Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Search For Evil


- This book I'm reading about evil offers a definition: destruction you can't find a practical reason for, but can find a psychological reason.
- Which is?
- Because an individual's desire is diverted to social conformity, both the act of satisfying desire and acts of social conformity, when this is known, are illegitimate, alien to the individual, and merit destruction by the individual. He suggests evil, depending as it does on intellectual analysis, is fairly rare, both in individuals and societies.  
- Let's take an example: the company Google, whose slogan for a while was "Don't be evil''. Their primary business is operating a search engine, their primary source of income paid advertising. They believe it is good to make a machine that functions to a good purpose, helping people find information. Which also is the presumed socially useful function of advertising. Google's search rankings are done mainly by popularity. Advertising in reality substitutes for the function of providing information a false claim of popularity, associating their product with symbols of acceptance and power over other people. Google takes the money of advertisers who sell images of false popularity and gives them the place real popularity achieves. 
- Google gives, by priority placement in its results, both a false sense of popularity and the advertising itself gives a false sense of popularity.
- Yes. Google and its advertisers are in a kind of arms race. The better, more accurate, more useful and informative Google's search results are, the less effective paid advertising is, therefore advertisers have to spend more. This in fact is what is happening as we speak. But the more advertisers spend, the more Google's results reflect advertiser priority, the less useful Google itself is as source of information, and Google needs again to improve the usefulness of its results if it hopes to continue to be bought out by advertisers.
- Then you are accusing the managers of Google of being evil? Arguing that no one could reasonably desire to make such an idiotic machine, such desire would be alienated desire. And a society where institutions for communication function fundamentally at cross purposes with themselves is worthy of destruction. The people who manage and participate in such institutions, if they know what they are doing, are evil.
- Do you think the people at Google know what they are doing, know their own desire is for something they don't really want, money and power, and feel oppressed by the worthlessness of the society they participate in creating?
- No. They are doing what everyone around them is doing.
- Remember what we've said about ritual. The individual's passionate participation in the group, in which his desire is not his own, results at the conclusion of the ritual in a sense of power and security within the group. The "alienated desire" is constructive of a world that is desirable. A better definition of evil is assigning other people the role in ritual of obstacle to be overcome to regain security and power.
- Not just our desire is corrupt, not really ours, and the world is artificial and not worth desiring, so I'll destroy it. But if I abandon my poor worthless self to a ritual, in a fight to the death with those who've forced a world not worth desiring on me, I will get free. And that is really what evil is. 
- At least might be a better definition. And examples won't be hard to find. But an evil individual acting alone is uncommon. An evil individual is insane.
- Why?
- Because the ritual obstacle for him is the whole world, with him in it. At the conclusion of the ritual he, with his worthless desire, is unchanged.
- Then why continue?
- Because in general, in our social lives, ritual works. It established security. The evil individual sees what he has done, made a mockery of the world, expressed his power, but he knows that even that expression of power over this world  is contemptible and worthless. It is too abstract, unphysical, it is not really his. 
- And he once again sets out to lose himself in ritual violence.
- Knowing that losing himself in violence he is doing something worthless. But for a moment, while it lasts, is relieved. 
- Yes. And on and on. Relieving loss of self in violence, disgust, loss of self in violence....


