Avarice, Belligerence, Greed: A Reflection On Human Nature

As the occupations, arrests, and harassments continue across our homeland, the faint drumbeat of war echoes ever louder from the big white house in D.C.  And, who is at the center of all this attention, the considered target for military aggression, hegemonic expansion, and resource re-distribution?  Well, Iran is, of course.  The secret is out – Iran has been developing nuclear weapons capabilities (OMG). Yet, within the doomsday scenario now percolating inside those heady heads in the capitol of Empire, Russia, North Korea, and Pakistan are also to be implicated.  So, what else is new?  Everyone get under the desks!  Quick!  The West – led by our very own Prince of Peace and his bellicose entourage here in the USA – is dead set on starting WWIII in order to bring things to a head; snatch up all the goodies they can possibly steal in a last ditch effort to escape their own financial shenanigans, display yet again the poverty of their institutional heartlessness, and satisfy their apparently bottomless greed for cheap energy, mineral resources, and global domination.  However, they may achieve their objectives only on the cusp of global collapse.

Meanwhile, the OWS People’s Court has been holding forth at the gates of Sodom and Gomorrah in lower Manhattan, presided over by none other than the recently released civil-convict Chris Hedges and his new sidekick, the good doctor, Cornell West. They are setting forth the people’s sundry complaints against the alleged pimps and prostitutes peopling the halls of Goldman Sachs and friends.  It amazes me that the occupation has devolved so quickly to such a trivial level of discourse and whining. According to the charges laid out at the People’s Court, it appears that “We, the people” want more public housing, real publicly-funded education, financial regulations, and stronger unions.  It appears, furthermore, that these demands are emanating from the poorer urban populations of the greater New York City area.

Now, I am not criticizing their critique, the mock trial, or even their specific “demands.”  What concerns me, however, is the apparent acquiescence that has already seeped into the rhetoric of this incipient domestic rebellion.  As these groups continue to marshal such voices, articulating concrete economic demands, we will witness the rapid evaporation of a once-promising challenge to industrial civilization and its driving hegemony – global capitalism.  Such voices will only redirect focus away from the central problems of institutional hierarchy, guiding everything from religion to economics, and its business-as-usual reduction of all things to objects of commodification and manipulation – continuing the trajectory of alienation and enslavement of human “capital” as well as the wholesale destruction of non-human capital or “natural resources.”

The movement appears to be degenerating into politics as usual, calling for new schools, new housing projects, new jobs and new directions for empire. Yet, it does not appear to question the need for empire or imperial leadership, for organizational hierarchy, or even the economic model currently driving this ship of State.  It wants to re-tune but not overturn the trajectory of the Western curriculum.

Yet, as things continue to transpire, the Greek Prime Minister has just resigned, Berlusconi in Italy is stepping down, Gadaffi is gone, Mubarak gone, elections have taken place in Tunisia, and the rest of MENA is poised for leadership transitions as well.  What does this tell us?  It says that people want new leaders…. It does not say people want NO leadership.  Well, I imagine the people have spoken, and they are likely to speak similarly here in America.  Hierarchy appears to be a fundamental requirement, prefigured in the very texture of the modern State. The citizens of these “once-and-future” or would-be empires cannot imagine life without a head of State, even for a moment.  Civilians everywhere seem to be in desperate need of institutional authorities directing and controlling them. Apparently, global capitalism will survive this onslaught of occupation, even if bleeding a bit and limping slightly across the continents. Abusive destruction of life on the planet will also continue.  Both human and non-human nature will remain grist for the mill of a self-possessed industrial hegemony, even as its engines falter. The palpable bellicosity and rapacity of the culture will continue to assert themselves, even if temporarily muted.

This brings us to the item of central concern in today’s posting. There have been numerous discussions recently, both here and elsewhere, concerning the nature of this evil — the avarice, the greed, the selfishness — infecting the civilized West. Specifically, one of our own habitués has pronounced on various occasions that our individual and collective complicity in this rampant evil is a result of our basic genetic makeup. He disagrees with the proposition that such complicity is the result of a culturally induced hypnosis from which we all suffer; rather, he sees it as an instinctual predisposition, a genetic flaw driving the species phylogenetically and ontogenetically.  I would wager that, like many others, he has swallowed – hook, line, and sinker – this fairytale of man’s evil nature, long-ago articulated by Thucydides in his reflections on the Peloponnesian Wars, later fleshed-out by Thomas Hobbes, and proffered by political theorists ever since in justifying the necessity of the modern State and its institutional hierarchies of manipulation and control.

It would appear that not a few today have accepted this myth concerning a heart of darkness lurking in the human genome – a frightful conception of “human nature” that sees us as hard-wired with self-serving and heartless intent whenever the opportunity presents itself.  Such a point of view believes the statecraft(ed) myth of man’s natural bellicosity, cupidity, and avarice. Speaking to this evil nature dwelling within, our own contributor says, our “complicity is encrypted in the DNA…and it is truly up to each of us to overcome our genes.  Alas, to truly understand…it is essential to recognize that our tendency is always to be greedy, destructive, and heartless when it comes to our own interests.”

Yet, the facts of the matter may diverge significantly from the above presumption.  In brief, our genus (Homo) emerged on the scene roughly 2.5 million years ago with the beginning of Pleistocene epoch. The sapiens species showed up around two hundred thousand years ago, during the later Pleistocene. Accordingly, it was in that epoch that our genetic makeup developed. We are essentially animals of the Pleistocene; a position proferred by Paul Shepard.  Studies in disciplines as diverse as paleontology, archeology, ethnology, history of religions, anthropology, human ecology, and the ethnography of extant “Paleolithic” tribes strongly suggest that such traits – “greed, destructiveness, and heartlessness” – cannot be attributed matter-of-factly, if at all, to our pre-civilized, pre-agricultural primogenitors. Indeed, there is virtually no indication that such behavioral tendencies can be traced to our Pleistocene forebears. In addition, there were no institutional hierarchies, no standing armies, no mass murders, no hoarding of resources or wars to protect them, no large-scale environmental destruction, and none of the signs of modern “heartlessness” until the birth of cities in the late Neolithic period. In other words, there is little, if any, evidence for grounding such behaviors in our genetic makeup.

On the contrary, there is ample evidence in pre-history and among extant H/G tribes supporting the reverse hypothesis: demonstrations of non-acquisitiveness, voluntary sharing of essential resources, even gratuitous communal feasting among our pre-civilized forebears. These evidently generous progenitors existed for quite a long time (2MM+ years) until something radically changed it all; and what that was has been the subject of long and arduous debate.

As Paul Shepard pointed out in his posthumous publication, Coming Home To The Pleistocene, “Unlike history, prehistory does not participate in the dichotomy that divides experience into good and evil, eternal and temporal…”

We perceive the dark side of our present condition as our failure to adhere to the standards of ‘civilization.’  Crime, tyranny, psychopathology, addiction, poverty, malnutrition, starvation, war, terrorism, and other forms of social disintegration seem to be the weaknesses and flaws in our ability to live up to the expectation of being civilized… [But, he concludes] We must now ask in what sense our present dilemmas are measured by departure from some kind of diffuse, primordial scheme of human life and what is possible in terms of recovery… We must begin by remembering beyond history.

In Shepard’s view, it is not some inherent weakness of the human condition that causes us to fall short of presumed civilized standards.  On the contrary, it is the psychotic demands of civilization that have created these very troubling forms of social disintegration along with the weakness that haunts individuals in their complicit acquiescence, in their enslavement to these urban walls and the psychopathologies they generate.

Even the most widely disseminated myth in Western culture, the Book of Genesis, alludes to the tardy emergence of the knowledge of good and evil (viz., the origins of evil), and pegs it to our expulsion from the garden of Eden (a more primordial setting in contact with nature) and the beginnings of agriculture and animal domestication – the toilsome and archetypal settings upon which urban (civilized) life would come to rest, along with the first gratuitous murder born of rapacious jealousy (Cain and Abel).

[I]n toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life;thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread

Yet, ignoring such mythopoeic suggestions, as well as the evidentiary foundations of social-scientific analyses, our own contributor concludes: “[If] I am correct that our impulses are genetic…we will fight over scraps until there is only rubble left.” Such an assumption comes straight from the fable of Hobbes’ Leviathan and the presumed evil of human nature that needs corralling by laws and legislators.  Now, it may be the case that in a post-collapse world, we will indeed see that war of all against all; but it will not be the result of our Pleistocene genetic heritage, rather the culmination of a psychopathology that emerged only with the birth of civilization, exacerbated by its intractable and accelerating trajectory of abuse and alienation.

In conclusion.  It is not that we are complicit in the greed and self-serving abuses of modern culture due to some interiorized human nature, some primal genetic flaw; rather such complicity is the result of us following what is most highly valued and rewarded in our society – individuality, acquisitiveness, and maximization of resources (i.e., productivity and profitability). There is no need to say, “Yes, but Aristotle spoke of moderation in all things.”  True enough; but there are exceptions to that rule. And boy, do we have a BIG one!  They call it “American Exceptionalism.” And you cannot find any exception bigger than that one.  It is the hallmark by which we are all judged — on earth and, according to several of our current candidates for president, in their mythological conception of heaven as well.

