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Saturday, August 21, 2021

My Grandmother's Hands - A Book Review and Recommendation

My Grandmother’s Hands, Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies by Resmaa Menakem 2017.

I found this a great little book. The author is a psychotherapist who lives in Minneapolis. The book is a fine collection of information about how our bodies are our primary source of feelings, actions, culture, etc. The author teaches the reader how to understand this, how to manage it, and, potentially, how to fix our national culture that so divides us today.

The key thing to my mind is that most recent neuroscience research absolutely supports what he has discovered through reading and his own counseling practice. Our gut, our abdomen has more control over what we "think" and do than our conscious brain. We FEEL things, we RESPOND to threat, to attraction, etc. For more on that topic see: Seven and a Half Lessons About the Brain by Lisa Feldman Barrett. She is a neuroscientist, leading much of the research into our much of out "thinking" is actually "feeling". 

This author is focused on the black body, the white body, and the police body. Some of the recent violence enacted by our law enforcement on black citizens has been an almost "automatic" response of their nervous system to the "other" body. 

He has a clear understanding of what he calls our "culture" of black and white bodies. It is a learned culture that is passed down for generations on both sides. It is barely amenable to our conscious control. Changing our "culture" or "world view" as individuals is a start, but we need to put in place mechanisms and visible things to help our whole national culture heal.

The author has worked as a training consultant for the Minneapolis police department. The book was published in 2017, before the George Floyd incident. Interestingly enough, the shooting of Justine Damond, a white body, by Somali-American Minneapolis Police Department officer Mohamed Noor, a black body, has the same characteristics. It made no rational sense. He clearly felt threatened, and responded in what we would call an irrational manner. A similar incident is the more recent case where officer Kim Potter, a white body, mistakenly shot Daunte Wright, a black body, thinking she was using her taser. This was a tragic mistake, coming out of the culture of fear and mistrust that is carried about in our bodies. It appears that this happens more often than we would like to believe. See this reference. It comes from the "body culture", that this book explores.

The good news is that the book has many ideas and suggestions for changing this culture - for individuals, police departments, and our whole nation. 

I found some of the therapeutic exercises to be a bit much. I tend to lean more to a regular program of meditation or mindfulness - but I am now expanding that to include more of a bodily presence to myself. Just paying attention to what my body does in a stressful situation has already proved to be of significant benefit.

I continue to be amazed by what we are learning about human beings. The challenge now is how to get that into the popular mind and "culture". We shall see. I continue to have hope. 

Monday, May 24, 2021

World View of the United States

OK - assuming anyone is still reading these things - I just stumbled on a bit of research that I found fascinating. Not helpful at all, but fascinating.  This is my attempt to understand it a bit, and make it my own. It might help you to do the same. Or NOT. Let me know if this works. Thanks.

World View

I first glommed onto the idea of a "world view" in East Africa. Thanks to my good friends who had spent many years there, I discovered that East Africans see all of life very differently from most westerners. To state it very simplistically, I see life as something that I am in charge of. They see life as something that happens TO them. It was hard for me to believe that - but it is true. 
For a simple introduction to that, see this blog post.

Until that point, I assumed that we all had the same mental model in our heads of how things work. In fact, our mental models are very different. Each country has kind of a dominant one, and individuals have uniquely personal ones. And these models are not simple things - they are complex beasts. And they are fundamental to how our brain works - not things pasted on later. It took me a couple of decades to see this. You can think of "world view" also as "culture", where culture means the whole underpinning of beliefs and feelings that make up the mental model of your world. This is your personal "story", which shapes everything you see and think.

This "culture" or "world view" is really the infrastructure of your mind or brain as it tries to make sense of the input it gets. These are learned behaviors, learned emotions, learned feelings, which you started acquiring as an infant. You learned that the odd grimace which you gave your parents seemed to make them quite happy - so you learned to smile. All the things you think of as rational ideas, arguments, thoughts, are really learned emotional responses that your body has acquired over many years to govern how you operate.  For the most part, these are totally automatic - they are FEELINGS, not ideas, not rules for life, not morals, etc. 


