Are Politicians More Dangerous to American Democracy than ISIS or Al Qaeda?
America can learn a lot from tribal dynamics. Sebastian Junger says if we wish to be united, we can start by looking at US platoons serving overseas.
Sebastian Junger is the #1 New York Times Bestselling author of THE PERFECT STORM, FIRE, A DEATH IN BELMONT, WAR and TRIBE. As an award-winning journalist, a contributing editor to Vanity Fair and a special correspondent at ABC News, he has covered major international news stories around the world, and has received both a National Magazine Award and a Peabody Award. Junger is also a documentary filmmaker whose debut film "Restrepo", a feature-length documentary (co-directed with Tim Hetherington), was nominated for an Academy Award and won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance.
Sebastian Junger: I think everything we do is a form of tribalism. We’re evolved for that. We’re wired for that. The question is how big do we want our tribe to be? England seems to be saying we want our tribe and at our choice. All right so that’s a point of view I understand. So it’s a legitimate point of view. Equally legitimate is the opposite point of view where there should be a broader pan European tribe as it were to protect itself and reinforce itself in a dangerous world. That’s also tribalism. It’s just a matter of how big you draw the tribe. At its essence, at its core every individual has to decide whether they’re an individual or are they part of a larger group. Are they part of their neighborhood and are they part of their community. Or do they just exist to serve themselves. What England is facing is something that every single human being in the world faces at some level in their lives about their own personal interests versus the interests of their group.
Personally I think that democracy is a messy experiment and there’s a lot of discourse, a lot of conflict, a lot of argument, a lot of debate and a lot of dislike. I mean we’re not required to like each other. I think about the platoon that I was with in combat, the most stressful environment conceivable. There was a log of dislike within the platoon. There were guys who didn’t like each other at all. But the one thing they never did was speak with contempt about one another. They argued, they fought, they disagreed but they respected each other. And you don’t disrespect someone inside the wire as it were. What’s disturbing right now in this country is that there are very, very powerful people – politicians and media leaders who are disrespecting other people inside the wire. They are speaking with real contempt and derision about their president, about aspects of the government, about segments of the population. You just don’t do that. You never know when you’ll need those people for survival, when your life will depend on those people or you’ll be asked to save their lives. You just don’t know.
And the idea that this country can’t overnight be turned into a combat, you know either this country can’t overnight be turned into one huge combat outpost is absurd. We just don’t know what’s going to happen. And so when you have politicians speaking like that it’s not just the messy debate of democracy. It really undermines the basis of our country, the moral basis of our democracy. It’s much more dangerous to our democracy than Isis is or Al-Qaeda is. It also is a good campaign strategy and that’s the tragedy, right. I mean you have politicians who appeal to a kind of tribalism by saying look, it’s us against them and the them are actually other citizens in this country. When you do that you create very, very strong support in your base but it’s the long term consequence that you’re talking about the country as if it’s being split in two. It’s a little like marriage counselors advise, you know, just don’t say the word divorce within your conversations as a couple. That the idea of splitting up is not acceptable and what I would say personally as a citizen to politicians is stop talking about this country as if it’s conceivable that it’s actually two countries. Just don’t do it because you’re starting a very, very dangerous dialogue and you don’t know where it’s going to end.
Well this country is an example of a modern country that has overcome its internal divisions and has existed for over 240 years as a nation. And I mean we’ve had a lot of rocky times and unfair laws and everything else but we’re a nation of 330 million people and we’re still together. The democracies of Europe likewise. I mean it’s not pretty but neither is family life. I mean no one guaranteed you pretty. Do you know what I mean. But it is working and it’s a continual work in progress. What we all have to do I believe is keep reminding each other of our best qualities. An interesting thing about humans is that the worse the situation, the better we act. When you have the flood, the hurricane, the civil war, the blitz in London, whatever it may be, that’s when people will really step up and achieve a kind of loyalty to the common good. A kind of selflessness, kind of blindness to race and politics and religion and everything else that can divide us. And as things get better, as circumstances get better and easier people start to act worse. And I think it’s very, very helpful to remind your fellow citizens and remind yourself that in our very darkest days we all act quite well and that’s what we should aspire to throughout the course of our lives and throughout the course of our democracy.
Tribalism means belonging. It means acting in a way that demonstrates loyalty to and respect for a specific community of people. Sebastian Junger, war reporter and author of Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, equates tribe to country.
Of course, it's also much more than that. Humanity was based on the idea of tribes for thousands of years. Society as we know it evolved from these small groups of 40-50 people, maybe 100-150 people, traveling and working together to ensure survival. Now tribes have grown to the volume and strength of a country, and in some ways, even a continent.
