LEARNING AND MEMORY

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Extended Mind

By: Annie Murphy Paul

   Narrated by: Annie Murphy Paul

Annie Murphy Paul (Author, graduate of Yale and Columbia University with a Journalism major).

Annie Murphy Paul is a science writer who has lectured at TED TALK about learning, memory, and cognition. She has written articles for “Scientific American”, and several national newspapers. The interesting insight of “The Extended Mind” is that learning, teaching, and memory are significantly enhanced by physical activity.

From birth to maturity, Paul notes physical activity is a critical component of human thought, and action but memory is a critical dimension for both.

This seems tautological at first glance. After all, learning by doing is a self-evident truth. However, Paul explains learning by doing is only the tip of a much larger truth. She argues physical activity informs and extends the mind to ignore, remember, repeat, or forget everything we know or do. Without physical activity, minds atrophy, memories fade, and bodies die.

Paul explains learning is enhanced by physical activity.

Scientific experiments show that learning and memory are improved by association with physical movement. Reading about an experiment may enlighten the uninformed; however, being the experimenter enhances memory of the experiment’s proof. Sitting and thinking about doing is more forgettable than doing what one is thinking about.

Paul notes that association with physical movement is like a mnemonic that aids memory.

She suggests a defined hand gesture has more value than mnemonic association for memory. One might think of a “P” to remember Paul as the author of this book. On the other hand, one might physically form the letter “P” with three fingers and the memory of the author becomes more memorable.

Paul cites several examples of how teachers have improved their teaching skills by encouraging physical activity with interactive class assignments and subjects.

Paul suggests strict order in a classroom (e.g., sitting at one’s desk and reading an assignment or teacher dictation of lessons) limits memory of subjects covered in the school room. She suggests learning is enhanced by social interaction.

After brief experience as a high school teacher, some of what Paul explains makes sense. The difficulty is implementing her ideas when trying to balance the variety of student strengths and weaknesses with their social and economic difference.

Learning may be improved by social interaction, but human nature often gets in the way. For example, social interaction may be viewed as a threat to an introverted student. The introvert is unlikely to participate in a social grouping. The same can be said of those with a different religion, heritage, ethnicity, or gender.

On the other hand, there is wisdom in requiring social interaction even when involving students who are introverted or challenged by their familial upbringing. People grow and educate others from uncomfortable emotional and physical circumstances.

Paul extends her argument to business office environments and how collaborative office orientations improve company creativity and performance.

She tempers that argument based on group preferences where some may be more comfortable in an environment that is more structured than unstructured. This is not contradicting the argument of physical activity as essential for enhanced productivity in the office. She goes so far as to suggest treadmills at workstations for some offices.

Several years ago, this critics preference for audiobooks came from boredom associated with activity that required little directed attention.

Personal experience confirms Paul’s argument. Though detailed memory is far from ideal, exercise while listening to an audiobook has been rewarding.

EMPIRES

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Vanquished

By: Robert Gerwarth

Narrated by: Michael Page

Robert Gerwarth (German Author, historian, specializing in European history, graduate of University of Oxford.)

At times, a reader/listener becomes jaded by books written about war. However, Robert Gerwarth’s “…Vanquished” is a timely review of the origin of war, particularly with Vladmir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Vladmir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Gerwarth implies all wars come from unravelling empires. He argues post 20th century wars are a result of the Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman, Japanese, French, Romanov (Russian), and British empires demise. Gerwath explains future generations of fighters from these former empires live on. Many continue to bare grudges for their lost existence as part of an empire. This reminds one of Vladimir Putin’s life as a KGB agent in the former U.S.S.R.

Gerwarth implies all wars come from unravelling of empires.

Gerwarth explains in detail the wandering fighters of dismantled empires who do not accept their defeat. They raid, rape, and pillage countries (often as mercenaries) that were part of their former empire. Of course, there are other circumstances that motivate these fighters, but loss of empire demeans and unmoors identity which energizes anger, motivates reprisal, and initiates atrocity.

Few historians disagree about the unfair reparations demanded from Germany after WWI. That unreasonableness weakens the post war German government which is soon overrun by Nazis; ironically, not led by a German citizen, but by an Austro-Hungarian citizen named Adolph Hitler. Hitler is a former fighter for the Austro-Hungarian empire.

