The San Francisco Chronicle’s article is about Rocky Twyman, a man who’s “radical” solution to rising gas prices is prayer. No, I’m sorry. Putting your hands together and asking, “God, deliver us from these high gas prices” is the status-quo ‘round these parts.
A radical solution would be to stop driving a car and to change your life accordingly. A radical solution would be to siphon gasoline from your neighbor’s car. A radical solution would be to demand that your representatives act upon proposals for actions that would reduce oil costs, or that they support alternatives to our current national petroleum binge.
If the government is “in gridlock or ignoring” the problem, that’s no reason to stop pressing the issue. If anything, it’s more of a reason to advocate social change, not an excuse to waste your time on prayer.
This shit infuriates me, and it confuses me, but more than anything it reminds me of the climactic and inimitable final scene of There Will Be Blood.
(Spoiler alert of the first degree, but you’ve done yourself a god damned disservice if you haven’t seen the movie yet)
In the film, the reverend Eli Sunday has hit hard times financially, and comes to oil tycoon Daniel Plainview to sell off the Bandy tract, the one strip of land he has as yet been unwilling to sell. Plainview understands he has the upper hand, and twists the reverend Eli’s arm until he renounces his faith in a thoroughly satisfying reversal of an earlier scene.
It isn’t until after he has crushed the proselytizing spirit of Eli that Plainview informs him that the land no longer has any value.
It’s called drainage. I own everything around it… so I get everything underneath it. … I drink your water, Eli. I drink it up. Everyday. I drink the blood of lamb from Bandy’s tract.
Not only is praying for lower prices on gas logically and morally bankrupt, and absolutely ineffective, but it reveals an ignorance of the situation at hand. Why won’t gas cost as little as it used to? Because there’s less of it left to sell and more people who want to buy it. Where’s my bowling pin?
This morning I saw an orthopedic doctor for a four-week check up on my knee. They took some x-rays and were happy to tell me that the fractures hadn’t been pulled apart in the meantime. This is something they look out for with cases like mine, but never mentioned to me before. I guess they saved me four weeks of worry. They were also kind enough to fit me with a new cast, and in the process I got to see exactly how withered my leg has become.
Behold, the incredible shrinking limb!
They told me I’ve got another three weeks in the new (fluorescent orange) cast, and then they can take it off for good. After that I might move on to a smaller knee brace, or just dive in to the physical therapy, depending on what the oracle x-rays show.
Got to say, I’m still pretty positive about the whole deal. Another three weeks in the cast is better than another four, and all of that is better than my knee exploding in slow-motion underneath the fiberglass.
In fact, my leg(s) are even a source of inspiration for some. Jon composed this sick track, Watch Out For The Big Leg, in response to the photo comparing my legs. He offers this eloquent description:
“You got some crazy legs. The inspiration was this: the cello pizzicatto is your weak leg and the angry organ is your mean big leg, and they are battling over the beat.”
I haven’t recorded any new music for about three weeks, and it’s been even longer than that since I’ve written anything new of substance. Maybe it’s because I’ve had so much more free time on my hands since my crash, but I’m feeling rather musically unproductive.
I try to stay in practice with my own songs, and to pick up a new song by someone else every few days, but it doesn’t always sound so great to me. Somedays I’ve got it, and somedays I really don’t. I’m sure that my ability to play and my ability to listen to myself play are subject to influence by other things going on in my life, just as any kind of performance is.
Lately I’ve adopted the explanation that I’ve simply forgotten how to play guitar, but this can’t be true.
My dear friend Diana’s back in town for a spell, and we played the littlest bit of guitar together the other day. I taught her the chords to Thunder, Lightning, and instantly felt so much more confident in my own abilities. Just having someone to play with gave a palpable sense of melody and contentment.
I think my trouble with my own ability to play guitar comes from playing too often alone. I’m going to a show this Friday to see some friends, including dearest Diana, ply their tuneful trade. Whenever I go to shows, which is far too rarely, I experience the same sense of melodic rejuvenation.
So here’s to me forgetting how to forget how to play the guitar. Again.
