Saturday, May 21, 2022

Who Cares about Global Warming?

Though most of my students approach global warming with an academic seriousness, they do not seem to really care about it. And, semester by semester, they do not take it with academic seriousness either. And, in society in general, people have stopped caring about global warming, at least in the United States.

The global warming problem has not gone away; in fact, it has been happing faster even than the most pessimistic predictions. Even worse, the effects of global warming interact with one another, with potentially catastrophic results.

One example is the collapse of sea ice shelves. This occurred in March 2022 in Antarctica. The usual “conservative” response is to ignore sea ice. They say, when ice melts in water, the water level remains unchanged; thus, melting sea ice will not alter sea level. This is true, as far as it goes. But the sea ice shelves hold back the flowing shelves of land ice. When a sea ice shelf collapses, the land ice shelves are now free to slide down into the ocean. The land ice, when it slides into the sea or just melts, does raise the sea level. A land ice shelf sliding into the sea could cause a massive oceanic wave which would spread thousands of miles before it peters out and would have a measurable effect on sea level. How significant is this? The devil is in the details.

Perhaps the worst problem is that people, in general, do not seem to believe there is such a thing as evidence. They simply ignore anything they do not want to believe. Scientific evidence, legal evidence, any kind of evidence. The problem, then, is to get people to care. And how can you do that?

I heard an interview of an Icelandic scientist who has taken a different approach to publicizing global warming than what most scientists and educators, including myself, have taken. (I cannot find a link to this interview and do not remember the scientist’s name.) He pointed out that the heartfelt pleas of Greta Thunberg have reached more people, particularly young people, than the popular or scholarly publications of thousands of scientists. He said that humans, in general, care more about the people they love than about academic abstractions, no matter how dramatic they may be. He has tried something that I decided to immediately incorporate into my general botany final exam. Here is my version of it:

“What are three scientific predictions (from a valid scientific website) about what global warming will be like in 2100? Imagine someone whom you will know in the future (child, grandchild, etc.) who will be alive in the year 2100. Imagine that person asking you why our generation did not do more than we are doing to prevent global warming. How would you answer him or her? (Be realistic. Avoid a wildly nightmare scenario, like the man who asked me during a presentation if the Earth would become as hot as Venus. That can’t happen.)

There was a separate interview, on the same news program, of a cattle rancher who is well aware that cattle are among the major contributors to global warming, but he has a plan about how to come close to carbon-neutral cattle ranching. I decided to incorporate a question into my exam based on this also. Here is my version of it:

“One of the biggest contributors to global warming is the production and consumption of beef. What are some of these impacts? Indicate at least two. A cattle rancher said, on a radio interview, that ‘It’s not the cow, but the how,’ which means that he had a plan to make his cattle production operation produce less carbon. Indicate at least two things that he was probably planning to do to meet this goal.”

I hope that these ideas may be useful to some of my scientific and educational readers.

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Even at Universities, You Will Teach What the Republicans Tell You to Teach...

 …or else you will be fired. That’s what will happen if, in the next session, the Texas legislature passes the law proposed by Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick.

The purpose of tenure in higher education is to protect professors from retaliation by politicians for teaching things that the politicians do not like. It is a protection for truth. By doing away with tenure, the Texas legislature will make higher education in Texas an organ of Republican indoctrination, similar to higher education in Soviet (or Putinist) Russia and Communist China. You teach what the Party tells you to teach, Comrade, or you will be sent to the Texas equivalent of Siberia or Manchuria—or, at least, fired.

Occasionally, professors use tenure as a screen for substandard work, or for their own outlandish theories. But the state university systems with which I am familiar have regular reviews of tenured faculty to make sure they are doing their jobs. Since I got tenure in Oklahoma in 2003, I have turned in about five “post-tenure reviews,” which were examined by committees, in which I had to provide documentation that I was not only doing my job but continuing to keep up with, and contribute to, research in my field.

There are occasional tenured professors you just can’t stop. We had one such professor at my institution. The overwhelming scientific consensus is that global warming is occurring and is caused mainly by human-generated carbon dioxide. But this professor taught his students that global warming is a worldwide hoax the purpose of which was to reduce the money that he got for his patented invention used in the petroleum industry. We just put up with him, told our students that he was wrong, and waited for him to retire. In his particular case, we might have preferred that tenure did not offer him any place to hide. But the tenure process that was meant to protect all of us protected him and his right wing extremist screeds.

On the face of it, Lt. Governor Patrick’s purpose appears limited. Conservatives in Texas and Oklahoma loathe Critical Race Theory. Patrick’s proposed law claims to be aimed just at this theory. But we all know that the law rescinds all tenure for new faculty hires. This means that the state government, which is ultimately in control of tenure (my tenure had to be approved by the state government in Oklahoma), can use any reason they like for denying tenure, if this law passes. I teach evolution. Texas and Oklahoma Republicans hate evolution. It’s easy to see where this is going.

Texas prides itself in its educational system. K-12 teachers are paid well, and higher education is well supported. One of my former Oklahoma undergrad student got a job as a high school teacher and, immediately upon being hired as a high school biology teacher in Texas, was earning more money than I do now as a tenured professor. The message is, or has been, clear: come to Texas and you will find satisfying and well-paid work as an educator, or for corporations (mostly oil). Your kids will get a good education.

