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On making the world a “better place”
Posted: 01 July 2008 05:25 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 46 ]  
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Something about your diatribe reminds me of those mutual fund prospectuses, which warn:

Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Bruce Burleson - 01 July 2008 08:49 PM

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.

Now that I have dispensed with your pseudo-suave sanctimony, let me address the above point, which I think goes to show what ear-bleedingly banal hypocrisy most religious sentiment actually is.

In the mind-bendingly unlikely event that you religious nuts actually practiced what you preached in any rigorous way, you would actually know how much energy it takes to do what you profess. Instead a little energy is spent flapping your figurative gums online or in the market square to tell everyone how great religion is. If it weren’t for cherry-picking, you’d be poor as a churchmouse, dumb as a stone, and exhausted from being fruitful and multiplying yourselves. Instead, you spend most of your effort walking the dog to show your neighbors what a pretty dog you have and then picking up the turds it leaves behind.

In other words, most of you talk the talk and live the same kind of life that I do, only much more sanctimonious.

[ Edited: 01 July 2008 05:58 PM by Traces Elk]
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Posted: 01 July 2008 05:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 47 ]  
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Carstonio - 01 July 2008 05:42 PM

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?

I picture person A standing on person B’s foot. Person B asks person C to help get A off of his foot. Ask me nice, and I might help out. For all I know person A is going to be telling me that person B is “getting under-foot”, and asking me for help getting person B out from under, so to speak. In that case it all works out, but I’m doing the right thing for the wrong reasons.

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Posted: 01 July 2008 06:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 48 ]  
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Salt Creek - 01 July 2008 09:25 PM

Instead, you spend most of your effort walking the dog to show your neighbors what a pretty dog you have and then picking up the turds it leaves behind.

I sincerely hope that someone is collecting all your posterior proclamations for posterity. One of the great joys I have in participating in this discussion is to occasionally act as your straight man (in the comedic sense), pitching you soft balls (in the sports sense) so you can knock them over the fence. Good show.

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Posted: 01 July 2008 07:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 49 ]  
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Bruce Burleson - 01 July 2008 10:21 PM

I sincerely hope that someone is collecting all your posterior proclamations for posterity. One of the great joys I have in participating in this discussion is to occasionally act as your straight man (in the comedic sense), pitching you soft balls (in the sports sense) so you can knock them over the fence. Good show.

Please don’t do that Bruce. It is not becoming.
You can’t abandon an argument at will, cut it off with a joke and start up the same shit again in another thread.

Either do battle or fuck around.

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Posted: 01 July 2008 08:04 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 50 ]  
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Salt Creek - 01 July 2008 09:56 PM

In that case it all works out, but I’m doing the right thing for the wrong reasons.

Sometimes I miss allegorical meanings. Are you suggesting that in the first case, your intention was helping the person being hurt (B), and in the second, your intention was helping the person inflicting the hurt (A)? Is that what you mean by “wrong reasons”?

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Posted: 02 July 2008 06:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 51 ]  
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Carstonio - 01 July 2008 05:42 PM

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?

Let’s ask instead, under what circumstances am I (Person C) obliged to help Persons A and B to work out their problems? If I worry that their conflict is going to boil over and involve me, I may have an interest in the situation. A minor incident of foot stomping on a crowded bus does not automatically suggest to me that the two passengers A and B are going to pull out AK-47s and slaughter innocent bystanders in order to get their feet untangled.

The point is, I don’t know how they got their feet tangled up in the first place, and you seem to want to assume from the outset that the person with the upper foot (or upper hand, if you will) is the aggressor and the one whose foot is under pressure is the injured party. If you want to assume your conclusion, there is absolutely no basis for philosophizing about it.

Carstonio - 02 July 2008 12:04 AM
Salt Creek - 01 July 2008 09:56 PM

In that case it all works out, but I’m doing the right thing for the wrong reasons.

Sometimes I miss allegorical meanings. Are you suggesting that in the first case, your intention was helping the person being hurt (B), and in the second, your intention was helping the person inflicting the hurt (A)? Is that what you mean by “wrong reasons”?

We can make this another thread about morality if you want, but my inclination is “let’s not, and say we did”.

Words like “intention” and “good” and “wrong” seem to have special resonance for some people. I won’t name any names. Let me try one more time to put this back on course:

You’ve described to me a situation in which Person A is standing on Person B’s foot. However, you seem to have assumed from the outset that Person A is unjustified in standing on the foot of Person B. If, on the other hand, you want to make the observation, you need not freight the situation beforehand with assumptions that Person A is evil and Person B is just plain unlucky. Me, I worry more that people who get their feet entangled with other people’s feet are naturally clumsy, and that selective pressure should be used to eliminate them from the gene pool.

