Saturday, January 20, 2018

Shepard for the Day.13

continuing: child's life in primordial hunter-gatherer times, when we became human..

"Now the child goes to the fringes of the camp to play at foraging.  Play is an imitation, starting with simple fleeing and catching, going on to mimic joyfully the important animals, being them for a moment, and then not being them, feeling as this one must feel and then that one, all tried on the self.

The child sees the adults dancing the animal movements and does it too.  Music itself has been there all the time, from his mother's song to the melodies of birds and the howls of wolves.  The child already feels the mystery of kinship: likeness but difference."

Paul Shepard
Nature and Madness

Memory Series, an Introduction

Douwe Draaisma is a professor of the history of psychology at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. He has written a number of books on memory, four of which have been translated into English. The two I've read have been fascinating, and I'm looking forward to reading a third.

I'm going to write about these books here, probably chapter by chapter. But first I want to say a little about why I surmise I like these books, and more importantly, trust what he says.

They are well-written, and that is usually the first impression that builds confidence. I mistrust quite a lot of contemporary psychology and psychological writing, though not only because most of it is badly written. It tends to over-promise and overreach its evidence. I don't think Draaisma does, but then he is not exactly a psychologist. He has a degree in psychology and philosophy. So there is more depth, more distance from clinical experiments, more perspective and evaluation.

Further, he specializes in the history of psychology, which counters the present-centeredness of so much psychology, in which each new study is announced as if it is the first ever, or because it is the latest, it's the definitive last word. Indeed, his books refer back to earlier psychologists and studies, even to the 19th century. He is able to evaluate methodologies that are no longer fashionable but valuable nevertheless.

He also applies relevant insights from literature and the other arts. So much contemporary psychology (like so much economics) either breathlessly announces findings that have been dealt with in literature for centuries, or findings that literature has long ago disproven.  They act as if literature didn't exist, or maybe just shouldn't.

He isn't just making cute literary references. As we'll see, he notes that every treatise on the psychology of smell refers to Proust and the famous pastries dipped in tea that set off a flood of memories in his narrator. He also notes that they usually get it wrong, because they haven't actually read it. He does read it, and finds it much richer and revelatory.

All of this is probably because he is European, and specifically not American. A broader cultural education seems more natural there. So much in American academia and associated professions is narrowly specialized, and arrogant about it as well.

Memory is a subject of general interest, but of course, of more specific and greater interest as we get older. Memory changes--often childhood memories become more vivid, while other memories seem to slip away. Access to certain kinds of memories is harder (like names) and of course there are the fears of losing the function of memory.

James Hillman (a psychologist I respect, perhaps above all others since Jung) used to suggest that perhaps we have our experiences in order to have things to remember. (That's psyche as soul right there.)

 It does seem to me that the active process of remembering adds richness and maybe even meaning (or meanings) to the experiences. There's such an emphasis on seniors having new experiences, traveling the world to fulfill their bucket lists, as well taking up new interest and hobbies to keep their brains working. Maybe. Active remembering uses the brain, too, as well as the heart and soul. Finding depth in past experiences seems at least as worthy as trying to have often superficial new ones, and it's a lot less expensive and exhausting.

Anyway, notes begin here soon on Draaisma's Why Life Speeds Up As You Get Older:How Memory Shapes Our Past. First up: first memories.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Shepard for the Day.12

continuing: child's life in primordial hunter-gatherer times, when we became human...

Vigilant Owl by Kenojuak Ashevak  Cape
"There is a constancy of people, yet it is a world bathed in nonhuman forms, a myriad of figures, evoking an intense sense of their differences and similarities, the beckoning challenge of a lifetime.  Speech is about that likeness and unlikeness, the coin of thought.

It is a world of travel and stop.  At first the child fears being let and is bound by fear to the proximity of his mother and others.  This interrupted movement sets the pace of his life, telling him gently that he is a traveler or visitor in the world.

Its motion is like his own growth: as he gets older and as the cycle of group migrations is repeated, he sees places he has seen before, and those places seem less big and strange.  The life of movement and rest is one of returning, and the places are the same and yet always more."

Paul Shepard
Nature and Madness

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Shepard for the Day.11

More detail about growing up in a primordial hunter-gatherer culture...

