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Satire: Political Morality – When Simple Just Won’t Do

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Come, let us all celebrate the new spirit of bipartisanship that's sweeping the land. The air is cleaner, the water tastes like it came from a mountain stream, poverty is being erased, global warming has been tamed, the economy is robust. And, inside the beltway, one sees a new spirit of compromise and cooperation that makes it a snap to resolve thorny moral/political issues such as the right of medical providers to not engage in practices that violate their religious or moral views.

For example, just Saturday, The Washington Post reported on the administration's rollback of a Bush administration regulation protecting health care workers who didn't want to perform abortions or engage in other medical practices they found objectionable.

"We've been concerned that the way the Bush rule is written, it could make it harder for women to get the care they need," said an HHS official who spoke on the condition of anonymity for the same reason. "It is worded so vaguely that some have argued it could limit family-planning counseling and even potentially blood transfusions and end-of-life care."

Okay, that's reasonable, right? The Bushers were too extreme. Let's find common ground

Interested parties from across the political spectrum reacted to the announcement with a refreshing and long awaited tone of reconciliation and good will, all seeking a reasonable solution to this latest regulatory Gordian knot. The administration noted that people have 30 days to comment on its action, and that they're willing to compromise.

Don'tcha just love that word — compromise. Makes ya feel all warm and fuzzy inside like ya just swallowed a large, hairy caterpillar, and it's dancing in your belly.

Consider the thoughtful comments of David Stevens, head of the Christian Medical & Dental Associations: "It is open season to again discriminate against health-care professionals. Our Founding Fathers, who bled and died to guarantee our religious freedom, are turning over in their graves."

Or, on the other side, look at how willing some are to seek regulatory changes that meet all needs. "Our general feeling is this was an area that does not cry out for further clarification," said Marcia D. Greenberger, co-president of the National Women's Law Center. "I would be skeptical."

Yes, Obama Nation has brought us beyond the dark and divisive politics of extremism and ideological purity to a new world of — well — extremism and ideological purity. But it's different, right? I mean, you can just feel the love. Oh, my fellow Americans, be the love. (Without sex, of course.)

So here we are, trapped in a moronic debate over something the solution to which is too simple for complex minds to comprehend. Ladies and gentlemen of the far left and right, get a fucking life, please — for all our sakes. If nothing else, you're boring most of us to death, and there's not much worse a condemnation of anyone than being called boring.

It is simple, you melon-brained barbarians. I will spell it out in simple language even a member of Congress can understand.

  1. No health-care workers shall be required to perform any procedure or engage in any activity they believe violates their moral or religious beliefs. Is that so hard to understand? Can any sentient being think this wrong? And for you pragmatists, would you really want health care from someone acting under duress? Getting treatment is scary enough these days–why make it worse?
  2. All medical professionals have a fundamental, moral responsibility to see that patients receive the treatment they desire. Is this too complex for you? You may not approve of abortion, and it's your right to say no, but, as a member of the medical community and a member of society, you cannot impose your moral or religious views on others. Think blood transfusions are evil? Okay, that's cool, if weird. But recognize that others may not share your belief. You chose this job knowing the responsibilities to patients it requires. Just say no and pass them on to someone who says yes.
  3. Ergo (Latin for "If you don't get it, pound rocks), all those identified in number 1, above, must ensure that those patients are referred to appropriate health-care providers in a way that makes it easy for them to receive treatment. Show them the same respect you're being showed. It's your ethical responsibility to see that the hand off happens before you relieve yourself. No sending people to clinics in Lithuania; no lectures, pamphlets, or spitting; no pretending to be deaf.

Any institution that tries to force people to engage in stuff they find yucky is in violation of the law and shall be punished accordingly. Any health-care worker who gives a patient a referral slip written in Tagalog shall be warned. Subsequent infractions could result in fines, reassignment, dismissal, or being tarred, feathered, and run out of town on a rail.

This approach does require a modicum of maturity and mutual respect. Aye, there's the rub. But, we hasten to add, this rub is no longer abrasive in our president's new world. Smile on your neighbor. Tear down that wall. Take an Indian to Lunch.*

We all know that Congress, activists and do-gooders, extremists from across the political spectrum and the media hate, simply hate simplicity. Boys and girls, how can they do their jobs if problem resolution was as simple as being reasonable and respectful? Congressional sessions would last weeks rather than the three months they're actually in session. Activists and religious purists would find themselves in the Sahara fund-less desert. And the media would be left with nothing to report.

Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I ran the D.C. office for an international public relations firm. We handled some controversial issues, and there was one inviolate rule: If we're hired to work on an issue or for a company that you find objectionable, you have the right to say no, and no one would think the worse of you for it. Quite the opposite, I made it clear that I had a lot of respect for those who had the courage to refuse an assignment. I also made it clear that if one refused all assignments on ethical grounds, then we'd probably sit down and talk about helping one find other employment.

It worked. One of my best people told me he couldn't work on a controversial environmental assignment. As associate director, I told my boss that I wouldn't work for a certain company with a history of abusive employment practices in Asian sweat shops. And virtually no one would work for tobacco companies.

See, the spirit of Obama lived back in the '80s and '90s. Shows you just how powerful this guy is. I mean, back then, he was in Indonesia or something.

So let us all join hands and do the Snoopy happy dance in celebration of our brave new world. Or as the French would say, Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose, or the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Ah… to have reached the mountain top.

*Stan Freberg's album, The United States of America, The Early Years

In Jameson Veritas*



*Now, I must confess, a paid political announcement.

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About Mark Schannon

Retired crisis & risk manager/communications expert; extensive public relations experience in most areas over 30 years. Still available for extraordinary opportunities of mind-numbing complexity. Life-long liberal agnostic...or is that agnostic liberal.
  • Doug Hunter

    Unfortunately, like many issues you can’t have a reasonable compromise as the vocal minorities on each end of the spectrum are the drivers of the conflict. They’re the ones funding the lobby groups and picketing here and there. They won’t be satisfied until every raped 9 year old who gets impregnated with grossly deformed multiples is forced to carry them to term or that a devout pro-lifer is forced to suck a struggling late term fetus’s brain out under threat of losing his job.

  • That’s the problem with dogmatism, Doug: it requires that you be right – completely, utterly, 100% right, with no possibility of ever being wrong under any conditions, even if the universe were to suddenly and inexplicably turn into a plum pudding.