Hitler’s extraordinary ability to martial rage with his rabid antisemitism rallies German extremists to believe Germany can establish a new European empire.

Hitler’s success is largely made possible by a weak German government and Germany’s war-ravaged poverty, exacerbated by worldwide depression.

Vladimier Putin is not Hitler. However, Putin’s view of the world is that of a former KGB agent of the U.S.S.R.

Putin is a fighter for an empire that lives in his heart and mind but not in reality. One might conclude from Gerwarth’s view of history that Putin will fail in his effort to make Ukraine a part of Russia.

British Empire–Empires are passe in the 21st century. Colonization is the history of the past.

None of the 20th century empires have been resurrected, and like Thomas Wolfe’s novel, “You Can’t Go Home Again”, only force of arms can hold empires together. Empires are too big and culturally diverse to remain one entity.

Though Gerwarth does not address China, it seems China’s effort to gain control of outlying China interests is limited to government will and martial suppression.

Uighur Re-education camp in China.

The suppression of Uighurs is a first step to concentration camps.

It seems cultural difference and interests between Xi’s followers, and Uighurs, Tibetans, Hong Kong residents, and Taiwanese will require suppression to make them part of the supersized Chinese nation-state. It is likely that future generations of fighters will resist China’s enforcement if it pursues its present course.

Map of the United States of America with state names.

Gerwarth offers an interesting historical perspective; supported by a lot of detail. It would seem the only hope for peaceful empires is through federalism. There needs to be an acknowledgement of cultural difference, with access to equality of treatment and opportunity for all citizens, regardless of race, religion, or ethnicity. Of course, that is what America has tried, and only partly achieved, among States. It would seem a greater task for empire, or within large multi-ethnic nation-states like China.

RIGHT TO DIE

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Door

By: Magda Szabo

Narrated by: Sian Thomas

Magda Szabo (Hungarian novelist, 1917-2007, died at age 90)

“The Door” is a story of the human psyche, and religious belief. Every human has a locked door in their consciousness, behind which life’s meaning is hidden.

Often, neither individuals nor acquaintances have a key to that door. Magda Szabo creates characters searching for that key. To some listener/readers, her primary character has the key. Emerence Szeredas is Szabo’s primary character who, some may argue, has keys to other’s doors, as well as her own.

Emerence is a mysterious community caretaker. As Szabo tells her story, listeners find Emerence has lived an eventful life.

She realizes much of life is out of her control but believes that which is under one’s control should be controlled absolutely. Emerence lives in an apartment. Her front door is locked to outsiders–excerpt in a rare circumstance when a fugitive needs to be hidden from the world because of societal transgression. Emerence becomes a place of temporary refuge for societal transgressors in a hidden room in her house.

Emerence cracks the door of her life for a writer who is married and needs help with her household. The writer asks Emerence to become her housekeeper.

The slight opening to the writer of Emerence’s psyche ends in tragedy. Through many years of work and acquaintance with the writer, Emerence reveals personal information about her life. Emerence resists opening her locked door but counsels the writer on how she should live her life. Emerence becomes close to the writer and plans to leave the contents of the house to her when she dies.

Emerence has a stroke. She refuses help from anyone and refuses any food or medical assistance while recovering behind her closed door.

She refuses to allow anyone, including the writer, to come into her apartment. She quits eating and is near death. The apartment begins to stink of pet excrement and rotting food. The writer chooses to organize the community to break down Emerence’s door and force her into a hospital for care. Emerence threatens to kill anyone who tries to knock down her door. In great distress, Emerence wields an axe, inadvertently smashes the door to her apartment, and is unable to stop the community from taking her to the hospital.  

Now that Emerence’s door is broken, both metaphorically and physically, she blames the writer for invading her privacy and denying her the right to die as she chooses.

The writer interferes with Emerence’s fundamental right to control that which she can control. Emerence heatedly explains to the writer that her wish to die behind her door is her choice.

Emerence is saying she has always been in control of her life and if she wishes to die, it is her business, no one else’s.

Emerence is recovering in the hospital. She refuses to talk to the writer. The writer cannot grasp Emerence’s reasoning. The writer feels she saved Emerence’s life. What the writer did not understand is Emerence’s need to be in control of what she can control to give meaning to her life.

