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Which philosophy best fits human nature
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On Human Nature
Posted: 29 August 2006 07:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
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Antropology is a young science. We still don’t know very much about ourselves. We have to be paiient.
Bob

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Posted: 29 August 2006 08:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
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Re Debbie’s questions

Debbie:

    Very thoughtful!  Here is what I think. 

    Tribalism has to be better defined so as folks know what KIND of tribalism we are talking about.  Turns out that tribes with a strong hierarchy - particularly a dominance hierarchy or a male-top, female-bottom hierarchy - will exhibit those nasty traits you mentioned.  This seems to be true of tribes, then, which can be called Chiefdoms, or the like. 

    But 99% of human existence (past 4-5 thousand years ago) were NOT such tribes, but nomadic hunter-gatherer cultures.  Their societies were NOT warlike, and most of the natural aggression (mainly in young men) did NOT lead to any violence.. except the occasional family feud.  Yes, when resources were low, their may have been some conflict between one hunter-gatherer group and another, but these were minimal.  The real tribal divisions and warlike behavior occurred within the Chiefdoms - of which there were a few - and later, nation-states. 

    Rwanda, by the way, was such a centralized tribal situation, and also, that particular conflict, as with many in India, Africa and the Middle East, owed a lot to Western Imperialism and Colonialism (no matter what Warraq, Hitchens or others stupidly say).

    Now, human nature is not inherently good or bad.  This is of course true (and what neo-anarchists think as well, by the way.  Socialists tend to think human nature is benign and infinitely malleable which is not the case, and Capitalists tend to think like Hobbes which is also not the case). Now, human aggression is part of human nature.  Is it good or bad?  It is good in many ways because it is a survival need to be such, but it can be bad if it leads to much violence or war.

    The question to be asked is: HOW can it lead to such? 

    It seems if we allow hierarchies (which may too be part of human nature), to get out of hand ... allowing for chiefs, dictators, kings, presidents, etc ... then we set in motion the possibility of dominance (mostly male), and that leads - ultimately - to Stalins, Hitlers, and Cheney/Bush’s.  These males will use all sorts of propaganda to control those who must obey them from race (Hitler) to fear of terrorism (Bush) to religion.

    Now, re lion nature, we have to understand that lions are not nearly like primates (or humans).  In the wild, their nature can be augmented by the environment like ours can, but not necessarily as much .. Not by far, perhaps.  And we should not think of lions as peaceful or not, because they are not the social species humans are.  We CAN say that lions are most healthy when allowed to exist as close to their basic nature as possible, and that in captivity, we see many signs of lethargic lions with what may even seem like depression (to anthropmorthsize a bit), because captivity is not something that best fits their basic natures. 

    Some animals may not seem to be as bad off in captivity (finches), but whether or not animals can adapt somewhat varies from species to species.  Humans and other primates show a severe negitive reaction to captivity and isolation because we are such social creatures.  And also, we have many more characteristics that can be understood as natural to us.  Let’s understand that I am not saying that war is UNnatural.  Clearly if humans are part of nature, and we can have wars, then wars in that sense are part of nature.  But this argument has to be seen as a bit superficial because one must then ask WHY do we go to war in the first place.  Is war such a part of human nature that it should be seen as inevitable (or even good, as many do see it)?  Or is war a result of a breakdown of the most basic of human natures which then becomes a natural result of that breakdown?  By breakdowns, I am talking about unhealthy varieties of hierarchy, promoted aggression, or the breakdown of basic conflict managements. 

    As for the other primates, humans have more in common with the Bonobos then the Chimps, and Bonobos are far less aggressive and territorial then chimps.  But humans, with our power of reason, need not feel confined to either chimp or Bonobo behaviors alone, of course.

    As for sex discrimination, the peaceful societies do not pretend women and men should do the exact same things.  There IS a division of labor ... but it is a division based on natural aptitudes and interests, and neither men’s work nor women’s work is considered better then, or more worthy then the others.  In fact, cultures which are more women-centered or gender-participatory are likely to be the most peaceful.

    As for fantasy-thinking, this was vital to the emotional survival of our species for most of our history.  It turns out that such thinking, at least where religion is concerned, has become more dangerous under centralized states because it becomes governmentalized or politicized (see the Crusades, Inquisitions, modern Jihad, etc). 

    Magical thinking in itself is not nearly as dangerous as when it becomes politicized.  Indeed, fantasy thinking has led humans to achieve much in science, technology, etc.  But when religion becomes a political weapon, or when hierarchies and depraved circumstances occur due to undemocratic nation-states (USA included), religion becomes a weapon of great power (and usually for the worse). 