But, perhaps the more relevant concern at this juncture is whether the OWSers can overcome the extraordinary pressure of cultural forces driving them for a statement of demands, for negotiation, for acquiescence, and for what may well become continuing complicity in the exceptional avarice of empire.

162 Responses to Avarice, Belligerence, Greed: A Reflection On Human Nature

  1. Murph says:


    Glad to see a discussion on this subject. The post did not include the possibility that humans have in each person a mixture of hard wired genetically controlled impulses that have to do with enhancing survival, including cooperation and also greed. Which impulse is used in any given situation may be cultural, or just plain rebellion or self direction and even self destruction. I think we have a tendency to label as evil or sociopathic as those behaviors that hurt others and are mostly deliberate. It would seem to me that the essential question is whether humans have control over these impulses, other than certifiably insane folks that have little or no impulse control. Hmmm do sociopaths have this control?

  2. xraymike79 says:

    Monbiot had an interesting essay recently on how our economic system rewards sociopaths:

  3. Pēteris says:

    The basic unit for human existence is a tribe of approximately 150 people, according the Dunbar’s number. A community of such size have all the necessary self-regulating characteristics, that are based on the genetic makeup of humans. No written laws are necessary to regulate society, it is done in the context of the specific culture.
    Humans are capable of suppressing some of their inborn reactions, when it is necessary for the goals of survival or other important ends. However, this suppression brings mental stress. The more instincts are suppressed, the more tension it creates, the harder it becomes to maintain this state.
    Agriculture, large communities, laws – these all can be looked upon as devices for survival, that can exist only due to suppression of some inborn modes of actions. Humans themselves create an environment that is in some aspects very alien. All the “evils” of human societies are just effects of human nature under unnatural conditions.
    Can we create conditions more suitable for our nature? All the history of human civilizations can be seen as yet mainly unsuccessful experiments in creation of different societal orders. But this in no means proves that a society more suitable to human needs cannot be created. To do this, we must thoroughly understand the human nature.

  4. John Wolaver says:

    It seems to me the seeds of our hierarchically controlled civilization were already present in the hunter-gatherer. The sociopath was not unknown in hunter-gatherer communities but such individuals were held in check by the group. If they did not acquiesce, they might well be banished. In any case, what could a sociopath in a hunter-gatherer group hoard and control? They could grab an extra leg of wild boar for themselves possibility. They could go kill a couple of members of another tribe and boast about it. Maybe an exceptionally strong sociopath enjoyed lugging a full load of loot on his back as the group moved from camp to camp.

    However, things changed when agriculture arrived on the scene. Now there were “surpluses” for the sociopath to grab and control. Better still, why bother to grab the surpluses when you could control those creating the surpluses, ensuring a cut from the start. Warrior classes, tax collectors, priestly classes, and debt peonage are natural outgrowths to ensure the sociopath’s cut.

    On the positive side, we gained much from civilization and leaving the Earth. Humanity developed analytical thinking that could not have easily occurred ensconced in small hunter-gather groups, gained a global perspective ending the exclusivity of the local perspective, and spiritually went as far as possible in the “up and out” direction completing that trajectory. Now it is time to take what we have learned, dispose of the rest, and move on. It is time to move to a cooperative, Earth-based society where we again walk on the Earth.

    • kulturcritic says:

      John, Interesting imagery and presentation of what may certainly have been the case with H/G. Appreciate you joining the discussion. It is always nice to have an optimist around to try and keep the discussion focused on the future — another “benefit” of civilization. warmest welcome, sandy

    • john patrick says:

      Thank you for the perspective, JW. Was thinking about it some more… I’m not sure the ancient H/G group was as homogenous as we’d like to think. We really don’t know because we weren’t there (no offense, just saying). I think it’s just as possible that Lord of the Flies, or Apocalypse Now, was also the prevalent tribal rule. I do think that those that were successful in making things work, tended to go on. But even that is a stretch, as shit happens even under the best of rule. The only evidence we have of anything that occurred way back when is a pile of bones.

      The closest experience I have to H/G was a week on an Outward Bound expedition about ten years ago. The seven of us started out as friends on an adventure but the physical stress soon has us wanting to kill each other, with changing loyalties along the way. We carried everything we needed so were somewhat self-sufficient. And we were all “educators” who had read/prepped for the thing in advance. It was one of the most grueling things I’ve ever done. I can’t say that we as a society are even modestly prepared for one or two days of it…

      “Now it is time to take what we have learned…” I wish it were true. I think those that learn from the Earth experience, die. And take it with them.

  5. Pingback: Terrible glory of being human I « Leaving Babylon

  6. Brutus says:

    Great post! I’m always amazed at how you weaved together your ideas and sources into such compelling essays. It’s long-form blogging that I don’t do too much, mostly because I’m busy reading rather than writing, but I certainly appreciate the erudition and perspective you bring to bear on the issued under discussion.

    I agree with Paul Shepard’s formulation provided above. Who we are biologically (instinctually) and culturally are fundamentally different things, and it’s a total modern gloss to impose modern motivations, behaviors, and structures on “our Pleistocene forebears,” as you call them. Yet girded with an armchair appreciation of HG cultures, human biology, and human nature, many of us proceed foolhardily to construct elaborate explanations for how and why we got to where we now are. Experts are doing the very same by developing dual-inheritance theory, also known as gene-culture coevolution. It’s undoubtedly true that some behaviors/motivations are hard-wired into us, and extending the list to include modern aberrations is all the vogue, but then backdating everything more than 100,000 years or seeking the same in our very DNA is just breathtaking.

    Biologically, we haven’t yet changed, other than getting fatter and stupider, which isn’t really genetic. It takes considerable hindsight to recognize meaningful phylogenetic change anyway, so the question is sort of moot. However, cultural and civilizational change are readily apparent, and even more significantly, aspects of culture and civilization change do in fact in turn change us, but mostly in terms of our own cultural heritage for observable timescales. It’s obviously self-referential. So when Curtis White writes about human nature in The Barbaric Heart, which I’ve recommended previously, he is referring to human society and culture as we create it and are created by it, not some immutable, biologically driven human nature that presupposes cultural adaptations.

    For a really grand theory, pick up Iain McGilchrist’s The Master and His Emissary, which argues that the entirety of modern, global civilization is an artifact of the divided brain, which has unaccountably misfired and promoted the emissary to primacy over the master. It’s a fascinating thesis, but I don’t believe he has fallen victim to the usual gloss of modernity by insisting that who/what we now are was cooked into the stew from the start, i.e., that it’s inevitably just our biology.

    • kulturcritic says:

      Brutus – thanks for the complement. It is always an interesting project weaving the ideas and the news together. Not always accomplished smoothly. The Barbaric Heart is on my list for when I return to USA next month; I will check out McGilchrist as well. And, it is true there were some dis-equalibrium societies prior to the full development of agriculture and cities. But, the answer to many of these questions remains a subject of debate.

  7. bmiller says:

    Thanks for another challenging post. You were on target re: the OWS, “What concerns me, however, is the apparent acquiescence that has already seeped into the rhetoric of this incipient domestic rebellion.”
    I happened to pick up the latest copy of Earth First this past week. When faced with enviromental destruction and gross inequalities these kids don’t mess about with playing the supplicant to a system that is unreformable. They get right down to it.
    They deal with real repression. Not the sugary image of people “agreeing” to be arrested like we see in the OWS movement. When we see a bit more grit with the OWS crowd and less “thank you Sir, may I have another”, then maybe their movement will have an impact.
    But, I remain skeptical.
    Thanks as always,

  8. Disaffected says:

    Well thank fucking god! I was just relieved to know that I’m apparently not (still not sure, I’m downing IPA #6 as I speak) the “one of our own habitués” of which Sandy speaks. Thank CHRIST for that!

    OWSers? Jesus fucking Christ! The blogs have worn this one out over the last week or so. What do they (the OWSers) represent? ABSOLUTELY FUCKING ZERO until the capitalist pigs they’re protesting lie dying in the streets, their fat corpulent bellies split open laying bare their magnificent putrefaction for all to see, and for the equally avaricious carrion crows of midtown Manhattan to feast upon. NOT UNTIL then, and NOT A DAY BEFORE, will they be a success!

    Fortunately for us all, that day is SOON in sight! The OWSers are but a preview of things to come; a veritable “appetizer” if you will.

    An original quotation interpretation (FREE of charge!):

    “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

    “Never doubt that a small group of crazy motherfuckers with nothing left to lose can change the world; INDEED, they’ll either break YOUR head or YOU’LL break THEIRS in the process. Now then; WHICH will it be?” – DA

    Thank you very much.


    • kulturcritic says:

      “An appetizer” – what an interesting turn of phrase, DA. I pick on you too much; I had to focus on Rg this time… he needs a comeuppance. Boy, is he going to kill me on the next comment, or what!!

  9. B Miller says:

    Wow! I’m drinking the wrong IPA.

