Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Survival of the Stodgiest?

An article appeared in the New Times yesterday that talks about the source of morality being in our genes. (Link to article here)

The article presents the findings of psychologist Dr. Jonathon Haidt who says we are genetically programmed for morality. He identifies five basic components of morality that he believes are common to most cultures, two that favor the rights of the individual--do unto others and fairness--and three that favor the rights and needs of society-- loyalty, respect for authority and purity.

The controversial part of the article deals with how Dr. Haidt assigns political relevance to these two opposing interests. He says that liberals tend to emphasize the rights of individuals and to completely ignore those that affect society, while conservatives value all five areas, but give more importance to the rights of the group. He even goes so far as to say that liberals just don't get these conservative values of loyalty, respect for authority and purity.

"“It is at least possible,” he said, “that conservatives and traditional societies have some moral or sociological insights that secular liberals do not understand.”

Now I must take issue with that.

Liberals and progressives are very much concerned with the needs of the group. They tend to support social programs and laws that are more equitable and that give assistance to people who need it. Conservatives are concerned with traditional values that supposedly favor the group, but only as long as these values also support their need to maintain the status quo, i.e. their own wealth and position.

The problem comes in the way Dr. Haidt defines the "group." His assumptions work only if society is defined as its most socially and economically elite members. His conclusions virtually disregard the needs of the group members who are not as well-heeled or well connected.

His conclusion means that traditional conservative values that promote cohesion are by definition always better for the group and I don't think that's true at all. He completely ignores the fact that the interests and needs of groups are constantly changing. In the long run, supporting values that are different from the status quo might actually contribute to the health of the society.

Conservative values deplore homosexuality, but how does ostracizing and denouncing this segment of the population contribute to the society's overall well-being? Perhaps at one time it was an evolutionary imperative to encourage people to reproduce, but in these days of overpopulation, casting out a segment of the population because of its sexuality is harmful. Demonizing a segment of the population and encouraging bigotry generally has a negative effect on the morality of a society.

When America was first founded, slavery was good for it economically. Keeping fellow humans in bondage allowed the country to prosper at a time when free labor was in short supply. Therefore, every conservative entity rose to its defense. The clergy found passages in the Bible that proved that slavery was morally righteous and the scientific community rushed to show how slavery demonstrated "survival of the fittest." It wasn't until slavery became a drag on the economy that these same conservative entities saw the error of their ways and slavery was finally discarded once and for all.

Today, the New York Times ran an article about the genital cutting of little girls in Egypt, a practice which Dr. Haidt would no doubt define as an action designed to preserve the purity of the society. Is it really beneficial to this society to allow the mutilation of half of its citizens? Or would it be more beneficial to this group (not to mention its individual little girls) to discard its medieval value system, join the rest of the world community and adopt a more compassionate and liberal value system?

I don't believe the tension Dr. Haidt has recognized is really between traditional values that favor the group and progressive values that favor the individual. The tension he's recognized is between the elite of a society trying to maintain the status quo and the need of societies to discard traditional values that have become outdated and no longer viable. New or progressive values that favor the individual are not always better for a society, but neither are conservative ones.

Democratic societies at least, fare better when there is give and take between old and new ideas, between liberal and conservative, traditional and progressive, between the needs of the individual and the needs of the group. Only when we achieve some sort of balance between all these opposing forces can both individuals and societies thrive.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

It's hard to believe I haven't updated this crazy blog since May. The last time I wrote, it was Memorial Day and now we just had Labor Day. The entire summer has gone by.

Last time I wrote, I was recovering from surgery and off of work for 6 weeks. Since then I:

went to Las Vegas with my husband
worked freelance for the new David Duchovny show, Californication
got a new toilet
returned to my regular job
edited like crazy on Book 3 of my novel
spent the 4th of July in Tarzana with our friends
had my house painted, inside and out
wrote a poem
joined a bunch of on-line writing and reading forums that I don't have time for
wrote a short story and entered it in a contest at
entered the TV show I'm working on in the Sundance Film Festival
read three and a half novels
bought a new battery, tires and radiator for my car
found out my dog, Shadow, might have cancer
spent Labor Day in Palos Verdes with our other friends

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

What I'm Reading Now

Here's a list of the books stacked on my nightstand. It's pretty eclectic...

The Art of Dramatic Writing by Lajos Egri -- I got this book for a college class and never got around to reading it. (I don't even remember which class any more. ) Now that I'm home recuperating, I finally have the time. It's about writing plays but the principles apply to any kind of storytelling.

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton -- I'm trying to catch up on the classics. I'm also half way through Tom Jones by Henry Fielding. I'll get back to that one some day.