But this message is changing. All over the country, new Ph.D.’s are looking for work, and at the moment Texas looks like a good place to go for work. But if this law passes, new Ph.D.’s will suspect that, if they go to Texas, the government will dictate what they are to teach and what they are to research. If you are an historian or sociologist, your research must not reach any conclusions that you suspect the state government may not like. A job offer in Minnesota vs. a job offer in Texas will then be a no-brainer.

Oklahoma is, and has always been, worse. Whatever Texas does, Oklahoma will do a few months later. Our governor, Kevin Stitt, wants to imitate Governor Greg Abbott. I am convinced that the Oklahoma House and Senate will pass bills just like the one that Lt. Governor Patrick demands in Texas. And in Oklahoma, we do not support education very well. K-12 and higher education has always been supported in Oklahoma far less than in Texas. In Oklahoma, we will fall just as precipitously as Texas, but starting from a lower level.

The supply line of academic Ph.D.’s is drying up. We (at a university in rural Oklahoma) advertised for a botanist (to replace me when I retire) and we got only five applicants, four of whom were not interested in teaching. The fifth applicant had his choice of jobs wherever he wanted to go, and he decided not to come here. When I applied for jobs in 1992, one of the institutions said that they had received 800 applications. Being a teaching professor is now a much less desirable career, and for the ever smaller pool of Ph.D.’s who want to teach, Oklahoma and Texas will be off the edge of the Earth.

Professors at private institutions in Texas (hi, Mary Kay!) need not worry. But the entire body of higher education in Texas will be hurt by this tarnished image. And, of course, Oklahoma.

As a retiring professor, my advice to any new Ph.D.’s reading this is, don’t come to Oklahoma or Texas. Matter of fact, the whole field is in precipitous decline. Do something else. For me, doing research and teaching in botany was always my highest aspiration, even when I was in high school. That is a dream from the past.

To whatever extent higher education has served as the conscience of the nation, it will serve that function no longer. I am so freaking glad I am retiring now. For those of you with ten to twenty years more work as teaching professors, good luck. I am one of perhaps the last wave of professors who, by teaching and writing and research, will have been able to make a difference, and to make the world better.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Asymmetry and Fake LinkedIn Profiles

Researchers in human evolution, and writers who present their research to a popular readership, have long known that bodily asymmetry is an indicator of general genetic health. Mutations, toxins, and disease can lead to bodily asymmetry, especially facial asymmetry. In mate selection, one mate can assess the health of the other mate by seeing his or her facial symmetry. If the left side doesn’t line up with the right, that might mean something somewhere is wrong.

People with facial symmetry are esteemed as beautiful and healthy. And these are also the faces that corporations want to present as representatives to their customers. You are much more likely to respond positively to a sales rep with a symmetrical face.

Corporations have used this fact to generate thousands of fake profiles (for example, on LinkedIn). These fake beautiful people will make you want to consider doing business with the corporations that they represent.

How do you know that an online personality is a real person? You can’t. It’s as simple as that. But there are some things you can look for. Back when I used to answer robocalls (something I no longer do; nor do I decline them, since that would tell the spammer that the number they have reached is real) I would listen to the “person” for a few seconds. Then I would say, “You are a robot.” The voice would keep talking for a couple of seconds, then say “I am not a robot.” Of course, you can program a robot to say, “I am not a robot.” I just delete all these calls without even answering them.

It is much more difficult to create a fake online personality if a portrait is involved. But, at the moment, it is possible. Researchers have found that fake LinkedIn profiles have faces that are too perfect. The facial symmetry is utterly perfect. No real human being is utterly symmetrical (see this article).

Of course, corporations will quickly learn how to insert a one percent facial asymmetry generator into their fake personalities. In the near future, we will never be able to tell if the person in the profile is real or not.

Thursday, March 31, 2022

Evangelical Religion and Hypnosis, part two.

 

The following is a creepy story about religion and implanted memories. It makes me shudder because I used to be in a fundamentalist church that did not do anything like this, but could have. I cringe to think how close I came to a fundamentalist psychological hell, the way Paul Ingram did.

In 1988, Paul Ingram, a local Republican leader in Washington state, was accused by his daughters of sexual abuse, including ritual satanic abuse, over the course of several years. No evidence has ever been found that these acts of abuse ever happened. Despite this, the daughters’ testimony was accepted as evidence, and Ingram was convicted and given a twenty-year sentence. Ingram pled guilty to the charges. Subsequent research makes it clear that these events never occurred. The memories were implanted, through deliberate or inadvertent hypnotism, by the fundamentalist church to which the family belonged. An implanted memory can seem just as real as a true memory. A church seminar leader apparently asked one daughter, Ericka, to try to remember if she had been abused. This was enough for her to “remember” that it had happened. Then the memory was implanted in Paul.

This is what religion can do, especially the fundamentalist variety that believes that Satan is everywhere and can trick you into doing things that you would normally not even want to do—that is, unless you join and give money to a fundamentalist church. The Satan hypothesis was enough to send an accusation that would have gone nowhere in a mainstream church over the edge into an ever growing series of accusations in a fundamentalist church.

