Natural Born

They descended from Siberian nomads. Some 8 thousand years ago, they  crossed the Bering Strait into North America. The Nemeruh – “the people” – came to live a primitive hunting and gathering life in eastern Wyoming .  They had no pottery, no farming, no priests . . .they were Stone Age hunters.

In the early 1600’s, Spaniards from Mexico brought Arabian-bred desert horses to the Americas. . . Mustangs.  Some of them got away.  Within a few decades there were . . .millions. . . ,wild, and roaming the plains and canyons of the west, all the way into Canada.

In those times, in the Great Plains of North America, buffalo herds as large as 4 million strong grazed the rolling fields of grass, in groups as large as 50 miles long and 25 miles wide.

The native peoples, particularly the Nemeruh, became highly skilled horsemen.  Horses empowered hunting. . .but also war, territorial war between native peoples.  The Nemeruh relentlessly fought their way south, displacing the Apache’s, the Ute’s and others, and conquered the greatest buffalo country of all, the Llano Estate – the lands of northern Texas and Oklahoma.

They became known as the Comanches, so named by the Ute’s as “those who are always against us”.

“A Comanche brave who captured a live Ute would torture him to death without question.  A Comanche captured by a Ute would expect to receive exactly the same treatment.

The Nemeruh, and all the Plains peoples, lived ”immersed in the elemental world” of the “endless, trackless, and mostly waterless expanse of undulating grass” – the “oceanic” plains that were filled with natural fires, sudden storms, blizzards, venomous snakes, and ravenous predator beasts.

Their life was “ceaseless toil, hunger, constant war, and early death”, but also PURE MAGIC, with “spirits everywhere, in rocks, trees, and in animals” and nights filled with dancing and singing.  The raw liver of a freshly killed buffalo was a delicacy, as was the curdled milk form the stomach of a still nursing bison calf.  They never ate the buffalo heart.  They lived intensely alive.

”virtually all the Indian tribes waged war against their neighbors and practiced deeply sickening torture. Prisoners who weren’t tomahawked on the spot could expect to be disemboweled and tied to a tree with their own intestines, roasted to death over a slow fire, or simply hacked to pieces and fed alive to the dogs.”

Once, they captured and adopted Daniel Boone’s grand daughter. but after a raid against them by settlers, they tied her high in a tree, alive, and shot her full of  arrows.

The Comanches . . . ‘stopped cold’  . . . the northern advance of the Spaniards and the western advance of the Americans. . .  for 150 years.  They were the very last holdout of native people against the tide of settlers in North America.  Only the deliberate slaughter of the buffalo could bring them to submission.

The strength of their attachment to each other, and the demonstration they gave of the same, even to the dividing of the last morsel with each other upon the point of starvation, might put any professed Christians to blush!  But they were just the reverse of all this to all the world outside.”

No Such Thing

Sir John Cowperthwaite was financial secretary of Hong Kong from 1961 – 1971.

His administration did not collect any economic data during his tenure.”  Jairaj Devadiga

“if I let them compute theses statistics, they’ll want to use them for planning.”

During Cowperthwaite’s administration, Hong Kong grew “ from being only one fourth as rich as the United Kingdom in 1961, to being 40% richer by 1996′.

What should poor countries do?  His advice:  “Abolish their office of natural statistics”.

When management is driven by statistics. it leads to what is called. . . Surrogation.  Metrics get misinterpreted as goals.

Measurement, contrary to all conventional wisdom, leads to mismanagement.  

Case in point:  Soviet Russia

Fifty years ago, 180,000 whales disappeared from the oceans”.  Charles Homans.

This was due to Soviet fishing. “In one season alone, from 1950 to 1951, Soviet ships killed nearly 13,000 hump back whales.”

But Russia didn’t need whale fishing product.

The Soviet whalers . . . were motivated by an obligation to satisfy obscure line items in the five year plans that drove the Soviet economy.  In the grand calculus of the country’s planned economy – the dictates of the State Planning Committee of the Council of Ministeries – whaling was considered a satellite of the fishing industry

Gross fish tonnage was the metric goal.  Harvesting whales was the easiest way to tonnage.

No matter what, the plan must be met.”

We tend to think of society as a unitary whole with unitary motivations, which needs central control, top-down and machine-like, to achieve focused goals, driven by the statistics of outcomes.  Mussolini made the trains run on time.

“. . .when [one party autocracy] is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as china is today, it can also have great advantages.  That one party can just impose the politically difficult but critically important policies needed to move a society forward in the 21st century.”   Thomas Friedman

And yet societies in history that have flourished have been more biologicwith bottom-up, ecological networks of distributed motivations, interests, and initiatives.

Milton Friedman:

”[Enlightenment]liberalism takes freedom of the individual – really, of the family – as its ultimate value.”

The major problem of modern society is the achievement of liberty and individual responsibility in a world that requires co-ordination of many of millions of people in production to make full use of modern knowledge and technology.”

