• "[Genetically Modified Organisms: A Scientific-Political Dialogue on a Meaningless Meme is] presents the debate associated with introducing GMOs as a traditional debate between science and progress against dogma. After reading it, I hope that science will win for the sake of all of us."

    - Professor David Zilberman, University of California at Berkeley

14th July 2023

Book in Focus
Revolutionary Essays on Life, Earth, and Politics

Ideas for the Next 400 Years

By Sherman Lewis


Too much thinking inspired me to write this book. Each essay started as a tiny little snowball in the back of my mental refrigerator, sometimes quiescent, then rolling around in the frost, getting bigger. Surely, I thought, someone else has had these ideas and written them up. I listened to many Great Courses lectures while running a mile uphill in twenty minutes on my elliptical. I reached a firm conclusion, that all speculative philosophizing about existence was a lot of hooey; the only way we know stuff is through science, etc.

Where do violence, anti-environmentalism, and stupid policies come from? Ill-advised people of course, but I found we don’t actually know why some people dehumanize others—we haven’t done the science. We see great inertia causing poverty, violence, and death, but also great progress in the advanced democracies and some emerging nations. How can things change so much and not change enough?

The cause has to be the social brain, complex beyond belief, with culture perpetuating itself and yet also changing. A major reason for the lack of research is the need to study that complexity over many years for many people, from infancy when there is hope to adulthood when some orientation becomes set. Too complicated.

I don’t know if my book is unique. I do know I have been exposed to so many ideas that are not saying what needs to be said. What I am saying is important. We have an ambitious title, “Revolutionary Essays on Life, Earth, and Politics,” based on my reaction to the inadequacies of philosophy, old and new.

My book is the truth as I have best been able to figure it out over the decades. It is what I needed to read as an undergraduate 60 plus years ago. It took a while to figure it out, to work over a period of years and bursts of writing inspired by various aggravations to produce something informal and readable. This book can save you a lot of time.

Also, if you can, read a good newspaper, run every day, and study Western intellectual history.

Life

 First, think long—400 years back, 400 years forward. You are insignificant; you decide your importance. Worthwhile thinking began 400 years ago as science culture and empathy grew during the Enlightenment. Science culture uses science to inform a realistic way of thinking far beyond science, and it supports and defends science itself against dogma. No science culture? Then no science. Science indicates no God is out there, yet God is real in human culture, so God does exist.

I give you here a brain-based philosophy. Apparently, our social brains need meaning and purpose—religion, ideology, nationalism, and a personal philosophy of life. Our organic brains need beliefs, meaning, security, a way to endure our fate, to reach harmony with others, or as a reason to dehumanize and kill enemies. Billions of brain cells are all designed to work together to develop language and culture through socialization. Secularists who disdain religious belief need to confront their secularism as a kind of religion.

We need to use social science to understand why some people use science culture and others use dogmatism; some have empathy and others are chauvinistic. Why do some of us try to get along and others create conflict from false certainties?

We must start a new theology to rescue religion from belief and rescue God from metaphysics. What leads to science culture and empathy, and what leads to dogmatism and chauvinism? Empathy has always been there at the personal level; the Enlightenment elevated it to the social and political level. Empathy changes the foundation of politics from self-aggrandizement, personal power, and injustice, to individual freedom and development. Empathy can shape public policy to liberate the individual to not be defined by others, to not be a cog in some powerful group’s religion, ideology, or nationalism. It’s democracy, civil rights and liberties, ecumenicism, rule of law, and teaching empathy in kindergarten. We really don’t understand what causes the awful things going on in the world.

I condemn, but I do not understand.

The Enlightenment made just a little progress; we need to keep at it for, I guess, a few hundred years more. We are not modern; we’ve just started. These ideas are revolutionary.

Earth

The Crisis of the Anthropocene: We are destroying life on this planet in the blink of a geological age. One species, and subspecies Americanus more than others, ended the Holocene and started the Anthropocene. Few people grasp the enormity of our self-annihilation. It is just too big and too complicated to see. Very few people have a grasp of parts of the problem, let alone its many parts. It is hard to see beyond our daily lives, to think globally and long term.