So I read Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene this weekend. In it, Dawkins outlines a way of looking at evolutionary biology in which the mechanism of natural selection operates solely upon genes, and not individuals or species.
One of the most important things I took from the book is an idea that I find a bit difficult to put into words. Dawkins is really good at crafting metaphors to describe scientific principles that on their own may be not be so interesting, or may be stubbornly inaccessible. While his rhetoric may make concepts more accessible and convenient to discuss, he openly warns that no metaphor is completely accurate. Understanding that the metaphors must be viewed skeptically, he offers this,
If we allow ourselves the license of talking about genes as if they had conscious aims, always reassuring ourselves that we could translate our sloppy language back into repectable terms if we wanted to, we can ask the question, what is a single selfish gene trying to do?
All things being even, genes that are long-lasting or that replicate quickly, and genes that can replicate with high fidelity are going to outnumber those that are slow or erroneous in replication. Dawkins calls this the “selfish” nature of genetic replication. He chooses his words carefully though, and applies metaphors of self-interest only to genes that are, or are not, selected for by indifferent and unthinking mechanisms.
Where this metaphor breaks down, as Dawkins admits, is when the idea of “selfishness” is brought up from genetics to the level of individuals within a group, or groups within a species. He criticizes such concepts in sociobiology, where claims are made that an individual’s actions are inherently selfish in order to serve their genes in themselves, or in other related individuals.
While genes may be “selfish” in order to be selected, this doesn’t necessitate that individuals (“survival machines” as he so affectionately calls us) must as well act only in self-interest. In this video introduction to the book, Dawkins suggests that,
…if you have “selfish” genes, which only means that natural selection works at the level of the gene, if you have “selfish” genes, then, you may have altruistic individuals.
Cheers to accessible science and relevant evolutionary biology!
One portion of Bush’s climate talk that caught my attention was his assertion that the only viable means of reducing our carbon footprint is through advancements in technology.
Over the past seven years, my administration has taken a rational, balanced approach to these serious challenges. We believe we need to protect our environment. We believe we need to strengthen our energy security. We believe we need to grow our economy. And we believe the only way to achieve these goals is through continued advances in technology.
Wording like “the only way” is bound to greatly vex the many experts I hear from — Amory B. Lovins comes to mind — who have repeatedly demonstrated how easy it is to make deep cuts in the CO2 emissions from a building or business at a profit. Then there are all those folks who’ve chosen to telecommute, mayors pursuing traffic management, and on and on. Is there no behavior change Mr. Bush feels is worth throwing into the mix along with better solar panels or nuclear plants?
What Revkin is referring to are methods of either improving the efficiency of carbon producing processes that currently exist, i.e. through improved insulation for buildings or more efficiently managed power systems, and also behavioral and management changes that reduce the demand for products and services that emit greenhouse gasses.
There are a number of ways to achieve these reductions, but all responsible approaches depend on accelerating the development and deployment of new technologies.
I believe that Congressional debate should be guided by certain core principles and a clear appreciation that there is a wrong way and a right way to approach reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Bad legislation would impose tremendous costs on our economy and on American families without accomplishing the important climate change goals we share.
The right way is to set realistic goals for reducing emissions consistent with advances in technology, while increasing our energy security and ensuring our economy can continue to prosper and grow.
I could go into how inappropriate it is for Bush to apply judgements of right and wrong to methods for reducing GHG emissions, I could go into the administration’s unwillingness to call for changes in attitudes or behaviors, I could go on at length about the massive capacity we have as individuals to reduce our own footprints without necessarily weakening the economy or reducing energy security, but I won’t.
This isn’t a legitimate strategy to reduce GHG emissions, but rather an attempt to stall and restrict other more earnest efforts. By offering incentives for overtly favored technologies (“clean” coal, nuclear), it’s an appeal to business as usual, the subsidization and deregulation of large energy corporations.
Bush’s claim of progress being made in reducing GHG intensity (a measure of emissions per unit of GDP) is not a result of the administration’s 2002 emission reduction goals, but rather a continuing shift in our economy from manufacturing to service industries.
