Saturday, September 17, 2005


Recently I went to a talk at the Dallas Philosopher's Forum, and the speaker spoke about enemies -- why we make them, and why we keep them. I also recently finished reading Lee Harris' "Civilization and Its Enemies," which talks about the existence of enemies, and the consequences for a society that denies their existence (in short: they don't last long). The speaker at the DPF was a psychologist, and claimed that making enemies was learned, and had no biological context at all. This both ignores the fact that all social animals treat members of the same species, but different groups, as enemies, as well as ignores the fact that if the idea of having enemies is merely learned, then it begs the question of how such an idea could have come about in the first place. The only explanation could be that it just came out of nothing at all, or perhaps that it comes about when people got together into groups. Of course, this accepts the completely discredited anthropological theories of Rousseau -- but his ideas are unfortunately still believed by most liberals, either overtly or implicitly.

Enemies came about when the first creature defended its territory against another. This goes as far back at least to the lobe-finned fish, from which evolved all the land vertebrates -- amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. Modern-day male gobies are brightly colored in order to advertise to other gobies that they are healthy, in order to avoid a fight with other male gobies. But when you have two equally-mathced gobies, you will get a fight. But the bright colors -- and the dances of the gobies -- are much more often used in a ritualistic manner, to avoid violence. This prevents the gobies from getting hurt, while maintaining their territories. And when used with females, it allows the females access to the males so that breeding can occur. Thus, this ritual both avoids violence, and allows for breeding. It is no coincidence that the colors and the dances of the gobies are beautiful.

What we can learn from this is that enemies came first, and then the ability to deflect enemies through ritual came later. It also shows that the concept of an enemy has its origins in or most ancient of ancestors. But the ability to avoid violence among enemies also evolved only shortly after. Only when we acknowledge these facts will we be able to do something about the problem.

The ancient Greeks understood that ritual was needed in order to create great cities and cultures. How else can you get over 100,000 people to live together, except you create some sorts of bonds among them beyond those of the family? Thus, the Greeks creates athletics -- competition -- in order to maintain order. By deflecting the need to have an enemy onto a ritual scapegoat -- an opposing player or team from the one you are rooting for -- you both fulfill our need to have an enemy, while deflecting that need into something less destructive, and in fact downright productive. The Greeks too invented the Olympics, maintaining peaceful competition among the city-states.

Here in the United States, sports manages to do the same thing. If you live in Dallas, you can support the Dallas sports teams. Thus, if Dallas plays, say, Pittsburg, in football, then the Dallas fan can ritualistically hate Pittsburg, the enemy. But when the game is over, the hatred is over too. The hatred occured in a safe play space, and is appropriate only within that play-space of the watching of the game. Before the game, or when the game is over, nobody from Dallas is hating Pittsburg, or fighting with people who are. Thus, a country of almost 300 million people is able to live together, cooperating and competing with each other. Now, this is still not a perfect system -- it works very well in the U.S., but it is not uncommon for English soccer fans as a game to yell to German soccer fans that it was they, the British, who won the war. And soccer fans are infamous for getting into fights with fans of the opposing team. This is a general breakdown of the ritual system, and needs to be repaired to make sure it continues to perform its proper function. But still, World Cup Soccer and the Olympics have helped to maintain a certain level of peace among nations. We may find that hard to believe, with what has happened in the West in the 20th Century, and even now with the War on Terror, but the fact of the matter is that as a percentage of deaths in the West by war, the West is a far, far less violent place than any tribal situation -- tribes in South America and New Guinea typically lose 40-60% of their young men a year to war. The West only lost 2% of the same population throughout the 20th century. This is in no small part due to the civilizing effects of athletics.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Katrina's Aftermath

I wrote the following on Wednesday, Sept. 7, but only publish it now:

One of the blessings of living in Dallas was that I got to volunteer to help those residents of New Orleans who have been brought to this city. I went to the Dallas Convention Center, and was directed quickly to where I needed to volunteer -- in this case, with the Salvation Army. Once I checked in, I was brought to where everyone was, so I could go to where the Salvation Army was getting ready to serve lunch.

