Miscellaneous content from the original enlightened caveman. Some serious, some not. Take your chances.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Riding The Horse

I don't know about you, but I'm pretty nervous around horses. They're very big, and they are (as far as I'm concerned) very unpredictable. I've heard horror stories of people who got kicked by horses, and I'm pretty much soured on them. But it occurred to me this evening that managing the caveman within each of us is very much like riding a horse. First you have to tame him, then you can take him wherever you please.

Think of our primal tendencies as the horse. When unsaddled and unbroken, the horse does pretty much what he wants, according to his natural proclivities - he seeks safety, food, and sex, and not necessarily in that order. And he's big, which means he's due a wide berth when he's got a head of steam for something. Our goal as enlightened cavemen (and women) is to contain the horse, to control it. This is not unlike the process of breaking a wild mustang.

I have long believed that the human populations (in Africa or the Middle East, for example) that fare the worst in life are dominated by people who are driven exclusively by unbroken horses. Ancient emotions run wild - the quest for status, the indignation and enmity that come from reciprocal altruism unfulfilled, the in-group versus out-group mentality, the male urge to spread his seed far and wide, the willingness to believe falsehood if it supports any of the aforementioned, all of it. The horse lacks the benefit of a harness that is held by a rational, big-picture thinker. But, lest we miss a critical component of this concept, the thinker is not enough.

Were we jockeys without horses, we would be largely unfit for purpose. The thinker would be deprived of the chief instrument of his plans. Indeed, the thinker is never as good at finding shelter, food, and sex as the horse is. No, the horse is essential. He brings with him the courage, the strength, and the resolve to execute the visions of the thinker, even the most primitive of visions. So the first task is to harness the horse, to control him, and a daunting task it is.

The choice of the horse as the embodiment of the caveman mentality is not arbitrary. It is precisely the juxtaposition of power and unpredictability that make the horse the obvious choice. We cannot simply lasso him and expect him to submit. We have to convince him that he cannot win. Fortunately, the rich history of our species is replete with examples from which we can draw our confidence as horse breakers. So long as the horse believes that we are in control, he is ours to do with what we will. And still, it is not easy.

The unpredictability of our horse, even when broken, limits our options. If he gets spooked by dogs, we cannot expect his submission to override this. We must extend our thinking to include accounting for his quirks, for at least he is predictably unpredictable - he won't spook for nothing, but when he does, there's no telling what he'll do. So the thinker gets to know his horse. He gets to know what spooks him and what soothes him so he can guide him gingerly around the obstacles that promote unpredictability. This is our task, and as with any worthwhile task, the rewards are manifest.

When we tame the horse, when we control the horse, we can ride him. We can find a delicate (but durable) balance between our big-picture designs and his power to achieve them. We can steer him around interpersonal conflicts that back him into a corner, but, when options evaporate, a few heels to the hindquarters are all it takes to spur him into action. This is what I'm after. This is what we should all be after - a tame horse that can be unleashed at will. Luckily, this is all figurative. No matter how much I may like this analogy, don't look for me on a horse any time soon.

58 Comments:

Blogger alice said...

Ah, the metaphor...or is it an analogy? We humans certainly love to invent them and they do the job of explaining complex ideas. But as Psybertron warns, caveatmetaphor.

Another brilliant piece, I can see the professor standing backstage with the hero and shouting to him about a horse. Please spare us the soliloquys, caveman. Write good dialogue, it's important.

Another horse metaphor... I have a friend who is a horsewoman. She also has a troublesome relationship with her sister. She doesn't want to sever the realtionship and defines it this way.

"My sister is like my horse. I love her and I know she can hurt me."

PS. Just an idea. Maybe if you have a subject you think needs a commentary, you could float it to me and I could float something back to see if you thinks it's worthy.

6/17/2005 10:43:00 AM

 
Anonymous Jorge Borlandelli said...

I liked the analogy. May be it is because I love horses. Even after one got rid of me by galloping close to a barbed-wire fence. One problem with horses is that if you keep him all the time under control (short reined) its wild side will not appear when needed.
By the way, I think your blog is great and the commentators also. From the country with the highest concentration of unenlightened cavemen on Earth, Jorge.

6/17/2005 03:39:00 PM

 
Anonymous browndog420 said...

a horse might not be a horse...unless, of course. the analogy is very visual and striking. in the movie " the horse whisperer ", bobby redford has one of the best lines for this here situation. he is confronted with the owner of horse that has problems. his comment is that usually he encounters horses with people problems. this has to fit the disemburdened ( see enlightened ) caveman mentality to a T. seems most folks give scarce little thought to the NOW and spend much of their energy in the la-la land known as CNN. the idea of scarcity is one that taught to us by the media. this very same idea had people dooms-day shopping in december of 1999. how much stuff does your average horse have on reserve, just in case? zero, zip, zilch, nada. that is because the safety/food/sex triad is much easier to sate than, say, one's need for the latest in cellphone features. seems like we might find a happy place between these imagined needs and the provisions sooo very basic to survival for us ALL. bare-back is the only way to ride. peace.

6/17/2005 07:47:00 PM

 
Blogger enlightenedcaveman said...

Yeah, I guess it is a metaphor. Is my face red or what?

Don't worry about these little pieces ending up wedged into the story as irritating and inappropriate diatribes. I'm a wee bit obsessed with making sure I avoid that. It's probably the biggest obstacle I face in making this work, but I think I have a handle on it.

Jorge - you bring up an excellent point. A horse that is coddled and controlled at all times loses its edge when the harness comes off. That means the prudent thing to do is to let him run wild every so often, but not so wild as to do harm to the thinker.

Sometimes when I'm out running, I realize after a while that my mind has been pretty much on autopilot - it's as if the route I'm running is preloaded into my head, and the traffic avoidance measures I take are reflexive. I'm zoned out. Perhaps that's what it takes to keep the horse on his game.

I know one thing - if I ever find myself in a life or death situation that requires me to run, I'll fare better than the jockeys who keep the reins on their horses at all times. Of course, it's perfectly arguable as to whether that makes a bit of difference, considering that the likelihood of my being a situation like that is pretty much nil. But maybe it's simply about taking the horse out for a stretch now and then. Maybe that's enough to keep the right balance. Who knows? That's really not why I do it.

It's all about working off Milk Duds. How's that for ridiculous?

6/17/2005 10:40:00 PM

 
Blogger Clupbert said...

This just brings me to a question about the theme of the site. While it is interesting and I adhere to many principles, where is the line to where we should do irrational things just because we're human and it feels good? I mean, aren't our goals whatever our subconscious makes them? I mean what is the purpose of veering away from safety, food and sex? I'm not doing a very good job of explaining myself, but I guess what I'm saying is that shedding caveman mentalities is good if it helps to get to our goals, but what are our goals and how do you determine them? Maybe that's answered somewhere on the site, so just push me there.

6/18/2005 02:29:00 PM

 
Blogger alice said...

I think one way to determine actions is by doing a cost/ benefit analysis. I know you are a student, Clupbert, and I bet there are some Monday mornings which find you unhappy about having to go to that 7:00 AM class. Maybe you were out drinking the night before or maybe you were at a late night bible study, but something in you just hates that class so early in the morning and you do have a great reason not to attend...you just don't feel like it.

Then you get a picture in your mind of your mother who is getting ready to write the tuition check for the next semester and she remembers to ask you for your grades before she does so...and she sees the D or F for that class, largely due to non-attendance.

