Skinwalkers - Chapter 18
The following are direct quotes from the book Tribe, On Homecoming and Belonging, by Sebastian Junger, May 2016, except for statements in italic added.
The ultimate act of disaffiliation isn’t littering or fraud, of course, but violence against your own people. When the Navajo Nation—the Diné, in their language—were rounded up and confined to a reservation in the 1860s, a terrifying phenomenon became more prominent in their culture. The warrior skills that had protected the Diné for thousands of years were no longer relevant in this dismal new era, and people worried that those same skills would now be turned inward, against society. That strengthened their belief in what were known as skinwalkers, or yee naaldlooshii.
Skinwalkers were almost always male and wore the pelt of a sacred animal so that they could subvert that animal’s powers to kill people in the community. They could travel impossibly fast across the desert and their eyes glowed like coals and they could supposedly paralyze you with a single look. They were thought to attack remote homesteads at night and kill people and sometimes eat their bodies. People were still scared of skinwalkers when I lived on the Navajo Reservation in 1983, and frankly, by the time I left, I was too.
Virtually every culture in the world has its version of the skinwalker myth. In Europe, for example, they are called werewolves (literally “man-wolf” in Old English). The myth addresses a fundamental fear in human society: that you can defend against external enemies but still remain vulnerable to one lone madman in your midst. Anglo-American culture doesn’t recognize the skinwalker threat but has its own version. Starting in the early 1980s, the frequency of rampage shootings in the United States began to rise more and more rapidly until it doubled around 2006. Rampages are usually defined as attacks where people are randomly targeted and four or more are killed in one place, usually shot to death by a lone gunman. As such, those crimes conform almost exactly to the kind of threat that the Navajo seemed most to fear on the reservation: murder and mayhem committed by an individual who has rejected all social bonds and attacks people at their most vulnerable and unprepared. For modern society, that would mean not in their log hogans but in movie theaters, schools, shopping malls, places of worship, or simply walking down the street.
Here is a list of skinwalkers, and their shooting rampages in the USA over the last 30 years. Note that from 1988 to 1997 there were 6; from 1998 to 2007 there were 9; from 2008 to 2017 there were 24. Why does it appear that over the last 10 years our society is generating a sharp increase in skinwalkers, individuals committing murder and mayhem who have rejected all social bonds and attack people at their most vulnerable and unprepared? Perhaps it is because, as Sebastion Junger stated, this “shows how completely detribalized this country has become.” Our neurological genetic predisposition, the warrior ethos, all for 1 and 1 for all, is no longer relevant in modern life. As individuals in society it appears we are now very far from our evolutionary roots.
In 2013, areport from the Congressional Research Service, known as Congress's think tank, described mass shootings as those in which shooters "select victims somewhat indiscriminately" and kill four or more people.
Mass shootings over last 30 years until October 1, 2017. And recent news from October 2 to December 31, 2017.
November 14, 2017: Rampaging through a small Northern California town, a gunman took aim on Tuesday at people at an elementary school and several other locations, killing at least four and wounding at least 10 before he was fatally shot by police, the local sheriff’s office said.
November 5, 2017: Devin Patrick Kelley carried out the deadliest mass shooting in Texas history on Sunday, killing 25 people and an unborn child at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, near San Antonio.
October 1, 2017: 58 killed, more than 500 injured: Las Vegas
More than 50 people were killed and at least 500 others injured when a gunman opened fire at a country music festival near the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip, authorities said. Police said the suspect, 64-year-old Stephen Paddock, a resident of Mesquite, Nev., was was found dead after a SWAT team burst into the hotel room from which he was firing at the crowd.
Jan. 6, 2017: 5 killed, 6 injured: Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
After taking a flight to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida, a man retrieves a gun from his luggage in baggage claim, loads it and opens fire, killing five people near a baggage carousel and wounding six others. Dozens more are injured in the ensuing panic. Esteban Santiago, a 26-year-old Iraq war veteran from Anchorage, Alaska, has pleaded not guilty to 22 federal charges.