It was a sea of people I walked through. The television is a liar -- it cannot show what it is really like. I am not typically an overly emotional person, but I fought back welling tears at seeing everyone there. What I felt was love -- the kind the ancient Greeks called "agape" -- and sympathy, another Greek word, that means "to suffer with." What I did not feel was partisan. What I did feel was outrage at the partisans. I was angry at those who complained that the President was on vacation -- as though he vacationed like everyone else, and didn't continue doing the work of the President, as any President ever does when he is on "vacation." I was angry at the incompetence of the director of FEMA -- appointing him is something we should justly blame Bush for. I was angry at the deep corruption of Louisiana politics and politicians, a system and people who created this situation because they are more interested in lining their pockets than in serving the people. This is a group of people who rob from the poor to feed the rich -- themselves. And in Louisiana, it's not a Democrat or a Republican thing -- they are all corrupt. And it is they who should have forced the evacuation of New Orleans. But they didn't. And it is they who had to request the aid of FEMA. But they didn't. And it was FEMA who had to request the help of the U.S. military. But they didn't. Everyone is trying to blame everyone else, when in fact every single one of them should be ashamed of their actions, and lack of actions.

I am angry too with the likes of Kanye West, who has chosen to turn a terrible situation into a platform for himself. When he should have been trying to help people, he chose to seize the situation and make the issue all about him. He did this under the guise of attacking the federal government for being "racist" -- but it is Kanye West who is guilty of racializing things. To racialize is to "To impose a racial character or context on," or to "perceive or experience in racial terms." This was a human calamity, and Kanye West chose to make it a racial one. But when I went to the Dallas Convention Center, I did not see races there -- I saw humans there. If racists are those who insist on seeing everything in racial terms, then Kanye West, and everyone else who echoes his sentiments, are avowedly racist. He should get out of his privileged position and actually try to help people -- when you see these people, if you are a human being at all, and not a racializer, then you will not see a sea of race, but a sea of people. A sea of people who, like people everywhere, need help in times of crisis.

All I did today was stand there and make sure everyone could find the exit to area where they were getting their lunch, but I was blessed nonetheless just because I was there. I cannot tell you how many times I was thanked and God-blessed. And I felt slightly ashamed. I had done nothing. I was standing there, showing these people the exit, and all so many wanted to do was thank me. The people there were so grateful, that when they asked if there was any mustard for the sandwiches, and I told them, no, the people who had brought the sandwiches had forgotten to bring the mustard, the people who had asked all apologized for even asking. And my heart broke all over again. Everyone who is trying to turn this to their political advantage should be terribly, terribly ashamed of themselves.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Happiness in Slavery

Slavery should be reintroduced in America. Perhaps the whole world. Now before you jump to conclusions, please be patient and hear me out. I am certain many will agree with me when I finish. Many already do.

The institution of slavery has been prevalent through most of human history. From that perspective, opposition to slavery is unnatural. Alexis de Tocqueville recognized in Democracy in America, "the most profound and capacious minds of Rome and Greece were never able to reach the idea, at once so general and so simple, of the common likeness of men and of the common birthright of each to freedom; they tried to prove that slavery was in the order of nature and that it would always exist. Nay, more, everything shows that those of the ancients who had been slaves before they became free, many of whom have left us excellent writings, themselves regarded servitude in no other light." So the ancient Greeks and Romans recognized, both freemen and slaves alike, that slavery was natural and should not be questioned. But we have arrogantly questioned it and foolishly disposed of it, despite the wisdom of the ancients. After all, who are we to question the wisdom of the ancient Greeks and Romans, whose ideas have been around much longer than the foolish notion that all men should be free? Do modern ideas hold up to such ancient wisdom? I think not. So let us do away with this silly notion that slavery is unnatural. Our ancient forefathers believed slavery was natural and so should we. The question then arrises as to why we ever got rid of such a wonderful system.

One reason we got rid of slavery is it did not work very well in the past. Ludwig von Mises claimed in Human Action that "Servile labor disappeared because it could not stand the competition of free labor; its unprofitability sealed its doom in the market economy." He then says slavery survived in the American South only because of laws restricting free labor. I would disagree. Obviously such a wonderful system is perfectly capable of surviving, regardless of the laws. It seems to me there are other reasons why slavery did not work. For one, slavery was obviously not tried by the right people. If slavery is to work, it must be carried out by the right people. These people clearly were not the American Southerners, who became too lazy. Nor apparently were the ancient Greeks or Romans, as slavery did not survive much past them. If the right people were to try slavery and be the slave masters, then slavery would work spectacularly well despite the objections of people such as Mises.