You happen to know that your mother is not going to spend her hard earned money on such a lazy boy and you do want to stay in school, so you decide to get up and go and not only that, pay attention and try to absorb the boring lecture.

It is my belief that 90% of life's decisions come from doing cost/benefit analysis.

I think caveman's philosophy is that the more aware we are of the process and how our desires drive the process, the more intelligent our decisions can become. That way we don't spend a lot of precious time doing useless things like trying to look good to people who don't matter or hating because of prejudice or being afraid to make mistakes and therefore avoid making any decisions.

6/18/2005 07:04:00 PM

 
Blogger enlightenedcaveman said...

Here's how it breaks down for me. It's all about backwards planning. I think about what philosophers often call the good life. Bertrand Russell said that the good life is a life inspired by love and guided by knowledge. To that, I add freedom from unnecessary constraint. The idea is to imagine what that life looks like with you leading it - 30, maybe 40 years into the future.

Then, you reason your way to what it takes to get there. Your broadest and most far-reaching goal is the good life, whatever that means for you. Then, working backwards, you have a long series of situational goals that all contribute to your realization that uber goal.

At every milestone from the good life backwards, you have to determine the skills, knowledge, and character traits that are required to attain each goal. Eventually you end up where you are, which means you can now determine what you should be doing with your life. Perhaps an example.

My vision of the good life is me as an old man, surrounded by grand children and people I love and who love me. I can live wherever I want, whenever I want, for as long as I want. The tasks in my life consist of want-to-dos not have-to-dos. But that doesn't mean I sit around doing nothing. I have all sorts of projects I am working on - based upon whatever avocations I might have at the time - most likely music, cycling (or some other similar keep-in-shape kind of activity), and, of course, writing. If that can be me when I'm 60, all will be well.

So I work backwards from there. If I'm to be surrounded by an extended family, I had better be the family type person - a committed husband and father who places the family's happiness, enjoyment, and well-being above all else. I lived the single life until it became time to start thinking about settling down, and when the time came, I made sure I was the kind of guy a good woman would want to marry - honorable, ethical, responsible, financially secure, loaded with *gimmick* (see the archives), etc.

And if I want to have true freedom, the ability to live the option (again, the archives), that means I need to come up with a viable plan for obtaining enough money to no longer require a salary from an employer other than myself. In short, I had to realize that the work till you're 65 and retire on your 401k plan isn't going to cut it. So I keep one eye on earning as much as possible from my job, and the other on building revenue-generating assets (writing books, for example) that will eventually overtake my salary as my primary form of income.

Thre good thing about my plan is that I don't really have to set any overt goals related to attaining more and more knowledge - a key component of the good life. You don't get much of anywhere if you don't do enough homework to figure out what it'll take to reach your goals. The knowledge flows as an ancillary benefit from my pursuit of financial freedom. Goal setting and the quest for knowledge naturally compliment one another. A nice bonus.

And ethics - let's not forget ethics. I am a firm believer that the kind of good life I envision simply cannot be obtained without a strong set of ethics - if for no other reason than they serve as a character barometer for the family. Again, my vision of the good life entails a happy, connected family - people who know, respect, and admire one another. So I rationally conceive of the ethics that lead to the good life, and I commit myself to living up to them.

That's it. That's my version. Yours will be different, but I'm convinced that the method I've laid out here is the ideal way to steer your boat.

Alice's cost/benefit analysis is a micro-strategy that should be used pervasively in daily life. And it becomes even more powerful when it is used in the context of aiming for the good life.

The only caveat here is this - it is possible to take this approach too far. You can't plan everything and then get disappointed every time things don't work out as you planned - that leads to routine frustration and eventually unhappiness. You just have to be flexible with the plan because life is unpredictable.

This approach takes good discernment skills. The good life is necessarily abstract, so as to provide for as many paths to attaining as possible. So plan, but keep your options open, and be willing to chase experiences that will contribute to your character. You simply have to know how to tell when a deviation from the plan is danger to the plan, versus when a deviation from the plan will actually improve your likelihood of succeeding in the long-run. Once again, knowledge is useful in getting good at this.

So there you have it - life in a nutshell. With how to determine what goals you should set, you should now be able to figure out when to let the horse run and when to keep him at a trot.

6/18/2005 11:19:00 PM

 
Blogger alice said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

6/19/2005 09:20:00 AM

 
Blogger alice said...

EC, I see your horse has been trained a whole lot more rigourously than mine has. I guess we could chalk that up to differences in personality.

Personally I like a little more free rein. My reluctance to accept that life is predictable, has kept me from looking into the future with as much detail as you apparently do.

I have what I would call guiding principles. Through my life I have found that these work. I have thrown out a few and have added some. I would say that honesty is the most important. So much so that I am willing to sacrifice happiness for it, because I couldn't be happy without it. (reminds me of Best Buy)

Then there is hard work. I have chosen a profession which makes me happy and allows me to be creative. I have never been rich because of it, but the other guiding principle I have of thrift, makes up for the deficit.

I also have a quest for knowledge and lots of curiosity. I want to know how the world works as much as I am able. I figure I'm here, I may as well suck the marrow from this experience.

I think if I follow these priciples all else will flow from there. I am sure there are more, but my point is that I go with my principles and have faith that they will be enough. I don't try to make things happen so much as see what happens.

6/19/2005 09:51:00 AM

 
Anonymous Ed said...

Nicely writen and thoughtful. Would like to make one comment...I took a very shy girl horseback riding years ago. She couldn't ride so she sat behind me. A very "happy" stallion decided he really liked the mare we were riding. I tell you it really makes it difficult to get someone to go riding again after having a stallion on their back!! We stopped dating shortly after this.

6/19/2005 01:20:00 PM

 
Blogger The probligo said...

EC, I hear a number of things in what you say.

First, and I suspect the most important, is the enlightenment that we are first of all cavemen, and before that apes.

I say "most importantly" because that leads to several critical secondary factors that can be lumped into the general heading of "SURVIVAL". Those factors must have the general form of "food, shelter, procreation".

It is not a long step at all from the comparison you make between horse and human nature...

...until I get to your comment about "the human populations (in Africa or the Middle East, for example) that fare the worst in life". Your statement that they have been "driven exclusively by unbroken horses" rings only partially true.

If you use New Guinea as a comparative there are "stone age" tribes in the highlands whose contact with the outside world can be put at less than 70 years. You do not find (until post contact) the kind of excesses that you mention. Warfare was very ritualised in the examples I have read of; there were various systems of exchange and value.

Returning to Africa, it is not difficult to imagine (say only 400 years back) that there were a majority of African societies whose inter-relationships were far more simple and peaceable than now. So to make the assumption that "their horse has bolted" is wrong.

Yes, there are men who have created the tragedies of Africa. Not all, regrettably, have been African.

Not all of Africa's tragedies, by the same token, can be said to be "man made". Some are the consequence of changes such as the expansion of the Sahara Desert toward the south, forcing people to shift southward in their desire to survive.

And there is that word again - survive...

The second is the veneer of culture and ethic that is the hallmark of our species. I am interested in the relationship between this change in our species and the development of true "self awareness".

The metaphor of the bridled and unbridled horse is both appropriate (and the pedants who care about the difference between metaphor and analogy should be ignored)and clear. I shall be chucking that back into the mire that is my poor appreciation of the ancient Greeks to see if the parallels make them clearer for me.

