Monthly Archives: May 2013

Old White Men

We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.                                                                      

—Martin Luther King, Jr.

Those words are from a letter written in a Birmingham jail on April 16, 1963. The ‘hateful words’ and ‘silence’ continue. But not, as you might suppose, directed only against African Americans. Although both real and merely perceived prejudice persist half-a-century after that letter was written, there has been a significant reduction of hateful words, especially in public, and the silence has long been broken-occasionally unjustifiably, as an excuse for rioting and looting in protest of a sham injustice.

By and large, however, most protests over the years have greatly contributed to the continuing quest for Martin Luther King’s dream. Best of all, I am very glad for the genuine racial harmony I experience every day, where cameras don’t roll.

However, there is a rapid growth of a new kind of prejudice incited by malignant politics. This prejudice is directed against Old White Men. It maliciously violates Mr. King’s plea that men should be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their minds. Ironically, this malignancy took root as an offshoot of the Women’s Liberation Movement wherein gender prejudice, not color, was at issue. As is always the case in even the best of movements, the ‘underdog’ does not stop at equality but continues the fight until a reversal of roles is achieved. So did it come to pass, that many women were not quite satisfied with equality. (see my article, Queen of the Hill, April 3, 2011)

The Civil Rights and Women’s Liberation movements were long overdue and quite benign despite the violence often associated with the former movement. Both movements have immeasurably enhanced the quality of our culture. But unscrupulous politicians with an insatiable hunger for power, have created new sources of prejudice. These include but are not limited to catchy political slogans like, The War on Women, a war ostensibly waged by Old White Men. (Observe that political parties, which are otherwise politically correct, deliberately label their adversaries as old white men-the word ‘old’ meant to be a pejorative term.) Where are the protesters against the implied political impotence of old white men? Why only white? And why only men? That blatantly prejudicial label harvests no protests from former champions for African American equality or the  liberation of women.

Old white men are now labeled as just another voting bloc along with, ‘men,’ ‘women,’ ‘liberals,’ ‘conservatives,’ ‘wealthy,’ ‘poor,’ ‘young,’ ‘Hispanics,’ and so on! Conversely, many of those who once prided themselves as leaders of political equality are now denigrating a specific segment of legislators and voters. Who, then, are they that are ‘out of touch’? And, are they so emboldened by the lack of protests from senior citizens or so incensed by their desire for political power that they denigrate a specific segment of legislators and voters?

Can you imagine the severity of protests from political leaders, organizations, and average citizens if a voting group were referred to as Old Black Men or Old White Women! I have no problem with being and identifying myself as an old white man, but I do have a problem with ad hominem labeling. As I recall, white people of both genders and various ages marched for civil rights along with their African American brothers and sisters. And, with reservations for some consequences of the women’s liberation movement,* I am very happy for the continuing shrinkage of the gender gap.

Putting aside several politically absurd words and expressions, we have altered or stricken many offending words from public discourse. Significantly, that practice is now embedded in the public consciousness. It is also closely monitored and guarded. For example, publicly speaking the full ‘n word’ often results in being fired or in an abrupt end to a career.

Political leaders, movie stars, and other celebrities who had been understandably vociferous about black, white, male, and female inequality, now advance the myth that  senior politicians are ‘out of touch’ because of their age, color, and gender. Formerly advocates for political equity among groups, they are now unfairly denigrating a specific group. Not exactly the American Way, this anomaly smacks of heavy prejudice. In addition, they replace valid arguments with other platitudes like ‘out of touch.’ Partisan passion knows no limits.

And, what is the response to the words ‘out of touch’ and ‘old white men’ from that voting group itself?

Silence.

*You may want to leaf through my solution to a major gender-word problem that is not directly related to excessive political correctness. Rather, it is an everyday matter of grammar that you may find very useful if you have not already done so. [See my article, He or She/Him or Her/His or Hers, April 11, 2011]

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Flesh, Blood, and Silicon (Part Two of Two)

Current predictions include a hybrid man. No, he would not merely be the ultimate product of bionic engineering, an activity with which we are familiar. Rather, he would be a cog in the wheel of intelligent design (with a small i). Bionic engineering, the prophets claim, is a precursor to a giant self-generated evolutionary step for humankind: Flesh, Blood, and Silicon. He may still have red blood flowing through his arteries, if blood vessels are still part of his body, but a more apt term for his form might be, a Silicon Blooded Man. But, there’s no telling what color his blood (if any) might be when enriched with silicon. For that matter, I hesitate to imagine what his genitalia (if any) might be like.

My seemingly dismissive attitude about an SBM has a serious side to it—deadly serious. Long before the contemplation of an evolutionary replacement for our species, there were—and there still are—three major perceptions of humanity’s future evolution.

The first of these perceptions is deterministic. Since determinists consider—or logically should consider—discussion itself as predetermined, there is nothing to say about that perception. Dead End.

The second perception is based on a dim view of humanity qua humanity (see my article, Only Human, August 21, 2011). It seems that the proliferation of articles about SBMs in science magazines have more to do with the desire for doing away with Red Blooded Man than they have to do with the next step in human evolution. This perception raises two rhetorical questions: a) Why wait for natural evolution when we can engineer ourselves into something else by our own design, and b) Wouldn’t a deliberate human intervention to our species’ evolution be nothing other than the process of evolution itself.

