Do Racism, Conservatism, and Low I.Q. Go Hand in Hand?

This morning as I logged onto Facebook, I came upon this image. Having followed the Boston marathon and MIT shooting coverage initially, I lost some interest when it came down to the “hunt.” As much as justice matters to me, so does tact and class, and the sensationalism of manhunts always leaves me uncomfortable. I also knew it would be a matter of time before the political rhetoric would change from the victims and wounded to the demographic factors of the suspects—namely race and religion. And alas, it has.

However, what struck me most about this image posted above was the Facebook page it came from, “Too Informed to Vote Republican.” I wondered about this, recalling an old journal article I’d come across when studying anti-Islamic attitudes post 9/11. The paper referenced a correlation between conservatism and lowintelligence. Uncertain of its origin, I located a thought-provoking article published in one of psychology’s top journals, Psychological Science, which in essence confirms this.

Hodson and Busseri (2012) found in a correlational study that lower intelligence in childhood is predictive of greater racism in adulthood, with this effect being mediated (partially explained) through conservative ideology. They also found poor abstract reasoning skills were related to homophobic attitudes which was mediated through authoritarianism and low levels of intergroup contact.

What this study and those before it suggest is not necessarily that all liberals are geniuses and all conservatives are ignorant. Rather, it makes conclusions based off of averages of groups. The idea is that for those who lack a cognitive ability to grasp complexities of our world, strict-right wing ideologies may be more appealing. Dr. Brian Nosek explained it for the Huffington Post (link is external)as follows, “ideologies get rid of the messiness and impose a simple solution. So, it may not be surprising that people with less cognitive capacity will be attracted to simplifying ideologies.” For an excellent continuation of this discussion and past studies, please see this article from LiveScience(link is external).

Further, studies have indicated an automatic association between aggression, America, and the news. A study conducted by researchers at Cornell and The Hebrew University (Ferguson & Hassin, 2007) indicated, “American news watchers who were subtly or nonconsciously primed with American cues exhibited greater accessibility of aggression and war constructs in memory, judged an ambiguously aggressive person in a more aggressive and negative manner, and acted in a relatively more aggressive manner toward an experimenter following a mild provocation, compared with news watchers who were not primed” (p. 1642). American “cues” refers to factors such as images of the American flag or words such as “patriot.” Interestingly, this study showed this effect to be independent of political affiliation, but suggested a disturbing notion that America is implicitly associated with aggression for news watchers.

Taken together, what do these studies suggest? Excessive exposure to news coverage could be toxic as is avoidance of open-minded attitudes and ideals.  Perhaps turn off the television and pick up a book?  Ideally one that exposes you to differing worldviews.

*Please note comments that are offensive, defamatory, discriminatory, racist, sexist, homophobic, or otherwise inappropriate will be automatically removed by the author’s discretion.


Furguson, M.J. & Hassin, R.R. (2007). On the automatic association between American and      aggression for news watchers. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 33,1632-1647.

Hodson, G. & Busseri, M.A. (2012). Bright minds and dark attitudes: Lower cognitive ability predicts greater prejudice through right-wing ideology and low intergroup contact.Psychological Science, 23, 187-195.

Study finds that one in six species are in danger of extinction due to climate change


By Philip Guelpa
25 June 2015

An article published this past April in the journal Science predicts that up to one in six animal and plant species on earth are in danger of extinction due to climate change. The study, authored by Mark Urban, an ecologist at the University of Connecticut, concludes that as the global climate warms, the rate of extinction, already high, will accelerate.

Previous studies, dating back more than a decade, have already shown that global warming, which has increased earth’s temperature by an average of 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 degrees Celsius) since the Industrial Revolution, has had notable effects on species distributions. It pushes species to higher latitudes and higher altitudes, following the cooler temperatures to which they are adapted. Scientific projections indicate that the rate of warming is accelerating, and global temperatures may rise at least 8 degrees F. (4.5 degrees C.), if present trends continue.

Such drastic changes in climate would far outpace the rate at which species could adapt by evolutionary mechanisms. Many would, quite literally, run out of room, reaching the tops of mountains or the far reaches of the northern and southern hemispheres, where ecological crowding and differing environmental settings would drive many to extinction.