- Let's go back to Google. They're not evil because they know not what they do. Why don't they?
- Good question.
- And the answer is?
- Since Plato philosophy and religion have been thought best kept out of politics.
- Thought by who?
- Philosophers.
- Not the religious.
- They vary.
- And the philosophers don't?
- They do. I'm referring to the best philosophers.
- According to you.
- Sure. Democracy was the safest form of government for philosophers to live their private lives.
- With or without religion?
- With.
- So Google is not evil because there are no philosophers there.
- That's right.
- Why aren't there any philosophers at Google?
- Another good question. Something happened in the last couple of centuries that never happened before: the possibility for philosophers to speak openly about politics and religion in public life without getting killed for it.* Democracy, when it uprooted class held monopolies over property and allowed freer exchange, allowed the aspects of social life, political and religious, that had supported class authority to be questioned.
- And philosophy and religion return to public life.
- Yes. But with the understanding that no one would take them seriously for the same reason they were allowed back.
- What?
- No one cared. Democracy is the form of society where people are allowed to disagree about what is best in life, as long as what supports that understanding is not put in question.
- Free exchange of property.
- Yes. The age of reason launched a vicious attack on religion and society. The nineteenth century followed with attempts to see more clearly what really goes on in the minds of individual participants in religion and society, culminating with Frederick Nietzsche throwing down the gauntlet proclaiming outright we are blond beasts pursuing our desires and sleepwalking slaves deluding ourselves both that we are not beasts and not slaves.
- Like the people over at Google. There doesn't seem to be any difference between this ordinary life and evil except being deliberate and self aware about it. Assuming Nietzsche didn't think this beastly and sleepwalking ignorance was too nice, did he go beyond criticism to how we should get religion and philosophy in our public lives and save ourselves?
- We should act on our own will not that of others, we should love life as it is so much we'd be willing to relive it endlessly, we should use tested knowledge to remake our place in community.
- He didn't say how?
- No. The kind of human being who'd be doing the remaking and he claimed to be the precursor of, the loving, scientific, self willed super human, didn't yet exist.**
Bringing philosophy and religion into public life, in addition to being a danger to the philosopher, is also a danger to the public: see The Islamic Philosopher Farabi And Our Times
** "We have no right to stand out individually: we must not either make mistakes or hit on the truth individually. Instead, our thoughts, values, every ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘if ’ and ‘but’ grow from us with the same inevitability as fruits borne on the tree – all related and referring to one another and a testimonial to one will, one health, one earth, one sun. – Do you like the taste of our fruit? – But of what concern is that to the trees? And of what concern is it to us philosophers? . . ." (Preface, The Genealogy Or Morality, 1887, Frederick Nietzsche)


- What is your dog doing?
- I don't know. I looked it up on the internet but couldn't find anything.
- Sort of like dog-paddling. Except that's for floating in place. The fountain is only two feet deep. She's standing on the bottom on her back legs and paddling the surface with her front legs. I've never seen anything like it.
- What brings you to UCLA?
- The quiet. Sometimes I read by this fountain. I grew up living up in the hills over there. I've been coming here most of my life.
- What are you reading now?
- Nietzsche.
- Which book?
- Genealogy of Morality. I was thinking about evil, and this book provides one of the most famous definitions and examples.
- What is evil?
- Resentment. Destruction without practical intention, done for the feeling of power. The Jews, the book proclaims, were dark skinned slaves who created Christianity to poison, drain the life out of their masters, the light skinned Aryan race. Recognize the idea?
- The Nazis.
- Yes. Nietzsche said he liked to joke, say sombre things laughingly.
- Doesn't seem funny to me.
- Look at your dog. Do you know what I think she is doing? Playing with the light.
- She can feel the underwater light on the bottom with her feet.
- I don't mean the fixture, I mean the light. Watching the light change with her dog paddle splashing. Look, she's dunking her head under water to look at the source.
- She does that.
- So Nietzsche, the historian of ideas, makes this claim about the Jews. They invented compassion to undermine their masters' power, who before they'd been corrupted had been individuals, loving life, studying life, like the ancient Greeks. The trouble is, one thing the Jews are not especially is compassionate. I can tell you that as a Jew myself. There is nothing in their history, before and after the beginnings of Christianity, to bring in as evidence the Jews wanted to poison their master race the Christians. And the theology and philosophy of the Jews, both before and after, especially when you take Kabbalah into account, leans not towards the passive, un-individual, unknowing compassion they are supposed to have poisoned the Christians with, but very strongly in the opposite direction.
- Nietzsche was joking.
- Yes. But for fun, or out of resentment, as an act of evil? Was his writing an example of an individual's will to know the world out of love for the world? Or an act of hatred and destruction?
- What do you think?
- Nietzsche to me is insane. He watches himself as he throws his own poison into the world, sees that act itself as futile, and throws himself back into more destruction to avoid the sight of his own futility. In one famous passage he predicts the coming of destruction like the Nazi's soon brought citing Neitzsche himself as their authority. Hey. I've got a hypothesis now, a way to test my theory about your dog.
- What?
- She seems to be always facing the light while she kicks up her waves. Going around it, positioning herself like the hands of a clock.  Do you know, going home last night, passing Holmby park, I stopped to talk with a group of men playing frisby. They called themselves a men's support group. Once a week they got together to open themselves up to each other. Take them as an example of the poison compassion Nietzsche hated. They talk about their lives, but practically speaking, did they share their lives? Do things with each other, help each other out of practical difficulties? Or only feelings. Look at your dog! She was at three o'clock, now she's at nine o'clock. Even though her body is not exactly angled to the light, her head is.
- Interesting.
- What I'm interested in with Nietzsche is definition of the problem: if we're not going to live with each other in false compassion, with resentment against our social conformity, acted upon or not, how do we live? How do we act with individuality, love, and science with each other? Look now. She's at one o'clock. Theory confirmed!
- You're probably right.
- Dogs play with sticks as toys, perhaps imagining them as prey. But this play with light seems to be abstract play, like making music, or mathematics. It's not impossible. Dogs love their masters and play with them, learn their habits and manipulate, master their masters. Your dog shows you her new art, while I've been coming here for decades and never did anything but sit and read. She could be the first of Nietzsche's prophesied master race, the individuals who'd invent scientific, loving lives with each other.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Prize

