A few minutes ago, a breath of much-needed fresh air: the swearing into office of the 46th President of the United States, Joseph Robinett Biden, Jr.
And, the installation of the first woman Vice-President of the United States, who hails from a lineage of Africa and South Asia, Kamala Devi Harris.
Let’s hope we can finally work to beat the Covid-19 pandemic that has taken the lives of more than 400,000 of our compatriots in this country, and millions around the world, and begin to right our precariously listing ship of state.
In these dire times it feels a little more than self-indulgent to canter on about the minor joys in life; a desire to expound upon the little things when the world is on fire seems a private and guilty pleasure. But, while pondering standing down and standing by, I remembered a quote posted last year by an old friend in India:
I’ve no idea who Cleo Wade is but this paragraph was/is a powerful reminder to stop and breathe – with a deep breath, at that, and gather your joy. And so I will expand upon my joy in re-living the excitement I felt when first reading of the research being done by William Donald Hamilton, FRS (1 August 1936 – 7 March 2000) and Robert Ludlow Trivers (b. February 19, 1943); especially Bob Trivers, one of the bad boys of science, and his work on the troubling existence of altruism in a world where survival appears to solely depends upon self-interest.
Some weeks ago I was looking for something I had written in one of my old journals and, in doing a fast sweep through one, I saw notes I had written on the work in evolutionary biology by Hamilton and Trivers. To have someone like Steven Pinker write, as he has of Trivers, that he is “one of the great thinkers in the history of Western thought” is not too shabby.
There is a profound beauty and deep pleasure in a life lived exploring the interests of the mind – or, rather, in the mysteries of the universe – of all things great and small. We imagine those who lead such lives rarely descend from the realm of theory and quick-firing neurons to spend time amongst the dross that daily surrounds those of us beetling away in the more mundane trenches of life. Or so it seems.
But there are exceptions. (I remember a great photograph of Stephen Hawking looking up from his motorized chair at the bottles of wine in a Pasadena supermarket. He could not reach the fruit of the vine on any but the lower third row of shelves. I’ve often wondered if the person who asked if he needed assistance ever knew who was being helped.)
The evolutionary biologist Robert Trivers has led a life that is anything but ordinary, both in the ivory tower and out. In a handful of ‘simple’ theoretical papers in the 1970s, seeking to lay a foundation of questions into the links between genetics and behavior, he spawned research into whole galaxies of new suppositions and questions. I remember these ideas were pervasive in university, and not just in biology departments. Two very influential books, in part spurred on by the kind of research he was doing, were published in the mid-1970s dealing with just the questions Trivers had grappled with: Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene and E.O. Wilson’s Sociobiology. Both stirred controversy that spilled out into general publications and the consciousness of lay people. At the time I would often think it must have been a little like this in Darwin & Wallace’s mid-19th century day with their theories on evolution.
Trivers studied evolutionary theory at Harvard from 1968 to 1972 with Ernst Mayr, a man of many talents. But it is Mayr’s genius with work on speciation that broadened Darwin and Wallace’s dissection of Aristotle’s Great Chain of Being that most fascinates those of us who studied anthropology. Trivers had first gotten the biology bug from his paying work (writing science books for children) with the ornithologist William Drury who was, Trivers says, “the man who taught me how to think.” Critical consciousness: it is the most important intellectual skill a human can possess as far as I am concerned.
a mental breakdown (bi-polar disorder) in his Harvard junior year Trivers considered
a major in psychology (not a real science but, rather,’ a joke’) or law (“I
thought I would do poverty law work” but was turned down by both Yale and the
Univ of Virginia). In any case, his childhood interests in astronomy (a look
into both the infinitesimally small and the ginormous) and mathematics have stood
him well in his work with animal behavior. And, yes, ‘animal’, here, includes homo sapiens sapiens.
Curiosity is THE great driver of human intellectual, cultural and physical advance and Trivers has it and has had, so far, a life of the utmost divergence and a knack for criticizing what we generally think of as both the ‘Left’ and the ‘Right’ political sphere. His resume includes being a white guy member of The Black Panthers and friend of Huey P. Newton (together they published a scholarly paper analyzing the role of self-deception by the flight crew of Air Florida Flight 90 that crashed into the 14th Street bridge over the Potomac River in Washington, DC in 1982); a proposer of questions and principals in evolutionary biology papers that, pretty much alone, spawned totally new sub-disciplines in behavioral psychology, sociobiology, evolutionary this & that and more; a subject of a gun-point encounter near his home in Jamaica; academic suspension at Rutgers and academics attacks on a few of my clients and friends.
If you are now intrigued you might start with reading his 2015 autobiography that I am reading now: Wild Life: Adventures of an Evolutionary Biologist.
This isn’t their Republican Party anymore,’ Donald Trump Jr. says of GOP lawmakers who don’t back his father. – Wednesday morning, January 6, 2021“
The people [Republicans] who did nothing to stop the steal — this gathering [the agitators outside the White House this morning] should send a message to them,” Baby Trump said at a rally outside the White House. “This isn’t their Republican Party anymore. This is Donald Trump’s Republican Party.
The Washington Post reports that ‘Trump Jr. also pledged to work against the reelection of any Republican who doesn’t try to overturn the results, echoing his father’s threats against officials who have rebuffed his efforts’… “These guys better fight for Trump, because if they’re not, guess what?” he said. “I’m going to be in your backyard in a couple of months! … If you’re going to be the zero and not the hero, we’re coming for you, and we’re going to have a good time doing it.”
You must give credit to the evidently persuasive agit-prop of the Trumpers. Anytime you can take wages (vs. dividends), food security, education and health care from those most in need – and still have them worship the ground you walk on, you are a master illusionist.
Monkeying around with democracy, we have well & truly gunned our country into high gear toward becoming what we used to call a ‘banana republic’.
UPDATE to my morning post:
6 January 2021, 2:35pm
Of all the ‘sacred’ symbols of these United States of America – the flag, the white House, the Statue of Liberty, etc. none are more important – or potent, than the U.S. Capitol Building, the edifice where The Peoples’ Business is daily transacted. I think if we do a little research, we might have to go back to 1814 to find a time when the Capitol fell into the hands of an enemy of our democracy.
Interestingly, during these hours of a seditious, Trumpian mob’s breach and control of the building, the Senate has changed political party hands with the state of Georgia declaring Mr. Jon Ossoff (D) as the winner of the senate race there between him and David Perdue (R).
Both Democratic Party winners make this an historic contest: Ossoff is the first Jewish senator from Georgia and the other seat’s winner, Raphael Warnock (D) is the first Black American to win a Georgia senate seat. Two important moments of our history, a high and a low, braided into the same day. Let’s hope our democracy is not as fragile as the security of the building where its aims are carried out.