Urban’s research was based on a reanalysis (known as a meta-analysis) of data from 131 previous studies of species extinction from around the world. He concludes that the rate of increase in extinctions would be greater if temperatures reach the higher end of predicted ranges. With a rise of 3.6 degrees F. (2.0 C.), 5.2 percent of species would become extinct, but with an increase of 7.7 degrees F. (4.3 C.) the extinction rate would rise to 16 percent. Larger changes in temperature can be expected to have even more severe consequences.

It must be remembered that these estimates represent global averages. Regional variations are likely to produce a range of results. For example, studies have revealed that the polar regions are warming at notably more rapid rates than are the lower latitudes. As temperatures in these areas increase, cold-adapted species will simply have no place to go.

Another complicating factor is that there are likely to be synergistic effects. Complex, dialectical interrelationships exist between species in a given ecological setting. In- or out-migration, differing migration rates, or local extermination of key species would quite probably disrupt delicate balances of interdependence, causing a downward cascade of consequences for other species, likely making their situations more fragile and prone to extinction.

Less mobile species and those limited to restricted geographic ranges will be especially vulnerable. According to Urban, the highest rates of extinction are likely to occur in South America (23 percent), and Australia and New Zealand (14 percent each).

The danger is not merely that of the loss of individual species, or even large numbers of species, but of the collapse of entire ecosystems, with incalculable, but no doubt very severe consequences for humans.

Urban’s study clearly demonstrates the need for a substantial increase in research on the effects of climate change on species and ecosystems. However, no amount of such research will ameliorate the causes of these extinctions. Furthermore, Urban points out that even species that do not go extinct will suffer major, mostly detrimental consequences due to climate change.

Massive extinctions due to naturally induced climate changes have occurred repeatedly in the past (see: The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert). There is a widespread scientific consensus that human activity, if present trends continue, is likely to cause disruptions on a similar scale.

However, despite clear warnings of dire consequences, including massive disruptions to human society, business interests and the political structures that represent them have prevented any meaningful efforts to address the activities that are driving the process (see: Climate report warns of “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts”).

A massive, coordinated scientific and technological effort is needed to avert an otherwise inevitable environmental disaster. That will only be possible, however, if control of the economy is taken away from super-rich corporate interests, whose overriding motivation is short-term profit regardless of the consequences. Only a rationally planned program based on the interests of the working class, including the need for a livable planet, can address this crisis.


Jurassic World, summer blockbuster

By Christine Schofelt
23 June 2015

Directed by Colin Trevorrow; written by Trevorrow, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver and Derek Connolly

Twenty-two years after the events in the original Jurassic Park (1993), the dreams of that film’s dinosaur-resurrecting scientist John Hammond (the late Richard Attenborough) have been fulfilled with the establishment of Jurassic World in the new film of the same name.

Jurassic World

The island (fictionally located off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica) on which the original, failed park was built is now the home of the wildly popular dinosaur theme park, laboratory, hotels and shopping complex. In order to keep customers returning, increase profits and thereby satisfy corporate backers, new attractions in the form of different—and bigger—dinosaurs have to be constantly introduced.

This leads to the splicing of genes from various extinct specimens and the introduction of elements of reptiles from the present era. In typical Hollywood fashion, despite the most advanced laboratories and equipment, scientists fail to look far enough ahead and predictably “unpredictable” side effects take hold making the new creatures smarter and more deadly than their component parts … and the chase is on.

Though largely formulaic, Jurassic World is not without its charms and does touch on some interesting questions.

The film centers on two brothers, Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins), as well as on the relationship between their aunt, a driven businesswoman, Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), and Owen (Chris Pratt), an expert on Velociraptors.

The latter pair have dated, fought and parted company, deciding they were “too different.” Owen, an ex-Navy war veteran, has been training some of the raptors, becoming in essence their “alpha.” His acquaintance and nominal boss, Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio), sees a military application for the raptors, and indeed for all the dinosaurs (“Imagine if we’d had them in Tora Bora”). He is determined to find a way to adapt them to this end. Owen disagrees with the plan.

Jurassic World

When the inevitable escape of a new, smart, enormous dinosaur occurs, Hoskins’ company, InGen Security, sends in its private troops alongside Owen’s raptors. The classified “contents” of the rogue lizard, Indominus rex, are revealed to include some raptor, which poses problems. Questions of loyalty on the part of Owen’s raptors come into the picture and the struggle between nature and nurture/training plays out. The troops are largely killed off, and the saving of the island and the 20,000 park guests is then down to Owen, Claire, and the “good” dinosaurs.