Despite Emerence’s physical deterioration, neglect of pets in her house, and the unhealthful condition of her surroundings, in her apartment she had control of her life. Survival in the hospital, the stinking condition of the house, and her physical disability became an embarrassment to Emerence. To Emerence, if she had died in the house, the embarrassment would mean nothing because she would be dead. With survival, Emerence’s locked door would be opened for all to see, a circumstance beyond her control.

Emerence is told by the hospital that she will not be released to return to her apartment. She is to be sent to a convalescent facility. She refuses with anger and physical reaction that ends her life on terms she chooses.

“The Door” appears in Hungary in 1987 and has been translated into French and English. It raises many questions about life, faith, and individual rights. In this age of “right to die”, Szabo’s story has particular relevance.

REPARATION

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Learning from the Germans (Race and the Memory of Evil)

By: Susan Neiman

Narrated by: Christa Lewis

Susan Neiman (Author, Moral Philosopher).

Not many authors are more qualified than Susan Neiman to write about “Learning from the Germans”. As an American moral philosopher and cultural commentator who lives in Germany, Neiman offers an analysis of race and evil. One may disagree with her conclusion but not with her understanding of the subject.

Neiman notes being raised in Atlanta, Georgia by her Jewish mother, and father. Regarding race and evil, Neiman understands what it is like to be white in America and Jewish in Germany. Southern discrimination and religious persecution are vivified by Neiman’s experience in both cultures.

What comes as a surprise to some is Neiman’s argument that Germany handles guilt and shame for the holocaust better than America handles guilt and shame for racism, slavery, unequal treatment, and murder of people of color.

The primary theme of Neiman’s book is that post WWII Germany dealt with the history of the holocaust more forthrightly than America has dealt with racism and its evil.

Neiman explains memory of the holocaust is memorialized in Germany after the war. It has only been in the twentieth century that America has begun to memorialize 200 years of black slavery, lynching, and murder.

Pictures below are German sites preserved showing concentration camps, a prison, a museum, as monuments and reminders of holocaust atrocities. In Germany, by 1950, reparation for holocaust survivors is being negotiated.

With the exception of the Thomas Ball memorial to Emancipation in 1876, no monuments of slavery’s horrendous history are noted in America until the mid-1900s. What Neiman shows is that, only in this American generation, have reparations for slavery been seriously considered.

In the 1950s Germany began to deal with financial reparations for holocaust victims. In the 21st century, America is just beginning to discuss reparation for slavery. Even in 2022, most Americans reject reparations. However, a well-known American, David Brooks, changed his mind in 2019.

David Brooks (Writer, conservative political and cultural commentator, reporter, editor.)

Brooks writes:

“Nearly five years ago I read Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Atlantic article “The Case for Reparations,” with mild disagreement. All sorts of practical objections leapt to mind. What about the recent African immigrants? What about the poor whites who have nothing of what you would call privilege? Do we pay Oprah and LeBron?”

“The need now is to consolidate all the different narratives and make them reconciliation and possibility narratives, in which all feel known. That requires direct action, a concrete gesture of respect that makes possible the beginning of a new chapter in our common life. Reparations are a drastic policy and hard to execute, but the very act of talking about and designing them heals a wound and opens a new story.”

Robert Jones, the Founder of the Public Religion Institute, and a graduate of the Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote a book suggesting reparations are the only way white America can find forgiveness. Neiman acknowledges the high cost of determining fair reparations for American slavery but implies money spent on defense would be a good place to search for money to invest in white America’s forgiveness for slavery. Neiman notes Germany rebuilt itself after WWII. Her inference is that America has enough wealth to do the same with reparations for slavery.

Neiman notes Germany, like America, has right wing extremists who continue to vilify ethnic minorities, but discrimination is institutionally rejected by German government leadership while American leaders like former President Donald Trump say there are very fine people on both sides of racial discrimination.

Trump refers to the 2017, Charlottesville, Va. alt-right and white nationalist rally where a white supremacist plowed his car into a group of counter-protesters to the racist rally, one of which is killed.

Neiman recalls the murder and torture of a  Black 14-year-old boy, Emmitt Till, in Mississippi for allegedly whistling at a white woman in 1955.

Two white Americans admitted their guilt in Till’s torture and murder, after being acquitted for the crime by an all-white jury. The murderers went free to live their remaining lives in Mississippi.

Neiman reflects on the murders of nine African Americans in Shelby, North Carolina by Dylann Roof in 2015. Roof self-identifies as a white supremacist and neo-Nazi.

