The Adaptive Value Of Teenagers: How Peer Learning Contributes To Primate Success

Brenna R. Hassett

03-01-2024 ~ Anthropological science is our species’ attempt to address our most fundamental questions about who we are and how we got here. It asks for evidence of the evolutionary path we have traveled to become the most successful primate on the planet; it seeks clues as to why Homo sapiens—and not our recent relatives—came to be the sole survivor of millions of years of hominid evolution. Many singular traits of our species and those of our immediate ancestors have been held up as prime movers in making us a world-dominating ape: controlling fire, walking upright, and making tools. However, more than anything, the evolution of big brains in the Homolineage around 2 million years ago is often identified as a turning point where we started to become the thinking animal. At some point in our evolutionary history, we became the ape that learns—and capacity for learning might just be the thing that let Homo sapiens become the species that we are today.

Of course, Homo sapiens is not the only animal that learns. It’s certainly not the only primate either—learning is a critical part of our closest relatives’ repertoire. Rather than relying on instinct, many primates pick up skills and information by learning them. In many species, learning is done through observation, which is as simple as it sounds: a baby will watch its mother to learn what foods are good to eat, or the young watch an experienced adult doing a particular task. As social animals, primates have a greater number of teachers available to them than other species, and who they learn from changes as they grow. Infant vervet monkeys, for instance, quickly learn to eat the foods their mothers like—but when they get older and move to a new group where that food isn’t liked, they will quickly learn to eat what their peers eat.

Primate life demands a host of skills that aren’t passed down through instinct alone—and aren’t always just survival skills. One of the best examples of such a skill is seen in the gloriously relaxed snow monkeys of the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. The snow monkeys are a type of macaque, one of the most numerous (and interesting) monkey species, with a broad range of habitats around Asia and a host of different adaptations to live in each environment. The adaptation of the Hokkaido macaques, however, is something else again: they have taught themselves to bathe in the hot tub. In the 1950s tourism to the natural hot springs of Hokkaido led to the construction of hotels and onsen, traditional Japanese baths, in a group of macaques’ territory. One day a young macaque fell into an onsen while chasing an apple, and realized it was actually quite nice. Her peers watched and learned and then taught their children how to hot tub too, and so it became an established behavior among the group.

Peer learning is incredibly important for juvenile primates, precisely because of the complicated social groups they live in. As any teenager could tell you, it’s a matter of survival to fit in with your group, and, depending on your species, many young animals will move groups and have to learn entirely new ways of doing things. In some species, it will be the females that move groups, and they will carry with them any new skills from their home groups while also learning to adapt to new ones. In others, it will be males who may have a host of other challenges to overcome as they leave their birth groups. Gorillas, for instance, have a very rigid “harem” style social organization, with a handful of silverback males living with several females and their children. When the male children start to get older, they can either stay in their own groups and try to compete, or they can join special boy bands comprising those males that are too young (or too old) to challenge a silverback for a harem of their own. There, they can learn and practice the skills they need to build their own harem.

Peer learning is incredibly important to our species precisely because it is a way of transferring information beyond our own native social groups. Like the hot tubbing macaque or the young male gorillas, movement to a new group means that new ideas and skills are transported beyond their group of origin. Cultural transmission becomes possible, and ideas and adaptations are free to spread to wider groups. This means the number and scope of adaptations circulating is vastly increased—and with it, the evolutionary chances of the species. Humans have taken full advantage of this kind of learning by simply taking more time to do it. We take longer to move from puberty to full adulthood than any other species of primate. Indeed, when full adulthood actually occurs in our species is a matter of considerable debate.

When we look at the time in life when peer learning occurs, we see that it is when animals are on the cusp of adulthood—the ones that are mobile, changing groups, and playing around in an onsen—that contribute to this kind of wider learning. This is something that our species knows only too well. For anyone who has ever asked what the adaptive value of teenagers might be—or really, anyone during the long period between childhood and full adulthood that our species gives its young—the answer is simple. One of the most important adaptations we have made along the evolutionary path that has led to our species being the most prolific and successful primate on the planet is the time we take to learn how to be a better monkey.

By Brenna R. Hassett

Author Bio:
Brenna R. Hassett, PhD, is a biological anthropologist and archaeologist at the University of Central Lancashire and a scientific associate at the Natural History Museum, London. In addition to researching the effects of changing human lifestyles on the human skeleton and teeth in the past, she writes for a more general audience about evolution and archaeology, including the Times (UK) top 10 science book of 2016 Built on Bones: 15,000 Years of Urban Life and Death, and her most recent book, Growing Up Human: The Evolution of Childhood. She is also a co-founder of TrowelBlazers, an activist archive celebrating the achievements of women in the “digging” sciences.

Source: Human Bridges

Credit Line: This article was produced by Human Bridges.

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How To Bust The Bankers’ Club

03-01-2024 ~ C. J. Polychroniou speaks with progressive economist Gerald Epstein about why alternative banking is possible and urgently needed.

