The Montreal Massacre

cover (14)Anne-Marie Edward was a John Abbott College student
who got into UdM’s prestigious engineering school,
École Polytechnique.

Though I was just fifteen,
I’ll never forget the day she was murdered:
December 6, 1989.

My enthusiasm for Pentecostalism was fading,
Susan and I were getting serious,
and I was already in trouble at Argyle Academy.

I had a black eye and two broken fingers
from an LD dance fistfight,
which I won.

I was lying on my bed when I got the news,
listening to U2’s “Drowning Man”
in my tropical Galt Street bedroom.

After letting the men go,
he told the women who remained:
“You’re all a bunch of feminists. I hate feminists.”

Fourteen young women died that day
—and, although it wasn’t immediately apparent,
something youthful and beautiful died in us too:

an innocence, a naïveté, a sweet faith
in the inherent goodness
of the world.

We became feminists on that day
—not in a showy-but-harmless,
politically-correct sense,

but in a quiet, dangerous, deeply-religious,
once-I-was-blind
-but-now-I-see sense,

the sense intended by the Psalmist
when he angrily declares:
“Ye that love the LORD, hate evil.”

—John Faithful Hamer, The Book of the Dead (2017)

Andrew Potter’s Finest Hour?

Morpheus2When the guy on the battery-powered radio said the army needed volunteers to go house to house and check in on shut-ins and the elderly, two days into the great ice storm of 1998, my buddies and I were out the door in less than ten minutes. When we got to the high school, the gymnasium was already half full. Ten minutes later, it was full. The commanding officer had one of his men go outside and turn everyone else away. Tears streamed down his face as he divvied up the assignments. He was profoundly moved, as were we. Our neighborhood wasn’t, I hasten to add, especially benevolent; volunteers were turned away all over the city. That’s the Quebec I know and love. That’s my home. And that’s how my people behave in a crisis.

My wife and I live in the middle of Montreal, in the most densely populated electoral district in Canada (Plateau-Mont-Royal), and yet parents still parent each other’s kids here, neighbors ask suspicious strangers what the fuck they’re doing, a guy shovels his neighbor’s stairs unasked (simply because he noticed that his neighbor’s leg is in a cast), and people smile discreetly when they see you without expecting a conversation. It’s the best of both worlds: the privacy and pseudo-anonymity of the city without Kitty Genovese. Bowling Alone? I think not.

But I’m writing to you today, not because I disagreed with your article, but because I was deeply impressed by your thoughtful retraction. Is this not precisely what we need more of in the Age of Trump: grownups who know how to calmly admit error and move on with life. And is this not also precisely what we’d expect from a philosopher? Strange as it may sound, I actually cherish those moments when I’m dead wrong about something in class, because it gives me an opportunity to teach my students, by example, how to admit error gracefully.

Denial’s for the true-believer, and casuistry’s for the mendacious. Rationalization’s for the ideologue, and anger’s for the know-it-all. Fear’s for the weak, and shame’s for the fragile. Excuses are for the guilty, and tears are for the lifelong valedictorian, who’s known far too little failure. But the philosopher’s not fazed by criticism. The philosopher just acknowledges the error, and calmly corrects course. Criticism is, after all, for the Socratic, merely information. Nobody fears making a mistake less. As Marcus Aurelius puts it in the Meditations: “If anyone can show me, and prove to me, that I am wrong in thought or deed, I will gladly change. I seek the truth, which never yet hurt anybody. It is only persistence in self-delusion and ignorance which does harm.”

—John Faithful Hamer

Breaking Bubbles

615427_10151224031087683_1802102030_oAnna-Liisa quit her job at Dawson College in my dream last night and opened up a wildly successful soap-making business which was eventually transformed into a hit reality-TV show entitled Breaking Bubbles. I still think she should have gone with Soap Club, but, you know, whatever, it’s her show.

SPOILER ALERT: In the first episode of Breaking Bubbles—entitled “She Had No Idea What She Was Getting Into”—Anna-Liisa’s business gets raided by the FDA, and rival soap-making queen Anne-Marie, founder of Bramble Berry®, hires Russian hackers to crash her website.

As Anna-Liisa discovers, the soap-making business isn’t for the faint of heart.

—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2017)

Why It’s Hard To Be a Facebook Filosopher

1. Everything’s Written Down. All communication in Social Media Land is based on the written word. For philosophy, this is hardly ideal. It’s good to remember that most ancient philosophers wrote little or nothing. They received and transmitted their ideas via the spoken word. Some did this, of necessity, because they were themselves illiterate; but most did so, like Socrates, because they were profoundly suspicious of the written word. The spirit of philosophy was first and foremost, they thought, a function of speeches not scribbles; it couldn’t be captured in chirography, but it could be conjured in conversation, and, to some extent, encapsulated in aphorisms. For instance, Roman soldiers who could barely read often managed, despite their lack of learning, to commit much of Epictetus’s Enchiridion to memory. Likewise, many an Epicurean shopkeeper living in, say, 2nd-century Athens, would, though functionally illiterate, memorize most (if not all) of Epicurus’s sayings and maxims. These aphorisms contained—albeit in a highly concentrated form—more than enough wisdom to last a lifetime.

2. Everything’s Public. All communication in Social Media Land is public. For philosophy, this is hardly ideal. In Plato’s Symposium we learn that many of the ancient Greeks thought philosophy was impossible without privacy and alcohol. So long as people are sober, they won’t tell you how they really feel, what they really think. Hence the phrase: in vino veritas. Likewise, when people are in a public place, they invariably say that which is politically correct, that which is appropriate. They don’t tell you the truth about how they see things. For these reasons, and others, philosophical discussions happened in ancient Athens only among friends, behind closed doors, and after a fair amount of drinking. The veritas that comes out because of the vino isn’t necessarily The Truth, but at least it’s a good starting point from which to begin moving dialectically towards the truth.

