Tree-Hugging Dirt Worship

April 29, 2011

Science: Still Done by Humans

Filed under: science — Tags: — paragardener @ 9:43 pm

Science is just a human institution, y’all. It may be oriented to observation, but that doesn’t make it all that superior to other forms of knowledge. Bias at the levels of funding, research and publishing can overwhelm the real information scientists are hunting for out there in the world.

Science fans (and I am one) like to point out that science is self-correcting, ever trying to sharpen its picture of the world, as opposed to an enterprise like faith, where the goal is to carry ideas through time intact. The technical fruits of science certainly keep improving in capabilities, cost of production and so on. Refinement in the gadgets reflects the physical sciences behind them advancing and self-correcting, despite occasional dead-ends or unforeseen consequences.

After giving the matter more thought, though, I’ve come to believe that science is mainly a follower and reflection of the spirit of the times. Scientists contribute oodles to the changes in society, but science is basically a big establishment welded into an agglomeration of big powerful establishments: the military, academia, “big government,” finance, industry, and, perhaps, “the people.” Science is under immense pressure to deliver for the powers that can afford to employ scientists!

Now much of the time scientists get to do real exploration and productive work in this system they live in. Take astronomers: much of what they do is literally trying to see things more clearly. Astronomical results may influence which telescope is built next, but probably won’t effect voting, purchasing patterns or attitudes towards women. So astronomy is pretty free to grow and self-correct like a science is supposed to, without overwhelming bias.

When you move from stars and particles and get into research with clear ramifications for human relations or a powerful someone’s bottom line, I believe the noise of bias comes to generally outweigh the signal of observable truth. The scientists working in politicized or big-money fields of endeavor can be hamstrung as effective explorers and become propagandists supporting some ideology or product. Scientists working with the deepest individual integrity still live in a system where they must acquire funds for their work, and then get their work published in a journal reviewed by other scientists in that field, so they can be effectively nullified.

Scientific racism, scientific tolerance

Consider the sad history of racism in science. Carl Linnaeus was an awesome scientist, who gave many species of plants and animals the scientific names they still carry 233 years after his death. A great classifier of birds and plants but not so sharp with humans, Linnaeus lumped people into races called Americanus, Asiaticus, Africanus, Europeanus, and Monstrosus (people with horns and hooves or whatever. It was practically the middle ages). Americanus were stubborn and fierce, Africanus lazy, Europeanus inventive and gentle, and Asiaticus greedy and distractible. In other words, the scientist more-or-less casually explained the races in terms of myths and stereotypes everyone “knew” in his time and place. To me, it looks more like a weak comedian making cheap racist cracks than the thoroughly hateful speech of a genocidal maniac. But, Linnaeus was a Swede, and Sweden’s global empire was pretty modest, so he probably got only a mediocre dose of racist propaganda.

Charles Darwin, an Englishman in a big, aggressive empire, saw a natural progression from monkeys up to apes up to blacks up to whites. He foresaw that the more primitive races would be selected out of existence, presumably due to the suffering inflicted by imperial conquerors. The degree to which Darwin was truly racist in his heart is debated, but his views as expressed in “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life” would quickly be developed into the genocidal doctrine… uh, science… of Social Darwinism. The idea of Social Darwinism is to replace a society based on mutual aid with one based on survival of the fittest, lest without sufficient competition we evolve backwards into apes.

Broader heads are represented in darker shades.

Things got pretty colorfully ignorant for a while, with theories linking the ratio of your head's height vs. width to the level of your character, etc.

Around the 1910’s, people were well enough impressed with science’s accomplishments that some were thinking about using it to manage society. Old ways needed modernization so that everything could run more smoothly. For many people, even the human gene pool needed scientific management! Now in theory, no one should be better to manage a society than scientists, because they are supposed to question things and reason and solve puzzles and especially observe, rather than acting as dictators or conniving powerbrokers or demagogues. You’d think scientists would have the best handle on the answers. But remember that most scientists are working out of white, recently slave-trading, imperially conquering societies. They are not the shot callers, but are employed as advisers and managers by the governments and industrial combines which rely on violent control of the world’s resources!