Neiman’s point is that Germany has done better to acknowledge and repair their relationship with holocaust survivors than America has done in reconciling its racist and evil actions regarding slavery and what has become institutionalized racism. Germany’s success has been in the face of an east and west Germany reconciliation after the fall of the Berlin wall.

Neiman notes the difference in east and west German survivors’ beliefs while showing they acted to reconcile their Nazi past with memorialization, and demonstration of shame and guilt for the holocaust. A significant part of that reconciliation is legislated reparation for holocaust survivors.

Neiman explains, just as there remain Nazi collaborators in the East and West, there are racist collaborators in the northern and southern United States. Neiman infers if Germany could reunify within 40 years after WWII, the U.S. should be able to reunify after the end of the civil war. Why is it taking the U.S. over 150 years to get to the point of just talking about reparations for slavery, let alone memorializing its evil?

DIGNITY

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment

By: Francis Fukuyama

Narrated by: P. J. Ochlan

Francis Fukuyama (American author, political scientist, political economist, graduate of Cornell and Harvard.)

Having reviewed Francis Fukuyama’s “The Origins of Political Order” and “Political Order and Political Decay”, his view of “…Dignity and the Politics of Resentment” during the Trump years is important. Fukuyama’s earlier books offer impressive insight to the strengths of democratic government.

Fukuyama’s political support and participation in the Reagan administration and his association with neo-conservatism give weight to his opinion.

Though Fukuyama’s broad view of political “Identity” is mind-numbingly complex, his criticism of Trump shows how consequential democracy’s loss of “…Dignity…” is to America and nascent democracies.

Fukuyama shows how America has lost its way with the election of Donald Trump. Trump is not the cause of American democracy’s disruption, but he represents its symptoms.

Trump is shown as an unrepentant narcissist who panders to those who have been underserved, under-represented, and ignored by most Americans. The rising tide of violence and discontent of ignored Americans is ignited by a President concerned with personal power and prestige, not betterment of democracy or service to the unrepresented.

Fukuyama is not a bleeding-heart liberal that believes in handouts like a minimum wage for the underemployed or unemployed.

He endorses importance of work and fair pay for fair performance. He acknowledges the rising gap between haves and have nots in America but infers the answer is political reform that endorses dignity and discourages inequity.

“Identity” is lost among Americans who do not have jobs or are grossly underpaid for the work they do.

Fukuyama implies American culture has lost its way. With inequity, people revert to tribes that fight for tribal rather than national interests. Whether the tribe is a union of teachers or Starbucks’ employees who are underpaid or disrespected, they look to their tribe rather than the interest of their students, company executives, or owners.

Fukuyama endorses diversity and, presumably, prudent immigration policy.

However, Fukuyama notes there is another aspect of “Identity” that cannot be ignored. He strongly argues for acceptance of nationalist “Identity” by those who request citizenship. One who emigrates to a new country must learn to read and write the adopted country’s language, be willing to defend the country for which one accepts an oath of citizenship and must adhere to laws of the land.

Fukuyama notes concern for equal treatment within a country is as important as fair treatment between nations.

The rise of nationalism reaches a point of destruction when authoritarians like Saddam Hussein and Vladimir Putin invade other countries. What becomes clear from Fukuyama’s book is democracies can lose their way with an authoritarian, narcissistic leader. Leaders like Trump have no concern for equity.

The demand for equity and the rise of resentment splits people into tribes when not being addressed by government leaders. Fukuyama reaches into ancient and modern history to identify how “…Demand for Dignity…” is often accompanied by “…Resentment…” which leads to political unrest, or revolution.

Fukuyama reviews policies of government that mitigate the causes of “tribal” identity and resentment that roils America. Fukuyama’s ideas may be up for debate, but he clearly believes in democracy.

Fukuyama expresses some concern over “tribal” identity within America when it violates the interests of the country. He endorses diversity while indicting Trump for inciting “tribal” difference.

In the last chapter, Fukuyama addresses the effect of the internet on the “…Demand for Dignity…” and “…The Politics of Resentment…”. He argues the internet’s impact is both negative and positive. The negative is the internet’s use to spread falsehood and its potential for invading privacy. The positive is its potential for telling truth to power.

