Saturday, August 06, 2005

Emotional roots for hypocrisies of BOTH left and right...

Several respondents added perspective to the quotation from Deepak Lal that I offered last time. Lal is representative of a new wave of extremely pro-capitalist Indian economists who have been unleashed by recent reforms over there, after fifty years of stifling Democratic Socialism. Of course, it is natural that this sudden release would result in both backlash and exaggeration. Hence one explanation for Lal's strawman tactics and emotionally charged venom toward anyone and anything that seems even glancingly leftist.

And yes, this effect is predictably exacerbated by cultural influences. Consider. Despite generations of effort to reduce caste-consciousness, countless Indians remain socially and emotionally wedded to ancient habits that all-too readily find new justifications on the right of the political spectrum. Habits that justify differences in wealth, or luck, by citing inherent deficiencies in grace, or karma, or membership in higher or lower classifications of humanity.

This is a classic human pattern of self-justification. Under Calvinism, varied luck was explained as a matter of Predestination of a pre-chosen elect (with everyone else fated to be damned). Under Social Darwinism, especially during America's Gilded Age, new-fangled notions of evolution were warped to justify the individual misery of millions of impoverished workers, whose suffering only manifested Nature's endless self-improvement program. During the Roaring Twenties, Freudianism was interpreted to justify evasion of social bonds and reciprocal obligations. More recently, the new apocalypt-fundamentalism has erected a simple litmus test in order to dismiss as damned all opponents - the test of whether you call it murder to thwart the development of any fertilized human egg.

And now, in Enterprise India? One needs only a little imagination to picture how right-wing Brahmin intellectuals might apply old notions of karma to the steepening differences between rich and poor. Ah, the recurring pattern.

Only, now I will surprise you and say that habitual patterns of the left are little better!

If the right is often associated with one bad habit -- justifying prejudice, in the general sense of pre-judging individuals because they are inherently members of a class -- then the left often correlates with an absurd kind of excess in the opposite direction.

What is the opposite of ideologically justifying group prejudice? It is insisting that human beings are utter tabula rasas, infinitely reprogrammable, without any natural instincts or inherited proclivities that set a course for life. Infinite reprogrammability was a notion that Aldous Huxley savagely satirized in Brave New World. And this utterly foolish exaggeration reached its culmination under Stalin, when the communist theoretician Lysenko was given control over all Soviet biological science. Lysenko fiercely repressed the entire field of genetic inheritance, in favor of a state mandated dogma that all organisms, especially people, can acquire nearly all traits, simply as a function of training and conditioning.

Indeed, were you to try to come up with a "political spectrum" that actually makes sense (and I think I have), one of the three axes would have to be this one. To what extent do you attribute differences among human beings to inherited traits, or qualities of their group, and to what extent do you attribute such differences to individual experience? Yes, it's the old nature vs. nurture debate...

...in which we modernists and moderates have always taken the obvious and sensible approach. Of course both factors play strong roles in determining what we are. Though the Enlightenment seems always to be best served when we err in one direction, rather than the other. Leaning away from prejudice. Leaning toward increasing emphasis on the individual, rather than lazily assigning them to groups. Toward letting individuals prove their worth outside of any simplistic classification.

And especially, nursing suspicion toward anything that looks like yet another ideological justification for elitism. Elitism of wealth, or power... or ideological purity.

(A risky aside: Nobody speaks of the profoundly hypocritical exception to the left's own dogma of absolute reprogrammability. This exception is an equally absolute faith in the predetermined nature of homosexuality, labeling it as genetically pre-welded and hopelessly unalterable by any post-natal influence. No other human trait is given utterly obligate status by the left. And given it by dogmatic decree! In every other case, the ideologically correct incantation is to demand that we attribute traits to individual experience and control.

(Shouldn't we find this strange and dramatically quantum reversal interesting or worthy of discussion? Yes, one can understand and even sympathize with the political-emotional roots of this dogma. But one crucial difference between modernists and romantic dogmatists is that the latter feel it is dangerous to openly discuss matters of dogma. While we feel that our morality is not put at risk by scrutinizing anything at all.

(Here, the underlying aim is clearly understandable -- to free gay people from parental or religious pressure to "change their minds." And please. I am not taking sides on this issue. I am just pointing out that this absolutely quantum reversal, in regard to one, particular, and narrowly specialized human trait, seems, well, just a bit jarring and artificial. As in countless hypocrisies of the right, the truth of this matter is obscured by ferocious ideological passion that is - in fact - completely unnecessary in order to achieve practical social aims. In this case, the admirable aim of increased tolerance of harmless human eccentricity.

(Or, at least, it is unnecessary for people like you and me, since modernist-enlightenment types are already inclined toward tolerance. Needing no dogmatic reinforcement, we are so inclined whether your harmless eccentricity originated in your genes or was a matter of choice.)

Why the parentheses, in what seemed (to you and me) an interesting topic and example? So that I can protect myself by disclaiming the preceding paragraphs as constituting a parenthetical aside. What am I afraid of? Um, duh. A firestorm of hatred, because romantic anti-modernists are incapable - whatever their official ideology - of viewing modernist skepticism as anything but evil, especially when that skepticism is applied to their favored dogma. Even when it might prove helpful in the long run, by replacing simpleminded and addle-pated justifications for tolerance with much better ones, grounded in real science and supported by genuine pragmatism.

Anyway, it was high time that I bent some attention to exposing some hypocrisies of the left. Hypocrisies that, while currently far less harmful than the latest monstrous #$*@#%@! on the right, are nevertheless deeply inimical to the modernist agenda of incremental human improvement and progress.

In fact, I will continue in this vein a little longer, in order to build needed credibility points and show that I really am evenhanded here.

I need those points. We all do. Because it's not easy standing up for sane, balanced, evenhanded, modernity in a world gone ideologically mad. A world in which the loonies of all kinds have set up a divide-and-conquer campaign, aiming to set us at each other's throats along a left-right divide that makes absolutely no sense in a practical, objective universe.

95 comments:

jomama said...

I need those points. We all do. Because it's not easy standing up for sane, balanced, evenhanded, modernity in a world gone ideologically mad. A world in which the loonies of all kinds have set up a divide-and-conquer campaign, aiming to set us at each other's throats along a left-right divide that makes absolutely no sense in a practical, objective universe.

The state thrives on such division
tactics and promotes it, even
if unwittingly. Personally I think
the "us" and "them" routine is just
a consequence of a whole lot of
tribal indoctrination. Most worship
the group effort, believing nothing
of consequence happens without it
when the opposite is almost always
more progress inclined and definitely
more peaceful.

In addition there are a whole passel
of folks who won't have any truck
with an objective universe, or
hadn't you noticed.

Doesn't look good from where I
sit.

Bram said...

I agree within the sensible argument, however I must say that we shouldn't be that critical towards religious beliefs and stuff..

As far as I'm concernd, I don't believe in God or Allah, but I will believe there is some kind of ├╝bermensch like Jezus of Mohammed. Just relief your fears and be understanding. We don't need another religious War!

Anonymous said...

"Nobody speaks of the profoundly hypocritical exception to the left's own dogma of absolute reprogrammability."

Actually, I think there are other exceptions, at least in some "subcultures" of the left.

Consider how some radical feminists think of MEN: Hard-wired to be rapists and warmongers, etc.

Some obscure and tenditious academics in African-American Studies consider whites to be inherently nasty and domineering.

Frank said...

@Bram:
"we shouldn't be that critical towards religious beliefs and stuff.."

Exacly how critical should we be, do you think? Modernists are inclined toward tolerance but that doesn't mean they tolerate anything and everything.

@anonymous:

Perhaps it is time to reclassify those groups you mention as not particularly leftists or rightist but fundamentally extremist.

NoOne said...

I don't know why we Indians don't see moderate Brahmin intellectuals. You only see the two extreme cartoons in public life: i) vegetarian, tee-totalling, rigidly authoritarian, conservative Brahmins who use the caste system, karma etc. to justify all sorts of idiotic hierarchies and ii) vegan, socialist Brahmin intellectuals who abhor all hierarchies and think that Hinduism is the root of all evil.

Still, if 100 million Indians are making the transition from traditional to modern, perhaps a small percentage, say 10,000 people will make the transition from some fuckwit ideology to a more creative, free flowing, intuitive AND emprirically honest worldview where genuine dialog is possible. Above also goes for China where sheer numbers should ensure the same.

David Brin said...

Colorfully put. And naturally, cosmopolitanism will draw not thousands, but millions. Driven in part by education and reason and science...

...and in part by the messages carried in most Hollywood films. The three propaganda messages that helped to make modernism as powerful as it is.

* Suspicion of authority
* tolerance of diversity
* respect for individual eccentricity.

The fact that Hollywood has pushed these themes relentlessly - and yet they are actualized in so few - shows just how contrary to real human nature these messages really are.. Yes, you all claim that they are core values that you deeply believe. And yet, in practice, isn't it hard?

I do not mean to put down the Indian Renaissance. It is a huge spark of hope in the world. (Driven in large part - like the rise of Japan and Europe and Taiwan and now China - by the free-spending habits of the American consumer.)

But we'll be able to judge the health of what happens by one simple test:

Does the change help to make a social structure that more resembles a DIAMOND in shape? With a thriving middle that outnumbers the poor and with the rich not too far ahead of everybody else?

Or does change help to create a vastly more steep pyramid of privilege? The boring and stupid old style of human society... but the one that is deeply grained in human nature?

The old ways of thinking want that. We, on the other hand, may differ over HOW to achieve a vibrant and exciting diamond (some emphasizing market forces). But we all want a socially mobile diamond.

see: http://www.davidbrin.com/eon1.html

Anonymous said...

This is perfectly said and illustrated. I was not here to read this, but am pleasantly surprised to read one of my favorite writer speaking in favor of balance.

Balance is the sensible place to be for educated people. Why educated ? By essence, balance is unstable. Meaning no certainties. That's something hard to sell for some people, in search for absolute. And not only are these people many, they are part of our society, and balance does not include the right to "forge and level" them into a definite conviction.

A difficult game indeed.

Seth said...

@bram

Being critical towards religious beliefs is a two-edged sword.

The first edge is that there does not exist--or at least, I am not aware of the existence of--a rational argument that starts with known facts about the universe and ends with the conclusion that there is, or must be, a god.

(People tend to dismiss that sentence as ludicrous, by the way. Before you do so, please, formulate your example arguments. This may prove difficult.)

Given the unreasonableness of a belief in god, any responsible atheist would see widespread belief in god as a symptom of a cultural sickness and do their best to combat this belief.

Also, widespread belief in god acts as a means of control and direction for people of dubious motive. And a belief in the coming apocalypse is bad for trees, which we need to breathe. So widespread belief in god is a dangerous cultural sickness.

However, it is widespread. So stating that it is a cultural sickness gets you in trouble and loses support that you need to stop wars or save trees. Thats the other side of the sword.

Tony Fisk said...

@anonymous,
While I think that an urge to stability is a strong motivator for most people, I would like you to consider your wording, and how you've framed (or have had framed for you) 'balance' as being inherently 'unstable': inferring that it requires much effort to keep right.

Now, fair enough, you did it to demonstrate that this is how the average person views the problem.

But is it really so? Would a diamond shaped social structure have spontaneously arisen if the balancing act really were that difficult?

And, see how the outlook plays into the hands of any wannabe ruling caste, who offer comfort and an end to worry if you let 'papa' take care of the hard stuff (and other things) for you.
(and it is hard 'cos you've already admitted it to yourself).

Examples from Oz politics:
- One of the quotable quotes of Joh Bjelke-Petersen (ex Queensland premier) to any questions was 'don't you worry about that!'. (what is it about WASPs and the subtropics?)
- Jeff Kennett, in his initial election campaign, wouldn't discuss policies because 'it would confuse the electorate'. (he won, too! and a new verb, being 'Jeffed', entered the lexicon!)

Imagery is a powerful thing, and I suppose that the vision of a diamond shaped structure standing on its end does invoke fears of stability, even imaginary ones.

Maybe a better analogy would be a spinning top?

@David
Sorry to belabour the issue, but one final point about active links: if you use Blogger to edit your posts, there is a quick link option in the menu bar that does the link wrap for you. Highlight the text to 'activate', click the option, paste in the desired link, and there you go. (Now, if they had that option in comments!)

johnistpropaganda said...

Good to see your back! I thought you may have left us.

I personally wish you take the aside and bring it to the front, whatever the concequences. A simple history lesson will illustrate your point of homosexy and the belief that it is a genetic "flaw" or "prediposition" (dependening on ones left-right orientation). The practice was common place in both pre-helenistic greece and edo period japan, where in both societies the bond between men was regarded with the highest esteem.

i have come to the unprofessional conclsuion that while sexual drive is one of our strongest urges, what gender we aim it at is more or less dictated by environmental factors (basically nature controls drive, nuture controls orientation).

what boggles my mind is why "who is doin who" is such a major issue anyway. this fact is reason enough for modernist to be sceptical of Big Religeon's ability to run the government. for more on this, if your none-to-easily offended, see here: www.itsyourcall.blogspot.com <-shameless self promotion!
-jp-

W.B. Reeves said...

As someone who would likely be classifiable as of the "left", at least since I was fourteen, I don't think you need apologize for pointing out the obvious regarding the "genetic defense" of homosexuality.

However, I think you overstate when you describe it as the "left's" position. Properly speaking, it is currently the dominant meme of the Gay Rights movement. While this is usually seen as a "left-wing" movement, the fact is that it contains many who consider themselves moderate and some who identify themselves as conservative. It's not so much left-wing as it is an independent movement allied to the Left. The reasons for this alliance are, I think, obvious.

The Left, to the degree that one can assign it a common position, is following its usual policy regarding allied "oppressed groups", defering to such groups the right of self-definition.

It should be stressed that this is not a philosophic much less a scientific judgement. Rather, it is rawly political. The importance of the gay Rights movement as a political constituency dictates such deference. It also doesn't hurt that most Gay Rights supporters who are not themselves members of that community don't consider themselves competent to dictate strategy on the issue.

Speaking for myself, whether same sex affections are a matter of genetics, choice, natural variation, acculturation or all of the above is immaterial. My support for the right of sexual self expression is rooted in the conviction that the society that denies the individual control of their own sexuality is no more and, in fact, far less free than the society that controls religious belief.

A rather romantic notion I suspect but one that I don't feel overly conflicts with modernity.

Here's a thought. If we observe a destructive dynamic in human culture which afflicts both the left and right of the ideological spectrum, isn't it reasonable to suggest that there is an impulse at work that supercedes our formal ideological systems? Take your own comparison of "Brave New World" to the phenomenon of Lysenkoism. Huxley's satire didn't draw on the example of Soviet style Socialism so much as it did American style Capitalism. Remember, "cleanlyness is next to Fordlyness."

If such radically different ideological systems wind up tending towards such similar outcomes, isn't it time to reconsider our entire understanding of the role ideology? Would it not be wise to embark on thorough critical re-examination of what we think we know about modes of human thought and how they actually operate?

Just an idea.

Dave Baker said...

It's interesting that in the political arena, the issue of homosexuality's origin is not drawn in terms of a dichotomy of nature/genetics vs. nurture. Rather, people argue over the distinction between genetics and "choice." Whatever that's supposed to mean.