The scheme of eugenics was cooked up during this time. The Greek roots of the word mean “keeping good stock,” which you’d think might apply to keeping a line of cabbages or dogs genetically healthy. However, “eugenics” has always referred to plans for genetic control of the human population. Mired in the whites-first imperial culture, enamored of Darwin and newly empowered by popular demands for scientific management, eugenicists provided inspiration and intellectual cover fire for anti-miscegnation laws, forced sterilizations, and ultimately the Nazi Holocaust.

That was pretty much far enough for racist science. The Allies came to loathe much about the Nazis, especially their extreme penchant for ending genetic lines! After the war, there was a brief hope for world unity and peace. A 1948 UN resolution called upon UNESCO (UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) to consider “proposing and recommending the general adoption of a programme of dissemination of scientific facts designed to bring about the disappearance of that which is commonly called race prejudice.” Those studying human variation were now getting support for going towards the opposite conclusion of what they’d mostly been finding before. I suspect the old racial scientists were mainly retired and replaced, rather than individual scientists switching sides in droves.

According to the 1950 UNESCO report: “Scientists were unanimous in wishing to have the opportunity of denouncing before world opinion the absurdity of the racist [Nazi] dogma” back in 1935. However, there were Nazi scientists and eugenically-inclined scientists amongst the future Allies, as well. In fact, in 1935 eugenicists were just building an institute in Germany, modeled after an institute running in California! As I’ve tried to show, you can follow a long, illustrious line of scientific thought into Nazi management of human stock. Linnaeus and Darwin, after all, are pretty well-respected names!

The equal rights position of UNESCO, which dominates today, is a Hell of a lot more reasonable than coercive or murderous eugenics schemes:

At the present moment, it is impossible to demonstrate that there exist between ”races” differences of intelligence and temperament other than those produced by cultural environment. If, tomorrow, more accurate tests or more thorough studies should prove that ”races” as such do, in fact, have different innate faculties or aptitudes, Unesco’s moral position on the race question would not be changed.

I just mean to say that the UNESCO position sure looks like a political response to the shifting winds of history, rather than a victory of the rigorously applied scientific method. Agitators, artists, preachers, writers, politicians, lawyers and judges, athletes and musicians, civil disobeyers, soldiers at war and scientists all played roles in changing attitudes about race.

From force to fleecing

So, science apparently got the race question wrong from its very beginning until Naziism became the big enemy and spoiled race hate for (almost) everybody. Scientists spouted off about drastic differences between races which turned out to be illusory or insignificant, for at least as long as they’ve been supporting equal treatment! Maybe, just maybe, science is still way off base in some of its inquiries, despite the existence of observable reality? Maybe for similar reasons as it’s been off-tracked before?

Today exploitation uses the pen more than the sword. Instead of people getting snatched up and made into slaves, everyone has to participate in a global economy where most of us inevitably get the shaft. Leaving aside weapons development, most science is directed towards developing and shilling products for the mass market, or fulfilling some government agenda, such as justifying draconian drug prohibition. Consider how social context affects the work of today’s researchers: what is the effect on research when synthetic chemicals are patentable and raw plant products are in the public domain? How much of economics and social science is tailor-made for political factions? Can a scientist really evaluate oregano and marijuana in the same “objective” framework? Will a corporation stand by the scientist whose recommendations for safe conduct cut into their bottom line?

Occasionally, you have a tobacco whore in a white coat fabricating data to please his bosses. More often, scientists work pretty much honestly in an environment that skews the collective sum of their work into a sham with little resemblance to reality. Group-think is a big culprit here. Imagine that you and your coworkers developed a genetically modified organism, or nuclear power plant, or other potential Frankenstein. Jurassic Park makes for good fantasy. So anyway… you’ve put months or years of your life into it, and it passes the management’s tests. How does it feel when some ignorant outsider starts asking a lot of probing questions and criticizing your work? No, damn you! Our dinosaur park is the coolest thing ever and you better not put it down or take it away from us! This is not conducive to objectively assessing the situation. Perhaps you then discover a dangerous flaw in the group’s methods. If the atmosphere is sufficiently charged, your warnings will be taken as a hazardous dissenting opinion, to be ignored and marginalized. Perhaps you’ll be moved to a different project.

