Integrative Complexity

Integrative Complexity

We all know the world is a complex place and that one-size-fits-all rules and laws rarely work in practice. We are seeing this right now as some states move to ban all abortions, without consideration of challenging edge cases such as child rapes or the destruction of embryos during the regular course of IVF treatment. Current abortion law highlights a strange phenomena that has been building in the United States recently. Our appetite for integrative complexity in political spheres seems to be diminishing.
In The Better Angels of Our Nature Steven Pinker writes, “a passage that is low in integrative complexity stakes out an opinion and relentlessly hammers it home, without nuance or qualification. Its minimal complexity can be quantified by counting words like absolutely, always, certainly, definitively, entirely, forever, indisputable, irrefutable, undoubtedly, and unquestionably.” What current political movements, like the election of Donald Trump and the passage of anti-abortion legislation demonstrates is a desire to reduce integrative complexity in political systems.
My suspicion is that this partially stems from the fact that the world is becoming more complex and hard to navigate. We are coming to rely more and more on technology as our world becomes more and more globalized. We are living in a world where the price of tea in China really could have a major impact on the cost of our mortgage and car payments here in Reno, NV. Young people today seem much more likely to be competing with people from India for future jobs, especially in tech industries. Quickly adopting technology, like virtual reality, may be essential for the future. And voting for local politicians seems to be distressingly closely tied to national political movements, another change from the past that highlights the complexity of the current world.
I think that it can be tempting for people to respond to all this globalized complexity by simplifying their views and opinions and demanding (beyond simply wishing for) simple solutions. A large segment of the population loved the fact that Donald Trump was willing to say simple things like, “immigrants are murderers,” “climate change is a Chinese hoax,” or “Democrats are bad.” Trump’s integrative complexity was astonishingly low for a president and is in line with legislation that bans all abortions outright, without compromise or negotiation for outliers.
Integrative complexity, or more precisely our lack of concern for integrative complexity on large issues, should be concerning for us. In his book Pinker also writes, “integrative complexity is related to violence. People whose language is less integratively complex, on average, are more likely to react to frustration with violence and are more likely to go to war in war games.”
This suggests that integrative complexity is a reflection of inner considerations of other people’s perspectives and self-control. The argument is that people whose language are more integratively complex are less impulsive, more willing to think through challenging situations and consider compromise alternatives, and more willing to adopt other people’s perspectives – at least temporarily. This is important in living in a complex society. We need to recognize that people have different opinions, experiences, needs, and desires. We cannot force everyone into a single box, and we cannot respond impulsively with violence against things we dislike. Current movements that embrace integrative simplicity should concern us, and we should strive to elect leaders and support national policy that adequately address issues with an adequate level of integrative complexity.
Perspectives, Chaotic Lives, and Policy

Perspectives, Chaotic Lives, and Policy

One of the things I try to remember is that my experiences and perspectives are limited. What makes sense to me, what seems reasonable and rational to me, is all based on my background and the opportunities I have had. I haven’t experienced the same lives of others so I cannot always fully understand their perspectives.
I think this is incredibly important to keep in mind when we think about poverty in the United States. From a middle or upper income perspective, poverty can be incredibly misunderstood. Those misunderstandings in turn shape attitudes, opinions, and policies regarding poverty and those living in extreme poverty. We lack the perspective to understand just what it is like for people who are the worst off and therefore fail to approach them in appropriate ways and fail to produce policies that will actually help improve their state of being.
For example, we often criticize people in poverty for being lazy and undisciplined. If only people in poverty would work hard and save money, they could get to a better place and not be stuck in poverty anymore. There is no policy that we should introduce to help them if they are not willing to help themselves first. This is a standard mindset and thought process related to those in poverty. And it also fails to take into consideration what life in extreme poverty is really like.
One thing I think we should consider is how chaotic and unpredictable a life in poverty can be. When people find themselves in a state of homelessness, it can be incredibly challenging to find any stability from which to begin approaching life in the way that a middle or upper income person would be able to. As Steven Pinker writes in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature, “it doesn’t pay to save for tomorrow if tomorrow will never come, or if your world is so chaotic that you have no confidence you would get your savings back.”
If you don’t know for sure that the work you managed to find for today will be there tomorrow, then it is hard to plan ahead at all. And if you can’t plan ahead and count on some stability in terms of housing, in terms of maintaining possessions, and in terms of work, then you can’t begin to save money or resources in any meaningful way and you can’t demonstrate what others would consider wise self-discipline. At the very bottom, life is chaotic and that chaos makes it impossible to do the things that middle and upper income people require of you before they are willing to help you.
Perspectives and understandings matter. The people who make policies and vote for people who shape policies often lack the correct perspectives to understand something as complex as what Pinker’s quote gets at. We look at those in poverty and make assumptions about their laziness and lack of self-discipline, never realizing that sometimes it doesn’t pay to save or be self-disciplined and that an incredibly chaotic life makes even basic activity feel impossible. We then vote for politicians who also misunderstand the very poor, and consequentially we introduce policies that do little to help life be less chaotic for those in extreme poverty.
Non-Violence Requires Mental Fortitude