And on reflection, it's clear why they use this word -- people on the right are as uncomfortable with the idea of nurture as they are with nature! We don't control our environment any more than our genetics, so how can we be held morally responsible for its results? They want to be able to condemn gayness, so they want it to be a behavior that arises entirely from the individual. That's what they mean by choice.

Of course, if we suppose sensibly that any behavior arises from some combination of nature and nurture, there are no such "choices."

So choice has to be something entirely different from genetic nature and environmental nurture, something compatible with both, in order for our actions to be freely chosen. So if someone proves that gayness is the result of genetics, or of one's environment, that tells us nothing about whether it's a free choice. The whole issue of genetics is really unrelated to the moral and political question. Just another irrelevant issue brought to the public's attention by the establishment, partly because they're dumb and partly because it diverts us from more important questions they don't want to answer.

Dave Baker said...

W.B. Reeves is right on.

Jacare Sorridente said...

A couple of points-

First: The United States has a long and venerable history of venom-spewing parties demonizing strawmen and exaggerating the position of their opponents to unrecognizable proportions. The reason for this is certainly complex, but I see it as a self-reinforcing circle in which the very attacks each side initiates end up reinforcing the divide as the previous vitriol serves as a nearly-impassable barrier. Some food for thought here- on two previous occasions the divide between the two dominant parties became so great that physical violence erupted on the senate floor. This violence was symptomatic of the great gulf separating the ideologies of the times. First, in the election of 1800 when the form of the government was still plastic and the "founding fathers" could not agree on the proper balance. Recall that the country nearly came to civil war. Jefferson hinted that he could not control his partisan followers if he were not made president, and the governor of Virginia called up the militia with the possible aim of marching on Washington if Jefferson lost.

The next divisive issue was, of course, slavery and in fact resulted in civil war after long years of debate and a few lulls.

I see the current political climate as something akin to the years leading up to the election of 1800. There is a lot of ridiculous squabbling, plenty of inflamed emotion, and while things don't seem to have gotten to the point of an irreparable rift, a single "surprise" issue like the equal votes Burr and Jefferson received in 1800 could serve to bring the nation to a crisis point.

Second-

Whiskey made a point that I have heard thousands of times which proponents seem to think is a telling blow against religion. I would like to address it. He said:

The first edge is that there does not exist--or at least, I am not aware of the existence of--a rational argument that starts with known facts about the universe and ends with the conclusion that there is, or must be, a god.

There is no rational argument from which one may develop the core values of any group of people, whether religious or not. While it may not be scientific that things should be done this way or that because God said so, neither is it scientific to do so on any other basis.

Jacare Sorridente said...

Dave Baker said:
So choice has to be something entirely different from genetic nature and environmental nurture, something compatible with both, in order for our actions to be freely chosen. So if someone proves that gayness is the result of genetics, or of one's environment, that tells us nothing about whether it's a free choice. The whole issue of genetics is really unrelated to the moral and political question. Just another irrelevant issue brought to the public's attention by the establishment, partly because they're dumb and partly because it diverts us from more important questions they don't want to answer.

Do you not see that in assigning behavior to either uncontrollable nature (genetics) or uncontrollable nurture (environment) or even some uncontrollable combination of the two, you undermine the enitre basis of law? In order for law to be meaningful we must believe that people choose their actions and are therefore responsible for them. If you say that a single behavior (homosexuality) is not a choice (because it is mandated by either genetics, environments or some combination) then the clear implication is that all behaviors fall under the same description and it is therefore immoral to hold anyone accountable for any action.

The idea of "free will", while perhaps not currently scientifically verifiable, is a necessary component to establish the rule of law without which civilization cannot exist.

Dave Baker said...

Hey, Jacare! *waves* This is Destineer from Hatrack.

Looks like I wasn't clear enough in my initial post. What I'm trying to say is that psychology and its underpinnings in the harder sciences give us good reason to believe that human behavior is always determined by some combination of nature and nurture. But we also know, from our internal experience, that some of our actions are freely chosen. So the question of free choice is unrelated to the nature-nuture question.

That's why I said that the scientific question of genetic predetermination is unrelated to the moral question of whether gayness is a free choice.

(By the way, my own view is something like this: For at least some people, sexual orientation is a choice, AND it's a choice that has no direct adverse impact on the lives of others, so it shouldn't be the subject of laws.)

----

I just noticed that Brin posted the following:
"Indeed, were you to try to come up with a "political spectrum" that actually makes sense (and I think I have), one of the three axes would have to be this one. To what extent do you attribute differences among human beings to inherited traits, or qualities of their group, and to what extent do you attribute such differences to individual experience?"

I would think that in a sensible, objective world, nature-nurture wouldn't be a political issue at all. It's a question for science. Now, there are certainly some scientific questions that have become very politicized (global warming is one such), but I'm not sure that a sensible political axis should reinforce this fact.

Jacare Sorridente said...

Hi Destineer-

you said But we also know, from our internal experience, that some of our actions are freely chosen. So the question of free choice is unrelated to the nature-nuture question.

This is what I was after: The question of nature-nurture is complex and mostly academic. Political policy must be made by assuming free choice in essentially all human behavior. From your post it appears that you would agree.

Dave Baker said...

Jacare:
"Political policy must be made by assuming free choice in essentially all human behavior. From your post it appears that you would agree."

Not exactly. I think that free choice and nature/nurture are separate issues, but that doesn't mean I think that free choice is a non-issue. Far from it. We except mentally ill people from punishment for certain crimes precisely because their behavior is compulsive.

Frank said...

Jacare Sorridente:
"In order for law to be meaningful we must believe that people choose their actions and are therefore responsible for them"

Actually that is not true. Law does not need to be meaningful, just effective.The terms "free will" or "choice" indicate reprogrammability as a result of (the threat of) punishment or (the promise of) reward. People are responsible for their deeds because they have done them, not because they chose to do them.

Jacare Sorridente said...

Frank said:
Actually that is not true. Law does not need to be meaningful, just effective.The terms "free will" or "choice" indicate reprogrammability as a result of (the threat of) punishment or (the promise of) reward. People are responsible for their deeds because they have done them, not because they chose to do them.

Fair enough. I could agree with this utilitarian view of the law, though it would be somewhat to square philosophically with the notion of responsible citizenry which chooses their government etc.

Not exactly. I think that free choice and nature/nurture are separate issues, but that doesn't mean I think that free choice is a non-issue. Far from it. We except mentally ill people from punishment for certain crimes precisely because their behavior is compulsive.

I don't agree with this. We except insane people because they (supposedly) don't completely understand the consequence of their actions. This is the same reason we except children from the full brunt of the law. The issue is not one of the origination of the action (eg choice or compulsion) but of the understanding of what their action means in a broader context.

Frank said...

Jacare Sorridente:
"somewhat to square philosophically with the notion of responsible citizenry which chooses their government etc."

I'm not sure what you been by that. But I would say that the citizenry acts responsibly because it expects either punishment or
reward from an action (like voting). "Free will" is in this case a calculation, a weighing of pros and cons, of which the quality depends on both nature and nurture.

Seth said...

@jacare

First, the existence of god is not a core value. It is a claim made by theists about the nature of reality which is not supported by the application of reason to observations of reality. Your point is a red herring.

It is also not accurate. Core values can be rationally derived from the observation of reality.

Observing reality leads me to conclude that a human species exists, and I am a member. I note that some species go extinct, while others flourish. I might therefore decide, based on that observation, that those things which tend to perpetuate my own species are "good" and those that tend towards our extinction are "evil." This choice of a core value is by necessity arbitrary, but it is rationally supported. Why?

Because the choice concerns a matter that is not in doubt. We can agree objectively that we exist and our species would go extinct if the earth exploded tomorrow. Whether this would be a good thing or not is a matter of preference. I choose the core value of continuance as an option, not a matter of faith.

Religionists, by contrast, base their arguments of good and evil on the will of a god, the very existence of which they are unable to rationally defend. So the choice of good or evil is a choice about a matter that is definitely in doubt. In order to choose what they say is good, a leap of faith is required on my part.

From this, two things are clear. First, there is a tangible difference between god based and reality based core values. Second, rational thought can produce core values, although not to the elimination of choice.

Steve said...

I think that justice, laws, and individual responsibility are all misunderstood and somewhat independent of one another.

Justice is a moral concept and changes with societies. To me it asks, "Was the truth of an incident found and was the appropriate punishment meted out? Are the innocent now somewhat better protected than they were?" For example, was Bernie Ebbers punishment "just?" He got more time than the average murderer would. Most people would say that murder is a more heinous crime than security fraud and filing false documents. Yet, he negatively affected a lot more people even than a murderer of an average individual would have. Perhaps the punishment will deter others. Though I tend to think that noone who is going to do that thinks they will be caught, and so deterrence is minimal.

Laws are rules intended to preserve order, and may or may not be related to justice. In fact, there have been many unjust laws, and many others that have more to do with order and status quo than anything else.

Responsibility is a very tricky one for me. I think there are degrees of responsibility. Certainly if someone dies because of my actions I am responsible for their death. However if they die due to a faulty brake job on my car or because I planned out their murder for my own benefit shows a spectrum of responsibility to me. Sure there is nature and nurture, and I feel subjectively that there is a choice. But I say subjectively because I don't know that there is for everyone - I can only speak for myself.

Here is discussion I have with my brother-in-law who works at a juvenile detention center in Texas. Every day he sees really unimaginably bad kids. Research has shown that the emotional and nutritional environment a developing person experiences affects their brain development. In an abusive home, the most appropriate way to wire a brain for survival will lead to a prediliction towards serious anti-social behavior, self-medication with drugs, etc. It may even be stronger than a prediliction as civilized behavioral restraints may be fatal, so the wiring may never form. Other research has indicated that adolescents don't behave oddly because of "surging hormones" but rather that their brains are in the process of rewiring as they continue to develop. Since this rewiring includes the judgement centers of the brain, adolescents at times can completely lack the behavioral restraints we develop as adults. Fro example, when I ask my five-year old why she did something, and she says, "I don't know," she is telling the truth.

Keeping all this in mind, let's presume what we think we know now is correct. You can have a serial rapist-murderer adolescent who has developed that way in response to quantifiable history. Their brain could be as incapable of civilized behavior as mine is of cruelty - it just lacks the circuits for it. Now, who is responsible? The society that allowed the abuse to take place? The parents and others who abused the child, but are themselves products of abuse? The adolescent himself, but if he lacks even the brain wiring to make a different decision, is he really responsible?

By the time they land in this detention center, most have fried their IQ down to their shoe size. There are some exceptions to this, and some are quite bright. Yet, when their 18th birthday rolls around, they are released back into society. My brother-in-law knows of only one who wasn't back in jail as an adult within a month. So clearly the threat of punishment does not have a bearing on thier future behavior. Can they be said to understand the consequences of their actions? I think so, but it doesn't seem to make any difference. Can they be said to have made a choice to do wrong? I don't know. I am a healthy white male from a fairly messed up, but not terminally messed up childhood. I haven't had to deal with a fraction of what they have had to deal with, so how can I judge what it is like internally for them?

Now, having said that, we have the problem from the society's viewpoint. Regardless of what is going on inside of his head, he is a serial rapist-murderer, and part of the social pact is to protect society from people such as that. We certainly can't say, "Well they had no ability to make a good choice, so just let him go." What is just here? Protecting society by locking that person away, even though he bears a diminished responsibility? As far as I can tell, there is no good solution. There is only the solution that protects society at the expense of the individual. My brother-in-law's favored solution is to take some out and shoot them as a lost cause and an example to the others, but even extreme examples like that would not grow judgement circuits where none have been before.

I suppose that until we have a way of re-wiring the brain (imprinting some future Gandhi's restraint on the brain of a criminal?), or the government takes all the children away from all parents to be raised in a standard-environment creche (yikes!!) there is no just solution.

Anonymous said...

No just solution?

Well, perhaps no fully effective just solution.

For the grown-up dangerous-and-reduced-capacity-for-judgement thug, I have special insight.

But there is a lot you can do on the prevention side.

I don't think that it would be practical or effective to micromanage parenthood, but there is a lot you can do:

* Cheap and highly available prenatal and early-childhood health care.

* Nutrition programs.

* Strictly enforced environmental laws, to keep pollutants like lead and diesel particulates out of the environment.

* Access to birth control and abortion.

* Community leaders willing and able to shame parents into avoiding destructive behavior.

In other words, the whole hippy-dippy liberal social agenda that conservatives love to hate.

It takes a village. It always has. Believe it.

Stefan

Anonymous said...

Stefan
Your falling into the old shoppoing list trap if JUST ONE of your points can be made to sound unreasonable then you fail to convince your audience.

* Cheap and highly available prenatal and early-childhood health care. - good idea and hard to argue with

* Nutrition programs.- good idea and hard to argue with

* Strictly enforced environmental laws, to keep pollutants like lead and diesel particulates out of the environment. - can you prove this will have any measurable effect whatsoever is there any eveidence that this has ANY effect on anti social behaviour (which is what we are talking about)

* Access to birth control and abortion. (probably stops some unwanted kids being born and then ignored, BUT a dangerous topic to bring up in this argument as it polarises the audience)

* Community leaders willing and able to shame parents into avoiding destructive behavior. (true enough in some ways but who decides who is a community leader )

Why not add

Parenting training in secondry (high schools?)schools.

Literacy programs for illiterate parents.

Affordable childcare (not health care but kid sitting).

Take out the controversial bits and we have a platform people can agree on. Move down that path THEN start arguing for the other stuff

Steve said...

Oh, I agree that there is a lot to be done on the prevention side. But, in general, state governments seem to prefer funding penal facilities to preventive measures. I think this is because building jails seems to do something concrete (pun intended) in that you take bad guys and put them away from society. Well, until they get out anyway. Just as in business, it is easier to see and reward the reaction rather then the prevention. There are plenty of studies showing that it is cheaper to the state to provide good food, education, mental health care, and health education to their future citizens, but once someone trying to get elected mentions "three strikes," "welfare mothers" or "illegal immigrants getting state and Federal money" (regardless that their children are citizens) then we vote them in since they are "tough on crime" and protect "our" money. The increasing rate of incarceration in our country (see http://www.csmonitor.com/2003/0818/p02s01-usju.html) should be viewed as a failure, not a success. So if "getting tough" on crime doesn't seem to work, perhaps "getting soft" on kids and providing a better life during development would? Couldn't hurt, I think, and there is actually data to show efficacy - the return on investment is high. Of course, any politician who proposed such a thing would be destroyed by their opposition.

Note back to Dr. Brin - still, things are a lot better than they used to be, but it also seems that we are backsliding.

Seth said...

David Brin said: "Or does change help to create a vastly more steep pyramid of privilege? The boring and stupid old style of human society... but the one that is deeply grained in human nature?"

I'm not sure this is true. There are sufficient counterexamples from all times in human history to conclude that, in fact, competition between "rights" and "privileges" has been ongoing for centuries and neither side can claim any special place in human nature.

Actually, it is deeply grained in primate nature to resent perceived injustice. So a more accurate statement would be that pyramids have been deeply embedded in human societies, against our biological nature. Pyramid structures must be accompanied by complex memeplexes that mask or attempt to justify the injustice, usually backed by overwhelming force.

David Brin said...

sayeth Tony Fisk: Would a diamond shaped social structure have spontaneously arisen if the balancing act really were that difficult?