3. Trolls Look a Whole Lot like Philosophers. The difference between a troll and a Socrates is roughly equivalent to the difference between a reckless person and a courageous person. From the outside, their actions are often indistinguishable. That’s why you have to try to see inside the person: to their motivations and mental state. For instance, if I take on a bouncer three times my size for no reason in a bar-fight, because I’m shitfaced, you’re probably looking at recklessness. But if my buddy Jed takes on the same wall-of-a-man the following night, when he’s stone-cold sober, because the bouncer roofied his sister, you’re probably looking at courage. Likewise, from the outside, at least initially, it can be hard to tell the difference between a Socrates, who has the courage to tell people things they don’t want to hear, and a troll, who just likes to hurt and humiliate people in public. But if you’re paying attention, you can usually tell them apart sooner or later. Because we’re fairly good at telling the difference between an asshole and a philosopher in the real world. Alas, the same is not true online. Trolls and ideologues abound in Social Media Land, and they often look and sound a whole lot like Socrates; so if you block everyone annoying outright, you’re gonna throw out a whole lot of Socratic babies along with that troll-infested bath water. Hence the need to tolerate trolls. If you value the examined life, blocking everyone who gets on your nerves isn’t a viable option. You need to hear what they’re saying from time to time. But you don’t have to agree with them. Nor do you have to respond to them. In fact, if you’re going to survive the mean streets of Social Media Land, you’re going to have learn how to resist the urge to respond, how to turn the other cheek. You have to let yourself be abused by trolls and ideologues, let them call you names and misrepresent your views, let them squeeze you into their ill-fitting categories and pre-fab narratives, and refuse to fight fire with fire, refuse to stoop to their level. It’s hard. And there must be limits to what you’re willing to put up with. But it works. For the same reason that “extinction” works on bratty kids.

4. Freedom of Facebook is Under Threat. An increasingly long list of people (e.g., police officers, border guards, nurses, government officials, etc.) are being told what they can and cannot say on social media. Policies are being put in place with clearly stipulated sanctions for those who violate them. To some extent this is little more than a codification of commonsense (e.g., obviously you shouldn’t be posting half-naked pictures of yourself if you teach my kid’s kindergarten class). But these policies usually go far beyond the realm of commonsense. Indeed, I fear that we’re moving, with startling rapidity, towards a world that looks a whole lot like the world of ancient Athens, wherein the freedom to speak your mind in public about important political matters was the exclusive privilege of a tiny percentage of the population. It’s important to remember that, in the 19th century, one of the central arguments against the extension of the franchise to workers—an argument which was repeated ad nauseam by reactionary conservatives (the enemies of democracy)—was that “wage slaves” couldn’t be trusted with the vote because their employers had far too much power over them. Only the independently wealthy were free to follow the virtuous voice of conscience. Only those of sufficient means could speak and act like free men in the public sphere. If we acquiesce to these new social media policies, are we not proving these reactionaries right? As Aristotle rightly observed long ago, participating in the political life of your community is central to what it means to live a fully human life. The free man who can’t (or won’t) take part in the on-going public conversation about the common good is, he maintained, no better than a child, an idiot, or a well-to-do slave. Machiavelli would surely add, with a sardonic smile, that the free man who can’t (or won’t) participate in politics won’t be free for long. If the Florentine’s ghost could speak and we were willing to listen, I suspect he’d leave us with this question: “How free are you now if you’re not even free to use Facebook?”

—John Faithful Hamer, From Here (2017)

Does Money Make You Mean?

“Human nature has a flaw. Under conditions of apparent competition, when a hierarchy of relative winners and losers is created, no matter how, the people at the top tend to fall for something called a self-affirmation fallacy which causes them to attribute their high status to their own merits and qualities, even if they became rich by winning at some gamble which could have gone the other way. Being rich literally makes people change, makes people less sympathetic, less compassionate, less law-abiding, less honest.”—Helga Vierich, Professor of Anthropology, Yellowhead Tribal College (Spruce Grove, Alberta)

LordvoldemortAfter years of being an overweight sweetheart, this guy I knew in high school started working out, lost all of the weight, and eventually looked like Brad Pitt in Fight Club. Before this dramatic transformation, he had plenty of female friends who adored him and confided in him (but alas, never hooked up with him). The girls saw him as a sweet, understanding, empathetic guy. But soon after his manly metamorphosis, he became a repulsive “bro” who used girls with the indifference of a sociopath. And, just so we’re clear, I’m not talking about a garden-variety player. I’m talking about a full-blown misogynistic asshole with the conscience of a turnip! At one point I confronted him about his nasty behavior: “What happened to you? You used to be such a nice guy.” “I’m hot now,” he said, with a sleazy smile, “and you don’t have to be nice when you’re hot.”

That’s when I realized that he was, in fact, always an asshole; he was just really good at hiding it. The power that came with his newfound hotness afforded him the opportunity to behave in ways that accorded with inclinations that were always there. Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s aphorism—“You will never know for sure if someone is an asshole until he becomes rich”—follows the same logic: money doesn’t make people mean, it just allows mean people to be mean. Or, to put it another way, as Taleb once did on his Facebook page, in a clarifying remark: “People reveal their temperament when they have choices.” Paul Piff’s research into the relationship between social class and unethical behavior suggests that Taleb may be wrong about this. In numerous experiments, he has demonstrated that you can turn a completely normal person into a sociopathic jerk. It’s actually quite easy: just give them some power. If Piff is right, then it’s not so much that latent asshole tendencies are brought out by wealth but that wealth (in and of itself) can turn many perfectly normal people into assholes.

—John Faithful Hamer, Blue Notes (2017)

How Men Talk at Else’s

Else's“He died yesterday, just after noon. Right here.”

That’s what the crying woman at Sherbrooke metro station said, through the plexiglass, about her beloved coworker, the grey-haired ticket-taker who’d come in to work a half-hour early every day, for over 40 years. Just so he could write sweet little handwritten notes to all the people he’d sell tickets to during his shift.

Martin still had yesterday’s ticket in his pocket. It read: “Bonne Journée!”

“He was a good man,” she said, choking back tears.

She was still in the booth at the end of the day, looking at something on her phone, when Martin passed by on his way home from work.

DJ Manifest, his favorite busker, was launching rhymes down the tunnel. “With so much drama in the Q-B-C, it’s kinda hard bein’ anythin’ but A-D-D; but, somehow, some way, we keep comin’ up with funky ass shit like every single day.”

Martin dropped a ten-spot in his case without stopping. It was already 4:45 p.m. and he was supposed to meet DesPierres at Else’s by five. There was urgency in his old friend’s message, panic suggesting lateness wasn’t an option.

The Montreal confronting him outside the Sherbrooke metro was grey and dismal. It’s November now, he thought. The month that makes psalmists of us all. Saint-Louis Square was peaceful, eerily so, like Times Square in a disaster movie, just before the comet hits. Strangely absent, though, were the park’s perennial pigeons who’d huddle like gangs in a schoolyard, gossiping and boasting, catching up and hooking up.

