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On making the world a “better place”
Posted: 01 July 2008 07:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 31 ]  
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Can’t we just focus on the observation that human beings are intrinsically social organisms without burdening it with a bunch of teleological baggage?

The fact that human beings “require” one another’s company does not “mean” anything in the long run. Back in the day, people needed a lot more social cohesion than they do now. The entire population consisted of a few tiny, unstable nuclei, and forces in the world around them were, and continue to be, opposed to the construction without considerable investment of energy.

We’ve been all through the purported rationale behind early myth-making and ethical codes. We’re talking 100,000 years ago. It does not bear a long recapitulation.

Sociologists, economists, anthropologists and so on have had a fairly good first stab at explaining the evolution of the modern nation state, and have to some extent debunked the concept as artificial at its core.

“Selfless” acts these days really make no sense without the concept of the nation state. Helping starving people in other nations than your own is in the nature of developing markets with which your own economy may hope to trade. It’s mutual, but down deep, it’s not that mutual. My OP is to deconstruct the personal ego investment that people have in their own so-called altruism, a personal psychological debility. If people did not naturally engage in group projects, apologists for the survival value of altruism outside the family or extended family have little to go on.

Bruce makes a good point about some of the psychological forces that bear on people when faced with the demise of their nearest kin.

Now: As to “making the world a better place” -

This is an abstraction, and I specifically riffed on it in the title because this horrible dweeb named John Brand has been pissing on the forum for months asserting a fictive need to “make the world a better place”. I find this nauseating in the extreme, and am trying to encourage a discussion with a tiny bit of rationality at its core.

As Jerry Maguire might have said, “Help me help you.  Help me… help you. Help ME ... help YOU.”

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Posted: 01 July 2008 08:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 32 ]  
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Carstonio - 01 July 2008 11:32 AM

But a person consciously thinks of himself as selfless cannot truly be so - his ego drowns out his conscience.

This meme linking conscience and ego has an odor of immateriality about it, and seems to waft over here on subtropical Westerlies from someplace that also reeks of incense and peppermints. FrankR should like that one, and he will undoubtedly be tempted to pile on with more question-begging.

The linking-in of intent, of “gift-without-the-giver-is-bare”, of (dare I say it?) karma is rank emotionalism. I do not deny that human beings are emotional machines, but let’s call a spade a spade, and a hoe a hoe. The Bard tells us…

Thus conscience doth make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pitch and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action.

Now, we are all living on bar’d time, and the music of our efforts is always clef’d at the end, so note well the discord that you may create by trying to harmonize with the cosmos.

I do not mean to suggest that no one takes any action once contemplating his own motives. Simply realize that you’re basically fucked if you start trying to name your motivations after the fact.

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Posted: 01 July 2008 08:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 33 ]  
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Salt Creek - 01 July 2008 12:00 PM

This meme linking conscience and ego has an odor of immateriality about it, and seems to waft over here on subtropical Westerlies from someplace that also reeks of incense and peppermints.

Valid points. I was speaking metaphorically. I’ll put it more directly - the belief that one is saving the world or that one knows best for other people blinds the judgment, leading one to help in ineffective or even harmful ways.

(Trivia note - the band that recorded the song that you mentioned included future Lynard Skynard member Ed King.)

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Posted: 01 July 2008 08:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 34 ]  
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Carstonio - 01 July 2008 12:21 PM

the belief that one is saving the world or that one knows best for other people blinds the judgment, leading one to help in ineffective or even harmful ways.

Even this goes too far to fit within my minimalist scheme. I suggest that you take action, evaluate your results, and simply say whether or not you are happy with the results, and live with them. There’s still too much baggage in deciding after the fact (or even before) that your results were (or will be) ineffective just because of a flaw in the motivation.

Saying that one knows best for other people is a priori a bad thing, regardless of consequences. This is because it is what Sam Harris calls “claiming to know things one manifestly cannot pretend to know”. Or something like that. What is wrong is to say you know something when you don’t. In such circumstances one must say “I don’t know.” It’s simple, really. It just doesn’t taste good.

Language such as “blinds the judgement” is already judgemental. Get it?