Um, you miss the point. It did NOT "spontaneously arise". The only structure that arises naturally or spontaneously our of human nature is feudalism, which reared its ugly hear on every continent where men discovered metals and agriculture.

The social diamond is the biggest and best product of the Enlightenment, science, technology, democracy and modernism... everything hated by feudalists and platonist romantics. And it is anything BUT natural to human nature, which propells us to form conspiring groups who plot to seize power and dominate others.

Yes, a lot of new and wondrous synergies have been discovered, as we strove for 200 hundred + years to make markets, science, courts and democracy work, See http://www.davidbrin.com/disputationarticle1.html for an examination of these tricks. But it is NEVER easy. Every generation must find new ways to thwart innovative would-be tyrants, who want to re-establish the pyramid.

Oh, when I use the HTML link button in blogger, it vomits all the text I've written and forces me to start over. Sorry folks. It's cut and paste if you want my links. Console yourself that they really are GREAT links! ;-)

Jacare, Dave, and WB made interesting pts.

Seth said...

David Brin said "The only structure that arises naturally or spontaneously our of human nature is feudalism"

David, this is simply not true. Tribes are the dominant social structure for all known human societies and form naturally within any social setting. Tribalism is not equal to feudalism. Feudalism is a comparatively new invention, a control technology, if you will. Noting that it arises wherever metals meet agriculture is similar to noting that metallurgy or writing is developed in different places.

Feudalism is costly to sustain, because the basic premise of massive inequality goes against the nature of primates. One demonstration of this is that small feudal societies with low material inequity and direct access to the "king" are less costly to maintain, in terms of memes, than large societies with insulated lords and larger material inequity. That is to say, the closer the society is to a tribe, the less accompanying mythos needed to keep it stable.

A large feudal system has to be supported by an enormous memeplex to survive. Elaborate mythologies and class divisions have to be created. Justification for social petrification must exist. Otherwise, people just lose it and start cutting off heads, which has been the ultimate fate of the majority of feudal societies so far, those at the top eventually get their heads chopped off by those at the bottom, when the supporting mythology breaks down.

Those at the bottom sometimes form a new feudal society, but if history is any judge, that society will be destroyed from the bottom as well, and in most cases, has been.

My point is not that a diamond shaped society is natural or arose spontaneously--I certainly never made that point--but that feudalism is not natural and did not arise spontaneously. Rather it is antithetical to our basic nature--all primates seek equity and justice--and is a technology of control like bureaucracy or writing.

Anonymous said...

whiskey...
We might have a problem of definitions. What do you call a society where you have a chief, a half dozen 'sub chiefs', a bunch of warriors, everyone else, and slaves?
Now, call the chief a King, the sub chiefs barons, counts, and dukes, the warriors knights, everyone else peasants, and the slaves serfs...
Fuedalism is Tribalism with the rules written down.
HawkerHurricane

Jacare Sorridente said...

Whiskey said:
First, the existence of god is not a core value. It is a claim made by theists about the nature of reality which is not supported by the application of reason to observations of reality. Your point is a red herring.

The existence or non-existence of God is irrelevant to the core values people hold. In this, at least, we can agree. The religious tend to form core values based on the idea that God exists and desires certain behavior of them. The areligious form their values based on cultural beliefs, upbringing, etc. There is no rational-based morality, as you claim. If you believe that the continuation of the species is the greatest good then you can certainly derive a code of morality from that basis, but that basis has no more foundation to it than the belief that God wants you to act in a certain way, or the idea that human love is the greatest goal to be pursued. In the end all morality, and hence a great deal of human behavior, is based on unproveable assumptions about what the universe should be.

whiskey also said:
My point is not that a diamond shaped society is natural or arose spontaneously--I certainly never made that point--but that feudalism is not natural and did not arise spontaneously. Rather it is antithetical to our basic nature--all primates seek equity and justice--and is a technology of control like bureaucracy or writing.

I think that you are wrong. You are treating tribalism as if it is the natural state of man. While it has perhaps been the most common one, if we take into account all of human history, there are strong reasons why tribalism is generally more "free" than feudalism or related government types. First, in a tribe all of the people are generally related, whether by blood or marriage. From a selfish gene point of view, it doesn't make sense to crush your sister into the dirt so you can rule since such a system would undoubtedly reduce her "fitness". From an economic point of view, there could be no "lords" because there is no material wealth. Everyone has to work or people die in a hunter-gatherer society. Accumulation of wealth is all but non-existent.

Once the technology of agriculture appears (which is what David noted as a caveat to the emergence of kings) everything changes. A larger population can be supported, so not everyone is related. A surplus exists with the subsequent emergence of specialization. All that is required for a king to emerge in a system like this is someone who is either smarter, more ruthless, better at making alliances etc. than the others. A bit of applied coercion and the king controls the surplus which consequently means indirect control of the specialists.

It is a simple recipe and one that has been repeated over and over in human society. Your assertion that primates want equity and justice as a counterpoint simply rings hollow. Primates want whatever they can gettheir hands on, most of the time. This is why hierarchies exist in non-human primate societies as well as in human ones. The tendency is to amass as much power and wealth as you can. the only way to counter this is with alliances and ideologies which frown upon such things.

Uzik said...

If we want to make progress how about we dispense with the labels? I know labeling and grouping is inherent in human cognition but we can still recognize it's drawbacks and try to work around them. Labels tend to get turned into name calling. 'left wing pinko' or 'right wing war monger'. Let's focus on concepts and try to get people to abandon those that don't work.

Uzik said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Seth said...

Jacare Said:

If you believe that the continuation of the species is the greatest good then you can certainly derive a code of morality from that basis, but that basis has no more foundation to it than the belief that God wants you to act in a certain way.


As I said before, this is not true. The continuation of the species is an observable and tangible goal, the existence of god is an article of faith. Therefore a realist foundation of morals has a tangible, rational, and measurable standard and the god based foundation doesn't.

They are different qualities of foundation. If you think they are the same, please demonstrate that they are the same by pointing out a similarity, or showing how the differences that I point out are not important.

Tribalism vs. feudalism

A feudal society is a specific, defined thing, involving vassals, stratification, privelege, etc. It is different from tribalism. Tribal societies do not exhibit the same stratification and social controls as feudal societies. If a society exhibits the traits of a feudal society, it is a feudal society. If it exhibits the traits of a tribal society, which are different, it is a tribal society.

For example, tribal societies have equitable distribution of opportunity among the members. This is not a hallmark of feudalism. Feudalism is tribalism with a completely different set of rules.

To say that a feudal system is the only naturally occuring social system is to ignore the dominant social structure of humanity, which is the tribe. It is more common historically, therefore the first statement is incorrect. From this I conclude that feudalism in not more natural to human nature than democracy, both are technologies.

Jacare's opinions on primate nature aside, research into primate behavior reveals that primates have a sense of justice and equity, and they prefer just and equitable distributions to unjust and inequitable ones. I cited one article which shows this. A short web search will reveal many.

Hierarchies exist in many social systems systems, but they are not equivalent to feudalism. Feudal systems have hereditary privelege and enforced, explicit hierarchies with no little or no social movement. A primate band, on the other hand, has a much looser hierarchy with overlapping areas of responsibility or power and a great deal of movement between the ranks and no hereditary privelege.

Feudalism is itself a technology, like agriculture or writing or metallurgy or bureaucracy. It is no more natural to the human condition than making beer.

Understanding the nature of control technologies is useful if one wants to limit or eliminate their use. I am not a fan of feudal systems, I simply dispute the notion that such a system is somehow more natural than a democracy.

Finally, the reason that I think that the tribe (or band) is the natural unit of humans, like a pack to wolves, is that all humans ever observed in any social system anywhere in the entire history of the human race form tribal structures and bands, regardless of whether they live in a democracy or a totalitarian state or a "state of nature." Most of us are members of one or more tribes in this sense.

Jacare Sorridente said...

Whiskey said:
As I said before, this is not true. The continuation of the species is an observable and tangible goal, the existence of god is an article of faith. Therefore a realist foundation of morals has a tangible, rational, and measurable standard and the god based foundation doesn't. This line of reasoning works only if you define "please God" as the central goal of religionists and ignore all of the tangible goals that this entails. For example, a Christian might have a point of view which says that "please God" includes having a family, giving part of his earnings to charity and so on. Each of these things is certainly tangible.

And the basis is the same as in your example, which is essentially something like this:

The religionist says "I think that my greatest goal in life should be to please God". This decision is made on the basis of a host of cultural and experiential factors which convince the religious person that God exists and desires certain things of the religionist.

In the case of your example the knowledge of the human race is based on the same foundation as the religionists belief in God- experiential and cultural. There is nothing which constrains one, for example, to consider the "human race" as a monolithic entity. There are all manner of differentiating factors between individuals and their grouping into a single entity is an artificial construction which we find useful. To illustrate, one could just as well include Neanderthals and homo habilis as part of the "human race". This would modify the sub goals of any individual with such beliefs such that, for example, perhaps he would think it worthwhile to create a neanderthal clone.

At any rate, the decision that the continuation of this nebulous group of humans is desireable is equally a matter of cultural upbringing. There is no basis for this belief outside of the inculcation of this aim as desireable by cultural forces.

Whiskey also said:
Jacare's opinions on primate nature aside, research into primate behavior reveals that primates have a sense of justice and equity, and they prefer just and equitable distributions to unjust and inequitable ones. I cited one article which shows this. A short web search will reveal many.

The research you linked has many possible interpretations. For example, rather than being seen as a desire for fairness and equality, it can easily be explained by other factors. Is the researcher giving better rewards to members of the tribe which are lower in the hierarchy? If so, then this could easily be seen as anger over a violation of hierarchy. Perhaps the monkey is angry that another monkey was included in the game at all. All of the research which a quick google search revealed on this topic seems to have been done by a single group, so their interpretation clearly permeates all of the articles about the phenomenon.

Further, I think that you are interpreting too much into what David means by "feudalism". Essentially what he is saying is that it is extremely common for humans to try to gain control of all of the resources and use that status to force others to bend to their will. Clearly human history supports this interpretation.

Seth said...

Jacare Said:

In the case of your example the knowledge of the human race is based on the same foundation as the religionists belief in God- experiential and cultural.

This is not true. Belief in the existence of a species as separate from other species is based on DNA analysis. The division is neither nebulous, ill-defined, or difficult to ascertain. Is it your argument that the evidence for the existence of god is equivalent to the evidence for the existence of DNA?

Remember, we are not arguing about core values themselves, rather, we are arguing about foundations. Specifically, you made the statement that "There is no rational argument from which one may develop the core values of any group of people, whether religious or not," and I am disagreeing with that statement. I am saying that there is a rational argument from which I may develop core values, not that the core values themselves are not arbitrarily chosen.

I am further excluding "god exists" from the realm of rational foundations because the existence of god cannot be rationally argued. Whether or not believers follow other core value systems that are not god based is not relevant to the value of a god based value system.

As for primates, the insinuation that those who conducted the study know less about primate behavior than you needs support. Why should I accept your interpretation over the researchers interpretation? Why do you trust your interpretation over theirs, or insinuate that they are incompetent and unable to contol for known hierarchal factors?

As I said, regardless of your opinion, according to people who actually study primates, they have altruism, fairness and compassion, and so forth. The studies are done at Yerkes by various different groups, not by one group, because the primates live at Yerkes. The general interpretation is that ideas of justice, fairness, equitable exchange, and so forth, are part of our human nature.

I have no idea what David may have meant, other than what he said: "The only structure that arises naturally or spontaneously our of human nature is feudalism". I can only assume that as a professional wordsmith he does not use words lightly. Feudalism is a distinct and specific technology, and I disagree with his statement in that respect.

Yes, human history supports the idea that feudal or authoritarian societies develop. The same is true of democracy, whenever circumstances have been right for them, it develops.

David Brin said...

I am totally boggled by the posting by whiskey1. I know he means well and he sounds very bright. But not one of his statements is even remotely true.

Tribal societies are natural, I agree, but definitely NOT egalitarian. Look at a school playground or motorcycle gang. Now imagine the biggest bullies freed from all constraint. That is the Lord of the Flies situation that our ancestors endured in most tribes, for a million years. A century of romantic anthropologists from Margaret Meade onward, told fabulous lies to spread the opposite myth. But it just weren't so.

Yes, feudalism is more recent, but for 8,000 years it happened everywhere that bullies got swords, so that groups of them could become BIGGER bullies. Yes, feudalism is inefficient. So? What did the bullies care about efficiency,or good governing? They got their benefits by ensuring absolute control. Sure, society as a whole suffered, but THEY did fine.

And we are all descended from lords who got multiple wives... or who took village peasant girls... doing what male mammals do. Grabbing extra reproductive opportunities at the cost of others. And it worked. And we males inherit traits from those guys. Tough on us, tougher on today's women. Genetic habits are hard to break.

I mean, dang! You say diamond shaped societies emerge spontaneously? Name ONE other than ours. And other than the totally mythological image of democratic tribes. (What a fantasy!)

"My point is not that a diamond shaped society is natural or arose spontaneously--I certainly never made that point- but that feudalism is not natural and did not arise spontaneously. Rather it is antithetical to our basic nature--all primates seek equity and justice--and is a technology of control like bureaucracy or writing."

Um... my God. What planet are you perceiving? The overwhelming power of human beings to see things diametrically opposite to the facts....

sayeth Uzik... "If we want to make progress how about we dispense with the labels? I know labeling and grouping is inherent in human cognition but we can still recognize it's drawbacks and try to work around them. Labels tend to get turned into name calling. 'left wing pinko' or 'right wing war monger'. Let's focus on concepts and try to get people to abandon those that don't work."

I agree... but we are label users. The trick is to NOT get entranced by the labels and to remember their limits. Science teaches that lesson. The romantic dogmas, in contrast, obsess on symbols over pragmatism.

I have long held that the "left-right axis" is insane. When I say "right" and "left" I am speaking of enemies of modernity. "conservative" and "liberal" are words (in contrast) that may be worth salvaging.

"A feudal society is a specific, defined thing, involving vassals, stratification, privilege, etc. It is different from tribalism."

This is an evasion. I don't give a $##@@# about specifics of vassal-liege relations. The term is useful as a general one portraying a pyramidal social structure with limited competitive mobility, enforced by conspiring aristocracies that collude to control state power.

"... tribal societies have equitable distribution of opportunity among the members."

Sorry. It looks that way at first because everybody looks poor. But in fact, there are huge hierarchies of status in tribal societies. Probably half of the tribal societies ever observed were in the Long Valley of New Guinea. And all featured huge swaggering by chiefs. Sometimes chiefs who steal and sometimes chiefs who gain status by GIVING away huge amounts of stuff in potlatch rituals. Oh, it can be complex. But un-hierarchical? Puh lease.

As for altruism in nature... it turns out I have a detailed answer to that one. Go see: http://www.setileague.org/iaaseti/brin.pdf

My core point is that the society we have built in just 200 years of scientific, modernist Enlightenment civilization is profoundly different than any other. In part because it flies in the face of the tendency for elites to conspire and collude, use force and trickery to take over the state, and then enforce pyramids of inherited privilege...

...exactly what we see some elites TRYING to accomplish today. (Duh. They are human males and they think they can get away with it.)

But we won't let them.

More soon...

Big C said...

whiskey1 said:
"As I said, regardless of your opinion, according to people who actually study primates, they have altruism, fairness and compassion, and so forth."

