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Some further thoughts...

From: FrankensteinJr
Sent on: Tuesday, May 11, 2010 2:12 PM


Some further thoughts (as brief and concise as always):

*Materialism (people=atoms), classically and as it has been represented in our discussions (I believe this can be confirmed by others in our group who have heard this view expounded in our gatherings), is pretty simple at its core.  This shouldn’t be surprising or seen as some sort of inherent weakness.  I would expect such to be the case with a supposedly universal explanation for reality as it is and as it is known.  Another view which would take a contrary approach, say supernaturalism, would state something just as simple (people > atoms).  Still pretty simple really.  I don’t mean to imply by this that either starting point doesn’t have profound complexities and practical hurdles to deal with, but the premise of each is rather simple. 


*I am not at all trying to be glib here (I’d hate to get that chicken thrown at me!) and knocking down straw men is not even remotely interesting to me.  Less so is discrediting any person in our group regardless of his/her point of view.  I will take vigorous exception to ideas, but not to people (but I reserve the right to make amend this position in extraordinary cases ;-] ).  I really do hope AA is always seen as a place where the free exchange of ideas is friendly and respectful, but also frank.  I like the way the dynamics of the group have taken form over the last few weeks and can honestly say that I enjoy (immensely!!) the people who make this such a worthwhile gathering.


*I understand the perspective that humans are what/who we are due to natural forces that have brought us to our present circumstances.  This implies not just the physical of course, but the social, moral etc…  I also understand that a naturalist would say that the social, moral etc… are only manifestations of the physical (again here I am stuck on the naturalism = materialism = atoms line of thinking, but not by choice – I can’t get around it), but I do not agree.  There are plenty of successful organisms on this planet (using survival as a gauge of success) that have simply not bothered to develop “certain subsets of events” in the manner that humans supposedly have.  That many of these “subsets” offer absolutely no advantage to survival (art, music, etc…) or actually hinder it (nurturing the infirm, elderly or the “less than useful”) makes me wonder how such things came to be?  Survival is an immediate, minute to minute, day to day affair not an incremental, multi-generational process (you have to survive many, many days to get to the generational).  The opportunity costs are a matter of life and death.  The owl may look thoughtful and perhaps even wise, but he’s not thinking of owl architecture or owl philosophy (yes, rather human-centric of me, but I say this with more than some cause I would argue), he’s “thinking” of one of two things – where’s my next meal and/or where’s my next mate?   The happy Cro-Magnons dancing and painting on the walls of their caves on their way to developing the iPad don’t just appear out of nowhere (at least not naturalistically speaking).  They came from some generational process which would have had to include a variety of things that did not provide them with an advantage over the lions, tigers and bears who wanted to survive just as much, but without any of the hang-ups and hindrances of a nascent or developing “culture.”  Billions of repetitions and trials don’t make me any more inclined to believe such things.  The amount of time needed for such things is a major sticking point here.  I am always amused at how surprised paleo/archeo/anthro types are with this or that significant discovery and how all the timelines have to be adjusted (usually expanded) to accommodate the new evidence.  The more we know, the seeming adequacy of millions and even billions of years dims more and more.  Can one rest on the naturalistic explanations typically offered today?  Sure.  But I can’t. I don’t have that much faith.


*As far as reference to the divine (morality or otherwise), I would caution that humans, even at their best, are not very good representatives of their Creator (OK, “horrible” is perhaps the appropriate adjective here).  Various cultures and philosophies struggle mightily with this or even dismiss this out of hand, but I see great value and clarity in the classical concept of the imago deo, which states that while the image of God is present in man, nonetheless it is disfigured and marred.  There are many, many difficult issues that this concept addresses but of course not without raising certain others.  As a basic or fundamental concept though, great insight can be gained as one works toward the periphery.  The fault with most philosophical approaches to the same difficult issues is that many start from the periphery and try to work toward the center.  In that sense I think a true materialist has the right procedure.  The premise is that there are only atoms and an entire worldview is built upon that first axiom.  My critique is that the premise does not account for the non-material and this cannot be dismissed out of hand so simply.  Also the logical imperatives that come from this perspective are devastating to our human-ness (imago deo?).  And while I have stated openly that I have very little admiration for humanity as such (perhaps best described as depraved - another classical term) in comparison the spiritless, amoral automaton makes mankind look like a glimmering angel.