The machinations of Hoskins, presented in a very straightforward—one might say simplistic—manner as the villain here, include working with the top scientist to develop dinosaurs especially for use in warfare. More time could have been spent on this, to be sure, but the fact that this element is even presented in a negative light in a blockbuster summer release bears noting.

One would like to consider this a let-up in the relentless drumbeat for war that Hollywood has been only too glad to take part in. That might be premature, though the failure of the mercenaries and their firepower to contain (or survive) their fight against the rogue Indominus, who succumbs to the mighty bites of other resurrected/created creatures instead, seems a step in the right direction.

Jurassic World

Co-produced by Steven Spielberg (who directed the first two Jurassic films),Jurassic World seems to want to make some metaphorical points about the dog-eat-dog character of present-day social and corporate life. Director Colin Trevorrow, for example, told Entertainment Weekly: “The Indominus was meant to embody our worst tendencies. We’re surrounded by wonder and yet we want more. And we want it bigger, faster, louder, better. And in the world of the movie the animal is designed based on a series of corporate focus groups.”

And Trevorrow commented to, “There’s something in the film about our greed and our desire for profit … The Indominus Rex, to me, is very much that desire, that need to be satisfied.” Bryce Dallas Howard, the daughter of Ron Howard, told the same news outlet about her character: “The quest for profit has compromised her own humanity.”

Of course, all of this, as sincere as it may be, has to be taken with a large grain of salt. The mild criticisms occur in a film that is very much an integral part of the Hollywood blockbuster phenomenon, which largely obstructs reflecting seriously on anything.

Throughout the film, which is well on its way to raking in a billion dollars in its first two weeks, one is struck by both the simultaneous gratuitous and near constant product placements (everything from Starbucks to Coca-Cola) and the questions raised directly about the ethics of putting science in the service of the “shareholders.” Formulaic as the subplots may be, to its credit the film does come down against the practice. However, unlike recent films such asChappie or Ex Machina, humanity’s scientific abilities themselves are less of a focus, and so the ethical questions are not terribly developed—instead the emphasis is on the chase, escape and the happy ending.

All in all, unfortunately, Jurassic World does what it was designed to do: entertain without demanding too much of the audience.

Pope Francis Versus Vampire Capitalism

The real reason why his climate-change encyclical is revolutionary.

Pope Francis greets the crowd from the popemobile after a papal mass for the beatification of Paul VI, in St Peter’s Square on October 19, 2014 at the Vatican

Leave it to  Pope Francis, a  Jesuit trained as a chemist, who has only one lung, to breath new life into a tired global environmental debate.

It has been droning on for so long now that it has become background noise, easily drowned out in the din of the 24-hour news cycle. While the glaciers melt, and close to 2,500 people in India are killed by a heat wave that produced a 118 degree ambient air temperature, we’d much rather dissect the twists and turns of “Game of Thrones” in our air conditioned parallel universe. The brutality of a make-believe place is so much easier to cope with than confronting the cruelty that defines so much of our own real world.

What’s so powerful about the Pope’s Encyclical on climate change is that it does not flinch from doing so. Pope Francis challenges wealthy nations, who use the lion’s share of the earth’s fossil fuels, to take responsibility for the ecological impact of their consumption by becoming mindful of the collateral damage it does to planet’s atmosphere and the world’s poorest and most vulnerable populations. These are populations already feeling the impacts of global warming.

Several weeks ago, today’s Encyclical was presaged by Pope Francis’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences, which convened an  inter-disciplinary  conference of over 60 of the planet’s top scientists and thinkers under the banner, “Protect the Earth, Dignify Humanity. the Moral Dimensions of Climate Change and Sustainable Humanity.” An open letter from the conference participants on the Pontifical Academy of Sciences website linked the trend of growing global income inequality and the planet’s continued reliance on fossil fuels, predicting that if current trends continue, we will see “unprecedented climate changes and ecosystem destruction that will severely impact us all.”

Here’s the bumper sticker take away: 55 percent of the available world’s energy is used by just 1 billion of the world’s 7.2 billion people. “Yet the negative impacts on the environment are being felt by 3 billion who have no access to energy,” the panel of experts asserted.

