Looking For Hope

Looking For Hope

From the start I need to confess a few things. First I’m white and have lived way past my expiration date, which is my way of saying I’m old. Also I am a son of the South. Not the South of the KKK but of summer afternoons with iced tea on the porch. While I saw some evidence of that other South I really know very little about it.

Back in the sixties I got a job as an engineer at a major Southern medical center and university. I worked in the BioEngineering department as part of a team trying to develop an implantable, mechanical heart. You see, we were going to the Moon and at that time anything was possible. In a lab down the hall from mine was Daniel, a chemical engineer working on replacement technology for kidneys and livers.

I’m not sure how Daniel and I were introduced but we quickly found that we both lived out of the city and drove the same roads in our commutes. From there our relationship grew. I lived about fifteen miles north and Daniel was ten miles further out so we started commuting in from my house. Sometime he would pick me up and sometimes he would leave his car at my house and I would drive. On occasion his wife would drive him if she needed the car and that’s how our wives got to know each other.

It didn’t happen immediately but at some point Daniel invited us to dinner for the next Saturday. It took him a while probably because there was a difficult social space between us because Daniel was black. I think he was very surprised more than anything when we accepted and he made a comment the next day on the commute about if my wife was really okay with dinner, her being a daughter of the South and all.

At this point in my accounting I could dive into a narrative about all of the black friends we had and us not being raised as racists. How we were woke before woke existed and lots of anecdotal stories about going to school and all, and all that would be true but that’s not the point of this tale.

We soon started spending a number of Saturday afternoons at Daniels house and became friends with a number of his neighbors and family. They all lived in a somewhat isolated village of maybe twenty to thirty homes that included a couple of working farms and they called it Hope (actually that’s not its real name because I’m trying to keep that a secret for a number of reasons). Daniel’s father was Jacob and he was a doctor at a clinic in the next town. His older brother ,Samual was also a doctor and most of the other neighbors were professional people. It was a remarkable place being so rural.

It turns out the village of Hope was built on property given to former slaves by several of the local planters after the Civil War. The community itself had developed a plan for dividing the land and helping their children build houses when they returned to Hope after attending college or doing military service. That’s how the village grew. Oh, and almost all the kids went to college and that’s pretty remarkable considering that this was the sixties regardless of race. For public school they all attended the “colored” county schools because this was the segregated South after all and a number of the Hope women taught at those schools.

The falling out started when my wife reached the conclusion that we were only tolerated and being used by the family and I’m pretty sure she was right. I don’t know if they were actually married because of the laws at that time, but Samual called her his wife. Her name was Vickie and she had the brightest blue eyes and long blonde hair and it was obvious they were in love. It seems that when they made their intentions known her family turned their backs on her and she lost virtually all her friends. That sounds like real Romeo and Juliet love to me, but now Vickie felt mostly alone being the only white person living in Hope. When it all came out, the family swore that we were thought of as friends and were welcome and the worst thing they were guilty of was trying to provide Vickie with some contact with “her” people.

We still got together after that but much less often and I really do miss the neighborhood picnics, the card playing and the music and don’t even get me started about horse shoes. Within a year or so I took a job with a medical manufacturer and moved up north. While we called it North it was still south of the Mason-Dixon line, but we completely lost contact with the good people of Hope.

After over sixty plus years, a couple of years ago, feeling a touch of nostalgia, I went back to Hope to see who I could find. Hope is mostly gone. Suburban sprawl has circled the area. The farms are gone and of the three streets that were Hope only one is left. It’s down to about a dozen houses and most are in serious disrepair. Overgrown yards, busted up railings and picket fences and lots of peeling paint. Only one house looked to be in reasonable condition and I went up and knocked at the door.

A middle aged man opened the door and after a brief chat he invited me to sit and have iced tea on the porch. We talked for a long time and admitted that both of our hearts were heavy over what has happened over the years. He was born to Hope and had known Daniel, Samual and Vickie. He remembered that when he was still a boy Samual and Vickie had moved away, California he thought. Daniel died a bit later of cancer and he wasn’t sure about what happened to their father or Daniel’s wife.

He talked about back when he started going to public school they had become integrated and he believes that both the whites and the blacks lost out in the process. The intentions might have been good but instead of bringing them together it divided them into tribes and the tensions were worse than before. The culture all around him just started changing. Most of the kids older than him in Hope still went to college but that was changing too. It seemed that the school teachers no longer cared and the kids cared even less. Education wasn’t something anyone looked up to any more and there may be a good reason. He became an auto mechanic and did all right for himself but the original families of Hope have all moved away. To the four winds was his expression. He inherited this house from his father and is probably the last person left that remembers the village of Hope. His memories were very much like mine. He stayed and has tried to keep things up but most of his generation found it easier to sell out for the value of the land to the new developers. He’s decide to leave now too because all Hope is lost.

EpilogueThe core of this story is true but with the names and details changed. The biggest tragedy is we are not allowed anymore to even have an open conversation. I surely cannot tell you what it’s like to be black and I’m not even sure I can tell you what it’s like to be white but I can say that we are all losing out with the current national situation. No good can ever come of pretending that all lives don’t matter and white fragility is as big a myth as black inferiority. If I am not allowed to acknowledge and trust in what I believe about myself than all hope is truly lost. Our kids and grand kids might think that they are woke but disrespecting their parents and grandparents to the point of hatred is mostly proof that they aren’t. Generations before us have made a lot of mistakes as have we and so will the next but if we focus on the sins and cannot recognize the accomplishments of the past we will have no hope of a future. We need to recognize that there was a place called Hope and it may have represented a promise for the future.

Becoming Us & How

For good or ill, as John Adams put it, “Facts are stubborn things, but our minds are even more stubborn.” Truth always plays second fiddle to group think or as George Orwell put it “The further a society drifts from truth the more it will hate those who speak it”.


Why do so many people hold such strong opinions and beliefs that seem so obviously wrong to us? How can individuals stand on both sides of what would appear to be a simple issue? How can both sides think they are right? Time and time again we encounter people that swear something is a fact and even when shown evidence that demonstrates their position cannot be true, they still cling to their opinion. In the real world, shouldn’t facts be facts? Polarization in politics seems to be infecting all of society. There is something changing.

What are the processes that go into fashioning our world views and how we perceive the very reality that we experience? Understanding the past, our origins, our evolution and how we see reality itself, is the key to understanding what we, as a species, have become and what is happening.

Becoming Human

As mammals go, they weren’t very big or strong but they were unusual. They had the ability to walk mostly on two feet with hands that were capable of gripping and manipulating objects. Broadly they were the ancestors of chimpanzees, monkeys and baboons but their was also one that would evolve into what we now characterize as hominids. They walked completely erect , were losing their fur and were using rudimentary tools. While we evolved from this hominid line that was a few million years old, our modern beginnings go back to only about two hundred thousand years ago. At that time, giant mammals roamed the earth; mammoths, giant three-toed sloths, saber-tooth tigers and huge herds like bison. In addition to the hominid that was our great grandparent, there were also four or five first cousin hominids scattered across the Earth. Physically, all five had unusually large brains, stood completely erect, were capable of running, had opposing thumbs and were “naked”. Evidence would suggests that all of them possessed the ability to speak. They were hunter gatherers and also capable tool makers. While primate origins were in Africa, many of our first cousins had moved out of Africa to Europe, Asia, India, and the islands south of Asia. Of the five, we have solid evidence that two were similar to us in most ways, one was significantly smaller and one was much more robust and had a larger brain. We call ourselves Homo Sapiens and at that point in history we had not yet left Africa. One cousin that was bigger and stronger and had a larger brain than us was the Neanderthal and they were already living in Europe for two or three hundred thousand years.

Between two hundred and one hundred thousand years ago, something earth shattering seems to have occurred. The hominid that was our great grandparent started thinking very differently. It didn’t seem to have anything to do with brain size because they didn’t have the largest brain. Up until about one hundred thousand years ago, these new-thinking Homo Sapiens were still living exclusively in Africa, but that would soon change.