I want to emphasize that this is not just my opinion - this is what modern neuroscience has finally figured out. It is what Kahneman calls the "fast brain". It is what Lisa Feldman calls our "constructed emotions." We believe that we think, that we reason - but that is rarely what is going on. We can think, or reason, but it is rare, and a whole lot of work. It is Kahneman's "slow brain". For the most part, we feel, we have emotions, we have nearly automatic responses to perceived reality, that we are barely in charge of. These learned emotions, feelings are formed all through our life. They are our world view - our personal cultural perspective on life.
For more on that than you probably ever wanted to know, see this blog post.

Survey of American World View

This is the article that started this thought process:

When I saw the title for this, I thought it might be interesting. The headline reads: "43% of millennials 'don’t know, don’t care, don’t believe' God exists:" In my humble opinion, about 1/3 of the U.S. population is slightly crazy, so I thought an objective survey of our belief system might help explain things. 

The survey is really focused on the "religious" or "philosophy of life" world view of the United States. I found the first article quite confusing. So I looked to the original study organization, and found 3 more versions of PR pieces. You can get them all under the heading: American Worldview Inventory 2021 Releases. They all download a PDF, so be prepared for that.

This is a Christian organization, trying to determine the belief levels of the U.S. population. I can safely say that they were surprised by what they learned. ". . . this radical spiritual revolution has created a generation seeking a reimagined world without God, the Bible, or churches . . ."

The survey technique was decent - they did 30 minute interviews with the subjects. Casting the belief system of their subjects as their "world view" was a fairly insightful. I am not sure they fully realized this, but it works. 


AND . . . I learned a new word: "Syncretism" as a "world view."  AND 88% of us have it!  What the heck is it? 

The most common worldview among Americans is Syncretism, which isn’t a true worldview but rather a collection of disparate worldview elements blended into a customized philosophy of life.

Here are some relevant quotes:

Only 6% of American adults possess a biblical worldview, but what have the other 94% put in its place?

One of the shocking outcomes from the research is that the biblical worldview, at a 6% nationwide incidence, was the most prolific of the seven worldviews tested. However, with 94% of Americans essentially rejecting the biblical worldview as their preferred way to think and live, placing first in a race in which few people crossed the finish line is hardly a victory. 

In total, 88% of Americans have Syncretism, rather than a substantively coherent and recognizable worldview such as postmodernism or secular humanism, as their dominant worldview. A large majority of each generation relies on a syncretistic worldview when making their life choices. Overall, 89% of Millennials, 86% of Gen Xers, 83% of Boomers, and 86% of Builders have a syncretistic worldview (see CRC’s report on Syncretism here).

According to the groundbreaking American Worldview Inventory 2021—the first survey of its kind to measure not only biblical worldview, but six prominent competing worldviews—found that the overwhelming majority of American adults lack a cohesive, coherent worldview, and instead substitute a patchwork of conflicting, often irreconcilable beliefs and values as they navigate life.

I honestly don't know if that is good news or bad news. Biblical be gone in terms of a literal reading of the Christian scriptures is fine with me. But replacing it with nothing, or something called Syncretism, sounds scary. They list the "known" consistent world views as the following 7:  (always 7)

". . . the seven worldviews measured—Biblical Theism (or a biblical worldview), Secular Humanism, Postmodernism, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, Nihilism, Marxism (along with its offshoot, Critical Race Theory) and Eastern Mysticism (also known as “New Age”), . . . "

They think Catholics fall into this one: Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.  Deism, yet. Well, . . . . could be worse - maybe! It's like 39% of the country.

Bottom Line - to save you a bit of time, here's the "DUH" bottom line of this research:

"Our studies show that Americans are neither deep nor sophisticated thinkers,” the veteran researcher noted. “Americans have become selfish and emotion-driven, leaving logic behind. To promote a way of life that pushes us to think more clearly, consistently, and purposefully will take time and effort, and will be uncomfortable. Most people seem more interested in living a life of comfort and convenience than one of logical consistency and wisdom. Our children will continue to suffer the consequences of following in the unfortunate footsteps of their parents and elders. People who are willing to fight for a more reasonable way of thinking and acting can make a difference but it will be slow progress.”

