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Poll
Which philosophy best fits human nature
Socialism 3
Communism 0
Capitalism 0
Right-Libertarianism 2
Inclusive Democracy 1
Anarchism or Libertarian-Socialism 4
Facsism 0
Total Votes: 10
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On Human Nature
Posted: 21 August 2006 07:19 PM   [ Ignore ]
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A brilliant essay on Human Nature:

www.socialanarchism.org/mod/magazine/display/128/index.php

Barry F. Seidman
www.barryfseidman.com

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Posted: 22 August 2006 03:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Thomas Martin has written an odd piece, especially in that he basically cedes the field to Pinker, and yet still supports a so-called “anarchist” world view that Pinker demonstrates is an unworkable fantasy. The problem, of course, is the innate human tendency for violence, and in particular our tendency to use violence for political ends.

Perhaps the key paragraph begins:

Here, fortunately, Pinker’s case is rather weak. In his chapter on violence, he gives many examples of apparently innate violent behavior, but all of them come either from our culture or from indigenous cultures under threat from Western civilization. The peaceful nature of most indigenous and matricentric peoples, before they ran up against the aggressive West, is well documented in the journals of early explorers and anthropologists. Still, recent studies do suggest that a tendency to violence and aggression is part of our biological heritage.

First, if the last sentence of this quote is accurate, then what went before it is largely irrelevant.

Second, the violent behavior Pinker and others cite isn’t all from our culture or indigenous cultures under threat from Western civilization. Pinker cites Lawrence Keeley’s book War Before Civilization which is a thorough historical and anthropological account of such barbarity. And indeed, a little thought brings to mind such so-called ‘indigenous’ cultures as pre-conquest native americans, Aztecs, Maya, Inca; as well as ancient Greek, Egyptian, Celtic, Hunnish, Gothic, Mongol, Chinese, Japanese, et cetera, cultures which are both ‘indigenous’ and were not under threat from (modern) Western civilization. All of these practiced nearly constant warfare.

Further, a quick glance at Pinker’s book reveals on pp. 206-7: “In an 850-year-old site in the American Southwest, archaeologists have found human bones that were hacked up like the bones of animals used for food. They also found traces of human myoglobin (a muscle protein) on pot shards, and—most damningly—in a lump of fossilized human excrement. Members of Homo antecessor, relatives of the common ancestor of Neanderthals and modern humans, bashed and butchered one another too, suggesting that violence and cannibalism go back at least 800,000 years.”

So it is simply false that “all of [Pinker’s examples of human violence] come either from our culture or from indigenous cultures under threat from Western civilization” as author Thomas Martin would have us believe. This seems a sterling example of confirmation bias .

Third, the implicit assumption here that there is an essential difference between “indigenous” and “western” culture/violence is part of the discredited notion of the Blank Slate—in particular, the discredited idea of the ‘noble savage’, who, born without corrupting ‘western’ influences is somehow more romantically pure, and hence (in some sense) “must” be peaceful. There is no scientific basis to such notions of cultural purity.

Fourth, Martin claims, “The peaceful nature of most indigenous and matricentric peoples, before they ran up against the aggressive West, is well documented in the journals of early explorers and anthropologists.” Which explorers and anthropologists is he referring to? Pinker spends a great deal of time talking about these early explorers and anthropologists, people like Margaret Mead, whose work was later revealed to be factually inaccurate. See for example his pp. 56-57. Why doesn’t Martin cite these issues?

The problem is that Martin needs these societies to be peaceful as a proof-of-concept, since there is no other evidence that anarchistic societies are preferable to ones we have around us nowadays. Indeed, there is some quite strong evidence (see the chart on p. 57, Pinker) that ‘indigenous’—and relatively anarchic—socieities are actually significantly more violent than 20th century European society, including both world wars.

Lastly, Martin then changes his focus to how violence is directed:

The issue for anarchists should not be, “is violence innate?” but rather, “how is it directed?” In spite of what Pinker implies, we do not claim that violence is strictly a learned behavior. What we claim is that how we express our violent instincts is learned behavior.

