People With One Watch, Part III

    I celebrate myself;
    And what I assume you shall assume;
    For every atom belonging to me, as good belongs to you. (Walt Whitman, Song of Myself)

(Note: This is a continuation of the previous two posts; if you haven’t read those, much of this won’t make sense.)

Embryonic stem cell research, from two perspectives. Elizabeth C. writes,

Regarding stem cell research, destroying human life at any time prior to its ability to sustain itself is murder. To the thinking mind, the term “harvesting” is descriptive enough to prevent legalization. We are messing with life itself, believing ourselves so scientifically advanced that we can get away with it. It’s just a matter of time before the legalized slaughter of the lambs via abortion finds us unprepared for the ultimate results: A world deprived of what would have been, had life been allowed. …

… My beloved grandchildren are proof enough for me that lives lost via abortion and stem cell research would have been lives loved, had their biological parents not made the easiest choice in today’s McDonald’s society, here today, gone tomorrow, whatever the reason.

The other perspective: Laurie Strongin writes in the Washington Post about the death of her son, Henry, who was born with Fanconi’s anemia. “Our only hope lay on the frontiers of science, in human embryo and stem cell research,” she writes. She found a doctor named Mark Hughes, then chief of reproductive and prenatal genetics at the National Institutes of Health, who had pioneered a stem cell procedure he thought could save Henry.

But on Jan. 9, 1997, an article in The Washington Post reported that Hughes was violating a two-year-old federal ban on human embryo research with his work on PGD.

Under the ban, Hughes was barred from performing that work as part of his position at NIH. Refusing to abandon his research or the families who were depending on it, he set up a lab as part of an in vitro fertility program at a private hospital across the street in Bethesda. But he was considered in violation of the federal law because his work at the hospital employed NIH research fellows and used NIH equipment — a refrigerator.

Over the following weeks, the daily headlines all read the same to me: Henry is going to die. As our doctor was forced to resign from his job and faced congressional hearings, Henry’s blood counts declined. We searched for alternatives to PGD, but none existed. The politically triggered delay had stolen precious time in our race to save Henry’s life. On Dec. 11, 2002, he died in my arms.

The procedure that Henry was denied because of a refrigerator was the same one used to save the life of Molly Nash, who also was born with Fanconi’s anemia. Today Molly is eleven years old and free from disease.

The odds that any particular blastocyst, once frozen, will ever become a baby are, well, long. It’s likely most will never be thawed. A large part of those that are thawed will not survive thawing. And of the select few that survive thawing and are implanted in a uterus, only some will result in a pregnancy. Yet by some twisted moral algebra, these blastocysts are considered more precious (to some people, like Elizabeth C.) than a child like Henry.

Recent news stories say that about 400,000 surplus frozen embryos are in storage in America. But according to this article in the current issue of Mother Jones, the number 400,000 represents the embryos stored in 2002. Four years later, there is every reason to believe the actual number is higher — close to half a million — and growing rapidly.

In other words, during the time it took for about 110 “snowflake children” to be born, another 200,000 blastocysts went into storage.

The Fetus People have persuaded themselves that since only a small percentage of stored embryos have been designated by their “parents” to be made available for research, the remainder are just sitting around waiting for Mommy and Daddy to thaw them out and pop them in the oven. This is, of course, nonsense. As the Mother Jones article linked above makes clear, the in vitro process requires creating a surplus of blastocysts to achieve one pregnancy. But once treatment is over many parents struggle with the choice of storing, donating, or destroying the leftovers. Many couples choose to store the blastocysts even though they have no intention of using them —

[A] woman described her embryos as a psychic insurance policy, providing “intangible solace” against the fundamental parental terror that an existing child might die. “What if [my daughter] got leukemia?” said yet another, who considered her frozen embryos a potential source of treatment. A patient put the same notion more bluntly: “You have the idea that in a warehouse somewhere there’s a replacement part should yours get lost, or there is something wrong with them.”