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Posted: 01 July 2008 08:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 35 ]  
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Judging a person’s efforts as helpful or harmful a priori is judgemental. Especially when one does it about one’s own. After the fact, maybe you can say something about it. Probably not.

The film “Charlie Wilson’s War” trotted out that old chestnut about “We’ll see”:

The farmer gets a new horse. Everybody says how great that is. The Zen Master says, “We’ll see.” The farmer’s son cripples himself after falling off the horse. Everybody says how terrible that is. ZM says, “We’ll see.”

Watch out or I’ll start quoting Wendell Berry again.

[ Edited: 01 July 2008 08:49 AM by Traces Elk]
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Posted: 01 July 2008 08:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 36 ]  
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Salt Creek - 01 July 2008 12:40 PM

Saying that one knows best for other people is a priori a bad thing, regardless of consequences. This is because it is what Sam Harris calls “claiming to know things one manifestly cannot pretend to know”. Or something like that. What is wrong is to say you know something when you don’t. In such circumstances one must say “I don’t know.” It’s simple, really. It just doesn’t taste good.

It’s a bad thing not just because of that principle, but also because of the belief’s harmful consequences. If a belief that doesn’t jibe with reality leads one to harm others, that’s even more of a reason to discard the belief, or to address the cause of the belief.

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Posted: 01 July 2008 08:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 37 ]  
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Salt Creek - 01 July 2008 12:41 PM

Judging a person’s efforts as helpful or harmful a priori is judgemental. Especially when one does it about one’s own.

I was talking more about the belief that one is the sole judge about what is helpful for others. That belief is related to the religious concept that morality is about pleasing deities instead of avoiding harm to others.

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Posted: 01 July 2008 09:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 38 ]  
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Carstonio - 01 July 2008 12:50 PM

It’s a bad thing not just because of that principle, but also because of the belief’s harmful consequences. If a belief that doesn’t jibe with reality leads one to harm others, that’s even more of a reason to discard the belief, or to address the cause of the belief.

I see it the other way around, so maybe our points of view are merely mirror images. A belief not in accord with reality places the holder in some hazard, and he must depend on other agents in order to protect him from the undesirable consequences of his delusion. This is the basis on which religious sects are founded, the notion of people making extra work for each other.

Life is full of challenges. Save your energy for the ones that really matter. Natural selection is unkind to energetic wastefulness.

Carstonio - 01 July 2008 12:58 PM

I was talking more about the belief that one is the sole judge about what is helpful for others. That belief is related to the religious concept that morality is about pleasing deities instead of avoiding harm to others.

Why should anyone give a fuck about that? Avoiding harm is all about taking appropriate steps to avoid harm. Be a responsible organism, and look out for harmful entities in your environment. Kill them if they come back unin-bited.

[ Edited: 01 July 2008 09:47 AM by Traces Elk]
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Posted: 01 July 2008 11:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 39 ]  
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Salt Creek - 01 July 2008 01:45 PM

I see it the other way around, so maybe our points of view are merely mirror images. A belief not in accord with reality places the holder in some hazard, and he must depend on other agents in order to protect him from the undesirable consequences of his delusion. This is the basis on which religious sects are founded, the notion of people making extra work for each other.

That’s my point as well.

Carstonio - 01 July 2008 12:58 PM

Why should anyone give a fuck about that? Avoiding harm is all about taking appropriate steps to avoid harm. Be a responsible organism, and look out for harmful entities in your environment.

So if someone has a belief that leads them to not be concerned with taking appropriate steps, would convincing the person to give up the belief be the best way to prevent or stop him from harming others?

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Posted: 01 July 2008 11:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 40 ]  
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Carstonio - 01 July 2008 03:09 PM

So if someone has a belief that leads them to not be concerned with taking appropriate steps, would convincing the person to give up the belief be the best way to prevent or stop him from harming others?

If you wish to place an obligation upon me to prevent (in general) “harm to others” it remains for you to justify the obligation. If you wish to prevent harm to yourself, the best course is to understand the law of unintended consequences. This may not lead to avoidance of harm to yourself, but at least you gave it the old college try.