    But if we are to reduce the dangers of religious thinking, we cannot do it directly by attacking religion, religious thinkers, or the religious masses.  We need instead to alleviate the bad circumstances which ALLOWED religion to take over such as it has in the first place.  In this way, CFI - being about reason and atheism rather than about humanism - is only stroking the fire(s) and will never put them out.

    You talk about limiting the parts of human nature which are corrosive and bolstering those parts which are healthy.  Thus, we need to see what our basic nature is and find a way to create a society which emphases these characteristics and minimizes the others.  I think that since 99% of human history was far more peaceful and egalitarian then the last 5000 years, we could assume that when humans get into large societies, they have to find a way to resist becoming overly hierarchal or centralized, which leads to creating dictatorships of party (communism), state (socialism), market (capitalism), etc.  We have to encourage cooperation which is basic and vital to a social species, and keep competition (which is basic in a smaller degree) from becoming obsessive (as in capitalism and basic US culture today).  We need to get rid of the winner/looser mentality.

    Those nomadic hunter-gatherer cultures (which include over 180 still around today), are living best without capitalism, states, hierarchies, male-dominance, etc.  Are they fantasy prone with some sort of religion?  Perhaps.  Does this religion cause wars for them? No. Can we have a technologically advanced scientific society and less politicized religion? Yes.  Can we have such a society with many people believing in the supernatural? Yes, but it becomes difficult if their beliefs become politicized.  Can such belief become politicized if we move away from hierarchal cultures with centralized governments? Probably not.  Can we better educate our children away from supernaturalism if religion was not politicized in such hierarchies?  Absolutely!

    And yes, Debbie, cultures did and do exist such as this.  Look at the website   .  Also, look into the Kieftians.  Also look into the Spanish Communes of Spanish Revolution of 1936 before they were destroyed by the state.

Barry

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Posted: 29 August 2006 09:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
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Response to Doug

Doug Said:

The overarching 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.


This is classical Hobbesian, capitalist apologetics.  Doug assumes people are all those deprived things naturally and not because of the culture or society they live in.  My entire dialogue has been to show that humans are NOT these things naturally, and indeed are more close to cooperative, smart and social then these Hobbesian labels suggest.  It is culture which leads to a more healthy society for our species or which can lead us to be as Doug suggests. 

I’d argue that statism, dominance hierarchies, the winner/looser mentality, rugged individualism, politicized religion and capitalism (among other things), creates the nasty humans Doug speaks of.

I am not speaking about any social system which would seek to perfect humanity, for that is silly.  There is no such thing as perfection.  All we can do is to create societies which let us be the most healthy toward each other as we can.  Communism and some forms of Socialism DID try to perfect people, but then, I am not advocating for communism or socialism of this sort.

And no subset of HUMANS which are better than another, but different sociopolitical; cultures ARE.

Barry

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Posted: 29 August 2006 09:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
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Debbie and Democracy

Debbie said:

So, she has little faith in the democratic process.

Yes.  This is perhaps because the US (with its good intentions via the Constitution) is not a true democracy, it is a republic which pretends representative democracy is the best democracy for humanity.  It is, as Churchill said, certainly better than what we saw in State Communism or State Socialism, or Feudalism and Aristocracies. But oligarchies cannot be best for humanity because it creates the sort of hierarchies I mentioned two postings ago which are damaging. 

Do not think that the mess we are in now in America is due to bad people or some bad leadership.  What we have now is the direct result of representative democracy.  Franklin said the Founding Fathers (how religious is that title?), created a “Republic, if we could keep it.”  We can’t keep it, and 2006 America looks nothing like what Franklin or Jefferson said it should. 

We need to challenge Churchill’s passive comment (which was also meant to keep people passive), and move toward a better democracy.

Barry

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Posted: 29 August 2006 09:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
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Re: Response to Doug

[quote author=“Barry”] Doug assumes people are all those deprived things naturally and not because of the culture or society they live in.  My entire dialogue has been to show that humans are NOT these things naturally, and indeed are more close to cooperative, smart and social then these Hobbesian labels suggest.

So you believe that humans are not animals then?

I certainly don’t believe that humans are always depraved (deprived?). But the notion that human depravity comes from culture or society flies in the face of all the evidence we have.

Once again: animals (with no human culture or society) kill, engage in warfare, dominance hierarchies, tribalism.

All human cultures—given enough time—engage in murder, warfare, violence.

The problem for politics and society isn’t how to deal with peaceful, well-mannered, well-behaved humans. They can usually take care of themselves. It is how to deal with the other ones ... or the well-behaved ones on a bad day, or with the till open, or with the sort of power that corrupts, etc.

