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Thread: Can't man do better than being a social animal?

  1. #1
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    Can't man do better than be a social animal?

    Human social behaviour exhibits territorality and social dominance, much the same as social animals do.

    There's no denying that this behaviour is hard-coded in our genes, as well as culturally maintained. But have we been succesful as a species because of this type of interaction or despite it?

    Can't all conflicts on the planet be reduced to territorality and social dominance? Is care for our offspring and the weak part of the same equation?

    Can a case be made that the global human society today needs far less of this behaviour we share with social animals? We're all human and no other species is a threat to us.

    So how should leadership and the wider society evolve to accomodate this radical change in the way we live together?

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    Capitalism is a sophisticated way of this Social Animal behavior, with money being the territory.

    Communism was (and still is, in a few places) an attempt to get over this behavior, sadly the needs of the individual override that of the needs of the group, every time. Even if the needs of the group (objectively) are more important.

    People are willing to sacrifice of themselves for those they know (their "tribe" or "clan" so-to-speak), but not for those they don't.

    I'd readily sacrifice for my group, but not so readily for a person off the street - when was the last time you spared your change for a hobo?

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    I don't think you can. Humans are biological generalists, not specialists, hence the real root of the concept "all men are created equal". A personal territory is the realm in which the ego reigns supreme. The territories in our territoriality may shrink, but they will never disappear unless we become as ants or bees with their biological castes. The best you can do is convince egos to a temporary collaboration. Long term collaboration is an illusion; it is really only temporary collaboration that has been extended by constant renegotiation.

    We have been successful because of it. Vast numbers may be wiped out, but the remainder reorganizes into a new whole because specialization in humanity is educational, not biological.

    No, conflicts are also about resources. Resource conflicts may be couched in terms of territory & social dominance, but it's window dressing for "I will have it one way or another". In many ways, social dominance is what can reduce hostilities in a resource conflict, by exchanging one for the other. This is because humans would rather collaborate with than annhilate competitors, knowing that other humans are generalists and can change from one status to the other with "proper" education.
    Et tu BAUT? Quantum mutatus ab illo.

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    Communism was (and still is, in a few places) an attempt to get over this behavior, sadly the needs of the individual override that of the needs of the group, every time. Even if the needs of the group (objectively) are more important.

    One of the failed aspects of Soviet style communism was an attempt to create the New Soviet Man. According to this theology (for in many ways, it was a religion):

    The three major changes postulated to be indispensable for the building of the communist society were economical and political changes, accompanied with the changes in the human personality.

    The Soviet man was to be selfless, learned, healthy and enthusiastic in spreading the socialist Revolution. Adherence to Marxism-Leninism, and individual behaviour consistent with that philosophy's prescriptions, were among the crucial traits expected of the New Soviet man.


    Instead, what they ended up with was Homo Sovieticus:

    Homo Sovieticus, however, was a term with negative connotations, invented by opponents to describe what they said was the real result of Soviet policies. In many ways it meant the opposite of the New Soviet man, someone characterized by the following:

    - Indifference to the results of his labor (as expressed in the saying "They pretend they are paying us, and we pretend we are working"), and lack of initiative.

    - Indifference to common property and petty theft from the workplace, both for personal use and for profit. A line from a popular song, "Everything belongs to kolkhoz, everything belongs to me" ("все теперь колхозное, все теперь мое"), meaning that people on collective farms treasured all common property as their own, was sometimes used ironically to refer to instances of petty theft. The Law of Spikelets, which made stealing from the collective punishable by ten years’ imprisonment, was a failed attempt to break this attitude.

    - Isolation from world culture, created by the Soviet Union's restrictions on travel abroad and strict censorship of information in the media (as well as the abundance of propaganda). The intent was to insulate the Soviet people from Western influence; instead, "exotic" Western culture became more interesting precisely because it was forbidden. Soviet officials called this fascination "Western idolatry" (идолопоклоничество перед Западом).

