Bravo!
Posted: 22 May 2005 10:25 PM   [ Ignore ]  
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I just watched Sam’s Book-TV presentation for the second time and I am still reeling at his genius for clearly stating what I have been trying to get across for the last 20 years. My best attempts look like awkward fumblings compared to his cohesive and focused approach.

I will now buy his book and we really need more like him.

I’ll quibble with a few points in his Book-TV coverage of The End of Faith here. These don’t really much blemish his crystal clear message but—as usual—I feel compelled to provide feedback particularly when I’m extremely impressed.

My main problem was when he talked about how there can be no good reason for genocide. I feel Sam gets too soft on this and forgets what Nietzsche unveiled regarding the will to power.

Yes, I agree that Stalinism, Nazism, and such were irrational in similar ways that religions tend to be. Also, conveniently to his point here, these didn’t work out well as history has shown. However, can anyone doubt that the U.S. policy on genocide of the American Indians did not benefit white America?

The sad truth is that violence does provide tangible benefit in some cases. Access to natural resources and non-avenged rape insemination are two obvious benefits among simple reduction of competition. I’m all for ethics personally, however taking a truly “nature, red in tooth and claw” and thus a fully rational look at the reality of violence as a natural part of life and the benefits that can arise from it, I fear might be blinding Sam to how the justifications of religion have worked with evolutionary benefit in the past. Perhaps he covers this in his book and I look forward to finding out.

Many other examples could be used here. Who can doubt that the “kiss the cross or die” approach of many early Christian movements did, actually, vastly aid in the spread of the religion?

As scientists, we must be willing to see what actually works even when it is very ugly. That, of course, doesn’t mean that we should or would then choose to support such behaviors, but nature is not pretty nor ethical it seems and assuming it to be so it a big mistake I think.

Indeed, the big issue for me is that irrationality must have a strong purpose else it would not be so prevalent.

What this purpose is (or has been) interests me now much more than attempting to change these deeply entrenched ideas. As Sam pointed-out in this presentation, he doubts that anything he is saying will do much good. However, I did really like his main point regarding the benefit of intelligent intolerance and I’m sure that this alone will make his work worth reading.

Thanks, Sam, for your excellent mind and your personal contribution to the memes of rationality.

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Posted: 22 May 2005 11:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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You raise a very valid point here. While most of us (on this site) think that organised religion is a destructive force, can we really argue that in a world with no religion, man’s inhumanity to man would come to an end?

Probably not, in my view. Man would just invent some other basis on which to differentiate ‘us’ from ‘them’ and thereby justify the wholesale slaughter of ‘them’. Whether it is race, political allegiance, rich/poor, whatever, it’s deeply genetically programmed.

The US, a nominally secular country, is busy marauding around the middle east today, invading other countries and killing lots of people, on the fairly flimsy basis that arabs might be dangerous to the ‘homeland’. It’s easy to see that this policy has a lot to do with the genetically-inhereted instincts of one man.

Even in Europe, still the pinnacle of human civilization, mankind has not overcome its thirst for genocide. As we speak, our brothers in Northern Ireland, the Basque country, Serbia, Ukraine and Uzbekistan would unleash genocidal attacks if they thought they would get away with it.

Such is the nature of our species. Instinct and emotion are much more powerful than reason.

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Posted: 22 May 2005 11:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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[quote author=“Nietzsche”]...

Probably not, in my view. Man would just invent some other basis on which to differentiate ‘us’ from ‘them’ and thereby justify the wholesale slaughter of ‘them’. ...

Exactly.

For many years I tried to do what Sam seems to be trying to do in terms of convincing others that rationality is better than irrationality.

However, I gave that up about 10 years ago and started focusing on WHY irrationality is so popular. My first main theory was the common one regarding fear of death and the unknown and how religion seems to help answer these existential questions and, thus, help people overcome fear.

More recently, I’ve come to think that it has to do more with escaping empathy and, thus, being able to justify not only killing but stealing, seeming to win arguments with, bullying, and such other people and thus gaining very tangible advantages in many cases.

With the ability to empathize comes the possibility of feeling pain when pulling the trigger while looking into the eyes of someone you are trying to steal from. Calling them “pagan” and convincing yourself you are doing them a favor by killing them allows for the act to be done less painfully; at least in potential.

Back directly on topic, Sam talked a lot about the 9/11 event being based on irrationality. But how do we really know this? Could it be that the actual result might be the further consolidation of the peoples and memes of Islam? In other words, even if what was going through the mind of the people who slammed into the WTC was wanting the 72 virgins on the outer layer, perhaps underneath the violent approach which worked well for Mohammed (as both religious leader and warrior) to spread his word is still doing what is has been and WORKING well in doing so.