When I say that humans are “naturally” violent, I don’t mean that they are violent all the time, in a sort of Hobbesian dystopia. That’s a straw man. What I mean is that humans—since they are biologically animals—posess all the same urges for dominance, and all the same capacities to use violence for selfish ends, as our animal kin.

Indeed, you yourself say that “dominance hierarchies ... [create] the nasty humans” I’m talking about. Precisely. We are hardwired to seek out, create and respond to dominanace hierarchies. So expecting to create a stable, long-lived culture without such hierarchies is fantasy. We must learn to live with them.

The great realization of the framers of the US Constitution was to use this tendency to dominance against itself, by separation of powers. So, if the President gets too overweaning, the pride of the Senate and House will get the better of them and they will have the institutional, constitutional power to push back. That way nobody ends up with total control.

That said, of course, we’re all still waiting for the push-back from Congress.

:wink:

FWIW, Churchill’s statement appears to me to have been basically right on. Representative democracy is far from perfect, but nothing anyone else has suggested appears to be even remotely better. (Of course, when we talk of ‘representative democracy’ we’re talking not just of the US, but of much of Europe and parts of Asia, Latin America, etc., as well ...)

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Posted: 29 August 2006 10:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
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More re Doug and Hobbes

Doug said:

So you believe that humans are not animals then?

I certainly don’t believe that humans are always depraved (deprived?). But the notion that human depravity comes from culture or society flies in the face of all the evidence we have.

Once again: animals (with no human culture or society) kill, engage in warfare, dominance hierarchies, tribalism.

All human cultures—given enough time—engage in murder, warfare, violence.

The problem for politics and society isn’t how to deal with peaceful, well-mannered, well-behaved humans. They can usually take care of themselves. It is how to deal with the other ones ... or the well-behaved ones on a bad day, or with the till open, or with the sort of power that corrupts, etc.

When I say that humans are “naturally” violent, I don’t mean that they are violent all the time, in a sort of Hobbesian dystopia. That’s a straw man. What I mean is that humans—since they are biologically animals—posess all the same urges for dominance, and all the same capacities to use violence for selfish ends, as our animal kin.

Indeed, you yourself say that “dominance hierarchies ... [create] the nasty humans” I’m talking about. Precisely. We are hardwired to seek out, create and respond to dominanace hierarchies. So expecting to create a stable, long-lived culture without such hierarchies is fantasy. We must learn to live with them.

The great realization of the framers of the US Constitution was to use this tendency to dominance against itself, by separation of powers. So, if the President gets too overweaning, the pride of the Senate and House will get the better of them and they will have the institutional, constitutional power to push back. That way nobody ends up with total control.

That said, of course, we’re all still waiting for the push-back from Congress.

FWIW, Churchill’s statement appears to me to have been basically right on. Representative democracy is far from perfect, but nothing anyone else has suggested appears to be even remotely better. (Of course, when we talk of ‘representative democracy’ we’re talking not just of the US, but of much of Europe and parts of Asia, Latin America, etc., as well ...)

=================================
Of course Humans are animals.  But do you compare chickens with whales when speaking about animal behaviour?  Just because we are animals, we may not act like chickens or whales or even gorillas.  One does not need to ignore that humans are a type of animal and yet understand that we are different from many animals (and perhaps more like certain animals like Chimps or Bonobos).

The notion of humans as you and Hobbes argue for (and you are close to Hobbesian dystopia enough for me to have made the comparison), is NOT due to genes, but how environment acts on genes.. and here, environment means culture, society, etc.  In actuality, “all the evidence” supports this and not your idealogy.  Again, you need to stop reading Dawkins, Machan and Pinker.

And your idea that ALL human cultures have warfare and violence (I said nothing of murder), is pure fantasy.  You are ignoring the overwelming evidence here.  Read Doug Fry.

Politics (polity) is not about keeping the peace as is much as it is really about adjuciatiing responsibily for human needs.  Peacefull societes need polity and economics to be part of the society itself and not some outside entity to stablise or facilate society.

As for hierarchies, I did say that humans HAVE such.  If you want to call it hard-wired, I’d accept that notion.  But hierarchies in the peaceful societies I spoke of do not get out of controll.  They DO get out of controll in cheifdoms or states.  And it seems that these such hierarches CAN NOT be ‘lived with’ if we want cooperation and peace.. percisely because humans respond to such hierarches in ways (hardwired or not) whcih are very distructive.  If we avoid creating unhealthy hierarchies, we won’t respond to them as unhealthy creatures!

