Religion and politics led to social tension and conflict, then and now: study

Jan 2, 2016

Humans haven’t learned much in more than 2,000 years when it comes to religion and politics.

Religion has led to social tension and conflict, not just in today’s society, but dating back to 700 B.C. according to a new study published today in Current Anthropology .

University of Colorado anthropology Professor Arthur A. Joyce and University of Central Florida Associate Professor Sarah Barber found evidence in several Mexican archeological sites that contradict the long-held belief that  acted to unite early state societies. It often had the opposite effect, the study says.

“It doesn’t matter if we today don’t share particular religious beliefs, but when people in the past acted on their beliefs, those actions could have real, material consequences,” Barber said about the team’s findings. “It really behooves us to acknowledge religion when considering political processes.”

Sounds like sage advice in today’s world that has multiple examples of politics and religion intersecting and resulting in conflict.

The team published its findings “Ensoulment, Entrapment, and Political Centralization: A Comparative Study of Religion and Politics in Later Formative Oaxaca,” after spending several years conducting field research in the lower Río Verde valley of Oaxaca, Mexico’s Pacific coastal lowlands. They compared their results with data from the highland Valley of Oaxaca.


Read more by clicking on the name of the source below. 

57 comments on “Religion and politics led to social tension and conflict, then and now: study

  • Further astonishing revelations which the authors intend to reveal in their next book is that 2000 years ago fish also swam, birds flew very much as they still do today and there is even archeological evidence that the sun rose and set in a 24 hour cycle that modern man would be quite familiar with.



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  • A worthless study. People have jobs, there are grants, the twain shall meet. That’s how it goes.

    Hey, Dawkins members? What are we doing? It’s the same song over and over again.

    We want people to concede the obvious to us – that faith is based on faith. We then want to point out how empirically contrary this is. And how nothing can disprove the faith of fervent religious people. Period. —Why don’t we realize how obvious our argument is?

    We go about all day shouting up is up! Down is down!

    Let us disabuse ourselves of our own phantoms before we demand more of others.

    Our understanding of religion as SIMPLY a set of seemingly obviously false postulates (it CAN be that) is impoverished.



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  • “Plain obvious” is what the religious say to us. “We have the primary evidence of our personal experiences, why can’t you understand that?”

    We will always need evidence of our case.

    Its about time the obvious was proved on both sides.

    Guess who will win.

    Don’t diss evidence, even of the obvious.



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  • Our understanding of religion as SIMPLY a set of seemingly obviously
    false postulates (it CAN be that) is impoverished.

    How can a truth be impoverished? Truths must be added to with more truths. Truth hits them on the head until they go into their shells where thinking time might make them question their faith.



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  • A worthless study…

    @OP – …found evidence in several Mexican archeological sites that contradict the long-held belief that religion acted to unite early state societies. It often had the opposite effect, the study says.

    Maybe not worthless.

    This does make me wonder what is the basis of that contradictory long-held belief about the unifying force of religion.



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  • My own view is that most of religion’s 15(or so) millenium run was indeed the glue for the new macro-groupings. In the East it began its loss of that particular utility as its particular social inventions (justice, civil society etc.) were abstracted by the axial age philosophy evidenced as far afield as Greece, China and India around 600BCE and greatly improved upon. Maybe something similar happened in the (far) West?



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  • 9
    NearlyNakedApe says:

    Don’t diss evidence, even of the obvious.

    My thoughts exactly Phil. Let’s not forget that we live in a world where millions of people believe that the earth is 6000 years old and that Jesus will come back for a reckoning scheduled to take place in Jackson, Missouri.

    My opinion is that historically, since most anthropologists are a product of a Western society education, a lot of their work must have been inevitably infected by a positive social bias towards religion. This in turn must have played a major role in the general consensus most anthropologists have developped about the socially unifying role of religion.

    We grew up in a society where common popular belief was, even among non religious people, that religion “could do no harm” and that in many cases, it does good. People often will unconsciously apply their biases to their work. After all, scientists are only human and therefore can never completely escape their own biases.

    And that’s why evidence is so important even if it does at times, seem ridiculously obvious to us.