For others, embryos carried a price tag that made them seem like a consumer good; a few parents considered destroying them to be a “waste” of all the money spent on treatment.

Michael Kinsley, who supports stem cell research, writes that “if embryos are human beings with full human rights, fertility clinics are death camps.”

In any particular case, fertility clinics try to produce more embryos than they intend to implant. Then — like the Yale admissions office (only more accurately) — they pick and choose among the candidates, looking for qualities that make for a better human being. If you don’t get into Yale, you have the choice of attending a different college. If the fertility clinic rejects you, you get flushed away — or maybe frozen until the day you can be discarded without controversy.

And fate isn’t much kinder to the embryos that make this first cut. Usually several of them are implanted in the hope that one will survive. Or, to put it another way, in the hope that all but one will not survive. And fertility doctors do their ruthless best to make these hopes come true.

Kinsley argues that if one genuinely believes that destroying a blastocyst to extract stem cells is murder, then logically one must also be opposed to in vitro fertilization. The routine practices of fertility clinics destroy far more blastocysts than would ever likely be destroyed for stem cell research. “And yet, no one objects, or objects very loudly,” Kinsley says. “President Bush actually praised the work of fertility clinics in his first speech announcing restrictions on stem cells.”

The fact is, opponents of stem cell research routinely lie — to themselves, to each other, to anyone who will listen — in order to defend their belief that embryonic stem cell research is immoral. This suggests to me that the real reasons people object to stem cell research have less to do with moral principle than with some deeply submerged but potent fear. And this takes us back to elective ignorance. Something about flushing all those blastocysts makes the Fetus People uncomfortable in a way that condemning Henry Strongin to death does not. The arguments they make against stem cell research, which are mostly a pile of lies and distortions, are not the reasons they are opposed to stem cell research. They are the rationalizations created to justify their opposition.

Exactly what it is that frightens the Fetus People so is beyond the scope of a blog post. I hope the social psychologists will get out their chi squares and p values and get to work on finding the answer. But I hypothesize that many of them have years of ego investment in anti-abortion propaganda, to the point that they’re chanting “life begins at conception” in their sleep. If they give so much as a millimeter of ground on the “conception” issue their entire worldview, which includes their self-identity, will crumble apart. Hence, they are less concerned with saving Henry Strongin than with saving blastocysts. Hence, elective ignorance.

I’ve explained my views on “when life begins” before. Many on the Right are absolutely certain that “conception” is the only possible answer, but in fact there are a multitude of different answers that can be arrived at both scientifically and philosophically. As this essay explains nicely, across time and cultures there have been many different opinions as to when life “begins.” Even the Catholic Church has changed its papal mind several times in its history.

The Fetus People argue that since a human blastocyst is human, and alive, it must be human life and therefore entitled to all the rights and privileges and protections the law allows. Others of us think claiming a blastocyst is equal in value to, say, Nelson Mandela is self-evidently absurd; DNA does not equal personhood. And “human life” doesn’t explain why blastocysts are protected with more ferocity than Henry Strongin. We might giggle at Senator Brownback’s Amazing Talking Embryos, but in truth we’re allowing medical and scientific policies to be set by people with simplistic, childish, even primitive ideas about medicine and science. Not funny.

As I explained in Part I of this little trilogy, we’re all conditioned from birth to understand ourselves and the world around us in a certain way. Ultimately our understanding of blastocysts and Henrys and their relative value is based on how we understand some pretty basic stuff, like selfness and beingness, life and death, us and other. Those who insist that life “begins” at conception have a very rigid and narrow understanding of these matters.

I’m going to attempt to explain my understanding as best I can, just as an example. I don’t expect anyone to agree with me, which is not a problem as far as I’m concerned.

As I’ve explained elsewhere, it seems to me that life doesn’t “begin” at all. However it got to this planet four billion years ago, it hasn’t been observed to “begin” since. Instead, life expresses itself in myriad forms. And whatever it is you are is a result of a process stretching back those four billion years. Calling any point a “beginning” seems arbitrary to me.

