2 of 8
2
Government: Who Needs It?
Posted: 11 January 2007 07:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
Moderator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  4108
Joined  2006-11-28

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.

jonthompson,

I guess I may have misinterpreted your original post, because I would certainly agree that the fundamental nature of humans (or trees) is not changed by participation in government (or a forest). I would argue that certain characteristics, physical for both examples and behavioral for humans, emerge only in the course of such participation. Trees and humans have both evolved to live in groups, and our fundamnetal nature (a slippery concept, I admit) has been selected by this environmental pressure as much as any other. So to some extent what we are includes the characteristics that emerge in such group settings, but these characteristics might remain forever unexpressed without the settinng to elicit them.

What I was primarily responding to in your first post was the assertion that,

...people exist in reality, yet governments do not….[government is]a human construct devoid of any meaning in empirical analysis…

I think governments and forests have characteristics as wholes which the constituent parts do not exhibit, and the constituents are meaningfully (though perhaps not fundamentally) altered by participation in the whole, so in this sense forests and governments have a real existence which can be analyzed empirically. That’s really all I was getting at.

 Signature 

The SkeptVet Blog
You cannot reason a person out of a position he did not reason himself into in the first place. 
Johnathan Swift

Profile
 
 
Posted: 11 January 2007 07:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
Moderator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  4108
Joined  2006-11-28

Barry,

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 understand, as I am often guilty of the same. Passion fuels the actions which make our lives meaningful, but can also interfere with the effectiveness of those actions. It sounds like the inflammatory tone (which I think inflames because of how it is written, regardless of the veracity of its content) comes from both your passion for promulgating your vision of humanism, and perhaps some specific disaffection for CFI/CSH based on personal experiences there. I have read your writings on your website, and much of it is cogent, eloquent, and I believe truthful. I only offered my comments above on the tone of your messages, and your lack of response in a couple of other threads to arguments opposing them, because I do think you have real, useful ideas to offer. And I hate to see good ideas ignored because of personal animosities or because they are presented in a way which repels a potentially sympathetic audience by implying any disagreement must be based in ignorance or timidity. All I am suggesting is that firebrand rhetoric may stimulate action in some contexts, but it also evokes automatic rejection in others. If you have truly given up on the community in these boards, then there’s no point in posting here. But if you have not, then you’ll get more more real consideration of your ideas if you convey them in a more measured tone.

I do not think atheism has a role in politics or economics the way you suggest I say it might, but naturalism does.

Since religion is having such a dramatic, and detrimental, impact on politics and economics in our country right now, I have to believe that taking religion out of politics, and replacing it with scientific naturalism, is important. Perhaps we should more properly call that idea “secularism” rather than “atheism,” but I don’t think the battle against religion can be only a minor or irrelevant part of the overall humanist program when religion holds such a pervasive and pernicious sway over our public institutions.


Anyway, thanks for your response. I look forward to more discussion!

 Signature 

The SkeptVet Blog
You cannot reason a person out of a position he did not reason himself into in the first place. 
Johnathan Swift

Profile
 
 
Posted: 11 January 2007 12:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
Sr. Member
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  402
Joined  2003-09-24

Thanks…..

mckenzievmd said: I understand, as I am often guilty of the same. Passion fuels the actions which make our lives meaningful, but can also interfere with the effectiveness of those actions. It sounds like the inflammatory tone (which I think inflames because of how it is written, regardless of the veracity of its content) comes from both your passion for promulgating your vision of humanism, and perhaps some specific disaffection for CFI/CSH based on personal experiences there. I have read your writings on your website, and much of it is cogent, eloquent, and I believe truthful. I only offered my comments above on the tone of your messages, and your lack of response in a couple of other threads to arguments opposing them, because I do think you have real, useful ideas to offer. And I hate to see good ideas ignored because of personal animosities or because they are presented in a way which repels a potentially sympathetic audience by implying any disagreement must be based in ignorance or timidity. All I am suggesting is that firebrand rhetoric may stimulate action in some contexts, but it also evokes automatic rejection in others. If you have truly given up on the community in these boards, then there’s no point in posting here. But if you have not, then you’ll get more more real consideration of your ideas if you convey them in a more measured tone.