It’s been almost a year since the banking crisis kicked off last March. On Friday, March 10, 2023, Silicon Valley Bank, or SVB, or SVB, a state-chartered commercial bank based in Santa Clara, California, collapsed after facing a sudden bank run and capital crisis. SVB’s collapse was the second largest bank failure in U.S. history since Washington Mutual in 2008. Two days later, New York-based Signature Bank also collapsed due to yet another bank run. But that was not the end of bank failures in 2023. On May 1, the San Francisco-based First Republic Bank, plagued by many of the same problems as those that doomed SVB and Signature Bank, also went under and was seized in turn by regulators who promptly sold all of its deposits and most assets to JP Morgan Chase. Two more banks would go on to declare insolvency later in the year, bringing the number of failed banks to a total of five.

Indeed, 2023 was the worst year for U.S. banks since 2008. But why do U.S. banks continue to fail after the reforms that were implemented in the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis? Why does the business model of commercial banks remain so fragile? World renowned progressive economist Gerald Epstein, author of the recently published book Busting the Bankers’ Club: Finance for the Rest of Us, tackles these questions in the interview that follows. Epstein is professor of economics and co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

C. J. Polychroniou: Jerry, in your new book Busting the Bankers’ Club,you describe the business model of commercial banks in the age of neoliberalism as “roaring banking” and you juxtapose it with that of “boring banking,” which prevailed from the New Deal era right through the Reagan era. Under “boring banking,” banks were prohibited from many of today’s financial engineering practices and financial shenanigans. The result was relative financial stability and economic growth. Obviously, bankers hated this business model, but what factors made possible the transition from “boring banking” to “roaring banking?” Was it simply because of the “logic” of the free-enterprise system at work, or did it happen because of actual intervention in the realm of policymaking?

Gerald Epstein: Like much historical change, the evolution from “boring banking” to “roaring banking” was the outcome of the underlying dynamics and pressures of the economic system and specific historical conjunctures, all with plenty of involvement of actual human beings and classes.

The major Wall Street bankers were never happy with the New Deal financial regulatory rules that made it harder for them to charge excessively high interest rates, make highly leveraged bets, or engineer fraudulent Ponzi or “pump and dump” frauds against customers. The numbers on Wall Street bankers’ incomes show why. As The Bankers’ Club reports, prior to 1929, bankers scarfed down incomes almost twice as high as the average wage in the economy; but after the Depression and up until the late 1970s, their incomes were about average for the whole economy. As my colleague James Crotty put it, these bankers wanted to break out of their New Deal cages to restore their superior incomes and power.

So, starting in the 1960s the major Wall Street banks organized “the Bankers’ Club,” an army of politicians, lawyers, economists, regulators, and fellow business associates to incrementally poke holes, then ditches and finally massive canals through the wall of New Deal financial regulations. According to Robert Weissman, now president of Public Citizen, these financial firms spent over $5 billion, just counting from the early 80s, on the club and its activities. This effort led, most famously, to the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999 under the Clinton administration, which then officially ended the separation of commercial from investment banking.

These efforts, carried out by real (mostly) men, were aided by underlying dynamic changes in the U.S. and world economies. The U.S. experienced phenomenal economic growth in the aftermath of World War II, and the world also witnessed the resurrection of the European and Asian economies. In due time, competition facing the U.S. in trade and finance intensified, leading to the demise of the Bretton Woods system of fixed exchange rates and relatively stable interest rates. Massive military spending by the U.S. government on the war in Vietnam from 1964 to 1973 combined with the effects of the geopolitics of energy driven by the formation of OPEC led in the 1970s to large increases in commodity prices and inflation, again putting upward pressure on interest rates to keep up with inflation. Then-Fed Chair Paul Volcker jacked up interest rates in an attempt to break the inflationary pressure, once again destabilizing the interest rate structure in banking. All of these forces put enormous pressure on the New Deal framework, partly because the system depended on relatively stable interest rates. The New Deal model chose to stabilize interest rates in order to try to stabilize bank profits and promote borrowing and investment in non-speculative activities.

Thus, something had to give. In principle, the government could have reformed the system. But the Bankers’ Club had a different idea: Tear down the New Deal model and usher in a new era in banking, the “roaring banking” system of mega financial institutions and high-risk banking strategies.

CJP: The neoliberal era is replete with financial crises and bank failures. In 2008, the world experienced the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression because of a financial crisis that originated in the U.S. There was a sharp decline in economic activity which led to a loss of more than $2 trillion from the global economy while millions of people lost their homes and unemployment skyrocketed. Yet, the regulations that followed in the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis were essentially cosmetic, as evidenced by the collapse of five major banks in 2023. What were the reasons that SVB, Signature Bank, and First Republic Bank failed, especially since the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System insisted at the time that the banking system was “sound and resilient”?

