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Dennett’s Parable of the Sower
Posted: 13 August 2009 04:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 31 ]  
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teuchter - 13 August 2009 07:46 PM
burt - 13 August 2009 04:07 PM

I prefer a form of reasoning about change that acknowledges there are polarities but there is not necessarily a contradiction between the poles, rather there is a functional relation to be understood.  Incremental change happens, but there are also moments of mutational change which happens in sudden jumps.  (I’m thinking Piajet, punctuated equilibrium, etc.).

A final quibble.  It would have been preferable if “contradiction” had been translated “active attribute” or “opposing factors” or something much more elegant than I can come up with.  But, the contradictions Marx talks about aren’t in the way we usually think about contradiction.

We use “contradiction” to mean two mutually exclusive propositions or two propositions one of which necessarily negates the other.

For example, we might say that witness 1 testified that the defendant left his house at 10:00 p.m., but witness 2 contradicted that.  So, at most one is true but not both.

Or, as I earlier said, the phrase “Scottish Enlightenment” could be understood to be a contradiction in terms, suggesting that one could be enlightened, or one could be Scottish, but not both.

Marx, and more prolificly Lenin, wrote of the contradiction between town and country, and never intimated that one would annihilate the other, or one would become the other;  the general idea is that the two active aspects under review have a dynamic relation, the one with the other, that will form the basis for further development of the structure under study.

More to the point of this thread,  OK.  I agree that there is a big difference between using some analytical tool developed by, say, Prof. Zimmerman, to try to understand a situation or solve a problem, and simply announcing that the analysis or solution is X by dint of one’s complete and unquestionable mastery of the entirety of the Prof. Zimmerman’s body of work.

Reliance on a claim to mastery of an “ism” for validation of one’s viewpoint is merely the flip side of an ad hominem attack.  “I’m attaching this assertion to the general body of Prof. Zimmerman’s work;  he is a genius, therefore what I say is true.”

“No, Professor Zimmerman was proven to be an idiot by Dr. Dylan;  since you attach the proposition to Prof. Zimmerman, it is wrong.” OK, I get it.  Maybe we’re all pulling on the same oar (in which case we will go around in small circles, of course.)

Pulling on the same oar is far better than bashing each other over the head with it. 

We’re also probably talking about dialectical materialism in different ways since I’m coming from the Hegelian side with the dialectical process always seen as progressive whereas in actual cases it can be progressive or regressive. just like evolution—if a simpler form is favored by environmental conditions, a species will “devolve” (which may well be happening to us grin ). 

Regarding change, as I see it, one also has different questions that can be asked (assuming that one has decided that certain forms of change are desirable).  From a dialectical perspective it seems to me the question is: what sort of interventions can I interject (and often in the form of contradictions, or at least pointing out contradictions) in order to drive the process in the desired direction?  The question I would ask, on the other hand, is: what actions can I take (perhaps apparently unrelated to the cases at hand) that will have the effect of making a new state of affairs attractive so that people will see change as a natural move?  (Could end up with the same answers in some cases, but not in others—the difference between pushing and pulling as it were.)

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Posted: 13 August 2009 05:15 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 32 ]  
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burt - 13 August 2009 08:05 PM

the difference between pushing and pulling as it were.)

Ah, the signed-ness of the diagonal elements of the stress tensor. A sheer joy to behold.

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Posted: 14 August 2009 06:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 33 ]  
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‘if a simpler form is favored by environmental conditions, a species will “devolve” (which may well be happening to us ).’

But…simpler is subjective in evolutionary biology. An Amoeba has many more genes than a Homo Sapien, needed for it’s survival. So, which life form is simpler?

I digress and devolve on this matter.

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Posted: 14 August 2009 04:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 34 ]  
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burt - 13 August 2009 02:50 AM

It really is a truism that nobody can be free until they have attained an internal freedom, and the market for accomplishing that is unfortunately not all that large—we all want instant gratification.

I’ve taken some time to read through some of your discussion, Burt.  I like the way you put the problem:  Internal freedom is not all that much in demand because people generally want instant gratification. 

The internal freedom can only come through an awareness of what it is that we want and whether or not these wants are consistent with where we want to be in the long term. 

In Post #26 you wrote:

burt - 13 August 2009 12:41 PM
teuchter - 13 August 2009 11:45 AM
burt - 13 August 2009 02:50 AM

I won’t speak for John, but I would include any “ism” under that definition [...]

So Darwinism:Bad
  Evolution:Good

Assuming that “Darwinism” means unthinking worship of Darwin and something like social Darwinism.

I am interested in your opinion on the following statement from Darwin and the direction that it has influenced my own thinking:

“It must not be forgotten that although a high standard of morality gives but a slight advantage to each individual man and his children over the other men of the same tribe, yet that an increase in the number of well-endowed men and advancement in the standard of morality will certainly give an immense advantage to one tribe over another.  There can be no doubt that a tribe including many members who, from possessing in a high degree the spirit of patriotism, fidelity, obedience, courage, and sympathy, were always ready to aid one another, and to sacrifice themselves for the common good would be victorious over most other tribes; and this would be natural selection.  At all times throughout the world tribes have supplanted other tribes, and as morality is one important element in their success, the standard of morality and the number of well-endowed men will thus everywhere tend to rise and increase. (The Descent of Man, 1871, 166)

I have enjoyed following the argument of David Sloan Wilson in Darwin’s Cathedral which is a summary of studies that were given impetus by the French Sociologist Emile Durkheim.  Wilson looks at the social cohesion that comes as a result of religious belief.