The third perception is Creative Evolution.* That doesn’t include tampering with our biological form. It also doesn’t include tinkering with our neurological faculties. And, it doesn’t include rushing evolution. An historic event in the world of opera provides us with a perfect example of the major flaw in artificially pushing evolution.

The Golden Age of operatic composition occurred in the 19th century (and the early part of the 20th century, which gave us the masterpieces of Giacomo Puccini, Richard Strauss, and a very few other composers). In the United States, operas were prominently performed at the New York Metropolitan Opera House beginning in the late 19th century. When “the old met” (as it came to be called) was to be demolished in the mid 1960s, plans were made to build a new opera house uptown within the Lincoln Center complex. Architecturally, the Met is the centerpiece of the complex. Historically, the opening of a new theater is always a highly anticipated event. A prominent composer, Benjamin Britten, had been commissioned to write a new opera for the grand opening of the new house in 1966. The major stipulation in the commission was that the opera must not sound like 19th century opera, the ground zero of opera!

Having heard of that deadly stipulation, I didn’t need a stroke of genius to realize that the new opera (Anthony and Cleopatra) would fail. It did. On its opening night, I happened to attend an event located in another building at Lincoln Center. It was a beautiful night. The center’s square was packed with a celebratory crowd, its mood electric with excitement. When the event I attended was over, the 20th century opera had not yet ended. The outdoor crowd was still there, eagerly waiting to greet the soon-to-exit opera audience. I left the square as quickly as I could.

Why can’t opera breathe if it is taken out of the 19th century? If you know (and therefore love) opera, the answer to that question is obvious. If you don’t know opera or even find it irritating, an analogy to a sport, say…baseball…says it all: Eliminating the essence of 19th century opera is like eliminating bases from baseball and still expect the game to be baseball.

As extremely distant as that analogy may seem when applied to the definition of human evolution, I maintain that hybrid humans would be less than human if well-oiled men and women suddenly replaced red-blooded ones.

On September 4, 2011, I posted an article, The Human Factor, in which I list a few examples of art that demonstrate its complexity. The Human Factor and Only Human are companion pieces to this article, which addresses the threat of not too distant SBMs. The threat is not what ‘manmade humans’ may be, but rather what they may no longer be.

There has been a parade of virtually limitless life forms, tagged by epochs, eras, and periods, and defined in biological terms such as shape, size, number, genus, and subspecies. Rocks and bones keep records of recycled life forms from era to era, epoch to epoch, and period to period. Dinosaurs become birds. Fish grow wings. Wings disappear.

Until about two million years ago, all species and subspecies originated and peaked with only two possible futures: biological adjustment or extinction. Millions of life forms no longer reside here, millions of others still do. Their variety is virtually infinite, whether occasioned by Darwinian or Lamarckian evolution. A common thread among them for individual survival is instinct.

After eons of instinctual evolution, there suddenly burst into life a dynamic species. Whatever it is in that fledgling species that sparked its life form to include Rationality, Ethics, Art, and all that they encompass, including the significant individuality of its members, it is as though a fifth universal force had emerged. Rationality gives us science. Ethics gives us enhanced behavior. Art gives us inspired perspectives of life.

As I stated in Bets, Anyone?, December 7, 2011, the electromagnetic force probably has much to do with that stupendous burst since it is the only one of the four universal forces that is intimately associated with human creativity.

I know I’m crossing the line of credibility when I express my speculation about the nature of electromagnetism.  My speculation about that force here is only a passing thought generated by a basically ominous sense of loss. Generally, I avoid speculations that, by definition, can never be proved. (See Et tu, Brian, June 5, 2011 for specifics about speculation.)

I’ve made an exception here only because of my concern about the rapid decline of global rationality, ethics, and art. Rationality is at a dangerous ebb. Ethics is almost a quaint word now. And art?—well, you know what I think about computer-generated ‘music.’

And just what is it that disturbs me about potential SBMs?

Well, whatever it was that made us unique about two million years ago came to life through our biological structure as it is now. It would be profoundly tragic, perhaps irreversible, if our finest attributes were snuffed out by a specious desire to become something else.

I have always valued productive innovation, but have rejected innovation that diminishes something it intends to advance. New is not necessarily better. Different should be at least equal to its predecessors.

The notion of the eventual merging of humankind and machines for some sort of superior creature is as vacuous as eliminating the essence of what defines opera, baseball, ice cream, and any other uniquely human creation. Judging by the dehumanization already encroaching humans, I am distrustful of the siliconization of flesh and blood. Silicon may tip that delicate genomic balance that made it possible for humans to break the primordial  barrier of a purely instinctive life force. After eons of fundamentally static, cookie-cutter species, humankind is the first, and possibly is to be the only species to take life to another dimension.

Is this my anthropological point of view speaking? You bet it is!

* In the context of this article, the concept of Creative Evolution is predominantly that of the role played by art in the ancillary process of human evolution. In my article titled, Bets, Anyone?, December 7, 2011, I briefly describe the critical difference between the Darwinian and Lamarckian theories of evolution., the former being deterministic, the later, creative. 

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