Then there is the possibility that we were simply not ready for slavery when we tried it. I do not know if we are ready for it even now. One can only dream we will be in the future. The problems we had with slavery were with the philosophical ideology and psychological conditions of both slaves and slavemasters. This was especially prevalent among slaves in the American South, but less of a problem with Greek and Roman slaves. We could look to them for many reasons and examples of how slavery worked for the slaves. But perhaps we do not have to look as far back as ancient Greece and Rome; especially when all we have to do is look back to the mid-1700's for a philosophy perfect for slaves, perfect in making them better slaves; and not only better slaves but even enjoy their slavery.

Immanuel Kant's moral system is perfect for the slave of the future to adopt and for the future slavemaster to reinforce among his slaves. Kant says an action can only be considered moral if one has absolutely no desire to do it, but does it anyway out of a sense of duty. Not only this, but he must derive absolutely no benefit from it whatsoever, either material or spiritual, since the benefit would destroy any moral value of the action. What could be a better moral philosophy for slaves? What action would a slave want to do as a slave? None. Therefore his actions would be moral. And what would be better to ensure the slave does his work than because he has a moral duty to do so? And what benefit does a slave garnish from his actions as a slave? Why none, of course. So a slave’s actions would be the epitome of morality! Once we convince our slaves to believe this, they will be happy and dutiful slaves, since they would believe their slavery to be the height of morality. Not only this, but they would see any desire to be free as at best nonmoral, and so would not desire freedom. Kant's suggestion that the only standard of virtue is duty, and that to receive any reward for doing something would erase the morality of the action would further strengthen the philosophical binds of the slave, since one of the distinctions of slavery is that there are no rewards, only punishment. The suffering of the slave would be seen as the ideal state by the slave when he adopted this morality, creating the ideal philosophical and psychological conditions for slavery. The use of reason is so disparaged by the condition of slavery that any ounce of freedom would be such a heavier burden on the new slave that he would greatly prefer his slavery to any suggestion of freedom. This further strengthens the perception that slavery is moral, which is used to ensure their slavery. Since they disparage reason, this view that morality lies outside reason would again be most beneficial. The less they use reason, the more moral they are. Thus, slaves would see themselves in the most moral position in their slavery. They would love their slavery and would never try to escape it.

But slaves cannot exist without slavemasters. For that reason, we would next have to ensure our slavemasters too have the right philosophy and psychological conditions. They must be prepared to be slavemasters, and so should not consider their slaves to be on any equal footing whatsoever. They must not only consider themselves superior, but must be prepared to take care of all their slaves' needs. The slavemasters would be, after all, more able to take care of the slaves than the slaves would be to take care of themselves by the very fact that they are the masters. They would take what the slaves produced and distribute it properly, making sure none of their slaves were without needs. Thus the slavemaster must believe that it is he who is morally superior, while being capable of convincing his slaves that they are.

But how can we determine what a slave needs if we do not first know exactly what a slave is. A slave is someone who does not have a right to exist for his own sake. He exists only for the slavemaster, and his work and life must belong to the master exclusively. He exists only for his master, who may do with him as he wishes. The essential characteristic of slavery is the complete denial of the slave's property rights. All property must belong to the master, from the slave's clothes to the house he lives in. Thus, the right to property (to its use and disposal) is vested in the slavemaster alone. Since all the slave's property belongs to the master, the slave himself belongs to the master, as he properly should. Since nothing the slave produces belongs to him, but to the master, his very life belongs to the master. Since a slave's property rights are denied, the slave is of course turned into property himself.

The problem then arises as to who should be slaves. There are many problems inherent in making any one race a slave race, so we should again look to the Greeks and Romans for the best way to institute slavery. They made it a practice to enslave all races, and so could relate to their slaves better, since technically anybody could be a slave. This would mean we would likely have the same percentage of black, white, and Oriental slavemasters as there would be slaves. But where would we get the slaves? Who would want to become a slave? That is easy enough. There are millions of people worldwide who would consider a state of slavery better than their current conditions, especially those who could have whatever pressing debts they had accumulated eliminated, and so would elect to become slaves. As previously stated, though, once they become slaves, the masters would have to be careful to ensure they were properly indoctrinated with the right philosophy so they would not desire their freedom in the future.