One thing that Junger noticed while he spent a year immersed in a platoon in Afghanistan, filming the Academy-Award nominated documentary Restrepo, was the way men in the platoon behaved. There were approximately 40 men (the same size as a typical tribe – coincidence or not?) and no one inside that group disrespected each other. They could not like each other on a personal level, but at the end of the day, each soldier respected one other.
American democracy right now is quite the opposite. This year is a circus show of politics, with crazy nicknames and trending topics concerning the presidential candidates. There’s little to no respect up on the stages as the candidates slander and berate each other. It pits two halves of a large tribe against each other.
Britain has just retracted from the EU tribe with Brexit, threatening everything from employment, residency, and trade which will echo into the stock market. Political cartoonist Humon (aka Scandinavia and the World) depicted some of the direct results that leaving the EU had on the Union, and why sticking together in tribalism would have been the best thing.
For the tribe of America to hold together, people have to work past the hatred and disrespect of the Other, be it the other political party or another race. The USA has gotten past worse things before, be it Pearl Harbor or the Civil War. It is tribalism that has held the country together, everyone working together with pride singing 'God Bless the U.S.A' by Lee Greenwood. Sebastian Junger reminds us that the best thing people can do to hold countries together is to be good to each other, and remember the only way to get through the downturns of the country, whichever one it is, is with the help of our fellow tribespeople.
Sebastian Junger's book is Tribe.
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It could lead to a massive uptake in those previously hesitant.
A financial shot in the arm could be just what is needed for Americans unsure about vaccination.
On May 12, 2021, the Republican governor of Ohio, Mike DeWine, announced five US$1 million lottery prizes for those who are vaccinated. Meanwhile, in West Virginia, younger citizens are being enticed to get the shot with $100 savings bonds, and a state university in North Carolina is offering students who get vaccinated a chance to win the cost of housing. Many companies are paying vaccinated employees more money through bonuses or extra paid time off.
The push to get as many people vaccinated as possible is laudable and may well work. But leading behavioral scientists are worried that paying people to vaccinate could backfire if it makes people more skeptical of the shots. And ethicists have argued that it would be wrong, citing concerns over fairness and equity.
As a behavioral scientist and ethicist, I draw on an extensive body of research to help answer these questions. It suggests that incentives might work to save lives and, if properly structured, need not trample individual rights or be a huge expense for the government.
In the United States, incentives and disincentives are already used in health care. The U.S. system of privatized health insurance exposes patients to substantial deductibles and copays, not only to cover costs but to cut down on what could be deemed as wasteful health care – the thinking being that putting a cost to an emergency room visit, for example, might deter those who aren't really in need of that level of care.
In practice, this means patients are encouraged to decline both emergency and more routine care, since both are exposed to costs.
Paying for health behaviors
In the case of COVID-19, the vaccines are already free to consumers, which has undoubtedly encouraged people to be immunized. Studies have shown that reducing out-of-pocket costs can improve adherence to life-sustaining drugs, whether to prevent heart attacks or to manage diabetes.
A payment to take a drug goes one step further than simply reducing costs. And if properly designed, such incentives can change health behaviors.
And for vaccination in particular, payments have been successful for human papillomavirus (HPV) in England; hepatitis B in the United States and the United Kingdom; and tetanus toxoid in Nigeria. The effects can be substantial: For example, for one group in the HPV study, the vaccination rate more than doubled with an incentive.
For COVID-19, there are no field studies to date, but several survey experiments, including one my group conducted with 1,000 Americans, find that incentives are likely to work. In our case, the incentive of a tax break was enough to encourage those hesitant about vaccinations to say they would take the shot.
Even if incentives will save lives by increasing vaccinations, there are still other ethical considerations. A key concern is protecting the autonomous choices of people to decide what they put into their own bodies. This may be especially important for the COVID-19 vaccines, which – although authorized as likely safe and effective – are not yet fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
But already people are often paid to participate in clinical trials for drugs that have not yet been approved by the FDA. Ethicists have worried that such payments may be “coercive" if the money is so attractive as to override a person's free choices or make them worse off overall.
One can quibble about whether the term “coercion" applies to offers of payment. But even if offers were coercive, payments may still be reasonable to save lives in a pandemic if they succeed in greater levels of immunization.
During the smallpox epidemic nearly 100 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the power of states to mandate vaccines. Compared with mandating vaccination, the incentives to encourage vaccines seem innocuous.
Exploitation and paternalism
Yet some still worry. Bioethicists Emily Largent and Franklin Miller wrote in a recent paper that a payment might “unfairly" exploit “those U.S. residents who have lost jobs … or slipped into poverty during the pandemic," which could leave them feeling as if they have “no choice but to be vaccinated for cash." Others have noted that vaccine hesitancy is higher in nonwhite communities, where incomes tend to be lower, as is trust in the medical establishment.