The problem is that the very same evidence Pinker provides, above, also demonstrates that violence is directed towards other humans, and that it is used for political ends. The very same biological evidence that violence is innate demonstrates that it is used to gain dominance in society. So Martin’s change of focus appears little more than sleight of hand. There is no evidence that violence can be retained as a biological heritage and yet that we can be trained to direct it in non-threatening ways ... at least not to the extent that anarchic societies could become a desirable alternative.

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Posted: 22 August 2006 06:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Doug’s bias is no surprise…

Doug:

Based on your responses to so many previous emails on humanism and politics, I am not surprised by your right-libertarianism and perhaps even authoritarianism in your defense of Pinker.  Not very humanistic, I might say.  I shall have to consult Martin himself (and a few others, perhaps) so as to better respond to your comments because it is better to hear from the source rather than myself ... and if you want to consult Pinker, please do so. 

But in the meantime, let me say that the argument Pinker makes about warfare seems to be nonsense.  Perhaps Pinker (and Martin) need to be more precise when they talk about indigenous peoples because though it is true that many of these may have been violent, and even warlike, human nature is not so.  Indeed 99% of human existence are correctly labled as as ‘hunter-gatherer,’ and most violence and all warfare seems to be a product NOT of these cultures, but of more complex, centralized societies ... in particular, major chiefdoms’ and states.

Surely some of the cultures you mentioned fit into these categories and were not nomadic hunter-gatherers.  Indeed there are over 180 hunter-gatherer cultures around TODAY which are nonviolent and non warlike.  And in the past, even some more-centralized cultures were peaceful too, such as the Keftians. 

Also, it must be clear how we define violence and war.  What many or most of stateless/non-heirarchal societies engage(d) in might be feuds or one-on-one violence (which was/is rare) - neither of these types of agressive behaviors can be defined to match the sort of violence war entails ... not by a long shot. 

Yes, aggression may be a part of human nature, but how we control and direct this aggression determines the level of violence in a culture, and when you have a major centralized or hierarchal society or a state, the dominance factor of such hierarchies along with these culture’s ability to form armies, tend to lead to the sort of violence and wars Pinker (and you) speak of.  Being that the state MUST create such hierarchies and dominance by its very nature - same with many Chiefdoms (it is a rare case indeed to have a culture such as the matriarchal Keftians did and Norwegians do) - a major way to curtail war is to replace the state with a more libertarian-socialist structure. 

“War before Civilization,”  if by civilization it is meant states or chiefdoms vrs our 99% past of hunter-getherer cultures, is propaganda.  There was no war in the latter.

PS:  Your comments about Mead are misinformed.  Anthropologist Douglas Fry makes clear that both Derek Freeman’s and Wrangham & Peterson’s (Demonic Males) attacks on Dr. Mead were little more than skullduggery.  The latter authors in their book summarize Freeman’s chapter (Aggressive Behavior and Warfare), and all three argue that Mead said she saw the Samoans as unagressive… both sources then rule that she was absolutely wrong.  But in Mead’s “Coming of Age in Samoa,” no statements about Samoan culture being peaceful or unagressive appeared.  In fact Mead did say that the Samoans made war in the past!  Mead was saying that they did not make war “nowadays.”  The three war-promoters left out the “nowadays.”

There is a lot more Freeman and his fans got wrong about Mead’s work.  They were looking, it now seems, for an example to support their assertion that peaceful societies do not exist.  But, Freeman’s representation of what Mead wrote was biased and, worse, wrong.

More later!

Barry F. Seidman

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Posted: 22 August 2006 01:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Re: Doug’s bias is no surprise…

Many of the violent cultures Pinker/Keeley cite are hunter-gatherer societies. However, I will add that if you are looking to hunter-gatherers as your paradigmatic anarchists, you will need to kill off about 99.9% of the world’s population in order to fit the lifestyle to the available food source. As you would say, not very humanistic.

[quote author=“Barry”]Based on your responses to so many previous emails on humanism and politics, I am not surprised by your right-libertarianism and perhaps even authoritarianism in your defense of Pinker.

I will leave the rest of your message aside, but this ad hominem name-calling is factually inaccurate. I am not a “right-libertarian”, nor an “authoritarian”. Neither, I believe, is Pinker. (Although it wouldn’t matter to the strength of his arguments if he were).