The voluntary choice to enslavement would answer the arguments against slavery because many past slaves were made so by force. I am certainly against that. No, if a person elects to make himself a slave, he certainly has the right to do so. I also believe that once everyone begins to see how much better the slave's life is, more and more people will want to become slaves. We could even have entire slave states, with a single master or a small group of masters working together to reside over their slaves. In these larger groups, the slaves would be even happier than their free counterparts, since they would not only see their slavery as moral, but would be happy in the knowledge that his fellow man's slavery makes them all equals. What could be a fairer social system than to have most of the population as slaves, where they would all be equal in their servitude?

Slavery has even more advantages other than equality among the slaves. Slavery would also greatly order peoples' lives, making it easier for them to be happier. It is after all the unknowns in life that make this world an unhappy place to live in. Under slavery, everyone would know their place, what time to wake, to eat, to sleep, and even when to have sex. Ridiculous emotional relationships would be unnecessary, so much psychological suffering would be alleviated. The masters would decide who breeds with whom, making emotions unnecessary and useless. Everything would be perfectly organized. It would be beautiful.

I hope I have convinced you that slavery is the ideal social system of the future. While slavery has had an unsavory past, that is no reason to do away with it outright. Not when so many good things could come about through it. Once we realize the problems we had were simply because the wrong people had tried it and because we were not ready for slavery, we can move on to reintroducing slavery and making it the ideal system it promises to be. I am certain if my outline were followed, this ideal system could be realized. It's a wonderful system that has gotten a bad name because the wrong people did it in the past. Why don't we give this system another chance? If you do not like it, you may certainly feel free to not participate. But let the rest of us who believe in the beauty of such a system go forward into the bright light slavery's future holds for humanity. Once we have shown how wonderful a system slavery is, I am certain you too will want to join it for the greater good of humanity.

HIV Cure Proposal

Those searching for a cure for HIV should perhaps take a look a current methods of transferring products into target cells. This approach is ideal for HIV, due to the way it infects CD4+ T-cells. I am of course refering to the fact that the surface proteins imbedded in the envelope attach to the CD4 and cause the envelope to fuse with the cell. Even more interesting is the fact that an infected cell with envelope proteins imbedded in the cell membrane can attach themselves to the CD4 of uninfected cells, causing the two cells to fuse. It was this that caused me to think this feature could be utilized against HIV-infected cells.

It seems that it would be simple to construct phosopholipid vesicles in which CD4 is imbedded, creating a CD4 proteoliposome, which would make it so when it came into contact with HIV+ T-cells, the vessicle would fuse with it and dump its contents into the cell. This vesicle could be used to package a weak cytotoxin that would kill the cell, but not be strong enough to kill any cells it was not directly injected into, or perhaps a ribozyme could be constructed that would destroy the RNA or perhaps even remove a section of the HIV cDNA, thus removing the problem entirely without causing any DNA damage, considering the extreme specificity of ribozymes.

Either way, the CD4+ vesicles would be a good way of transporting and drugs directly into the infected T-cells. Realisitically this may or may not be able to act as a cure, but it would be able to at least extend the lives of HIV+ patients and likely improve their quality of life, considering the likelihood of reduced side effects by first packaging the drug and sending it directly to the infected cells.