Professor Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University was one of the panel’s participants. Sachs wrote recently that the group “included not only the world-leading climate scientists and Nobel laureates, but also  senior representatives of the Protestant, Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist, and Muslim faiths.” He continued: “Like Francis, religious leaders of all the world’s major religions are urging us to take wisdom from faith and climate science in order to fulfill our moral responsibilities to humanity and to the future of Earth. We should heed their call.”

The biggest challenge to the current world order posed by Pope Francis’s Encyclical is that it calls into question the basic way we measure our success and our accomplishment, the very yardsticks we use. “Problems have been exacerbated by the fact that economic activity is currently measured solely in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and therefore does not record the degradation of Earth that accompanies it nor the abject inequities between countries and within each country,” concluded Pope Francis’s expert panel.

One of the nation’s leading global market analysts, who describes himself as a practicing Catholic, active in his local church, tells Salon that Pope Francis’s Encyclical is a major reset for a global institution that has been a principal beneficiary of capitalism. “It harnessed the revenue growth of capitalism to effectively finance a whole host of institutions around the world.” At the same time it found itself mired in scandals over its finances and the way it handled an epidemic of criminal sexual molestation by priests.

The devout Catholic analyst asked to remain anonymous because he was not authorized by his employer to speak publicly about his religious convictions with the media. He says Pope Francis’s Climate Change encyclical “will not have an impact on the markets” in the short term  ”but will add some marginal support for developing alternative energy” that reduces the planet’s global carbon foot print.

But he says it will be seismic in compelling a long over due “global conversation of, how do we even define prosperity? Is it just accumulating more dollars or do we have to factor in being accountable for our impact on the planet and all people that live on it?”

For the veteran Catholic market watcher, the Pope’s long term play is to the broader mass audience he’s reaching around the world to see their consumer choices as a way to force markets to factor in sustainability in their profit loss equation.

“If we live in the United States, do we really need tomatoes from New Zealand?,” he asked.

Historically, manufacturing and extraction industries like mining, as well as oil and gas production, could look at the pollution they generated in our air, water and land as so called cost externalities that in essence acted as a huge subsidy. The transaction was simple. The companies generated massive profits, some people got jobs, society got fuel and the earth got screwed.

Pope Francis’s climate change teaching should increase the pressure for internalizing the cost of production to include the impact of the toxic exhaust and discharges in a truly comprehensive cost benefit analysis that gives planetary well being as much standing as the bottom line.

Even before the Encyclical was released Pope Francis was getting major pushback from prominent Catholics like former Governor Jeb Bush, who converted. Bush likes his religious clerics to stay in the abstract world of soul saving and to avoid the nitty gritty of sorting out the inequities of the real world. The presidential contender was quoted in the New York Times as saying, “I think religion ought to be about making us better people and less about things that end up getting in the political realm.”

No doubt conservative free market Catholics will be upset the Pope is being so muscular in the world of the living. He is so much more useful to them when he focuses on the afterlife. This crowd wants religion to be a form of social control, not transformation. This is what got the liberation theologists in trouble, being so passionate and righteous about the here and now. It even got some of them killed.

What it all revolves around is how, in a world increasingly connected by mass communication, do you confront the issue  of scarcity and planetary limits? We seem to have at least two approaches here: Deny it is a problem and contend if undermines America’s innate “optimism,” or do a head fake, insisting that you are really concerned about it, but continue to do business the same way.

Part of America’s problem here is that our country was founded by men who thought the natural world had no limits. Sitting on the East Coast in one of the 13 colonies, on a vast continent still unmapped, you could understand how they might think that. Back then it was the Catholic Church that sided with the powers that be, telling  them they had God on their side, and the right to take as a slave the “non-believer” native Americans they encountered. It was this Doctrine of Christian Discovery that grew out of several Papal Bulls issued to insure European rulers respected each others claims as they divided up the “new world.”

Talk about evolution. Now almost 500 hundred years later, a Pope that leads that same church is trying something very different.

The true destructive force of your anxiety

If the emotion weren’t debilitating in its own right, new research suggests it can limit your capacity for empathy

The true destructive force of your anxiety

This article was originally published by Scientific American.

Scientific AmericanIn addition to being a necessary (if awkward) component of romantic life, the first date can also be one of the most anxiety-provoking. Facing off over that infinite chasm of a white tablecloth, each member of a couple will inevitably be afflicted by a million troubled thoughts, including, “Is my date even attractive?” “Am I even attractive?” and “Did I remember to turn off the stove before I left the house?”