Fukuyama optimistically implies the internet’s spread of truth will outweigh its spread of lies.

Fukuyama implies the internet’s potential for gathering tribes for the betterment of government policy is greater than its present-day disruptions. This seems more likely in a democratic than authoritarian society.

The fundamental value of Fukuyama’s peregrination is that America has managed to survive and prosper for over 200 years, even in the face of “tribal” identity and resentment. Surely, America will survive Trump.

HUMAN BEHAVIOR

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Biology and Human Behavior: The Neurological Origins of Individuality, 2nd Edition

By: The Great Courses

     Lecturer: Robert Sapolsky

Robert Sapolsky is an author, American neuroendocrinology researcher, and doctor of neuropsychology, educated at Harvard and acting professor at Stanford.

Sapolsky’s lectures begin with optimism. He infers one can understand the biological origin of human behavior. However, as the lectures progress one becomes skeptical. By the end of Sapolsky’s lectures, the source of human behavior seems too complex for human understanding. In a future age, it may be possible to reduce uncertainty, but determination of the sources of human behavior are likely to remain a probabilistic endeavor.

Sapolsky begins with neurological, physiological, endocrinological, genealogical, and environmental influences on behavior but ends with no definitive origin for human behavior.

This is not to say these lectures are not interesting, but science is far from understanding how any discipline can effectively or accurately identify the sources of dysfunctional human behavior. Cures for psychological maladies remain elusive because of the complexity of their origin.

There is no nerve that can be cut, no drug that can be administered, no gene that can be removed, no environment created that singularly cures abnormal human behavior. Sapolsky is saying the origin of human thought and action begins with genetic history, is influenced in the womb, is subjected to hormonal disruption, lives to be changed by environmental circumstances, and dies either early or late depending on the circumstances of life.

Sapolsky begins his lectures with a lesson in physiology and discussion about cells and the nervous system and how it works.

He explains limbic and autonomic nervous systems. A limbic system is where subcortical structures meet the cerebral cortex. It influences the endocrine system and the autonomic (breathing, heartbeat, and digestive system) functions of the body.

Sapolsky explains how regulation of body function is affected by hormones that come from many organs of the body. These hormones affect brain function (which is also a hormone producing organ) that have a great deal to do with how one acts. The physiology of the nervous system and blood circulatory system carry hormones throughout the body.

Sapolsky goes on to explain evolution of behavior that comes from genetically inheritable social history. What is revelatory is the myth of evolution based solely on a genetic singularity which preserves itself at all costs.

Sapolsky argues preservation of species, not specific gene preservation, is the key to understanding evolution. (This is a partial disagreement with the “selfish gene” postulated by Richard Dawkins.)

The example Sapolsky offers is the Wildebeest herd that plans to cross an alligator infested river.

An early interpretation of that crossing is that a leader of the herd voluntarily steps into the river to sacrifice itself to allow the herd to cross the river while it is being feasted upon by alligators. Sapolsky explains the Wildebeest is not sacrificing itself. Careful observation shows an older Wildebeest is forced into the river by the herd. It is not a voluntary action but a heritable social behavior of the herd to preserve itself.

Sapolsky identifies myths about what causes abnormal human behavior. The idea that testosterone levels are a cause for aggression is untrue. The National Institute of Health found that increased or decreased levels of testosterone have a weak correlation with aggression. Sapolsky notes that testosterone levels vary based on environmental circumstances and interaction with other hormone producing organs. It is not found to be a hormonal cause of aggression.

Sapolsky ends his lectures with “Evolution, Aggression, and Cooperation”. Here is where some may become disappointed with “Biology and Human Behavior”. The disappointment is in feeling there is no way out of the human condition of “everyone for himself”.

Every country of the world is populated with people like the wildebeest. Until the world is one herd, it seems humans are destined to lose their way as a species. The river to cross is the world’s environmental crises. With disparate herds in the world, the alligator in the river (our environment) will eat us all.

HUMANITY’S FATE

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Superintelligence

By: Nick Bostrom

Narrated by: Napoleon Ryan

Nick Bostrom (Swedish philosopher at University of Oxford, author.)

Nick Bostrom explains the difference between A.I. potential and human brain limitation. With addition of sentient reasoning, Bostrom explains the incomprehensible leap beyond human brain capability with the advent of artificial intelligence.