What is the self? If you’ve ever done time in a Zen monastery, that’s the question the Roshi brings up, over and over again. Kensho might be defined as a paradigm shift of self-ness; a realization that you are not what you thought you were. The realized self is not something that can be explained, but a basic (if crude) analogy is that an individual “self” is a phenomenon of life, as a wave is a phenomenon of ocean. When a wave begins nothing is added to the ocean, and when a wave ceases nothing is taken away from the ocean. Although a wave is a distinct phenomenon, it is also ocean. A person is a distinct being, yet at the same time a person is the great ocean of Being. At birth, nothing is gained; at death, nothing is lost.

So, while I am I and you are you, at the same time I am you and you are me, whether we like it or not.

As I said, this is very crude, and if you ever get interested in Buddhism don’t attach to it. Concepts are always short of reality. But if you understand yourself this way, then you understand all individuals and organisms throughout space and time as a great interconnected process. And you and me and all the blastocysts in the IVF clinics and all the suffering people waiting for the cures that stem cell research promises are all One. In a sense, every atom belonging to one of us as good belongs to everybody.

The “life begins at conception” model, on the other hand, assumes that at conception the individual is broken off from all the rest of Creation and hence is alone in the universe. Seems cold, I say. The Buddha taught that understanding yourself this way leads to grasping and greed, which is the source of all suffering. (See The Four Noble Truths.) Thus the Fetus People are making us all miserable with their campaigns to Save Every Blastocyst while keeping people who have already dissipated back into the Ocean of Being hooked up to life support. At the base of this is (I postulate) their own existential fear.

That’s my take, which you are free to dismiss; I don’t insist everyone share my worldview. But I argue that there is nothing moral about saving surplus blastocysts from being used in medical research, just as there is nothing principled about lying to yourself and others to justify your opinions. Indeed, from a Buddhist perspective it is deeply immoral to keep hundreds of thousands of blastocysts in cold storage — where they are not expressing life — when they could be used to alleviate suffering and express life through other individuals.

If you respect life, you don’t waste it.

    What do you think has become of the young and old men?
    And what do you think has become of the women and children?
    They are alive and well somewhere;
    The smallest sprout shows there is really no death;
    And if ever there was, it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it,
    And ceas’d the moment life appear’d. (Walt Whitman)

People With One Watch, Part II

This is a continuation of the previous post. I want to look at elective ignorance and the stem cell controversy. However, there are some basic points I want to clarify in this post before I go on to the main point.

“Embryonic” stem cells are derived from the cells that make up the inner cell mass of a blastocyst. Although sometimes a blastocyst is described as an embryo in a very early stage, in fact it is a conceptus in a pre-embryonic state. In humans, a blastocyst develops in the fallopian tube from the fertilized egg (zygote) and then moves (usually) to the uterus, where it implants itself. A pregnancy begins with the implantation of the blastocyst, which then develops into an embryo.

Embryonic stem cells are controversial because acquiring new cells requires destroying a blastocyst. Research scientists want to use the excess blastocysts stored at in vitro fertilization clinics that are going to be destroyed anyway, so there is no need to fertilize an egg for the purpose of obtaining stem cells. Those who object say the blastocyst is a human life, so destroying it is murder. Eventually embryonic stem cells for research may be obtained by cloning, which of course is controversial also.

For the most part, blogosphere opinion on embryonic stem-cell research splits across right-left lines, with the occasional exception. The Right is certain that conducting embryonic stem cell research is immoral. The Left is certain that not conducting embryonic stem cell research is wasteful, and I would call it immoral. To the Left, the Right’s arguments are silly. To the Right, the Left’s arguments are sinister.