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Posted: 22 August 2006 05:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Doug Wrote:
Many of the violent cultures Pinker/Keeley cite are hunter-gatherer societies. However, I will add that if you are looking to hunter-gatherers as your paradigmatic anarchists, you will need to kill off about 99.9% of the world’s population in order to fit the lifestyle to the available food source. As you would say, not very humanistic.

Doug: Clearly Pinker and Keeley have it wrong.  All the evidence seems to be on Douglas Fry’s side.  And, the idea that anarchism requires smaller groups of people (or that peace requires such), is silly at best.  What we need to understand is that starvation due to resource issues has far less to do with what CAN be produced, and lots to do with how what IS produced is allocated.  Get rid of capitalism and add a more humanistic economy such as Parecon, and you will find resources is far less the problem it now seems to be. 

And re war, get rid of its dominance-litered top-down heirarchial causes, and peace will be fare better than war does today.  Culture has been set up to fail as it is today, and clearly keeping it as it is, or merely “reforming” it, will not do.

———————————

Barry wrote:
Based on your responses to so many previous emails on humanism and politics, I am not surprised by your right-libertarianism and perhaps even authoritarianism in your defense of Pinker.

Doug’s reply:
I will leave the rest of your message aside, but this ad hominem name-calling is factually inaccurate. I am not a “right-libertarian”, nor an “authoritarian”. Neither, I believe, is Pinker. (Although it wouldn’t matter to the strength of his arguments if he were).

Doug: I do not need to guess as to your political ideology as your comments show clearly that you are not a socialist, communist, facsist, anarchist, Left-Libertarian (Libertarian-Socialist), Stalinist or Hitlerian, or even a New Deal Democrat.  You do not seem to be a Neo-Con either.  You do seem to fit into either a neo-lib or American (right) Libertarian mode which seems to favor capitalism.  Am I far off?

As for Pinker, he is clearly a conservative and probably a right-libertarian (though perhaps not an authortarian).  This is clear by his own words. 

BFS  

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Posted: 26 August 2006 03:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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If you ask em ( and noo one did) these polls are pretty shabby as: A. they do not use well defined concepts and B. they force compromised answers.

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Posted: 28 August 2006 09:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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[quote author=“cgallaga”]If you ask em ( and noo one did) these polls are pretty shabby as: A. they do not use well defined concepts and B. they force compromised answers.

Well, yes. That’s another big problem with many of the polls people put up on the site. I don’t even know how to respond to this one ...

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Posted: 28 August 2006 05:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Polls

Actually guys, this poll is pretty simple.

Based on what we know to be true about human nature, which form of polity or economic system would best serve us and lead us toward a humanistic, peaceful, mutually benefical future society?

If you have a Hobbsian view of human nature, you might say Communism or Capitalism.  Of course, you’d be wrong.

I think of the choices above, based on 99% of human culture from the emergence of Homo Sapien Sapien ... Anarchism, Libertarian-Socialism or Inclusive Democracy are the best systems.

Barry

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Posted: 28 August 2006 05:47 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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What, by the way, is Inclusive Democracy?

Inclusive Democracy perceives the world to be in a multidimensional crisis, caused by the concentration of power in the hands of various elites, as a result of the establishment of the system of market/growth economy, representative democracy and the related forms of hierarchical structures.

Civil society and “radical democracy”

The collapse of state socialism, in its forms of ‘actually existing socialism’ in the East and social democracy in the West, means that today the liberation discourse has moved from socialism to democracy. However, the usual discussion on democracy involves various versions of what has been called ‘radical democracy’.

The common characteristic of all these approaches to democracy is that they all take for granted the present institutional framework, as defined by the market economy and representative democracy, and suggest various combinations of the market with forms of social/private ownership of the means of production, as well as the ‘democratization’ of the state in the sense of the enhancement of autonomous-from-the-state social institutions and civil movements.

In our problematique,  the ‘civil societarian’ approach, from which the conceptions of radical democracy emanate, is both ahistorical and utopian in the negative sense of the word. It is a-historical because it ignores the structural changes, which have led to the internationalised market economy and the consequent impotence of the civil societarian institutions (unions, local economies, civil associations etc). It is utopian because, within the present institutional framework of the market economy and representative democracy, which civil societarians take for granted, the enhancement of autonomous institutions is only possible to the extent that it does not contravene the logic and dynamic of the internationalised market economy and state power.

