Friday, July 8, 2016

Preface to Death of Denial

Some of you may have wonder why the posts on this Blog have been so infrequent over the last year and half. I’ve been living in two different worlds. I’ve been writing a novel – volume one of The Stockholm Trilogy.

It's a fictional third person narrative that takes place in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. There are four main characters. The plot begins as a mystery that soon evolves into an espionage thriller. As in life, just when the intrigue becomes intelligible, an accident occurs that completely changes everything.

Last fall I completed the first draft. Since then several of my friends have read, edited, and critiqued it, offering their advice and counsel. Recently, I completed my fourth draft.

I am now in the process of trying to find a literary agent while researching the next volume. The following is the preface to Death of Denial:

Preface: Merely an Illusion

Refusing to believe something until proof is given is a rational position. However, when the fear of reality renders our brains incapable of accepting the truth and knowledge is rejected even when the illumination is blinding, delay often becomes the deadliest form of denial.

Of all the arcane questions that confront and confuse human beings the most baffling is the human brain’s inability to comprehend itself. It is both peculiar and informative. Though it has often been mired in fear and superstition, its slow, gradual evolution toward awareness has been significant. Over time, as it has experienced diverse streams of knowledge, it has revealed a remarkable ability to appreciate the difference between wisdom and foolishness. And yet, its irrational, debilitating fear of death together with its habitual impulse for myth making has left it susceptible to the seductive whims of ignorance and the often-antiquated beliefs and customs of the ruling authorities.

As conscious beings, destined to die, with deep inner feelings for life and self-expression, our vain desire for immortality has restrained rational thought, allowing us to entertain preposterous beliefs of faith-based, magical thinking. Unconsciously conspiring to keep the reality of our inevitable demise hidden within the recesses of our brains, we conjure up a supernatural being to lead our imagined immortal souls through the valley of the shadow of death to a heavenly hereafter.

Though we do not know how or when it happened (perhaps tens of thousands of years ago or longer), human beings began to acquire a series of genetic mutations with exceptional psychological abilities that enable us to get along with one another, to participate in collective cognition. These unique capacities over time made it possible for us to cooperatively gain knowledge through imitation, shared experiences, language, and collaboration – transforming the human brain through cultural evolution. In the process we became moral creatures, able to appreciate how our own behavior affects the lives of others.

According to researchers, humans innately feel emotions, such as affection, empathy, and gratitude that are essential to functioning well within a group. These feelings are so basic that for most of us, working together to achieve a common aim seems to be a natural, involuntary human interest. However, there have always been individuals (for a variety of neurological reasons) that find cooperation in varying degrees difficult, if not impossible. In an effort to protect the group from those individuals who exhibit conduct that adversely affect others, rules to regulate and attempts to manipulate human behavior with rewards and punishment began to be implemented and consequences administered.

For as long as human intuition, perception, and reasoning have existed, people have wondered and speculated about why some folks choose to harm others. Putting aside religious and other mythical explanations, it does not take a neurobiologist to realize that the cause lies within the brain. Everything that we feel, think, and do is the result of a complex network of brain cells firing in a specific way, allowing us to function as we do. The question then arises, “If that neural network is firing abnormally, are we morally responsible for the inappropriate behavior that follows?”

Regrettably, too many of us believe that what appears to be self-evident – that all sane adults not only possess a similar capacity to make wise and rational decisions but the “free will” to do so – conforms to reality. It’s an accommodating conviction but one that is demonstrably wrong. No two brains are alike. Nor, has the ancient debate concerning the existence of free will ever been resolved, let alone proven.

First off, the idea that the capacities of our brains are equal or comparable is a myth. Written in two molecular strands of nucleic acids coiled around each other, our unique genetic blueprints are born into environments and circumstances that are exclusively our own and which none of us has the ability to control, let alone understand. Through the complex interaction of heredity and environment we all have developed perspectives, personalities, and capacities that are uniquely our own, can vary greatly, and may traumatically change in the blink of an eye.

Though it seems that we possess the free will to make morally acceptable choices, the evidence remains uncertain. We may, in fact, merely be dangling marionettes dancing from distinct genetic cords within diverse ecological settings that may or may not be adequate to sustain growth and development.

More to the point, we now know that very advanced and complex behaviors occur constantly in the absence of consciously willing them. Blinking, swallowing, breathing, the beating of our hearts, as well as the neurochemistry of our brains all function involuntary. Even if free will existed, it would have little, if any, opportunity to operate free of the laws of biology. At best, it would be an inconsequential factor in a vast neural network formed and influenced by genes and environment, reducing choice to merely an illusion.

It is, therefore, extremely problematic to imagine that we can walk a mile in the shoes of another human being and presume to know them. Not unless we are made up of identical DNA and exposed to the same embryonic and childhood conditions (e.g., substance, physical, and psychological) can we ever begin to approach some understanding of another person’s capacity for making decisions. Evaluating their ability to freely choose one behavior over another requires awareness far beyond any intuitive competence we may possess. If we are unable to understand the complex decision-making function and process of our own brains, what makes us think we are capable of understanding and judging the motives of others?

And yet, we continue to do so with certainty. Presuming we are capable of discerning the aims of other people’s actions, we make findings, pass judgment, and administer consequences in a futile effort to alter and/or punish inappropriate behavior. As recently as the last century, the use of invectives, deprivation, and even torture were accepted practices for the treatment of psychiatric disorders. Needless to say, these appalling approaches were therapeutically ineffective. While psychiatric disorders are usually the result of inherent forms of brain pathology, they are also the product of the complex interaction of the brain’s circuitry and its surroundings.

