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Government: Who Needs It?
Posted: 07 January 2007 04:13 PM   [ Ignore ]
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I think the Center for Inquiry has been sorely lacking in it’s examination of the superstition of the State. So, I’d like to ask anyone here, including representatives of the Center, some questions about the following irrational and logically contradictory beliefs:

Why do we believe that an agency which is predicated on the aggressive use of violence, will help us to be less violent, as a society?

Why do we believe that the ballot box has the magical power to transform a being that is susceptible to the corruption of coercive power, into a being that is impervious to it?

Why do we believe that an institution that holds a territorial monopoly on the use of physical force will be ultimately responsive to the entreaties of the powerless?

Why do we, on the one hand, believe that human beings would devolve into chaos and destruction without the crushing hand of a government over them, but simultaneously think it a good idea to put massive tools of destruction into the hands of these same chaotic human beings?

If we believe our ideas are logical and rational, and we believe that human beings have both the capacity, and the desire to be logical and rational, then why do we insist on using political force, which is fundamentally irrational, to propagate our ideas?

Any help resolving this dilemma would be greatly appreciated!

Thanks,
Greg.

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Posted: 07 January 2007 04:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Re: Government: Who Needs It?

Firstly, welcome, Greg.

[quote author=“gmgauthi”]Why do we believe that an agency which is predicated on the aggressive use of violence, will help us to be less violent, as a society?

How do you mean? Governments do many things; only a very few of them are violent. For example, they pave roads, put out fires, arrest robbers, rapists and murderers, plow the snow, bring water and power, care for the indigent, regulate medicine and schooling, provide for elder care, support basic scientific research, provide education for the poor, provide public transportation, et cetera.

Without centralized power, who would do these things? Not the wealthy. Not any more than they needed to get them to bed at night.

[quote author=“gmgauthi”]Why do we believe that the ballot box has the magical power to transform a being that is susceptible to the corruption of coercive power, into a being that is impervious to it?

I don’t know of anyone who has such a belief. If you look at the history of the founders of the US government (to take but one example) they expected their elected officials to be susceptible to corruption and coercion. That is why they separated the powers into competing groups, which could keep an eye on one another.

It is also why freedom of speech and of the press is so vitally important: to allow the investigation into corruption and the dissemination of such information.

[quote author=“gmgauthi”]Why do we believe that an institution that holds a territorial monopoly on the use of physical force will be ultimately responsive to the entreaties of the powerless?

Who else will do it? By hypothesis, the powerless cannot do so themselves. (They are powerless).

[quote author=“gmgauthi”]Why do we, on the one hand, believe that human beings would devolve into chaos and destruction without the crushing hand of a government over them, but simultaneously think it a good idea to put massive tools of destruction into the hands of these same chaotic human beings?

We believe that humans without the power of government would devolve into chaos, because we have witnessed it happening on innumerable occasions, not least of which is the infamous “Wild West”, or Russia after the fall of communism. When governments collapse or become impotent, people become dangerous. The powerful people in society do not require governments for their happiness: without government interference, they can get what they desire much more easily. Without laws to bind them, they can do what they will. Where government power is weak, oligarchies flourish.

To say this is not to claim that governments are anything other than extremely flawed. In Churchill’s famous phrase, Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the alternatives.

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Posted: 07 January 2007 05:53 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Re: Government: Who Needs It?

[quote author=“dougsmith”]How do you mean? Governments do many things; only a very few of them are violent. For example, they pave roads, put out fires, arrest robbers, rapists and murderers, plow the snow, bring water and power, care for the indigent, regulate medicine and schooling, provide for elder care, support basic scientific research, provide education for the poor, provide public transportation, et cetera.

But, do governments actually do these things, or do people do them? Last I checked, my local government generally contracts these functions out. All they really do, is get to pick which contractors receive the tax money taken from me by way of a threat.

[quote author=“dougsmith”]Without centralized power, who would do these things? Not the wealthy. Not any more than they needed to get them to bed at night.

