A Capital Idea Part 121: Nutrition is Good for you; Tons of Money, not so much

Based on a conversation on my friend Poor Richard's blog site, I had another idea about the relationship between money and the environment. Thus, I will take one more attempt to capture this relationship here.

We don't put any limits on wealth in our human economy; perhaps this is where the economic system we humans have created, has gone wrong. The system is engineered in such a way, in fact, that wealth makes more wealth possible. It becomes a race to the top, with only a lucky few succeeding. During that race, the contestants must step on, derogate or ignore their fellow human beings. This is a hypercompetitive model (more on that in a soon to be written post). In terms of biology, it resembles Darwinian competition, which is a part of evolution, but only plays a small role in ecology. If our purpose as human beings is to put the rest of humanity, "out of business," so to speak -- in other words, "Let them die," as libertarians are so fond of saying -- then our system is well-designed. However, if our purpose is to have a relatively happy and harmonious society, in which people's potential and thus progress is maximized -- what Poor Richard and I have decide to call "Utopia Light" since a true utopia is not really possible -- we need a very different economic system, one which addresses our economic needs as an ecosystem addresses the needs of its participants through a beautifully choreographed set of interactions in which cooperation and interdependence wins out over competition and independence.

The question that prompted the idea for this post, in fact, was "What in the environment is the equivalent of money?" The person who asked this question is somebody I didn't know, but apparently, he could not come up with any equivalence. (By the way, this is a person who believes that a moneyless society is possible and that there should be no money. While I think that may be possible ultimately, I think we are still a long way from that and for the sake of cultural sanity, we do need some sort of markers to indicate our rights to resources. To think otherwise at this point, seems naive to me. ) However, it only took me a few seconds to come up with such an equivalence. Money is a claim on resources. Resources in "the natural world" would be food -- or nutrition, if you prefer -- and necessities such as space to live and grow in, oxygen if you are an animal, or carbon dioxide if you are a plant. Money would be like saying "This is my space; please let me live here" or something to that effect. Territorialism would be pretty much the natural world equivalent of claiming "I have this much money in the bank." Both plants and animals engage in territorialism, in various forms. Some species are more territorial, like capitalists, while others are more sociable and sharing, like socialists, but all creatures need a certain amount of room and resources to survive and grow.

The economy -- that is, economic activity -- consists of the exchange of resources, essentially. In the human economy, this means people buying and selling things, where money changes hands. In "the natural world," the equivalent of economic activity means the exchange of nutrients, the sharing of space, and so forth in the context of the organism's local environment. Thus, economic activity in "the natural world," is all local, unlike human economic activity, although the ripple effects of ecological activity spread throughout the world. Plants gather nutrients from their local soil, in the region of their root system, and carbon dioxide from the air that tickles their leaves, while animals search for suitable food and shelter in their local surroundings, and absorb oxygen from the air around them. They do not need to, nor do they attempt to, ship massive quantities of nutrients from around the world -- far more than they would ever need -- to be stored in special containers where the contents will either be used to wipe out their fellow life-forms in the ultimate act of shortsighted selfishness, eventually rot unused, or both. Such profound gluttony is a peculiar trait of some misanthropic humans, but not of creatures in a natural system. Only an economic system based upon a limitless wealth and endless competition model can make such behavior possible. Plants or animals may store food or nutrients in their bodies, or in special caches as squirrels do for their winter sustenance, but they only store what they might reasonably need.

Thus, the most important implication of the money/nutrient use analogy is the following: In an ecological system, every organism's use of resources is limited. Sharing and moderation prevail in the natural environment. There is no worldwide gluttony, because any organism only needs or can use a certain amount of resources. However, in the human economy, gluttony is encouraged. Resources from around the world are gathered, by those who are willing and able, and hoarded so they cannot be used by others. This would be the equivalent of one, or a few, fish in the sea, eating up all the other fish. That just could not happen in a natural ecology, but it is more or less what happens in the human economy. True, "the little people" usually have some income, and most don't starve to death (although starvation rates are distressingly high in some parts of the world). However, the large majority of our resources are concentrated in the fins of a few "big fish." An economic system built this way would quickly collapse and hopefully, start over again with a better foundation. I suspect that the same will happen with our economic system sooner or later (probably sooner) if we don't manage to reform it.

