View Full Version : As promised
May 29th, 2006, 10:35 AM
I've finally been freed from the burden of final exams, and now have time to write a response to the following quotes from Margaret, which were drawn from the "Summers was Correct" thread:
Are you saying that - even though everyone does not now enjoy equality of civil rights, the fact that they have different abilities is not what is preventing us from correcting that?
Do you mean that in the sense that those who would deny equal civil rights to some groups are using the purported "different abilities" of those groups to justify that - but that society is currently demonstrating the ability to disregard those justifications - so we don't need to worry? See why I'm having trouble?
Yes to the former, no to the latter.
The ideal of equal civil rights is completely independent of biological reality. In no way can any inference about moral codes be gleaned from the natural world. For example, it is a flat fact that fathers more frequently kill adopted children than their own biological children. This makes perfect sense from an evolutionary perspective and occurs in many other species (most famously, lions) - kill the kids to whom you are not related, so that your spouse will have time and effort available to support other (i.e., your own) children. Does this biological logic make such behavior morally correct? Of course not . . . moral codes are constructed independently of biological reality. In other words, what ought to be cannot be inferred from what is. To make such an inference would be to commit the natuarlistic fallacy.
So . . . that equal civil rights are not upheld has nothing to do with the innate biological differences between people, but rather everything to do with the psychology that we all share in common. The drive to define group boundaries and enforce their integrity is something we all possess to one extent or another, and in some people it motivates racial hatred. Their intolerance has a biological basis that, once again, makes sense (not with regard to precisely which people they discriminate against, but rather with regard to their propensity to discriminate against "outsiders" in general), but this does not mean it is morally correct.
Returning once again to the issue originally at hand: some researchers feel they have uncovered evidence that there are large-scale statistical differences between human sub-populations in terms of quantitative reasoning or other artificial testing procedures. I have not examined this research personally, and cannot currently criticize it on procedural or statistical grounds. The results may well underlie genuine biological phenomena that are worthy of exploration - for example, they may reveal divergent selective environments*. HOWEVER . . . whether or not between-group variation is significant relative to within-group variation has no bearing whatsoever on what is morally "correct": such systematic differences, if genuine, would not justify discrimination. The problem of unequal civil rights, in practice, is due to our inability to enforce moral rules that occasionally conflict with our inherent grouping psychology.
*Note: this is, I think, why JimB has expressed interest in this subject before . . . it is facile and short-sighted to judge him as a racist/white supremacist just because he is willing to discuss this kind of research with us.
May 29th, 2006, 02:47 PM
Carey: . . . moral codes are constructed independently of biological reality.
But that implies that we humans are “morally” responsible for our behavior, that we do indeed have some freewill after all, something that MM (and TomJ) insist doesn’t exist.
However, in the atheist’s accidental universe, aren’t “moral codes” merely the subjective mental constructs of us accidental creatures? And even if a group somehow manages to agree on a moral code and somehow manages to assign an illusion of extra significance/meaning to such constructs, certainly everyone understands, at some level, it’s ultimately all just an illusion, and that such a code ultimately has no more inherent meaning/significance than say the rules for playing Trivial Pursuit . . . but I digress, and I’m nevertheless delighted, Carey, that you accept and acknowledge that we humans are indeed morally responsible for our behavior, even though such a POV is quite inconsistent with a truly atheistic POV.
May 29th, 2006, 03:35 PM
The ideal of equal civil rights is completely independent of biological reality. In no way can any inference about moral codes be gleaned from the natural world.
I feel as if this is too strong a statement.
(1) I don't think norms should be constrained entirely by our current understanding of our biology, by any means. Human imagination exceeds human knowledge at any given point, which is why art and philosophy (and to some degree, social sciences) have some independence from natural science. What we want for ourselves is more than what we know with confidence about ourselves. We dream about being more than we know we are at any given moment.
(2) However, I don't think norms come out of thin air either. We reason to our norms from pre-existing needs and preferences that are not independent of our biology. We create the sorts of ideas and environments that we create because we are what we are.
I think the naturalistic fallacy is a great rule of thumb to help remind us that of (1), but we shouldn't take it to such an extreme that we forget about (2).
I do have some thoughts on human rights, but they will have to wait for another time. They build on my thoughts about norms being rooted to some degree in human biology, but not constrained entirely by it,
May 29th, 2006, 09:43 PM
I agree with you Todd, but Margaret has not responded to a more moderate statement of my opinions on this matter. Hence my decision to render it in a slightly more exaggerated fashion. To say that morality is a completely artificial construct is clearly false (i.e. our ability to create norms relies upon our biology, but the norms themselves aren't restricted to our biology) . . . but I stressed its independence from biological facts to make clear my point that the potential discovery that human sub-pops may systematically differ in one way or another has no bearing upon our moral codes.
May 29th, 2006, 09:57 PM
in the atheist’s accidental universe, aren’t “moral codes” merely the subjective mental constructs of us accidental creatures?