Are you suggesting here, that without being forced to do so, that nobody would be interested in offering these services? If that’s the case - that we need a coercive central agency to provide us with the most important essentials in life - then why don’t we turn over the housing, food, and clothing industries to the government? Surely, if only the government is interested and competent enough to provide power and water, then we would want them handling housing and food, too - wouldn’t we?

[quote author=“dougsmith”]If you look at the history of the founders of the US government (to take but one example) they expected their elected officials to be susceptible to corruption and coercion. That is why they separated the powers into competing groups, which could keep an eye on one another.

It is also why freedom of speech and of the press is so vitally important: to allow the investigation into corruption and the dissemination of such information.

It’s also interesting to note, when you look closely at that history, just how quickly that supposed “checks and balances” system broke down. From nearly the very beginning, the Federal Government has been deciding for itself just exactly what the laws do and don’t mean. How can we expect a government that is supposed to be limited by the language of its laws, to remain limited when it presumes the sole privilege to determine what those words mean? [quote author=“Joe Sobran”]...the question, of course, was whether the national government could actually be confined to its enumerated powers. And here is where the Anti-Federalists, often ridiculed by their opponents, have been vindicated by history… As Jefferson warned in the Kentucky Resolutions of 1798, it as become the sole and final judge of the extent of its own powers. And it has used this prerogative to enlarge those powers to monstrous dimensions…. Hamilton himself was one of those who immediately set to work expanding the national government’s power beyond the narrow limits specified in the text of the Constitution; in arguing for the creation of a national bank, he appealed to the “necessary and proper” clause whose vauge latitude had alarmed the Anti-Federalists…

[quote author=“dougsmith”]Who else will do it? By hypothesis, the powerless cannot do so themselves. (They are powerless).

Perhaps the powerless are powerless, because their is a government. For instance, what is stopping some entrepreneur from working out a deal with private land owners, to lease land from them, so that he can lay pavement for a private toll road? Government - at multiple levels.

[quote author=“dougsmith”]When governments collapse or become impotent, people become dangerous.

Ok, let’s deal with this first. If the government in your state shut down tomorrow, would you run across the street and hack your neighbor to death with a machete for his BMW? Do you fear that is what he would do to you? Or, is it more likely, that the two of you would continue to go about your daily lives whether or not the state house was open?

[quote author=“dougsmith”]The powerful people in society do not require governments for their happiness: without government interference, they can get what they desire much more easily. Without laws to bind them, they can do what they will. Where government power is weak, oligarchies flourish.

If you look carefully, I think you will find that exactly the opposite is true. First, powerful (in the sense of coercive power) people ARE powerful, because they have access to government. You and I have no such access. The powerful get what they want, precisely as a result of government interference. What’s more, where’s the incentive for the powerful in government to do anything for the powerless? Instead, the incentive for them is to manipulate and intimidate the powerless, for their own ends.

[quote author=“dougsmith”]To say this is not to claim that governments are anything other than extremely flawed. In Churchill’s famous phrase, Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the alternatives.

Why base a civil society on anything so horribly flawed? If most human beings are basically chaotic and evil, then no government could ever be expected to end up as anything but evil. If most human beings are basically good, then no government could be expected to be anything but unjust.

To paraphrase Dawkins: it takes no special effort to get evil people to do evil things, or to get good people to do good things, but to get good people to do evil things, it takes a government.

It is a horrible myth to believe that you can put a loaded gun in a room full of people, and expect that only the good people are going to want to take hold of it. Indeed, weapons generally attract bad people, so why would the rest of us good people EVER want to leave a big gigantic gun like the state lying around, just to attract an entire gaggle of bad folks?

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Posted: 07 January 2007 06:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Re: Government: Who Needs It?

[quote author=“gmgauthi”]Why do we believe that an agency which is predicated on the aggressive use of violence, will help us to be less violent, as a society?

