"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Spouting Off

Incidentally, I would like to go on record as supporting Greenpeace in their activist campaign to stop Japan from whaling.

There is an international convention forbidding the hunting of whales. As far as I know, this has not caused any sort of upheaval in undersea ecology. I have not seen anyone make the argument that the whale herd really needs culling and it's some left-wing delusion preventing that from occurring. It seems that there is a legitimate international consensus that it's in the interest of the healthy conservation of the planet to avoid killing whales to the extent possible.

Japan has flouted this for years, ostensibly for some scientific purpose. But observers of the Japanese social scene consistently report that whale meat turns up on the menu at trendy dinners.

Godspeed for Greenpeace. They're doing what we should be doing, enforcing the international standards of responsible use of nature.

29 comments:

connie deady said...

I have not seen anyone make the argument that the whale herd really needs culling and it's some left-wing delusion preventing that from occurring.

As opposed to any right-wing delusion? Anyway, yes, there is something to be said for putting preservation of our planet over greed and profit.

Tlaloc said...

oh really?

"Pro-whaling nations say that while endangered species should be protected, other whales such as the minke are now numerous and that hunting should be permitted, under strict control."

http://edition.cnn.com/2003/WORLD/asiapcf/east/02/12/whaling/

There is a lesson here, Jay: no matter how inane the cause, no matter how confounded by scientific data, there is always somebody who will say anything that you pay them to say.

That goes for whaling no less than tobacco lawsuits, or ID, or global warming.

There will always be manufactured "controversies" because there are always companies with cash who want to pollute the truth.

Tlaloc said...

an example of what I mean:

"Many of us have felt our voices are drowned out by the very well-funded industry viewpoint."

He and several colleagues set out this year to bridge the gap between science and popular perception with a Web log called RealClimate.org. Researchers communicate directly with the public and debunk what they see as misinformation and misconceptions. By giving equal coverage to skeptics on the fringe of legitimate science, journalists fuel the perception that the field is racked with disagreement.

"You get the impression it's 50-50, when it's really 99-to-1," Steig said.

Over the past decade, coal and oil interests have funneled more than $1 million to about a dozen individual global-warming skeptics as part of an effort to "reposition global warming as theory rather than fact," according to industry memos first uncovered by former Boston Globe journalist Ross Gelbspan.

From 2001 to 2003, Exxon Mobile donated more than $6.5 million to organizations that attack mainstream climate science and oppose greenhouse-gas controls. These think tanks and advocacy groups issue reports, sponsor briefings and maintain Web sites that reach a far wider audience than scholarly climate journals.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with business questioning whether global-warming science justifies actions that may have profound economic impacts. And science can't advance without an open exchange of ideas.

But climate researchers say skeptics are recycling discredited arguments or selectively using data to make points. And as Oreskes showed, few skeptics publish in peer-reviewed journals, which check for accuracy and omissions.

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/2002549346_globewarm11.html

It is an excellent article on global warming by the way, since i know a few skeptics are members of the "club."

connie deady said...

I read an article on polar bears drowning because the polar ice cap was melting. Made me sad. I am an unabashed animal lover. Just ask my golden retriever.

Hunter Baker said...

Reform Club (or at least one member thereof) comes out for Greenpeace.

My father would roll over in his grave (if he weren't walking around with a nice pink complexion).

Jay D. Homnick said...

I'm not underwriting all their activities. But I think we can stand behind them in the anti-whaling effort, until and unless the whale supply becomes a danger to the undersea ecology.

connie deady said...

Reform Club (or at least one member thereof) comes out for Greenpeace.

My father would roll over in his grave (if he weren't walking around with a nice pink complexion).


Hunter, amazingly rightist ideas aren't all good and leftist all evil.

That's why I'm here, so that we can explore each other's ideas and learn the basis for the beliefs.

Matt Huisman said...

There will always be manufactured "controversies" because there are always companies with cash who want to pollute the truth.

