Monthly Archives: February 2017

Our Northern Flicker

My wife and I recently moved from Manhattan to Tacoma Washington. Although we still love NYC, we were ready for a change from the endless scaffolding and continual roadwork that seems unending and incessant in lower Manhattan. We were frankly tired of being woken up by jackhammers echoing through the skyscraper canyons (in lower Manhattan they literally tear up the streets and pave them over only so they can rip them up again the very next day). We were ready for the peace and serenity of the Puget Sound.

Imagine our Deja Vu shock to be virtually bounced out of bed in the morning by a noise somewhere between a jackhammer and an over-revved race car between 6 and 8 am in the morning. It seemed to come from the general area of the chimney, but it reverberated throughout the house. After exhausting every possibility inside, I went outside to spot a paunchy little bird perched on our chimney, industriously drumming away with his beak on our metal chimney cover at like 10,000 ppm (pecks per minute). He was essentially the little transducer at the base of a huge sound resonator.

northern-flickerIt turns out that he or she is a Northern Flicker and they are well-known to north westerners because they are regionally infamous little drummers. Of course no one can say with certainty why they do this but we can speculate. They are peckers by nature. They peck out hollows for homes with their beaks, they peck to find food, and they peck produce a unique sound that attract mates or communicate with them. Hey, they have a very efficient and powerful little hammer, and when that is all you have…

Some people assume that the bird is just mindlessly pecking on metal because they are too stupid to realize that it is metal. I don’t subscribe to such dismissive and diminutive assumptions regarding animal behavior. This kind of view often arises from a false notion of human exceptionalism that is endemic to religious thinking.

Instead of only taking pride and self-satisfaction in how unique and special we are, I also take great pride and satisfaction in appreciating how alike we are with our animal cousins. Rather than feel diminished by comparisons to animals, by ascribing human-like motivations and capabilities to them, such comparisons give me a deep sense of continuity and familial community with all of nature. Furthermore, we can better learn more about ourselves if we are more open to recognizing our own simplified and less complicated behaviors and motivations in other species.

Therefore, when it comes to our Northern Flicker friend, I think that, like us, he drums for many reasons. Drumming is what he does, he’s really good at it, he takes pride in it, and he enjoys it so it does it just for fun. He probably really, really likes the huge megaphone that our chimney cover offers, and likes to be the loudest Flicker in the neighborhood.

This is not to suggest that our Flicker’s emotions and behaviors and intellect are on a par with ours, but they are simpler versions of our human versions in the same way that his little bird legs gave rise to our human legs and his littler eyes are earlier versions to our human eyes. Their behaviors do not merely “appear” human, they are exactly what evolved into our more complex feelings and emotions. Just as we aren’t the only animals to have some form of brain, we aren’t the only animals to have some level of emotions and intellect and feelings. To dismiss these deep and direct similarities out of some religious sense of separateness is, to me, a highly sad and lonely pedestal on which to place ourselves. You may choose to DEFINE emotions as things only humans have, to DEFINE intellect as intellect only when it reaches human capabilities, but that does not negate the real presence of highly developed precursors in animals.

And just as the drumming of our little Flicker resonates and echoes and touches others in ways he cannot imagine, so too do our more complex behaviors reverberate our to touch others in tangible and deeply personal ways that we cannot imagine. If I were to make it impossible for our little drummer to peck on our chimney cap in some way, he or she might very well start to peck on the wood of our home and that would be much worse for us.

So, my new Flicker friend, you go on drumming on our chimney cap. I grok you and it enriches my life to listen in on your early morning broadcasts. I can identify with your joys and compulsions and frustrations and yearnings for a mate. I hope that later this spring, when your drumming stops, it will mean that our chimney cap has helped you find a mate who will give you other things to do with that spectacular beak of yours!

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Tin Pot Trump

tinpotI’m sure you have heard the term “tin pot dictator.” It refers to “an autocratic ruler with little political credibility, but with self-delusions of grandeur.” This pejorative was coined in the early days of the British Empire and it associates certain rulers with the cheap, disposable containers used before the creation of the modern tin can. Like the one on the right, these cheap cans boasted labels that portrayed the contents in a highly overblown and pretentious manner. But the common people were not all fooled. They knew full well that Dinner Time Brand coffee was not exactly the Royal experience promised on the label. Thus the term “tin pot dictator” spoke volumes to them.

Dictators are not uncommon and not limited to only a few flawed countries. The Ranker website has a list of over 100 infamous dictators (see here) from a broad spectrum of nations. Not all of these were true “tin pot” dictators, some were quite capable dictators. Many of these dictators came to power through fair elections riding tremendous popularity with their voters. But I think it is safe to say that few of those voters thought they were voting for a dictator when they voted for a dictator. In fact it is probably safe to say that few people in those nations thought a dictator could ever take power in their country.

