“The Architecture of Belief | Jordan Peterson and Stefan Molyneux”

“Jordan Peterson: Tragedy vs Evil”

“Dr. Carol Dweck: Growth Mindset, The New Psychology of Success”

Really appreciated that podcast.  Dr. Carol Dweck’s website is: http://mindsetonline.com.

End of the year reading material

Wrapping up yet another year. Normally New Year’s Eve is my favorite holiday, but this year it looks like I won’t be celebrating it in my customary ways thanks to a bastard of a cold taking me over. Sneezing, sniffling, coughing, and eye watering isn’t conducive to a fun night out on the town. So after I finish today’s appointments and grab some grub I’ll be holing up in the ol’ apartment and sipping tea while entertaining myself online the rest of the evening.

Currently I’d like to share a few more titles of books I’ve taken up time with recently. Beginning with James Hollis’ Through the Dark Wood: Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life, which I really appreciated and will be re-listening to in this upcoming year. Provides a ton of food for thought that is very timely and sorely needed.

After that I listened to the audio version of James Hollis’ Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life: How to Finally, Really Grow Up, which I also very much liked and needed to take in and will be re-listening to in months to come. Can discuss these titles in greater depth another time when my head is a bit clearer and I possess more energy.

Sent my cousin a copy of Hollis’ Under Saturn’s Shadow: The Wounding and Healing of Men but haven’t had a chance to read that one yet myself. Plan to do so eventually.

One audiobook I listened to recently but didn’t much care for was Brené Brown’s Rising Strong. Having listened to her TED Talks on shame in the past, this was the first book of hers I decided to delve into. It contained some useful nuggets, but overall it didn’t really deliver the type of information I was seeking at the time. Learned a bit more about her background and Texas upbringing, which was interesting, but she’s focused nowadays on organizational leadership and so her material is more oriented in that direction.

I am currently in the middle of listening to the audio format of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Notes From the Underground and am enchanted with it. Speaks a language I comprehend, perhaps more so than I ought to admit. Another I’d like to discuss in more detail in the future.

The print book I’m currently nearing the end of is Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers: The Story of Success. It’s proved to be a very interesting read and has a feel not dissimilar to books like Freakonomics. Recommended it to a friend and may lend him my copy once I’m through with it. It’s entertaining and engaging while providing us with more background information on people like Bill Gates and Bill Joy and how they seized the unique opportunities afforded to them early on that opened up the possibilities for their future career ambitions. The book’s primary focus is on how external variables play into the provision of opportunities and how that combined with our own dedication as well as cultural and social conditioning can lead to successful outcomes, at least in some cases. Basically he’s poking a hole in the notion that success is solely determined by the individual “pulling himself up by his bootstraps” and rather typically involves a perfect storm of opportunities being made available (right place, right time in history) and one being resourceful enough to take advantage of them. A worthwhile read.

Those are the books I’ve been dallying with in December 2015. Just ordered a few more that should arrive next week.

On the dual strivings of human nature and power — an excerpt from “The Heart of Man” by Erich Fromm

I’m still in the mood to reflect back on Erich Fromm’s writings, so I’ll continue on with transcribing, this time picking up his book The Heart of Man: Its Genius For Good and Evil (1964), beginning on page 7:

Man—Wolf or Sheep?

There are many who believe that men are sheep; there are others who believe that men are wolves. Both sides can muster good arguments for their positions. Those who propose that men are sheep have only to point to the fact that men are easily influenced to do what they are told, even if it is harmful to themselves; that they have followed their leaders into wars which brought them nothing but destruction; that they have believed any kind of nonsense if it was only presented with sufficient vigor and supported by power—from the harsh threats of priests and kings to the soft voices of the hidden and not-so-hidden persuaders. It seems that the majority of men are suggestible, half-awake children, willing to surrender their will to anyone who speaks with a voice that is threatening or sweet enough to sway them. Indeed, he who has a conviction strong enough to withstand the opposition of the crowd is the exception rather than the rule, an exception often admired centuries later, mostly laughed at by his contemporaries.