Or maybe you could just say that there will always be "controversies" because there will always be people who want to pollute the truth. (Given that a very high percentage of companies seem to be operated by people.)

Every post convinces me that you see the same things about human nature that we do. It's funny how we end up in different places from there.

Tlaloc said...

"Every post convinces me that you see the same things about human nature that we do. It's funny how we end up in different places from there."

It's not human nature. It's our social nature. People act entirely differently in groups than they do by themselves or even in large groups vs small. That's empirically supported, not just my personal flight of fancy. See the Asch Conformity Experiment for example.

Or to put it in the words of Men in Black: "A person is smart; people are dumb panicky dangerous animals and you know it."

(I like Tommy Lee Jones enough to forgive him his Steven Segall movie)

Hunter Baker said...

On my post:

I fully accept that Greenpeace could be right about something.

I'll never forget the frosty reception I got in a graduate seminar for suggesting that simply because Jesse Helms said something doesn't mean it was wrong.

I wuz just funnin' about a bit.

Matt Huisman said...

It's not human nature. It's our social nature.

I suppose we could develop a whole list of sub-natures that we could blame without tarnishing human nature - but come on now, you are trying entirely too hard to find a difference between what we observe about people.

People act entirely differently in groups than they do by themselves or even in large groups vs small. That's empirically supported, not just my personal flight of fancy.

Are you suggesting that I'm just making my stuff up?

People do things they say they don't think they ought to in large groups, small groups and when they're alone. That's also empirically supported. This condition affects everyone, though some suffer more than others. What's really interesting though, is that the ones we respect the most for their integrity/honesty/humility are often the most aware of their own shortcomings.

None of this forces anyone to believe in God or anything crazy like that=). I only bring it up because it helps a person see how much 'faith' is required to believe that human social structures are the key to solving life's problems. This is not a knock on social and political science - I'm all for pursuing the ideal (or the next best thing). But if we don't understand the limitations of man, our 'science' will not be effective because it will not based on what we know to be true. What good is it to look for answers in the wrong place?

Tlaloc said...

"I suppose we could develop a whole list of sub-natures that we could blame without tarnishing human nature - but come on now, you are trying entirely too hard to find a difference between what we observe about people."

What part of "Empirically supported" was unclear? I'm not making up anything, you can detect the differences in how people behave in groups as opposed to by themselves.


"Are you suggesting that I'm just making my stuff up?"

No I was trying to head off the kind of statement that you made above. Again, the idea that human nature and our social nature are very very different things isn't just my claim, it is pretty thoroughly well supported by the evidence.



"People do things they say they don't think they ought to in large groups, small groups and when they're alone. That's also empirically supported."

It's a very different thing though. In group situations we begin to behave in a group mind way. Our individual beliefs tend to get eclipsed by the social consensus. That's precisely why riots form. You get a bunch of very decent but annoyed people together and pretty soon they will be breaking windows and beating strangers to death. Could be you or me under the wrong circumstances. And yet neither of us would do that in a non-riot situation.

The things that people do privately that they wouldn't do in a group, by contrast, tend to be minor shame connected activities (picking their nose or farting). I think if the choice is between a person who lets one rip by themselves or a group that beats a trucker with a brick it's an easy call.

by the way did you notice the group of fifteen youths who pulled a guy from his car and beat him because he honked his horn at him? You can read it here:
http://www.forbes.com/entrepreneurs/feeds/ap/2005/12/27/ap2416124.html



"But if we don't understand the limitations of man, our 'science' will not be effective because it will not based on what we know to be true."

I agree entirely but I also have ample reqson to believe that you are needlessly blaming human beings for things that are incidental to the human condition.

Lets put it this way: how many riots do you think there were in the 1,900,000 years between the development of homo sapiens and homo sapiens sapiens?

I'd bet you any amount of money you care to name that the answer is zero. Why is that? Because a riot requires that you reach a certain threshold of people. There is a critical mass element to it without which there will be no riot. It is inherently a social phenomenon.