For the rest, the "triad of instinct" is still very much alive in the species. How it is expressed in society is the interesting part.

Question -

To what extent is it necessary that the President of the United States must display the traits of the alpha male?

Aside -
And is there a mess of comment that could come from that, begorrah...

6/20/2005 05:26:00 AM

 
Blogger enlightenedcaveman said...

Probligo - you make a good point, but keep in mind that my interest here is the caveman mind in a modern world. I have no doubt that many African societies had no problems (relative to what we're talking about here) prior to being introduced to the greater outside world. But it's exactly what they've done once their societies expanded beyond their previously manageable numbers that makes such a difference. I'll borrow a comment (by me) from an earlier post:

"There's a concept in cognitive psychology called channel capacity. It refers to the amount of specific information our brains can handle. In social terms, our brains seem to max out at about 150 specific relationships. You have your relationships with other people, and then the dynamics between those people to keep up with. For example, if you are a part of a group of 20 people, there are 190 two-way relationships involved (19 between you and another person, and then 171 between the other people).

Evolutionary psychologists have theorized that brain size is directly correlated with social channel capacity. And as the biggest brained primates, we happen to have the largest capacity. But even still, we max out at around 150. Beyond that, we confront the concept of anonymity, relatively speaking, of course."

It's almost as if horses can operate without jockeys when the number of horses in the group is limited. But, unlike the movie Electric Horseman, the days of small populations of wild horses roaming the plain unmolested are long gone.

Now that it is nearly impossible for human populations to avoid the "outside world," the limitations of social channel capacity are readily apparent. It's what you do once your group is no longer isolated that determines how well your new extended group will fare. African groups, for the most part, have consistently failed at making this transition successfully.

If you're going to avoid having a few wild horses running roughshod over the rest of the population, you're going to have to appoint some folks to serve as wild horse breakers - read, you're going to need the rule of law. They can't seem to get this together. That's where I'm coming from with my comments about Africa and the Middle East.

6/20/2005 10:08:00 AM

 
Blogger alice said...

"and the pedants who care about the difference between metaphor and analogy should be ignored."

I don't really care...I just didn't know. So when EC made his apology, which I wasn't expecting, I did actually look up the two words.
metaphor: a figure of speech in which a term or phrase is applied to something to which it is not literally applicable in order to suggest a resemblance.

analogy:a similiarity between the features of two things on which a comparison may be based: the analogy between the heart and a pump.

Pretty close, I'd say and so close that I think a case could be made for either one.

However, I don't think it is useless to try to use terms properly because communication is so important and all we have is words with which to do it. (particularly in this type of communication)

pedant: a person who makes an excessive or inappropriate display of learning (such as a person who uses the word pedant)

ignore: to refrain from noticing or recognizing (now I resent that!)

6/20/2005 10:08:00 AM

 
Blogger enlightenedcaveman said...

So Alice - maybe we've uncovered something interesting here. Could it be that your "guiding principles" are irrational? Not that they're wrong, but that you've arrived at their validity via irrational means. Let me explain.

You've laid out what could be considered an approach to morality. Honesty, hard work, and the quest for knowledge. The honesty part we'll set aside, since it is easy to point to countless examples where honesty fares better in daily life than dishonesty (except in Best Buy, of course). (Even though this is a classic example of Hume's Problem of Induction, you're exempt cause we know you're a critical rationalism fan.) But about hard work and the quest for knowledge?

Why should those be valuable to you? Why are they better than their opposites? It's quite easy to find examples of people who don't work hard and who either don't have any real curiosity or they don't bother to satisfy it, yet they do quite well in life. So, if you don't have an endpoint in mind, how did you conclude that these guiding principles would be useful in your march through life?

If you say that abiding by these principles makes you a certain kind of person, then you actually do have a goal in mind, and it's a long-term one - you wouldn't want to change who you are, lest you "bait and switch" the folks who are on board with your current persona.

My point is related to Matson's points on Morality - from the 10 Commandments thread. Morality is only a useful concept if you have a goal in mind. You can't say one thing is better than another unless you state your criteria. My vision of the good life is my criteria, which is why morality is easy for me to consider. But Alice, if I'm reading you right, you have avoided any grand vision of the good life, which makes me wonder how you've decided upon your guiding principles. Just curious.

And just to clarify/reiterate - my vision of the good life is necessarily abstract. I just want a handful of things to be true. That way, I can have a great deal of latitude in how I get there - and the mix of wild horse versus tame horse figures heavily into that flexibility. If anyone comes away from this thinking I'm a Type A, Detail-obsessed, Planner kind of guy, I've not made myself understood. Wouldn't be the first time.

6/20/2005 10:31:00 AM

 
Blogger alice said...

"it is quite easy to find examples of people who don't work hard and who either don't have any real curiosity or they don't bother to satisfy it, yet they do quite well in life."

Yes, and that's what really pisses me off.

And they are not me (I).They have an entirely different set of life circumstances which drive them. They also have different genetic makeup.

I think you are trying to get me to see that I chose the guidelines I have with a goal in mind and that it must be so for everyone...unless of course one is being irrational which I may be being.

Let's take honesty. It's easier, I don't have to figure out when I'm going to cheat or lie, I just don't (never mind Hume). I don't do it for others, although it sometimes does benefit others, I do it for myself because it's just too much trouble to decide (oh what a tangled web, and all that). In fact I am sure there are friends of mine who don't have a clue that I am honest, and sometimes would prefer that I not be. I also expect others to be honest.

Hard work...well I'm not the type who says "yes sir" or "yes dear" and I don't have big boobs and long legs and I'm honest so how the hell am I going to feed myself without hard work? Add to that I like it. And I have found through the years that it is worth the trouble. I hope so, really I do.

Intellectual curiousity? This is another thing I can't help. It is a feature which has no goal except that I guess I think we're all bozos on this bus, so that's my goal...to be the best bozo I can be given all of my assets and deficits.I want to impress myself and I'm a pretty harsh critic being a fan of critical rationalism.

This doesn't seem quite as specific as yours with the grandchildren and all.

6/20/2005 09:56:00 PM

 
Blogger Clupbert said...

"Morality is only a useful concept if you have a goal in mind."

I don't agree. Morality makes us feel good because that's how we evolved. It's like sex- people don't do it for the satisfaction that it will produce a child. When people do things for others it makes them feel good, and all morals have this base to them because believe it or not, we are efficient beings. Evolution naturally has made us efficient in a lot of ways. .

6/21/2005 12:36:00 PM

 
Blogger alice said...

Cut to the chase, Clupbert, that's what I like about you. My daughter has been asking about you, but hasn't been able to access your site because she is without internet service this summer. She's doing an internship in Santa Cruz (poor kid!)

Of course someone will ask you if "feeling good" is a sufficient reason to do something, since sometimes something that "feels good" isn't "right".

6/21/2005 01:14:00 PM

 
Blogger enlightenedcaveman said...

Come on now, folks. Let's not descend into wasteful discussion. These topics require precision.

Morality does not make anyone feel anything. It is a *contextual* measure of right and wrong. My point (and Matson's from the Africa post) is that there is no such thing as inherent right and wrong. Only in the context of some goal or criteria can we evaluate whether something is good or bad.