Our very way of thinking, and therefore our speech, changed significantly. Linguists call what happened in the line of hominids that were our ancestors, the development of “context free speech”. What that meant was they no longer simply thought and talked about things that were obviously practical, happening near them in space and in the “here and now”. This new type of thinking allowed homo sapiens to not only discuss things that weren’t even present locally or in the here and now but things that didn’t actually exist at all. They began to talk about hunts past and future, tools and tactics and what they could do to improve their fortunes in the future. Maybe they discussed what caused rain or lightning, why the seasons changed, why they should follow a specific leader or what made them ill. Included with this new thinking and speaking was the emergence of the ability to actually link minds, their very thoughts, together. The real leap forward that occurred in these hominids was based on a change in thinking but it was also multi-faceted. It enhanced their ability to work together, acquire knowledge, share thoughts with others and build on past experiences and push thinking into the future and even into non-existent imaginary places.

It’s difficult to explain how important this new thinking was. It completely upset the balance of nature that existed at that time. This change was so significant, that over the next fifty thousand years or so, homo sapiens spread across the planet and all the other hominid cousins disappeared completely along with unimaginably large numbers of the mega-mammals. While there remains controversy regarding what part homo sapiens had in the disappearance of their cousins (see end notes), there is no question that our singular line of hominids did start thinking differently and the world began to change. As these younger, smarter hominids moved out of Africa, through the Middle East and on, the world changed wherever they went. In Europe, they encountered their nearest cousin, the Neanderthals. Those hominid first cousins had lived in Europe for about three hundred and fifty thousand years and within ten thousand years of Homo Sapiens’ arrival in Europe, Neanderthals seemed to disappear. The same seemed to happen in other regions as well.

What was so special about this new way of thinking and speaking? First, context free thinking and speech could be about anything including abstract thoughts. It allowed them to describe in detail not just what they saw, but also what they were thinking and what they were planning on doing. Most important of all it allowed them to make up stories. These stories could be as much entertainment as fact. They could describe dreams, tell epic tales of adventure, assign unnatural causes to natural occurrences and organize social lives around rituals involving hierarchies and beliefs in an unseen reality thereby assigning additional properties to things that happened in life. In actuality, it was probably that invention of story telling that began to truly redefine the world and enhance the ability to not only see into but actually create a future world.

Over thousands of years we created the world’s first complex social structures, gave names to social position and individual skills and abilities. We invented mythological creatures and gods, assigned them with super-natural powers and attributed them with being the causes of natural phenomenon. We began to assign relative value to essential goods and assigned equivalent value to other objects like stones and shells to facilitate trading.

Within fifty thousand years, those homo sapiens made another huge leap forward and developed a way to express their thoughts in a permanent form using visual symbols and writing. No longer did information have to be passed along orally through a chain from one person to the next, but it could be recorded for transmission over great distance and through time to distant generations and stored just like the staples of life.

Along with the emergence of context free speech, language and the linking of minds, there was one more trait evolving that greatly facilitated our advancement as a species. Today we often make fun and refer with derision to this ability, refer to it negatively, calling it things like being gullible or naive. It remains ingrained in each of us and it too was a very significant building block that contributed to the advancement of the human race. Generally speaking we, as a species, are inclined to accept what others tell us as fact or the truth. As much as context free thinking and speech, this allowed us to more quickly share and widely spread our acquired knowledge with others. And, while we often make fun of our nature to trust other people, it is part of what makes us human and was another foundation of our developing greatness.

While we evolved slowly, by taking advantage of these traits, our species was able to advance in intellectual areas, inventing and exploring things like science, philosophy, mathematics, and myriad other fields by simply acquiring and spreading information (knowledge), discoveries and new ideas throughout large groups of people. For centuries it has actually been the foundation of formal teaching and what makes our current education system even possible. By this linking of our minds and accepting shared information as fact,, we quickly built on the experiences and knowledge of hundreds and thousands of other humans. Sir Isaac Newton described it best when he declared that he succeeded because he was “standing on the shoulders of giants”.

With incredible inventiveness and this ability to link minds, Homo Sapiens as a species began to bond into larger and larger groups. Again, it didn’t happen over night, but we went from hunter gatherers to farmers and herders to living in villages and eventually began to create real civilizations. It started in the natural enlargement of family groups into clans and tribes and resulted in a growing ability to actually change our local environments. By building structures, raising animals and growing crops, man greatly improved the stability of food availability while at the same time providing for an increasing localized population. Civilization wasn’t initially created as much as it simply grew along with human populations and knowledge. It grew as groups got larger, allowing for agricultural settlements that consistently produced surplus food which allowed some people to specialize in non-agricultural work. In turn it allowed for production of more goods, trade within the group and with outside groups, while allowing for ever growing populations and more sophisticated social structure.

This accounted for the first civilizations appearing in locations where the geography was favorable to large scale agriculture. In order to manage the resources and protect the community, government was another natural evolutionary step. Context free thinking allowed humans to create categories to describe tasks and assign social standing to individuals. No other primate could have conceived of or characterized other members of their species as king, commander, teacher, priest or even potter or miller. Cities and kingdoms emerged from this thinking with rulers, a ruling class, warriors and priests. They gained increasing control over larger areas of land, expanding resources and populations. As complexity increased, the ruling class assembled armies, developed writing and religion to maintain social order and consolidated power over ever larger geographic areas and people.

The use of writing now facilitated the recording of knowledge, codification of laws, methods of record-keeping, and the birth of literature, which led to and fostered the spread of shared cultural practices among growing populations.

Since before recorded history, humans have experienced a number of epic ages. They included the iron and bronze ages, the first agricultural revolution, the age of empires, the dark ages, an intellectual revolution, the age of exploration, the industrial revolution, the second agricultural revolution, world wide wars and the modern information age. Each age created its own turmoil and change. Coming out of the dark ages we witnessed a rise of religious philosophy which than led to the dawn of an age of ideologies. These new ideologies were based on the beliefs and writings of philosophers, economists, social scientists and psychologists and promised mankind a number of possible futures based on these new ideas and theories. They suggested new forms of belief, social structure, government and economic institutions, all promising to improve the lot of the human race itself. Many ideas were experimented with, some failed terribly while others found some level of success. The one thing they all had in common was the large numbers of ardent followers believing in a new future for the species and themselves and a willingness to adopt a new set of rules.

Understanding Reality

Most people consider the experience of reality to be the same for everyone and think this is so obvious that it doesn’t warrant much serious consideration. That is simply not the case at all and, to better understand how we and society evolved, we need to understand more about the true nature of reality and how we, as individuals, groups and as a species, experience it.

The way we experience reality and interact with the physical world around us is completely through our senses. Without our senses of sight, hearing, touch and smell, the world simply would not exist for us and the only experience we would actually have is an unnamed and undefinable sense of self. Reducing all experience to what we can absolutely be sure about, brings us to Descartes’s famous “I think, therefore I am” suggesting that all that we can truly believe exists for each of us is our sense of self. It is the senses and the interpretation of signals from them by our brain that creates our sense of a real world. To better picture what this is suggesting, you need to realize that our senses are limited in what they detect. For example, a dog’s sense of smell detects a whole world we have no understanding of. In the dark, bats and dolphins see with sound and numerous creatures navigate the world using the Earth’s gravitational fields which generally we are blind to. What we now believe about reality is that it actually is completely a mental construct built on sensory input, organized by our context free thinking, relying heavily on memories of past experience and the adoption of notions from having our minds linked with others who describe and share their sensory experiences.