Matt Huisman said...

Before I forget, I liked that MIB quote. The movie itself was garbage, but I like Tommy Lee Jones too.

I haven't seen all of his stuff, but I have a hard time seeing a better role for him than the one he played in 'The Fugitive'. The world weary police officer who is able to shed his Javert-like instincts in order to see the good in someone else.

Tlaloc said...

"Before I forget, I liked that MIB quote. The movie itself was garbage, but I like Tommy Lee Jones too."

I wouldn't go so far as to say it was garbage. Cheesy and mindless, sure. It did have some good moments. When Jones is interviewing Smith and Smith says "he said the world was going to end," Jones says "Did he say when?" And the transformation on Smith's face as he realizes just how serious Jones is in that question was actually quite good.

I liked the fugitive as well.

Matt Huisman said...

But getting back to our original topic...

Let's start with what we agree on, namely, that people regularly fail to live up to their own moral code or conscience. (Note: I've not said anything about the source of that conscience or what it should look like.) We both agree that outside influences - such as the 'companies with cash' in your original post or the mob-mentality that emerges in large groups - tend to cause or bring out these moral failings.

In order to deal with the likelihood of these moral failings, you have proposed a system (anarchy) that is designed to minimize the scale and the frequency of the causes/results of our moral failings. I believe that if it were possible to implement and maintain that there would be many benefits to such a system.

However, what I do not understand about your position is whether you think that individuals or circumstances are to 'blame' for the moral failings that we observe. To me it seems obvious that our individual nature (not evil - but corrupted goodness) is to blame. But I've never clearly understood your position.

Do you agree that individuals regularly fail to live up to their own moral code?

If so, do you believe that this is primarily their own fault (due to their nature) or do you believe that the blame lies with the circumstances and that it is societies' responsibility to create a world in which we minimize the potential for moral failure?

Tom Van Dyke said...

But if we don't understand the limitations of man, our [social] 'science' will not be effective because it will not based on what we know to be true.


Quite so, Mr. Huisman. As Dennis Prager noted today, contra the rosy faith in man of Rousseau and his ilk, look at Rome and the gladiators, with 100,000 people screaming for blood if you want to see human nature.

There is certainly something to be said about the mob mentality, but Rome institutionalized it.

Faith in man? You can keep it. I'll take my chances that there's something better and higher to invest my faith in.

(BTW, is whale meat kosher?)

Tlaloc said...

"Let's start with what we agree on,"

Take all the stuff after that as agreed upon.


"However, what I do not understand about your position is whether you think that individuals or circumstances are to 'blame' for the moral failings that we observe."

I think there are some critical distinctions to make here.

The first is that everybody is responsible for their actions, ultimately. Barring brainwashing or severe hypnotism or sleepwalking or any bizarre scenario like that, I do feel people are responsible for what they do.

On the other hand you have to acknowledge that circumstance plays a role in those decisions. It is not about excusing behavior but understanding it. Understanding it allows you to predict and modify behaviors.



"Do you agree that individuals regularly fail to live up to their own moral code?"

Absolutely. Evrybody fails to live up to their moral code at times, and they ultimately are themselves responsible. But at the same time by controlling circumstances we have a degree of input into their internal calculus. If my wife is a recovering alcoholic it is ultimately up to her whether she stays on the wagon or not. But if I leave bottles of whiskey around the house then I'm certainly helping to influence whether she stays on the wagon. It's still her responsibility, but it helps if I recognize how I contribute to the circumstances.



"If so, do you believe that this is primarily their own fault (due to their nature) or do you believe that the blame lies with the circumstances and that it is societies' responsibility to create a world in which we minimize the potential for moral failure?"

I think it varies a lot. Some people cling to their principles tightly but get levered away from them by circumstances that are simply unbearable. Think biblical Job. Others are substantially easier to make slip or are prone to see any obstacle as an excuse to do what feels good instead of what feels right.