Non-Violence Requires Mental Fortitude

Being non-violent is not naturally easy for human beings. Non-violence requires a measure of self-discipline, self-control, and mental fortitude. It requires that we see beyond ourselves, shifting our perspective outside our own self-interest and point of view.
Steven Pinker writes about this in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature. Pinker writes, “insofar as violence is immoral, the Rights Revolutions show that a moral way of life often requires a decisive rejection of instinct, culture, religion, and standard practice. In their place is an ethics that is inspire by empathy and reason and stated in the language of rights.”
When we are not measured, when we do not exercise self-control, and when we lack mental fortitude, we can become violent. Just as we can become addicted to substances, indulgent in too many desserts, and unwilling to go to the gym, we can lash out physically against others when we do not think through our actions with reason and discipline. We are social creatures, so having mental fortitude and thinking about our actions within the context of the society we are a part of is natural for us, but that doesn’t mean it is always the easy, default way of being.
Violence has been a long standing element of our social arrangements and behaviors behaviors. Whether through instinct, which said that we must kill a neighbor to protect what is ours, through cultural practices which failed to put taboos on violence between spouses, religions which encouraged eternal rewards for violent deaths defending religious principals, or eye-for-an-eye criminal justice policies, violence has been an accepted part of many of our institutions. But a language of rights and empathy toward other people have reduced the role and acceptance of violence in our institutions. Rational thought, combined with mental fortitude is making our species a less violent species over time. Non-violence is not easy, but it is something we can rationally program into our institutions in continually better ways.
Economic Considerations Don't Always Matter In War

Economic Considerations Don’t Always Matter In War

In the United States, a huge amount of what we do is driven by economics. The political saying, “it’s the economy stupid,” is a great demonstration of how much economic measures matter in our country. When Americans perceive that the economy is going well, they will support incumbent politicians. When they perceive that the economy is not going well, then the president and their party is in for a tough election cycle. Wealth and economic well-being are central to the American experience and psyche, and when we look beyond our borders we project that same idea onto other countries and peoples who are not always as worried about the economy as we are.
This seems to be the case with the current war in Ukraine. American’s cannot understand why Putin is waging a costly war and taking on so many sanctions that are hurting Russia and Russian citizens. Our central value is economic, so it seems completely irrational that Putin would wage a war that is as economic costly as the current war in Ukraine. But, as Steven Pinker notes in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature, economics isn’t always the main driver in war time situations. Pinker writes,
“The economic futility of war is a reason to avoid it only if nations are interested in prosperity in the first place. Many leaders are willing to sacrifice a bit of prosperity (often much more than a bit) to enhance national grandeur, to implement utopian ideologies, or to rectify what they see as historic injustices.”
This seems to explain the current situation in Ukraine well. American’s are almost singularly focused on prosperity and when we look abroad that is what we expect other people’s to be focused on. Putin, however, seems to be focused on a narrative of a unified Ukraine and Russia. Whether that narrative is historically accurate or not, Putin is obsessed over the idea that Ukraine belongs as part of Russia, not as a separate, sovereign, more European entity. The war that Putin is pursuing is about something other than economic prosperity and Putin is willing to sacrifice lives and economics in his effort to bring his vision to life.
I think this idea reflects a larger point that I think about and write about frequently. As individuals, even as an individual nation of 330 million people, we have a limited perspective on the world. We have limited experiences and limited factors that influence and shape what we believe to be good or bad. Therefore we have only bounded rationality to guide us. We cannot understand all and know everything. Life has far more ways of living than what we as a single individual or single nation can fully understand. In the case of Putin and Ukraine, our single view of how people should behave, informed by our central economic values, is what has guided us to respond to Putin with economic sanctions that may or may not be effective in the long run. A more informed perspective and understanding of how other people see the world (in this case how Putin and Russian citizens understand the world) might lead us to make different decisions in how we respond to the type of war and crisis we are seeing in Ukraine. This is something we should remember when thinking about our own lives, the decisions we make, and the decisions of other people. We don’t fully understand the factors that lead to other people making their decisions, and we should realize that what makes sense to us may not make sense or may not be as strong of a factor to others.
On Ego - A Response to a Comment from Philip