The “new” social movements

At the same time, it is now obvious that the “new social movements” have failed to fulfill their potential of offering a truly radical alternative to the status quo. Thus, the mainstream element of the feminist and multicultural movements has abandoned the original demands of those movements for a fundamental change in the social, economic, and political structures and now only seeks a more equitable piece of the pie. As they welcome their token integration into the corridors of power within modern advanced capitalist society, they no longer challenge institutional domination per se, or the hierarchical structures which express the concentration of social, economic, and political power in today’s society.

This journal’s problematique is therefore differentiated from both the civil societarian “Left” and the mainstream Green movement, since neither poses the question of basic social change, but both, instead, take the existing system for granted, dreaming of radical decentralisation of power in the former case, or in the latter, seeking technological solutions to the ecological crisis. That is why this journal differs radically from the usual “Left” and ecological journals which concentrate on the symptoms of the multidimensional crisis rather than on its systemic causes.

The green movement, in particular, despite the growing ecological crisis, has lost almost all of its radical potential.  Part of it, especially in Europe, has been integrated into the existing social system and is engaged in expressing in the corridors of power the disquiet of the middle classes about the deteriorating quality of life. Another part, especially in the USA, has adopted either “idealist” or irrational and frequently mystical approaches to the ecological problem, which are both compatible with the reproduction of the existing social system and certainly inconsistent with the project for democracy.  Finally, some radical greens prefer a strategy of lifestyle changes, building “communes”, food co-ops etc., instead of a direct challenge in the political and social arena.  However, this approach, although helpful in creating an alternative culture among small sections of the population and, at the same time, morale‑boosting for activists who wish to see an immediate change in their lives, does not have any chance of success—in the context of today’s huge corporate concentration of power—in building the democratic majority needed for radical social change.

Concentration of power: the cause of the multidimensional crisis

For us, democracy, which, properly defined, implies the abolition of the unequal distribution of political, economic and social power, is not only the political expression of a project with freedom as its aim, defined as individual and collective autonomy. Democracy is also the only way out of the present multidimensional crisis. This is so, because it is the concentration of power in the hands of various elites that marks the foundation of every aspect of this crisis. This concentration, in turn, can be traced back to the establishment of the SYSTEM of the market economy and the consequent growth economy, two centuries ago.

Thus, it is the concentration of economic power, as a result of commodity relations and the grow‑or‑die dynamic of the market economy , which has led to the present economic crisis. This crisis is expressed, mainly, by the continuous expansion of inequality, the relentlessly growing gap not only between the North and the South, but also between the economic elites and the rest of society within the North and the South. The triumph of the particular over the general interest, expressed by neoliberalism, is inevitably followed by the aggravation of class, gender, ethnic, race, and religious conflicts. Furthermore, with male and national chauvinism rampant, women and minorities continue to be the first victims of the massive unemployment induced by neoliberal capitalism.

It is also the concentration of economic power in the hands of economic elites which fuels the social and cultural crisis, as expressed by the parallel enhancement of the dialectic of violence, both personal and collective, drug abuse, general social irresponsibility, as well as cultural homogeneity. The growth economy has already created a growth society, the main characteristics of which are consumerism, privacy, alienation and the subsequent disintegration of social ties.  The growth society, in turn, inexorably leads toward a “non-society”, that is, the substitution of atomised families and individuals for society, a crucial step to the completion of barbarism.

At the same time, the concentration of political power in the hands of professional politicians and various “experts” has transformed politics into statecraft, where, in the context of the present neoliberal consensus, even the old ideological differences between the Left and the Right have disappeared. Elections have become beauty contests between “charismatic” leaders struggling to attract the attention of the electorate in order to implement policies constituting variations of the same theme: maximisation of the freedom of market forces at the expense of both the welfare state, which is steadily undermined, and the state’s objective to secure full employment through the actual creation of jobs, which is irrevocably abandoned. All this has resulted in a crisis of traditional politics, as expressed by the growing reluctance of citizens to participate in it, as members of political parties, voters etc. The current “war against terrorism” launched by the transnational elite as well as various national elites all over the world—a “war” that has plunged humanity towards a new Middle Ages—is both a cause and an effect of the concentration of power at the hands of various elites.