His newly proposed goals for stopping the growth of US GHG emissions by 2025 falls short of alternative international proposals, and even shorter still of the GHG targets proposed by increasingly ignored climate scientists.
There’s more piss an vinegar over on Grist. I don’t want to write about this anymore.
Evolutionary Psychology, Feminism, and the Naturalist Fallacy
I went to a Behavioral and Social Sciences Faculty Colloquium (ooh, fancy academics!) last monday night, to see the keynote speech by Daniel Worthen, psychologist and co-author of The Altruistic Species.
In his book and the lecture, Worthen challenges the commonly held view of Psychological Egoism by arguing for the existence of true human altruism. Psychological Egoism asserts that human actions and emotions are motivated solely by self-interests, and that apparent altruism in humans is merely to conceal self-interests. Similar to this theory is Psychological Hedonism, which specifies that humans are driven to act only in order to increase pleasure and avoid pain.
Not only does Worthen argue for the existence of true human altruism, but he contends that we are innately altruistic, that it is pleasurable to be altruistic, and that our capacity for reason demands that we behave as such.
A lot of the support Worthen gave for the existence of true altruism in humans was through the theory of Evolutionary Psychology (EP). Under this theory, psychological traits and mechanisms can be seen as adaptations and the result of natural selection, in the same way that physiological traits are.
EP can be applied to any animal with a nervous system, but the majority of the studies in the field have been of human psychological characteristics. It’s within this area that there is the most controversy surrounding the application of evolution to human psychology, whereas zoological EP is much more widely accepted.
The first time I heard the term ‘Evolutionary Psychology’ was in Full Frontal Feminism, written by Jessica Valenti of Feministing.com. Valenti was critical of EP in studies that identified different psychological mechanisms in men and women affecting behavior and mate selection. In another post on Feministing she argues against another study that makes use of EP. Her problem with these studies is that their findings seem to corroborate gender stereotypes and discrimination. While I agree with Valenti’s absolute rejection of sexism, I disagree that EP itself is to blame.
I think that the authors of the study Valenti was criticizing, and Valenti herself, made a mistake by applying ethical value judgements to theoretical evolutionary origins of psychological mechanisms. Both of them have committed the naturalistic fallacy, which is very commonly done. In this fallacy, one equates being good or right with being natural. Valenti’s problem with the study was they could be suggesting that because these psychological traits were the results of evolution, it somehow made them proper or right.
The word ‘natural’ has many positive connotations in our language, and it’s a relatively judgmental word. In the same way that it’s incorrect to consider humans a more “perfectly” evolved primate than chimps, it’s wrong to apply these kinds of value judgements to other natural phenomena. Nature and natural processes aren’t intrinsically good, or bad, they’re just WHAT HAPPENS, as determined by natural laws.
While erosion can be devastating to a region, we don’t consider it wrong, we don’t think of wasps laying eggs in the backs of living caterpillars as unjust, and we don’t prosecute ant colonies for committing genocide.
No, we reserve the application of ethical judgements to human activities, because we’re the ones with the capacity for reason. Unlike rocks and fruits, we can learn how to behave. It is because we can determine the morality of our actions that we have a responsibility to do so.
So, when we look at the psychological mechanism that have been selected for in our evolution, we must withhold our ethical judgement. Though our genes may be ‘selfish’, they are not inclined to philosophical contemplation. Mechanisms like kin-selection, group-selection, and reciprocal altruism can have many effects that we are inclined to consider good and favorable, like familial bonds, camaraderie, friendship, and (as Worthen suggests) true altruism.
Yet at the same time, these mechanisms can lead to some of the ugliest sides of human nature. Being able to identify your relatives and friends can help you help them, but it also helps you hurt those outside your circle. Discrimination, prejudice, rape, genocide, all of these can be viewed as consequences of psychological mechanisms that have been selected for because they increased the likelihood that our genes would propagate.
If we rely solely on these adapted traits to determine our actions, we will fail to act rightly. We must understand that these psychological mechanisms are the product of millions of years of evolutions, thousands of years of which we have been social creatures, and on recently (on a geological timescale) have we been ethically aware.