    Such people refuse to allow the possibility that their personal dogma actually might not fit all circumstances – or that both sides might be, to some degree, right.

  • The question is – why and how do we manage to breed such people?

  • Your post would be hilarious except for one thing: you hit the nail on the head.

    Here’s who we have running the government and ergo our lives:

    1. Attorneys
    2. Political Hacks
    3. Men and women lacking in morals and ethics
    4. People who vote on legislation without reading it first because
    a. They are brain dead
    b. They are lazy
    c. They are stupid
    d. They’re in the bag for some colleague or lobbyist

    Let’s not forget that a good many of them are millionaires and are out of touch.

  • BlueBonnie

    It’s not the breeding of these people that bothers me Roger. It’s the fact that natural selection has abandoned us when we need it the most.

  • Cindy

    lol Blue

    That is the truth.

  • Well, Hitler himself wasn’t thoroughly convicted of Darwinism either. He thought the process of evolution needed a little push and shove now and then. I know you’re not suggesting that.

    I suspect we’re operating with a highly-depleted gene pool. And idiots keep on breeding more idiots.

  • Cindy

    I don’t think it’s nature. I think it’s what H&C accidentally called it: ‘nuture’.

  • BlueBonnie

    What I am suggesting is something on the order of road kill(bear with me). The slowest creature of the bunch is usually left lying in the road. As far as Darwinism is concerned…I can see, in some men and women, the very apes we are thought to have evolved from. I say “thought to have evolved from” simply because, as everyone can surely agree, some people seem to have been born without the common sense and capability to process new ideas that makes us human.

  • They must serve some purpose, though. Variety is a spice of life.

  • BlueBonnie

    I am sure they do Roger. A poster featuring these people with this message at the bottom “It could happen to you”. Or something like the commercials showing “this is your brain, this is your brain on drugs”. They would be quite useful in that aspect. I am firm believer that some have the sole purpose in life of being an example of why it is a good idea to practice safe sex.

    A friend of mine is fond of saying: “the genepool needs chlorine”. This is true. Sadly, some do not realize this until they see the algae.

  • BlueBonnie

    Variety is the spice of life. I agree completely, although, I do believe that too much spice can ruin the meal. What say you?

  • There’s one thing I’m not going to do: trying to outguess God.

  • I say that the metaphor breaks if you try and stretch it too far.

  • BlueBonnie

    Roger. 100% in agreement.

    Dr. Dreadful. I admit it was a stretch but it worked so well…:)

  • You mean “the variety” bit? Consider, though. The fool or the village idiot once served their function. Not since Nietzsche. Perhaps the ancient Greeks had it right: they spoke of “freaks of nature.”

  • BlueBonnie

    Village idiots. You hit the nail on the head. These village idiots have formed large groups and adopted the label “government”.

  • To think of those in government as idiots is to fatally underestimate them.

  • Mark Schannon

    As I’ve said many times, in terms of evolution, we are only three steps from the cave. Much of what controls our attitudes, behaviors, biases, knowledge, and action is unconscious–and some scientists argue that we have little access to our unconscious.

    I don’t think it’s village idiots–it’s tribalism. The same forces that pit Sunnis & Shias, Tutus and Hutsis, etc. against each other in a never-ending spiral of extremism and death drive American tribes.

    The unconscious-driven fear of any threat to the tribe makes it almost impossibly difficult to take the risk of compromising.

    We’ll never overcome that until we all–even we reasonable people on this thread, LOL–understand that we are not rational animals, but rather just savages with a thin veneer of civilization. That recognition can go a long way to mitigating those deep fears.

    And, fearing to sound like a moronic optimist who’s taken too many meds, we tend to focus on the disputes among violent tribes, but we quickly forget the numerous instances when people overcome those deep-seated, powerful fears and work together.

    And that’s the truth.

    In Jameson Veritas

  • We’ll never overcome that until we all–even we reasonable people on this thread, LOL–understand that we are not rational animals, but rather just savages with a thin veneer of civilization.

    And things that go bang really, really loud.


  • Cindy

    And yet at any time, any single person could make a different choice.

    Maybe it’s just that people are basically pessimists.

  • All I can say is “Wow.”

  • Mark Schannon

    Doc, Ooogra Mooga Lagamaga.


    Cindy, any of us can choose, but we have to understand that our choices are heavily influenced by unconscious factors we can’t control. The best we can do is watch our behavior to understand what we’re really feeling.

    But imagine making a choice that will result in your being thrown out of the tribe. Many have done it, but it takes great courage.

    Roger. Wow, as in “what a brilliant fellow,” or as in “what a schmuck?” If your interested, I wrote an article on Three Steps From The Cave.

    Most of my career has been spent in crisis and risk management & communications. The bizarre behavior of people under stress led me to do a lot research & I discovered revolutionary theories in neurology, psychology, & economics that have done to the Enlightment what Einstein did to Newtonian physics.

    Wow, indeed.

    In Jameson Veritas
    Vita Brevis, Kindle2 Longa*

    * My latest display of giftiness.

  • BlueBonnie

    Dr. Dreadful. What I intended to convey was not that I believe them to be idiots. My intent was to illustrate that the function of government is lost on those who make up said government. Would you place a village idiot at the head of the village? No. Somehow government has become infested with people who truly don’t belong there. Like following the orders of the village idiot. Just because they are in power does not mean that they are fit for the task. Trust me. I do not underestimate anyone who holds a place of power.

  • Well, what do you say, Cindy?

  • Cindy

    I disagree with Mark.

  • Cindy

    Well, not entirely. Let me think of how to give an example.

  • That’s why I said “Wow.” Not ready for it yet.

  • It’s all of us and folks like us who voted all the village idiots into office. Where does that put us on the numbnuts list?


  • I wanted to ask her the same question, but didn’t have the guts.

  • bliffle

    BlueBonnie says:

    “Somehow government has become infested with people who truly don’t belong there. Like following the orders of the village idiot. Just because they are in power does not mean that they are fit for the task.”

    Not just government either. Apparently, the entire big business corporate structure. too.

    They keep aiding and promoting each other.

  • It’s called aiding and abating.