"For the infant there is a joyful comfort in being handled and fondled often, fed and cleaned as the body demands.  From the start it is a world of variation on rhythms, the refreshment of hot and cold, wind like a breath in the face, the smell and feel of rain and snow, earth in hand and underfoot.

The world is a soft sound-surround of gentle voices, human, cricket, and bird music. It is a pungent and inviting place with just enough bite that it says, 'Come out, wake up, look, taste, and smell; now cuddle and sleep'!"

Paul Shepard
Nature and Madness

Is "Health Insurance Fraud" an Oxymoron?

‘As the US demonstrates, when the profit motive is introduced into a health delivery system, ways of gaming the system and outright fraud schemes are easier to devise, and they are a far more profitable business to engage in than treating patients.’
David Lindorff

This article in the London Review of Books details conventional fraud, but the fraud behind the system is the system itself: healthcare for profit.

Obamacare was a necessary set of innovations to protect more Americans, and its reliance on private insurance was politically inevitable.  But the system is still a massive fraud.

Or maybe I'm just a little ticked as I survey my past year's expenses and look forward to the next.

For example, for 2018 Social Security granted a 2% cost of living adjustment, after several years of pretending that the real cost of actually living as a senior hadn't gone up at all, gosh, weren't we lucky.  All the price rises on food, clothing etc. must have been senior moment delusions.

Unfortunately also for 2018 Medicare Part B increased its rates to those same seniors (including me), cutting the adjustment roughly in half.  It's a common assumption that Medicare is free.  Well, it ain't.

Only Medicare Part A, which covers hospital costs (though of course not all of them) doesn't charge a monthly premium.  Medicare B (doctors costs, but not all of them, oh no) is deducted from the Social Security check.  Not to mention Medicare C and D plans (if you can afford them) which cover other stuff, and are run by private insurance companies.

Then there are the so-called Medigap private insurance plans that cover what Medicare A and B don't cover.  Though still not all, oh no.  My AARP plan told me my premium for them is also going up in 2018, so forget the cost of living increase.  The cost of living increased beyond it, before I got out of the insurance category.

(AARP also told me that the monthly premium I'm paying is not the actual monthly premium, oh no, it includes a discount.  "Discount" is not a word I've heard from them before.  But apparently this is going to keep going up every year.)

In the past year, the AARP plan paid for--what a surprise--virtually nothing.  It just paid their executives, lobbyists and their fraud insurance.  So here's my 2017: practically all medical goods (prescriptions) and services (including dentist and eye doctor) I paid for entirely out of pocket, plus some doctor bills Medicare and AARP wouldn't pay for, plus copays.

 Meanwhile I paid thousands of dollars in the semi-private Medicare Part B insurance and the private Medigap insurance, for which I got pretty much nothing but pieces of paper telling me why I was getting nothing.

Fraud may be more profitable than treating patients.  But insurance must certainly be.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Shepard for the Day.10

"The quests and tests that mark his passage in adolescent initiation are not intended to reveal to him that his love of the natural world was an illusion or that, having seemed only what it was, it in some ways failed him.  He will not graduate from that world but into its significance.

So, with the end of childhood, he begins a lifelong study, a reciprocity with the natural world in which its depths are as endless as his own creative thought.

He will not study it in order to transform its liveliness into mere objects that represent his ego, but as a poem, numinous and analogical, of human society."

Paul Shepard
Nature and Madness

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Shepard for the Day.9

"Grandfather Storyteller" by Helen Cordero
(Cochiti Pueblo)
[continuing his description of childhood and relationship to nature in ancestral hunter-gatherer cultures of humanity's first thousands of years...]

"But the child does not yet philosophize on this; for him the world is simply what it seems; he is shielded from speculation and abstraction by his own psyche.

He is not given the worst of the menial tasks.  He is free, much as the creatures around him--that is, delicately watchful, not only of animals but of people, among whom life is not ranked subordination to authority.  Conformity for him will be to social pressure and custom, not to force.

All this is augured in the nonhuman world, not because he never see dominant and subordinate animals, creatures killing others, or trees whose shade suppresses the growth of other plants, but because, reaching puberty, he is on the brink of a miracle of interpretation that will transform those things.

He will learn that his childhood experiences, though a comfort and a joy, were a special language.  Through myth and its ritual enactments, he is once again presented with that which he expects.