Then Martin saw the peregrine falcon, perched on a low-hanging tree branch, methodically tearing a pigeon to shreds. She was plucking out its feathers the way a Westmount matron might weed her garden; clipping off its pink feet the way a prudent pruner might take shears to rosebushes. The blood, feathers, and feet were strewn all over the ground below. It was beautiful, even sublime, the way mushroom clouds are beautiful and sublime.

But then Schopenhauer killed the mood, as dour philosophers often will, questioning the ethics of his aesthetics. Here’s what the grumpy German guy said, what he whispered into Martin’s ear: There are those who say pleasure outweighs pain or, at any rate, that there’s an even balance between them in this broken, burning world of ours. But we both know that’s bullshit. And anyone who doubts it should compare the daily pleasure of the feeding falcon to the searing pain of the pigeon being eaten raw and alive.

But then he remembered his friend DesPierres, probably waiting for him, right now, at the bar. His mind strode quickly away from the park, until he could feel himself turning away — far away — from the horror.

DesPierres wasn’t there when Martin got to Else’s. But everybody else was: Avrom, King David, Benoît, Hunter, Aaron, Louis — the usual suspects. King David nodded hello before returning to his book. Benoît looked up from his laptop: “Salut, Martin.” And, as expected, Avrom made fun of Martin’s Movember stache. “More virtue-signaling, Señor Smartypants? Social justice warrior shit!”

“No, not really. I’m not even sure what the fuck this is for. Cancer of the balls or something. I’m only doing it because one of my students asked me to. He’s really into it. Youthful idealism. It’s catchy. But this is a one-off, that’s for sure. I’m not doing it next year. Never again. Strangers stare when you’re sporting a stache. Half of them think you’re an undercover cop. The rest that you’re a retired porn-star with bad credit and genital warts.”

“Why’d you go along with this politically-correct bullshit in the first place? Movember. Seriously? Seriously! You’re going soft in middle age, Señor Smartypants, just like that Jonathan Kay guy.”

“Look, Avrom, I know you’d like to believe Kay’s a traitor who sold out to the CBC-mafia for a seat at the grown-up table, but that ain’t so. I’ve been reading him for years, and his politics haven’t changed much. But yours have. Kay hasn’t drifted left; you’ve drifted right, far right, into a wacky world, a batty Breitbart world, swarmed by radicals and reactionaries who aren’t particularly conservative. Kay didn’t abandon you. You abandoned him.”

Avrom rolled his eyes: “Ever notice how drunks, druggies, and gamblers always have a friend they always compare themselves to who’s a total fuck-up? You know, the kind of guy who pukes in your flowerpot, knocks over the Christmas tree, passes out during dinner, and pisses himself on the couch. At first you can scarcely imagine why he hangs with that guy at all, right? But sooner or later, you realize that your buddy keeps him around because he makes him feel better about his own life. ‘Sure, I party pretty hard on the weekends, but that guy’s doing lines on Tuesdays, and getting wasted at work! I’ve got this shit under control. But that guy’s gotta slow down!’”

“What’s your point, Avrom?”

“You’re that guy, Señor Smartypants. You’re like a flying fish, who leaves the water from time to time (albeit briefly). You know the water’s water, and that there’s something else above. But you’re still a fucking fish.”

Benoît laughed without looking up from his laptop. “Don’t feed the troll, Martin, don’t feed the troll.”

Martin smiled and turned to King David: “What are you reading?”

“René Grousset’s Empire of the Steppes. Aaron’s been trying to get me to read it for years.”

“Any good?”

“Shows promise, I guess. Excellent actually. And funny in places, too. Get this: after his brother confronts him about his drinking problem in 1241, Ögedei Khan, the second Great Khan of the Mongol Empire, agrees to limit himself to a glass a day. But he’s careful not to specify the size of the glass, so from then on he slurps from a freakishly large, custom-made glass, that can easily hold two bottles of wine.”

They all laughed. Then Louis said: “I need a glass like that, King David. Seriously, if I’m gonna get through another Trump speech, I need a fucking glass like that.”

Hunter, who’d been flirting with the waitress since Martin arrived, returned to the table: “You don’t need a special glass, Louis. You need a special strategy. If you wanna get through a Trump speech, you gotta get your mind right. First you’ve gotta imagine that he’s got hot Dothraki backup singers who sing ‘It is known, it is known’ after everything he says. Then you’ve gotta imagine that Trump isn’t man, but a gigantic throbbing, talking penis. And when the camera pans across the crowd, imagine that you’re looking at a sea of cheering minions from Despicable Me.”

“Can I get you boys anything?” It was Chantal, the redhead waitress, so they ordered another round of drinks. When she was out of earshot, King David solemnly proclaimed “Remember, guys, blessèd are those who tip well at Else’s, for great is their reward in the heavenly kingdom of The Plateau.”

DesPierres arrived, just after six, apologizing profusely for being so late.

“It’s all good. Been chillin’ with the Else’s crew. And I’m in no rush. Wife and kids are in the States for the weekend.”

After introducing him to the guys, Martin led DesPierres to a corner table in the back where they could catch up in peace.

“My God, Martin! How long’s it been? Five years? Ten years?”

“At least ten.”

They talked about the vicissitudes of married life for the better part of an hour. Swapped parental war stories. As had always been the case, Martin’s stories were funny, but DesPierres’s stories were funnier: “So I’m the park with my blonde, blue-eyed, Aryan-looking son, and he loudly proclaims, in the middle of the playground: ‘I want the Jews! I want your Jews! Give me the Jews!’ He meant, of course, that he wanted his sippy-cup filled with apple juice. But, um, well, that wasn’t clear to the other parents. Especially the Hasidic ones. Don’t think I’ll ever forget that sea of stares. Those looks of shock and horror.”

“Can I get you guys anything?” It was Chantal again.

“Yeah, can I get a pint of rousse, a shot of Jameson, and the pulled-pork sandwich.”

“Bien sûr.”

Martin turned to DesPierres: “How about you?”

“I’ll take another McAuslan.”

“Pas de problème.”

“Look, DesPierres, I’m not complaining or anything. It’s great to see you but why’m I here? Why the emergency? Everything okay? You okay?”

DesPierres laughed that deep belly laugh that made him the life of every party when they were young. “I’m not dying of cancer, Martin. It’s nothing like that. Marilou and I are fine. Work’s fine. The kids are great. It’s nothing like that.”

