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Author Topic: The fundamental divide?
MrSquicky
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I started writing this out on the "Tounge Lashing for the Media" thread, but realized that it didn't really fit. It's probably just an uniteresting rant, but I figured I'd give it it's own thread and then likely watch it ie.

I don't know about everyone else, but I don't want my news coming through a source that is trying to assert an object right or wrong. I want my news to be as objective as possible. I want it to convey to me what appears to have happened and how confident I should be that this is actually what happened.

I don't see this coming from almost any news source, however. Not from the mainstream media outlets and not from the unofficial "Swift Boat" apparatuses of the GOP like WND.

I'm coming to agree with the idea that the idea that the big split is between "liberals" and "conservatives" is outdated is mostly correct.

Some have suggested that we're really dealing with extremism versus moderation. I don't know about that. I don't necessarily see extremism - whether in defense of liberty or not - as a vice. Though I'm not a Crazy Christian or a PETA freak, I don't consider myself a moderate.

I think the most fundamental divide in our society may be between the BSers and the non-BSers and between those who willingly accept BS and those who do not.

I could be wrong, but it seems to me that 00's have been a decade in American history marked by the highest level of people willingly, knowingly accepting stories that they know are bullcrap. And it seems to me that the news organizations whose purported responsibility it is to yell "BS!" when someone is claiming to have 7 nines are often either the ones pushing the BS, not checking on it, or just letting it slide.

A particularly vivid example to me wa from the 2004 election. I don't mean the whole election - although, come to think about it, that's a pretty good example too. However, during the Vice-Presidential debate, Dick Cheney actually told people watching it that they could go check out the truthfullness of what he and his opponent were saying on FactCheck.org, knowing the entire time that they were going to have pages and pages on the distortions, half-truths, and outright lies he was usign in the debate. It blew my mind that he had the cojones to do this and then that he completely got away with it.

It was an election where the watchdog groups and sites like FactCheck were providing the lists of innaccuracies and dishonesties, the best you could say about was that one side's list was somewhat shorter than the others. But everyone seemed to accept this. No one anywhere, in the electorate, inthe media, in the two parties were making people explain why they felt that they could be blatantly dishonest with us.

We accept it.

We accept the idea that the way to balance bias on one side of an issue is to set up an equal bias on the other side of the issue, instead of, I don't know, people telling the truth. We accept that "objectivity" involved pretending that people who are on different sides of something have equal validity. And we accept the transparent lies and attempts to deceive that people we want ot believe are telling us.

It's gotten to the point where I've stopped hoping for peopel to be honest with me. Both or rather all sides of the Bush Presidency has burned that hope out of me. I've fallen back to hoping people at least attempt to hide their attempts to deceive me better.

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TomDavidson
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quote:

I think the most fundamental divide in our society may be between the BSers and the non-BSers and between those who willingly accept BS and those who do not.

Perhaps it's between the people who put people into groups and the people who don't. [Wink]

--------

Seriously, I think there are still a handful of fundamental divides:

1) Religious fundamentalism vs. Secular modernism
2) Personal responsibility vs. Government intervention
3) Protectionist isolationism vs. Globalist expansionism
4) Militarism vs. Pacifism

I think you can chart most people's political opinions somewhere on these four axes.

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MrSquicky
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Tom,
My point is that, basically, I don't think those division matter anywhere near as much as the BS/non-BS divide.

For example, I think I have more in common with a responsible Christian than I do with an irresponsible atheist.

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SoaPiNuReYe
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quote:
Originally posted by MrSquicky:
We accept it.

Can we do anything else?

Everyone knows that politicans are full of BS so maybe providing a better example would be necessary. A lot of times we only accept it because we're choosing the lesser of the two evils, especially in Cheney's case.

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Jhai
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I have a question Squicky - is this any different from what has been happening *at least* since the start of this country? Politics - going back to the Greeks - has *always* involved a lot of lies or half-truths given to the public.

I think one of the biggest differences now is that information is so available that we are *aware* of the lies.

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MrSquicky
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Jhai,
That's kind of my point. There's a big difference between being deceived and willingly and knowingly accepting lies that people are telling you.