Well, I wish them well - but to say that a biblical world view is a more reasonable way of thinking is pretty strange. It is obvious that they are part of the problem, not the solution. The genius here is to recognize that we simply are NOT rational - and let go of that. We are feeling beasts - with an occasional rational episode. A consistent world view is the construct of the organization that took the survey. It is simply not real. Their sense of "world view" is really a coherent set of religious beliefs or philosophy. What their survey learned is that humans have broken free of that old model. We are no longer all under the sway of our mind controlling religious beliefs. Rather, we are now an eclectic gathering of discordant values. I think we all have a different term for this: "secularism". These good folk are not privy to that, unfortunately. 

I think the ultimate answer here is to come up with a "world view" or philosophy that we can teach people from infancy onward, that provides a coherent context that better supports human development, and not the concerns of a deity. 

Here is the chart of the results:

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Meaning and Purpose in Life - two book reviews

Until the End of Time: Mind, Matter, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe, by Brian Greene.

The Meaning of Human Existence, by Edward O. Wilson.

Both of these books struck me as absolutely brilliant reflections on the meaning and purpose of human existence. The two authors are scientists, noted in their fields. Greene is a physicist, who comes to the problem from the big bang, through stars, to life, cells, etc. Wilson is a naturalist - known for the study of ants. he comes to it from the wonder of life on this planet, and the awe inspired by what humans are capable of. Wilson also focuses more on the biological element of our propensities.

These videos will give you a better sense of who they are - maybe entice you to read the books.
- Brian Greene: Mind, Matter And The Search For Meaning: 
- E.O. Wilson explains the meaning of human existence: 
   For a bit longer and more fascinating one:

I am formally trained primarily as a philosopher and theologian, and these two hit me just right. I gained a whole new appreciation for the miracle that is life from both of them. 

Both of these men also hold no belief in any greater power. But that is not a source of despair - rather even more amazement at the wonder of life. In this vast universe, this vast history of time, coming from a tiny dot, and ending in a huge, dispersed nothingness - WE exist. We are here. We enjoy life and love and music and family and stories - etc. WE are amazing. All life is amazing, priceless, precious. And the reason is - we CHOOSE it. We choose to believe that life itself is meaning and purpose enough. 

We create love and family and music and art and science. WE are truly amazing. BUT - we need to work on our habitat just a bit. We seem to be bent on destroying the planet.
  How To Save Life on Earth

When I am old and wandering about, just sit me down with Beethoven's Ninth, and a bird feeder in the window. I will be content. Thanks. 

Finally - I understand what is going on with people.

Since I retired some time ago, I have been reading, trying to figure out how human beings work. Turns out we are truly WEIRD entities - see the book below by that name. In the 2020 election, that weirdness had one third of the United States vote for a narcissist, and one third voted for a really old white guy with moderate views, and one third DID NOT VOTE. How is that even possible?

I have read a lot - neuroscience, psychology, politics, economics, history.  There is a list of books at the end of this with my annotation on what they taught me. And, drum roll, here’s the answer:

The United States of America has a pervasive implicit racist culture. 

Period. Full stop. Much to my amazement, that simple statement says it all. I also realize that my read of the facts is never going to persuade you. It would be more effective if YOU undertook a bit of my reading list, and see where it leads. To entice you, here is a carefully selected subset. Please let me know if this helps, or if you come to a different insight. In the best of worlds, you would be able to persuade me that I might be wrong. That would be very helpful. Thanks.

For a real shorthand of the argument - watch this Daily Show interview. 9 minutes - Please. And this Ted Talk - Racism Has Cost All of Us. 14 minutes - you can do this. 

For a VERY recent and wonderfully concise summary of the first part of this see this column by David Brooks:

Barrett, Lisa Feldman, How Emotions are Made.


This is a complex scientific work, by a preeminent neuroscientist. See her wikipedia entry. The theory is somewhat new and debated. I think it is a brilliant insight, because it fits perfectly with all of the other evidence I have found. This is a “theory” but it is based on empirical research, not opinions. For a more populist explanation, see her much shorter book: Seven and a half Lessons about the Brain. She also has a TED talk you might enjoy. 