I find it fascinating to think through the lens that Wilson develops.  For example, I have been thinking about the comments made in this thread about Marx and the field of study that Marx was trying to survey and summarize.  The success and/or failure of the revolution experiments of the mid-nineteenth century could be seen as examples of instant gratification when they are compared with the difficult path chosen by, for instance, the Anabaptists.  This movement began in the 16th Century but had a tremendous staying power.  The area of Southern Manitoba, Canada where I am living is the most densely populated area in the world of those from the Mennonite tradition which is an offshoot of Anabaptism.  They are a hard working people who help one another and others through the world-wide organization called the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC).  The reciprocating impact of this organization on the success of this group as a social organism is obvious.

I look at the Mennonites as a social organism with a particular trick of evolutionary adaptation.  They were heavily persecuted for their stance on ‘believers baptism’ and the separation of church and state including the idea that the church should take care of the education of the young.  However, because of their belief in non-resistance, they chose to move out of and away from hierarchies that refused to allow them their freedom.  Eventually, they found a settlement in Russia and an arrangement with Catherine the Great where they prospered.  The rise of Stalin led to a renewed persecution and further migration and especially to Canada and here in Southern Manitoba.

There is a couple of interesting comments in Voltaire’s Candide about Jacques the Anabaptist.  For example:

“A man who had never been christened, an honest Anabaptist named Jacques, was witness to the cruel and ignominious treatment showed to one of his brethren, to a rational, two-footed, unfledged being. Moved with pity he carried him to his own house, caused him to be cleaned, gave him meat and drink, and made him a present of two florins, at the same time proposing to instruct him in his own trade of weaving Persian silks, which are fabricated in Holland.”

The kindness of Jacques is an adaptive trait that the Mennonites still possess as evidenced by the MCC.

Is this approach what you would call social Darwinism?  How would you correlate the studies and example I have given with the Idreis Shah’s idea of the commanding self and what you have been discussing in this thread?

Thanks, Burt.  I always look forward to your input.

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Posted: 14 August 2009 05:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 35 ]  
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John Brand - 14 August 2009 08:22 PM
burt - 13 August 2009 02:50 AM

It really is a truism that nobody can be free until they have attained an internal freedom, and the market for accomplishing that is unfortunately not all that large—we all want instant gratification.

I’ve taken some time to read through some of your discussion, Burt.  I like the way you put the problem:  Internal freedom is not all that much in demand because people generally want instant gratification. 

The internal freedom can only come through an awareness of what it is that we want and whether or not these wants are consistent with where we want to be in the long term. 

In Post #26 you wrote:

burt - 13 August 2009 12:41 PM
teuchter - 13 August 2009 11:45 AM
burt - 13 August 2009 02:50 AM

I won’t speak for John, but I would include any “ism” under that definition [...]

So Darwinism:Bad
  Evolution:Good

Assuming that “Darwinism” means unthinking worship of Darwin and something like social Darwinism.

I am interested in your opinion on the following statement from Darwin and the direction that it has influenced my own thinking:

“It must not be forgotten that although a high standard of morality gives but a slight advantage to each individual man and his children over the other men of the same tribe, yet that an increase in the number of well-endowed men and advancement in the standard of morality will certainly give an immense advantage to one tribe over another.  There can be no doubt that a tribe including many members who, from possessing in a high degree the spirit of patriotism, fidelity, obedience, courage, and sympathy, were always ready to aid one another, and to sacrifice themselves for the common good would be victorious over most other tribes; and this would be natural selection.  At all times throughout the world tribes have supplanted other tribes, and as morality is one important element in their success, the standard of morality and the number of well-endowed men will thus everywhere tend to rise and increase. (The Descent of Man, 1871, 166)

I have enjoyed following the argument of David Sloan Wilson in Darwin’s Cathedral which is a summary of studies that were given impetus by the French Sociologist Emile Durkheim.  Wilson looks at the social cohesion that comes as a result of religious belief.

I find it fascinating to think through the lens that Wilson develops.  For example, I have been thinking about the comments made in this thread about Marx and the field of study that Marx was trying to survey and summarize.  The success and/or failure of the revolution experiments of the mid-nineteenth century could be seen as examples of instant gratification when they are compared with the difficult path chosen by, for instance, the Anabaptists.  This movement began in the 16th Century but had a tremendous staying power.  The area of Southern Manitoba, Canada where I am living is the most densely populated area in the world of those from the Mennonite tradition which is an offshoot of Anabaptism.  They are a hard working people who help one another and others through the world-wide organization called the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC).  The reciprocating impact of this organization on the success of this group as a social organism is obvious.