May 28, 2017: 8 killed, Lincoln County, Miss. A Mississippi man went on a shooting spree overnight, killing a sheriff's deputy and seven other people in three separate locations in rural Lincoln County before the suspect was taken into custody by police, authorities said on Sunday.
Sept. 23, 2016: 5 killed: Burlington, Wash.
A gunman enters the cosmetics area of a Macy’s store near Seattle and fatally shoots an employee and four shoppers at close range. Authorities say Arcan Cetin, a 20-year-old fast-food worker, used a semi-automatic Ruger .22 rifle that he stole from his stepfather’s closet.
June 12, 2016: 49 killed, 58 injured in Orlando nightclub shooting
The United States suffered one of the worst mass shootings in its modern history when 49 people were killed and 58 injured in Orlando, Fla., after a gunman stormed into a packed gay nightclub. The gunman was killed by a SWAT team after taking hostages at Pulse, a popular gay club. He was preliminarily identified as 29-year-old Omar Mateen.
Dec. 2, 2015: 14 killed, 22 injured: San Bernardino, Calif.
Two assailants killed 14 people and wounded 22 others in a shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino. The two attackers, who were married, were killed in a gun battle with police. They were U.S.-born Syed Rizwan Farook and Pakistan national Tashfeen Malik, and had an arsenal of ammunition and pipe bombs in their Redlands home.
Nov. 29, 2015: 3 killed, 9 injured: Colorado Springs, Colo.
A gunman entered a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colo., and started firing.
Police named Robert Lewis Dear as the suspect in the attacks.
Oct. 1, 2015: 9 killed, 9 injured: Roseburg, Ore.
Christopher Sean Harper-Mercer shot and killed eight fellow students and a teacher at Umpqua Community College. Authorities described Harper-Mercer, who recently had moved to Oregon from Southern California, as a “hate-filled” individual with anti-religion and white supremacist leanings who had long struggled with mental health issues.
July 16, 2015: 5 killed, 3 injured: Chattanooga, Tenn. A gunman opened fire on two military centers more than seven miles apart, killing four Marines and a Navy sailor. A man identified by federal authorities as Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeez, 24, sprayed dozens of bullets at a military recruiting center, then drove to a Navy-Marine training facility and opened fire again before he was killed.
June 18, 2015: 9 killed: Charleston, S.C.
Dylann Storm Roof is charged with nine counts of murder and three counts of attempted murder in an attack that killed nine people at a historic black church in Charleston, S.C. Authorities say Roof, a suspected white supremacist, started firing on a group gathered at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church after first praying with them. He fled authorities before being arrested in North Carolina.
May 23, 2014: 6 killed, 7 injured: Isla Vista, Calif.
Elliot Rodger, 22, meticulously planned his deadly attack on the Isla Vista community for more than a year, spending thousands of dollars in order to arm and train himself to kill as many people as possible, according to a report released by the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office. Rodger killed six people before shooting himself.
April 2, 2014: 3 killed; 16 injured: Ft. Hood, Texas
A gunman at Fort Hood, the scene of a deadly 2009 rampage, kills three people and injures 16 others, according to military officials. The gunman is dead at the scene.
Sept. 16, 2013: 12 killed, 3 injured: Washington, D.C. Aaron Alexis, a Navy contractor and former Navy enlisted man, shoots and kills 12 people and engages police in a running firefight through the sprawling Washington Navy Yard. He is shot and killed by authorities.
June 7, 2013: 5 killed: Santa Monica
John Zawahri, an unemployed 23-year-old, kills five people in an attack that starts at his father’s home and ends at Santa Monica College, where he is fatally shot by police in the school’s library.
Dec. 14, 2012: 27 killed, one injured: Newtown, Conn.