  10. Disaffected says:

    “In conclusion. It is not that we are complicit in the greed and self-serving abuses of modern culture due to some interiorized human nature, some primal genetic flaw; rather such complicity is the result of us following what is most highly valued and rewarded in our society – individuality, acquisitiveness, and maximization of resources (i.e., productivity and profitability). There is no need to say, “Yes, but Aristotle spoke of moderation in all things.” True enough; but there are exceptions to that rule. And boy, do we have a BIG one! They call it “American Exceptionalism.” And you cannot find any exception bigger than that one. It is the hallmark by which we are all judged — on earth and, according to several of our current candidates for president, in their mythological conception of heaven as well.”

    OK kC, back to earth. I’m with you on all of the above, and you know that I am. The connection I’d like you to make is that between the American exceptionalism and British exceptionalism before it. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m smart as to all the historical facts, but what is your personal take on why this was and is such a historical break philosophically? The fucking northern European white man seems to have really made some bald-faced assumptions about his superiority rather quickly, don’t ya think? All of which we’re still living with here today. What in the fuck do you think was going on there?


  11. kulturcritic says:

    As I said in paragraph one above…. oooooh, more BS; don’t bother with getting under your desks; it is just the lies that keep piling up in order to justify our continued hegemonic expansion.

  12. leavergirl says:

    “until the capitalist pigs they’re protesting lie dying in the streets, their fat corpulent bellies split open laying bare their magnificent putrefaction for all to see, and for the equally avaricious carrion crows of midtown Manhattan to feast upon”

    Wow. And to think I wuz gonna settle for a lamp post. 😉

    • kulturcritic says:

      Yeah, some of these guys have a real poetic streak, don’t they? And talk about pent up aggression!

    • Disaffected says:

      See now leavergirl, if I was a TRUE capitalist (as is my “training,” BS (how appropriate) and MBA from “accredited” US universities) I would call ALL of my content to this board “value added” and CHARGE you for the privilege of reading it!

      Imagine that! PAYING for the PRIVILEGE of reading another’s thoughts, as if they were MANNA FROM HEAVEN. AIN’T THAT THE SHIT!


  13. Jay D says:

    Well, I’m appreciative of your laying this out for us…turns out I actually agree with this essay and am impressed with most of the writing of it…AS FAR AS IT GOES, and it seems to be a natural lead-in to Leavergirl’s more complete synthesis in her latest post, referenced above. Later i will try to catch up on the comments and see if i have anything more “positive” or constructively critical to add.

  14. murph says:

    I’ve had some chuckling over the comments to this posting. Levergirl expanded greatly on my suggestion that humans are a mixture of impulses and Sandy jumped right in on that posting also.

    Absent so far from the discussion on this post is the idea that regardless of what constitutes the human motivations for action is the interruption of how our brain works. It appears to me that we have ample evidence that brain function can be altered by molecular introduction of chemicals into the brain, both natural and synthetic. Humans today are exposed to a plethora of such chemicals and we might raise the question of how much our far past ancestors were also exposed to chemicals that altered brain function. Example; exposure to ergot in rye caused greatly altered behavior and maybe contributed to witches burned at the stake?

    The rather extensive list of natural and synthetic chemicals that we know will alter brain function to some degree leads me to wonder about what the natural function would actually look like. The consequence of this exposure would lead me to believe that our attempts to talk about what is the natural inclinations of humans is fraught with misconceptions and probable errors. Perhaps the “fruit of tree of knowledge” contained a mind altering drug? We know that there are societies that have great respect for and voluntarily take part in ingesting mind altering substances.

    My principle concern on this subject is how much of modern societies impulses are the result of our own contamination of the environment. This may have absolutely nothing to do with genetics and our natural make up.

    • john patrick says:

      “Perhaps the “fruit of tree of knowledge” contained a mind altering drug?”

      I think the fruit portrayed the introduction of self-awareness as a human. The other species probably already had it… But, as much as we try to change our internal mechanism, the Lathe of Heaven reminds us to stay in our own territory.

      Maybe we eat other animals, to keep them from getting ahead of us. Just a thought…

    • kulturcritic says:

      I like your direction here, murph!!

  15. leavergirl says:

    Heh. When the Serbs went nuts a couple of decades back, I wanted to add LSD to their drinking water. Ecstasy too would have done nicely. But noooo…. the idiots had to bomb them.

    • Disaffected says:

      Perhaps the TRUE lunacy of “bombing” of indigenous populations is best exemplified by the indigenous populations themselves when asked about their own bomBing (I always found it remarkable that the middle eastern people I talked to pronounced “bombing” with a hard “B” in both positions, even though it was perhaps I that THEY should have been surprised at for assuming such).

      Perhaps one day in a TRULY equitable world, the US will get as well as it has given over the past few years. Or, perhaps, this round is meant to equate previous rounds in some small way. OR, perhaps all of this is simply unknowable from our current point of view. As has been said an unfathomable number of times before: Yeah, what he/she said.


  16. rg the lg says:

    Kill … ?
    Not likely … argue?

    A critic of the KKKulture is dependent upon the KKKulture being preeminent / predominant. That is axiomatic.

    The concept of culture is, inevitably, an overlay to the basic genetics. [Lookee … there IS a period at the end of that sentence … .]

    Culture, then, in my jaundiced view, is little more than either a formalization of something other than the basic genetics, or an attempt to over ride and change the incipient genetic values. My argument is NOT that we are doomed to be the genetic creatures we often find ourselves … rather that in order to be truly cultural AND THUS defeat the natural wiring we must first acknowledge the ugly reality of our nature … to recognize that no matter how much we wish to delude ourselves, we are complicit. Complicity is not some strange beast to our being … but a fundamental that must be acknowledged to overcome.

    This is not some one off issue … nor is it disagreeing with your premise that we need to change culturally to be less KKKultural as a rationale for our genetics. It is to suggest, forcefully, that we must acknowledge who we are as genetic animals before we can even aspire to be else wise.

    Hook, line, sinker? Maybe …

    If you think so, then you assume too much. My analysis is based on the reality that we are no longer in small groups in which the cultural relationships of each to each has value. Rather, as you harp incessantly, the rise of larger groups allowed for anonymity. Anonymous action may be what the OWSers sense … and misguided though they may be, they are at least taking the argument against greed to the source of the penultimate greed-heads of our KKKulture … which, to repeat, I see as little else than a means by which our genetics has trumped our better natures for cooperation … .

    I would also add that I suspect only when our Pleistocene ancestors were far enough apart to not fear, or attack (optionally defend oneself / ones group from) the feared others, was there anything resembling peace and cooperation between groups.

    But, hell, what do I know …

    • john patrick says:

      “I suspect only when our Pleistocene ancestors were far enough apart to not fear…”

      And now it is hard to get far enough away. Certainly difficult to provide for oneself/family in isolation. I agree completely with the complicity point. Insight leads to complicity. Which is why it’s easier and more comfortable to avoid it. For awhile…

    • kulturcritic says:

      “little else than a means by which our genetics has trumped our better natures for cooperation … .”

      So Rg, the library guy… we have negative (evil) genetics; and better natures as well… for me there is too much talk about the goodness or evil (better or worse parts) of some abstract human nature. Certainly, there is sound evidence for the existence of a primal “fight or flight response” mechanism built into the organism’s (dare I say it) genetic makeup. But that implies nothing about good or bad, no moral issues here, no ethical problems. And it does not necessarily lead to the conclusion about some mysterious human nature (good or bad). So, anyway, what the hell do you know? LOL You are a funny man, Rg! I am glad you are here to keep me thinking.

      • leavergirl says:

        Where we diverge, Sandy, is that I assume “human nature” to mean common human traits or behaviors, ones that appear crossculturally as well as in childhood. There is nothing mysterious about it.
        And some of these behaviors do harm, and some do good.

        For example, chances are that domineering behavior (hierarchy) is built in, as all our primate cousins live that way, and tolerate being bullied by alphas. But sharing compassionate behavior also happens to occur regularly among other primates, and humans.

        Don’t get hung up on the words, good and evil. All they mean is some behaviors do harm, and some do good, and really, it’s not that hard to distinguish between them. We human make useful qualitative judgments all the time.

        • kulturcritic says:

          Vera = I just think you would find Sahlins discussion in his small monograph worthwhile

        • javacat says:

          This discussion illustrates the limits and misunderstandings created by language. One cannot use words such as ‘good’ and ‘evil’–words so heavily freighted in any culture–and then toss them off as simply meaning doing harm and good. Are bacteria evil because they cause illness or death? The terms, like so many words, carry multi-layered meanings from many times and sources–social, political, religious. I think it can be hard to distinguish between them because judgment is not neutral, and most judgments we make are filtered through some kind of cultural filter, and in that sense, are not necessarily part of human nature.

          • kulturcritic says:

            JC – excellent point about the limits of language. And it is true that in human community there is always some cultural overlay (per Vera) upon basic animal instincts that we have (fight or flight, nutrition, community). Even our tribal progenitors in the Pleistocene had a culture (rudimentary as it might appear to us), but without the written word (and the systemization and complexitites of objectification that accompany it), there was a different relationship both with non-human nature and with one-another. And that difference would be reflective in the culture. Post-literacy, I don’t believe that more primitive relation, that kind of pre-thematic participation, can be reconstituted on a social scale (at least not without the use of opiates: Brave New World and Soma here we come).

