Somewhere there must be a hierarchy of humor set forth in a study that explores how what we find funny changes as we grow older.  The study would explore the humor of those who have delayed maturation–the autistic, for example–comparing it to what normal finds funny.  Uncovering jokes recorded over time, the study might look for patterns in what makes us laugh over the long haul during recorded history.  The study could research what aboriginals find funny and if there are patterns that cross continents in terms of tribal culture.

Let’s take funny seriously for a moment.

There are certain features of being human, though not always exclusive to our species, which deeply inform what exactly we might be.  I’m suspecting that humor and metaphor–often so closely related as to be indistinguishable–may reveal our origins and our evolution.

I think it has a lot to do with sensitivity to the anguish of being split.

Watching and listening to ontogeny, or growth of a child to adulthood, observing the autistic, studying evolution and examining my own consciousness, I would conclude that contemporary self-consciousness or split consciousness is pretty new.  Julian Jaynes suggests it emerged with recorded history.  Feiffer offers 50,000 years …

Metaphors for the human brain have evolved over time. There were the clockworks for perhaps a hundred years. Then it was more sophisticated machinery, such as a mill or a calculator. With the advent of cybernetics, the default description of the brain became a computer. More and more, I’ve been hearing the web used as a metaphor for how a single human processes information and forms conclusions.

A qualification for a good metaphor is that it be familiar. As the web becomes ubiquitous, it offers benefits as an explanatory principle for highly complex horizontal systems producing positive, unexpected outcomes.

Malthus was a 19th century philosopher/mathematician who posited that in an environment with limited resources, increases of populations within that environment will reveal patterns as the populations grow and then decline. Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations ran with a related theme as he hypothesized that an “invisible hand” would compel human populations to behave in predictable patterns that would manifest in an increase in productivity in a competitive environment, resulting in better goods at cheaper costs. Darwin translated these principles into his theory of natural selection. It is often thought that Spencer’s interpretation of this first of Darwin’s three theories of …

They were difficult days and nights after my son’s mother and I separated almost 20 years ago. I was cartooning then, preparing weekly comic panels and strips for perhaps 50 publications around the country. I felt compelled to inject humor into the fear/depression that pretty much had me nailed that first year. The drawings that emerged were perhaps more often bitter than funny. So it goes.

The sales firm I managed specialized in gifts and greeting cards. The best company I represented produced comic-character books and calendars. Twice a year, trade shows left me the samples to be able to bargain with other exhibitors. During one show’s slow stretch, I came across a gaggle of large, quasi-concrete garden fountains gurgling away in a trade show booth with a green Astroturf motif. Nights were hardest during this period on my own. The sound of fountains generated a calm I deeply craved. I opened negotiations with the exhibitor, a local rep. He made it clear that one less fountain to haul back to his garage would be a blessing. I offered him Calvin & Hobbes and Far Side books. I got the fountain at wholesale in exchange for books I had hundreds …

Santa God

May 26, 2008 | Leave a Comment

Category: Auto-Biography

Probably my mother talked my dad into my going to Sunday school.  It was in second grade.  I don’t imagine that Dad considered Sunday school on his own.

Jack Lipshultz and Jimmy Hart were going, so I had a ride.  It all seemed kinda weird to me, going to a school on Sunday that was about religion.  But, I was game.

Earlier in school, I’d heard some friends talking about Jesus.  I knew we weren’t Christian, but I wasn’t clear on what exactly were our beliefs.  I asked my mom if we believed in Jesus.  She answered that we believed Jesus was a great man but not God.  OK, I thought.  What’s the big argument?

Sunday school had been in session for a couple weeks when I walked in and took a seat near the back of the class.  I was nervous.  Pictures were taped above the chalkboard in the front of the room where the teacher was talking.  The pictures were from the previous week’s assignment.  They were second-grader’s crayon drawings of God.

Whoa!  People got to draw in Sunday school.  People got to draw God!

There were pictures of smiling guys, more stick figure than anything else.  There …

I grew up in Highland Park and Glencoe, Illinois, in the 50s and 60s.  These are largely Jewish, mostly upper-middle-class, suburbs.  Though there hadn’t been a Bar Mitzvah in either side of my family in several generations, we still retained a Jewish identity even if it revolved around the food we ate and a certainty that our particular group was more resilient and suffered more than any other group.  Sufferings of other minorities didn’t count.  My family was not exactly liberal.