Ethicists and policymakers should indeed focus on the poorest members of our community and seek to minimize racial disparities in both health outcomes and wealth. But there is no evidence that offering money is actually detrimental to such populations. Receiving money is a good thing. To suggest that we have to protect adults by denying them offers of money may come across as paternalism.
Some ethicists also argue that the money is better spent elsewhere to increase participation. States could spend the money making sure vaccines are convenient to everyone, for example, by bringing them to community events and churches. Money could also support various efforts to fight misinformation and communicate the importance of getting the shot.
The cost of incentives
Financial incentives could be expensive as a policy solution. As in Ohio, lottery drawings are one way to cap the overall cost of incentives while giving millions of people an additional reason to get their shot.
The tax code could also allow for a no-cost incentive for vaccination. Tax deductions and credits are often designed to encourage behaviors, such as savings or home ownership. Some states now have big budget surpluses and are considering tax relief measures. If a state announced now that such payments would be conditional on being vaccinated, then each person declining the shot would save the government money.
Ultimately, a well-designed vaccination incentive can help save lives and need not keep the ethicists up at night.
Geologists discover a rhythm to major geologic events.
- It appears that Earth has a geologic "pulse," with clusters of major events occurring every 27.5 million years.
- Working with the most accurate dating methods available, the authors of the study constructed a new history of the last 260 million years.
- Exactly why these cycles occur remains unknown, but there are some interesting theories.
Our hearts beat at a resting rate of 60 to 100 beats per minute. Lots of other things pulse, too. The colors we see and the pitches we hear, for example, are due to the different wave frequencies ("pulses") of light and sound waves.
Now, a study in the journal Geoscience Frontiers finds that Earth itself has a pulse, with one "beat" every 27.5 million years. That's the rate at which major geological events have been occurring as far back as geologists can tell.
A planetary calendar has 10 dates in red
Credit: Jagoush / Adobe Stock
According to lead author and geologist Michael Rampino of New York University's Department of Biology, "Many geologists believe that geological events are random over time. But our study provides statistical evidence for a common cycle, suggesting that these geologic events are correlated and not random."
The new study is not the first time that there's been a suggestion of a planetary geologic cycle, but it's only with recent refinements in radioisotopic dating techniques that there's evidence supporting the theory. The authors of the study collected the latest, best dating for 89 known geologic events over the last 260 million years:
- 29 sea level fluctuations
- 12 marine extinctions
- 9 land-based extinctions
- 10 periods of low ocean oxygenation
- 13 gigantic flood basalt volcanic eruptions
- 8 changes in the rate of seafloor spread
- 8 times there were global pulsations in interplate magmatism
The dates provided the scientists a new timetable of Earth's geologic history.
Tick, tick, boom
Credit: New York University
Putting all the events together, the scientists performed a series of statistical analyses that revealed that events tend to cluster around 10 different dates, with peak activity occurring every 27.5 million years. Between the ten busy periods, the number of events dropped sharply, approaching zero.
Perhaps the most fascinating question that remains unanswered for now is exactly why this is happening. The authors of the study suggest two possibilities:
"The correlations and cyclicity seen in the geologic episodes may be entirely a function of global internal Earth dynamics affecting global tectonics and climate, but similar cycles in the Earth's orbit in the Solar System and in the Galaxy might be pacing these events. Whatever the origins of these cyclical episodes, their occurrences support the case for a largely periodic, coordinated, and intermittently catastrophic geologic record, which is quite different from the views held by most geologists."
Assuming the researchers' calculations are at least roughly correct — the authors note that different statistical formulas may result in further refinement of their conclusions — there's no need to worry that we're about to be thumped by another planetary heartbeat. The last occurred some seven million years ago, meaning the next won't happen for about another 20 million years.
The father of all giant sea bugs was recently discovered off the coast of Java.
- A new species of isopod with a resemblance to a certain Sith lord was just discovered.
- It is the first known giant isopod from the Indian Ocean.
- The finding extends the list of giant isopods even further.
Humanity knows surprisingly little about the ocean depths. An often-repeated bit of evidence for this is the fact that humanity has done a better job mapping the surface of Mars than the bottom of the sea. The creatures we find lurking in the watery abyss often surprise even the most dedicated researchers with their unique features and bizarre behavior.
A recent expedition off the coast of Java discovered a new isopod species remarkable for its size and resemblance to Darth Vader.
The ocean depths are home to many creatures that some consider to be unnatural.
According to LiveScience, the Bathynomus genus is sometimes referred to as "Darth Vader of the Seas" because the crustaceans are shaped like the character's menacing helmet. Deemed Bathynomus raksasa ("raksasa" meaning "giant" in Indonesian), this cockroach-like creature can grow to over 30 cm (12 inches). It is one of several known species of giant ocean-going isopod. Like the other members of its order, it has compound eyes, seven body segments, two pairs of antennae, and four sets of jaws.
