Voice of Sanity – June 2016

Piedmont Humanists
Adult Membership: $24/year
Seniors & Students: $15/year

Editor: Joyce Bates

All correspondence to:
Piedmont Humanists
3620 Pelham Rd., Suite 5, #135
Greenville, SC. 29615

Email:
voiceofsanity@piedmonthumanists.org

The Voice of Sanity

THE NEWSLETTER OF THE UPSTATE S.C. SECULAR HUMANISTS

Visit our web-site for current issues at:
www.piedmonthumanists.org

CALENDAR

http://www.meetup.com/piedmont-SC-Humanists/

www.piedmonthumanists.org

The Sunday meeting has a meet and greet or special activity from 10:00AM to 10:45AM
At 11:00AM there is usually a talk, video, or general discussion from 11:00AM to 1:00PM
Location: the Earth Fare 3620 Pelham Road, Greenville.

 

Sunday, June 19th
10:00AM:    Being new to humanism and how to transition
11:00AM:   Franziska Stiel talks about her experiences in Germany

Sunday, June 26th
11:00AM:    General Discussion

The Free-Thought group will meet at 7:00PM June 16th and 30th (both Thursdays) for pool at Bailey’s Sports Bar & Grille, 2409 Laurens Rd, Greenville.

The Free-Thought group will meet at 7:00PM  and 23rd (Thursday) for a meal at California Dreaming restaurant; 40 Beacon Drive; near the Pelham Road exit off I85.

June 14th: Second Tuesday Atheists will be April 12th, 7:00PM at Earth Fare, 3620 Pelham Road, Greenville

April 16th: Bar-B-Que Family and Fund-raiser will be 1:00PM on Saturday the 16th at Cane brake Clubhouse, 300 Saratoga Drive, Greer.

 


 

Reminder: There is no issue of the Voice in the month of July

 


 

A DIFFERENT LOOK AT MORALITY

 

Dale Peterson’s book was titled Moral Lives of Animals so I naturally assumed it was about the moral lives of animals. I did not realize that Peterson included human beings in that category. This author attempts to find a framework of moral understanding outside of the realm of organized religion. He does this by using evolution as a background and the behavior of mammals, particularly primates, as examples of his ideas. Human behavior is presented as running above and parallel to this mammalian background.

 

Peterson starts off by describing our attitudes toward other animals. Using the novel Moby Dick he suggests these attitudes are polarized. Ahab, on the one hand, endows the whale with all the evil intentions of a human and he holds the animal morally responsible for these actions. Starbuck, on the other hand, believes the whale can comprehend nothing beyond blind instinct. Peterson suggests that there is a third way of thinking. That is tied to how evolution has forced animals to develop nervous systems unique to their species as they respond to the environment. Their behaviors, in other words, form a unique and species specific morality adapted for survival and what is good for other mammals may or may not resemble what is good for human beings.

 

The author then looks at human moral frameworks using what he calls “external narratives”. One type of narrative need not be written but must be handed down by a higher power with the demand that we submit to it. The higher power does not have to be a god. The other narrative is a historically based code written by men. The first implies that without a “higher law” we are sinners.  The second implies that we are blank slates. One is religious; the other is secular. Both exclude other species, imply we are the only creatures to have a moral code, and deny that evolution could have anything to do with it.

 

The next part of the book is dedicated to examples of the way primates and other mammals are socially organized and behave in comparison to human beings. These activities do not fit human standards but reflect similarities between the species described and human beings.

 

In gorilla society, for example, observers have seen the responsibility of the female gorilla in taking care of young, but the male also plays a surprising part. Gorillas have a mortality rate of about 38 percent and the females invest at least four years raising a single offspring.* During the weaning period the juvenile gorillas (about three to six years old) spend much of the time playing with those of their age as well as the dominant silverback male, who can often be seen self-handicapping himself to let the young one win a game of fisticuffs. The male also serves to prevent aggression between younger gorillas, especially when a juvenile is threatened by a much older male. Gorillas, unlike chimps and bonobos are much less aggressive within their groups.

 

All three great ape groups are structured in dominance hierarchies. In the case of gorillas and chimps there is a male leader; bonobos have a matriarchal society. Bonobo males remain with their mothers all their lives. If they are sons of dominant females they usually become dominant males but never intimidate females in the way males intimidate females in chimp groups.

 

There are no taboos in any of the species above in regard to sex except for incest. There is emigration of females from their family groups in chimps and bonobos. Both sexes emigrate in gorilla societies. This is enough to insure healthy genetic variation. As for homosexuality, it is apparently part of natural behavior. In fact, 63 species of mammals engage in it, male to male, female to female, among both sexes, occasionally or regularly. Ninety-four species of birds exhibit the same conduct.

