Tuesday, May 03, 2011

The View from my Bicycle [COLUMN]

The Brain is a Bargain Shopper - by Nick van der Leek

During the long process of our evolution, skirting extinction on a couple of occasions, our hunter-gatherer lifestyles involved plenty of fitness and plenty of practical thinking. We were expert trackers, finely tuned to every natural nuance. But even then we expressed our humanity through song and dance, we revered the beauty wheeling around us and practiced Anthropomorphism.

And because the brain, when hunting, was a bargain shopper, it taught us efficiency. Efficiency was a prerequisite then for survival. When a hunter gatherer could rest, when he could light a fire with a full belly, he relished these opportunities - because they were scarce. Rest and having a reserve was an ingrained psychology that allowed the hunter gatherers to transform into....us. This is why the average person is stubborn, persistent, imaginative, tactical and all the rest.

But throw a hunter gatherer into a modern scenario, a lounge, a refrigerator stocked with food, cars and homes, and the bargain shopper component takes over. Why should we exercise when we can rest. In fact this morning I ran with some 5500 athletes around the hills and fields of Wellington. Turning a sharp corner and heading over a gravel road, I looked back, and saw the Israelites leaving Egypt. The entire road was a traffic jam of runners, before and behind me, as far as you could see in both directions. The half marathon a week earlier saw 14 000 jamming the roads for 21km. These may seem like huge numbers, but in a city of around 3.5 million, those numbers are negligible. Basically you've got everyone, bar a few aberrations, in Cape Town snoring away the weekend on their stomachs, their burps and farts marinating the sheets with  mixtures of braaivleis and beer.

I used to believe that an active lifestyle was optional. When I trained for my first Ironman in my thirties - incidentally I used Ironman as a cure all for getting rid of a tyre that had begun attaching itself so my waist - I realised that training even in massive volumes isn't going to cut it. You have to maintain discipline in diet too. In other words, it's natural to exercise our entire lives, into our 60's. It's unnatural, and unhealthy, not to.

Of course the majority of people don't subscribe to this view, hence you have swathes of obese people wandering around. Most obese people begin to suffer from chronic diseases before their deaths - a prime example is Diabetes [suikersiekte - sugar sickness in Afrikaans].

In 2011 we're at a peak in just about everything: longevity, music, money, marathon world records, technology, reality TV, comic book movies, internet porn, suicide, car accidents, terrorism and all the rest.
We've also reached a peak in lying to ourselves, a topic James Kunstler touches on in his blog post today, Lying is the New Normal.
First, some disclosure.  Because lying is so widespread, in fact it's part of the commercial fabric of society, most of us know we can't trust anything, or put another way, everything is circumspect.  Some would call that paranoia, but in today's society, paranoia is a necessary skill.  I grew up under a government that lied to me and my family - the National Party Apartheid government.  Now I'm living under another government who are worse liars but perhaps greedier thieves.  It's no different in the USA, or Britain - the lying is just more grandiose, there's more of a veneer.  Have I lied to myself?  I've subscribed to Christianity - what some might call a good lie, or for good reasons - despite knowing about Evolution and despite the fact that reality is pretty self evident when it comes to God.  People will tell you about God, and a book, but how often does God really reveal himself to us?  Not often.  Certainly not in an everyday-news-headline kinda way the way it would be if God was, say, like Superman.  Amongst us, doing his thing.  When we say God speaks to us, it is perhaps really a divine nature within us that speaks to us.  Like the inspiration an artist feels.

I've also pursued lies, such as the moon hoax theory.
You can show them the video footage, even have them talk to the people who've walked on the moon. They consider the video to be staged, and the men paid to say whatever supports the moon landing story. No amount of evidence will change these people's minds. - Hufftington Post

Christians are like that, birthers are like that, climate deniers are like that.  We live in a world where lies and facts have become hybridised to such an extent that anyone is a snake oil salesmen and everyone is a buyer.

I'm also guilty of what's called selective abstraction. Aaron T. Beck: "When a person's method of assimilating information is faulty, he continues to believe and act on faulty assumptions. He assumes the world will turn out a certain way, and his method of taking in information reconfirms his basic assumptions.

Often a patient fails to learn because he attends only to material that supports his original assumptions. The patient who believes he lives in a hostile world will pay strict attention to news reports and have conversations that focus on dangers. Such selective focusing on crime, pollution, war, and pestilence reconfirms the believe that one lives in a dangerous world."

As far as I'm concerned, most people are into the sort of selective abstraction where they put a positive spin on everything, they don't like to think of the past, the object is simply to continue forward, to grow.  Sometimes growing at all costs isn't the right thing.  Sometimes not being positive in the face of disaster, but being practical, is the better course of action.

We don't like to be wrong.  It hurts.  I recently saw photos of me doing a triathlon and what shocked me, besides the large oom I saw in the pictures, was how far apart my own self concept of 'me' was to the real thing.  I had caught myself out not being realistic even with myself.  In today's half marathon I wanted to run under 2 hours.  I ran 2:24.  That's another large disconnect with reality.  The remedy is to listen, to look in the mirror carefully and critically, and learn the lesson.  Apply it. Maintain discipline.  But it's not easy. We're wired to avoid pain, even painful thinking, hence the breadth and girth of the entertainment industry, hence the distractions that occupy most of us for most of each day.  Beyond media, how much time do we spend in real, one on one, face to face conversations with others?  Because that's real, and not always easy.  Hiding behind an avatar might be more stimulating to the ego, but does it truly edify [improve our intellect, does it really improve who we are]?