*When speaking of human behavior, particularly in the realm of what “ought” to be done, I don’t think the term “agree” does justice to what some might call the “conscience” of persons individually and even groups collectively.  As such, common views of thought and behavior, are not necessarily agreed upon so much as acknowledged.  All the while this still leaves room that such things can be ignored or even contradicted – i.e. crime or even better, sin (now there’s a classical, if loaded concept for you!).  Does the fact that there is disagreement regarding the “badness” of raping my 6 year old daughter (conjoining the rape and child abuse example below) somehow place me in limbo waiting for agreement before I am to know what to think and/or do?  And while yes, I have a personal stake in the matter (even naturalistically speaking), what about someone else’s 6 year old daughter?  Perhaps my genes, through my son in this case will have that much more of a chance of being passed on if a few (not all mind you) of my neighbor’s daughters are raped by him?  And please believe me when I say that I am not being glib here.  How can I make a real decision of what “ought” to be done (by me and yes, others) that isn’t dependent on my genes (if I’m a rapist, my DNA made me do it) or on arbitrary human tradition or law (House Bill 123B which legalizes child rape)? 


*From an individual perspective, morality is obviously personal in the sense that a person will of course hold certain beliefs regarding what he/she “ought” to do or be and disregard others.  Does this mean that life’s big choices are like a Chinese buffet where every person picks and chooses based on their own preferences or prejudices and that it doesn’t essentially matter what one believes?  Are all moral systems equal?  In other words does the cannibal next door make just as much sense as me?  Now I am not talking here about how the cannibal mows his lawn or what aftershave he uses.  I am simply pointing out the fact that there are some areas of human thought and behavior that are not nearly as arbitrary as we sometimes posit.  In this example there are obviously personal interests involved (for both parties – safety on the one hand and sustenance on the other) but that does not necessarily diminish the fact that there is a clear choice between two systems of thought and behavior which are not readily compatible (though perhaps you and the cannibal can work out a deal that he will only eat your oldest son or your youngest daughter?).  Lewis’ point here is that a person will quickly make a value judgment regarding one of the two worldviews when faced with a choice between such neighbors and that it would not be arbitrary (which one would expect if all moral systems really were equal).  Here’s something interesting about babies, good and evil: CLICK HERE


*The question of what would happen if the Love Neighbor and Eat Neighbor moved next to each other is an interesting one.  First, violence is not necessarily the immediate nor the only recourse of the Love Neighbor.  There are two worldviews in opposition here, but that is not necessarily an intractable situation.  One possibility is that the Love Neighbor succeeds in changing (converting?) the opinion of the Eat Neighbor (and there is historical precedent for just this sort of thing).  Another possibility is that the Eat Neighbor succeeds in the same way.  The Love Neighbor may be convinced that the Eat Neighbor’s morality is superior or that there may be some benefit for himself personally (“If I let the Eat Neighbor have my son, he won’t eat me.)”  In both cases the Love Neighbor does not resort to violence while the Eat Neighbor most certainly does in the latter example (whether the Love Neighbor would have any culpability in the matter would be a good follow up question here).  I would agree though that the violence that you suggest from the Love Neighbor may indeed be the more likely result as you state below.  I don’t see though how this would be incompatible with the Love Neighbor’s morality?  Does not the Love Neighbor also have a responsibility to love (which would include protect) his wife, children and even himself?  Why does another’s morality (or lack thereof which is really just a different morality) trump his own?  NOTE: Yes this inevitably requires a choice and a judgment, but unless these moral systems really are arbitrary (essentially equal) we are going to have to choose.  Going back to the prison discussion (not again!), this is why we have police officers in our society and also why they carry guns (yes, I know, the British police officers only carry whistles – I won’t even begin to deal with that one!).  I’m not sure there needs to be a long discussion of the just use of force/violence.  Correction! CLICK HERE It looks like the British now carry machine guns – amusing, no?