    - Obedience or passive acceptance of everything that government imposes on them.


    New Soviet Man, as with other utopian attempts to change human nature, was doomed to failure from the start.

  5. #5
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    I don't think we should get sidetracked by capitalism versus communism discussions - suffice it to say that most of us pay taxes.

    The comparison with ants and bees is interesting. You might say that human society has evolved more and more to mimick the eusociology of those insect societies. Most of the time our children are in the care of education specialists, and there's blue and white collar workers, the ruling classes, the haves and the have-nots. We've assigned specialist institutions to deal with the sick and the old. And many amonst us (though not on this board, I'm sure) gladly give up on their capability of independent thought, leaving the opinion forming to politicians and other celebs.

    All this has no doubt contributed enourmously to the success of mankind, both in sheer number and in the complexity of the things we can achieve.

    We don't do reproductive specialisation, but we get trained to be specialists. And yet, territory and social dominance still prevail. Agression marks the points where the leadership and norms are challenged.

    Can examples be found of groups of people where no dominance is at play?

    On the resource point: isn't the whole idea of social rank - pecking order - in social animals based round the access to resources: who can drink first at the watering hole, eat the kill, or mate?

    Ara Pacis, could clarify your point on dominance reducing resource hostilities? Do you mean 'Your oil is now my oil because I'm stronger than you, but you can have this cellphone instead'?

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    Quote Originally Posted by fredquimbo456 View Post
    I don't think we should get sidetracked by capitalism versus communism discussions - suffice it to say that most of us pay taxes.

    The comparison with ants and bees is interesting. You might say that human society has evolved more and more to mimick the eusociology of those insect societies. Most of the time our children are in the care of education specialists, and there's blue and white collar workers, the ruling classes, the haves and the have-nots. We've assigned specialist institutions to deal with the sick and the old. And many amonst us (though not on this board, I'm sure) gladly give up on their capability of independent thought, leaving the opinion forming to politicians and other celebs.

    All this has no doubt contributed enourmously to the success of mankind, both in sheer number and in the complexity of the things we can achieve.

    We don't do reproductive specialisation, but we get trained to be specialists. And yet, territory and social dominance still prevail. Agression marks the points where the leadership and norms are challenged.

    Can examples be found of groups of people where no dominance is at play?

    On the resource point: isn't the whole idea of social rank - pecking order - in social animals based round the access to resources: who can drink first at the watering hole, eat the kill, or mate?

    Ara Pacis, could clarify your point on dominance reducing resource hostilities? Do you mean 'Your oil is now my oil because I'm stronger than you, but you can have this cellphone instead'?
    Ethnocentricity is also a big one among humans...

    Can examples be found of groups of people where no dominance is at play?
    Five year olds? The mythical Tasedai? (Lord, I had to learn that ** tribes whole history against my will. It sounded like road apples to me back when I was a kid. Turned out I was right.)

    Ahh, I got it! Arlington National Cemetary!
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  7. #7
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    I'd like to do better. Then my mum wouldn't always be on my case about not being social enough.

  8. #8
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    just the fact that people come to (virtual) places like this to ask questions like this kind of proves that we are social creatures. and there is nothing wrong with that- it's how we have been wired by a couple of billion years of evolution.

  9. #9
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    [territoriality, btw]
    Quote Originally Posted by fredquimbo456 View Post
    ...We're all human and no other species is a threat to us...
    ...or has a religion to follow, promote, impose upon others or defend.

  10. #10
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    Could we do better? Yes.

    Can we do better? Who knows.

    Will we do better? Probably not, and if we ever do, it'll take a long, long time.
    I'm a cynical optimist. I think the only way out is through, but once we get through it'll be better. Very different, but better. Howard Tayler

    It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change. Charles Darwin

    "It is the duty of the writers to seduce me into suspending my disbelief!" Paul Beardsley

    Power, Lord Acton says, corrupts. Not always. What power always does is reveal. Robert A. Caro

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by fredquimbo456 View Post
    I don't think we should get sidetracked by capitalism versus communism discussions - suffice it to say that most of us pay taxes.