            • javacat says:

              Sandy, I agree with you that post-literacy, we cannot completely return to a more encompassing relation to the World, with one-another (a phrase I like very much and will be borrowing, btw), and one-within, in terms of how we view ourselves. You bring up excellent points about the systematization and objectification that accompany written language. As open and fluid as language can be, more often it fixes and limits rather than remain pliable. In science, that is certainly true, whether it be the effort at taxonomy or the habit of reducing to parts and losing the whole.I think the conditions of objectification have worsened and become more fixed as the means and rate of expressing language have increased–be it the politician’s sound bite, the 18-second ad or Twitter tweets. Language becomes more and more fixed, in the sense of an entomologist’s collection stuck on pins. We can’t undo our literacy, but can we transform it as a medium to convey more dynamically that more primitive, more direct way of relating? As for the Soma…some cheaper version seems to be in the water already. I don’t think it’s a cure.

              • kulturcritic says:

                Ahhhhh! It’s in the water? That explains alot. 😉

                I think some poetry, music, and philosophy attempts to transform language in the way you are suggesting. Even some literature. Look at James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake.

        • kulturcritic says:

          “For example, chances are that domineering behavior (hierarchy) is built in, as all our primate cousins live that way, and tolerate being bullied by alphas. But sharing compassionate behavior also happens to occur regularly among other primates, and humans.”

          Vera, You really need to read Morton H. Fried, The Evolution of Political Society, An Essay in Political Anthropology. You are making far too many groundless assumptions. According to Fried, two critical factors leading to the transition from primate to human societies are: 1) the invention of sharing (underlying the division of labor), and 2) a concomitant reduction in the significance of individual dominance…the possibility for such hierarchy being undermined by the demands of sharing. (my paraphrasing) sandy

  17. murph says:


    I agree that what we call moral issues or ethical problems does not appear to have any positive relationship to genetics. While we throw around terms like good and evil as a value statement, what is actually referenced is some action being performed and that is what we throw the terms at. By association, the person performing some act that we make judgements about, also gets thrown into whatever category we assign to the actions. The person we accuse of being evil is the results of he performing actions we label as evil. I think you would agree that often enough that judgement proves to not be correct for a variety of reasons and observations.

    So what we are actually looking at is the genetic propensity for performing certain actions that get labeled by the observers and I do think there is evidence for genetic preferences for actions that are not shared by 100% of the rest of the population. For instance; a genetic trait might be exceedingly athletic and as a consequence chooses to be athletic and sign some multi million dollar contract. That action stirs judgement by other people concerning it. And while it appears that genetics does not directly control that action, it is nevertheless had an influence.

    Let’s look at a politician. Usually from a wealthy family or is wealthy on his own and knows he will become more wealthy if he gains office. Now this is precluded by having the mental ability to go to a prestigious university, few upper level politicians didn’t, (most are attorneys) which is a genetic trait. This politician will have his attitudes shaped by his environment, which contains a lot of money, and he finds himself sympathizing with the wealthy attitudes that come with living that life style. At the university he takes courses that support the legitimacy of those attitudes. He is going to make decision and perform legislative actions around his attitudes and sympathies. Different economic and social status will often give different results. Again, no direct genetic control, it is influential.

    So I will posit that genetics has some relationship to actions, to what extent might be debated. It is not a question of evil intent hard wired into us, it is a question of others labeling it. I would also posit that there is always a certain amount of people in any society (about 2%) that because of genetic make-up, will preform actions that are labeled as sociopathic. Despite our human similarities, there are also differences that to a large degree are controlled by genetics and those differences lead to actions that get labeled. Thrown into the mix is the old argument about environment or genetics being the controlling influence of actions. Sure appears to me that there is a lot of crossed influences from both directions, one affecting the other. We are very complex organisms and I suspect that we shall never understand all the working parts and how they interact.

    • kulturcritic says:


      Without the superstructure of Western acquisitiveness and hero (ego) worship, and our culture’s entertainment-media-contest fascination, as well as the myriad institution’s that support its establishment and maintenance, the boy who runs fastest does not join a football team and make millions of dollars a year. 30,000 years ago in the Congo he is just one of the better hunters in the tribe, and best at luring/leading wild boar into traps. In this respect he may serve, to some extent, as a leader in the hunt and as a role model for others. Of course, he shares the food he helps secure with the entire tribe, and maybe they share it with a tribe in the neighboring valley as well.

      BTW, the modern boy’s decision to pursue sports is not good or bad, absolutely, in itself. It is the system that makes such a decision appear good or bad depending upon 1) your relationship to the system, 2) your status, 3) your place in one or another hierarchy, 4) the values you developed though various mechanisms of enculturation. This is where the ethical issues and moral dilemmas arise. They are socio-culturally structured responses to various actions or situations.

      A curious example: Here in Siberia – where everybody who has a car learned to drive only yesterday, wearing their new autos like big cod-pieces (even the women I’m afraid) – there is absolutely no thought or consideration for pedestrians. Drivers (and non drivers to some extent) believe and act as if pedestrians have no rights to be anywhere near a road, driveway, alley or sidewalk. But, almost no one sees this as bad or evil; they virtually (because not all do agree) accept it as a matter of course. Cars and drivers are more important than those on foot. It is a cultural value that has established itself in the wake of newly acquired Western affluence (and ego-glorification). Not to say it isn’t changing as they become more aware of of their own intolerance. But, the judgment that their lack of considerateness is EVIL is usually only apparent from my somewhat typical American reaction when confronted by such jackasses. I see it as evil (heartless, selfish…); but, as my wife says, “That’s my problem.”

      • leavergirl says:

        What if instead of “bad” you think of such driving behavior as dangerous and undesirable in the civic context? Same thing. Like I said, we pass qualitative judgments all the time. Or how about saying… “oh, you just nearly ran over that pedestrian. But hey, it’s neither good nor bad…” 😉

  18. Antonio Dias says:

    Abusers always frame the fault as lying with the abused. The roots of heartlessness within the dawn of the age of human predation on other humans, what calls itself civilization, is just such a case. We talk of the surpluses of agriculture as a root cause. What if it was the “surplus” of people? A pattern of behavior developed that took others; first other people pushing in from across the hills, and then spreading to everything until only the atomized Ego was left at the top of the heap; as their new prey. This became a “successful” adaptation. Institutions, hell all of our civilized institutions, grew up to promote and channel this new predatory eye.

    When we see predatory abuse in individuals we can trace it back to patterns of abuse and the blindness to its very existence among all the parties involved. Abusers blame their victims, the victims blame themselves. Any relationship outside of the twists and turns of a power-struggle atrophy and disappear. As this plays itself out within the greater sphere of cultural abusiveness, a mythology of intent and of “good and evil” is built to create an engine of self-justification.

    • Cliff says:

      Great observation Dias. And I assume this mythology of Good/Evil could also be an engine of illusion used to control our emotional affect and our relationship to time. Example: Time spent on being hurt or aangry or any emotional on the self

  19. rg the lg says:

    Surplus of people … going back to JP’s statement about living near each other … I was thinking in terms of distance between groups … not between individuals who could be controlled / influenced by the group they were part of.

    AD says: “We talk of the surpluses of agriculture as a root cause. What if it was the “surplus” of people?”

    YES! AD hits the nail square on the thumb … as those pleistocene ancestors came into contact with each other as a function of ever growing numbers of people, how did they react?

    I have no problem with the Sandy-thesis that we would be better off as humans if we were less involved in the ‘giganticism’ of modern culture. But, in order to reach the point at which we can live within our means, there will need to be a total collapse of what we have created (created here being a modern euphemism for destroyed … as per Guy McPherson, et al). This requires that we recognize what culture is … an overlay, intentional modification by groups to adjust, overcome, ameliorate, or modify our basic genetic tendencies. But, I suggest, in order to do that we absolutely MUST acknowledge that we both foster and supplant our hard-wired tendenices.

    A computer is a dumb machine. It is software that makes a computer accessible to us. Our communication on this blog is a function of software … the modification of the fundamental binary operation of a computer. Similarly, culture is the modification of the genetic wiring. That culture often enhances the worst in us is obvious. That we are generally oblivious that culture is the enhancement of genetic tendencies is not so obvious. This when there is a call for a change in the way we, collectively, think and react to the way we are, we are resistant.

    Sandy-man has come up with a very intriguing analysis … and to the extent that we may find ourselves rebuilding our simple ability to exist post-collapse … his suggestions are valid. But, my position is that in order to develop a new paradigm we must acknowledge that the roots are far deeper than mere culture.

    Feel dead yet, Mr Sandy-man? Hope not … I look forward to continuing the discussion. But first a question … ever read Montaigne? You should … he has some very valid points Check out Sarah Bakewell, “How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer.” There is an excellent chapter on conviviality that speaks directly to why we need blogs in the post-community / neighborhood world.