So we do some things because it makes us feel good. That has nothing to do with efficiency. (And just to be clear - evolution isn't even remotely about efficiency - seen a peacock's tail lately?)

Clupbert and Alice - I get the drift here, but I think there's a better way to say it, and it is distinct from any notions of morality. I'll agree that we have physiological drives that were installed by natural selection result in our doing the kinds of things that promote our survival. Indeed, if this blog is about anything, it's that. What you're referring to Clupbert is the genetic need to cooperate and concur with other humans - standard caveman stuff. Yes, evolution installed that in us, which is why we feel good when we do nice things for people. But that's all below the radar of consciousness kind of stuff. My comments in this thread about rationally conceived morality. That's all.

And this:
"When people do things for others it makes them feel good, and all morals have this base to them..."

What kind of sloppy thinking is that Clupbert? You tired today? Too many beers last night? Come on, buddy. A significant percentage of the things I do for others I do because there's something in it for me. It actually doesn't feel good - it's work. If anything feels good, it is imagining the rewards of my efforts. There's a big difference between acting for expediency and acting for morality.

6/21/2005 02:40:00 PM

 
Blogger alice said...

"Come on now, folks. Let's not descend into wasteful discussion. These topics require precision."

See, now he's mad at us. I didn't do it, it was his fault.

"My comments in this thread about rationally conceived morality."

Actually the whole thing started with a horse. Then Clupbert asked about goals, then you talked about how you arrive at goals, etc. etc.

This reminds me of a thought I had early on when I first started visiting this site. I remember writing it and thinking it was brilliant and no one commented on it. So, I'll give it another try.

It's all really about who we are at our core, our physical genetic being. It is what makes things "look" a certain way to us. We make it up and we either approve it or don't, but the whole thing is from our human vantage point, collectively speaking.

Capitalism doesn't work, it works because it suits us. As EO Wilson said of communism, "nice theory, wrong species".

6/21/2005 04:22:00 PM

 
Blogger enlightenedcaveman said...

Mad? Never. Insistent? Of course. There's a bar here, one that you've helped establish. We can't just lower it and make blanket generalizations just because they make sense in some contexts. Ours (at least mine) is a quest for new understanding.

Oh and Alice, your comment is quite salient. Our genes determine, in large part, the success of our institutions. It's key to remember that.

6/21/2005 04:51:00 PM

 
Blogger alice said...

" Alice, your comment is quite salient."

Oh good, he's not mad any more!

"Our genes determine, in large part, the success of our institutions."

Not only institutions, but "morality" and every human enterprise. There ain't no ghost in this machine.

Somehow we're getting back to the point we were at when I met your site and you were explaining caveman enlightenment to me.

6/21/2005 05:30:00 PM

 
Blogger alice said...

"We can't just lower it and make blanket generalizations just because they make sense in some contexts."

And why not? That is how most human knowledge is arrived at. Of course this is the induction problem you referred to earlier, but until someting is proven or shown to be wrong, it's OK to make a generalization.

See the black swan. See him fly. See he is not white, so you are wrong.

6/21/2005 05:37:00 PM

 
Blogger Clupbert said...

"Morality does not make anyone feel anything. It is a *contextual* measure of right and wrong. My point (and Matson's from the Africa post) is that there is no such thing as inherent right and wrong."

Morals help us evolutionary, and thus make us feel good. Living a moral life is much more satisfying to human beings than one that is not. We're trained by millions of years of evolution to be satisfied with certain behaviors and not with others. We're not simple animals, and our psyche is a big part of us. It is not a simple tit for tat, a produces b, game. Our psyche is much longer time period. We live morally because that's more satisfying long term. What makes morals is our attitude toward behaviors. They exist because we think and feel that they exist. And living a satisfying life I think would depend on following our inscribed moral code. So when I say all morals have the base to them that we feel good, that is what I mean. A long term good, not a short term good. If you kill innocent people your whole life, but get everything you want (like a loving family and all of those things), you will not be a psychologically happy individual at the end of your life. Only a small percentage of people who are mentally on the fringe can do that.

As for rationally conceived morality, what is rational is finding the behaviors that satisfy the human psyche long term. Finding out all of those behaviors and situations, and then planning out a life that puts you in those situations within those behaviors will give you the happiest life. That is my take on it.

6/21/2005 06:39:00 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My comment is about goals and the best laid plans of mice & men. I set goals very early on and failed eveery last one of them because I did not know myself nor, really, other people. I finally, quite by accident, got a comprehensive evaluation *after retirement* (long story, involved being a guinea pig), and am still trying to decide what my goals should have been on the basis of this information.

Muddling through,

Pat

6/22/2005 08:22:00 AM

 
Blogger alice said...

The problem I have with reading your stuff, Clupbert, is that I can't quite get a handle on what you are saying. One sentence I can agree with, the next I can't figure out what you are saying and the next I think I disagree with.

This could be your writing style or just my inabiltiy to follow your writing style.

But I think we can agree on a few things. Long term, doing the "right" thing feels good. So it's good to the right thing. And if I have this right, you think this is the basis of morality...the feeling part.

You also are in search of behaviors which will satisfy you long term. I think this is wise and unusual for your age considering how your generation seems to be encouraged to get satisfaction immediately.

These things seem to be self evident and I think EC likes to get under the surface and explore the "why" aspect of things. He also likes to tease things apart and take a look at them and how they interact with each other.

I think it would be rare for a twenty-something person to have sufficient background or the desire to be able to do this.
Further, I think you have a good grasp on things and the curiosity and intellectual integrity to go further in your investigations. I say this because of your ability and willingness to defend you position.

6/22/2005 12:22:00 PM

 
Blogger Clupbert said...

"The problem I have with reading your stuff, Clupbert, is that I can't quite get a handle on what you are saying. One sentence I can agree with, the next I can't figure out what you are saying and the next I think I disagree with."

I am a speaker first and writer second, that's why. So I skip things sometimes because I am thinking faster than I write. I know I'm choppy, especially in a comments section.

But no, I don't believe feelings are the basis of morality; I am a much more spiritual person than that. I just was making the logical case for morality. I do believe in an inherent good and evil, I just can't prove it and don't have that much of a logical basis for it. But I would still make the case that morality is logically real to humans and a much more sound policy than immorality.

6/22/2005 05:56:00 PM

 
Blogger enlightenedcaveman said...

The logical case for morality rests on the assumption that morality is a *communicated* and *agreed upon* measure of right and wrong. I'm saying that that morality, the morality we've grabbed onto as a species is not about feeling good, although many of the things we consider moral are.

Once we buy into the idea that people who pose a threat to us are acceptible victims of homicide, our morality has transcended what merely feels good to our caveman minds. I'm not saying it's right or wrong. I'm just pointing out that our morality is an artifial construct that is assembled by our culture.

Were we reared in a Middle Eastern culture, our version of morality, even the things that feel good, would be dramatically different.

The point is that morality is subjective, and is less a function of our genes than I think you surmise.

6/23/2005 03:09:00 AM

 
Blogger enlightenedcaveman said...

Oh and Clupbert, I hope you don't mind my picking on you a bit. When you say you're more spiritual than that, what exactly do you mean? I promise I'm not being manipulative. I just want to know. What does it mean to be spiritual?

6/23/2005 03:12:00 AM

 
Blogger alice said...