In Defense of Madness

Insanity, I think, has been given a bad rap. There is little difference between insanity and genius; indeed many great men have danced on the line their entire heroic, productive lives. New ideas, new theories, art, science, beauty are all the realms of the insane! Their greatest proponents, producers, heroes have all been utterly mad! The common man considers all the new to be the products of insanity. How utterly boring is the common man, the normal life. Give me my madness! Forever new, forever creative! Push out of your bindings of commonness, or repressive normalcy! If to be me is to be mad, give me my madness. Normalcy is drudgery; commonness is boredom; the average man will never create a single poem, compose a single symphony, paint a single picture, develop a single creative thought. Art and creativity require insanity as clearly we artists, philosophers, and theoreticians must have in copious amounts. To go against the current must require a madness, as any average, normal person will tell you. `We disagree! We do not understand!' they yell. `Stop what you are doing! I am not ready to go where you lead!' The madman of his time has always dragged humanity kicking and screaming into the future, only to be regarded by that future as a man of genius and progress. The great German philosopher Nietzsche eventually went completely insane; Mozart was almost completely mad; Van Gogh, the great Dutch artist, cut his ear off and sent it to a woman he was in love with; Einstein bordered on the edge of insanity all his life. Each were the great men of their times. Each is held in high esteem today. Today's genius was yesterday's madman. Today's insanity is tomorrow's genius. But why wait? Take a look around at your madmen! Do not disregard their genius as insanity simply because you do not understand it! Is genius to be understood by humanity? By the average, dull human being? Embrace insanity! Embrace your insanity! Poetry and science, music and philosophy, all creativity is impossible without it! No one understands you? Let them! Can they possibly understand your genius, your madness? The average man cannot, dare not! understand. You say you feel lonely in your genius? It cannot be helped. The genius and the madman are the ultimate individuals. Mediocrity is the same among all men, but each genius is brilliant in his own way; each madman is insane unlike any other. Genius is not a curse, but a blessing! Embrace your genius, embrace your insanity! Make, do, create! Be the man you know you are! Let everyone declare you mad! Pride yourself in your madness! They declare you mad because they do not understand; they cannot understand. Revel in it! They may not follow today, but it matters not at all, as you do not need followers, you do not need their approval, to produce, to be the greatness that you are. Madness is only temporary; genius is timeless. Embrace the madness within you. Harness it. Use it. Do not waste it because people may not approve. Of course they won't approve! Mediocrity has never approved of genius. Ignore the cult of mediocrity and indulge yourself in the madness of your genius. Be the great individual only you can be! Do not fear your genius! Do not hold back! To prevent the expression of your own genius; to allow others to prevent its expression - is the only true form of madness!

An Introduction to Frederick Feirstein

For those who have a just complaint against inaccessible, unpoetic, navel-gazing, hyper-academic l’art-pour-l’art postmodern poetry, I give you the poetry of Frederick Feirstein. Just knowing he edited the anthology Expansive Poetry: Essays on the New Narrative and the New Formalism gives one an idea of what kind of poet Feirstein is. His poems tend to be longer, more narrative in structure, always formal, and occasionally rhyme. He is strongest in his rhyming poetry, where he is more apt to give us something unexpected in the poem. In each poem we get a little story about people, characters we can recognize and relate to. These characters, always interesting, are heroic – most often in defeat, or despite defeat. A fine example of this can be seen in the last four lines of his poem "The Hero":

His business ventures always somehow failed
Either from moral niceties or luck.
Yet he died a hero when his train derailed.
His body cushioned someone when it struck.

Feirstein is Jewish and from New York, and his poems are very much reflective of these facts – but for that very reason are resonant even for those who are neither. His poems are the very image of being universal in the particular. Consider the following lines from "The Street":

We’d be so bored, we’d learn to talk to ducks
—And they would say we were a pair of schmucks
To leave Manhattan Island as we know it.
Island? Thank God the concrete doesn’t show it.

Could anyone other than a Jewish New Yorker write lines such as these? And yet, who has not felt such boredom? Who has not felt that, if there were someone else out there who could talk to us about what we, as humans, do, that we would be called foolish? And who has not felt glad that reality is sometimes masked? The grayness of the world comes through in his images of New York, the endless images of concrete in his poems, the gray images, the constant concern with aging and death. There is a concern with dirt and cleanliness – images of washing and water abound. And no one in these poems are resigned to their fate. They are always on the move, legs are always moving. The city, for Feirstein, indeed never sleeps. But this is not a city of unknown and unknowable people. This is a city of individual characters, who love and hate, give birth to and raise children, who have parents themselves who are aging and dying. These are not soulless New Yorkers – these are New Yorkers who go to Temple or Church, who seek the infinite in the quite finite lives they live. His city imagery, the choices he makes, his ability to see the city as he does in "Mark Stern Wakes Up":

My eye is like a child’s; the smog is pot.
Shining cratefuls of plum, peach, apricot
Are flung out of the fruit man’s tiny store.
Behind the supermarket glass next door:
Landslides of grapefruit, orange, tangerine,
Persimmon, boysenberry, nectarine.
The florist tilts his giant crayon box
Of yellow roses, daffodils, and phlox.
A Disney sun breaks through, makes toys of trucks
And waddling movers looks like Donald Ducks
And joke book captions out of storefront signs:
Café du Soir, Austrian Village, Wines.
Pedestrians in olive drabs and grays
Are startled by the sun’s kinetic rays,
Then mottled into pointillistic patches.
The light turns green, cars passing hurl out snatches
Of rock-and-roll and Mozart and the weather.