 

Only fifteen percent of primate species are monogamous. Gibbons, primates of southern and southeast Asia, are most noted for this habit. They do remain loyal to each other for life, but there is a catch, and that is jealousy. When a female from a neighboring territory approaches the area the local female becomes hostile and immediately drives her off. The male of the pair displays the same type of aggression when another male is in the neighborhood.

 

Peterson gives two examples of ownership in chimps and jays. The only thing a chimp can own is a piece of meat. The owner is recognized by the troop as the one who actually catches and kills the desired quarry. Those who help him can snatch a piece of it immediately after the kill. Others will have to resort stealing or begging to get any. The remainder of the troop has to wait with hope of scavenging if something is left.  Jays cache their food. This is not always a simple act of storing food if other jays are within sight of the cache. Experiments show that some jays will dig up their caches if they suspect others are watching and hide them in a different spot thwarting potential thieves.

 

Deceit has been observed in chimps. Primatologist Franz de Waal saw this one afternoon when he buried grapefruit for them to dig up and eat. The troop ran by one buried grapefruit without noticing it. But later in the afternoon when the chimps were all taking a nap, one of the younger males quietly got up, dug the treat up from its hidden spot, and retreated away from the rest of the group to eat.

 

War is well known among chimps. Jane Goodall documented one that lasted approximately four years in the 1970s and involved three different territories. The Kasakela tribe of apes living in the northern part of the Gombe National Park in Tanzania contained twelve adult females and eight adult males. To the south of them there was the smaller Kahama tribe with three females, six males, and one adolescent male. The first attack happened when one of the of the young Kahama males was ambushed while he was sitting eating in a tree. Over the four year period the male Kasakelas had killed all six of the Kahama males and one of the females. Two of the Kahama females disappeared and the immature females were kidnapped. This extended the Kasakela territory to the borders of the Kalande chimp tribe whose numbers evidently were to intimidating to allow further violence.

 

Peterson divides empathy into two groups, one being contagious empathy, the other cognitive. One example of contagious empathy happens when an entire flock becomes airborne by the panicked flight of a single bird. Another is the tendency of human babies start to cry when they hear other babies crying in a hospital ward. Contagious empathy is a purely neurological process of the unconscious associated with mirror neurons. In humans these are the nerves in the motor cortex that allow us to automatically imitate in our imaginations the movements of someone we see engaged in a particular activity; but we don’t engage in the activity ourselves.

 

One last anecdote involves an incident that happened at the zoo in Brookfield, Illinois in 1996 when a three year old boy climbed over barrier and fell 25 feet into a gorilla enclosure. Before anyone could respond to the accident an eight year old female gorilla named Binti Jua came and tucked the boy under one of her arms. With her own infant riding on her back she gently carried the boy toward zoo personnel while growling at other gorillas to keep away. The boy made a full recovery from his accident. There is a caveat to this, though. Binti Jua was hand raised by humans and trained to care for her young and bring them to the enclosure opening for their routine physical checkups. The question is whether this behavior was altruistic or the result of training.

 

Most of the animal examples above describe behaviors we humans need to avoid rather than embrace as moral. Nevertheless, all the examples mirror our own conduct and therefore tie us to at least the rest of the primate world if not all mammals. This is precisely Patterson’s point. What works for one species to improve its existence does not necessarily work for others. We need to understand that other species are capable of more than instinct, that they react to many things the same as we do, and that evolution has played a role in all of these connections.

 

*It is interesting that like humans, female gorillas do not have an obvious physical display of estrus like chimps and bonobos. Also, there is no season for births and mating occurs year round.

 

References:

The Moral Lives of Animals, Dale Peterson, 2011, Bloomsbury Press.

http://pin.primate.wisc.edu/factsheets/entry/gorilla/behav

http://www.primates.com/bonobos/bonobosexsoc.html

http://www.jstor.org/stable/4599723?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gombe_Chimpanzee_War

http://www.travelchannel.com/shows/when-vacations-attack/video/binti-the-gorilla


PANAMA PAPERS

 

News of the Panama Papers enjoyed a brief period of attention initially, faded out over the following weeks, but now, as more information has been made available, articles are migrating back to the front pages. The Panama Papers is the description for the release of 11.5 million leaked documents by an individual known only by the name of John Doe. The documents were sent to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung among others. The release included details about the financial activities of approximately 215,000 companies, trusts, and foundations in twenty-one jurisdictions around the world.

 

These jurisdictions specialize in providing low-tax financial services to non-residents who desire to hide their financial worth from scrutiny. Of the twenty-one authorities, two give information about investors, seven provide names of company directors, but none of them identify the actual owners by name. On line, some of these sites require interested parties to open accounts and sign in before requesting information or fill out a special form. More often than not requests result in an error message.