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SoaPiNuReYe
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The information is there, its just everyone is too lazy to use it.
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Jhai
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But you have to consider how much time it takes for technology to truly become intergrated in a society's life, especially when the technology isn't critical to survival (either physical or economic).

I wouldn't be surprised if, in a generation, the amount of lies told by politicians decreases as the generations used to googling every question they have become the majority of the voters. Last presidential election did factcheck.org even exist? And how comfortable with the internet are the majority of the current voters?

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MrSquicky
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SoaP,
quote:
Can we do anything else?
If we can't, we're living in a dystopia.

The real questing ins't can we do something, but will we do something. I started a thread a while back that included my game theoretical approach to this.

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Tatiana
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MrSquicky, I wonder what would happen if we actually punished people caught lying by refusing to vote for them. I think we should all always go online and tell the truth, so that our governments know that they will always be caught if they tell lies. I think we should have a policy of zero tolerance for lying.

The thing I fear is that, once we accept a certain level of corruption as normal and unavoidable, that it will continue to get worse and worse. The only difference between our government and some banana republic oppressive regime somewhere is the level of corruption we're willing to tolerate. When everyone looks out for themselves, and grabs all they can get, neglecting the common good, the whole system breaks down and we have anarchy. There has to be a sort of faith, hope, and honesty on the part of everyone, or the overwhelming majority of people, in order for society to work and the system not to disintegrate entirely, leaving us in desperate circumstances of war, poverty, vigilantism, and random violence like we see today in Iraq.

Our stability and peace here depend on factors we don't really understand, and can be lost at any time. We must exercise faith in the system, and honesty in our dealings with others, or else we will be left with no society at all. Like Rwanda during the mass slaughters, or Iraq now, or the middle east. Either that or a situation in which we tolerate horrible thugs, because they maintain some semblance of stability and calm, like Afghanistan did under the Taliban.

America, peaceful, prosperous, a society of laws and not of persons, is not a given. It will break down if enough people lose faith in justice, in fairness, and doing what's right.

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MrSquicky
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quote:
MrSquicky, I wonder what would happen if we actually punished people caught lying by refusing to vote for them.
In my fantasies, I see politicians caught out in deliberate dishonesty facing, not just the prospect of not being re-elected, but an immediate recall.

A funny thing to me, I think I may have mentioned in the linked thread, is that, because of the way the average American's mind works, bad politicians can garner more support than good ones. If people wnat to believe in someone, but there are plenty of reasons why they shouldn't, they'll often believe in that person more strongly than if there fewer problems with the idea.

edit: An interesting side effect of this is that it is much more important for you to get people to want to trust you than it is for you to give them reasons to trust you. In fact, if you can acheive the first part, acheiving the second can be detrimental to the level or at least intensity of support you get.

[ August 16, 2006, 11:41 PM: Message edited by: MrSquicky ]

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SoaPiNuReYe
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quote:
Originally posted by Tatiana:
MrSquicky, I wonder what would happen if we actually punished people caught lying by refusing to vote for them.

Until that day comes, politicians will just have to go out the Howard Dean way. [Smile]
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Gwen
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A question from the Empire thread:
quote:
I liked Andrew Jackson's and John C Calhoun's discussion of the situation. Would you be on Jacksons, "Our federal Union, IT MUST BE PRESERVED!" or Calhoun's, "The Union! Next to our liberty MOST DEAR!"?
Based just on those two quotes, Calhoun's. I'd be wary of, say, electing him president (how quickly is he willing to sacrifice the first for the second and does he see it as necessarily exclusive?), but I'm with the sentiment.

But there needs to be a balance. We all know that if we give up our liberties, the United States might as well just give up and call ourselves a part of whatever country has a lot less liberties than we do. But if we hold onto them too tightly, we might as well just give up and call ourselves a part of the U.K. Or Canada. ;^)

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TomDavidson
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quote:

For example, I think I have more in common with a responsible Christian than I do with an irresponsible atheist.

I'm not sure this is true; it depends entirely on how you're defining "responsible," for one thing. It's the same break-point OSC is attempting to draw, with his Ornery American site (and possibly his new book): that there are sensible, intellectually honest people on one "side" and irrational, misinformed people on the other "side," and that these people just haven't figured that out yet.