The light turns red. Why aren’t we together?
create a strong sense of New York that is nonetheless a new vision of the city. Yet it is also a city we all belong to, seen through the eyes of a narrator who is just like us.

I do not wish to suggest that Feirstein only writes narrative poetry, or that it is exclusively, even if it is, more often than not, formalist. Consider his poem "Artificial Light":

Heavy rain
The wysteria.
I draw the blind
And with a flashlight
Show David
How God
Once amused his soul.
After a while
He scribbles
His reflections
On the ceiling.
On the other hand
My father
Who sold coal
And has no energy
Except, I pray,
His soul’s
Lies in the
Like a fossil.

Here we have a free verse poem that is more reflective than narrative. But whether the poem is the rare free verse or the more usual formalist poem, the emotional power, the ability to create strong moods, is there.

And Feirstein is a master of imagery. Consider, for a moment, Feirstein’s use of water imagery. He gives us "the wet sun, the bluejay / Splashing among the branches." (New and Selected Poems, 3) We get cold and yellow sweats, falling snow (lots of snow, apropos New York), sitting by the water’s edge, "The wind taking shape from my face / As water takes shape from a fish;" (12), "slush soaking his shoes" (15) – here, the alliteration creating the sound –, April rain, spraying water, swimming pools, water hoses, ponds, toy boats and rafts, etc. Water is exploded and made interesting and new throughout Feirstein’s collection of poems, as are the color gray, the images of the city, including concrete, and human relations, especially among family and lovers (past and present).

In his poems, Feirstein has brought new life to New York, to being Jewish, to family life, and to the art of poetry. By being a formalist poet, whether in blank verse or in rhyme, whether with his narrative or his lyric verse, Feirstein has renewed the art of poetry, given it back to the people by giving them something they can understand and relate to, without sacrificing in the least his intelligence. He does not insult his readers by being either too simplistic or too obtuse and hyper-academic. His poems have a beauty and depth to them that had been lost among the more well-known poets, whose poetry only leave you unsatisfied once you manage to figure out what simplistic ideas are hiding under the obscurity. Anybody can read and enjoy Feirstein’s poems. Those who do not typically study poetry can read and enjoy his poems and get a great deal out of them. And those who do study poetry can find an endless depth of meaning in the poems, rich as they are in imagery and connections.

Cultural Universals

Frederick Turner points out that the forty-seven cultural universals (to which he adds combat, gifts, mime, friendship, lying, love, storytelling, murder taboos, and poetic meter) make it "tempting to propose that a work of literary art can be fairly accurately gauged for greatness of quality by the number of these items it contains, embodies, and thematizes" (The Culture of Hope, 26), since "it is the function of [literature] to preserve, integrate and continually renew this deep syntax and lexicon [of cultural universals], while using it to construct coherent world-hypotheses" (26).

We have, according to Wilson (actually, George P. Murdock, who Wilson is quoting), sixty-seven cultural universals (On Human Nature, 160):

age-grading, athletic sports, bodily adornment, calendar, cleanliness training, community organization, cooking, cooperative labor, cosmology, courtship, dancing, decorative art, divination, division of labor, dream interpretation, education, eschatology, ethics, ethno-botany, etiquette, faith healing, family feasting, fire-making, folklore, food taboos, funeral rites, games, gestures, gift-giving, government, greetings, hair styles, hospitality, housing, hygiene, incest taboos, inheritance rules, joking, kin groups, kinship nomenclature, language, law, luck superstitions, magic, marriage, mealtimes, medicine, obstetrics, penal sanctions, personal names, population policy, postnatal care, pregnancy usages, property rights, propitiation of supernatural beings, puberty customs, religious ritual, residence rules, sexual restrictions, soul concepts, status differentiation, surgery, tool-making, trade, visiting, weather control, and weaving

