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Updated 31 Mar 2013

Metaphors and Mirrors

Wouldn't you know, the stuff of life, the Periodic Table, reproduces itself in modern politics. In each case the extreme lefts and rights can't tolerate each other; at the same time they need each other. Sodium, missing a chip on its shoulder runs into chlorine with an extra chip on its shoulder; they react in great heat to annihilate each other as identities to become something else--the salt of the earth--you know, that bitter stuff that collects in the Dead Sea basin for lack of a better place to go. The same thing happens to the other alkalis and alkaline earths on the left when they encounter any of the halogens on the right. They all make bitter salts that go nowhere.

In like manner in human affairs, when the right-wing extremists encounter their left-wing in-kind, they react in the heat of violence to become something else--charred remains in the cemetery--which in turn goes nowhere. Or maybe it is branches of monotheism that meet in fatal violence with fatal results, all in the name of God, or Allah, or YHVH. Others would see the super rich plutocrats and abject poor clawing at each other's throats. Still others see nations imperial exploiting and raping the weaker at every opportunity.

In a way these disparate love-hate relationships mimic the range of behaviors seen in each period of the Periodic Table. Just as these periods repeat themselves in chemical behavior, so also political history repeats itself, as if in lock step with the behaviors of the natural periodic sequences elements of the Periodic Table go through as their proton numbers increase.

In every period, as in politics, it is the stuff in the middle that ends up carrying the load, of progress and building, yet rarely governing outright. Iron is in the middle of the Periodic Table, and so are the precious metals. The iron nucleus is the most stable of all elements. Without iron, there could be no great cities, no civilization or transportation as we know them. What is more, iron gets along fine with its neighbors, chromium, manganese, and nickel. In fact they alloy readily to create stainless steel and other useful alloys. At the same time, iron is a dead end as a reservoir of nuclear energy. It is the final "ash" of stellar evolution so to speak. In human affairs it is the moderate scientists, inventors, developers, and businesspeople, acting in concert and cooperation who play the role of iron. They utilize the fruits of discovery that extend human life to its natural limits, bring famine and pestilence under control, make travel and communication global and instant, provide for the elderly, and protect our most precious heritage, the biosphere.

Middle stuff in each case: nature in two manifestations. Politics and the Periodic Table are thus metaphors for one another. If humanity can listen to this message from nature, it might just save itself. Whether you believe an anthropomorphic god brought nature into being in a flash, or whether the flash of the big bang, with no known origin, did it gradually, either way the message is clear, and before us to read. Alloying and friendliness trump heated reaction and violence. Science accomplishes while politicians of either stripe, when corrupt or fundamental and authoritarian, may in fact tear down edifices of progress. Hitler had his Himmler, Stalin had Lysenko, and we have Stem Cells, Global Warming, and Birth Control advocates. Those guys were/are not alone: all too often extreme politicians try to stop progress or divert it to their own advantage. This is and has been human history. It became a serious matter with Pope Urban VIII: all he did was place one of history's greatest physicists under house arrest for the last decade of his life. Galileo was lucky, his contemporary, Bruno, more vocal politically, was burned at the stake.

There is more. At the end of the natural element sequence in the Periodic Table, lie the very heavy atoms. These are like the human sloths if you will, who become too heavy to survive. Nature requires over-weight atoms in a process known as radioactivity to slough off excess protons to stay slim and useful as atoms. There is a stability limit to the their mass number. Beyond that limit lies spontaneous disintegration.

So also for humanity. When the human mass exceeds its natural limit for sustainable survival, it disintegrates into war, genocide, pestilence and famine. While science has pushed out that limit, the limit is still there and always will be. Malthus had it right.

In yet a final metaphor, each period in the Periodic Table comes to an emphatic end in group eight. The last element in each period has just the right number of chips to fill the pot of friendliness. Helium and its brethren in group eight never substantially react to or combine with any other element. They live in perpetual peace.

On humanity's side, guess what? Buddhists largely fill the niche equivalent to the group eight elements. It is some kind of irony that their philosophy just happens to contain elements of physics, though it predates modern physics by millennia. Buddhism is alone in this distinction, among both religions and philosophies.

The middle is where it is at folks.
How can we get on with it?
How can we find and energize the moderates?
Where can we find guidance?
In science, politics or religion?
Or where?

Evidence presented on this site points to the Authoritarian Personality, AP, a product of evolution, as a co-conspirator in allowing terrorism to germinate through their acquiescence of and obedience to the true baddies, the socio-psychopaths. This is truly a marriage consummated in Hell.

Justin Frank ably illustrates how the APs of our great nation fell under the spell of a psychopath who promptly turned his society down a road that leads to bankruptcy, not just economically, but morally as well. Dean points out just how dangerous such acquiescence can be. Dean did his homework. See Milgram and Altemeyer for the AP and Zimbardo for how easy it is for the common American to be corrupted into violent, sociopathic behavior. For a near-at-home rendition of the sociopath, see Martha Stout. They are all too common.

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