But that's not entirely true. Fanatics are dangerous, yeah, and it'd be nice to rid ourselves of them. But the problem is that almost no one is capable of recognizing when they're being irrational, illogical, or fanatical -- and most people, I submit, are not always either a Fanatic or a Thinky-Person. There are some topics on which I'm obnoxiously reasonable; there are others on which I'm obnoxiously stubborn. There are some topics on which I hold opinions born of experience and research and a deep understanding of the issue; there are other topics for which I've chosen to rely on my gut feeling and some shallow media portrayals. I'd wager that I'm not unusual in this.

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Tstorm
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Originally posted by Tom Davidson:
quote:

There are some topics on which I hold opinions born of experience and research and a deep understanding of the issue; there are other topics for which I've chosen to rely on my gut feeling and some shallow media portrayals. I'd wager that I'm not unusual in this.

I agree. I recognize this description instantly in myself.
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Eduardo St. Elmo
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quote:
Originally posted by TomDavidson:
[QUOTE]
there are sensible, intellectually honest people on one "side" and irrational, misinformed people on the other "side," and that these people just haven't figured that out yet.

But if these people are so badly informed and, apparently, not very interested in the truth, will they ever figure it out?
Sometimes I tremble with fear when I realise how small is the number of people that are willing to admit to themselves that they might not be entirely in the right. But I still have hope that eventually truth will prevail. It'll just take some time...

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KarlEd
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quote:
MrSquicky, I wonder what would happen if we actually punished people caught lying by refusing to vote for them.
From an individual voter's perspective, what is there to do when the major candidates are both liars? You can vote independent, but how likely is it that he's not also a liar? Or if he isn't, it should still be pretty clear well before you actually have to vote whether said independent has a chance in hell to win. At that point, (presuming his polls are really crappy), do you toss him a "throw away" vote in protest of the liars? Or do you vote for the liar most likely to come through on your pet issues, or most closely aligned with your philosophy?

I'm inclined to think that the problem can only be solved by strong involvement in local politics. It's really only at the local (and I'm not even sure State-level is "local" enough) that you have a real chance of someone not already part of the "good old boy's club" actually getting elected.

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Dagonee
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quote:
I'm inclined to think that the problem can only be solved by strong involvement in local politics. It's really only at the local (and I'm not even sure State-level is "local" enough) that you have a real chance of someone not already part of the "good old boy's club" actually getting elected.
Reason number 2 on my list of wanting as many spending, tax, and services decisions made at as local a level as possible.
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orlox
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We have based our political system on the fundamental premise that humans are primarily self interested.

Every Madison Avenue executive knows full well that humans primarily want to belong to a community. That humans want their lives to be meaningful. It is the stock and trade of effective advertizing.

But if the political system reflected that understanding of human nature, Madison Avenue would be a less profitable address. Instead, the political system is erected upon an 18th century conceptualization of human political economy.

Adam Smith and Jefferson and Madison were giants of their time but if we got a magic time machine and dragged them into the present, you probably wouldn't accept their advice on how to cure a tummy ache. That their views on political economy are accepted without question is beyond me. Especially when the Madison Avenue types are getting fat SELLING us the life politics doesn't offer.

This has nothing at all to do with communism. Capitalism doesn't require humans to be reduced to self-interested consumers. We were making and selling things for profit many thousands of years before Adam Smith arrived on the scene.

If we don't want politicians and the media to be self interested, even to the point of deceit, we need to find a political economy that makes the common good primary.

Since almost every single person reading this believes that human nature is self interested, I'm not holding my breath.

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katharina
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idealism vs. pragmatism


I think there are many divides.

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Angiomorphism
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quote:
Originally posted by orlox:
Since almost every single person reading this believes that human nature is self interested, I'm not holding my breath.

Can you present me with any evidence that this is not the case, or is this simply your opinion? Because there is considerable scientific, social, and economic evidence that it is the case.
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orlox
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The claim that we are born free is a political one.

Actually we are born utterly dependent. Helpless and doomed without others. We survive as a community.

We are so deeply social that we take it for granted. Our consciousness itself is conducted in language and language is a social construct.

Facts are facts but how we understand them is inevitably theory.

