For the past 20 years – well, actually longer – I have been working on a book titled Kings, Conquerors, Psychopaths: A Clinical View of History. I’ll talk about that in some future posts. But a key goal of the book is to look at possible historical and biological explanations for why humanity is so vulnerable to demagogues and despots.
I started this blog to build up a following for the book; it’s what publishers expect – demand, really – today. But the blog was taking up so much time that I didn’t have time to work on the book. So I put the blog on hold, and went back to work on the book. I got the first few chapters hammered out, and now I have a large university press who is nibbling. My challenge now is to write the book, write the blog, and promote both.
And raise a family.
And practice medicine.
In preparation for restarting the blog, for the past few months I have been re-reading all of my posts; reading and thinking about blogging and Internet marketing; trying to figure out who you guys & gals are; trying to figure out who we might want to join us here; and trying to identify the central ideas that unite all of these considerations, and which also tie into a number of intellectual problems I have been thinking about for a few decades. (If any of you have some comments on any of these, please post a comment below, or use the contact form.)
I finally realized that I’m interested in evolution that has taken place after the advent of civilization; or maybe, since the advent of abstract thought and language. How we differ from apes is more important to me than how we are alike. Extensive language, elaborate analysis, and expansive civilizations are a radical departure from all preceding life on the planet. So far, I have not been convinced by the explanations for these that have been offered from main-stream biologists. Humans are unique; we we can hardly expect to readily find explanations of the unique and novel, by looking at the common and traditional.
As we return, it is important that we bring along as many people as we can on this discussion. I have worked to accommodate creationist concerns here by explaining ‘small’ evolution. We certainly would not engage creationists in the problem of changes from primate to language-master, but I do believe that we can interest some of them in human biological changes that have taken place over the past 10,000 years. As an example, it is unlikely that many people would reject the idea that since the appearance of humanity, we have radiated into many races and nationalities, regardless of whether our common ancestors were Adam & Eve, or Lucy and her troop mates. And we have already touched on possible human changes that may have appeared since some literal or metaphorical Eden: small adaptations like smoking, swaddling, hide & seek; and big things like compassion, conservative and liberal, and politics-as-football.
I’m hoping to show the good, and the evil, of how we got to where we are today. I’m going to propose some controversial things. They’re important, because we need them to figure out where we need to go next. In the next few posts, I will explain that our past comprised much suffering, even evil. To avoid more evil, we have to reconsider our romantic view of the past, and we need to ask whether those romantic interpretations have adequately prepared us for the future.
The Rationalizing Animal
A prime objective is this problem: Despite our great rational powers, why do we so often refuse to look objectively at the world around us? Closely tied to that is: Why do we cling to our ideologies as fervently as we root for our football teams? To answer those, we will need to go to old places, to consider them anew. Along the way, I hope to lay out an expanded theory of evolution. In the past, evolution was almost entirely genetic. But the future will not look like the past. If we are to avoid near or complete extinction, our future evolution must be largely educational, and intellectual.
I then hope to use that expanded theory to examine our genes, but also our culture and our ideas. Above all, I hope we use it to reconsider our parenting and educational paradigms, because they often don’t work. Education and upbringing are critical; these have the power to liberate our children, and everyone.
But too often the ideologies we teach our children prevent them from considering the problems inherent in all ideology.
Norman Rockwell’s ‘The Bookworm’ courtesy of The Rockwell Center. For an interesting discussion of the origins of the painting by Dr Samuel Koehne of the Alfred Deakin Research Institute, click here.