I look at the Mennonites as a social organism with a particular trick of evolutionary adaptation.  They were heavily persecuted for their stance on ‘believers baptism’ and the separation of church and state including the idea that the church should take care of the education of the young.  However, because of their belief in non-resistance, they chose to move out of and away from hierarchies that refused to allow them their freedom.  Eventually, they found a settlement in Russia and an arrangement with Catherine the Great where they prospered.  The rise of Stalin led to a renewed persecution and further migration and especially to Canada and here in Southern Manitoba.

There is a couple of interesting comments in Voltaire’s Candide about Jacques the Anabaptist.  For example:

“A man who had never been christened, an honest Anabaptist named Jacques, was witness to the cruel and ignominious treatment showed to one of his brethren, to a rational, two-footed, unfledged being. Moved with pity he carried him to his own house, caused him to be cleaned, gave him meat and drink, and made him a present of two florins, at the same time proposing to instruct him in his own trade of weaving Persian silks, which are fabricated in Holland.”

The kindness of Jacques is an adaptive trait that the Mennonites still possess as evidenced by the MCC.

Is this approach what you would call social Darwinism?  How would you correlate the studies and example I have given with the Idreis Shah’s idea of the commanding self and what you have been discussing in this thread?

Thanks, Burt.  I always look forward to your input.

The Darwin quote carries a quaint Victorian ring, but does point to the question of the extent to which altruistic (“moral”) behavior provides group survival advantage.  (There have been great arguments over something called “group selection,” which would connect to this.)  But the examples you give of Mennonite behavior are pretty much the opposite of what the term social Darwinism generally means.  The term is associated with the Victorian philosopher Herbert Spencer and it is a taking over into the social realm the slogan “survival of the fittest.”  So, for example, people who are wealthy have become so because they are more fit to survive than the poor, and they have a natural right to take every advantage available to them because it is a “struggle for existence” and only the best deserve to prosper.  This sort of thinking was used to give a pseudo-scientific justification to the social stratification in late 19th century England. 

Trying to correlate with the concept of the commanding self, I would say that as you describe it the Mennonite community has developed cultural ideals that act in some ways to counter some of the baser actions of this self (blatant greed, hubris, etc.) but you might check inside these communities to look for other manifestations.  Nevertheless, I think that in communities where there is an established tradition of calling others on their more obvious egotistical trips some moral growth can occur that provides a stabilizing influence in the community. 

Got to run, dinner calls.

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Posted: 14 August 2009 08:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 36 ]  
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John Brand - 14 August 2009 08:22 PM

I’ve taken some time to read through some of your discussion, Burt.  […]I am interested in your opinion …  Thanks, Burt.  I always look forward to your input.

Normally, I don’t intrude on private discussions, but since you included a quote of mine in your excerpt, and addressed the issue I was raising, I will briefly interrupt and then leave you to discuss the Mennonites.

John Brand - 14 August 2009 08:22 PM

For example, I have been thinking about the comments made in this thread about Marx and the field of study that Marx was trying to survey and summarize.  The success and/or failure of the revolution experiments of the mid-nineteenth century could be seen as examples of instant gratification when they are compared with the difficult path chosen by, for instance, the Anabaptists.

“Instant gratification” is an unusual term to graft onto a discussion of Marx, in that it is usually a pejorative used in contrast to the Calvinist and capitalist ideal of deferred gratification—the highest exemplar of deferred gratification being, as Joe Hill said, to work all day, live on hay, and eat pie in the sky when you die.

However, intrigued by your comparison of “mid-nineteenth century revolution experiments with Anabaptism, I clicked on the link and found this:

Anabaptists rejected church tradition such as wearing wedding rings, taking oaths, and participating in state-government. They adhered to a literal interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount and Believer’s baptism, in which their name, Anabaptist, is derived, because credobaptism was considered heresy by all other major Christian denominations at the time of the reformation period. As a result, Anabaptists were heavily persecuted during the 16th century and into the 17th by both Roman Catholics and Protestants.

So, comparing and contrasting Marx and the Anabaptists, we learn that the Anabaptists adhere to a literal interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount the Believer’s baptism, and Marx was an atheist.  Anabaptists believe that “[c]ivil government (i.e., “Caesar”) belongs to the world. The believer, who belongs to God’s kingdom, must not fill any office, nor hold any rank under government, which is to be passively obeyed.”  And Marx was an atheist. And not a pacifist.

In fact, whereas the state at the time the bible was written was essentially a tribal state, and the Anabaptists evidently did not (and presumably still do not) concern themselves with the transformation of that government from tribal to feudal to bourgeois,  that is a central point which Marx studied.

Marx and Engels actually remarked upon the Anabaptists from time to time.  For example, in Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, Engels said:

We know today that this kingdom of reason was nothing more than the idealized kingdom of the bourgeoisie; that this eternal Right found its realization in bourgeois justice; that this equality reduced itself to bourgeois equality before the law; that bourgeois property was proclaimed as one of the essential rights of man; and that the government of reason, the Contrat Social of Rousseau, came into being, and only could come into being, as a democratic bourgeois republic. The great thinkers of the 18th century could, no more than their predecessors, go beyond the limits imposed upon them by their epoch.