It is on this assumption—that men are sheep—that the Great Inquisitors and the dictators have built their systems. More than that, this very belief that men are sheep and hence need leaders to make the decisions for them, has often given the leaders the sincere conviction that they were fulfilling a moral duty—even though a tragic one—if they gave man what he wanted: if they were leaders who took away from him the burden of responsibility and freedom.

But if most men have been sheep, why is it that man’s life is so different from that of sheep? His history has been written in blood; it is a history of continuous violence, in which almost invariably force has been used to bend his will. Did Talaat Pasha alone exterminate millions of Armenians? Did Hitler alone exterminate millions of Jews? Did Stalin alone exterminate millions of political enemies? These men were not alone; they had thousands of men who killed for them, tortured for them, and who did so not only willingly but with pleasure. Do we not see man’s inhumanity to man everywhere—in ruthless warfare, in murder and rape, in the ruthless exploitation of the weaker by the stronger, and in the fact that the sighs of the tortured and suffering creature have so often fallen on deaf ears and hardened hearts? All these facts have led thinkers like Hobbes to the conclusion that homo homini lupus (man is a wolf to his fellow man); they have led many of us today to the assumption that man is vicious and destructive by nature, that he is a killer who can be restrained from his favorite pastime only by fear of more powerful killers.

Yet the arguments of both sides leave us puzzled. It is true that we may personally know some potential or manifest killers and sadists as ruthless as Stalin and Hitler were; yet these are the exceptions rather than the rule. Should we assume that you and I and most average men are wolves in sheep’s clothing, and that our “true nature” will become apparent once we rid ourselves of those inhibitions which until now have prevented us from acting like beasts? This assumption is hard to disprove, yet it is not entirely convincing. There are numerous opportunities for cruelty and sadism in everyday life in which people could indulge without fear of retaliation; yet many do not do so; in fact, many react with a certain sense of revulsion when they meet cruelty and sadism.

Is there, then, another and perhaps better explanation for the puzzling contradiction we deal with here? Should we assume that the simple answer is that there is a minority of wolves living side by side with a majority of sheep? The wolves want to kill; the sheep want to follow. Hence the wolves get the sheep to kill, to murder, and to strangle, and the sheep comply not only because they enjoy it, but because they want to follow; and even then the killers have to invent stories about the nobility if their cause, about defense against the threat to freedom, about revenge for bayoneted children, raped women, and violated honor, to get the majority of the sheep to act like wolves. This answer sounds plausible, but it still leaves many doubts. Does it not imply that there are two human races, as it were—that of wolves and that of sheep? Furthermore, how is it that sheep can be so easily persuaded to act like wolves if it is not in their nature to do so, even providing that violence is presented to them as a sacred duty? Our assumptions regarding wolves and sheep may not be tenable; is it perhaps true after all that the wolves represent the essential quality of human nature, only more overtly than the majority show it? Or, after all, maybe the entire alternative is erroneous. Maybe man is both wolf and sheep—or neither wolf nor sheep?

The answer to these questions is of crucial importance today, when nations contemplate the use of the most destructive forces for the extinction of their “enemies,” and seem not to be deterred even by the possibility that they themselves may be extinguished in the holocaust. If we are convinced that human nature is inherently prone to destroy, that the need to use force and violence is rooted in it, then our resistance to ever increasing brutalization will become weaker and weaker. Why resist the wolves when we are all wolves, although some more so than others?