Based on a number of examples it is also becoming clear that our personal reality can be, and often is, very different from the realities of other people. On hundreds of occasions we are confronted with the knowledge that what our senses are telling us cannot actually be true and often we struggle to deal with it. The tricks of illusionists are one of the more obvious cases but there are also hundreds of common sight and even sound illusions. Experiencing many illusions can leave us completely disoriented because our sense of reality is challenged. We now know that what we believe we are observing can change significantly based on our circumstances and our state of mind. One established study into our ability to judge height demonstrates that it is dependent on if it is simply an observation or if we believe we are going to climb or descend the specific height.

One researcher into consciousness, perception and reality came to the conclusion that reality is actually a shared illusion and that our interpretation of reality is actually biased toward survival in preference to true accuracy.

Another way of thinking about shifting reality involves feelings of anxiety. We all experience sessions of anxiety where we begin to worry about what could happen to us. It can involve a disagreement with someone or a fear that we aren’t properly prepared for a coming event. It actually changes the way our mind processes information, so that we experience the symptoms of fear when there is no actual danger around. This leads to negative thinking, overthinking, and the tendency for our minds to notice cues that match our worst expectations while ignoring most others (confirmation bias).

Because we live in a reality fashioned by context free thinking, our world is much more complex than the world of any other species. Unlike other species we are capable of rethinking and changing how we view the world at any time and in numerous ways. By learning new information or listening to another person’s views we can completely shift our perspective and understanding of the world and reality.

Over the course of human existence, we as a species have created an ever more complex world that is actually built upon a foundation made possible by our context free thinking and speech. It has facilitated the invention of abstract creations that were elaborated on by inventive story telling and it required a reliance on believing what others told us as being true. The world that we live in today is more a mental creation than a physical place. Sure there are trees, rivers, rocks, clouds and on and on but we also can believe in angels, traffic laws, the existence of corporations, currency value, electrons, courts, stars and planets, ghosts, diplomas, aliens, etc.

Understanding the foundational mental processes that make up our reality can be simplified into three basic categories:

The first is the process that provides us raw input through our senses. It is as near as we can come to observing true reality and it’s usually referred to as objective phenomenon. Broadly, it is observing a world that exists independently of human consciousness and beliefs and would remain even if humans weren’t even present.

The next is an internalized reality created by a combination of observation and comparison with our previous experiences then weighed against our accumulated knowledge. We call this subjective phenomenon and it is something that exists completely dependent on the consciousness of a specific individual and represents a singular, personal and isolated reality.

The last is actually the most dominant in our thinking and represents a broader reality constructed by blending our subjective understanding of the world with shared knowledge accepted as reality by various groups we consider ourselves members of. This is called inter-subjective phenomenon and is a group reality that exists because of communications between a community or group that has linked their minds together to form a shared, mutually recognized or agreed upon and usually localized reality.

Our human experiences of the world and by extension reality itself, are based on these three generally accepted processes. It has also been described as that shared illusion broadly accepted within a social structure. It often is not based on objective observation or even accepted, fact-based information. Once any notion or belief is broadly accepted by a group it becomes an inter-subjective phenomenon and generates a localized, group reality that is often the dominant reality over even objective observation and has the ability to be spread to more individuals and other groups by a number of means.

A simple example of inter-subjective phenomenon and our objective observation is the understanding of the Earth’s place in the universe. Our objective observation initially informs us that we are standing still on a fixed Earth while we watch the Sun move across the sky above us. The original, easy, subjective interpretation that aligns with the objective observation is to believe that the Sun travels around us on our fixed Earth. That thinking is so obvious that it was the predominant inter-subjective reality for thousands of years. In the fifteenth century scientists began to understand that the Earth was round, revolved on an axis and that it was actually traveling around our fixed Sun. The illusion that the Sun traveled around us was created by the Earth’s rotation. Over time this knowledge spread and was passed on and eventually became a new predominant inter-subjective reality. Today we still have no more personal, objective information than we had a thousand years ago but we have been taught things that alter our subjective beliefs. This is mostly because they became widely adopted into an accepted inter-subjective reality regarding the Earth and the Sun’s place in the universe. Today we almost universally incorporate that changed inter-subjective reality of the Sun’s relationship to the Earth into how we see and process even our objective observations.

In simpler terms, because of this linking of minds and us receiving widely believed knowledge regarding the Sun and Earth, we have incorporated this understanding of the movements of the Earth and Sun into our personal subjective reality. There is no way that we, as modern individuals, can observe the Sun crossing the sky and visualize it as traveling around the Earth even considering our unchanging objective observations.

Because our world is created more in our thoughts than in a physical sense, we need to take into account these processes and how they brought us to where we are today.

Our Reality and the Influence of the Group??

The Earth Sun example explains how our objective perception of the physical world becomes changed by group inter-subjective reality and is adopted into each persons individual subjective reality. This is the process that completely changes even our objective perceptions of the world. In accepting inter-subjective phenomenon and modifying individual subjective reality we are often integrating things that cannot be directly observed or measured by our senses into our broader sense of reality and general understanding. A great number of people accept a Heaven and God as a reality. We see this as an example of an inter-subjective, though non-material reality, but there are much more everyday mundane things that we accept in the same way. Civil authority and laws, economics, the existence of corporations, money and thousands of other non-material and representative items exist only as individuals subjective reality and are part of that wider inter-subjective phenomenon.

Take the case of modern currency. We think of currency to represent a number of complex things like a measure of individual wealth, the value of human labor, invested ownership as well as a transactional promise of future goods or services. The truth is, it has no actual objective reality, other than bits of paper and metal with little real value. In a larger sense currencies true value is based principally on the subjective faith that individuals put in it. There are dozens of historical cases of national economic collapse that occurred because of a loss of faith in currencies. One day currency had a high inter-subjective transactional value and suddenly a shift occurred in subjective and inter-subjective phenomenon that reduced the transactional currency value to a small fraction of its’ previous worth.

In the Earth Sun example it seems obvious that we are accepting a more accurate version of reality but that isn’t always the case with inter-subjective phenomenon. There are hundreds of examples large and small where groups fashion and accept inter-subjective realities that are way less fact related. They range from manifest destiny, eugenics, big foot, flying saucers and numerous health risks or cures later proven to be completely false.

A majority of human behavior today is based mostly on inter-subjective beliefs with some individual subjective integration and little if any objective observation being significant. Looking back at the roots of our development as a species, we understand that this willingness to believe what others tell us as fact has become an integral part of who we are and an overwhelming contributor to modern reality. Considering the abstract character of our modern world, those objective observations seem to play a surprisingly minor role in life today.

We see the influence that inter-subjective phenomenon has on an individual’s subjective reality but what forces contribute specifically to the groups inter-subjective reality? Those influences today are probably not much different from influences thousands of years ago. People look up to some individuals like natural leaders, those that seem knowledgable or educated, charismatic personalities and popular cultural figures and they are what contribute to, and often dominate, the foundation for most group beliefs. Not only are we humans prone to accepting a group’s reality but the group is inclined to accept the reality of natural leaders and seemingly well informed individuals.

To understand the process, think about the influence associated with broadcast news where a charismatic anchor makes a report claiming “experts studying… have concluded”. Our very nature inclines us to accept information as true but in an increasingly complex world, with multiple opposing streams of information, those sorts of presentations incline us to accept that specific information on the basis of who is presenting it and where the information is reported to have originated.

As influential as individuals and ideas may be, ideas still originate somewhere and exist in a broader environment where groups and ideas compete against other ideas and groups. Our individual subjective reality, as well as inter-subjective reality, can at times change quickly. Generally, to be successful, beliefs must provide some argument that resonates with numbers of individuals and their associated group held beliefs and they also have to be compatible with personal values generally long held by significant segments of a group or society.