"Once we buy into the idea that people who pose a threat to us are acceptible victims of homicide, our morality has transcended what merely feels good to our caveman minds. I'm not saying it's right or wrong. I'm just pointing out that our morality is an artifial construct that is assembled by our culture."

OK, now what the heck does that mean? Are you taking writing lessons from Clupbert?

"I do believe in an inherent good and evil, I just can't prove it and don't have that much of a logical basis for it."

That statement generates more questions in my mind than it answers. First of all Let's look at the word "inherent". "Existing in someone or something as a permanent and inseperable element, quality or attribute."

So do you believe that good and evil exist in the universe along with protons and neutrons? Are they some kind of physical particle? Do they affect everything or are they relegated to human endeavors? Or do you believe that good and evil are inherent in humans only, that we are born with them inside of us?
Are they equally powerful forces? How do we know them when we see them?

One of the things I have found intriguing about the bible, one of the only things, is found in Genesis. In the story of Adam and Eve, they are forbidden to eat of and eventually punished for eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Whoever wrote that little story had some kind of insight into the problem of human existence.

6/23/2005 10:28:00 AM

 
Blogger Clupbert said...

I just don't think we know everything yet. I feel like there is a big piece of the explanation of the universe is just not there.
And I would say good and evil is not an explainable thing or one that we could grasp so comparing it to neutrons is like explaining to citizens of a 2D universe what 3D is.
I believe that humans are among the only things actually alive and conscious and have free will so good and evil would be actions that you choose.
And there is more in common morally with people in the middle east than not. It is a common sociological thing to analyze everything so deeply so it seems like environment controls behavior only. I think genetics has a lot more to do with it.

6/23/2005 04:46:00 PM

 
Blogger alice said...

"I just don't think we know everything yet. I feel like there is a big piece of the explanation of the universe is just not there."

I think a vast majority of people would agree with this statement.(although I do have a problem with the grammar. You have to forgive me, I am a pedant.)

I guess the question which comes after that statement is whether it is useful to identify the things we do know. And once that is done if we can infer things from the things we do know. I would venture to say that the majority of people would just like to leave well enough alone and go watch TV.

Then there are some who would like to make a stab at answering the unanswerable questions. You meet a lot of those people on blogs like these... pondering the inponderable.

I am one who is curious, but I have my doubts as to whether anything I learn will have an effect on life as a whole. Remember I am the one who looks at the Grand Canyon and thinks about how small human existence is in the scheme of things.

And there are those who look at great ages like the enlightenment when people stretched their knowledge and imaginations and achieved great things. Some people believe that the application of logic and rationality yields great benefits for humanity and perhaps the planet and universe as a whole.Then there are some, like Psybertron, who while he acknowledges science and logic as great tools, believes that there is a whole lot more to knowledge than those two things.

Do you fit any of the descriptions I have given?

6/23/2005 07:23:00 PM

 
Blogger Robert said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

6/23/2005 10:09:00 PM

 
Blogger Robert said...

I am one who is curious, but I have my doubts as to whether anything I learn will have an effect on life as a whole. Remember I am the one who looks at the Grand Canyon and thinks about how small human existence is in the scheme of things.

This thread has become rather existential, eh gramma-slamma?

But seriously…I think Chris is partially correct when he wrote: The point is that morality is subjective, and is less a function of our genes than I think you surmise.

A while back, I argued that …the concept of morality in general is an objective verity, but I reject the notion that any particular moral code is objectively superior, because reasonable, intelligent people can disagree on the fine points of subjective ideology. In other words, I think that the concept of morality is universal, but the particulars will vary with cultures and individuals. That said, I reject the notion of “moral relativism”, because dispirit moral codes can indeed be evaluated and judged, in my estimation, based upon the degree to which inherent individual rights are respected. However, whether the concept of inherent rights is an objective truth is debatable…at least according to some.

6/23/2005 10:19:00 PM

 
Blogger Clupbert said...

"In other words, I think that the concept of morality is universal, but the particulars will vary with cultures and individuals."

I agree.

6/24/2005 03:50:00 PM

 
Blogger enlightenedcaveman said...

"OK, now what the heck does that mean? Are you taking writing lessons from Clupbert? "

Maybe I was being a bit cryptic, but I was trying to point out that we do a lot of things in the name of morality that don't make us feel even remotely good. Ever heard the notion of the hard right versus the easy wrong? If morality aligned (even half the time) with feeling good, I might be willing to concede that morality is more genetic than I've asserted. But this is simply not the case.

My point about threats and homicide was this: normal people do not take pleasure in killing other people. This, I believe, is genetic. Homo sapiens is the cooperative hominid, the one that can think two or three steps ahead. Killing others in your species is kind of contrary to that - sort of a micro version of mutually assured destruction - *unless there's a good reason*. This is where culturally-based morality comes in.

With the advent of the Bush doctrine of preemption (which I wholeheartedly support), we see a perfect example of this. Though our soldiers are trained to kill the enemy, I can tell you from my time in the military that it still weighs heavy on many of them. What comforts them is the notion that they're protecting their country, the greatest country on earth. That's the morality of the situation - murder is okay if you're murdering people who you believe are trying to attack your team. Indeed, in that case, it's not murder. (Isn't that convenient?) Nothing about this feels good.

Think of all the things people do for their religion, things that are the exact opposite of feeling good. This is the effect of morality - feeling is ancillary and generally unrelated. My view.

6/25/2005 01:48:00 PM

 
Blogger Robert said...

Think of all the things people do for their religion, things that are the exact opposite of feeling good. This is the effect of morality - feeling is ancillary and generally unrelated.

I would say that acts performed in the name of morality are often contrary to instant gratification. A principle that I hope to instill in my kids is the following: some things are necessary because they are the “right thing to do”. An important aspect of this principle, however, is the proper use of rational thought, which helps to determine the “rightness” of a given act. Respectfully, ”the things people do for their religion” often fails the test of reason (e.g. flying planes into buildings, monastic celibacy, coercive polygamy, wearing a “red dot” on the forehead, etc)…just sayin’.

6/25/2005 10:59:00 PM

 
Blogger alice said...

This is why I love my dictionary.

moral: pertaining to the rules of right conduct or the distinction between right and wrong.

This conversation has gone far afield from it's original idea. Somehow we got onto morals. I think it's interesting how human communication does this and quite often at that.

As I go back, I see that what I said about guiding principles might have changed the direction. EC, you challenged me to examine these principles, I think with the eye towards making me realize that I have chosen them rather than their being something which is inate.

You seem to dismiss honesty, because it is advantageous to be honest and therefore has "caveman" roots. But you questioned hard work and intellectual curiosity and I think suggested that they come from a more reasoned choice.

If I am correct that that is the distinction you were trying to make I will now say this.

Both of those attributes are advantageous also. They reside in me and I bring them to the table in my dealings with others. I'm sure that there are other ways to proceed and there are other maybe more advantageous attributes, but those are the ones which fit me best. I can't be everything. I must decide to be something.

As far as the Bush doctrine being moral. Well, that's debatable. I think it's only a more sophisticated caveman game. Of course the position of the soldier is unique. He/she must obey whatever the commander says, regardless of the moral integrity of the command. So I would say that is not morality, but rather a job description.