And face it Doug, the ‘push back’ from the congress is not gonna happen… even if the Democrats regain power.  There may be a short lived superfical push back, but the problem is NOT having a congress fail to check the President, it’s haveing a congress and president in the first place… Both which include giving humans (often unqualified humans) illegitimate authority over the rest of us, and they almost never “represent” human societial needs, but instead, their own of those of their constiuents.  This is a perfect example of an unhealthy heirarchy leading to unhealthy people.

I said Churchill was right on re many other state-like systems, but statist systems have NOT been all humans have tried, and they should try others again.  Churchill led folks to think we have done well, and the world is not perfect.  But we have not done well enough, and the idea of perfection is a straw-notion.

Barry

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Posted: 29 August 2006 10:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]
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Re: More re Doug and Hobbes

[quote author=“Barry”]The notion of humans as you and Hobbes argue for (and you are close to Hobbesian dystopia enough for me to have made the comparison), is NOT due to genes, but how environment acts on genes.. and here, environment means culture, society, etc.  In actuality, “all the evidence” supports this and not your idealogy.  Again, you need to stop reading Dawkins, Machan and Pinker.

And your idea that ALL human cultures have warfare and violence (I said nothing of murder), is pure fantasy.  You are ignoring the overwelming evidence here.  Read Doug Fry.

Of course it has to do with how environment works on genes. How could it be otherwise? But that environment—in the case of our nearest primate relatives as well as many (most? all?) early hunter-gatherer groups—does not include culture or society, and yet we still see dominance hierarchies and violence. Ergo, dominance hierarchies and violence can’t be due (solely) to human culture or society. QED.

“Warfare” of course, as you well know, is a special case. Many people only allow the word when we are talking of chieftain or higher level societies, that can organize large groups of fighting men. If so, the distinction between “warfare” and “violence” is largely one of semantics. Hunter gatherers have violence and murder, chieftainships have warfare.

You ask me to “stop reading” brilliant, incisive theoreticians like Pinker and Dawkins, and to read “Doug Fry” who has, it appears, written a single, somewhat controversial “polemical” book on the subject. (This is the first review that came up on a Google search). I note that Fry appears to argue that Margaret Mead believed the Samoans were aggressive! Wild! Even wilder that he would use this as evidence for our supposed ‘peacefulness’.

That said, of course there are mechanisms for bringing peace as well as war. Indeed, one should argue that mechanisms for peace would not exist but for the tendency to violence and warfare. Nothing I have said or argued (and nothing argued by Pinker or Dawkins) contradicts any of this.

So perhaps it would be better to say, you should be reading more Pinker and Dawkins ... :wink:

[quote author=“Barry”]Politics (polity) is not about keeping the peace as is much as it is really about adjuciatiing responsibily for human needs.

It’s not an either/or. Politics is about keeping the peace, deterring violence and crime, and providing for human needs.

[quote author=“Barry”]As for hierarchies, I did say that humans HAVE such.  If you want to call it hard-wired, I’d accept that notion.  But hierarchies in the peaceful societies I spoke of do not get out of controll.  They DO get out of controll in cheifdoms or states.

So where does it say that none of these societies you term “peaceful” are chiefdoms? The website you cited on “peaceful societies” appears basically an advocacy-and-cheerleading site, and doesn’t say anything about these all being hunter-gatherer groups. To their credit, they note (at the bottom of this FAQ page ) that “some [anthropologists] disagree strongly [with the evidence that these are actually peaceful societies].”

It also notes:

Q: Could any of the peaceful societies serve as effective models for a contemporary society that wanted to form a more peaceful nation state?

A: Probably not. Most societies have their own unique ways of patterning social interactions; adopting the ways of other societies probably would not work. But having said that, the peaceful societies can provide inspiration and ideas for people who believe that peace between nations is possible and that more nonviolent contemporary societies can be achieved. Studying peaceful societies is more valuable for the inspiration and ideas of what might be possible than for concrete prescriptions that will quickly heal our problems.

So, it ends up that, basically, peaceful societies are inspirational. (I would also add, they are transient). Well, that’s nice, but that and $3.25 will get me a latte at Starbuck’s, as they say.

[quote author=“Barry”]I said Churchill was right on re many other state-like systems, but statist systems have NOT been all humans have tried, and they should try others again.  Churchill led folks to think we have done well, and the world is not perfect.  But we have not done well enough, and the idea of perfection is a straw-notion.

Er, haven’t yet heard any non-statist system that would function with 6-10 billion people on this planet ...