So, too, is criminal conduct. Despite our modern understanding of the brain and how it works, our present method of punishment for unlawful behavior continues to be based on personal volition and guilt. As long as the majority of us continue to reward and punish human behavior rather than to examine and understand it, we will continue to endanger ourselves and the rest of life on this planet.

Hopefully, our understanding of the correlation of our brain’s neurochemistry and inappropriate behavior will one day demand a different approach. Once neuroscience is able to identify and clarifying how certain behaviors are the result of very specific neurological dysfunctions, more and more defense attorneys will make use of neurobiology to explain and justify an offense or, at the very least, to mitigate the severity of a guilty verdict.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Clinton E-mail Scandal

by Dee newman

For months now I’ve been telling my friends not to worry. Too many of the so-called news reporters and pundits who have been writing about the “Clinton E-mail Scandal” for the last year are a bunch of hacks. They’re not journalists. They’re either lazy or peddlers of deceit.

So, if you’re one of the vast majority of deceit-readers who believed the oft-repeated lies told about the facts in this case, you are probably shocked that the FBI did not recommend an indictment of Ms. Clinton.

As I have said all along, given the facts and the law, the FBI would find no basis for any criminal charges. The statute requires intent to cause injury to the United States or to give advantage to a foreign government. In other words, the statute requires an act of bad faith. Not an act of poor judgment.

The State Department for decades has lacked the kind of care for classified information that has been establish elsewhere in our government. The problem pre-dates Ms. Clinton. Other Secretaries of State (including Colin Powell) have used private e-mail accounts.

Ms. Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server did not break any Federal laws. It only violated an executive order created by President Obama. And therefore, based on the evidence, there was no reason to believe that Ms. Clinton would be indicted.

I was right because I read the law and refused to listen to hacks. If you continue to consume deceit, you will continue to come to conclusions that are factually incorrect. If you would prefer your assessments to be more fair and accurate in the future, I would advise you to seek out sources that have integrity and will not lie to you.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Marching to a Different Drumer

From Tribe of Heart

If you would like to contribute to Tribe of Heart's efforts click here.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

A Response to the Paris Attacks

by Dee Newman

Conflict and violence are unavoidable. Striving to end them, though a worthy aspiration, has never and will never fully be successful. The actions of others are beyond our control. The only thing we can control is our response.

When others attack us, our instinctive reaction is to want to attack back. But, retaliation, simply adds fuel to the fire, encouraging further violence, endangering the lives of others and ourselves. The evidence of this is overwhelming. Just look at the hundreds of thousands of lives – American, Afghani, and Iraqi citizens - lost in our wars of retribution since 9/11. Our revenge has come at an enormous price – of lives and treasure.

The Paris attacks have sparked, once again, a massive wave of intolerance and anti-Muslim bigotry and vitriol. Thirty Republican governors have said that they would like to prevent Syrian refugees from entering their states, including Governor Haslam here in Tennessee. A number of right-wing Republican presidential candidates have promoted the idea of shutting down mosques and discriminating against refugees on the basis of their religion. A Republican state senator here in Tennessee has stated that it is time for the National Guard to round up all Syrian refugees who have recently settled in the state and to ship them off to who knows where. Republicans in Congress are threatening to cut off funding for refugee assistance while nearly four million Syrian refugees are pleading for asylum, as well as our assistance, compassion, and understanding.

These xenophobic responses to this unprecedented refugee crisis (which our wars of retribution have caused) are not only immoral and un-American, they’re extremely unwise. Discriminating against Syrian refugees doesn't make the United States safer. In fact – quite the opposite: it fuels hatred here at home and resentment and extremism around the world.

The truth is, attacking Muslim refugees makes us less safe. It feeds the extremist propaganda of the Jihadist. But unfortunately, there is a significant number of Americans who are afraid. And, they are being deceived and exploited by shameless, fear-mongering politicians. These politicians who are actively promoting fear and ignorance need to be relentlessly exposed and opposed with an equivalent amount of empowering truth.

While most aware and educated people recognize that one of the missions of the military industrial complex is to keep the majority of us ignorant and in a constant state of fear, unfortunately a large number of respected journalists, news reporters, and commentators continue to promote fear, ignorance, and bigotry while purportedly acting as truth-tellers and advocates for freedom and liberty.

Though I believe that vengeance is an unacceptable way of resolving disputes, I am not a pacifist. The defense of ones interest is morally justified. But, actions have consequences, which are often unintended and unforeseeable. Therefore, violence should only be used as a defense, as a last resort, when all else has failed.

Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks of you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything in return.”

He was telling us to reach out to others with grace, compassion, and understanding, especially our enemies. So, I say to you, especially those of you who call yourselves Christians, before your cries of vengeance get too loud, have you thought of how you might have turned out if you were brought up in another part of the world in degrading poverty and religious oppression instead of being raised in the richest nation in the history of the world with such incredible freedom and opportunity? Are you sure that you would not be a terrorist yourself?

I am not excusing the horrific murders in Paris and other parts of the world by ISIS, I’m just proposing that our cries for vengeance should be replaced with an appreciation for the grace of fate in each of our lives. Hopelessness, fear, and ignorance could cause any of us to become terrorists.

Is it not possible that if we did as Jesus asked and lived by the Golden Rule – fed the hungry, healed the children of poverty, reached out to everyone with compassion and understanding, and truly loved our enemies – it just might prevent or, at the very least, reduced the endless cycle of vengeance and retribution?