Morality would come in when a soldier has a choice. And those times occur. Often it is a choice between killing or being killed. You say that it is not natural to kill another human being. I guess I would have to agree with that, because I would have to think long and hard and by that time it would probably be too late. Ayn Rand says the highest morality is to be selfish. Therefore, the soldier who shot the fellow who was lying down and pretending to be dead, could be said to have been folowing the highest moral code...to kill this guy, just in case he had a weapon stashed, which was quite likely.

But many would view his actions as pure survival, rather than moral. Maybe that is because they have never been faced with such a decision. But those who say that war is base instinct are not all wrong either. There is the caveman tendency to protect his unit. Of course our units have grown to nations and coalitions.

I still, after all this time don't understand the importance of making the distinction between rational and caveman tendencies. We have risen above, but not that far. We are more sophisticated, certainly, but I believe everything we do is because it works. And it works because we are who we are.

I wonder if it is a male trait to classify and separate. I was talking to a computer geek recently and he said men think sequentially, while women think in parallel (metaphor or analogy?). Maybe I just have a more holistic approach.

6/26/2005 10:27:00 AM

 
Blogger Clupbert said...

"...but I was trying to point out that we do a lot of things in the name of morality that don't make us feel even remotely good. Ever heard the notion of the hard right versus the easy wrong? If morality aligned (even half the time) with feeling good, I might be willing to concede that morality is more genetic than I've asserted..."

Yeah Robert is right. Those things are about instant gratification. Like I said before morality is for the long term. Think about something like heroin. Why would you not want to take heroin? It will make you feel like a champ as soon as you take it. It is a a hard choice for some people not to do that because of how good it will feel. The thing is it will make them feel like shit in the long term after repeated use. This is the same with morality, only the consequences and effects are not so clear as with heroin.

6/26/2005 12:56:00 PM

 
Blogger alice said...

And why is it only genetic if it feels good? Where is that little factoid written?

6/26/2005 06:10:00 PM

 
Blogger Clupbert said...

Because of Evolution. Natural selection caused people to survive who behaved in the most efficient manner. People who got the "do this and you will feel good" gene thus survived and passed it on.

6/26/2005 09:22:00 PM

 
Blogger alice said...

oh, so that's how it works! Thanks.

6/27/2005 12:09:00 AM

 
Blogger enlightenedcaveman said...

Quite right. That's why you adhere to them, and that's why. I'm not dismissing anything here. I'm saying that

I think there's validity to the notion that we do things that feel good, and that it was in the doing of things that felt good that our ancestors survived. From there arose our genes. Fair enough, but...

There are lots of ways to skin a cat. Evolutionary biologists spend a lot of time talking about evolutionarily stable strategies (ESS). For animal populations, including human populations, there are always a few (and often more) basic strategies that govern the behavior of individuals within the population.

When facing a potentially dangerous interpersonal conflict, one may operate as a *hawk*, standing his ground and fighting, necessary. Or one may operate as a *dove*, fleeing when things look too hairy. In populations of animals where interspecies conflicts arise regularly, these strategies exist in dynamic proportions - sometimes the hawks outnumber the doves; sometimes vice versa.

*To some extent*, it appears as though these strategies are genetically-determined. Furthermore, any number of factors (environmental or otherwise) may contribute to the ever-changing proportions of these strategies.

The point is that the people who are aggressive by nature may very well be behaving according to what feels good. Same for the doves - it could be excruciating to face danger when your natural inclination is to run. But the genes that drive these behaviors are there, even today. So what does this have to do with morality?

We have to agree that doing what felt good to our caveman brethren may not make sense in this modern world. For example, the punk in the souped up car at the traffic light who'll gladly fight you for staring to long at him (or worse, his girl). That's where reason comes in - we *decide* when we're going to forego what feels good for something more important later on.

All morality, and yes I agree it's universal, revolves around some end goal. In caveman days, it was the survival of the group. Once survival was not an issue, it was the control of the group, by the powerful. Then, eventually, thanks to the classical philosophers and the enlightenment thinkers, morality became aimed at creating just societies. And here we are.

The thing is that in the past, morality was more tightly aligned with human nature - that is, what was right was more like what felt good than it is today - the powerful insisted on heirarchies with them at the top and the men did what they wanted with the women. As we get more and more enlightened, we find the need for our morality to depart more and more from what feels good. That's the whole point of this site.

We can't just say it works because it got us this far. This world is not the caveman world. It isn't even the world of the 1980s. We have to examine morality from the floor up and decide *deliberately* what to keep and what to change. This is riding the horse.

How's that for full circle?

6/27/2005 12:12:00 AM

 
Blogger alice said...

Well, first of all,I was feeling guilty for writing this to Clupbert

"oh, so that's how it works! Thanks."

because I thought it was so obviously sarcastic, but I guess not.

"As we get more and more enlightened, we find the need for our morality to depart more and more from what feels good. That's the whole point of this site."

So, I need to try to get this point one more time. Could we say that the caveman does what is expedient? And you say that what is expedient will "feel good". The caveman mind doesn't do much long range planning? Is this because the caveman mind does not have the capability to think long range? And that now, because of our culture we have learned to think long range?

I would venture to say that the journey away from what "feels good" began in caveman days and is probably what made a lot of the difference in the success ratio of Homo sapiens. I don't think you would disagree with that. And the journey has continued.

I know that you contend that we as a race, must examine ourselves and develop ever more wonderful ways of living. And I contend that this has been happening all along, from the beginning of our species. There is a natural progression and it is because of who we are not in spite of it.

We may be saying the same thing, but I just like to argue. Are you familiar with Maslow's hierarchy of needs?

6/27/2005 10:23:00 AM

 
Blogger enlightenedcaveman said...

"And I contend that this has been happening all along, from the beginning of our species. There is a natural progression and it is because of who we are not in spite of it."

This is where we're apart. What has been happening all along is that the "in-group" populations of our species have grown beyond the point where everyone knows everyone, and where the golden rule is effective as the moral guidepost of social behavior. When this happens, it becomes necessary to codify behavioral acceptability, also known as morality.

I say that, up to relatively recently, this newly codified morality has mirrored our caveman tendencies pretty closely. And yes, we are where we are because of this, but let's be clear, where we are is nowhere near where we could and should be.

Alice, I really sense the following as the undercurrent in your argument: "Our genes and the morality they begat have gotten us this far, so what's all the hubbub?" What I am trying to argue is that it will not just be alright if we let things run their course. This world is changing fast, and the bad things that keep happening (at least many of them) keep happening because human morality is more like that of the caveman than it should be, given the circumstances.

"We may be saying the same thing, but I just like to argue."

I don't think we are, and that's what we're here for.

"Are you familiar with Maslow's hierarchy of needs?"

Yep, this feeds very nicely into the discussion. Once we move beyond meeting our basic physiological needs, it becomes more and more necessary to rationally examine what we do to meet our more complex needs. This is where we get all messed up.

For example, this is where religion comes into play - it meets safety needs (particularly, the need to make sense of the world) and love (comaraderie) needs. But if we really think it through, we can meet these needs without the creation of artificial (and often pernicious) devices.

Are we getting there yet? Am I making any headway here?

6/27/2005 08:31:00 PM

 
Blogger Robert said...

For example, this is where religion comes into play - it meets safety needs (particularly, the need to make sense of the world) and love (comaraderie) needs. But if we really think it through, we can meet these needs without the creation of artificial (and often pernicious) devices.


