I don’t know that I’ve ever had a truly original thought. That said, this is consecutive journal post number 180. That’s six months of nothing new every day. If journaling was darts …
Caveat emptor: my daily musings may be incomplete and incorrect.
Today’s photo was taken across Dublin Bay through haze this day three years ago. The digital haze clearance and clarity adjustment has introduced an unnatural light effect that is curiously attractive. I had been introduced to the MTO lens the year before and I finally made my way back to the owner with a Canon adaptor. I liked the idea of a 1000mm lens so much that I bought a second hand copy I saw sitting cheaply in Mr CAD Photographic in Pimlico. My MTO-11CA was built in November 1993 from the 1950s design and I’ve already journaled some results from when we lived in London.
I’d like to think that I’ve had at least one truly original thought but I can’t remember what it might have been. I’ve recently concluded that everything I think is probably derivative of somebody else’s thinking. Rather than seeing further by standing on the shoulders of giants, I feel like I’m at the top of a lighthouse in thick fog. I’m pleased that the lighthouse has a good library and broadband access for the benefit of long isolated keepers. The rotating lamp isn’t illuminating anything helpful but like the lighthouse, I hope my journal somehow acts like the foghorn that sounds on those foggy nights to alert sailors and surfers to the masked hazards. And there is no doubt in my mind that our futures are as masked in fog as we are masked during pandemic.
It’s as easy to be misled by media or editorial hype as by unmonitored social posts. Both can act as squeaky wheels clamouring for our attention, whether for purchases or sharing sentiments, all the while fuelled by product advertising. What’s harder to see are the social, political and economic trends when our trust in information and advice is being eroded.
It seems to me that inhumanity is racing towards nationalism and isolationism. I believe these are are retrograde and regressive steps that will decrease social mobility for billions of people not yet born. But that’s just one view and it’s far from original.
You probably won’t know of a controversy that arose when we lived in the US in the 1980s. It caught our attention such that I still recall how upset we were. I don’t remember the precise circumstances but it seems to me that a TV news crew recorded a man burning. Then again, the details aren’t important to the point I want to make.
The journalists chose to keep their cameras rolling rather than rendering aid. Their news story was of a protest by self-immolation. I don’t recall dates or locations nor the reason for the very public suicide. The journalists justified their inactions claiming unbiased independence was a central tenet of journalism. They argued that to have intervened was to have changed the story. They seemed to think that their journalism was the highest priority. What mattered to them, apparently, was the preservation of journalistic principles rather than the preservation of the life of a stranger. And of course, had they prevented the man from burning, they would have had no news story to file.
I remember wondering what the journalists would have done if the person who was self-immolating was a brother or a friend or a husband or a father or a son or a colleague. Ethics aside for a paragraph, it seemed to me, wearing a wonky science hat, that there was an evolutionary lesson in this news story about a news story. I believed that it was most likely that the journalists would have rendered aid if the protestor was known to them, especially if he was a blood relative. I thought that the male journalists, most likely, would have intervened to protect their bloodlines. They might not have thought of genetics as the driver for the rescue but taken in general terms, don’t we exist to transmit our genes? So you’d imagine that the genes of a close family member might be have higher value to our vestigial, primitive, subconscious, reproducing selves than the genes of strangers. Strangers of the same gender are, of course, generally classified by eons of genetic programming as rivals in reproduction (or potential lovers). I also wondered at the continuing bad luck of the protestor that the journalists were male because I believe that female instincts generally tend towards life preservation.
You might disagree with such brute generalisations or reductions or be horrified that I admit to thinking these things. But these are not novel thoughts and this is what I’m trying to illustrate using a horrific death.
The section Take One For The Team in Until The End Of Time by Brian Greene leads with a question. ‘How do you ensure cooperation and loyalty among increasingly large collections of individuals?’
It appears that JBS Haldane and others tried to answer this question in the 1930s. Darwin had previously proposed kin selection (or inclusive fitness) and Haldane and others had surmised that family loyalty happens, as Greene wrote, ‘because we share a meaningful portion of our genes.’
Greene wrote, by way of thought experiment, that by ‘saving my sister from a charging elephant, I’m increasing the likelihood that genetic segments identical to mine will persist and will be passed on to subsequent generations.’
The potential for nepotism, for example, is a regressive consequence of genetic programming for cooperation and loyalty. And as such, nepotism was very much in evidence on our TVs this week for those who had tuned to coverage of the American Republican Party Convention news. This nepotism was in the form of potential exploitation of the cognitive biases in the audiences that make the familiar appear true. Almost nothing is more familiar than family. Some might say that truth wasn’t as much in evidence on this occasion as was the family.
While reading around these disparate issues, I came across a few studies that conclude that any publicity around suicide has a discernible effect on the suicide rate over the subsequent ten days. Which suggests that media coverage isn’t helpful if you are in need of help. This kind of subconcious response might be what makes suicide social media postings so dangerous to the vulnerable in our societies.
Please remember to advise others who might be in distress that organisations such as the Samaritans are there to help.