Alan, I’m 68, so we’re just about the same age and probably have gone through similar experiences, especially during the time of the Viet Nam War. To me, the late ‘60s were life changing, to say the least.

I believe the answer to the problem we’ve been discussing lies in understanding Richard Dawkins’ selfish gene theory. I’m convinced evolutionary biology is the key to relieving much of humanity’s misery and suffering.

In the animal world following genetic impulses, instinct, is the only way to go. For most species it works well most of the time. But there are many instances where the environment abruptly changes and genes direct the wrong behavior.

The point I wanted to make in the essay is that our genes are telling us to follow the strongest, most aggressive leaders. This behavior dates back well before the early hominids and deep into the animal kingdom—wolves and baboons, for instance.

But the main point I wanted to make in Mirror Reversal is that genes often lead the individual into an abyss, literally in the story. According to Dawkins genes are selfish and care not one whit about the host that sustains them. They are merely chemical information, how can they? Many genes are parasites and the natural world is replete with this type of symbiosis called phoresy where one member transports the second into the next generation. Nature is full of this type of behavior, so why not our own genome?

Consider mosquitoes circling a light bulb in the canopy when you fill up at a gas station at night. Their genes are telling them to continue the behavior ‘til they die of exhaustion or get burnt to death. Or the herrings whose genes tell each individual when threatened to swim to the center of the school, thereby making it easier for sharks to slaughter them.

To use Dawkins’ terms, humans have to break away from animal instincts and stop blindly following the most extreme hawks. Sure it worked in WWII when the English fired the dove Neville Chamberlin and took on Churchill, but the environment doesn’t require that now and we can control the environment.

My main point is that military alphas are perpetuating the environment that sustains the need for them—by pissing on dead Taliban soldiers and scornfully burning the Koran.

Gen. Henry Shelton described Petraeus as "a high-energy individual who likes to lead from the front.” That’s the problem. Isn’t Petraeus one of the alpha males that told President Obama not to fulfill his campaign promise of 2008 and stay in Afghanistan? He told the president we needed to deploy an immense army to protect our citizens from the Taliban, the Arabic word for “Madrassah students.” With all the money and power the U.S. has spent on defense, it’s justified because of the threat posed by goat herders and primitive farmers who can recite the Koran and know little else.

He wasn’t only worried about his job; he was worried about leading from the front— and maintaining power.

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Comment by Alan Perlman on November 26, 2012 at 7:17pm

I'll watch more of it and get back to you.



Comment by Rich Goss on November 26, 2012 at 12:03am

Sorry for the confusion.  I considered it an interview.  What did you think of the worst gig ever?  to me, the description of the "club" in Baton Rouge were histerical. 

Another atheist comic to get into is Doug Stanhope.  Equally as controversial at Bill Hicks. 


Comment by Alan Perlman on November 25, 2012 at 9:39pm

Rich...The link went to "worst gig ever."  Did you have something else in mind?

Comment by Rich Goss on November 25, 2012 at 3:30pm

I'm happy I had the chance to turn you onto Bill Hicks. I go back with him a long time to when he first appeared at the Rodney Dangerfield Comedy Club on 2nd Avenue, NYC. Here’s a great place to start, an interview that you’re not going to believe, but still it would be awfully hard to make this stuff up. Makes one ask, “What the heck kind of country are we living in?” Surreal is the only answer.


His death was a great loss and he was way ahead of his time. Don't miss the one on Rush Limbaugh.  I laughed my head off. 



Comment by Alan Perlman on November 25, 2012 at 2:37pm

PS. I will look into Bill Hicks - not familiar.

Comment by Alan Perlman on November 25, 2012 at 2:36pm

Rich...I remember your connection with Zimbardo. You were so fortunate to have this kind of enlightenment.  

I have no doubt that obedience is hard-wired and it takes the greatest of effort to discern, as we grow up, which directives are really for our own good and which are simply perpetuated in the name of authority and tradition.  Most people never escape.

In line with my speculation that people need ever-larger doses of hype as an anodyne to their fear, guilt, dread, and pain, I note that the annual trampling and door-busting is a fairly recent phenomenon. There was, in my memory, always a Christmas shopping rush, but this takes it up several notches. 

As a linguist, I'm interested in the way "Black Friday" (do the tramplers even know what "black" means in this context?) has morphed 180 degrees, from an expression of catastrophe (didn't it refer to the stock market crash in 1929?) to one of joy and anticipation.  Weird.

Comment by Rich Goss on November 25, 2012 at 11:32am

 Do I remember the Milgram experiments?  The Yale researcher first published the astounding and alarming results in 1963 and I took Phil Zimbardo’s social pysch course in 1964.  The latter was a major player in the conception as well as overseer of the reliability and validity of the experiment. 


