05 April 2011



LIFE. A distinguished panel discusses the origins of life, the possibility of finding life elsewhere, and the latest development in synthetic biology. The video is 41 minutes long, but the exchange of ideas is spirited and provocative, eliciting laughter and applause from the audience.

DEATH. In Death Anxiety Shapes Views on Evolution, Tom Jacobs reports that, although evolutionary theory is the foundation of modern biology, fewer than 40 percent of Americans say they believe in it. "While frustrated scientists sometimes blame religion for this knowledge gap, newly published research suggests that the key factor isn't faith per se, but rather a benefit it provides that Darwin does not -- a sense that our all-too-short lives have meaning.

" .... a sense of literal immortality may be provided by religious belief in afterlife, and a sense of symbolic immortality may be provided by 'living on' through one's accomplishments, offspring, or cultural affiliations .... Reminders of death tend to evoke 'enthusiastic adherence' to our religious and political belief systems, since they are the mechanisms that promise us either literal or symbolic immortality .... Evolutionary theory, which views human life as the product of a lengthy chain of natural events, seems 'existentially bleak' to many people.

" .... So are we emotionally predisposed to stay scientifically ignorant? Not necessarily. [In one phase of the study's experiments)], half of the participants read a passage by cosmologist and science writer Carl Sagan. In it, he argued that 'humans can attain meaning and purpose by seeking to understand the natural origins of life. Even if we are merely matter, we can still find purpose, but it must be one that we work out for ourselves.'

"Among those who were exposed to Sagan's notions, thoughts of mortality produced a negative reaction to intelligent design theory and a positive one toward evolution. It seems the study participants were still looking for meaning in response to an existential threat. But after being told by a trusted source that scientific study can satisfy this longing, they found Darwin's concepts surprisingly appealing."

Note: while an existential fear of death may explain the intensity with which people cling to religion, or resist the explanatory power of evolution, it remains true that religion (another word for superstition) perpetuates this fear for its own self-perpetuation. To the extent that this is true, religion persists in behaving irresponsibly, and not in the best interests of its adherents.

THE ECONOMY. Here are three very different perspectives on the economic meltdown we've experienced over the past 30 years, starting with the Reagan presidency. In a somewhat random gathering of facts, you will find Rich vs. Poor: 14 Funny Statistics and 14 Not So Funny Statistics About This 'Economic Recovery'. The depressing trend continues in the astonishing fact that 11.4 % of All U.S. Homes Are Vacant. That may seem like an opportunity for those who have disposable capital, but who among us does? Precious few, it turns out. Of the 1 %, By the 1 %, For the 1 % explains who, and why. Over the past four decades, thanks to conservative legislators and administrations, the nation's wealth has become more and more concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer people, until we've reached the point where the top 1 percent of the nation's citizens control 40 percent of the nation's wealth. "Those in the middle have actually seen their incomes fall. For men with only high school degrees, the decline has been precipitous -- 12 percent in the last quarter century alone. All the growth in recent decades has gone to those at the top."

How can this be? Here's how. Tax loopholes have been created for the rich by conservative legislators and administrations -- in particular, "lowering tax rates on capital gains, which is how the rich receive a large portion of their income, has given the wealthiest Americans close to a free ride .... Much of today's inequality is due to manipulation of the financial system, enabled by changes in the rules that have been bought and paid for by the financial industry itself -- one of its best investments ever. The government lent money to financial institutions at close to zero percent interest and provided generous bailouts on favorable terms when all else failed. Regulators turned a blind eye to a lack of transparency and to conflicts of interest .... Wealth begets power, which begets more wealth.

"America's inequality distorts our society in every conceivable way .... people outside the top 1 percent increasingly live beyond their (shrinking) means .... Inequality massively distorts our foreign policy. The top 1 percent rarely serve in the military -- the reality is that the 'all-volunteer' army does not pay enough to attract their sons and daughters, and patriotism only goes so far. Plus, the wealthiest class feels no pinch from higher taxes when the nation goes to war -- borrowed money will pay for all that. Foreign policy, by definition, is about the balancing of national interests and national resources. With the top 1 percent in charge, and paying no price, the notion of balance and restraint goes out the window. There is no limit to the adventures we can undertake: corporations and contractors stand only to gain. The rules of economic globalization are likewise designed to benefit the rich. They encourage competition among countries for business, which drives down taxes for corporations, weakens health and environmental protections, and undermines what used to be regarded as the 'core' labor rights, including the right to collective bargaining. Imagine what the world might look like if the rules were designed instead to encourage competition among countries for workers. Governments would compete in providing economic security, low taxes on ordinary wage earners, good education, and a clean environment -- things workers care about. But the top 1 percent don't need to care. Or, more accurately, they think they don't.

" .... The top 1 percent have the best houses, the best educations, the best doctors, and the best lifestyles, but there is one thing that money doesn't seem to have bought: an understanding that their fate is bound up with how the other 99 percent live. Throughout history, this is something that the top 1 percent eventually do learn. Too late."

No comments:

Post a Comment