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Posted: 29 August 2006 12:10 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]
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A bit more for Doug

Of course it has to do with how environment works on genes. How could it be otherwise? But that environment—in the case of our nearest primate relatives as well as many (most? all?) early hunter-gatherer groups—does not include culture or society, and yet we still see dominance hierarchies and violence. Ergo, dominance hierarchies and violence can’t be due (solely) to human culture or society. QED.

Huh?  I do not mean the physical environment like rocks and rain.  I mean the human environment we grow up in ... as in society, culture, groups, etc. - Barry

“Warfare” of course, as you well know, is a special case. Many people only allow the word when we are talking of chieftain or higher level societies, that can organize large groups of fighting men. If so, the distinction between “warfare” and “violence” is largely one of semantics. Hunter gatherers have violence and murder, chieftainships have warfare.

But even here, you need to understand the major difference between violence in chieftainships and in nomadic hunter gathers cultures.  Murder too. - Barry

You ask me to “stop reading” brilliant, incisive theoreticians like Pinker and Dawkins, and to read “Doug Fry” who has, it appears, written a single somewhat controversial “polemic” on the subject. (This is the first review that came up on a Google search). I note that Fry appears to argue that Margaret Mead believed the Samoans were aggressive! Wild! Even wilder that he would use this as evidence for our supposed ‘peacefulness’

.

Pinker’s and Dawkins’s take on human nature and society are hardly brilliant or incisive.  And to limit yourself to these polemicists pretending to be theoreticians will only offer you the confirmation bias you seek.  Lynn Margulis said once that Dawkins ‘is wholly unqualified to talk about culture, religion and society, and should stick to biology… and his science is not very good either.’  Niles Eldredge, Steven Gould and Ernst Mayr seemed to agree.

As for Fry on Mead, he says Mead believed Samoans were ONCE violent but not when she was studying them.  Fry makes clear that the anti-Mead writings were ideological and not scientific.  And he is not linking the Samoans with his idea of peaceful societies.

That said, of course there are mechanisms for bringing peace as well as war. Indeed, one should argue that mechanisms for peace would not exist but for the tendency to violence and warfare. Nothing I have said or argued (and nothing argued by Pinker or Dawkins) contradicts any of this.

So perhaps it would be better to say, you should be reading more Pinker and Dawkins ...

I have read them, and find them polemical and political and hardly scientific.  Besides, even Pinker’s ideas on how the mind works seem to be contested by many real evolutionary biologists like Massimo Pigliucci.  Let go of evolutionary psychology before its too late. :wink:

And your comments on mechanisms makes no sense; you are creating a false dichotomy.  There are ways to keep human societes healthy and peaceful by understanding the basic nature of humans and seeking to avoid abusive systems like capitalism.  The abusive systems create warlike conditions and then we need to seek even more mechanisms to bring about the peace again .. which would have been there had not the abusive systems been set up. 

Your comments about hierarchies and the website I cited are not worth responding to.  You are not understanding me ...  too much Pinker and Dawkins, I guess :wink:  :!:  :( - Barry

Er, haven’t yet heard any non-statist system that would function with 6-10 billion people on this planet ...



Er.. You have not read very much then.—Barry

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Posted: 29 August 2006 04:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]
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There isn’t really anything that merits reply in what you say. I will only add in passing that your disparagement of evolutionary psychology is somewhat odd. You have previously accepted many of its tenets. Indeed, the Thomas Martin essay that you cited as “brilliant”, starting off this thread, is largely a paeon to evolutionary psychology. I quote:

“We have learned over the years to distrust words like sociobiology, evolutionary psychology, cognitive science, and above all that dreaded buzzword, “hard-wired”—yet we can no longer ignore the fact that these sciences are probably right about human nature.”

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Posted: 29 August 2006 05:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]
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What merits comments?

Doug:

Most of your posts do not merit responses since they are often off the mark.  But I respond anyway because too many folks at CFI are also off the mark!

As for E.P., I merely want to warn you that much of this “science” is often so very biased toward a political ideology, it is hardly the case that the “findings” of EP ever match up to actual scientific or social-scientific understanding while they always seem to match capitalistic, or right-libertarian ideals. 

Besides, with Neuroscience and evolutionary biology and genetics, we hardly need the “just so” stories of EP to inform us about human nature.  Quite often, this information is just wrong, anyway. 

EO Wilson compares humans to ants (the only other animal with standing armies).  How convienent, but humans are most like Bonobos, not ants.

Pinker’s idealogies stated in the ‘Blank Slate’ are meant to mock the welfare state or other liberal or socialist or anarchist ideas.  Therein lies his passion, since his “we are not a blank slate” argument is hardly unknown, and his mind theories are, well, non-theories. 