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  • You’re a sharp guy, Doug. Have a great new year.
    Olgun et al, I think the approach you referred to will in fact work with a great many “fence sitters.” Dawkins addressed his great book to them and understood (implicitly) that the others (and their numbers are still staggering) could not be swayed by reasoned argument.
    I was, again, in a foul mood when I wrote that, but I like to think outside the box, and want people (including myself) to evolve on this site, to move on to higher, more productive and fruitful ground.
    The world is a complex place, as you all know.



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  • Is my cock a kipper?

    Well you could using DNA analysis work out exactly how close you and therefore your cock is related to a kipper, I’d assume over 70% given plants are about 40%. Of course this amount would depend on a number of factors including if you were referring to your manhood or a rooster which would of course change the answer significantly also.



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  • “Religion is a system of wishful illusions together with a disavowal of reality, such as we find nowhere else but in a state of blissful hallucinatory confusion. Religion’s eleventh commandment is “Thou shalt not question.”
    (Freud: The Future of an Illusion)



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  • We grew up in a society…

    How are you doing, NNA?

    You mentioned a social bias in favor of religion on the part of the anthropologists. —If this loss of objectivity was indeed “inevitable” (and maybe it was) why do you refer to this awareness of the inevitable as your opinion, as opposed to just stating it as a fact – and where is your evidence? Where was there any falsification, obfuscation or willful misconstruction, and by whom and when?

    And I have never met or even heard of a single person who ever said that religion could do no harm. Even Billy Graham would disavow such a claim.

    Would atheist anthropologists be less biased in favor of their own opposition to the notion of religion as a force for good (in any given moment in history)? Perhaps.

    I detest religion, consider it loathsome and detestable and outright dangerous, for the most part.

    But not all religions are the same, and we must strive to be fair and just in our judgments and our accusations, respectively.



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  • Agreed, Nearly Naked.

    The interpretations of historical and pre-historical anthropology are particularly prone to be built upon a backwards delta from how we perceive the present. Usefully we have a growing awareness of this and repeated attempts (through time) at backward projection to the physical evidence give us a set of possible interpretations, some of which sit better with other evidences. Much pre-psychology “wisdom” of what motivates human behaviours is startlingly un-evidenced, if sophisticated, opinion. And this stuff persists, particularly in these types of discipline much to their detriment.

    (Having a psychological model of oneself as an observer can work wonders in countering possible bias, even if this makes conclusions of papers, nowadays, more tentative and open handed. )

    My concern with the paper is the possibly modern perspective of religion as an easily demarked thing from politics and social life. My hypothesis would be that there is a process of reification of the component parts of a more homogenised entity. This process of a cultural evolution and change would be part of the problem. Societies are ever dynamic…



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  • …the more homogenised entity of an earlier culture where religion is seemlessly conflated with and co-evolved with social, political, judicial and productive elements, that later become (are decided to be) these things in themselves.

    (Reify…to “thingify”, to make a thing in itself. To look at a hand and notice and name for the first time a finger.)



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  • Doug, you’re a funny guy, and sharp – like me. You and me, Doug. We’ll create a revolution in the minds of men. (LOL)
    Fairness. I left you a note on the other thread. Forgot which one. Was it the one on dementia in rats? No. The father suing the school.



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  • Dan

    (Reify…to “thingify”, to make a thing in itself. To look at a hand and notice and name for the first time a finger.)

    Here’s something Freud usefully got right, just by observation. (He’s great at noticing).

    The Freudian slip, parapraxis. I needed an illustration of reify’s meaning (to make a thing) and settled on “Thing” from the Addams Family, quite unconsciously. I do that such a lot…



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  • The article is completely devoid of any consideration of context, and has no real substance to it. Just propaganda, if you ask me – not good history.
    They are appropriating history from without and with their own biased or skewed perspective. The “scholarly” equivalent of the profit-seeking Time magazine and others like it, which appropriates people’s experiences from without, makes no attempt ever to get inside someone else’s experience. As a result it remains superficial, for the most part.



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  • I thought your use of the Kantian phrase thing in itself might be a parapraxis of sorts. You could have just said thing.
    To reify something is to present it as a thing. I see you have the ding an sich in mind. Interesting. Very interesting.



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  • I like and use the ding an sich formulation. Always have. The point is it is not just made a thing but is made a thing with a separated identity.