GE: It is good that you bring up the collapse of SVB and the failures of Signature Bank and First Republic, since we are about to reach the one-year anniversary of these important events which occurred in early March 2023.

The Dodd-Frank Act, signed into law by then-President Barack Obama in 2010, was supposed to bring about the end of the “too-big-to-fail” (TBTF) banks and government bailouts. But a year ago when these banks got into trouble, the turmoil threatened to spread panic into the broader U.S. financial markets, signaling a possible series of bank runs in It’s a Wonderful Life style throughout the system. The Dodd-Frank Act had tried to forestall these types of events by making larger banks (those with assets of at least $50 billion) be subject to more careful monitoring by the Federal Reserve, requiring them to hold more capital of their own so that they could withstand larger shocks, and have greater liquidity (cash or cash-like assets) in order to help forestall bank runs. But during the Trump administration, these “medium-sized banks” lobbied to be exempt from the tougher rules. A major player in the fight was Silicon Valley Bank.

But on March 10, 2023, after a major bank run hit Silicon Valley Bank, it was forced to close. The Fed did not bail out the bank’s executives, but guaranteed the deposits of its remaining depositors even when these were far above the $250,000 amount covered by Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation insurance. When contagion spread to other banks in the U.S., the Fed guaranteed all deposits, no matter how big.

In April, the Federal Reserve published a major exercise of “self-crit” in its handling of SVB, prior to and after the crisis. It’s pretty accurate assessment included the following four problems:

  1. SVB’s board of directors and management failed to manage their risks.
  2. Federal Reserve supervisors did not understand SVB’s vulnerabilities.
  3. When the Fed supervisors did understand risks, they did not take sufficient steps to prevent a crisis.
  4. The Fed should not have allowed SVB to fly under the radar even though Congress had raised the threshold bank size in order to strictly monitor and regulate banks.

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PVV Blog: Introduction ~ The Dutch Party For Freedom. An Analysis Of Geert Wilders’ Thinking On Islam

2023/24  The reason for the series ‘The Dutch Party for Freedom. An analysis of Geert Wilders’ Thinking on Islam’ is the election victory of the party in the House of Representatives elections of November 22, 2022, and the shift of the party to the center of power, most probably heading to governing the country.

Throughout his career as party leader of the Party for Freedom, Geert Wilders has spoken out very critically, if not dismissively, if not discriminatingly about Muslims. The Netherlands would be better off without Muslims; Wilders dreams of a Netherlands without Islam. The party’s election manifesto exudes undemocratic and anti-constitutional proposals, especially where Islam and Muslims are concerned: ‘The Netherlands is not an Islamic country: no Islamic schools, Qurans and mosques,’ the program states.

Jan Jaap de Ruiter has written two books about the ideas of the PVV; one, De ideologie van de PVV. Het kwade goed en het goede kwaad (in Dutch; translation title: The ideology of the PVV. The evil good and the good evil) (2012) is a refutation and criticism of the book De schijn-élite van de valse munters. Drees, extreem rechts, de sixties, nuttige idioten, Groep Wilders en ik (in Dutch as well: Dutch title: The apparent elite of the counterfeiters. Drees, the extreme right, the sixties, useful idiots, Group Wilders and I) written by Martin Bosma, party member from the very beginning and now elected Speaker of the House.
The second book, The Dutch Party for Freedom. An Analysis of Geert Wilders’ Thinking on Islam (previously published as The Speck in Your Brothers’ Eye – The Alleged War of Islam Against the West -2012) is an analysis of the book Marked for Death. Islam’s War Against the West and Me.

Both books by de Ruiter can be freely downloaded here (scroll down).

In this blog, Jan Jaap de Ruiter follows the vicissitudes of the Party for Freedom in the cabinet formation and he compares the actions and statements, especially those related to Muslims, of party leader Wilders and party ideologue Martin Bosma with their own ideology. For years the party was able to work on its ideas and did everything it could to spread it. Now that the party is in the center of power, it can actually realize its ideas. How will the party act? Does the party attack democracy or does democracy resist the party? The future will tell.

The series appears as well on this link and in Dutch on this link (Nieuw Wij).

Jan Jaap de Ruiter (1959) is an Arabist affiliated with Tilburg University. He writes this series in a personal capacity. Contact de Ruiter at this mail address. Each new part of the series is announced on Facebook, X and LinkedIn.