The federal government loves throwing money at Dr. George Ricaurte, who consistently publishes papers illuminating dangerous aspects of MDMA (ecstasy). In one case, he reported that MDMA causes Parkinson’s symptoms, based on what he saw in his laboratory monkeys. The retraction was rather embarrassing — the monkeys had accidentally been given methamphetamine, more potent by weight than MDMA and already known to cause Parkinson’s symptoms. No one on the research team, with all their expert knowledge and instrumentation and keen powers of observation, could spot the fact that the monkeys weren’t reacting like monkeys “should” react to MDMA and question the test. It’s likely that each researcher, running slightly on autopilot, saw what they expected to see and missed the evidence right under their noses. This somnambulism suits their work of objectively studying MDMA as long as they consistently show it to be worthless and dangerous, and so Dr. Ricaurte’s team continues to attract funding.

Just because you claim objectivity, doesn’t mean I can’t question what you say

Recognizing that bias can overwhelm data and screw up answers to even the biggest questions of a field, we are now free to drop a certain level of deference to the opinions of mainstream science. Everyone please stand up, and step out of your mental prisons. No longer must you be cowed by flat assertions of “self-correcting objective proof, bitches!”

Should we believe mainstream science on food and diet? I think that the frequent changes in dietary recommendations and the general failure to cure Western Disease (aka metabolic syndrome) show that science has been most thoroughly off-track in studying nutrition. This is a big failure which is literally killing us. You might as well follow a kooky, superstitious fad diet ’cause you can’t hurt yourself much worse than by eating as generally recommended. I mean to say — every people which switches to the Western diet begins dying of diabetes and heart disease. Most science, including USDA and HHS reports, recommends some version of this diet, rigorously apportioned in starvation quantities. It doesn’t matter how many studies they can cite as evidence for their position — those recommendations have unequivocally and utterly failed when even the most health-conscious people in our society are succumbing to Western Disease. Recommending an actual change in diet is beyond their capability, really… any change in diet would hurt one of the food industry concerns, who will label dissent as “junk science” and “libel” and generally not allow it to displace lethal mainstream wisdom.

How meaningful is it that mainstream science consistently rejects the supernatural? I mean, it’s not like science just keeps on evaluating tales of the paranormal but coming up dry. I wondered the other day if some people might really see auras. Here’s the thinking: animals are alert to “animal energy,” a sort of non-verbal communication shared by all animals and the Dog Whisperer. It communicates important animal ideas like threats, domination, submission, love and fear. It consists of body language, sounds, smell, and possibly more. Could someone see animal energy as colored auras? Many people live with “synesthesia,” wherein one sense or “cognitive pathway” bleeds into another. Synesthetes may see sounds as colored abstract images, or associate a different personality with each thing in an ordered list (days of the week, alphabet, etc.), or taste words, or experience one or more of quite a number of known switch-ups. Seeing animal energy as a colored blob doesn’t seem too far fetched. Or, you could predetermine that nothing paranormal is real and perhaps dismiss anyone who claims to see auras as a liar or mentally ill. When science does get a handle on some phenomenon such as ball lightning, St. Elmo’s Fire, or meteorites, it tends to forget ever having dismissed said phenomenon as feeble-minded superstition.

I’m not suggesting you throw out all belief in science. The fundamentals of chemistry and physics are solid enough. Newton’s universal gravitation works for me, even though it’s only a special case of general relativity and cannot quite be True as a statement about the entire universe. On the other hand, the Periodic Table of Elements is unshakably real to me — I can’t imagine any other explanation for the plethora of substances in this world, than the combining and recombining of those invisible little atoms with their various demands for electrons. Also, I believe in an old age for the Earth — most likely near the mainstream estimate of 5 billion years, but certainly far older than the 6,000 years given by a literal reading of the Bible. I learned about dinosaurs and fossils and strata of rocks as a kid, so I’ve always believed in the ancient Earth. Arguments for a young Earth, I’m sorry to have to say, are really weak and only work if you really, really want them to.