We lie to each other because our salaries, in fact our jobs, depend on it. Kunstler describe the corporate individuals most of us serve [or live in service to] as [having] no duties, obligations, or responsibilities to society, unlike human citizens. They are, by nature, sociopathic operations.

A sociopath* doesn't sound bad, does it. It certainly sounds more benign than, say, a drug addict, or a murderous dictator. Well, surprise surprise, you have to be a sociopath in order to be a real asshole. A sociopath is basically an expert at what is called anti-social behaviour. That also sounds fairly harmless, like staying in one's room, or not saying much? Try serial killing, or in Hitler's case, wiping out millions in industrial scale slaughter.

But, I digress.
If we get our salaries from, and work in service to corporates whose sole mandate is too make more money, and our entire social network [I mean family and real friends] are locked into this process, well, then essentially all these market participants are being paid to make money. That's all fair and well, except that money doesn't always have your best interests at heart. Profits could care less about human health. Profits are often stymied by truth, hence we see collusion in the market place, fudging the data, and an interesting trend that raised its ugly head for the first time in the previous century - marketing. Marketing means selling something that can't sell itself. It's a fancy term, really, for bullshitting. Which is why most of us resent commercials.

There's no money, of course, in selling climate change, or energy scarcity. There's also no politics in it. And anyone who does evangelise on the subject, any company who elects to spend less, a thousand wolves are ready to take up the slack. The lesson, if you aren't greedy, someone else is. If you don't use it, someone else will. This is about as sophisticated a system as a children's birthday party during cake time. Take, or go without.

On occasion I see a method to our madness, which is this. Life is precious, and needs to evolve, and advance [that is increase its own numbers] as aggressively as it can. Collapse is normal. It educates the entire system. While there are many ways to skin a cat, perhaps it is better than we engineer our own fortunes [via the climate, and global financial catastrophe courtesy of depleting resources]. This provides us - some of us - the option to at least see some of it coming. Perhaps, if we survive, we'll be better at getting through the not so easy stuff that is way beyond our control, like pandemic flu, or a large hit from an asteroid. I'm not convinced. I do think that a fraction of the population are by their very nature survivors. I'm thinking of those few thousand, in a city of a few million, who get up, voluntarily, to run. There instincts are on song, and will, I hope, see us through. The prospects for the rest, I fear, are dire, and deserved.

*A recap on what it means to be a sociopath [or to work for the average corporate today]:

* Glibness and Superficial Charm

* Manipulative and Conning
They never recognize the rights of others and see their self-serving behaviors as permissible. They appear to be charming, yet are covertly hostile and domineering, seeing their victim as merely an instrument to be used. They may dominate and humiliate their victims.

* Grandiose Sense of Self
Feels entitled to certain things as "their right."

* Pathological Lying
Has no problem lying coolly and easily and it is almost impossible for them to be truthful on a consistent basis. Can create, and get caught up in, a complex belief about their own powers and abilities. Extremely convincing and even able to pass lie detector tests.

* Lack of Remorse, Shame or Guilt
A deep seated rage, which is split off and repressed, is at their core. Does not see others around them as people, but only as targets and opportunities. Instead of friends, they have victims and accomplices who end up as victims. The end always justifies the means and they let nothing stand in their way.

* Shallow Emotions
When they show what seems to be warmth, joy, love and compassion it is more feigned than experienced and serves an ulterior motive. Outraged by insignificant matters, yet remaining unmoved and cold by what would upset a normal person. Since they are not genuine, neither are their promises.

* Incapacity for Love

* Need for Stimulation
Living on the edge. Verbal outbursts and physical punishments are normal. Promiscuity and gambling are common.

* Callousness/Lack of Empathy
Unable to empathize with the pain of their victims, having only contempt for others' feelings of distress and readily taking advantage of them.

* Poor Behavioral Controls/Impulsive Nature
Rage and abuse, alternating with small expressions of love and approval produce an addictive cycle for abuser and abused, as well as creating hopelessness in the victim. Believe they are all-powerful, all-knowing, entitled to every wish, no sense of personal boundaries, no concern for their impact on others.

* Early Behavior Problems/Juvenile Delinquency
Usually has a history of behavioral and academic difficulties, yet "gets by" by conning others. Problems in making and keeping friends; aberrant behaviors such as cruelty to people or animals, stealing, etc.

* Irresponsibility/Unreliability
Not concerned about wrecking others' lives and dreams. Oblivious or indifferent to the devastation they cause. Does not accept blame themselves, but blames others, even for acts they obviously committed.

* Promiscuous Sexual Behavior/Infidelity
Promiscuity, child sexual abuse, rape and sexual acting out of all sorts.

* Lack of Realistic Life Plan/Parasitic Lifestyle
Tends to move around a lot or makes all encompassing promises for the future, poor work ethic but exploits others effectively.

* Criminal or Entrepreneurial Versatility
Changes their image as needed to avoid prosecution. Changes life story readily.

Other Related Qualities:

1. Contemptuous of those who seek to understand them
2. Does not perceive that anything is wrong with them
3. Authoritarian
4. Secretive
5. Paranoid
6. Only rarely in difficulty with the law, but seeks out situations where their tyrannical behavior will be tolerated, condoned, or admired
7. Conventional appearance
8. Goal of enslavement of their victim(s)
9. Exercises despotic control over every aspect of the victim's life
10. Has an emotional need to justify their crimes and therefore needs their victim's affirmation (respect, gratitude and love)
11. Ultimate goal is the creation of a willing victim
12. Incapable of real human attachment to another
13. Unable to feel remorse or guilt
14. Extreme narcissism and grandiose
15. May state readily that their goal is to rule the world

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