Next posts

Blog 1: Geert Wilders: ‘Islam Is Not A Religion. It Is A Totalitarian Ideology.’
https://rozenbergquarterly.com/pvv-blog-1-geert-wilders-islam-is-not-a-religion-it-is-a-totalitarian-ideology/

Blog 2: The Evil French Revolution Has Made Islam Even More Evil
https://rozenbergquarterly.com/pvv-blog-2-the-evil-french-revolution-has-made-islam-even-more-evil/

Blog 3: A Leopard Cannot Change It Spots, Can’t He?
https://rozenbergquarterly.com/pvv-blog-3-a-leopard-cannot-change-its-spots-cant-he/

Blog 4:
The Dutch Parliament, Allegedly Created By The Threat Of Islam
https://rozenbergquarterly.com/pvv-blog-4-the-dutch-parliament-allegedly-created-by-the-threat-of-islam/

See also: 

Jan Jaap de Ruiter – De ideologie van de PVV. Het kwade goed en het goede kwaad. (in Dutch)
https://rozenbergquarterly.com/de-ideologie-van-de-pvv-het-kwade-goed-en-het-goede-kwaad/

Jan Jaap de Ruiter – The Dutch Party for Freedom. An Analysis of Geert Wilders’ Thinking of Islam.
(Previously published as The Speck In Your Brother’s Eye)
https://rozenbergquarterly.com/the-dutch-party-for-freedom-an-analysis-of-geert-wilders-thinking-on-islam/

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Prabowo Subianto: Indonesia’s Defense Minister Poised For Presidency Amid Allegations Of Controversial Past

Prabowo Subianto – Source: nl.wikipedia.org

02-28-2024 ~ As preliminary results hint at Prabowo Subianto’s victory in Indonesia’s presidential race, political tension rises with Ganjar Pranowo and Anies Baswedan seeking an inquiry into alleged irregularities. Beyond the election drama, Indonesia grapples with persistent issues from economic struggles to foreign relations.

Prabowo Subianto, Indonesia’s defense minister and a former army general, is poised to become the next president of the country. Although the official results are due next month, preliminary figures indicate that Prabowo will secure close to 60 percent of the vote.

Two unsuccessful presidential candidates in Indonesia are calling for an official inquiry into the recent election. Ganjar Pranowo and Anies Baswedan have alleged widespread irregularities in the February 14 election, including instances of vote-buying and intimidation.

Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest economy and the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation, shifted from a 32-year dictatorship to a democracy about 25 years ago. Despite progress, challenges persist like poverty, corruption, environmental degradation, and ethnic and religious divisions.

With vast natural resources, Indonesia actively seeks foreign investment for infrastructure and resource extraction and has strengthened commercial ties with China even while avoiding taking an active position in the escalating U.S.-China rivalry. In this regard, Prabowo will likely continue the policy of his predecessor outgoing President Joko Widodo.

Position by Candidate
The contest for the presidency saw a three-way race between Subianto and former governors Anies Baswedan and Ganjar Pranowo. Subianto, representing the Advanced Indonesia Coalition, is expected to get over 58.84 percent of the votes. Baswedan is likely to come in second with around 24.46 percent, while Pranowo of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) will come in third with around 16.7 percent of the votes.

Elections were also held for parliament in which 18 parties took part. Parties need to garner a minimum of 4 percent of the total national vote to obtain representation in parliament. In the 2019 elections, 20 parties were in the running, yet only eight successfully secured seats in the House. In this election, while results are yet to be finalized, far-right Islamist groups have suffered a setback.

This is the third time that 72-year-old Subianto, a 72-year-old military general and the son-in-law of dictator Suharto, contested for the presidency. In his earlier attempts in 2014 and 2019, he was defeated by Joko Widodo. This election, however, saw the old rivals coming together with Widodo’s son Gibran Rakabuming Raka, contesting as Subianto’s vice-presidential candidate. While Widodo, who remains immensely popular, did not explicitly back Subianto, the widespread perception was that the ticket had his support and there are allegations that state agencies backed the candidacy of the defense minister.

Subianto was in the thick of military affairs during the brutal Suharto dictatorship. He was a commander of the notorious Kopassus, the special forces unit of the Indonesian Army set up in 1952. The unit has been accused of involvement in torture, extrajudicial killings, and other human rights violations, particularly during periods of political unrest and conflict. Kopassus was alleged to have participated in rights violations in Timor-Leste where an independence movement culminated in its gaining independence in 2002 following UN intervention.

Prabowo himself was for a while barred from travel to the United States due to accusations of human rights violations. He was discharged from the military following similar accusations. In 2023, activists launched a campaign called ‘Don’t Vote for a Kidnapper’ highlighting his alleged involvement in the detention and disappearance of 13 activists who were active in the campaign against the Suharto dictatorship.

Critics have expressed concerns about Subianto’s record during this campaign considering the repression over the years in West Papua where protests have been met with arrests and internet shutdowns. For decades, the people of West Papua have fought against Indonesian occupation, advocating for the right to self-determination. In 2019, the region witnessed widespread protests against racism, intensifying tensions between Papuan demonstrators and security forces.

This election saw a concerted effort to whitewash Subianto’s image with the former general being rebranded as a genial elder. An entire generation has grown up with few memories of the horrors of the Suharto era and Subianto’s role. He also benefited from being seen as the candidate continuing the legacy of Widodo. The outgoing president had contested the previous two elections as the candidate of the center-left Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P).