Humans have little or no capacity for self-control. Without governance chaos would prevail with all its associated violence. The state provides the control necessary to keep the populace in control and safe. It should be obvious
[quote author=“gmgauthi”]Why do we believe that the ballot box has the magical power to transform a being that is susceptible to the corruption of coercive power, into a being that is impervious to it?

It’s not magic! The best, most intelligent of us is selected for office by vote. Why would anyone vote for someone if that person was not qualified? That’s kind of silly.
[quote author=“gmgauthi”]Why do we believe that an institution that holds a territorial monopoly on the use of physical force will be ultimately responsive to the entreaties of the powerless?

We elect them for their responsiveness. If our politicians aren’t responsive, we elect ones who are. Simple.
[quote author=“gmgauthi”]Why do we, on the one hand, believe that human beings would devolve into chaos and destruction without the crushing hand of a government over them, but simultaneously think it a good idea to put massive tools of destruction into the hands of these same chaotic human beings?

Simple! We don’t elect politicians who have a violent nature. If they had a violent nature, no one would vote for them.
[quote author=“gmgauthi”]If we believe our ideas are logical and rational, and we believe that human beings have both the capacity, and the desire to be logical and rational, then why do we insist on using political force, which is fundamentally irrational, to propagate our ideas?

We require force to ensure that the violent ones are kept under control. Without force our country would be like a prison without guards.

I hope this helps

dominick

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Posted: 08 January 2007 01:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Re: Government: Who Needs It?

OK, I’ve discussed some of this elsewhere ... but a few points:

[quote author=“gmgauthi”]But, do governments actually do these things, or do people do them? Last I checked, my local government generally contracts these functions out. All they really do, is get to pick which contractors receive the tax money taken from me by way of a threat.

Now, it’s not fair to distinguish “governments” doing something from “people” doing it. As though we could say that all the good things were done by “people” and all the bad ones done by “government”. A government just is constituted by people, so whenever a government does something (good or bad) it is done by people.

And the government does not, standardly, work through contractors. It is the Bush administration that wants government to work through private contractors, because they are able to better profit from government work and hence funnel more money back to the GOP.

[quote author=“gmgauthi”]Are you suggesting here, that without being forced to do so, that nobody would be interested in offering these services?

Exactly so. Many of them are not profitable (e.g., basic research, building roads, helping the poor). Regulating industry is not profitable either. Nor is prosecuting rapists.

Let’s face it: there are many societally useful things that need to be done, but that are not profitable to do. Without a central organization to take care of such things, they will not get done.

[quote author=“gmgauthi”][W]hy don’t we turn over the housing, food, and clothing industries to the government? Surely, if only the government is interested and competent enough to provide power and water, then we would want them handling housing and food, too - wouldn’t we?

Er, housing, food and clothing are profitable industries, so don’t need to be handled by government—although some housing and food is under government control: that of housing and feeding the poor and indigent. And indeed, more of that needs to be done.

Further, all these industries need to be regulated by a centralized authority with the power to enforce its regulations. Food safety needs to be regulated. Housing construction needs to be regulated. The industries that profit from selling food and housing are not going to self-regulate in any competent sense.

[quote author=“gmgauthi”]From nearly the very beginning, the Federal Government has been deciding for itself just exactly what the laws do and don’t mean. How can we expect a government that is supposed to be limited by the language of its laws, to remain limited when it presumes the sole privilege to determine what those words mean?

One branch of government (the judiciary) decides what the laws passed by another branch (the legislature) mean, and how to enforce them, and even if they are consistent with the Constitution and other laws. I see no vicious circularity here, or at least nothing more than could be expected from any competing form of human interaction.

[quote author=“gmgauthi”]Perhaps the powerless are powerless, because their is a government. For instance, what is stopping some entrepreneur from working out a deal with private land owners, to lease land from them, so that he can lay pavement for a private toll road? Government - at multiple levels.

Er, how is a private entrepreneur going to profit by helping the poor and indigent?

And are we to then expect all our roads and streets to be toll roads? Surely that is much less efficient than the system we already have in place.