The Madison Avenue types have put alot of money into finding out about human motivation and there are oodles of studies all showing that people want to belong. But how do you understand that?

They want to belong to a community out of self interest.

As a theory, self interest approaches being unfalsifiable. (Not a good thing for theories) That is, you pretty much have to die saving someone else to get a circumstance that can't be warped into self-interest and even then they'll pull out selfish genes or chock it up as an anomoly.

In fact, the anomolies abound but the theory goes unchallenged. My everyday experience is not the pursuit of unbridaled self interest. Much the opposite. My life is about the people I love and love defies self interest. Always has, always will.

The evidence you seek is everywhere, your own life will testify to it I'm sure. How you think through the evidence is the important thing. Do you love the people you love because it serves your interests? Do you want to be loved according to how you serve someone else's interests?

If the theory of self interested motivation only applies outside of families and friendships and the things that are most important to us then perhaps it isn't a very good theory.

So no, this isn't just my opinion but it is philosophy. You need more than evidence, you need philisophical rigor to understand what the evidence means.

Historically, this whole self interest fad is just a baby. Through most of human history our lives were organized around concepts of honor and dependent relationships. Family/tribe first attitudes that are still vibrant outside occidental hegemony.

The question isn't whether self interest exists, the question is whether self interest is fundamentally determinitve. In order accomplish this, self interest declares all other motivations to be secondary, derivative or false.

Self interest is finally then, a structural theory not unlike marxism. The human experience will always be embedded in time and therefore change. No structural theory is gonna fit.

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TomDavidson
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quote:
you need philisophical rigor to understand what the evidence means.
I have philosophical rigor. Convince me.
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orlox
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To declare humans to be self interested is about as profound as declaring that they don't like it when it gets too cold. Or when you poke them.

To give self interest a determinative primacy through the formulation "self interest is human nature," that's another thing entirely. (In the 18th century they would have capitalized all that, especially Nature.)

As you know, altruism is where the rubber meets the road. It either stands as a large anomolous flaw, or must be explained through theoretical backflips and mirrors that flip contradiction into a hidden compliance.

The problem with any structural determinism is that it flies in the face of human experience. We are embedded in time and forced to act. Stuff's happening. Sometimes we act out of self interest. Sometimes we act out of pure altruism. To be honest, most of the time we don't know what the hell we're doing.

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TomDavidson
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Still waiting for the philosophical rigor....
*taps foot impatiently*

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orlox
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Funny yes. Conversation forwarded? Not much. Keep tapping!
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Amanecer
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quote:
Do you love the people you love because it serves your interests? Do you want to be loved according to how you serve someone else's interests?
If the net benefits of a relationship are negative and don't improve despite efforts to change things, I tend to distance myself from the relationship. By definition, it's unhealthy. I certainly hope that others respond the same way.

quote:
To declare humans to be self interested is about as profound as declaring that they don't like it when it gets too cold. Or when you poke them.
So are you saying it's blatantly obviously after you've said the evidence against it is all around us?

[ August 17, 2006, 11:49 PM: Message edited by: Amanecer ]

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Gwen
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Perhaps orlox is saying that even though it's true on a basic level, to understand human nature you need to realize that people will do things *in spite of* the fact that doing them will result in being cold or poked or harmed in terms of self-interest (killed or fired or...) because they often have higher priorities (say, keeping communities alive, ensuring their genetic and memetic survival, truth, justice, freedom)?
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orlox
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The evidence all around us is that self interest is not primary much less deterministic.

Love isn't a net sum game. People we love get horrible crippling diseases. They are alcoholics and failures but we love them anyway. I hope nothing bad ever happens to those close to you, or that your own abilities to contribute to the 'net benefits' aren't diminished.

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Amanecer
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quote:
People we love get horrible crippling diseases. They are alcoholics and failures but we love them anyway. I hope nothing bad ever happens to those close to you, or that your own abilities to contribute to the 'net benefits' aren't diminished.
I think you're misunderstanding the concept. What you're saying sounds like a person should stay in a relationship no matter how unhealthy it becomes, and that strikes me as very false. We all have bad things happen to us and we all make mistakes and hurt people. Having a friend/relative/whoever get a crippling disease, become an alcoholic, or fail is certainly painful. But it doesn't usually irridicate the good in the relationship. It can even open up opportunities for a deeper relationship. But if the relationship changes (for whatever reason) and then offers little joy and large amounts of pain, a healthy person would eventually leave. That is because a healthy person prioritizes their own well being. To not do so is self-destruction.