But, side by side with the antagonisms of the feudal nobility and the burghers, who claimed to represent all the rest of society, was the general antagonism of exploiters and exploited, of rich idlers and poor workers. It was this very circumstance that made it possible for the representatives of the bourgeoisie to put themselves forward as representing not one special class, but the whole of suffering humanity. Still further. From its origin the bourgeoisie was saddled with its antithesis: capitalists cannot exist without wage-workers, and, in the same proportion as the mediaeval burgher of the guild developed into the modern bourgeois, the guild journeyman and the day-laborer, outside the guilds, developed into the proletarian. And although, upon the whole, the bourgeoisie, in their struggle with the nobility, could claim to represent at the same time the interests of the different working-classes of that period, yet in every great bourgeois movement there were independent outbursts of that class which was the forerunner, more or less developed, of the modern proletariat. For example, at the time of the German Reformation and the Peasants’ War, the Anabaptists and Thomas Münzer; in the great English Revolution, the Levellers; in the great French Revolution, Babeuf.

These were theoretical enunciations, corresponding with these revolutionary uprisings of a class not yet developed; in the 16th and 17th centuries, Utopian pictures of ideal social conditions; in the 18th century, actual communistic theories (Morelly and Mably)[2]. The demand for equality was no longer limited to political rights; it was extended also to the social conditions of individuals. It was not simply class privileges that were to be abolished, but class distinctions themselves. A Communism, ascetic, denouncing all the pleasures of life, Spartan, was the first form of the new teaching. Then came the three great Utopians: Saint-Simon, to whom the middle-class movement, side by side with the proletarian, still had a certain significance; Fourier; and Owen, who in the country where capitalist production was most developed, and under the influence of the antagonisms begotten of this, worked out his proposals for the removal of class distinction systematically and in direct relation to French materialism.

Of course, the failure of Anabaptism in the final analysis to do anything more than create a tourist industry in Indiana, which would otherwise beckon nobody, is based in its idealistic effort to abolish class distinctions. 

Which brings us to:

John Brand - 14 August 2009 08:22 PM

The reciprocating impact of this organization on the success of this group as a social organism is obvious. […]  The kindness of Jacques is an adaptive trait that the Mennonites still possess as evidenced by the MCC. Is this approach what you would call social Darwinism?

Political or social structures are not organisms.  They do not have dna subject to random mutation.  Political or economic structures do not evolve, thereby increasing their chances of survival;  they survive or fail according to how the people living under those structures thrive.  They transform according to the development of the material conditions upon which they are built, but this transformation is in no way “evolution.”

If Darwin suggested that a will to cooperate may have been a beneficial trait for the survival of men, this does not suggest that the forms of cooperation have taken on a biological characteristic with their own evolutionary agenda.  And if Darwin ever said otherwise, he wandered too far afield from his discipline.

Biology is not political economy.  Political economy is not biology.

And yes, as Burt says, “social Darwinism” is concept developed by Spencer to justify some of the greater depredations of capitalism.  It fits snugly and smugly in the ideology of Calvinism, and holds that if a person was in god’s grace, or was more fundamentally fit, he wouldn’t be lame and halt and impoverished.  It’s most recent form is “libertarianism.”  It is therefore the very opposite of the social cooperation Darwin suggested could be beneficial to mankind.

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Posted: 15 August 2009 08:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 37 ]  
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Elsewhere, I have been asserting that Freidman/Hayek/Ayn Rand cultists contend they are atheists but actually worship a the “Free Market,” but I have also been arguing that evolution has nothing to do with political economy, and therefore “social Darwinism” is an empty phrase.

Well, this guy can say it more clearly.
From the blog Edge, and essay by Douglas Rushkoff:

It is up to our most rigorous thinkers and writers not to base their work on widely accepted but largely artificial constructs. It is their job to differentiate between the map and the territory — to recognize when a series of false assumptions is corrupting their observations and conclusions. As the great interest in the arguments of Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens shows us, there is a growing acceptance and hunger for thinkers who dare to challenge the widespread belief in creation mythologies. That it has become easier to challenge the supremacy of God than to question the supremacy of the market testifies to the way any group can fall victim to a creation myth — especially when they are rewarded to do so.

Too many technologists, scientists, writers and theorists accept the underlying premise of our corporate-driven marketplace as a precondition of the universe or, worse, as the ultimate beneficiary of their findings.


While I am not sure I agree with everything he says, I do agree with his conclusion:

If science can take on God, it should not fear the market. Both are, after all, creations of man.

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Posted: 15 August 2009 11:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 38 ]  
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teuchter - 15 August 2009 12:08 AM
John Brand - 14 August 2009 08:22 PM

For example, I have been thinking about the comments made in this thread about Marx and the field of study that Marx was trying to survey and summarize.  The success and/or failure of the revolution experiments of the mid-nineteenth century could be seen as examples of instant gratification when they are compared with the difficult path chosen by, for instance, the Anabaptists.