As many on the Right point out, the President’s recent veto of the stem cell bill does not result in a ban on embryonic stem cell research, but maintains a ban on federal funding for research. Research with other funding can still be conducted. There is even an exception — embryonic stem cell lines that already existed before August 2001 can be used in federally funded research. And federal funding is available for research on adult stem cells. The Right believes federal policy is an acceptable compromise.

The Left points out that the stem cell lines available for federally funded research have been contaminated with mouse cells, which limits their use. The Left argues also that the ban on federal funds is close to a de facto ban. As this PBS Nova report points out,

Most basic biomedical science in this country—the early, exploratory research—is funded by federal dollars, with the National Institutes of Health taking the lead (to the tune of $20 billion in research-related funding a year). Scientists say that no field of research can flourish without access to this kind of government support. Yet the Harvard scientists you’ll meet in our NOVA scienceNOW segment are barred from using federal funds for the research we describe. If they already head government-funded labs, none of the equipment they’ve purchased can be used to create brand new human embryonic stem cells, to work with any such cells created after 2001, or to create cloned human embryos for stem cell research. That means not a microscope, not a petri dish, not one glass beaker. Scientist Doug Melton, who receives private funds from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, has gone so far as to equip an entirely separate lab, at an undisclosed location, for this work.

From the American Society on Hematology:

With fewer opportunities for federal funding in human embryonic stem cell research, private sector and state efforts are gaining prominence, outside of the federal government’s oversight, control, and peer review mechanisms. Furthermore, several foreign countries are encouraging and/or actively investing in stem cell research, thereby posing the potential threat of loss of American scientific prominence in this emerging field, possible emigration of the best and brightest American scientists, and definite diminution in the number of talented foreign graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and senior scientists who otherwise would come to the US for their training and to conduct research in this important area of scientific inquiry.

Adult stem cells can be taken from many parts of a human body, but most come from bone marrow. Contrary to claims from the Right, adult stems cells are not a substitute for embryonic stem cells. Both types of stem cells hold therapeutic promise, but not the same promise. Adult and embryonic stem cells have different properties and different potentials. According to the International Society for Stem Cell Research, embryonic stem cells are pluripotent, meaning they can be developed into many types of cells. Adult stem cells have so far not been found to have this property. On the other hand, adult stem cells have been used successfully to treat blood disorders. There is ongoing research into their use in treating breast cancer, coronary artery diseases, and other conditions. Adult stem cell research is important, also, but claims that adult stem cells have the same potential as embryonic stem cells are simply not true, based on research so far.

Another difference is that, once established in culture, large numbers of stem cells from embryos can be grown for a long time — indefinitely, under the right circumstances — and these cells will retain their unique properties. This is not true of adult stem cells. Stem cells are also obtained from umbilical cord blood and the pulp under baby teeth, and these cells may survive culturing longer than adult cells. These cells haven’t yet been found to have the same pluripotent quality of embryonic cells.

Some on the Right claim there is no evidence whatsoever that embryonic stem cells hold any therapeutic promise. This claim is based on cherry-picked “facts” — see for example, this web page featuring some quotes pulled from newspaper articles — e.g., “Not a single embryonic stem cell has ever been tested in a human being, for any disease”; “‘No one in human embryonic-stem cells will tell you that therapies are around the corner”; etc. In fact, human embryonic stem cells have been successfully turned into insulin-producing cells, blood cells and nerve cells. As reported by Maggie Fox of Reuters (July 16):

“They hold promise in different areas today,” said David Meyer, co-director, of the Cedars-Sinai International Stem Cell Research Institute, which is set to formally open in Los Angeles on Monday

“Adult stem cells will lead to cures much sooner than embryonic. However, the potential for embryonic, once we understand the biology, will be the greater,” Meyer said in a telephone interview.

Groups such as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and the American Association for Cancer Research say work with embryonic stem cells is vital to understanding how to regenerate diseased or damaged cells, tissues and organs.

For example:

— On July 3, a team at the University of California at Los Angeles reported they had transformed human embryonic stem cells into immune cells known as T-cells — offering a way to restore immune systems ravaged by AIDS and other diseases.

