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July 12, 2006

March of Folly

The title was borrowed from the late Barbara Tuchman, it refers to her insight that governments often work against the best interests of own their people for extended periods. She also described some of the mechanisms by which they do so.

Never before have the follies of human existence been more evident; nor has the denial of their absurdity by world ‘leaders’  been greater. However, because we are also learning that nothing in "nature" remains constant, it’s very likely that next week– or next year- both phenomena will have become measurably worse.

Admittedly, that’s a profoundly pessimistic assessment of the world’s future; unfortunately, the evidence favoring it is all around us. Everywhere we look on the international scene, we find evidence of festering disagreements between rival groups that have been violent for years and are further from resolution than ever. No longer is violence confined to relatively orderly wars between readily identifiable nations; modern wars are increasingly waged between belief systems commanding constantly changing sectarian allegiances of the sort found both within and between nations; the important divisions are more often economic, religious or racial than purely national.

When we attempt to trace the present global chaos to its origins, we are soon left with only one culprit: human cognition. In other words, the agency which allows us to be informed with lightnig speed of the latest deadly car or railway bombing half a world away is the same one that enabled our species to create the mess which both generates the carnage and makes restoration of "order" unlikely.

Cognition, the modern in term for thinking, involves several functions we humans share with other species, but possess in greater abundance and with a considerably greater degree of integration. The organ integrating and controlling cognition, the brain, is also possessed by other animals; but in demonstrably less complex form. That the modern human brain has been produced by a gradually adaptive process (evolution) was first separately intuited by Darwin and Wallace in the mid-Nineteenth Century and is still hotly disputed. However, its accuracy is also very obvious to anyone possessing sufficient background in Science and the ideological freedom to think independently.

Which brings us to a watershed understanding: based on certain pre-existing beliefs, all humans seem to have a variable capacity for accepting  certain ideas as "true." If we return to the notion that the cognitive abilities which created the present global mess are also rendering its solution difficult, we can see the connection. It’s difficult to imagine any phenomenon but Science that might have allowed the acceleration in human population growth over the past six hundred years. Although we have ample historical and anthropological evidence that agriculture facilitated the emergence of many complex civilizations in various parts of the world,  it wasn’t until the first clear-cut technologic advances produced by empirical science in Western Europe produced a cascade of technologic advantages; and Europeans attempted, with considerable ‘success,’ to extend their hegemony to the rest of the world, that ‘modern times’ really began.

What's the connection between the above thoughts and the study of pot smokers which impelled me to start  blogging? It's actually fairly direct; once one realizes that the most obvious conclusion of that study is that our cognitive abilities are impacted to a considerable degree by the same emotions which are– all at the same time– the source of our noblest ideas, the root of all evil, and inescapable physiological manifestations of human brain function.

 That's a combination which  makes their "control" a sort of Holy Grail that both government and religion can't seem to resist attempting.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at July 12, 2006 07:14 PM