    The comparison with ants and bees is interesting. You might say that human society has evolved more and more to mimick the eusociology of those insect societies. Most of the time our children are in the care of education specialists, and there's blue and white collar workers, the ruling classes, the haves and the have-nots. We've assigned specialist institutions to deal with the sick and the old. And many amonst us (though not on this board, I'm sure) gladly give up on their capability of independent thought, leaving the opinion forming to politicians and other celebs.

    All this has no doubt contributed enourmously to the success of mankind, both in sheer number and in the complexity of the things we can achieve.

    We don't do reproductive specialisation, but we get trained to be specialists. And yet, territory and social dominance still prevail. Agression marks the points where the leadership and norms are challenged.

    Can examples be found of groups of people where no dominance is at play?

    On the resource point: isn't the whole idea of social rank - pecking order - in social animals based round the access to resources: who can drink first at the watering hole, eat the kill, or mate?

    Ara Pacis, could clarify your point on dominance reducing resource hostilities? Do you mean 'Your oil is now my oil because I'm stronger than you, but you can have this cellphone instead'?
    There is one interesting lesson of communism in this context: that we are not equal. And what's more: we like being not equal.
    IMHO, that was and is the main mistake in communist theory.

    And I think we couldn't be more different from bees or ants.
    We seem to have this insuppressible need to live our differences, to express our individuality - that's sth you will never find in a hive society.

  12. #12
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    I would ask a different question:

    Can man become better at being a social animal?

    We desperately need it.

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    I don't think we should get sidetracked by capitalism versus communism discussions - suffice it to say that most of us pay taxes

    My discussion of the New Soviet Man is to show an example of where a lot of effort was expended trying to create better people. It was a dismal failure because human nature is inate and changes very slowly.

    Can examples be found of groups of people where no dominance is at play?

    Over the years, there has been many attempts at creating a utopian society. None have endured. Even if you could find an example of a small group or tribe that managed to live like you describe, the idea isn't likely to scale well to a world population of over 6 billion people.

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    Quote Originally Posted by fredquimbo456 View Post
    Ara Pacis, could clarify your point on dominance reducing resource hostilities? Do you mean 'Your oil is now my oil because I'm stronger than you, but you can have this cellphone instead'?
    Well, instead of fighting over a resource with a winner-take-all attitude humans are capable of compromising and accepting a position in a collaboration that allows them to have access to the resource, but under the terms of the conquerer. I would say that it's a social dominance technique to force the prisoners to assimilate rather than be killed or ejected. Humans are trainable, even if they were former enemies and that makes human labor another resource. It's the basic definition of a treaty, an agreement that makes might right.

    Perhaps the WWII conflict with Japan is an backward example. Japan started a war for access to resources. They could not win and were under threat of annhilation, but they surrendered, subjugating themselves to the enemy's social dominance (occupation and re-education), but nevertheless, securing access to those resources, but under compromised conditions.
    Et tu BAUT? Quantum mutatus ab illo.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ara Pacis View Post
    It's the basic definition of a treaty, an agreement that makes might right.
    A treaty is an agreement between equals, or near equals. I wouldn't call the "winner's justice" a treaty. That's an imposition. The demilitarisation of Japan after WWII was an imposition of the Allies. The Treaty of Versailles, after WWI, was a treaty among the winners (the Allies), but an imposition on the losers (the Triple Alliance).