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Posted: 08 January 2007 08:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Gm, Doug has done an excellent job of responding to your specific questions, however, the core of your posts seems to indicate that your problem is with abstraction levels.  Government and people are just different levels of abstraction. 

People form organizations to work together cooperatively because it’s more efficient.  Government is just one more organization formed for the benefit of the citizens of the society.

Occam

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Posted: 09 January 2007 02:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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[quote author=“Occam”]Gm, Doug has done an excellent job of responding to your specific questions, however, the core of your posts seems to indicate that your problem is with abstraction levels.  Government and people are just different levels of abstraction. 

People form organizations to work together cooperatively because it’s more efficient.  Government is just one more organization formed for the benefit of the citizens of the society.

Occam

Occam -
Unless I misunderstand, I found this a fascinating position - can you elaborate? It strikes me that people exist in reality, yet governments do not. That is to say, the abstraction in the comparison is the latter in the same way that “forest” is an aggregated abstraction of “tree”. I’ve always considered it a human construct devoid of any meaning in empirical analysis.

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Posted: 09 January 2007 03:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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It strikes me that people exist in reality, yet governments do not. That is to say, the abstraction in the comparison is the latter in the same way that “forest” is an aggregated abstraction of “tree”. I’ve always considered it a human construct devoid of any meaning in empirical analysis.

I won’t presume to speak for Occam, so I hope I’m not violating etiquette here, but I did want to respond to the idea of some levels of abstraction, such as “forest” or “government” having no real existence but, presumably, just being a collection of constituent parts (trees or people, respectively). As a biologist, I am certain a forest exists as an distinct phenomenon with properties very different from its components, and amenable to empirical study in its own right. Of course, that was just a convenient analogy, but I believe the same logic applies to organizations made up of people interacting within a defined rule structure, hierarchy, etc. Governments have independant characteristics that emerge from these interactions. People in groups, especially highly structred groups with defined codes of behavior, act very differently from individuals. Governments can be studied and compared, they can be modified in their structure and the effect of these changes examined. Though not biological organisms, nor, I believe, conscious entities, governments have a real existence not just as a rhetorical construct but as active agents in the world.

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Posted: 09 January 2007 03:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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[quote author=“mckenzievmd”]

It strikes me that people exist in reality, yet governments do not. That is to say, the abstraction in the comparison is the latter in the same way that “forest” is an aggregated abstraction of “tree”. I’ve always considered it a human construct devoid of any meaning in empirical analysis.

I won’t presume to speak for Occam, so I hope I’m not violating etiquette here, but I did want to respond to the idea of some levels of abstraction, such as “forest” or “government” having no real existence but, presumably, just being a collection of constituent parts (trees or people, respectively). As a biologist, I am certain a forest exists as an distinct phenomenon with properties very different from its components, and amenable to empirical study in its own right. Of course, that was just a convenient analogy, but I believe the same logic applies to organizations made up of people interacting within a defined rule structure, hierarchy, etc. Governments have independant characteristics that emerge from these interactions. People in groups, especially highly structred groups with defined codes of behavior, act very differently from individuals. Governments can be studied and compared, they can be modified in their structure and the effect of these changes examined. Though not biological organisms, nor, I believe, conscious entities, governments have a real existence not just as a rhetorical construct but as active agents in the world.

Can you help me understand? In a forest, the fundamental nature of the tree is still a tree. A forest ecosystem is multiple instances of individual organisms existing in an arbitrary geographical area. In society, the fundamental nature of a person does not change when he enters an elevator with another person (i.e. he retains the same number of molecules, etc.) Another example of a highly structured environment is the workplace. The fundamental nature of a human does not change when the punches the clock. When I arrive at work, I am certainly no more or less (race, intelligence, class, morality, etc.) of a human than when I punch out.  Human behavior changes in reaction to local stimuli in both voluntary and non-voluntary ways each moment of one’s life. I don’t understand how voluntarily organization plays a role fundamentally different than… walking into a grocery store, for example.  I would like to better understand your theory. Does it assert that one’s physical properties or moral nature somehow changes within voluntary organizations? If so, how? Sorry for my confusion!