The incredible size of this species is likely a result of deep-sea gigantism. This is the tendency for creatures that inhabit deeper parts of the ocean to be much larger than closely related species that live in shallower waters. B. raksasa appears to make its home between 950 and 1,260 meters (3,117 and 4,134 ft) below sea level.
Perhaps fittingly for a creature so creepy looking, that is the lower sections of what is commonly called The Twilight Zone, named for the lack of light available at such depths.
It isn't the only giant isopod, far from it. Other species of ocean-going isopod can get up to 50 cm long (20 inches) and also look like they came out of a nightmare. These are the unusual ones, though. Most of the time, isopods stay at much more reasonable sizes.
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During an expedition, there are some animals which you find unexpectedly, while there are others that you hope to find. One of the animal that we hoped to find was a deep sea cockroach affectionately known as Darth Vader Isopod. The staff on our expedition team could not contain their excitement when they finally saw one, holding it triumphantly in the air! #SJADES2018
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What benefit does this find have for science? And is it as evil as it looks?
The discovery of a new species is always a cause for celebration in zoology. That this is the discovery of an animal that inhabits the deeps of the sea, one of the least explored areas humans can get to, is the icing on the cake.
Helen Wong of the National University of Singapore, who co-authored the species' description, explained the importance of the discovery:
"The identification of this new species is an indication of just how little we know about the oceans. There is certainly more for us to explore in terms of biodiversity in the deep sea of our region."
The animal's visual similarity to Darth Vader is a result of its compound eyes and the curious shape of its head. However, given the location of its discovery, the bottom of the remote seas, it may be associated with all manner of horrifically evil Elder Things and Great Old Ones.
Researchers discovered a galactic wind from a supermassive black hole that sheds light on the evolution of galaxies.
- A new study finds the oldest galactic wind yet detected, from 13.1 billion years ago.
- The research confirms the theory that black holes and galaxies evolve together.
- The galactic wind was spotted using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array in Chile.
An enormously powerful galactic wind generated by a supermassive black hole 13.1 billions years ago has been discovered by researchers. The scientists used the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile, which combines 66 radio telescopes, to make the find. The results are published in the Astrophysical Journal.
This is the earliest example of this type of wind yet spotted that underscores the role of black holes in the formation of galaxies. Research has shown that galactic winds affect redistribution of metals around the galaxy and impact start formation.
Black holes and galaxies evolve together
In previous studies, scientists have noticed an unexpected proportional relationship between the mass of a supermassive black hole at the center of a large galaxy, which can grow up to billions of times more massive than the sun, and the mass of the galaxy's central area (known as a "bulge"). The proportionality of the masses is especially unusual considering that galaxies and black holes are so different in size, with the bulge generally being orders of magnitude larger. This led the researchers to conclude that galaxies and black holes developed together through coevolution, which involved some physical interaction courtesy of the galactic wind.
As ALMA's press release explains, a galactic wind starts coming into existence when a supermassive black hole gobbles up giant quantities of matter. It is then moved at such a high speed by the black hole's gravity that it radiates intense energy, which in turn, pushes surrounding matter away, creating the galactic wind.
Takuma Izumi, the paper's lead author and a researcher at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ), says an important question is: "When did galactic winds come into existence in the universe?" Finding this out can lead to understanding how galaxies and supermassive black holes coevolved.
Finding an ancient galactic wind
The researchers used NAOJ's Subaru Telescope to locate over 100 galaxies that existed more than 13 billion years ago that featured supermassive black holes. They then used the high sensitivity of ALMA to analyze the gas motion in these galaxies, finding that the dust and carbon of one of them (dubbed J1243+0100) emitted radio waves. This allowed the scientists to detect the presence of an intense galactic wind that rushes forth from the supermassive black hole at about 1,118,468 miles per hour (500 km/second). The energy of the wind, the oldest found so far, is so strong that it pushes away stellar materials, preventing stars from forming.
Interestingly, the mass of the bulge in J1243+0100 was found to be about 30 billion times larger than that of the sun, while the mass of the galaxy's supermassive black hole was estimated to be about 1 percent of that. This ratio is essentially the same as the mass ratio of black holes to galaxies in today's universe. To the scientists, this demonstrates how essential black holes are in affecting the growth of galaxies, supporting the notion of coevolution from the early period of the universe.
"Our observations support recent high-precision computer simulations which have predicted that coevolutionary relationships were in place even at about 13 billion years ago," explained Izumi.
The scientists are planning to observe a large pool of space objects in the future, with the goal of clarifying "whether or not the primordial coevolution seen in this object is an accurate picture of the general universe at that time," further commented Izumi.