A gunman forces his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. and shoots and kills 20 first graders and six adults. The shooter, Adam Lanza, 20, kills himself at the scene. Lanza also killed his mother at the home they shared, prior to his shooting rampage.
Aug. 5, 2012: 6 killed, 3 injured: Oak Creek, Wis.
Wade Michael Page fatally shoots six people at a Sikh temple before he is shot by a police officer. Page, an Army veteran who was a “psychological operations specialist,” committed suicide after he was wounded. Page was a member of a white supremacist band called End Apathy and his views led federal officials to treat the shooting as an act of domestic terrorism.
July 20, 2012: 12 killed, 58 injured: Aurora, Colo.
James Holmes, 24, is taken into custody in the parking lot outside the Century 16 movie theater after a post-midnight attack in Aurora, Colo. Holmes allegedly entered the theater through an exit door about half an hour into the local premiere of “The Dark Knight Rises.”
April 2, 2012: 7 killed, 3 injured: Oakland
One L. Goh, 43, a former student at a Oikos University, a small Christian college, allegedly opens fire in the middle of a classroom leaving seven people dead and three wounded.
Jan. 8, 2011: 6 killed, 11 injured: Tucson, Ariz.
Jared Lee Loughner, 22, allegedly shoots Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in the head during a meet-and-greet with constituents at a Tucson supermarket. Six people are killed and 11 others wounded.
Nov. 5, 2009: 13 killed, 32 injured: Ft. Hood, Texas
Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, allegedly shoots and kills 13 people and injures 32 others in a rampage at Ft. Hood, where he is based. Authorities allege that Hasan was exchanging emails with Muslim extremists including American-born radical Anwar Awlaki.
April 3, 2009: 13 killed, 4 injured: Binghamton, N.Y.
Jiverly Voong, 41, shoots and kills 13 people and seriously wounds four others before apparently committing suicide at the American Civic Assn., an immigration services center, in Binghamton, N.Y.
Feb. 14, 2008: 5 killed, 16 injured: Dekalb, Ill.
Steven Kazmierczak, dressed all in black, steps on stage in a lecture hall at Northern Illinois University and opens fire on a geology class. Five students are killed and 16 wounded before Kazmierczak kills himself on the lecture hall stage.
Dec. 5, 2007: 8 killed, 4 injured: Omaha
Robert Hawkins, 19, sprays an Omaha shopping mall with gunfire as holiday shoppers scatter in terror. He kills eight people and wounds four others before taking his own life. Authorities report he left several suicide notes.
April 16, 2007: 32 killed, 17 injured: Blacksburg, Va.
Seung-hui Cho, a 23-year-old Virginia Tech senior, opens fire on campus, killing 32 people in a dorm and an academic building in attacks more than two hours apart. Cho takes his life after the second incident.
Feb. 12, 2007: 5 killed, 4 injured: Salt Lake City
Sulejman Talovic, 18, wearing a trenchcoat and carrying a shotgun, sprays a popular Salt Lake City shopping mall. Witnesses say he displays no emotion while killing five people and wounding four others.
Oct. 2, 2006: 5 killed, 5 injured: Nickel Mines, Pa.
Charles Carl Roberts IV, a milk truck driver armed with a small arsenal, bursts into a one-room schoolhouse and kills five Amish girls. He kills himself as police storm the building.
July 8, 2003: 5 killed, 9 injured: Meridian, Miss.
Doug Williams, 48, a production assemblyman for 19 years at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., goes on a rampage at the defense plant, fatally shooting five and wounding nine before taking his own life with a shotgun.
Dec. 26, 2000: 7 killed: Wakefield, Mass.
Michael McDermott, a 42-year-old software tester shoots and kills seven co-workers at the Internet consulting firm where he is employed. McDermott, who is arrested at the offices of Edgewater Technology Inc., apparently was enraged because his salary was about to be garnished to satisfy tax claims by the Internal Revenue Service. He uses three weapons in his attack.