It kept growing. Paul Ingram was accused of killing 65 babies in satanic rituals. And he believed that he had done so. Needless to say, no evidence was ever found. No graves. Of course, the fundamentalist church could always claim that Satan had erased the evidence. By the time Ingram was released from prison, before the end of his term, he may not have been entirely convinced of his own innocence.

Fundamentalist churches use psychological manipulation which can go to absurd lengths and destroy people’s lives. They can do this because the churches believe in a Satan who can manufacture or erase evidence. This is another example of trance logic, which is a characteristic (as explained in the previous essay) of hypnotism.

In addition, psychoanalysts were happy to use three-quarters of a million dollars of taxpayer money to “recover” these “hidden” memories. Fundamentalism uses psychological manipulation and implanted memories to oppress people and destroy their lives, and some unethical psychologists are willing to make money off of this phenomenon.

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Evangelical Religion and Hypnotism, part one.

We cannot explain the whole evangelical megachurch phenomenon on hypnotism. But there is a lot of overlap. It appears that many millions of Christians are partly hypnotized by evangelical preachers who, without conscience, manipulate them.

One characteristic of hypnotism is called trance logic: that is, accepting a logical impossibility almost without noticing it. Usually, when confronted by two situations that cannot both be true, the human mind tries to figure out what happened, struggling mightily to rationalize them. But when a person is in a hypnotic trance, they simply accept both without any mental stress.

In 1959, Martin T. Orne used the presence or absence of trance logic to distinguish between people who had really been hypnotized and those who just pretended. The pretenders tried to explain what happened, the truly hypnotized people did not.

Millions of people, most of them at least pretending to be Christian, believe that Donald Trump won the 2020 election, and that there was massive election fraud. When confronted with the total lack of evidence of any fraud, they persist in their beliefs. That is, the lack of evidence causes them no discomfort whatsoever in their beliefs. This is not something that thinking people do. This is something that hypnotized people do.

This does not offer any justification for what the evangelicals are doing. It is well known that no one can hypnotize you to do something you believe is wrong. The hypnotized people, who resonate with the racist rants of the far right, who desire a far-right dictatorship, and who have lots and lots of guns therefore must believe that taking armed action against the rest of American society is at least acceptable. If they do take up arms to establish themselves as the rulers of what was once the United States, they cannot claim that the hypnosis was responsible for their actions. They really are evil; hypnosis merely facilitates their evil.

Sunday, March 6, 2022

Gorilla Lawyers and Jury Abuse

I grew up being idealistic about the American legal system. This was partly from watching nearly all of the Perry Mason reruns. And while I knew that it was imperfect, I felt at least that our system was, overall, an effective way of maintaining justice in America. I knew that problems remained with the oppression of minorities and women, but that America was making progress toward ever greater fairness in justice. It was, at least, a good system of determining whether a defendant was guilty or not.

My recent experience in a jury pool have completely changed my mind. Since I was way down the list, they did not need my participation and they sent me home on the second day. This was good, because I was already about to lose my composure. I will tell you what I saw, without divulging any facts of the case itself. I will tell you briefly about what I learned about human evolution from my brief jury experience.

The jury is a captive audience. Literally. Two members of the jury pool tried to leave, but within minutes they were back, though not literally in handcuffs. Jury duty is a civic responsibility just like paying taxes. But the jury is also a captive audience for lawyers to abuse. We had to submit to their verbal abuse. Here are examples.

The prosecution and defense are both expected to ask questions to determine the suitability of a prospective juror for any particular case. The prosecuting attorney asked several in the jury pool whether they would hold it against the defendant if no defense at all was presented. Several answered that they would consider the lack of defense to be evidence (though not proof) of guilt. This was enough to get both attorneys to request that these people be excused from the jury, since the law presumes the defendant is innocent until proven beyond reasonable doubt to be guilty. Fair enough. But for this prosecuting attorney, this was not enough. He asked one woman about this, she answered, and that should have been the end of it after thirty seconds. The prosecutor then verbally attacked the juror for several more minutes, reducing her to tears. This was totally unnecessary and should be illegal. But it appears that jurors have no rights; an attorney can verbally abuse them in a way that would not be acceptable in any workplace or social interaction outside the courtroom. But the woman had to put up with it until, just before lunch, she was among several jurors to be excused. One of the jurors (who had to stay) told me that she felt the jurors were on trial and themselves being treated like criminals. Certainly the defendant got more rights and respect than the jurors.

The defense attorney was no better. During his introduction, he said that one of the charges against the defendant was rape. “Oh, that sounds so scary, doesn’t it? Rape!” Rape, he wanted us to think, was not necessarily such a bad thing. Though I was not there when the trial began, I can just imagine that, with the same tone of voice and zeal, he would have torn into the victim and made her feel like she was being raped all over again. The point of the trial was not whether rape was bad; it was whether the defendant raped the victim. The defense attorney—who bore a striking resemblance to Edward G. Robinson from the old gangster movies—had us really angry at him. He was prejudicing us against his client.