He cleared his throat, sipped his beer, and took a deep breath. “Okay, here’s the deal: I think I may have serendipitously stumbled upon the solution to one of history’s greatest riddles. And yes, Martin, I know that sounds crazy. Like, Dan Brown, Da Vinci Code crazy. But hear me out, okay?”

“There are many versions of the riddle, but this is the one I heard when I was a kid: A blind war veteran goes into a seafood restaurant, orders shark, eats one bite, and kills himself. Took us hours to figure that one out, and hundreds of questions. But I’ll spare you all that, skip to the solution, and tell you what happened: Four decades ago, in the Second World War, the soldier in question — the one who just killed himself — was shot down in the Pacific Theater. The airplane crash-landed on a remote desert island. He was blinded by the explosion, but the other two survivors, friends of his, weren’t.”

“There’s plenty of fresh water on the island but hardly any food. So the three soldiers are soon on the brink of starvation. The two soldiers who weren’t blinded do the unthinkable: they begin cooking and eating the corpses of the five men in their unit who’d died in the plane crash. Out of love for their blind friend, they decide to lie to him. They tell him he’s eating shark. After all, they figure, there’s no reason for all three of us to live with this horrific knowledge. Besides, if we survive this war, he’s going to be handicapped by blindness for the rest of his life. No reason to be handicapped by nightmares too.”

“The three men are rescued a month later. But the memory of what they did to survive proves too much for the two men, who know the truth. One becomes a smelly recluse who drinks himself to death before his 30th birthday, whilst the other — who seemed fine to everyone, including his wife — blows his brains out after a New Year’s Eve party in 1950. The blind vet’s post-war life isn’t nearly so tragic. He marries his high school sweetheart, settles down in the suburbs, gets a job with the city, and fathers five children. But alas, on that fateful day, four decades after the war, our blind vet is forced to face up to the truth. And it crushes him.”

“I realize now, and only in retrospect, that the riddle’s dramatic conclusion attests to the strength of the cannibalism taboo in our culture. It’s clearly much stronger, for instance, than the incest taboo. Very few of us fantasize about eating a sibling, but—studies prove this—a fair number of us have, at some point, fantasized about sleeping with one. But whatever. The riddle’s main problem—logistically speaking—is that human flesh doesn’t taste anything like shark. It does, however, taste just like pork. Smells like it too.”

“How the fuck do you know what burning human flesh smells like, DesPierres?”

DesPierres thought long and hard.

“You remember we were stationed in Nigeria for four years, right?”

“Um, yeah. I saw something about that on Facebook. Marilou posted pictures from time to time, right?”

“Yup. I wasn’t allowed to. But she did, from time to time. Anyhow, as you can imagine, I saw some seriously fucked up shit over there. But nothing weirder than what I’m gonna tell you. An open-air cremation.”

“I don’t know why — maybe it was a bucket-list thing — but this balding white guy from Toronto in his late fifties decides he wants to bicycle from Cape Town to Casablanca, all by himself. Crazy, right? Anyhow, he’s doing it. And blogging about it. And it’s going well, remarkably well actually, all things considered.”\

“Until he gets hit by a truck on some stretch of road in Nigeria. The local authorities notified us. And notified the man’s family. Offered my condolences and asked what they wanted to do. They said they wanted me to arrange to have the body flown back to Canada. This place really was in the middle of nowhere. Took us forever to get there. Everything that could go wrong, went wrong. The roads were terrible, we were robbed at machine-gun-point, the van broke down twice, and one of my bodyguards got so sick we had to send him back to Lagos in an ambulance.”

“The corpse stank bad by the time we got there, though the local authorities had done their best. It’s just that electric power is spotty everywhere, even the cities, and generators are always running out of fuel until someone steals some more. After inspecting the body for foul play, we concluded that it was indeed just an accident. The cyclist was still carrying his money, cards, and belongings. Nothing was missing. And four witnesses attested to the fact that he was at fault. Somehow he’d cycled all across Africa like it was Rosedale on Easter Sunday.

“I contacted the family. Told them that shipping the body home wasn’t going to be possible, and even if it were they’d want to keep the casket closed and the church doors open. They caught on fast and agreed cremation would be fine. Told me where to send the ashes. Of course this is Africa, right! And we were in the middle of a fucking desert. So getting enough wood for the open-air cremation took us another day and much out-of-pocket. The cremation itself took half a day. And the body smelled, well, like pork. In fact, it didn’t smell like pork; it smelled exactly like pork.”

Martin thought about the pulled pork sandwich he’d ordered and felt a wave of nausea wash over him.

“In her anthropological classic, Purity and Danger, Mary Douglas trashed our anachronistic understanding of the prohibition of pork found in the Book of Leviticus. ‘Even if some of Moses’ dietary rules were hygienically beneficial, it’s a pity to treat him as an enlightened public health administrator, rather than a spiritual leader.’ Douglas details an alternate explanation for the prohibition’s origin in Leviticus as Literature. It’s a provocative and profoundly learned argument, the product of a lifetime devoted to serious study. But it’s also rather far-fetched. Imagine what a really smart version of The Da Vinci Code might look like. Regardless, my guess is that the prohibition of pork emerged for rather pragmatic reasons along with the prohibition of ritualistic cannibalism and the ban on human sacrifice.”

“The clues have always been right there, hiding in plain sight, in an altogether familiar story: a Middle Eastern Sky God — with a jealous streak as long as the Jordan — tells an Iron Age patriarch to sacrifice his only legitimate son. Dying without a rightful heir was a terrifying possibility for a patriarch like Abraham. It meant a fate worse than death, namely, the death of his line, his name and therefore his memory. That being the case, nothing demonstrated faith and trust in your god more than the sacrifice of your firstborn son.”

“And the ‘Father of Faith’ was prepared to do it. Abraham takes his son Isaac to the top of the Mountain and ties him up. Out comes the ceremonial blade. The knife is at his son’s throat. And he’s just about to slit it open when an angel of the LORD calls out to him from heaven: ‘Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me. And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son.’”

“If Hyam Maccoby is right — and I firmly believe he is — the Abraham and Isaac story is a mythological representation of a massive cultural shift: from human sacrifice to animal sacrifice. In The Sacred Executioner: Human Sacrifice and the Legacy of Guilt, Maccoby maintains that although ‘the institution of human sacrifice was widely practiced throughout the ancient world,’ it gradually gave way to animal sacrifice ‘because growing civilization and humanitarianism, combined with a higher valuation of human status and a lessened awe of animals, caused a horror of human sacrifice to develop.’”