  • BlueBonnie

    #29. From one numbnut to another, I would imagine that puts us at about the top spot on the list. Although, sadly, some people cast their vote based soley on party affiliation or how well the person speaks and know very little about the candidates beyond this.

    #30. Don’t worry. I am an amicable person.

    #31. I couldn’t agree more.

  • Blif’s #31. I was gonna say…

    It is obvious that those running the big rigs in the private sector are at least as inept as the worst in government, the difference being that in the private sector they are paid millions of dollars to steal more and destroy corporations and people’s lives along the way. But since that is considered a necessary evil in order to maintain a capitalist economy most of the cons prefer to just shrug it off and look the other way still humming the mantra extolling the virtues of the free market.

    BTW – Ya’ll have a great Square Root Day!


  • Cindy

    Re #19&23


    I read your Cave writing.

    I think we may share many parallels in our experience. In trying to think of how to say what I want, I can’t find a way to do it without making observations that reflect on you more than on the content of your ideas. So, let me know if you object.

  • Mark Schannon


    Please, go ahead & let ‘er rip. If you’re really interested in the scientific foundations for my philosophy, I can recommend some interesting articles & books. Actually, I’ll have to e-mail the articles to you. The literature is fascinating. May not be right, but it sure makes one reconsider what one held to be inalienable truths.

    And as for our Village Idiot pols and corp execs, what’s missing from this discussion is how systems and organizations force people into attitudes and behaviors that are not only dysfunctional but actually conflict with what they might have thought were deeply held values and beliefs.

    It’s much more complex than just dumb people (us) electing dumb people into public office.

    This should not be taken as an apology for our pols & corp execs, but rather as a way to understand how they got that way. Some become venal; others have venality thrust upon them, LOL.

    I’ve met too many politicians (and worked for a time in state and local government) to simply dump them all into a box with other clowns.

    Alas, there’s too much complexity and too little simplicity, my article notwithstanding.


    In Jameson Veritas

  • Cindy


    Now I’ve read another of your articles, People Aren’t Human And Never Have Been and it’s changed what I was going to say.

    It’s difficult to respond because I don’t know your views in detail. So, I would be responding to presumptions about them based on other things I’ve read by people with similar ideas.

    Would it be okay to ask you to answer these questions so I can clear up some of my presumptions?

    Multiculturalism: Can people learn to be tolerant or is it instinctively “us” vs “them”? Is multiculturalism to be encouraged or rejected?

    Racism: Is this an instinct that needs to be changed (suppressed, or whatever) through behavior modification? Or is it something learned?

    I would love to have the articles. Should I contact your blog e-mail?

  • The problem is that the extremists are not the idiots. They’re the smartest, most aggressive and most ruthless of the politically active, so they drive the agenda which the idiots, the complacent and the greedy play along with.

    They are the ones who know how to organize and are motivated to actually achieve something while the vast body populace is disgruntled and reacting slowly and individually somewhere in the middle.

    And that’s the way it will stay until things get so bad that the soccer moms and WoW junkies and football dads and the rest of the average folks can’t ignore it any longer and get so pissed off about something that they finally scream “enough.”


  • Whom are you directing this diatribe against?

  • The complacent, Roger.


  • BTW, my “let it be” comment was on an off day. I needed a break from rational thinking. Still, there’s much, I think, anyone can do right now but wait. And the wrath you’re talking about is, IMO, not going to be directed against Obama while there’s a perception he’s trying to fix things. It wasn’t him who got us into this mess.

  • Roger, the rage out here in the heartland is like nothing I’ve ever seen. Reminds me of how much Carter was hated but just getting started.


  • I don’t doubt that at all, Dave. But what are these people thinking? Don’t they see that Wall Street took everybody to the cleaners?

  • Cindy,

    I do appreciate your quandary. Short, blog articles never can begin to include the detail necessary to explore complex issues. However, I’ll try to answer your questions as best I can, with the caveat that I’m spouting theories rather than what I think are facts.

    Multiculturalism: I think it inherently conflicts with basic tribal instincts, although, at the same time, trade among tribes in our earliest history is well recorded and was important in our advancement, at least technologically.

    I believe (note the word, believe, as opposed to think) that there’s a hard-wired xenophobic aspect to human beings (as well as in most of the animal kingdom) which was a good thing way back when.

    However, in our shrunken-head world, multi-culturalism is not only desirable but essential. While our instincts may be to cling tightly to tribal arrangements, we’re forced to encounter those outside our tribes.

    But just because we have an instinct for something doesn’t mean we’re slaves to it. Sometimes it takes a shock to the system to get us to reexamine our behavior and beliefs; sometimes it’s an unexpected act of kindness–but we can learn to be more than tolerant, but to embrace other cultures…except for fusion food, which I’ve ranted about in an article somewhere on BC.

    Racism is more of a dilemma for me. I’ve read of studies where small children of different races are placed together and there are no differences in the way various individuals are treated, which suggests that racism is learned.

    On the other hand, countless studies have found that we tend to ascribe better attribute to people most similar to us (even when race isn’t a factor.)

    Again, I’d suggest that because people of different cultures aren’t part of the “tribe,” there’s an inherent sense of danger. But, as with multi-culturalism, nurture can overcome nature. The new AG is right when he calls us a nation of cowards when it comes to talking about race. I even wrote a speech about it for a CEO back in the early 80s–The Unfulfilled Promise.

    Asking people to overcome their unconscious biases and fears is an immense challenge–but it must be done if we’re to take that 4th and 5th step from the caves. As a species, we’re relatively young in evolutionary terms yet our technological prowess has far outstripped our ability to rationally deal with it.

    My first wife very skillfully turned me from a typical male moron into a raging women’s libber by simply pointing out to me the absurdity of my attitudes. She did it with very simply questions that I couldn’t answer without lying to myself.

    E.g. Housework. We were both working, and I said I’d help around the house, but just let me know what to do. Her response: Oh, so the housework is my responsibility, but you’ll willing to help?

    Now, I was also a far-leftie hippie, so it was difficult for me to wriggle out of that one.

    Simplistic example, I know.

    I don’t think embracing multi-culturalism and rejecting racism or sexism cannot be taught in the sense of sitting someone down and discussing it with them. People are much more influenced by watching others’ behavior than by words, so I’d suggest that changing behaviors and attitudes requires observing desired behaviors and engagement at an emotional/physical level.