Only later did I realize what this had to do with human evolution. The lawyers, despite their membership in the species Homo sapiens and their rich clothes, were the equivalent of alpha male gorillas. They had a captive audience—jurors who had no choice but to be present and remain silent, jurors who had no rights of citizens: the lawyers, either defense or prosecution, could say anything they wanted, say things that, if I said them to my students, would get me fired (if I were not already so close to retirement), that if anyone other than one of the lawyers said them to anyone else in any other place, would get them disbarred. There is no such thing as protection from verbal abuse or aggression, from slander. Defendants have rights, but jurors do not. On paper, jurors are American citizens, but in reality, once a juror enters a courtroom for jury selection, he or she has no rights. This is the perfect dream of an alpha male. An alpha male gorilla has to earn his status, but in a courtroom, this status is accorded him by law. He does not have to be nice to anybody, and therefore seldom is. There are two rewards for being a courtroom lawyer, whether prosecution or defense: first, big money; second, the joy of humiliating a group of captives who have been pummeled into meekness. The fantasy of an alpha male lawyer: to be able to humiliate women and get away with it, because they are required by law to submit to him.

I’m not convinced law enforcement officers are any better. Our house was burgled, and my wife saw the burglar run away. He had forced his way in through a side window, which was locked and which was held shut by vertical dowel rods in the sides. But he used a lever to exert a force strong enough to break the rods. We had taken reasonable precautions to secure our house. But when the police came, one officer told my wife that she should have had the front storm door locked. The door itself was locked. But the burglar had come in through a secured window, not the (also secured) front door. The policeman had to find some way to scold the victim. Some, though presumably not all, police officers are male gorillas who like to demean female crime victims. No investigation was ever undertaken, as far as I have been able to determine.

I began my jury experience with a modicum of hope, thinking that perhaps the system worked, however imperfectly. My most modest expectations were dashed. But I left with an unexpected modicum of hope. I was expecting a random selection of 60 Oklahomans to be a sorry bunch—racist, offensive, loud. Maybe that is what I would have seen in a rural Oklahoma setting. But this was in Tulsa, along with Norman the little oases of decency. With few exceptions, the jury pool consisted of sincerely good, fair, intelligent people. Some of them had experienced tragedies in their lives, such as divorces, or the murder of a child. The lawyers made sure that every detail of each of these tragedies was entered into the court record. Are you trying to tell me that the fact that your daughter was murdered will not influence your ability to reach a fair decision in this case? You must be a biased and bitter person if your daughter was murdered… Okay, the lawyer (I forget which one it was) didn’t say the second thing, but lashed into the poor, old mother—a black woman—with unmitigated vigor, actually saying the first thing, only implying the second. That poor woman’s only comfort was a fellow juror (the other woman who had been reduced to tears) who put her arm around the woman’s shoulders as she wept. I really like and respect the fellow members of the jury pool, therefore of the final jury that was soon to hear the lawyers bend the truth. I believe that these jurors will reach a fair decision in this case by largely ignoring the lies, antics and assaults of the alpha male lawyers.

Another modicum of hope. A small percentage of lawyers offer pro bono services to help poor and oppressed people, especially women. I know individual examples of lawyers who are heroes of goodness. And there are some organizations. Just one that I have heard of in Tulsa: Still She Rises—Tulsa. But they are generally underpaid and powerless. They are the secret Underground Railroad in the Confederacy of Lawyers. We are lucky to have them.

Friday, February 25, 2022

Or Would They?

 

Obviously, or so we think, most Republicans would not take violent actions to secure permanent control over America. But maybe they would not need to. All they would have to do is sigh, look the other way, and let the extremists within their Party take violent actions.

After all, it is unlikely that most Germans actually shared Hitler’s passion for eradicating the Jews. But especially after Hitler became dictator in 1933, nobody would openly say so. Since there were so many domestic spies, they would not say so privately either. Most, but not all, youth were Hitler Youth. There were 22 assassination attempts on Hitler, not counting the “several” in early World War II. This culture of terror continued in East Germany, as part of the Soviet bloc. A Soviet bloc which, in the last couple of days, it seems that Vladimir Putin wants to re-establish.

During the War, many Germans wished they could get away from Hitler’s command, but by then they were trapped. I read Paul Brickhill’s The Great Escape, which was made into a fantastic movie in the 1960s. The Allied prisoners were constantly digging escape tunnels, and the Nazis were constantly searching for them. But I got the impression that the Nazi commanders weren’t searching very hard. They wanted to look to their superiors as if they were working hard to catch escapees. They tried to crush tunnels, they inserted rods, they implanted microphones, they hired spies to slip into the rafters or under the huts. If they did catch an escapee, this would make them look good to their superiors. But that is all they really wanted. When they did catch an escape tunnel, they just shut it down. The only punishment they gave to the would-be escapee was to put him in the “cooler” for a couple of weeks. One of the Nazi commanders actually told Brickhill, in prison, to not blame them for what the Gestapo did. Brickhill clearly communicated the idea that the Nazi commanders of prison camps didn’t want to do this job.