“The instructive purpose of the Abraham and Isaac story is ‘to show that God Himself ordained that animal sacrifice should be substituted for human sacrifice. At the same time, the story contains no moral revulsion from the very idea of human sacrifice. On the contrary, it is imputed to Abraham as extraordinary merit that he was willing to sacrifice his favorite son, Isaac, at the behest of God.’”

“But alas, there were then — as there’ve always been — conservatives who cling to the old ways, resist change, and hate innovations—as well as the faddish reformers who champion them. Politically-incorrect patriarchs of this stamp would have stubbornly kept on practicing human sacrifice, albeit under cover of darkness. Probably took centuries to force these guys — and the pockets of resistance they represented — to get with the program and fall into line. My guess is that the prohibition of pork emerged during this period as part of an ongoing attempt to enforce the ban on human sacrifice.”

“When Marilou was a kid, her home state of New Jersey banned the keeping of crows as pets. They did this despite the fact that crows were not, as a species, endangered in any way. Their rationale was based on two irrefutable facts: (1) ravens make really great pets, especially if you get them when they’re young; and, (2) it’s really hard for most people to tell the difference between an immature raven and an immature crow. Ravens were (and still are) seriously endangered, and nest poaching for the pet trade was putting further pressure on their dwindling numbers. As such, New Jersey officials wanted to end the practice. But a prohibition on the keeping of ravens as pets was proving exceedingly difficult, because pet store owners who were caught red-handed could always plausibly plead ignorance: ‘I swear, officer, I thought it was a baby crow.’ So they decided to close the loophole by banning crows and ravens. I suspect that pork was banned for similar reasons.”

“So, um, what do you think, Martin?”

Martin waved until he got Chantal’s attention. She came over to their table. “So sorry the order’s taking so long. Kitchen’s short-staffed and really busy.”

“That’s fine. I’m in no rush. Just wanted to know if it was too late to change my order.”

“No, it’s not. What do you want?”

“Think I’m gonna go with the vegetarian chili.”

—John Faithful Hamer, From Here (2017)

Ethical Followership

flock-of-sheepA well-functioning society cannot consist merely of leaders. We can’t all be leaders at the same time. Most of us have to be followers most of the time. Yet you won’t see any wealthy suburban kids going to Followership Camp this summer. Nope, they’ll be going to Leadership Camp. Nor will you see any of the same kids enrolling in Followership Programs next semester. Nope, they’ll be enrolling in Leadership Programs. It’s laughable, when you really think about, and dangerous: because the biggest ethical challenges these young people are likely to face in their lives will be about ethical followership, not ethical leadership.

As sophisticated moral dramas like NCIS make clear, ethical followership is all about balancing the competing claims of equally noble virtues. It’s about knowing when to acknowledge the claims of loyalty and when to listen to the cries of justice; when to follow orders and when to disobey them; when to trust your boss’s judgement and when to question it; when to play by the rules and when to break them; when to cover for your colleagues and when to blow the whistle on them.

Moral dilemmas such as these are resolved easily by none but the single-minded. After all, die-hard supporters and die-hard detractors have at least one thing in common: they’re never forced to make difficult choices. Because it’s easy to say YES all the time or NO all the time. What’s hard is to know when it’s time to say YES and when it’s time to say NO.

—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2017)

The Princess and the Pea

“In the morning she was asked how she had slept. ‘Oh, very badly!’ said she. ‘I have scarcely closed my eyes all night. Heaven only knows what was in the bed, but I was lying on something hard, so that I am black and blue all over my body. It’s horrible!’ Now they knew that she was a real princess because she had felt the pea right through the twenty mattresses and the twenty eider-down beds. Nobody but a real princess could be as sensitive as that. So the prince took her for his wife, for now he knew that he had a real princess.”—Hans Christian Andersen, “The Princess and the Pea” (1835)

Rich BitchLike most of you, I read Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Princess and the Pea” (1835) when I was a kid. Haven’t given it much thought since. But a recent essay by Nassim Nicholas Taleb has led me to revisit it. When I was a kid, I’m pretty sure I came away from the story thinking that the princess was a spoiled brat. But today, at 42, I find myself sympathizing with the princess. She’s a victim of her wealthy upbringing. The girl needs perfect conditions just to get a good night’s sleep!

In our day and age, the princess in Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Princess and the Pea” would grow up to be the kind of woman whose morning is ruined if the new guy at Starbucks messes up her soy-latte; the kind of delicate flower whose entire day is ruined if her favorite yoga instructor calls in sick; the kind of therapy-junkie whose entire week is ruined if her therapist cancels her weekly appointment; the kind of absentee-parent who has a panic attack when the nanny quits because she really doesn’t know how to take care of her own kids. Privilege isn’t always a privilege. And she’s a case in point. Wealth and power have transformed her into an inflexible wimp. Look at her: she’s pathetic. Why do you envy her? You really ought to pity her.

When our sons were babies, many marveled at how easily they could sleep through ambient noise. When asked, Anna-Liisa was happy to share the secret: “If you give your baby a perfectly quiet environment at bedtime, your baby will come to need a perfectly quiet environment to go to sleep; if you give your baby a perfectly quiet environment all through the night, your baby will come to need a perfectly quiet environment to sleep through the night.” As we now know, this principle of desensitization applies to much else (e.g., allergies, stress, losing at games, etc.). It is, in fact, central to Taleb’s concept of antifragility.

In Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder (2012), Taleb argues that living things (biological systems) don’t just tolerate stress; they actually need it just to maintain the status quo. For instance, as N.A.S.A. discovered a few years ago, much to their chagrin, the bones of astronauts in a space station quickly degenerate when they’re deprived of the regular stress provided by the Earth’s gravitational field. Likewise, my friend’s muscles atrophied rather severely whilst she was recovering from surgery. Three months on a hospital bed, with very little movement, caused the muscles in her legs to degenerate so much that this former marathon runner could barely walk when she was discharged from the hospital. I remember it vividly: we had to practically carry her to the car.

If it’s true that we need a certain amount of stress merely to maintain the strength that we presently possess, it’s equally true that we need to increase the amount of stress on a biological system if we want it to get stronger (e.g., by lifting weights). The rich and powerful are often, as Taleb puts it, “punished by privilege and comfort.” Muscles that are unused atrophy, bones that are unused become brittle, underutilized immune systems grow weak, and pampered princesses become pathetic pansies who can’t sleep on peas.