Furthermore, we are talking about human beings here, not different types of organisms. Human beings share a certain biological, cultural, psychological and spiritual equivalency. The United States was ostensibly founded on the principle of equal rights and opportunity for all. This does not guarantee equivalent outcomes, but the fact that we are all human beings and basically similar in fundamental ways, means that huge wealth disparities, or other huge disparities in treatment, are fundamentally unfair and should be anathema to us, rather than extreme wealth compared to one's fellow citizens being something to be celebrated. In other words, we should cooperate much as social animals -- since we are the most social of animals -- in "the natural world" cooperate, and share our resources in an equitable manner. The way to do that is to build an economic system which mirrors the balance and fair sharing and exchange of resources, that is seen in a health ecology. There are no "Killer Whale" human beings and no "Amoeba" human beings; we are all Homo Sapiens human beings.

Comments

nimblecivet 7 years 7 weeks ago
#1

hey NL, I wonder if you have ever read any works such as A Sand County Almanac? I have not read that particular work, I have only read Down the River by Edward Abee. I think there is a lot of potential for that genre. It can help people develop real maturity by facing real problems instead of living vicariously through novels and movies. People who become interested in ecology tend to get outside and experience reality more. Hopefully, as the reality of ecology becomes more pressing people will grow to appreciate nature. However, there is also the possibility that "green" will come to be something that is just another triumph of technology over nature. I'm sure companies such as Mons--to are already ramping up their pr efforts to steal the momentum from activists who are spreading the word and challenging the destruction of nature.

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Natural Lefty 7 years 7 weeks ago
#2

It's interesting that you mentioned living vicariously through novels and movies, NC. If you have seen the recent part of my previous thread, you have seen that I plan to write a post on that topic in the near future. I agree that interest in nature helps people get away from living vicariously, and conversely, living in a purely human environment lends itself to living in a sort of fantasy land.

I have not read any of those works. I presume that they are about ecology, though. Is that correct?

I think part of a "green" future will involve "green" technology, but I think the most crucial part will be preserving nature and working within the context it provides.

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Robindell 7 years 7 weeks ago
#3

My impression is that some of the people who are the least interested in the protection of the ecological system and the overall environment are fundamentalist or at least evangelical Christians who only care about futher the aims of business and have no concern for the health or safety of the population, the protection of wildlife or of natural areas, and so forth. Of course, not all Christians and other religious believers are of that mindset, but the ambiguity of belief can be used to justify detrimental actions.

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Natural Lefty 7 years 7 weeks ago
#4

Such as that guy Donald Watt or whatever his name was who was head of the EPA during the Ray-gun administration. I think some fundamentalists don't expect this world to last long enough for their environmental destruction to be a problem, since they think the "Kingdom of Jesus" is coming soon. This is a very dangerous way of thinking. We need to think in the long term, and I mean the very long term. This planet is supposed to be around for another billion years or so, according to scientists I think. That's a lot of time for evolution to take place, if we don't ruin it all with our shortsigtedness.

nimblecivet 7 years 7 weeks ago
#5

From what I recall of having heard about A Sand County Almanac I think ecology features heavilly in the storyline. Again, I haven't read it, so I'm relying on my fuzzy impression of what I think I may have heard about it. As far as Down the River goes, in a way ints not about ecology. Its focus is strongly on the experience of being in the wild. The perspective is more of a personal one as far as the relationship to nature and the desire to fight for it.

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Natural Lefty 7 years 7 weeks ago
#6

We Americans seem very good at talking about ecology, but aside from preserving certain lands which mostly are difficult to inhabit anyway, we don't seem to do much about it.

I would say these lands are nature's bank and their resources, nature's money.

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Robindell 7 years 6 weeks ago
#7

A Sand Couunty Almanac was written by an enviornmentalist and ecologist by the name of Aldo Leopold. I heard of it from the late radio and T.V. host Arthur Godfrey, who was from a previous, gentler generation of broadcasters. He recommended the book highly.

Natural L., the rather unnatural Secretary of the Interior under your former governor and our former mostly right-wing president Reagan was James Watt. I remember that guy for how much controversy he stirred up.

On the subject of health, nutrition, and the global ecology, I have a book that I think you all would find most interesting, and also troubling as is apt to be the case when discussing environmental topics. The author is described as being a marine scientist, conservationist, and professor of marine biology at the University of York, England by the name of Callum Roberts, and his book is titled, simply enough, The Ocean of Life. He writes about the overfishing of our oceans and also the pollution of oceans through agricultural runoff, industrial chemicals used in manufacturing and through global warming. He talks about how the size of certain species of fish have gotten smaller through adverse changes and how some species of fish, like other animals, are in dwindling supply such as blue fin tuna. He has some solutions especially for the overfishing problem, but warns that unless we as a specifies don't start to consume less and use new, safer technologies and do more to eliminate water and air pollution, we may not be around for that much longer.