Now, in America, we have also succumbed. Deny it at your peril, but we have elected a wanna-be strongman dictator. Donald Trump is unquestionably “an autocratic ruler with little political credibility, but with self-delusions of grandeur.” Even if it is not his conscious intention to become a strongman dictator, his personality and style of leadership will inevitably lead him there. Bury your head in the sand if you must, but we now have a dangerously unstable tin pot dictator in power.

Psychologists generally agree that most dictators suffer from a group of 6 major psychological disorders including sadistic, paranoid, antisocial, narcissistic, schizoid and schizotypal. While I’m not a psychologist, it seems clearly evident that Donald Trump also suffers from these disorders to at least a sufficient level to warrant deep concerns. He is disturbingly similar to Kim Jong-Il in his worldview, personality, and behaviors.

If Trump succeeds in his aspirations or even allowed to follow his natural inclinations, America will become another tin pot nation. Trump will continue to be driven by his personality disorders in more and more bizarre ways. He will continue to aggrandize and enrich himself to the exclusion of all other considerations. He will inevitably take us and the world down a path that we may not recover from for many generations, if ever.

Only one question remains, having  foolishly empowered this fledgling tin pot dictator, will we now accept his increasingly dictatorial rule? Will we allow our newly elected tin pot dictator, so disturbingly similar to other crazy strongmen like Kim Jong-Il, to turn our once great nation into yet another pathetic tin pot dictatorship?

That will not remain a rhetorical question for long. We will soon have our answer.

 

 

 

The Traits that Spawn Conservatism

There are a large number of important personal and social policy issues upon which liberals and conservatives completely disagree. I have to consider whether all of these seemingly unrelated positions are merely symptomatic of more fundamental underlying personality differences.

I submit that conservative worldviews arise from three primary character traits: dogmatism, selfishness, and fearfulness.

The first basic personality trait is the degree to which you are a situational or a dogmatic thinker. Liberals tend to be situational, weighing and balancing the nuanced competing ethics of a given situation. Conservatives tend to be dogmatic, enforcing strict, simplistic rules in accordance with their moral beliefs. Liberals are frightened by what they regard as mindless dogmatism, while conservatives view situational ethics as a dangerous lack of moral principles.

The second fundamental trait that influences our worldview is selfishness. Conservatives are essentially selfish in putting their self-interest and their beliefs first, whereas liberals tend to more strongly respect differences and emphasize the public good with the view that “it takes a village.”

Their third important trait is fearfulness. It is fearfulness that drives the conservative need for guns, for an insanely large military arm, and fear of immigrants and those unlike them.

Since the real motivations for conservative positions (dogmatism, selfishness, and fear) are not things that conservatives can acknowledge in themselves, they must come up with other rationales for their positions. This causes conservatives to vilify intellectualism and ridicule facts. It forces smart conservatives to defend their dogmatic, selfish, and fearful positions with stupid arguments. Smart people put forth stupid arguments to defend a selfish, anti-social culture of guns. Smart people put forth stupid arguments to defend a belief in god, to defend pro-life legislation, rampant militarism, economic Darwinism, and trickle-down economics.

Smart Christians like Ken Ham make stupid arguments to support their creationist beliefs. Ham insists that everything in the bible he agrees with is literal, while everything he disagrees with is figurative only (see here). Similarly, smart conservative supreme court justices claim that the Constitution must be interpreted literally when it supports them, but when it doesn’t support them they insist in an “original intent” interpretation that always happens to support their conservative views (see here).

The result is that we hear a lot of falsehoods and specious arguments in defense of a wide range of conservative positions that are all really rationalizations of dogmatism, selfishness, and fear.

Now wait a second, you may say. While conservatives may disagree with us liberals, they are simply good, well-intentioned people with sincere differences of opinion as to what is best for everyone. They sincerely believe their pro-life activism saves lives, that more guns are the solution to gun violence, and that a strong military prevents wars. You shouldn’t disparage them with negative characterizations of dogmatism, selfishness, and fear.

I would be inclined to believe that as well. However, we have a disturbing “tell” that suggests otherwise. The fact that conservatives deny global climate changes signals to us that they have not simply reached a differing conclusion on this issue. The facts are so overwhelming on this, that their denial can only be driven by strong underlying traits, particularly selfishness. They simply care more about being able to burn all the fossil fuels they want, make all the money they want today, and heck with tomorrow for the entire world. Since few are willing to claim that CO2 is actually good for the planet, the others simply deny, deny, deny.

The fact that conservatives can deny facts and rationalize their denial of climate change makes it likely that all their other arguments are similarly driven by underlying traits including dogmatism, selfishness, and fear. Their denial of climate change suggests that conservatives do not merely reach different conclusions given the information they are exposed to, rather they limit their information and formulate rationalizations to defend their dogmatism, selfishness, and fear. Climate change tells us that these traits are strong in conservatives, and those traits cannot help but drive their positions on other important issues as well.

If we liberals wish to push back on these critical issues, we need to stop debating specious and shifting secondary arguments and start to deal more directly with these fundamental character drivers.