The political realignment in this election was one of the reasons for a campaign marked by the absence of any major policy alternatives. While some of Widodo’s decisions, such as the plan to shift the capital from Jakarta, saw much debate, there was little opposition to aspects of his economic legacy, such as the widely opposed Omnibus Bill and other issues raised by labor movements and environmental groups.

Subianto’s main rival was Anies Baswedan, the former governor of Jakarta, who was perhaps the candidate diverging the most from Widodo’s legacy. He was a key opponent of the plan to shift the capital and headed the right-wing Coalition of Change for Unity, garnering support from conservative Islamic groups. The other candidate, Ganjar Pranowo, the former governor of Central Java province who was once seen as a potential successor to Widodo, sought to highlight the PDI-P’s traditional welfarist agenda.

Economic Challenges and Ongoing Struggles
Indonesia has faced tough economic times in its history. There was the Asian Financial Crisis in the late 1990s, which caused a severe recession, social unrest, and the fall of the authoritarian regime led by Suharto. Then, in 2008-09, the global financial crisis brought a slowdown in growth, a bigger current account deficit, and a drop in the value of the country’s currency, the rupiah. The most recent challenge was the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020-21. It made the economy shrink, more people became poor and jobless, and public health and the value of the rupiah fell further. In 2021, the poverty rate in Indonesia stood at 10.15 percent, impacting 27.5 million people. Additionally, the unemployment rate for youth, as a percentage of the total labor force aged 15-24, remains at 14.1 percent.

Indonesia faces several ongoing challenges. One significant issue is the large number of people without jobs or with low-quality jobs, particularly those engaged in low-skilled and informal work. These individuals face difficulties when unexpected events occur, and they lack sufficient social protection. Additionally, Indonesia struggles with competitiveness and productivity due to insufficient infrastructure, a shortage of well-trained individuals, a lack of innovation, and governance issues. This is likely to lead to a decline in the manufacturing sector, a significant contributor to employment. In the long term, it is expected to contribute to a higher unemployment rate and a decline in the standard of living.

Another pressing concern is environmental degradation and climate change, posing risks to the country’s natural resources, biodiversity, and its ability to handle disasters. A survey by Bath University found that 89 percent of Indonesian participants were worried about the potential impact of climate change on their lives, with 66 percent believing they would be directly affected. The highest levels of concern were reported in disaster-prone provinces like Jakarta, South Sumatra, and North Sumatra.

The endorsement of a former Suharto-era general by significant factions of the Indonesian ruling class carries considerable weight. This support is notable in the midst of widespread protests sweeping across Indonesia, where millions are expressing opposition to Israel’s brutal actions in Gaza. Simultaneously, internal social tensions are on the rise due to declining living standards, adding a layer of complexity to the country’s political landscape. The official results and subsequent actions by the incoming administration will determine how Indonesia addresses its multifaceted problems and charts its course in the global arena.

By Pranjal Pandey

Author Bio: This article was produced by Globetrotter.

Pranjal Pandey, a journalist and editor located in Delhi, has edited seven books covering a range of issues available at LeftWord. You can explore his journalistic contributions on NewsClick.in.

Source: Globetrotter

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Outdated Narratives Have Humanity In A Downward Spiral—It’s Time To Tell ‘Stories for Life’

April M. Short

02-24-2024 ~ A short film and narratives project “Stories for Life” seeks to bring about the shift in culture that humanity needs to survive.

The stories we do and don’t tell about ourselves and these times in which we’re living shape the direction of our lives and our cultures. Stories have the power to alter how we interact and relate. Those who study cultural anthropology and the origins of humanity are finding that cultural stories—the things people collectively believe about ourselves and our capacities—have forever shaped human societies, going back to our early hominid ancestors. In shifting those narratives now, they argue, we have the realistic potential to evolve on purpose as a species. Given the dire, multifront crises of our times—from climate disaster to war to poverty—this kind of cultural and social evolution is desperately needed.

An animated short film, which screened between acts on the big screens of each of the four main stages at the Glastonbury Music Festival in 2022, delves into the idea of story as a means for change. It is titled, “Stories for Life,” and it opens with scenes of fire, a child digging through a pile of trash, plastic rubbage floating in the water, and smoke billowing from an industrial tower. A narrator’s voice speaks over the imagery: “Life is in trouble. As a species, we are facing multiple crises that we can no longer ignore. At the root of them all is our economy; an economy designed to destroy life; an economy designed by us.”

As the narration continues, a series of illustrated signs seem to lay out the challenges of our world, one by one: “Capitalism is crashing. Society is dividing. Democracy is degrading. Climate is tipping. Ecology is vanishing. Disease is spreading. Inequity is rising. Protest is pervading.”