    That’s why it’s so fucking hard.

    Whew! Enough pontification. Does that answer your questions?

    And, yes, contact my blog e-mail & I’ll get them back to you with a list of books.

    Interested to hear your response to all this.

    Dave–one minor quibble. Agree that extremists are the most aggressive and ruthless. Not sure they’re the smartest. You don’t need to be smart to be a demagogue.

    In Jameson Veritas

  • Clavos

    It wasn’t him who got us into this mess.

    No, but he (and Pelosi) is doing his damnedest to make it worse…

    You don’t get out of a credit crunch and deficit by doubling down.

  • I’d say, Clavos, it remains to be seen. My conviction is, we’re in uncharted territory.

  • Clavos

    …we’re in uncharted territory.

    I disagree.

    Our economic situation now mirrors conditions just prior to the Great Depression to a great degree, and Roosevelt’s attempts to spend our way out of that debacle were spectacularly unsuccessful — until WW II came along.

  • I beg to disagree. Or let’s put it this way. I claim to be more ignorant than you.

  • Cindy


    …multi-culturalism is not only desirable but essential…

    …just because we have an instinct for something doesn’t mean we’re slaves to it.

    So your understanding is different from some views I’ve read that use the ideas of evolution and tribalism to argue that multiculturalism itself causes instinctive tension and conflict, and that this can never be avoided; that racism is instinctive and should only be minimized through behavior modification, because to make children feel wrong for having a “natural” inclination is wrong-headed. Recommendations are made that the only solution is one single tribe–often a very regimented one that determines norms down to disturbing levels of cultural control over individuals.

    All this tells me is that whatever the research, people can make all kinds of theories about what it means.

    I’ve read of studies where small children of different races are placed together and there are no differences in the way various individuals are treated, which suggests that racism is learned.

    My belief about racism is that it’s learned–from studies and anecdotally from observing children. And that it can be unlearned, from examples I’ve seen with adults.

    On the other hand, countless studies have found that we tend to ascribe better attribute to people most similar to us (even when race isn’t a factor.)

    I haven’t studied tribalism. This is interesting to me though. My own thinking goes something like: We seem to care about, or be most tolerant of, members of what we perceive to be our group (what you’re calling tribe, in a sense). I think this has a lot to do with what we learn. It seems we can expand our group; that “tribe” is changeable. For example, the number of “patriots” (using that term loosely and not in the ordinary sense) seemed to increase immediately after 9/11–as if many people from disparate subgroups now saw themselves as the group “all Americans”. Taken to the extreme, say their were aliens who invaded the earth, based on what I’m saying, I would expect a unity with a global expansion to a group–all humans.

    Okay, mid-whatever..I have to go. I’m not finished. So, I’ll make another reply (at least). Probably better that way.

  • Clavos

    …whatever the research, people can make all kinds of theories about what it means.

    And usually do…

  • Cindy,

    Great discussion & very complex & confusing. However, not as subjective as Clavos would suggest. Alas, most of my articles are on my computer, & I can’t link to them, so you’ll have to take my word–and remember my Jameson quote! LOL.

    I recently heard a scientist discussing genetic biases, but he emphasized that culture plays an important factor in overcoming those negative biases, such as, shall we say, “tight tribalism,” the instincts we learned in the caves.

    Of course multiculturalism causes tension and conflict–it violates primitive tribal protective devices. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not a necessary path.

    I believe multiculturalism is essential, albeit difficult, because it’s a way to overcome our inherent evolutionary fears by expanding the notion of tribe. There are numerous studies that suggest behavioral change precedes attitudinal change–ergo, encouraging and rewarding multicultural behavior, even when it creates anxiety, can rewire the unconscious.

    I too have read about studies where small children of different cultural backgrounds are placed together with no apparent friction. But remember, small children have wee brains perhaps not yet wired for tribal protection. At the same time, the experience of getting familiar with people outside their tribe can work to mitigate some of the primitive instincts–in the right environment.

    However, I don’t think tribalism is learned; it’s reasonable to ascribe to it evolutionary roots. Those people in primitive times who formed tight, trusting bonds had a higher survival rate than those who didn’t/couldn’t, thereby passing those “tribal” genes on to next generations.


  • Mark Schannon:

    I reread your paper and skimmed though your earlier, Cave, piece – just to get a feel. So first off, let me tell you I’m by nature skeptical of anyone who presumes to have all or most of the answers (and I do hope you’re not in that category).

    It would help a great deal if you could sum up your general position (on humanity and those larger issues in a few paragraphs. Given that your philosophy is something you’ve given a great deal of thought, you should be able to do that.

    Offhand, I must say I tend to disagree with you on the weight you seem to attribute to the unconscious. The extent to which you’re doing it suggests to me a kind of cop out. But it would help, as I say, if you could try to express your position first, so perhaps we could take it to another leve.


  • Cindy


    Okay just a couple new ideas. (I’m still not done with some other things).

    However, I don’t think tribalism is learned…

    Me neither. Let me rephrase. I think what we consider to be our tribe is learned and also is changeable. Okay, so to put it another way. I think we need community and are wired for that. But, I think that community does not have to be based on race. And, I think we can change communities. So, that is what I mean about learning. Or, it could be that I’d need a different word there. here’s what I’m thinking:

    We could learn that we are white or black, or whatever and that this is our community. Or we could learn we are Christians or we are Mormons, etc. Or we are good Americans, middle-class, upper-class, etc.

    I also think we can just choose our community beyond any racial context. Obviously, this isn’t going to work if we are racist.

    Here is an interesting story of a girl of about 7. Her grandmother was an outspoken racist. Her mother was not. Her father was a silent bigot. She was white and had no real exposure to black people. She came to our company one day and she started talking to one of the men who worked there who was black. This guy loved kids. So, they spent maybe a half hour chatting. After that she came over to me and asked me if I liked brown people. I said yes. She said, “Me too. I like brown people.”

    Okay, that’s one case. Clearly she was consciously involved in thinking about and choosing her beliefs.

    So, that’s enough for now. I’ll be back. But, I’ll e-mail you tonight so you can send the articles.

    (pours a glass of wine to see if there is any truth in there 🙂

  • Mark Schannon


    You don’t ask much, LOL, but here goes.