The question whether man is wolf or sheep is only a special formulation of a question which, in its wider and more general aspects, has been one of the most basic problems of Western theological and philosophical thought: Is man basically evil and corrupt, or is he basically good and perfectable? The Old Testament does not take the position of man’s fundamental corruption. Adam and Eve’s disobedience to God are not called sin; nowhere is there a hint that this disobedience has corrupted man. On the contrary, the disobedience is the condition for man’s self-awareness, for his capacity to choose, and thus in the last analysis this first act of disobedience is man’s first step toward freedom. It seems that their disobedience was even within God’s plan; for, according to prophetic thoughts, man just because he was expelled from Paradise is able to make his own history, to develop his human powers, and to attain a new harmony with man and nature as a fully developed individual instead of the former harmony in which he was not yet an individual. The Messianic concept of the prophets certainly implies that man is not fundamentally corrupt and that he can be saved without any special act of God’s grace. But it does not imply that this potential for good will necessarily win. If man does evil he becomes more evil. Thus, Pharaoh’s heart “hardens” because he keeps on doing evil; it hardens to a point where no more change or repentance is possible. The Old Testament offers at least as many examples of evil-doing as of right-doing, and does not exempt even exalted figures like King David from the list of evil doers. The Old Testament view is that man has both capacities—that of good and that of evil—and that man must choose between good and evil, blessing and curse, life and death. Even God does not interfere in his choice; he helps by sending his messengers, the prophets, to teach the norms which lead to the realization of goodness, to identify the evil, and to warn and to protest. But this being done, man is left alone with his “two strivings,” that for good and that for evil, and the decision is his alone.

The Christian development was different. In the course of the development of the Christian Church, Adam’s disobedience was conceived as sin. In fact, as a sin so severe that it corrupted his nature and with it that of all of his descendants, and thus man by his own effort could never rid himself of this corruption. Only God’s own act of grace, the appearance of Christ, who died for man, could extinguish man’s corruption and offer salvation for those who accepted Christ.

But the dogma of original sin was by no means unopposed in the Church. Pelagius assailed it but was defeated. The Renaissance humanists within the Church tended to weaken it, even though they could not directly assail or deny it, while many heretics did just that. Luther had, if anything, an even more radical view of man’s innate evilness and corruption, while thinkers of the Renaissance and later of the Enlightenment took a drastic step in the opposite direction. The latter claimed that all evil in man was nothing but the result of circumstances, hence that men did not really have to choose. Change the circumstances that produce evil, so they thought, and man’s original goodness will come forth almost automatically. This view also colored the thinking of Marx and his successors. The belief in man’s goodness was the result of man’s new self-confidence, gained as a result of the tremendous economic and political progress which started with the Renaissance. Conversely, the moral bankruptcy of the West which began with the First World War and led beyond Hitler and Stalin, Coventry and Hiroshima to the present preparation for universal extinction, brought forth again the traditional emphasis on man’s propensity for evil. The new emphasis was a healthy antidote to the underestimation of the inherent potential of evil in man—but too often it served to ridicule those who had not lost their faith in man, sometimes by misunderstanding and even distorting their position.

As one whose views have often been misrepresented as underestimating the potential of evil within man, I want to emphasize that such sentimental optimism is not the mood of my thought. It would be difficult indeed for anyone who has had a long clinical experience as a psychoanalyst to belittle the destructive forces within men. In severely sick patients, he sees these forces at work and experiences the enormous difficulty of stopping them or of channeling their energy into constructive directions. It would be equally difficult for any person who has witnessed the explosive outburst of evil and destructiveness since the beginning of the First World War not to see the power and intensity of human destructiveness. Yet there exists the danger that the sense of powerlessness which grips people today—intellectuals as well as the average man—with ever increasing force, may lead them to accept a new version of corruption and original sin which serves as a rationalization for the defeatist view that war cannot be avoided because it is the result of the destructiveness of human nature. Such a view, which sometimes prides itself on its exquisite realism, is unrealistic on two grounds. First, the intensity of destructive strivings by no means implies that they are invincible or even dominant. The second fallacy in this view lies in the premise that wars are primarily the result of psychological forces. It is hardly necessary to dwell long on this fallacy of “psychologism” in the understanding of social and political phenomena. Wars are the result of the decision of political, military, and business leaders to wage war for the sake of gaining territory, natural resources, advantages in trade; for defense against real or alleged threats to their country’s security by another power; or for reason for the enhancement of their own personal prestige and glory. These men are not different from the average man: they are selfish, with little capacity to renounce personal advantage for the sake of others; but they are neither cruel nor vicious. When such men—who in ordinary life probably would do more good than harm—get into positions of power where they can command millions of people and control the most destructive weapons, they can cause immense harm. In civilian life they might have destroyed a competitor; in our world of powerful and sovereign states (“sovereign” means not subject to any moral law which restricts the action of the sovereign state), they may destroy the human race. The ordinary man with extraordinary power is the chief danger for mankind—not the fiend or the sadist. […]