So, comparing and contrasting Marx and the Anabaptists, we learn that the Anabaptists adhere to a literal interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount the Believer’s baptism, and Marx was an atheist.  Anabaptists believe that “[c]ivil government (i.e., “Caesar”) belongs to the world. The believer, who belongs to God’s kingdom, must not fill any office, nor hold any rank under government, which is to be passively obeyed.”  And Marx was an atheist. And not a pacifist.

Engels interest in branches of the Anabaptist movement focused on their experiments in community of goods.  In particular the rebellion at Muenster,For example, The Communist Manifesto states the following:

“The most famous experiment was that of the Anabaptist in Munster, but the most long lasting were those of the Hutterites in Moravia.  In the period in which they were free from persecution, 1553-91, the total number of Hutterites may have reached 40,000.” (Note 31, page 32)

Engel discusses his interest in the rebellion at Munster in his The Peasant War in Germany and highlights the aspects of Thomas Muenzer’s (b. 1498) doctrine:

His theologic-philosophic doctrine attacked all the main points not only of Catholicism but of Christianity as such. Under the cloak of Christian forms, he preached a kind of pantheism, which curiously resembles the modern speculative mode of contemplation, and at times even taught open atheism. He repudiated the assertion that the Bible was the only infallible revelation. The only living revelation, he said, was reason, a revelation which existed among all peoples at all times. To contrast the Bible with reason, he maintained, was to kill the spirit by the latter, for the Holy Spirit of which the Bible spoke was not a thing outside of us; the Holy Spirit was our reason. Faith, he said, was nothing else but reason become alive in man, therefore, he said, pagans could also have faith. Through this faith, through reason come to life, man became godlike and blessed, he said. Heaven was to be sought in this life, not beyond, and it was, according to Muenzer, the task of the believers to establish Heaven, the kingdom of God, here on earth. As there is no Heaven in the beyond, he so there is no Hell in the beyond, and no damnation, and there are no devils but the evil desires and cravings of man. Christ, he said, was a man, as we are, a prophet and a teacher, and his “Lord’s Supper” is nothing but a plain meal of commemoration wherein bread and wine are being consumed with mystic additions.

Muenser was beheaded in 1525 but his ideas were adopted by key figures leading the Anabaptist Rebellion at Munster.

I notice that your quote from Socialism: Utopian and Scientific includes a reference to Muenzer:

And although, upon the whole, the bourgeoisie, in their struggle with the nobility, could claim to represent at the same time the interests of the different working-classes of that period, yet in every great bourgeois movement there were independent outbursts of that class which was the forerunner, more or less developed, of the modern proletariat. For example, at the time of the German Reformation and the Peasants’ War, the Anabaptists and Thomas Münzer; in the great English Revolution, the Levellers; in the great French Revolution, Babeuf.

teuchter - 15 August 2009 12:08 AM

Of course, the failure of Anabaptism in the final analysis to do anything more than create a tourist industry in Indiana, which would otherwise beckon nobody, is based in its idealistic effort to abolish class distinctions.

There are 472 colonies of Hutterites around the world (2004 stat).  105 of these are located in my area of Southern Manitoba.  In fact, I live about one mile south of a colony.  These grow to a number of about 200 or so and then split off.  They are powerful and have succeeded in abolishing class distinctions through their doctrine of ‘the priesthood of all believers.’  They have a significant wealth.  In some cases, there is abuse by those who are in charge of the finances that has led to dissolution of the colony.  But for the most part this social group has proven to have enduring qualities that have not changed since the 15th Century.

teuchter - 15 August 2009 12:08 AM

Which brings us to:

John Brand - 14 August 2009 08:22 PM

The reciprocating impact of this organization on the success of this group as a social organism is obvious. […]  The kindness of Jacques is an adaptive trait that the Mennonites still possess as evidenced by the MCC. Is this approach what you would call social Darwinism?

Political or social structures are not organisms.  They do not have dna subject to random mutation.  Political or economic structures do not evolve, thereby increasing their chances of survival;  they survive or fail according to how the people living under those structures thrive.  They transform according to the development of the material conditions upon which they are built, but this transformation is in no way “evolution.”

If Darwin suggested that a will to cooperate may have been a beneficial trait for the survival of men, this does not suggest that the forms of cooperation have taken on a biological characteristic with their own evolutionary agenda.  And if Darwin ever said otherwise, he wandered too far afield from his discipline.

Biology is not political economy.  Political economy is not biology.

Durkheim et al disagree.  You might find Wilson’s discussion interesting in his chapter “The View from Evolutionary Biology” in Darwin’s Cathedral

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Posted: 15 August 2009 11:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 39 ]  
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teuchter - 15 August 2009 12:32 PM

While I am not sure I agree with everything he says, I do agree with his conclusion:

If science can take on God, it should not fear the market. Both are, after all, creations of man.

I would argue that the free market is not the problem addressed in The Parable of the Sower.  Rather, the problem being addressed is toxic intentionality.  Marx was interested in the scientific theories of British free-market thinkers like Adam Smith and David Ricardo.  He preferred these theories to the French Socialist idea that the poverty resulted from the greed of the wealthy.