Most locations of these shell corporations are in Panama, British Virgin Islands, Jersey, the Bahamas and Seychelles, but Wyoming and Nevada have been included in the release of information. The most investigated law-firm associated with the list is Mossack Fonseca, a Panama based law practice that has specialized in registering such companies for nearly 40 years.

 

The list includes financial activities of mobsters, drug traffickers, arms smugglers and Ponzi schemers. It has information about 36 Americans accused and convicted of fraud and 33 people blacklisted by the US Treasury because of evidence of wrongdoing.

 

One of the financial revelations concerned a man known in Peru as the “Dutchman” (Ment Dijkhuizen Caceres) and his attorney Eduardo Gallardo Arciniega. Their drug operation was compromised when customs officials in Rotterdam were informed that a shipment of 60 pallets of asparagus from Peru might include something additional. The search turned up one and a half tons of cocaine. Although the two are convicted felons profits from what ICIJ calls “industrial scale drug trafficking” were hidden in various jurisdictions. Officers of Mossack Fonseca expressed surprise when they were notified in 2006 of their clients’ dishonesty.

 

After Mossack Fonseca received a request from US authorities for financial information regarding Martin Frankel it took several months to respond. During these months the law firm did its best to shut down companies associated with him. Mr. Frankel had been a good customer and had at the same time managed to embezzle more the $200 million from insurance companies in five states across the US. He had also set up a sham charitable foundation named after a Catholic saint to help the poor, but the money supported him instead.

 

Another investigation exposed the activities of Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, the Prime Minister of Iceland. He purchased a company called Wintris Inc in 2007 from Mossack Fonseca through a Luxembourg branch of Iceland’s bank. He used the company to invest millions of dollars in Icelandic Bank bonds but neglected to declare these assets when he entered politics. When the public found out there were mass protests outside of Parliament and he was forceed to resign.

 

In the US Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) sent a letter to the Secretaries of State for Delaware and Nevada for information on how companies recently revealed in the Panama Papers are regulated within their states. The Senator remarked that investigations are pertinent for uncovering the use of shell companies to hide money acquired for financing terrorism, money hidden to avoid taxation, and money acquired through fraudulent activities in government programs.

 

Delaware does not levy state taxes or taxes on personal property so they look to taxing the registration of new companies as part of the state revenue. Such taxation comprises about 30 percent of their budget. There is some question as to the temptation to be lax in the incorporation of these companies. Nevada has registered more than 20,000 companies with foreign addresses. The expansion of new companies in that state has expanded during the last decade because of legislation expanding privacy protection for these registrations.

 

The ICIJ has an informative site available to everyone. One interesting feature of the site is a game called Stairway to Tax Heaven, the goal of which is to use an offshore “parallel universe” to hide your cash: https://panamapapers.icij.org/stairway_tax_heaven_game/

 

Reference

https://panamapapers.icij.org/20160509-beyond-panama-secrecy-jurisdictions.html

Greenville News, 5/7/16, page B1

Greenville News, 5 28/16, page B1

 


JUST SO YOU KNOW

 

This writer could have added yet another article about the lawsuit regarding prayer during elementary graduation exercises in Greenville County or more legislation considering use of public bathrooms, but the new bill proposed by State Representative Mia McLeod (D/Richland) was not only too good to pass up but an occasion for laughter.

 

She is of the opinion that there needs to be more regulation for erectile dysfunction drugs. Some of the restrictions she suggests are: statements from sexual partners confirming the dysfunction, notification of increased health risks when taking such drugs, a cardiac test, and recommendations to see a sex therapist.

 

McLeod is presently running for a State Senate Seat. She has proposed the House legislation to intensify attention on the dominantly male state legislature that has been relentlessly tightening abortion laws over the years. Although praising McLeod for raising awareness that politicians are constantly intruding upon women’s rights to make decisions regarding their health, Planned Parenthood will not participate in the hearings on the legislation. They do back privacy for physician and patient regardless of sex.

 

The committee for the bill is composed of minority Democrats. The State House majority leader (Bruce Bannister, Greenville) thinks the bill is a waste of time that could be used for more important issues. He believes that a doctor’s prescription for Viagra has nothing at all to do with determining when a human life begins.

 

Reference:

The Greenville News, 4/18/2016

 

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When it comes to groups of animals we are all familiar with: a herd of cows, a flock of birds, a school of fish, and a pride of lions

The lesser known groupings are: a gaggle of geese, a mob of kangaroos, a rookery of penguins, a troop of chimps, a murder of crows, an exaltation of doves, and a parliament of owls. Some designations are considered to fit the animals well, especially the last two on the list.

 

Baboons, however, are loud, cantankerous and obnoxious to those within their group, and viciously aggressive to their own and other species. It is no surprise then that the collective term for their group is a “congress”.

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