Hammer Museum, Westwood, July 15, 2014

- They put us down here. I feel uncomfortable.
- A whole auditorium of people looking at the back of your head. The front row probably was reserved for important people who didn't show up. Anyway we'll see faces of the important people on stage. If you consider them important.
- You don't?
- They're going to talk individual entrepreneurial genius. But I think there might be a direction to history somewhat independent of important people. This one of the two who's from XPrize seems to think so too. His company holds prize competitions: reusable space shuttles, oil spill cleanup kits, etc. He says poverty has been reduced more in the past 50 years than in the previous 500 years, and that over the next several decades it will be possible with exponentially increasing technology to significantly raise global standards of living.
- But?
- In that same last 50 years, the net worth of the average American family went from about $170,000 to less that nothing.
- Because of debt.
- Yes. In another, famous prize competition, in 1754, Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote his Discourse on the Origin of Inequality on a subject proposed by the Academy of Dijon, which was in full: "What is the Origin of Inequality Among Men, and is it Authorized by Natural Law?" The epigraph he chose was from Aristotle:
We should consider what is natural not in things which are depraved but in those which are rightly ordered according to nature.
Rousseau believed the arts and sciences corrupted human nature.
- That human nature was naturally good. I know. I read about him in school.
- I'll show you something on my computer. I don't think you've read this.
- The discussion is going to start.
- We have a couple minutes. Here:
The outstanding discovery of recent historical and anthropological research is that man's economy, as a rule, is submerged in his social relationships. He does not act so as to safeguard his individual interest in the possession of material goods; he acts so as to safeguard his social standing, his social claims, his social assets. He values material goods only in so far as they serve this end. Neither the process of production nor that of distribution is linked to specific economic interests attached to the possession of goods; but every single step in that process is geared to a number of social interests which eventually ensure that the required step be taken. These interests will be very different in a small hunting or fishing community from those in a vast despotic society, but in either case the economic system will be run on noneconomic motives.*
What if our technological development is relying on unnatural economic relations?
- How do you define unnatural relations?
- Doing for the sake of doing.
- Why do things for no reason?
- For no specific reason: for the feeling of power. Rousseau described how we go from naturally doing what we learn is good for ourselves to do, to learning what other people want us to do, then doing it, for the sake of the power over others it gives us.
- What good is power for its own sake?
- None. Power has its reward in displacing fear. The more we know we can do things because we've already done them many times before the safer and more powerful we feel. Anthropologists call this practice ritual.
- I think I understand.
- If economics in our times excludes or dominates all other aspect of life, and technology is now taking place within that constraint, what can we expect?
- Better health, less poverty.
- But greater inequality too throughout the world, as in the past 50 years? The CEO of XPrize discounts the economic downturns, wars, climate catastrophes of the 20th century as surmountable obstacles.
- You disagree.
- Free Market economic jargon has it that executives "grow" their corporations, as if there was a natural direction they are entrusted with nurturing.
- But Rousseau saw an unnatural growth.
- Yes. If we are going to imagine a direction to history we have to have a model of how history grows. Say we use the model of ritual, doing for the sake of doing. We are worried about wars, and economic reversals, delaying the course of progress despite technological advance. Economic reversal has happened clearly in the case of the U.S., but not in the case of poor countries, so the argument goes. Let's look at it logically. Four categories:
economics for their own sake, outside the country
economics for their own sake, inside the country
war making for its own sake, outside the country
war making for its own sake, inside the country
Recent history of the U.S. shows both war making for its own sake and economics for its own sake in foreign lands.
- How?
- By invading and developing markets without concern for other factors in those countries. If we look within our country, we see economically, as I mentioned, the entire destruction of the middle class by exclusive focus on economic interests. What about internal war?
- Civil War?
- We have suspension of civil rights since 2002 and the Patriot act, torture, secret prisons, abduction, denial of legal representation, assassination. We have government spying on all communications. Still we have a long way to go before totalitarianism.** We have economic freedom. We can choose our jobs, quit at will. The question is, how does technology fit in? Technology facilitates economic transactions, shipping and high speed trading, both inside and outside the country. Technology facilitates foreign war, suppling equipment and communications. Won't technology be turned also to civil war, the powerful acting deliberately against the powerless, if not directly militarily, then with economics exclusively in their control, financial war waged to increase further inequality? ***
- There should be a prize to stop it.