Until such possibilities are seriously examined, I think that-regardless of how intelligently presented-this entire discussion is just too shallow to bear much real fruit.

Still, anything that fightings the memes of political correctness which is damaging the ability to RELATE at all is a good thing on that merit alone.

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Posted: 23 May 2005 12:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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Sam makes it clear, though, that he believes that modern mega-weapons (nukes, bio, etc.) have changed the rules.

Prior to these things, killing, genocide, rape, etc. were viable strategies (which is not to say that they were right, but the consequences to escalating violence in the modern world are too severe.

Even if one throws empathy and ethics out the window, and imagines a perfectly amoral rationalistic desire for self preservation, open genocide makes very little sense.  Open genocide encourages an armed and desperate response, in which the threatened group feels that the stakes are higher, which allows for asymetrical consideration of options.

Let’s be clear about something, though, it is highly unlikely that anyone is going to come along and tell us if we got it right or not.  The question is what sort of world do we want to live in?  I want to live in a world where people are free, and where people don’t going around killing each other on purpose.  I realize that most people think they want the same thing, but the methodology by which to achieve such a goal is a point of contention.  Sadly, some people are willing to kill people who don’t agree with their plans to bring about freedom and end killing.

-Matt

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Posted: 23 May 2005 12:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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[quote author=“psiconoclast”] Sam makes it clear, though, that he believes that modern mega-weapons (nukes, bio, etc.) have changed the rules.

Or, on the contrary, the rules could apply all that much more. If they do get a few nukes smuggled over and hit NYC and a few other cities you can believe that that would hurt the US economy so badly that it would, at least to some extent, bolster those who weren’t hurt.

If anything, what MIGHT change this dynamic is globalization insofar as nuking your own customers is rarely a good way to sell more goods.

[quote author=“psiconoclast”]
Prior to these things, killing, genocide, rape, etc. were viable strategies (which is not to say that they were right, but the consequences to escalating violence in the modern world are too severe.

Even if one throws empathy and ethics out the window, and imagines a perfectly amoral rationalistic desire for self preservation, open genocide makes very little sense.  Open genocide encourages an armed and desperate response, in which the threatened group feels that the stakes are higher, which allows for asymetrical consideration of options.

Well, the suicide bombings aren’t very “open” are they. That is the entire point of terrorism: you can get benefits from killing without retaliation if you do it right. Whereas, if some political body with an address like N. Korea tried to nuke anything, then, yes, they’d simply be nuked to glass.

Terrorism allows the sort of anonymity that could make retaliation very difficult. Again, the U.S. DID practice open genocide on the native Americans and it worked out great becase we GOT AWAY WITH IT.

[quote author=“psiconoclast”]
... The question is what sort of world do we want to live in?  I want to live in a world where people are free, and where people don’t going around killing each other on purpose.  I realize that most people think they want the same thing, but the methodology by which to achieve such a goal is a point of contention.  Sadly, some people are willing to kill people who don’t agree with their plans to bring about freedom and end killing.

-Matt


Not only do people claim to want the same thing, they justify violence ALL THE TIME with such justifications.

That is sort of my main point here. It sounds fine to say, “I want to live in a world with no violence” but the fact is that we DO live in a world that includes violence and the only real choice is how it will unfold. Violence is part of the natural state of nature and, since we are animals of course, we can’t just decide not to be.

On the other had, to whatever extent it becomes evolutionarily and resources-wise expedient to cooperate and trade instead of kill, then, for the same reason, we seem to be fairly capable of suppressing a large part of the violent nature so we can reap the benefits of being less violent.

That is my hope: not rationality but commerce might save the day.

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Posted: 23 May 2005 01:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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Commerce is an intrinsically rational endeavor.

And I disagree with your assesment about how well the virtual genocide of the Native American worked out for America.  Until we prove it, we really don’t know, do we?  There is every evidence that peacful co-habitation of this land would have been possible with many of the native inhabitants.  Perhaps America would be better off if it had not engaged in such slaughter.

Consider:  One might argue that the Native Americans were technologically primitive compared to the European settlers, but the Native Americans had many positive traits.  A less violent past might have lead to a synthesis of the better aspects of both cultures.

[quote author=“akberner”]Or, on the contrary, the rules could apply all that much more. If they do get a few nukes smuggled over and hit NYC and a few other cities you can believe that that would hurt the US economy so badly that it would, at least to some extent, bolster those who weren’t hurt.

I’m not sure how a damaged US economy would bolster anyone in the US.

Well, the suicide bombings aren’t very “open” are they. That is the entire point of terrorism: you can get benefits from killing without retaliation if you do it right. Whereas, if some political body with an address like N. Korea tried to nuke anything, then, yes, they’d simply be nuked to glass.

