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There's meaning in why we are "meaner"

Roslyn Ross, self-made social philosopher with no fear of controversy, has recently become familiar to Webdiarists with Sometimes rules were made to be broken, Time to ‘tell it like it is’ for the sake of Aboriginal culture and Is religious belief ever 'child abuse'? Here she explores the relationship between happiness and affluence.

by Roslyn Ross

While Australians may feel they are richer there’s new evidence, and perhaps a salutary reminder that money does not necessarily bring happiness. Despite feeling better off financially, it seems we are not relaxed and neither are we comfortable.

Most of us think the economy is in good shape and we are better off financially but we also think we have become a ‘meaner’ and ‘less fair’ society. And 55 percent of us see John Howard as a divisive figure, not as a unifying one. Australia’s role in the war in Iraq was by far the most commonly named ‘worst thing’ Howard had done. This was followed by criticism that he was too close to George Bush and people were deeply concerned about his industrial relations legislation.

We are in ‘two minds’ about what is happening to our country. Over the same time that we have gotten ‘wealthier’ we have been developing something of a split personality.

Not that it is surprising. We live in a world where there are fewer comfortable ‘probabilities’ and more frightening ‘possibilities.’ And the paradoxical feat of holding two conflicting beliefs at one and the same time is an innate human capacity and one that has often ensured our survival.

As we reach the tenth anniversary of the Howard Government, polls show that Australians have become more liberal in their beliefs and more conservative with their votes and have reached a somewhat Faustian pact where they can justify supporting a government that in the main they dislike.

While continuing to hold to the rightness of the ‘hip-pocket’ vote most Australians are prepared to admit that we are ‘harsher’ as a society and that the Howard Government has failed us in terms of health, education, the environment, job security and integrity.

At a symposium held this month on A Decade of Howard Government, Gabrielle Meagher of The University of Sydney and Shaun Wilson from Macquarie University said that while a ‘conservative wind’ had blown across Australia, public opinion had in fact become more liberal and was at odds with the Howard agenda of family values, small government, Christian morals, the virtues of free enterprise and self-reliance, monarchism, pro-Americanism and his blokey version of Australian nationalism.

More than half of all Australians under 50 now believe a same-sex couple with children is a family; support for traditional gender roles has fallen dramatically in recent decades; opposition to working mothers is now a minority view. They went on to say that beyond the state of the economy the divisions between the Government and public opinion on things like industrial relations reform, privatisation, immigration, working women and smaller government were substantial.

Other polls show that privatisation has little support; a majority of Australians prefer public ownership for Telstra, electricity, public transport, Australia Post and prisons; and support for income tax cuts over increased spending for social services has fallen steadily.

In short, say the pollsters, the public is prepared to endorse the Government’s economic management in general but wherever conservative ideology appears to be shaping economic policy, public support falls away.

In simple terms it seems we don’t really like John Howard and we don’t like a lot of the things his government has done and the sort of society we have become because of it, but we feel justified in voting for him. While the conflicting positions might not seem to make sense, be assured that they do, at a deeper level. As with all things, here too there are pragmatic, even sensible, albeit instinctive, reasons for our actions.

It is said that the true value of a paradox is that it forces us to think ‘outside of the box’ and pushes us toward possibilities which reach further than mere ‘true and false’ in logic or ‘right and wrong’ in morality.

Beyond the definitions ascribed; being something that cannot be true but equally cannot be false; a seemingly contradictory statement that may nonetheless be true; something exhibiting inexplicable or contradictory aspects; an assertion that is essentially self-contradictory, though based on a valid deduction from acceptable premises or a statement contrary to received opinion, the paradox points the way to greater understanding of the WHY (the reasons behind our decisions) in the WHAT (the actions we take as a result of our reasoning, both consciously and unconsciously).

The simplest explanation is that our world has changed and that has changed us. There was a time when life was less complex and more secure, or at least the ‘illusion of certainty’ was less frequently challenged.