*Anna, please elaborate on the concepts of “appeared too ordered” and “self-selection.”  Isn’t “apparent order” (my words) simply an ignorant person’s view of chaos?  In other words, the order only seems present and anyone who perceives such order is really uninformed regarding the true and underlying disorder of the system or subsystem.  Regarding “self-selection,” is there any description you could use that would not imply some sort of volition (“self”) or purposeful choice (“selection”)?.  I am not trying to quibble, but sadly, words often have the tendency to say and mean too little or too much, and in this case the term itself seems to suffer greatly by implication from its own weight.






From: [address removed] [mailto:[address removed]] On Behalf Of Anna
Sent: Monday, May 03,[masked]:37 PM
To: [address removed]
Subject: Re: Re: RE: [questioningrel-83] Thoughts on "Recent thoughts from Doug"



I think you're making a bad faith argument re: materialism in your response. You've continued to present materialism in your responses as "we are all just atoms" with the simplifications that statement implies(people=atoms=hey so it's simple right?!...). Now you've taken that to a new level by equating atoms, rocks and people. Though I imagine those remarks are more glib then a text response makes them seem. You've basically presented a view no one in the discussion holds as materialism and knocked it down. I'm not sure what your purpose was in doing that other than to discredit the original idea and/or the people advocating it.
Why do we care about some common subset of events and a bigger set dependent on our individual cultures? Because through the process of living on this planet groups of creatures/people that came before us discovered things to be good/bad for our survival. Because all the people who didn't care about a certain subset of events have died while failing to reproduce as a result of having not cared. Everyone on this planet agrees that it's bad to kill every person you encounter(and if you publicly disagree, you'll probably be committed/jailed/otherwise restrained/killed). Not everyone on this planet can agree on whether things like rape or child abuse are bad. Hell not everyone can agree that killing in general is bad. Even holy texts(this applies to individual books within the bible as well) can't internally agree on what's good/bad depending on who was writing it at the time. For something so divinely inspired, divine morality sure is hard to pinpoint.

As for the following:

"*C.S. Lewis asked why some cultures have “Love your neighbor” as a moral imperative while others prefer “Eat your neighbor.”  For those who believe there is no REAL morality or that all morality is personal I suggest that a tremendous and immediate clarity arises in one’s own perspective depending on the moral imperative of the new neighbor who just moved in next door (as above)."

You seem to be making the argument that morality is not personal but somehow imparted upon us from the beyond. Yet your example consists of a person's morality altering itself in favor of non-violence when they encounter the possibility of violence. It's a no-brainer that most people would prefer a morality in their neighbors which doesn't harm or threaten them in any way. I'm not sure how this supports your point that morality isn't personal though.
To look further into your example, say a strictly non-violent "Love thy neighbor" person end up living next to the "Eat thy neighbor" person. Which one of these people is more likely to undergo a change in their morality, the one being threatened or the one doing the threatening? The "Love thy neighbor" guy ends up with an incentive toward violence in order to protect himself/his family/etc. The other guy has no such immediate incentive. If "Love thy neighbor" guy sticks to his morality, he and his family will be eaten and there will be one less of him in the world to represent that morality(imagine this scenario repeating itself...). If "Love thy neighbor" guy turns to violence to defend himself, he has changed his morality to include violence as a way of defending himself/his loved ones. Now suddenly violence is somewhat more morally acceptable.
On the flip side, if "Eat thy neighbor" guy keeps eating his neighbors he will eventually run out of neighbors. A lack of neighbors may make survival more difficult for him and so having neighbors who go un-eaten may suddenly become more morally acceptable to him.
Each of their moralities basically have to change for personal reasons and in personal ways in order for them to survive to carry on that morality(and at this point, both moralities would have had to change). They may have started from arbitrary places, but with each step in this life circumstance will continue to bring their moralities closer to each other's until some happy maximum survival middle ground is reached. And yea the middle ground might appear too ordered to have come about via a natural process, but like everything else that self-selects it's the product of billions of repetitions and trials.