My uncle was in the European theatre of World War II and told us all a war story which, in retrospect, seems a little embellished. But not completely. He was guarding a group of prisoners at the end of the war. Most of the German soldiers seemed relieved that they had been captured. All except the SS officers. They were absolutely crazy. My uncle could tell that there was one SS officer among the prisoners. He was the one who attacked and tried to kill my uncle in what sounded to me like a kabuki drama. My uncle shot him eight times. When asked to explain to his superior why he had done this, he said, “Seven wasn’t quite enough, and I didn’t have nine bullets.” Anyway, the point was clear: only the crazy SS troops really believed in the Third Reich.

Most Republicans can, when the dictatorship is established, say that we should not blame them for what the extremists have done. And if there is a Judgment at Nuremberg style inquiry after the fall of the Republican dictatorship, only the leaders will be convicted.

Most Republicans do not worship Trump, at least anymore. But would they go along with those who do?

Natural selection favors the fitness of genes in their environments. In humans, natural selection also occurs on the level of ideas within society. Fitness is not an intrinsic value, with either genes or ideas, but have value relative to their environments. This explains some of the literally crazy ideas that people have had under social conditions that legitimized them. Examples include mass acts of violence during religious wars, such as the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. So far, right-wing acts of extreme violence in America have been small and sporadic, like the cashier being shot for asking a customer to wear a mask in Georgia earlier this year.

I believe that Republicans, as a whole, would not take up arms against fellow Americans. But they would not stand up against their powerful Party leaders.

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Would Single-Party Republican Rulership Be So Bad?

Happy Washington’s Birthday, everybody. I continue my series about the inevitability of a permanent Republican takeover of America. The previous essays were about how the Republicans will institute their permanent rule, and how the military will not stop it. In this third essay: would it be so bad? I think Republicans are evil, but could I live with them as our dictators? Many Americans would hate it but go along with it.

Most nations in the world have, officially or unofficially, single-party rulership. In China, it is official; the Communist Party. In Russia, it is unofficial; whatever Vladimir Putin wants. The Chinese people don’t like it, but they don’t want to incite civil unrest that would jeopardize their already unstable economic situation. The average Chinese citizen might say, let Xi Jinping do whatever he wants, let the Party leadership proclaim Him to be God or pretty close to it, an equal in the Celestial Kingdom to Mao Himself as of December 2021, just don’t hurt me. In Russia, it is literally a joke. Vladimir Putin was term-limited, but he traded off his rulership with Dmitry Medvedev, who did whatever Putin told him. Thus Putin was the ruler and yet still fit within the Russian constitution. Here is an actual joke overheard in Moscow: Putin and Medvedev were in a restaurant...

  • Waiter (to Putin): What will it be?
  • Putin: I’ll have the steak.
  • Waiter: And what about the vegetable?
  • Putin: He’ll have the steak too.

Russians snickered and got on with the business of hacking our computer systems. Of course, since they have utterly no hope of emerging from the rule of the Putin clique, they then go home and drink vodka.

So long as you don’t pull a Navalny in Russia or a Hong Kong in China, then the government doesn’t want to bother you. They have bigger fish to fry. When faced with the choice of whether to give up their lives for democracy or to let dictators swagger around, they choose the easy route. Patrick Henry has been dead a long time, folks. The only people who suffer much are the Uyghurs in China, and the ethnic minorities in Afghanistan, and…okay, it’s quite a list.

Occasionally, single-party rule can get out of hand. This happened most famously in World War II, in Germany, Italy, and Japan. Today, most people have heard of the murderous troops in Myanmar. But of the scores of undemocratic countries in the world, very few have become hell on Earth.

What this means is that if the Republicans establish a permanent dictatorship in America, most Americans will find some way of continuing their lives. If the Rulers won’t let you have off time to vote, they certainly won’t let you have enough time off to protest or revolt. After the Republicans have run the education system for a couple of decades, nobody will remember that life was any different. Already, Republicans have (by law in Oklahoma) prevented teachers from telling students about Native American genocide and the Tulsa Race Massacre. The sponsor of the law, who represents the city I work in, told a gathering at our university that he intended his law to prevent some people [read, white people] from feeling bad about what their race has done in the past. Before taking questions, he ran off. After a few years of Republican rule, white people will settle smugly into a benign cloud of satisfaction, and minorities will be working too hard to bother with trying to change the system. They won’t remember a time when votes actually mattered.

To me, personally, the most significant loss would be the death of patriotism. I was so enthusiastic about America when I was a kid. But now that the American flag has been taken over by the Republicans, and even Confederates consider themselves American patriots, I have become totally cynical about my country. I did not plan for this to happen.

 

Thursday, February 10, 2022

American Single-Party Rulership and the Military: More Evolutionary Perspective

As established in the Constitution, the American military serves a civilian government. But that could quickly change, as I describe below.

Most of us Americans have faith that the armed forces will not serve as the enforcement arm of a dictatorship. What this means is: (1) The military as a whole will not support an attempted Republican dictatorship. The current military leadership took steps to restrain the possible abuse of military power, including nuclear weapons, by former president Trump in his final, unstable days in office. (2) Not all military personnel will support a Republican dictatorship. In fact, it is likely that most will not. We all know of individual members of the military who serve America, not a political party.

