On Politics (I need your feedback)

The past three days I’ve gotten in two political arguments with folks who I perceive as creating rifts in the political process and slowing things down. The first was with Karl Rove and a Karl Rove supporter. The second was with an old classmate from film school who was protesting our treatment of George Bush and Barack Obama.


His exact words are as follows:

When terrorists killed thousands and we fought back, you said “murderer.” When the idiot took over the banks and auto companies, wants to eliminate term limits, takes Palistine’s side, kissed our enemies’ feet, and wants to “just talk” to our long time nemesis, you still call him hero. WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH OUR FREAKING COUNTRY?!?!?!

I am really fed up with our inability to broach issues. What follows is my first attempt at a piece of writing on this issue. It was written quickly and is a quick edit of something I wrote re-actively as a response in an email, and because of this it seems rough and incomplete. I’d love your feedback and thoughts on this issue to help clarify this important issue.

Before I get too deeply into this, I want to be clear: no party gets what I’m about to say right. I’m engaging you because I hope to sway your opinion one-on-one, not because I’m claiming liberals or conservatives are any better at the course of action I’m suggesting. Our political system is very broken, and people on both sides of the aisle are responsible. I’m hoping that some of us can adopt civility and use our example to influence others, and eventually, to influence the system.

The claims that I’ve seen made from political pundits and journalists grate on me daily. Few if any of their points is intended to be a critique of a policy decision that describes why the decision was wrong, they are all one liners that offer no real analysis of any action, but serve to sound very bad and make people fearful. Here’s how a message could be packaged in a way that creates opportunity for discussion:

“Obama is pushing the agenda of meeting with Iran without preconditions. Opening lines of communication like this legitimizes a brutal regime that hates us, as the only superpower in the world our vote of legitimacy is an important one and we should be more careful about how we use it — offering to meet Iran without trying to use the value of that meeting to force them to make changes is a mistake.”

I would probably rebut that, as I believe openness offers far more power in the decentralized world that has evolved over the past two decades, but at least I can respect the viewpoint put forth — and discuss it rationally. If a pundit were to defend their viewpoint, whatever it is, with that level of detail I can rationally evaluate it and decide if it offers anything.

This is hard to do, because it makes us vulnerable. Complex, well thought out ideas that resound with many people on different levels can be retorted with pithy one-liners that inspire a frothy response from a core group. In those situations it often feels like the complex thought loses — but in reality that thought has contributed to a better conversation, better information for decision making and a move towards slowly bridging gaps and potentially widening it’s proponent’s appeal.

Complex, well-defined plans should not be the types of propositions our system punishes, and if more of us on both sides start to value discussion over rallying behind sound bites, we can marginalize those who cling to the us vs. them mentality. This can’t come from one party, it’s got to be a widespread effort.

What most pundits discuss serves one purpose: To anger people who align opposite them and rally people who align with them. Most of the folks that defend these actions and follow their lead, don’t do this purposefully, but are reacting to feeling marginalized politically. It’s an understandable emotion to be annoyed, fearful, and angry when people in power share very different goals or beliefs than you. Lashing out in that situation is common and comforting. It isn’t effective though, as it only increases the rift between the groups. Emotions have no place in politics, it is a complex world that is built upon compromises, and compromises require rational thinking.

I have faith that many of us are equipped mentally, spiritually, and physically to recognize that our initial reaction isn’t always constructive and because I believe us to be capable of that, I hope that we’ll engage in more meaningful ways.

If dividing citizens and encouraging them to fight with and ignore each other is your goal — we must marginalize you.

What do you think?

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New fossils suggest human ancestors evolved in Europe, not Africa

Experts argue the jaws of an ancient European ape reveal a key human ancestor.

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  • The jaw bones of an 8-million-year-old ape were discovered at Nikiti, Greece, in the '90s.
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Homo sapiens have been on earth for 200,000 years — give or take a few ten-thousand-year stretches. Much of that time is shrouded in the fog of prehistory. What we do know has been pieced together by deciphering the fossil record through the principles of evolutionary theory. Yet new discoveries contain the potential to refashion that knowledge and lead scientists to new, previously unconsidered conclusions.