Thenceforth natural things are not only themselves but a speaking.  He will not put his delight in the sky and the earth behind him as a childish and irrelevant thing."

Paul Shepard
Nature and Madness

Please Kill This Fad Before It Catches On

I've seen this suggestion before, but not at the length of this long article in the New York Times online: suggesting the year of 1968 and this year of 2018 are similar.

I recognize the temptation.  It's a nice even, symmetrical 50 years.  It's a provocative premise.  It's a nice article assignment.  It's clickbait.

And it's bullshit.  Please resist the temptation.  Though this particular article has its merits, its premise is fundamentally unsound.

There is no useful comparison between 1968 and 2018.  They are different in all but the most superficial ways.  The "division" in this country is almost completely different.  If you stick to what the two years have in common, you lose what was most important in each year, especially 1968.

I don't suppose we can avoid a flood of 1968 stories, at least for a month or so.  But let's honor the integrity of that year and extract its true significance rather than trivialize both this year and that year with invidious comparisons.

Or not.  It won't last long anyway.

Monday, January 15, 2018

That Other Shithole Country

Almost as disheartening as the anti-president himself is his success in corrupting the Republicans in Washington.  It has suddenly struck two of them that he didn't say "shithole countries" at all (describing the homelands of Haitian and African immigrants) and it was a horrible distortion for anyone to say so.  For according to the conservative National Review, he might actually have said "shithouse."

No, you can't make this shit up.  Andy Borowitz, get your shit together.

But as Martin Luther King Day passes, we can at least try to see as clearly as he did.  In this time it is that a lot of Republicans, particularly the antipresident's "base", thoroughly agree with the antipresident's characterization.  Moreover, they are most upset about another shithouse (or shithole) country he didn't name.

That country is the United States of America.  They cannot face that it is rapidly becoming multiracial and more equal.  They would rather side with the avaricious rich out to loot the country including them, as long as they feed their fears of this country.  They have lost more jobs to foreigners who stay in their own countries than they ever will to immigrants, but they don't see them.  

Nothing else matters but that it's not their America anymore.  I imagine some of them are saying this out loud, and many others would agree: This is what happens when you let people from shithole countries in, even if a bunch of them are descendants of unwilling immigrants dragged over as slaves.  Give them equality and what do you get?  A shithole country of your own.

Perhaps President Obama is correct and Fox News covers a different planet, but certainly it covers a different country.  All actual news about the United States as well as the world is fake news because it's not about the country that does not exist that they want to believe they live in.  When you live in a fake country, news about the real country is always fake.

Nobody likes to feel invaded, or powerless, or a victim of injustice.  But beyond empathy, we're looking at a segment of the electorate that hates their own country. Together with those who made deluded or just plain stupid decisions, they voted for the antipresident, and they're more than fine with his reflexive racism and racist vulgarity.

So this is what Republicans are counting on, as they ever more corruptly cozy up to the antipresident, and incidentally, make a dismal authoritarianism more likely: the support of voters who like those in power in the federal government, but hate the shithole country that government is supposed to govern.

Shepard for the Day.8

Cahuilla basket bowl, south central California
"In such a world there is no wildness, as there is no tameness.  Human power over nature is largely the exercise of handcraft.  Insofar as the natural world poetically signifies human society, it signals that there is no great power over other men except as the skills of leadership are hewn by example and persuasion.

The otherness of nature takes fabulous forms of incorporation, influence, conciliation, and compromise. When the juvenile goes out with adults to seek a hidden root or to stalk an antelope he sees the unlimited possibilities of affiliation, for success is understood to depend on the readiness of the prey or tuber as much as the skill of the forager."

Paul Shepard
Nature and Madness

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Shepard for the Day.7

"The play space--trees, shrubs, paths, hidings, climbings--is a visible, structured entity, another prototype of relationships that hold.  It is the primordial terrain in which games of imitating adults lay another groundwork for a dependable world. 

 They prefigure a household, so that, for these children of mobile hunter-gatherers, no house is necessary to structure and symbolize social status.  Individual trees and rocks that were also known to parents and grandparents are enduring counterplayers having transcendent meaning later in life."

Paul Shepard
Nature and Madness
p. 8