Presumably, the primary aim of this lamentable endeavor is to establish some sort of interpersonal connection. Unfortunately, though, new research in social psychology suggests that the creeping apprehension a first date may arouse could undermine people’s ability to form just this sort of empathic bond. Anxiety, this research shows, uniquely interferes with “perspective-taking”—that is, people’s capacity to put themselves in others’ shoes.The idea that anxiety impairs perspective-taking is important because it is just this sort of nervousness that crops up when an empathic connection is most sorely needed. A public speaking gig, a job interview, even the act of teaching a child to read: all require a nuanced understanding of what it’s like to be the other person in the room. So by allowing anxiety to occupy our thoughts we might actually be undercutting our odds of success at the most critical social moments.A team of researchers, led by Andrew R. Todd at the University of Iowa, performed a series of experiments in which they artificially elevated people’s anxiety by asking them to recount, in vivid detail, an anxiety-provoking event that had happened in their past. Those in control conditions, by contrast, were asked to write about neutral events, such as how they typically spend their evenings, or about negative ones, such as those eliciting disgust or anger.

Next, the experimenters presented participants with a variety of tasks designed to assess their ability (or willingness) to perspective-take. In the first experiment, participants were shown a photograph of a person sitting at a table with a book to his left hand side (and, by logic, to their right). The key question was, “On which side of the table is the book?” While more than half of non-anxious people said the book was on the left side (implying they had taken the person’s perspective), only about a quarter of anxious people did, suggesting there is something about anxiety that locks people into their own point of view. (The lesson here: don’t start off a first date with an argument over who is closer to the salt.)

Of course there is, in fairness, no right answer to this question, as the book may correctly be said to be sitting on either side of the table. To dig deeper, therefore, the investigators carried out a follow-up study to see if anxious people could un-knowinformation they knew others didn’t have. The study worked like this. Subjects learned of an incoming college freshman named Nick who asks his friend David, a sophomore, whether he should take a class with Professor Jones. Nick doesn’t know it, but the professor had been rude to David in the past. David writes Nick back: “Oh yeah, Professor Jones is a real nice guy.” Participants are asked to decide whether Nick interprets David’s e-mail as sarcastic or sincere.

Note the tricky task people are being asked to do here: they are not being asked to say whether they think David’s e-mail is sarcastic or sincere; they are being asked to say whether Nick thinks it is. Nick, of course, doesn’t know about David’s altercation with the professor, so he has no reason to detect sarcasm. People who are adept at imagining others’ thoughts should realize this. People who are less so may not.

The result? Anxious people were more likely to believe Nick would see the message as sarcastic, even though it was only they, and not Nick, who knew David had had a negative experience. This further supports the idea that anxiety, more so than anger or disgust, blinds people to others’ experiences.

The lessons from this research extend far beyond the notion that an edgy first date likely won’t end up back at someone’s apartment. From a broader perspective, it seems that anxiety-inducing social situations are also (ironically) the ones that most demand our empathy. Consider the classic example of the strained family reunion, in which close relatives assemble for what everyone hopes will be a warm and celebratory affair only to succumb to anger and quarreling as the micro-assaults on people’s patience and sensibilities take their toll. What engenders this devolution? Perhaps it is the very fear of conflict that ignites tension at the dinner table. If so, this implies that people’s worry over a dreaded outcome will only exacerbate the probability of that very outcome’s occurrence. Like many things in life, the negative association between anxiety and perspective-taking may be part of a vicious cycle.

The effects of anxiety extend beyond the social, as well. Kierkegaard, author of “Fear and Trembling,” used the word angst to describe that low hum of terror we experience while contemplating our own death. Anxiety may therefore be not just a reaction to high-stakes social incidents, but rather a chronic condition of a species wise enough to understand inevitable demise but not yet smart enough to know how to do anything about it. And if angst is our perennial affliction, then so, it would seem, is loneliness, as anxiety traps us in our own skin and garbles our attempts to decipher the world from others’ points of view.

On the flip side, though, the task seems clear: to lessen our fear of being vulnerable and of the unknown, and in so doing, to cultivate and nourish those little roots and tentacles we send out into the social world. If anxiety arises out of threat to the ego, then, by eschewing the ego, we may be able to cut the venom off at its source. Getting over ourselves and reaching out to others, in other words, might be two sides of the same coin.