Simply assuming that other people will look out for their own unintended consequences is, um, how-you-say, naive.

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Posted: 01 July 2008 12:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 41 ]  
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Salt Creek - 01 July 2008 03:31 PM

If you wish to place an obligation upon me to prevent (in general) “harm to others” it remains for you to justify the obligation.

I’m not sure of your point. Would you explain? That could almost be interpreted as saying that people are morally entitled to harm others.

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Posted: 01 July 2008 12:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 42 ]  
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Carstonio - 01 July 2008 04:20 PM

Would you explain?

What fucking part of the fucking word “No” do you not fucking understand? That my affect is not quite as labile as yours is obvious, but it does not manufacture a difference of moral altitude between us. The duty remains upon you to oblige me justify my existence specifically by preventing harm to others. Care for your own kids and dogs and horses, and it is no problem for me. That I do not get enjoyment from torturing small animals is beside the point; for all you know, I might be a biomedical researcher with lab animals to manage.

That could almost be interpreted as saying that people are morally entitled to harm others.

But it can’t. So why would you bother with the innuendo? I’ll tell you why. Because you really do think you’re morally superior.

[ Edited: 01 July 2008 12:48 PM by Traces Elk]
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Posted: 01 July 2008 01:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 43 ]  
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Teleology just begets woo. All conscious actions are selfishly motivated. According to Dawkins, the selfish gene which increases the survivability of itself and its progeny/kin, ultimately replicates more selfish genes. Is it not the desire to benefit from profit (selfishness) which drives the economy and ultimately forces businesses to become efficient or fail?

The law of unintended consequences is real and should be considered. If I stop and help a stranded motorist just because I want to glow in my sanctimonious glory, then we have both benefited. If he or she doesn’t learn to fill the gas tank, then only I benefit. If the motorist robs me, then he will probably change my future behavior.

I have been guilty of saying that I want to improve our world. I am aware that my actions are selfishly motivated at many levels. I am motivated by wanting to live in a society in which the members cooperate for mutual benefit and survival. Mostly, however, I just want to smugly flaunt what a great fucking person I am.

[ Edited: 01 July 2008 04:09 PM by Beam]
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Real honesty is accepting the theories that best explain the actual data even if those explanations contradict our cherished beliefs.-Scotty

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Posted: 01 July 2008 01:42 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 44 ]  
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Salt Creek - 01 July 2008 04:33 PM

That my affect is not quite as labile as yours is obvious, but it does not manufacture a difference of moral altitude between us.

I wasn’t talking about you specifically, nor was I trying to claim moral superiority over you or anyone else.

Salt Creek - 01 July 2008 04:33 PM

The duty remains upon you to oblige me justify my existence specifically by preventing harm to others.

This has nothing to do with justifying your existence or anyone else. I know that I don’t want anyone to harm me, and while I cannot say for sure that others don’t want harm either, it’s reasonable to assume that they don’t.

I don’t completely understand your point about obligation. I picture Person A standing on Person B’s foot, B asking A to move off the foot, and A asking, “Why should I?” I doubt that is what you mean. What am I missing?

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Posted: 01 July 2008 04:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 45 ]  
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Salt Creek - 01 July 2008 01:45 PM

Life is full of challenges. Save your energy for the ones that really matter. Natural selection is unkind to energetic wastefulness.

If religious faith is, in fact, a waste of energy, and if natural selection is, in fact, unkind to energetic wastefulness, then after tens of thousands of years of homo sapiens’ existence, one would expect to see no or very little religious faith. In fact, the opposite is true among our 7,000,000,000 brothers and sisters. Therefore, one of the premises cited above must be false. Clearly, natural selection is unkind to energetic wastefulness - I think we can all agree with that. Therefore, the premise “religious faith is a waste of energy” must be false. Therefore, religious faith is not a waste of energy, and is obviously beneficial to mankind in some way. Otherwise, natural selection would have deselected it.

Does your own petard make you feel uncomfortable now that you have been hoisted by it?

[ Edited: 01 July 2008 04:54 PM by Ecurb Noselrub]
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