PREVAILING DELUSIONS AND IMPONDERABLE QUESTIONS:

FALSE THINGS FREQUENTLY BELIEVED TO BE TRUE

IF WOMEN RULED THE WORLD THERE WOULD BE NO MORE WAR: Sentimentalist bunk. Every female head of state in history has presided over military action big enough to be called a war. Some have even been unusually repressive. Here's a short list. Look them up yourself.

And wasn't it Queen Isabella of Spain who instigated the Inquisiton? I'm not saying women rule worse than men, just that the claim that female leadership would result in peace is not borne out by the historical examples.

CONSTANT STRUGGLE ADVANCES OUR CIVILIZATION: We hear this one all the time from the thick-necked ectomorph with the head shaped like a freon can. He's been reading Darwin and Nietzsche (or someone has been parsing it out to him) and he's confused the idea of evolutionary fitness with the kind of fitness you get from working the soloflex.

If we look at war as a source of selection pressure, we see that war selects AGAINST brave and strong and patriotic. Those guys in combat accept a disproportionate share of risk and die in disproportionately large numbers, leaving the Darwinian rewards to those who didn't lead the charge, or managed to get out of the war altogether. So war, doesn't affirm our national values. It tends to corrupt them.

I'm not saying we should never go to war. I am saying war tends to kill off our best people.

NO PAIN NO GAIN: Bullshit. People use this to get away with causing you pain. There are all kinds of variations on this one. "The iodine hurts the wound because it's killing the germs." No, you imbecile, the iodine hurts because it causes your pain receptors to fire. "That which does not kill us makes us stronger." Jesus Christ! How wrong does something have to be before it stops passing for wisdom? If you lose a limb to gangrene, does that make you stronger? Does post-traumatic-stress-disorder make you stronger?

Give it up. From pain and privation you learn about pain and privation. The hair shirt and the diet of grubs and roots is not the road to enlightenment. Playing with pain can turn your minor injury into a serious one. Use your head and don't let people talk you into hurting yourself as proof of your worthiness.

GETTING TOUGH WILL PUT A STOP TO XYZ: No matter how many times it doesn't work, people still go for the get tough solution. I guess it's easy to get votes for muscle. Half of the electorate has by definition below average intelligence, and even the poor guy chasing the tail of the bell curve can understand the theory behind force.

If some action of yours results in enough unpleasantness then you'll stop doing it. That's the theory. So how come there is a Christian church after the Roman repressions of the first century. Why don't the Palestinians stop fighting when the Israelis bulldoze their mommas' houses? Why didn't the surviving Jews convert after the holocaust? On a more trivial level, why does anybody join a fraternity, what with the ritual abuse of hazing.

All that trauma makes it seem more important. That's how our minds are wired up. The harder the wind blows, the more tightly you draw your coat. Religions that don't undergo a period of repression don't last. Fraternities that engage in hazing have a stronger group identity that those which do not. No matter how brutally the Israelis punished acts of terrorism, another Palestinian kid has stepped up to the plate. Whether he understands it or not, Mr. Sharon is reinforcing the conditions he says he's trying to destroy.

I'm not saying that force doesn't sometimes work. I'm saying people inexplicably use it in situations where it has been proven not to work.

IT'S ARROGANT TO THINK WE'RE THE ONLY INTELLIGENT LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE: Fine. Arrogant and true.

THE TWO-PARTY SYSTEM AVOIDS THE PITFALLS OF FRAGILE COALITION-BUILDING AS EXPERIENCED IN OTHER COUNTRIES: No. The usual complaint is that fragmented political systems in other republics require interminable runoff elections and the inclusion of fringe parties with narrow interests in order to amass enough of a majority to elect a leader. Our system is the same thing, we just load the whole mess on the front end with interminable primaries instead of interminable runoffs. Coalition building takes the form of endorsements from special interests instead of inclusion of minor parties--labor unions instead of labor parites. We're not better or worse than the others. We're not even as different as we think we are.

One advantage the two-party system has is that the general election results in a leader. Under other systems the general election is just the first cut. Our system allows us to plan a little better because we're more sure of the date that the new administration will take over. That's not such an advantage that we should think ourselves all that superior. Look at our last election and see how fragile that advantage is.

Some say the the two party system is proof against mid-term upheavals if a fringe party unexpectedly exits the coalition and the leader loses his majority. The leader becomes vulnerable to a partisan vote of no confidence. On the other hand, for most of his time in office, Clinton was hounded by impeachment proceedings. I don't see how that's better.

IMPONDERABLE QUESTIONS

WHY ARE THERE NO GREEN MAMMALS? You'd think there would be, given the obvious evolutionary advantages that can come with being green. There are green members of every other family, green molusks and sponges, green insects and arachnids, and green birds and reptiles. I've heard of a rare South American tree sloth that paints itself green by inoculating its fur with algae, but that doesn't count. Although on some level it recognizes that being green can help it survive, it isn't genetically green.

WHAT DO MEN WANT? Men want two things: 1) a rough ride in a souped-up machine and 2) to have sex with a movie star. There are other things on the list, but they all boil down to the same thing, something to brag about to their buddies at work.

WHAT DO WOMEN WANT? The subject mystefied Einstein and Freud. So figure this answer isn't going to be very helpful. Just define a subset of women who are in a position such that they CAN get what they want and then watch them and see what they get. One such subset would be Miss America. Just look at the kind of man Miss America marries, the kind of car she buys, the kind of friends she cultivates, the kind of career she pursues. How do former Miss Americas fill up their days? Bingo. That's what women want.

WHY SHOULD IT BE SO HARD TO PROVE THE EXISTENCE OF GOD? I've heard arguments about the mysterious nature of salvation requiring belief without proof. The lack of evidence, being the ultimate test of faith, is the proof. By that reasoning, a photograph of God would cause him to disappear, "vanished in a puff of logic," as you might read in the Hitchhiker's Guide. I know there are some highly reputed thinkers who think they've pinned this one down, but so far the arguments are elegantly flawed.

RTJ--6/1/2001


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