Well said, and thanks. I do need to be more carefull that my ideas are not lost for the passion.  And I post on these forums, actually, because I have not given up on anyone who blogs here (even Doug :wink: ), and I think there is much chance for moving CSH (CFI is another beast) in the right direction… based on the “will” of the people (humanists in this forum).  That I have much hope the empire will listen… Well, that’s another story   :( 

 Signature 

Barry F. Seidman
Exec. Producer of Equal Time for Freethought

Profile
 
 
Posted: 11 January 2007 12:47 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
Sr. Member
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  402
Joined  2003-09-24

atheism vs religion

Brennon said: Since religion is having such a dramatic, and detrimental, impact on politics and economics in our country right now, I have to believe that taking religion out of politics, and replacing it with scientific naturalism, is important. Perhaps we should more properly call that idea “secularism” rather than “atheism,” but I don’t think the battle against religion can be only a minor or irrelevant part of the overall humanist program when religion holds such a pervasive and pernicious sway over our public institutions.

Brennon:

Note that I didn’t say religion (of certain kinds) is not indeed dangerous when married to the state - even if we achieved a New Deal or Classical Libertarian state.  Indeed, secularism in a state a necessary thing for any sort of representative democracy to survive. 

Of course, if we do away with the state and create an inclusive democracy, individual (or groups of) fundementalists (Right-Wing, Dominionist, “Christain Nation” types), would find themselves without much power. 

The best way then, to confront religion, is first to seperate the sort of religion you and I find dangerous from other forms and designs of religion, and then to advocate for secularalism in democracies and for the ideas of naturalism for all of humanity.  Secularism (church/state seperation) and “spreading” naturalism is the way to go here, and not pushing or promoting atheism.  Atheism is minor compared to naturalism, and it is negative, narrow, and inflammatory; atheism is a philosophical result of naturalism in the end, and a real naturalism - which includes determinism - is sufficiant to move us past the problems we have with religion. 

And secularism will be irrelevant once we dismantle the state. 

 Signature 

Barry F. Seidman
Exec. Producer of Equal Time for Freethought

Profile
 
 
Posted: 11 January 2007 01:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
Jr. Member
Rank
Total Posts:  19
Joined  2007-01-07

Re: Government: Who Needs It?

[quote author=“Barry”]

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?

Thanks for this response Barry. I have to admit, I was a bit “skeptical” of the kind of reception I’d get, but I still think it’s worth making an effort, if only to get people thinking about these questions.

Some of your comments fascinated me, though, and left me with a few questions for you: What do you define as “Capitalism”, and why do you consider it anti-humanistic? Also, why don’t you include religion/superstition in that list?

 Signature 

Greg Gauthier
Grayslake, IL
<a >My Live Journal</a>

Profile
 
 
Posted: 11 January 2007 01:15 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
Jr. Member
Rank
Total Posts:  19
Joined  2007-01-07

[quote author=“mckenzievmd”]I would certainly agree that the fundamental nature of humans (or trees) is not changed by participation in government (or a forest).

Do you see a distinction between government and society?

[quote author=“mckenzievmd”]I think governments and forests have characteristics as wholes which the constituent parts do not exhibit, and the constituents are meaningfully (though perhaps not fundamentally) altered by participation in the whole

Excellent point. The distinction is one to be mindful of. However, I think this raises a new set of questions. Humans are endowed with certain characteristics that set them apart fundamentally from trees, so I think we can dispense with the trees for now. But, do you believe that, when humans cluster into groups they choose to call “government”, that the various characteristics they acquire from that organization justify their use of force against those who are not members of that group?

 Signature 

Greg Gauthier
Grayslake, IL
<a >My Live Journal</a>

Profile
 
 
Posted: 11 January 2007 03:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]
Administrator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  15435
Joined  2006-02-14

Re: Thanks…..

[quote author=“Barry”] I have not given up on anyone who blogs here (even Doug :wink: )

I haven’t given up on you either, Barry!

LOL  LOL

 Signature 

Doug

-:- -:—:- -:—:- -:—:- -:—:- -:—:-

El sueño de la razón produce monstruos

Profile
 
 
Posted: 11 January 2007 03:43 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]
Sr. Member
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  402
Joined  2003-09-24

Capitalism

What do you define as “Capitalism”, and why do you consider it anti-humanistic? Also, why don’t you include religion/superstition in that list?

Hi!

1) Supernaturalism and superstion IS on my list of things we need to move beyond.

2) There are so many reasons captialism is not humanistic, and indeed anti-human… that I do not know where to begin.