    First of all, I only write as if I had all the answers. I’m thrilled that I’ve discovered some interesting questions–which, after all, is the heart of any theory: a series of questions that, when one has a tentative answer supported by evidence, begins to create a coherent whole.

    Of course, any theory must be verifiable; that is, it’s elements must be testable and capable of being proven false. Otherwise, one is dealing with a tautology, not a theory.

    My theories about the nature of human beings began empirically, both through reading of history & current events, and by observation, in my job–primarily issue and crisis management.

    I’ve always been confused by what I read and saw. How could people treat others so badly? Why do intelligent people act against their own interests? Why do we make the same mistakes over and over again? Why do people reject solutions proven to work?

    I began to develop a theory that people aren’t evil or stupid, but are, for some reason, trapped in learned or instinctive behaviors they’re unwilling to change. The fear of change often overwhelms the logic for the need to change.

    It’s only been in the last 5+ years that I stumbled upon theories in psychology, neurology, economics, and other fields that reinforced my own nascent theories.

    So..my theories. This is difficult because there are two related ones. One deals with evolution and our behavior; the other with the extent to which humans are rational animals.

    The first: In the past, I’ve said humans are fundamentally savages with a thin veneer of civilization, but the word “savages” has too many negative connotations.

    Therefore, I’d suggest that we are fundamentally primitive beings just slightly advanced in evolutionary terms from our earliest days (hence the allusion to “three steps from the cave.” The instincts driven by our genetic makeup is not all negative; there are many good elements, such as cooperation, self-sacrifice, and drives to improve the common good, among others.

    But there are serious negatives with which we’ve been slow to acknowledge and accept which accounts for much of the incredible pain and suffering that exists in the world. While our brains have evolved, the limbic system, often referred to as the “emotional brain”, is still very powerful–so much so that it can take control of our behavior without our awareness.

    For example, the amygdala is responsible for the “fight or flight” syndrome. Scientists have shown that, when someone is confronted with danger, the amygdala literally freezes higher level functions and causes people to act.

    This part of the brain was and is still extremely valuable, but it was formed when threats were things like woolly mammoths and such–not moronic bosses or pesky neighbors.

    I wonder if the thin veneer of civilization emerged as nation-states emerged and great wealth was amassed by a privileged few. As the middle class grew, it began to adopt that veneer, but it’s easily stripped away.

    On an individual level, we do what appear to be stupid things: get into idiotic disputes with neighbors when a rational approach could create a win-win result. More dangerously, on an international level, ordinary people can be transformed into monsters: Germans in WWII, Cambodians after the Vietnam War, Hutus & Tutsis, etc. etc. etc.

    Hannah Arrendt has done incredible work trying to understand how ordinary people can become mass murderers. Stanly Milgram, at Yale in the 1950s, conducted horrifying and outrageous experiments in which he easily persuaded “teachers” to give lethal doses of electricity to “learners” who got wrong answers on tests.

    I don’t believe that people are inherently evil or good–simply primitive, with behavior driven more by the oldest parts of our brain than the newest.

    However, I believe we can wrestle with and control those primitive urges. Human beings are capable of extraordinary ethical and moral courage, of great kindness, of overcoming narrow tribal instincts to embrace a broader concept of tribe, perhaps to include all humanity.

    The problem is not capability, but acceptance and will. I’ve worked with too many CEOs at major companies who couldn’t imagine that they might not have the answers, especially during a crisis when all the rules change. I’ve watched good people frozen with fear, incapable of taking action that would mitigate known environmental damage to a community. They wanted to act, but they were trapped by organizational rules.

    I’ve also seen incredibly courageous business people and politicians who insisted on doing the right thing regardless of the legal consequences.

    Why are some people paralyzed by fear while others overcome it? Why do some become monsters while others sacrifice themselves for strangers?

    Actually, I understand the former more than the latter.

    So, does this answer your question? A comment on BC is not the place to try to explain all this. It’s an article or an essay…which someday perhaps I’ll write. I can’t save this and come back and edit.

    Also, I’ll deal with the issue of the unconscious in a later comment. This one’s gone on too long already.

    In Jameson Veritas

  • Mark Schannon


    I think you’re right in your belief in our ability to change the notion of tribe. Perhaps you underestimate the difficulty (see comment, above.)

    Racism in the military began to disappear when the idiotic defense department finally allowed blacks, Hispanics, and whites to fight and die together. There’s nothing like war to forge a band of brotherhood that overcomes previous biases.

    It’d be nice if we could come up with a less horrific way of forging those bonds.

    In Jameson Veritas

  • Cindy

    Roger, interesting huh? That Milgram study had such impact that you’re getting to hear about them from a second person.

  • Mark Schannon

    Hey Roger, any comments? I thought we were about to start an interesting conversation.

    You too Cindy!

    In Jameson Veritas

  • In due time, Mark and Cindy. It calls for a measured response.

  • Mark Schannon


    I had to wipe my hard drive, and I thought I’d backed up up my e-mail, but the most recent stuff didn’t take. Please e-mail me again & I’ll send those articles.

  • Cindy


    Great. I’ll e-mail again. I am still not done I’ve been writing some ideas in a document. I’ll post them here soon.

  • Zedd


    I am going to veer a little.

    I took this article to be more so about how we complicate things in order to seem relevant and how simple solutions are over looked, perhaps by design.

    Perhaps that was my take because the prevalent tendency to hammer on about nothing is one of (if not the most) disappointing tendencies of our modern political discourse. It, in my assessment, is the tool that the powerful currently employ to preoccupy the masses as they forge forward with their own agendas.

    I didn’t read the entire thread so I may have come too late and missed it when this was being discussed. OR I’m just a ding bat and totally missed what you were saying.

    I’ll jump on the discussion at hand in a few minute because it’s another fav topic.

  • You’re hitting it on the head, Zedd. Your instincts are right on. I’m not certain yet where you want to go with your initial comment – about complicating things, that is – but I sure would like to hear.

  • Roger’s right, Zedd, you got it, although I’m not sure I’d agree that the powers-the-be complicate on purpose to keep us poor sludges whirling around in goo…I don’t think they’re that smart.

    Wait…I thought I had the answer to why we tend to complicate things & now I’m confused, FOFL. Reminds me of the great Dylan line, “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.”