The emergence of the state of Israel, a compelling story that held us spellbound, never revealed that the people living in Palestine were being ethnically cleansed, killed and sent away.  Jews were returning home.  I was told the Palestinians did not really live there but had moved there from other parts of the Middle East.  I was also told very few people lived there before the Jews arrived.  My relatives never discussed a post-World War II U.S. policy that refused to allow working-class Jews from Europe to immigrate to the U.S.  I don’t imagine they were aware of the Western nations’ strategy that sought a long-term, secure presence near essential Middle Eastern resources.  Such connections are not spelled out …

Political Art

May 24, 2008 | Leave a Comment

Category: Activism, Art, Society

At a Fourth of July parade in 2004, an old, close friend, Lee Goodman, was running for U.S. Congress.  Running for office demanded walking several parades that day.  I had joined Lee to hand out stickers to the kids along the parade routes.

Barack Obama, then the Democratic nominee in Illinois for the U.S. Senate, had a similar mandate.  Obama was standing in the Highland Park Metro Train parking lot with the other assembling local groups and candidates, sometimes shuffling around by himself, looking at the ground.  I stood nearby, watching how he related to the occasional voter that approached him.  He was not in pitch mode.  He seemed pensive.  He grew animated when he and a little girl engaged in conversation, Obama crouching down to talk to her eye to eye.

When writing, I seek convergences that suggest relationships that aren’t obvious but that reveal the nature of relationship itself.  I seek to allow the process of creativity to reveal the nature of creativity in the words that are created.  Evolution and transformation are my idea doors.

When creating comic panels and strips, I search for incongruent overlaps with an idea bridge so that hypocrisies can be ridiculed.  I …

Marcia and I have noticed that as political organizers focused on transparency, diversity and collapsing hierarchy, we often end up with allies in the far Left. Though we have been fully engaged in the electoral process and have worked for Democratic candidates (working for candidates is relatively uncommon in the far Left), we often find ourselves in disagreement with the Left that works with Democrats. Still, these positions and arguments are an illusion obfuscating a magic underneath.

Within the American Left are several evolutionary waves representing differing stages of societal transformation. There are the Leftists seeking rights and resources for the disempowered in the U.S. These folks–unions, minority-rights groups, faith-based groups–often work with the Democratic Party. They are hierarchically organized themselves, usually with a top-down structure. They’ve been called the soft Left, mid Left or just progressives.

There is another group seeking rights and resources for the disempowered in places far away, in addition to the disempowered here. These activists tend to be less hierarchically-organized, more transparent, though not necessarily more diverse in their makeup. These folks are usually called the radicals, hard Left or the rabble-rousers.

There is a third group, which doesn’t exactly have a name. This group …

Starting as a sales rep in 1979, I thought it was all about survival of the fittest–could my products achieve success by appealing to enough people to survive?  I see it differently now.  A different evolutionary principle is at work.

I was a sales rep for 19 years.  I ran my own firm, hiring staff, calling on clients, writing up orders.  I was The Far Side rep, the guy making sure everybody was supplied with Gary Larson’s The Far Side products, such as greeting cards and calendars.  I represented more than 100 companies for more than 19 years, selling calendars, greeting cards, mugs, posters, books, tee shirts, gifts, clothing, backpacks, etc.  Though there was a stretch of about five years where I worked hideous hours, making myself sick and half crazy, the hours were mostly minimal and I was able to devote myself to starting other ventures while running the sales firm.  It wasn’t too bad.

Central to my profession as a sales rep was that institution called the trade show.  I exhibited in two shows each year in January and July in Chicago.  In May, I walked the New York National Stationery Show, looking for new companies to represent.  …

My wife, Marcia, and I sit in meetings with activists from around the country, usually in our capacity as web developers or communications specialists. Our colleagues are sometimes focused on process, often on content, but like nurture and nature, there is no difference between the two.