I have one more book, health-related, for the attention of Natural L. This one is by a professor of psychiatry at a university you may have heard of called Harvard. The book is called, The Other Side of Normal: How Biology is Providing the Clues to Unlock the Secrets of Normal and Abnormal Behavior by Jordan Smoller, M.D. His thesis is that psychiatry puts too much emphasis on abormal behavior when in actuality, the line between normal and abnormal behavior in its most basic sense is a fine line, not clearcut. He says that everyone as part of our evolved defense mechanisms experiences anxiety at some times. If you apply this idea to conservatives, they may be normal and not mentally ill per se, but their emphasis on fear of the unknown and of the other is not dissimilar to the reactions of someone who has paranoid psychosis. He also says that much of what is done in the way of treatment in psychiatry and with psychotherapy, even though there are newer drugs that have been developed, basically orginates from an understanding of the human brain that is 40 or 50 years old, and that since then, with PET, MRIs, and CT scans, and with genetic research, we are starting to have a more accurate and realistic picture of what goes on in the brains of people, including those with different mental conditions. He calls for a review of current treatments so than can be based more solidly on emerging scientific knowledge.

I read that one medical school is developing a blood test which shows if someone has some kind of marker, be it genetic, a blood enzyme, or whatever it is, for a form of depression.

In an inverview, the doctor did say that mental problems cannot be completely reduced to biology because human psychology also plays a role in one's behavior. He also acknowledged the influence of culture on the mind.

My source for both of the above-mentioned books is Diane Rehm of "The Diane Rehm Show," which is heard on non-commercial NPR stations. Her Web site, which is part of the American University Web site, lists both authors and titles. Her show comes on in the morning, so I can still always hear Thom's show if I want later in the day.

Zenzoe 7 years 6 weeks ago
#8
Quote Nimblecivet:

It can help people develop real maturity by facing real problems instead of living vicariously through novels and movies.

Quote Natural Lefty:

It's interesting that you mentioned living vicariously through novels and movies, NC. If you have seen the recent part of my previous thread, you have seen that I plan to write a post on that topic in the near future. I agree that interest in nature helps people get away from living vicariously, and conversely, living in a purely human environment lends itself to living in a sort of fantasy land.

Wow. How wrong you are about reading novels! Reading a great novelist's work does much more for the reader beyond any sort of "vicarious living" benefit! I am shocked that the two of you would even think it's all about living vicariously. I mean, sorry my dear ones, but that's just ridiculous.

I'm not going to count the ways, not today. Just in brief: Reading novels develops one's creative imagination and improves visual thinking. It exposes the reader to good writing, as well as many different styles of good writing, which enhances the reader's own writing development and style. Novels reveal the deeper workings and psychology of the minds of characters, which enhances one's tolerance of people of different races and cultures from your own. Reading a great novel IS a life experience, for those people who enjoy a life of the mind. Novels can enlarge the reader's perspective, as well as provide great joy to the lover of literature and the creative use, or poetry of, language. Literature can enlighten societies and create an impetus for change. And, as the article from Psychology Today points out, novels develop empathy in readers.

http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200611/novel-delights

Sheesh.

Natural Lefty's picture
Natural Lefty 7 years 6 weeks ago
#9

Hello, I have been grading today and my wife keeps talking to me about my parents even now.

I listen to the Diane Rehm show sometimes too, Robindell. She sounds pretty feeble to me. That is kind of what my dad sounds like now, too. He used to have a really nice voice, as I still do.

I know pretty much those sort of things about the ocean's problems. The overfishing is not that much of a problem actually since fish stocks can regenerate quickly, and people can eat smaller fish which have less pollution, anyway. The big problems are climate change and pollution, which could devastate the ocean's ecosystem in relatively short order, geologically speaking.

The book about psychiatry clearly has a biological bias, as psychiatry is apt to do. Nonetheless, I agree that in psychology, there is no clear line between what is normal and what is abnormal. This is what makes the issue of psychopathology so complicated.