The proceeding looks at the evolution of human understanding and interaction but there is also a darker side to the nature of inter-subjective phenomenon. It can be manipulated and artificially forced upon a group and, in some cases, even on a whole society. Artificially created and forced changes to group realities usually result out of fanatical movements, militaristic societies, radical philosophies and repressive despotic regimes. To force a change in a group’s inter-subjective reality and thus individual subjective beliefs requires very controlled environments and usually major resources. It employs methods characterized as forced mass reeducation, group and regional isolation, the elimination of outside information, outright brain-washing, coercion and even enslavement. It has been understood for a long time that radical new inter-subjective realities can actually be forced on individuals, groups and whole populations and the most successful tool is controlling access to information.

There are literally hundreds of major cases (see end notes) of these techniques being employed. One recent example is communist China’s system of managing information available to its’ people. It has become so effective that on the thirtieth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, interviewers could not find a single person on the streets of Beijing that seemed to have any memory historically of what happened. They simply did not know that in early June of 1989 the Chinese government cracked down on the student demonstrators in Tiananmen Square seeking democratic reform. Hundreds were killed, thousands were arrested and thousands more of the students completely vanished, never to be seen again. Following that event, the government officially forbid any mention of it. This is an example of a reality that has been effectively erased from the minds of the whole of the Chinese people and demonstrates the effective manufacturing of new inter-subjective reality.

A New World

As the current information age matured a whole new landscape emerged. At its’ center is the internet, the worldwide web. It quickly grew into an incredibly efficient system for distributing information throughout societies and relatively the whole world. The web spread and quickly reached unimagined numbers of people. It was significantly different from anything that preceded it. Unlike long established systems for “publishing” information that required resources and substantial infrastructure, all it required was a personna computer and a connection to the internet and now simply a cell phone. It has quickly replaced the need for printed media in all forms, officially sanctioned sources, authoritative fact checking and traditional forums for weighing opposing views. The information that flowed around the internet had few censors and little control at all. People could access vast amounts of information on millions of subjects that also included radical causes and ideas, all in the comfort of the home.

With the introduction of search engines, Wikipedia, social media and low cost web page creation, access to ideas and information grew exponentially. The low cost and remarkable growth of the internet caused mainstream producers and suppliers of information to lose their market. Encyclopedias, newspapers, magazines, broadcasters and even educational outlets were finding it difficult to compete with the free flowing environment of the internet.

Search engines quickly became the new gateway to information and by early in the twenty first century they were the dominant resource for acquiring and expanding that one thing that made us humans what we are – knowledge. At the same time, without really understanding what was happening, search engines began to be the gatekeepers of inter-subjective and subjective reality.

Tyrants and dictators had to conquer territory, build walls and create armies of secret police to alter and control the inter-subjective reality of their subjects. While they had to isolate whole populations, burn libraries, and take over all media, the search engine corporations had the potential to accomplish the same thing and began to influence inter-subjective and subjective realities by simply providing their internet service. Combine internet searching with open source databases like Wikipedia and some social media providers and you can account for more than two-thirds of humanities regular access to general knowledge and current news.

Normally, the flow of information is part of what is characterized as the free market of ideas. The way search engines should work in that marketplace is to compete with other similar services to deliver the broadest, most useful results while being understood to be unbiased. Currently, there are almost a dozen major search engine companies to select from and over a dozen smaller competitors, but that doesn’t tell the real story.

The way a search works is someone looking for information on something like the economics of commercial logging enters a set of key words. The results returned can normally include numerous related articles about tree farms, strip logging, regions of logging operation, jobs created, environmental impact, major logging corporations including costs, profitability and sustainability.

Unfortunately, the results aren’t always unbiased. The first search engine was launched by Google but within a short period of time they were joined by Yahoo and others but, through a number of processes, Google remains so dominant that “googling” something has become a generic term. The second search engine by quantity of searches is Yahoo with less than 3% of total searches and it is usually estimated that Google’s share of searches worldwide is above 85%. There have been many articles written contrasting Google’s bias with results between search engines but they rarely gain much popular attention.

Because logging isn’t now so controversial, comparing results between Google and say Yahoo or Bing doesn’t produce much difference in results, but if you search something more controversial like global warming, the differences can be significant. Search political figures or topics and many times the differences are shocking. Google and its’ many defenders claim some amount of censorship is necessary to protect society and they claim a responsibility to try and stop the accessing of false, dangerous, or radical information. Google isn’t alone in deciding what information people should have access to. Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and others are now making claims that they also need to protect people from dangerous, false, misleading and inappropriate ideas and even Wikipedia is subject to the introduction of bias as individuals act as self-appointed arbiters being capable of altering information.

While many consider this a reasonable argument to make, consider that America was founded on the principle of freedom of speech (in all its’ forms). Throughout our history, hundreds of cases have been considered that attempted to suppress that freedom. Examples include cases involving distributing pornography, revealing classified documents, displaying hateful symbols like swastikas and vulgar and offensive speech. In virtually ever case. the uncensored freedom of expression has prevailed. Throughout our history. hundreds of lawyers, judges, elected representatives and common citizens have debated and testified in hundreds of those cases.

Now our information is being filtered by a handful of corporate people who judge what things need to be censored? The American system of free speech is actually based on a belief that no individual or group can be trusted with that responsibility. We have institutionally preferred that we be subjected to offensive, radical, hateful, and misleading information than to trust anyone to decide what information fits those categories and represents a public danger.

Understanding What Has Happened

How does all this fit together? What is the connection between how we developed as a species, the processes that have made us what we are and what is currently happening to us? The answer is actually straight forward. Based on the stepping stones of our evolution and how we created our individual reality, we can draw conclusions about what has happened. Those stepping stones include:

  • The advent of context free speech and thinking.
  • Our linking of minds together to share thoughts.
  • The tendency to trust what others tell us.
  • Our creation of a world full of abstract creations.
  • The existence of personal subjective reality.
  • The acceptance and influence of a groups inter-subjective reality.
  • The controlling of information to modify inter-subjective reality.

We are creatures that consume and utilize information to build our reality and change our world. We do this because of our relationships with others within our society, often based more on non-material creations with our willingness to believe others, especially other members of groups we belong to.

First we need to realize reality itself is a mental construct and by extension there can be numerous realities. By accepting membership in any group we become influenced by and usually adopt the groups inter-subjective reality, incorporating it as part of our own. Our objective observations and evaluations of supposed fact based concepts exercise only minor influence on our subjective reality in the context of inter-subjective phenomenon. Generally, individuals and groups often regularly employ confirmation bias to strengthen there beliefs and positions further strengthening their personal reality.

So the conclusion has to be that these multitudes of individual and group realities are not new nor unusual. The size of the groups and the strength of those realities could actually be new in our modern free society and there are several reasons for that change.

The first is a profound change in the core historical institution for the passing on of knowledge to new generations of humans. We identify the process as education and as an institution it has been allowed to reduce the importance of passing on accumulated factual information like math, science and even history in favor of teaching soft subjects and new philosophies about social issues and causes. This has lead to an enlargement of the importance of the non-fact based ideas.

Perhaps growing out of those major changes in education priorities is a change in what was a fact-based profession, media reporting. What was once a principal driven institution, the news has been mostly replaced by reporting by biased individuals sharing opinions. Even how or if fact-based information is reported has changed. America created protections for the news business to prevent the institutions of government from inordinately controlling public access to information. What wasn’t expected was the watchdog becoming a lapdog.

Add to those a new phenomenon that is partly the result of those internet companies deliberately taking on the role of information censors. On a number of fronts we are seriously restricting the public’s access to information that would allow them to reach informed conclusions. In the book 1984, George Orwell put forward that “Those who control the present, control the past and those who control the past control the future.” A number of governments and institutions have taken this notion to heart and seek to control reality by altering history itself.


• One theory is that Homo sapiens hunted Neanderthals down and deliberately killed them to eliminate food competition. Some scientists believe that their purpose in hunting Neanderthals was to eat them. The evidence for this was Neanderthal bones with butchery marks on them.

• There is another theory that Neanderthals died out due to disease. This theory claims that Homo sapiens in their advance into Europe from Africa carried with them viral diseases. Neanderthals’ immune systems, although well adapted to the germs in their own European environment, could not cope with these alien germs.