Then there are the folks emphasizing the big picture calculating present position within long term goals. Others concentrate on the communication that they are engaged in, the conversation they are having and the bridge they are building in the moment. This distinction is subtle and possibly non existent.

The century-and-a-half argument between nature and nurture–genetics or the environment–has to do with a defective perspective that they are two different things. Recent developments in evolutionary developmental biology have opened the eyes of proponents of both polarities. How life unfolds from before conception has to do with the influence of the environment on a genetic template programmed to take into consideration environmental influences. Imagine a world-exploring vehicle that changes its appearance, even the fuel it uses, as it passes through different landscapes–a vehicle designed to invent new looks and tastes as it makes its way across a planet. Is it the environment or the designer that …

Slow Learner

May 20, 2008 | Leave a Comment

Category: Auto-Biography

I’m a slow learner.  I think it’s because there’s so much chatter in my head, and it is accompanied by no small amount of anxiety.  In grammar school, paying attention to the teacher felt distressing.  My mind would confusedly stagger about, making me scared one moment, puffed up the next.  I had a fertile fantasy life.  I bounced around between bored and terrified, withdrawing frequently into playground, Promethean-hero fantasies, playing variations on the misunderstood god as interpreted by varying comic book heroes.

Math was worst.  I had to keep inventing new ways to come up with answers or apply techniques I could understand to situations where I wasn’t listening.  I couldn’t seem to pay attention for as long as it took to grasp conventional instructions for coming up with the right answer.  Ironically, I tested high.  No doubt from the massive brain strain from trying to figure out the foundation principles that would inform an answer.  I knew in my heart of hearts I had no clue.  My grades were mediocre.

Slowly, the talking to myself diminished in intensity.  The cruelty lifted, the cadence slowed down and the subject matter become more focused on what was happening in the room.…

Anything that is understood or known consciously is understood or known unconsciously first. I can’t imagine how the reverse would be true. Knowledge has to come from somewhere, right?

I often know I know something before the answer emerges. Knowing that I know, I trust that the answer will emerge, and so it does. We don’t often consider how long an insight or understanding has already been grasped before the veil lifts. I suspect hidden knowledge can stay hidden a very long time.

Hormone levels in humans fluctuate in response to a number of environmental influences. One of the most powerful and subtle is light. Cradled in equatorial Africa, our ancestors were exposed to the diurnal cycle of day and night. Human sexual hormone levels ran 24-hour cycles, as they do today, peaking and troughing at specific times in the cycle, with evenings about 30% lower than mornings.

Six weeks before a child is born, a crucial environmental trigger tells the child at what speed he or she will mature during his or her lifetime. The trigger is the amount of testosterone in the mother’s blood. High and low levels lead to very different outcomes of maturation speed. Change in …

Conspiracy

May 18, 2008 | Leave a Comment

Category: Myth/Story, Unconscious

What are various ways to influence our own evolution and influence the characteristics of our children?  By paying close attention to what we eat, whom we choose to mate with, where we live on the planet relative to light, what we smoke, drink & drug, how we exercise,  how much stress we experience …. all these things influence sexual hormone levels that determine the rate and timing of the maturation rates of our descendants.  It has been calculated that genetically, we are almost identical to chimpanzees and bonobos, with the exception of differences of rates and timing in our maturation.

Consider that our unconscious minds have been fully engaged in this process forever, coordinating specifics with the planet as a whole, making modifications, encouraging the emergence of features both interesting and useful.

Noting that the right-handed modern mind manifests left-brain strengths, we could call this a vast right-brain conspiracy.

I’m entertained by the idea that our conscious minds are the froth on the wave on the ocean of life.  Unfathomable depths of consciousness descend below us.  A primary presupposition of the biological sciences is that because consciousness cannot be measured, it is not weighed as a variable when considering how …

Republicans display an intuitive, dark talent for harnessing fear to drive the population to behave in ways that place more power in the hands of those at the very top.  By lighting flames of fear about foreigners in ways that the media respects, they concentrate power at the zenith of the American hierarchy.  The media reveres stories that create strong emotions.  The media loves stories that demand attention, not interpretation.  The media doesn’t like stories that make you think.