But there could still be a military coup not acting on its own but supporting the civilian attempt to establish Republican single-party rule. There will be enough military personnel who will support Trump to make the coup successful. They, the extremists, are well organized; when they act, they will leave the freedom-loving members of the military reeling with confusion and unable to prevent the coup.

We have known for months that the internal security of the US military has been weak, leaving it open to infiltration by criminals or extremists. This article describes the disappearance of thousands of weapons from the US military.

While most military personnel are not extremists, there are enough of them that, in late December, the Pentagon announced an initiative to investigate right-wing extremism in the military.

This military coup will leave America vulnerable to Russian and/or Chinese aggression.

This is the evolutionary perspective: Throughout human history and prehistory, the organized forces of power have predominated over the less-organized forces of peace. Except for brief moments in world history, as exemplified by the United States, the United Nations, and the European Union. I fear we are about to lose the first.

Sunday, January 30, 2022

A Modest Proposal for American Single-Party Rule

 

I made the claim in the previous essay that permanent Republican rule of America is inevitable. If Republican legislatures proclaim Republican electors regardless of the popular vote, they will always have 315 electors. They can do this with existing districts; once they get through gerrymandering, they might have even more. Note: I wrote the previous essay before the scandal broke about the fake electoral votes the Republicans planned to create.

But would the Republican Party actually do this? The first reaction of even progressives used to be, No, of course they won’t. They will respect the outcomes of elections. All of us really wanted to believe this. But in recent years, it has become clear that Republicans are ready to take even violent means to grab and maintain power. Before a man actually drove a car at high speed into a racial justice rally in Charlottesville in 2017, we would all have said that this could not happen. Before an armed right wing militia took over the Michigan state house in 2020, we would all have said that this could not happen (see this BBC report). And none of us could have imagined that armed right wing protestors would carry out a violent act of terrorism against the Capitol in Washington, D. C. in 2021. If they have already done these violent things, why would they not take forceful but non-violent action to secure permanent control over the country?

Therefore, instead of saying, They could but they won’t, we must say, They could and they might. If so, how could they do this? I will make a modest proposal (sensu Jonathan Swift) of one way they could solidify their absolute control. How can they actually institute policies that can make white supremacy the law of the land? Just having 315 electors forever into the future is not enough to accomplish this.

They could partially disenfranchise people who are likely to vote against them. They have already tried to do this by making it very, very difficult to vote it you live in a district dominated by minority voters. But they could make it official. They could, for example, pass a law that a minority vote counts as only a partial vote. They could, for example, pass a law that says a minority vote is actually only three-fifths of a vote. I did not just pull this number out of the air. In the original constitution, slaves were to count as three-fifths of a person for purposes of population size, even though none of them could vote. It would not be too much of a stretch to claim that the votes of ex-slaves, as well as Hispanics and Native Americans, would each count as three-fifths of a vote.

You can easily imagine that this would be challenged in court. But since the Constitution does not explicitly forbid this, would the 6-3 conservative Supreme Court actually turn down such a law?

One can imagine that, should a three-fifths law be implemented, there would be a rush of people who would claim that they are not minorities, thus holding onto their right to be counted as a full vote. Barack Obama, exactly half black and half white, could have claimed to be white as legitimately as to be black. Most members of most Native tribes are not full-blooded Natives. Go to a Cherokee National Holiday, and almost everyone you will see looks white. You don’t have to have a certain minimum “blood quantum” in order to be considered Cherokee. My mother was about one-eighth, which is exactly the same as her great-grandmother who was Cherokee enough to have come to Oklahoma in 1838 on the Trail of Tears, and exactly the same blood quantum as the most famous Cherokee Chief, John Ross. I could easily “pass for white.” But my Cherokee ancestry is a matter of public record. I am 17/256 Cherokee.

Conservatives have long considered part-blood minorities to be minorities. No Republican considers Barack Obama to be white. Homer Plessy, the “black” man in the landmark Plessy v. Ferguson decision, was seven-eighths white. Republicans would want to expand the non-white portion of the American population to be as inclusive as possible, in the event of a three-fifths vote. This idea goes back as far as whites have dominated darker people; the “one-drop” rule, made into law before the Civil War, said that if you had even one drop of dark blood, you were dark. In some cases, including part-blood Natives in with the three-fifths votes would backfire. Here in Oklahoma, a lot of the right-wing extremists look white but drive around with Native nation license plates. But, on the whole, white racists would benefit from classifying minorities according to the one-drop rule.

The old days are past when counting “three-fifths of a vote” would take longer than a simple tally. But now a computer can do this calculation, for a whole state, in a few seconds.

I can find nothing that would prevent a permanently Republican federal government from instituting a three-fifths voting rule except the fear of a lawsuit over constitutionality. In such a case, even many reliably “blue” states would flip red, and the Republicans would permanently have much more than 315 electors. You could calculate the result. Just take the percentage of minority citizens in each state, multiply them by 0.6, leave the whites at 1.0, and calculate the results. You don’t even need a computer for this, though a calculator would help. I choose to not spend my time doing this.