Suicide bombings are not genocidal in nature.  That said, I would hardly hold up the average muslim as an example of a perfectly amoral rationalist. . .

That is sort of my main point here. It sounds fine to say, “I want to live in a world with no violence” but the fact is that we DO live in a world that includes violence and the only real choice is how it will unfold. Violence is part of the natural state of nature and, since we are animals of course, we can’t just decide not to be.

We can’t?  Prove it.  Most people in the modern world suppress all sorts of “animal” instincts.  What’s a few more?

-Matt

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Posted: 23 May 2005 01:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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[quote author=“psiconoclast”] Commerce is an intrinsically rational endeavor.

Tell that to all of the religious fanatics that participate in it. Commerce requires some rationality, but it is obviously highly compatible with totally irrational beliefs.
[quote author=“psiconoclast”]
And I disagree with your assesment about how well the virtual genocide of the Native American worked out for America.  Until we prove it, we really don’t know, do we?  There is every evidence that peacful co-habitation of this land would have been possible with many of the native inhabitants.  Perhaps America would be better off if it had not engaged in such slaughter.

Consider:  One might argue that the Native Americans were technologically primitive compared to the European settlers, but the Native Americans had many positive traits.  A less violent past might have lead to a synthesis of the better aspects of both cultures.

Speaking of proof, nothing can be proved; I’m talking about control of resources in general. It is also possible that you’d be better off if I broke into your place and stole all of your stuff. Heck, you might even realize that materialism isn’t important to you. Anything is possible. The fact is we DID benefit from the resources, land, and total control of the U.S. due to genocide. And, even if in some cases it would not have paid off, the fact that is CAN pay off is my point here and I just used one example of how genocide isn’t necessarily “irrational”.

[quote author=“psiconoclast”]
I’m not sure how a damaged US economy would bolster anyone in the US.

 

When it comes to the “war of ideas” between Islam and Christianity, if we lost 10 cities to anonymous nuke suicide bombers and took 15 years for our economy to recover, that could obviously open-up opportunities to others to strengthen themselves in the mean while.

That is the most likely result I’d think. If you and I were going for the same job position and I poisoned you which took you out of the running for 6 months, that would improve my chance of getting the job wouldn’t in? So long as I got away with it.

[quote author=“psiconoclast”]
We can’t?  Prove it.  Most people in the modern world suppress all sorts of “animal” instincts.  What’s a few more?

-Matt

I think you put far too much weight on the idea of “proof”. You cannot prove a single thing, nor can anyone. I’m ruminating about and expositing on the theme of how the will to power is not well covered in what I’ve seen of Sam’s work. That is the point, not debating how many angels can fit on the head of a pin.

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Posted: 23 May 2005 01:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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RE: the last point. If you want EVIDENCE of how well mankind has done on being non-violent, you might want to try Googling “war” “murder” or just about anything else and count the hits. That might be a good place to start if you are interested in the topic.

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Posted: 23 May 2005 02:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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There are many examples of human societies where peace has broken out for whole lifetimes. The latter half of the 20th century in Europe was a good example, until the Balkans had to go and spoil the party. However, in historical terms, this is a blip on the war radar. Most societies in history were either at war, recovering from war or preparing for the next war.

Those are the historical facts. But that’s not to say that we can’t aspire to peace, and it is surely true that a rational, secular society is the way to ensure that it lasts. But only if that society also gives up the idea of imposing its will on others. Sweden, for example, is such a society. The US is not, because it is abundantly clear that US society has not yet matured sufficiently to resist the temptation to attack others periodically, as if to prove its manliness to the world. Most arab countries are nowhere close either, but that’s not an excuse for the US to behave the way it does.

So, I don’t think that these ancient traits are insurmountable, but it’s a long, slow grind. Two steps forward, one and a half back. Every now and then, a great leap backwards. The onward slowly again.  We all have a responsibility to keep our species on this path and to point out to the less mature members the error of their ways.

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Posted: 23 May 2005 10:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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[quote author=“psiconoclast”]Suicide bombings are not genocidal in nature.  That said, I would hardly hold up the average muslim as an example of a perfectly amoral rationalist. . .

I should point out that genocide, under the legal definition supplied by the Genocide Convention, isn’t fundamentally about a body count. It’s about intent. Under Article 2, genocide is “any of the following acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

So, under international law, there is a distinction between warfare and genocide, even between mass murder and genocide.

Terrorist acts carried out with the intent (not necessarily the effect) of eliminating a whole group of people on the basis of their identity are genocidal, by definition, even if they kill only one person.

Most modern terrorism of Muslim origins counts, if one bothers to read their self-published justifications.

This isn’t to level a defense for mass murder or any particular war effort, merely to point out that those are different categories and should be discussed as such, IMO.