We’re deep into a shift where the dynamic is reversing.  In the genes of Democrats sleeps a fiery populist crying out for the rights of those at the bottom of the pyramid of power.  Those genes are starting to get re-engaged.  The media adores a story line where the many are together in a context far larger than any individual, a story that can bring in viewers over time.  The media likes war stories.  The media also likes stories about hard times.  No interpretation required.  No thinking required.

For those of us that want out of Iraq, the story line is turning in our direction.  The shift demands the government spend less money because hard times have arrived.  This story supports …

Evolutionary biological principles have powerful repercussions in the societies of humans.  These forces manifest during the ontological unfolding of individuals exposed to the forces of the environment on society, and the environment on individuals.  We as individuals evolve features–mental and physical–that emerge as a result of our contact with the environment.  Sometimes the features that get evolved are from the past.

Society moves through time, revealing a spread or arc of degrees of maturation.  Just as there are degrees of separation revealing connections not obvious without a Facebook, there are degrees of maturation deeply imbedded in our culture that display tens of thousands of years of our evolution in the generation that we’re in.

At the far left end of this rainbow of human variation are the maturationally delayed male and the maturationally accelerated female (low testosterone males and high testosterone females).  At the right side of the arc are the maturationally accelerated male and the maturationally delayed female (high testosterone males and low testosterone females).  Ancient, left-handed, ambidextrous, matriarchal, creative, physically dexterous people on the left; modern, right handed, focused-target narrative thinkers, strong but not ambidextrously agile people on the right.

Brains began splitting perhaps 2,000 generations ago with …

Autism is a social condition.

Rather, in the way that loud, rhythmic music is a symptom of puberty, the sudden rise in autism is a manifestation of extreme societal change. Both transitions are characterized by a radical hormonal shift.

The autistic person is a normal person time-traveling here from the distant past to the present where his or her gifts are only about to be understood.

Our genetic history is stored like a pocket roadmap of an almost endless roller coaster ride, tracking, among other things, the hormonal fluctuations of our ancestors. A patriarchal past stores a history of high testosterone males and low testosterone females. Further back in time, our genes tell us we lived matrifocal lives with high testosterone females and low testosterone males. Back further still, we were just learning to use language in dance-driven tribal bands where females were revered societal leaders. Unceasing music was the rhythm of their life.

Almost half of these male band members were left handed. Females were far more verbally articulate than men. The males were often relatively tall and lanky. Puberty arrived unusually late. Dancing was the center of their life.

A million or more years of sexual selection with …

The environment can have radical effects on the speed and timing of maturation at the societal scale.

Over the last 100 years, the timing of puberty has dropped 4 or more years. Human bodies, because of the dramatic increase in resources in the form of protein, carbs and fats, make it possible for humans to reproduce sooner to create more progeny to take advantage of the bounty. This is a naturally selected biological response. Baboons in Africa, feasting on human food refuse, experienced an almost immediate drop in pubertal timing in one generation.

Careening into the 21st Century, cultures addicted to unrestrained consumption are now facing an increasingly limited supply. Environmental issues such as global warming are forcing us to restrain carbon output, compelling a clamping down on consumptive lifestyles. Just as an increase in nurturing foods can force an earlier physical maturing, at the societal level a decrease in necessary supplies is also encouraging an earlier maturing.

But maybe not. Things may not be as them seem.

Human puberty arrived literally a year or more sooner with every generation in the 20th Century. Brain growth was curtailed a little bit each time. For each individual so affected, the final …

The speed and timing of maturation is perhaps the single most powerful force affecting human evolution.  Central to changes in speed and timing are environmental influences.  Every scale of our experience reveals the effects: our species, our societies, our selves.

Over the course of our lives, both male and female levels of testosterone vary according to environmental influences.  Though we are genetically disposed to a certain constant varying daily by 30%, the level can moderate according to stress, exercise, light, diet, smoking, alcohol and drugs.  Six weeks before we are born, our mother’s testosterone blood levels trigger the maturation speed of the embryo’s remaining life.  The maturing speed is different based on the child’s sex.  High testosterone blood levels compel a boy to mature slowly and a girl quickly.  Low levels trigger girls to mature slowly and the boy quickly.  Following conception, this development is perhaps the most powerful moment in a person’s life.  This juncture informs how the species evolves.  In humans, it informs how societies unfold.