Caring about others is probably the most enriching activity that exists. It nourishes the self and brings meaning to one's life. How is this seperate from self-interest?

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rivka
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Amanecer, I know someone whose wife was diagnosed with a crippling auto-immune disease. Instead of dying within two years (as her doctors predicted), she hung on for 14 years. She got progressively worse, as her immune system did its best to kill off her liver. This led to frequent seizures, progressive dementia, personality changes, and lots of other fun symptoms.

Her husband stayed with her and supported her through all this. Their relationship was certainly affected, especially in the final 6 years. (Before that, there were occasionally times where she was almost her old self.) I think that's beautiful; you seem to be implying that he should have left, and failing to do so means he was unhealthy and self-destructive.

Care to clarify?

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Amanecer
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quote:
people will do things *in spite of* the fact that doing them will result in being cold or poked or harmed in terms of self-interest (killed or fired or...) because they often have higher priorities (say, keeping communities alive, ensuring their genetic and memetic survival, truth, justice, freedom)
Sorry to double post, but I missed Gwen's post.

If the person follows whatever is their highest prioritiy, they are following their own self-interest. Priority and interest are interchangable in this instance.

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Amanecer
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quote:
Her husband stayed with her and supported her through all this. Their relationship was certainly affected, especially in the final 6 years. (Before that, there were occasionally times where she was almost her old self.) I think that's beautiful; you seem to be implying that he should have left, and failing to do so means he was unhealthy and self-destructive.

Care to clarify?

Thank you for the opportunity to clarify. [Smile] I'm not trying to say that when things get bad, you bail. I am trying to say that when things get bad, there are reasons why we stay or leave. I do think it's beautiful that the husband stayed. While it was undoubtedly a painful experience, I also feel that there were many positives to be found by staying. I suspect that he valued her, valued his relationship to her, and valued staying beside her. Staying beside her was worth more to him than the independence of leaving. The net benefit was positive.
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Bob_Scopatz
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quote:
If the person follows whatever is their highest prioritiy, they are following their own self-interest. Priority and interest are interchangable in this instance.
Haven't you just made your "theory" universally applicable to all situations through tautology? It's like a Panglossian paradigm -- it's the best of all possible worlds because it is the one we know...

If you turn every noble gesture into selfishness, you're essentially removing the action of human will, IMO. It might as well be the result of the Selfish Gene rather than an outgrowth of human intellect, emotion, belief, and desire.

Anyway, I think it's not a satisfactory explanation.

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rivka
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quote:
Originally posted by Amanecer:
The net benefit was positive.

I think I understand what you are saying now.

I don't think I agree. But I am going to have to ponder it for a while.

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Bob_Scopatz
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quote:
Thank you for the opportunity to clarify. [Smile] I'm not trying to say that when things get bad, you bail. I am trying to say that when things get bad, there are reasons why we stay or leave. I do think it's beautiful that the husband stayed. While it was undoubtedly a painful experience, I also feel that there were many positives to be found by staying. I suspect that he valued her, valued his relationship to her, and valued staying beside her. Staying beside her was worth more to him than the independence of leaving. The net benefit was positive.
???I think this is unnecessarily complicated. Why not simply assume that the man loved his wife, or, love or not, he decided that his marriage vows were binding?

Maybe I'm missing a nuance here, but it seems to me that the denial of self is (or could be) a real thing that a person has chosen to "rise above" (or at least ignore).

What does the knowledge that there might also be personally gratifying positives for that person take away from the real suffering they endure?

Again...maybe I'm not grasping the more nuanced argument you are making.