There were basic fundamentals which underpinned our society in the ‘old days.’ You grew up, you got a job, if you worked diligently it gave you reasonable security until retirement; you got married and built a house or bought a home, sometimes with Government assistance and you could be fairly sure that you would be able to pay it off before your working days came to an end; if you got into trouble there was a solid safety net to catch you; public education, health, transport and welfare systems all gave a high level of support; and when you retired there was a pension on which you could live. There was a lot of psychological ‘breathing space’ and a fairly predictable pattern to day to day life and possible futures.

Not anymore. The past decade, despite the perceptions of many that they are ‘better off financially,’ has seen a rapidly escalating erosion of certainties and an increase in possible fearful futures. There has been a loss of faith in the various institutions of society for a start. When politicians, the clergy, journalists, teachers, lawyers and judges are regarded with less public esteem than used car salesmen it makes for a society which no longer feels safe.

The GST has pushed up costs on everything and privatisation has seen costs rise on the most basic utilities like power and water. On top of this has come an escalation in marriage breakup, a lowering of job security, a dramatic increase in house prices which threatens the great Australian dream of home ownership and a skyrocketing of household debt. People may feel they are better off financially but a lot of it is ‘on paper’ and many live so close to the bone that any increase in interest rates will push them over the line. To make things worse, now we are expected to fund our own retirement.

There’s no denying that the economic growth of the past fifteen years, albeit one mired in debt and consumption, has expanded the wealth pie and many people have experienced an increased standard of living. But all too often it has been at the cost of stressful and unrewarding jobs, and at times unsafe ones, enforced overtime, double shifts and less hours for family and leisure.

According to the Australian Centre for Industrial Relations Research and Training, 60 percent of Australians feel that their lives are a lot less secure than ten years ago; 30 percent of males are working more than 50 hours a week and more than half of them wish they could work less. Some 1.2 million workers in Australia feel they have to do unpaid overtime, a figure that can only grow under the new IR legislation.

And women have also been losing out with 70 percent of part-time jobs done by women and 45 percent of the jobs women do being held on a part time basis, up from 36.5 percent in 1986. The gap between men’s and women’s wages is widening. In the two years to May 2002 women’s wages increased by $33 as against $58 for men. Twenty years ago full-time pay for women was 86 percent of the male wage; now it is 81 percent.

When it comes to hearth and home there is even more for Australians to worry about. It’s good when house prices go up but only if you are already in the market and you are sensible enough not to borrow too much against your home. These days, young families buying their first home, if they can afford to, will require both parents working fulltime with children in childcare. In addition families are burdened with sky high debt levels and repayments which take an onerous percentage of their income with the inevitable associated stress and family breakdown.

The Sydney property market has become so expensive that most young couples will never pay off their mortgage within their lifetime.

It’s a situation which brings to mind the Japanese solution to rising real-estate costs: multi-generational mortgages! Housing affordability in many places has plunged to the same level as during the recession, with high prices now matching the crippling 17 percent interest rates of the late 1980’s. In Sydney, house prices are now nine times household income, creating a generation priced out of the Australian dream. Minimum monthly mortgage payments in Sydney account for 37 percent of household income in comparison with Melbourne, Brisbane and Canberra at 29 percent, Perth at 25 percent and Adelaide at 22 percent. And while Sydney may be the hardest hit, house prices have risen dramatically across the country.

The warnings come as Reserve Bank chief, Ian Macfarlane, says the next move in interest rates will be up. For those with no economic ‘wriggle room’, and there are many of them, the fear just intensifies. At the same time we went on a spending binge last December, racking up a record $16,8 million on credit and debit cards. This was over $900 million more than in November and some $24million above the previous December.

Where once there were some guarantees, now there are none. All of which creates a climate ripe for political conservatism arising out of fear. Not only is that perfectly natural it is almost a given.

In Darwinian terms caution and a tendency toward anxiety are highly adaptive traits when it comes to survival. For most of the time that our version of human beings have been around it has made extremely good sense to be fearful, timid and cautious. The gene pool we see today is only here because our ancestors were prudent. The risk-takers were less successful at the survival game than were the pragmatists and worriers.