A narrow reading of Adam Smith would appear to conflict with the ancient social criticism of Isaiah and Solon which also pointed to the greed of the rich as the root of social uprisings.  But the narrow reading of Smith misses a crucial aspect of his thought as outlined in his Theory of Moral Sentiments.  He argued that sympathy for others is the essential characteristic of the human condition.  He rejected self-love as the basic motive of behaviour.  He defined virtue as consisting of three elements:  propriety, prudence and benevolence.  Propriety, he argued, was the appropriate control and directing of our affections.  Prudence is the judicious pursuit of our private interest.  And benevolence is the exercise of only those affections that encourage the happiness of others (from The Unconscious Civilization by John Ralston Saul (Concord Ontario:  Anansi Press Ltd., 1995).

I would argue that the common adaptive trait that has led to the hardiness of the Mennonites and the Hutterites, as examples of adaptive units, can be described very well by Smith’s ‘sympathy for others.’

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Posted: 15 August 2009 12:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 40 ]  
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John Brand - 15 August 2009 03:08 PM

Durkheim et al disagree.  You might find Wilson’s discussion interesting in his chapter “The View from Evolutionary Biology” in Darwin’s Cathedral

I’m sure a lot of people disagree with anything I say, but are you arguing that the biological phenomenon of evolution applies to human institutions?

I looked at Wilson’s discussion to which you linked, and frankly find it far from compelling.

At page 7, Wilson says

It is important to think of heritability as a correlation between parents and offspring, caused by any mechanism.  This definition will enable us to go beyond genes in our analysis of human evolution.

Going “beyond genes in our analysis of human evolution” is to abandon an analysis of human evolution.  There are many correlations between parents and offspring – children of parents living in China who speak only Chinese are probably more likely to learn Chinese by the age of 5 than children of parents living in Oaxaca who speak only Spanish.  The capacity to learn and speak a language is undoubtedly explicable at some point by a full understanding of the evolution of the human, but beyond that the cultural distinction between speaking Chinese and Spanish has no evolutionary significance.

So after Wilson tries to redefine evolution to suit his analysis, he then really steps in it.
He quotes Darwin in a passage that you actually quoted:

John Brand - 14 August 2009 08:22 PM

I am interested in your opinion on the following statement from Darwin and the direction that it has influenced my own thinking:

“It must not be forgotten that although a high standard of morality gives but a slight advantage to each individual man and his children over the other men of the same tribe, yet that an increase in the number of well-endowed men and advancement in the standard of morality will certainly give an immense advantage to one tribe over another.  There can be no doubt that a tribe including many members who, from possessing in a high degree the spirit of patriotism, fidelity, obedience, courage, and sympathy, were always ready to aid one another, and to sacrifice themselves for the common good would be victorious over most other tribes; and this would be natural selection.  At all times throughout the world tribes have supplanted other tribes, and as morality is one important element in their success, the standard of morality and the number of well-endowed men will thus everywhere tend to rise and increase. (The Descent of Man, 1871, 166)

Wilson’s claims, at page 9, concerning this quote are extravagant.

Darwin was proposing that the three ingredients of natural selection—phenotypic variation, heritability and fitness consequences— can exist at the level of groups.

Darwin’s discussion of an attribute found in “many members” of tribe is catapulted into an assertion by Wilson that Darwin was proposing an attribute of the group.  This mirrors Wilson’s assertion that the attributes of certain birds in a flock can be called the attribute of the flock.

People are forever trying to paste biology or other “hard sciences” onto the “social sciences” in order to lend the latter some gravitas.  The problem is that this just doesn’t work.  Here, Wilson reduces evolution to three core concepts –“ phenotypic variation, heritability and fitness consequences –“ but has to redefine two of those concepts to make his theory viable.  It is bad enough to include “fitness consequences” as an independent attribute of an organization.  But to define “heritability” as change “caused by any mechanism” is to entirely strip evolution of meaning.

Change caused by random genetic mutation leading to “phenotypic variation” with an adaptive advantage is a central way of understanding biology.  It is a meaningless way of trying to understand culture, although if you have something to sell, it makes a great slogan.  Like “Whiter than White!”  Meaningless, but oddly persuasive.

For what it is worth, I am not a scientist defending turf, nor a social scientist rebelling against “mathematizing” my discipline.

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Posted: 17 August 2009 02:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 41 ]  
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teuchter - 15 August 2009 04:52 PM

I’m sure a lot of people disagree with anything I say, but are you arguing that the biological phenomenon of evolution applies to human institutions?

Yes, I am convinced that the because human institutions are created by human beings, there must be something about the biological phenomenon evolved within the human species that is being served.  Human institutions like marriage and family and human society help the species to survive.  And an important aspect of survival has to do with the mechanism within us that tell us our existence is threatened.  The limbic system is biological phenomenon but it is working with emotions that register in the brain through neurotransmitters or chemical reactions within the brain.  Emotions like fear cause an animal or a human being to either flight or flee even if the fear is only psychological.  But the fear can be managed through reinterpreting the stimulus.  This is psychological but very much wrapped up in the chemicals being created within the brain.