I looked at the links you provided, and I don't see how they contradict what David and Jacare have been saying.

In all the studies, the primates rebel against unfair treatment to themselves or close relations, but they don't rebel against unfair treatment to other non-related individuals.

The monkeys that get the extra rewards don't share them with others unless those others shared with them in the past. So the primate idea of "fairness" the researchers studied seems to be quite selfish. If it's unfair to me or my family, I complain, but not if it's unfair to someone else. This makes sense from an evolutionaty standpoint as the goal of the individual's behavior is to propagate the individual's genes.

So let's extrapolate back to human social groups. What happens when one individual tribe member gets in a position to have more than the others? He or she will keep that wealth to him/herself and distribute it to close relatives. This makes sense because the goal for an individual is to propagate his/her genes, which means ensuring that resources stay within their family group.

In my opinion, the only reason a tribal hierarchy may seem more egalitarian is because the chief doesn't have enough power to exert over everyone without directly feeling the backlash of their complaints of unfairness. Fairness isn't enforced top-down, but rather bottom-up. If an individual wants fair treatment, he or she must complain to get it.

But if the people with power and resources are in a position where they can force cooperation from the rest of the group without sharing, they will do it. Do you dispute this? Nothing I saw in the studies you linked contradicted that behavior, and that's the behavior that causes the hierarchies and the pyramid structure.

When you get to agriculture and metallurgy, these technologies make the people in charge even more powerful, and they can enforce more rigid hierarchies. I believe this is what David means when he says it's "natural." The powerful tend to want to stay powerful and ensure that their descendants continue to hold that power. The better to propagate their own lineage over the rest of their society.

This is why the Enlightenment is such a big deal. For the first time, the idea that fairness and equal treatment should be for everyone, even the people who are competing with you and not related to you, became popular. This is a fundamentally different concept from the behavior exibited by primates when they don't get fair treatment for themselves, or when they share with others who shared with them in the past. This is the idea that we are members of one big family, and should treat each other as such. And given the human propensity to band together to form small tight family groups (tribes), it's a remarkable change of behavior for society.

Charles

Tue from Denmark said...

Hi David - this is Tue from Denmark, who met you in Copenhagen in the autumn! (I read Foundation’s Triumph, and it’s *amazing*! :-)

A belated comment (seriously whittled down from what it was because the first link I clicked was apparently the wrong one, and allowed only 300 characters, which frustrated me a whole lot - anyway):

The left tries to be scientific, and favoring nurture over nature is to give the influence of the environment - and the principle of change - the benefit of the doubt.

The left does not discount genes as influencing behaviour, but it discusses that behavior that the right believes is genetic - namely what results in the current social order -, and says that to believe this is genetic is not common sense, nor scientific.

Of course, people still disagree violently about what the "true left" is. Maybe there is no way out of these persistent misunderstandings - or maybe we must hold on to a few basic assumptions of the left. Such as that everything is in a constant state of change, and science is the only proper guide to understanding our situation.

The purpose of the left have traditionally been to try to make a science out of cultural development, and this has not been entirely successful. But next time we make a serious effort, maybe it will be. But the one certainty is that things change. So the true left must naturally reject all kinds of dogma, and thus can have no “dogma of absolute reprogrammability”. And even though parts of the left certainly are dogmatic, I still think an undogmatic left must be defended, endorsed and strived for.

Seth said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Seth said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Seth said...

David, you just misrepresented what I said, and insulted me while you did it. I assume that this was unintentional. The lying about my position, I mean. I'm pretty sure you meant to belittle and insult me.

To correct your mistakes, at no time did I claim the following, which you attributed to me:

1. tribes are egalitarian.
2. tribes are democratic.
3. tribe do not have hierarchies.

Equality of opportunity is not egalitarianism. Nor is it democracy. Nor is it unhierarchic. Equality of opportunity means that a given baby has a more or less equal shot at any given spot in the heirarchy with other babies.

The statements that I "made" that are not "remotely true" are actually statements that you assumed that I made, but that I never actual stated nor intended. Your ridicule notwithstanding, I am also at a loss to determine just which of my points you ridicule, and which, like tribes being a natural structure, you agree with. For your convenience, then, I will lay out my entire argument in discrete chunks so that we may ascertain where you would agree or disagree.

1. Studies show that all primates have a sense of equity.

2. Given this, an inequitable system must be imposed by some primates upon others. I think we would all agree with that?

3. A primary concern of the imposers is maintaining that control. To do this they must make use of technology. Technology includes the physical, like movable type or weapons, and concepts like money or trade. Is this statement acceptable to everyone?

4. Feudalism is one of these technologies. Do we agree on that?

5. Democracy is also a technology.

6. Given this, it follows that democracy is as "natural" to human nature as feudalism. Both are technologies, with different designs and outcomes.

Seth said...

Big C Said:

"In my opinion, the only reason a tribal hierarchy may seem more egalitarian is because the chief doesn't have enough power to exert over everyone without directly feeling the backlash of their complaints of unfairness."

This is pretty much what I'm saying. Feudalism is a technological imposition on human societies. It requires a great deal of effort, an entire mythology, to convince people not to engage in backlash type activities (like pulling the lords off their horses and stomping them into the mud.) It does not arise "spontaneously" but rather by incremental and deliberate design on the part of the ruling classes.

My sole disagreement with David and Jacare is that I disagree with the claim that it is somehow "natural" for a majority to allow themselves to be utterly subjegated across generations by a feudal lordship class. This theory is not supported by studies of primate psychology, because the complicity of serfs is necessary for the running of a feudal society and they are not being treated equitably.

I then argue that a more just distribution is more natural to primate psychology, as it stands the best chance of fulfilling the equity needs of the most primates. Such a system may be represented in some tribal societies, and not in others. It really isn't germane to my point whether it is or not.

To simplify further: There is only one social structure that can contain almost exclusively winners, and that is the diamond shaped society. Since all chimpanzees naturally desire to be winners, more chimpanzees will be fulfilled in a diamond than in a pyramid. Diamond shaped societies are therefore a really great idea, and we should support them.

David said that "The only structure that arises naturally or spontaneously our of human nature is feudalism" but he later agreed with me that "Tribal societies are natural, I agree..." so my original point at least has carried the day. Unless we are to assume that all tribal societies are feudal, in which case we are going to have to radically redefine feudal.

I strenuously object to this idea that the enlightenment is somehow "unnatural" to human nature. It is totally natural for rational, tool using beings to attempt to establish a rational society, and to alter the structure of that society as other technologies develop.

Seth said...

David, to respond to your most insulting comment, you get a little incoherent with this section:
I mean, dang! You say diamond shaped societies emerge spontaneously? Name ONE other than ours. And other than the totally mythological image of democratic tribes. (What a fantasy!)

But then you quote me saying the opposite of what you just claimed I said!

"My point is not that a diamond shaped society is natural or arose spontaneously--I certainly never made that point- but that feudalism is not natural and did not arise spontaneously.

Your response to this quote cofuses me even more, because after I finish with
Rather it [feudalism] is antithetical to our basic nature--all primates seek equity and justice--and is a technology of control like bureaucracy or writing."

You respond with your insult,
Um... my God. What planet are you perceiving? The overwhelming power of human beings to see things diametrically opposite to the facts....

You've got me in a real bind, here, because first you belittle a point and then you belittle my rejection of that point. I mean, I get that you wanted to say that what I was saying was utterly stupid, but I'm not sure which of my points or which of your point--that you made up that I made--you are finding so unspeakably stupid as to not be worth disputing. Are you saying that your lie about my point is totally stupid, or the contradiction of the statement that you said was stupid is stupid? Are you calling yourself unspeakably stupid, or me, or both? Maybe you could clarify which part of my statement you find so earthshatteringly dumb, so that I can learn not to be so blind and stupid in the future, and join you here on your planet, where, I hope, simple dogma and insults never hold sway over rational and courteous discourse.

Big C said...

David and whiskey1:
If you'll permit comments from a neutral third party, I think your disagreement is actually based on a misunderstanding of each others' positions. Let's see if I can summarize both positions:

David:
"The only structure that arises naturally or spontaneously our [sic] of human nature is feudalism, which reared its ugly hear on every continent where men discovered metals and agriculture."

whiskey1:
"Tribes are the dominant social structure for all known human societies and form naturally within any social setting. Tribalism is not equal to feudalism. Feudalism is a comparatively new invention, a control technology, if you will."

Okay, so I think the first issue is the terms being used. "Tribalism" versus "Feudalism." whiskey1 objects to David's assertion that feudalism arises "naturally." However, I don't think David is talking about the specific mechanism/methods/technology of control being employed when he talks about "feudalism." Rather, I think feudalism is shorthand for "the rigid, hierarchical power structure that keeps elites in control of all resources in a society." The fact that this rigid hierarchy always forms when a society gains technology for both agriculture and metallurgy seems to indicate that there's something about human nature that tends toward this hierarchy under the right conditions. I think this is what David means by "the only structure that arises naturally or spontaneously our [sic] of human nature."

Once a society acquires agriculture and metallurgy, a rigid hierarchical power structure is a "natural" consequence. The elites will seek to maintain power for themselves and their group, and will erect and preserve the feudal structure as a means of control. This structure is "against our biological nature" for the peasants at the bottom of the pyramid, but it is "natural" for the elites to want to maintain this structure. They want to keep their power for their group and for all their descendants. Part of accomplishing this goal is to make sure the peasants don't realize that they could overthrow the lords and break their power structure. Thus the complex mechanisms of the feudal system are developed to maintain control of the populace.

Now with tribes, you still find a hierarchical power structure (as I think you'll both agree), but the chief does not have the power base to enforce his will completely on the rest of the tribe. Thus the human traits that tend towards demanding fair and equitable treatment are not as easily suppressed by those individuals who want to grab and maintain power.

Basically, I think you're both hung up on the definition of what is and isn't "natural." I take "naturally occurring" to mean that something inevitably occurs based on a set of initial conditions. If you present a set of conditions, the outcome will always be the same. In this sense, you're both right, but you aren't presenting the same initial conditions:

- whiskey1 says tribes are "natural" because they form whenever groups of humans get together.
- David says feudalism is "natural" because it arises whenever a society develops both agriculture and metallurgy.

I don't see a contradiction between these two statements. Maybe we should change "natural" to "an inevitable consequence under the stated conditions?"

Additionally, let me form a hypothesis about the different aspects of human behavior and how they interact. I see three behavioral forces at play:

1. Fairness - all people desire fair and equitable treatment. They abhor inequities that leave themselves or their family members with less resources than others. whiskey1 emphasizes this aspect of our behavior.
2. Greed - all people want to maximize the success of themselves and their offspring. Thus, they want to control as much of the group resources as possible so they will be available primarily for their family group. David emphasizes this aspect of our behavior.
3. Self preservation - all people have a strong desire to live and ensure their descendants live. I'm postulating this as a factor that hasn't been accounted for in either of your arguments.

Admittedly, I'm no anthropologist, and this is a simple model that ignores tons of details. But it captures the main points that both whiskey1 and David have been arguing.

To David, I assert that tribes may be "more fair" than feudal structures because behavior 1 can more effectively combat behavior 2 due to the fact that the tribal chief has less access to tools of oppression than the feudal lord/king. However, the tribe still has a hierarchy with the chief at the top and getting the most benefits.

To whiskey1, I assert that when a society gains agriculture and metallurgy, the elites have access to better tools of oppression (better weapons), more incentive to enforce a hierarchy (more surplus resources to hoard), and will continue to develop more and better tools of oppression to perpetuate the cycle (divine right, inheritance, social control, etc.). Thus, under the right conditions, the elites "naturally" indulge their behavior 2 and enforce their will on society, surpressing behavior 1 in the rest of the populace.

Now, what about behavior 3? Well, let me take one of whiskey1's points in response to my previous post:

"The links that I posted contradict that idea that feudalism is natural because it isn't natural for the serfs to be denied justice for themselves or their families. The serfs have to be controlled by systems of thought, such as a belief in "divine right" or they will not tolerate the system."

Well, I don't think it's only the "systems of thought" that keep the peasantry down. It's a real fear that if you buck the system, you and your family will be dead. As an individual peasant, you'd have good reason to believe that demanding fair treatment would actually get you killed rather than listened to. To the elite, what's one peasant (or familiy of peasants) dead to make an example for the rest?

It takes the realization that the peasants can as a group overthrow the elites to try and break the power structure. But if you start a rebellion, there's a good chance that as the leader of the rebellion, you'll be killed before the power structure can be overthrown. This makes any individual peasant think twice about trying to get support and start a rebellion. Thus, behavior 3 overrides behavior 1 and enables the elites to keep the peasants in line. Of course, you get the rare exceptions. But as you noted, once the old hierarchy is overthrown, a new one replaces it.

To tie this back to the primate experiments, what do you think would have happened had the monkeys been driven to the point of starvation before being subjected to the fairness experiments? Do you think the monkeys would still refuse the unequal rewards, even though they were starving? I would hypothesize that the self-preservation behavior would trump the innate sense of fairness behavior (but I have no desire to perform such cruel experiments). Slavery was enforced by violence with a whip and chains just as much as by "systems of thought."

Finally, I think David's assertion is that feaudalism is "more natural" than democracy because feudalism has more immediate benefits for the elites. Behavior 2 can be easily satisfied for the elites by maintaining control of power and resources. Democracy requires that the elites recognize that behavior 1 is worthwhile not only for themselves, but for the rest of the people in the society, and that indulging behavior 2 for themselves will have long term negative consequences not only for the masses, but for their own children as well.

In essence, I think it is "natural" to want equality and fairness for yourself and your own group, but it is not "natural" to want equality for other groups, if there's a perception that they are competing with your group for resources. The idea that fairness and equality should be for everyone, not just yourself or your own group, is directly counter to behavior 2.

This is why I think David sees the Enlightenment as so special and unusual. And I'd tend to agree with him.

Well, guys, if I misrepresented any of your points, I apologize. Please correct me where I haven't gotten it right. My goal was to try to get you to see that both your viewpoints have merit. I hope these points add to the discussion.

Charles

Seth said...

Charles,

Overall, I agree with your summary. Three minor points, however.

First, I would clarify that neither systems of thought nor whips are adequate in and of themselves to maintain an inequitable system. The elites need both to maintain control. To some degree, systems of thought are more effective.

Secondly, I would emphasize that "hierarchal" is not equivalent to "pyramid shaped". Diamond shaped societies must also have hierarchies, or what makes the diamond?

Finally, I must insist that not all tribal societies exhibit a pyramid structure. Navaho society didn't have it. Lakota society did't have it. They have hiearchies, yes, but not rigid, elitist hiearchies based on descent or bound to resource control.

However, I would certainly agree that having some kind of idyllic viewpoint of all tribes is just as innacurate, and I'm not advocating that either. Simply that there have been, previous to the enlightenment, bands and even nations of humans that tried other means of organization than a pyramid.

Big C said...

whiskey1:
For the most part I agree with your three points. The pyramid structure does not directly follow from humans forming social groups and tribes, but rather is the result of the combination of agriculture and metallurgy enabling the elites to satisfy their "natural" human propensity for greed by dominating and surpressing the other "natural" human propensity for demanding fair treatment in the rest of the population.

