Love, hate, jealousy…and science?

first_imgWhat do you think? Has science’s insights into the human psyche made our emotions nothing but so many chemical reactions, or has it led us on a new and more exciting journey of self-discovery? ——————————————————————————–[1] Cherwell24 is not responsible for the content of external links Sarah Fordham unweaves the rainbow of our emotions, and argues that science cannot tell us what it means to be human   What is it that most sets humans apart from all the other organic life forms on the planet? Convinced of our superiority, this is a question we like to ask over and over again. We’re physically inferior in almost every single way. Problem-solving? Talk to the Caledonian crows and their tool-making. Self-awareness? Perhaps – but the line is fuzzy. Cats and dogs, for example, react to mirrors in ways that suggest they’re self-aware, and chimpanzees have the same concept of mind as a 3 year old child. Emotions? Now you’re talking.   It’s the vast spectrum of our emotions that we like to ponder repeatedly in art, literature, and music. Yet science seems to be destroying this particular notion of our existence, by constantly trying to quantify such sublime experiences as jealousy, love, and even happiness.If we deconstruct the physiological and psychological aspects of jealousy, maybe we can acknowledge that technically it is just an adaptive response to aid the survival of the individual within a social group. But anyone who has ever felt full blown, pea-green envy – and I’m guessing that would be most of us – this explanation seems like an oversimplification of the worst kind. In reality, there’s something almost transcendental about plotting the tragic accidents that that may befall those hated individuals with more looks, brains and charisma than oneself. There’s no data-set that I know of to explain that warm glow that swells up from the pit of your stomach as they play through your mind.The same form of dissection is being applied to happiness. If we actually sit back and ask ourselves: ‘what is happiness’, we find that even after centuries of laborious analysis, some of the brightest minds in the world still don’t know. For us mere mortals, the most accurate answer may as infinitely complex and wonderfully simple as ‘ice-cream’.Why then, have certain parties recently deemed it necessary to propose to several leading diagnostic manuals that happiness should be reclassified as a psychiatric disorder![1] The symptoms of said disorder include a statistically abnormal functioning of the nervous system, with discrete symptoms including cognitive anomalies. Thankfully – as far as the writer is concerned – this proposal was rejected. Because, to be honest, is there  anything more belittling than the idea that most profound joy you ever experienced was nothing more a chemical imbalance? It’s like taking all of our ideals and dipping them in pure ethanol.And I shan’t begin to bore you with what the experts have to say on love, save that the so-called ‘greatest thing you’ll ever learn’ is no more than a trick of evolution to make us procreate. Well that puts Shakespeare and Donne in their places.Or does it? We may accuse the scientific perspective of being cold and sterile, but perhaps that is slightly too harsh. Some would say that there is a profound beauty in the knowledge that the rush you get at the sight of that special someone really is electricity – coursing through your Sympathetic nervous system at 7 mph – not just a poet’s meagre metaphor.Dawkins’ book ‘Unweaving the Rainbow’ examines this very conflict between rational and philosophical perceptions of life. The title of the book itself refers to John Keats’ despair that Isaac Newton destroyed the beauty of the rainbow by explaining the origin of its colours: the refraction of light. To some it may seem, and to Keats it most certainly did, that this Newton’s theories robbed the rainbow of all its mystery, and in the process crushed the infinite potential for human imagination to come up with its own hypotheses. On the other hand, for those in our midst who are so inclined, the true explanation is nothing short of the very embodiment of elegance and grace. Richard Feynman, the physicist, had an argument with an artist friend. The friend claimed that he could find a flower infinitely more beautiful than Feynman could, because Feynman lacked an artistic mind. Feynman found this absurd. He argued that everyone can see the inherent beauty in things: seeing things from a scientific perspective can only add to beauty, not take away: if the petals make him wonder about their mathematical complexity, or the colours make him think about mechanisms of pollination, it can only add to the flower. So it can be argued that the more we know about how and why we feel the way we do, the more we add to our experience of being human, not detract.And yet, something in me revolts. So here’s my point: I can’t deny that there’s something to be said for asking why people go through such a kaleidoscope of sentiments everyday. But even so I think we can be justified in ignoring the science, just this once, and continue to embrace the idea – however fanciful – that there is some greater power or purpose to existence; that life isn’t just survival and reproduction. Is that asking too much?last_img read more

