A non-partisan journal of the left.

NONE SO BLIND - An outRageous! challenge

Mon 20th Feb 2012

“ I wonder if God invented man because he was disappointed in the monkey.” Mark Twain

The focus of my challenge concerns an approach to problems. It’s a vision thing.
Ding-ding! In the Red Corner, we have seeing without being free to extrapolate actions. In the Blue Corner, they’re acting out quasi-solutions without being able to see either their genesis or consequences.

First, a fascinating illustration you can witness, and even allow yourself to reproduce.

The BBC is currently running Super Smart Animals an excellent documentary series fronted by biologist Liz Bonnin. The series successfully attempts some myth-busting about the nature of intelligence, especially in relation to problem-solving, among the animal kingdom.

One segment of Bonnin’s series featured youngster Ayumu, a 12-year-old captive chimpanzee raised in Japan. He’s been setting records with repeatable, recorded, and astounding examples of comprehension.

You can see the footage on the BBC’s nature site here:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/16832378

Part of Bonnin’s visit involved her trying to replicate Ayumu’s amazing ability: he can glance at a computer screen of randomly generated numbers placed in ascending order in random patterns, and, after only sixty milliseconds, can achieve near 100% accuracy in recalling the precise placement of the numbered squares.

Neither Bonnin, nor I playing along at home, could even fully register that the squares were numbered, let alone in what order they appeared. Betcha can’t beat Ayumu. Which is only the first of my outRageous! challenges.

Let me stress straightaway, I’m not advocating holding primates captive, and in principle I’m against animal experimentation. So I’m not going to justify Kyoto University’s research methods, though they appear pretty benign.

Also, let me confess that nearly forty years ago, I spent six months sharing a zoo cage with two infant orangutans. I was neither keeper, trainer or teacher, nor did I feed them. I didn’t give them discipline, commands or rewards, and I never spoke in English. I also didn’t try to ape their behaviour, if you’ll pardon the pun.

What I gave them was a constant friend who would never reject them no matter what.

Every day I spent with them proved to me what Bonnin’s series demonstrates. Namely, that animals with large brain power enjoy the process of problem solving. Like human children they actively seek out learning situations, often related to play. They’re both self-motivators and team players.

They’re not interested in domination and, although they can become frustrated if they don’t understand something, they don’t seek redress in revenge.

All this requires a growing sense of self-confidence which is almost entirely acquired through feeling safe and secure, and never as a coping mechanism in the face of fear and abuse. And yes, there are powerful parallels to policies on torture lurking here.

What politicians and political systems insure is that the greatest number of people never feel safe and secure. While maintaining their commitment to doing their very best for the greater good, what their policies actually achieve is a fear-filled public, wary of each new day.

Why would they do that? Well, it’s the best way to manipulate large groups of people and divert them from examining the flaws in the system. People in social and emotional trouble are soothed by promised slices of pie in the sky in all their favourite flavours. And the crumbs droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath.

Back in 1985 America’s Public Service Broadcasting [PBS] ran a documentary called Hungry For Profit. Its writer/director Robert Richter describes it best:

“Is our food bought at the price of famine in the developing world? Is agribusiness more interested in producing profits than producing food? [The film] investigates U.S. and European agribusiness in the Third World. Filmed on five continents, it takes a close look at agribusiness, which is turning the world's food supply into a global supermarket, buying food at the lowest prices - regardless of small farmers and local populations - and selling it at the highest price and the greatest profit whenever possible.”

More recently, the BBC’s longest running investigative journalism program Panorama broadcast Poor America . It presents a disturbing and graphic account that challenges Obama’s campaign promises to protect children and the vulnerable.

In the light of America’s million and a half homeless children, the program explored the phenomenon of Tent Cities, springing up all over the States. It also delved below the opulent Las Vegas palaces into the storm drains where hundreds of poverty-stricken families take shelter from a system that has rejected them. The cycle – no work, no home, no dignity – is played out while in the soaring towers above the more fortunate play games of chance.

The casinos are rigged, and so are the lives of the poor.

The Con-Dems, too, perpetuate a system rigged against those in most need. All the so-called reforms reshape nothing but the thickness of the wallets needed to lug home the profits of the obscenely wealthy.

Cameron et al are convinced their solutions to society’s problems are fiscally prudent and will pull the nation from what they see as the quicksand of economic implosion, medical malfunction, and cultural collapse.

They won’t listen to anyone who disagrees with their ridiculous analysis, and they won’t accept the real effects of their cavalier diktats. Indulge me in a hypothetical:

Imagine you awake to discover everything you know, everything you’ve ever relied on is gone. Phttt! Just like that!

Imagine your home, your town, your city, all the trappings of your life have been washed away by a tsunami wave. Or a mud slide. An earthquake. A meteor crash.

Who knows what caused the disaster. There is no one to explain it. No news, no radio, no telly, no FaceBook or Twitter. Just you.

Somehow you have survived, you don’t know how or why. As you slowly begin to realize the enormity of this devastation, you explore as far as you’re able, hoping you’re not alone.

Eventually, you do find other survivors. You all realize you can only continue if you pool your knowledge and bond with each other. None of you possesses anything, so the only thing you can share are your ideas.

Money means nothing in this scenario. There are no stores, no commodities nor any hope of getting them. This is not a case of looting, because there is nothing to loot. You are thrown back on solving the most basic of human problems. You need to find food and water. You need to shelter from the extremes of weather.

You each recognize that no amount of the expertise which served you before this disaster is worth a twiddle’s twaddle anymore. You realize that the ideas each and every one of you can suggest are equally worth considering for your collective survival. You realize that anyone trying to take control or dominate or appoint and anoint themselves to power is doomed to failure and will threaten the rest.

I hope you’d also conclude that the very fact of your being, your very essence entitles you to conceive from scratch a way forward. Together.

Your challenge is to hold an online conversation, with respect and care, mooting ideas, trying to reach points of agreement, trying not to become control freaks, trying always to help.

What do you need? What don’t you need? Can you devise a dialogue that gives weight to each and is heard by all.

What roles, assumed to be so fundamental before and which were based on self-importance and arrogance, can you abandon? Must you find replacements or can you do away with those completely?

So to my final challenge. Occupy Online.

Are you willing to e-mail LPJ editors Tomasz and Emmeline to ask them to host a discussion forum that will achieve such dialogue? Are they brave enough to let it happen?

I hope so.
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