The Key Insight

Humans do not really THINK very much. We are simply NOT rational in most of what we do.

Our gut, our body and our brain is a reaction engine or network of emotions and patterns that we learn over time. It is not automatic - most of it is learned behavior. We are taught to form predictions about the world, and we respond to them. We do not really have “ideas”, but rather “emotions”. What we think of as “ideas” are actually just another flavor of “emotions”. It is called the “theory of constructed emotion”. Our “thoughts” are really learned emotional responses to external stimuli. Our brain is a dynamic, flexible network, which learns how to respond based on our social environment! And the brain is very plastic - meaning it physically changes as it learns new responses. That also means that it does not easily let go of things - "ideas" or emotions.


There are cultures that do not distinguish between “ideas” and “emotions”. That distinction is a cultural mental construct. There are cultures that do not experience the emotion of anger - they simply do not have it. Our brain, our whole endocrine system is a complex of learned behavior - not automatic. Our culture taught us to smile when we first grimaced at our parents, and they responded with glee. We are inherently social beings, and our brain and emotions are formed in that context. There is very little abstract and rational about us. That thinking process that Kahneman calls the "slow brain" moves the skills we learn to our “fast brain.” All of our thinking has this built in "bias" or "framework."

It also appears that we are not aware of most of the things going on in our brain network. Our senses are always picking up things and presenting them to the brain, which is always searching for patterns - for threats, for friends, etc. Things only pop into our awareness when the "hidden controller" thinks we really need to be aware of something. That insight is from Robert Burton, On Being Certain.

This constant and unconscious brain framework can be called our “culture” or “world view”. It describes our normal, “unthinking” response to things. It dictates how we regard children and adults, males and females, tall and short people, white and black people. For example, the Norwegian culture has the lowest view of the distance from top to bottom of society. Their king is no big deal. East African culture has the sense that they are not in charge of life. The U.S. culture says that we are in charge of our life, and the lives of everyone on the planet. We think we can install a democracy anywhere. 

Our U.S. culture also tells us that we live in a racial caste hierarchy. It is an implicit judgment that colors everything. It is not conscious, it is something we can barely recognize, even after a lot of introspection and work. It is just part of our fabric of life - our implicit world view.

This is why we have “biases”. This is why we have a protective cognition response to deeply held beliefs. When presented with evidence against our beliefs, our whole body reacts to protect itself, and to reaffirm our beliefs - the backfire effect! You cannot change someone's belief with Information! In fact, that only makes it stronger.

Wilkerson, Isabel, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, 2020.


This is another scientific work, researched for 15 years, and brilliantly written, in beautiful English. The author is a journalist - contributor to the New York Times. She also wrote The Warmth of Other Suns - a heart rendering description of the migration and escape of Blacks from the terrorism of the southern United States. 

The Key Insight

The “culture” or “world view” of the United States is racist to its core. 

It started with slavery, and theology and economics - but it has endured and persisted through the Civil War, Reconstruction and the era of civil rights. It became even more pronounced with the election of our first black president. We all have it in our heads - black, brown, white, Asian, etc. It is in our institutions, in our laws, in our brains - it colors everything. 

Most other cultures in the world do not have this particular view of a racial hierarchy. There are no Blacks in Africa. There are no “whites” in Scandinavia. The caste position of the untouchables in India is not about their race. The Germans did not try to obliterate the Jewish “race”, but Jewish heritage and culture. And they studied our Jim Crow laws to learn how to do it: deny them normal rights, make them seem less than human, make them different and of lower value.

It is no help to be “color blind” - rather we need to see color for what it is. We need to understand our history. We need to be “anti-racist.” But that is a lot of work, even for Blacks. It is doubly hard to see it if we are White. Whites at the bottom of our economic hierarchy still consider themselves much higher in our system than any brown or Black person. It is not explicit - it is an implicit worldview, largely hidden from our conscious thought.

The United States Is Not Unique in This

This hierarchical mindset of “us and them” is a common human occurrence. The author is focused on our racist problem in this country, but most cultures have some form of this hierarchical world view. India’s caste system is well documented. The murderous climax of Hutu / Tutu genocide in Rwanda came from the colonial government’s intentional division of the country into upper and lower castes. The “indigenous people problem” in Australia and all parts of the Americas is another example.