— In June, a team at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore transplanted stem cells from mouse embryos into paralyzed rats and helped them walk again. Researchers at the University of California at Irvine have done similar work using human embryonic stem cells in rats.

Weirdly, people opposed to embryonic stem cells on moral grounds often are compelled to lie about the research:

David Prentice of the Family Research Council, which opposes embryonic stem-cell research, issued a statement saying adult stem-cell research was actively helping, or close to helping, people with at least 65 diseases.

But in Friday’s issue of the journal Science, three stem-cell experts — Steven Teitelbaum of Washington University in St. Louis, Shane Smith of the Children’s Neurobiological Solutions Foundation in Santa Barbara, California and William Neaves of the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City — wrote a detailed rebuttal of these claims and said at best Prentice accurately portrayed only nine of the studies.

What does it say when people lie to defend an opinion on morality?

Right now preclinical work with embryonic stem cells is moving slowly through animal testing, and there are some obstacles to overcome before human trials begin. It is true that one human trial on Parkinson’s Disease patients was stopped in 2001 when 15 percent of the patients developed side effects that were worse than the Parkinson’s. This illustrates the need for caution. However, preclinical research on embryonic stem cells and Parkinson’s disease continues and is showing some promise.

Some argue that because research on embryonic stem cells has yet to result in treatment for human disease, the research is worthless. They ignore the fact that embryonic stem cells were first isolated in 1998. Research on embryonic stem cells is still at an early stage. Studies on adult stem cells, on the other hand, began in the 1960s.

Most medical breakthroughs take a long time to develop. Researchers began trying to develop a polio vaccine in the early 1900s. Jonas Salk began his research in 1947. Human clinical trials began in 1954. The safer Sabine vaccine became available in 1963. It took this much time just to develop a safe and effective vaccine, which is something that had been done successfully before. Developing any new therapy takes time and is terribly expensive — “discovering, testing, and manufacturing one new drug can take between 10 and 15 years and cost nearly a billion dollars.” Stem cell therapy is a far more complex project than developing a new drug.

The naysayers are, essentially, arguing that because the research hasn’t yet developed therapies for human use it never will, even though the enormous majority of scientists believe otherwise.

Here’s one interesting story, however

The story of Molly Nash illustrates how stem cell tools and therapies can work together to save lives. The Colorado child was born with Fanconi’s anemia, a genetic blood disease with an especially poor prognosis. Most patients rarely reach adulthood and die of leukemia. A bone marrow transplant from a healthy sibling with a matched HLA or immune profile can cure the disease, but Molly was an only child and her parents — both carriers of the deadly gene — were fearful of having another child with the disease. They used in vitro fertilization, pre-implantation diagnosis and a cord blood transplant in an attempt to save their child. PGD was used to screen 24 embryos made in the laboratory. One embryo was disease-free and matched Molly’s immune profile. The blastocyst was implanted and nine months later her sibling, named Adam, was born. The stem cells from Adam’s umbilical cord were given to Molly and today she is eleven years old and free from disease.

You can argue about the ethics of having a baby to obtain an umbilical cord to save a child if you like, but this case illustrates that the potential for stem cell therapies are very real.

There is a lot of confusion over stem cell cloning. When stem cell researchers talk about cloning, they mean therapeutic cloning, not reproductive cloning. In therapeutic cloning the cloned cells do not develop into an embryo but instead are used only to develop stem cells.

One other point — a South Korean scientist recently admitted to faking research on stem cell cloning. After this became news, a few on the Right came to believe that all research on embryonic stem cells throughout space and time was, therefore, faked. This is nonsense.

Of course, if the stem cells in question didn’t involve destroying blastocysts, there’d be no controvery. Which takes us back to the leftover blastocyst question.