The Great Transformation Karl Polanyi

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Some Girls Like To Fight

- I have this new idea. I was walking home from UCLA, passed the L.A. Country Club and had stepped onto the small pedestrian island at Beverly Triangle, the corner of Wilshire and Santa Monica Blvds....
- Where the Peninsula Hotel is...
- ...when someone squeezed in between me and the signal post. I looked up with astonished recognition: a provocatively dressed extremely well taken care of beautiful young woman, smiling broadly at me. Beside her a middle aged man, not looking at her.
- An escort and her client. How did you know her? Do you have secrets I'm not aware of?
- My runaway wife told me how I looked when she looked at me looking at her: astonished recognition.
- Recognizing what?
- Something I appreciated.
- Your wife had been an escort for a while.
- So she hinted. In fact I had been thinking of her during my long walk. 
- You never get over her. What's there to appreciate in these women? 
- Thoughts of appreciation were circulating in my mind, along with conspiracy theories, economic and political, and how accumulation of property leads to a slave society.
- Nothing else?
- No. I thought that imagining people plotting against you left you powerless if you didn't have some model of why and how they were doing it, some way to analyze the situation that would suggest some action to take. And that might also be true on a basic level, and there was a logic to how accumulation of unused property in developed societies led into slavery.
- When accumulated property is inherited, monopoly ownership of property develops forcing those without property into slavery.
- But what if, besides this practical, historical likelihood, there is some inherent relation between the two practices?
- Like what?
- Accumulating unused property, not giving it away, keeping it to pass down to descendants continues the same practice of not sharing.
- Leaving them property is sharing with descendants.
- Life is not shared with those property is left to. 
- And?
- I think it might be important. In undeveloped societies the donor of accumulated property continues to live with recipients.* In developed societies, the value of accumulating unused property, not giving it away, is in the power it represents, and power can be transferred freely and arbitrarily after death since no sharing of life is involved. With no mental dissonance unused property can be transferred to the oldest son while leaving the other sons and daughters totally disinherited. 
- The transition from unused accumulated property to slavery comes about not merely out of a practical chain of events, but because of an arbitrary division of people into inheriting and not inheriting, neither class based on shared life.
- Waiting for the light to change on that Beverly Hills corner I turned a face of astonished appreciation, reminded of my wife who was wised up to the conspiracy of relations of men to women. How men wanted to buy women, but at the same time wanted to imagine that the women they bought like them. 
- You're going to say they wanted to imagine the money they're paying as a bequest to a descendant.
- Right. The men want to see the beauty they think they are buying as really theirs.
- They want to be women?
- They want to possess the power of the woman's beauty, as they have acquired unused property for the sake of the power it represents.
- Then slavery, as a product of imagination, develops directly out of inheritance of unused property. 
- That's my bright idea. 
- Interests conspire to wage wars, they transfer wealth from the poor and middle class to themselves, they care nothing for the destruction of the environment and of human lives, not because they are crazy, but because slavery is a natural consequence of acquiring unused property. 
- Yes. 
- Women who professionally use men know exactly what they are doing, are experts in giving men the impression power is transferred with their beauty. You admire these women because they're wised up, but they don't do anything about the male conspiracy except take the money and run.
- They reveal a vulnerability.
- They're tougher than the men.
- I mean the men's weakness. If what appears to be their conspiratorial madness is actually continual dependence on acts of imagination, and everyone wises up on a massive scale? Interfering with the imaginings might be a step towards bringing down the whole edifice of accumulated property and slavery.