    I am using reify in a slightly less common way. I am not making an abstract entity solid (a real thing), which too often is given as the only definition, but I am refering to a sort of parsing into existence, an individuation of parts by noticing and naming. Becoming a thing in itself is precisely my intention in my use of reify here. It is a thing and the concept/identity of the thing.



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  • Given the great rich cultural histories unanimously imposed by the survivors of religious parsing, the paradox of unanimity asserts religion was never a positive force in any fashion. Ergo, it was neutral (ridiculously unlikely) or simply a negative force. That it survived and thrived intimates any and all net losses for humanity bought religions their refinements and reinforcements.
    This study, while a little interesting as it asserts facts, is describing a grain of sand in a spent hourglass. The detail, while effecting a useful anecdote, is bland and uninspiring to me, at least.



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  • Isabel Clarke’s Discontinuity Model has furthered knowledge into the overlap between psychosis and spirituality.

    She put it thus: Psychosis and spirituality both inhabit the space where reason breaks down, and mystery takes over. For me as a psychotherapist working with people with psychosis, this encounter poses questions: questions such as; “Why is religious/spiritual preoccupation and subject matter so prominent in psychosis?”

    They’re the same thing.



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  • A couple of questions.

    Ergo, it was neutral (ridiculously unlikely) or simply a negative force.

    Does this apply to only later societies?

    All members of society are not equal. Who imposed what on whom?

    What is the paradox of unanimity? Why does unanimity or otherwise imply a necessary absence of positivity?

    bland and uninspiring

    Anthropological studies are often, taken alone, something of a disappointment. They are narrow insights in time and place. It is only when they are laid next to other data points in time and place from other studies conducted in the same manner that real hypothesis generation can be made… This is a slow business.



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  • We have always agreed on this, Len.

    I’ll take the opportunity to add the Sacks, Sapolsky and others’ contributions to understanding this, as possibly being the result of a lack of ready access to semantic memory. The brain confabulates in the absence or attenuation of such everyday knowledge of the world due to any number of oxygen, glucose, neuro-transmitter, and synaptic/wiring problems, to make good the defecit. Many fussy details can be alternately constructed and replaced when unavailable by the mega-meme heuristic Goddidit.



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  • The four horsemen were sitting around talking. Did you see that video? Anyway, at one point Harris asked his friends whether anything had ever given them pause (with regards to religion). Dawkins said something about the constants of the universe (and I believe Hawking is rather perplexed by that too).
    In spite of their various concessions and admissions they remained united in their opposition to the idea of a divine creator (thank heavens).
    One thing that gives me pause, Phil, is this: it is hard for me to imagine that an artist can achieve the same heights without some kind of belief in (at the very least) the possibility of being inspired by something more-than-human, something infinite and eternal. Inspiration is a religious concept, I think. As an aspiring artist (writer, musician) myself it is hard to imagine I will ever accomplish anything great if I were to renounce altogether this belief in inspiration, the notion that the artist is a channel.
    That gives me pause.
    Hasn’t religion inspired many great artists? Even if there is no God, would Bach and Mozart have been able to do what they did without that openness? (Just being honest. Sorry if this disclosure sounds nutty.)
    Btw, I have a comment about Lincoln on the lawsuit thread.
    You’re a great guy.
    —DR



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  • It’s interesting to wonder how that final leap occurs. We know that it consistently happens after mastering something through practice.


    –maybe they mastered the wrong ‘something’



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  • There’s an article about the Paradox of Unanimity here somewhere, as peculiar and counter-intuitive as it seems. Put simply, taking a macro view of unanimous opinions, all people agreeing with one another 100% is so unlikely as to be a stronger and stronger indicator that there’s something wrong with the system itself (and compounding exponentially!) the more times it happens. Of course we’re talking about opinion and not a statement of undeniable and tangible fact. Take for instance a line-up anecdote; 10 people witness a crime and see a guy in a hat for 2 seconds steal a sweet from a child. They attend a line-up with a suspect in a hat among hatless others; they all finger him. A unanimous opinion… but I’m sure you can see what’s wrong.
    It must be asserted of course that this should not be confused with observable fact checking of simple problems like picking an apple out of a ‘which is the odd one out’ with three oranges.

