharing, at M's insistance, ("I'll be your friend," for M was an offer not to be refused.) from my Long Beach townhouse to the warehouse in the gang-banger badlands of Compton. After a few such trips, M suddenly asked for my advice. He informed me that he and his long-term lover were planning on getting married, but that he was not sure that it was a good idea. Did I have any thoughts to share?
Never shy to present my opinion, I responded that, from what he had told me, he already had a good relationship, apparently, so why introduce a whole new set of factors into it? My experience, starting with my own parents, was that marriages often became shams as people realized who they were locked into, or as they simply grew apart. Thus the 60% divorce rate, plus whatever additional disfunctional misery attended all the couples who stuck it out for the kids' sakes. I expressed these ideas on the assumption that M really wanted to hear my evaluation. His response was again to fly into his stereotypical RAGE.
The next day, being unwilling to put myself through that again, I rode my bicycle the 15 miles to work. I was unable to reach M to tell him to cancel picking me up, so he allegedly waited and honked and came to work in a similar state of purple-faced rage because I had stood him up. I decided that I didn't want to talk with him any more, ever, except as required by the job. This had the by-now-predictable response. If there was one thing that M hated, of course, it was being ignored.
So, a political game ensued. For the next five years, like clockwork, whenever a new hire joined the 30~40 person night crew, M would make sure that he was working within talking distance all night. He would brilliantly play up to whatever interests the newbie had, making him feel like that long-lost brother. To begin with, the newbie and I would always also get along fine, although, to be sure, unlike M's larding on the charm, I restricted my conversations to occasional comments during break periods. Nonetheless, I would notice a distancing and chilling, within the first 2 or 3 days.
M had gotten assigned to restocking the roll down racks from a "cherry picker" fork-lift. No one had time to supervise exactly in what order the racks were restocked, and a single large order could deplete a rack location. This meant that M could lurk on the other side of the huge racks as he chose. The lighting was all on the opposite side, where the order pickers were reading tiny print on invoices and comparing it to tinier print on vitamin bottles. Also, the racks were tilted at about 30 degrees, so that seeing through this complexity of flashing metal and reflective bottles to the dark side was a real challenge. Bottom line, M could spy at will, memorizing details from the intermittant conversations and banter between the pickers, plotting his next move.
After 2~4 days of capturing a newbie, M would make some outrageous allegation about me, something so bad that everyone was angry at me, even though in the entire five years I worked there, no one ever told me what the issue was. I might say something to the newbie during one of these periods and get a cold shoulder, and... sure enough, each and every time, M would appear from behind the racks to do the stage strut, grinning ear to ear in triumph. Depending upon who the person was, M would either cleverly position himself so that I could see his little act while the other person could not, or, in the case of people who he had totally subverted, he would pretend it was all a joke, and they, of course, had to laugh along, or get hit with M's trademark RAGE.
While this was stressful and annoying, compared to common instances of evil such as the Holacaust or the Killing Fields, it seems boring and trivial. Where it first became non-trivial was when one of the women warehousemen "B" mentioned during break that she was worried about doing the right thing with her young son. B, an attractive tall black woman in her late 30's had had prior children with not very good results - gang or criminal involvment, I gathered, and was hoping that this time it would be different. B was an intelligent, if not very educated, woman who always tried to do the right thing. She would stand up for the rights of others, but to stand up for herself scared her, I think.
My background includes the study of Montessori, in connection with helping establish the first Montessori school in Columbia, S. Carolina, in the early '70's. I was on the Board of Directors and also briefly taught in the school. I had direct knowledge of Montessori and the quality of what it offered. To illustrate why B might want to check out Montessori for her young son, I grabbed a yellow pages from the office and opened on preschools. The difference in the block ads for Montessori vs. ordinary pre-schools was striking. The other schools showed fantasy play scenes in their graphics. The Montessori ads showed kids flying rocket ships or doing science experiments or manning rafts in rapids, rushing to adventure, empowerment and academic excellence. I waxed as eloquently as possible to B over what a true Montessori program taught, especially the attitude that it cultivated of conjoined personal freedom and responsibility. Give your son a chance to learn how to resist false lures and think for himself, I told her.
B became enthused over my presentation and the pictures in the phone book and promised to check into it. However, M caught at least the tail end of our conversation. A couple days later, I sat with B at break again, having noted that over the two days M had spent virtually every minute focused on B. As I approached her, I could tell that something was seriously wrong. Her face seemed unable to decide whether it was laughing or crying. B started our conversation with "You wouldn't BELIEVE what M has got me doing." "No, what?" I responded, my heart falling. "He got me to promise to always call him "Massa M." I knew that that battle was lost. B fell in and out of M's favor over the next five years, but never apparently caught on to what he had done.
M had just practised a very common form of hypnosis, one that cult leaders are usually adept at. This subordination of the will to another consists of a combination of, first, creating a vulnerability, often by either treating someone as extra special and/or by doing them favors, implying that one is close to them. Most people are vulnerable to this, as there is little to distinguish it from real friendship, at least at first. Then, as with the rage that M could deliver at will, there will be some kind of attack, emotional or insulting, but disguised at first as a joke, even though, objectively it should count as an insult.
That's essential. What the hypnotist relies upon is that suspension of critical evaluation. People cannot really multitask - see "The Invisible Gorilla" - or in general rise above their own awareness. Yet they feel as though they can, like the checkout grocery clerk who answers questions from one customer about where something is, while entering the data for the purchaser. To the clerk, he or she is totally engaged on both fronts, while to any observer, it is obvious that the clerk is actually wastiing huge amounts of time, pausing with each switchover to refresh his or her focus on one of two customers.
So the hypnotist, whether on stage or therapeutically or as a deliberate act of psycho-subversion, relies upon that fallacy to trick the subject or victim into relinquishing autonomy. The hypnotist cannot be both evil and wonderful, and taking the evil side entails threat to what had seemed to that point like a heavenly relationship. The victim should know that it's an insult - "Massa M" demanded from a black woman by a white man? Come ON! - but the cost of that recognition is that of attacking someone who has put major histrionic effort into convincing you that they are the best friend a person can have. So, B set it aside and treated it as a stupid, tasteless joke. Just words, right? Go along with the gag. And of course, then M will do something nicer than ever so that everything is fine again...
(If the reader wants to see this kind of technique more fully and powerfully explicated, check out Shakespear's "Othello.")
So, B never followed up on the Montessori, because that would involve credibility for me, which would have trapped her in an inescapable contradiction with her now psychological dependency on M. She wasn't able to stand up for herself to begin with and call M out on his insults, so it is unlikely that she would somewhere get the energy in her state of weakened will. And, she never did break free. I don't know what happened with her son. If she had had a clearer impression of the benefits to her son that M was implicitly and with full knowledge destroying, then her natural desire to do the right thing would have prevailed. But all she had was my word and some pictures. Her own lack of erudition played into her feelings of powerlessness regarding M...
... to be continued...
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