• One recent research project concludes that Homo sapiens had no part in Neanderthal extinction. The experts believe Homo sapiens did not eradicate Neanderthals because Neanderthals were already nearly extinct when Homo sapiens came out of Africa into Europe. Some experts believe that Neanderthals, perfectly adapted for the Ice Age, could not adapt to a warming climate, and the changes it brought to the landscape and animals.

• Recent modern, cheap genetic sequencing techniques and new strategies for reducing and detecting modern human DNA contamination have produced a breakthrough in understanding. It seems modern European Homo sapiens have Neanderthal genes proving that Neanderthals and Homo sapiens interbred, after the two species diverged from our common ancestor and came back together again in Europe.

• China’s first emperor completely altered the nation’s history by demanding the destruction of all Confucian philosophy. It changed Chinese morals for hundreds of years.

• Reportedly at the command of Julius Caesar the Library of Alexandria, one of the world’s first, was burned. Many believe it was the largest destruction of accumulated knowledge and culture related artifacts in history. It’s probable that many original discoveries and inventions were along with original works by Plato, Aristotle, and others.

• Sacked by Muslim invaders in 1197. India’s Nalanda University dates back to A.D. 427 and was the origin of many common advanced educational processes and standards. It contained the largest collection of important Buddhist and Hindu texts in the world and set the civilization back five centuries.

• The Chinese Quianlong Emperor 1735 to 1796 assembled a massive collection of bias Chinese history, art, and literature known as the Siku Quanshu. In order to insure its’ dominance in his society’s consciousness, hundreds of thousands of other written works were destroyed. Over 50 authors were executed after being labeled evil for criticizing ideas of the ruling class. Among the volumes purged were major Chinese encyclopedias and histories with information lost forever.

• Literally the entire knowledge base of Mayan civilization was destroyed by the Bishop of Yucatan Diego de Landa’s orders on July 12, 1561. An exact number of books isn’t known but was at least several thousand. The total religion, art, and traditions of a complete ancient society died in that one event.

• In support of Hitler and the Nazi party, on the night of May 10, 1933, German students from universities once regarded as among the finest in the world, gathered in Berlin to burn books containing “unGerman” ideas. Several hundred thousand books were destroyed that night with some being only copies. The purge extended all over Germany and destroyed an anti-Nazi sentiment.

• In the book 1984 George Orwell put forward that “Those who control the present, control the past and those who control the past control the future.” A number of despotic governments have taken this notion to heart and sought to control reality by altering history itself.

• History is littered with examples of these attempts to control or force a new inter-subjective reality on large groups. China has employed the process on a number of occasions in modern times. In August 1966, Mao Zedong called for the start of a Cultural Revolution at the meeting of the Communist Central Committee. He urged the creation of corps of “Red Guards” to punish party officials and any other persons who showed bourgeois tendencies. Between 1966 and 1976, the young people of China, following guidelines created by Mao, rose up in an effort to completely purge the nation of the “Four Olds”: old customs, old culture, old habits, and old ideas which were the very pillars of foundation of China’s historical inter-subjective reality. Additionally, Chinese Re-education through forced labor was a system of detention in Communist China active from 1957 to 2013, and it was used to detain persons who were accused of minor crimes, political dissidents, and religious believers. China’s system of managing information available to the people has become effective to the point that on the thirtieth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square event, journalists could not find anyone on the streets of Beijing that had any memory historically of what happened. They simply did not know that on June 3rd and 4th 1989 the Chinese government cracked down on the student demonstrators seeking democratic reform in Tiananmen Square. A hundreds were killed, thousands were arrested and a significant number of students vanished, never to be seen again. This reality event has been effectively erased from the minds of the Chinese people.

• At least in the modern western world, we have come to believe in a number of notions about what people should have in the way of freedoms and rights and what tools should be employed in the process of making sure we have an informed and educated population. Most discussions concerning culture, society and political institutions universally reject those techniques designed to control access to information that could manipulate broad-based inter-subjective reality. The very foundation of western democratic government was built on the notion of an open and free marketplace of ideas regardless of how appealing or abhorrent. Censorship is the path that leads to authoritarianism.

• Confirmation bias. It explains that the stronger our subjective beliefs are, the harder they are to overcome. We have ingrained habits that continually work to reinforce those beliefs by looking for confirming information while we completely ignore contradicting information.

COVID-19 – Coronavirus Data?

The policies and rules dictated by our government in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic are impacting all of us. Any approach we take should focus on three principle areas:

First it should be collecting and analyzing data about the disease, from likely symptoms, its spread, lethality and susceptible populations.

Second identifying where the disease is and how it’s spreading in order to direct an effective medical response involving supplies, quarantine requirements and to identify effective medications and to support the development of medications and a vaccines.

Third it should be studying the pandemics economic costs to the country and adopting policies to best mitigate the financial impact of the pandemic on all communities.

Collecting data on the threat should be the highest priority, essentially if we don’t understand the threat we cannot effectively formulate a proper response. In the COVID-19 pandemic, accurate information is the most important thing for every citizen to have if they’re to make reasonable decisions about keeping themselves and their families.

Individuals make assessments about risks and associated costs all the time. Cost benefit analysis is a part of life at every level. How much insurance to have, if to get a seasonal vaccine, fire extinguishers, smoke detectors, seat belts, medical treatments and on and on. Governments do the same but for decisions to be appropriate for them and all of us we need good data.

What Data Matters

With COVID-19 what information is critically important for meaningful decisions? We need to know how many Americans were/are infected and how quickly it is spreading and where. Who the most “at risk” people are and how many are actually dying from the disease. We also need accurate data on how many Americans have recovered. After almost three months of cases in the United States we actually have meaningful information on only one of the above questions and that is who is at most risk.

The majority of data that we have access to and that is being widely reported includes:

Total People Infected. The issues with this number are two fold. First, how important is the number actually? Since a majority of infected people have minor or no symptoms the number shouldn’t be assumed to characterize the actual reported total and thethreat. A number of studies of local populations looking for antibodies strongly suggests we are undercounting cases by at least 500%. That also seriously diminishes the reliability of that data and the actual threat.

Deaths from COVID-19. While there is no doubt that this is a serious and deadly disease much of the fatality reporting is also inaccurate. The total death count would seem to be inaccurate and is more than likely exaggerated. The primary websites for tracking the COVID-19 is Johns Hopkins and the CDC. Those site’s data generally do not match and mostly they do not track the same date. There have been numerous reports that health providers are being asked to submit data that over-reports deaths from COVID-19 and because of the financial actions taken during the pandemic, hospitals and local governments can actually benefit from over-reporting financially.

Total Patients Recovered. Johns Hopkins stopped keeping a total count of recovered cases on their site weeks ago. They now report on each state and well over half of the states do not report recoveries at all. Any number that is reported is also seriously under-reported. Confirmed cases are now based on lab tests and if a person is hospitalized they are again tested before discharge. With a majority of cases being asked to just stay home and, supposedly remaining in self-quarantine for 14 days after recovery almost all of those cases go unreported as recovered.

The COVID-19 Lethality. We do know that the elderly and specifically those with serious health issues are at high risk of dying. In order to demonstrate the death rate from being infected we need to know the total number of people infected as the denominator, and how many people have died from the disease is the numerator. The fatality rate has been reported to be between 3.5% and 0.3% but the simple fact is we don’t have an accurate count for either of those numbers so we just don’t know.

The Data is a Mess

While there is active research gathering data trying to understand how this pandemic is unfolding the government primarily reports on “model” forecasts without supplying the data. What we do know is we have no idea how many Americans have been infected. We don’t really know how many people have died “of” the COVID-19. Because of that we don’t know the actual mortality of the disease. But most importantly we don’t know the financial consequences of having shut down a majority of businesses in the United States of America.