It is part of the adaptation of a human being to learn to trust (or not to fear) other human beings.  Part of this involves the idea of making agreements or contracts.  It helps people to feel safe and enables them to function better in a group. I am interested in the history of groups of people and how these groups succeed.  I find the evolutionary language of Durkheim and Wilson helpful in making some sense of what I have observed personally in my own history as well as what I have understood through my reading of history.

It is one of the aspects of Dennett’s Breaking the Spell that appeals to me.  Here is how Dennett begins the discussion where he weaves into his purpose the work of Durkheim and Wilson:

Every control system, whether it is an animal nervous system, a plant’s system of growth and self-repair, or an engineered artifact such as an airplane-guidance system, is designed to protect something.  And that something must include itself! …The “self-interest” that thus defines the evaluation machinery of all control systems can splinter, however, when a control system gets reflective.  Our human reflectiveness opens up a rich field of opportunities for us to revise our aims, including out largest purposes. (see page 175, Breaking the Spell

teuchter - 15 August 2009 04:52 PM

I looked at Wilson’s discussion to which you linked, and frankly find it far from compelling.

At page 7, Wilson says

It is important to think of heritability as a correlation between parents and offspring, caused by any mechanism.  This definition will enable us to go beyond genes in our analysis of human evolution.

Going “beyond genes in our analysis of human evolution” is to abandon an analysis of human evolution.

The genes are the biological source from which adaptive behavior emerges.  My quotation from Dennett above echoes Wilson when Wilson equates ‘the fitness of individuals’ with ‘their propensity to survive and reproduce in their environment.’  It is the group that enhances this fitness.  Thus, the group is a function of the biology of the individuals that make up the group.

teuchter - 15 August 2009 04:52 PM

There are many correlations between parents and offspring – children of parents living in China who speak only Chinese are probably more likely to learn Chinese by the age of 5 than children of parents living in Oaxaca who speak only Spanish.  The capacity to learn and speak a language is undoubtedly explicable at some point by a full understanding of the evolution of the human, but beyond that the cultural distinction between speaking Chinese and Spanish has no evolutionary significance.

I would agree but my reading of Wilson sees him building the case for ‘heritability as a correlation between parents and offspring, caused by any mechanism.’  You are emphasizing cultural transmission and arguing that Wilson is jumping to a generality.  I see him underlining the mechanism of cultural transmission and grounding it in the biology of the individuals who use culture as a means to the end of survival.

teuchter - 15 August 2009 04:52 PM

So after Wilson tries to redefine evolution to suit his analysis, he then really steps in it.

Wilson’s claims, at page 9, concerning this quote are extravagant.

Darwin was proposing that the three ingredients of natural selection—phenotypic variation, heritability and fitness consequences— can exist at the level of groups.

Darwin’s discussion of an attribute found in “many members” of tribe is catapulted into an assertion by Wilson that Darwin was proposing an attribute of the group.  This mirrors Wilson’s assertion that the attributes of certain birds in a flock can be called the attribute of the flock.

Both Wilson and Dennett are underlining the function of the group in fitness or adaptability:

“I can still take my task to be looking out for Number One while including, under Number One, not just myself, and not just my family, but also Islam, or Oxfam, or the Chicago Bulls!  The possibility, opened up by cultural evolution, of installing such novel perspectives I our brains is what gives our species, and only our species, the capacity for moral – and immoral – thinking” (Dennett, Breaking the Spell, 176)

teuchter - 15 August 2009 04:52 PM

People are forever trying to paste biology or other “hard sciences” onto the “social sciences” in order to lend the latter some gravitas.  The problem is that this just doesn’t work.  Here, Wilson reduces evolution to three core concepts –“ phenotypic variation, heritability and fitness consequences –“ but has to redefine two of those concepts to make his theory viable.  It is bad enough to include “fitness consequences” as an independent attribute of an organization.  But to define “heritability” as change “caused by any mechanism” is to entirely strip evolution of meaning.

The Peacock’s tail is an example of heritability evolved for purposes of access to reproductive resources (i.e. females).  One theory for the development of this tail is the choosiness of the females.  The tail is an obstacle to survival but can be explained as a function of attracting the female or the sexual function of the Peacock. 

Dennett and Dawkins are arguing that the meme is a ‘unit of cultural information’ that aids in the survival of the human species particularly as that is enhanced through participation in a group.  This has created some common ground with Durkheim, Wilson, etc. as is evidenced by the section in Breaking the Spell where Dennett incorporates the work of Wilson (pp 181-185) and Durkheim (pp 181-182).

teuchter - 15 August 2009 04:52 PM

Change caused by random genetic mutation leading to “phenotypic variation” with an adaptive advantage is a central way of understanding biology.  It is a meaningless way of trying to understand culture, although if you have something to sell, it makes a great slogan.  Like “Whiter than White!”  Meaningless, but oddly persuasive.

The view one takes may be financial motivated.  Or, it may be motivated by curiosity or the desire to explain a given phenomenon.  I am interested in what it is about religion that makes it so attractive to human beings and, in particular, why religion helps to a certain point in making a group function while at the same time working against cooperation with other groups.  Why is it that something developed to enhance survival suddenly works against the individual or the group?

teuchter - 15 August 2009 04:52 PM

For what it is worth, I am not a scientist defending turf, nor a social scientist rebelling against “mathematizing” my discipline.