The Dark Tower II: The Drawing of the Three by Stephen King -- I've never read much Stephen King because I don't like horror but then I read his book on writing, On Writing and fell in love. I like his imagination and his down to earth style. If any guy knows how to tell a story, it's Stephen. This is book 2 of his huge fantasy series.

Dynamite on a China Plate by Jay Leeming -- This is a book of poetry with lots of great imagery. "A woman's lips are like dynamite, they can blow a house right off its foundations." I'm hoping some of the poet's craft will rub off on my writing.

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin -- This is a great book about Lincoln and really makes you long for the day when politicians were expected to act in the public interest, not just their own.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

55 Fiction

My 55-word fiction story, "The Broken Vase," was posted over the weekend on the Check it out at

Thanks, Cory.

Mining the Pain

My recovery after surgery is going pretty well. Yesterday I took a sponge bath and washed my hair in the kitchen sink, then my husband took me shopping, the first I'd left the house in two weeks. Afterwards, we went out to dinner with our friend Larry. I think I'll be back to normal very soon.

This is my first day here on my own. My mom was in town for the last few weeks taking care of me but she went over the weekend and the rest of my family went back to work and school today. I'm here all by myself with lots of time to waste or use as I see fit. Being home in the middle of the day is a novel experience for someone who normally works full time.

I spent the day writing a women's health article about my experiences. Heck, if you can't mine your pain for a story, what good is it?

The article's five pages long and needs more research and a little polish, but it's almost finished. I usually write fiction so I'm pretty pleased that I was able to get it down so quickly. Maybe it's the beginning of my freelance writing career. Non-fiction is more marketable than fiction.

My plan is to finish it and try to sell to a women's magazine. If that doesn't work, I'll try an on-line publisher and if that doesn't work, I'll publish it here. One way or another, my article will be published.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Return of the Blogger

After a short delay, I'm back in action.

I had surgery a week and a half ago. Nothing life-threatening, but serious enough to waylay me for a few weeks.

Having an operation is an interesting experience: "Here you go, Mrs. Holm. Lay on this table while we cut you open and rearrange your insides." It's very weird.

Because of a string of complications in my life I'd put the surgery off for the last eight months. Anticipating the event was much worse than enduring the actual process. When it came down to it, the pain wasn't as hard to take as I thought it would be. Of course, I had the good old pain pills to help me get through it.

I took my dog for a short walk today. Hopefully, it won't be long before I'm able to go hiking in Wildwood Canyon and taking boxing classes at the gym.

The good news is I'll be off of work for the next few weeks and that means I'll actually have time to work on this blog.

Here's to posting everyday...

Thursday, April 26, 2007

American Cynics

The cynics will tell you that everybody has a price, that every politician is a crook and nothing matters anyway because the human race is doomed to destroy itself in some horrible cataclysmic explosion and its only a matter of time.

Looking around, it's hard to believe that at one time Americans were the most optimistic, forward-looking of people. These days we go down without a fight and no one believes tomorrow will be better than today.

The current administration deserves a lot of the blame for that.

They've given us the Iraq war, Abu Ghraib , the Guantánamo Bay detention camp and the Patriot Act. They've taught us the beauty of torture, the joy of privacy invasion and election stealing. They've committed a string of outrages, lied, straight-faced over and over again and made manipulation of public opinion into an art form and yet the American public barely has the energy to stir itself to murmur a protest. "What's the use?" we tell ourselves. "They're all the same."

I resent that with their callous, self-serving manipulation, they've taken away our ability to hope.

American cynics who buy into their me-first, take no prisoners and give no quarter view of the world think they're being smart and realistic. They deal with the cold hard facts in a cold hard world, replete with terrorism and globalization. If you're an idealist, the cynics say, you're nothing but a self-deluded dreamer, out of touch with reality.

But that's exactly what they want you to think.

If you think the world is a lost cause, you won't stand up against injustice or fight for impossible ideals like health care or quality public education for everyone. You'll turn a blind eye when they pass self-serving legislation or hand out government contracts to their cronies.
Cynics give lip service to lofty concepts like freedom and justice but they don't believe they actually exist. To a cynic, free speech or equal opportunity are just empty meaningless phrases.