Opponents of embryonic stem cell research argue that most embryos could be implanted in a uterus someday, which is absurd when you consider the cost and time and the fact that the number of blastocysts in storage is growing rapidly. Liza Mundy writes in the current issue of Mother Jones:

In 2002, the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology—the research arm for U.S. fertility doctors—decided to find out how many unused embryos had accumulated in the nation’s 430 fertility clinics. The rand consulting group, hired to do a head count, concluded that 400,000 frozen embryos existed—a staggering number, twice as large as previous estimates. Given that hundreds of thousands of ivf treatment rounds have since been performed, it seems fair to estimate that by now the number of embryos in limbo in the United States alone is closer to half a million.

This embryo glut is forcing many people to reconsider whatever they thought they thought about issues such as life and death and choice and reproductive freedom. It’s a dilemma that has been quietly building: The first American ivf baby was born in 1981, less than a decade after Roe v. Wade was decided. Thanks in part to Roe, fertility medicine in this country developed in an atmosphere of considerable reproductive freedom (read: very little government oversight), meaning, among other things, that responsibility for embryo disposition rests squarely with patients. The number of ivf rounds, or “cycles,” has grown to the point that in 2003 about 123,000 cycles were performed, to help some of the estimated 1 in 7 American couples who have difficulty conceiving naturally. Early on, it proved relatively easy to freeze a lab-created human embryo—which unlike, say, hamburger meat, can be frozen, and thawed, and refrozen, and thawed, and then used. (To be precise, the technical term is “pre-embryo,” or “conceptus”; a fertilized egg is not considered an embryo until about two weeks of development, and ivf embryos are frozen well before this point.) Over time—as fertility drugs have gotten more powerful and lab procedures more efficient—it has become possible to coax more and more embryos into being during the average cycle. Moreover, as doctors transfer fewer embryos back into patients, in an effort to reduce multiple births, more of the embryos made are subsequently frozen.

And so, far from going away, the accumulation of human embryos is likely to grow, and grow, and grow.

The cold truth is that blastocysts generated in IVF clinics and not implanted into a uterus are often discarded immediately. Most of the blastocysts that are frozen will either degrade or be discarded eventually. A small number of available blastocysts have been implanted into adopting mothers, creating the “snowflake babies” — 110 have been born so far. A large portion of the blastocysts that are thawed and implanted will fail to result in a baby, however.

It should be obvious to anyone thinking clearly that “embryo adoptions” are not going to be the solution to the growing glut of frozen blastocysts. And if destroying a blastocyst is immoral, why is it more immoral to use it for potentially life-saving medical research than it is to send it straight to an incinerator? This makes no sense to me.

Now I can finally write about what I wanted to write about to begin with, which is looking at the “moral” issue of embryonic stem cells from many perspectives. I’m going to argue tomorrow that there is nothing at all immoral about embryonic stem cell research, but it is deeply immoral to deny medical researchers the use of surplus blastocysts.

Also: Alternet, “Stem Cell Research Could Make Miracles Happen“; Bob Geiger, “Right wing should adopt 400,000 frozen embryos.”

People With One Watch, Part I

One of my favorite sayings is “A man with one watch knows what time it is; a man with two watches is never sure.”

The point — other than no two wristwatches in your possession ever tell exactly the same time — is that the more knowledge you have of an issue, the more likely you are to see more than one side of it. But over the years I’ve run into an astonishing (to me, anyway) number of people who interpret the saying to mean that it’s better to have just one watch.

When people have limited perspectives because of limited knowledge, you might assume that giving people more knowledge would give them broader perspectives. But then there’s the phenomenon of elective ignorance. People practicing elective ignorance start with a point of view and then admit into evidence only those facts that support their point of view. Those with a really bad case of elective ignorance become incapable of acknowledging facts that contradict their opinions. You can present data to them all day long, and it won’t make a dent; “bad” facts are shoved off the edge of consciousness before they get a chance to complicate the E.I. sufferer’s worldview.