Council publishes suggestions

first_imgThe Diversity Council of Notre Dame submitted a resolution to the administration Thursday detailing recommendations for further actions benefitting the University’s diverse community, compiled after four months of discussion. Senior Luis Llanos, chair of the Diversity Council, said the importance of the resolution derives from the Council’s unique ability to unite representatives of 29 clubs whose members mostly come from underrepresented groups. “Last year, the Diversity Council came together and decided as a whole that it was important for us to really go in-depth and figure out what in our communities was going wrong and why people didn’t feel at home here,” he said. “We brought together the opinions of many of the communities on campus and started in April. “We started with a lot of different points … and we were almost going to send the resolution up in April, but then we decided to take the summer to really pinpoint what was wrong and what action steps Notre Dame could take to make students feel at home. This is what has come through.” The resolution supports three “recent changes to community life” made by the University and offers seven recommendations for further action under the Office of Student Affairs, Auxiliary Operations and the Office of the Provost. Llanos said the administration “has been very positive when it comes to community life and the diversity population on campus,” and he hopes to continue the conversation about inclusion once they review the resolution. “We’re going to have to have meetings to explain these points more extensively and explain the process we went through, but past that, we’re going to have to … see what action steps we come up with in our unified approach,” he said. “We want to go to [the administration] with these and say ‘How can we be a part of the conversation, and how can we help?’ “We want to be proactive. We’re not just handing it to them and asking them to work on them.” In the resolution, the Council recommends under the Office of Student Affairs that a visible statement of inclusion be placed in each classroom and residence hall and that rectors collaborate in the process of choosing freshman orientation staff instead of assigning the task to a hall commissioner, “with the goal of creating a more inclusive environment.” Under Auxiliary Operations, they recommend that Halal and Kosher foods be made available to students with dietary restrictions for religious reasons. Under the Office of the Provost, they recommend that mandatory in-services be held for faculty and staff to “aid in the better understanding of cultural differences and how these differences can influence and impact the classroom dynamic.” They also recommend that students be required to complete a course with a new “Cultural Enrichment” attribute that simultaneously fulfills an existing University requirement and that the University “increase their efforts in the recruitment and retention of ethnically and culturally diverse faculty.” After Llanos presented the Diversity Council’s resolution in an informational meeting with the student senate, student body vice president and senate chair Nancy Joyce said multiple senators expressed interest in writing a resolution of their own to support the Council’s recommendation. “I think that sentiment came out of the understanding that student senate is supposed to represent all of the students on campus,” Joyce said. “We’ve got a representative from every dorm; we’ve got off-campus council; we’ve got all the class councils. “When the senators understood that these recommendations were coming out of the 7 percent of students on campus that don’t feel that they’re welcomed, they felt that it was really important as a body to support those recommendations.” Iris Outlaw, director of Multicultural Student Programs and Services, said while the Council is separate from the President’s Oversight Committee on Diversity and Inclusion chaired by University President Fr. John Jenkins, many of the recommendations “fall in line” with that committee’s work. “These are changes that are outside of the responsibility of the students,” Outlaw said. “They can send the recommendations up, but the students themselves cannot implement them. I think it’s really about informing the administration what they would like to see, because one of the key things is that the students have commended the changes that have already been made.” The resolution is “another wave” of what previous students have already began, including the Call to Action movement and campus climate surveys, Outlaw said. “Some of these recommendations are tagged onto initiatives that they have already started but never had been actually presented full-force to the administration before,” she said. “In part of the resolution, they talk about our charge as a Catholic institution and our commitment to society, and I think the big push has been our social justice component. “It’s even part of the Holy Cross charism of how we treat one another and the task of educating the head, the heart and the mind.” Kate Zenker, vice chair