Interestingly, after 50 years, submission to authority is the second of three parts of Zimbardo’s “Lucifer Effect”, published in 2007.    He spent much of his career answering the question, “why do people commit evil”.  Again I take a genetic approach, realizing that obedience and gullibility of a child are ingrained in human DNA.  When a mother said in earlier times, “don’t go in the river, there’s alligators,” the rebellious kids that didn’t obey, didn’t survive.  Most young children readily believe in Santa Claus. 

To suspect that "you" are not in control of your behavior -- that's asking for a lot of insight from people whose main goal at the moment is to burst into Wal-Mart at 6:00 am and sample the treasures therein.

Well said.  I could scarcely believe the news clips.  People got hurt nearly trampling one another over some clearance of five-dollar earphones.  Are you into Bill Hicks?  Just as the war mongers, the marketers have sure gotten their way in the new century.  Hicks showed quite an insight here as he warned people about unbridled consumerism. 

Gotta go.  I’ll get to Jay’s comment later in this interesting, and important, discussion.  He’s certainly right about the “fuzzy mysticism” of hippie days.  Allen Ginsberg where are you?



Comment by Alan Perlman on November 24, 2012 at 3:53pm


You came out of the 60s prety much as I did: four decades later, the govt. is still making up wars, legality of pot is FINALLY starting to happen, and -- I'm responding to Rich here as well (thanks for kind words on the writing), half the world lives on $1 a day, and the ecological destruction of the planet is MUCH worse than when first noticed.  WTF happened?

It has to do with the people who get elected to office in democracies (or take office in 3rd world countries): they are first and foremost political animals, cloaking their power lust in government "services" that wed increasingly large numbers of people to the govt., pretending in a hundred ways to "serve" the people while benefiting their cronies and getting themselves reelected. 

Worse, although they disingenuously say that government should be run like a business, there are may reasons why it can't, notably that the politicans are by and large losers who couldn't hold real business jobs.  In govt. there's none of the deadines, budgetary responsibility, and accountability that business requires.  Even if they do have job skills (other than lawyering), they would rather be busybodies and tell everyone else how to live (e.g., Henry Waxman, David Kessler).

I totally agree that the anti-scientistic bent of the 60s was not productive.  There's way too much New Age swill around today.  Hipppies' imagination was too limited to see science harnessed for the betterment of humanity.

You're quite right about the govt. contradiction.  Liberals want to solve every problem with a beneficent government.  They are not libertarians like me. 

All it says is that the human brain changes slowly, if at all.  The resurgence of religion, the ever-larger government, ALL war ALL the time!, skyrocketing debt and more instead of less concentration of all means that humans gravitate to the same few tricks for getting by: follow anyone who says he knows what he's doing; work, buy, consume.  Salute the flag.  Honor vets who defended my freedom. 

Questioning the government is treason.  With the hated draft gone, Americans don't give a shit.  The Iraq war protests were pathetic compared to Vietnam, which actually made the govt. change course. 

How about a movie (Bruce Willis) in which the American people refuse to participate in another unnecessary war, with acts of protest and even sabotage.  It gets so bad that the govt. has to beck down (and Demi Moore, too)

Comment by jay H on November 24, 2012 at 3:18pm
fix typo in my post (hate those small comment windows)

should be:
but did not provide workable answers (that's the hard part).
Comment by jay H on November 24, 2012 at 3:07pm
At 63, I remember the 60s well. I too was caught up in the energy, the belief that we had found something new.

There definitely was some of that, the resistance to the Vietnam war marked a key change in American thought (though it wasn't the first time citizens took up a major distrust of government, and not the last time either, consider the Tea Party).

But I don't see those days with rose colored glasses. In the long run very few of that generation actually thought anything through: love and peace, happiness and kindness sounds great, but too few actually thought the process through, and fewer still really accomplished anything. Most of the energy was consumed going to concerts and recreational chemistry.

Anti science was the order of the day. Mysticism and magical thinking (really fuzzy mysticism at that) held the answer, the science guys were 'part of the establishment' (besides science was hard, mysticism was easy).

Odd too, that folks complaining how the government was 'keeping us down' who eventually advocated giving more power to government, getting it more involved in our lives, our speech and the acceptability of our opinions. Hoffman and others were great (honestly) at provoking challenge, but did provide workable answers (that's the hard part).

I'm a bit of a crusty old guy now. I don't trust the government and I don't trust the dreamers. Kind of an atheist libertarian.

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