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King of Men
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quote:
If you turn every noble gesture into selfishness, you're essentially removing the action of human will, IMO. It might as well be the result of the Selfish Gene rather than an outgrowth of human intellect, emotion, belief, and desire.
It seems to me that you are arguing from "it oughtn't to be that way". That's not a good argument.
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Bob_Scopatz
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No, if anything I'm asking why make the model more complex than it needs to be.
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Amanecer
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quote:
If you turn every noble gesture into selfishness, you're essentially removing the action of human will, IMO. It might as well be the result of the Selfish Gene rather than an outgrowth of human intellect, emotion, belief, and desire.
I disagree. We have the power to choose what we value. It is only deterministic in the sense that we do what we value highest.

quote:
Anyway, I think it's not a satisfactory explanation.
That is your right. I have found it to be a very satisfactory explanation in understanding myself and others, but YMMV.

Am I committing a philosophical faux pas with tautology? I don't believe so, but please expand if you still do. I consider the central core of myself to be my values, my intellect, emotion, and desire. When I act in my self interest- how can I do anything but abide by these things?

quote:
Why not simply assume that the man loved his wife, or, love or not, he decided that his marriage vows were binding?
Iím fine with that assumption. He valued his marriage vows more than his independence.

What do you see as a simpler model, Bob?

(I'm going to bed now, but I'll check this in the morning.)

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Juxtapose
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The problem with tautology is that you're just making two different terms mean the same thing.
In this case, those terms are "human" and "self-interested".

If we say "One always acts in one's self interest," we're talking about motivation. So that's like saying, "One is always motivated by self interest." But "interest" in this case, is referring to a motive. Specifically, it's referring to our own motive. We certainly wouldn't want to say it's referring to someone elses. So now we have a statement that reads "One is always motivated by one's own motives."

Well, duh. [Smile]

The other problem with this, though, comes when we try to judge other's motives, which is notoriously difficult. Take rivka's example. Imagine the husband posted here, and left a reply saying, "I didn't take care of my wife for fourteen years for any selfish reasons whatsoever. It was pure love and altruism." Let's stipulate there's no physical evidence one way or the other. We're either left with the options of

A) admitting that a person can in fact do something in the interest of someone other than their own, or

B) telling a story,

(By "telling a story," I mean that we'd have to invent something like "Oh, well, the husband derived emotional gratification from caring for his wife. He also believes it's the right thing to do because he's been classically trained since birth as to what that is.")

or the last option, C) is a way of defining motivation based on chosen action. The problem with this is that we're also saying that a chosen action is based on the motivation behind it. This is circular.

"Why did person P take action A?"
"Because she was motivated by M."
"How do we know she was motivated by M?"
"Because she took action A."

I hope this helps explain the problem. If not, I'll try and clarify issues at some later time. Now is for sleeping.

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Bob_Scopatz
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Amanecer,

I like Juxtapose's explanation of it. I'll give you another example or two.

Bob steels cars because in his personal value system he sees himself as reckless and dangerous, and doesn't really mind a few months/years in jail every once in a while. It just adds to the mystique.


Larry rushes home from his 9-5 job (where he has turned down numerous promotions) so that he can give his wife a break from caring for their daughter who suffers from CP. The couple has no friends and basically the three people live an insular life.

Jay buys porn. He just really likes porn. It's his life. He collects unemployment and food stamps, and spends Thursdays hanging out at the local adult bookstore waiting for the delivery van to arrive with the latest shipment of porn.

At the age of 32, Leonard receives a call from God, sells his software company and enters the seminary. After much work and serving in numerous small parishes, he is finally ordained at the age of 39. Three years later he opens an urban church serving the needs of a mixed bag of inner city poor people, homeless, drug addicts, and mid-to-upper-middle class exurbanites.


In your system, every one of these people is acting out of their own self-interest. It explains everything. And thus becomes contentless and uninteresting from the POV of someone wishing to understand human motivation, or even wishing to put peoples' stories in context.

Why did Judas betray Jesus? He was acting out of self-interest.

Why did John Kennedy support the Bay of Pigs? He was acting out of his own self-interest.

Why did Ted Kaczyinski mail bombs to strangers and write confusing diatribes to local papers? He was acting in his own self-interest.

Why did Mother Theresa aid the sick? She was acting in her own self-interst.

That's what I mean by "it's not very satisfying."

I grant you probably see a rich tapestry of meaning and depth behind your theory. Either you haven't presented it yet in a way that I can use to gain an appreciation for the complexities, or I'm being particularly dense (always a possibility when matters of philosophy are being discussed).