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Posted: 09 January 2007 05:43 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Re: Government: Who Needs It?

gmgauth said: I think the Center for Inquiry has been sorely lacking in it’s examination of the superstition of the State. So, I’d like to ask anyone here, including representatives of the Center, some questions about the following irrational and logically contradictory beliefs:

Greg:

I am afraid you are not gonna get anyone at CFI (including Doug and the bloggers here) to give you a fulfilling response to your questions because the most progressive of all the CFI folks (or at least, 99% of them) are social democrats and New Dealers.  Unlike anthropologist Harold Barclay, they’ve never asked if the state (or any centralized government) is NOT inevitable or necessary… and when they have, they’ve laughed off the anarchist ideology. 

I think this is for many reasons, not the least of which is that CFI itself is not a democratic organization, but an authoritarian oligarchy. 

Also, CFI is invested in making money (even as a “non-profit”), not so that it can build a grassroots humanist or atheist or rationalist movement, never mind be a part of the solution of making the world a better place, but so it can build more centers, and attract more media and donors and magazine buyers so that in the end, it can, well, build more centers! 

Ask yourself, what is CFI passionate about and how do they plan to see that passion come to fruition?  They are passionate about science, but so are many scientists, science advocacy groups, universities, etc.  They are passionate about critical thinking, but is that a front job for an organization?  It is something you can build a movement on?  They are passionate about atheism, but that is just the negation of theism and supernaturalism and also not something to base a movement on.  If anyone thinks an atheist movement is a good thing, I’d have to believe they were pretty misanthropic people. 

Try to look deep into CFI and ask yourself, what is it doing to make society better?  See, THAT is what a movement seeks to do ... Present ideas and actions which can get people out of bad lives!  Teaching them that God does not exist is, well, just silly in comparison.

See, CFI asks questions like, Does God Exist? or Does ESP exist? or Why do people believe stupid things like aromatherapy or angels? or Why do so many Americans hate atheists? or What can we do to eliminate religion from the planet?

The questions that SHOULD be asked are, Why is there religion in the first place and how can believers and non believers work together toward a better world? or What is Human Nature and how can we build societies based on what we know of what kind of creatures we are? or Why do so many people think human nature is Hobbesian? or Why are there so many wars and poor people, and what can we do about it? or What needs to be done to save the environment? or Why naturalism is what we should be advocating for and not atheism? or What sort of economy would lead to a humanistic society? or What form of governance is the most humanistic?

Or questions like yours. 

Two of the most non-humanistic ideas we humans ever had are the State and Capitalism (along with Feudalism and Stalinism/Maoism of the past), and yet not only does CFI not see this as a KEY obstacle to a future humanistic society, they think it is mad to even talk about such things AS part of the central meaning of humanists! 

Humanism, to CFI, is about science vs. religion ... It all boils down to that.  But humanism is REALLY about using science and reason to create a more egalitarian, socially just world ... A world where poverty, war, most violence, racism, fear and undemocratic means come to a definitive end. 

Without dealing with the elephant(s) in the room, the real obstacles in the way of creating a planetary humanism (as Kurtz says he is in favor of) - war, capitalism, dominance hierarchies, and the lack of a real inclusive democracy ANYWHERE (what we have in America is a hierarchal, elitist democracy), CFI instead focuses on the sideshows of religion and pseudoscience, and hides behind the methodology of science without ever appling naturalism to the real world.  Hell, CFI won’t even admit that you can’t be a naturalist and accept counter-causal free will! 

Good luck, Greg, looking for CFI to pull their scientific, atheistic, semi-naturalistic, skeptic-minded ingredients together to bake a humanist cake.. the kind which would really be relevant to the world we live in and which can begin to move us in the right direction” there simply is no money, power or prestige in doing real humanist work.