McGhee, Heather, The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together, 2021. 


The author is a lawyer and social activist. She has been working in the field of race relations for decades. The book is based on interviews with hundreds of people, and documented scientific social research. For a very short synopsis of her argument, see this piece in the NY Times.

The Way Out of America’s Zero-Sum Thinking on Race and Wealth.”

Here is her interview with Trevor Noah, on the Daily Show.

I have to warn you - this is one of the most depressing books I have ever read. It is hard to believe that we as a nation have done so much damage to so many of our fellow citizens - white and Black. This book documents  thousands of cases, laws, and events that deprive whites and blacks of benefits, privileges and jobs, in order to maintain the status quo. I am ashamed to be a member of this dominant caste.

The Key Insight

The United States racist culture is a Zero Sum game. We all hold an internalized racial view of our world, where there are only winners if there are losers. Wealth or education or freedom is in limited supply. If you move ahead, then I fall behind. When you get more, I have less. We see all of life as a competition for scarce resources, and the competition is based on our hierarchical view of race. The author clearly documents how much we have all lost because of our common racism. She uses facts and personal stories to give an empathic insight into the true scope of the problem.

The cover of this book shows a picture of a young person jumping into a swimming pool. I could not imagine why that image was chosen. When I was a kid, we did not know anyone who owned a swimming pool. But there were two public pools within walking distance of my home. Waling distance back then meant "several miles." When it was hot, we would walk to them and spend the better part of the day there. We had no AC, and this was a great way to spend a hot summer day. One of the largest public pools in the country was in Montgomery AL. In 1959, that pool was filled in and paved over. The city then paid the YMCA to provide a “non public”, segregated pool. Now there are no public swimming pools in Montgomery - or in most of the south, and many parts of the north. Why? Because they had to open them to all races! So they closed them. Here is a bit more on that pool’s history. Who lost in that outcome? All of us! 

The same outcome is documented by the author in virtually every realm. Education - predatory lending practices - salary - unionism - guaranteed employment - minimum wage - voting access - health care. Our white population is harmed by our implicit racist policies. Our Black population is hurt more - but it is costing all of us. The whole push for smaller government is driven by this goal - take it away from *them" so mine is not affected! 

And our fearless leaders know this. They promote it. They “gaslight” us with ideas and phrases that sound rational - but are racist to the core. These are the “dog whistles” of voter fraud, violent crime, welfare fraud, etc.

Election Fraud

We must have a voter id to protect our elections - with no evidence of fraud - just the implicit knowledge that it is more difficult for some of our poor to obtain an ID, so we keep them from casting a ballot by mail. They are the majority, so enabling them to actually vote puts us at risk.

Health Care

When health care is expensive - it costs ALL of us. It would be less expensive for all of us if our healthcare were provided as a basic right, not a “benefit” mediated by insurance companies that are profit engines. Would we accept a police department, or fire department, or sewer and water that was focused only on profitability? 

2008 Economic Collapse

The economic collapse of Lehman Brothers started as predatory lending that took advantage of people with a low income, a low credit rating. The common view was that these people were at fault for taking these risky loans. But most subprime mortgages went to people with good credit, who would qualify for much better terms. More whites than blacks were damaged - and our entire economy suffered a 19 trillion dollar wealth loss. 


When education is poorly funded - it costs ALL of us. In our southern states, the primary beneficiaries of better education and health care would clearly be the vast majority of whites. At one point, a strong majority supported free access to college for all. But then it was cast as a “gift” to the “undeserving classes.” Now the white majority does not approve of such a largesse, because they see it as a benefit for those “other” people. It is something “they” do not deserve, something that will reduce MY share of the pie. When college tuition is too high for ALL of us, it is difficult for anyone to get ahead - whatever the color of their skin. 

Minimum Wage - Unionism

The same thing happened to the minimum wage and to unions. Once supported by a solid majority, when our fearless leaders cast these things as primarily benefiting our Black brothers and sisters, the majority of white voters turned against them.