On Ego – A Response to a Comment from Philip

Philip asked me some thoughts about ego in a recent comment. Several years back I read and wrote about Ryan Holiday’s book Ego is the Enemy and it has been fundamental in shaping how I see and understand myself within our complex social world. In addition to Ego is the Enemy, Robin Hanson and Kevin Simler’s book The Elephant in the Brain and Daniel Kahneman’s work in Thinking Fast and Slow dramatically shape the way I understand the idea of the self, how we think, and the role of ego in our lives. Here are some of my thoughts on ego, and some specific responses to questions that Philip asked.
First, Philip said that he sees, “ego as a closed loop of sort, independent of the acting self.”
I wouldn’t agree with Philip on this point, but that is because I reject the idea of an independent acting self. Yuval Noah Harari is a great person to read on meditation and the idea of the self. If you ever try meditating, you will quickly learn that you don’t truly have control over your thoughts. This suggests that we don’t have an independent self that is doing the thinking in our minds. “Thoughts think themselves,” Harari has said, and if you meditate, you will understand what he means. Thoughts frequently pop into our head without our control. Ego, and the kinds of thoughts we associate with ego and megalomania, are all just thoughts swirling around in what appears to be a chaos of thoughts. Given the nature of thought, I don’t think we should think of ego as anything independent of the other thoughts within our mind.
Second, Philip says, “if you are in a state of security, you can choose not to act on ego.”
I also wouldn’t agree with this point. In his Meditations, Aurelius writes about Epictetus, a slave and a pioneer of stoicism. Epictetus was not exactly secure, but he was able to put aside ego and focus on the present moment. His particular brand of stoicism has resonated with prisoners of war and involves the dissolution of personal ego for survival. We can put aside ego at any point, regardless of how secure we are.
Also pushing against Philips thoughts is Donald Trump. Certainly, at many points in his life, Trump has been secure in terms of money, fame, power, and influence. Yet Trump is clearly an egomaniac who is unable to set his ego aside and will pursue even the smallest slights and insults against him. I don’t think that a state of security is really an important consideration for whether we act in an egotistical way.
Philip’s third observation on ego is “as a self preserving mechanism, protecting you and helping you in motivating living the life you do.”
This is a view on our ego that I would agree with. When we think about how the mind works, I think we should always approach it from an evolutionary psychology standpoint. Very likely, our brains are the way they are because at some point in the history of human evolution it was beneficial for our minds to function in one way over another. There could be some accidents, some mental equivalents to vestigial organs, and some errors in our interpretations, but we probably didn’t develop many psychological traits and maintain them throughout generations if they were not helpful for survival somewhere along the way.
When we view the ego through this lens, it is not hard to see how the ego could help improve our chances of surviving and passing down our genes. If we are egotistical and think that we deserve the best and that we deserve larger amounts of resources, we will be more likely to advocate for ourselves and fight for a better lot in life. This could help our survival, could help us find a better mate, and could help ensure we pass more genes on to subsequent generations. Without the ego, we may chose to settle, we may be complacent, and we may not strive to pass our genes along or ensure that those subsequent genes have sufficient resources to further pass their genes into the following generation. Ego can push us to strive toward the higher salary, the fancier car, more exclusive golf clubs, and other things that are not really necessary for life, but could help ourselves amass more resources and help our kids have better connections to get into Stanford and ultimately find a spouse and have kids. Ego could certainly be antisocial and harmful for us and society, but it could also be important for genetic survival.
Philip’s fourth point is about a guy who is hurt because his wife forgot his birthday.
It is possible that an inflated ego is what made this guy upset when his wife forgot his birthday, but it could also be a number of other psychological or relationship issues between him and his spouse. He may have larger issues of self-worth and value independent of his ego. He may be codependent and perhaps need counseling to better manage his relationships with others. Or his wife could have just been having a bad day. This didn’t seem like a great avenue for discussing and understanding ego to me.
The fifth point that Philip brings up ties back to his third, by viewing ego as a “fairness calculator.”
I also think this could be a useful way to view ego and it also seems like it could be understood through a cognitive psychology perspective. We don’t want to feel like we are being cheated, yet we would be happy to bend the rules and cheat a little if we thought we could get away with it. This is a lot of what Robin Hanson and Kevin Simler discuss in The Elephant in the Brain. If we can signal that we are honest and trustworthy, without actually having to be honest and trustworthy, then we are at an advantage. However, if we suspect that another person is all signal and no actual behavior to back up those signals, then we may act in an egotistical way by being defensive and pushing back against the other. Ego does seem to help fuel this mindset and does seem to encourage a type of fairness calculator behavior.
The final point that Philip makes is that, “ego needs to be controlled in a civilized society.”
I think here Philip is also correct. We live in very complex social societies and ego helps us individually, but also has negative externalities. Ego certainly helped push Trump to the presidency and the history books, but I’m not sure the world was better for it. By pursuing our own self-interest and acting based on ego, we can damage the world around us.
Hanson and Simler would argue that much of these harmful effects of ego are moderated by our signaling ability. Hanson has said that his estimate is that up to 90% of what we do as humans is signaling, at least in rich countries like the United States. Signaling both helps us get ahead and tempers our ego. Overt displays are frowned upon, leaving less overt signaling as the way we display how amazing we are. An unchecked ego is going to break the rules for signaling, and unless it is Donald Trump in the 2016 election, such overt egotism will be punished. Ultimately, we do have to control ego because of negative externalities if we want to cooperate and live in complex social communities.
I hope this helps explain some of how I think about ego!
Theory of Mind is Underrated

