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Homeostasis, The Mean
That is: The Mean Gangs Up On the Extreme
Core to pk’s teaching:
|Living systems automatically, consciousness immaterial, strive for balance.
Consciousness is as immaterial for homeostasis as it is for gravity,
IQ is irrelevant.
Nine times out of ten, it works, balance is “good,” more often than not, but the Nth instance may be exactly what kills us.
Meantime, the same humans who, if they didn’t kill a Jesus of Nazareth, did persecute Galileo: and if they didn’t persecture Galileo, they did stand idle while other “saviors,” geniuses, smart guys were assassinated, fired, banished …
Intelligence may help, but it doesn’t change the nature of things.
The finest sermon I’ve ever heard (and please realize that I considered myself something of a gourmet of religious worship, never passing up an invitation to visit a mass, a Buddhist chanting, a temple, a Bar Mitzvah …) was in the mid-’70s at a Carolingian Church in Stonybook, Long Island. I was escorting my mother for Easter. The Reverend Doctor who led the celebration of the Resurrection emphasized the significance of Jesus having been condemned not by lawless barbarians but by the two cultures which had done the most to develop law in the ancient world: the Roman and the Jewish. Jerusalem was as law abiding as you could get two thousand years ago. For the Jewish holiday the Roman rulers cooperated in their tradition of releasing criminals from punishment, but they chose not to release Jesus. This Anglican pastor was just getting warmed up. “The mean fears the extremes”, he said. The average protects itself from the below average, but also protects itself from the above average. ! He described the bell curve. We knowingly and deliberately kill the very bad; but we unknowingly lump the very good with it and kill it too. Given a choice, we let the very bad go and kill the very best, mislabeling it the very worst.
God is dead.
And we killed him.
(Sure, the Jews: But Jews R Us.) (Ditto Romans.) (And we’re twenty times more Roman than Jewish.)
Approximately a decade earlier I’d read of schools in the US of the last century and their prescription for troublesome students. A teacher could expel arsonists, rapists, thieves, and “geniuses.” [Robert Hofstadter, Anti-intellectualism in American Life] There it was, the very word, right on the school board’s directive. But what really got to me was my review of his statements against my readings in science of the preceding two-thirds of a decade: what he was describing was the principle of homeostasis, well enough known in science: “the tendency of a system, especially the physiological system of higher animals, to maintain internal stability, owing to the coordinated response of its parts to any situation or stimulus tending to disturb its normal condition or function.” (Random House Unabridged)(My reading of a decade still later would suggest to me the source of the good Carolingian pastor’s wisdom: C. S. Lewis, On Being a Christian. He may have gotten it from Lewis, but I think he improved on it. Lewis didn’t mention the bell curve or elaborate so much on the history of law.
but also protects itself from the above average.
It’s not just the Romans.
It’s not just King Herod
and Jerusalem’s Sanhedrin.
Look in jails and dungeons throughout history. You’ll find Thomas Paine bunked with pickpockets, Nelson Mandela caged with rapists, Gandhi with arsonists.
Inhabitants of the bottom (lower left) are a danger to themselves and possibly to the rest. The mean will take turns: caring for them, or exterminating them. The mean is safe: at least from itself. It’s always open season on the top (lower right).
2016 01 22 The mean is safe from itself, meaning from its intentions, but it’s a danger to itself and to much else when it fails to distinguish intention from actual result. Commonality and honesty are strangers to each other.
This version is just a preliminary to the one to come. For the moment I’ll just say that homeostasis is essential to a system’s keeping its balance. I would never for a second propose that any system not bother with balance, that we’d be better off without it. Homeostasis has kept us alive. It’s one of the essential things that’s gotten us here. A species will automatically turn on mutants. Sure, mutants are genetic “mistakes.” But then so too are species: “mistakes” which outperformed the earlier norm and then became the “norm.” Mutation is one of evolution’s primary driving engines. If you want to be “better,” genuinely better, then you must expect to be turned on.
priests, teachers, experts past whom few new ideas
(and especially no incriminating evidence!) can penetrate.
Also: what kept you alive last time can kill you this time. The W.W.I soldier waved his arms and kept from smashing his head coming over the mountains; in the trench he’d better keep still whether he’s losing his balance or not. Americans went west and flourished: when we went west of California, we practically drowned.
Natural laws are not something that can be avoided. We can oppose gravity but cannot cancel it. We can combat erosion, but not stop it. Neither can we will ourselves not to have backbones: nor to be immune to error. (Note that those examples all refer to different kinds of laws, regularities, invariances …)
As I said to a lawyer a few years back (when he wondered why I was always in trouble, why people routinely ganged up on me):Homeostasis cannot be legislated against.DC, Harvard, and the Vatican will remain subject to homeostasis no matter what they do.
So too pk. If I were in charge I too would automatically, unconsciously, resist Mutantn, Evolutiono, NewParadignp …
Good intentions cannot overcome all.
Homeostasis is ubiquitous.
I’m just working on a new homeostasis module, arguing that homeostasis is decentralized, though centralized systems will then additionally centralize it. It rules us coming and going. People are cautious, conservative, slow to adapt, with or without a Pope or tyrant.
The above started as a 1995 footnote to the Sartre footnote of a biographical narrative on the religious side of my childhood training.