Bostrom argues A.I. is approaching an information collection and processing capability with potential for sentient reasoning.

That leap can be viewed with fear and trembling as inferred by Bostrom or it might be seen as a next step in human evolution.

Bostrom’s concern revolves around human brain limitation in setting standards for A.I.’ programming.

Science is at a threshold of brain emulation where A.I. may assume the role of human thought and action.

A machine’s ability to recall billions of facts and historical precedence cannot be matched by the human brain. However, the significance of A.I.’s achievement is delimited by how it may be programmed to have moral, ethical, and normative standards that benefit humanity. The difficulty of that programing is humanity’s continual redefinition and lack of agreement on normative standards.

One may ask oneself how good a job has human evolution done in setting standards for humanity? Have authoritarians like Vladimir Putin, and Donald Trump benefited the world?

Bostrom notes two fundamental scenarios for human evolution. Both seem more a return to the past than to the future. Bostrom suggests A.I. will become either an oracle or sovereign leader of humanity. As an oracle, one is reminded of Athenian fealty to the Oracle of Delphi. As sovereign, one is reminded of Augustus Caesar, Caligula, Franklin Roosevelt, and Adolph Hitler. Humanity has survived all–both false predictions of the Oracle and atrocities of sovereigns.

It is unfair to suggest Bostrom is not revealing the difficulties accompanying the introduction of A.I. to humankind. The reality of advancing intelligence through machine learning far outstrips the ability of any singular past or present scientist, philosopher, or politician. One is intimidated by the shear complexity of programing A.I. and its potential for benefit and harm to humanity.

To understand humanities place in the world, human beings cannot agree on what is moral, amoral, equitable, or unfair in society.

How will input from human beings to an oracle or sovereign A.I. escape the imperfect nature of humankind? Added to that difficulty is A.I.’ potential to ignore the best interest of humanity in the interest of its own self-preservation.

Bostrom’s book is interesting, but he beats the idea of A.I.’s ascendance to death by delving into game theory. Bostrom notes the world’s race to create artificial intelligence has the potential of ignoring safeguards for A.I.’s growth and potential for world domination.

Though abandoning safeguards is quite true as evidenced by the Crispr revolution that opened Pandora’s box of genetic manipulation, evolution of species is a fundamental law of the world’s existence.

A.I. is a step in the evolution of species. Its consequence is unknown and cannot be known because it follows the randomness of genetic selection. Humanity needs to get over it and get on with it. A.I. will either be humanity’s savior or its doom.

CHURCH AND STATE

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

White Too Long (The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity)

By: Robert Jones

Narrated by: Holter Graham

Robert P. Jones (Author, Founder of Public Religion Institute, Baptist Theological Seminary Graduate, Ph.D. in religion from Emory Univ.)

Though history shows Americans have wavered, freedom (within the limits of rule-of-law) has progressed.

Fundamentally, “White too Long” is about equal rights for all Americans in the face of white privilege and white supremacy. Jones argument is a powerful explanation of how inequality is institutionalized by American Catholic and Protestant religions.

Jones focus is on discrimination against people of color in the south, but his evidence applies to many states-of-affair and every State in America. Raised in the south, born in 1968 and educated as a seminarian, Jones has intimate knowledge of religion and its practice.

Robert Jones reflects on institutionalization of racism by Christian religions in the United States.

Images of Christ as “God’s offspring” are of a white man in most (if not all) Christian religions. Christ is rarely identified as a person of color, or obviously as a woman. God as the Father is presumed by white America to be male and to be white.

It seems fair to say Americans have made progress in reducing racism and improving equal rights, but it has been two steps forward and one back. A basic tenant in the formation of the United States is separation of church and State.

The concern that America had in its beginning is government sanctioning of a particular religion for any state or jurisdiction. To keep that from happening, the Constitution stipulated separation of state and religion.

What Jones focuses on is the south’s history of slavery in “White Too Long”. Jones offers a detailed history of how religion reinforces white supremacy in the South. He argues that southern leaders of various religious denominations assumed beliefs in white supremacy and spread that belief through their religious preaching. They preached to white audiences constituting the bulk of Americans in the first 200 years of American history.

He notes the 2015 murder of 9 Black church members in Charleston S.C. as a turning point for the south. Dylann Roof walks into a Black church and murders the minister and 9 members of the church. Of course, the south is not the only source of white supremacists’ violence against people of color. There is the horrendous “Tops Market” murder of ten non-white citizens in Buffalo N.Y. in 2022 by Payton Gendron.