Thousands of years of high testosterone females pairing with low testosterone males compel evolution in a matrifocal direction.  Place high testosterone males with low testosterone females and an opposite trajectory occurs.  There …

I am fascinated by the formation of coalitions.  Compelled to observe what encourages successful cooperation and the forces that tear attempts apart, I keep a mental list of what works and what doesn’t.

There are four classic patterns that trash both forming and mature Left coalitions:  endorsements, speaker choice, the degree of Democratic Party participation and structure discussions.  Conflicts over structure usually revolve around an issue that has several names:  degrees of democratic participation, top down vs. bottom up, anarchy vs. authority, centralized vs. dispersed authority, horizontal vs. vertical structure or patriarchal vs. matriarchal orientations.

Participants in the process need to want to experience the benefits of unity more than they want to achieve their own goals.  This balance is less often an issue in the beginning when coming conflicts are not yet clear.  It is often what breaks coalitions down.  The American Left is filled with John Waynes with highway-wide streaks of independence.  Subscribing to the American cult of individuality does not enhance community relations.  Activists often forget that losing can be winning when shifting perspective to the larger frame.  Of course, it’s not acceptable when the same coalition members are losing over and over again.

Forming coalitions long …

Process

May 11, 2008 | Leave a Comment

Category: Activism, Art

Making sand castles is about having fun.  Writing has something to do with stationing myself where divergent themes converge, trolling for meta themes where the overlap occurs.

Art is about the process, and that process changes over time, serving different purposes, depending on my age, my mood, my life, the medium, and how I feel about myself.  The more I’m able to let go and not obsess about how my creations will be received, the more peaceful is the process of creation.  When the process becomes exclusively about the process and I’m there just to accompany the flow, neat things happen.

As a social/political change activist, I notice similar principles are at work.

I focus almost exclusively on process.  I’m not the guy writing the text explaining the hypocrisy, noting the incongruity or getting the word out on the atrocity.  I’m attracted to the process that makes it possible for the final outcome–effective sharing of that information–to be achieved.  Particularly interested in communication, I pay close attention to what makes productive relationships possible.

As an artist, attention to process encourages an embracing of the self.  Feeling heard by myself, it is easier to share.

As an activist focused on process, …

Early in our marriage, my wife, Marcia, opened a door and gave me a book by Riane Eisler, The Chalice and the Blade. I’d read Joseph Campbell and William Irwin Thompson, so I was not unfamiliar with what Eisler was describing as she provided details of the matriarchal origins of contemporary culture. This was different. I was immediately afflicted with fascination and dived into study of the symbols of Indo-European culture. I studied dragons.

In a year and a half, I read everything I could find on dragon mythology, almost 100 books. My local library cooperatively brought in volumes from across the country. White-gloved, I paged through a several-hundred-year-old tome in a local research institute. What I couldn’t take out on loan, I xeroxed. My bookshelves buckled with the weight of rubber-band bound 8.5” x 11” copies of rare volumes from libraries near and far away.

I learned how symbols evolved as societies transformed. Dragons were an Indo-European demonization of the serpent symbol of the ancient goddess cultures. My study of dragons graduated to a study of the serpent and the snake. Further and deeper my studies took me. My attention came to rest about 40,000 years ago with the …

Different mediums demand different investments by the creator.

Building sand castles, the medium requests that the creator be in touch with wonder. Designing comic panels and strips draws out my disappointment, skepticism and sensitivity to incongruity and hypocrisy. When making music, I’m almost always in minor key as sadness seems to be what most easily is exposed.

Like making my way through a plate of poorly filleted fish, writing constantly demands I stop and remove the bones of bad grammar and poorly formed ideas. Still, as difficult as the journey to satiation always is, the medium encourages me to show how things not obviously connected are. Writing compels me to build bridges, draw connections, find the hidden harmonies in ways that sand art, comic creation and music making do not.

Building structures in sand, drawing and making music feel effortless to me. I’m not suggesting that the results of my creations are particularly satisfying to anyone else (though I am pretty proud of my sand castles). I’m just saying that the process is an easy flow. Writing, that’s a totally different thing.