of the Diversity Council, said the group views the resolution as a “unified effort” with the administration. “There are other efforts in other parts of the University, but we’re all working toward the same goal,” she said. “We’re hoping that by giving this to the administration, by telling the administration what this group of students represented by the Diversity Council wants, we can aid in the efforts of the Oversight Committee.” The student senate resolution, which passed Nov. 20, does not add to the Diversity Council’s resolution but will be sent to the administration to support the Council’s recommendations. Student body president Alex Coccia said Senate’s role was simply to evaluate the other group’s resolution. “Because there has been so much debate and discussion within the Diversity Council, it was very clear that these were the recommendations that were coming out of the clubs and the organizations … and essentially, the result was our supporting statement,” Coccia said. “What’s important about this resolution and these recommendations is that it’s obviously been a long process that involved much collaboration and communication between students and administrators along the way.” Llanos said with the resolution the Diversity Council does not suggest everyone in the diverse community feels excluded on campus, but that they want to help the part of the community that does. “Twenty-four percent of the Notre Dame population identifies as a person of color, and what we’re saying is that there are people in our community who feel [excluded], and we can’t let this go unnoticed,” he said. “I think a lot of positive changes can be made, and the administration is very open to hearing from us so I think the future is looking very good. “We just want to make Notre Dame a better place for everyone on campus. That was the purpose in the beginning, and that is the purpose that’s still driving this resolution forward.” Contact Ann Marie Jakubowski at [email protected]last_img read more

Trump’s false claims of stolen election are unoriginal, and evoke a dangerous historical precedent

first_imgThe parallels between Donald Trump’s despicable claims of election fraud and the Dolchstoßlegende are real, but there is one important difference: Whenever one talks about 20th century German history and the rise of the Nazis, of course anti-Semitism must be front and center. I want to make clear Trump’s war on the truth of his defeat—unlike the German phenomenon under discussion here—has not included anti-Semitic language or targeted Jews as a group in any direct way. Nevertheless, it is clear that Trump is blowing racist dogwhistles when he talks about illegal voting and other “bad things” relating to election integrity that “happen in Philadelphia.” We know that when he brings up Philadelphia, he means “Black people.”Now let’s explore the parallels. The most basic one—as well as the most dangerous—is that both phenomena represent a denial of reality aimed at destabilizing a democracy. Rather than rehash the manifold examples of Trump’s despicable post-election deeds—widely derided as echoing those of strongmen for whom he has—for years—expressed a downright creepy level of admiration—I’ll instead cite the damning assessment of their long-term impact leveled by Michael J. Abramowitz, the president of Freedom House—“an organization dedicated to the expansion of freedom and democracy around the world.” Abramowitz states: “by convincing a large part of the population that there was widespread fraud, [Trump] is seeding a myth that could endure for years and contribute to an erosion of public confidence in our electoral system.”- Advertisement – Even after the votes had been cast, that belief was still out there. According to an Axios poll done over the two days following Election Day, 37% of people who voted for Trump thought he had defeated Biden. Politico found that 70% of Republican respondents polled after the race was called for Biden didn’t think the election was “free and fair.” Another YouGov poll found that 86% of Trump voters rejected the notion that Biden had won the election fairly. As Charles Blow pointed out, that represents over 62 million voters.- Advertisement – Just as Trump refuses to accept his defeat in the recent election, in the years after World War I, many on the right refused to accept their country’s defeat on the battlefield. In the case of Germany, that refusal helped to fatally weaken the democracy that emerged after 1918. Fourteen years after World War I ended, Adolf Hitler became Germany’s Fuhrer. But where did the “stab in the back” myth come from in the first place?By the fall of 1918, thanks in large part to the arrival of hundreds of thousands of fresh, well-equipped American troops, the military position of the German empire and its allies began to collapse. After the German army’s Hindenburg Line along the Western Front was broken in late September and early October, Berlin requested negotiations for an armistice, which was signed and famously went into effect at the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month. (Absurdly, 3,000 soldiers were killed in the six hours after the agreement to end hostilities was signed but before it took