Lawless: legislative law breaking
No, the Romans and Jews were not “lawless barbarians.” It was Roman law that Pilate was breaking. It was the Jews’ version of divine law that Herod and the priests of the Temple of Jerusalem were breaking.
It was illegal for Pilate to execute anyone unless convicted of an infraction against Roman law. It was against God’s commandment for Herod or the priests to kill. period.
But of course it seldom occurs to the governors that the laws are supposed to apply to them as well as to the governed (except when making speeches about how “the system works” after events like Watergate). Governments are tools of manipulation masked as order.
Mario Puzo applies a crowning comic irony in his climax to The Last Don. The Hollywood studio offers a three million dollar bribe to the judge to let the studio head get away with statutory rape. Sorry: the Mafia had already given that judge a five million dollar bribe to uphold the law!
While here, let’s also look a third time at that phrase “lawless barbarians.” Barbarian means little more than “foreigner” in more civilizations than those of the Greeks or Romans. (Etymologically it just means they had beards where the Romans went clean-shaven.) What Vandal law were the Vandals breaking when they busted up Mediterranean Europe? I don’t know Vandal law. Do you? What respect did they owe to Mediterranean laws? Do we learn the niceties of local laws when touring?
What about God’s commandment against killing? Were the Vandals Jewish? Were they Christian? If God wanted the Vandals to know his Mosaic commandments, why hadn’t He make a similar visit to them? shouldn’t universal laws make some effort actually to be universal? Gravity does. I’ll bet the Vandals did have laws against killing though: against killing other Vandals!
My King James reads Exodus 20,13 as “Thou shalt not kill.” The precise words all of us know. The “thou” and the “shalt” diction is archaic but remains clear thanks to rehearsal. The “not” and the “kill” parts are core contemporary English. But are they clear? We wage wars. We execute those we condemn as criminals. We hunt. (I just fish.) We have abattoirs. Our white blood corpuscles are streamlined killing machines. Is that what we mean by original sin?
Did God speak to Moses in English? Archaic or modern? Did he speak it in Hebrew? Isn’t Hebrew a natural language too? Just as full of ambiguity and confusion as English?
If He spoke a divine language, how did Moses understand it? Let’s say he did. Then how safely could it be translated to the Jews of the exodus? If we could look at the oldest Torah, how could we know the words were the same as those carved on the stone? If we had the stone, how could we know we had the original? If we had the original stone, how could we know we had the original meaning? Being fluent in Hebrew, being scholarly in Hebrew, still doesn’t guarantee anything.
Ah, but the Jews are conservative. That’s what they do: they conserve. The Jews are Plato’s original conservatives. OK. Good. But are they perfect at it?
The actual laws of the actual universe simply function. If they communicate, that’s how they do it: by functioning. Perfectly. Without exception. Or so the rational believe.
Real laws don’t need any human aid. Neither do they require connivance from the particular gods of particular cultures. Maybe, once upon a time, religions could be credited with trying to decipher them so we’d not only obey them, will-we or nil-we, but understand them.
But the human endeavor that’s come the closest and has the best tools for the task is science.
Where religions had a proto-scientific element, it was even more for the purpose of manipulation for advantage than for understanding. Alas, that hasn’t changed much. Science wouldn’t be budgeted if we didn’t see advantage in it. We’re still using “magic,” trying to make it rain. (What we’ve done, yes, you especially scientists, is change the pattern of rain. Where it once rained where we put the crops, it now rains out to sea.)
Religions can be great motivators. If we wish to survive the depredations of civilization with anything like a habitable (for us) biosphere intact, we need a new religion. The one I recommend would combine Jainism with Essene Judaism with the militant jihad mentality of Assassins: Jain to respect all non-human life; Assassin to kill all humans but the elect (so long as the elect never exceed the carrying capacity of the biosphere). That’s where the Essene part comes in: strict chastity (interpreted of course to sustain a sane population of the elect). (The Essenes also practiced the holding of joint-property.)
Obviously this religion would not practice tolerance. It would not tolerate error.
2011 08 07 I first wrote online about homeostasis sixteen or so years ago, c. 1995. I housed the modules not among my Thinking Tools, but in the Society folder, which then divided into Social Epistemology, Social Order, Social Survival … Then the fed censored my domains. Back out of jail, but not allowed to reestablish a domain I rescued key modules at IonaArc, one of a few pk blogs to have escaped the mandated destruction. Then I scribbled more at pkTools blog. Now all gets moved to pKnatz blog, the new Knatz.com heir. I’ll link it from the Thinking Tools and the Social Epistemology menus.
I just added the following in a new file; I should have merged it here (I hope I live to write one good coherent statement and scrap all the old war vet debris):
Categories help us organize our minds, but categories taken literally can mislead. Should a library classify the Bible with history? with myth? with philosophy? with pathology? …
Categories are for convenience. We should not let the map substitute for the territory.
Few of my “thinking tools” are more important than the concept of homeostasis as I understand and teach it: systems strive for balance, balance doesn’t in all cases serve survival: the society that chops away the morons as too stupid to be useful will also, by the same mechanism, chop away the genius, the saint, the one marginal member of the society who isn’t fooled by the illusions that fool the core members of the society. Furthermore, it doesn’t matter that we don’t intend the ill consequences of our actions, our actions may have ill consequences no matter what we intended.
I mention Jesus, Galileo … as I always do. Now I urge everyone to see the movie Agora, on the murder of Hypatia