It’s not the machines we’re really afraid of. So what are we afraid of?

umair haque on Jun 15
Quick — why do we have such a complicated relationship with tech? One that’s not easily summed up— but conflicted, torn, fraught, unsure? After all, we love it—while we loathe it. We mock people who use Ubers — but grudgingly call them ourselves. We don’t want to be reduced to objects, numbers, lines of code—perish the thought — but we’re happy if our friends, lovers, and colleagues are. We’re scared that the robots will take our jobs, that we worry that the algorithms will log our every keystroke, that we’re afraid that the machines will police our every carefully guarded thought. But who’s programming the algorithms, being served by the drones, and tapping the screens? We’re not just techno-anxious: we are also vertiginously tantalized, seduced, thrilled, and tempted by the very world of endless easy pleasure the code, the machinery, the mechanism promises.

There is more to our deeply conflicted, uneasy, fragile relationship with technology than fear. It’s not accurate to call it “technophobia”. In this little essay, I’m going to describe it as “technophrenia”. I think we’re not just afraid of what the machines might cost us — we’re also afraid of what they might not cost us. There is a paradox in what technology has become, does, and offers — and it is that paradox that leaves us uneasy, unsure, uncomfortable.

I’m going to advance a simple thesis: the definition of technology has been diluted, diminished, and lessened almost to the point of meaninglessness — and certainly to the point of triviality, pointlessness, and superficiality. And that paradox is what is truly underlies our schizophrenic, conflicted, ambiguous relationship with meta-modern machinery: that we love them as uncertainly as we loathe them. But what about us?

Allow me to explain.

Let me use the example of my glasses. They are the simplest piece of technology I own — and yet they are the most transformative. Why?

Techne, the Greek root of the word “technology”, means “skill”. Technology, the enlargement and extension of man’s skillfulness, is a miraculous, magical thing because it alone gives mankind the power to transfigure the very world. When I put on my glasses, something almost magical happens — just as every poorly-sighted child discovers in wonder. I’m able to see clearly. Techne. As a simple example, my glasses help me to see better. They enhance my skill, my techne. It is in that sense that they are “technological”.

The greatest breakthroughs of the twentieth century were in part technological. Once, technology meant stuff that went to the moon…cured fatal diseases…extended the human lifespan. Salk’s polio vaccine, the moon landings, antibiotics…all these were what technology once referred to. They were miraculous breakthroughs that altered lives, vast explosions of technethat enhanced human skillfulness.

Now, “tech” means something very different: apps that…hails taxis…summon butlers…automatically call dog walkers…gadgets that remind you have a meeting…turn on your thermostat for you…let you stream your favorite show…and so on.

It’s not that the latter is bad. But it is a fact that the latter is trivial. In no reasonable way is an app that calls a taxi or a butler or a thermostat comparable to a moon landing or a vaccine. Such devices may yield us small morsels of convenience, ease, and luxury — but they are not breakthroughs that alter lives and redraw the boundaries of human potential.

So how did technology get demeaned to “tech”? I’m going to draw a line between technology — the real thing — and “tech”: its modern-day imitation. In the same that we now eat “food-like products”, and watch “news-like programming”, so too we are presented with “technology-like” things: stuff that isn’t really technological, but merely pretends to be. This is what is popularly called “tech”. But tech is to technology what Doritos are to food: an empty, hollow simulation of the real thing.

Technology is transformative because it explodes the limits of techne — of human skill. Read that last sentence again. The little story of my glasses contains in it what is familiar to us all: the magical, enchanted power of technology.

Transformation is why technology is so magical, so miraculous. Through it, man can ascend beyond his natural birthright, and give himself rebirth — from a stinking, starving, cunning beast, to a civilized, enlightened, powerful being. All that is contained in the magic of techne. Techne, skill, endows man with the shining opportunity, to face his greatest necessity: to become his best. Not merely a slave, a predator, or a king. But something smaller still, and infinitely greater: fully himself. A being who lives a life seared, brimming over, overwhelmed, with meaning, happiness, purpose. And if you think about it for a moment, all that is what glasses give me, and countless others.

And so the question we must ask is this: does the stuff of the “tech” industry enhance skill…at anything…especially anything worthy? In what sense does it transform not just merely our stuff — but ourselves? I may be able to summon a butler or a taxi or a private jet or a dog-walker with unimaginable ease. But the simple face is that my skill at anything truly meaningful has not increased one bit. If anything, it has probably declined — for I am something like a king without an empire.