While I agree with the thrust of your statement, it seems to me that these tendencies are rather subconscious in nature and ultimately the product of genetic heritage. So, I think that this will likely continue among those that are content to ride the current of cultural normality. Furthermore, individuals *do need* ”to rationally examine what we do to meet our more complex needs”, but the impulse for conformity continues to militate against such an ideal.

6/27/2005 09:05:00 PM

 
Blogger Robert said...

Inasmuch as “this conversation has gone far afield from it's original idea, there’s an interesting look at ‘happiness as a moral imperative’ at Julian Sanchez’s Lounge. Here’s an excerpt: Now, imagine I'm a soldier deciding whether to jump in front of a grenade that will surely kill my less-well-armored fellows. I suddenly have a vision of my rough future life if I do it, and am maimed in the explosion. I simulatneously have a vision of my future if I don't do it: Perhaps I feel some initial guilt, but it doesn't torment me. By any ordinary measure, I am far happier (both in experiential terms and in terms of the extent to which I can satisfy my future preferences) in the second scenario.

6/27/2005 10:52:00 PM

 
Blogger enlightenedcaveman said...

"While I agree with the thrust of your statement, it seems to me that these tendencies are rather subconscious in nature and ultimately the product of genetic heritage."

Yes! Exactly. That's my point - doing what feels good is nothing more than assuaging urges. They nag at us (which is just a euphemism for the physiological changes in our brains). It's critical to the discussion to note that this is largely an unconscious process. This is why it isn't shocking to discover that our morality has largely been consistent with doing whatever makes those urges go away, even though virtually no one thinks of it that way.

And you're right to be skeptical about the possibility of any mass movement toward rational morality. At this point, it's nothing more than a cause. It will always have opponents, opponents with more juice than we have. But, and this is the best part, rational morality is flat-out more conducive to a happy life than any other kind of morality - provided, of course, that you have the stones to be different from the crowd. It can be pursued individually, which means that the crowd's going along is just gravy anyway.

As for the Sanchez scenario, consider this: there's a rationally realized morality that guides the soldier's actions. Yes, the physical torment of falling on the grenade has a cost that weighs very heavy. But I can tell you quite confidently that those kinds of calculations do not enter the thinking of most American soldiers in combat.

Any grunt will tell you that you do what you do for the guy next to you, not for the flag. You got yourself into the situation with your patriotism, but your combat actions are governed by a commitment to the other soldiers in our unit. In short, the commitment is to get your buddy's back, no matter what, even if it means you die or get maimed.

The only reason you do this is because every other member of your unit has made the same commitment. This is a strategy for happiness that has more scope than a momentary collision with a grenade. Sanchez, illustrating the average journalist's utter incomrehension of the soldier's ethic, swiftly glosses over the possibility that the soldier might be tormented with guilt, but this is highly likely. In fact, I'd argue that the very prospect of letting your buddies down is enough to ensure that, on your way into battle, you'll mentally accept the possibility that you'll die this day. All else flows from that - think of the soldiers assaulting Normandy.

Ultimately, the idea that happiness is the highest imperative has merit. However, as I pointed out earlier with the ESS, there are bigger picture strategies (read moralities) that can come into play. The soldier's dilemma (and solution) is a testament to just how far afield of the genes that humans can go when they have a rationally constructed reason to do so.

6/28/2005 01:50:00 AM

 
Blogger Psybertron said...

I must have missed an important turn in this thread. I see several things to comment on, but I cannot work out how they arose from the original post.

Metaphor (analogy whatever) is everywhere in language. Fine.

Evolution generally and memetic evolution of morals again. Fine, but where did that come from ?

Alice said "It is my belief that 90% of life's decisions [even "moral" ones] come from doing cost/benefit analysis."

Then somewhere EC suggested there was irrationality in Alice's decision making.

Irrationality is not quite the right word (but I've not found a better one) ie it's "not classical objective rationality" - so despite your belief Alice that people use "cost-benefit" analysis, the costs and benefits they put into that equation are rarely completely objective. - That's one of my "business decision making" staring points.

Sorry I suspect I didn't add much there - I must concentrate harder earlier in the next thread :-)

6/28/2005 05:34:00 AM

 
Blogger alice said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

6/28/2005 12:43:00 PM

 
Blogger alice said...

In my lifetime I have seen several schemes for bettering human existence come and go and even come back again. There's good old Rand's objectivism, which seems to be enjoying a comeback, the hippie movement "come on people now, smile on your brother", all manner of new age religions which promise enlightenment, evolutionary psychology, which now has it's own section at Barnes and Noble, the opening of the windows of the Church, by Pope John XXIII, and the return to traditional Catholicism, by John Paul and now democratising the planet.

It's the ebb and flow of human thought, swinging on the fulcrum of time and eventually returning to stasis.(flowery summation) But I believe with every movement there comes a small move forward.

There's too much going on to crown any way of thought to be the right way. Rational morality is probably not as rational as you make it out to be, since humans aren't really capable of being completely rational, nor should they be.

But I do enjoy the dialogue. I think I grow in my ability to articulate my thoughts. And that's a value I have.

6/28/2005 12:50:00 PM

 
Blogger alice said...

"our morality has largely been consistent with doing whatever makes those urges go away, even though virtually no one thinks of it that way."

Oh good, I found a flaw (one of many, just kidding) in your argument, EC. You said prior to this that morality doesn't even half the time feel good. Now which is it, Chris?

I get the feeling we're swatting flies or is it flaws???

6/28/2005 09:27:00 PM

 
Blogger enlightenedcaveman said...

Hate to bust your burgeoning bubble baby, but (don't you love alliteration?) my comment about morality not feeling good was in response to Clupbert's notion that morality is simply a codification of what feels good, and that what feels good works. I was pointing out that much of morality, whether it is arrived at through rational or irrational means, or through conscious deliberation or not, compels us to act in ways that do not necessarily feel good. Thus, his statement was false.

But, your concern is valid, so a little more explanation is required, even if it means we have to venture into some new ground.

Can we not agree that morality in the past has basically been dictated by the powerful? This is a pervasive theme in human cultures - that the powerful make the rules and then come up with rationalizations (not to be confused with rational explanations) to get the masses to adhere to them. I say this has happened with morality. So, in a sense, both of my statements are accurate.

On one hand, morality has historically been closely tied to our genetics - the powerful set up right and wrong *for everyone else* such that they could give in to *their* urges whenever they wanted. (This is where the notion of being above the law comes from.) On the other hand, some level of cognitive reasoning is behind virtually every moral that pushes humans away from doing what simply feels good - even if this cognitive reasoning isn't based upon anything very solid (like religion).

The cool thing is that the advent of democracy eliminated the ease with which the powerful could create moral double standards. Now the people are powerful, which brings me to my whole point - it is NOW time to focus on morality that is goal-oriented and uses reason as the arbiter of what makes sense.

See, so Alice, I'm actually not contradicting myself. Good thing, too, because everyone knows you should never corner a caveman.

6/29/2005 03:29:00 PM

 
Blogger enlightenedcaveman said...

"But I believe with every movement there comes a small move forward."

Maybe, but what about all the steps back that come with that? You're really going to say that religion - the idea that my God is better than your God - has actually been beneficial to our planet? Really?

"Rational morality is probably not as rational as you make it out to be, since humans aren't really capable of being completely rational, nor should they be."