    • kulturcritic says:

      “…an overlay, intentional modification by groups to adjust, overcome, ameliorate, or modify our basic genetic tendencies.”

      I must continue to disagree with you and leavergirl on this account. There is no meaningful discussion that may be had regarding Homo or Homo sapiens independent of culture. Homo is a socio-cultural animal. Being cultural and being human are one. I speak now metaphorically:

      There is no hidden nature, good or bad, behind the mask. The mask is who we are; but some masks pack on layer upon layer of complexity, well in excess of what is required to live as humans. And the curriculum of the West has pack on a fucking load! The layering is a result of several concurrent and ongoing activities = language, urbanization, literacy, alphabetic literacy, objectification, division of labor, specialization, institutionalization, suburbanization, industrialization, commercialization, commodification, virtualization, et. al. Functionally, we lose a sense of what we are, and how we participate the world. We lose sight of our essential bond to non-human nature, and to one another (in small group settings). We become anonymous and interchangeable pegs in a machine that is self directing, driven by the institutions and corporations that take on a ‘life” of their own.

  20. xraymike79 says:

    Just heard this song today…great lyrics and rhythm:

    • Disaffected says:


      Having read (or least summarized) the attached links, what is YOUR opinion on both for the record?


    • kulturcritic says:

      “The death of free will, or its exposure as a convenient illusion, some worry, could wreak havoc on our sense of moral and legal responsibility.” – oh really? We have not already wreaked havoc on it? What a joke!!

  21. javacat says:

    Avarice, Belligerence, Greed

    These terms, by our very use, connote negative human behaviors. They explain perceptions of humans toward other humans, and thus are a construct of human culture. What makes us make the distinction of calling it ‘human nature’ and not simply nature, since we are, indeed, animal. Is it a valid distinction–based the civilization of our genes–or a false dichotomy of a species still trying to understand itself as a separate creation?

    Recalling episodes of Mutual of Omaha’s “Wild Kingdom,” I looked for examples of greed and belligerence. I found some head-butting rams, some cranky rhinos, etc. No evidence of greed among the ungulates, except maybe for females, but only in season. How about the carnivores? Male lions take their fill before others, but that seems like hierarchy, not greed. There were stories of rogue grizzlies, but these were the exception, not the rule. Among the primates–stories of pet chimps going postal make the news, and, as mentioned elsewhere (http://leavingbabylon.wordpress.com/), chimps, apes, bonobos all seem to have their moments of flesh-shredding rage. Are they violent? Are they cruel?

    We may all be asking the wrong questions. We interpret the behavior of animals through a lens of human civilization. We project and transfer emotions onto acts that are not so. The neighbor’s cat that took down a blue jay in my backyard was not cruel. It was being a cat. In the plant kingdom, trees are neither benign nor malevolent. Trees are. If their roots produce chemicals that inhibit the growth of competing plants, it’s survival for the tree. Not good. Not bad. Nothing personal, just is.

    Are humans a part of nature or apart from Nature? Yes. Are we good or are we evil, as deemed by some human standard? Yes. An honest appraisal of one’s personal history reveals the hearts and darts of one’s life. Have I been generous and kind? You bet. Have I behaved badly, spoken meanly, been petty and hurtful? Yup. As another poster pointed out, we can be impulsive, and our brain chemistry dictates our actions. I would posit, however, that much of what we consider selfish, short-sighted, instant-gratification behavior–and greed, avarice and belligerence–is based on fear. Not fight-or-flight-adrenalin-rush terror, but fear, the anticipation of…you name it: death, pain, rejection, exposure, ostracization–and that it is this anticipatory fear that drives us to our pursuit of more: more stuff, more power, more and more control.

    When examining ourselves, humans tend to believe that we Homo sapiens sapiens have the unique ability to override selfish impulses to protect the greater good. We also want to believe that we make decisions independent of outside pressures. Yet, if cultures over the millenia have layered restrictions and taboo that has silted our senses, if the social pressure to succeed in the way the culture defines success is so strong and has become so deeply embedded that it obscures or dismisses any other views, how do we recognize the motivation of our actions, and how do we change the destructive path we seem to be on?

    Bringing this around to the Occupy Movement, Truthout posted Ten Ways Occupy Movement Changes Everything. The list struck me as more wishful thinking than truth. There is push everywhere to define the movement. To tease out its meaning. Its impact. Its implications. It’s been analyzed, hyperbolized, trivialized. I share concern that the movement will be boxed in for convenience, defined down to assuage our fears of its unknown. I’m watching the West Coast movements for it seems that there the tipping point is near.

    • rg the lg says:

      javacat … well stated.

      For the most part I agree with your analysis.

      Culture provides a thin veneer over the genetic human. The genetic human is a direct descendant, along with all other life, from bacteria and archaea like creatures. [As an aside, I suspect that we are actually descended from extremophiles that lived at the edge between the volcanic heat of ‘mid-ocean ridges,’ salt water of those oceans. There heat, pressure and a cacophony of chemicals provided the place of the origin of life.] What culture does, in my sordid and negative view, is rationalize and justify (defend) our horridly selfish behavior. Culture then, is amoral … or perhaps immoral … excuses for the worst behavior of any known life form.

      In order to overcome this, we need to understand that we are hard-wired to be assholes … and that IF we desire a changed means of existence nothing of the current culture should be redeemed without deep thought and understanding of its reality and consequences.

      As a kid, we didn’t have a television (thus my proclivity to read insatiably?) but EVERY Sunday afternoon, I would walk the two miles to my cousins house where we would watch Wild America … that, of course if the sky gods did not intervene with atmospheric conditions that rendered the TV merely a useless (and rather ugly) box. Then we played monopoly … ate some of my aunts sandwiches and then I would walk home. It was a convivial time … full of discussion and debate …

      • Disaffected says:

        Convivial. Very nice LG. Haven’t heard that one in a while.


      • kulturcritic says:

        Rg – you are the most confused and muddy thinker I have ever had the ummm… pleasure… of reading. And, I do not think you and JC are in general agreement. But, I may be wrong about that.

        • javacat says:

          Frankly, after reading through this series of posts, I have no idea wtf anybody is saying or where any of this is going. It feels like a meltdown or total unraveling.

          • Cliff says:

            Hey javacat

            Thanks for the great post above Sandy, DA and rg the lg . I have an interesting idea and hope one day soon to discuss it with you. Keep your eye on the ball it’s still there. I see it and there are others that see it too.

    • kulturcritic says:

      “We interpret the behavior of animals through a lens of human civilization. We project and transfer emotions onto acts that are not so. The neighbor’s cat that took down a blue jay in my backyard was not cruel. It was being a cat. In the plant kingdom, trees are neither benign nor malevolent. Trees are. If their roots produce chemicals that inhibit the growth of competing plants, it’s survival for the tree. Not good. Not bad. Nothing personal, just is.”
      Penetrating analysis, JC!

  22. john patrick says:

    How would you define good and evil between two alternate realities? In a sense, that is what we have… between humans.

    I forget the source, but someone said, “We are only disappointed in humans because we think of them as being closer to saints, rather than apes.” (my sincere apology to the Apes for this example)

    • rg the lg says:

      As an ape, I accept your apologies … but I do not see us (humans) as anything other than apes that took the low road to self annihilation … .

      Self destructive, narcissistic, and what we call morality is nothing short of rationalizing evil as though it is good.

      Strangely quiet Sandy-man … or quietly strange … ????????????

  23. john patrick says:

    Oh CRAP, DA. Are we using middle-English NOW! Fine. Off to Canterbury!!!

  24. Disaffected says:

    I know, I know… Ever the schoolboy. My apologies. Perhaps this will make it right?


    • john patrick says:

      The lead singer must be RU with those crazy tats and no shirt! Oh GAWD, DA.

      • john patrick says:

        I’ll betcha’ that’s what Sandy is doing right now. Them crazy Russians! Probably playing the ukelele with a rose in his beer. I’ve got to re-watch Ice Station Zebra… to get my bearings.

      • Disaffected says:

        You’re talking about none other than Bon Scott, and it would BEHOOVE you to show a little respect there JP. If ANY of your youngn’s in any shape manner or form pledge allegiance to “Metal”, “Heavy Metal,” or ANY of the various “permutations thereof,” then THIS guy was THE GENESIS for ALL of that shit! Freddy Mercury and Robert Plant be damned. AC/DC and Bon Scott / Angus Young were heavy metal before the two (heavy and metal) were even acquainted.


  25. melinda says:

    “We are the Many Not The Few”
    Excellent. Thanks. EXCELLENT.
    Reminds me of the song by Muse, don’t remember the name.
    “They will not destroy us, We will be Victorious.”
    Worth listening to on YouTube.
    The Youth are standing up we need to stand up with them, I am thinking.
    More of us I mean.
    Great Blog site.
    My computer is trying to quit, but have a new one I am slow to learn tho,
    and need to hook it up. Will do, this site Rocks !
    I try to stay quiet and Listen and Learn.