Last, but not least, the ecological crisis, as manifested by the rapid deterioration in the quality of life, is the direct result of the continuing degradation of the environment that the market economy and the consequent growth economy promote. It is no accident that the destruction of the environment during the lifetime of the growth economy, in both its capitalist and state socialist versions, bears no comparison to the cumulative damage that previous societies have inflicted on the environment. The fact that the main form of power within the framework of the growth economy is economic power, and that the concentration of economic power involves the ruling elites in a constant struggle to dominate people and the natural world, could go a long way toward explaining the present ecological crisis. In other words, to understand the ecological crisis we should refer not simply to the prevailing system of values and the resulting technologies (as the environmentalists and the deep ecologists suggest)  nor exclusively to the capitalist production relations (as eco‑marxists propose) but to the relations of domination that characterise a hierarchical society based on the system of market economy and the implied idea of dominating the natural world.

In this context, humanity is faced with a crucial choice between two radically different proposed solutions, what we may call the “conventional environmentalist” and the “eco-democratic”. The former, defined here broadly as one seeking the causes of the ecological crisis in the dominant system of values and the technologies used, is pushed energetically by the capitalist system and supported by the mainstream green movement.  This solution therefore takes for granted today’s institutional framework of the market economy and power relations and naively presumes that a massive change in values and technology (assumed -by those who are not antitechnological-to be “neutral” with respect to the socio-economic system) is possible, if only we could persuade people of the need for them. Alternatively, the eco-democratic solution seeks the causes of the ecological crisis in a social system that is based on institutionalised domination, not only economic exploitation, of human by human,  and the implied idea of trying to dominate the natural world. It is obvious that this solution requires forms of social organisation that are based on the equal distribution of political and economic power.

The Inclusive Democracy project

The ecological dimension of the crisis, as well as all its other dimensions, bring us back to the issue of democracy. This demands not just reviving of the tradition of the Greek polis but transcending it as well. Thus, the public realm has to be extended beyond the traditional political domain to the economic and broader social domains so that the reintegration of society with the economy, polity and Nature can be achieved. In this sense, democracy should be seen as irreconcilable with any form of inequity in the distribution of power, that is, with any concentration of power, political, social or economic. Consequently, democracy is incompatible with commodity and property relations, which inevitably lead to concentration of power. Similarly, it is incompatible with hierarchical structures implying domination, either institutionalised (e.g., domination of women by men), or “objective” (e.g., domination of the South by the North in the framework of the capitalist division of labour), and the implied notion of dominating the natural world. Finally, democracy is fundamentally incompatible with any closed system of beliefs, dogmas, or ideas. So, democracy, for us,  has nothing to do with the present dominant liberal conception of democracy, nor with the various conceptions of the ideal society which are grounded on religion, spiritualism, or irrational beliefs and dogmas.

In this framework, the need for a new liberatory project is both imperative and urgent. Inclusive democracy is not seen as a utopia but as probably the only way out of the present crisis.  We believe that a serious proposal on the form of a future post-capitalist society can neither be the outcome of the dialectics of History (as dialectical materialism does), or of the dialectics of Nature (as Social Ecology’s dialectical naturalism does) nor the object of some intellectual’s vision and the moral values he draws from social struggles (as for example Parecon does). In other words, we reject both modernist objectivism, with its close historical associations to totalitarian outcomes, as well as post-modernist subjectivism which inevitably leads to various types of ideological soups masquerading as “moral visions” respectively.