Consider the Following

While Johns Hopkins graphs total cases they don’t graph recovered or deaths and that graph is much more important. The CDC public data is spotty and suspect and while the “Task Force” has asked for specif reporting from every hospital in the country less than half have complied.

On April 25th alone the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 total case count in the United States increased by 32,793 and the CDC reported 7,875 deaths attributed to COVID-19 and 3,310 who died of pneumonia and COVID-19.

On May 2nd Johns Hopkins COVID-19 total case count in the United States increased by 20,340 and the CDC reported 1,636 deaths attributed to COVID-19 and 637 died of pneumonia and COVID-19.

Johns Hopkins stopped keeping a total count of people recovered and while it is now suggested that symptoms appear about a week after exposure and that most cases resolve after another two weeks, statistically about half of the people recorded as infected should now be recovered. On May 11th we are officially reporting 1,371,000 cases in America and 224,000 recovered which seems like total nonsense it should be double that. It also doesn’t really matter how many total people have been infected unless the intent of the reporting is to spread and increase panic.

Your Thoughts Are Now A Commodity And They Are Being Sold

It’s much worse than you think. Think Google…

There was a time that psychologists and advertising companies worked at embedding the name of a detergent or other product in your mind so you would reflexively reach for their product on the store shelf. One of their favorite techniques was ads that mentioned the product name ten to twenty times in a broadcast commercial. It did have an impact and there was a time when people were concerned about the practice. How naive we were.

We now have to admit that the internet has taken over our lives and represents our preference to access information. Once it was newspapers, the evening news, magazines, encyclopedias and on and on, but now it’s the world wide web. Early on we thought that this was a good thing and I still marvel at what I can access on my laptop and phone. I admit it, I am addicted too but I’m becoming concerned.

The gateway to literally everything is the search engine. I can remember my son’s teacher showing me how to “Yahoo” and my reaction – it seemed a miracle. That was almost thirty years ago and that miracle has now metastasized. We’re so used to it that I don’t think we question it as much as we should, but occasionally I stumble upon something that gets my attention.

Google With Love And Hate

When it comes to the current gate keeper to information it’s Google. There are other search engine choices but Google use is about double all the others combined. As much as I am addicted to the internet I have also become addicted to Google. I prefer Android phones, my calendar is Google, I use Gmail, my TV has Chromecast and my homes wireless uses Google hardware. I transfer my photographs between devices with Google Photo and on and on but I have serious issues with their search engine.

A decade or so ago I became concerned about how Google was presenting me with search results. There were a couple of topics that I was interested in and I was well aware that there were conflicting arguments, but Google seemed to lean toward only one of the views. Often I had to go three, five or more pages into the search results to get information on the opposing argument. At the time it disturbed me to think that Google was demonstrating a bias in presenting me with results on topics involving economics, politics, science and more. An unbiased process in returning search results seemed to me a requirement for such an important “obligation”.

My hobbies are travel and photography and I combine them in producing a travel blog. I’ve been at the blog for a couple of years and will admit that I am a very small fish in a very large ocean. I’ve always believed that there were rules that provided everyone an opportunity on the web. I no longer believe that. I now believe that the process is rigged to an extreme level and much of it has nothing to do with a social causes – it’s money and it’s hidden from view.

The second largest general topic on the internet is travel (the first is porn) and there are huge amounts of money involved. If you think about it for a moment you will recognize that people book flights, hotels, cruises, tours, trains, rental cars and more world-wide, primarily on the internet. Billions of dollars are at play. In that internet travel space were a couple of sub-categories that focused primarily on supplying general travel information like Frommer’s guides, Rick Steves, National Geographic and web sites like Lonely Planet and TripAdvisor.

Founded in 2000, TripAdvisor was intended to be a compilation of information from other travel sources but as an afterthought they included a feature for visitors to add a review. The site exploded and nine years later was sold to the originator of Expedia. Four years later the company split in two, partly to attempt to keep the impartiality of TripAdvisor. Today TripAdvisor is the eight-hundred pound gorilla in the space. If you are a member you get email offers for cruises and resorts along with recent articles that about travel. Responding to those articles you will discover offers from cruise companies, airlines hotels…

Here’s the issue with Google searches in this space. First you will always find the top of the results pages showing results with that little indicator that they are ADS. Okay that’s where they make money, no big deal. Next you will often discover that a lot of travel results take you to TripAdvisor and at times you can’t be sure why? Once I had the first eight results be TripAdvisor with most being a single members review without much information. Seems like something fishy here. Is Google being biased toward TripAdvisor and is there money involved?

There is something different about Google searches – Recently my travel blog had three referrals with the search term being “destinations index”. I have a number of index posts hat link to content and one is Destinations Index. It wasn’t something I planned but if you use any search engine other than Google (Bing, Yahoo, Duck Duck Go, Dog Pile and more) using that search term you will find my page at the tp of the list or at least in the top four. Us that search term on Google and it isn’t there. I gave up after fourteen pages.

If you are thinking about travel, Google is selling your thoughts to specific travel websites. Their playing field isn’t fair. There is a lot of discussion about their bias feeding you with results slanted to one side of an issue – global warming, Democratic candidates, rights to live or die, social causes… They are influencing our thoughts by what information they allow us to see but it seems they are also selling our thoughts about what we are interested in to specific companies.

The Google information gatekeeper charges a toll and we never knew the commodity was actually our thoughts. What gave them the right? There is a possible solution – start using a different search engine (Bing even pays you money to use theirs) and you might also question using Chrome as your browser?

Bits & Pieces Found & Noted

In our world recently…

What Really Happened to Malaysia’s Missing Airplane? Five years ago, the flight vanished into the Indian Ocean.

 A Scorecard on the First Decade after the Arab Spring

 U.S. jobless claims dip to 222,000 to end 2019 back near a half-century low

 USA Today Op-Ed: Found it ‘Terrifying’ That Parishioners Were Armed

Policing Parents and Kids: The Year’s 8 Most Paranoid Moments –Five examples of parents wisely letting their kids go—and grow.

History Without Truth – The 1619 Project has been thoroughly discredited but many professional historians remain reluctant to criticize it.

The Cost of Good Health (USA)

A couple of times a year I go all Network and think “I’m madder than hell and I’m not going to take it anymore”. We all know something has to change, Right? But than nothing changes, except things seem to just get worse. A few more months go by and I get mad again.

We all know what the problem is – politicians – and I don’t mean Progressive Democrats or Conservative Republicans. I mean all of them!

Here’s things I found out with just a little research:

In 1977 Bill Clinton had the only job in his entire life outside of politics. He made $12,500 a year as an associate professor at the University of Arkansas. Hell, most of us made more than that. By 1979 Bill got into politics and he and his wife made a ton of money. Today Bill and Hillary are worth about 289 million dollars.

At the time of his death in 1994 Richard Nixon had a net worth of 5.7 million dollars. Before he joined the Eisenhower ticket his Senate income was $12,000* and his legal residence was in an average, middle class neighborhood in Alexandria just across the river from Washington.

At the time Nixon appointed Jerry Ford his Vice-President, Ford also lived in an average middle class neighborhood in Alexandria.

At the time Lyndon Johnson ran for Congress in 1938 he had been a school teacher, a congressional aide and a Texas bureaucrat. His salary as a Congressman was $10,000** The Johnsons built their fortune by buying a financial disaster radio station in Texas that was loosing money because expansion was hampered by the FCC. Shortly after his wife bought the station Lyndon used his political clout to get serious help from the FCC and also got a hard to get franchise from CBS.Their estate was worth 20 million dollars in 2007.

Over the past fifty years it appears that the political class has been more concerned with being paid, by any number of means, primarily because of their jobs. The best way to get re-elected is to actually avoid finding solutions to America’s problems (the powerful and connected prefer the status quo).

Over the past twenty five years – what are the biggest problems facing America’s future?