Theory of Mind is Underrated

Sometime when infants are around three years old they begin to recognize that the other human beings in their lives are similar to themselves. Whether it is their parents, care takers, or other kinds that they interact with, typically developing children around three will begin to understand that others have the same feelings and emotions that they have. Infants begin to develop what we call theory of mind. It is a momentous and underrated step in human development.
I seem to be experiencing the world. To me, it feels like there is a conscious individual inside my head who has thoughts, feelings, desires, emotions, joys, pleasures, fears, and experiences of physical phenomena (as an aside, the idea of a single conscious self is up for debate). But I can’t prove that any other person has conscious experiences of the world in the way that I feel as though I do. I can see other people who appear to be virtually exactly like me. I see other people who react in ways I would expect myself to react if I was in a similar happy, scary, or boring experience. I can create a reasonable and testable theory which suggests that other people do indeed have conscious experiences of the world even though I can never fully prove it. This is theory of mind, and this is what three year old toddlers do when they start to realize that other people don’t like being hit, don’t like when someone takes their stuff, or would be happy if someone shared a piece of cake with them.
This is a phenomenal super power and without realizing it, we apply this power in most of the ways we think about the social world. In WEIRD countries it underlies our moral and social contracts. As Steven Pinker writes in The Better Angels of Our Nature, “I experience pleasures and pains, and pursue goals in service of them, so I cannot reasonably deny the right of other sentient agents to do the same.” This humanist philosophy develops from our earliest ages and influences how we understand the world. If we were not able to think about others and infer that they have a mind and have the same experiences as we do, our social interactions would be dramatically different, and peaceable democracies might not be possible.
Dogmas About Violence