Whereas I could identify in that list only twenty which chimpanzees share with humans: bodily adornment, cleanliness training (in some), community organization, cooperative labor (i.e., when they hunt), education (active teaching), family feasting (a true ritual in chimpanzees), games, gestures, gift-giving, greetings, hygiene (in cleaning each other of parasites), incest taboos (admittedly a questionable one, since it is clear the Westermarck effect is in effect, but not yet clear that it is also socially transmitted), kin groups, medicine (Frans de Waal, The Ape and the Sushi Master, 254-255), postnatal care, property rights (chimpanzees are very territorial), ritual (see family feasting, above), status differentiation, tool-making, and visiting. And this does not include the cultural differences found among chimpanzee troupes. I say there are only twenty, but look at those twenty. Are we really so much better because we have developed calendars when chimpanzees have managed to develop medicine (albeit far more primitive than human medicine, to say the least, but quite impressive all the same). Many of those uniquely human cultural traits can be traced logically from this pool of twenty we share with our closest relatives. I have already mentioned religion rising from power (status differentiation, above), which would then naturally lead to things like divination and religious ritual (combining power with feeding rituals could do this). Government too would naturally arise in a species that has status differentiation and the need for rules. I could go on and on, but I think we can see how much of what we consider uniquely human is either shared by chimpanzees and bonobos or could arise quite naturally from a specialist species like chimpanzees to become a variety of things in a generalist species like humans.

On the Evolutionary Origins of Property Rights

The recent Supreme Court decision that allows governments to seize private property for corporate use suggests not only that we need Supreme Court justices that won’t invent things that are clearly not intended in the Constitution (what was intended to restrict what government can do has been used to expand the government’s ability to take land), but that we need to renew our defenses of property rights as a whole.

We need a better defense of property rights than the ones we typically see. Many past defenses of property rights have come from the idea of Natural Law – an idea in no small part founded in a particular religious view. However, the fact that this particular religious view replaced an earlier religious view that denied the existence of property rights left it vulnerable not only to being replaced by a new religious world view, but to a completely new world view: the scientific world view.
In the early part of the Modern Era, the scientific world view was the Newtonian one. The world was deterministic, meaning that if we knew the position and velocity of all objects in the universe, we could know the future. When this idea was taken up by philosophers, we got reactions ranging from Kant’s division of the world into a deterministic phenomenal world and a free noumenal world to Marx’s deterministic history, with a world going inevitably toward world communism. Adam Smith gave us abstract notions like an "invisible hand," while socialists promised us a scientifically designed economy – one which was finally, fully just. If we could design better and more perfect machines, then we could design a better and more perfect economy. The fact that property rights were associated with Natural Law only put it in the category of non-scientific ideas.

One of the great contributions of Charles Darwin was his idea that randomness could contribute to order and complexity. This idea became much more solidified in the New Synthesis, when Darwinian natural selection was combined with genetics – we realized that the mechanism of evolution was in random mutations of the DNA, creating variations that could be selected for or against in nature, whether that selection was through natural selection or sexual selection, as Darwin suggested, or through such mechanisms such as punctuated equilibrium, as Gould suggested (and which has received a great deal of support from Walter Kauffman’s work). The notion of randomness as a part of nature that contributed to its order and complexity was developed even in physics in quantum mechanics at the beginning of the 20th century, and in the second half of the 20th century in the theories of chaos, complexity, emergence, information, and catastrophe. The simplistic view of increasing entropy as merely being order turning into randomness has been greatly modified, showing that there are kinds of randomness that actually result not only in order, but sometimes in more complex forms of order. Newton gave us the mechanistic view of the world – but Darwin gave us the much more accurate biological view of the world: a world of change and complexity.

All of this seems to be a strange path to property rights, but certain ideas must first be established. Property is not a physical property – it is a biological property. We find the idea of property rights deep in evolutionary history, in the first territorial fishes. The lobe-finned fishes, from which land vertebrates evolved, are territorial fishes, though certainly not all territorial fishes are lobe-finned fishes. An example is the brightly-colored gobies, which are very territorial. "For many vertebrates, a clearly defined territory for offspring rearing seems to be fundamental. This involves aggressive behavior of a great variety on the part of the male (and sometimes the female too), usually of a ritual nature, but effective in defending an area" (John T. Bonner The Evolution of Culture in Animals, 86). These fish establish territories where they live, feed, mate, and protect their eggs from predators. Schooling fish, like herring, are simple in both coloration and behavior. Why spend energy on dangerous bright colors to attract mates when everyone releases their eggs and sperm at once, collectively? And why develop complex behaviors if there is no reason to, if there is no conflict, since there is no need to defend territory if you are a schooling fish in the open ocean? A great deal of energy is spent on making literally millions or even billions of eggs, let alone sperm – and there is only a limited chance that it will be either your sperm or your egg that survives. But with territorial fishes, the energy is put into protecting the fewer numbers of eggs, but those eggs are more likely to survive. And, more importantly for the individual fish, the female knows her eggs are protected until they hatch, and the male knows the eggs were fertilized by his sperm. Thus, there is a certain advantage to protecting territory, since it ensures that any particular individual fish has passed on its DNA to future generations. Herring can never know for sure.