On Mon, May 3, 2010 at 1:21 PM, FrankensteinJr <[address removed]> wrote:



A few thoughts:


*Prisons seem to function at once and in varying degrees as an attempt to contain, punish, and rehabilitate (and as far as relating to success, perhaps in that order here in the US). 

*There would be no need for prisons if there were no laws since there would be no lawbreakers.  One simple solution for the prison problem is to abolish any idea of law and hence lawbreaking.  This really goes to the root of the matter which is not steel bars and walls, but good/evil/ethics/morality. But as Doug appropriately mentioned before ”With no real morality, we cannot classify a persons actions as either good or evil.”

*I assume Doug (who will undoubtedly correct me if I am wrong) implies that laws do not actually reflect morality (right/wrong/good/bad etc...) in any REAL way and hence are arbitrary.  To a large degree I would agree with this.  Human laws (whether a dictatorial decree or a democratic consensus) are so often nothing more than human constructs simply reflecting the fickle nature of humans themselves. 

*C.S. Lewis asked why some cultures have “Love your neighbor” as a moral imperative while others prefer “Eat your neighbor.”  For those who believe there is no REAL morality or that all morality is personal I suggest that a tremendous and immediate clarity arises in one’s own perspective depending on the moral imperative of the new neighbor who just moved in next door (as above).

*I would suggest that if men are atoms and laws are human then prisons of any sort are perfectly acceptable and there is no real need to even try to measure “success.”  Frankly it may be that prisons are a complete waste and body bags and mass graves would be a better alterative (not that this would be unique – seems rather common historically speaking – just not here in the US). 

*I suspect the real issue is that we can understand that there are REAL Laws (which I think human laws at their best can reflect) but that many in our society (civilized?) often do not acknowledge or abide by them.  We are outraged at theft, abuse, rape, etc… not because they break human laws (which can be changed of course) but because of something more, something beyond atoms.  I, as I am sure all of you, care about such things.  I think the real questions is why we care at all.  Rocks don’t.  Atoms don’t.  (Note to hardcore materialists – I am fully aware that I am making absolute statements here regarding the nature of reality and sentience, but that is where I am placing all my chips.   That doesn’t mean I don’t have doubts or concerns about this position, but my doubts and concerns multiply exponentially when I assume the opposite is true).

*We care about such things – deeply.  This is either silly sentimentalism or there really is something more…






From: [address removed] [mailto:[address removed]] On Behalf Of Jim Greene
Sent: Sunday, April 25,[masked]:15 AM
To: [address removed]
Subject: Re: Re: RE: [questioningrel-83] Thoughts on "Recent thoughts from Doug"



If you're interested in the psychological makeup of prisoners and jailers, take a look at what is call the Stanford Prison Experiment, conducted by Professor Zimbardo of Stanford.  He took volunteers and essentially simulated a jail.  He divided the group into "jailers" and "prisoners" and the results were not pretty.  It really inspires the need for prison reform.  


"But Jim", you say, "that study was done in '73, this is nearly 40 years later, certainly things have changed."  Aye, yes, I would agree.  However, the entirety of the prison system certainly needs constant evaluation as to it's effectiveness as well as the damage done to individuals inside the prison.  


My brother is currently a prison guard in Ohio.  His work often involves having bodily fluids lobbed at him, intervening in violent incidents, etc.  Really, if a violent criminal is kept in prison for 20 years, when he gets out, his anger will not be cooled, rather, more likely than not, his/her anger will just turn into a need for vengeance.


$0.02 for the day. 



Jim Greene

Formerly of The DJ Phoenix Fame

Now, just Jim.  


"Don't walk behind me; I may not lead. Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend."
— Albert Camus


"I am so clever that sometimes I don't understand a single word of what I am saying."
— Oscar Wilde

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