- I can follow that, that's the old idea of "withdrawing consent".** For the rest, give me a chance to catch up! 
- Take your time.
- Try this: accumulation of unused, unshared property is done for the sake of power property represents. Power to be safe and prosperous. Transmission of property to some descendants rather than others creates in the mind of the giver haves and have nots. And this too is done for the sake of power. The donor believes, in passing down property, he is buying into the power of the descendants, like the middle aged man buying the escort's beauty. And the power of haves over have nots is the idea of slavery. How'd I do?
- Not bad. You put together everything - property accumulated, unused, unshared, passed on, as an inheritance, selectively, for the sake of imagined power acquired through the bequest. You could maybe have been clearer with the conclusion. When those accumulating unshared, unused, property buy the imagined power of descendants, power is passed on to those already with it, and this what creates social class.
- Power stays with power. ***

Further Reading: Married To The Business Of Buying
** See Their Technology And Ours
*** For an example of how the idea of slavery is translated into class identification, see: The Financial Crisis: Why Have No High-Level Executives Been Prosecuted?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Alien Invasion

- You know this book by the physicist, A Short - something - About Time, said to be the most bought and not read book in human history? Have you read it?
- Didn't buy it but tried to read it in a bookstore.
- The physicist says, maybe someplace else, I'm not sure, that if we want to know how aliens will treat us when they land on our planet we should look at how those of us with high technology treat those with lower technology.
- They'll massacre most and enslave the rest.
- Yes.
- I guess people bought the book thinking that to compete they had to be up to date on technology and then didn't like reading the part about technology dooming the species to massacre each other and finally be massacred by aliens. Did you get far enough yourself to find out if he talked about societies that didn't organize themselves as parts in a machine?
- The first societies,* where prestige of doing things well was tied to giving away the products of doing things well. Wealth wasn't accumulated, so wasn't inherited. And the technical knowledge responsible for accumulation, also not inherited, could not become the basis of social class.
- And not lead to massacring and enslaving each other.
- I am among those who couldn't finish the book, but I'm willing to bet it's not there.
- What about another bet? What are the chances alien invaders come from the end of the line of technological evolution rather than the beginning?
- Since the exceptions to technology and slavery appear only at the beginning of our history and in scattered small societies that have been isolated from history, isn't it likely aliens will travel the same path?
- We've had a lot more bad societies than good.
- Yes.
- And the only good societies we've had don't do well when contacted by the bad.
- They don't. The good don't survive.
- Will the bad societies survive?
- They have, so far.
- Suppose though slavery, massacre, inherited hierarchy destine us for destruction. On the other hand, the archeological record and continuing survival of isolated communities show that good societies are stable and long lasting.
- So if good societies that go bad self-destruct, and good societies that stay good survive, and there is no necessity for good societies to go bad, then our reasoning is wrong: it is infinitely more likely we'll be contacted by people who stayed good, because there are more good societies than bad out there in space.
- As you said: if good societies don't all go bad. And if they get technology.
- What if technology always makes us bad and without technology we'll always be conquered by those with?
- Then aliens will come massacre and enslave us.
- Look on the bright side: every year that we continue to survive and the aliens don't come to get us is an argument that they don't want to. They have better things to do.
- And then like them we'll someday work out how to use technology and stay good.
- Do you know what else is encouraging?
- What?
- No one reads that guy's book.