That certain behaviors helped our ancestors survive as hunter-gatherers in prehistory doesn’t mean we have to behave the same way now. As Worthen said, it’s not necessary that we accept the bad with the good. Because we can employ reason to determine the morality of our actions, we must if we are to live morally (as determined through reason).
So I haven’t blogged in a few days, like a week, and yet you’re all still here. Used to be if I didn’t post for a few days traffic would drop off sharply, but not anymore. Have I so easily achieved timeless internet renown? Probably not.
I’ve a few posts in progress, outlined and sourced, and I’m tempted to put more time into fleshing them out. Instead of just prattling off a few hundred words on a topic, I feel more inclined to knock out a few pages.
Specifically, I’m working on one piece now about evolutionary psychology, human altruism as a psychological mechanism, and how this can relate to a Land Ethic. It may be that because I want to offer some explanation and arguments for each of the points involved, I’m more inclined to a longer piece, which is looking like a couple thousand words in length. I never used to think I could enjoy writing so much, and I blame high school for that.
Maybe I should parse it out instead, delivering the individual components of the larger argument in self-contained doses? I think I will. With that kind of measured approach, I can improve my understanding of each portion, and hopefully improve the larger argument as a whole.
In the meantime, and since my Links page is such a hodgepodge mess, here’s some blogs I think are worth checking out. They totally make me want to get my write on.
Adventures in Ethics and Science - Dependably good-natured and cogent, Dr. Free-Ride is an assistant professor of philosophy, holder of a PH.D in physical chemistry, and blogger extraordinaire.
Is There No Sin In It? - I’m hesitant to describe the blogging of A White Bear, suffice to say she’s plenty good at words.
Followed this recipe for “Sweet & Savory Kale” tonight for dinner with some fresh Red Russian Kale. It called for dried cranberries but I used fresh strawberries, vegetable broth instead of chicken stock, about half the sugar and twice the onion, -truth be told I was winging it.
Verdict though? Kale is super tasty; I had no idea. I want to making heaping steaming piles of this and serve it to friends.
I’ve been meaning for a while to do some food blogging, but it’s rare that my hands rest upon cutlery and keyboards with the ability to use both well.
I generally think of food in two different ways. When I’m cooking, and this is most often on my own and for myself, I look at the food through a very material lens.
What are the ingredients made out of, and where are they from? What happens when I add heat, and what difference could it make to cook it differently? What are the most important changes applied to the ingredients between cutting board and plate?
Once the meal is finally prepared my view changes, and I’m interested more in the abstract and immaterial qualities of the food. How can it reflect upon culture, or values, or taste? What does the flavor remind me of, why? Is it good? Is it bad? Beyond simple mmm and eww responses, do I like it?
I guess I have a lot of questions about food because a lot of the language is unfamiliar to me. Like, right now, I hate this blog post because I don’t think I really know how to talk about food, how best to describe it. Aristotle said that our language not only reflects but defines our reality, and I’m lacking the dietary diction.
So I’ll read this, and maybe I’ll read this. Maybe someday there will be a Tastes category on this blag, I’d like to hope so.
I came home tonight around seven, completely exhausted. I got into my room, leaned my crutches against the wall, dropped my backpack, and lowered myself to sit on the side of the bed. Only able to pull one shoe off before calling it quits; my head fell backwards into the comforter. I just wanted to sleep.
My mom called, maybe half an hour later. I was still laying sideways on the bed with my legs hanging over the edge and one shoe on. She called to tell me that our dog died today.
I was crying and laughing as we talked about what a great dog Domino was. When we first got her, I was seven years old. I remember driving home with her in the backseat standing on the imitation leather between me and my brother. She was so small. It was her first ride in a car, and she was a bit freaked out. On the phone my mom recalled me saying “Mom, the dog just threw up on my lap.”
When my brother and I drove across the country in the summer of ‘06 we brought Domino with us, laying on her bed in the back of the station wagon beside everything I took with me to school from New Jersey. She must have peed in at least ten different states on that trip.