“Tech” is a paradox. For tech itself has demeaned, denigrated, and diluted the very idea of technology — from miracles of skill that alter human destiny, to trivialities that trap us in self-indulgence. But that is not skill — it is merely gratification and vanity. Apps that limit people full of limitless potential…to be…walking apps, libraries of selfies, carefully performed “lifestyle choices”. All those are “tech” — but they’re not techne. They do not expand or enlarge human skilfullness in any way. You may be laden down with all the latest “tech”. But will it help you become that great…musician…artist…programmer…anything?

Technology, techne, is transformative, fundamental, magical — because it is the sudden joyous explosion of skill at mastering one’s best self. “Tech”, on the other hand, seems to be mastering us.

That, I think, is why so many are so afraid of “tech” — but embrace technology. Tech threatens us with a kind of split, between who one could be — and who one is reduced to. Not merely because it might take their jobs, or their careers, or their time. But because it might, with efficiency’s kind smile, erase their dreams and their destinies. And imprison their truest, best selves, in irresistible, glittering cages made of indolence, vanity, and convenience. Cages of which they themselves are the most enthusiastic jailers.

Nope. There’s no Matrix, no confederation of the robots, no Skynet. There doesn’t need to be. It’s not the machines that we truly fear. But what the machines might turn us into. Something even less than machines. People who can’t be ourselves without them.

The true fear, I think, in technopanic, is this. Not merely that we will become servants of machines. But masters of machines — who, imprisoned in glowing kingdoms of pleasure, as helpless as children, can never cross the desert, climb the mountain, ford the river — and discover their true destiny. Beings who never discover that freedom is not merely supremacy; for the ruler still depends on the ruled. It means independence. Sovereignty. The right to choose to suffer, struggle, dream, imagine, rebel, defy, love, wonder, dare. For the true self cannot be born otherwise.

Microdosing: A New, Low-Key Way to Use Psychedelics

Some of the most surprising people are using LSD and other psychedelics in extremely low doses, and the results are most interesting.

Photo Credit: agsandrew /

At the fifth annual Horizons: Perspectives on Psychedelics conference in New York City in October 2011, pioneering psychedelic researcher Dr. James Fadiman solidified his reemergence as a leading researcher of and advocate for psychedelic substances. Fadiman had done groundbreaking research with LSD up until the very day it was federally banned in 1966, but after that, he retreated into a life of quiet conventionality—at least on the surface.

While Fadiman disappeared himself from the public eye for decades, he never did give up him interest in and enthusiasm for psychedelics. A year before appearing at Horizons, he published his life’s work, The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide, an amazing compendium of hallucinogenic lore, as well as a user’s manual for would-be psychonauts.

The book examined the primary uses for psychedelics, such as spiritual enlightenment at high doses and improvements in creativity at smaller ones. It also addressed a lesser-known but increasingly popular phenomenon: microdosing.

Microdosing refers to taking extremely small doses of psychedelics, so small that the affects usually associated with such drugs are not evident or are “sub-perceptual,” while going about one’s daily activities. It’s being done by anyone from harried professionals to extreme athletes to senior citizen businesswomen, and they’re claiming serious benefits from it.

To trip brains (or have a transcendental experience) on LSD, a dose of 400 micrograms or more is called for; to explore your inner self, take 200 micrograms; for creative problem solving, try 100 mikes; but for microdosing, take only 10 to 15 micrograms. Similar microdoses for other psychedelics would include 0.2-0.5 grams of dried mushrooms (about one-fifth the normal dose) or about 50-75 micrograms of mescaline.

At that Horizons conference, as reported by Tim Doody in a fascinating profile of Fadiman, the bespectacled 70-year-old at one point asked his audience “How many of you have heard about microdosing?” A couple of dozen hands went up. “Whoa,” he exclaimed.

He explained that, beginning in 2010, he had been doing a study of microdosing. Since research with LSD remains banned, he couldn’t do it in a lab, but had instead relied on a network of volunteers who administered their own doses and reported back with the results. The subjects kept logs of their doses and daily routines, and sent them via email to Fadiman. The results were quite interesting, he said.