    It’s like writing. People think the more adjectives & adverbs they can jam into a sentence, the more erudite they sound. Complexity=intelligence, yes? No. Simple=…well, simple, yes? No.

    Complex problems require complex solutions. Look at Einstein’s first magical moment. Newtonian physics was falling apart because certain experiments violated its theoretical basis. Ol’ Al simply suggested that rather than think of space/time as fixed and light as variable, switch ’em.

    Simple. And brought us virtually all the tech wonders we have today. (Hey Amazon, where’s my Kindle2. I’ve been waiting two weeks. (See posts in BC Tech))

    Because our problems look so complicated, we tend to assume there must be complex solutions. I’ll take Alex the Great & his solution to the Gordion knot any old time.

    And that’s the truth.

    In Jameson Veritas

  • Zedd


    Geez, I really didn’t want to come off like one of those conspiracy driven slightly kooky types or some kid who just read Marx for the first time. Erase that imagery please….

    When I said that the powerful keep us preoccupied… I meant that as a part of basic political strategy you have to design images that invoke certain emotion. What has happened as of late is that the imagery has overtaken the message and those who want power know that. They then confuse Al Qaeda with Iraq and Iraq with Iran (of 1979) and Gaddafi, 911 and swirl it all around by adding “weapons of mass destruction” and voila, “we get to go to war where ever we want”.

    They tout messages that mix images of rebellious teenagers, college students, in the 60’s whose ideas were idealistic (because they were kids) with well studied conclusions that come out of good research and strong scientific methodology and just because they too come out of universities, dub them idealistic, because they challenge their ability to generate profit for themselves (in the short term).

    They dehumanize people and dramatically throw their hands up in order to make it easier to leave them where they are OR to continue to exploit them for labor or resources (in the case of developing nations). In South Africa, the solution was simple. Put everything out in the open (see Truth and Reconciliation Commission)!
    and move on…. Simple (not perfect, but simple).

  • Cindy


    I think you’re right in your belief in our ability to change the notion of tribe. Perhaps you underestimate the difficulty.

    Maybe…I could be. Here’s one way I look at it: I think that a free society might create an opportunity to change. As Noam Chomsky says, we don’t really know how people act under real freedom. So, we’re basically talking about how people under Capitalism act.

    Considering Capitalism is inherently super-competitive and alienating at the same time and that in-group fighting actually sustains its continuation, I think it acts to prevent change in the direction of enlarging one’s group identity. So, I see it as very, very difficult in this sort of a society.

    I think education has one of the greatest potentials for changing society. Perhaps its also the easiest way.

    And there is much more support these days for this sort of change in consciousness. Movements in teaching such as social justice, and transformational learning, etc. have become mainstream ideas. This is very recent.

    The internet is allowing people from all over the world to develop greater understanding and solidarity among diverse cultures.

    The Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico have developed a culture based on freedom and justice and equality within. But they are not only a tribe that keeps to themselves. Through festivals and events they reach out to the whole world in solidarity with all people and with an idea that the world can change. So, you have these indigenous, very secluded, people in Mexico looking at a view of world community. What do you make of that?

    The same with groups all over the world. The Greek uprising in December demonstrated this world solidarity among people as people all over the place took actions.

    I think with the economy effecting the whole world there will be an opportunity for more unity between various people all over the world who may find they have something in common, which is their oppression.

    Okay this is long enough for this post. 🙂

  • Zedd,

    I agree that imagery has overtaken message. It’s certainly true with the economy these days, but the blame can be shared by the media, Republicrats & Demoschmucks as well.

    And you need emotion to motivate people–whatever the cause. Reason doesn’t work because we’re not a rational animal–we’re a combination of emotional & rational. The problem is that using emotion can also distort & confuse. Worse, the more scientists understand about the brain, the greater the threat of manipulative evil.


    Chomsky was a great linguist, but as a political observer, he got weird. I have no idea what “real freedom” would mean. In any society, my freedom to act has to be weighed against that of others, so constraints are essential.

    I’m not as down as capitalism as are you. Primitives are by nature competitive and aggressive. We had to be back in the caves…and throughout much of our history. As long as there is scarcity in the world, people will compete.

    Fundamentally–the problem isn’t “them,” it’s “us.” It’s how we’re wired & built. People don’t mind oppression until they feel like they’re part of the oppressed group.

    You cite a few examples, and I don’t know much about them, but I support any effort to change our notion of tribe. Alas, I don’t think education is necessarily one of them.

    Change is so very hard, whether it’s personal, cultural, or organizational. There are powerful, unconscious forces that reward the status quo, so that even if someone believes in change, they’re going to find it hard to do if some basic need may be threatened by it.

    John Kotter, the Harvard change guru, wrote something very interesting that surprised me to no end. He said that, when trying to create organizational change, the last thing you work on is culture. The first is creating a sense of urgency, followed by very specific behavioral imperatives. Culture emerges, he would argue, from changed behavior.

    In the same way, a change in consciousness would then follow from a change in our behaviors.

    Not impossible…but very hard.

    In Jameson Veritas

  • “Culture emerges, he would argue, from changed behavior.”

    Very good point, Mark. I still have some problems with your gestalt, but I want to see first how the argument develops.

  • Or to say it another way, a successful practice will sooner or later rise to the top. And with this paradigm in mind, you could venture to say that “culture” itself is a kind of amalgam of existing practices.

  • “a change in consciousness would then follow from a change in our behaviors” – or from individual catharsis. It’s a tricky thing. Sometimes the spirit leads the way.

  • Cindy


    (My reply got way out of control in length, so I’ll break it up.)

    Chomsky…as a political observer, he got weird.

    Yes, well I guess I’m a weirdo too. So, keep that in mind. Chomsky is an Anarchist.

    I have no idea what “real freedom” would mean. In any society, my freedom to act has to be weighed against that of others, so constraints are essential…I’m not as down as capitalism as are you.

    The “constraints”, to use your word, could be hierarchical or they could be horizontal. They could come from the top down or the bottom up. When I say “free” I mean an arrangement where people have equal power, not one where there are no rules (constraints). I would hope everyone has some experience with making decisions in relationships that are egalitarian.

    It’s not necessary for you to be opposed to Capitalism for me to discuss my evidence with you is it? 🙂 It’s going to be necessary for me to elaborate on it somewhat to make my points. After all, there is a reason I’m an Anarchist. It has quite a lot to do with some of what we’re discussing. Like you, I asked myself certain questions about why the world is what it is. And so, like you, my answers about what to believe are going to be based on what I discover.