Sept. 15, 1999: 7 killed, 7 injured: Fort Worth
Larry Gene Ashbrook opens fire inside the crowded chapel of the Wedgwood Baptist Church. Worshipers, thinking at first that it must be a prank, keep singing. But when they realize what is happening, they dive to the floor and scrunch under pews, terrified and silent as the gunfire continues. Seven people are killed before Ashbrook takes his own life.
April 20, 1999: 13 killed, 24 injured: Columbine, Colo.
Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, students at Columbine High, open fire at the school, killing a dozen students and a teacher and causing injury to two dozen others before taking their own lives.
March 24, 1998: 5 killed, 10 injured: Jonesboro, Ark.
Middle school students Mitchell Johnson and Andrew Golden pull a fire alarm at their school in a small rural Arkansas community and then open fire on students and teachers using an arsenal they had stashed in the nearby woods. Four students and a teacher who tried shield the children are killed and 10 others are injured. Because of their ages, Mitchell. 13, and Andrew, 11, are sentenced to confinement in a juvenile facility until they turn 21.
Dec. 7, 1993: 6 killed, 19 injured: Garden City, N.Y.
Colin Ferguson shoots and kills six passengers and wounds 19 others on a Long Island Rail Road commuter train before being stopped by other riders. Ferguson is later sentenced to life in prison.
July 1, 1993: 8 killed, 6 injured: San Francisco
Gian Luigi Ferri, 55, kills eight people in an office building in San Francisco’s financial district. His rampage begins in the 34th-floor offices of Pettit & Martin, an international law firm, and ends in a stairwell between the 29th and 30th floors where he encounters police and shoots himself.
May 1, 1992: 4 killed, 10 injured: Olivehurst, Calif.
Eric Houston, a 20-year-old unemployed computer assembler, invades Lindhurst High School and opens fire, killing his former teacher Robert Brens and three students and wounding 10 others.
Oct. 16, 1991: 22 killed, 20 injured: Killeen, Texas
George Jo Hennard, 35, crashes his pickup truck into a Luby’s cafeteria crowded with lunchtime patrons and begins firing indiscriminately with a semiautomatic pistol, killing 22 people. Hennard is later found dead of a gunshot wound in a restaurant restroom.
June 18, 1990: 10 killed, 4 injured: Jacksonville, Fla.
James E. Pough, a 42-year-old day laborer apparently distraught over the repossession of his car, walks into the offices of General Motors Acceptance Corp. and opens fire, killing seven employees and one customer before fatally shooting himself.
Jan. 17, 1989: 5 killed, 29 injured: Stockton, Calif.
Patrick Edward Purdy turns a powerful assault rifle on a crowded school playground, killing five children and wounding 29 more. Purdy, who also killed himself, had been a student at the school from kindergarten through third grade.Police officials described Purdy as a troubled drifter in his mid-20s with a history of relatively minor brushes with the law. The midday attack lasted only minutes.
July 18, 1984: 21 killed, 19 injured: San Ysidro, Calif.
James Oliver Huberty, a 41-year-old out-of-work security guard, kills 21 employees and customers at a McDonald’s restaurant. Huberty is fatally shot by a police sniper perched on the roof of a nearby post office.