Do remember not to always leave for science the last word, or you could end up participating in stupidity of the most expert type. You might remember that lots of perceptive people are not scientists. Writers and philosophers might occasionally have something to contribute, such as a broadmindedness sometimes missing when you work deep in a field of specialists. Also, you don’t always need years of specialist education to understand what science is saying, and evaluate it for whether or not it makes any sense! You are right to question whether or not the truth was discovered, if you question with integrity. The truth may be only a stream, under a sea of conflicting interests.

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April 23, 2011

Springtime Country Blues Explosion, Part One

Filed under: music — paragardener @ 8:42 pm

Ah, springtime in Michigan, the muddy interlude between snow and Deep-South-like heat and humidity. A time for joy and renewed hope…

Meanwhile… even “liberal” MSNBC-friendly pundits are accepting the line that “entitlements” — most of which are directly paid for with their own special taxes — must be cut to save the U.S. budget. Never mind that a powerful company like General Electric doesn’t pay any taxes at all. Not to mention the costs of maintaining a military presence in over 150 countries or paying off financial terrorists (“bail me out or the whole system will collapse!”). Might as well ignore those issues, ’cause the new leadership has already decided to take granny’s pension money (while carefully, gently taxing the wealthy, the sacred and magical source of jobs.) Blechchh!

My point being – we Americans are rolling over to the money power and demonstrating our willingness to accept the sort of “austerity measures” the rest of the world’s people would riot over. So we are screwed. So we are all going to be singing the blues very soon.

Blind Lemon Jefferson

Lemon Jefferson was a Texas sharecropper’s son, born blind. As a young man he began playing guitar for hustlers — pimps and bootleggers — eventually moving up to better venues and being taken to Chicago to record in the middle of the Roaring Twenties. His success selling tracks with only himself for accompaniment opened the way for the one-man, one-guitar style of country blues mainly being venerated here. You may be able to afford producing this style of music straight through an economic collapse.

Shuckin’ Sugar:

Blind Lemon Jefferson collection at archive.org

Big Bill Broonzy

Broonzy was a sharecropper from Arkansas. He didn’t like coming back to Arkansas and being called “boy” after serving in World War I, so he left for Chicago where there were opportunities for musicians. During the 30’s, he played electrified, fully-arranged, urban blues, and during the 50’s, just to be difficult, he went for an acoustic guitar and an identity as a folk musician. He probably presented the world with the most songs and the broadest range of ideas of any blues player.

Worryin’ You Offa My Mind: Sony Music Entertainment will not allow me to embed this clip, though the song is in the public domain. I thought the entertainment industry wanted us all to obey copyright law on the Internet, but I see now that it was always a one-way street.

Post-psychedelic rock cover by LazyTwo:

Bill Broonzy collection at archive.org

Lonnie Johnson

Lonnie Johnson was raised in a musical family in New Orleans. In 1917 he went on a tour to England, then returned in 1918 to find his entire family, save one brother, dead of the flu! Besides suffering the blues, Lonnie Johnson was a jazz-friendly player who perhaps invented the single-string, picked guitar solo now standard in all rock, blues and country tracks.

A note-for-note cover of Away Down in the Alley Blues:

Blind Willie McTell

Blind from childhood, Willie became a wandering street singer after his mother died and he had no reason to stay near his Statesboro home. He produced no real hits, but recorded many singles nonetheless.

Statesboro Blues

Fred McDowell

Fred McDowell played back in the day with these other bluesmen, but didn’t achieve fame until after World War II. He is credited with popularizing the “North Mississippi” style of blues, which is a little more African and less urbane than the famous Delta blues. Much music in this style is put out by Fat Possum Records.

Kokomo Me!