”Society is a collection of individuals and the whole is no greater than the sum of its parts.”

“The challenge is to reconcile individual freedom with wide-spread interdependence.”

”Voluntary exchange is a way to get cooperation among individuals without coercion.  The reliance on voluntary exchange, which means on a free market mechanism, is thus central to the liberal creed.”

”Both sides to an economic transaction can benefit from it, if the transaction is voluntary and informed”.

Margaret Thatcher:

”. . .  they are casting their problems on society, and who is society? There is NO SUCH THING as Society.   There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except thru people and people look to themselves first.”   

 

 

 

 

 

Tyrant Lizard King

600 million years ago, in the Burgess Shale fossils of Canada, one can see dramatic changes happening in evolution.  Life is exploding in form and diversity.  Nature is experimenting wildly, with body shapes, body parts, eyes, and heads, fossils that look like Pixar animation.  We aren’t sure why, but at that time, animals started eating other animals . . .alive.  The dance of predator and prey, it seems, was creating an evolutionary storm

It is one thing for life to learn to survive in the elements, to be able to find and digest food, reproduce and survive the weather.  It is another to survive the attacks of other living beings, to outsmart other beings that are trying to outsmart you.  A spiral of deceit and evasion and ferocity develops.  Both predator and prey push each other to get bigger, and quicker, and meaner, and smarter . . . fast.  

Forward 350 million years, as the great single-continent land mass, PANGEA, is splitting apart,  causing a hell-fire holocaust of volcanic eruption called the Permian Extinction, predator and prey evolution culminates in the age of the dinosaurs.

as the world was going to hell, dinosaurs were thriving, somehow taking advantage of the chaos around them”  The Rise and Fall of Dinosaurs,  Steve Brusatte.

Prey became bigger and more herd-like, utilizing defense in numbers and size, and more and more armored with horns and plates of skin. The Sauropods, like Argentinosauris – the largest animal ever on land on Earth –  were four London buses long and five stories tall.

Predators became more and more cunning and vicious killing machines.   Initially it was the crocodile, Archosauros, that ruled the killer world. Then came the Allosauros, the “butcher of the Jurassic”.  Finally came the  most ferocious hunter and killer of our planet’s history. . . Tyrannosaurus Rex.  

Movie maker Steven Spielberg, did not have to exaggerate the evil, monstrous nature of Tyrannosaurus Rex.

T. Rex appears, almost exclusively in North America, 85 million years ago.  He was 35-40 feet long, could weigh up to 7 tons, had teeth the size of bananas, 58 of them, the head the size of a car, and massive, bone crushing jaws capable of 3000 pounds of pressure, the strongest bite of any known animal on earth. His skull was built like an airplane fuselage, to withstand the forces of his bite.  All his action was in his head.  He didn’t chew. . .he ripped and crushed.  He bit deeply and. . . pulled.    

T. Rex hunted in packs. He had exceptional low frequency hearing.  Like a seismometer, he would know, from far away, where you were.  His camera eyes were the size of grapefruits.  He had satanic horns for eyelashes.   He was covered in scales and feathers like some freakish Mardi Gras nightmare.

 T. Rex was the largest predator that has ever lived on land in the 4.5 billion years of life’s history on Earth.  This meat lusting monster travelled in packs!  He had bird’s lungs, and could breath in his bones.  He could run 25 miles per hour.  He was as smart as a chimpanzee. . the animal today that is thought to most closely rival human intelligence!  He had very good smell.  His only ‘weakness’ – he couldn’t turn well.  

Empathy was not much in the T Rex brain.  Young T. Rex may have wanted to get away from Momma T. Rex as soon as possible.

To this day, there is no fossil evidence of T. Rex eggs. . . .

Triceratops seems to have eventually been his main prey, a 40 ton gargantuan – the size of 5 elephants – with very thick scale and a giant, goring central unicorn horn. He was hard to bite without getting pierced.  

 T. Rex was just so good that his success was likely spelling his own doom, as he would eventually kill himself out of food.  Before that, only God, it seems, could stop this Devil on Earth, and it seems God actually did. 

Tyrannosaurus Rex and Triceratops were present on the Day of the  Chicxulub asteroid impact 65 million years ago, the great inferno that brought to an end the Age of Dinosaurs, and T. Rex, and the spiraling horror show of predator and prey.    

Birds are the only surviving dinosaurs today.

Nature it seems, for a long time was better at making killers than cooperators.  Only small, nocturnal, rodent mammals, running under foot, at night, could co-exist in the Tyrannosaurus heyday, too small to bother with for T. Rex.  Only after the asteroid impact could gentler predators, and greater cooperation. . .the age of mammals. . . flourish.  

Eventually came Humans, as good at cooperation as T. Rex was at killing. They may be next to put themselves out of business. . .  if God doesn’t.   