What we have been ‘hardwired’ for as Jonathan Haidt, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginian puts it in his book, The Happiness Hypothesis, is a instinct that ‘bad is stronger than good’ and this makes for an important principle of design by evolution.

It’s another reason why despite being better off financially people don’t necessarily feel better off in general. There’s some truth to the adage: ‘Money can’t buy happiness.’

Haidt goes on to say that ‘responses to threats and unpleasantness are faster, stronger, and harder to inhibit than responses to opportunities and pleasures.’ In physiological terms our brains are set up so that most sense data passes through the amygdale which helps control our fight-or-flight response, before it is processed by other parts of the cerebral cortex. In short this means we are frightened before we know we are frightened. The brain is continually filtering out millions of bits of information and the unconscious mind responds to stimulus before the conscious mind does.

Nerve cells work electrically and EEG’s show that electrical activity precedes physical acts by about a second before the brain processes them at the conscious level. You, in essence are the last person to know what you are ‘thinking’ and feeling because the subconscious and unconscious minds function at levels of feeling and image as well as thought. Our ‘instincts’ are often the driver for what we think and how we act and while that can be positive, it can also be negative. The visceral response always benefits from the application of reason and that is why it is so important to understand why we think what we think and why we do what we do.

In Happiness: A History, by Darrin McMahon, a historian at Florida State University, research shows that while the simplest kind of unhappiness is that caused by lack of money, the effect of increased wealth cuts off at a surprisingly low figure. Even for those once living in poverty, as the British economist Richard Layard wrote, the figure is around $US15,000.

The Japanese are six times as rich as they were in 1950 and they aren’t any happier and neither are Americans who are twice as rich as they were in the 1970’s. Across the world it seems clear that instead of getting happier as they become better off people become more frightened. Expectations are raised at the same pace as incomes and happiness is always just a little out of reach.

When you combine this with the often unacknowledged reality of vulnerability due to personal debt, it is not surprising that people feel insecure and that the instinctive response to be cautious and timid kicks in. The reality is that for most of our genetic history life was, in the words of the classicist Thomas Hobbes, ‘nasty, brutish and short,’ and that ‘memory’ remains with us, even here in the developed world, albeit just below consciousness.

That’s why there’s no point in apportioning blame, or in just feeling bad because we have become a meaner, less fair society. What we need is to understand why we have become as we are, and in the doing, understand what it is we truly fear. Only from that point can we ascertain how well our fears are grounded in reason, and only then can we act consciously to allay those fears and work to create a more generous-spirited society and the kind of Australia of which we can be proud.

Having spent more than a decade living in various Third World countries I have a heightened appreciation for all that we have and as a result, for how little one truly needs.

Even as we respond instinctively to what we fear and what we feel and what we think, and seek to understand why we do what we do, we need also to look around and see just how much we have.

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What are we?

I feel like a "no-flag national" when I say "Hi". After all, the loss of our identity is not far away. Can we muster up the courage of the New Zealanders and stand on our own two feet against the patronising control of the United States of America? Does our future really depend on an FTA which is a variable "Agreement" advantageous  to them with our "sell out" Howard Government?

I was shocked when Bob Hawke suggested that we should consider "burying" the World's Atomic waste.  I was equally offended that the Howard Government was doing a "Menzies" and selling our Uranium at a minimum price. I was surprised at the revelation in the Independent Media that the intended use of our most valuable asset was already organised some years ago with the South Australian and West Australian Labor Governments to convey those assets, by rail, to be distributed to (I believe) those Countries who meet the US  - not the UN - criteria of a "safe or subjective nation". I hope that I am wrong but, at least Margo's forum has given me the opportunity to think.

Roslyn Ross.

I consider Roslyn's article compassionate and indicative of a person who wants to believe that things are really better than they are. The Hollywood system was to convince the wide community that "being poor is not a problem, in fact it is to be admired". I believe that the powers that be have developed a method over the last century, which is intended to convince people that being poor is natural and, if you want to improve on that situation, the Corporations will help you provided that you meet their criteria.

While we dice with issues which do not "big picture" in any meaningful way the stresses we face in this country, the people who really govern our nation are making the Americanisms of "spin" and negative politics an art form.