Jones notes how southern white America justified slavery as their right as a superior race. He recounts numerous stories of his experience in the south and his awakening to the subtle ways white superiority became an assumed right of his white friends. Preachers preached the gospel of white superiority. Jones notes how belief in white superiority became real to white Americans. Any opposition to that belief would be met with violence, before and after the civil war.

Though it is not part of Jones’ book, America’s religions also institutionalize discrimination against women. Like people of color, women of all races are treated unequally. Recent action by the Supreme Court in a woman’s right to choose whether to give birth is a case in point.

The Supreme Court’s decision in “Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization” is a step backward from equal opportunity for women in the United States.

Some would say abortion is different because it involves taking a life and not being punished. Is that different than the lives of people of color who have been hung, mutilated, and discarded by white supremacy and not punished? Some would say yes because a baby is innocent. Being innocent and born to a mother who does not care destroys both a mother’s and baby’s innocence. America does not have a good record for taking care of the homeless, let alone poorly cared for children.

In view of Jones education, one presumes Jones would not condone abortion but his argument of religions’ role in institutional racism seems equally applicable to women’s rights. The conservative tone of today’s Supreme Court bodes ill for American equal rights. Separation of church and State is a fundamental tenant of the U.S. Constitution.

Jones has written a damning and enlightening report on white supremacy, and its tacit perpetuation by Christian religions.

The most difficult chapters of Jones book are at its end. When one accepts that America has been “White Too Long”, what can we do about it? The author’s answer is to come to grips with truth, repent, and offer restitution to descendants of slavery. Jones recalls the story of Cain and Abel and identifies white Americans as the embodiment of Cain.

In Jones belief forgiveness only comes from truth, repentance, and restitution. Most rational white Americans accept the idea of truth and repentance, but restitution is derided by powerful Americans like Mitch McConnell who resist the idea of restitution because it is too difficult to trace descendants of slavery.

One might ask oneself-how difficult is it to offer native Americans restitution for the theft of their land? Reservations, and the right to create income producing properties have been a haphazard solution but they have been steps toward restitution.

Jones suggests some first steps have been taken by organizations that have set up endowments for restitution for slavery’s descendants. He argues, only with restitution can the stain of slavery be removed from the conscience of White America.

While one may ignore the issue of restitution, today’s American Supreme Court encroaches on separation of church and State by choosing to change support for Christian schools and “Roe v. Wade”. Erosion of church and State separation sets a table for more American violence. Unequal treatment cannot be sustained in a world of demographic change.

INTERVENTIONIST FOLLY

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

No Good Men Among the Living (America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes)

By: Anand Gopal

Narrated by: Assaf Cohen

Anand Gopal (Author, Journalist, formally embedded with the Taliban in Afghanistan.)

“No Good Men Among the Living” should be read or listened to by Presidents, Senators, Representatives, and Ambassadors of the United States. Anand Gopal gives a journalist eye view of errors and consequences of America’s intervention in Afghanistan where neither language nor culture are understood.

In the beginning of Gopal’s book, one is skeptical of its objectivity. However, as Gopal’s interviews of Afghan Taliban and non-aligned Afghanis accumulate, a listener begins to believe what is being said and reported.

The trials of Afghan women are appalling to Americans. What is missed is the struggle younger Afghan women have with the older generation.

Grandparents are appalled by what they perceive is abandonment of a life of duty to Allah and men in their families, whether fathers, husbands, or sons. This duty is based on generations of a culture that protect the tradition of male and female relationship. That protection is anathema to freedom, which is an inviolable tradition in America, but not Afghanistan.

The experience of Russian intervention and American training of the mujahideen led to a culture of non-Islamic terrorism.

The violence of interventionist states and training of mujahideen became fertile ground for Taliban revitalization. Violence, repression, and religious zealotry became tools of Taliban growth, resistance, ascendance, and resurgence.

Gopal notes Afghani women were raped and killed by American trained Mujahadeen after Russia was expelled. The Taliban restored order. Later, when America chose to dismantle the Taliban because of the Afghanistan leader’s refusal to release bin Laden, Afghanis began to see America as a new occupier rather than liberator.