Though I'm sure many would frown at this statement, I believe my morality is entirely underpinned by rationality. There isn't a single belief that I have that I can't trace to my view of the good life. But maybe your point, Alice, is that since we can only get so certain, all of this is hogwash - rationality is a fantasy. If so, I disagree wholeheartedly.

We humans, we western humans, in particular, are absolute masters at applying reason to goal-oriented endeavors. This is why our planes fly and our buildings withstand hurricanes and earthquakes, and it's why pesky little critters like staphylococcus don't kill us all. Our problem with rationality is in occasionally deluding ourselves into believing we're being rational when we're not. But there are ways around this. There are objective tests, if you will.

For morality, suppose we agree that the goal of our morality is to allow as many people as possible to live together without infringing upon a given set of rights. In that context, we can very clearly judge whether a moral we've adopted is rational or not. If believing in Allah is moral to me and believing that others who do not believe in Allah must be killed, then it is flat-out irrational to say this moral agrees with the larger goal of our morality. That's the kind of analysis I'm recommending here, and it's a cop out to suggest that humans simply can't do it. Now *that's* hogwash.

6/29/2005 03:55:00 PM

 
Blogger alice said...

"Maybe, but what about all the steps back that come with that? You're really going to say that religion - the idea that my God is better than your God - has actually been beneficial to our planet? Really?"

Chris, you certainly can't boil religion down to the issue of whose god is better. Religion was/is the attempt to make sense out of the problems which come from being conscious of ourselves and our mortality. The rest of it is an unintended consequence. There are lots of those in every human enterprise.

What I am saying is that with all of the trillions of things which come into play in the course of human events, there is a fluctuation and then, I think and I can't prove this, a small move forward. You talk about the Enlightenment. Well, that could not have occured but for the events which preceeded it.The Renaissance came after the dark ages.I think, and I can't prove this either, that humans have an innate desire to improve their condition. The problem is that we are not all on the same page, not even close, but we collectively manage to eventually make things better...Not perfect, better.

You say that rationality is the key, but you know that rationality has been debated for as long as debate has been recorded. New facts are always being introduced which make past assumptions null and void, but that doesn't mean much to some because they prefer to hold on to the old ways. They are afraid of the unknown and the unproven.

The one thing I can agree to in all of this is that the standard of liberty for all could/should be held up as an ideal or goal and from that a lot of good things can, will and do come. I will also agree that this notion is relatively new. Again this notion was born out of all that preceeded it. It has not seen full fruition and probably will not in my lifetime or that of even my great grandchildren, should my daughter decide to become a mom.

And even liberty for all is in the eye of the beholder. With freedom comes responsibility, something a lot of humans have a problem with. Some because they want to be taken care of by someone else and some because of the consequences which come when those who are not responsible have to be dealt with. And then there are those who are not capable of being responsible. There are lots of inherent problems involved in the simple notion of liberty. This is what we deal with every day on this planet....working through the continual flow of issues surrounding any decision.

It's so much fun!!!

6/30/2005 11:26:00 AM

 
Blogger enlightenedcaveman said...

"Chris, you certainly can't boil religion down to the issue of whose god is better."

Sure you can, at least with regard to the relevant aspects of religion. If you take out the people who hold this as the core of their religious beliefs, you're left with a largely innocuous group of "spiritual" people. These are people who believe whatever they want about God, but who don't change their lives appreciably as a result of those beliefs. In other words, moralistically speaking, right and wrong, for them, don't come from God.

"What I am saying is that with all of the trillions of things which come into play in the course of human events, there is a fluctuation and then, I think and I can't prove this, a small move forward."

You can't prove it because it isn't right. Things are better for us in America right now than they were 100 years ago, but it's questionable as to whether you can say that about most of Africa. It's almost as if you're saying that things fluctuate all the time, but they always end up coming out ok. This is a very passive view of history, which is why I think it's fatally flawed.

There are two undeniable factors that are constants throughout human history - the ability of *individual* humans to effect the history of the world (George Washington, for example - no George, no USA), and the ability of specific, isolated events to ripple across history for long periods of time (the armistice of WW1, for example - it led directly to the rise of the Hitler and the Nazi Party). My point is that human events fluctuate either because of the actions or *inactions* of enlightened people.

Though we may be better off today than we were 100 years ago, what about Vietnam and Thailand? Had they not been beseiged by communists, had they instead adopted free market economies and representative governments, where would they be today? Whatever steps forward we may assign to a particular population, we have to consider the accompanying steps back. See what I mean?

"The problem is that we are not all on the same page, not even close, but we collectively manage to eventually make things better...Not perfect, better."

Really? Had the 17th ammendment, which allowed for the popular election of senators, not been enacted, where would we be today? Better off than we are, that's for sure. And what about the welfare programs of the 60s. How would our black community be faring had the government followed the ideals of Booker T. Washington instead of the liberals who thought handouts solved problems? There's simply no question that they'd be better off today than they are. No, I vehemently (but lovingly, of course) disagree with you on this, Alice.

Morality dictates actions, and different actions send history in different directions. Not all of those directions are forward. This is why we have to care about what's happening, and it's why we have to have the courage to take action when action is required. Being passively minded just guarantees that we'll waffle at go time.

7/01/2005 01:20:00 AM

 
Blogger alice said...

My daughter told me about a debate she watched on CSPAN a while back. She said "I listened to the first person explain his views and I agreed with him, then when the other person articulated the opposing view just as eloquently, I found myself agreeing with him."

And so I do think we are fundamentally at odds on this question, Chris. You believe that there is a right way to proceed. You believe that free markets are always better than collective schemes. You believe that the only reason Hitler emerged is because of the Treaty of Versailles. You think the only way to insure having a good marriage is to move in together and have a trial run at it. You have a much clearer vision than I do.

I believe in the ebb and flow method, that there is rarely a clear path to anywhere and it is all of the myriad influences which are present which will produce the outcome.I believe in accidents. I think when things work out well, such as the formation of the United States, it's an accident. Something which happened because of a confluence of events, not because of one or even a few men.

Bottom line, you believe that individuals affect change. for the majority of us that change is in our small sphere of influence. So if a person acts in a certain way, his/her actions will affect those around him. If this is your view, I can agree with that. But there is no way to predict with certainty what the outcome will be because there are so many things which come into play, namely people and all of their peculiarities.

The only thing I can do is be alert and be the best Bozo I can be. I need to react in ways that make sense to me and hope that my life experience has been instructive enough to have given me good information and to hope the same for those around me.

7/01/2005 11:38:00 AM

 
Blogger alice said...

And then there's this, Chris. In order to arrive at good solutions, mistakes need to be made.

This has nothing to do with having had the right solution all along and ignoring it. It is because the right solution didn't exist until the mistake was made. Take the Treaty of Versailles for instance. That begot the Marshall plan. It wasn't invented out of the blue, it came about because people saw that punishing the loser didn't work too well.

This is what I mean by ebb and flow. People are only smart in retrospect. We ain't psychic.

7/01/2005 12:02:00 PM

 
Blogger alice said...

and just one more thing, I promise.

"ability of *individual* humans to effect the history of the world (George Washington, for example - no George, no USA),"

to that I would say, no King George, no USA. If England had acted differently and had been in a different financial position and had not imposed such heavy taxation, it is unlikely the colonists would have agreed to revolt against the mother country.

See, it was the confluence of events. AKA, an accident.

7/01/2005 01:13:00 PM

 

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