Read ‘The Mind Doesn’t Work That Way: The Scope and Limits of Computational Psychology’ by Jerry Fodor.

Or read ‘Human Natures: Genes, Cultures, and the Human Prospect’ by Paul Ehrlich.

Or read ‘Unto Others: The Evolution and Psychology of Unselfish Behavior’ by Elliott Sober and David Sloan Wilson.

Or even look here: www.homestead.com/flowstate/pinkslate.html

Barry

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Posted: 30 August 2006 01:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]
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I am very familiar with Fodor, Sober and D.S. Wilson. I actually studied with one of the three when doing my doctorate. I had a seminar from the author on one of the books you cited, while it was still in draft form.

I will leave it up to others to decide who is being swayed by political ideology here ... you, me or Pinker. But I would suggest that maybe you ought to broaden your horizons a little away from your narrow political theories, at least when posting. Do you have any opinions on religion, atheism, quack medicine, pseudoscience, or other philosophical issues? Or are you only interested in pushing a certain political program?

I’m a little confused about what you see you are achieving here. You have continually disparaged the CFI, the content of Skeptical Inquirer, Free Inquiry magazine, as well as illustrious CSICOP fellows like E.O. Wilson, Pinker and Dawkins. (And, I’m sure, Dan Dennett, who agrees with much of the same stuff). In their place you put political activists, economic hacks, Kennedy-conspiracy mongers and the like. The anti-Pinker page you link to in your previous message is a sterling example. I am certainly aware that there is much in evolutionary psychology that is questionable and speculative. But Dr. Mezmer? I’m sure you can do better than that.

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Posted: 30 August 2006 02:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]
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I give up my reservation - The storm has passed and we have survived again this time without added damage. Thanks for the good wishes some expressed.
I am disappointed that the conversation that began so well has degenerated into something close to personal attacks.

Doug is expressing his views and they are entitled to great deference. Instead my reading of this thread reveals - not a careful dissection of the expressed opinions but comments characterizing the individual expressing them as one sort of thing or another. That sort of ad hominem approach isn’t the kind that benefits the rest of us who might have liked to provide our thoughts on one or another of the many worthwhile subjects this thread contained.

This isn’t intended to be a defence of Doug, he defends himself very well without my help but it is a shame that the rest of us who might have liked to toss in a thought or two have now been prevented from doing that.

While I have my own views of CFI’s overall approach it can’t be argued that it isn’t doing a great service to humanity by providing platforms for publication by humanists and secularists of every stripe, many of whom are leading biologist, philosophers, and thinkers of the day.
Jim

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Jimmie Keyes
Tavernier, FL
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: 30 August 2006 05:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 28 ]
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Here Here Jimmie… It is unfortunate that this thread has developed into such personal attacks between Doug and Barry…  As much as I’ve wanted to write them in the past, I shudder when I see the phrases “clearly you haven’t read as much as I have,” or “your bias and agenda are obvious, <insert label here>”. 

Let’s try not to be belittling or belligerent on these forums eh?  There are a lot of heavy thinkers here, (which, as Jimmie indicated, is thanks to the fact that we’re all drawn to CFI’s efforts) and intellectual “contests” such as these could ruin a good thing if we let them. 

For example, instead of saying “Er… you haven’t read very much then,” you might say “Here’s an example for you from a book I read.”

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Posted: 30 August 2006 08:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 29 ]
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Jim,
It’s good that the storm has passed and that you are safe and sound.
I am saddened by the way this thread is progressing. Ad hominem attacks are out of place here. I suggest that all members and guests try very hard to remember that.

Bob

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Posted: 30 August 2006 07:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 30 ]
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Re Doug and Barry fued?

Before I address what Doug last wrote, let me comment on the few comments by Bob, Holy Avenger, and surprising, Jimmy.  My postings have always been meant to respond with all due respect to my fellow poster’s ideas and opinions.  Also, I do not feel I should be confined to addressing only the positive work of CFI ... CFI and their apostles do that quite well on their own. 

As an activist humanist who seeks above all to have humanism accurately promoted to the public, I feel it is my philosophical duty to critique, when appropriate, where I feel organized humanism goes astray.  That said, let’s look at my recent posts.

My posts in the ‘What is Humanism’ section deal with how organized humanism promotes humanism itself, and I used the unfortunate unsophistication of CFI/CSH in their misguided response to the Danish Cartoon “controversy” to make my points.  I feel all of my comments there were in line with a defense of humanism, and no organization should be off limits to critique ... especially such a large, and potentially influential organization such as CFI.  In these posts, and the ones on the recent de-evolution of Free Inquiry Magazine, I am consistent with this duty.  I am honest, to the point, passionate, and willing to debate my points.