Anyway, I suspect you have a vast structure undergirding this hypothesis that is both hard to describe and nearly impossible to share with others. But from what I've read here, the theory seems thin.

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SenojRetep
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quote:
Originally posted by Bob_Scopatz:
It explains everything. And thus becomes contentless and uninteresting from the POV of someone wishing to understand human motivation, or even wishing to put peoples' stories in context.

I don't think that's true at all, Bob.

How they define their interest is supremely important. I interpret self-interest almost exactly opposite of the way most people in this thread do. I read it as, "I am responsible for the choices I make, because I made them. I chose what was important to me. I was not compelled nor forced. I chose according to my values" Whether what was important to the individual was what was important to society, God or the universe is still an important question. Each individual's value system, those beliefs that led him or her to any particular self-interested decision, still needs to be examined, justified, improved upon, etc.

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Dagonee
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quote:
We have based our political system on the fundamental premise that humans are primarily self interested.
This is where you left the tracks. The premise isn't that humans are primarily self-interested. It's that, when giving input into a government, people will look after the interest they care about. As the rest of the conversation demonstrates, this can be tautologically defined as "self interest" or it can called "priority" or something else altogether.

None of that matters to the starting premise of your post.

There are three fundamental assumptions of our system of government:

1.) Government ought, in general, to reflect the wishes of the people.

2.) There ought to be some sphere of decision-making which is made by individuals with minimal government interference, whatever the wishes of the people.

3.) There is a tendency of power over time to serve selfish ends, and the division of power amongst various groups can harness this tendency to limit harmful concentrations of power within one person or group.

Of these, only #3 can be said to be based on self-interest, and even a brief reading of the Federalist Papers will reveal that the Founders expected individuals to often put aside their self interest for the good of the nation. They also expected some individuals to NOT put aside their self interest for the good of the nation sometimes, and built in safeguards based on competing self interest.

#1 and #2 do not rely on self interest. Rather, they rely on the existence of interest - self, altruistic, or otherwise. However a person chooses his priority, #1 and #2 allow that choice to be reflected in the government or preserved within the sphere of personal autonomy, depending on how the majoritarian goal is balanced with the personal liberty goal.

So, while an interesting philosophical discussion, whether people are self-interested or not is irrelevant to the original criticisms levied against the structure of our government.

People HAVE interests, and our government framework relies on this.

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TomDavidson
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quote:
In your system, every one of these people is acting out of their own self-interest. It explains everything.
But, Bob, that doesn't mean it's the end of the story. They're acting not necessarily out of their own self-interest but what they believe on some level to be their self-interest. The story, therefore, becomes "why do they think this is the best thing to do."

Judas betrayed Jesus because he felt that he should. That still leaves the question of why he felt that way.

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Amanecer
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quote:
That's what I mean by "it's not very satisfying."
I agree with Tom and Senoj. If you answer every question with they act out of their own self-interest, that's not going to be very satisfying. That's as interesting as saying humans act like humans. (Which I now see what you're saying about tautology.) But I don't see that as the end. It is simply the foundation. Every choice is made at the expense of other choices. Why one choice is valued above the other choices is interesting and tells us a great deal about the person.

I think that not recognizing that we make choices based on what's most important to us, leads to a muted understanding of ourselves. It leads to sentiments like "Stuff's happening. Sometimes we act out of self interest. Sometimes we act out of pure altruism. To be honest, most of the time we don't know what the hell we're doing." To me, this takes the responsibility away from the self and just places it in the air. We don't know why we do what we do, why bother to understand? When we recognize that the responsibility for choices is our own, I believe that it leads to greater understanding. I know that when I'm faced with a tough decision, I have to choose between which option has greater value to me. I believe that this leads to better decisions and happier feelings towards the decisions than if I did not understand the motivations for my behavior.

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orlox
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Dag, essentially your analysis is ahistorical. It stands proud in the metaverse, glistening and shiny, confident in its internal logic but entirely unfettered to specifics of time and place. So this too is a structuralist theory although it has the marks of your own personal take on the issue, cooked up more or less on the spot.