    Religion, faith, etc. All opinion (ask a religious man for his thoughts of the authenticity of other religions and it’s opinion-centric existence is easily proved almost unanimously! (paradox of unanimity joke). So, for all cultures to say their religions are a good and positive force for mankind, according to the extreme unlikelihood of billions of people all having the correct opinion and agreeing at once, is simply systemic madness. The odds of it being perfectly balanced is almost as ridiculous, which only leaves religion being a negative net force for people, and only positive in preserving it’s proponents opinions (as it’s continued existence asserts)

    Why not positive? Entrenched system error tends to waste and chaos in every instance, and every human of faith is a reiteration of the error. Errors compound and never in a good way.



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  • Knowing 3 schizophrenics at close quarters and counting two of them as my bestest of friends (a poet and a playwright of consumate artistry both), believing Einstein to have symptoms of it (his son was schizophrenic) and most great artists likewise I entirely think our species great capacity amongst primates arises from such neuro diversity at its edges. (The systemetising Aspies sit at another edge also, psychopaths at another.) These varieties of cogntive skew by finding enough of a nurturing home from the dull but kindly and tolerant middle create our inventive, yet rigorous, yet dynamic society.

    Popper is entirely correct that truly innovatory science (not to mention art) flows from metaphysical hypotheses. I count myself (a mild aspie) an anarchist, in pale imitation of the schizotypal mindset. If its not broken, break it, or it least give it a handsome thrashing. The capacity to break (or at least imagine broken) what we know and further imagine how it might be overwise has revealed truth time and time again. But there is a test always for dependability of vision. Metaphysics are not real, they are our plaything, our thought experiments. Some may grow up to be real. Artists reveal to us individually who we are, how our cognitions work. Physics, the shocking nature of reality.

    The schizophrenic capacity I suspect gifted us our capacity for imagining ever nearer truths as it once gifted us the fixitall of goddidit. From the Enlightenment on, once the Aspies of Newton and Cavendish etc. got to sieve the coherent from the incoherent, not only has science truly benefited from this prodigious, schizotypal inventiveness, but the arts too. Shared with increasing readiness, the appetite for self discovery blossomed, demanding further insights, further visions.



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  • I am not a neuroscientist but I will say this, Phil:
    And I say this – respectfully, and in the spirit of constructive criticism… Perhaps you have a vested interest in equating the artist’s internal vision with a species of pathology. There have been many great artists, novelists, poets, composers, etc, who believed in beauty and in the timeless nature of beauty. They may have felt something “religious” when they perceived what they deemed beautiful, and may have felt a “divine spark” in the act of creating.
    I don’t like the labels, the picking-to-bits, that I am getting here on this issue.
    Perhaps all art will be banned in the future, and all artists will be considered insane.
    Many artists were bi-polar and obsessive-compulsive. I do not know of many that were rampantly psychotic or schizophrenic. If they were schizophrenic then they were schizophrenic. So what? There are functioning schizophrenics in all areas of life and they are able to work, can sell pretzels or paint paintings – and everything in between. Schizophrenia is not the same as psychosis.
    Btw, spirituality and psychosis are not the same thing either. That is inaccurate, a crude and reckless point. The former is part of our language, at the very least.
    I would like to recommend a great essay. I am no great fan of William James, but he did write one great essay called On a Certain Blindness in Human Beings.
    The gist of it is that most people are incapable of appreciating the inner experiences of others. They judge them, label them, negate them.
    I think there may be a metaphysical realm.
    Baudelaire once wrote, at the end of his prose poem “Windows”:
    “Of course, you may confront me with: ‘But are you sure your fairy tale is really true?’ But what does it really matter what the reality outside myself is, as long as it has helped me to live, to feel that I am alive, to feel the very nature of the creature that I am.”
    Was Dante crazy? Was Petrarch? Was Beethoven? Baudelaire also said: “That which is created by the mind lives more truly than matter.”
    I don’t believe in a deity, or any supernatural being that legislates, or that is fit to worship, or that exists in any way that warrants an attempt to even describe it to others. Nor do I necessarily regard such a being as a thing-in-itself; I don’t regard it, period; what I was attempting to describe was something that could not be described with any word other than “spiritual.” I have the religion of the poets, the musicians (I am religious without religion – Schumann), the artists. No holy book, nothing other than a vision of transcendence, and of creating something beautiful, something – dare I say it –timeless.
    “God has something in store for us.” That is what the author of The Divine Comedy said when he saw Beatrice. Is this religion? faith? pathology? delusional thinking? You are prepared to say that this is a break from reality?
    God, Love, Beauty, Soul.
    Words.
    I have great contempt for church-goers, and I completely agree with Dawkins and with much of what you and others have to say about religion – but not in this context.
    I myself would never dream of sitting in a church and praying. Praying to what? Jesus? That’s madness, lunacy.
    I am religious without religion, as Schumann said.
    Sorry I did such a lousy job trying to describe all this.
    (I told you that my grandfather was a cousin of Einstein. I hope I didn’t inherit the crazy gene!)
    DR