“Micro-dosing turns out to be a totally different world,” he explained. “As someone said, the rocks don’t glow, even a little bit. But what many people are reporting is, at the end of the day, they say, ‘That was a really good day.’ You know, that kind of day when things kind of work. You’re doing a task you normally couldn’t stand for two hours, but you do it for three or four. You eat properly. Maybe you do one more set of reps. Just a good day. That seems to be what we’re discovering.”

Study participants functioned normally in their work and relationships, Fadiman said, but with increased focus, emotional clarity, and creativity. One physician reported that microdosing put him “in touch with a deep place of ease and beauty.” A singer reported being better able to hear and channel music.

In his book, a user named “Madeline” offered this report: “Microdosing of 10 to 20 micrograms (of LSD) allow me to increase my focus, open my heart, and achieve breakthrough results while remaining integrated within my routine. My wit, response time, and visual and mental acuity seem greater than normal on it.”

These results are not yet peer-reviewed, but they are suggestive.

“I just got a report from someone who did this for six weeks,” Fadiman said. “And his question to me was, ‘Is there any reason to stop?’”

It isn’t just Fadiman acolytes who are singing the praises of microdosing. One 65-year-old Sonoma County, California, small businesswoman who had never heard of the man told AlterNet she microdosed because it made her feel better and more effective.

“I started doing it in 1980, when I lived in San Francisco and one of my roommates had some mushrooms in the fridge,” said the woman, who asked to remain anonymous. “I just took a tiny sliver and found that it made me alert and energized all day. I wasn’t high or anything; it was more like having a coffee buzz that lasted all day long.”

This woman gave up on microdosing when her roommate’s supply of ‘shrooms ran out, but she has taken it up again recently.

“I’m very busy these days and I’m 65, so I get tired, and maybe just a little bit surly sometimes,” she admitted. “So when a friend brought over some chocolate mushrooms, I decided to try it again. It makes my days so much better! My mood improves, my energy level is up, and I feel like my synapses are really popping. I get things done, and I don’t notice any side-effects whatsoever.”

She’s not seeking visionary experiences, just a way to get through the day, she said.

In an in-depth post on the High Existence blog, Martijn Schirp examined the phenomenon in some detail, as well as describing his own adventure in microdosing:

“On a beautiful morning in Amsterdam, I grabbed my vial of LSD, diluted down with half high grade vodka and half distilled water, and told my friend to trust me and open his mouth. While semi-carefully measuring the droplets for his microdose, I told him to whirl it around in his mouth for a few minutes before swallowing the neuro-chemical concoction. I quickly followed suit,” Schirp wrote. “We had one of the best walking conversations of our lives.”

James Oroc, author of Tryptamine Palace: 5-MeO-DMT and the Sonoran Desert Toad, exposed another realm where microdosing is gaining popularity. In a Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies monograph titled“Psychedelics and Extreme Sports,” Oroc extolled the virtues of microdosing for athletes. Taking low-dose psychedelics improved “cognitive functioning, emotional balance, and physical stamina,” he wrote.

“Virtually all athletes who learn to use LSD
at psycholytic [micro] dosages believe that the use of these compounds improves both their stamina and their abilities,” Oroc continued. “According to the combined reports of 40 years of use by the extreme sports underground, LSD can increase your reflex time to lightning speed, improve your balance to the point of perfection, increase your concentration until you experience ‘tunnel vision,’ and make you impervious to weakness or pain. LSD’s effects in these regards amongst the extreme-sport community are in fact legendary, universal, and without dispute.”

Even the father of LSD, Albert Hofman seems to have been a fan. In his book, Fadiman notes that Hofmann microdosed himself well into old age and quoted him as saying LSD “would have gone on to be used as Ritalin if it hadn’t been so harshly scheduled.”

Psychonauts, take note. Microdosing isn’t going to take you to another astral plane, but it may help you get through the day. For more infomation on the microdosing experience, dig into the links up-story, as well as the Reddit user forum on microdosing. Surprisingly enough, the vaults of Erowid, that repository of drug user experiences, returned only one entry about microdosing, from someone who appears to have been a subject in the Fadiman microdosing experiments.

And, of course, if you want to try this, you have to obtain some psychedelics. They’re illegal, which doesn’t mean they aren’t around. An increasing number of people are finding them on the dark web; others obtain them the old-fashioned way: from within their own communities. Those who are really interested will get to work.


Phillip Smith is editor of the AlterNet Drug Reporter and author of the Drug War Chronicle.