My entire point is only to try to decide on the face of the evidence what is going on. There may be an assumption that standing on another person’s foot is never justified, but then we have to redefine “justice” or “justification”. Let’s not go there.

You seem to want a rigorously-defined system in which we can say “standing on another person’s foot is always wrong”. It does not have to be “foot stomping” we are talking about. We could be talking about “boiling babies” for all I care. Thank you for not juicing this up with more emotional electricity than the circuits can handle.

My point in this thread is that “making the world a better place” is a value judgement, and that in order to discuss the idea, a reference frame must be established. Of course, since we are in the forum on the Sam Harris website, the only frame of reference possible is that we ought to make our social decisions so as to increase human happiness and reduce human suffering. Is the only purpose of the forum to underwrite or endorse a theory propounded by Sam Harris, or are we allowed to have thoughts of our own?

This could even be the consensus view, and that is fine with me. Then we make our “moral” choices by consensus. But we already knew that, didn’t we? The real point is that talking about “making the world a better place” is the purpose of an online forum, and has nothing to do with actually making the world a better place, unless you believe that online discussions are an engine of political and social change. How often do you see people change their minds in online discussions? How much evidence have you that online forum discussions are actually an engine of social and political change instead of being a part of the publishing business?

[ Edited: 02 July 2008 06:40 AM by Traces Elk]
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Posted: 02 July 2008 06:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 52 ]  
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Sander - 01 July 2008 11:49 PM

Either do battle or fuck around.

This is an excellent, nay, superior, entry in the already-crowded field of suggestions for making the world a better place.

You have embarrassed me, Sander, by saying in a very few words what I have wasted thousands of posts trying to articulate. I am in awe, and for once I am rendered sarcasm-less.

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Posted: 02 July 2008 07:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 53 ]  
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Salt Creek - 01 July 2008 09:56 PM

You’ve described to me a situation in which Person A is standing on Person B’s foot. However, you seem to have assumed from the outset that Person A is unjustified in standing on the foot of Person B.

I deliberately designed the scenario with B asking to have the foot moved and A refusing, to suggest that A was the aggressor. To make my point, I could have the scenario be even more explicit, with B saying that the weight of A’s foot is causing pain. Now, if B had said nothing, we cannot assume as bystanders that B objects to having A standing on his foot, or that A is the aggressor.

A person who believes he knows what is best for others might intervene in the situation without knowing all the facts, which might cause problems or even harm for A or B or both. Another person without that inflated self-importance might investigate (as opposed to intervene) only if B seeks the help of a third party or if B collapses, perhaps if the pressure on the foot is sufficiently painful. (We cannot assume that the pain was the cause of the collapse.)

Salt Creek - 01 July 2008 09:56 PM

My entire point is only to try to decide on the face of the evidence what is going on.

I agree. 

Salt Creek - 01 July 2008 09:56 PM

You seem to want a rigorously-defined system in which we can say “standing on another person’s foot is always wrong”. It does not have to be “foot stomping” we are talking about. We could be talking about “boiling babies” for all I care. Thank you for not juicing this up with more emotional electricity than the circuits can handle.

I share your distaste for that type of emotional electricity.  Instead of a “rigorously defined system,” I’m trying to pin down a distinction between helping people on their terms and helping people on one’s own terms. I seek to articulate the reasons that the latter often seems like playing god. Perhaps the former involves people asking for help or people in immediate mortal danger.

Salt Creek - 01 July 2008 09:56 PM

My point in this thread is that “making the world a better place” is a value judgement, and that in order to discuss the idea, a reference frame must be established.

Valid point. The phenomenon I’ve been describing, the inflated self-importance that leads to beliefs about what is best for others, would seem to involve an individual reference frame. I see that type of frame as inherently problematic.

Salt Creek - 01 July 2008 09:56 PM

Of course, since we are in the forum on the Sam Harris website, the only frame of reference possible is that we ought to make our social decisions so as to increase human happiness and reduce human suffering. Is the only purpose of the forum to underwrite or endorse a theory propounded by Sam Harris, or are we allowed to have thoughts of our own?

Sam’s reference frame makes sense to me, but I would welcome other suggestions. I submit that part of the forum’s purpose is to refute the religious notion that social decisions should be about pleasing supernatural beings. That may not even qualify as a frame of reference, because anyone can make any sort of claim about what would please such beings.

[ Edited: 02 July 2008 07:26 AM by Carstonio]
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Posted: 02 July 2008 07:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 54 ]  
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Carstonio - 02 July 2008 11:20 AM

I submit that part of the forum’s purpose is to refute the religious notion that social decisions should be about pleasing supernatural beings. That may not even qualify as a frame of reference, because anyone can make any sort of claim about what would please such beings.