For many years our forebears maintained the Westmister system of government which had a history consistent with the spirit of the Magna Carta. We have not learned much from that highlight in our history. No matter what the media promulgates we have to think for ourselves and hopefully, recognise the "not informed"; "not accountable"; "not responsible"  decade of the Howard Government is unacceptable. This is a Government of depraved indifference - a government "of the people, by the Corporations, for the Corporations."

Let us hope that the isolated and dignified opposition like Margo Kingston's legacy of this forum can at least cause the middle-class to think.

sceptic

Where could one start commenting on this tendentious piece? Well, I'll try just one point. Roslyn Ross says "there was a time when life was less complex and more secure".

Just when was that?

I was born a long time ago. As a child I was only too aware of the “thirties” depression, with a father out of work for years. As a teenager I saw WW2 begin and run its near 6 year course. Then there was the Berlin blockade, the Korean War; the Vietnam War; the cold war – when mutually agreed destruction was there in the background all of the time (until the USSR folded). There was, often, high inflation. I could go on but I'll simply suggest that conjuring up the golden age of the past to be critical of the present is no more than a political statement.

Fiona: I must agree with you, Ron, in terms of the non-existence of the so-called golden age – which is why the insistence of certain politicians upon the virtues of the past is so worrying. On one point, however, I must nitpick: I believe the doomsday scenario was “mutually assured destruction”.

Recent decades of change

Ron, I can see your point but you are going too far back. I was commenting on changes over the past decade of Howardism and my references were to the times before this and my experience of the two decades before this when there was a greater 'illusion of certainty' in terms of employment and life. It may well have been a glitch in the historical path but my point was that uncertainties have arisen in far greater numbers in the past decade and that's without going into the fear-mongering of terrorism, AIDS, bird flu and countless other 'dangers' with which we are threatened.

mutually assured destruction

Fiona, yes you rightly corrected me there.

Not sure

Ross Chippendale, where do you live?

What about the GST "is designed to divide people"? Could you tell us how?

Regarding scare tactics, how about Combet's latest scare talk? He is going to spend his members' money on an advertising campaign that is doomed to failure: it is just a ploy to increase the numbers in the unions. I just hope he keeps his promise of going to jail, because by the time he gets out he will find a workplace changed for the better.

Divided indeed

Hey Syd, sorry I wasn't clearer although I thought I had been with this statement:

GST is a huge burden on the lower end of the economic scale and it too divides people.

Clearly the burden on people with low incomes is relatively higher than the higher end who pay exactly the same amount on goods and services so it is only a small % of their total income compared to the lower end of the scale. That is imbalance and allows many to make ridiculous statements such as "The people who pay no tax...." when anyone who eats, drinks or obtains a service on anything in their lives does pay tax. GST. Would you say that unites groups? Only against each other Syd, Howard's speciality.

This follows Howard's consistent divide and rule mentality. Wedge, wedge, wedge.

As for Combet, why is it that when I make a statement against the Coalition that people constantly respond by throwing up Labor MP's and supporters as a comparison? I made no comment on him, nor do I intend to as I have little interest in Mr Combet. If I make an anti Labor statement the other mob pounces and raises how wonderfully the Coalition is doing.

Perhaps this will start to sink in soon. I don't support or flag wave for either of the major parties. If I see something that either has done that I disagree with I say so as I do if and when anything good is ever raised, which is not often.They are the main problem, Syd, not anyone else.

I live in Australia Syd, home of the AWB.

Not sure

Hey Roslyn, I'm not really sure what you are saying except the one thing "Money can't buy happiness" which is certainly the case. The focus of our society on the bottom line, user pays and all the rest have simply divided people against people.

Howard of course has been a big exploiter of  those methods as he constantly tries (and succeeds) in creating division and fear of whatever is his latest ruse.

If you are mystified by why people don't actually like him and disagree with him but vote for him I think the answer is as simple as "What's the alternative?" combined with too many beleiving Howard's scare campaigns and beleiving the "good economic managers" rubbish.