  26. melinda says:

    I was thinking some more and it goes like this : Maybe the govt. is doing the best they can given
    the Money People whoever they all are, have power over them / and us.

    And it is true as someone wrote above here, Abusers Always Blame The Victim.
    Some actually Believe they ARE the victim. That much I know for Sure.

    • kulturcritic says:

      Melinda – you may be right, in part. But in large measure, the government is as complicit as anyone in this collapse.

    • Disaffected says:


      Please familiarize yourself with the term “revolving door.” “The Government” and “The Money People” have long since dropped any pretense of being separate identities. The terms “collusion” and “conspiracy” are SO 20th century. Here in the modern day, we prefer trumped up bullshit terms like “networking synergies” and “public/private partnerships.” See what an MBA will buy you? Access to the vocabulary of Satan* himself.


      *By the way, I drink with the old bastard regularly myself. He’s not really such a bad guy if you put in the time to get to know him. If you like, I’ll put in a good word for you. There’s a new addition opening up in hell (Mortgages are going at NEGATIVE 110% interest! They’ll actually PAY YOU to move here!) suitably named Sparks. Marketing hook? “You can’t actually LIVE in the fires of hell, but you can damn sure luxuriate in its Sparks!” I’m told Wall Streeter’s are all a gaga over the possibilities.

  27. phbbbbbbbbbbt says:

    More mud for Sir Sandy … thought wise.

    I thought I was being profound … maybe mud IS profound …

    Maybe thinking is over rated … .

    That may explain not only the blog … but why we are where we are.

    Maybe it isn’t what we think at all … maybe the thinking is at fault.

    Maybe we are the way we are, here at the end of wherever we are at the end of BECAUSE we think …

    Mayhaps we should take a Cartesian statement and modify it from the perspective of Latin:

    Mephito ergo sum

  28. phbbbbbbbbbbt says:

    Erm, the skunk … mephitis mephitis …

  29. Rg the Lg says:

    “There are private, retiring, and inward natures.”

    “My essential pattern is suited to communication and revelation. I am all in the open and in full view, born for company and friendship.”

    I like best “the sharp, abrupt repartee which good spirits and familiarity introduce among friends, bantering and joking wittingly and keenly with one another.”

    “No propositions astonish me, no beliefs offend me, whatever contrast it offers with my own.”

    Passion leads me to say things that are indiscreet, and I encourage others to do the same … when I am carried away by the topic of discussion, I can be vociferous.

    All, muddy or no, as a means of how to live: be convivial, live with others.

  30. leavergirl says:

    “Mephito ergo sum”

    Too good!

    • kulturcritic says:

      Mephito ergo sum or Mephisto ergo sum; I am confused, am I not?

      • Rg the Lg says:

        Hmm … Latin was back in HS … and I am not sure where all of my notes and Latin materials are. I am thinking mephito … but hey … I am thoroughly and completely capable of being wrong … wrong-headed … and belligerent … but not on this point … just being a wise-ass … and proud that at least one part of me is consistently wise …

  31. Rg the Lg says:

    10 Injunctions

    1. The highest ideals are human intelligence, creativity and love. Respect these above all.
    2. Do not put things or even ideas above other human beings.(Let’s scream at each other about Kindle versus iPad, solar versus nuclear, Republican versus Libertarian, Garth Brooks versus Sun Ra — but when your house is on fire, I’ll be there to help.)
    3. Say what you mean, even when talking to yourself. (What used to be an oath to (G)od is now quite simply respecting yourself.)
    4. Put aside some time to rest and think. (If you’re religious, that might be the Sabbath)
    5. Be there for your family. Love your parents, your partner, and your children. (Love is deeper than honor, and parents matter, but so do spouse and children.)
    6. Respect and protect all human life. (Many believe that “Thou shalt not kill” only refers to people in the same tribe, but it’s all life.)
    7. Keep your promises. (If you can’t be sexually exclusive to your spouse, don’t make that deal.)
    8. Don’t steal.
    9. Don’t lie.
    10. Don’t waste too much time wishing, hoping, and being envious; it’ll make you bugnutty.

    • john patrick says:

      Nicely put. I would only make a change to #6. Respect all life, not just human. Otherwise, we’re back to exceptionalism…

      • rg the lg says:

        It is there … kinda / sorta:
        6. Respect and protect all human life. (Many believe that “Thou shalt not kill” only refers to people in the same tribe, but it’s all life.)

        I will modify it further to state:
        6. Respect and protect all life. (Many believe that “Thou shalt not kill” only refers to people in the same tribe, but it’s all life.)


        I am just tickled …

        • john patrick says:

          Eh. I wasn’t trying to tickle you 🙂 But, yeah… everyone knows (or should) that stealing is wrong, but when it comes to killing–why, that only applies to homo sapiens. Kinda’ hard to claim us as an enlightened specie when we’re eating the carcass of a dead animal for lunch. I mean, really, how are we any different than mr. honey badger? And is “culture” the way we hide it?

          • rg the lg says:

            Speaking of stealing … the ten injunctions is NOT original with me … and I can not quite remember who was the originator.

            And me, a library-guy!

      • Disaffected says:

        And otherwise. Humans have peculiar notions as to what “life” is, which is constantly under revision. Not surprising, as we’re not all that advanced as “life forms” go just yet.


    • Disaffected says:

      RG you LG,

      GREAT post. You’ve inspired me (OH SHIT, HERE IT COMES!). In light of that, mine, in HALF as many injunctions at that:

      1. WE are ALL ONE. The universal/earth consciousness is ONE. There is no difference between that which benefits humans individually and that which benefits the humans/earth/universe.

      2. STOP acting like we are. PERIOD!

      3. SPREAD the word to everyone you know. STOP hiding the light!

      4. REJECT the current world order at every turn, inasmuch as it differs from #1.

      5. NEVER do ANYTHING toward another that you wouldn’t FIRST do toward yourself (see #1).


      By the way, individual “rules” are ALWAYS futile! Nice, maybe; but futile, always.

      • Disaffected says:

        Addendum to #1:

        1. WE are ALL ONE. The universal/earth consciousness is ONE. There is no difference between that which benefits humans individually and that which benefits the humans/earth/universe COLLECTIVELY.


    • Disaffected says:

      And in the end (for THIS universe anyway), there are only two:

      1. YOU ARE all one.

      2. LOVE one another accordingly.


  32. Disaffected says:


    I’ve got to add, the word “Injunctions” just doesn’t do it for me either. Maybe I should just rephrase and repost. Injunctions? No! Admonitions? Yes!


  33. Disaffected says:

    A lot of my Christian friends have been asking me about Hell recently, knowing that as a non-believer and drinking buddy with ol’ Scratch himself, I have full access anytime I want. And I tell them that just like modern day America, Hell just ain’t what it used to be. The corporate influences have really taken their toll on the place, as just like up here, corporate capitalists have moved in in droves, siphoned the profits out of the place, and left the merely legitimately wicked holding the bag for hellaciously huge government deficits. So much so that’s there’s even talk that it might be time for ol’ Scratch himself to step down in favor of a younger demon, possibly even a woman! Their rallying cry has of course been “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned!” Many consider Hillary Clinton an attractive candidate for the job now that she’s getting up in years and looking legitimately satanic in recent photos. Personally, I think they underestimate ol’ Scratch. When I talked to him the other day he was typically reticent. “What in the fuck do these people expect anyway? You send ‘em to Hell and they expect god-damned paradise! Tell ‘em to talk to Jesus if that’s what they want. Hell’s got more than it can hold these days anyway!”

    So here’s the layout of the place. Downtown Hell has pretty much “gone to hell,” so to speak. It’s all corporate now and dominated by highrises. Although the homeless often try to congregate on the busy downtown thoroughfares, the demons are pretty good about “giving them the pitchfork” and forcing them to move along. The corporate types pretty much stick to themselves and stay in their ivory towers. Recent deficit inspired infrastructure cutbacks have led many to complain that the fires just don’t burn as hot as they used to, but I can tell you it’s still pretty damn hot down on the streets. Although the stench of sulphur is of course ever-present throughout the entire Hell metroplex (so much so that after a while you hardly even notice it), it tends to congeal downtown between the highrises. So if you’ve got any history of respiratory problems at all, you’ll probably want to avoid the area altogether. And of course it should be reminded that there are no medical services of any kind available in the entire netherworld, nor is death an option, so those asthma fits can be particularly excruciating down here. THE major downtown watering hole and tourist attraction is none other than The Bottomless Pit down at the corner of Hopeless and Forlorn. The aforementioned Bon Scott is a frequent headliner and crowd favorite, as he waits patiently for the rest of his AC/DC band mates to join him (The eponymously named 1979 album “Highway to Hell” being their very own “deal with the devil” to guarantee admission.). Even ol’ Scratch himself, albeit as the more suave and debonair “Lucifer” is known to frequent the place. Word to the wise: Lucifer gets what he wants when he’s in the place. Many an unwitting young corporate type is still falling for eternity down the aptly named Bottomless Pit thanks to an unfortunate run in with none other than ol’ Scratch himself over some feckless bimbo.