"However, I would certainly agree that having some kind of idyllic viewpoint of all tribes is just as innacurate, and I'm not advocating that either. Simply that there have been, previous to the enlightenment, bands and even nations of humans that tried other means of organization than a pyramid."

Agreed. I think the point David was making was that ever since humans have developed agriculture and metallurgy, the feudal pyramid has dominated in those societies.

This ties into a point Jared Diamond makes about the effect agriculture had on human society. There was a documentary on PBS called "Guns, Germs, and Steel" based on his book of the same name that talks about this. Here's a link to one of his papers and I also put a response to it on my blog.

In closing, I think we can all agree on one of your earlier points:
"To simplify further: There is only one social structure that can contain almost exclusively winners, and that is the diamond shaped society. Since all chimpanzees naturally desire to be winners, more chimpanzees will be fulfilled in a diamond than in a pyramid. Diamond shaped societies are therefore a really great idea, and we should support them."

Despite our disagreements, as modernists we should all have the same goal of encouraging the success and growth of the diamond-shaped society for everyone on the planet.

Can we get 2 billion Chinese, 1 billion Indians, 1 billion Africans, and 500 million Latin Americans to the middle class lifestyle that Americans currently enjoy? Can we do this without collapsing the world economy and destroying the environment? Can we do this without sending the US and Europe into poverty? I don't know, but I think it's worth trying, and I don't think it's an impossible goal. It requires a whole heck of a lot of hard work and ingenuity though, to put it mildly.

Charles

Jacare Sorridente said...

Whiskey said:
This is not true. Belief in the existence of a species as separate from other species is based on DNA analysis. The division is neither nebulous, ill-defined, or difficult to ascertain. Is it your argument that the evidence for the existence of god is equivalent to the evidence for the existence of DNA?

I have never heard of a species-level definition based on DNA. I don't even know what such a distinction would look like. Perhaps you could link a definition of species based on DNA?
I am reasonably certain that when you look into the matter you will find that the definition of species is indeed nebulous and artificial.

I am saying that there is a rational argument from which I may develop core values, not that the core values themselves are not arbitrarily chosen.
Let me make myself more clear:
Any "rational" foundation for the development of morality is nothing more than an appeal to shared values. For example, if I am to accept your "rational foundation" I must agree with you that the continuity of the species is a self-evident good. If it is not, then your rational basis evaporates. That is what I am trying to make very clear to you. There is no position from which you may start and arrive at a moral code without incorporating baseless assumptions about the ideal state of the universe or mankind in that universe. The very nature of a moral code is that it requires one to define good and evil, right and wrong. Yet I wonder where such a concept might come from, for the objective universe itself offers you no toehold from which you might boost yourself up to such a position.

whiskey said:
I am further excluding "god exists" from the realm of rational foundations because the existence of god cannot be rationally argued. Whether or not believers follow other core value systems that are not god based is not relevant to the value of a god based value system.

You have to get in on the ground floor in order to ride this elevator to the top. If we start from what a hypothetical amoral species begins with, what is the cornerstone on which the edifice of morality may be built? For the religious, it is the will of God (or the equivalent). Assuming that God has not made some divine manifestation to justify this basis, we can conclude that the leap from nothing to a god-based system is mere human invention.

What of the atheistic case? I have heard a few attempts at developing such a case from ideas such as "harm no one else" or "allow everyone to live as they please as long as they don't infringe on others" or, to add yours, "the continued existence of the species is the first goal". But as I am sure you can see, all of these are a leap of faith- they require assumptions about the purpose of life or what human behavior should be which have no basis in reality.

As for primates, the insinuation that those who conducted the study know less about primate behavior than you needs support. Why should I accept your interpretation over the researchers interpretation? Why do you trust your interpretation over theirs, or insinuate that they are incompetent and unable to contol for known hierarchal factors?

An appeal to authority says nothing about the truth or falsehood of the topic at hand. The hypothesis put forward by the primate-studying group is one possible interpretation of the data, but it is not the only possible interpretation and it is not required by the data. Big C covered explained this better than I have. I don't care how much the researchers know about monkeys- in order to be scientifically valid they must draw their conclusions from available data like any other bloke.

Seth said...

@Jacare

An appeal to authority does have merit in an argument where the authority has special knowledge of the topic at hand.

Are you arguing that the existence of humanity is a matter of faith equivalent to the existence of god?

Seth said...

Jacare:
You said:
For example, if I am to accept your "rational foundation" I must agree with you that the continuity of the species is a self-evident good. If it is not, then your rational basis evaporates. That is what I am trying to make very clear to you.


Aha! I see the misunderstanding! What I have perhaps failed to make clear is that the desirability of the continuity of the species is not the rational basis for the value system. The objective fact of the existence of the species is the rational basis.

I only ask that you accept that the continuity of the species is a measurable, objective, phenomena. That is the foundation of the value system. You are then free to choose what I would call "evil" and call it good. The foundation does not evaporate as a result of this choice, which I stipulated earlier is arbitrary.

GreedyAlgorithm said...

I believe what whiskey1 is trying to say is that any value system based on the continuity of the species (or, for example, the number of goats in South Carolina) has a measurable or at least observable quantity associated with it. In other words, once good/evil are defined, they can be determined or at least approximated in any given situation. A value system based on the precepts of god, however, cannot be so measured, as there is no way to know what those precepts happen to be, or if they even exist. Is this right? If so, I believe you are attacking a straw man, or perhaps just not making clear what your argument is meant to show. It should be clear that having determined a set of precepts (do not kill, do not steal, etc.) value systems may be built. You seem to be saying that the determination of these precepts is the issue, that if the determination is included in the 'rational basis' for a value system then it is no longer rational. Have I understood you or just confused the issue?

Seth said...

GreedyAlgorithm said:

A value system based on the precepts of god, however, cannot be so measured, as there is no way to know what those precepts happen to be, or if they even exist. Is this right? If so, I believe you are attacking a straw man...

This is what I'm saying. I'm not actually attacking anything. I'm simply arguing that a rationally derived foundation for a value system is possible, in response to the claim that it is not.

I don't think that it is a straw man, per se. "Because God said so" is a different KIND of foundation than "because it maximizes the goat population of a geographic region." I think that the distinction is important. If we can agree that the distinction exists at all, I will be happy to explain why I think it is important.

David Brin said...

Dang Charles, that was a fine piece of paraphrasing of my position on tribal bullies evolving into feudal bullies.

Sometime someone should remind me to do a riff on paraphrasing, which is one of the key skills that ought to be taught to all citizens... and is not. (Big C provides an example, below.) It is THE important argumentation skill and the great credibility builder, if you really want to deconstruct an opponent's position in a fair and modern way. For those who don't want to wait, see: http://www.davidbrin.com/disputationarticle1.html

Tue, hello! I understand your point about giving the Principle Of Change the benefit of the doubt. But I do not agree that the Left tries to be scientific. You are missing the point of this discussion, because in fact, the Left is just as polluted with anti-scientific dogmatists as the Right is, today. The chief difference is that the Left has far less power.

You say: "The purpose of the left have traditionally been to try to make a science out of cultural development, and this has not been entirely successful." I agree with that last part. But again, I urge you to consider that what you call "the left" is actually two entirely different movements, jumbled together.

One is a wing of the enlightenment that practically wants to explore and negotiate human improvement - and just happens to emphasize methods that utilize tools of the state. The other is a poxy band of dogmatists and would-be ideological tyrants who don't give a damn about pragmatism, only stoking their own indignation. You hint at this when you say: "So the true left must naturally reject all kinds of dogma."

That's fine. But I say it is too late to salvage the word "left". Leave it to the dogmatists. Let's come up with new terms.

Whiskey, I meant no insult. But you must adapt; the onus is on you. When you come to a man's blog, you come as a guest. Same as to a house. Yes, you hope your host will follow all normal rules of politeness. But throughout human history, guests have been under obligation to learn the house rules and learn the host's quirks. And above all, give the host benefit of the doubt instead of leaping to worst interpretatiuons.

HOUSE RULE: Here, we do NOT leap top assume that the other guy meant insult. If you are going to be prickly, please do not do so on my turf. We are throwing a lot of ideas around here. I meant nothing personally. If I misspoke your position SAY SO, paraphrase and clarify, and don't waste our time with anger.

As to your 6 step syllogism-logic, it is in the finest tradition of Plato... leading from "we can assume that" to another... and (sorry) fallacious. At least three of your steps are not assumable at all.. Especially the outrageous #6.

To compare the bludgeon of feudalism as a "technology" to the incredible compexity of democracy is like comparing a club to a space shuttle. Both are tools... and this makes the word useless in syllogism.

sayeth Big C: " (Feudalism) does not arise "spontaneously" but rather by incremental and deliberate design on the part of the ruling classes."

Argh! SO? It happened EVERYWHERE that metal and farms made it possible.

I see our problem. Chewing relentlessly over the word "natural" is pointless. I withdraw "natural"! Replace it with "tediously predictable and nearly automatic, arising out of natural drives in human nature that propel gangs of bullies to exploit opportunities and deny them to others." Okay?

Please go see my paper on "altruism" that I cited above. You'll find a lot of useful stuff about quid-pro-quo in nature.

"I strenuously object to this idea that the enlightenment is somehow "unnatural" to human nature. It is totally natural for rational, tool using beings to attempt to establish a rational society, and to alter the structure of that society as other technologies develop."

I am ready to give up. I keep asking for one other example and I am given none. Yet the enlightenment is natural? Can you not see that you are arguing PAST my point, instead of bothering to notice it?

By the way, I never associated our version of the Enlightenment with "rationality". That is the French side. Obsessed with platonic syllogisms and if-then voodoo. The

Anglo-American enlightenment has been about PRAGMATIC methods to PREVENT tribal-feudal bullying. Rationality has little to do with it. "Reason" is just another form of incantation.

Having said all that, let me thank Big C for trying to paraphrase.

Whiskey, I appreciate that you said: "To simplify further: There is only one social structure that can contain almost exclusively winners, and that is the diamond shaped society. Since all chimpanzees naturally desire to be winners, more chimpanzees will be fulfilled in a diamond than in a pyramid. Diamond shaped societies are therefore a really great idea, and we should support them."

Indeed, that is the chief point I was trying to make! Nevertheless, did you not say that a diamond shape social order is natural? It sure seemed that way to me. And if you did say this, I am still awaiting a single historical example other than our own.

I contend that our experiment that has achieved this wonder is extremely difficult, unnatural and desperately frail. Countless forces are gathering, obeying their ancient instincts to try to hammer the diamond into more traditional shapes.

W.B. Reeves said...

This discussion has a lot of potential which will be squandered if it devolves into personal invective. Calling someone a liar when, at most, the evidence suggests misunderstanding leading to misinterpretation, is not useful.

Whatever one might make of the tone of Dr. Brin's remarks, he specifically did not attack anyone's personal integrity. To respond to his view, however impolitic you find his expression, with an assault on his character is neither productive nor intellectually honest.

Personally, I think an apology is in order.

That said, I was troubled by portions of Dr. Brin's comments as well. I wasn't aware that Margaret Mead's work had been so thoroughly discredited. I presume that this claim is based on the work of Derek Freeman, who has published two books attacking Mead and, by way of this, the entire school of cultural relativist thought.

Whatever the merits or demerits of Freeman's criticism, it is innaccurate to suggest that he has carried the day in the debate. His polemics against Mead, Boas and others have, in turn , been criticized for ignoring his own insistence on rigorous scientific method, relying on essentially ad hominen psychological constructions and even misrepresenting the views of both Mead and researchers who succeeded her in Somoa. An interesting overview of these issues can be found here:
http://pages.slc.edu/%7Ecfraver/directory/frameset.htm

A small taste from the article:

"Mead asserted that if adolescence was complicated in one place but uncomplicated in another, the troubles of adolescence could not be explained by biological factors. She said, “in anthropology, you only have to show once that it is possible for a culture to make, say, a period of life easy, where it is hard everywhere else, to have made your point”.[34] Another way of explaining this same issue was described by a reviewer in the New York Times. This article said that the question was whether “the difficulties of the transition from childhood to adult life” were “due to adolescence itself, and, therefore, universal and unavoidable” or “the result of the impact between developing youth and a civilization which at once restrains and complicates”.[35] This question shows that Mead assumed humans to be equal biologically, a stance that Freeman does not share..."

I'm not sure how the adjective "romantic" can be applied to the view described above. Whatever distortions and exagerations cultural relativism may fall prey to , it is no more, and indeed far less subject to deterministic fallacies than other theories.

For example, early observations of tribal societies by Europeans in North America insisted on imposing cultural paradigms having little to do with the societies in question. Hence the discriptions of tribal war leaders as "Kings" in the European mode and the myth of the "indian princess". That none of these tribal societies possessed anything like the European conception aristocracy and certainly no notion of monarchical absolutism was no bar to suppositions of those produced by a culture that held Monarchism to be the divinely determined model of human society.

In the present day, Sociobiologists of Freeman's stripe have launched attacks on cultural relativism by arguing that it promotes a doctrine of the human being as infinitely malleable, subject only to acculturation. Against this, they posit themselves as defenders of scientific rigor in establishing the fixed biological nature of human behavior.

This stance is more than a little disingenuous. Living as we do in a period of revolution in the field of genetic manipulation, arguing for the essentially biological nature of human behavior is hardly to argue against its infinite malleability. As Dr. Brin's earlier reference to "Brave New World" illustrates, ideas of biological determinism did not necessarily conflict with the notion of humans as wet clay even prior to the identification of DNA.

At this point in history, the debate over nature versus nurture isn't about the fixed or unfixed nature of human behavior. It is a debate over which methodology is a more effective method of shaping human behavior.

I don't pretend to know the answer to this question. I do have a few observations though. One is that you will find bad science on both sides. Secondly, of the two models one implies that we can change the quality of human behavior by altering the cultural conditions in which it operates, opening the door for broad participation in the transformation of humanity as a social organism. The other places the power to alter the conditions of human existence in the hands of a technocratic elite. This does not bear on the factual validity of either claim but it does have profound implications for anyone who has regard for individual liberty.

Can we compare the excesses committed on either side with an eye towards assessing their relative negative impact? If so, can we then make a determination as to which has the more destructive record?

When I was studying anthropology I never heard anyone make the argument that biology had no impact whatever on human behavior or culture. The dominant view was that biological factors had been over emphasized in the service of cultural prejudices. That was hard to argue with, considering that white supremacy was practically an article of faith in western culture up until WWII. A doctrine so corrupting in its influence that it was more respectable to argue that the ruins of Great Zimbabwe in southern Africa were built by Solomon and Sheba than to suggest they were the handiwork of the native Shona people. If we compare this sort of reasoning to that of cultural relativists it seems odd, not to mention unjust, to describe the latter as being the romantic liars.

A final thought. If it is true that half the data we possess concerning tribal societies comes from a single valley in New Guinea, that would seem an excellent argument for not over generalizing from the data.

A brief word on terminology. While I am aware that language, like all human constructs, is a fluid commodity, one must have accepted working definitions in order to have fruitful discussion. For good or ill, feudalism has a highly specific meaning. If we are going to depart from that meaning, it needs to be made clear in what fashion the word is being used. For myself, I am sceptical whenever I see the term applied outside of Medieval Europe, although there are certainly parallels with other cultures during specific periods.