—John Faithful Hamer, Parenting in the Age of Studies Have Shown (2017)

Dear Prince

You were alive again last night
on The Tavis Smiley Show,
but chemtrails? Chemtrails?
Da fuck, bro?

You say I’ve gotta wake up,
see past the conspiracy.
Say I’ve gotta smarten up,
see the truth behind the mystery.

Oh Prince, Prince,
you know I love you so,
but chemtrails? Chemtrails?
Da fuck, bro?

Look, man, I get it, the mind can wander, hike a few trails:
from rusty nails and gory details to book sales and epic fails;
from blue whales and alpha males to tall tales about females;
from salamander tails to Salamander Shoes.

We trekked all across town
to get our high-tops half-price,
from that guy at Salamander Shoes
who was always so nice.

I’m talking about the store,
just past rue Marie-Anne,
owned and operated,
by that delightful old man.

The people of The Plateau cried
when that sweet old man died.
And they cried still more
when his son closed the store.

They say his son, and rightful heir,
hated the store, and was rarely there.
They say he stopped by, once or twice,
to pick up a check, and make nice-nice.

But even then, he was heard to say,
in a rude and loud, obnoxious way:
“Enough’s enough, can’t take it anymore,
dad’s stupid store is such a fucking bore!”

They say his mother cried,
and just about died,
when she got the news
about Salamander Shoes.

They say this and more about the store.
It’s all a part of the local lore.
But is it true? Is it false?
Hard to be sure.

So I’ll freely admit
that all these tales,
could be as demonstrably false
as chemtrails.

—John Faithful Hamer, From Here (2017)

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Emotional Intelligence and Hissy Fits: The Cultural Ecology of Antifragility

turkey prozac

We all have experienced this at times: other people can drive us crazy! We love our families and friends, so why this old saying: fish and house-guests stink after three days?   Why can’t we live together peacefully, like elephants? Why aren’t we rational enough to avoid doing things that annoy each other?

Look at the list of things about, um, other people that can grind our gears… and even drive friends and family wild with frustration, or even apart with resentful anger: recklessness, cruelty, meanness, inconsistency, pranking, deceit, maudlin sentimentality, duplicity, illogical beliefs, gullibility, hubris, sanctimoniousness, jealousy, manipulative wheedling, conniving, and sheer over-the-top emotionality (making “a scene”, being a “drama queen”)

What if I suggested that such things about human behavior are not bugs but features? What if they are all part of the overall adaptation of human nature, that somehow helped turn our adjustments to living in social groups into the building blocks of a whole second replicator?

I suggest that “rationality” and analytical intelligence are evolved traits, with a starring role in shifting our species into a new level of networking and communicating, bumping up the flow of information, and personnel, within much larger communities and much wider geographical ranges than are characteristic of any other primate.   Inter-links between people at several or more degrees of separation meant that  individual networking actually disarticulated the individual from restriction to any local group. I suggest that even territoriality, linked to defensive aggression, and such a normal feature of the behavior of many primates, fell under negative selection in hominids at some point in our evolutionary history.

I, furthermore, suggest that dominance hierarchies and ranking systems, based on aggression, were actively curtailed. They had to be, to permit the evolution of the degree of infant helplessness, and the longer childhoods that accompanied brain enlargement during human evolution.   Sure, humans are capable of violence, especially in groups.   But I am suggesting that this was because violently aggressive individuals have always had to be contained and countered by coalitions of the brave and compassionate.   Without such opposition from the “good guys” who rally behind heroes, there would never have been sufficient blow-back to keep bullies and killers in line.

We individual humans are, for the most part, the products of a long evolutionary history that has favored compassion and cooperation, but that does not mean we are uniformly so kind and rational that we never lose our tempers, never yearn to get our own way, never wish for the personal luxury of solitude, having a beautiful object (a bauble or a blanket…!)

Now we might ask ourselves, what exactly was the evolutionary environment that gave a thumbs up to hyper-sociability, and a thumbs down to inter-group and intra-group competition and aggression? What possible environment generated higher fitness for individuals whose activity tended to flatten gradients of stress and life expectancy?

My initial insights in trying to answer this question arose from a field study among a patient and kindly bunch of hunter-gatherers. The Kua were my teachers for three years, and yet, as I left the Kalahari, my dominant sensation was not that I was leaving a group of peaceful and “noble savages”, but rather that this foraging economy produced individuals as ordinary, as flawed, as insightful, wistful, funny, and sometimes as intensely annoying, as any other humans I have ever known. It was merely a different economy, not another way of being human.

I have thought about this over the intervening years. What if our obvious capacity, for small deceptions, fractiousness,  and occasional surliness,  actually balances our kindness and sociability not by accident but, rather, as it were, by design? We can hardly ignore these aspects of human interpersonal antics today… well, what if it was precisely some kind of continuing see-saw between naughty and nice, convivial and argumentative, politeness interspersed with occasional huffy misunderstandings and temperamental behaviour, that was precisely the behavioural mechanism that kept these bipedal apes ecologically solvent?

2cab2e339136fb565536e7576f611f5cWhat if, in the long game of playing off individual genetic destinies against benefits to the collective cognitive niche, the occasionally explosive mix of emotional and irrational behavior was the key to generating “antifragile” cultural ecologies that were less likely to over-exploit any given local resource?

Thus, as humans evolved, reflection literally was an after-thought. As irritations and small conflicts increased, even as individuals found themselves holding back from escalating an argument, even as everyone’s impulse control was tested, there was always “the last straw”: an emotional scene that might set everyone packing to leave.   And, just as we still often find ourselves doing today, reflection after the event will then supply “good reasons” to justify it.

The fact that this pattern is at least partly learned, and not just an innate drive, made it more flexible still. It permitted more condensed and sedentary organization in richer ecosystems, more dispersed and mobile organization in poorer ones. Further, as learned system, it could incorporate the tighter social control during the more condensed phases within a cultural repertoire or an annual round of economic activity, without sacrificing the overall scope of individual networking.

People, today, when living in more crowded and sedentary communities, still tend to establish networks, through marriage and friendship, and those of each individual are still variable and rarely identical even among siblings. Furthermore, these tend not to be limited to a single community or neighbourhood. indeed, many individuals have maintained networks spanning the globe.