    Right next door is Hades, the main rail and receiving district. Here you’ll find the infamous Gates of Hell receiving station, where the equally infamous Slow Train to Hell completes its destination. And the sign! “Give Up All Hope Ye Who Enter Here!” What more can be said? Here the degenerate losers, gamblers, con men, no-accounts, and lay-abouts – the dregs of society whose only distinction is their sheer mediocrity of wickedness – arrive daily, most with a look of complete bewilderment on their face when the realize their fate. Hades has a lot of open fields filled with the refuse and belongings of the homeless bums who get off the train. Most remain here for the rest of eternity, so as one can imagine, it’s not a pleasant place to be, although for the most part, it’s fairly safe as neighborhoods in Hell go. Unfortunately, the atmosphere degenerates quickly from there…

    The main warehouse district of Perdition lies right next door. Here the drug dealers and junkies go to hang out and torment themselves and each other. The crunch of crack vials can be heard underfoot day and night, and the sweet stench of cooking meth mixes with bitter notes of suphur to produce a noxious bouquet that results in an instant contact high for the unwary caught out wandering the streets of this little corner of hell. Many of the local residents call this place paradise, at least for their first several millennia, although it should be reminded that time passes not at all in this little corner of the universe.

    The manufacturing districts of Inferno and Brimstone come next, and their names truly say it all. These are the forced labor camps for all the jack-booted thugs who enjoyed imposing their will on others in their earthly sojourn, and the furnaces run 24/7 for all of eternity. Pain, torment, and HEAT are the only products manufactured here, and they make A LOT of it! Ol’ Scratch himself is a regular visitor, as he still gets a kick out of stoking the fires himself on a regular basis.

    From there you get into the outlying bedroom communities of Sparks, Effluvia, Hell Hole, Slum City, Shitburbia, and the like. These are all centers of quiet desperation, made up mostly of dysfunctional families who tormented each other throughout their lives, and are now locked in eternal matrimonial and/or paternal conflict with their significant others. Most remain locked in their shitty little bungalows throughout eternity, with only an occasional outburst of violence or similar such drama spilling over to the front lawn for their gossipy neighbors to take notice of, the better to fuel their own domestic warfare. The place is especially noted for the flickering images of the big screen TVs all ablaze at night, as fat, pot bellied husbands belch, fart, and scratch themselves as they yell at their fat, cottage cheese thighed wives to peel their sweaty rear ends up off their cheep, vinyl slip-covered couches and get them another beer for Chrissakes! (Bush Lite is a favorite after a big marketing push by nearby future resident Dick Cheney on the behalf of his former boss you know who). All while their insipid teenage kids and assorted in-laws, outlaws, and scofflaws surf the internet looking for porn and god only knows what other forms of debasement and debauchery, sharing their every demented fantasy with one another over and over for the rest of eternity.

    The upscale community of Hell’s Half Acre (Surely a dig at the poor, for the estates here are measured in tens if not hundreds of square miles.) comes next. Here the big boys hang out with their ill-gotten loot and treasure gained in mortal life (Unfortunately, the old saw about not being able to take it with you – at least on the downstairs journey – is just an old wives’ tale.) and make perpetual war on each other. The aforementioned Dick Cheney is already setting up house right next door to his old mentor “Tricky Dick” Nixon himself. All the heavyweights throughout history – Stalin, Hitler, Pot, Khan, you name ‘em – live out here. Hey, if they have to live in hell, they might as well be comfortable, right? I mean really now! What self-respecting despot could even bear to look at themselves in the mirror if they were to be seen hanging out with the merely wicked? And eternity’s a LONG GOD-DAMNED TIME!

    And finally, out by the resort community of Sulphur Springs lays the world famous Lake of Fire. Here the glitterati of the realm while away their spare time sweating like there’s no tomorrow (because there literally isn’t) and taking an occasional plunge right into the lake itself. In spite of all the hysterics surrounding the place in the Book of Revelations, I’m told the overall tormenting effect is really quite reasonable, especially by Hell’s admittedly elevated standards. The overall effect has been described as “definitely cleansing,” although one should definitely take the time to acclimate one’s self to the place before just diving in head first. Good advice!

    So there you have it. A guided tour of hell. Is it paradise? Not unless you’re a real glutton for punishment (and we do have a few of those down there!). Is it any worse than any number of locales up here these days? Not from what I’m hearing . In fact, hell being hell and all, it’s entirely built on concepts that were first conceived and perfected right up here on good ol’ terra firma. As ol’ Scratch himself is known to tell the newcomers: “Is it hell? Yes of course! But it doesn’t have to be. In the end, it’s gonna be what you all make of it. Now God-Damn you all! Let’s get out there and enjoy some HEAT!”

    • rg the lg says:

      Ah hell!
      And you accused ME of smokin’ funny stuff!

      In this neck of the woods (actually the nearest woods contain McMansions along the Pecos River … or are 50 / 60 miles to the west on the Sacramento uplift) los cristeros would read the above and preach the damned thing on a Sunday reaffirmation of lunacy meeting (commonly called church service).

      I like Injunctions … look at the synonyms … . But as the original is plagiarized anyway … it makes not a difference.

      Differences not made brings up a point about muddy thinking … or perhaps thinking in the mud. This entire blog is full of less than clear thinking … perhaps mine especially … and thus can be accused of muddiness. BUT …

      Whether the thinking is muddy or not, despite the occasional accusation of bowel deposits, et al, there is a certain ‘magic’ herein … a general conviviality we seldom see in local discourse. (Local refers to where YOU live and to the interactions of family / friends / neighbors / acquaintances, etc.) It is a rare, and thus precious, thing … and can not be easily quantified by some smarty-pants MBA drinking himself to oblivion because …

      NOT TO BE OBLIVIOUS HURTS TO Eff-ing MUCH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      • Disaffected says:

        I think I’m going to repost the above in a few days if Sandy doesn’t mind. I’ve got time on my hands today (hell, for the next WEEK!), so I’m going to stretch this one out a bit and do it right!

        By the way… Pecos River? You and I are in the same vicinity my friend.


    • john patrick says:

      Life has its own life. And then, there is the Other life.

  34. rg the lg says:

    DA .. figured you were close … have all the markings of a rat … desert rat, that is.

    In case no one else knows, we of the rata de desierto breed will drink damn near anything … except, for me, sulfites.

    Uh, Sandiferous-hombre … rata de desierto is something akin to: крыса пустыни … assuming I have not messed up completely.

  35. Cliff says:

    DA Very entertaining tour of Hell????? So what does the tour opposite to hell look like?
    Does it look anything like some? of our lives that may amply be at a distance from the fires all around?
    I guess unless you accidentally be dwelling near the next fracking operation or oil pipeline. These sorts of infractions might just out do the sulfites eh? Sorry to splash water on the party.

    • Disaffected says:

      The subtext was that “Hell” is pretty damn similar to our current lives. There’s some sort of literary term for that, but I just fantasize; I don’t theorize, conceptualize, or categorize.

      Yeah, I forgot fracking. I always forget something when I do these things. And fracking has the potential to be a biggy doesn’t it? Fuck up the water table and lead directly to localized seismic activity. That’s some pretty dire shit, and yet we march blindly on, compelled by our junky’s addiction to the black gooey stuff and it’s many derivatives. We are indeed just SO fucked! So much so that we have no clue that we even ARE fucked. We are now sailing full steam into the perfect storm – impending financial collapse, vital energy resource depletion, and global climate and earth changes – which combined with an infantile predilection for looking for “Saviors” of any kind – political, religious, technological, or even merely personal – virtually GUARANTEES the end of the current world order, and with it the wholesale die-off of several billion humans who are only alive in the first place due to our collective mass hallucination that the three factors above don’t exist and aren’t important.

      “The world as we know it” is about to become one we totally don’t. For us old guys, it’ll be no big deal. I’ve had more than my allotted time now anyway. For anyone younger than thirty, everything’s about to change for you, and not in a good way. Sorry about that, but this has been a collective fuck up on all of our parts over the course of certainly the past 100 years or so, if not more. No point pissing and whining about how we got here now. What’s done is done. The best you can do now is resist the sirens’ song of the religious nuts, as they’re already coming out of the woodwork. Cockroaches will do that. Hint: turn the light on the little bastards and watch them run for cover. No need to run around crushing them or anything, as they just breed faster when you do that. Religious cockroaches HATE the light! It shows them for the slimy, ugly, hysterical little bugs that they really are.

      I think I’m out now as well. I’m taking a week off to decompress and disconnect, and after that reassess the direction of things and probably find another road to travel for a while. In the end, I’m not really cut out for “reigning things in,” so I invariably wear out my welcome wherever I go. That’s probably even a good thing. Most people I know tell me I’m the most extreme personality they’ve ever met. Never believed in moderation, never believed in dilution, never believed in merely being polite. Now someone PLEASE set me up another FUCKING IPA and let’s get back to BLOGGING!