I am not being any more serious about this than Jonathan Swift was with his Modest Proposal. I am just trying to get you to think of the possibilities. Whatever happens, we must be aware that the future of the United States might be one of permanent suppression of minority votes.

Monday, January 24, 2022

Democracy is About to End: An Evolutionary Prediction

Ever since the American Declaration of Independence, democracy has been considered the highest achievement of society. Some countries embraced it, some were forced into it. Even today’s dictatorships try to pretend that they are democracies. Less in the achievement than in the image, democracy (widely considered an American invention) has been revered for almost 250 years.

But is it something that we idealistically invented, or is it the product of human evolution? I argue the former, and that human evolution will eventually cause the extinction of democracy.

Democracy is a kind of altruism, in which people give up some of their individual rights to others. For example, warlords want to be dictators, but a democratic system forces them to surrender these rights for the sake of the rest of the people in the country. However much the right-wing militias in America want to impose their will on the whole country by force of arms, the Constitution prevents them from doing so.

This kind of altruism would seem to be good for everyone. In democracy, the selfish interest of almost all individuals is best served by pursuing the interests of all of us. Democracy, rather than roving bands of warlord separatists, is the most efficiently selfish way for almost everyone to maximize their wealth, health, and safety. Try to imagine a country in which every investment could be destroyed by militias without notice. Would you invest in Afghanistan?

But the course of history is inexorably going toward single-party rulership. I will focus just on the United States.

The Republican Party has openly declared that they are going to establish a permanent single-party rulership. Donald Trump demanded that all states with Republican legislatures should appoint a slate of Republican electors, even if the Republicans lost the popular vote. This is what they plan to do. I believe them.

Can they do this? The Constitution, apparently, supports their right to do this. Right at the beginning of Article Two, the Constitution reads, “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress.” No legislature has ever appointed electors in contradiction to the popular vote, but there is no reason they cannot begin doing so in 2024.

One would think that a legislature would need a justification for declaring a slate of electors different than the one indicated by the popular vote. Actually, they don’t, but they would probably want to have a justification to use. We all know what that justification would be: the popular vote cannot be trusted because there is a suspicion of voter fraud.

There will always be suspicion of voter fraud. Always, always, always. If a Red legislature says they have suspicions, then there are suspicions. Evidence? They have made their claims that the Democrats “stole the 2020 election” with no evidence whatever; why should they start needing evidence in the future? All the Red legislatures would have to do is to say, sorry folks, we think that there is fraud in the popular results.

Let’s consider the numbers from the 2020 election. Reliably Democratic states collectively have 213 electoral votes. Reliably Republican states have 229 electoral votes. (Even some of these states, however, have been partly Democratic in the past. Oklahoma, where I live, used to have a Democratic governor, as did Texas.) The other states (Virginia, Arizona, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Georgia) have a total of 86 electoral votes. If, as they plan, Republican legislatures from these states declare Republican electors either in defiance of or agreement with the popular vote, there will be 315 Republican electors. They intend this situation to be permanent; I  believe them. We will therefore have, starting in 2025, a permanent Republican president.

This situation can lead to a permanent one-party rule in America. Once the Republicans rule, they can pass legislation, or at least proclaim executive orders, that will block minority voters from voting. Who is to stop them? The Supreme Court will not. Congrass? There are moderate Republicans who would consider the destruction of democracy to be unacceptable. But they have been deliberately displaced from positions of leadership in Congrass. Any remaining moderate Republicans will be putting their careers on the line by opposing whatever Donald Trump might decide to do. These Republicans, which is to say most Republicans, will allow the extremists to do what they want.

To the Trump Republicans, Democrats are heathens, but moderate Republicans are heretics. Guess which one is worse.

For each of the “swing” states, there are two possible outcomes. First, if the legislature in any of these states is Republican, then the electors will be Republican. Second, if the legislature in any of these states is Democratic, and such legislatures vote to accept the blue popular vote without overturning it, violent militias will storm the state capitols and take them over by force. They have already done so in Michigan (see article here). All I am saying is that they will do so again. These are the two reasons that no swing state will ever again have Democratic electors.

Throughout human evolutionary history, from tribalism to civilization, most people have wanted forceful leaders to impose their will on everyone else. They are deluded into thinking that these forceful leaders will represent them. Then the situation gets out of hand. It is unclear how many Germans really, really wanted Hitler to exterminate the Jews. But they supported him until it was too late. Then they just had to go along with him. Above all, humans are afraid to take a stand against abusive power.

The result must inevitably be that the world will consist primarily of dictatorships that are ready to go to war with each other; and these dictators will have the allegiance of a minority of their citizens, while a majority simply goes along with them.

Neil Young claims that love, spearheaded by his music, will save us. Were it only so.

Saturday, January 15, 2022

People Like Me

If the world were full of people like me, I fantasize, it would be a much more peaceful world. It would be a world in which time and resources were more efficiently used because people would not use them against one another. I enjoy being good. People from my past, some of whom I had completely forgotten, keep re-emerging on social media hunting me down to share their memories of me. I’ve done some not-so-good things as well, but it appears, from my reputation, that the good things have prevailed in my image.