I think the more interesting question is "if you can identify something that significantly interfers with people's ability to stay true to their principles, do you encourage or discourage it?"

Assuming that you agree that such a thing is best discourgaed to prevent our race devolving into sociopathy then the question is whether society helps or harms the ability of people to remain true to their beliefs.

Matt Huisman said...

I don't want to alarm you, but every Christian I know agrees with everything you have just said. We are responsible for our responses to circumstances - others are responsible for their part in creating those circumstances.

Absolutely. Evrybody fails to live up to their moral code at times, and they ultimately are themselves responsible.

We explain this phenomena with the doctrine of original sin - that the original goodness of man was corrupted, and that it cannot be entirely overcome (although it can be contained) without outside help. You agree with the corruption of man. You agree that outside help is required to keep him from failing. You just don't like it when we include the divine in the outside help category.

Tlaloc said...

"I don't want to alarm you, but every Christian I know agrees with everything you have just said. We are responsible for our responses to circumstances - others are responsible for their part in creating those circumstances."

I don't find that particularly alarming. However since the Christian faith personafies evil in the form of lucifer I've found that it tend to encourage, if anything, people seeing themselves as victims rather than responsible for their actions.

Similarly I've talked to no few catholics who actually believe the priest molestation scandals come not out of any inherent problems with the church but because subversive gays have become priests in order to try and drag the church down. Really.



"You agree that outside help is required to keep him from failing."

I never said that. What I said is that outside forces can sometimes help him to fail. I don't believe that a person is doomed to fail without outside help.

Matt Huisman said...

Assuming that you agree that such a thing is best discouragaed to prevent our race devolving into sociopathy then the question is whether society helps or harms the ability of people to remain true to their beliefs.

You're taking me well beyond my initial point here, but it is a good question. If I may, I'd like to modify it slightly and ask how far can society take us on the continuum from sociopathy to utopia?

Or maybe even a better question is at what point on that continuum would you be satisfied? My guess is never, which means that life never gets any easier.

Entropy is a such a drag.

Tlaloc said...

"If I may, I'd like to modify it slightly and ask how far can society take us on the continuum from sociopathy to utopia?"

:)
But you are getting it backwards in my view. Society drags us toward sociopathy not away from it.


"Or maybe even a better question is at what point on that continuum would you be satisfied?"

I'm satisfied when we've done the best we can.

Matt Huisman said...

However since the Christian faith personafies evil in the form of lucifer I've found that it tend to encourage, if anything, people seeing themselves as victims rather than responsible for their actions.

Ah, the devil made me do it! I suppose that's out there some, but believers are also required to seek forgiveness - that's about as personally accountable as you can get. It's also quite humbling.

As far as the rest of it goes, all I can say is that it can be pretty embarrassing to be a Christian sometimes - we say one thing, do another. This is quite humbling as well. It's also disappointing in the sense that it limits our ability to share the good news to those who need it.

If I may ask, what do you find the most ridiculous about Christianity - the notion that there is a god or the idea that he'd have followers that acted like us?

I never said that. What I said is that outside forces can sometimes help him to fail. I don't believe that a person is doomed to fail without outside help.

It's not a major point, but if you believe that everyone fails their moral code - that man is at least partially corrupt - then wouldn't it also mean that he could use some help?

Tlaloc said...

"Ah, the devil made me do it! I suppose that's out there some, but believers are also required to seek forgiveness - that's about as personally accountable as you can get. It's also quite humbling."

I've personally known some "christians" who relied on the fact that forgiveness was guaranteed. They'd do things they castigated others for and excuse it by saying that they'd confess about it on sunday or they'd ask jesus for forgiveness.

I'm the first to admit they are lousy examples of christians but you have to admit the faith does provide an atmosphere conducive to that kind of thing.


"If I may ask, what do you find the most ridiculous about Christianity - the notion that there is a god or the idea that he'd have followers that acted like us?"