CFI would rather pretend they are radical (because they are atheists?), and pretend they are radicalizing the world.  But CFI is really traditional.  It is supportive of all the things (except supernaturalism) which fit the conservative (or sometimes New Deal Liberal) country we live in.  Even the solo self-identifying anarchist at CFI thinks humanism has nothing to do with politics, economics or society… just critical thinking and atheism. 

Humanism was radical during the Enlightenment, but that was over 125 years ago.  Humanism needs to be radical again!  Who will take that challenge?

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Posted: 10 January 2007 04:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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In a forest, the fundamental nature of the tree is still a tree. A forest ecosystem is multiple instances of individual organisms existing in an arbitrary geographical area. In society, the fundamental nature of a person does not change when he enters an elevator with another person (i.e. he retains the same number of molecules, etc.) .... I don’t understand how voluntarily organization plays a role fundamentally different than… walking into a grocery store, for example. I would like to better understand your theory. Does it assert that one’s physical properties or moral nature somehow changes within voluntary organizations?

Certainly some physical properties do change in association with others. Many trees cannot thrive or reproduce, some cannot even live very long, in isolation. Chemical messengers are exchanged which stimulate metabolic activities that would not otherwise occur, microclimates are created by the aggregation which are necessary for individuals at some stage in the life cycle. A bark beetle attacks one tree and chemical meesengers are released which stimulate others to produce protective chemical they would not have otherwise made. A forest is not just a bunch of tress living separate lives near each other, because the interactions do fundamentally alter significant characteristics (physical, obviously, since it is nearly meaningless to talk about behavioral characteristics of trees).

I think much the same sorts of things happen among people, in terms of physical interactions. The old, but still poorly understood, phenomenon of women synchronising their menstrual cycles when they live together is an example. But when we talk about governmentgs or other examples of “organizational dynamics,” we’re talking mostly about behavioral characteristics. Sure, the presence of other people changes specific behaviors in any setting (not too many people masturbate in the grocery store, for example). But long-term interactions within a structured, hierarchical, codified, or traditional instituition such as a government, generate behaviors individuals would not be inclined or capable of demonstrating in more casual contexts. The libertarians among us would certainly argue that organizations become self-perpetuating and that the motives which people bring to the organization are often altered or subsumed into this agenda. I’m not sure the phenomenon is as widespread or pernicious as they claim, but I do agree that participating in structured hierachies, such as governments, powerfully and significantly alters individuals’ attitudes and beliefs, and thus their behavior.

A bit of an artificial and superficial example, but olne which I have never forgotten, is an exercise in a high school class I was in, in which the teacher asked girls and boys as individuals to list characteristics they liked about the opposite sex. The lists were very similarf, and they generally included primarily characteristics of personality cnd character. The teacher then asked the kids to make the same list as groups, boys and girls segregated. The girls’ lost was essentially unchanged, but the social dynamic led the boys’ list to be largely a catalog of desired physical attributes and sexual functions. This illustrates how a group setting generates behavioral phenomena qualitatively different from, and not always predictiable based on, the characteristic behavior of the separate individuals.

So when I say a forest is more than a bunch of trees, I am interested both in the deep impact of the association on the individuals and the phenomena that result from the association that would not occur without prolonged and intimate association. Wehn I say givernment exists as an entity, I am likewise interested in phenomena (primarily behavioral) that are generated which individuals would not otherwise evince. I believe physical changes probably happen to some extent too, but it is the behavioral that I thin k is most evident.

I’m no expert in organizational dynamics, but I know there are people who have studied group phenomena in depth and could probably explain what I’m trying to much more cogently.  Hope this isn’t total gibberish. grin

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Posted: 10 January 2007 05:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Barry,

I’m all for spirited debate, but it would be helpful if you could argue your case more on substance than through inflammatory rhetoric. I’ve made this comment before and not received any response, so perhaps I’m wasting my time, but I truly think humanism in all its intellectual diversity is better served by a discussion of the merits of specific ideas and perspectives than by the sort of snide posting you made above. Apart from the classic libertarian notion that all organizations are fundamentally evil in that perpetuating themselves strips them of any integrity or moral force, your post seems really only intended to express disdain for anyone who disagrees with your political agenda or definition of human ism. As in previous threads, I’m interested in that definition, how you would apply it in practice, what role scientific naturalism and atheism might play even though tghey are not primarily aimed at destroying capitalism or government,  but it is hard to explore ideas and develop any consensus for action when your posts are so weighted with self-righteous indignation and prophet-in-the-wilderness zeal. Any hope of a real discussion here?
Brennen

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Posted: 10 January 2007 01:27 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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All kind of posts….