Despite the idea of “tribal” tendencies that cause links between people in groups to converge, individual life histories among human beings still tend to create ties (even “weak” ties) to more physically distant relatives, acquaintances, “pen pals”, and “old childhood friends”. Such links tend to be kept up more actively by some individuals. Sociological research into networks has suggested that such people are hubs in terms of information flows between communities. The idea that people across continents are hardly ever more than six links away from everyone else – the “six degrees of separation” model, has been experimentally confirmed many times. It began with the appearance, n 1961, of a seminal piece of work, in the form of a doctoral thesis by Michael Gurevitch, entitled “The social structure of acquaintanceship networks”.  This was presented and accepted by the  Department of Economics and Social Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

This research, and the many studies that followed, suggest that extensive networking is a human adaptation to culture, an aspect of the “social brain”: so perhaps it is not a contingency of any one kind of economic system. It is species specific, not culture specific. And we come by it through our evolutionary history as social mammals, and particularly, as social apes.

People appear to activate networks to achieve some consensus about who should undertake leadership roles.   In small scale subsistence economies, such leadership roles – in rituals, in setting up task forces, in dispute resolution, and in disciplinary courts, and in safeguarding community assets – often go to quiet and modest people that can be trusted not to abuse their positions. Often such responsibilities fall upon older people, especially those who are already hubs within local networks.

A reputation-based system of rank, thus, imposes a burden of responsibility on the most trusted elders, so they have authority over communal working groups, as well as for the convening of assemblies to undertake dispute resolution.

Even mobile hunter-gatherers can stick it out despite arguments with neighbors and even intimate betrayal, especially at times of greater aggregation, given that such ephemeral institutions for conflict resolution emerge at such times.  The rest of the year,  impulse control and reflective philosophizing over human foibles comes into its own.  And this is incorporated into even the most mobile forager culture. Networks of family and friends, therefore, can effectively restrain people: no one wants to lose a hard-won reputation for strength of character.

That the historical and ethnographic record from hunter-gatherer societies suggests that such roles can disappear and reappear with the seasonal cycles of aggregation and dispersal is critical. Mobile hunter-gatherers are not nomadic in the sense of wandering ceaselessly in search of food: on the contrary, they circulate through a variety of locations with known resources.

Arrangements between families to meet at particular localities to camp together are often made during seasonal aggregations, and are always negotiated via networks among friends and relatives. So the times of aggregation could be characterized as a kind of network convergence, pulled toward those particular gregarious and trusted persons who serve a hubs linking many individual networks together. And this temporary integration of networks in a larger gathering, under leadership of the most trusted and respected persons, affords people the necessary time to negotiate camping parties and permissions with those who hold primary rights to each small local part of the overall territory within the aggregate.

It is conceivable that this flexibility – what Julian Steward called various “levels of integration” above simple “bands” – represents a capacity for organizational complexity not often attributed to foragers. And yes, it does indicate that even mobile foragers have the capacity for political and social organizational arrangements well beyond the scale and scope of the simple camping party.

Recently, David Graeber and David Wengrow suggested that the emergence of such leadership and more complex organization, during hunter-gatherer aggregations, indicates that humans have an innate tendency to develop political hierarchy. Is the term hierarchy the correct one in this case?   The term is synonymous with “pecking order” and has often been used to describe the way dominance of one animal over another in a ranked system is related to access to food and solace.   It conjures up a flow of authority and even coercion from the individual at the “top” which controls the movement and opportunities of individuals further down.

Brian Hayden has even suggested that “aggrandizer” personalities make use of these emerging hierarchies during periods of aggregation to seize power over others, partly by persuasion and partly by Machiavellian manipulation of others.

Hayden suggests that these self-promoting persons may have some overlap with the sociopathic traits seen on Hare’s checklist. In other words, when people live in more settled aggregations, they become vulnerable to the self-serving aspirations of a narcissistic and psychopathic minority, who make themselves “big Men” and assume power over others. In other words, the emergence of the bully gang explains the way hierarchical political power evolved in humans. (1)

One of the difficulties with this interpretation is that it does not always correspond with observed behaviour in people who are diagnosed as psychopaths today (2).  Another is that it does not situate the cultural behavior (or the ruthless individual) in terms of the consequences within that particular environment (3).  The most striking aspect is, of course, the way both the New Guinea and the NW coastal systems of leadership tend to exhort their communities to produce surpluses.   There is an obligation to contribute to a communal store of fish or other food and even material goods, a store managed by a trusted – and haranguing – senior leader. This results in higher overall productivity than is called for by the simple calculus of dependency ratios.

This communal store is risk insurance. Food and other assistance can be secured for families who meet with illness or injury. I would suggest that is why leadership in a band or tribal system is a function of trust and respect; if leaders merely hoarded or extorted tribute for personal gain, they would not last long.

Such surpluses also fuel a certain level of recurrent ceremonial socializing. Feasts can be planned which assemble people from many more surrounding communities. Thus, while a display of generosity towards those in hardship within a community can demonstrate the character of the leader, any display of generosity where a village hosts many of its neighbors during a festival goes well beyond this. It demonstrates the quality of the people of the hosting community. The net effect is that the people in each community are given additional motivation to work harder.

Why is this important? I suggest that such regional festivals also redistribute food across regions where not all harvests of are likely to be equal. Each local community is thus less exposed to risks of famine. The community, with the most surplus food in any given year, trades this food for higher prestige and simultaneously reduces the chances that hungry neighbors will come to raid.

What happens if the concentrated settlement becomes more permanent: a village? Organizational improvisations can become entrenched institutions, with people developing hereditary rights to leadership roles – especially in adjudicating disputes.   Vested interests that resist change can entail internal conflict, which can be resolved by proof of generosity and earned reputation for diligence. In this case, the famous “potlatch” can also offset conflicts between neighboring communities over access to fixed resources.   Political and judicial roles maintain cooperation, restore peace, and offset risks in a sedentary community.

Lineages and “big man” systems, therefore, appear to be risk aversion strategies – aspects of cultural adaptation, not evidence of selection pressures on human genomes causing novel shifts in innate behaviours during the Holocene.  Hierarchies of coercion and the self-affirming narcissists are not, as Hayden suggests, products of evolutionary genetic change, but rather, I think,  illustrations of the behavioral plasticity of human beings, and the way people have learned to collectively cope with higher environmental risk.

