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As I would free the white almond from the green husk
So I would strip your trappings off,
Beloved.
And fingering the smooth and polished kernel
I should see that in my hands glittered a gem beyond counting.

Amy Lowell

 

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1,500-year-old late Roman grass work Panama hat from Flinders Petrie’s 1901-2 field season in Egypt. In 2017 was radiocarbon dated – CE 420-568

 

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(Selections from)

By Hannah Arendt

  • “One of the greatest advantages of the totalitarian elites of the twenties and thirties was to turn any statement of fact into a question of motive.”
  • “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist.”
  • “Before mass leaders seize the power to fit reality to their lies, their propaganda is marked by its extreme contempt for facts as such, for in their opinion fact depends entirely on the power of man who can fabricate it.”
  • In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true. … Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow.
  • The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.”
  • “The outstanding negative quality of the totalitarian elite is that it never stops to think about the world as it really is and never compares the lies with reality.”
  • “True goal of totalitarian propaganda is not persuasion, but organization of the polity. … What convinces masses are not facts, and not even invented facts, but only the consistency of the system of which they are presumably part.”
  • “Caution in handling generally accepted opinions that claim to explain whole trends of history is especially important for the historian of modern times, because the last century has produced an abundance of ideologies that pretend to be keys to history but are actually nothing but desperate efforts to escape responsibility.”
  • “Never has our future been more unpredictable, never have we depended so much on political forces that cannot be trusted to follow the rules of common sense and self-interest—forces that look like sheer insanity, if judged by the standards of other centuries. It is as though mankind had divided itself between those who believe in human omnipotence (who think that everything is possible if one knows how to organize masses for it) and those for whom powerlessness has become the major experience of their lives.”
  • “Totalitarianism in power invariably replaces all first-rate talents, regardless of their sympathies, with those crackpots and fools whose lack of intelligence and creativity is still the best guarantee of their loyalty.”
    “Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow.”
  • “Nothing perhaps illustrates the general disintegration of political life better than this vague, pervasive hatred of everybody and everything, without a focus for its passionate attention, with nobody to make responsible for the state of affairs—neither the government nor the bourgeoisie nor an outside power. It consequently turned in all directions, haphazardly and unpredictably, incapable of assuming an air of healthy indifference toward anything under the sun.”
  • “To them, violence, power, cruelty, were the supreme capacities of men who had definitely lost their place in the universe and were much too proud to long for a power theory that would safely bring them back and reintegrate them into the world. They were satisfied with blind partisanship in anything that respectable society had banned, regardless of theory or content, and they elevated cruelty to a major virtue because it contradicted society’s humanitarian and liberal hypocrisy.”
  • “Factuality itself depends for its continued existence upon the existence of the nontotalitarian world.”
  • “Revolutionary action more often than not was a theatrical concession to the desires of violently discontented masses rather than an actual battle for power.”
  • “The truth is that the masses grew out of the fragments of a highly atomized society whose competitive structure and concomitant loneliness of the individual had been held in check only through membership in a class. The chief characteristic of the mass man is not brutality and backwardness, but his isolation and lack of normal social relationships. Coming from the class-ridden society of the nation-state, whose cracks had been cemented with nationalistic sentiment, it is only natural that these masses, in the first helplessness of their new experience, have tended toward an especially violent nationalism, to which mass leaders have yielded against their own instincts and purposes for purely demagogic reasons.”
  • “The most striking difference between ancient and modern sophists is that the ancients were satisfied with a passing victory of the argument at the expense of truth, whereas the moderns want a more lasting victory at the expense of reality”
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the night he was shot.

When Abraham Lincoln was shot at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. on April 14, 1865, he was carrying

  • two pairs of spectacles and a lens polisher,
  • a pocketknife,
  • a watch fob,
  • a linen handkerchief, and
  • a brown leather wallet containing a five-dollar Confederate note and eight newspaper clippings, including several favorable to the president and his policies.

Given to his son Robert Todd upon Lincoln’s death, these everyday items, which through association with tragedy had become like relics, were kept in the Lincoln family for more than seventy years. Now in the Library of Congress.

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Doesn’t your young mammal soul ever yearn for the blessing sunshine
and the air as sweet as apples?
Spring Herself is dancing madly in the tall trees with Pan,
his pipes are calling you to join…

But those memes won’t look at themselves

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You contain a 3D sensory map of your life. It is constructed in real-time and space as you move, as you, the pen tip, extend the map. An adult’s map would look like the busy tangle of way-points in the narrative-line of a child’s drawing. You know, the drawn line that accompanies “Then, they went here and saw a witch! They were so scared they had to go over here to the hospital! ”

Can you imagine the map from above? Superimpose it over a world map or your country map. The places you lived a long time are burned in like an angry scribble,  the one-off but memorable trips may be like islands only connected to your mainland with faint travel lines. Mixed in with the streets and parks of your memory, attached to them, are the smells of all these places. That incredible honeysuckle jungle by the elementary school playground? It waits for thee. You contain a 3D map overlaid with a museum of scent and stink.

Here’s the bare bones neurology: “Place cells” lay down connect-the-dots, step by step maps of the real world in your hippocampus. They also bind to local aromas, creating our scent memories of specific locations. If you can remember the smell of your grandparent’s home and think about that place, that is this function at work.