Brennen:

Perhaps at times I offer more rhetoric (which might be inflammatory because it is true?) than I ought to.  It is hard to keep passion and substance separate. 

I think I have offered much substance through-out these many forums, and some of it has led to interesting debates.  Sadly, among atheists/humanists/skeptics, a bit of rhetoric is often needed to kick-start the substance talk into talking action.  But my “rhetoric” in other posts are about ideas and actions, not about CFI like this post you are responding to is.  I have written only 2 or 3 of these such posts where I address the problem with “organized humanism.”  I do this because we need to know both why the substance is important beyond academic debates, and why humanists need to keep self-identifing humanist organizations on message. 

If CSH and humanism were not touted as being a part of, indeed perhaps the main part of, CFI, this “rhetoric” might not be needed, and we could stick to the topics at hand.  But this is not the case.  CFI has watered down CSH’s message and the humanist message while re-defining what humanism is - some set of ingredients such as atheism, quazi-naturalism, and skepticism… instead of what it actually is.  We need to hold CFI/CSH’s feet to the fire. 

Also, if my opinions I choose to imbue the academic issues of humanism with - politics, economics, society, religion, naturalism and science - are sometimes offensive (and I doubt they really are except when I aim my criticism at the CFI empire itself because then someone is bound to be offended, which may not be a bad thing), then I truly am sorry.  I do not wish to offend.  But sometimes, as philosopher Ted Honderich says, the truth is noisy (offensive) to those who wish to look the other way. 

As for real discussion, look beyond my few “philosopher in the wilderness” posts, as you call them - understanding that sometimes these posts need to be written - and look at the many other posts I have written on humanism.. and let’s talk!

PS:  My critique of CFI is not only a classical libertarian one.. I happen to know how things operate at CFI (I worked there for 6 years).

PSS:  I do not think atheism has a role in politics or economics the way you suggest I say it might, but naturalism does.  When we move away from the quazi-naturalism of CFI or AHA (where it is defined in several ways but mainly as opposed to supernaturalism) to full naturalism (no more free will), we will begin to see the inplications of naturalism for society.

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Barry F. Seidman
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Posted: 10 January 2007 03:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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[quote author=“mckenzievmd”]

In a forest, the fundamental nature of the tree is still a tree. A forest ecosystem is multiple instances of individual organisms existing in an arbitrary geographical area. In society, the fundamental nature of a person does not change when he enters an elevator with another person (i.e. he retains the same number of molecules, etc.) .... I don’t understand how voluntarily organization plays a role fundamentally different than… walking into a grocery store, for example. I would like to better understand your theory. Does it assert that one’s physical properties or moral nature somehow changes within voluntary organizations?

Certainly some physical properties do change in association with others. Many trees cannot thrive or reproduce, some cannot even live very long, in isolation. Chemical messengers are exchanged which stimulate metabolic activities that would not otherwise occur, microclimates are created by the aggregation which are necessary for individuals at some stage in the life cycle. A bark bee
tle attacks one tree and chemical meesengers are released which stimulate others to produce protective chemical they would not have otherwise made. A forest is not just a bunch of tress living separate lives near each other, because the interactions do fundamentally alter significant characteristics (physical, obviously, since it is nearly meaningless to talk about behavioral characteristics of trees).