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    Ara,

    I found I had to tone down the rhetoric too. Too many different specialists here to make too general a statement.
    Time wasted having fun is not time wasted - Lennon
    (John, not the other one.)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Disinfo Agent View Post
    A treaty is an agreement between equals, or near equals. I wouldn't call the "winner's justice" a treaty. That's an imposition. The demilitarisation of Japan after WWII was an imposition of the Allies. The Treaty of Versailles, after WWI, was a treaty among the winners (the Allies), but an imposition on the losers (the Triple Alliance).
    I don't see a difference between a "treaty" and an "imposition" in this regard. A treaty is an attempt to make legal what was gained by force or threat of force in the case of conflict I pointed out. There may be various nouveau technical definitions, but historically, the thing called a treaty has been used to resolve or prevent or justify hostilities. Even treaties for things like a standard time imply that if you don't do it my way (or convince me to do it your way or come to a compromise) I'll go my own way and if that's unfortunate for you then too bad.

    But anyways, I think a treaty can be either an agreement between equals or an agreement between unequals.
    Et tu BAUT? Quantum mutatus ab illo.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Larry Jacks View Post
    My discussion of the New Soviet Man is to show an example of where a lot of effort was expended trying to create better people. It was a dismal failure because human nature is inate and changes very slowly.
    One example proves only that one example didn't work.


    Over the years, there has been many attempts at creating a utopian society. None have endured. Even if you could find an example of a small group or tribe that managed to live like you describe, the idea isn't likely to scale well to a world population of over 6 billion people.

    True. That's why any attempt would need to reduce social/political structures to small groups, say 50-100 individuals at most. I have no idea how to make that happen, though; most people nowadays are just too attached to their national/tribal/ethnic identities to want to give up such superstructures. And then some sort of regulating system for all the millions of small communities would be needed, but it would need to be self-limiting to avoid becoming just another oversized heirarchy.

    Not impossible, but very, very, very hard to do.
    I'm a cynical optimist. I think the only way out is through, but once we get through it'll be better. Very different, but better. Howard Tayler

    It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change. Charles Darwin

    "It is the duty of the writers to seduce me into suspending my disbelief!" Paul Beardsley

    Power, Lord Acton says, corrupts. Not always. What power always does is reveal. Robert A. Caro

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    Quote Originally Posted by BigDon View Post
    Ara,

    I found I had to tone down the rhetoric too. Too many different specialists here to make too general a statement.
    Nah, I just throw it back at 'em.

    BTW, Ethnocentricty is one cause, but it's a type of culturo-centrism which means it can be categorized as a social dominance issue, as per the OP.

    You're right about Arlington. We're only really equal when we're dead.
    Et tu BAUT? Quantum mutatus ab illo.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ara Pacis View Post
    A treaty is an attempt to make legal what was gained by force or threat of force in the case of conflict I pointed out.
    But not all treaties are signed because of an armed conflict. Most are not. NAFTA, to give just one example. Or the Geneva Conventions.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Noclevername View Post
    True. That's why any attempt would need to reduce social/political structures to small groups, say 50-100 individuals at most. I have no idea how to make that happen, though; most people nowadays are just too attached to their national/tribal/ethnic identities to want to give up such superstructures. And then some sort of regulating system for all the millions of small communities would be needed, but it would need to be self-limiting to avoid becoming just another oversized heirarchy.

    Not impossible, but very, very, very hard to do.
    That would be hard to do, and I don't think it would work effectively. sure, it might help prevent conflict, but I think it would hamper productivity.

    The real problem, I think, is the myth of hierarchy. It seems people want to structure it like a pyramid, but see the massive structure as too immobile and bureaucratically heavy to be effective. Critics also see the vast distance between the top and bottom of the pyramid as being too great a divide to be legitimate.

    I agree. A better structure might be a pinetree. It still has levels of hierarchy, in the sense of higher authority, but no level is much more separated from the trunk than another, thus increasing the legitimacy of the actors and their actions.

    This is one of the basic criticisms of the UN. The ambassadors are not elected by those they claim to represent. They are usually appointed by the government, distancing them from their constituents and reducing the sense of legitimacy (more so in cases where the government was also not elected).

