Year of Grace, Day 81. From rightminding to the naming of cats

Curious isn’t it, how a book can take you on a journey of ideas, the endpoint of which may have little or nothing to do with the starting point? This morning’s journey began with an idea generated by a science fiction book and ended with thoughts on social and economic development. I hope you will join me, as the path has aspects of relevance to our non-fictional world.

Elizabeth Bear introduces the concept of “rightminding” in her book, Grail. Total ecosystem collapse on Earth has led survivors to establish a society in another planet where “rightminding” is a requisite for harmonious and peaceful living. Those who have not undergone the process of rightminding — unrightminded people — are described as “one percent psychopaths and thirty percent sophipaths, leading to societies that uphold untenable ideologies. The unrightminded’s pathological brains do not accept evidence contradictory to their dogma. The more people argue with them, the more the unrightminded defend their ideology, and compromise is never an option (paraphrased from Grail, page 29).  [T]hink of [sociopaths] as small children, without impulse control, any understanding of the subjectivity of emotion, or the ability to compromise” (Grail, page 29). …” [M]any of these [unrightminded] people… suffered from temporal lobe malfunctions causing fanaticism and ideopathy….” (Grail, page 30).

All of these references to temporal lobe malfunction and its effects on behaviour and thought were fascinating. Thanks to the internet, I got linked to Alexander R. Luria, a Russian-Jewish medical doctor and neuroscientist who researched thought processes from the 1920s to the 70s. Onwards to Walter J. Ong, a Jesuit cognitive linguist, on the profound differences in thought processes between literate and non-literate people, and the consequent effects on education and economic development.

What struck me – an advocate for sustainable development – at the end of this morning’s journey of ideas, is that introducing the concept of sustainable development to less-developed societies (most of whose members have only rudimentary education) is not a straightforward issue of substituting one type of economic activity for another — say, growing cash crops instead of traditional subsistence crops. Transforming a subsistence-based economy means transforming the cognitive processes – the ways of thinking – of the entire society.

And that is my one serious thought, my take-home message, of the day. Whether it is valid is up to discussion (and I would appreciate comments) and further investigation of why some societies have made the successful transition to sustainable development and thriving economies, and why some, such as the Philippines, my birth country, have stumbled along the way, despite a promising beginning. For this morning’s musings and fascinating journey, I thank Elizabeth Bear, Alexander R. Luria, and Walter J. Ong.

To tip the balance, I leave you with something fun and playful from The Naming of Cats, by T.S. Eliot

When you notice a cat in profound meditation,

The reason, I tell you, is always the same:

His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation

Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:

His ineffable effable


Deep and inscrutable singular Name.

Dear, dear Morgaine le Fay, otherwise known as Morgie — very much missed.


2 thoughts on “Year of Grace, Day 81. From rightminding to the naming of cats

  1. Sustainable development is an important issue. It is something that my mother supported. I remember translating her Japanese speech into English and she advocated partial organic farming versus pure organic farming and laid out evidence that pure organic farming would result in famine and deaths. According to her, it just isn’t feasible to implement 100% organic farming and support the current population of the world. She cited statistics showing how certain areas of Japan were hit by famine every ** years (sorry I don’t remember the number), until nitrogen based fertilizers which are demonized these days were introduced. This is when the famine stopped.
    I looked into nitrogen based fertilizers myself years later when I was doing work for the tobacco industry and research indicated that if used correctly, nitrogen fertilizers were not carcinogenic, but if used ignorantly, there would be residual nitrogen in the plant in the form of nitrosamines and this is carcinogenic.
    Basically, it’s very important to understand how the fertilizers should be used and to ensure that enough time has passed between giving the plant this fertilizer and leaving enough time between this and delivering the produce to the consumer, so that the nitrosamines are no longer present. Anyway it’s a difficult topic to discuss sanely with anyone, as organic farming is a kind of religion to many.
    I hope your day has been pleasant. I’ve heard it’s been raining a lot in certain parts of Germany…


    • Education in proper nitrogen use has never filtered down to the smallholder farmer, unfortunately. What used to be such rich soil in my grandmother’s farms (I remember it being as dark as chocolate cake and as soft) is unfortunately now inert grey dust — all the microbiota in it killed by profligate nitrogen use. There are no extension services far from the main universities and agrochemical salespeople aggressively push fertilizers and pesticides without giving proper instruction. Year on year of course farmers’ yields decrease under these poor soil conditions, and the poor farmer unknowingly increases nitrogen input, to no avail. It will take years to restore the original fertility. Water buffaloes and other draught animals that once contributed to soil fertility as well have disappeared. More than ever, it’s education about the soil and proper care of it that is sorely needed.


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