[Italicized emphases his; bold emphases mine.]

Stopping on page 14.

[Edited for typos on Dec. 11th, 2014. Apologies for the delay in re-proofreading.]

“Cognitive Dissonance with Philip Zimbardo”

The announcer guy toward the end stated: “The general principle seems to be that people come to believe in and to love the things they have to suffer for.”

I have been figuring that out on my own in recent years. Very true. More true than one can realize when only dealing in theory.

Am a big fan of Philip Zimbardo’s work and the attitude and enthusiastic curiosity he brought to it.

One inquiry into what is religion

Tonight I came across Suicideforcelluloid’s video “What is religion?”:

Have only maybe maybe watched a video or two by him in the past, so not too familiar with that YTer. Mostly I viewed that in preparation for listening to Prof. Anton’s reply:

I’ll post here what I left in a comment on that video:

Wow. You said it ALL in this video! Thank you for responding on this topic — this inquiry is so important for all of us right now.

“Dogmatically committed to a hyper-hyper-rationality” — very good way to state it plain.

“Hyperationality…it’s imagining what will never be. To that extent it’s an irrationality…There’s more rationality in the person who accept the limits of rationality.”  Great explanation there.

That’s the problem in a nutshell with so-called “scientism” and is why atheism is coming to look like dogma dressed up in scientific cloaks. People collect and then conform and before you know it turn dogmatic in their share beliefs. Appears it goes hand in hand with rising populations and widening the net in how we’re affiliated.

“What is community?” really is the deeper question. We as individuals can’t survive without some form of community, yet what we’ve created is now causing us so many problems and is breaking up tight-knit communities everywhere. They’re rapidly going extinct—first tribes, then towns, then neighborhoods, now families are feeling the pressure—leaving us all out here to float around looking for what feels missing in our lives and trying to figure out how to connect and bond with very little knowledge of wisdom that might help. Instead we’re flooded with insecurity-poking magazine articles and fiction.

I really liked what you said about kids and parenting, because it is true that some people are made better people by becoming parents, and their children benefit from this. Love is what it’s all about, it’s what we need more of. Just sucks that there’s so much pressure on everybody to breed, as if that in itself is the key unlocking a meaningful life. Winds up becoming about adults using kids to satisfy their own longings, which rarely works out well for all involved. Would be ideal if we saw less of that and more parenting that comes from a place of wanting to pass on love and guidance and being able to do so.

You spoke about people being “sentenced to life” and on putting more weight on the death that will inevitably follow — that ties into my own views on abortion and why it can be seen as merciful (though many people react badly to hearing that). Life is sacred, so bringing people in willy-nilly without much forethought, not caring if they wind up raised by the foster care system because they weren’t adopted out, leaving them to the mercy of society without any promises of love and devotion from the people who created them — that’s just so incredibly harsh. If we accept that and wish to prize life, it seems to follow that it’s also our responsibility not to bring new life into being if we can’t provide love. To do so is cruel and creates broken people who then may turn around and take out their pain on others.  And being reminded of that by the news nonstop makes us feel all the more cautious and untrusting and disconnected.

What do you think the future may hold in store for communities?