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  • P.S. I am not defending religion; I just think we condemn too quickly and that certain individuals (such as myself) have their own inner vision, and their own experiences – and they should not be understood too quickly or automatically reduced to biological or scientific terms. Then again, everyone is free to think and say what they want.
    I go back and forth on all of this. Right now I am prepared to say that I have yet to relinquish my belief in a certain permanent mystery, and in some kind of transcendence. —Call it spiritual.
    But I still look down upon organized religion and all of the horrors that go along with it.
    I am a man of contradictions.



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  • No. Like Autism is the extreme end of the male mode of cognition these things are not pathologies for the most part but spectrums upon which the population is positioned with tendencies, more or less.

    I’m afraid flat evidence-free denials aren’t going to do it for me. Schizotypal behaviours are not schizophrenia. Aspies are not Autist, nor nerds nor indeed men but they are by their various degress on the Autist spectrum.

    I am well aware you don’t like looking at your own mind in such scientific detail. But this is the stuff of neuro-psychology and for me its growing explanatory powers are magnificent.

    I don’t like the labels, the picking-to-bits, that I am getting here on this issue.
    Perhaps all art will be banned in the future, and all artists will be considered insane.

    This is crass. I will repeat what I wrote with emphasis.

    The whole point is that we succeed by our growing neuro-tolerance, by finding a place in a complex society where we can individually thrive given our personal positions on the various spectra. The naked ape’s particular trick is as much our utilisation of differing cognitive abilities and behavioural dispositions.

    You need to stop it with th crazy gene stuff also. None of this is about needing to be crazy to be an artist or a scientist. This is possibly about that adaption we know we made 2.5million years ago that affected GABA transportation in the PFC, and gifted us uniquely with this capacity for a more thoroughgoing and inventive speculation. As with several other genetic characterisitics a double dose of them under the wrong circumstances can lead to debilitating conditions. The human ape uniquely suffers in this regard, with no animal models existing for them. (Animal models of nearly every other psychiatric affliction exist.)



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  • Hang on, is this Anscombe’s paradox?

    No, but it is related. Anscombe formally balances unanimity with complete non-unanimity.

    In business it is a received wisdom that an optimal viability in the business comes from having 80% (I think 75% per Anscombe) do-as-your-told yes-people and 20% think-for-themselves rule breakers. You need a predominance of the former to preserve the culture but sufficient rule-breakers to innovate your way out of new troubles, without breaking the business with their anarchy. This measure is, though, entirely circumstance related.

    This is entirely analagous to the optimal but small rate of mutation of replicators in evolution for optimum robustness in a changing environment.

    The unanimity problem is not so much a “problem” under certain circumstances, therefore, and interestingly from Jonathan Haidt’s analysis of right of centre moral sensibilities (mostly absent from the left leaning) are the key virtues of subjection to authority, loyalty to comrades, and a desire to preserve the purity and integrity of institutions, a conservative mental toolkit to ensure uniformity and societal alignment.

    The point is that under certain circumstances unanimity is advantageous. Under threat, in a state of war, say, the greatest self protection emerges from being configured like an army. It is no surprise that conservative religious folk under threat from change may declare a Jihad (if only a notional one) to rally “the troops” and encourage a singular focus. The American religious right certainly talk of war waged upon them.

    This is the problem for right leaning leaders, under times of non-threat, they need to generate the feeling of threat when non really exists. Fox news for the secular, and the end of days for the religious.

    So sometimes for a community unanimity works. In desperate times as may have existed (food energy impoverishment, climate threat).

    Flourishing needs these brakes taking off sufficiently, however, to allow societal invention.