Unfortunately, the grubby material universe is going to require more than a brief reading of the Federalist Papers. The intentions and assumptions of the 55 delegates (only 39 eventually sign) to the Constitutional Convention were hardly monolithic, much less the constituencies they represented. At best, only 5 of these men would have agreed to your Fundamental Assumption #1. (George Mason, James Wilson and James Madison, sure, Franklin and Jefferson, perhaps.) Most were hostile to ‘the people’ such as Morris: “The people never act from reason alone, [but are the] dupes of those who have more knowledge” Gerry (of mandering) thought “The evils we experience flow from the excess of democracy.” Hamilton, of course, contemptuously spoke of the “imprudence of democracy” because “the people seldom judge or determine right.”

The only reason Jefferson would agree is that he knew the government would need to levy taxes on ‘the people’ and you couldn’t very well do that without giving them representation. That was the killer argument that swayed the majority but still, many could not bring themselves to sign.

Fundamental Assumption #2 might be reworked with words like Tyranny and Liberty, if you dump the ‘wishes of the people’ stuff. In doing so, you would lose the present day audience though, casting more doubt that the analysis describes 3 Fundamental Assumptions that apply at all times and to all people.

Now not everyone in 18th century America would agree with the ‘self interest is human nature’ formulation. But every delegate to the Convention would. The swarming masses still appealed to the ‘common good’ and ‘just pricing’ when they rioted. Usually, when a merchant’s goods were confiscated by an angry mob they would spot sell them at a ‘just price’ and hand the money over to the merchant. But, none of these people, nor anyone who represented or even agreed with them, was allowed anywhere near the Convention.

So at least a good chunk of your analysis can be demonstrated as not resonant among the assumptions of the Constitutional Convention or the masses below when the governmental system was inaugurated.

We are never told exactly how the alleged Fundamental Premise (when giving input into a government, people will look after the interest they care about) relates to Fundamental Assumptions 1, 2 or 3. But it seems mightily intertwined with FA #3: There is a tendency of power over time to serve selfish ends, and the division of power amongst various groups can harness this tendency to limit harmful concentrations of power within one person or group.

First, we have already seen that most of the Convention is skeptical that ‘the people’ can even recognize their own interests. The fundamental premise of the Convention was to establish governance on ‘Natural’ principles rather that the ‘artificial’ customs of the past. Reason was to be the foundation of the new system of government. These men were very much products of their time.

Insofar as Smithian checks and balances were seen as more in tune with Nature than the obligations of traditional practice, I would have to agree that they form part of the fundamental assumptions that emerge from the Convention. But only tangentially do they impinge on the fundamental premise.

These were heady times. Almost every delegate comments at some point comments on the relationship between human nature and the task of establishing legitimate governance: “But are we to consider men entrusted with power as the receptacles of all the depravity of human nature? By no means. The people do not part with their full proportion of it. Reason and revelation both deceive us if they are all wise and virtuous. Is not history as full of the vices of the people as it is of the crimes of the kings. What is the present moral character of the citizens of the United States? I need not describe it. It proves too plainly that the people are as much disposed to vice as their rulers, and that nothing but a vigorous and efficient government can prevent their degenerating into savages or devouring each other like beasts of prey.
Dr. Benjamin Rush 1788

There is plenty more, but I have other matters to attend to. I’ll continue later…

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citadel
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quote:
I think the most fundamental divide in our society may be between the BSers and the non-BSers and between those who willingly accept BS and those who do not.
I think a big part of the problem is complacency. Many Americans want to feel like their informed voters but are not interested in the rigors involved with an in-depth study of the issues of today. We go to work, get our paycheck, go home and let the cable tv wash over us. We have adequate housing & food. Life is good, so who cares really understanding the issues?

We want to be informed but are not determined to be informed. And having more technology will not change that.

Am I too cynical here?

Politicians know this and appeal to this. They try to make us feel good about their positions with shallow arguments. And we accept these arguments.
-We should go to war because Iraq has WMD's.
-We should raise the minimum wage cuz it helps poor people
-Bush is good because he said he prays about stuff

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Pelegius
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" "liberals" and "conservatives"" It helps instead to think in terms of Liberalism vs. Conservativism vs. Leftism and also in terms of shades of populism and authoritarianism.
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