Further Reading:

Monday, July 7, 2014

Democracy & Inequality

- Start with ancient Athens, the first democracy?
- Ok.
- In Plato democracy was the kind of government in which people didn't agree with each other about what is best, and which in any case they didn't know: they educated each other in manners and beliefs in daily life without conscious knowledge.
- People in democracy were ignorant, and indifferent to the truth.
- Exactly.
- And the beautiful idea of equality?
- The mutual power people had over each other.
- Which they learned to have unconsciously and indifferent to good and bad.
- The power they had came from a very real, material source: property ownership. Workers of the land and makers of things, as owners of property, could not be frightened into accepting conditions of slavery. They saw their civic status in terms of power not to be slaves. Inequality existed both in the home, where there was strict hierarchy, man master of women, older master of younger, and in the imperial policy of the government, exacting tribute from dominated foreign lands.
- Are you saying that democracy is the product of slavery? Not just economically, but morally? Equality is the product of inequality?
- Yes. Equality politically is mutual power. Emotionally it is common security gained by losing individuality, performing a ritual of rebirth in a group.
- Loss of individuality in acquiescing in master-slave relations in the home and in politics, and in return being rewarded by common security in sharing power, neither good nor bad, the result of unconscious learning, with "The People". That explains the terror that interrupted the French Revolution. But you don't deny, even if in democracy equality is built on inequality, that it allows better than any other government "liberty and fraternity"?
- The liberty and fraternity depend on the common power of the people. And common power depended, as we saw, on property ownership. Remove that condition, and the people must sell themselves into slavery as employees, and share with each other lives of mutual powerlessness.
- Alright. That is what the Athenians thought. What do you think?
- Nothing new, nothing not already said by Plato. Political equality is not a good in itself, and does not have good results because it does not depend on knowledge. If we want liberty and fraternity, techniques of government, of power sharing, will not get them for us.
- Knowledge, not power. We won't get anywhere until we know how to live.* 

Further Reading:
The First Culture
* How ideas, good ones!, caused the French Revolution: Jonathan Israel's
Revolutionary Ideas: An Intellectual History of the French Revolution from The Rights of Man to Robespierre, 2014

Saturday, July 5, 2014

The Logic Of God

Mind & Body, God & The World: Two Ways Of Looking At The Same Thing

- Using foresight we see the world made up of different things to be learned how to be arranged better. We see a world that is ordered, but definitely not too good for us.
- We die.
- For starters. Because the world is ordered we imagine that something made it. Because the world is not too good for us we imagine god, the thing that made us and the world, is punishing us for not being too good ourselves.
- But god is not a thing.
- No. We think god exists because we remember that we don't always see a world made up of different things to be learned how to be arranged better, and at those other times we felt love.
- But there are no things in the world of love.
- There aren't. We try to see how the experience of love could cause the things we see in the world to exist and change, and can't imagine it. The two kinds of experience can't be had at the same time.
- A world having parts and a world not having parts obviously don't go together.
- So we say we have to have faith, belief in a truth we can't imagine that god made the world the way it is for a reason and is punishing us until we know how to act right.
- And people believe because they don't know what else to do. What else could they do?
- They can't use knowledge of the experience of love to understand the world they see when they don't love. They can, however, use their knowledge of the world made up of different things to act in such a way that returns them to the experience of love.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The First Culture