Zenzoe, I thought you were leading the charge on this vicarious living idea but I guess I was mistaken. It seems to me that empathizing with other characters is a vicarious act. I used to read a lot of novels that were full of imagination, including some by Ray Bradbury, who just died. They put me mentally in the place of other people in other places, which is to say, a vicarious form of experience. I agree that reading can result in all the positive cognitive and emotional benefits of reading that you mention. Vicarious experience is not inherently bad; in fact, it is necessary for perspective taking and empathy to blossom, so I would say that the ability to experience what others do, vicariously, is a good trait generally speaking. The problem I have is with the self-indulgent, self-serving, egotistical fantasy world that is created, primarily through film --- although literature is not altogether innocent of the charge -- that can be used to manipulate people and blur the line between reality and fantasy. Of course, there are "good films" and "bad films" in regard to how they manipulate reality and emotions, just as there are "good books" and "bad books" in this regard. Much the same can be said of religious messages.

Anyway, when I write my post, it will be about film, not literature, although NC was talking about literature mostly.

Zenzoe 7 years 6 weeks ago
#10

NL, if you're going to write about "the self-indulgent, self-serving, egotistical fantasy world that is created, primarily through film --- although literature is not altogether innocent of the charge -- that can be used to manipulate people and blur the line between reality and fantasy," then you'd better be very specific and distinguish that from literature and film that is art. Perhaps you and Nimblecivet meant to distinguish between the two, but your comments failed to do that; instead, the two of you grouped "novels and movies" generally, without making any qualifications. Your comments about vicarious living contained only the pejorative view, as in NC's unequivocal view that a book of non-fiction could "...help people develop real maturity by facing real problems instead of living vicariously through novels and movies," which you agreed with.

Nimblecivet's comment expressed his view that reading a non-fiction writer's stories about his or her experiences was, first, not vicarious living, and, second, that reading novels and movies is vicarious living in a way that does not help people face "real problems" and "develop real maturity." It was a distinction seemingly based on prejudice, not knowledge. However, I might argue that he has it backwards: reading non-fiction, biographical expositions IS living vicariously, while reading a novel that counts as literature is to engage in a real life experience, one with the power to expand one's awareness, one's perceptions, one's imagination and to educate one in the power of creative art. In reality, though, I don't make the criticism about either non-fiction or fiction as being "vicarious" living, something to disdain as being a waste of time and deleterious to one's emotional, psychological or spiritual development. I read both fiction and non-fiction, and each does something different for me. I'm a reader.

The same could be said of music. When you listen to music, are you merely living vicariously, in a pejorative sense of living in fantasy? Well, you might be having a fantasy, but so what? People dream, people imagine, people remember, people engage in the life of their minds. Is that unhealthy, necessarily? NO. On the contrary, it is essential for life!

Art brings meaning to life. It expands life, rather than contracting it.

And I disagree that empathizing with others is a vicarious act. To empathize is to feel. It is not to say, "Oh, there's so-and-so, and he's probably feeling uncomfortable." No. Empathy is your own discomfort in seeing another's discomfort, perhaps a knot in your stomach. Empathy, when you're watching a powerful movie that tells a story beautifully, is your own tears. That is your own experience. And that's the reason art has the power to change people.

A documentary may change your thinking too, and cause you to empathize with others. However, a fictional story on film, a movie, one created by a great filmmaker, often has far greater power to engage the viewer emotionally than a documentary normally does. Each has its positives, but for depth of engagement, you can't beat the movies.

Rather than crimping psyches, art expands the soul. And it is an essential first step toward an artist's development: You can't be a novelist, without reading novels. You won't be much of a filmmaker, unless you've seen lots of movies. And without art, you won't be much of a human being. It's the reason so many young people turn to drugs: Art is absent from their lives. But you want to treat it as just another drug? Nonsense!

Beauty. I can't live without it.

"Religion and art are both ways of grappling with those non-rational forces of love, beauty, truth, grief, and meaning that make one a whole individual." —Chris Hedges

Zenzoe 7 years 6 weeks ago
#11

Also, this: the art of blogging. You, Natural Lefty, do not exist for me in reality; you exist in my mind. Does that mean my experience here has less validity than if I met you at the supermarket? I think we share much more of our separate realities here, than we would in person, where everything must be left unsaid or avoided entirely, where we would wear social masks. Much is lost, as well, true. It's different, but that is all. It's a different kind of reality, not necessarily an unhealthy reality. It's all a matter of balance. Doing one thing does not mean you do not do others.