Jacare Sorridente said...

whiskey said:
Aha! I see the misunderstanding! What I have perhaps failed to make clear is that the desirability of the continuity of the species is not the rational basis for the value system. The objective fact of the existence of the species is the rational basis.
I really don't follow your reasoning here. If I grant, for the sake of argument, that the human species is a completely unique and unambiguous entity which clearly exists, where do you go from there? You must check your rationality at the door as soon as you move to the next step in developing morality.

You also said:
I don't think that it is a straw man, per se. "Because God said so" is a different KIND of foundation than "because it maximizes the goat population of a geographic region." I think that the distinction is important. If we can agree that the distinction exists at all, I will be happy to explain why I think it is important.

The only difference that I see between the two is that in one morality set you can immediately measure the rsults (eg your morals actually increase the size of the goat herd) whereas the other defines the measurement as one made on a separate plane of existence (eg one gets into heaven). However, arguing from results begs the question, for the why of the actions one takes must be chosen before an outcome can be measured. The outcome is only meaningful in light of the desired effect, and as I have argued, the desired effect is merely a matter of preference or assumption, not one of rationality.

Finn de Siecle said...

Following up on Charles' excellent posts:

This whole tribalism/feudalism thing really is more a "debate" over terminology rather than of issues. Much of what follows has already been said (in some cases parenthetically) by David, Whiskey1, Charles or others, but it may be worth summing up this way:

The human condition — hell, the condition of almost every species — is basically hierarchical. We're all the descendants of the best competitors (Neal Stephenson's "stupendous badasses" from Cryptonomicon, if I can steal from another SF author here), and even where human societies use cooperation, in many cases they do it to better compete with another society. I'd imagine every tribe, no matter how peaceful or how egalitarian in its distribution of resources, has its "alpha," "beta," "gamma," etc., members.

Tribalism seems to be the natural state of affairs when (1) the population is small; (2) the resources are, too; and (3) there aren't any prospects for change and/or growth (technology, discovery of new territory, etc.) The most egalitarian and least hierarchical tribes are probably the ones that are basically one big intermarried family — no one gets really shafted because we tend to shelter and cooperate with relatives more than with strangers. But add different families/factions, or more resources than are needed to satisfy the tribe's vital needs, and the hierarchy becomes more visible.

Feudalism comes about when a population has grown/merged beyond the tribal level, and there are excess resources (including the "human resources") to be controlled. Everybody's dead on here — feudalism is a technology, just like agriculture or weapons development — but I'd argue that this system is just how tribalism expresses itself when the society has acquired other technologies and outgrown the tribe as its basic unit; i.e., feudalism is tribalism writ large, with the inequities and other consequences similarly magnified. (Though there have been less-hierarchical feudal systems — at least ones where those on the bottom had better access to those on top — just as there have been less-hierarchical tribes.)

Modern democracy (i.e., post-Greek) is actually the product of an arms race, or so I've heard it argued. (Sorry, it was long ago, and I can't remember the source.) Originally, in feudal Europe, only the nobles had the weapons, and only the nobles went to war. If the peasants got into it at all, it was generally as "cannon fodder" ("Here, take this club and go whack those guys over there with the broadswords!") when the situation got more desperate. But eventually, more warring cultures started regularly using — and fully arming — their masses ... and that's when the elitist "system of thought" had to become the primary tool for control. (And without the imbalance of weaponry to back it up, it didn't seem to last all that long, either, so I'm leaning more toward Charles' interpretation than Whiskey1's here.)

I think what I'm trying to get at is that the whole tribalism/feudalism debate is a sand trap comparable to the left/right paradigm that David's been spending months railing against. (The analogy holds up, too: Leftists tend to romanticize tribalism and the rightists feudalism. Sheri Tepper vs. Poul Anderson, to name two SFers whose politics eventually left me cold.)

And the reason we've all been drawn to this blog (including heretofore lurkers like me) is the concept of getting out of sand traps. Forget the nomenclature; the only thing worth arguing over is how do we stop this slide back toward a "whoever dies with the most toys wins" world?

Big C said...

David Brin said:
"Dang Charles, that was a fine piece of paraphrasing of my position on tribal bullies evolving into feudal bullies."

Thanks. Of course, I had already read your article on disputation areas, and thought to put some of your suggestions into practice.

In the spirit of CITOKATE, however, I have to point out an error in your post. You attribute two quotes to me that I didn't write:

sayeth Big C: " (Feudalism) does not arise "spontaneously" but rather by incremental and deliberate design on the part of the ruling classes."

and

"I strenuously object to this idea that the enlightenment is somehow "unnatural" to human nature. It is totally natural for rational, tool using beings to attempt to establish a rational society, and to alter the structure of that society as other technologies develop."

Both of these quotes came from whiskey1, not me. A relevant quote on this subject from one of my previous posts would be:

"Finally, I think David's assertion is that feaudalism [sic] is "more natural" than democracy because feudalism has more immediate benefits for the elites. Behavior 2 [greed] can be easily satisfied for the elites by maintaining control of power and resources. Democracy requires that the elites recognize that behavior 1 [fairness] is worthwhile not only for themselves, but for the rest of the people in the society, and that indulging behavior 2 [greed] for themselves will have long term negative consequences not only for the masses, but for their own children as well.

"In essence, I think it is "natural" to want equality and fairness for yourself and your own group, but it is not "natural" to want equality for other groups, if there's a perception that they are competing with your group for resources. The idea that fairness and equality should be for everyone, not just yourself or your own group, is directly counter to behavior 2 [greed].

"This is why I think David sees the Enlightenment as so special and unusual. And I'd tend to agree with him."

Just setting the record straight. ;)

Charles

David Brin said...

" Leftists tend to romanticize tribalism and the rightists feudalism."

Dang, that's gooood. Can I use it?

Very well illustrates that BOTH are nostalgist romantics who have it in for the diamond, and the future.

Oh, while I am here, apologies to Margaret Mead. I used her as a strawman for all who have romanticized tribal societies while glossing over their malevolent traits. But Mead was not the worst sinner. After all, she was barely glancing at the chiefs, concentrating her attention on how nice it was that the less-empowered were left alone.

Interestingly, Polynesia was at one extreme in a peculiar way. Inter-male combat and competition was taken to its ultimate limit... while women and children were allowed to almost completely opt out of the ill effects of war. We see those islands as paradise and they were... for women and children. For men it oscillated wildly. One moment... utter hell. The next, you found yourself a survivor, surrounded by widows. Yikes.

No, the real sinners were anthropologists who romanticized groups like the !Kung... who were indeed gentle... MOST of the time. But statistically had murder rates like Detroit on Saturday night.

Jacare Sorridente said...

While we are talking historical parallels here, I think that it is worth noting that egalitarianism by itself is no guarantee that the spirit of the enlightenment will continue and that life will be better for our children than it is for us. The continuation of the American Spirit relies strongly on the moral underpinnings of the nation. Here are a couple of illustrations of what I mean:

The Spartans were a very egalitarian society. Ostentation was frowned upon, women were more free than any comparable society of the time and so on. However, the peculiar driving force behind the Spartan equality was a desire to form a militaristic utopia. Most manual labor was performed by slaves, infants who did not measure up to the ideal of bodily perfection were murdered, and Sparta's neighbors were under constant threat of attack.

There was perhaps never a society as flat in its hierarchy and as egalitarian as the Sioux. Individuality was taken to an extreme with almost no cultural role enjoined by societal fiat. Women could be warriors, men could wear dresses. The aged and sickly were cared for and received the same resources as the hunters. However, this emphasis on individualism created a society which had almost no cohesion- members often changed tribes, leaders had no power to enforce orders, and even in concerted attacks against their enemies the urge toward personal glory often drove warriors to spoil ambushes and other attacks.

Steve said...

I'd like to add a different component to the discussion, if I may. This is something I have been thinking about for a while and end up depressing myself, so I thought I'd share with you! :)

The original post was about hypocrisies of both the "left" and "right" and the dogmas therefrom. Consider this: perhaps the dogmas persist because if you only have two sides to an issue, any compromise is seen as weakness, and the "perpetrators" of compromise are savaged by their own, thus selecting for blind ideologues. If we picture US politics as an evolutionary system, compromisers are not fit for the environment. We see this on both sides. Recently Sen. Frist (not a partucularly Enlightened individual) took a position that most Americans support regarding stem cells and was savaged more by his "own" side than by anyone else. The same goes for people on the left who maybe take a middle road on abortion and say, "Yes, the number of abortions should be reduced," a sentiment most people agree with. They get savaged by the left side. The phrase in both camps is something about a "slippery slope." I guess I picture in my mind a slippery slope on both the left and right leading to a bowl-shaped area of moderates and common ground in the middle. Neither the left nor right increase their "political fit-ness" by finding this common ground, and have everything to gain by polarization and ideology. If you follow this logic long enough, we see the end of the Enlightenment since one or the other side will "win" by completely demonizing the other side and controlling media, or a "red vs. blue" civil war of ideology. Perhaps not one of guns and artillery, but an internecine and dirty one nonetheless.

I mean, think of it. Anything that comes up, there are far lefts on one extreme and far rights on the other. Rarely is there an agreement on anything. Is this a real acknowledgement of a binary perception of reality, or are there shades of grey here that no one (except the silent centrists) thinks about?

Is it then a "natural" (yikes! that word again!) outcome of only two parties in a political system that they eventually become completely polarized and idealogical? If there were a signficant third political party, would that defuse this "polarization paradigm?" Or is it just that the majority of people view things as yes/no and expect thier politicians to be the same? Remember the scorn heaped on Kerry as he took complex positions on complex issues?

I feel (subject to evidence to the contrary) that the "right" is more ideological than the "left" right now. But does that mean that to survive, the "left" must become equally ideological? It seems that in a contest between the certainty of ideology and the uncertainty of reality, reality loses at the ballot box. Of course, reality always wins in the end, no matter how hard you wish it otherwise.

Reminds me of a bumper sticker I saw: There are 10 types of people in the world, those who get binary and those who don't.

Seth said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Seth said...

Jacare Said:

"The only difference that I see between the two is that in one morality set you can immediately measure the rsults (eg your morals actually increase the size of the goat herd) whereas the other defines the measurement as one made on a separate plane of existence"

Um... yes. One can be discussed rationally, and the other can't, which was my original point. Glad we see eye to eye on this.

Seth said...

Fine, I'll bite.

Ancient Athens. Not Feudal, but had agriculture and metallurgy.

Go ahead, explain why I'm wrong.

Seth said...

One real problem with comment discussions is that main points get lost, like my original point:

Pyramid structures must be accompanied by complex memeplexes that mask or attempt to justify the injustice, usually backed by overwhelming force.

Which is something that I think most of us would agree is true, yes?

Anonymous said...

Whiskey one...
"Ancient Athens. Not Feudal, but had agriculture and metallurgy."

Athens had a small ruling class, a larger class of 2nd class citizens, and a enourmous slave class. Pyramid structure. Not Feudal, to be sure, but certainly not egaltarian... membership in the ruling class was hereditary, with almost zero chance of promotion from the slave class to the top... for that matter, a very slim chance of promotion from the 2nd class status to the top.

Jacare Sorridente said...

Steve said:
Consider this: perhaps the dogmas persist because if you only have two sides to an issue, any compromise is seen as weakness, and the "perpetrators" of compromise are savaged by their own, thus selecting for blind ideologues.
I agree completely with this statement. Not least because this also gives me a great opportunity to make a plug for a political party recently started by myself and several other folks of different political persuasions ranging from libertarian to communist. We believe that there is a strong need for a moderate political party which is based on practical compromise and intelligent discussion. We are in the process of hashing out our positions on all of the issues that we can think of. Anyone who is interested should drop by our site:
www.concordparty.org
Click on our Principles and Discussion links.

W.B. Reeves said...

There is some serious confusion conceptual, historical and terminological occuring here.

Reducing the theory of natural selection to "survival of the stupendous badasses" is a grotesque caricature. Some the most "stupendous badasses" the world has seen were the dinosaurs. Where are they now? By contrast, one of the great evolutionary success stories is the cockroach.

The error here lies in conflating the concept of competition in the context of natural selection with the modern sociological content of the word, including all the unspoken presumptions as to what constitutes "fitness". In natural selection, the most successful competitor is often not the biggest and badest. To the contrary, it is the most adaptive. What is maladaptive in one set of circumstances may be highly adaptive in another.

Clearly Feudalism as a term is being
abused here. The word is of relatively modern provenence, having been coined in the 17th century specifically to describe the system of social, political and economic relations that held sway in medieval Europe. Applying it to every society above a tribal level stretches the term so far as to render it meaningless. It would require us to claim that there is no appreciable distinction between the Empire of Charlemagne and the Empire of Caesar Augustus. An evident absurdity.

As for equating tribalism with feudalism, you would be hard put to find any historian who would accept this proposition. I would like to hear a reasoned argument for this view rather than bald assertion.

I'm not familiar with the argument that Democracy was the result of the rise of national, as opposed to essentially professional, mercenary, armies. As presented here it appears quite shaky on its face.

There was no national conscript army in England prior to the English Civil War. Yet that revolution beheaded a Monarch and established the supremacy of Parliament. Far from being the product of the rise of modern Armies, the consensus is that Cromwell's New Model Army was the precursor of such. The appearance of the modern national army is traditionally dated to the First French Republic, yet another revolution that shortened the Monarch in favor of a national assembly.

All that to the side, how do events such as the Magna Carta, Wat Tyler's rebellion, the movement lead by John of Leyden and the Peasant Wars fit into this narrative?

While on the subjects of natural selection and Feudalism, I'd like to pose a query. Since the ruling castes of the Medieval period were almost constantly occupied by warfare, slaying and being slain with regularity, while the peasantry remain on the land dividing its time between agriculture and procreation, which group had the more effective strategy for insuring the survival of its genetic line?

I agree that we must find ways to cut through the partisan rhetorical fog if we are to have hope for the future. Sadly, I don't believe this can be accomplished by withdrawing from current debates however degraded we may find them to be. Instead, I think we most approach them with surgical precision and resolve. Not a cheerful prospect I admit.

Seth said...

By the fifth century B.C., however, the number of slaves in some city-states had grown to as much as one-third of the total population.

Large, yes, but not larger than the citizen class. So there is a slave class, a LARGER middle class, and a very small elite class... its a diamond. Not a pyramid. So for a time, that society is a counterexample.

Steve said...

I am not sure if w.b. reeves was referring to my post in regards to natural selection to sociological phenomena. So just to clarify:

My post is not making too much of an analogy between natural selection and political selection. I am only using the tautological "the ones that survive (in this case the political process) are the ones that remain and flourish (in this case the political process)." This is quite distinct from natural selection. I can see how what I wrote suggested otherwise, which was not my intention.

Thus, if both sides destroy the middle as "compromisers" (an hypothesis) all that is left are the extremes, Q.E.D., and the extremes get more extreme as they continue to eat their own young (figurtively speaking). I think there is even a feeling that you have to rant on the extreme so that you can be heard and then negotiate to where you wanted to end up. Reagan was a master at this - compare the "Evil Empire" rhetoric to the nuclear reductions he supported. I do however think this way of thinking is dangerous in what is supposed to be a democracy (or even a republic).