The fallacy that his government are good economic managers is just that, a fallacy. If there were no resources boom and overtaxing they too would be riding on huge deficits. GST is a huge burden on the lower end of the economic scale and it too divides people, as it is designed to do.

Back on the money issue, it seems to me that the more people have the more they fear losing it. Society is ruled by this fascination with money which actually doesn't exist, it's just a token created by man as we know. But it is worshipped for itself not what it represents. Sounds much like many other beleifs really, they are fraudulent.

As you have commented, having lived in countries where money is scarce there really isn't a lot required to live.

Re your comment on the Japanese mortgages being passed from generation to generation, there was actually a bit of a kite flier a few weeks ago stating this would become the norm in Australia. Might change the fighting over wills in the future don't you think? I mean, who is keen to start life with a mortgage which will "all be yours someday".

Understanding Why

Ross, I was merely trying to say that there are always reasons for why we are as we are and that in understanding those reasons we are better able to make changes. It seems to me that it is too simple to dismiss things as 'intolerance' or 'meanness' and in the doing to condemn when what is needed is understanding.

It is human nature that nothing ever happens without a reason. Every thought we have, every act we commit, every word we speak makes perfect sense at some level even if we do not understand that 'sense' or do not have access to the level, it being unconscious.

Unless we know why we do what we do, or think what we think, we are unable to use reason to solve our problems.

Serious Reservations

Roslyn, I must agree with some of the other contributors that your piece while well researched and well written is tendentious. It employs the techniques of the glam magazine psuedo contests for the world's most beautiful woman, as if anyone has actually compared the requisite features of 3 billion women.

No comparisons, of the sort that you are trying to make, can be really made because at any point in history, the animus of a nation is a transitory phenomenon.

With the passing of Howard from power a different mood will envelope us. The realignment of power today is no different to the realignment of power after  WWI. We will adapt and we will experience "golden ages" as well.

The problem for a writer who takes on such a wide ranging topic is to ignore the snapshot and embrace the global. But you cannot  do that in a short article piece. You cannot do it justice even in a series of books. It is beyond simple classification.

I find the most interesting happening in politics today is the direction that Howard has taken in positioning Australia as a major Chinese partner. We are selling all we have until there will be nothing left but scars on the earth and monumental caverns underground.

In the same vein as what will happen to Middle East when the oil finally runs out in the next 50 years, what will Australia have left of any value after all our coal, iron, gold, diamonds, uranium and other mineral resources are sold to the Chinese and the Indians? This fair land will be, colloquially speaking, knackered.

Roger: I am curious as to

Roger: I am curious as to which 'cause' you think I am seeking to advance in this article. I present it merely as observation and commentary in an effort to find some level of 'meaning' in why Australians seem to have changed in the ways that they have. I hardly think that amounts to being tendentious.

Of course society is always in transition, in flux, in a process of change but surely it is in observing and understanding those changes we can gain some capacity to influence the change rather than merely be influenced by the change.

And I agree that the article, is limited by length but this is the nature of the medium in which we are posting. I was not seeking to present, explain, justify, argue and conclude in any final say because it is just not possible in this context, but rather to provide a viewpoint which might stimulate thought and discussion .... that being, from what I can see, the point and purpose of vehicles like Webdiary.

 

Subjective phenomena - objective inferences

Hi Roslyn, I don't think that you necessarily have a cause. I understand the purpose of the piece but attempting such an analysis relies on doing comparisons which inevitably draw on conclusions that are only subjectively valid.

This time, today, to paraphrase Dickens, is "the best of times, the worst of times". Subjective phenomena defy objective explanation when you live in them. Only when you look back through history can you possible draw objective inferences.

The idea that we have the capacity to be change agents is unrealistic and optimistic. Very few popular movements, even those with a serious agenda such as Greenpeace, exercise serious power or are factored into the global thinking of the hegemon or, indeed, garner popular support. Political parties, unions, very large corporations, and obscenely wealthy individuals, possess power to effect change. The rest of us are just passing wind.