In regard to the making of art, the painter Ran Ortner said, "Another thing I found in my reading was something da Vinci said: that if you're with another person, you're only half of who you are. You're not truly yourself unless you're alone. Jesus goes into the wilderness. Buddha sits under the Bodhi tree. Mohammed goes to the mountain. It's only in solitary moments that your social mask can drop away."

nimblecivet 7 years 6 weeks ago
#12

Definitely there are great novels out there. Too bad I don't have the time to poke around and find them, although Zenzoe has recommended The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, so that might be one of the next novels I read. I don't know though, I would like to find a novelist whose works are more of a panoramic variety, so to speak, rather than dramatic. I'm not sure if you know what I mean by that. I notice though that Larsonn was also a journalist which probably helped make him a good author of fiction. One of these days I'll make it back up to City Lights bookstore.

Of course its too simplistic to say merely that one type of genre vs. another would tend to encourage or discourage empathy or any other trait or disposition, don't you think? My impression of literature generally is that it merely reinforces existing attitudes by catering to people's desires. At least most of what's put out by the industry. But I think that both non-fiction and fiction can do the things novels do according to the quotation by Zenzoe in her comment. My impression is that biographies, non-fictional accounts of various sorts which reveal the details of people's experiences, thoughts, and emotions, and even novels which are rooted in a historical vantage point do more to promote truthful introspection and investigation. Its just rooted in the type of work that it is. Novels, as fiction, as potentially pure art, are not constrained by reality. That, of course, is also their strength in that they open up more potential for the imagination and thus possibly also personal growth.

Robindell's picture
Robindell 7 years 6 weeks ago
#13

Try Germinal by Zola, The Octopus by Frank Norris, Main Street and Babbit by Sinclair Lewis, Hard Times and David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, among many others.

Incidentally, the main reason that Diane Rehm's voice sounds a bit unsteady is that years ago, she found out that she has a rare vocal disorder that affects the speaking voice. Earlier on, she took a break from radio until she gained some more control over her speaking ability. NPR is non-profit; they don't care how slick or commercial-sounding a host is.

Zenzoe 7 years 6 weeks ago
#14

Nimblecivet, though I did recommend The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I wouldn't call it great literature, per se. It's more in the crime-drama genre, but closer to literature than most of those. However, it is grounded solidly in a pro-woman, liberal perspective, so that one gets a true picture of the violence women experience in a way that enlightens rather than titillates. Also, the main character's intelligence and creative vengeance has the reader rooting for her all the way through. It's quite cathartic in that way. At least it was for me. If that's "living vicariously," I'll take that any day over actually going through what she goes through. We know that her story is repeated all over the world every day, but, in my opinion, only a novel can put you close enough to the real experience to have the proper attitude about it—that is, have sensitivity about it.

I don't know if you guys have read Aldous Huxley's [non-fiction] book, Literature and Science, but it's a wonderful little book, all about this very discussion, essentially. He writes there, "The scientist's aim, as we have seen, is to say one thing, and only one thing, at a time. This, most emphatically, is not the aim of the literary artist. Human life is lived simultaneously on many levels and has many meanings. Literature is a device for reporting the multifarious facts and expressing their various significances. When the literary artist undertakes to give a purer sense to the words of his tribe, he does so with the express purpose of creating a language capable of conveying, not the single meaning of some particular science, but the multiple significance of human experience, on its most private as well as on its more public levels. He purifies, not by simplifying and jargonizing, but by deepening and extending, by enriching with allusive harmonics, with overtones of association and undertones of sonorous magic."

He gets a bit flowery there, but he's right, just the same.

Robindell's suggestions look great. I happen to like John Updike, despite his misogyny. He's a master wordsmith. I loved his Brazil. Also, I like Philip Roth, also a misogynist, but a great, creative story-teller. I liked his Indignation, one of his later novels. Of course, Portnoy's Complaint was his hilarious first effort.

Natural Lefty's picture
Natural Lefty 7 years 6 weeks ago
#15

Yes, Zenzoe dear, NC and I were guilty of overgeneralizing. Sorry about that -- I know you are a proud artist, much as I am a proud psychologist. I assumed that Nimblecivet was talking about people who are celebrity worshippers, or more or less lost in their own vicarious reality fantasy lands, and the sort of media that fosters that sort of thing, primarily the movie industry. I wonder what Chris Hedges has to say about the movie industry. I support art as a whole; most art serves a worthy purpose, but it can be misused, by artists or consumers, much as psychology can. I recall writing something recently about the movie industry that you said was very well written, in a recent thread. I was just trying to continue that conversation, not make an indictment of art, film and literature as a whole. Of course, as a social psychologist, my mindset lends itself to social criticisms.