Climate change 

How on earth is climate change a part of this? The author interviewed a Finnish sociologist, Kirsti  M. Jylha, who came to the U.S. to study the problem. She describes the cause as “systemwide social dominance”. She says that she could not figure out the problem, until she came here. She discovered that she is WHITE! She had no idea that she was a member of a superior caste. In Finland, there literally are no homeless people, no hungry, no destitute. There are no people on the bottom of the social ladder through their own fault. They really are all in this together. 

In our American cultural brain, we are part of a hierarchy - and it is a zero sum game - win / lose. Any improvement for the bottom is seen as a deprivation for those higher up. So the ocean rises, or temperatures soar - it will not hurt me at the top - just those people at the bottom. Better to have them suffer than to “damage the economy” by environmental measures. It’s their fault that they are at the bottom. If we lose a few of them, no big deal! We support the status quo that we think benefits us, even if it leads to greater suffering for all. And we think that if there are problems we are likely to be spared the costs. But that's not true with climate change. We all share the same sky, the one Gaia - mother earth.

Social dominance theory

We accept Inequality as normal. We attribute social wins and losses to skill and merit. Good fortune and government infrastructure are the real keys to success. There are cultures in the world where there are no homeless, no poor, no one on the bottom. Those cultures do not have a mental hierarchy of status and worth. Simply having and tolerating a lower class of poor people makes those on the top less caring about the rest of us.

Anti Government

Government is our investment in order and structure for the good of all: police, courts, defense, sewer and water, roads, communications, schools, research, etc. But for most of our history, the government has been racist. Many white people now believe, consciously or unconsciously, that the government has taken the other side and is changing the 'proper' racial order through social spending, civil rights laws, and affirmative action. This makes the government untrustworthy. Today, racial resentment by whites and distrust of the government are very highly correlated. 


It is well documented that immigration is an economic engine of development - especially with today’s demographics of declining birth rates. But the unspoken fear that these “lesser” castes will “ruin our economy” dominates our political discourse. 


A large majority of the country once (1970) supported a guaranteed employment program. Our fearless white leaders made that out to be a Black benefit. Now most white people no longer support what would have been a great benefit in the midst of a pandemic. Our European “cousins” have automatic unemployment programs that simply kicked in for the pandemic. They also have universal health care - which we cannot seem to muster no matter how we work at it. Why is that? 

Conclusion: The Sum of Us

We all suffer for this zero sum game in our heads. With this implicit sense of where we stand in this racist hierarchy, we are not able to make “rational” decisions. We respond to racist diatribe, we react with fear and anger to efforts to improve our whole society. If we could master this - there would be a tremendous solidarity benefit. There are economic studies that document the trillions of dollars in development that would be generated by a healthy, well educated, and fully employed United States.

We can do better. We can all prosper. But we will need to own our history, to own that we are all embedded in this, and work to overcome it.

To Sum Up

  • We are not rational - we are emotional. If we can get that idea into popular culture, maybe we can actually educate ourselves around this problem.

  • Our emotions in this country operate in a zero sum view of a racist hierarchy.

  • Much of the political partisanship that we see comes from this history, this cultural model that we cannot easily resolve. It is most often "under the table", with gaslighting references like voting fraud and the like.

  • Kahneman and others posit that the way out of this is education that enables us to more fully examine our thinking processes. They point to experiments with mindfulness as one means to give people better insight into their bias or world view.

  • To resolve this problem fundamentally, we must recognize our racist history. A "reconciliation".

  • If you are presenting a program or choice, it is much better to frame it in a non racial way. Focus on the benefit to be accrued by the group you are addressing - not the benefit conferred on the total society. See research below (English).

Supplemental Bibliography

I have found all of the books and articles below very helpful. They are in alphabetical order by author. The three above are also listed here without further comment.

Banerjee, Abhijit V and Esther Duflo, Good Economics for Hard Times, 2019.
Two Nobel Prize economists, who won the award for their work on poverty. I cite this one here because of the extraordinary research they present on the positive impact of immigration. It is behavioral based, research driven, and factual analysis of the economic basis of poverty. The point is, we can conquer this beast - if we just put our minds to it. 

Barrett, Lisa Feldman, How Emotions are Made, 2018. See above for details.