War in general or on terrorism (an absolutely asinine phrase), the corruption of common societal mores by the rich and powerful, and so many other issues, are always current. They are non-changing. In considering the suggestion that we are a harder or a meaner society you can draw an analogy with Melbourne's weather. Wait a little while – it will change. What it was becomes history and, except for a tiny percentage of events, irrelevant.

It will always fall short.

The definition of tendentious

Roger: Tendentious means to 'advance a cause', push a particular viewpoint which is why I do not think the word applies to what I wrote.

I disagree with you in regard to the view that we have little or no capacity to be change agents. Exposure to the mining corporate world over the past few decades clearly revealed that organisations like Greenpeace and other ecologically minded movements had, and have, a great capacity to influence how corporations act in terms of 'returning' the environment to a sound ecological state after mining. This came about not because the corporations themselves discovered an ecological conscience, but because attitudes within society, manifesting as small and large movements, pushed them to do so.

This capacity can work for good or ill and often at the same time. Organisations promoting no-smoking for instance, or even the SIDS campaign, or covering up against exposure to the sun have brought positive changes but also, I feel, negative ones in terms of an exaggerated response to the perceived 'threat', but they have certainly brought about change from the micro level.

You are also assuming that I think my position is correct. I don't necessarily. It is a view, that is all. I have drawn together various thoughts which may explain something, or may not. That is the value of debate: to discuss such suggestions and to refute, substantiate, or offer alternative views.

Some Obvious Things

Roslyn, of course you are advancing a point of view. That is the purpose of your article, to extract kernels of truth and a sense of direction from the events of today.

My point is that I believe that this is a largely futile endeavour. When you are in the middle of a change is not when you can clearly see what is happening. That only comes with hindsight.

For example, while it is tempting to apportion blame for an imagined change of Australian heart led by this current government, it would not be correct. Since Federation, Australians have always shown a hardness of heart on many issues, Aboriginal citizenship and the White Australia policy just to name two. As a migrant coming to Australia in 1950 I know from personal experience how unwelcoming country Australia can be. The Australians living through those events and times would not have characterised themselves as being "mean". Only in hindsight can you judge what was happening.

On the matter of influencing things for the better, the achievements that you speak of are genuine but relatively miniscule. Smoking still raises billions of dollars in excise in spite of the most graphic labelling and campaigning. I would not expect Australia to improve much in this area until the government is ready to forego the revenue.

The Great Barrier Reef is dying. The plight of the great river systems is dire. Desalination is ruining thousands of square miles of formerly arable land. 15% of the Amazon rain forest has disappeared. I don't want to decry the efforts of all involved in trying to change these things. We should all support them to the hilt. But let's not fool ourselves into thinking that we are really making a difference, yet. The evidence does not support it.

Que?

Sorry Roslyn, I just can't see what you say here in the article at all really. If the above is what you were trying to say, why didn't you say it? Maybe I'm just thick! To me polls are generally meaningless as they are easily manipulated and mean little, except to the pollsters.

This statement: "The risk-takers were less successful at the survival game than were the pragmatists and worriers," to me does not ring true at all. If it weren't for risk takers the worriers and pragmatists would probably still be trying to figure out what to do with the wheel someone invented. But when they did find a use for it they wouldn't go outside their known boundaries as they don't take risks.

Risk takers are, to me, the very people who pioneer whatever thus enabling the rest at a later time. Imagine if Australia had never had risk takers. We'd all be living in Botany Bay and there wouldn't be many of us. In fact no one would have ever landed here without risk takers. They are successful in every way to me including passing genetic traits down their family lines.

Sure many died but it was that group, and still is, that leads the search for knowledge and advancement in society. The point is not all risk takers died before they had a long and happy life and without them very little would have changed from way back when.

The statement, "Unless we know why we do what we do, or think what we think, we are unable to use reason to solve our problems," also concerns me as it again doesn't ring true. Human beings have a whole range of reflex actions both inside and on the exterior that requires no understanding, your body just reacts. How does this stand in relation to the above? Are such auto reactions unsuccessful? No, we wouldn't be here without them.