In this “Human Nature” thread, I reviewed my posts before writing this response, and found this: 

In my response to Deb (‘Re Debbie’s questions’), I think I offered a well thought-out analysis in answering her questions, and did so with utmost respect.  I know Debbie personally, but I would not act otherwise to any stranger on the forum.

In my first response to Doug (‘Response to Doug; Tue Aug 29, 2006 3:19 pm’), I see no attacks on his person, or CFI.  The response was appropriate and short.  Subsequently, Doug’s response to me (‘Tue Aug 29, 2006 3:50 pm’), and mine back to him (‘Tue Aug 29, 2006 4:20 pm’) were more of the same - polite and thoughtful.

Doug’s next response was mostly polite too, and the little comments both of us made re Pinker and Dawkins seemed perfectly appropriate to me as they are public intellectuals who put forth powerful ideas which are back by powerful people and groups.  Yes, I am confused as to the particular choices of scientists CFI promotes and more baffled by all those they omit - at least when they make their core arguments about humanism - because, it seems to me, that they are looking the wrong way.  But I am allowed to say this, am I not?  And I am far from being cruel or rude.  If anyone things I am, they ought to read most blogs or message boards - especially those about politics and religion!  Anyway, Doug ended this particular post with:  “Er, haven’t yet heard any non-statist system that would function with 6-10 billion people on this planet ...” 

A bit of sarcasm, and a bit odd since, of course, I HAVE heard of such systems and have been arguing on the posts for them for some time now.  My return, “Er.. You have not read very much then,”  was a bit of my own sarcasm, and like Doug’s, meant to ‘bust chops’ a bit about things both of us are passionate about.  I do not see much harm in either of our “Er’s.”

Now, in the post where I offer my “Er”, I have many other comments, all of which seem to be polite and on target.  The only one worth calling me out on was when I said, “Your comments about hierarchies and the website I cited are not worth responding to. You are not understanding me ... too much Pinker and Dawkins, I guess   .” 

I admit this comment, when I looked at it just now, could have been better worded .. even though the smiley faces should have set the proper tone.  I was not saying ALL Doug’s ideas or opinions are not worth responding to, because they obviously are as I responded to many of them all over the forums!  I was just frustrated with the last few comments he made, because, he REALLY DID NOT seem to be understanding me, and it was not gonna matter if I responded back because I’d just be repeating myself.  Doug seemed to be frustrated as well, when in the next post he wrote, “there isn’t really anything that merits reply in what you say.”  And of course, I responded, perhaps getting carried away with myself, “most of your posts do not merit responses since they are often off the mark. But I respond anyway because too many folks at CFI are also off the mark!”

Now, re the first sentence, let me apologize for the tone.  Clearly Doug and I began as just frustrated with one another, but I took it one step further.  I have to admit that I meant what I said in the sense that I DO feel much of Doug’s opinions are off the mark, but since I DO enjoy discussing these opinions with him, I clearly find some merit in most of what he’s said over the last few months.  Doug, after all, is not Tibor Machan! 

And speaking of Machan, my second sentence should come as no surprise based on my other comments on these forums.  I DO think many folks at CFI are missing the point about humanism, and that CFI DOES promote dubious characters which they loudly proclaim to be humanists or enlightened scientists; but as I said before, there should be no reason I should NOT be able to express these views because CFI is a public entity with an ideology that, like ALL ideologies, needs to be questioned to keep it (and its promoters) honest.  If CFI claims to be the vanguard on humanism, then humanists all over should be able to challenge CFI if they feel CFI has got something wrong.

As for some of the scientists and others whom CFI promotes, their ideas are certainly up for debate - as are all public intellectuals’ - and thus my saying Pincer’s ideas are dubious at best, and Hitcher’s ideas are malignant and anti-humanistic, is fair play, and their defenders should debate my claims and not act as if I am overstepping polite conversation.  Think of me as the Leftist Sam Harris if you will.  We need not be polite about what we feel is misinformation. 

Otherwise, why have an open forum in the first place? 

And trust me, both Doug and I have been very polite - even when we went overboard (which may happen in passionate debate). 

And after my one “overboard” comment that most of what he says does not merit responses, Doug came right back at me, thus failing to take the high ground.  This is what Doug said:

Doug:  I will leave it up to others to decide who is being swayed by political ideology here ... you, me or Pinker. But I would suggest that maybe you ought to broaden your horizons a little away from your narrow political theories, at least when posting. Do you have any opinions on religion, atheism, quack medicine, pseudoscience, or other philosophical issues? Or are you only interested in pushing a certain political program?

