Further Strides toward Reconciliation

One of the major themes of this blog has been reconciliation and cooperation under difficult circumstances. Below are three pertinent, hopeful stories on reconciliation that I’ve collected over the last few months.

1. Colombia to Spend $30 B to Compensate War Victims (AlertNet; Jan 24, 2012)

Reparations to victims of Colombia’s long, bloody armed conflict will reach as much as $30 billion in the next 10 years, the government said on Tuesday… The reparation program will benefit more than 3 million victims of the war, which has dragged on for nearly five decades.”

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Roundup (Jan 10, 2012)

I generally don’t do roundups, but below are a few things I thought worth sharing. If “a scholar is just a library’s way of making another library,” as Daniel Dennett put it, then this is what I’ve checked out lately.


Greg Downey at Neuroanthropology has begun a new series on anthropology and the evolution of human sexuality, titled: “The Long, Slow Sexual Revolution.” I’ve been looking forward to it for a few weeks since Greg first told me he was working on this, and I can say that the wait was worth it (and not just because he kindly cites some of my stuff from the Blank-ogamous series). He takes a *very* big picture approach, and what I liked most about it was that it stressed the need to confront the evidence while also keeping an eye on context and complexity, and avoiding overly simplistic narratives. As he wrote:

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Conduct Your Triumph as a Funeral

With the news of Osama bin Laden fresh, I’m reminded of a passage (#31) from the Tao Te Ching on humility and military victory:

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Demography and the Possible

Living in New England, we have older cemeteries than most other areas of the country (though Eastern hemisphere readers might scoff at what Americans consider ‘old’). I frequently walk with my sons and nephew through a cemetery near my home, as it is a tranquil place away from traffic, where we can go through the woods and throw rocks in the pond. We do this so often that the headstones sometimes become little more than a forgotten backdrop.

However, I do make an effort to remind myself that these headstones are markers of actual human lives. One recently caught my attention, the story of Henry and Susan Battey. I have no knowledge who these individuals were what they looked like, where they lived — other than their names, vital statistics, and the names of their children. It is their children on the backside of the headstone that struck me. The Batteys had three children, losing all of them as infants. That occurs to me as nature (or poverty, or whatever the cause) at its most cruel and indifferent.

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Reconciliation, Biology, and the Second Indochina War

Of all the things I’ve written on this site, this remains one of the most meaningful to me. (May 29, 2017)

The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” …………………………………………………………………………– Mohandas K. Gandhi

On my desk sits a spoon I bought in a restaurant in northern Laos. It’s lightweight, bigger than a tablespoon, and full of tiny dents that some unknown metalsmith hammered into it. The owner was bemused that in addition to the bowl of pho noodle soup, I also wanted to buy one of her utensils. But I had my reasons.

Earlier on my trip, my guide1 informed me that people in the town of Phonsavanh half-jokingly called these ‘B-52 spoons,’ as they were made of metal recovered from bombs dropped decades ago by U.S. planes during  ‘the Secret War. To me, the spoon was more than a quirky souvenir. Instead, it represented an attempt by Laotians to take the physical remnants of a tragic period in history and forge them into something more positive, in effect turning swords into plowshares (or bombs into spoons). Continue reading

Evolutionary Aesthetics

‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty, – that is all Ye know on earth and all ye need to know.’ – John Keats

Van Gogh's Starry Night

In 2004, Kevin Kniffin (a former classmate of mine at Binghamton) and David Sloan Wilson, published an article in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior revealing their results from three different studies on perceptions of beauty. Among their findings was that, for people who knew each other, ratings of physical attractiveness were strongly influenced by the personality traits of those persons who were being rated. In other words, when rating potential mates, ‘inner beauty’ augmented perceptions of external appearance and overall attractiveness. The reason behind this likely has Darwinian roots. According to Wilson:

“The fitness value of potential social partners depends at least as much on non-physical traits — whether they are cooperative, dependable, brave, hardworking, intelligent and so on — as physical factors, such as smooth skin and symmetrical features.”

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Choice, Obesity & the Irrational Ape (Homo insensatus)

What I see in Nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of humility.

……………………………………………………………………………………. – Albert Einstein

Another irrational ape (imitating Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’)

Jonah Lehrer has written another great piece about our irrationality in decision making, and our emotional responses to avoiding loss. He writes:

From the perspective of economics, there is no good reason to weight gains and losses so differently. Opportunity costs (foregone gains) should be treated just like “out-of-pocket costs” (losses). But they aren’t – losses carry a particular emotional sting.”

Others have noted the importance of emotion involved in decision making, and how it affects our ability to intuit how our choices will make us feel. When someone suffers damage to the prefrontal cortex of their brain, both their emotions and decision-making abilities are impaired (Bechara et al 1997). What this suggests is that emotions and reason are linked, rather than oppositional. They inform each other. This all fits in with Dan Ariely’s view of humans as “predictably irrational.”

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