Barrett, Lisa Feldman, Seven and a Half Lessons About the Brain, 2020.
Brilliant work. This is the latest neuroscience. Your brain is not for thinking. This is the same discussion as the prior book, but much briefer, skipping some of the research and arguments.

Bregman, Rutger Humankind: A Hopeful History, 2020.
This is one of the most uplifting and encouraging books I have ever read. We can do this. The only problem is that the author is Dutch - he does not share our distorted hierarchical view of society. Instead, he documents the best of us from around the world. Humankind is amazing - if we can unleash ourselves here, in what is still the richest nation on the planet, we can accomplish anything. 

Brooks, David, How to Destroy Truth, 7/1/2021, NY Times, I found this column by David Brooks to be a remarkable encapsulation of what I have been trying to say - done with a much better and more meaningful framework. If the above did not work, please look at his assessment of our emotional history as a nation, and his suggestion for how we can move it forward. I don't know if he is aware of the neuroscience behind this, and it really does not matter. We need a felt story about our history - one based on truth, not lies. One that truly reveals us to ourselves. See what you think. -------------------- In this column, You Are Not Who You Think You Are, 9/2/2021, David Brooks has as nice and comprehensive summary of this brain research as I have yet seen. He gets it. I highly recommend reading this one.

Burton, Robert, On Being Certain, 2009. This is a nice summary of research and an interesting discussion. It seems that most of what our brain network is about is unconscious. We have a hidden layer, a kind of committee, controlling what gets to pop up in our consciousness. We have precious little control over that - so it is no wonder that we are often about "non rational" things.

English, Micah , Joshua Kalla, 4/26/2021, "Racial Equality Frames and Public Policy Support: Survey Experimental Evidence," This is a fine bit of research, pointing out that it is not helpful to frame discussions in terms of race or class in our society. If you want to persuade someone, you tell them that the benefit accrues to THEM. They are less receptive when the benefit is to a "lower" class , or even to the whole of society where the lower class might also benefit. If this it a little too dense for you, look at this article from Newsweek for a nice summary of the research. The author is being polemical to the liberal elite, but you get the point.

Haidt, Jonathan, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion
I have learned a great deal from this author, about evolutionary psychology, about politics and ethics. He really helped me understand that we are primarily emotional beasts. He did it with psychological and sociological research - while Barrett is focused on neuroscience. Talk to the elephant, not the rider! Our human self is like an elephant - our emotions pull us here and there. Our brain is sitting up on top, and it thinks it is in charge. For more on that see: 

Harford, Tim, Facts v feelings: how to stop our emotions misleading us, 2020.09.10, This is a nice summary of a lot of this research, as related to misinformation about the Covid crisis, with references. I find this type of article useful as a kind of ad hominem argument, but they never reach to the fundamental causes in our brain's operation. I think until people grasp that we will just be working on the periphery of the problem, instead of the roots! Freud put our "subconscious" into popular thought - we need to get the idea into our popular culture that MOST of our decisions are made without any rational, conscious input. This is an extract from his book, which I have added to my reading list: How to Make the World Add Up. It looks interesting, but, once again, it is at the periphery of the real problem.

Henrich, Joseph, The WEIRDest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous,2020.
Another remarkable book. This one starts with the basic ideas of Diamond’s work, Guns Germs and Steel, and expands it in the context of European history. The dominance of the western European model does not have to do with superior human attributes, but rather some accidents of climate and history. Europe’s enlightenment, democracy and economic expansion came from a radical change in how we all view family, and relationships outside of family. It was hundreds of years in the making, with many players and forces. The insight is that this “world view” has tremendous power. The downside is that there does not appear to be a lot we can do to shape it or have it bend to our will for progress. For more on that:

Hofstede, Geert, Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind
This was the first book I read on this journey when we returned from a visit to Africa. I was so impressed that the people of East Africa had a totally different world view, that I went in search of some evidence to explain it. This book is based on research conducted in more than seventy countries over a forty-year span. He examines what drives people apart—when cooperation is so clearly in everyone’s interest. He studied IBM employees around the world, and found radically different world views. We have these implicit views that come from hundreds of years of history and events - and they do not easily change.  Originally, I was focused on why economic development around the world was so very different. It has to do with our world view - our implicit cultural perspective. I think that idea is still valid, but I now am not so sure we can actually do anything about it. For more on this than you probably ever want to read, see my blog entries: 