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  • Neuro-psychology

    I feel trapped between the future and the past, Phil.
    Btw, there is a genetic component to some forms of mental illness. I have bi-polar in the family. Late brother had it (and LSD and heroin didn’t cure it), aunt, grandmother, others. I have a touch of it, I think. I like it. (One psychiatrist a while back said something about Aspergers.— Who the hell knows?)
    Of course you don’t have to be nuts to be a great scientist or artist – but it doesn’t hurt. (Kidding)
    I don’t know what the category human ape includes. I am a bloody ignoramus. I will look that up, and at that review you sent of Pinker’s book. I saw it at the store. Looks long.



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  • Yes, severe bi-polar can have psychotic features, if that’s what you mean. My grandmother used to walk around the streets of Bayside naked (late onset bi-polar disorder).
    She also stood outside a church handing out rolls of toilet paper during this time. That was actually good. Who is to say that that was not a sane act? Maybe the sanest act of her life. (Not really.)
    I can get manic and then get very down, but I have never been diagnosed as psychotic (or schizophrenic), and with God’s help (joke) I never will.
    Actually doctors often disagree amongst themselves about diagnoses, as I am sure you know. Two things they have all been in agreement about: I am neurotic as hell,
    and intellectually gifted. —And that’s like Mark’s apple.



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  • I look at the middle digit of my right hand and think “wife’s primary clitoral stimulation tool”……
    And yes i’ve checked – she doesn’t seem to have any hidden vibrators anywhere….
    But absence of evidence does not mean evidence of absence…I’ll just have to look harder to prove my hypothesis!



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  • You need a predominance of the former to preserve the culture but
    sufficient rule-breakers to innovate your way out of new troubles,
    without breaking the business with their anarchy. This measure is,
    though, entirely circumstance related.

    Still early days with the book Laurie recommended “Quite”, but it seems Dale Carnegie is to blame for that 20% of rule-breakers possibly being the wrong people. (At least I have somebody to blame for todays business woes in the world 🙂 )

    “America had shifted from what the influential cultural historian Warren Susman called ‘a culture of character to a culture of personality’….”



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  • Ever think about writing a sci-fi novel, Indygirl? What you just said sounded like a great sci-fi story, and as far as I know there’s never been one like that, although I could be wrong. Sounds like a good movie idea too, and not hard to do, as most of the scenes could take place in the present.
    Include me in the credits: Thanks to Dan for his guidance.



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  • I second the sci-fi idea. Especially if it never actually makes clear what the situation is in the time-traveling anthropologist’s own time. Just shows the weirdnesses of this time, as seen by the outsider. Like, for instance, her having trouble with particular foods, without hinting at what kind of food she was used to. Likewise laws and customs and institutions….



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  • What you just said sounded like a great sci-fi story, and as far as I know there’s never been one like that,

    Not quite like that, but on a similar plot line. I can’t spoil the plot, but this Sci Fi movie was made low budget, but with good actors. What is incredible is the plot, which I can’t reveal because I would spoil it. It’s was put up free on YouTube by the producer. It get’s high ratings on Rotten Tomatoes. I showed it recently to my retired gentleman’s film club. At the end… the most common response was Holy WTF. And it will appeal to all of the denizens of this forum, as it has a killer religious commentary.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vdne2mZ-ebU



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  • Just watched it David. Very enjoyable and interesting. The very beginning is missing on this version and, I hope, just the very end. It stops just as the ambulance drives towards the house. Is that the end or is there more?



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  • There is more… The old man is his son. He dies of a heart attack upon hearing the news. The John Oldman then drives away to start a new life… But he hesitates and the female joins him. Roll the credits.



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  • Have you guys seen the movie THX-1138 with Robert Duvall? That was George Lucas’s first film (1971). It was a low budget film compared to Star Wars, but much better than anything else he ever did. Next to 2001 and the original Planet of the Apes, I’d say it’s the best sci-fi movie ever made.
    It is almost too good. It’s terrifying. It’s about a totalitarian society in some kind of dome or something, but they’re below ground. There are underground tunnels, and everyone is treated like they’re part of a machine. Scary stuff.
    Duvall is a loose cog in the wheel. Not for the squeamish, but it comes recommended.
    If we’re not careful that’s where we’re all heading. An important film. (Produced by Coppola.)



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