The film takes viewers through a brief history of humanity’s relationship with the Earth. It delves into the problems of our current ways of living, then offers the potential to rewrite the story of our values, and begin to create livable systems in which value is based on the well-being of all life.

Over animations of cave paintings, constellations, and wildlife, the film reminds viewers that “our ancestors lived in intimate relationship with the more-than-human world” and told stories about, “nature as our family, our guardian, our guide. But then some of… [our ancestors] imagined and created ways to control the natural world. This made them feel more powerful and superior to nature. Separate from it. The more powerful they felt the more disconnected from nature they became. And so they began to tell new stories. Stories that normalized domination, control, and the oppression of life. About how nature is our slave, there to be captured and exploited. They began to scorch, spoil, and suffocate our world. And as they did so, these stories spread, and became common sense.”

This narration comes with animations of the industrialization and commodification of resources: factories, men in suits and wigs, ships with cargo. The film goes on to explain that such stories have led people down the path of greed, grand, hustle, and blind progress, and made people “feel separate, not only from nature but from each other, in constant competition and conflict.”

Horror Stories, Love Stories
The narrator notes that these stories then became horror stories of ruined lives and a ruined world, as images of refugee camps, rubbage heaps, and melting ice caps show on screen. “But, it doesn’t have to go on like this,” the narrator says. “We can choose to live by different stories: Love stories about interconnection and interdependence. Love stories that measure success by well-being—the well-being of all life including our own. Love stories about interconnection and interdependence.” Now, the scene is blooming flowers, mycelial networks, collaborative groups of people, and brightly colored animal life.

The film outlines how these “love stories” will lead us to reconnection, so that we can regenerate our relationships with nature and each other, and create a steam that nourishes and supports the life we all want to live rather than destroying life. It closes with the reminder that “we all have the power to tell these stories,” and that many people are already doing so.

The concept behind the film is part of a larger website project launched in 2020, also called Stories for Life, aimed at highlighting stories that support ways forward for humanity and all life. It began as a collaboration between the Green Economy Coalition, Wellbeing Economy Alliance, and the Spaceship Earth, and as its website states: “This project was inspired by the question ‘how do we tell the story of a new economy?’”

The eventual Stories for Life project was co-created by Dan Burgess and Paddy Loughman with the purpose of helping to “create stories that contribute to the re-design of a healthier economy. To bring forth new and ancient stories into our culture, which weave a narrative of interconnection and help us design a new type of economy,” as notes the Stories for Life website.

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Understanding Iran’s Non-State Network

John P. Ruehl – Photo: Independent Media Institute

02-22-2024 ~ Recent months have brought sharper focus to Iran’s network of non-state actors across the Middle East. While useful for military projection, Tehran has also cultivated them as political entities for decades.

During a three-day period in January 2024, Iranian-supported militant groups employed an anti-ship missile to attack an oil tanker in the Red Sea, launched rockets into northern Israel from Lebanon, and used a drone strike to kill three U.S. soldiers in Jordan. These incidents marked the extension of attacks by Iranian-backed groups in the Middle East into the fourth straight month since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war on October 7, 2023.

Largely diplomatically isolated since the 1979 Iranian Revolution, unable to challenge U.S. military power, and lacking the nuclear brinkmanship card held by North Korea, Iran has evolved its strategy of utilizing militant groups for decades. Iran’s Quds Force has provided training, funding, and weapons assistance to various militant groups in the region, including Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Houthis. This strategy has advanced Iran’s geopolitical interests and afforded it plausible deniability, but not all of its associates march in lockstep with Tehran.

Part of Iran’s approach involves transforming militant forces into powerful political actors. Hamas, founded in 1987 as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, gained prominence during the First Intifada against Israeli forces. Hamas grew closer to Iran during the early 1990s after the Oslo Accords initiated an ultimately failed peace process, with Iran providing financial and weapons support during the Second Intifada from 2000 to 2005. When Israeli forces withdrew from Gaza in 2005, Hamas established administrative control over the territory after winning elections the following year, and has forbade elections since.

Consolidating armed Palestinian opposition under Hamas allows Tehran to challenge Israel directly. But as a Persian and Shia Muslim country operating in a predominantly Arab and Sunni Muslim peninsula, Iran has offset its diplomatic and cultural isolation by using the Palestinian cause to criticize Arab governments growing closer to Israel in recent years. Supporting Hamas against perceived inaction from Arab leaders has been a constant feature of Iranian public messaging. Further normalization between Israel and Arab states is now paused due to the Israel-Hamas war.

While Iran denied prior knowledge of the October 7 attack, it has expressed public support for Hamas since . Hamas’s leader Ismail Haniyeh has meanwhile stated that Iran provides $70 million annually to the group in addition to ongoing logistical and weapons assistance, largely through smuggling operations . However, relations between Iran and Hamas are largely limited to opposition to Israel and the West, and Hamas also receives financial support from Turkey, Qatar, and other sources.