- What about Aristotle?
- What about him?
- He wrote that some human beings were born slaves, and some made slaves.
- Once slavery has been instituted, some 'by nature', those not disposed to violence, are going to be made slaves.
- Those with better nature. But that's not what he meant. Aristotle wrote that natural slaves are better off being slaves.
- Sure, in a slave society.
- Is there any other kind?
- Yes. We can be fairly sure of that. Anthropology and ethnography show* our first societies consistently had ranks reflecting achievement, but as ranks were not inherited they did not translate into slavery.
- Why not?
- Because in these societies generosity is prestigious. Achieved wealth in the form of food, shelter, tools is given away, not monopolized in families. Studies show that chimps too have rank societies, but ranking cannot be passed on by inheritance. Each generation has to acquire rank for itself. Humans though, developing from out of the earlier societies that rank by generosity, with the heightened foresight that language allows have learned to teach their descendants how to frighten outsiders into submission, and institutionalize slavery by monopolizing food, shelter, and tools. Slavery is not natural. It's our first, characteristically human, culture.
- I've read that in Australia, dolphin mothers have been observed teaching tool use for hunting, not generally practiced in their group, only to their own offspring.
- Does the exclusivity establish social relations?
- Depends how you look at it. To favor family over outsiders is a social relation, in-group and out-group.
- But can we see the influence of foresight? A deliberate attempt to change social relations, rather than deepen existing relations?
- I don't know.
- To institute deliberately inherited social class division we need at minimum to imagine, define both classes, the frightening and the frightened.
- And the dolphins didn't have to do that.
- No.
- But why do you think making class inherited has to be deliberate?
- Partly because other species without our foresight didn't discover the behavior, partly because generosity was first. Generosity when acted on is complete. Wanting a world where you and your ancestors and descendants have property, and others don't, requires acting, and then attention and adapting to results. Generosity can be by habit, not so imposing order on the world.**
- Maybe we just stumbled into it.
- But then why didn't other species? Our foundation myths tell the story of a fall, of evil appearing in our nature as a result of gaining knowledge.
- And evil is deliberately choosing what you know is wrong for the sake of rewards in a group.
- Yes. The anthropological and ethnographic evidence fits.***

Further Reading: Eve In The Garden Of Eden
* See The Creation Of Inequality, Flannery and Marcus, 2012
*** See Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse On The Arts And Sciences 