Meanwhile, we see further cultural reification of emotional sensitivities to behavior causing physical or reputational damage to other persons. This takes the form of legal codes, ethics, human rights, and codes of polite behavior. This always involves symbolic evaluation; labeling behaviors as negative, positive and even sacred and profane.


However the danger under such circumstances comes not from people who are born psychopaths but from brain changes caused by power.  What the foragers seem to all have understood only too well was that the human “behavioural plasticity” can take a wicked turn: people have a great emotional weakness- the “sin” of pride, more specifically the kind of hubris that comes of being placed somehow above one’s fellows (4). That was the point that Richard Lee was trying to drive home when he wrote “Eating Christmas in the Kalahari”. One  old guy’s comment was: “If a man is praised for sharing the meat of his kill, he may come to think he is better (more important) than other people. Someday he might kill someone.” 

It has taken years of research to uncover this aspect of our human nature. To uncover the fact that the assumption of authority or wealth, even the the conformity that prompts a person to suspend their own judgement to a higher authority, can give rise to evil actions that hurt other people.  Even in an experimental setting putting people into roles that permit harm to others somehow turns off empathy and compassion. It seems that even just being richer than others, or higher up in the chain of a corporate or civil service ladder, can set in motion the “banality of evil.”.  This is a human characteristic that is far beyond normal fractiousness  and occasional hissy fits, and it gives rise to far more serious trauma and human tragedy than mere incidents of rage and tears.

The only good thing this research discovered is that it does not happen to everyone – there are people who see what is happening and fight it. People who say “this is wrong”. Often they are the folks who either stop the experiment, or in real life will resist tyranny and injustice.  They risk their lives – or die on the barricades. Human beings do have the capacity to act with heroism. The fact that we have a word for this in every known culture should tell us something.

By the way, the word for “hero” among foragers is often translated incorrectly as “warrior” since it means one who fights on behalf of others. I have a feeling that the first battles among human beings were fought, in fact, by heroes of this kind.  In his book, Hierarchy in the Forest, Christopher Boehm suggested that one of the very early developments on the path that led to the evolution of our species, was an overthrow of aggression-based dominance hierarchy.  This led to an egalitarian revolution led by coalitions of people who resisted bullies and protected the vulnerable.  If so, this converted the desirable ideal of adulthood from a self-serving “alpha” into a heroic “first among equals”.. the epitome of the trusted leader.

A human being who lives as a hunter-gatherer could thus refuse injustice; could fight for equal treatment – or walk away. Personal faults and foibles, jealousies and temper tantrums were possibly part of  human nature evolved to create a relatively antifragile economy where high mobility makes it possible to vote with one’s feet. A hunter-gatherer inhabits an economic system that preserved and even enhanced the stability and diversity of the ecosystem that supported that way of life.   A hunter-gatherer cannot be thrown out of their job or lodgings.

But most humans on this planet can, and frequently are. Entire peoples have had their whole landscape taken taken out from under them. Look at the Scottish highland clearances. And that was done by their own clan leaders. And the pain of people under such circumstances, and the guts it takes for them to try to remake their lives elsewhere, is heart-breaking. Makes me weep. And we wonder why the world is full of people in a rage, crying out for justice and radicalized; while those who are relatively well-off tend to develop elaborate explanations that affirm their own superiority. 

Footnotes

1) Brian Hayden Big Man, Big Heart? The Political Role of Aggrandizers in Egalitarian and Transegalitarian Societies

http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007%2F978-0-230-11626-9_7#page-1

Abstract

Anthropological theories of elites (leaders) in traditional societies tend to focus on how elites can be viewed as helping the community at large. The origin of elites is cast in functionalist or communitarian terms (viewing societies as adaptive systems). A minority opinion argues that elites were not established by communities for the community benefit, but emerged as a result of manipulative strategies used by ambitious, exploitative individuals (aggrandizers). While the communitarian perspective may be appropriate for understanding simple hunter/gatherer communities, I argue that elites in complex hunter/gatherer communities and horticultural communities operate much more in accordance with aggrandizer principles, and that it is their pursuit of aggrandizer self-interests that really explains the initial emergence of elites. This occurs preferentially under conditions of resource abundance and involves a variety of strategies used to manipulate community opinions, values, surplus production, and surplus use. http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007%2F978-0-230-11626-9_7

2) Although Hare does suggest that psychopaths might be more successful within aggressively competitive systems, their comparative rarity even after some five thousand years of hierarchical civilization tends to weaken arguments that such systems are functionally dependent upon the success of a type of personality. It seems more likely to me that the development of stratified societies may have occasionally increased the chances of highborn psychopaths not being spotted and eliminated.

3) See: “Pathways to power: Principles for creating socioeconomic inequalities” in Foundation of Social Inequality edited by T. D. Price and G. Feinman. 1995.     https://books.google.ca/books?id=ZGth6qbXg6oC&dq=“Pathways+to+power:+Principles+for+creating+socioeconomic+inequalities”+in+Foundation+of+Social+Inequality+edited+by+T.+D.+Price+and+G.+Feinman.&source=gbs_navlinks_s

(4) see  Monbiot on “the Self-affirmation Fallacy” where he summarizes recent research showing that socio-economic inequality generates precisely the kinds of narcissism that Hayden wishes us to believe is psychopathology  expressed in hierarchical leaders. “The findings of the psychologist Daniel  Kahneman, winner of a Nobel economics prize, are devastating to the beliefs that financial high-fliers entertain about themselves . He discovered that their apparent success is a cognitive illusion. For example, he studied the results achieved by 25 wealth advisers, across eight years. He found that the consistency of their performance was zero. “The results resembled what you would expect from a dice-rolling contest, not a game of skill.” Those who received the biggest bonuses had simply got lucky.

Such results have been widely replicated. They show that traders and fund managers across Wall Street receive their massive remuneration for doing no better than would a chimpanzee flipping a coin. When Kahneman tried to point this out they blanked him. “The illusion of skill … is deeply ingrained in their culture.”

So much for the financial sector and its super-educated analysts. As for other kinds of business, you tell me. Is your boss possessed of judgment, vision and management skills superior to those of anyone else in the firm, or did he or she get there through bluff, bullshit and bullying?” http://www.monbiot.com/2011/11/07/the-self-attribution-fallacy/

In contrast, of course, the operation of networks – which can be sensitive communicators of reputations based on observed ethical and kind behavior, continue to do, in these other forms of economic system, exactly what they do in hunting and gathering economies:
http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-11-social-networks-cooperation-discourage-selfishness.html