Integrate the Wisdoms of History into Present Culture
Addressing the polarized political climate in the USA
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Fear of the unknown may be the result of cognitive bias. If there was a group of Homo habili that looked down from their home base and saw that a group Homo rudolfensi had set up camp along their river, what would the Homo habilis do? Should they walk down the ridge unarmed and introduce themselves, should they just ignore the Homo rudolfensi and go about their daily business hunting and gathering fruits and nuts in the valley? Should they scout the group and then decide to surprise attack? Should Homo habilis send a group of armed individuals down and introduce themselves to the rudolfensi? What would the rudolfensi do? The answers to these questions are not known, but for survival of the Homo habilis, walking up unarmed or ignoring the other group altogether could result in their annihilation, rudolfensi might attack them. So a fear of the unknown could be a tribal instinct that is itself a cognitive bias that has been genetically selected and helped the survival of our species and the extinction of others. And in this scenario, Homo habilis may have started projecting their cognitive biases forward (confirmation bias) in making a decision as to what to do upon encountering that unknown Homo rudolfensi tribe. Did they scout the village from afar and see evidence of their cognitive bias, their fear of the unknown? If so, could this be confirmation bias? Did they then plan and attack the village? If so, this would explain how Homo habilis survived (and rudolfensi did not) and then evolved into Homo erectus and then us, Homo sapiens. This successful human evolution is the biological and biochemical basis for xenophobia today.
Discrimination based on race, ethnicity, gender, age or sexual orientation could also be a product of cognitive bias – as was the case described above with Homo habilis and Homo rudolfensi regarding race. Someone today may have a preconceived notion, a prejudice, a cognitive bias, about any such group other than their own and apply that prejudice to that individual or group. This kind of discrimination could be the result of the cognitive biases that have been genetically selected and neurologically wired over the course of the successful evolution of Homo sapiens, including the next step of looking forward and applying a confirmation bias, which habilis probably did with rudolfensi, and which is now present in us, the sole dominant Homo sapien species of today. Our brain’s perception of the world, our neuroreality, is influenced by our evolutionarily selected and genetically expressed cognitive biases from our evolutionary past.
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
What was the underlying cause that resulted in Homo sapiens becoming the sole and dominant human species on the earth? One answer could be that cognitive bias, confirmation bias and argumentative theory were survival mechanisms that were genetically selected for that now appear in Homo sapiens. How could these traits be the most useful in the survival and dominance of a species over the last 4 million years?
In an extraordinarily complex world with and infinite number of stimuli and social circumstances that can surround an individual, perhaps it was beneficial to have a cognitive bias. Rather than analyze an infinite number of stimuli and social circumstances, the brain takes a short cut and has cognitive biases that allow the individual to make quick decisions and survive in his environment.
Let’s review Argumentative Theory: Argumentative Theory is a concept proposed by Mercier and Sperber in, Why do humans reason? Arguments for an argumentative theory: "Reasoning is generally seen as a means to improve knowledge and make better decisions. However, much evidence shows that reasoning often leads to distortions and poor decisions. This suggests that the function of reasoning should be rethought. Argumentative theory claims that the function of reasoning is argumentative. It is to devise and evaluate arguments intended to persuade. Skilled arguers are not after the truth but after arguments supporting their views. This explains the notorious confirmation bias. Reasoning so motivated can distort evaluations and attitudes and allow erroneous beliefs to persist. Proactively used reasoning also favors decisions that are easy to justify but not necessarily better. In all these instances traditionally described as failures or flaws, reasoning does exactly what can be expected of an argumentative device: Look for arguments that support a given conclusion."
From: A Conversation with Hugo Mercer
"Reasoning was not designed to pursue the truth. Reasoning was designed by evolution to help us win arguments. That's why they call it The Argumentative Theory of Reasoning. So, as Mercier and Sperber put it, 'The evidence reviewed here shows not only that reasoning falls quite short of reliably delivering rational beliefs and rational decisions. It may even be, in a variety of cases, detrimental to rationality. Reasoning can lead to poor outcomes, not because humans are bad at it, but because they systematically strive for arguments that justify their beliefs or their actions. This explains the confirmation bias.'" So here then, argumentative theory is an extension of confirmation bias.