Instead, Hezbollah has emerged as Iran’s most important non-state ally. Established as a Shia militia in 1982 during the Lebanese Civil War, Hezbollah’s significant military forces have been utilized to target Israeli and Western forces in the Middle East. Since the recent conflict’s onset, Hezbollah has launched hundreds of missiles into northern Israel, but the destruction caused by the 2006 Lebanon War against Israel has made it cautious of further escalation.

Hezbollah is also strategically valuable in its role as an envoy to other militant groups. Hezbollah has historically trained Hamas militants in weapons systems and military exercises in Lebanon and Syria. Like Iran, Hezbollah also denied knowledge of the Hamas attack on October 7, but Iranian, Hezbollah, and Hamas officials have since met regularly to discuss strategy and cooperation.

Beyond its military role, Hezbollah has evolved into Lebanon’s political powerbroker. Eight of its members were first elected to the Lebanese parliament in 1992, it joined the government for the first time in 2005, and in 2018 , a Hezbollah-led coalition gained the majority of Lebanese parliamentary seats. Despite losing its majority in 2022, its lingering influence over Lebanese politics indicates that Iran remains close to a state capture-like situation, where external forces and interest groups gain systematic control over a country’s decision-making process.

Additionally, Hezbollah operates clinics, schools, banks, businesses, and other entities that have shielded it from Lebanon’s economic collapse and political stagnation since 2019, maintaining its “state-within-a-state” structure. In addition to weapons and logistical support, Iran is believed to provide $700 million to Hezbollah every year. And when sanctions diminish Iranian assistance, Hezbollah also secures funding from legal businesses to criminal enterprises, activities which span across the Middle East, Africa, Europe, Latin America, and the U.S.

Iran’s militant network in Syria meanwhile surged after the civil war broke out in 2011, threatening Iran’s long-term ally President Bashar al-Assad. Hezbollah and Iran recruited from Syria’s Shia community to form groups like the Mahdi Army and al-Mukhtar al-Thaqafi Brigade, as well as some Sunni groups like Liwa al-Quds, to aid the Syrian armed forces against ISIS and pro-Western forces. The Zainabiyoun Brigade and Fatemiyoun Brigade, largely consisting of Shia Muslims from Pakistan and Afghanistan, have been used by Iran in Syria.

As the Syrian government’s position has stabilized, Iran has attempted to integrate pro-Iranian militant groups into the Syrian armed forces and has used them to increase Iran’s political and economic influence in Syria as it competes with Russia . Since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, they have launched numerous strikes against U.S. and allied forces within Syria.

Pro-Iranian Iraqi Shia militant groups have similarly increased rocket attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq since October 7. Their growing strength goes back to the U.S.-led occupation after 2003 that allowed Iran to bring groups like the Badr Organization, funded and trained in Iran, back into Iraq. Iran also organized with other developing “ Special Groups” of Shia militias to attack U.S. forces.

After the departure of most U.S. forces from Iraq in 2011, Iranian-backed groups sought political integration into Iraq’s fragile democracy. Alongside the Badr Organization, Kata’ib Hezbollah, Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba in Iraq (both distinct from Lebanese Hezbollah), and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH) became some of Iraq’s most prominent political and militant forces. In 2014, numerous pro-Iranian militant groups in Iraq were consolidated into the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) to combat ISIS, playing a crucial role in liberating much of the country and elevating their status.

In Iraq’s 2018 parliamentary elections, the PMF became the second-biggest bloc and “achieved one element of state capture” by securing government funding for itself the following year. PMF members now directly or indirectly control crucial government institutions like the Interior Ministry and Supreme Court, and December 2023 elections saw the coalition win 101 out of 285 provincial council seats.

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq (IRI), a leading group of PMF militias, has taken the initiative in attempting to push remaining U.S. forces out of the country. Their attacks since October 7 have intensified discussions within Washington over whether to do so, while Iran denied knowledge of the drone attack which killed three U.S. soldiers in January 2024. Read more

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Growing Clues That India’s Central Narmada Valley Was A Key Hub In The Human Story

Saurav Sarkarsauravsarkar.com

02-22-2024 ~ In December 1982, a geologist digging in India’s Central Narmada Valley found something he did not expect. Arun Sonakia, who at the time worked for the Geological Survey of India, unearthed a hominid fossil skullcap from the Pleistocene era.

The discovery sent shockwaves through the field of paleoanthropology and put South Asia on the map of human prehistory. Some experts concluded that the skull likely belonged to a member of a predecessor species of ours, Homo heidelbergensis, or perhaps was a hybrid of homo species, while Sonakia himself suggested “an affinity… to Homo erectus.”

The specimen remains the oldest human fossil found in the South Asian subcontinent; while expert opinions vary, testing seems to indicate the fossil was between 250,000 and 150,000 years old. For several decades, it was the only ancient human fossil found in South Asia—despite abundant finds of tools and other relics.