  • My grandparent’s house smelled like varnish downstairs where Grandpa made furniture and like grape juice, knackebrod, and unknown Swedish spices upstairs in Grandma’s domain. Opening closets and long-closed boxes, even lying on the bedspreads in that house left strong scent memories with no names.
  • To return home we rode the Long Island Railroad, smelling of people’s coats, train engine, newspapers and whiffs of the day outside when the train stopped and inhaled.
  • Next, the subway, smelling of the warm wind it carried along, orange drinks, hot dogs, and more coats.
  • Home, at last, smelling of drink and smoke and many books but above all, smelling of home.

This is why experiencing a sudden strong scent memory takes you out of the moment. You have been contacted by yourself in another time and place. Some memories come when we call them. Others only emerge as you return to their actual spot. It’s as if we suddenly recognize each other, that place (inside us, on our map) realizes we have returned. The surprise of recognition seems to come from both sides. In these very rare moments, I feel the experience of the child I was for a gleaming second before it vanishes like a dream.

Imagine how much more important this is in the lives of animals whose nose is basically their executive function.

Here’s a simple proof of concept game. Consider these smells and try to remember either the last place you smelled them or the place that automatically comes to mind. This would be so much more powerful with actual scents. I found many didn’t immediately suggest a place but if I kept it in mind for a little, a place came into focus, filling in around the scent.

  • Hay, fresh-cut lumber, saltwater docks, cedar, aspirin, leather, play-dough, newly printed book.
  • And a few less pleasant: Pulp mill, sickroom, smothering perfume, unclean body odor.

Nancy Kanwisher covers the neurology in depth below. (She has an entire MIT neurology lecture course on YouTube.)

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Outside of war crimes, it’s hard to think of a crueler experiment than the infamous Harry Harlow “Cloth Mother, Wire Mother” experiments where the mothers of infant monkeys were removed and replaced by inanimate hardware and some padding.
Wire mother was a wire effigy of a “mom,” complete with a nipple and bottle. “She” was for food provision. Cloth mother was soft, designed for clinging, but provided no food. When the baby monkeys were intentionally frightened (by a stuffed bear toy) they inevitably clung to cloth mother.

“Later experiments showed that infant monkeys would open a door hour after hour just to see cloth mother through a small window. I used to show the Harlow films in class. I don’t anymore because they routinely make students cry. There is nothing as pathetic as a pink-faced baby monkey getting experimentally frightened only to cling inconsolably to a fake mother.”*

Objectively, this is very callous, cruel treatment and don’t forget, as a controlled experiment, there were other infants who only knew wire mother. Imagining the study can elicit rage at the experimenters and seeing them as human monsters, lacking all compassion. The exasperated question bubbles up:” Why? Why would you even think of that, let alone do it?” The answer may blend our black and white feelings toward something grayer.

“Here is the historical context: The behaviorists and the psychoanalytic school were arguing about the mechanisms that connect an infant to his mother. Namely, they focused on feeding and food. The upshot, these theoreticians thought that if you feed a baby, he will associate you with food and develop positive feelings for you, the feeder.”*

The behaviorists were the long-established dominant modality in psychology. They were disinterested in any internal, subjective human experiences, only the observable, measurable externals, the behavior. The were mechanistic by design. Every scientific discipline in this period embraced maximum reductionism, the least complex explanation.
Simple reductionism is scientifically responsible, even necessary. But every community develops a culture and every culture has purists motivated to outdo the “causals” by their extreme display of cultural purity. This is what drives sanctimony in religion and outrage among the politically correct. Whatever the medium of purity is, it becomes virtue and power in the community. Many ascend to power within their culture by riding this balloon. The culture of science is distinct from the practice of science but it does bend and shape it.

“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.”

– attributed to Einstein (though maybe not accurately)

The idea of scientific reductionism became distorted by this one-upmanship of cultural virtue signaling. Simple reductionism gave way to rejecting complexity where it was encountered in favor of something less true but more acceptable. Nothing could be greater than the sum of its parts. Reductionism became unscientific, even anti-scientific to the extent that it rejected facts for not conforming to policy.  Theories born in this period have a Stalinist harshness about them. In some disciplines, this was not very destructive but the study of warm, complicated humanity by the behaviorists celebrated only the mechanistic and minimal in us. There was contempt toward tenderness, scorn for softness.

“There is a sensible way of treating children. Treat them as though they were young adults … Never hug and kiss them, never let them sit in your lap … Shake hands with them in the morning. Give them a pat on the head if they have made an extraordinarily good job of a difficult task…”. – John Watson, famous behaviorist, and child care expert

This was popular, best practice, expert advice. The kind you would have been given. After all, behaviorists know the real facts, scientifically, it’s proven!
In other words, this was the age of wire mother. Placed in power by the Behaviorists, she reigned over our culture for decades, demanding the sacrifice of comforting our children.

The behaviorists over-invested in for-its-own-sake reductionism to the extreme point of ignoring or rejecting Biology as a driving force. The heartbreaking, awful wire mother experiments, gave behaviorism a broken nose, partly BECAUSE of their shock value. The shocking news that babies (and the rest of us) need tender cuddling seemed afterward, kind of obvious and made the crackpot minimalism of behaviorism visible (to most) at last.

This is how a hard science, Biology, rescued us from the cold theology of behaviorists. And how an act of blatant cruelty and engineered suffering reduced cruelty and suffering for millions born since.

*From: “Three Lessons From Wire Mother”, Patricia H. Hawley Ph.D., Psychology Today, 2018

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