 Signature 

Barry F. Seidman
Exec. Producer of Equal Time for Freethought

Profile
 
 
Posted: 11 January 2007 03:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]
Jr. Member
Rank
Total Posts:  19
Joined  2007-01-07

Re: Capitalism

[quote author=“Barry”]There are so many reasons captialism is not humanistic, and indeed anti-human… that I do not know where to begin.

Would it be better if I opened this question in a separate thread? I’d really like to hear what your thoughts are on the topic…

 Signature 

Greg Gauthier
Grayslake, IL
<a >My Live Journal</a>

Profile
 
 
Posted: 11 January 2007 04:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]
Sr. Member
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  402
Joined  2003-09-24

Capitalism

Would it be better if I opened this question in a separate thread? I’d really like to hear what your thoughts are on the topic…

Well, we should open a topic called Capitalism Vs. Humanism, and when I can, I can put some thoughts together.  In the mean time, look at my comments in these current topic-blogs:

From Politics and Social Issues:

1) What is your political philosophy? - www.cfi-forums.org/viewtopic.php?t=131

2) Humanism and Progressive Taxation - www.cfi-forums.org/viewtopic.php?t=1001

And in Humanism:

1) Classical Liberalism, the Enlightenment and Humanism - www.cfi-forums.org/viewtopic.php?t=1541

 Signature 

Barry F. Seidman
Exec. Producer of Equal Time for Freethought

Profile
 
 
Posted: 11 January 2007 05:11 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]
Moderator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  4108
Joined  2006-11-28

Do you see a distinction between government and society?

Hmmm, a question I had never considered…I guess I see society as the sum total of interactions, within instituions and privately, between people living in a community. For practical purposes, right now the scale of community that best encompasses a society is the nation state, though that hasn’t always been the case and need not necessarily be so. I see government as one of many structured institutions that make up society. Of course it is a unique one in that it either arrogates or is ceded certain powers over the populace not available to other institutions. Again, this hasn’t always been the case (e.g. the Catholic Church through much of European history)

do you believe that, when humans cluster into groups they choose to call “government”, that the various characteristics they acquire from that organization justify their use of force against those who are not members of that group?

I do, and I fear this is where we will find a fundamental disagreement. I agree with you that the characteristics humans express in the context of participating in a government (and note I said “express,” not “acquire” since I believe these are part of the fundamental nature of humans already, they just require a certain social context to manifest in a particular form) often do harm to society. The tendancy to seek more power for oneself and make venal use of the power one acquires from participating in government is a real force for evil in the world. It’s a major reason (though only one of many) why many poor countries are unable to use what resources and assistance they have to improve life for the populace as a whole. However, I also believe governments can be designed which do more good than harm, as I believe ours does (though the balance is a lot tighter now than any time in my lifetime).

The libertarians I know (and I have had this discussion with many since my wife is one and worked for the Ludwig von Mises Institute and Lew Rockwell at one time) seem in general to believe that the characteristics people would exhibit in the absence of some formal governmental instituion with coercive power to regulate behavior would be far more cooperative and rational than not. I see no evidence in history, psychology, or the modern world for this.

As I have stated elsewhere in this forum on the subject of “human nature,” I believe the evidence instead suggests quite strongly that without the restraints imposed by a government with coercive powers, the strong would exploit the weak and the quality of life for all but a very few would be much poorer than obtains in a system such as ours.  I don’t see humans as primarily rational, altruistic, cooperative, compassionate, tolerant, or any of the qualities that would have to dominate our behavior for an ungoverned population to thrive. Doug has already expressed quite well in this thread some of the specific functions and justifications for government that I could list, so I won’t repeat them. I think he is basically correct in suggesting that the tendancy of a rational secular humanist to prefer a Keynesian/New Deal economic system with a representative/democratic political structure versus a laissez faire free market system and libertarian or anarchist political structure ultimately boil down to whether one holds a view of human behavior that looks like that of Hobbes or that of Rousseau.
In that respect, I think Hobbes was a lot closer. Still, both doug and I have acknowledged that the evils of specific governments are legion, so there is a lot of room for discussion of the best way to control these short of eliminating government entirely, which even the most passionate libertarian is likely to realize is a vision either impossible or at least a very long way off. Thanks for the excellent and challenging ideas!

