Embarrassing Myself – Kenya, 1978

From my journal:  18 September 1978, Kunjeru, Kenya

In my journal, I called it “A day to remember.”   The Kunjeru villagers had built for us a stone house to live in – a magnanimous gesture on their part, done with not a little personal sacrifice.  The two photos in this blog show the house being built at the edge of the village, next to the church.   The village had one connection to modern technology – a plastic pipe brought running water to the village.  The water only ran intermittently, but it was a great thing when it ran as it meant villagers didn’t have to carry water over a long distance to the village but had water brought directly to them – at least on occasion.  Jack, my Canadian missionary co-worker and I had moved into our new house and as good “Europeans” (which is what the locals called any who were white skinned) decided to plant some flowers around our new house.  This was not common from what I saw in Kenya.  Though beautiful flowers abounded wildly in the moderate near Equator climate, few  cultivated flowers around their dwellings and instead kept all gardening to raising crops for food – vitally necessary in a subsistence culture.     So we dug  a little around the house and planted various plants and flowers.  Then – I’ll let the journal speak:

“Jack noticed that water was bubbling out of the ground around our 1st plant.  He wondered if maybe our diggings had loosed a well.  The water began pouring fourth.  We began digging to investigate the problem.   We apparently had struck the plastic water pipe, buried less than 12 inches below ground and cracked the pipe.  When we uncovered the pipe, water gushed forth.  We called the villagers for help.  They knew we were digging for plants and immediately realized what we had done.  Children gathered round to watch what we were doing.  The water began to spray 15-20 feet into the air.   The villagers sent someone by foot to the main tap some distance from the village to turn the water off.  The water geysered forth for about 40 minutes attracting all kinds of attention.  The 2 great N. American missionaries had destroyed the only piece of technology in the area.  The water had to be turned off for the whole valley until the pipe cold be repaired.    We just stood there soaked from trying to stop the water.  The villagers were greatly amused, despite what we had done.  It has to be the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to me.  There I stood, guilty as anything, with hoe in hand and the water spurting forth like Old faithful.”

What Biology Says About Your Politics

Two articles that deal with one’s political views and biology.  The first was comes from Ted.com  and features psychologist Jonathan Haidt who spoke on The real difference between liberals and conservatives.   Haidt identified five primary categories of moral values:  1) Harm/Care  (includes compassion),  2)Fairness/Reciprocity, 3)In-group/Loyalty, 4) Authority/Respect, 5) Purity/Sanctity.   He then looked at studies which show which of these values  those who are socially/morally liberal or conservative honor the most.  Interestingly cross cultural studies throughout the world show the same basic patterns.   Both liberals and conservatives highly value the same ideals surrounding Harm/Care and Fairness/Reciprocity.  These items might be somehow basic human values – the values which have allowed humans to socialize and form cities and nations.  But conservatives much more highly value Loyalty, Authority and Purity than do liberals. 

Haidt says that change and progress – which require paying less honor to loyalty, authority and purity – are driven by people who have a different set of values.   He uses the information to say that instead of liberals and conservatives seeing each other in an adversarial fashion, they might come to see the value in what they each contribute to society and to being human.  Liberals drive change, improvement, technology because they feel less loyalty to what is, to who is in power, to what others consider good or valuable.  Conservatives work to keep humanity together by defining limits of acceptability.  Both contribute to us being more human and better social beings.

As one small aside –  though social conservatives much more highly value purity than do liberals, Haidt notes that while this may be true when it comes to sex, contemporary liberals have come to form their own sense of purity – what we put in out bodies (right foods, drinks, etc) and liberals can be extremely puritanical when it comes to politically correct foods and drink.

 The second article connecting politics and biology was aired on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition 19 September 2008:  Could Political Views be Driven by Biology?    In a study done of people with strong political convictions, University of Nebraska researcher John Hibbing said his team could quite accurately predict political affiliation by the way people reacted to alarming images and sounds.  Conservatives reacted more strongly to threats than did liberals.  Interpreting the data proves a bit trickier.  The transcript of the audio article reads:

Hibbing and his colleagues found that they could predict what a person’s political beliefs would be based on how strongly the person’s body responded to the alarming images and sounds, according to a report in the journal Science.

“Those people who seemed to have a stronger reaction to threat were more likely to favor things like military spending, the death penalty, the Patriot Act,” says Hibbing.

He doesn’t think this study means that conservatives are essentially scaredy-cats.

“I think it’s just as easy to say that liberals are naive, and they don’t get it. They don’t understand it’s a dangerous world,” Hibbing says.