    I want to avoid getting into verboten territory in this discussion, but I think the answer the OP in terms of science is not to change humanity, but to work with it. As a social animal that is a generalist capable of specialization by education, it is the choice and structures of the specialized institutions of society that will solve the question: e.g. government. If you want fewer wars between modern humans, you'll need a more legitimate and effective global institution.
    Et tu BAUT? Quantum mutatus ab illo.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Disinfo Agent View Post
    But not all treaties are signed because of an armed conflict. Most are not. NAFTA, to give just one example. Or the Geneva Conventions.
    I disagree with your premise. Is this discussion germane to the OP?
    Et tu BAUT? Quantum mutatus ab illo.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ara Pacis View Post
    That would be hard to do, and I don't think it would work effectively. sure, it might help prevent conflict, but I think it would hamper productivity.
    Depends. In some areas it would probably help productivity; imagine if most companies were small, local and employee-owned. People tend to work harder to benefit themselves and those they know well that for rich strangers a thousand miles away.

    For some large-scale projects, yes, it might hamper things, but not necessarily. After all, if individuals can work together, why not groups?

    I think your Pine Tree model incorporates some of the scenario I was talking about-- a non-heirarchic organization of smaller units. But I still don't see any way to transition from what we have now to that, so it'll have to remain a "utopia" in the literal sense-- "no place".
    I'm a cynical optimist. I think the only way out is through, but once we get through it'll be better. Very different, but better. Howard Tayler

    It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change. Charles Darwin

    "It is the duty of the writers to seduce me into suspending my disbelief!" Paul Beardsley

    Power, Lord Acton says, corrupts. Not always. What power always does is reveal. Robert A. Caro

  24. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ara Pacis View Post
    I disagree with your premise.
    Which premise?

    The discussion is marginally pertinent to the claim in the OP that "all conflicts on the planet [can] be reduced to territorality and social dominance".

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    Quote Originally Posted by BigDon View Post
    Five year olds?
    You've obviously not been to a kindgergarden class recently.

    Children have a hierarchy of their own, much like that in prisons, in fact. I can't remember where (maybe someone will have a link), but I read a fantastic comparison of both social structures.

    On a first-hand account, I was recently at my little cousins school, and I can tell you very distinctly that there are Alpha males and their "cronies" and Alpha females and theirs.
    Last edited by Trocisp; 2008-Feb-29 at 08:46 PM.

  26. #26
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    Quote Originally Posted by Noclevername View Post
    One example proves only that one example didn't work.





    True. That's why any attempt would need to reduce social/political structures to small groups, say 50-100 individuals at most. I have no idea how to make that happen, though; most people nowadays are just too attached to their national/tribal/ethnic identities to want to give up such superstructures. And then some sort of regulating system for all the millions of small communities would be needed, but it would need to be self-limiting to avoid becoming just another oversized heirarchy.

    Not impossible, but very, very, very hard to do.
    Do you realize that the current structures are the development from when all groups were 50-100 people?

    I dont think that todays larger groupings are as monolithic as you seem to be saying. A nation is made up of communities made up of families, as an example.

    This biggest problem is that when you get to large numbers of people, you are getting to the point where statistically small groupings could have a large effect. There may be only 1 thug and no Stalin in a group of 100, but when you have an interconnected group of millions, a stalin can gather a group of thugs. (stalin is defined as a dictatorial leader willing to impose on others. thug is defined as someone willing to use violence with no responsability) Smaller scale populations can have large effects when there is enough individuals involved.

    As for the OP. I dont think that any major changes are necessary. People and their social structures have been evolving quite well over the past few centuries. However, the ability for man to be more than an animal is really only maybe a century or two old. Until recently, aquisition of food and shelter has been a primary concern. Today, few need to worry about starving. Even rescources are relatively becoming more abundant. As groups have been able to pay more attention to larger issues larger groupings have formed. The nation is a concept only a few centuries old. As time passes, as prosperity increases, the local groupings will become less important, and the larger groupings will become more so. It may be that eventually there will be only one grouping.