Laureate

There is singing, and then there is singing. Bob Dylan does singing.  Listen to  ‘House of the rising Sun’, on his very first album.

Malcolm Gladwell speaks of innovators, people who are always different.  They wear odd clothes, and in ways that others don’t and wouldn’t.  They start fads, but they don’t follow them.  They never follow anything.  Whatever it is that makes most people want to be like others, and join in with others, they don’t have.  It is a life strategy.  Think about it.  Always being different avoids comparison.  You can win when only you are playing.

What others think about me, or feel about me, that’s so irrelevant.  Anymore than it is for me, when I go see a movie, say Wuthering Heights or something, and have to wonder what Lawrence Olivier is really like.”

This is Nobel Laureate, Bob Dylan.  He insists on being him, whether you like it or not. With a born focus  on his own, inner experience, with his trained skills of melody and lyric, he expresses what he finds there.  He wants no contrivance, no preconceived, or planned song. And he doesn’t want us to understand him.  He doesn’t think we should try to understand him.

“It’s all in the songs.”  Be open to what a song does for you, not what you are told to think it means, or what you think it is supposed to mean. Rather than think the song. . .feel it.

If a song moves, you, that’s all that’s important.  I don’t have to know what a song means.  I’ve written all kinds of things into my songs.  And I’m not going to worry about it – what it all means.”

Hey Mr. Tambourine man/ Play a song for me/Take me on a trip upon your magic swirlin’ ship/My senses have been stripped/My hands can’t feel to grip/My toes too numb to step/wait only for my boot heels to be wandering/I’m ready to go anywhere/ I’m ready for to fade/Into my own parade/Cast your dancing spell my way/I promise to go under it.

I can write a song in a crowded room.  Inspiration can hit you anywhere.  It’s magic.  It really is beyond me.”

My songs are personal music, they’re not communal.  I wouldn’t want people singing along with me.  It would sound funny.  I’m not playing campfire meetings.”

My hearts in the highlands with the horses and hounds/Way up in the border country far from the towns/With the twang of the arrow and the snap of the bow/My heart’s in the highlands, can’t see any other way to go

“John Donne, the poet-priest who lived in the time of Shakespeare, wrote these words, ‘the Sestos and Abydos of her breasts.  Not of two lovers, but two loves, the nests’.  I don’t know what it means, either.  But it sounds good.  And you want your songs to sound good.”  Nobel Lecture, 2017.

“I’m no poet. Poets drown in lakes.”

I am a Ghost

 

I don’t really know what the interior of anybody else is like – I often feel very fragmented, and as if I have a symphony of different voices, and voice overs, and factoids, going on all the time, and digressions on digressions…”  David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace was always Meta-thinking – thinking about thinking.  He could be insightful, and engaging, and interesting, but get lost in recursions and riddles of semantics, and in puzzles of grammar.

He lived inside his head.

He would talk about the “special sort of buzz” logical thinking could give him.

a gorgeously simple solution to a problem you suddenly see, after half a notebook with gnarly attempted solutions, you about hear a . . .click“.

Boredom was terrifying.  He suffered severe writer’s block. There was this constant, oppressive feeling of something not feeling right, that he wasn’t really, somehow. . . him.  He felt a menacing sense of disconnection with himself.

Being a person was like being a ghost.

Substance use gave him great relief, it helped him feel whole.  He became addicted with a natural ease.

At a Kenyon College commencement, speaking to an audience of avid readers and writers, he tried to warn them about the dangers of the mental life:  be careful! mentation isn’t all it is cracked up to be! you can be a fish swimming in water, and not know what water is.  Stay grounded in simple truths, he said, somehow they are really true.

The word despair is overused and banalized now but it’s a serious word, and I’m using it seriously.  It’s close to what people call dread or angst, but it’s not these things, quite it’s more like wanting to die in order to escape the unbearable sadness of knowing I’m small and selfish and going, without a doubt, to die.  It’s wanting to jump overboard.”

Julian Jaynes famously noted that the mind of Achilles, in the Iliad – a mind solely and completely in the present – is very different from the mind of Odysseus, in the Odyssey – a mind scheming to manipulate appearance and orchestrate the future. Sometime in antiquity, between the Iliad and the Odyssey, Jaynes thought, the human mind had changed.  Perhaps it was the advent of writing, and the emergence of the reading mind.  Reading ignites the imagination.

With people like David Foster Wallace, reading can take the imagination too far.

With endless digressions, and foot notes to foot notes, the writing of David Foster Wallace is more a psychiatric exposition than it is literature.  He conveys for us his lost, unmoored, and painful experience of being. That is his sad contribution.

He waited two more days for an opportunity.  In the early evening on Friday, September 12, Wallace suggested that his wife go out to prepare for an opening…After she left, he went into the garage and turned on the lights.  He wrote her a two page note.  Then he crossed through the house to the patio, where he climbed onto a chair and hanged himself.”