I don't have a lot of time now as I am still grading. I think of people on the internet as real, and have talked to several of them on the phone, but not you, Zenzoe. We interact through a different media than other relationships, but can easily cross over if we wish to. By the way, I think the internet and social networking is a great media for unadulterated, honest art and opinion but it can be abused just like anything else. I am one of those people who can't tell a lie, so in my case, everything I present is genuine although I joke around a lot. But then, maybe I am just a "pigment of your imagination" as I suppose Archie Bunker might say (joking there).

Empathy is a meta-emotion. Of course, when we have emotions, they are real, but what I call "vicarious" refers to people experiencing the emotions they see in others -- essentially, the social spreading of emotion, which is also known as empathy. Thus, to me, empathy represents a vicarious experience of emotion -- that is, something one feels because one observes another person who is experiencing that emotion. I don't know how you define "vicarious" and I don't have time to look up what other psychologists have to say about it, but that is my take on it.

Empathy differs from compassion although they overlap. Compassion is more like sympathy and concern for the suffering of others, while empathy is absorbing the feelings of others.

I wish I had time to do more reading. My brothers are about to come to Riverside, and the whole family as well as health care workers are to discuss the care of my parents in the coming days. The latest news from my eldest brother is that my father thinks he is being sued. I am pretty sure this is about as real as the 1.5 million dollar health care bill my father told me to expect, that turned out to be only 15 dollars when I found the bill on my parents' dining room table.

Zenzoe 7 years 6 weeks ago
#16
Quote Natural Lefty:

But then, maybe I am just a "pigment of your imagination" as I suppose Archie Bunker might say (joking there).

Actually, no, Mucky. You're more a pigmy of my imagination, if you must know... ;-)

I'm sure Hedges values art, and also I'm sure he has the same view as you do on celebrity worship, and the narcissistic downside that the movie culture promotes. You might enjoy his Empire of Illusion. Here's an excerpt: http://www.truthdig.com/arts_culture/item/20090730_book_excerpt_empire_o...

I'm slowly working my way through The Spirit Level, Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger. Early on, they discuss the difference between healthy and unhealthy kinds of self-esteem, having noticed a perplexing rise in "self-esteem," compared over time, along with the rise in anxiety levels. So what the researchers discovered, as I'm sure you know, was that the stresses of increasing inequality produced not only anxiety, but narcissism also increased. It was narcissism that produced a sort of "defensive attempt to shore up our confidence in the face of those insecurities." Of course, they then had to devise tests to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy self-esteem.

I realize I'm not telling you anything you don't already know. I just wanted to add to the connections between celebrity worship and the movie industry culture, where the contrast between the bright fame of the few and the dim anonymity of everyone else creates narcissism. ("Hey! Well put, eh?!" she said, like the narcissist she was.)

The thing about empathy, NL, is that I'm right and you're wrong, ha ha. No, the thing is, I think it was in one of Robert Sapolsky's lectures where I learned that the same area of the brain that "lights up" during a real experience is the same area of the brain that lights up when someone is watching someone else have that experience. That is to say, as one blogger put it, "Behind the frontal cortex is the anterior cingulate cortex. It lights up when we experience pain, but it also lights up when somebody we care about experiences pain. This means there is a part of the brain devoted to empathy." I hope that makes sense, because right now I don't feel like searching his literature.

I posted the following poems at "Women's Issues," but I thought they provided a good example of empathy. Not only did the poet, Pulitzer Prize winner Natasha Trethewey, need empathy to write her poems, but the reader experiences empathy in reading them. When I heard her read them on Fresh Air yesterday, I was moved to tears. Perhaps it was her voice, but for what it's worth, here they are (btw, the speaker is an African American, Union soldier of the Civil War):

April 1863

When men die, we eat their share of hardtack

trying not to recall their hollow sockets,

the worm-stitch of their cheeks. Today we buried

the last of our dead from Pascagoula,

and those who died retreating to our ship—

white sailors in blue firing upon us

as if we were the enemy. I'd thought

the fighting over, then watched a man fall

beside me, knees-first as in prayer, then

another, his arms outstretched as if borne

upon the cross. Smoke that rose from each gun

seemed a soul departing. The Colonel said:

an unfortunate incident; said:

their names shall deck the page of history.