The money economy does not report its external costs. Ignorant voters elect bombastic ignorance, destroying the future of all children. The Climate Crisis alone is huge beyond belief, but we also have dozens of kinds of pollution in general: the collapse of the ecosystem services the eroding of thousands of indigenous cultures, the collapse of biodiversity, the loss of huge areas of natural land, declining oceans, increasing scarcity of clean water, deforestation, the abuses of modern agribusiness, and over-population.

The book presents several social and policy causes of the crisis, among them being optimism in the face of green scamming by the world’s leaders and corporations—King Canutes on the beach ordering back the tide. My hope is that over 100 pages of facts can reach through your mind to restructure your brain to do something. These are revolutionary times, all too invisible to those destroying life on earth. This is also part of a new theology.

Politics

Very few Americans grasp the scope of how far behind our nation has fallen. My team compared America to a group of eight advanced, democratic European countries: Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and the Netherlands. Dozens of major statistical indicators across dozens of policy areas, as documented on https://internationalcomparisons.org/, show beyond doubt that the US is not advanced. A rich country is one where progress is measured by money and people drive cars. An advanced country is one where progress is measured by values and even the rich ride public transportation.

The US is not democratic, with a Senate grossly over-representing small population states, the election of presidents with a minority vote, a Supreme Court with a majority appointed by minority-elected presidents, gerrymandered districts preventing majority rule, Senate rules like the filibuster paralyzing action, and one political party refusing to carry out its duties under the Constitution. Under American law, money is speech and corporations are persons.

Political failure extends to major policies. An unrepresentative Supreme Court denied reproductive freedom to women that they had enjoyed since the Founding, in violation of the Ninth Amendment and cultural norms. Many states have policies requiring births, impoverishing the lives of both mom and baby. A generally progressive tax code that succeeds in taxing millionaires breaks down completely at the very highest income levels with transparently absurd tax breaks that tilt the playing field, allow the wealthy to escape taxation, waste the labor of accountants and lawyers, have mind-boggling complexity, and reduce economic growth. Adam Smith, the great opponent of monopoly, would be appalled and would add another volume to The Wealth of Nations. The system of campaign finance rewards donors with wealth-serving politicians and underfunds the Internal Revenue Service, allowing cheating by the wealthy.

Americans tolerate a horrific death toll from the uncontrolled proliferation of deadly weapons. The Second Amendment gives people the right to keep and bear arms as part of a well-regulated militia, a fact that is not just ignored, but most people believe the opposite of what the wording requires. We do not have the “security of a free State;” we have death and lawlessness.

America faces dangerous threats from within, Trumpism, and from without, Putinism. I’m a pessimist, yet I keep trying, and I have to ask myself, why? In part, I think these ideas and issues matter. They are more interesting than playing golf or going on cruises. Also, for reasons I don’t understand, I feel connected. I think about the last and the next four hundred years, and develop a better sense of my own insignificance. Yet I can also see the great development of science culture and empathy coming from the work of individuals, maybe even a bit from my decades of advocacy.

The book has some guidance for you based on my 50 plus years, more or less, of activism. I have felt the need to act when others did not, and to join others who were acting. The friendships and the personal and intellectual challenge become engaging. We haven’t lost yet, we’re not dead yet, and that’s oddly encouraging. The Enlightenment was just the beginning. Humanity, we’re just getting started.

After you’ve read the book, please leave it in a public place on a campus. If you are a teacher, ask your students to compare the pros and cons of the text with my book.


Sherman Lewis is a retired professor of Political Science at California State University East Bay in Hayward, where he taught from 1967 to 2004. He was a citizen advocate, Sierra Club leader, and elected official on the Board of the Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART). He went from Utah to Harvard on scholarship and graduated magna cum laude. He runs two small non-profits where he continues to advocate. His pursuit of College Heights, a major sustainable, affordable village near his campus, led to “Walkable Neighborhood systems” and four other academic articles.


Revolutionary Essays on Life, Earth and Politics is available now in Hardback at a 25% discount. Enter code PROMO25 at checkout to redeem.

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