Note that G.W. Bush does not seem very good at being extreme to negotiate to his advantage. He usually seems to be a true idealogue with whom there can not be a compromise. Consider: withdrawing from the ABM treaty, new nuclear weapon development, Missle Defence, the war in Iraq, tax cuts to solve the deficit, not talking to North Korea, etc. To me these are all policies that reflect ideology at the expense of reality. Every once in a while reality smacks the Administration in the face and they end up taking a position that they ridiculed a few months before (e.g. "The war formerly known as the War on Terror" now known as the "global struggle against violent extremism", publicizing troop reduction plans, bilateral talks with North Korea, supporting Europe negotiating with Iran regarding uranium enrichment, etc.) But this only highlights that the Administration takes an ideological stand first and foremost.

Tue from Denmark said...

David, again about the left - every fundamental political denomination is conceptually problematic, and increasingly so as it loses sight of its foundation. It’s true there are dogmatic portions of the left, there’s romantic leftism, and esp. in the U.S. there is even religious leftism. And then of course there is the pseudo-Stalinist communism-gone-to-seed of Eastern Europe and China that refuses to die. I agree that a useful, modern progressive movement should not necessarily call itself “left”. The rhetoric of the left no longer animates people.

And frankly, in the U.S. the left is so maligned and slandered that not even the most penetrating intellectuals dare go further to the left than the anarchism of a Noam Chomsky. I myself was a Marxist revolutionary for a while, though I have since become a pacifist reformist. But through it all I have increasingly approached what I call the true left, and I believe that strong leftist movements will return, and once again animate people. I also realize, however, that this will not be a good thing unless properly tempered by seriously updated basic theories of social development and how to affect it in progressive directions.

In any case, I am not ready to throw out the word “left” just yet, although I certainly remain open to an alternative and very possibly better terminology (but I don’t think one exists yet). I still think that the sense of social justice and compassion for all humanity is best accommodated by delving into the fundamental ideology of the left, although one has to be able to apply to it the new developments of the last century and a half, which unfortunately most movements on the left are unable to, which is the whole problem.

As with religion and other ideologies, most adherents only understand some unchanging version of it, which they regard as gospel or Truth, and in part this is because they realize that they themselves are not smart enough to take the theory further. So it’s really all up to those of us who think we are! ;-) Unfortunately, I know from bitter experience that the die-hard adherents of the twisted versions of the ideology are all too happy to reject any notion that anybody could possibly revise or re-interpret the foundational axioms... So all right, while inspired by it, I am not part of the traditional left - and I can’t call it the New Left, either... but for now I *will* call it the true left - until I find a better term.

P.S. to whiskey1 re Ancient Athens: My history teacher in the college course on Ancient Greece agreed with me when I characterized the social system as urbanized feudalism...

daveawayfromhome said...

Reading Steve's comment about the extremism of the political parties reminded me of my own thoughts recently while reading reading Christine Todd Whitman's book "It's My Party, Too". As I read her complaints about the hijacking of the Republican Party, I kept wanting to ask her "why do you stay?" It seems pretty clear that moderates in both parties are being left out in the cold by their own, but are afraid to relenquish even their curtailed power. Perhaps it's time for the formation of a new political party, made up not of outsiders but of moderate heavyweights from both sides of the aisle. I wish Jacare the best with his own new party, but unless he's got some really big "bipartisan" players he hasnt got much chance of being anything more than marginal. Maybe the new party could take a page from Dr. Brin's book and call themselves the Modernist Party.

Finn de Siecle said...

David Brin said...
"Leftists tend to romanticize tribalism and the rightists feudalism."
Dang, that's gooood. Can I use it?


Absolutely. I'm surely not going to; I'm an editor, not a writer (my vanity Web site notwithstanding; that's almost de rigueur these days).

W.B. Reeves said...
There is some serious confusion — conceptual, historical and terminological — occurring here....


Undoubtedly, especially on the "historical and terminological" fronts. I'm not a historian, nor even a serious student, and should have made that clearer in my previous post.

But I wasn't intending to "equate" tribalism with feudalism so much as point out that both are expressions of human societies' hierarchical tendencies. They're certainly different in nature as well as size — but some analogies can be made between the two. What I was trying to say was more along the lines of "One is an expression of the tendency toward hierarchy more appropriate to small, limited societies; the other is an expression of that same tendency at the level of the state/nation."

(And while I can't speak for the rest of the posters here, it's my impression that most who cited "feudalism" were, like me, using it as shorthand for any hierarchical societal structure with resemblances to the Middle Ages European system that properly goes by that name. What would be a good alternative for a general term?)

I'm not going to defend the armies/democracy argument; as I said, it wasn't mine to start with, and I don't recall enough of the essay to know how the author backed the premise. (But did the Magna Carta or Cromwell's interregnum empower anyone who didn't have access to power already, or simply shift power out of the hands of a monarchy and into other political entities' hands? I don't think the "common man" saw much difference until much later, after the principles of the Enlightenment had had time to be fully absorbed into Western thought.)

Reducing the theory of natural selection to "survival of the stupendous badasses" is a grotesque caricature.

Yes, it is, and it was done deliberately by Stephenson, and quoted by me, for humorous purposes. (Sorry, I guess it didn't work out in my case. But I'd recommend you read Stephenson's novel anyway; he usually does his history homework, even if I haven't.) I certainly don't think competition is the sole or major driving force in natural selection in general; but it certainly plays an important role for primates (and a number of nonprimate species as well). And I definitely don't think aristocracy is a good strategy for natural selection, if only because of the infamous effects of all that inbreeding.

And as for the Medieval wars, certainly they took their toll on the fighting class. But the noncombatant peasantry weren't necessarily out of the fray; sometimes they were targets, especially in a couple of the religious wars and the transcontinental ones (e.g., the Mongol invasion), which would qualify today as genocides. And certainly the lowest classes had the least access to the resources necessary for a long- and healthy-enough life to ensure the survival of their genetic lines. That those lines survived (and eventually thrived) anyway, while those of the nobility began to peter out, certainly points out the stupidity of feudalism as a long-term survival strategy. But who'd've ever convinced a Medieval duke of that? (And how can we persuade a neocon to give up his/her modern-day version of elitism?)

Which brings me to...

I agree that we must find ways to cut through the partisan rhetorical fog if we are to have hope for the future. Sadly, I don't believe this can be accomplished by withdrawing from current debates however degraded we may find them to be.

Depends. Are you talking about the tribalism/feudalism debate running through this thread, the one we're currently skirmishing at the fringes of? If so, I have to disagree. I thought your reply was scholarly and informative, but it didn't suggest to me any actual tools for combating the modern-day drift back toward a "pyramidalism" that could be the ruin of our own society. My original point, and the one I'm sticking with, is that (at least for the purposes that David has discussed on this blog) it's less important to debate the specifics of which peoples used which hierarchical systems in which eras than it is to debate ways to reinforce the system that benefits the greatest number of people today.

Seth said...

that most who cited "feudalism" were, like me, using it as shorthand for any hierarchical societal structure with resemblances to the Middle Ages European system that properly goes by that name...

I think this is a perfectly good definition of feudalism. It doesn't describe pre-columbian Hidatsu or Inuit culture very well, though, and so for societies that exhibit those kinds of structures, I would suggest we use "tribalism." The two kinds of societies are very different.

In one, as someone pointed out, the structure is supported by the consent of the tribe. In the other, it is enforced by the people at the top. These are very different ideas and different ways of doing things.

Why is this important? Because the idea that feudalism is the natural state of man is, I believe, an erroneous artifact of feudalism itself, and especially the concept of "divine right." Divine right is similar in flavor to the argument that the president is beyond criticism "during a war" and that to dispute the president after 9/11 was unpatriotic.

Naming divine right and feudalism in general as impositions on the natural state of man is in the best traditions of the American enlightment. In fact, one could argue that it is the thesis of much of the revolutionary movement.

However, a natural rights argument has an achilles heel, which Jacare might be quick to point out, that is, it is an article of faith and hence equivalent to divine right of kings.

Which is why I favor a negotiated, realistic foundation from which a core value can be derived by a simple choice between options. I.E., if we can agree that the goal is to maximize the number of goats in a geographic region, we can then precede towards this goal. Most importantly, everyone knows what our goal is, including us.

However, the current mode is to bring us to a country that is ruled by the will of god. The actual culture war is between people who think that "because its wrong" is sufficient reason for controlling peoples behavior, and the small minority who don't.

That is, between people who think that rights come from government, and people who think that rights are guarded by governments. Between tribalism, where power comes from the consent of the governed, and feudalism, where power comes from the will of god.

Simple superiority of weapons has never been suffiecient to keep a minority in power. No where is this more evident than in present day Iraq, or Ireland for the last 5 centuries or so, or in the fall of Soviet Russia. The people have to be convinced of the rightness of the system. They are convinced by structures of thought, such as confucianism.

Sidenote: In addition to Ancient Athens, another diamod shaped society would be the pre-columbian Chumash people of california. They had a thriving market economy and a large middle class of traders and craftsmen. Iroqois society was essentially diamond shaped. Aztec civilization, on the other hand, was distinctly feudal.

And our "diamond shaped" society definitely has elite groups and classes as well. So there is always a hierarchy.

Jacare Sorridente said...

Whiskey said:
However, a natural rights argument has an achilles heel, which Jacare might be quick to point out, that is, it is an article of faith and hence equivalent to divine right of kings. I would indeed point out that "natural rights" is as much an artifical human construction as "divine right of kings. On this we agree. However, you went on to say:
The actual culture war is between people who think that "because its wrong" is sufficient reason for controlling peoples behavior, and the small minority who don't.
I disagree strongly with this position, though I've seen it advocated more times than I can count. The truth of the matter is that every ideology- whatever it may be- seeks to control behavior based on the morals of the group. That is to say, at the heart of the matter all groups seek to control the behavior of others "because it is wrong". Or in other words, all that changes between one group and another is the list of definitions of right and wrong behavior. As a simple example, the current American culture war in many aspects pits "liberals" against "conservatives" . The conservatives are against allowing homosexual marriage because such runs contrary to their view of morality. The liberals are against allowing prayers to be said in school or religious artifacts to be present in courthouses for the same reason- because it runs contrary to their morality, not because they have somehow developed a morality which is more objectively true than their counterparts.

Seth said...

Jacare Said:
I disagree...counterparts.

Jacare, the liberal and conservative split is, for the most part, a division between two "because its wrong" camps. However, this split is a false dichotomy, and not what I am talking about at all.

David Brin said...

sayethe whiskey1 "By the fifth century B.C., however, the number of slaves in some city-states had grown to as much as one-third of the total population." -> " Large, yes, but not larger than the citizen class. So there is a slave class, a LARGER middle class, and a very small elite class... its a diamond. Not a pyramid. So for a time, that society is a counterexample."

Um, sorry, Whiskey1, but this is 100% and diametrically opposite to fact. Helots vastly outnumbered Spartan citizens. Even in Athens, there are vastly more people who were slaves, foreigners, indentured servants, landless freemen... oh, and women... than the very small number who were allowed to join the Assembly. The Golden Age of Athens WAS impressive! Maybe SEVEN PERCENT of the people could vote! Moreover, Pericles spoke (for the 1st time) of the DREAM of a diamond society. One more reason that Plato so hated him.

Seth said...

David Said:
"Um, sorry, Whiskey1, but this is 100% and diametrically opposite to fact. Helots vastly outnumbered Spartan citizens."

Which would have been relevant if I were talking about Sparta. Since the quote concerns Athens, however, your comment there is not terribly relevant.

Again: Athens had a slave class, a _larger_ citizen class in the middle, and an elite class. I'm calling that a diamond.

If the only possible diamond is a representational republic with universal suffrage, than you are correct in assessing this as the first such society. And if you want to include foreigners, than even OUR society isn't a diamond society, and there are NONE in the entire history of humanity.

David Brin said...

If you refuse political diamondness, then consider economic diamondness... which did NOT exist in Athens then.

In any event, I have always considered Periclean Athens to be the great glimmer of hope in 4,000 years of darkness. Read the speeches of Pericles. The platonists spent 3,000 years dissing him in terror of his dream. If you insist that his Athens was special... well, I ain't gonna argue.

Alas, it was wrecked by bright fools almost identical to the neocons now ruling us....

Seth said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Seth said...

David Said:"Read the speeches of Pericles. The platonists spent 3,000 years dissing him in terror of his dream. If you insist that his Athens was special... well, I ain't gonna argue."

Well, my main point is that the battle with the platonists is a part of human history. That is, the enlightenment is the latest battle in a war that has lasted for all of human history, between imposition of top down control, and expression of bottom up control. And I think Ancient Greek, and especially Athens, is a crucial point in that battle where, however briefly, bottom up control was gaining ground, if not actually winning.

Not coincidentally, this was accompanied by the rise of science, a point you make in one of your essays.

W.B. Reeves said...

Re: finn de siecle and Whiskey

First off, it seems I was bit cranky the other afternoon and responded to finn's post with misplaced
passion. Seems I misplaced my sense of humor as well. Only temporarily I hope.

You ask for practical suggestions. I too am looking for them. That's why I started visting this blog several
months ago. I have a few ideas of my own. You can judge their applicability for yourself.

One of these ideas is that it will be very difficult to find a way out of our current predicament if we don't share a common language. As a polity, we do not at present possess one. Our discourse in every sphere of public life has fragmented into dozens of insular dialects, reflecting the increasing balkanization of our social life. The meaning of words shifts depending on who is speaking. The word freedom itself has an entirely different meaning in the mouth of a Pat Robertson than it would have in my own. It is impossible to articulate a common interest if words have no common meaning.

Hopefully this explains why I gave in to a fit of pique over the loose use language.

Let me see if I can give a more concrete illustration. Say I read an article using the word Feudalism in a fashion that makes no sense given the word's actual meaning. Likely, I will decide the writer doesn't know
what he or she is talking about and treat the substance of the article accordingly. Say I don't know the
meaning of the word. In that case I would probably look it up and draw the same conclusion. In either
instance the result will be counter productive. This is an immediate, practical objection to so expansive a use of the word.

A second immediate, practical but more profound objection is that it is a false comparison. Describing all heirarchical societies as feudal is exactly as sensible as equating Bush to Hitler or saying that there is no difference between thermal power, hydro power and nuclear power. Of course there are points of
comparison but that does not make them synonymous.

Having already been gently chided for my pedantic tendencies, I'm not going to bore you with a listing of
the profound differences between the various social systems that you would lump together. I will observe
that if an abstract pyramid is one's lodestar for analyzing social systems, Feudalism is an extremely poor choice for discriptive purposes.

There seems to be a notion at work here that Feudalism constituted a highly centralized system. Nothing
could be further from the truth. Feudalism was probably the most decentralized social form imaginable
without dispensing with a Monarch all together. Rome, even during the most anarchic periods of the
Republic, was more centralized than Feudalism. (Uh oh, seems I'm being "scholarly" again.)

Why is any of this important? Well, while the mundane, tedious details of how these systems actually
operated may seem minor when one's eye is on the pyramidic "big picture", these niggling, irritating details were of vital importance to how the broad mass of people actually lived.

If we are going to be developing and proposing nostrums for our own society, I don't think it wise to begin by ignoring how the great mass of people experience society. Nor should we exclude people by employing a dialect accessable only to those "in the know".

Obviously, if we are going to create a consensus for active and effective opposition to the anti-modernist(
some would say reactionary) wave, we need to avoid divisive rhetoric.