June 1863

Some names shall deck the page of history

as it is written on stone. Some will not.

Yesterday, word came of colored troops, dead

on the battlefield at Port Hudson; how

General Banks was heard to say I have

no dead there, and left them, unclaimed. Last night,

I dreamt their eyes still open— dim, clouded

as the eyes of fish washed ashore, yet fixed—

staring back at me. Still, more come today

eager to enlist. Their bodies—haggard

faces, gaunt limbs—bring news of the mainland.

Starved, they suffer like our prisoners. Dying,

they plead for what we do not have to give.

Death makes equals of us all: a fair master.

Zenzoe 7 years 6 weeks ago
#17

Also, I'm wondering if your dad might be fearing death? The "being sued" and "million dollar health care bill" could be standing in for such fears, or so it would seem to me.

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Natural Lefty 7 years 6 weeks ago
#18

"Actually, no, Mucky. You're more a pigmy of my imagination, if you must know... ;-)"

Well, yes, we Mudskippers are pretty tiny, after all. Speaking of Mudskippers, all the Muddskipper brothers, Plucky (the eldest, for whom everything is an emergency), Lucky (who used to put everything "in God's hands" and not worry about it, until he found out that doesn't always work and became a cynic), and yours truly, Mucky, the calm, self-reliant but goofy youngest member of the clan, are all coming together this week to visit their elderly parents and discuss healthcare, etc.

I was thinking the same thing about my father -- that these delusions were manifestations of his fear of death. However, the really sad thing is that we are getting indications on multiple fronts, that my father is giving up on life. Mia said he seems to have lost the will to live, and my father himself has said as much to several people. Meanwhile, he got an antibiotic resistant bladder infection after his surgery. I just found out about this yesterday, although my father has had the infection for around 20 days (since May 21 when he had his surgery). Of course, hospitals have the worst and most infections of anyplace. The germs are evolving, a nasty side-product of over-reliance on antibiotics. They finally placed my father on intravenous antibiotics, which seem to be working.

Mia told me, and I have noticed as well, that my father and mother are both much happier when he is at home. He loses his will to live in the rehab center, and my mom goes down the tubes at the same time, which makes me wonder why my father's PCP keeps insisting on putting him in rehab. We are trying to schedule a meeting with Dr. Mikhail (that's his name -- not Dr. McHale as I thought when I first heard his name -- and he is Egyptian) sometime this week. This isn't looking like much of a vacation "week off" for me this year.

By the way, my joking is not meant to make light of my father's delusions. I am finding his downward spiral rather tragic. This isn't the way I remember my father over all these years. I guess the humor is just my way of countering misfortune and human foibles with humor as my parents normally do. Perhaps my father's delusions do represent his fear of death in an abstract way, after all, or his fears of not having provided properly for his family and having his savings snatched away at the end.

I want to write a blog post, but I am not sure what to write about at this time. I have yet to write one this month, which is pretty indicative of how things are going.

Thus goes another traumatic day in Mucky's Mudskipper Palace.

Stay tuned for another exciting episode of "As the Worm Turns" as brothers Plucky, Lucky and Mucky meet in Mucksville.

I heard about that research years ago, showing that imagination or watching others have an experience, creates identical brain activity patterns to what happens when a person has the experience directly. This is the basis of empathy according to brain researchers, I think.

I think we are all in agreement about narcissism and the role of pop culture in creating and nurturing it. This is the flip side of compassion, yet, it uses the same brain mechanisms that compassion uses. We can empathize with people in a narcissistic manner (hero identification) or a compassionate manner (wishing to heal the suffering), in other words, due to our brains' characteristic of mirroring the emotions of those around us -- unless one happens to have an autism spectrum disorder.

Thanks for the poems, Zenzoe. They are outstanding cries of the war-torn soul. They remind me of something I think Walt Whitman wrote during the Uncivil War. Some of the most empathetic works of art come out of the senseless tragedy of organized slaughter that is war. Union troops firing on African American soldiers out of prejudice -- that is tragic. In the end, however, death does make equals of all of us, or as the saying goes, "You can't take it with you."

Speaking of slavery, I was thinking of writing a post about the irony of libertarianism, that it would make slaves of all of us, in one way or another.

Zenzoe 7 years 6 weeks ago
#19

At times I forget how enjoyable reading a Natural Lefty comment can be. You reminded me of that this time. And, btw, your Archie Bunkerism, "pigment of my imagination," wasn't wasted on me. That's funny!