I think much the same sorts of things happen among people, in terms of physical interactions. The old, but still poorly understood, phenomenon of women synchronising their menstrual cycles when they live together is an example. But when we talk about governmentgs or other examples of “organizational dynamics,” we’re talking mostly about behavioral characteristics. Sure, the presence of other people changes specific behaviors in any setting (not too many people masturbate in the grocery store, for example). But long-term interactions within a structured, hierarchical, codified, or traditional instituition such as a government, generate behaviors individuals would not be inclined or capable of demonstrating in more casual contexts. The libertarians among us would certainly argue that organizations become self-perpetuating and that the motives which people bring to the organization are often altered or subsumed into this agenda. I’m not sure the phenomenon is as widespread or pernicious as they claim, but I do agree that participating in structured hierachies, such as governments, powerfully and significantly alters individuals’ attitudes and beliefs, and thus their behavior.

A bit of an artificial and superficial example, but olne which I have never forgotten, is an exercise in a high school class I was in, in which the teacher asked girls and boys as individuals to list characteristics they liked about the opposite sex. The lists were very similarf, and they generally included primarily characteristics of personality cnd character. The teacher then asked the kids to make the same list as groups, boys and girls segregated. The girls’ lost was essentially unchanged, but the social dynamic led the boys’ list to be largely a catalog of desired physical attributes and sexual functions. This illustrates how a group setting generates behavioral phenomena qualitatively different from, and not always predictiable based on, the characteristic behavior of the separate individuals.

So when I say a forest is more than a bunch of trees, I am interested both in the deep impact of the association on the individuals and the phenomena that result from the association that would not occur without prolonged and intimate association. Wehn I say givernment exists as an entity, I am likewise interested in phenomena (primarily behavioral) that are generated which individuals would not otherwise evince. I believe physical changes probably happen to some extent too, but it is the behavioral that I thin k is most evident.

I’m no expert in organizational dynamics, but I know there are people who have studied group phenomena in depth and could probably explain what I’m trying to much more cogently.  Hope this isn’t total gibberish. grin

Thank you for your response. It was most certainly not gibberish and it’s greatly appreciated! However, I may be miscommunicating as it doesn’t address my confusion. Again, I agree that there are interdependencies and causal impacts in any ecosystem or organization and these impacts can alter behavior.  A rock thrown downhill impacts everything it touches. Some organizations have little impact to one’s behavior (our theoretical grocer) while others have enormous impact (government, family, etc.) My confusion surrounds the almost mystical assertion that individuals (or trees) take on a fundamental nature different from their own in the presence of other humans. One cannot claim that humans turn into another species or turn into bananas, grow two heads, spontaneously turn from Hispanic to Caucasian, etc. In short, John Doe is simply John Doe when he enters the elevator alongside a stranger regardless of whether I punch John Doe or give him $100. His essential nature remains unaltered. Does that help? Again, I may have simply misunderstood the post.

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Posted: 10 January 2007 07:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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jonthompson,  my first response is, “What mckenzievmd said.”  LOL

He stated the position extremely well.

Second, Brennen, I’m sure you have your own way of dealing with the various posts here, however, as a matter of course, when I see one in bold typeface, I always scroll past it.  smile

Third, jonthompson, each individual cell in your body can be examined by itself, and functions by itself, however, it also functions in concert with the rest of your body, and you can do a great many things none of your cells can individually.  Similarly, an organization can accomplish many things none of the individual members can. 

For example, the Boeing company builds commercial aircraft, and if you worked for them you contributed to that endeavor, however, it’s doubtful that you could design and build a 747 by yourself.

We all work together in our society to accomplish a great many things none of us could do by ourselves.  And, we work together in a wide variety of organizations, each of which performs some of those tasks.  Government is just one more organization of people that gets things done that we couldn’t get done individually. 

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Posted: 11 January 2007 03:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Enjoyable discussion. Even the bold text is worthy of mindful consideration.

It seems to me that government as it is now and has been practiced in history will become as obsolete as religion will some day. If government as a thing does not evolve it will disappear, if it evolves it will doubtless be beyond our current reckoning to understand how it will look or act in the future…much like religion I guess.

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