I think you are taking a philosophical stand which I would call scientistic.

Scientism can work against the project I develop above in two ways:

(1)  By insisting that emotions, philosophy, culture, etc. are not phenomenon and, therefore, are irrelevant; or
(2)  By insisting that any interest in religion as a phenomenon is beyond the scope of science.

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Posted: 18 August 2009 03:47 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 42 ]  
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A great part of the enjoyment of posting to this forum is fresh perspective on ancient thought.  My conversation with yourself, Tuechter, gave me an unexpected flash of insight into the old question:  “Why cultivate virtue?” which is at the center of the Parable of the Sower but addressed in numerous ways throughout the ancients.

teuchter - 12 August 2009 09:45 PM

So, do you include “the efficient market theory” as a possible parasitic ideologies, or just some undefined form of Marxism and what Hayek calls “scientism?”

I thought of one way that EMF and dialectical materialism acts like a parasite though it most often goes undetected because of the prevalence of thinking that delimits the intentional.

I have been building a fenced enclosure for our dogs over the last couple of days.  Last night I was trying out an idea that I had in order to give the structure extra support and I was thinking about our conversation and this comment of yours from Post #40 came to mind:

teuchter - 15 August 2009 04:52 PM

Change caused by random genetic mutation leading to “phenotypic variation” with an adaptive advantage is a central way of understanding biology.  It is a meaningless way of trying to understand culture, although if you have something to sell, it makes a great slogan.  Like “Whiter than White!”  Meaningless, but oddly persuasive.

It has occurred to me before while building this or that item around the farm, that the enjoyment that I get from doing a small project would immediately disappear if I were to move from doing the project because I enjoy it to doing the project because I hope to sell it. 

In order to sell the item, as Marx has observed, there must be a demand for the product.  It may even be necessary to create a demand for my product by emphasizing its unique attributes as in the slogan ‘Whiter than White!’  If I cannot persuade a substantial number of people about the attributes of my product, I will not be able to make the time that I spend making the product worthwhile.  This is especially a problem if I must derive an income from making a product in order to pay the bills, etc. that mount as I live in a market-driven society. 

The need to make a living or to attain a degree of wealth, becomes a parasite when it erodes the enjoyment that I initially had when I first began my project.

Plato taught that virtue must be pursued for its own sake.  As soon as it is pursued in order to obtain political power (as the Sophists taught) or because of the income it will bring, a corruption in virtue follows. 

Adam Smith Theory of Moral Sentiment brings into his economic theory the one element that will keep the pursuit of wealth from becoming a parasite:  The human dimension or remembering that wealth obtained should benefit all rather than the few.

There is a great freedom in realizing that what drives the market does not have to drive our interests and pursuits:  We don’t need to sell our interests.  We can pursue them for their own sake and the enjoyment that that pursuit brings to us.

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Posted: 18 August 2009 03:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 43 ]  
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‘There is a great freedom in realizing that what drives the market does not have to drive our interests and pursuits:  We don’t need to sell our interests.  We can pursue them for their own sake and the enjoyment that that pursuit brings to us.’

Boy I sure hope so. The day that our interests must be market driven or must be ‘sold’ is the day I do not want to live anymore.

This has been a fascinating discussion by the way.

Cultural evolution, memes, sexual selection, Marxism…

This one has some good shit!

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Posted: 18 August 2009 10:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 44 ]  
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eudemonia - 18 August 2009 07:55 PM

‘There is a great freedom in realizing that what drives the market does not have to drive our interests and pursuits:  We don’t need to sell our interests.  We can pursue them for their own sake and the enjoyment that that pursuit brings to us.’

Boy I sure hope so. The day that our interests must be market driven or must be ‘sold’ is the day I do not want to live anymore.

This has been a fascinating discussion by the way.

Cultural evolution, memes, sexual selection, Marxism…

This one has some good shit!

Yes, a very interesting thread and this is a nice statement.  In Adam Smith’s time there was little understanding of how the market actually worked other than realizing that it existed.  So as with all things that seem huge and mysterious and powerful, some people worshiped it and others sought to demonize it and replace it with a top down central control.  As we begin developing some real understanding of how the “market” works, what its dynamics are, and so on, perhaps we can detach from thinking of it as some unseen power and look to ways of effectively using it as an instrument of human betterment.  I think it’s wrong in saying that biology and evolutionary theory have nothing to contribute here, but it is correct (and important) to point to the way that these tools of thought can be misused when they are constricted within some narrow ideological belief system and used, knowingly or not, to support that system rather than discover what’s actually the case.  Of course, doing this means viewing the market in the larger context of human society, including human biology and psychology.

[ Edited: 18 August 2009 10:26 PM by burt]
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Posted: 19 August 2009 05:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 45 ]  
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Shermers latest book, ‘The Mind Of The Market’ may address some of these issues. I, as of yet have not read it, but have read much about it. The connection of evolutionary biology/psychology and economics.

I’ll have to get to that one some day.

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