I was wondering about the possibility I might have a tinge of the libertarian about me, "she said, continuing in a narcissistic vein." My advice to the parents of my grandchildren, if I dared offer it, would be, "Fewer rules equals fewer power struggles." I mean, sometimes one of those parental units (I'm known as the maternal unit, btw), has such control issues that she (oops) makes rules for every little thing, leaving little room for the kids to choose for themselves or find lessons and limits by their own experience; and so, naturally, they have conflicts over her [unnecessary] rules. Not that I'm advocating a lawless, free-for-all, but, for example: Mom doesn't want her five-year-old boy to spend more than, say, 15 minutes playing with his hand-held, car-race game (some good reasons, but poor implementation). So, after his allotted time on the game, she'll tell him to put it down and go do something else, whereupon he whines, whereupon she starts yelling, whereupon he cries uncontrollably, whereupon she walks over and yanks it out of his hands. Okay. So, what I did one day while babysitting (after she had told me her rule before leaving the house), was to ignore that his time-limit was over with his game, let him go on playing, while I stood at the marker board nearby and started playing Hangman with him. He played his video game, while I called out, "Okay, guess a letter of the alphabet," and he would give me a letter as he focused on his race. But soon, he became more interested in Hangman and threw down his device, to hop over beside me and continue our game. Then, after that, he and his sister went outside to play. See what I mean?

Anyway, I don't know if that has anything to do with your subject. I agree that libertarianism will lead to slavery, in the big, political and economic realm.

That is tragic, about your father. I hope you and your brothers make some progress toward the alleviation of his and your mother's suffering. And I hope you get along better than my two older sisters and I did, when my mother was nearing the end, and after. And your joking on the subject is perfectly harmless, as I see it. You'll probably be shocked by the sheer immaturity of this (or maybe you won't, knowing me), but at dinner on the night of my mother's funeral (she was 86), with all of us sitting around a large dining table, my niece —the now university professor— and I took turns setting off a hand-held fart machine. The farts were spaced well enough and muffled enough to seem truly real, so that in due time, most of us were racked with laughter. Two family members, as I remember, were not particularly amused, feeling an insult to my mother. What they didn't know was that my mother would have been laughing hardest of all, and would have expected nothing less from me. Plus, she would have wanted us to go on living in laughter, rather than sorrow.

Natural Lefty's picture
Natural Lefty 7 years 6 weeks ago
#20

Well, Eunice went into the yard and I had some free time, so I did it -- the post about libertarianism, that is, not the flatulence thing.

Actually, progressives such as I presume Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow were, and the great majority of humanistic and positive (an offshoot of humanistic psychology) psychologists are, would advocate a relatively permissive parenting style, or perhaps what some psychologists term "nurturant parenting," either of which involves relatively few rules. This is not nearly the same as libertarianism. The big difference is that there is an inherently unequal parent-child relationship going on in parenting, including an inherent dependence of child upon parent. No matter how permissive the parents become, they still have the privilege of being in the parental role and being the ultimate decision makers. In a libertarian economy, on the other hand, there is an economic free-for-all in the beginning, which turns into a monopoly of the greedy and ruthless, in the end. That is more akin to a "Lord of the Flies" (kids stranded on an island with no adult authority) situation. I think giving relative freedom to children, as long as they aren't going sociopathic or clearly maladaptive, while displaying positive role modeling, nurturance and reasoning, are the best way to nurture a sense of competence, reason, freedom and joy of life in children. By the way, I have read that in Japan at least, parents tend to be permissive or nurturant with sons, but not daughters.

I knew you would get the "pigment of your imagination" thing, since you are an artist (wink wink). It's just a matter of picking the proper colors to paint me with.

Zenzoe 7 years 6 weeks ago
#21

I was kidding about having a "tinge of the libertarian about me," you know—tongue in cheek. It would be silly to seriously attach the libertarian label to a parenting style. But that's an excellent paragraph there on the distinction between the two.

Natural Lefty's picture
Natural Lefty 7 years 6 weeks ago
#22

I know you were kidding, but you were talking about having fewer rules for kids to have to follow, so some uninitiated reader could mistake that for libertarianism. Authoritarian parenting is the exact opposite, with lots of strictly enforced, arbitrary rules for the kids to follow. Clearly, it's better for kids to have parents who give relatively few rigid rules but set good examples and guidelines, who are nurturant and there for their kids when needed.

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