      • Cliff says:

        Nice job DA! I’m with you all the way. Must be that generation thing. We have a lot of energy, Sandy seems to also. Over the many years of seeing myself stuck/part of that perfect storm that looms just over the horizon I decided to take my that energy,anger, etc on an inner journey. No, No little artificial helpers from the apothecary involved here. Granted I still have senses/instincts/ stimulus and predictable response unfortunately, However for a certain long period in or maybe I should say “out of time time” I virtually stepped outside of the normal??? human condition and discovered some very interesting things. These things I always remind myself of.

        To do this required me not to go easy on myself and using that same energy/anger began to engage, to question all my thoughts first impressions and slowly began to watch what became a TV screen replaying the same scenes over and over. These scenes however were /are masterfully disguised and at first I was not even conscious of them. However, after working diligently for some bit of space/time I began to see this TV as merely a separate entity from my new found observations/observer/self.

        Some of the benefits :
        I was no longer a slave to the stimulus-response condition, part of the human condition. What I mean by this is that I stepped far enough away to rarely have my senses be the rulers of my universe. So what use could this possibly be? Impressions, judgement began to slip away and as I got more comfortable with this new skin I experienced a wholeness and unity with few separations and distinctions, with little differentiating my existence from everything around me. So what useful or altruistic purpose could come from being here? I just like to ramble anyone care to join this ramble?

        • javacat says:

          OK, I’ll join the ramble, but others need to come along, or it’ll get dull with just one other voice. Given the current standard, stepping out of the ‘normal’ human condition sounds like a pretty sane move. Reading your post, I’ve got more questions than experience. If you’re willing to share more of your process, I’d be grateful.

          Is it fair to say that your choice of location physically extricated you the distractions and repeating screens of common culture? When you say that you’re no longer a slave to the stimulus-response, do you mean the cultural, conditioned stimulus-response rather than sensual stimuli of the natural world? Or, if you do mean somehow removed from the senses as rulers, how do you move in the world?

          Hope this helps get things started. 🙂

        • Disaffected says:

          “Seeing” yourself in proper perspective requires truly trying to step outside of yourself and see yourself not so much as others see you, but to see yourself as you would see another. A tough task to say the least, and for most, not a pleasant one at all.

          Having met many (more than a few?) people in the past few years who are seemingly ALL TOO “content within their own skins,” I can honestly say that they represent my greatest envy – provided they are who they actually say they are. Somehow, I remain unconvinced, even as I’m still TOTALLY uncomfortable in mine!

          Perhaps I am truly a damaged individual. I don’t doubt that for an instant, given my less than perfect upbringing and subsequent life choices. That said, I’ve certainly had it better than most in almost ALL respects, so blaming my circumstances at this late date almost certainly comes off as mere sour grapes. And I’ve never once desired to rule the world or any portion of it, or own anywhere near more than my “fair share” either. So just WHAT in the fuck is my – and those like me’s – problem?


          Despite all my rage, I am still just a rat in a cage.

          Same as it ever was.


          • kulturcritic says:

            “Despite all my rage, I am still just a rat in a cage.”

            DA – you really should read Dostoyevsky, Notes From Underground, you will enjoy it immensely. sandy

            • Disaffected says:


              Perhaps. Although I’m somewhat wide-read, I STILL prefer the wide-eyed moment of REALIZING something for the first time PERSONALLY. Preferably when it hits me like a sledge hammer between the eyes, smashing my brains like a slurry against my skull, all the better to reorganize all my subsequent thoughts accordingly. THAT’S what I LIKE! There’s nothing like it!


            • Disaffected says:

              By the way, I’m no stranger to the rantings of ol’ Fyodor. Christ all mighty! You should know by now that I’m a kindred spirit!

              You fucking Russians cum lately!


              • kulturcritic says:

                I figured so much. Check out the Notes from Underground if you haven’t already. You will find an incredibly kindred soul there, my friend. It will be like a sledgehammer between the eyes.

  36. Cliff says:

    In an earlier post by Murph. Our drugs of choice be it Beer, vodka..Mind altering chemicals, tend to lead/assist offer maybe temporary resolutions..feel goods but in fact could this apothecary be showing us there is something maybe just temporarily a wee bit out of our reach, waiting for us just around the bend, and with a little more personal observation/effort one might accidentally find themselves permanently around that magical bend.

    Over the course of these discussions there’s been numerous mentions in past posts of the gobbledeegoop of thinking mind(brain?) thoughts..beliefs As a very willfull participant in the counter culture, and some of us may also where this badge from yars gone by, it was aptly clear to me that my mind altering experiences revealed to me that there is always PRESENT an observer and the thinker. or an observer of the thinker. Have others had this experience?Would anyone care to comment on what this split is and what relationship it may hold to human social order? Its clear that most of us at various times and in various intensities wallow in the gobledeegoop, thought. But what about the OBSERVER. It doesn’t appear to be a wallower or does it?

    • javacat says:

      Cliff, a most excellent challenge! I’ll need some more time to consider and reply, and look forward to a growing discussion.

    • javacat says:

      Conventional thinking follows that libations of choice–IPA, cheap Napa, vodka, name your poison–change our body chemistry, reduce social and emotional inhibitions (though which ones and to what degree certainly vary by volume and individual), and may thus allow the ego-guard to nod off for a while and let the inner mind wander, only to be snapped back in line once the effects wear off.

      That thinking doesn’t go far enough. Often the effects offer more than letting one dance in public; they let us move around, through and under the barriers created by social, religious and political norms. Our mind can bend differently because it’s not so constrained by a maze of barriers that make up our inner cultural blocks. Yes, I agree that we recognize that bit that is just out of reach, catch it out of the corner of our eye, and see it disappearing around the corner before we get a good view. Perhaps it’s a sense that our captivity is an illusion, and there really are no internal barriers.

      I think I have had the kind of experience you describe, of the observer and the thinker/the observer of the thinker. I describe the observer as seeing from a different place, from ‘behind the eyes’–if that makes any sense at all. Not so much a physical place as another perspective that has a different energy and a different kind of sight.

      From what I can tell, most of us are mostly in the thinker mode, unaware or not paying attention to or actively dismissing the observer. It makes me think that we are locked into one realm of being–the ratio-thinking mode–and that makes us very susceptible to manipulations that we’re not even aware of, often presented as the normal order of business. If we’re using the notion of the observer in the same way at all, Cliff, I see a need to cultivate that observer as a means opening one’s perceptions of the world to many different levels, forms, modes, vibrations–Or, maybe I’m just wallowing in gobbledygook.

      • kulturcritic says:

        Freud might talk of the ego-super ego, id, distinction. Cliff, JC, et al

      • Cliff says:

        Hi Javacat

        No you are certainly NOT wallowing in the gobbldegook. That observer happens to be a connectedness that joins all of existence together without distractions and separations. The repeating screens that pass by that you mention in a previous post can be interrupted and should be. At first it requires us to no longer associate these screens as with who we are, Each screen usually has an emotional affect associated with it. These emotional pieces take us for the ride, grabbing our valuable time, denying us from remaining in the present moment, which I have seen is an act of creation.
        just like you create a piece of art when you’re in the flow, creating something you are in the moment. After Willful efforts, eventually this screen flies by and like a speeding car no longer grabs your attention and sucks you in. In order to do this for any sustained length I needed to completely accept myself / take responsibility and accept that this screen( anger, judgements,fears,) originated within. So it was possible for me to interrupt and discontinue these maligencies.

        Javacat If you do not mind going to the latest topic there are three, Jack Flash and Malena, of us discussing this same idea. Hope to join you over there / here
        Idea of the observer and overcoming the impressions caused by our senses

    • Disaffected says:


      I have to tell you, as a former (and who knows, maybe current?) DEEP “mind alterer,” I sometimes find you “johnny come lately” guys DEEPLY disturbing.

      I feel compelled to tell you that the amount of “mind alteration” that has already occurred among even such “normal” folk as I (if only selecting for “normal” lifestyles and “normal” incomes) is simply WAY MORE THAN YOU CAN POSSIBLY IMAGINE!

      My “comment” is simply that the “NORMAL” social order in the capitalist west is so UTTERLY PATHOLOGICAL that not even seemingly “normal” social/economic ladder climbers like me can possibly do it without the aid of mind altering substances. And even THAT doesn’t put out the fire in the belly ultimately.

      Wanna know what the cancer that kills everyone in the west is caused by? Greed and avarice, systemically embodied as AMERICAN CORPORATE CAPITALISM! Say no more.

      QUIT mincing words and call the devil by his name! Ol’ Scratch will actually RESPECT you for it! The god-damned coward profiteers surely won’t!


  37. rg the lg says:

    Hasta la bye – bye …

    This is my LAST post to this blog …
    I evidently offended someone …
    I’d say I was sorry if I was … but I’m not.

  38. Cliff says:

    rg the lg. You CERTAINLY did not offend me. Maybe I offended you? That was not my intent.
    All thoughts opinions are always welcome.
    Hasta Pronto

  39. I personally believe this specific posting , “Avarice, Belligerence, Greed: A Reflection On
    Human Nature | kulturCritic”, especially engaging and also the post was indeed
    a remarkable read. Thanks for the post-Lionel

  40. JEAN says:

    Well stated. What can save mankind?

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