I’m a little confused about what you see you are achieving here. You have continually disparaged the CFI, the content of Skeptical Inquirer, Free Inquiry magazine, as well as illustrious CSICOP fellows like E.O. Wilson, Pinker and Dawkins. (And, I’m sure, Dan Dennett, who agrees with much of the same stuff). In their place you put political activists, economic hacks, Kennedy-conspiracy mongers and the like. The anti-Pinker page you link to in your previous message is a sterling example. I am certainly aware that there is much in evolutionary psychology that is questionable and speculative. But Dr. Mezmer? I’m sure you can do better than that.

 

Why ought I “broaden” my horizons even further when what I talk about already seems to be broader then anything Doug himself is talking about?  Humanism is a sociopolitical philosophy which only is relevant to the real world when it DOES consider polity, economics, and larger society.  When I write in the ‘Politics and Social Issues’ section or in the ‘What is Humanism’ section, these are just the things which should be discussed.  If one wants to talk about secularism or other philosophies or community or biblical criticism, there are other forum sections for them to write in and/or read. 

And indeed, my comments in the sections I write are broader than most because, well, how many folks on these forums consider Parecon or anarchism (for instance) as anything but fringe or peripheral to a discussion of humanism?  Folks are thinking too narrowly as they mainly focus on classical liberalism and capitalism.  Very narrow, indeed. 

And as for the paranormal, Alt. medicine or the like, those topics just don’t interest me much.  Been there, done that ... time to move on to more important issues.
 
What do I think I am achieving, Doug asks?  What everyone on this forum, I assume, is trying to achieve!  Seeking and spreading truth and thinking about and implementing methods to improve human society.  Are these not what CSH and CSICOP are all about? If CSH and CSICOP are only about attacking religion, promoting atheism, attacking “quacks,” debunking psychics, and promoting THEIR version of reason and science, then why should they pretend to be about humanism or rationalism or social change?  Of course, it can be argued that CSICOP and Skeptical Inquirer may be about truth (and perhaps it sometimes is), and therefore should not be critiqued as being neutral on bettering human society, but surely CSH and CFI as a whole ought to be. No?

And it matters in a bad way not to me, nor should it to anyone, that I critique “CSICOP Fellows” because these people are not JUST CSICOP fellows, and as public intellectuals, they are not immune to critique from anybody.  And if CSICOP is part of CFI which is about truth and making a better society, and I find the work of some of these persons - and the blind promotion of their work by CFI - to be wrongheaded, then it is my duty as a humanist and a human being to argue this point.  Unless you are saying that the authority of these “fellows,” or of CFI, ought to shield them from outside critique? 

And I do not think Dan Dennett’s work is as dubious as Pinkers or Dawkins’ even though I think he often claims to have an answer about this or that (such as Free Will), and never actually explains what this answer is… But that is OK, let him stir up thinking, and we can look elsewhere for further research.  And I am not painting Dawkins, Pinker or even Hitchens with a broad stroke, because I enjoy some of what each have to say.  Dawkins does make interesting comments about atheism and much of his science is interesting. And Hitchens has written great works about Mother Teresa and Kissinger… That is before, as Stephen Bronner once said, he lost his mind.

Also, to call my cited references ‘political activists’ or ‘economic hacks’ or ‘conspiracy mongers’ is both unfair and inaccurate.  Parecon is hardly a hack job, people who think politically are not always activists (and if they were, so what? ... Pinker and Hitchens are political activists even if one hides behind “science” and the other behind fancy words and whit).  The Kennedy book I cited is evidence-based and not some Oliver Stone movie.  And as for Mesmer, don’t fall into the fallacy of the appeal to the authority trap, or its opposite.  I do not know the credentials for Mesmer, but his ideas - which match many of those with real solid credentials like Eldredge, Pigliucci, Fry, DS Wilson, du Waal, etc - should be taken on their own merit.  And though I have not read most of his work, the essay I linked to was right on. 

You Doug, in turn, should think a bit before you use terms like ‘CSICOP Fellows,’ or ‘brilliant theoreticians’ when you describe your heroes because authority is only legitimate when it is deserved.  And many other “experts” in the same fields as Dawkins and Pinker have often critiqued them as well for the same reasons Mesmer and I do, so keep in mind that you may be limiting yourself to only those experts or authorities which agree with your own worldview.  I used to like Pinker and Dawkins and Hitchens and other too when I first became involved with CFI and learned about their work, but I have also learned about what CFI does not want to promote.. and found much of that far more convincing (and just as scientific)
Peace, all!

Barry

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

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