Monday, June 30, 2014

Equality, God, Revolution

But is it likely, one might well object, or even conceivable, that any single seventeenth century author, let alone an aloof, solitary figure raised among a despised religious minority who lacked formal academic training and status, can have fundamentally and decisively shaped a tradition of radical thinking which eventually spanned the whole continent, exerted an immense influence over successive generations and shook western civilization to its foundations? (Jonathan Israel, 'Radical Enlightenment')
- Who is that about?
- The Dutch philosopher Benedict de Spinoza.
- And how is his philosophy supposed to have changed the world? Is it even possible for philosophy to change the world?
- According the Jonathan Israel's detailed historical studies, it is, it did, being the primary cause of the French Revolution.
- Hard to believe.
- Before Spinoza, mind was split from body, and god was outside the world. Mind controlled body, and god controlled the whole world in the same way, made move what without him would be motionless. Authorities claimed not only had god made the world the way it was for good reasons, they knew also what god wanted from human beings. We humans were pushed and pulled by god, rewarded and punished, much like in the mechanical way we saw the world operating.
- And Spinoza?
- Turned everything upsidedown. If the conventional view saw human beings reduced to a mechanical relation to god, he instead sought to extend to the world qualities of spiritual life.
- Make the world alive?
- Make nature equivalent to god. And then say that mind and body, god and the nature were two ways of looking at the same thing. Mind and body did not interact with each other, but rather moved in parallel. Some parts of the world moved faster some slower, allowing us distinguish them from each other, like ideas are distinguished from ideas. Every part of the world strove to perfect and maintain its nature, human beings included. The movement that in the old way of looking at it was outside the world in god now is inside the world, in every part, and the striving of all the parts together is god.
- And why is that revolutionary?
- If the world makes itself, no one can claim that the god who made it made it that way for good reason so we should leave it alone. And if the world is god like our body is our mind, then there is no reason, as we attempt to perfect our minds in education, we should not also be able to bring our social relations with us.
- And Jonathan Israel claims that Spinoza helped revolutionaries to do that?
- Yes.
- How exactly?
- First, by making society something we strive for for our own sake, for increase of our power. Our power is greatest when we come to know how to love the world, the whole world*, to love god, in other words. As the possibility of what is best in us is in all of us, we are each other's teachers in this highest striving, and once we know this, we never can willingly leave anyone behind.**
- And so we arrive at equality, and democratic revolutions.
- Yes. But equality is not the goal, nor any definite constitution. We treat each other as equals because it is in our interest to have everyone in our lives as teacher and collaborator. But when that is not true...
- For example?
- When some acquire much more property than others, we probably will want to tax them at a higher rate, that is, unequally. If we don't we can expect the wealthy to influence government in their favor, expect those without influence to be dispossessed, and forced to abase themselves before their arrogant masters, undermining the fundamental goal of society of serving each individual's striving for perfection.
- Learning to know and love the whole world.
- Yes. What we have in common is our striving to love. It is protection of that striving, rather than of any equal condition of the world, that we base our society on. Jonathan Israel distinguishes two different enlightenments, moderate and radical. The moderates wanted equality, but not for everyone: wanted to retain privileges for aristocrats while removing advantages of kings and clergy, and denying freedom to slaves, women, and other classes. Equality offered a sort of honor among thieves, advantageous for practical results, a good example how what looks out in the world to be a virtue is nothing of the kind.***
- Would I be wrong to conclude that ideas can really change the world, for the same reason? I mean, we don't have to rely on particular new structures of society, which are not necessarily good in themselves anyway, but only turn away from seeing each other as adversaries and towards seeing each other as collaborators, and see what follows? That might have been why Spinoza was so influential. Not because of his abstract system of god being the same as nature and mind the same as body, which I can't believe drove anyone to make a revolution.
- It's something to think about.

Further Reading:
Spinoza, Ethics
Jonathan Israel, Revolutionary Ideas: An Intellectual History of the French Revolution from The Rights of Man to Robespierre
* See Spinoza's God
** See Killer Metaphysics
*** See Blueprints & Recipes 
Keeping particular arrangements in the world unchanging, as an end in itself, however virtuous appearing is the result of fear and weakness, of passivity, the opposite to the individual's striving for perfection.


- The first thing I think about all this is that I don't like god involved in politics. Why can't we just repeat to each other until it gets through, Cooperate, People!
- But cooperate how exactly?
- As you said, we'll figure it out as we go along.
- Do we cooperate in gaining knowledge for the sake of obtaining power over nature and over other people? Or do we cooperate, obtaining power for the sake of gaining knowledge?
- I understand knowledge for the sake of power, that is science, technology transforming nature and psychology, the techniques of manipulating people. What is power for the sake of knowledge? Something to do with god, I suppose.
- Supposing that you'd be right.
- So what is it?
- Technology applied not to the world of nature, or of other people, but of the relations between what we individually do, think and act, and what good and bad results follow.
- And the good result would be love, experiencing god. And the bad result?
- Hatred, fear, passivity, ignorance of self.
- God was brought into 17th century philosophy to balance technology of the world with technology of self?
- You could say that.*