Afghanis began to see America as a new occupier rather than liberator. The Taliban secretly regained power and influence as the perception of America’s intervention changed.

The cause of the change in perception of America as an occupier grew because of its dependence on self-interested tribal Afghanis who used American forces to eliminate rivals. All a respected Afghani translator had to do was identify a rival as a Taliban ally. America would arrest, jail, or kill the translator’s rival.

America presumes it is helping rid Afghanistan of Taliban control when in fact it is only serving a translator who has a tribal self-interest.

Internecine tribal conflict in Afghanistan creates an all-against-all culture with survival of the fittest as an objective assuring Taliban resurgence. The Taliban could maintain a level of peace and relative stability between tribes; America could not. America’s lack of understanding Afghan culture and American dependence on self-interested translators assures its failure.

America’s ignominious Afghan abandonment is a tragedy for both countries.

The fault lies with America’s failure to define a limited objective, execute a plan, and leave when a defined objective is achieved. It is unrealistic to believe an interventionist country can understand another country’s culture well enough to offer benefit to both invader and invaded.

The sad consequence from America’s view is that women will continue to be suppressed in Afghanistan.

There is a slender hope drawn from Gopal’s interviews of a young Afghan woman. She becomes a regional representative in Afghanistan despite the murder of her husband by the Taliban. She is supported by a tribal leader who respects her independence. The road traveled by women in Afghanistan is certainly more difficult now that America has left, but Gopal shows there is a road. However, Gopal infers help can only come from those who understand the culture in which they live.

Without a precise and achievable interventionist objective and an immediate withdrawal plan, military intervention historically leads to national tragedy, both for perpetrator and victim.

With the qualified exception of Korea, America’s interventions in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan are national tragedies for both interventionist and subject nations. Today’s contest is in Ukraine with Russia, once again, testing intervention.

FREEDOM’S LIMITS

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Let Them Eat Tweets: How the Right Rules in an Age of Extreme Inequality

By: Jacob S. Hacker, Paul Pierson

Narrated by: Peter Berkrot

One doubts this book will be read or listened to by most Americans based on its clear allusion to the 18th century phrase “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” (“let them eat bread”–allegedly said by Marie Antoinette during the French revolution).

Marie Antoinette (1755-1793, Louis XVI’s Queen Consort of France.)

Just as Marie Antoinette is unlikely to have said “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche”, it is an allusion unworthy of Hacker’s and Pierson’s ivory-tower educations.

The co-authors detail a current crisis in America that is well detailed by others in this century.

There is an appalling and growing gap between rich and poor in America. However, though the gap is real, most rational Americans have no interest in beggaring their neighbor.

In the 17th century, Hobbes clearly recognized the pitfall of democracy when not constrained by rule of law. Freedom is a harsh master and has been recognized as such from American Democracy’s beginnings.

Human beings are driven by the desire for money, power, and prestige. Hacker and Pierson note many actions taken by American politicians, appointees, government bureaucrats, and corporate moguls have had the unintended consequence of beggaring their neighbors.

Rule of law has simply not kept up with the fundamental tenant of American freedom.

Four relevant issues raised by Hacker and Pierson are

  1. Taxation,

Congressional leaders focus on re-election as a part of their right to freely choose a profession. To be re-elected requires a campaign funding. That funding largely comes from wealthy Americans and corporations interested in reducing their taxes. Corporate taxes have been legislatively reduced with the rationalization that reinvestment by private industry and the wealthy will create more income for wage-dependent Americans. This is “trickle down” economics that is a fiction. History shows the effect has been to reduce American wages and increase income for the wealthy.

2. Rule-of-Law,

Corporations in the Supreme Court’s decision in “Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission” expanded rights of Corporations as individuals to finance candidates of their choice that compounds elected official bias for reduced corporate taxes.

3. Extremism,

Frustration by the rising gap between rich and poor in America increases extremism because wage-earners see cost-of-living exceeding their ability to accumulate wealth.

4. Institutionalization of Tyranny

Elective office is not serving the public because congressional self-interest is based on a cycle of re-election dependent on wealthy donors who are equally self-interested.

Unless or until a more equitable relationship between the rich and poor is achieved, extremism will continue to roil American Democracy. Freedom is an essential ingredient in America’s economic history, but freedom has always been limited. Only with rebalance between the rich and poor will extremism and institutional tyranny be ameliorated.