effect, including Henry Gunther, the last American.) The war came to an end, and Germany lost. Sounds fairly straightforward. But there was one problem: Some Germans didn’t want to believe it.One of the most important reasons for this disbelief is that the defeat directly contradicted the information most Germans had been fed throughout the war about their prospects for victory. Alan Kramer, professor of history at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, explains why the news of defeat engendered such a broad rejection of what really happened.Knowledge of the perilous condition of the front had been kept secret from the German people. Strict censorship and the army’s daily false news bulletins meant that news of the armistice came as a shock.This too was important to bear in mind. With minor exceptions in 1914, the war had not been fought on German territory. Unlike the devastation visited on its enemies, the German population was spared direct violence and destruction, and had the benefit of the exploitation of the resources of occupied northern France, Belgium, Poland, Serbia, Romania, northern Italy and the Ukraine, though most of that was enjoyed by the army. The German people had no “ocular proof” of defeat.This cognitive dissonance produced the “repressed defeat”: the denial of the fact of the military debacle.- Advertisement – Here we see another striking parallel between the Dolchstoßlegende and Trump’s current campaign of lies: deceptive propaganda. Throughout the 2020 presidential campaign, the current occupant of the White House and his sycophants in the right-wing media kept saying Trump was winning, that the real polls were showing him in the lead, and that other polls were “fake news.” He incredulously—to anyone seeing things objectively at least—claimed that polls showing Joe Biden in the lead were the real voter “suppression”—as opposed to the actions his Republican Party were taking before the election all over America to actually suppress votes.On the eve of the election, a YouGov poll found that half of all Republican voters believed Trump would “definitely win,” and another quarter of them believed he would “probably win.”ScreenShot2020-11-11at1.12.13PM.pngcenter_img Right-wing media are still—over a week after Election Day—declaring that Trump is in the lead. For example, on Monday, the Gateway Pundit’s Joe Hoft hyperventilated the following: “Overall right now President Trump is leading in the Presidential race. The fact that the media will not report this and will call the race for senile Joe Biden tells you all you need to know about today’s really evil media. Have faith, trust your eyes not their lies.” Hoft added: “This race is not close to being over and the media’s coordinated effort to steal this election and their collusion in calling the election for Joe Biden is a lie.” Then there’s the Orange Julius Caesar himself:xI am pleased to announce that I have given my full support and endorsement to Ronna McDaniel to continue heading the Republican National Committee (RNC). With 72 MILLION votes, we received more votes than any sitting President in U.S. history – and we will win!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 11, 2020If the only information providers these people trust promise that Trump is going to win, and then insist that he really did win, then why would they believe any different? Large swaths of Trump supporters exist within what amounts to a self-reinforcing media echo chamber. The same goes for the German people and what they were told about who was winning World War I prior to its conclusion.Not long after the war, an “alternative fact” emerged out of hard-line right-wing circles. The army was actually never defeated—and in fact when combat ended, no foreign troops stood on German soil. Of course, this was because the German high command had recognized that continued resistance to the Allied offensive would be unsuccessful, so better to ask for peace right away without any more bloodshed. Nevertheless, those looking to peddle a lie took advantage, claiming that the valiant forces who had fought so well for so long had been sold out by those who wanted to turn Germany into a democracy.In the very last days before the war ended, a revolution broke out in Germany. It started in late October, when sailors refused to carry out orders from the Imperial Navy’s High Command to prepare for a final, clearly futile attack on the British Navy. This mutiny quickly spread outside the bounds of the armed forces, and by Nov. 9—two days before the war officially ended—the German empire became the German Republic. Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated his throne and the leader of the Social Democratic Party, the largest party in the parliament, became the head of the government. It was this civilian government, headed by representatives of left-leaning, socialist, and/or democratic parties, that ultimately signed the armistice and, later on, the treaties of surrender as well as the Versailles Treaty, so hated by Germans for its supposedly harsh terms—which were not that harsh in reality. Even though it was military personnel who started the revolution, those leftist politicians who took power two days before the war ended—and who founded the democracy known as Weimar Germany—somehow became the ones to blame for losing the war. Never mind that Germany had been led for the first 1,568 days of the war by a monarchy that had, by the end, become almost a military dictatorship. Those unelected leaders managed to escape blame.That military dictatorship was effectively run by General Erich Ludendorff. If any one individual should bear responsibility for Germany losing World War I, it’s him. Ironically, he is perhaps most responsible for spreading the key phrase at the heart of the Dolchstoßlegende. A few months after the war ended, while eating with a British general, Ludendorff was going off on one of his well-practiced rants about how the army had been undercut by a political revolution on the “home front.” His counterpart cut in, asking, “Do you mean, General, that you were stabbed in the back?” As one historian put it: “Ludendorff’s eyes lit up and he leapt upon the phrase like a dog on a bone. ‘Stabbed in the back?’ he repeated. ‘Yes, that’s it, exactly, we were stabbed in the back.’ And thus was born a legend.” This bald-faced calumny essentially became the official right-wing history of the war, particularly among reactionary conservatives like Ludendorff, who never accepted the legitimacy of Weimar democracy and sought to use the “stab in the back” myth to justify its overthrow. The former Kaiser published his memoirs just a few years later, and wrote of how the army had been “forced to collapse by the stab-in-the-back.” Nazi propaganda used the phrase repeatedly in official statements and publications, and argued that Weimar German democracy only came into being because of the supposed betrayal committed in November 1918. Lies became the truth, and tens of millions died.Now think about Donald Trump. No matter what actually happens in the remaining weeks of his term, or how nonexistent the evidence is to support his claims of election theft, think about how many millions of Americans are going to believe that the Biden presidency is illegitimate—a belief that could well lead to violence, as Daily Kos’ own Hunter pointed out. Some of them may feel that way just as strongly as did the millions of Germans who rejected the post-1918 democratic system. No responsible leader would act as Ludendorff did, or as Trump is doing. That’s no surprise when it comes to the latter, given his refusal to take responsibility for, well, anything.Think about how Trump, some members of his family, and anyone else looking to remain in his favor will fuel those feelings even after he leaves office. Think about how right-wing media will monetize those feelings, pouring gasoline on the fire. Breitbart, OAN, Fox News opinion hosts, Newsmax, Rush Limbaugh, and other media figures will keep on repeating Trump’s lies about Democrats and socialists stealing what was rightfully his. Think about what that could do to our country. You might be asking how things could have turned out differently in post-WWI Germany and, by extension, how we can combat the destabilizing impact on our democracy of what Trump is doing. In Germany, the “stab in the back” myth on its own might not have been enough to topple the Weimar democratic system. But once the Great Depression was ravaging the country, the questions the myth had already raised about that system’s legitimacy had prepared the ground for the Nazi overthrow of Weimar Germany. In our country, I hope that the truth, combined with the far stronger roots of our constitutional democracy and our tradition of press freedoms, will be enough to counteract any potential impact of Trumpian lies. What it comes down to is this: Once we get through the next few weeks, will one of the two major political parties continue to prioritize riling up its base over the good of the country? Will Republicans continue to shred democratic norms in a single-minded pursuit of power—something they’ve been doing so much under Trump that they now look much more like the parties led by autocratic leaders in Turkey and Hungary than they do parties in functioning democracies? If the answer is yes, then America is in for a difficult future. I would nonetheless remain cautiously optimistic regarding the survival of our democracy in such a scenario, although if another Great Depression befell us as well, then all bets would truly be off.Since Election Day, President-Elect Joe Biden has handled this situation beautifully. He has been measured in his reaction to Trump’s words and actions, but rightly called them an “embarrassment.” They are more than that: They present a clear and present threat to our democracy. The day before the election, Paul Krugman warned that large numbers might well buy into “an American version” of the Dolchstoßlegende. Krugman didn’t know for sure exactly how things would play out, whether Trump would truly go all-in on the lies if he lost. But for anyone who has watched the impeached president with open eyes, was there really ever any doubt?Ian Reifowitz is the author of  The Tribalization of Politics: How Rush Limbaugh’s Race-Baiting Rhetoric on the Obama Presidency Paved the Way for Trump (Foreword by Markos Moulitsas) – Advertisement –last_img read more