The process of trying to find words to bridge the chasm between another human being and me feels …

I’m a sand castle purist.  I use only my hands, drip/pancake style.  How I let the wet sand fall from my hand has everything to do with what takes form.  A hot sun, 85 or higher, is necessary to bake the sand quickly.  Having almost no wind is important to keep the tower detail intact.  Fine-grain shell sand is essential.  Rock sand will not do.

Engaged in the process of creating sandcastles, I’ve noticed a pattern in the emergence of new ideas.  New architectural forms rarely emerge in a day or three.  It takes all day devotion for almost a week before new kinds of towers start to spontaneously form.  When the novelty begins to flow, it’s not one interesting unique construction, but several.

Often, the surge of creativity follows an emotional low in the form of boredom/depression/disappointment.  I’ve noticed this effect in other times in my life.  The lows seem to release or hollow me out of present infatuations.  The space created allows the growth of something new.

There has been an observation among developmental biologists studying early human ontogeny on the repercussions of testosterone surges in embryos, infants and toddlers.  These surges “prune” brain growth.  It has been …

I lived in St. Petersburg, Florida, for six years in the 70s.  It was there that I discovered that fine shell beach mixed with water contained the perfect properties for erecting four-foot towers of sand.  Sand castle construction is one of my passions.  I find it deeply satisfying at several levels.

In this blog, you’ll note my joy at shifting scales.  I travel biological evolution, societal transformation & political activism, ontogeny and personal change, observing the connections and correlations that emerge along the way.  This traveling is how I have fun.  Herman Hesse called something like this, the glass bead game.

I don’t imagine there has been a better period in history to watch the dynamic of change or transformation than this era that we’re living in.  Interesting times have ended.  Astonishing times are here.

Fascinated by evolution and transformation, I find myself in the web development profession.  Attracted to the crest of the wave of change, I am a social change/political activist.  I feel lucky to be living now when vast, raw patterns of creation are exposed and seemingly different disciplines or studies (biology, society, ontogeny, the self) are revealed to be playing the same melody in different scales.…

Change

May 6, 2008 | Leave a Comment

Category: Activism, Future, Society

Like cops with water cannons at mass protests, we’re seeking to sweep the streets of prophets, hoping those that want the future now will go away.

Television offers few visions but its own:  be afraid, buy now, be skeptical of change.  If there’d been TV before the Civil War and woman suffrage, the pundits would have scoffed at the end of slavery and a women’s vote, until they arrived.

Do we really think that the United States is not going to follow Europe?  National health care is coming.  Secular humanism is our future.  A politics of peace is on the way.

Our prophets are not the people on TV, but ourselves.  We know what the coming changes look like.  We know the way we want the world to be.  Some of us are in the streets holding signs up.  Most of us are grumbling to our friends.  Still, it doesn’t take a psychic to see what’s coming.

Turn off the TV.  Protesters are expressing mainstream, deep desires.  Prophets are being transformed into pragmatists as the impossible becomes the probable, and the probable becomes the truth.  Change is not the future; change is now.…

Nature practices art.  When humans practice art, it is a manifestation of consciousness.  Evidence of art in nature is interpreted as chance.  Much art in nature results from the selective process, sexual selection.  Individuals compel the transformation of their descendants by selecting only mates with very specific variations on a sensory theme.  Many sounds and sights in nature were deliberately designed by discriminating spouses seeking mates with features more unique than the competition.

Modern society is sexual selection or art gone wild.  Enhanced faculties, formerly dedicated toward picking a mate, target just about everything in our experience.  We can’t stop discriminating.  We are compelled to pick out that which is most unique, and own it.

It is not an exaggeration to suggest that sex drives almost all of our behavior.  Our consumer economy relies upon our thirst for novelty and status.  These are ancient, hormone-driven dictates.  Advertisements goose our inclinations to note interesting differences and embrace them to draw attention to ourselves.  Our biology is deeply evident in this economy driven by a compulsion to devour nonrenewable resources while making art.

About five million years ago, human ancestors branched off from the species that led both to humans and chimpanzees.  …