In our view, for a liberatory project to be credible today, it must constitute a fully-fledged political project (with its own historical analysis of the emergence of the present society, as well as a transitional strategy towards it), which, integrated into one of the historical traditions of the Left,  draws the organisational principles of the future society from a systematic analysis of present society and the trends within it. Therefore, we do not adopt neither any theoretical schemes founded on some closed rationalist systems which assume the existence of ‘objective’ truth in interpreting social phenomena, nor any irrational ideologies (e.g. religion, spiritualism, esoterism, New Age mysticism etc). In other words, we do not base the democratic project on any “objective” or irrational truth but on our own personal and responsible choice between coexisting tendencies and the interpretation that our choice implies. However, this is not an arbitrary choice or just another utopia. Inclusive democracy is not a utopia since not only it is based on today’s reality, which is summed up by an unprecedented crisis of the ‘growth economy’, but it also expresses the discontent of significant social sectors, their (explicit or implicit) contesting of existing society and their manifest trends towards democratic forms of organisation.

If therefore we define the liberatory project in terms of the demand for social and individual autonomy, we do so because we responsibly choose autonomy, as well as its expression in democracy, and we explicitly rule out the possibility of establishing any `objective’ laws, processes or tendencies which, inevitably, or ‘rationally’, lead to the fulfilment of the autonomy project. However, once we have chosen, broadly, the content of the liberatory project, some definite implications follow regarding our interpretation and assessment of social reality. In other words, the very definition of a liberatory project conditions the `way of seeing’ and criticising social reality.

The Inclusive Democracy project that we adopt is derived from a synthesis of two major historical traditions, namely the classical democratic and the socialist, and it encompasses the contemporary movements for emancipation: the radical green and feminist movements, as well as the indigenous and radical Third World movements. 

All this amounts to a new conception of confederal inclusive democracy, i.e. a confederation of demoi, namely, communities run on the basis of direct political democracy, as well as economic democracy (beyond the confines of the market economy and statist planning), democracy in the social realm and ecological democracy. Politics in this sense is not anymore a technique for holding and exercising power but becomes again the self-management (in a broad sense that includes the political, as well as the economic and broader social domains) of society by its members.

 

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Posted: 29 August 2006 03:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Re: Polls

[quote author=“Barry”]Actually guys, this poll is pretty simple.

Based on what we know to be true about human nature, which form of polity or economic system would best serve us and lead us toward a humanistic, peaceful, mutually benefical future society?

If you have a Hobbsian view of human nature, you might say Communism or Capitalism.  Of course, you’d be wrong.

I think of the choices above, based on 99% of human culture from the emergence of Homo Sapien Sapien ... Anarchism, Libertarian-Socialism or Inclusive Democracy are the best systems.

Barry

I’m no anthropologist, but I did study Japanese culture for a good while.  And it seems to me that “Human nature” involves a deep-set tribalism, a division between those within one’s group, towards whom “morals” or at least consequences for wrong action apply, and those who aren’t members of that group, towards whom no such morals or consequences apply (as long as you’re not caught by them).  I think this is still part of our functioning, which is why things like Rwanda or Islamic beheadings can occur with no qualms felt by the perpetrators.

Now, the question you’re asking isn’t “What do we know about human nature?” but “Based on what we know to be true about human nature, which form of (global) polity or economic system would best serve us and lead us toward a humanistic, peaceful, mutually beneficial future society?”  I’m assuming “us” means all humans, and I inserted “global.”

I figure the goal here is to figure out the “polity or economic system,” which would need to be at least somewhat in line with human nature if humans are to have any chance at all of following it for some length of time. In other words, we are not assuming that just because something is human nature, it’s good, and something that goes against human nature is bad.  We’re trying to recommend a system that is good as well as possible for humans to follow.

Okay, groundwork almost out of the way, and please correct me if I misunderstood you.

We could ask, “What is lion nature, and what’s the best system for all the lions in Africa to live in a peaceful, mutually beneficial society?”  Hmmm.  Well, they can continue to live like lions do, in accordance with their nature, which might not be considered either “peaceful” or “mutually beneficial.”  Or we can stick ‘em all in a zoo and control their mating and killing and food, to make sure that lions don’t starve or kill each other or sex-segregate.  We could remove the difficulties of their existence—a lion in captivity does live about twice as long as one in the wild.

Back to humans (I’d have done some primate, but I don’t know enough about any of them).  Human nature, if it is to be deduced from what 99% of human cultures did, likely includes:
-fierce tribalism
-sex discrimination (different roles according to one’s sex)
-art appreciation
-language
-reasoning ability
-fantasy-prone thinking
-anyone want to fill in more?