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    One example proves only that one example didn't work.

    There has been far more than one example. New Soviet Man is just one of the largest. The Chinese tried various things such as their Cultural Revolution with similar disasterous results. The desire to create better people has been around a long time. Several attempts have been made to create a utopia (literally meaning "good place" but also means "no place" or nowhere). None have succeeded.

    On a smaller scale, there have been groups that sought to create an ideal society based around their beliefs (often but not always religious). Perhaps the most successful was the such as the Amana Colonies. One of the most infamous was the People's Temple. There were also the Branch Davidians on the notorious side and The Farm commune in Tennessee that come to mind. The Farm reportedly still exists but is only about 1/8th of it's peak population.

    Human nature changes very slowly. You can take a tiger and feed it vegatables but that won't make it a vegan. If the opportunity presents itself, it'll eat you. While our technology has improved immensely, we're not all that far removed from the naked apes portrayed in the opening scenes of "2001".

  28. #28
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    Quote Originally Posted by korjik View Post
    Do you realize that the current structures are the development from when all groups were 50-100 people?
    Can you elaborate or give some evidence of that?


    I dont think that todays larger groupings are as monolithic as you seem to be saying. A nation is made up of communities made up of families, as an example.
    Yes, but they operate as individuals.
    The main governance and finance structures works with groups of thousands to millions.

    This biggest problem is that when you get to large numbers of people, you are getting to the point where statistically small groupings could have a large effect. There may be only 1 thug and no Stalin in a group of 100, but when you have an interconnected group of millions, a stalin can gather a group of thugs. (stalin is defined as a dictatorial leader willing to impose on others. thug is defined as someone willing to use violence with no responsability) Smaller scale populations can have large effects when there is enough individuals involved.
    If there are enough individuals involved in the same social group, it's no longer a small scale population.


    People and their social structures have been evolving quite well over the past few centuries.
    Social groupings have changed, they haven't "evolved". And people have stayed exactly the same.


    However, the ability for man to be more than an animal is really only maybe a century or two old.
    Shakespeare was no more than an animal? Isaac Newton was no more than an animal?


    Until recently, aquisition of food and shelter has been a primary concern.
    Still is, for everyone who works for a living.

    Today, few need to worry about starving.
    Untrue. There are starving people in most countries including the most prosperous, the U.S.


    As groups have been able to pay more attention to larger issues larger groupings have formed. The nation is a concept only a few centuries old. As time passes, as prosperity increases, the local groupings will become less important, and the larger groupings will become more so. It may be that eventually there will be only one grouping.
    Actually, in most industrialized nations smaller Non-Government Organizations are becoming more influential, with the rise of personal computers and the WWW making it easier for small groups to become organized quickly regardless of location, and for small groups and individuals to spread information worldwide.
    I'm a cynical optimist. I think the only way out is through, but once we get through it'll be better. Very different, but better. Howard Tayler

    It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change. Charles Darwin

    "It is the duty of the writers to seduce me into suspending my disbelief!" Paul Beardsley

    Power, Lord Acton says, corrupts. Not always. What power always does is reveal. Robert A. Caro

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    Untrue. There are starving people in most countries including the most prosperous, the U.S.

    Starvation in American is mainly a problem with those who don't know how to access programs like WIC and food stamps. Someone I know very well is raising his two kids by himself. He gets over $400 a month in food stamds (which are really more of a debit card) but a considerable about of food under WIC. Altogether, he gets almost $500 a month for one adult and two toddlers and that can only be used on groceries. By way of contrast, my wife and I spend perhaps $150 a month on groceries for two adults and we eat well. We don't eat out but perhaps twice a month so those groceries are for 3 meals a day for two adults.

    The biggest nutritional problem with the poor in America isn't starvation but obesity.

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    I've been to places where people were flat out starving. Ain't nothing like that here.
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