    But Anarchism is about much more than “politics”–it’s a way of living, based on certain principles.

  • Cindy

    That’s funny. I don’t know how I typed Mary instead of Mark as the K and Y aren’t close together. hrmmm…it was my unconscious mind taking over 🙂

    sorry ’bout that.

  • Zedd


    “When I say “free” I mean an arrangement where people have equal power, not one where there are no rules (constraints).”

    I’d like to here more about this. I was hoping we were going to get to this on the other thread but we ended up throwing pies.

    Could you flesh this out. How does such a place work? How would a system like ours ever get there?

    It’s me that’s budding in now. I hope you don’t mind.

    I realize that this is a seemingly child question but I am still curious.

  • Zedd

    I was wondering who Mary was.

  • Cindy

    I’d like to here more about this. I was hoping we were going to get to this on the other thread but we ended up throwing pies.


  • Cindy

    Okay gimme about 5 minutes I have to give my cat his medicine.

  • Cindy

    How does such a place work?

    It could use some combination of consensus and direct democracy. Here is a description of how the Zapatistas have been doing it since 1994. Go to the sentence this sentence (about halfway down the page) for the description : On the ground we now understand how the decision making process works in the Zapatista communities.

    So, briefly, it describes there how they hold community meetings each week. How each person, including children, has a vote on every decision. And how delegates/representatives are chosen by the community as a whole and also can be recalled by the community at any time. There is a practice of leadership by obeying. Which means the chosen delegate acts based on the decisions of the group only. So when meeting with other delegates from other communities, the delegate can speak only about matters that have already been determined by the community. If new matters arise the delegate must return to the community. The community then goes through the process of making a decision on that issue.

    So, these are some ideas based on the principle that there can be no “leader”, in the sense of authority, or hierarchical power structure.

    How would a system like ours ever get there?

    That is a good question. We don’t know. But, we can speculate.

    But, I have to go to bed now. So, tomorrow. 🙂

    nite nite…

  • Cindy



    Primitives are by nature competitive and aggressive. We had to be back in the caves…and throughout much of our history. As long as there is scarcity in the world, people will compete.

    I’m not convinced of this idea that “primitives” are naturally merely competitive or aggressive. And the scarcity idea I have a problem with as well. I see no reason to presume a scarcity in nature where there are hunter gatherer tribes.

    I’d like to see some evidence for these ideas, if you can point some out. Maybe even something short to read. As, I’m guessing they’re not based on presumption, but are based on evidence you’ve examined. In the meantime, I will dig through Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid and find a piece Stephen Jay Gould did on it to support my skepticism.

    People don’t mind oppression until they feel like they’re part of the oppressed group.

    Interestingly, this is relates to what I am suggesting in my last paragraph above. The idea of the commonality of oppression being a uniting force.

    Alas, I don’t think education is necessarily one of them.

    So, if I were to raise children in an educational environment that promoted solidarity among the people of the world, justice, acceptance, and democracy, say, you don’t think this would produce results?

    Change is so very hard, whether it’s personal, cultural, or organizational. There are powerful, unconscious forces that reward the status quo, so that even if someone believes in change, they’re going to find it hard to do if some basic need may be threatened by it.

    I think I might agree. What about change as a result of seeing some basic need met? Say, I see that by enlarging my tribe, I’ll have more needs met.

    …The first is creating a sense of urgency, followed by very specific behavioral imperatives. Culture emerges, he would argue, from changed behavior. In the same way, a change in consciousness would then follow from a change in our behaviors.

    I am not sure what you mean by the ‘very specific behavioral imperatives’. I’m interested in this. Could you explain it a little more or suggest something, maybe a summary, I can read?

    Not impossible…but very hard.

    Regarding difficulty–both you and Zedd assured me change is very difficult, maybe more difficult than I think. So, I’ll need to mention this. What I think is–it doesn’t matter how difficult change is. It is what it is. It is like saying, we need to escape from the flooding room and it is very, very difficult to remove the obstacle blocking our way. Okay, maybe we will escape, maybe we won’t. But, perhaps we’d best work on removing the obstacle rather than sit in the corner playing backgammon just because that is easier.

  • Cindy


    To clarify what we are talking about regarding education.

    If you are talking about education of adults or even education as it stands with teachers teaching the way they do and in the public school system that is what it is, then I’ll have to agree with you that it isn’t any easy place for change or even the best place. And I’d say the education system in place, supports the status quo and resists change. (Despite some of the positive developments in thinking.)

    So, when I say education, I’m mostly thinking of radically different settings, goals, and strategies.

    What role do you think beliefs play in the understanding of tribe? That is, we don’t spring forth with a natural notion of who our tribe is, it’s something we learn, no?

  • Cindy

    One more thing, for now. This author is using the science of human evolution to support ideas similar to some of those I have arrived at from a different direction.

    Have you read anything by John Stewart?

    An excerpt from the intro of Evolution’s Arrow:

    Human cooperative groups began on a small scale as families, families teamed up to form bands, they teamed up to form tribes, tribes teamed up to form the first agricultural communities, they teamed up to form cities, and so on. Strikingly, the cooperative groups that arise at each step in this long evolutionary sequence become the organisms or entities that then team up to form the cooperative groups at the next step in the sequence.

    Three thousand million years ago, cooperation extended only between molecular processes over some millionth of a metre, the scale of early cells. Now some forms of cooperation extend between human organisms over some 12 million metres, the scale of the planet – and over some 380 million metres when there are moon landings.

    It is easy to see what has driven this unmistakable direction in evolution – at every level of organization, cooperative teams will always have the potential to win out over isolated individuals.

    The details of the evolution of life on any planet will differ, but the direction will be the same – towards unification and cooperation over greater and greater scales. Eventually, evolution on any planet will reach the same significant threshold that we have reached on earth. It is clear that for us, the next great step in this sequence is the formation of a cooperative, sustainable and creative global society.

    Here is a link to his 6 page overview of his book Evolution’s Arrow.

  • Ma rk

    Thanks for those links Cindy.

  • Cindy

    Hey there compañero 🙂

    That sort of seems to follow along the lines of Martin Nowak’s work you gave me that time.