Some of human nature is definitely in conflict with humanistic values.  And I think that our tribalism keeps us from adopting what Kurtz refers to as “planetary ethics”—it’s too easy to think of people and groups as “us” and “them.”  So, in my opinion, tendencies of human nature would have to be overridden or inhibited in order to have any sort of humanistic, peaceful, mutually beneficial future society.  We could put everyone in a “zoo,” with some small ruling class of smart people and then everyone else, so that any killing would be punished, food would be distributed, people would work and learn the values of this future society, etc. etc. etc., kind of like with the lions.  And any new militia, or any “damaging” new philosophies or ideological movements (like some crazy new religion), would be squashed (think America or China, maybe even with re-education) by the federalist government for the good of everyone else.

I think that part of the goal of systems like humanism is to overcome the “bad” parts of human nature and get us to all live together without destroying ourselves.  I still don’t have a picture in my head of what a humanistic future society would functionally look like, except for some freaky Star Trek scenarios (“Landau is good”); I don’t even know if it’s possible without incorporating what I think are some very, very bad things.

Having said that, and before I go on talking about stuff I might not have the best grasp of…here’s an open question: has any human culture/society lived almost entirely in a way that we’d want to model in the future?  (I’m guessing we’d actually want to use the benefit of hindsight to pick the good parts and discard the bad, but I thought I’d ask.)

Debbie

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Posted: 29 August 2006 04:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Re: Polls

You raise a lot of great points, Deb. When we think of ‘tribalism’ we really must remember that humans are animals, primates in particular, and so share many of the good and bad behavioral patterns of our animal and primate relatives.

In particular, many animal and primate societies are at times warlike; they do share notions of ‘in group’ and ‘out group’, as do all social animals. They also have very well entrenched dominance hierarchies, with alpha males and/or alpha females at the top. Anyone wanting to test, flatten or overturn the heirarchy must do so by force, basically. Although more subtle methods (altruism) can also be helpful to boost a member’s standing in the group, purely altruistic methods are in no way exclusvely effective.

So tribalism and dominance hierarchies are part of our hard-wired biological heritage. They will always be with us. Any workable political organization must take that into account.

We also must take into account simple human frailty and fallibility. It was precisely this sort of enlightened understanding of human nature that led the framers of the US Constitution to put checks and balances in the government, so no one branch had exclusive access to power.

Any workable form of government would have to include such checks and balances.

Also freedom of speech and openness of information are crucial, so that wrongdoing can be exposed and not stifled. I think it’s no surprise that the worst governments are always the most secretive.

[quote author=“DebGod”]Having said that, and before I go on talking about stuff I might not have the best grasp of…here’s an open question: has any human culture/society lived almost entirely in a way that we’d want to model in the future?  (I’m guessing we’d actually want to use the benefit of hindsight to pick the good parts and discard the bad, but I thought I’d ask.)

Well, this is a question that seems crucial, but it will tend to mislead. Why? Because, (1) All cultures have aspects which are laudable. (2) All cultures have times in which they function well. (3) Every culture is fundamentally in process of change. Cultures are like languages—unstable, always mutating either randomly with time, or due to impact with surrounding cultures.

So with this as background, we can see how even if a very diligent anthropological historian might be able to pick out some timespan in some ancient or extant culture that seemed idyllic, what precisely would that prove? Very little, in fact. We can also pick out times in animals’ lives that seem idyllic (this is the staple of many TV documentaries), and yet know well that most animals fight or flee often and die very unpleasant deaths.

Madison and the other framers of the US Constitution were extremely curious and knowledgeable about the history of past attempts at organizing governments (By the standards of their day, of course. They were mostly intrigued by Greece and Rome). And anyone attempting to do the same nowadays would be well advised to learn everything they can about the same sort of history.

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Posted: 29 August 2006 05:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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What a great and well-written reply.  I’m inspired again—I’ll mention why shortly.

I brought up the idea of cultures in the past we might want to model not because I think we should, say, all live like this is Greece circa 400 B.C.E. or something, but because it seems like many thinkers who were interested in such issues would have this idealistic notion in their head (Rousseau and the Noble Savage, Mill, Machiavelli, Asante) of a time and people that never really had the imagined existence.

