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... 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.


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

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.

Anonymous said...

"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.


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.


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.

Tony Fisk said...

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?

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!)

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.

Anonymous 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.

Anonymous said...

W.B. Reeves is right on.

Anonymous 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.

Anonymous said...

"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.

Anonymous 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.

Anonymous 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.

Anonymous 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.


Anonymous said...

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

Anonymous 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 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.

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 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.

Anonymous said...

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.

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:

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.


Anonymous 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.

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:

"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."

"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.


Big C said...

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.


Anonymous 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?

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:

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:

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.

Anonymous 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."


"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. ;)


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.

Anonymous 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.

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.

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.

Anonymous 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.

Anonymous 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.

Anonymous 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.

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.

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....

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.


Anonymous 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.

David Brin said...

Re the libertarian party, see:

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

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:

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.


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

Hank Roberts 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)..."

Hank Roberts 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."