Dogmas About Violence

In his book The Better Angels of Our Nature, Steven Pinker demonstrates that many of the ways in which we think about violence are inadequate for actually understanding violence. Often, our views toward violence are more dogmatic than evidence based. We have ideas, views, and beliefs of violence that seem to fit, but that don’t actually have much historical backing and don’t really take full context into consideration. Pinker’s book pushes back against such dogmas to help us better understand what is happening in world-wide violence trends. His argument is that by better understanding the causes and underlying factors contributing to violence, we can better understand actual trends in violence and shape our responses accordingly.
Regarding some dogmas that people hold about violence he writes, “on the contrary, violence is often caused by a surfeit of morality and justice, at least as they are conceived in the minds of the perpetrators.” Morality doesn’t necessarily seem to be a key to stopping violence. Pinker demonstrates that many religious wars, such as The Crusades, were fought by people who believed they were very moral. In fact, their morality was at the center of their conflict. Morality today is still used to justify violence, such as when we tie capital punishment to a sense of justice. The idea is that someone who killed another deserves to have the same violence inflected upon themselves. Our moral sense is that more violence is a worthy response to violence.
Pinker continues, “a Third dubious belief about violence is that lower-class people engage in it because they are financially needy … or because they are expressing rage against society.” What Pinker found is that this isn’t necessarily true. People in the lowest socioeconomic levels, Pinker argues, tend to be “effectively stateless.” At a certain point, legal recourse to address crimes is just not possible for people in the lowest economic spheres. People may be dependent on government aid and assistance, but  they may be locked out of some of the protections that government and institutions afford more affluent people. Violence is better than trying to resolve conflicts legally for these individuals.
From a middle class perspective, impulse control more important for future success and security than it is for lower class individuals. Being impulsive and using violence against another person could lead to a job loss, a financial loss, the loss of friends, and the loss of familial assistance. If you have already lost those things, then the cost of violence falls. Approaches to address violence that are designed for the middle and upper classes literally are ineffective because they don’t operate on the proper incentive structure facing people in the lowest socioeconomic classes. And when those approaches fail, it can lead to a positive feedback loop where the poorest people are simply blamed for being impulsive and violent. We miss the importance of larger institutions and incentives.
Understanding these dogmas and the reality of violence helps us better understand why people are violent. Taking a long view of humanity allows us to more clearly see how these dogmas are built from limited perspectives of our current moment and current socioeconomic situations. To get beyond these dogmas requires that we think differently about the systems, structures, institutions, and incentives in people’s lives and how those factors can influence violent behavior.
Dispelling Paradise Lost

Dispelling Paradise Lost

I hate when people fall into paradise lost traps in their thinking. It is too easy for us to think that the past was somehow great and that our modern times and our pathway to the future are bleak. We always seem to be looking back to some sort of paradise that we have lost, some great golden age that has passed, some point in the history of humanity where everything was better. We criticize high school kids today as being worse than we were when we were their age. We imagine times when humans were more civil to each other.  We lament a loss of our connections to nature and a natural way of life. Underneath all of these ideas is a fallacy.
I think the heart of paradise lost mindsets is the long human childhood development period. We literally did have someone who watched over us and provided for all of our needs (if we had a full, healthy, and enriching childhood which is not the case for everyone). This sets our mind up to believe that there truly was a golden time where everything was perfect. That there was a paradise that we lost as we got older. The reality of course, is that we were simply young and didn’t have fully formed brains. We were not aware of the difficulties and tragedies of life, if we were lucky.
Also playing into this fallacy are various errors in human memory and judgment. We fail to remember the boredom, tedium, and frustrations of our youth. We are more likely to remember positive moments, even if they were few in number, than the long and unremarkable stretches of time or our past fears and anxieties. This misremembering process takes place in other areas too. We fail to remember how bad long traffic commutes were for previous jobs, we fail to remember minor contentious political and social events that created ill will and animosity among our societies and families, we forget how painful workouts were from back when we were in better shape. We fail to remember all kinds of negativities in our lives and we fail to recognize how awful life has been for other humans across space and time. And life has been miserable, violent, and deadly for humans across time.
As an example, Steven Pinker writes about the amount of violence that ancient humans experienced. Skeletal remains that we can recover from hundreds, thousands, and tens of thousands of years ago show substantial signs of violence. It is quite common to find remains with signs of major injuries that occurred before death and were very likely inflected by other humans in acts of violence. “Perhaps at the turn of the first millennium,” writes Pinker, “the only bodies that got dumped into bogs, there to be pickled for posterity, were those that had been ritually sacrificed. But for most of the bodies, we have no reason to think that they were only preserved because they were murdered.” According to Pinker, it is unlikely that so many of the bodies that we have recovered have signs of trauma consistent with human to human violence simply by chance. The reason why there is so much violence identified by anthropologists on ancient bodies is likely because there was a lot of violence experienced by ancient humans. Pinker continues, “prehistoric remains convey the distinct impression that The Past is a place where a person had a high chance of coming to bodily harm.”
It is fashionable today to say that humans should live like our  hunter-gatherer ancestors. That in moving to big modern cities we lost some part of paradise and have disconnected from our humanity. That we need to eat like a caveman, need to be one with nature, and need to reconnect with our natural human instincts. But this is just a fashionable myth. Our ancient hunter-gatherer forebearers were quite violent and lived short and painful lives. The paradise is today and lies ahead of us, not behind us where we were under constant threat, were undernourished, and killed each other or inflicted violence upon one another to a greater extent than we do today.
Why Study History? Yuval Noah Harari Sapiens - Joe Abittan Blog

Why Study History?