People who idealize the Native American tribal cultures, or Afrocentrism’s mistaken idea of joyful tribal living, etc.—I tend to think that no human culture has ever lived “humanistically” (although some cultures at some times have lived more humanistically than others), and I don’t know if we can, especially since such a mode of living would seem to conflict with human nature.

Here’s another picture I have in my head: ever see those Watchtower-type literature that the Jehovah’s Witnesses put out, with the smiling happy people picking tomatoes from their garden, the women all wearing skirts, the children laying down with lions, etc.?  Even excepting the lion part, it’s tough to imagine as taking place here on Earth.

Okay, that’s not the inspiring part.  What inspired me again is the awesomeness of the Constitution, and the process that went into writing it.  I have much respect for all of that; it gives me hope that we will be able to work it out in the future.

On the other hand, my sister, with her classics (Greek & Roman) degree from Princeton, would disagree—she thinks that people are too easily swayed by propaganda and politicians who make decisions based on their gut.  So, she has little faith in the democratic process.  If that checks & balances system holds, yay!  If not, I think the world is screwed.  smile

I was going to get into whether the three systems mentioned by Barry would work, in my perspective, but I think I’ll leave that for a future post.  I’ll just say that one’s view on “what we know to be true about human nature” determines what kind of system we’d propose for the future.  That seems to have been the discussion earlier, too.  So the poll is actually pretty complicated, or at least a two-part question, and we’re disagreeing about what we think we know to be true about human nature.  :wink:

Debbie

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Posted: 29 August 2006 06:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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[quote author=“DebGod”] What inspired me again is the awesomeness of the Constitution, and the process that went into writing it.  I have much respect for all of that; it gives me hope that we will be able to work it out in the future.

On the other hand, my sister, with her classics (Greek & Roman) degree from Princeton, would disagree—she thinks that people are too easily swayed by propaganda and politicians who make decisions based on their gut.  So, she has little faith in the democratic process.  If that checks & balances system holds, yay!  If not, I think the world is screwed.  smile

I agree with you that the Constitution is an “awesome” document. But, of course, that is not to say it’s perfect. We all know that originally it included reference to slavery, that it didn’t include voting rights for blacks or women, et cetera. Much of the arguments against the Constitution are basically of the form: “It’s a very flawed document.”

Well, yes. It is. But there are some elements to it that are enlightened, again, such as the notion of separation of powers, checks and balances, and of course many of the amendments, starting with the first ten.

We also have more systemic problems when, for example, the same political party is in control of all of the branches of government, refusing to fulfill their appointed role as “checking” or “balancing” the overweening royalism of the Executive Branch.

(Not incidentally, down this very same road the democratic German government became National Socialism in a period of a very few years).

The over-arching problem is how to design a functioning government made up of foolish, arrogant, criminal, nasty, dangerous, grasping, flawed people. The worst forms of social organization are those that assume the perfectibility of mankind, or that assume that some subset of the human race is somehow better or more perfect than the rest, so that they should be chosen to govern over the others.

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Posted: 29 August 2006 06:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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This is a very interesting, intelligent enlightened conversation and this is my place holder for a reply. I am not able to write it during preparations for the Hurricane/Tropical Storm Ernesto
But I’ll write it and be back to insert it in this place.
Jim

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Jimmie Keyes
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http://secularhumanism.meetup.com/1/
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. (MLK Jr.)

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Posted: 29 August 2006 06:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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[quote author=“jimmiekeyes”] I am not able to write it during preparations for the Hurricane/Tropical Storm Ernesto
But I’ll write it and be back to insert it in this place.
Jim

Be well, Jim. Take care. I’ve seen up close what damage these things can do, as I’m sure you have, too.

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Posted: 29 August 2006 07:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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[quote author=“jimmiekeyes”][color=darkblue]This is a very interesting, intelligent enlightened conversation and this is my place holder for a reply. I am not able to write it during preparations for the Hurricane/Tropical Storm Ernesto
But I’ll write it and be back to insert it in this place.
Jim”


Be careful Jim..
Bob

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