It's easy to give up and give in to despair. It's much harder to look for good in people, to believe that difficult problems can be solved and to accept that, while there are lots of selfish, corrupt people in the world, there are far more who care about fairness and tolerance and lofty way-out-there ideas like the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Out of Time

If I could add an hour here or there and jam a just a little more time into this overflowing day, there are quite a few things I would like to accomplish. For instance, I would read. There are many, many books I want to read, stacked on my nightstand, crammed in my bookcase, stashed in boxes and bags in my closet. I wish I could absorb them in an instant and with a blink of my eye, carry them in my brain. I don't have the time to consume them slowly, one word at a time, savoring each plot twist and turn of the phrase, the way a book is meant to be.

With a little more time I'd write my autobiography. Or I'd arrange the family photos into chronological order and paste them into scrapbook albums. I'd get around to filling out the baby books, now that the children are halfway through college.

I would call the friends who I mean to keep in touch with but never do, the ones waiting futilely to hear from me until I suppose they probably give up and move on with their lives.

There are family members who I once was close to who have turned into strangers, babies who have started kindergarten and made it through most of grade school before I've had a chance to meet them.

Life just keeps churning on while I'm mired in the mundane challenges of daily life and the important things, the meaningful things, fall by the way side. I'm just doing the dishes, paying the electric bill and trying to drag myself through another morning rush hour.

Friday, April 20, 2007


I have to admit I found the photos of the man responsible for the tragedy at Virginia Tech very disturbing. It was just too horrible to look at that bland face and those cold, dead eyes and to see him handling that gun like he thinks he's some kind of action movie hero. And of course you can't help but realize that that image was the last thing so many beautiful, innocent young people saw--it's just too awful. It scares me to think how many people looking at those photos are getting some kind of ghoulish thrill out of them.

It's even more disturbing is to listen the dialogue that has since ensued concerning gun control--the kind of dialogue you expect to hear after a tragedy like this-and to hear the rhetoric from gun shop owners and the NRA fanatics, who say this tragedy wouldn't have happened if more people had guns. Huh? So then I guess their vision of a Utopian society is where everybody's packing (legally, course) and anyone can just pull out a piece and shoot the bad guys whenever necessary. And gun battles in the streets are supposed to feel make us safer? Kind of blows your mind.

But the most disturbing thing of all is that after two days of looking at those sick photos, they don't frighten me nearly as much any more. It's scary how quickly you can get used to unspeakable horror.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Day 2-The Blogging Goes On

Time to blog. It's tough to come up with a subject to write about every day. I discovered this when I wrote a humor column for my college newspaper. The first few were easy, but then the pressure was on and it was a struggle coming up with interesting, funny topics that would entertain and inform. I eventually stooped to writing rants about the crummy food in the school cafeteria. Let's hope it's easier this time.

I've been writing the same novel for a very long time--11 years--no one can say I don't stick with a project once I start it. It's a very long novel, but it should never have taken me this long. Life is always getting in the way--work, family, American Idol. And, of course, this blog is a very good way to procrastinate.

My novel is a fantasy novel. (Think Lord of the Rings with a girl as the main character and no elves or hobbits.) I like writing fantasy because I like stories that involve imagination, that ask the question, "what if?" Basically I'm just a big daydreamer. Fantasy and science fiction stories are great because they allow you to explore serious topics outside of the bounds of reality and without preconceived notions about how about something is supposed to work.

I already told you I love history. Writing fantasy is like creating my own history.

Friday, April 13, 2007


This is the inaugural voyage of my blog. I've never blogged before so I suppose I will have to start slow. I don't know what this blog will be about or what I really want to say. Right now, this is a voyage of discovery. I hope that you will join me as I try put words to feelings and feelings to words.

I am a writer--or at least that's what I hope it will say on my business cards one day--but life has been too crazy lately--my dad passed away last month--I have to go into the hospital for an operation in the next few weeks--so I haven't been writing at all. I'm very rusty and this blog is my way of stretching those writing muscles again. I hope it will help me find my voice.

My other interests are current events and history. I would like this blog to be a running commentary on modern life, with all of its pitfalls and pratfalls. I'd like it to be a reflection of how events of the past influence where we are today.

Perhaps this is too ambitious and all-encompassing. If it is, I may have to split off and create other blogs. I'm very excited. It's been a long time since I allowed myself any free flow creativity.

My Eureka moment: The other day I came to the realization that I should never be afraid to write the truth--even if its painful or embarrassing. Writers must hold up a mirror, even if people gazing into it don't like what they see. I've always known this but I've never before felt it on a visceral level.

Thanks for reading this.

Catch Phrases:

"Stories, like conjuring tricks, are invented because history is inadequate to our dreams."
From"Eisenheim the Illusionist" by Steven Milhauser

"...Come, I will teach you the death of roses, the emptiness of orgasms in sun-flooded loveless rooms."
From "A Game of Clue" by Steven Milhauser