It’s what I might call a “reactive” frame of reference. The notion of reducing suffering and increasing happiness is proactive, but it still has not helped me, the arrow of change, to know what to do once I’ve hit the target. Perhaps it is just a capitulation to the knowledge that there will always be suffering and that mitigating suffering (as a career, as Lloyd Dobler might put it) is always going to be a satisfying profession. There’s something spookily circular about it.

My way out of this has been to conclude that, regardless of how I feel about things, reality is what it is. You only get a brief shot at experiencing reality, and this may, of course, entail suffering. Throwing over it a filter of trying to counteract all suffering is delusional, and thinkers like Harris address what they term “unnecessary” suffering. Another value judgement creeps in.

There is no way out of this for a realist, Carstonio, and the fact remains that for some people, a hangnail can cause the devastation of the countryside for miles around. You can lean on the central tendency (regression to the mean, and so on) only so far before you’re back at consensus.

What science does is to try to answer at least a few questions so that those questions actually stop being a distraction. It is a raison d’etre just as much as reducing suffering and increasing happiness. I cannot help the fact that many people’s unhappiness is a direct result of the delusions, illusions, confusions, and contusions that they end up with. I am not at all conciliatory with respect to the first three of those, because science identifies them to be the product of the subjective experiences of individuals. One of those, not at all unrelated to religious delusions, is the notion that we must set about “making the world a better place”. You cannot persuade people to abandon their delusions. All you can do is step on their toes.

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Posted: 02 July 2008 08:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 55 ]  
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Excellent points, SC.

Salt Creek - 02 July 2008 11:40 AM

The notion of reducing suffering and increasing happiness is proactive, but it still has not helped me, the arrow of change, to know what to do once I’ve hit the target.

Is that because the notion doesn’t define exactly what it means by happiness and suffering? Or is that because the notion is too vague?

Salt Creek - 02 July 2008 11:40 AM

Perhaps it is just a capitulation to the knowledge that there will always be suffering and that mitigating suffering (as a career, as Lloyd Dobler might put it) is always going to be a satisfying profession. There’s something spookily circular about it.

A stubborn refusal to capitulate to that knowledge would be a good description of theistic religion.

Salt Creek - 02 July 2008 11:40 AM

My way out of this has been to conclude that, regardless of how I feel about things, reality is what it is. You only get a brief shot at experiencing reality, and this may, of course, entail suffering.

Exactly.

Salt Creek - 02 July 2008 11:40 AM

Throwing over it a filter of trying to counteract all suffering is delusional, and thinkers like Harris address what they term “unnecessary” suffering. Another value judgement creeps in.

Again, that filtering is exactly what theistic religions do, such as the notion of justice after death to balance suffering in life. I’ve heard a few theists object strenuously to the likelihood of such justice not existing.

“Unnecessary” is not quite the right word. Better words would be “preventable” or “stoppable.” The Serenity Prayer hijacks and corrupts the concept, treating acceptance, courage and wisdom as granted from outside instead of learned or developed for one’s self.

Salt Creek - 02 July 2008 11:40 AM

There is no way out of this for a realist, Carstonio, and the fact remains that for some people, a hangnail can cause the devastation of the countryside for miles around. You can lean on the central tendency (regression to the mean, and so on) only so far before you’re back at consensus.

Are you talking about all suffering, or suffering caused by one person that affects another person? And are you emphasizing that there is no objective definition of suffering?

Salt Creek - 02 July 2008 11:40 AM

What science does is to try to answer at least a few questions so that those questions actually stop being a distraction. It is a raison d’etre just as much as reducing suffering and increasing happiness.

Salt Creek - 02 July 2008 11:40 AM

I cannot help the fact that many people’s unhappiness is a direct result of the delusions, illusions, confusions, and contusions that they end up with.

True. Would you agree that we should focus on the behavior caused by those delusions and illusions?

Salt Creek - 02 July 2008 11:40 AM

You cannot persuade people to abandon their delusions.

Not through logical argument. Perhaps this would involve some realization through experience, such as how regular interaction with people from different ethnic groups sometimes lessens ethnic prejudice.

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Posted: 04 July 2008 11:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 56 ]  
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Salt Creek - 01 July 2008 12:41 PM

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


Please do. There is never enough WB in ordinary conversation.

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Posted: 04 July 2008 12:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 57 ]  
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SC
I cannot help the fact that many people’s unhappiness is a direct result of the delusions, illusions, confusions, and contusions that they end up with.

I think Sam Harris’ regards to suffering and unhappiness refers to suffering and unhappiness that is projected or caused by others.  And he uses religion as an example that causes this outward suffering. He is referring to suffering that one does not have control over, that comes from outside sources and this is the basis for his argument against religion.

There is also inward suffering which comes about from delusions about reality that can be religiously based.  But as long as the delusional person keeps those delusions within and does not cause others to suffer, there is less harm (or no harm)  manifested overall.

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