My grandma’s been living out here in CA with my mom and step dad since the winter. Domino would sit next to her at every meal, with her head resting on my grandma’s lap. My grandma has lost most of her vision, so she’ll occasionally drop food from her fork and not notice, and this won my Domino’s heart.
Grandma started intentionally feeding Domino at the table, and every time my mom would tell her not to. The next time my mom would look away (or the next time my grandma thought my mom was looking away) she would sneak more food off her plate to the happy dog in her lap.
“Mom, I told you not to feed her!”
“You may be going blind, but I’m not. I saw you feed her”
“I didn’t feed her”
“Mom, yes you did”
“Oh, you saw that? Huh.”
Domino’s back legs had been going bad for a while, and my mom and step dad almost had her put down twice in the past few months, after really bad episodes. I think she might have had a stroke. But each time they got her to the vet, she would have perked up again, the same idiot puppy grin across her face as always.
As my mom explained it, Domino stopped eating yesterday, and my step dad found her dead this afternoon. It sounds like it might not have been too bad. I’m glad she was at home, and I’m going to miss her.
Last December I went on a trip down the coast with my mom, step dad, grandmother, and brother. I took these photos of Zack at the Pigeon Point lighthouse, just North of Half Moon Bay. He looks so handsome in that fisherman sweater. Also, I have a thing for 1:2.
I watched Instrument last night, a film collecting footage from the first ten years of Fugazi. Formed in 1987 and on hiatus since 2002, Fugazi is one of my favorite bands, and arguably one of the most influential in the past two decades. I’ve heard their importance to my generation compared to that of Dylan and my parent’s.
Instrument convinces that it wasn’t just the music of Fugazi that gave them such significance, thought it certainly helps when a band just sounds so fucking good. Within the volume and intensity easily generated by post-punk/hardcore bands, Fugazi achieves an inspiring discipline, an almost ascetic ecstatic excitement.
“…it’s never scripted. So like at any moment, everyone in the band has to be ready to go into any one of the seventy or eighty songs that we’ve written over the years. It’s really important that you almost enter a group mind or something.” -Guy Picciotto
This quality of signal in noisy noise is something that really attracts me to a band. Other bands dear to my heart, like Khantra (and many other NotRock bands) and Lightning Bolt, exhibit the same practiced passion and precision.
“Our concern was to be a band and to play.” -Ian MacKaye
I’ve never before looked back on my own involvement in the DIY punk scene forged by friends in NJ to consider the impact that Fugazi, along with other bands on theDischord label, had on me. It’s apparent to me now how they were most likely the strongest influence of what I think makes an enjoyable and respectable band. I doubt what we called Reznor would ever have happened without it.
Motivated by forces greater than and even opposed to profit, commercial success outside of the mainstream music industry was never Fugazi’s intent, but it was something they achieved with a steadfast DIY ethos.
“it sucks to have to tell people to behave themselves, but there’s other people here too, alright? So try to be a little more kind.” -Ian MacKaye
I recorded two songs today, couldn’t get the third to sound right. Little Lovesong is exactly that, kind of silly too. Collider on the other hand, sounds to me like one of the best songs I’ve ever written. This may not be the best performance or recording of it, but I think the potential is there. This bum knee is just the kick in the ass I need to finally finish recording Year Two.
Also today, with help from Quinn, I set up a simple little tool for browsing and listening to music on my site without having to download anything. Powered by Musicbrowser, you can try it out here.
The rest of the day was spent wrestling with Illustrator and playing Glass Bead. The latter is so much more fun.
Here’s what I believe will be the case, following my injury.
I’m not going to ride a bike for a long time.
I’m going to atrophy from my left hip down.
I’m going to get sore and strong from using crutches.
I’m going to become more flexible as I learn to put socks on my extended rigid leg.
I’m going to itch.
I’m going to do a lot more reading, drawing, and homework.
I’m going to get some cabin fever.
I’m going to gain a new perspective.
I’m going to be challenged.
I’m going to try to maintain as much independence as I can.
I’m going to apologize profusely for inconveniencing others.
I’m going to depend on friends.
I’m going to learn how many kind, generous, and caring people surround me.