I find it ridculous that a God of love would (obscurely) lay out a world and a religion so full of traps and so guaranteed to promote the very worst traits in his creation. That's not love in my book but sadism.

Beyond that I find the idea of a completely human acting and thinking god (as he is portrayed in the bible) absolutely irreconcilable with being omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. Anyone who really heard the words of god should be massively confused.

But I'd also say that I think Christ was a real guy and even though I'm sure the tales have been grotequely exaggerated he was probably a really decent guy who just wanted to make the world a little better. Reading the words attributed to him has significant value. Just as I value the words of La Tzu, or Buddha, and so on.

There's nothing wrong with admiring Christ. But when you try to erect a church in his name you do him a dis-service. He'd seem to be much happier in your heart than any building or in any pledge. The church thing, frankly appears to have been nothing more than a desperate power grab by a few of his less trustworthy disciples.



"It's not a major point, but if you believe that everyone fails their moral code - that man is at least partially corrupt - then wouldn't it also mean that he could use some help?"

I'm not assuming we'll ever reach a point where people will be 100% consistent with their beliefs. Frankly I'd be very satisfied if everybody simply did the best they could and learned from their mistakes. In one sense it might even be that we are better for our mistakes, so long as we learn from them.

Matt Huisman said...

But you are getting it backwards in my view. Society drags us toward sociopathy not away from it.

Now this sounds more like the Tlaloc I know - and I think I've refound our point of divergence.

You agree that man is responsible for his actions, but you believe his failings are circumstance driven. In other words, you don't recognize the diabolical side in each of us. You believe that anarchy will help minimize the circumstances that will cause moral failings - but you apparently don't believe that, generally speaking, men will initiate or cause trouble on their own. Have I got that about right?

I'm satisfied when we've done the best we can.

Whatever that means. Wouldn't most people tell you that they're doing the best they can right now?

Matt Huisman said...

I'm the first to admit they are lousy examples of christians but you have to admit the faith does provide an atmosphere conducive to that kind of thing.

Well, we've had 'the devil made me do it' - now we have 'it's better to ask for forgiveness than to get permission'. My sense is that this is not just a Christian phenomena.

Personally, I view this as another example of how diabolical the human nature is - and as one of the primary reasons why we need our families and communities to help prevent us from deluding ourselves.

I find it ridculous that a God of love would (obscurely) lay out a world and a religion so full of traps and so guaranteed to promote the very worst traits in his creation. That's not love in my book but sadism.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts here. You've hit a couple of the biggies. I was primarily interested in finding out whether you thought the existence of the supernatural was real, possible or impossible. I'm still not quite sure where you stand.

Tlaloc said...

"You agree that man is responsible for his actions, but you believe his failings are circumstance driven."

I'd say "circumstance influenced." As I said it's an alcoholic's responsibility to stay on the wagon, but if their spouse leaves booze all over the house then certainly that circumstance will influence how well the alcoholic does.



"In other words, you don't recognize the diabolical side in each of us. You believe that anarchy will help minimize the circumstances that will cause moral failings - but you apparently don't believe that, generally speaking, men will initiate or cause trouble on their own. Have I got that about right?"

Okay lest break it down to a couple of scenarios:

1) there are people who simply have weak consciences and as such will easily or frequently violate them
2) there are people with more developed consciences but who violate them due to indoctrination (a circumstance) that helps convince them not to do what they think is right

Now organized society depends on case number 2. It only functions to the degree that it can surplant the individual conscience with the rule of law. By doing away with society you will certainly limit the second case.

But, and this is important, you will also help reduce the first case. The reson for this is because society tries to lever us away from our conscience it ends up weakening our ability to control ourselves. In turn it relies upon external controls (police for example). Naturally these external controls are terribly inefficient and as a result our ability to control ourselves weakens further. The mental connection between misdeed and punishment attenuates and we all get one step closer to true sociopathy.