In his book Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari asks why we should study history if history is not deterministic. If history was deterministic, then we would be able to look back in time at what has happened and determine where things will go next. We would  be able to see clear causal links between events of the past and easily adjust our behaviors and decisions moving forward. If history was truly deterministic, then the trite saying, “those who don’t understand history are doomed to repeat it,” would actually mean something.
But history is not deterministic. There are random changes, chance events, and other unpredictable factors that influence everything from technological development, to GDP, and even marriage and family structures. We can look back and create a compelling narrative, but the causal power of our explanations is extremely low. We can see the how of history, that is how things unfolded, but not the why, not the causal structures underlying everything.
And that makes it reasonable to ask why we should bother studying history at all. Harari responds to this inquiry by writing, “history is not a means for making accurate predictions. We study history not to know the future but to widen our horizons, to understand that our present situation is neither natural nor inevitable, and that we consequently have many more possibilities before us than we imagine.”
History helps us see that racial hierarchies, monarchies, and other aspects of life and culture are based on little more than chance. It helps us understand that humans can live in more ways than we imagine and can have more experiences than we imagine. History doesn’t help us predict what is going to happen in the future and doesn’t tell us how we should live now, but it does help us see that the world is not as rigid as we may imagine. History should expand our knowledge of the possible and humble us in the choices and decisions we make.
Complexity and Cultural Decisions

Complexity and Cultural Decisions

In the United States, and in much of the world, people are reexamining the histories and cultures that built the lives that people live. There is a push to disavow ancestors who were brutal to other people, to disavow groups that committed genocides and atrocities against others, and to disavow the cultural practices of people’s who dominated other groups. Whether it is the Black Lives Matter movement and the 1619 Project in the United States, countries formerly dominated by the British Empire working to redefine themselves beyond their colonial past, or native peoples trying to reestablish a culture that was oppressed by explorers hundreds of years ago, people across the globe are attempting to make difficult decisions about how to understand their culture of oppression and celebrate that culture moving forward without becoming as bad as their former oppressors.
In his book Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari writes about the dilemma such people face. He writes, “whatever path we take, the first step is to acknowledge the complexity of the dilemma and to accept that simplistically diving the past into good guys and bad guys leads nowhere.” History is challenging. For example, while we generally dislike the history of British colonization, arguments can be made that countries colonized by the British had better outcomes than countries that were not colonized. Additionally, it is hard to separate what is truly derivative from one culture relative to another, especially after decades or centuries of cultural dominance and back and forth cultural influence. Simply arguing that history would have been better one way or another, or arguing that a culture should get rid of everything associated with “bad guys” is an insufficient way to think about how a culture should relate to its past.
In the United States this seems to be part of the problem with the sharp divide over the Black Lives Matter movement or Critical Race Theory. White people see these movements and fear that their cultural history is immediately tainted as bad and evil. Rather than feeling as though their cultural heritage has anything worth celebrating, they feel as though people are turning on their cultural heritage and disavowing anything that came from it, ultimately threatening the lives of white people today. If we want to address the cultural problems of white slave holders, it is important to recognize how difficult and thorny our cultural histories in the United States are, and to recognize that we cannot simply say that white people are evil (or have been evil). We cannot paint with a broad brush and must instead consider the nuances and complexities as we think about how American culture can move forward. In the United States this means that black people must be considerate of how their culture was influenced by white dominance, but also how their culture persisted and influenced the United States in positive ways. White people must also look back and not see their ancestors as purely evil. We can eliminate statutes and monuments to people who do not deserve to be praised, but we can also still celebrate aspects of our historical culture that propelled us to where we are. It is a difficult path to navigate, and probably doesn’t lend itself to a solid sense of balance, because cultures are too complex for dichotomies and balance.