Issenberg, Sasha, "Why the battle for gay marriage was won so easily," 06/04/2021, This is an interesting discussion of this rapid social and legal change. There is not much scientific research here, but it would appear that the reason this "flew under the radar" was primarily because no one felt really threatened by it, with the exception of some Roman Catholic hierarchy. It may be that this does not feel like a zero-sum game for the most part. That must not be true for abortion, curiously enough. Women's rights?

Kahneman, Daniel, Thinking, Fast and Slow, 2013.
This is one of the books that sent me down this rabbit hole of how humans think. Kahneman is a psychologist who won the Nobel prize in economics. His research on how humans make decisions provided the foundation for the field of behavioral economics. Most of our decisions are the “fast brain” - our gut call - our emotions, if you will. For more on that than you might want to read:  For a very insightful interview with Kahneman, listen or read this one with Krista Tippet. He gets this - and he has a few suggestions - not great hope - but . . .

Kelton, Stephanie - The Deficit Myth: Modern Monetary Theory and the Birth of the People's Economy 2021.
This is a solid introduction to Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) by one of the pioneers. She and her associates say that sovereign debt by a nation that controls its own currency, is always a good investment. It can be inflationary, but we can construct safeguards against that. Basically, our sovereign debt is owed to ourselves, and is almost without cost. At first glance you might think this author needs some serious mental health assistance, but when you get into the details, it makes perfect sense. She is one of the leading economists who have analyzed how national currencies actually work - and has destroyed the myth. You should also be aware that many prominent economists think that this is totally crazy. The point for putting it here is that we can afford to fix our racist past - and that will fund a prosperous future. To get a better handle on that, read my review, which you can find here, or: 

Kendi, Ibram X. How to Be an Antiracist, 2019. Excellent, personalized account of overcoming his own racism, and how you can do the same thing. For a few more words on that topic, see: 

McGhee, Heather, The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together, 2021. See above. 

McRaney, David, YANSS 204 – "Why belief is not a conscious choice and certainty is a feeling, not a conclusion", Nice chat with the author of On Being Certain, Robert A. Burton, MD. He gets it - finally. Maybe we can actually all come to understand this at some point. Quote: That’s because the book posits that conclusions are not conscious choices and certainty is not even a thought process. Certainty and similar states of “knowing,” as he puts it, are “sensations that feel like thoughts, but arise out of involuntary brain mechanisms that function independently of reason.” YANSS 204

Menakem, Resmaa, My Grandmother's Hands. This is an excellent book by a psychotherapist. He works with individuals and police departments. It is now well documented that our gut has a significant nervous system, that generates feelings and emotions that can easily overwhelm us. Most of our emotions and feelings are automatic responses to stimuli that are generated by this GUT nervous system. The author has developed some exercises that enable our various "bodies" to better manage our automatic responses.

Stiglitz, Joseph, People, Power, and Profits: Progressive Capitalism for an Age of Discontent, 2019. The author is an economics nobel prize winner. He explains the nuts and bolts of how our income and wealth disparity are destroying democracy and our prosperity. He presents the means we could use to grow our economy, and get us out of this mess of our own making. He also agrees with the Deficit Myth author - but he does not say that in this book. I think he is trying to avoid being seen as too far out for the agenda he is putting forward.  For a longer discussion, see this review. Or: 

Thaler, Richard, Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics, 2016. Thaler won the Nobel prize for economics in 2017 for being the inspiration behind Behavioral Economics. He applied Kahneman's research findings to economics to turn it into a science, instead of a quasi religious school of opinions. Turns out, humans are NOT rational. It is better to design things for the way we work rather than the way we think we work. I talked about this in connection with Kahneman's book, and in a piece on the World Bank: 

Wilkerson, Isabel, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, 2020.
See discussion above. 

Wilkerson, Isabel, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration, 2011. Another fine work by this author. Again, 15 years of research, personal stories of people fleeing the persecution and terrorism of the South.