Social Security
Congress has NOT been wrestling with solving the problem of Social Security going broke for a few decades. Here’s a fact; if you remove the earning cap so every dollar of wages and earned income pays SS and raise the retirement age by two years gradually over 5 years, the problem is solved for as far as you can project.

Health Care for Americans
Adjusted for inflation, our current cost of medical insurance and healthcare is the most expensive in history. Over one third of all Americans receive most of their health care at government expense and over half still get insurance through their employers (even though that is costing 87% more than 10 years ago). The number of uninsured has gone down by 77% in ten years while the number of underinsured has gone up by 158%***.

Every political faction has a strong position about the costs and ways of providing health care to Americans and nobody can reach an agreed solution. What they do however, is change the rules regularly, often making health care for Americans more expensive in the process. Here are the best current facts available at the end of 2018:

The country had an estimated population of 329,000,000 Americans with 19 out of every 50 Americans receiving a significant amount of their health care at government expense. They include Medicare, Medicaid, Military, both active and retired with dependents, along with Veterans in the VA system. Americans spent $810,500,000,000 for health insurance through private insurance companies either with their employment, individually or in Medicare supplemental insurance. They paid out-of-pocket another $89,964,000,000 directly for healthcare as deductible costs or outright payments.

The government actually disbursed $2,132,000,000,000 for medical care either through Medicaid, Medicare, ACA premium subsidies, the VA and the military health system plus Tri-Care (the military health insurance contract) payments. In the same year the U.S. Government took in $177,912,192,000 specifically for health care in required Medicare recipient premiums and payroll tax deductions. That means that the government takes in only 8.4% of what it spends earmarked for American healthcare. In what world does that math make sense?

If you do the math you will see that this shows $2,985,401,192,000 in total American medical costs with some estimates as high as $3,500,000,000,000 or $4,200,000,000,000. It also indicates that the Federal government is already paying between half and two thirds of all American’s medical costs.

For an additional $5,000 each for every remaining American, you will cover 100% of every American’s medical costs. That is half the total American average per person cost of medical care and significantly less than the average privately insured American currently pays for insurance and healthcare.

If you think this doesn’t add up – that’s the whole point.

When politicians claim we cannot afford to give everyone universal healthcare are they aware that we already supply it to well over 1/3 of Americans?

When they claim that universal government healthcare will save money through efficiency are they aware that currently government cost for healthcare is almost 50% more per person than what private insurance and care costs, including out-of-pocket?

When politicians claim that we can’t afford to give everyone Medicare, are they aware that:
1. Medicare recipients pay monthly premiums?
2. Medicare has a co-pay requirement?
3. Medicare has a supplemental private insurance option?
4. That some Medicare supplemental private insurance has no associated fees?
5. That the most expensive age category for health care in America is people over 65?

Additionally, why does 21% of the population on Medicaid cost 577 billion dollars while 14% on Medicare (with a co-pay) cost the government 700 billion dollars?

* $12,000 in 1953 if adjusted for inflation would be $103,000 today. In 2018 a Senators salary was $174,000
** Adjusting for inflation $122,000 in 2018
*** Calculated on the base cost of insurance and the amount of out-of-pocket expenses as a relationship to household income.

Note: This information was gathered from dozens and dozens of sources. Often you will find a wide disagreement on actual numbers. For instance, the range for total American healthcare costs goes from 3.21 trillion dollars to 4.3 trillion dollars. By adding up all healthcare payouts I could identify, I came up with under 3 trillion dollars ($2,985,401,192,000). Some numbers are easy to find as the Social Security Administration provides detailed accounting annually while others are almost impossible, like insurance companies payouts, but one has to include that those payouts do not exceed total premium income.

A Veneer of Legitimate Science Crafted To Advance Questionable Claims

A Veneer of Legitimate Science Crafted To Advance Questionable Claims

I was doing research on the effect of a chemical being broadly used in industry for an article, when I stumbled on an online piece at CNN.com. The piece was titled “A Study estimates 15,000 cancer cases could stem from chemicals in California tap water” reported by Nadia Kounang, CNN in an Update @ 9:23 AM ET, Tue April 30, 2019. (Why was it necessary to update this article?)

I do a fair amount of work that involves scientific journals and I have a background in statistics and this piece struck me as odd. Upon reading the article it noted that Californians could see an increase in cancers state wide of 15,000 through the period of a lifetime(??). It bothered me because in a state with a population of 45,000,000 over a period of roughly 75 years the incidence is basically insignificant and falls below any threshold of even a research project with careful controls.

The piece was purportedly from researchers at the advocacy group Environmental Working Group out of Washington D.C. and was published in the journal Environmental Health. The first difficulty I had was locating the publication and the article. Eventually I located the journal which was one of supposedly two to three hundred scientific journals published by BMC a part of Springer Nature. Their mission from the website states they are

A pioneer of open access publishing, BMC has an evolving portfolio of high quality peer-reviewed journals including broad interest titles such as BMC Biology and BMC Medicine, specialist journals such as Malaria Journal and Microbiome, and the BMC Series.

The article in question was published in April 2019 and was an attempt to apply methods used in air quality and risks to drinking water. The paper is reasonably short and includes the two following statements.

“Cumulative risk assessment for drinking water has lagged behind similar methodologies already standard in air quality evaluations. In our estimate, the slow adoption of cumulative methods in drinking water assessments is at least partly due to the variety of health outcomes caused by drinking water contaminants. While acknowledging the scientific challenges of assessing the impacts of co-occurring chemicals on multiple body systems, we believe that the drinking water field can start with the application of existing cumulative risk methodologies established for air quality.”

“The EPA’s technical support materials for the National Air Toxics Assessment note that the true value of the cumulative risk is not known and that the actual risks could be lower than predicted [2]. “

So it seems they are applying air quality evaluation standards to water while admitting that cumulative substances in air cannot be evaluated for health risks?

What they did come up with is one hell of a headline and a remarkable amount of media coverage. It seems they got mentioned in The Washington Post and The New York Times and probably a number of other news outlets.

In browsing other of BMC’s “scientific” journals I found a number of other shocking headlines with one particular organization repeatedly getting published. It was the Ramazzini Institute of Italy. It seems they have announced findings like “Splenda Causes Cancer”, “Cellphone radiation Causes Brain Tumors”, “New Results On Glyphosate Danger” It seems that The Ramazzini Institute research is widely distrusted by the Food and Drug Administration, the European Food Safety Authority, and the Environmental Protection Agency as well as a virtual who’s who of modern science.

I am saddened by this afternoon’s walk through borderline research, questionable institutions and scientific publications. They seem to form a large network of radical organizations, lobbying groups, litigation law firms and pseudo scientific institutes that have been financed by millions in donations, litigation proceeds and well-intentioned private and government grants. They now represent a vicious conspiracy that plants misleading information in the media to stir up public fears and gain support. They use the fruits of this misrepresentation to legally attack businesses and win or extort hundreds of millions of dollars from business while at the same time making a number of participants rich.

I have always been puzzled by why bad scientific arguments seem to prevail in areas from breast implants, to talcum powder, to Roundup but I am beginning to get the picture.

Selective Blank Slatism

Bo Winegard & Cory Clark

Published on May 3, 2019 

Selective Blank Slatism and Ideologically Motivated Misunderstandings

Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select—doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief and, yes, even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors. ~John B. Watson

Blank slatism is the view, exemplified here with John B. Watson’s characteristic arrogance, that human nature is highly flexible and largely determined by environmental forces. Because almost all the available evidence suggests that blank slatism is incorrect, many scholars are puzzled that versions of this philosophy appear to remain popular in certain university departments and among the intelligentsia more broadly. Some critics of progressivism, such as the economist Thomas Sowell, have contended that political progressives are particularly likely to hold blank slate beliefs as a result of their tendency to attribute many social disparities to environmental and social causes and to de-emphasize genetic ones.