Does genocide achieve tangible goals? Historically, most genocidal movements have had intangible goals, which is one of the things that makes them so dangerous, especially when the genocide is the goal in and of itself. In the short term, it probably does carry some tangible benefits for its perpetrators—particularly if they hold state power (which isn’t a necessary condition of the definition of genocide)—but in the long term, I think it has proven self-defeating.

Mass murder is a different case. I’d classify U.S. treatment of Native Americans during the westward expansion as mass murder and unjust war, but not genocide, at least in most cases. It was government policy to subjugate Indians and seize their territory, but not to eliminate Indians because they were Indians. It was not a crime merely to be an Indian. Although the U.S. government committed most of the actions described by the Convention above, those actions were not carried out as part of an effort to erase Indians from existence.

But again, there’s a caveat: prior treatment of groups like Indians under U.S. law and Armenians by the Ottomon Turks during WW1 informed the language of the Genocide Convention, which wasn’t written until 1947. So, modern states have resisted the attempt to grandfather them into its strictures—notably, Turkey is still wrangling with the descendents of Armenians who survived the genocides of the First World War; though, to my knowledge, no one has attempted to bring the U.S. up on charges with regard to the Indians.

Thus, the Indian question remains, at least legally, an open one.

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Posted: 23 May 2005 10:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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Again, my focus wan’t meant to be on definitions nor the possibility of becoming less violent.

My point was along the lines of analying the entire issue of Sam’s book less in terms of abstract ethics and more in terms of tangible results.

Specifically, the question I have in mind is, “how has religious thought helped races, cultures, or groups of humans to increase in power, wealth, biomass, and influence”. The idea is that it is unlikely that something that 95%+ of the world population is VERY involved with would exist if it didn’t provide substantial benefits of some sort.

Will to Power is about a lot more than action though. It is mostly about how my perception and values lead me toward or away from life and living.

If I can gain “mindshare” aka memes that benefit my group by flying an airplane into a building, perhaps it is not so irrational EVEN IF irrational ideas are being acted upon during the actual commission of the behavior.

Is Islam being more or less talked about post 9/11 globally? Did it serve to strengthen or weaken those groups who support it? I think the first question is obvious and the second highly debatable.

If the results of an irrational action gives substantial benefits then it becomes a bit strange to focus on the irrationality and critique it. That is really my point.

Sam, it seems to me, is caught in the idea that ethics are “good” just because he posits them to be so. If he wants to gain the truth, he must step back and ask himself WHY things are the way they are in addition to his excellent analysis of the dangers involved in them remaining that way.

Seems like half the story to me, and the important questions remain not only unanswered but unaddressed: that is my feedback.

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Posted: 23 May 2005 09:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
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[quote author=“global village idiot”]
Mass murder is a different case. I’d classify U.S. treatment of Native Americans during the westward expansion as mass murder and unjust war, but not genocide, at least in most cases. It was government policy to subjugate Indians and seize their territory, but not to eliminate Indians because they were Indians.

I suspect that your semantic subtlety was lost on the Native American who were slaughtered.  “I’m not killing you specifically because you’re an Indian, but I’m going to kill you anyway”. You can dance around the definition all you like, but it’s still the anihilation of a whole race of people.

In any case, the definitions in the Genocide Convention were written by politicians who had a vested interest in crafting the definitions in such a way as to excuse their own country’s atrocities.

The US was founded on genocide. It’s an historical fact. Deal with it.

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Posted: 24 May 2005 08:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
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[quote author=“Anonymous”]I suspect that your semantic subtlety was lost on the Native American who were slaughtered.  “I’m not killing you specifically because you’re an Indian, but I’m going to kill you anyway”. You can dance around the definition all you like, but it’s still the anihilation of a whole race of people.

In any case, the definitions in the Genocide Convention were written by politicians who had a vested interest in crafting the definitions in such a way as to excuse their own country’s atrocities.

The US was founded on genocide. It’s an historical fact. Deal with it.

I see. So, all crimes are equivalent, then? What sort of standard is that for determining justice?

I, for one, would not be opposed to First Nations reps bringing a claim of genocide against the U.S. govt. I think they would lose their case, but it would nonetheless bring needed attention to the plight of Indians today who are still getting a raw deal from the government.

And no, the Genocide Convention was not “written by politicians who had a vested interest in crafting the definitions in such a way as to excuse their own country’s atrocities.” It was written by one man—Raphael Lemkin—who along with his allies fought long and hard to get the thing ratified by the UN and member countries, without changing the definition at all. He was ultimately successful.

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Posted: 24 May 2005 09:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]  
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GVI:

Point well taken with regard to definitions.  Suicide bombers certainly have a genocidal motive.

I still stand by my notion that the average suicide bomber is not a sterling example of an amoral rationalist though.

-Matt

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