  • Yowza. A whole lot of stuff going on here. I’m going to be out of pocket for a while, but I’ll read it all and respond as soon as I can.

    Great discussion, though. Who’d a thunk!??

  • Cindy

    I thought I´d put a bit here about what John Stewart is saying in Evolution´s Arrow, for those who don’t visit the link:

    EVOLUTION’S ARROW (from the summary)

    “A major evolutionary transition is beginning to unfold on earth. Individuals are emerging who are choosing to dedicate their lives to consciously advancing the evolutionary process. They see that their lives are an important part of the great evolutionary process that has produced the universe and the life within it. They realise that they have a significant role to play in evolution.

    Redefining themselves within a wider evolutionary perspective is providing meaning and direction to their lives – they no longer see themselves as isolated, self-concerned individuals who live for a short time, then die irrelevantly in a meaningless universe. They know that if evolution is to continue to fulfill its potential, it now must be driven consciously, and it is their responsibility and destiny to contribute to this.”

  • O.k., a lot of interesting ideas on which to reflect.

    Roger, I don’t know what you’re waiting for. Jump in. So far, it’s been a remarkable open & receptive group here.

    “a change in consciousness would then follow from a change in our behaviors” – or from individual catharsis. It’s a tricky thing. Sometimes the spirit leads the way.

    Absolutely. I probably overstated the change behavior, then change your mind stuff. Certainly it can work both ways…and probably works in an interactive way as well, with behavioral and attitudinal change reinforcing each other.


    I don’t want to short change everything you’ve written, but it would take an entire new article for me to do your ideas justice. But I’ll do my best.

    I too was once an anarchist, read all the great 19th century anarchist tracts & still believe it is the ideal system. But even Marx (classical anarchism and Marxism are remarkably similar) believed that communism (from communal) could only exist in a highly advanced, technological society that was able to meet everyone’s basic needs.

    Your example is of one small tribe. It’s similar to the early democratic institutions in colonial New England where decisions were made by all (males) at Town Hall meetings.

    That stopped working when the towns grew so large and complex that you simply couldn’t get everyone together. Also, the complexity made it difficult for the average person to be able to rationally make decisions about resource allocation.

    When people talk about the internet as a way for “the people” to vote on everything, I shudder. Just look at California and their propositions. Assuming that all people are rational has been shown to be a false assumption. Assuming that everyone will learn enough about every issue that a complex society must confront is…well…a bad assumption.

    That is not to say that we shouldn’t strive for the kind of society you advocate. I think our visions for the future are very similar. Where we disagree is how to achieve them and how long it will take.

    I’m not convinced of this idea that “primitives” are naturally “merely” competitive or aggressive. And the scarcity idea I have a problem with as well. I see no reason to presume a scarcity in nature where there are hunter gatherer tribes.

    I didn’t say that competitive and aggression were the sole attributes of primitives. Cooperation would have been an essential component of tribal formation. Self sacrifice. Compassion. All hard wired into our DNA, I believe.

    Very early hunter/gatherer tribes lived in terrifying environments they couldn’t understand. Threats were omnipresent. Natural disasters, disease, battles with other tribes, big hairy animals that were really, really hard to kill. Perhaps “scarcity” isn’t quite right, although it’s a part of it.

    You ask for backup for my opinions, which is reasonable. The problem is I’m relying on a life-time of reading and studying. (And half my damn books are in storage, but even if I found them, I’d spend hours trying to find support.)

    I read tons of science, history, economics, archeology, anthropology, neurology books, articles & interviews. Here’s the latest from Discover Magazine on how DNA research has just about turned Darwin’s evolution from theory to fact. And there are lots of interesting links from there.

    I will confess I coined the Three Steps from the Cave concept. For years, through my work, observation, and reading, I’ve been befuddled by the capacity of homo sapiens for unimaginable violence and cruelty….as well as all sorts of good things.

    But if we’re civilized, as we like to pretend, those good things are expected. The horrors reveal that “thin veneer of civilization” that can be stripped away without warning.

    ‘very specific behavioral imperatives’ You wrote, “What about change as a result of seeing some basic need met? Say, I see that by enlarging my tribe, I’ll have more needs met.”

    But what, if by enlarging your tribe, you run the risk of losing stature within your newly expanded group? Or losing power? Or having decisions made with which you strongly disagree? The power of the status quo, which has given you such comfort, can overwhelm the rational desire to expand the tribe and thereby meet more of your needs.

    Same problem with cultural change within an organization. One looks for behaviors that were successful in the old organization but will be counter productive in the new. Change creates tension & people default to old ways of behaving–meaning those old successful behaviors.

    The task then is to directly and dramatically make those old behaviors unsuccessful. The behavioral imperative is that if you persist in those old behaviors, the organization will reject you. We’ll give you all the help we can to learn these new, scary behaviors…we’ll allow you to fail as you learn them. But learn them and apply them you must.

    A lot of good stuff in “Leading Change” and “The Heart of Change” by John Kotter. Plus, I haven’t forgotten that I owe you lots of articles to read.

    Also, on the unconscious, Timothy Wilson’s “Strangers To Ourselves, Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious” is a mind-blowing experience.

    Finally, my reaction to your quote from John Stewart. Sorry, but I think he’s misusing the word “evolution” when he really means community.

    One can no more consciously drive evolution than decide to grow hair on a balding head (lord knows I’ve tried hard enough.) Evolution goes on at the molecular level (read that article on DNA). We have within ourselves essential DNA strands as old as life itself–the first one-celled creatures had it.

    I think it’s a serious mistake to make evolution more complex than it is. Miraculous and awe inspiring, certainly, but it’s nothing more than genes that provide a mating advantage in passing on those genes. Ask Stephen Gould. Tell him I said hello, LOL.

    How genes and DNA create who and what we are is complex almost beyond comprehension…but that’s not evolution.

    Oy, this rambling is the problem with posts rather than articles. Maybe I’ll copy this & write an article or something.

    Anyway, I hope you’re all still watching this space. Interested to hear your reactions.

    In Jameson Veritas

  • Cindy

    Hi Mark,

    Yup, watching it all the time. I tried to subscribe using RSS, but that keep taking me to the homepage.

    (Hello to the web site gods…anyone know why the RSS Feed for the comments here doesn’t work.)