But there is one very real sense in which the world would be a shambles if everyone was like me. You see, I don’t consume very much. I do not take expensive vacations or patronize expensive entertainment. I do not go out to eat very much. I am frugal and I enjoy it. A lot. And my wife is even more frugal and enjoys it even more. The high point of her month is when she shows me the utility bill, which compares the average Tulsan, an energy-conscious Tulsan, and us, and we use less electricity than even those considered to be energy conservationists.

Our French in-laws have a similar view of life. Their idea of a good time is to get together and eat sausages, sauerkraut, and pretzels, or go hiking in the mountains. Their only non-frugal expenditures are on wine and fragrant cheese. Of course, this is because they are French. But just as you will not find me and my wife taking a vacation to Vegas, you won’t find our French relatives going to the Côte d’Azur or Monaco.

As the economy “climbs out of the recession caused by the pandemic,” many sectors (particularly hospitality and entertainment) cry out for us to patronize them. My wife and I are the world’s worst big-time consumers. We were before, and we are even more so now, living as we do in Oklahoma were only a little more than one in three people are vaccinated.

 

The only way our economy can recover is if a lot of people start wasting money. This is, however, a problem that results from our unrealistically hedonistic economy.

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

A Future Full of Plagues

 

Happy New Year, y’all.

The late nineteenth and the twentieth century was an amazing time of medical progress. Nearly every disease at least began to submit to scientific eradication. Not just infectious diseases, but cancer and nutritional diseases also. It seemed as if nothing could stop the progress of medicine.

But, it was apparent by the late twentieth century, one thing could stop the progress of medicine against bacterial diseases: the evolution of antibiotic resistance. Many bacteria that cause disease (which most do not) evolved resistance against many antibiotics, rendering them obsolete. This actually occurred by the process of natural selection: resistance evolved. By the end of the twentieth century, two things became apparent. The first is that we needed to keep developing new antibiotics. The second is that we had to decrease our reliance on antibiotics.

With regard to the first, we have done an inadequate job. Private pharmaceutical companies have not been developing new antibiotics as rapidly as the old ones become obsolete. This is because new antibiotics are not profitable. When a corporation develops a new antibiotic, it has a limited time span of use. First, each patient takes the antibiotic for a limited time, usually ten to fifteen days. Second, after a few years, the bacteria evolve resistance. It is much more profitable for pharmaceutical corporations to develop and market new drugs against diseases that cannot evolve resistance, and for which the patient must take the drug every day for the rest of his or her life. An example would be depression. The result is that our “armamentarium” (medical historians like military metaphors) of antibiotics is growing smaller each year.

With regard to the second, there are clearly things that we can do. Doctors used to prescribe antibiotics with little regard as to whether they were necessary. Since antibiotics do not work against viruses, doctors began to prescribe antibiotics only after they knew the infection was bacterial, not viral, in origin. This was and continues to be a good thing. But another thing we can all do to reduce the use of antibiotics is to prevent the spread of diseases.

There are many ways to reduce the spread of disease, and everyone knows what they are. As the covid pandemic broke out, and before vaccinations were available, we were told to practice social distancing and to wear masks. These practices were very effective, so that covid incidence began to decline even before vaccinations were widely available. It is now very clear that we can reduce our dependence on antibiotics by using vaccination, masking, and social distancing to control the spread of bacterial diseases. If we do these things, the old antibiotics will become obsolete more slowly, or, if we are lucky, not at all. Penicillin almost became obsolete, but it remains effective for some uses even after almost eighty years of use.

But there are no antibiotics against viruses. For viral diseases such as the various kinds of coronavirus, we have only vaccination, masking, and social distancing. That’s it. (Well, there is one alternative: massive dieoff, in which natural selection produces a resistant population of humans. I have actually had people tell me that this is an acceptable solution to the problem.)

Political conservatives in many countries, however, have shown hostility against all three of these ways of preventing the spread of disease. The Islamic fundamentalists have been rejecting vaccination for decades, with the result that many diseases that could have been eradicated are still in the world. And now Christian fundamentalists, and fierce conservatives (often the same people) reject masking, social distancing, and vaccination with unbridled fervor. They would, literally die—and have you die, too—than to participate in any of these.

New infectious diseases will come along. They always do. And when the next one comes, millions of fierce conservatives will make sure that the disease gets a free ride to spread through the world as much as possible. It is almost as if death from covid (even their own deaths) are a badge of honor to them. If the disease is bacterial, these conservatives who would rather die than to wear a mask will get the germs to spread faster than antibiotics can be used to control them.

The nurse in this photo is showing a headline to a man who is confined to a ventilator because the polio virus destroyed the nerves that allowed him to breathe. The news came too late for him, but the nurse intended it as good news that, at least, the next generation of people would not have to suffer from polio. Neither of them would have guessed that millions of people would consider the polio vaccine to be evil. When Edward Jenner developed the smallpox vaccine; when Louis Pasteur developed the rabies vaccine; when Jonas Salk developed one of the polio vaccines—they could not have imagined that people would consider them evil and actively work against them.

We are, it appears, entering a new dark age of plagues. We have political conservatives to thank for it.