Yep (well . . . the way in which we define moral rules has been shaped b evolutionary forces) . . . but they seem to work relatively well, don't they?
certainly everyone understands, at some level, it’s ultimately all just an illusion, and that such a code ultimately has no more inherent meaning/significance than say the rules for playing Trivial Pursuit
No . . . most people don't understand it at all . . . we just live our lives this way. You say that our "moral codes" have no more meaning than a game of Trivial Pursuit, but I don't think so . . . And what do you really mean by "inherent meaning/significance"? Does something really have to be defined by an Ultimate intelligence to have inherent meaning/significance? I don't really want to get into this debate with you (again . . . this has been going on for years; give it a rest, already). Let us agree to disagree on this matter: I think that "moral codes" assigned subjectively by people have just as much "significance" as the purportedly universal "moral codes" assigned by the Ultimately Circular intelligence that created the universe. Blah Blah Blah . . . It's just not that fun to argue about this anymore.
May 30th, 2006, 09:58 AM
Carey: Yep (well . . . the way in which we define moral rules has been shaped b evolutionary forces) . . . but they [moral codes that are merely the subjective mental constructs of us accidental creatures] seem to work relatively well, don't they?
Nope, certainly not if/when atheists are running things. As I’ve noted elsewhere, while the last 2,000 years of religious/spiritual influence on civilization may be less than impressive at times (and certainly Islam is currently a disappointment), when 20th century atheists have been in charge (e.g., USSR, PRC, etc.), things seem to get much bloodier and more brutal—atheists inevitably start to see themselves as god, and their own subjective morality as being inherently better than everyone else’s—seems to be an unavoidable human proclivity. Here are some 20th century numbers to keep in mind regarding atheist governments: USSR, 1917-87—62 million mass murders; China (PRC) 1949-87—35 million mass murders; etc.)
If “morality” works at all, it works only if/when people truly and actually believe and are convinced that it is more than an illusion, more than merely the subjective mental constructs of accidental creatures in an accidental universe. Otherwise, it’s all nothing more than Trivial Pursuit.
May 30th, 2006, 10:21 AM
Fred - your perspective on this matter is myopic, at best. I don't care to argue with you about it, for the 1,000th time.
May 30th, 2006, 02:22 PM
Carey, I still have the feeling that you are preparing yourself to argue with me over this topic. Perhaps that's due to my past reactions to some of the things JB has written on this. So far, I haven't seen any serious areas of disagreement with you - although they could appear as we get further into it.
While I appreciate the need for a scientific understanding of individual and group differences - I've also been around long enough to know that some people who are very interested in individual and group competition and status are ever hungry for evidence to support their competitive inclinations. For that reason I am suspicious and mistrustful of anyone (but especially scientists) who seem to get too much emotional stimulation from viewing these kinds of (mental) images. I don't sense any serious ideology in your recent statements.
I also tend to be suspicious of anyone who seems too emotionally opposed to the notion of political correctness. Political correctness, among other things, is a way of showing one's desire to be fair and concerned about others' sense of being treated fairly. Strong emotion in someone's statements usually indicates that their ideological buttons are being pushed. As I have said before, we are all ideological about some things. And, it's better to admit to one's biases than to pretend one is not biased.
I did not accuse JB of racism (or misogyny). I raised the possibility, based on some things he had written. I asked him to explain himself one way or the other. He declined. I leave for others to decide if they are interested. As for me, I think he has some issues on those things. So, I do not consider him objective on those matters. I don't necessarily need to condemn him in these discussions but I do factor my opinion of his biases into whatever he writes - which is often on those topics. I'm sure he does the same for me.
I also know that I have been wrong about people before and that written words are easy to misinterpret in a forum like this, which is why I asked for clarification in the first place. I am open to new evidence.
For now, let me look at what seems to be your theme, The problem of unequal civil rights, in practice, is due to our inability to enforce moral rules that occasionally conflict with our inherent grouping psychology. It seems you could restate that as: The problem of civilization, in practice, is our inability to enforce moral rules that often conflict with our human nature.
I suspect that the default organization of human society is the Mafia or Saddam Hussein model whereby ruthless tough guys (the ultimate competitors) attract extremely loyal followers who are willing to kill others and do whatever they are told in order to secure their own rise in the organization over time. There are many places in the world where societies are organized in exactly this way. Everyplace where there is democratic sharing of power and rules against thuggery - are places where (your definition of) human nature has been voluntarily set aside by the vast majority of the participants. Violators are considered to be criminals and are imprisoned.
Are such enlightened societies artificial constructs against our natures? You seem to think so. That's not an accusation, just an observation that could be wrong. Set me straight, if so. You seem to have a view that's similar to some deists - that our natures are sinful (criminal) and that we need a god (state) to threaten us and keep us way from sin (crime).
Here are some thoughts I am having on this.