The survival instinct for example. It just kicks in and gives us great strength even if we do still lose a battle. Fight or flight is another. Reflex actions, not decision making, our body just knows what to do and does it. You could argue there is a thought process behind these reflex actions and I'd agree with that but it is not an analytical thought process, it's hard wired.

When you are finished reading this please take it as me trying to understand things which have affected my life for many years. It isn't meant as criticism, just trying to have you expand as the thought process is the key to all our lives.

The power of consciousness

Ross: I take your post as comment but am not averse to criticism.

In regard to polls, I don't necessarily agree they are meaningless, but see them as signposts if you like to further research. They are not however as meaningfull as many would like them to be.

You said: If it weren't for risk takers the worriers and pragmatists would probably still be trying to figure out what to do with the wheel someone invented.

The point of the study I cited was that our genetic inheritance, by necessity, does not come in the main from risk-takers, no matter how valuable their contribution may have been, but from those who were cautious, if not timid and fearful. This then suggests logically, that we are more hard-wired to be this way than we are to be risk-takers. I was merely seeking to present an explanation for the human tendency toward caution and fear.

In more recent history it has become safer to be a risk-taker but that does not negate the genetic inheritance, merely enables us to build upon it. I agree with all that you say about risk-takers but my comments were in regard to the physiological and genetic nature of human beings as opposed to the value of risk-taking itself.

I do not necessarily agree that risk-takers lead the search for knowledge and advancement.... often the hard work is done slowly, by the cautious and the timid.

You said: Human beings have a whole range of reflex actions both inside and on the exterior that requires no understanding, your body just reacts. How does this stand in relation to the above? Are such auto reactions unsuccessful? No, we wouldn't be here without them.

There is a difference between auto-reflex which is invaluable for things like our beating heart, digestion, and physiological function and reflexes which are disciplined by consciousness. Anger for instance is an auto-reflex which is better disciplined by reason and consciousness otherwise we would find ourselves in a great deal of trouble a great deal of the time.

What I am saying is that we need to understand why we think what we think, do what we do, react as we react in order to use the gift of human consciousness to be the best that we can be rather than the most base.

Few of us are so well balanced that we can work on reflex alone. And if we did, what would be the use of our conscious mind.

You said: The survival instinct for example. It just kicks in and gives us great strength even if we do still lose a battle.

The survival instinct is important but not as invaluable as it was when human beings lived with the constant threat of wild animals or enemy marauders.

In the modern age unfortunately the 'survival instinct' kicks in when we do not need it and cannot actually utilise it, thus leading to anxiety attacks, depression and generalised fears. Fight or flight comes into this. We rarely need fight or flight in the modern world but it dogs many people as 'panic attacks.'

You said:  Reflex actions, not decision making, our body just knows what to do and does it.

Yes and no. Our thoughts impact on our body all the time. If we believe that something will make us sick if we eat it, it will; if we believe something will make us well, it does. That is the placebo effect. The placebo is the most effective 'drug' in any experiment.

That's why we need to know what we think, what we feel.

You said: You could argue there is a thought process behind these reflex actions and I'd agree with that but it is not an analytical thought process, it's hard wired.

Yes, but it does not have to be analytical, merely conscious. Studies have shown that we have enormous capacity to influence our physiological systems, heart rate, digestion, breathing (asthma patients) through consciously applied thought.

Consciousness is the only thing which makes us different to animals. It is our greatest gift and the one all too often, least used.

The mind

Hey Roslyn,

I don't really disagree with any of your response, just some minor differences not worth discussing.

Your comments on the survival instinct and the fight or flight reaction is, to me, spot on.

I have no doubt that the fight or flight reflex is a big part of the descent into depression and anxiety. The body is not able to cope with being in that alert/defensive mode for extended periods and when it does occur for long periods the brain tends to shut down if a further danger appears. It is meant to allow us to be prepared but only for short periods.

And yes, thought is involved in everything we do, just not knowingly which I guess is your point, yes? If we did resolve how to be fully aware of all thought processes and have the ability to analyse before reacting we would be a lot closer to resolving many mental illnesses.

Then again, sport would become extremely boring while we wait for a player to make a decision! As for chess....

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