 Signature 

The SkeptVet Blog
You cannot reason a person out of a position he did not reason himself into in the first place. 
Johnathan Swift

Profile
 
 
Posted: 11 January 2007 05:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]
Moderator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  4108
Joined  2006-11-28

Barry,

Very pleased to read your most recent posts!

...secularism in a state a necessary thing for any sort of representative democracy to survive….The best way then, to confront religion, is first to seperate the sort of religion you and I find dangerous from other forms and designs of religion, and then to advocate for secularalism in democracies and for the ideas of naturalism for all of humanity. Secularism (church/state seperation) and “spreading” naturalism is the way to go here, and not pushing or promoting atheism. Atheism is minor compared to naturalism, and it is negative, narrow, and inflammatory; atheism is a philosophical result of naturalism in the end, and a real naturalism - which includes determinism - is sufficiant to move us past the problems we have with religion.

Absolutely! I think, then, we can agree that separating religion from the powers of the state and then marginalising (and potentially replacing?no, now I’m dreaming) religion through the force of real understanding (aka scientific naturalism/determinism) are laudable goals, and at least the former is potentially achievable since there is something of a history of secularism in America, though it has been squeezed out of the mainstream since the 50s at least. Plenty for both of us to work on here in as humanists in the political arena.

Then once that is achieved, we can begin to argue about whether it can or should be the case that

secularism will be irrelevant once we dismantle the state.

  smile

 Signature 

The SkeptVet Blog
You cannot reason a person out of a position he did not reason himself into in the first place. 
Johnathan Swift

Profile
 
 
Posted: 11 January 2007 05:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 28 ]
Jr. Member
Rank
Total Posts:  19
Joined  2007-01-07

[quote author=“mckenzievmd”]I agree with you that the characteristics humans express in the context of participating in a government (and note I said “express,” not “acquire” since I believe these are part of the fundamental nature of humans already, they just require a certain social context to manifest in a particular form) often do harm to society. The tendancy to seek more power for oneself and make venal use of the power one acquires from participating in government is a real force for evil in the world.

So, you agree then, that coercive institutions like the State are fundamentally destructive, because they give rise to circumstances that permit the aggressive elements of man’s nature to express themselves, is that correct?

[quote author=“mckenzievmd”]As I have stated elsewhere in this forum on the subject of “human nature,” I believe the evidence instead suggests quite strongly that without the restraints imposed by a government with coercive powers, the strong would exploit the weak and the quality of life for all but a very few would be much poorer than obtains in a system such as ours.

You don’t see this statement as fundamentally contradictory to the first quote? If an institution like the state is a social arrangement that encourages aggression, how can we expect it to “restrain” that very same aggression expressed in other contexts? Isn’t this just an equivocation, of sorts (In the sense of, “Well, it’s better to have one big violent gang, rather than dozens of small ones”)?

 Signature 

Greg Gauthier
Grayslake, IL
<a >My Live Journal</a>

Profile
 
 
Posted: 11 January 2007 05:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 29 ]
Sr. Member
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  402
Joined  2003-09-24

government and society

Do you see a distinction between government and society?

You know, there should be a way to unite the political (governance), the economy, and society.  Takis Fotoupolos talks about how Inclusive Democracy does just this.  What is ID?

“The ID project, consists of two parts. The first part deals with the chronic multidimensional crisis which began with the establishment of the system of the market economy and its political complement, representative ‘democracy’, about two hundred years ago. It concludes that the ultimate cause of this crisis (economic, political, social and ecological) is the concentration of power at all levels to which the dynamic of these two institutions, inevitably, leads. The second part consists of a proposal for an inclusive democracy, whose main characteristic is the equal distribution of political and economic power among all citizens, as the way out of this crisis and also as a means to establish an alternative society securing individual and social autonomy.” - Fotopoulos (2005)

 Signature 

Barry F. Seidman
Exec. Producer of Equal Time for Freethought

Profile
 
 
Posted: 11 January 2007 05:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 30 ]
Sr. Member
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  402
Joined  2003-09-24

coercive institutions like the State

So, you agree then, that coercive institutions like the State are fundamentally destructive, because they give rise to circumstances that permit the aggressive elements of man’s nature to express themselves, is that correct?

I don’t know about Brennon, Greg, but I surely agree with that idea!

 Signature 

Barry F. Seidman
Exec. Producer of Equal Time for Freethought

Profile
 
 
   
2 of 8
2