I'd say that both kinds of societies are expressions of human nature. I'd also say that the vast majority in the non-democratic societies wished they lived in a more democratic one but don't have the power to make that happen. Their human nature is wishing for a better way to live for themselves and their families.
The difference between societies is how willing they are to choose (demand) to organize around fair, egalitarian vs. rule-by-the-most-ruthless principles. The latter is the default mode - probably because violence provides its own positive feedback (and non-violence becomes futile in that environment).
If egalitarian social organization is impossible then you get Saddam. Go too egalitarian and you get economic stagnation and personal hopelessness - where cheaters and thugs soon move in to take advantage of others' good intentions. Designing a workable balance requires some pretty enlightened thinking - like what happened around 1776 in this country. I think that was remarkable in that it was the first design of a workable government structure that at least recognized the need to balance economic competition with egalitarian principles on a fair playing field.
But, making that balance work requires an even scarcer commodity - the will of almost all participants to abide by the rules and punish those who do not - the rule of law. And, since some will always try to interpret the rules liberally in their own favor, that depends vitally on an independent judiciary. If people start to lose their faith in the system, if they see cheaters getting away with violations of the public trust, and if the judiciary has been stacked to make that possible - then any society will again devolve to rule by the toughest thugs.
A workable balance is fragile. It requires continuous careful adjustment as conditions change.
It also requires that government be approached as a secular, non-ideological process. When large numbers on each side disagree on where that balance lies, both sides need to be willing to relinquish their personal ideology and go with fair process.
Preserving that tension and balance between egalitarianism and competition is difficult at best. It requires extraordinarily good-willed and honest practitioners. Democracy is like science in that any ideology in the process destroys the outcome. In both cases, the only justifiable ideology is a committment to fairness and honesty - not outcomes.
When you say our problems are due to our inability to enforce moral rules that go against our nature, I would say our problems are due to the inability (of too many of us) to understand and to embrace the spirit of the moral rules that were written into our constitution and to insist that they be followed. Instead, large numbers of mostly white males have decided that the rewards of hyper-competition (stacked in their favor from birth) justify ignoring and violating those field-leveling rules. The rules they can't bribe politicians to change for them - they just violate.
Many of them look to evolutionary psychology (and its ability to define almost any behavior as human nature) to lend a scientific sheen to their desire to win at all costs (or their need to justify already having done so). Some EPists, especially those who are also white, male and share those desires, seem more than willing to help. That's reality and I'm not about to ignore it. If I see someone who might fit that description I'll note my concerns and give them an opportunity to show me that my suspicions are unfounded - or not. I'm not here to carry any ideological banner - but I am not ready to ignore red flags either. But mostly I'm interested in the science of evolutionary psychology - not so much what some use it for - although that too is a part of the picture worth exploring.
These are just some thoughts to clarify my position on racism (since you brought it up) and encourage a general discussion of discrimination - not an attempt to say you are right or wrong about anything. I basically agree with everything you said in your post - I think.
May 31st, 2006, 11:12 AM
Carey: I think that "moral codes" assigned subjectively by people have just as much "significance" as the purportedly universal "moral codes" assigned by the Ultimately Circular intelligence that created the universe.
Of course that’s what you think since you don’t really believe that “objective truth” “exists”—in your view, a subjective belief that can’t be proven—e.g., that all life, all intelligence, all creativity and all 'design' anywhere in the universe, is the direct or indirect product of Darwinian natural selection—has as much “significance” as (objective) mathematical truth—e.g., that there are an infinite number of primes, or Lagrange’s four-square theorem.
For example, it is only with objective mathematical truth and Newton’s theory/laws of motion and gravity (and observation of course) that we’re able to discern certain truths/realities about our world; and with objective mathematical truth and Einstein’s General Relativity theory/equations we’re able to discern greater and more precise truths/realities of our world, and also the incompleteness of Newton’s laws/equations.
Once one begins to appreciate the reality of objective mathematical truth (and that it is the only way that we humans truly begin to understand the realities of our world), things like objective beauty and morality are not such a leap, although perhaps not as readily discernable or irrefutable as mathematical truth.
I think that the problem with so many, again using MM’s characterization, “fawning undergrad psych students” (and much of today’s academia), is their superficial understanding of science and their utter lack of appreciation for the need of objective mathematical truth to do real science.
I suppose that I too sort of believe in “natural selection,” except that I realize that it’s merely a simplistic and circular explanation for something we don’t really understand all that much.
May 31st, 2006, 02:07 PM
I realize that it’s merely a simplistic and circular explanation for something we don’t really understand all that much.
Congratulations, Fred: you've re-stated your opinion on this matter without having confronted any of the arguments that I put forth to you, either now or in the past. Way to go.
May 31st, 2006, 02:23 PM
Along wth the discussion of discrimination, hyper-competition, etc. that this thread was started with - I found this article this morning that I thought might be relevant - or at least interesting.
Why Gay Men Are Outperforming the Good-Old-Boys in Business (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kirk-snyder/why-gay-men-are-outperfor_b_21899.html)
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