So the Argumentative Theory as stated above explains the genetically selected human confirmation bias. So a more expanded explanation of human brain development may be that the genetically selected and neurologically wired cognitive biases resulted in the development of confirmation biases that explain the thought processes described in the Argumentative Theory. I make this statement from the evolutionary perspective. Have you ever been walking through the woods when suddenly nearby a squirrel runs up a tree, or a bird suddenly flies away – you jump, that’s the instinctive fight or flight response. That is exactly what the Australopithecus did when she ran away for protection from the rumbling in the bushes and when I ran to my mother after having seen a black bald guy for the first time. This is a bias genetically existent in most animals and us as well, so this could very well be a cognitive hard-wired bias. So once such cognitive biases were in place in the animal brain, they could be applied down the evolutionary line in more complex situations. Upon encountering the rudolfensi village with their fear of the unknown cognitive bias, Homo habilis may have relied on confirmation bias, seeing evidence of their fear of the unknown, which may very well have been involved in their decision as to what to do.
This confirmation bias in Homo habilis could have then lead to the Argumentative Theory, an extension of confirmation bias as described above, which may have developed as Homo erectus migrated out of Africa 2 million years ago and inhabitted most of Eurasia in more complex tribes and villages. This then lead to Homo sapiens, their exit from Africa 70,000 years ago, and their migration and dominance over the entire world. This then lead to the development of agriculture and the advent of civilization some 5000 years ago, then the industrial revolution, and now the digital revolution and information age. In the extraordinarily complex society of today, the instinctive cognitive biases, the resulting confirmation bias, applied in the argumentative theory, may all very well be present in the 100 billion neurons in your brain helping to generate your perception of reality, your neuroreality.
Roscoe Orman, playing Gordon Robinson on Sesame Street
A cognitive bias might also explain an inherent fear of the unknown. If a lone Australopithecus, let's say Lucy, was out gathering friut and nuts, and she heard some rumblings in the brush, what do you think she would do? She would probably run back and seek protection in her larger group of australopithecus. If the sound was made by a predator like a lion, that cognitive bias resulted in Lucy not being killed by a predator. If the sound was made by a non-predator like an antelope, she didn’t have to leave for protection. But when in such a situation, if many individuals did not seek protection in a large group, chances are good a number of them would be killed by a predator, which would then lessen the chances of that species surviving. So evolution for the species genetically selected the cognitive bias short cut – the fight or flight response, in this case flight.
Here's a model of an Australopithecus, based on the skeletal remains found by Donald Johanson and Tom Gray on November 24, 1974, at the site of Hadar in Ethiopia. They nicknamed her Lucy
As a very small piece of anecdotal evidence, I recall an incident watching Sesame Street at the age of 3, I’m a white male. A black bald man appeared on Sesame Street reciting the alphabet, that was the first time I had ever seen such. I ran screaming and scared crying to my mother yelling “What’s that mommy, what’s that?” She calmly explained that that was another person who happened to have no hair and different color skin, and that there are all kinds of people in the world of different color, shapes and sizes, that we were all the same people, and he was just like me. After that I developed a liking for the guy and looked forward to seeing him again on Sesame Street. But what was it that caused my initial response? At the age of 3 there is no way I could have developed and learned a bias to a black bald man that I had never seen before, so that bias must have been that genetically selected and biochemically hardwired cognitive bias of fear of the unknown, which expressed itself here by extension as xenophobia.
Once the developing human brain had these cognitive biases as a means of survival, the next step would be to apply this bias in a forward manner in social context. When your cognitive biases are in place, in new situations you look for confirmations of these biases, as most likely was the case with Homo habilis encountering Homo rudolfensi as earlier described.
Remember the 100 billion neurons in your brain that create your perception of reality, your neuroreality. Let’s consider human evolution, brain function, cognitive bias, confirmation bias and argumentative theory as they may relate to neuroreality. As earlier mentioned, we evolved over the past 4 million years from Australopithecus, to Homo habilis, to Homo erectus, to Homo sapiens. Note that during these 4 million years there were other closely related human species, Homo rudolfensi, heidelbergensis, neanderthals, and the most recent of which were the florensiensis that went extinct only about 17,000 years ago.
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