A set of 8-million-year-old teeth may have done just that. Researchers recently inspected the upper and lower jaw of an ancient European ape. Their conclusions suggest that humanity's forebearers may have arisen in Europe before migrating to Africa, potentially upending a scientific consensus that has stood since Darwin's day.

Rethinking humanity's origin story

The frontispiece of Thomas Huxley's Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (1863) sketched by natural history artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

As reported in New Scientist, the 8- to 9-million-year-old hominin jaw bones were found at Nikiti, northern Greece, in the '90s. Scientists originally pegged the chompers as belonging to a member of Ouranopithecus, an genus of extinct Eurasian ape.

David Begun, an anthropologist at the University of Toronto, and his team recently reexamined the jaw bones. They argue that the original identification was incorrect. Based on the fossil's hominin-like canines and premolar roots, they identify that the ape belongs to a previously unknown proto-hominin.

The researchers hypothesize that these proto-hominins were the evolutionary ancestors of another European great ape Graecopithecus, which the same team tentatively identified as an early hominin in 2017. Graecopithecus lived in south-east Europe 7.2 million years ago. If the premise is correct, these hominins would have migrated to Africa 7 million years ago, after undergoing much of their evolutionary development in Europe.

Begun points out that south-east Europe was once occupied by the ancestors of animals like the giraffe and rhino, too. "It's widely agreed that this was the found fauna of most of what we see in Africa today," he told New Scientists. "If the antelopes and giraffes could get into Africa 7 million years ago, why not the apes?"

He recently outlined this idea at a conference of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.

It's worth noting that Begun has made similar hypotheses before. Writing for the Journal of Human Evolution in 2002, Begun and Elmar Heizmann of the Natural history Museum of Stuttgart discussed a great ape fossil found in Germany that they argued could be the ancestor (broadly speaking) of all living great apes and humans.

"Found in Germany 20 years ago, this specimen is about 16.5 million years old, some 1.5 million years older than similar species from East Africa," Begun said in a statement then. "It suggests that the great ape and human lineage first appeared in Eurasia and not Africa."

Migrating out of Africa

In the Descent of Man, Charles Darwin proposed that hominins descended out of Africa. Considering the relatively few fossils available at the time, it is a testament to Darwin's astuteness that his hypothesis remains the leading theory.

Since Darwin's time, we have unearthed many more fossils and discovered new evidence in genetics. As such, our African-origin story has undergone many updates and revisions since 1871. Today, it has splintered into two theories: the "out of Africa" theory and the "multi-regional" theory.

The out of Africa theory suggests that the cradle of all humanity was Africa. Homo sapiens evolved exclusively and recently on that continent. At some point in prehistory, our ancestors migrated from Africa to Eurasia and replaced other subspecies of the genus Homo, such as Neanderthals. This is the dominant theory among scientists, and current evidence seems to support it best — though, say that in some circles and be prepared for a late-night debate that goes well past last call.

The multi-regional theory suggests that humans evolved in parallel across various regions. According to this model, the hominins Homo erectus left Africa to settle across Eurasia and (maybe) Australia. These disparate populations eventually evolved into modern humans thanks to a helping dollop of gene flow.

Of course, there are the broad strokes of very nuanced models, and we're leaving a lot of discussion out. There is, for example, a debate as to whether African Homo erectus fossils should be considered alongside Asian ones or should be labeled as a different subspecies, Homo ergaster.

Proponents of the out-of-Africa model aren't sure whether non-African humans descended from a single migration out of Africa or at least two major waves of migration followed by a lot of interbreeding.

Did we head east or south of Eden?

Not all anthropologists agree with Begun and his team's conclusions. As noted by New Scientist, it is possible that the Nikiti ape is not related to hominins at all. It may have evolved similar features independently, developing teeth to eat similar foods or chew in a similar manner as early hominins.

Ultimately, Nikiti ape alone doesn't offer enough evidence to upend the out of Africa model, which is supported by a more robust fossil record and DNA evidence. But additional evidence may be uncovered to lend further credence to Begun's hypothesis or lead us to yet unconsidered ideas about humanity's evolution.