Another suggestion that I conceive to be practical. I think the political dimension is, in some ways the easiest to analyze. The indicated actions are fairly clear.

The ruling party has welcomed within it's coalition a mass constituency/movement dedicated, as others before it, to a program of social reform based on religious principals. Over three decades this movement has evolved into a specifically theocratic force espousing the usual "fundamentalism of convenience" dogma.

Through its alliance with the GOP, this movement now finds itself with an entre into all three branches of
the Federal Government. They are exercising their influence.

At present there is no counterbalancing force to this movement. Obviously one needs to be built.

Easy to say. It's the simple thing so difficult to achieve.

A first step would be to take stock of what allies are available for such action. The elements of the left, whatever their other failings, are already active on this front. Alone they lack sufficient strength to defeat the Theocrats. The only question is whether moderates and conservatives who oppose the Theocratic agenda are willing to enter into joint action with them.

The root of the difficulty lies in the reasons why the Theocrats were made welcome in the GOP in the first
place. For the last 20 years the nominally secular moderates and conservatives in the GOP coalition have had no problem with the Theocrats presence because it helped them win elections. Now the bill has come due on this devil's bargain. These so-called "social conservatives" are no longer going to accept payment in purely symbolic gestures.

We will now find out exactly how strong a commitment to secular society the moderates and conservatives possess. People who wish to blunt the political spearpoint of anti-modernism need to focus on giving these two groups the proper encouragement. The only way to halt the political drive of anti-modernism is to defeat it politically. Politicians and parties who pander to this movement must be made to suffer for it.

These are certainly not the only things to be done. They are, I think, the areas demanding immediate action. Otherwise, we can only look forward to continued retreat before the forces of irrationality.

There you have some of my ideas and suggestions. What do you think?

David Brin said...

These are good comments.

1. I think it's vital to split the left into those parts that are "liberals" -> modernists who happen to believe in pro-active self-improvement campaigns that include some state aid... from the antimodernist elements of the left.

Only then will we be able to ATTRACT the pro-modernist elements on the right... persuading them perhaps to save their country by doing what the AFL did in 1945... denouncing their own lunatics.

I don't like the words Centrist Alliance because it implies modernists are tepid compared to passionate believers of left and right. SUch terms will be applied inevitably, but we must show that modernism is radical in its own way.

Your distinctions among styles of pyramidalism e.g feudalism are fine. But don't be upset when we use feudalism generically. It is important in an era when feudal fantasies out sell sci fi 3 to 1.

brrrrr

Finn de Siecle said...

Regarding the battle against anti-modernist politicians, David had an interesting proposition on his main site: Look to the primary elections if that's where the winnable fight is. Specifically, in solidly Republican or Democratic districts where the general election's outcome is foreordained, register with the dominant party so that if there is a moderate (or even merely a maverick) to be found in the primary's field of candidates, your vote can go to that candidate.

Of the other fronts the "Culture War" is being fought on, I think the one to be most concerned about is the educational system. It's currently ground zero for the cultural/religious conservative movement (and to be fair, the "left" has been guilty of its own cultural tinkering with the schools). In fact, just about everyone with a cause has paraded it before a local school board or the education committees of their state legislatures at one time or another.

Yet in many areas of the country (my own definitely included), the educational apparatus is the political arena most ignored by the general electorate. That has to change. We have to ensure that the schools' focus be kept on the dissemination of verifiable skills and knowledge. (ID need not apply — it assumes, with no justification, a theistic answer to the question "Was the universe planned?")

Ironically, President Bush may have laid the foundation for this with his oft-maligned "Leave No Child Behind" initiative — what if that were expanded beyond math and reading to setting basic standards for education in the physical and social sciences as well?

As far as "morals education" goes, I think all the extremists have to be told, "Hands off the schools!" We needn't teach either the Ten Commandments or Political Correctness when we already have a thorough code of behavior to teach our students: the laws of our land — and the concomitant lessons on why these are the laws of our land.

All we really need is, well ... organization. All power to Jacare's Concord Party and similar efforts to unite modernists/moderates/compromisers/whatever — but the pessimist in me recalls my attempts years ago to search the Web for "centrist" movements. (Sorry, David; your post didn't pop up here until I was proofing mine.) What my searches found was a collection of dead links and outdated and apparently abandoned sites. (Anybody here know someone whose pockets are as deep as Perot's but whose need for medication isn't as great? I think the problem with centrist parties isn't that they lack appeal but that it takes forever to gain attention and influence when you start with none.)

P.S.: I hope I've clarified that I don't think "scholarly" is a swear word; scholarship is what we need.

Seth said...

I'm going to risk a b-slap here and suggest that everyone register libertarian instead. But wait, before you bring that hand across, hear me out.

Yes, many people have problems with the whole "legalization" thing and the libertarians unashamed captalism. BUT, and this is a huge but, they already have the organization. They already have local chapters everywhere, and a party structure. They have ballot access in some places.

Yes, they are a very very small inconsequential party with no chance of winning but that is only true because there aren't enough registered libertarians. Change THAT, and you change everything.

You can try to change a major party, sure. Or you can just hijack a minor party that is, if nothing else, against the war in Iraq, for reasonable immigration laws, and pro-science.

David Brin said...

Re the libertarian party, see: http://www.davidbrin.com/libertarianarticle1.html

I consider myself one of them... at one level. Enough to have been a keynote speaker at an LP national convention!

But they proved their uselessness in 2004, when they failed to rescue their country by the simple act of doing to W what Nader had done to Gore.

I mean, what the #$@#$ use are they?

Try taking the "questionnaire on ideology" at http://www.davidbrin.com/questionnaire.html

Libertarians generally answer is ways that show extremely modernist attitudes at the surface! But underneath, more than half of them show all the hallmarks of religious fanatics, holding fast to romantic excuses for nostalgia, extremism, strawmaning all opponents and apocalyptic redemptionism.

There ARE many libertarians trying to change this... and even some discussions about how. But it will be a microcosm of the culture war wracking America today. Fanatics and incrementalist pragmatists, fighting over the soul of every movement, a battle far more important than any difference over left and right.

For now, there is only one major institution in America whose modernists still hold a balance of influence. That is the Democratic Party... and there only by the slenderest of margins.

I am not saying be a democrat. Just pray they can hold while you fight for sanity in WHATEVER movement you prefer. Right now, I'd take Teddy Roosevelt or Ike over any politician currently on the horizon.

Oh, the article you referred to is at:
http://www.davidbrin.com/realculturewar1.html

I''l be talking about it soon.

Anonymous said...

What a dickwad David Brin has become. By which I only mean it's gotten worse lately.

Won't research, doesn't care about facts, ignored very real distinctions, and lectures people on learning the duties of a good host, which apparently means convincing themselves he's being a good host when he's mocking you, ridiculing you, and twisting your argument, because it vaguely threatens his own ill-founded one.

It's not even angering, it's just pathetic.

Anonymous said...

And he can't even spell hypocrisies.

daveawayfromhome said...

Here's a scenario: John McCain and John Edwards both announce disgust with their respective parties, and announce that they are forming a new party. They'll need a strong group of web people to help start up the grass roots end of things, and some big money backers for start-up (disturbingly like venture capitalists). They announce that there will be NO position taken on abortion and similar baby-with-the-bathwater issues.
Hopefully they will attract other middle-of-the-road politicians, and all those sick and tired of single-minded rhetoric.
Let's say they win. Yay!
Now we have three parties. The new one in the middle, and each of the old ones on either side. Eventually, one side or the other will dwindle down to nothing, and the moderate party will drift in that direction to fill the void. The party on the other extreme will tone down it's own rhetoric, drifting back towards the middle itself as it grows again. Eventually the new party will be over to one side and the surviving old party on the other.

Ahh, lovely thought, yes?
Of course, it's a cop-out. A fantasy to help avoid thinking about the hard, nasty work that's going to be needed to wrest control from the extremists. Work that includes lots of arguing over things like the definition and usage of "feudalism", because regardless of who's right in this matter, while you're typing out "feudalism" you're thinking "people". (Or, you should be - as many extremists on both sides show, people are often the last thing considered in social debates).

Personally, on my gloomier days I think that the country probably wont do anything about any of the current mess untill it gets really, really messy. It's been almost two hundred years since anyone tried to take away our stuff, and if that truly is the plan of the neo-cons most Americans wont recognise it until they start feeling a strong breeze around the nether regions.

-dcc-

oh, and anonymous, I think you're wrong, but if Dr. Brin wants to rant and rave, well, it is his blog.

Seth said...

David Said:
But they proved their uselessness in 2004, when they failed to rescue their country by the simple act of doing to W what Nader had done to Gore.
That is a falsity, a dogma that gets under my skin. I will now rant.

(takes gloves off)
Gore lost that election all by himself. If he had carried his own home state, he would have won without Florida. Hands down. But he didn't. Even frickin' MONDALE carried his home state, and he was running as a challenger to Ronald Reagan, a suicide mission if there ever was one. Remember the Berke Breathed joke? Might as well run a dead cat?

The idea that Nader tanked Gore is as far fetched as the idea that Perot tanked George Senior or Bob Dole. Those guys tanked because they were lousy campaigners. Perot could eat into their votes because they couldn't motivate people, couldn't connect. But they at least managed to carry their home states.

Al Gore managed to lose as an incumbent vice president in a period of peace and prosperity because he consistently misplayed an unbelievably good hand, and because the market tanked a year too soon.

You think the republicans ever imagined that Bush could WIN? Hell no. They had to throw Cheney in there when it became clear that W could win because they needed someone who was even moderately lucid in a position of influence! W was a fall guy!

But Gore was so unbelievably awful on the campaign trail... I mean, he's trying to pump coal miners up like some revivalist, as if they don't have satelite television and can't see him change his story for a different group the next day. Insulting. The guy sucked as a candidate, and he took himself out. The very idea that he would have to try to sue a state government to win that election is an affront to everything that Clinton built for him. Al Gore is an unmitigated wanker and his exit from politics was long overdue.

Kerry also sucked on the trail, and mishandled almost every possible aspect of his campaign. He was snide and all knowing, which I could take, if it weren't for his false piety and his stupid duck hunting anecdotes (duck hunting with a rifle... WTFDHTMF) and that whole windsurfing thing...

Earth to Democrats: Windsurfing is a rich boys hobby. People don't like spoiled rich brats. Watch any hollywood movie and you will learn this because its YOUR SALES PITCH, you morons. You know how in "One Crazy Summer" the rich kids are beaten by the plucky crew of misfits in the boat race on cape cod? Guess who the electorate thought Kerry was. Guess who that makes bush. Those dumbasses made George Bush JOHN CUSACK! And then ran against him in a popularity contest!

Stole the election my ass. The democrats handed both elections to W on a silver platter, and are such a bunch of spineless wimps that I'm amazed that they can even agree on where to hold their f------ conventions.

The reason that the Libertarians couldn't convince anyone to vote for Badarak is that Kerry managed to convince Libertarian voters that he was actually scarier than Bush. Do you get that? He convinced people that HATED George Bush that he wasn't actually WORSE.
(puts gloves on)


David, I did read your article. Thats why I brought up the comments that I did. One thing that I don't think you are taking into account is that there are not enough libertarians. If there were more libertarians, more people would be voting libertarian, they would get more publicity, and then this would snowball. But if no one will take the step to go to the Libertarian side, they will never go anywhere. I am suggesting that REGARDLESS of the ideology or current usefullness of the Libertarians, they have a national organization. They are small. They can be hijacked by more reasonable people much more easily than a larger and wealthier party. Its a FRAMEWORK that can be built on, not an entrenched, incompetent, and corrupt hellhole like the democratic party, where candidates are chosen, apparently, for their unsuitability to face an opponent.

Anonymous, your heart is in the right place, but the bad spelling argument is just below the belt. None of us run spell check. Just because David refuses to actually admit that he was mocking and belittling and wildly inaccurate and won't just say, "okay, I was over the top there, I'm sorry" doesn't mean we get to pick on his spelling. We're all only humin.

Seth said...

Speaking of bad spelling, in my rant, due to sloppy editing, I made the following errors:

In the last paragraph, the Libertarian candidate was Badnarak, not Badarak. And last sentence was supposed to read: He convinced people that HATED George Bush that he was actually WORSE, not "wasn't actually worse."

Scott Eric Kaufman said...

One quibble with your notion that "Social Darwinism" functioned as a means to justify economic disparity in the Gilded Age: it didn't. "Social Darwinism" was popularized in the 1940s during the heyday of New Deal triumphalism; during the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, Darwinism was much more likely to invoked in defense of the reformist principles of socialists and early sociologists. I recently discussed this in detail, and there's an ongoing conversation about that post, if you're interested, on Cliopatra.

ankh said...

"In order to believe that George Bush won the November 2, 2004 presidential election, you must also believe all of the following extremely improbable or outright impossible things.(1)..."

http://www.projectcensored.org/newsflash/voter_fraud.html

ankh said...

What do I believe in?

Footnotes, citations, references -- and checking them.

Don't you? It's good exercise.

From the above article, follow the references before typing the unfootnoted assertion that you believe there's no problem.

No, really, first, read the footnotes and follow them.

Find the article from which I clipped this by following up the footnotes (it'll take you three or four minutes, if you read at an average rate).

Note the graphic that precedes it.

If it doesn't make you consider the possibility that you may be wrong, then God bless you.


%<--- snipped >%------
"... Seven of fifty states have t values less than –2.7, meaning that each of them had less than 1% probability of having the reported difference between exit polls and election results occurring by chance. The binomial probability that 7 of 50 should be so kewed is less than one in 10,000,000. A full comparison of the exit
polls with the null distribution (blue curve) via a Shapiro-Wilk test yields a probability that is astronomically small.
The visual plot suggests a model for the result that may be useful in further investigation: Aside from three
outlier states (on the left) the data appear to be normally distributed with a mean shifted 1.0 standard deviations toward Kerry. The data without these three passes the Shapiro-Wilk test for normality (p=.4), with a shifted mean. Two hypotheses to explore are that (2) the exit polls were subject to a consistent bias
of unknown origin; or (3) the official vote count was corrupted."

Seth said...

Lets pretend that Ankh is completely correct in every detail. I'll caveat that, because it changes nothing that I said.

Bush stole the election... and this is so blatantly obvious that it is laughable. The fact that people bought it (which they didn't in Ukraine) means that even though most people voted for Kerry, they just didn't care enough to try to make a difference before the Electoral College convened. Not ONE elector was persuaded to change their vote, in the whole country. Why not?

Again, Kerry just conceded the election flat out. And the democratic party just bent over and grabbed their ankles. The Democratic party is totally unwilling to bring this up, or join in any of the lawsuits in progress, or anything like that. In the Ukraine, the opposition fought back. Here, they didn't.

Lets look at 2000. In 2000, Al fought over Florida, and kept fighting after losing two recounts.

Now, Gore never claimed deliberate fraud there, (after all, the infamous "butterfly ballot" was designed by democrats) but the vote was damn close and he wanted a full and fair count. Fair enough. He eventually lost, but he at least put up a fight.

Kerry just shrugged over it all and walked away. And the democrats walked with him. If what Ankh is saying is correct, the democratic party is actually more pathetic than I have portrayed it to be, and Kerry an even bigger wuss.

They sold us all out to the republicans... the democratic party is a party of republican collaborators, in the WWII sense of the term.

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