One of the consequences of the establishment of territory by some species of fish was that complex behaviors had to evolve as well. This is due to the conflict created by the creation and defense of territory. The conflict comes about between the needs to aggressively defend territory and sexually reproduce. If one just defends, one runs off potential mates. But passive gobies lose territory – and cannot attract mates. What develops from the conflict between the straightforward actions of defense and sex is the mating ritual, a nonlinear feedback behavior designed to allow members of the opposite sex to enter one’s private space. It is a dance. It is a dance wherein linear elements conflict to create nonlinear systems, which reorganize the chaos created by the conflict into a new order. Ritual is the emergent system created out of the conflicting elements. It is a safe space in which the participants play out the conflicts, to ensure mating can occur. One result is that gobies differentiate between individuals. Territoriality (notions of private property) created individuality through the need to ritualize sex. More, it resulted in the creation of ritual itself, which led to more and more complex behaviors as different species evolved, including art and religion in humans. When territorial lobe-finned fishes evolved into the first amphibians, territoriality was carried onto the land, and into every land vertebrate. All amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals are territorial. And this includes humans.

Thus, evolution established property rights as a fundamental way of ensuring reproductive fitness. In social mammals, this became partly socialized, since it was the tribe or family group as a whole that owned the territory they defended. And all humans groups have always believed that they owned the land – otherwise they would not have spent so much time, energy, and lives on protecting it from others. In social animals, including pair-bonding animals, this resulted in the development of personal relationships, including love. But none of this could be possible without a complex neural system to allow for the creation of such complex behavior.

Social mammals have strong social bonds even among those who are not mates. These bonds were generated through elaborating mating rituals into things like grooming rituals. Primates have strong grooming rituals, which have led to sexual pleasure, leading to recreational sex in humans and bonobos, and massage in humans. We can see this behavior in the fact that "the human neurotransmitter vasopressin, which is closely associated with aggression, is also deeply implicated in the drive to stay with and cherish one’s mate and protect one’s offspring. Without the resistance to strangers there could be no individuality and love" (Frederick Turner, The Culture of Hope, 170). The conflict is found even at the neurotransmitter level. Which should not surprise us, since we have already shown that it is the protection of territory that resulted in the kinds of rituals that created pair-bonds in the first place.

Animals that have territory not only protect that territory, but work to improve it. Gobies organize rocks in their territories, and keep the caves they create to live and hide in clean. Bower birds decorate their bowers to attract females. Often the male animal himself is decorated, or he creates a larger, more beautiful territory – or, oftentimes, both. Thus undoubtedly explains why human males feel the need to accumulate more and more property, and why we try to decorate ourselves with things ranging from nice clothes to tatoos. And it also explains why, when we own property, we have more of a tendency to take care of it than if we do not own it. When we use private property, we treat it like someone else will come along and clean up the mess we make, or that if we don’t take what is there, then someone else will. We do this because deep in our evolutionary past, in our deepest of instincts, we believe that not only do we have to keep our own territories in good shape to attract mates, but that if any competition’s territory is ruined, then potential mates will be discouraged from mating with our competition. This is the purpose of raids on the territory of other tribes, or exploiting commons – which results in the Tragedy of the Commons. So if we truly want to protect the world’s resources and keep the world clean, then all property must become privately owned, without danger of a government being able to come along and take that property. No amount of social engineering will be able to change this biological imperative to owning property.

And this is certainly best overall. For it is only on our own land where we can be free to be who we are. It is only on our land where we and our families – our tribes – can be safe. There, we can live and love and prosper and speak as we wish. All of our freedoms derive from property rights – and property rights are part of our evolutionary heritage. Thus, there is nothing less scientific than the idea of abolishing private property, as the socialists have wanted to do. More, this all implies that abolishing property rights is downright unnatural, from a mammalian, land vertebrate, and even fish-level point of view.