Please note that elective ignorance is not necessarily connected to an individual’s intelligence potential. A person can possess sufficient cerebral material to store and comprehend considerable knowledge but elect not to use it. High-I.Q. people with E.I. Syndrome will sometimes concoct elaborate and fantastical rationalizations to explain why some facts are “bad” and others are “good.” These rationalizations will make sense only to those who have elected the same worldview, of course, which leads us to the Dittohead Corollary — People whose opinions are shaped by E.I. pathologies cannot grasp why other people don’t understand issues as “clearly” as they do. Therefore, they assume something sinister stands between those other people and the elected reality; e.g., “liberals hate America.”

Ideologies can be understood as a form of codified elective ignorance, or a strategy to make the world easier to understand by limiting one’s cognitive choices. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Since we all have finite cognitive resources, adopting an ideology is one way to obtain a workable understanding of issues without devoting the time and brain work required to become an expert. As long as a person appreciates that his understand and knowledge are incomplete, and he remains capable of changing his view as he learns more, this doesn’t qualify as Elective Ignorance Syndrome. Further, it can be useful for people within a society to adopt similar worldviews. That way they can reach consensus on social issues without perpetually re-inventing the perspective wheel, so to speak.

We’re all conditioned from birth to understand ourselves and the world we live in a certain way. By the time we’re adults, we all live in a conceptual box — a complex of paradigms — made up of who we think we are and how we think our lives and the world are supposed to be. The way we understand most things may seem “self-evident” but is nearly always a matter of conditioning. Social psychologists say that what most of us call “reality” is a social construct, meaning that people who grow up in the same culture tend to live in very similar conceptual boxes. Put another way, living in the same culture predisposes people to develop similar paradigms.

People who grow up in different cultures live in different conceptual boxes, however, which is why “foreign” people and cultures often don’t make sense to us, and why we don’t make sense to them. “Open minded” people are those who have at least a vague notion that diverse social constructs of reality are possible and are not necessarily bad. “Closed minded” people, on the other hand, cannot fathom that any other social construct of reality than the one they possess is possible. These people find foreign cultures sinister and frightening; see the Dittohead Corollary, above.

People with extreme E.I Syndrome feel threatened by anything “different,” however, even when that “different” is the next-door neighbor with opposing political views. It’s vital to understand that E.I. people perceive threats to their worldview as threats to themselves, because their self-identities are integrated into their worldview. In other words, the conceptual box they live in is who they are. Any challenge to the integrity of the box must be fought by any means necessary.

That’s why you can’t win a pissing contest with a wingnut, for example. Oh, you can absolutely crush their every argument with facts and logic, but that won’t matter; they won’t back down. If you continue to try to “win” they’ll fall back on all manner of logical fallacies, rote talking points, circular reasoning, and sheer nastiness, until you finally decide the argument is eating too much of your time and energy and walk away. Then they declare victory — not because they’ve proven themselves to be correct, but because they’ve turned away a challenge to the box. Put another way, while you’re presenting data and explaining concepts, they’re guarding their cave. That’s why I don’t even bother to argue with wingnuts any more. It’s as futile as explaining rocket science to hyenas, and possibly as dangerous.

I should add that E.I. Syndrome can be found on the extreme leftie fringe as well — International A.N.S.W.E.R. comes to mind. And E.I. Syndrome explains why extremist political ideologies, either Left or Right, lead to totalitarianism. But at the moment the leftie fringe in America is so marginalized and powerless it’s easy to ignore. The Right, on the other hand, has to be dealt with, like it or not.

I bring this up because, IMO, most of our political conflicts — both international and intra-national — are being stirred up by people with one watch. From here I could launch into a discussion of just about anything in the news — the Middle East is an obvious choice — but what got me going today was the stem cell research ban. President Bush’s “boys and girls” comment from yesterday was an expression of paradigm. And (I’m sure you realize) Fetus People are flaming One Watch types. I want to elaborate on this, but as I’ve gone on for a while already I’ll bump the elaboration to another post.