But in more recent years, more than a dozen other fossil bones that have been discovered have shined a light on the Central Narmada Valley as a potential hotbed of human evolutionary activity. Paleoanthropologist Anek R. Sankhyan and his team discovered new fossils between 1983 and 1992, followed by further finds between 2005 and 2010.

Sankhyan shared during an interview that only the Central Narmada Valley has so far yielded human fossils from the Pleistocene period in South Asia. The valley, he says, was a key stop along the migration route from Africa to Southeast Asia for Homo erectus. Homo erectus was an archaic human ancestor that lived between about 1.9 million and 100,000 years ago and adapted to regions from Eastern Africa to China to Southeast Asia. It has not been established whether Homo erectus comprises one species spread wide geographically or multiple species involving local variations.

Sankhyan connects the Narmada Valley with some of the more sophisticated Acheulean stone tool cultures that emerged with Homo erectus in Europe and Africa. Acheulean tools are characterized by multiuse-hand axes used for roles ranging from woodcutting to butchering animals.

In the Central Narmada Valley, Sankhyan’s evidence from his paper—published in Advances in Anthropology in 2020—on the subject seems to show at least two distinct types of hominins represented: the large “robust” line uncovered through Sonakia’s skullcap discovery, and an evolving “short and stocky” hominin line from 150,000 to 40,000 years ago discovered by Sankhyan and his team.

Sankhyan says that the traits of the skullcap found by Sonakia vary among Homo erectus, Homo sapiens , and have features that are unique, making identifying it “confusing.” He concluded that the skullcap is also representative of heidelbergensis, and perhaps might be a heidelbergensis -Neanderthal hybrid. A skull with so many traits is a clue that this region may indeed have been a multispecies melting pot that puts our contemporary sense of human differences to shame.

Heidelbergensis was a species that was the ancestor of both Neanderthals and Homo sapiens, and first appeared 700,000 years ago, disappearing 200,000 years ago. It was an intermediate species between Homo erectusand modern human beings and Neandertals. Heidelbergensis was likely the first human species to control fire and hunt large game animals . The hominid fossil found by Sonakia likely used tools like an Acheulian pick axe and was found near a crushed molar tooth of a Stegodon, a large, extinct relative of today’s elephants. Sankhyan says that the ecology of the valley during the Lower Paleolithic was that of a warm woodland forest with megafauna like the Stegodon, during his interview.

The “short and stocky” line has been given its own nomenclature: Homo narmadensis by Sankhyan. This species was widespread in the Central Narmada Valley during the “Middle to Upper Paleolithic [era],” and hunted smaller game animals in a “broken forest ecology.” Narmadensis was discovered near significant numbers of Mode 3 Acheulean tools, which are more sophisticated than the Mode 2 tools attributed to the heidelbergensisline.

Paleoanthropologist Sankhyan speculates that the “short and stocky” hominin line was the “likely precursor to the ‘short-bodied’ ancient populations of India, including the Andaman pygmy.” Interestingly, he believes that the so-called “hobbit” of Indonesia, Homo floresiensis, also descended from this line. Homo floresiensis was a little more than three-feet tall and lived between 100,000 and 50,000 years ago.

While Sankhyan says that the government organization, Anthropological Survey of India, has not conducted further excavations since 2010, according to him, there have been individuals from other departments who “tried sporadic trial digging,” but those digs have not yielded any significant results.

As research continues in this area, we’re likely to get even more insight into the varied hominin types who lived in the Central Narmada Valley in the last hundreds of thousands of years and how they interacted with one another. Regardless, the establishment of South Asia as a center of human evolutionary activity is likely to have consequences for how the region, and India in particular, understands itself and its prehistory and history.

For decades, nationalists, including representatives of today’s far-right Hindu nationalists in India, have promoted the idea that South Asians and Indo-Europeans as a whole originated from within India. Though this theory is false and unnuanced, the evolutionary history of hominins in the Central Narmada Valley offers new ground for Indian nationalists to make the argument that hominins or primates had their roots in India.

But if there are dangers in linking contemporary India with the prehistory of the subcontinent and its place in the world, there are also opportunities. As with India, fossil evidence in South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Georgia, and China indicates that these places were repeatedly home to prehistoric population centers—they all have equal claim to being part of a global and gradual humanization process.

As a result, a nonaligned or regionally connected Global South has a powerful new origin story and better pathways for connections, rooted in evidence outside of the historical narratives imposed on them by the West. Further research will establish what science shows, but it will be politics, geopolitics, and the direction chosen by the world’s people that will contextualize the evidence within the human story.

By Saurav Sarkar

Author Bio: This article was produced by Globetrotter .

Saurav Sarkar is a freelance movement writer, editor, and activist living in Long Island, New York. They have also lived in New York City, New Delhi, London, and Washington, D.C. Follow them on Twitter @sauravthewriter and at sauravsarkar.com.

Source: Globetrotter

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