It's all because of the attempt to take the internal process of misdeed-evaluation-guilt and removing it to an external agency. That simply undercuts the ability of the whole process to work.

Now case number 1 is never going to go away. There will always be weak people who will find an excuse (as I said before) to do what feels good instead of what they feel is right. But if by transitioning away from society we decrease both case 1 and case 2 then we have minimized the incidence of people violating their conscience.



"Wouldn't most people tell you that they're doing the best they can right now?"

They might, and given an opportunity I think I can demonstrate that we aren't. That the society we have relied upon has ended up weakening us. Much as a back brace work continualy makes the muscles weaker and more prone to injury.

Tlaloc said...

"I was primarily interested in finding out whether you thought the existence of the supernatural was real, possible or impossible. I'm still not quite sure where you stand."

If you mean as a statement of general purpose I'd say that the supernatural certainly may exist but that it's impossible to say anything conclusively (as in empirically proven about it) because as soon as you were able to measure it it'd no longer be super-natural.

If you are asking more personally, I see myself as a spiritual person and have my own private beliefs about the aspects of life that can not be quantified. I believe these things quite simply as a matter of faith since as before I can never prove or disprove them. On the other hand I also know that that faith may itself be a function of personal desire and so try to limit any such beliefs from interfering with how I interact with the material world.

Does that make sense? I have faith but not trust, if you will.


To give a sort of example, my father works (actually retired now) with a number of faith healers. He was a psychologist but a lot of the work they did was really more physical. At the Menniger Institute an experiment was run in which a large copper wall fitted with sensors to detect minute electrical discharges was placed in a room where healers would operate. The data shows that something physical and measurable happens.

I've been very interested in his work but there are two sides to it. There is the spiritual side and the physical side. I'm only interested in the physical side. It's not that the spiritual side is unimportant, not at all. Rather it's that the physical side is concrete and more importantly- universal. I can show the electrical signatures to a thousand scientists and it will be just as meaningful to each of them. Those numbers and what the represent can be transmitted with no loss of potency around the world.

The spirituality on the other hand can't even travel from the healer to me without becoming entirely distorted.

Science then is a gift from us to mankind as a whole. Spirituality is a gift to ourselves, and a precious one at that. Both have value but they have very different application.

As an aside- I define a "virtue" as something that gives us a glimps of the divine. A completely unscientific definition, but the best for me personally.

Matt Huisman said...

Now organized society depends on case number 2. It only functions to the degree that it can surplant the individual conscience with the rule of law.

Let's start again where we (sort of) agree. People setting their ethical boundaries at the edge of what is legal (rather than at a more charitable, golden-rule-like conscience level) is a recipe for disaster. [The story of Daniel has an interesting bit where he denies himself food from the king's table, not so much because it was not 'kosher' but rather because he wanted to be as far away from the 'line' as possible.] Your list of reasons why legalism is problematic is pretty good, and I'm sure we could find more.

Anyway, what I don't understand about your notions of the law is why you think it was created in the first place. Wouldn't it have been completely unnecessary if no one had ever been indoctrinated/corrupted by the law?

The most obvious answer is that people were not able to get along, and needed a mechanism for maintaining order. Conflicts are resolved in one of two ways: 1) Might equals right; 2) Appeals to higher authority or standards (which ultimately needs to be supported by might).

Now you might say that the law was initially imposed on us by someone else in order to control us. But isn't that the same as someone coming over and threatening us with physical strength? In the end, it seems unavoidable that corrupted (diabolical) man preceded the law.

Matt Huisman said...

The reson for this is because society tries to lever us away from our conscience it ends up weakening our ability to control ourselves.

It's interesting here that you discuss our ability to control ourselves. The hidden implication is that this conscience (or discipline) we have somehow restrains something that is not always what we would hope it would be.

C.S. Lewis says that we have an animal and a diabolical nature to contend with - and each have their own set of issues. I know that we all face these things, and have a hard time seeing how they might have been indoctrinated into my thinking.