You Got to Move:

Robert Johnson

Of course, Robert Johnson traded his soul for musical talent at the crossroads, rambled from town to town womanizing, was poisoned over an affair, and died recanting the devil’s music. It should be taught in the schools, really.

Travelling Riverside Blues

Believe I’ll Dust My Broom

Glad to see Sony is protecting another dead artist from the abuse of Youtube embeds — I’m sure the money they make is really going back to Johnson’s relatives down South, right?

Well, that’s one part of three. During part two, there will be some information about playing guitar, and in part three, I will slap you with more harsh realities (I’m not being glum, I’m helping to draw out your inner sharecropper).

April 6, 2011

Revolutionary acts to commit in a consumer culture

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — paragardener @ 3:21 am

-grow something for your own use (not to meet the Front Lawn Standard)
-repair old clothing
-cook
-sing a song
-hunt for food
-go on a walk
-ferment something
-take care of a child, very old person, a disabled or sick person (but not because it’s your job)
-make your own clothes
-instigate a pick-up sports match
-make your own jewelry
-barter
-learn how to repair something
-trade haircuts instead of paying a barber/hairdresser

Whenever you do anything for yourself, you make a tophat-and-monacle-wearing kleptomaniacal sociopathic CEO cry
over his lost market share. Political leaders and experts of all types go apoplectic at the wild, unvetted memes
you may release into the ideosphere. If a an entire community can do for their collective self, governments and
corporations will not even be needed or wanted there.

Also, this list includes a good piece of the list of things to do to get ready for the coming time of living with no money…

April 1, 2011

WHO Review Finds Pleasure Addictive

Filed under: Uncategorized — paragardener @ 11:37 pm

GENEVA (Reuter’s): Last night, the World Health Organization released new guidelines dealing with addiction and compulsive behavior. After extensive review of the medical literature, WHO’s Mental Health Programme reached startling and broad conclusions regarding the human experience of pleasure.

“Pleasure” describes a wide range of mental states which humans find positive or desirable. Unfortunately, “pleasure appears to stimulate the release of dopamine in the brain, specifically in the mesolimbic pathway, the same neuro-reward circuit activated by drugs of abuse such as heroin and cocaine,” according to Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization.

The concept of addiction had, by the 1960’s, narrowed to include only substance abuse issues. However, since that time, gambling, sex, eating, exercise, shoplifting and other thrilling behaviors have been found to activate the release of dopamine in the mesolimbic pathway of the brain, the known physical mechanism of cocaine addiction. In the course of WHO’s latest review, it was discovered that all pleasurable behavior gives rise to the same mentally-enslaving loop in the brain.

In one study, British researchers were shocked to find three and four-year-olds at a daycare squander their entire free period on pleasure-seeking behaviors. “These young children were completely obsessed with socializing and playing with toys,” said Dr. Hillary Mann, “even fighting over blocks just as we have seen laboratory monkeys fighting over cocaine.”

According to WHO, the cycle of chemical dependency begins any time a pleasurable behavior results in a sensation of reward. A feeling of reward means dopamine is being released into the mesolimbic pathway, much as happens after a snort of deadly crystal meth. This sensitizes the pathway into a demand for more dopamine, and compels its victim into seeking more of the original pleasure.

“If you find yourself trapped in a cycle of pleasure-seeking behavior, you need to seek professional help and medical attention,” said Director-General Chan. “A dear friend of mine seemed happy with his life and family, he was wealthy and healthy other than his pleasure addiction. This man would spend inordinate amounts of time seeking out new kinds of food and music, traveling the world and talking to different people. Besides habitually imbibing Dos Equis beer, he was essentially addicted to the entire spectrum of pleasurable behaviors. Naltrexone and varenicline (Chantix) were prescribed, which succeeded in ending the addiction. Tragically, side effects of the medication resulted in the patient’s suicide. People need to recognize pleasure-seeking behavior as a serious disease before they are too far gone and this happens to them.”

Next month, WHO will bring a draft International Pleasure Control Treaty before the U.N. General Assembly.

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