Others—usually those favorably inclined to progressivism, like the Guardian‘s Ed Rooksby—have argued that this is a misrepresentation, a lazy straw man argument, and that, properly understood, most progressives are not blank slatists at all. Rather, they are simply sensitive to the effects of social forces and injustices, and this sensitivity is often mischaracterized by ideological opponents as naive environmentalism. Many of these people argue that, in fact, progressives are more likely than conservatives to accept that genetics contribute to human behavior. After all, conservatives still appear reluctant to believe that sexuality is caused by genes or constrained by one’s nature. Rather, they believe it is a choice, an exercise of a person’s free will. Similarly, they are equally unlikely to attribute social failure to a person’s genes, but instead blame a person’s attitudes to work and commitment, contending that the destitute are often lazy and undisciplined.

Those who defend progressivism are partially correct; progressives aren’t blank slatists in general and indeed they appear more likely than conservatives to accept genetic causes for many human behaviors and life outcomes. However, progressives are selective or ideological blank slatists. That is, they generally accept that there is some kind of nature that constrains individuals. Richard Dawkins could never be Lebron James nor vice versa, no matter their respective diets, upbringings, or effort exerted.

However, they are selectively skeptical that an appeal to this nature (genetics) can explain certain kinds of differences between humans, between sexes, and among ethnic populations. Specifically, they are skeptical of genetic explanations if they appear to suggest that social inequalities are “natural” or caused by genetic differences between groups, and especially when those differences appear to favor the higher status group (for instance, that men are better than women at something on average because of genetic differences between men and women).

The notion that progressives are selective blank slatists is congruent with theory, observational evidence, and systematic survey evidence.

Selective Blank Slatism: Theory and Evidence

One of the chief psychological differences between conservatives and progressives is that progressives are more averse to inequality. Both, of course, see disparities in the world—they see that a professor has more status than a construction worker or that a lawyer makes more money than a social worker and so on. But progressives find these disparities more disconcerting.

Where such disparities exist, there are at least two possible explanations. The first is that genes have endowed certain individuals and groups with natures that lead to better life outcomes than others (for instance, some have higher intelligence, superior athletic ability, greater musical talent, exceptional beauty, and captivating charisma). The second is that all individuals and groups are born genetically equal in their capacities to develop desirable traits and abilities, but then these natural equalities are distorted by environmental and social forces, which thwart certain individuals and groups trying to achieve their full potential.

Those who particularly abhor inequality appear to prefer the latter explanation for two reasons. First, it suggests that groups and individuals are naturally equal. Second, it suggests that equality in life outcomes can be achieved in a genuinely free and meritocratic society. The pressing political project at hand, then, is to create such a society. Accepting the first explanation (that individuals and groups naturally differ) is morally unpleasant for progressives simply because it violates their preference for equality; but it is also unpleasant because it means that society can only make individuals and groups equal by violatingmeritocratic principles with interventionist policies that favor certain groups.

The view that most humans and all groups are basically equal is a kind of cosmic egalitarianism that suggests that the universe is just and fair, but that people are not. This view ineluctably leads to selective blank slatism because if humans are, in fact, naturally equal, then the only thing that could explain social disparities are environmental forces.

So, selective blank slatism is theoretically consistent with progressives’ psychological inclinations and preferences. It also conforms to informal inferences we can draw from what we see in the world. For example, when James Damore’s “Google memo” was released, progressives immediately assailed him, accusing him of perpetuating sexism in the tech industry. Despite how scurrilous many of the attacks on Damore were, his actual memo was a generally judicious and cautious document. He simply asserted that some of Google’s diversity policies were unfair and likely doomed to failure because they failed to consider biological (read, natural or genetically caused) differences between men and women.

The consternation and outrage the memo provoked among progressives is readily explicable if we accept that progressives are cosmic egalitarians. Women are under-represented in the tech industry and, because a cosmic egalitarian cannot countenance genetic differences between men and women, this disparity must necessarily be attributed to sexism. Furthermore, anyone who claims otherwise is wilfully defending an intolerable status quo.

We now have strong, systematic evidence that supports the theory and the informal observations that progressives are cosmic egalitarians and selective blank slatists. We collected survey data from 3,274 people. We first asked traditional demographic questions, including political ideology on a 7-point scale (from 1 = very conservative to 7 = very liberal), and then asked many questions about sex and ethnic differences and the causes of social disparities. For analytical purposes, we divided participants into extreme conservatives (those who answered 1 on political ideology), conservatives (answered 2-3), moderates (answered 4), liberals (answered 5-6), and progressives (answered 7). It’s important to note that our scale did not use the label “progressive.” The term is ours to describe extreme liberals. Overall, 488 participants, or roughly 15 percent, were progressives as we defined it. Although we asked a variety of questions, we will only report seven of the most directly germane here (curious readers can examine this, which reports all of the data).

First, consistent with selective blank slatism, progressives more than others reported that men and women have equal abilities on all tasks. (Questions were on a 7-point scale, from 1 = do not agree at all to 7 = agree completely.)

And they also reported that all ethnic groups have equal abilities on all tasks more than others.

Consistent with these answers, they also reported that differences between the sexes (and between ethnic groups) were more likely to be caused by discrimination than others did. (Notice that the question/statement claims that the only reason there are differences is because of sexism. A full 130 progressives, or 26 percent, endorsed this at 7, indicating that they agree completely.)










Predictably, they also reported more than other groups that people use science to justify existing inequalities. These findings are consistent with progressives’ response to the Damore Google memo. Progressives are likely to impute nefarious motives to anyone who asserts that men and women differ biologically—even when such assertions are supported by science.


Progressives do accept a genetically caused human nature; but, consistent with the claims of their critics, they accept this much less when it is ideologically inconvenient. In other words, progressives are selective or ideological blank slatists. They accept genetic explanations for things such as homosexuality, transsexuality, obesity, addiction, and a variety of mental illnesses, but not for sex or group differences, and especially not when those sex or group differences could explain (and thus potentially justify) existing inequalities between sexes and groups.

Our data, although limited, provide compelling support for the contention that progressives are selective blank slatists. Progressives agreed more strongly than any other ideological group with statements that convey blank slate attitudes about sex and ethnic differences (precisely the kind of blank slatism a priori theory would predict progressives would hold). Most supportive and perhaps most surprising, a full 26 percent of progressives fully endorsed the statement that “the only reason there are sex differences is because society is sexist,” which is, to put it mildly, a wildly implausible claim.

It should not surprise us that progressives have an ideologically saturated view of human nature. On all sides, concerns about human nature are intense and passionate because today’s competing ideologies are premised on different conceptions of human variation and its relation to the ideal social order. With so much at stake, few are capable of approaching the evidence with an open mind. Conservatives too, as noted in the introduction, are almost certainly selective blank slatists. They appear, for example, to be more skeptical that mental illnesses, drug addiction, and sexual orientation are caused by genetics. And although conservatives do appear to accept a more constrained view of humans than do progressives, they often argue that all (or almost all) people, if they just work hard, can succeed. Furthermore, they often blame social pathologies exclusively on cultural deficits and decadence.

So, it is unlikely that either the Left or the Right has a monopoly on bias; and it is unlikely that either is absolutely correct about human nature (although, it is possible that one is more correct than the other). If we begin to understand these biases and the errors into which they lead us, then we can begin to adjust for them. We can, as it were, correct our distorted vision with the spectacles of self-conscious and disciplined reflection. The first step might be to ask ourselves a simple question: How likely is it that what we want to be true of human nature is true of human nature? In other words, if all of the “facts” about humans conform to our desires then that is strong evidence not that we are lucky, but that we are wrong.


Bo Winegard is an essayist and an assistant professor at Marietta College. You can follow him on Twitter @EPoe187

Cory Clark is an assistant professor of psychology at Durham university who studies moral psychology and free will. You can follow her on Twitter @ImHardcory