Do we have a democracy in the US, or a plutocracy? Or somewhere in between? Or something completely different? How much does money really influence American politics?

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Get the word out. Locate area(s) suitable for development. Think about the vast numbers who came from Europe to settle in Salt Lake City-in conestogas, on foot. And for what? Lies.  Why wouldn't there be an impetus to settle among friendly, like-minded individuals. Vermont is a gem. It is beautiful. Organic food, dairy, places for recreation and to appreciate nature.

One of the issues I sometimes contemplate is to what extent atheists will improve government and morality. I know things cant be worse. Does the individual who has lost her faith also jettison the morality of superstition? There have been socialist experiments. Why not atheist?

As such, atheism is not a political position. It is a philosophical position, which is to say it deals essentially with metaphysics and epistemology, but what we can derive from that as far as ethics and political philosophy is virtually as wide as anything which other philosophies have done, whether theological or not. I see no point in an atheist community which is not expressly leftist/socialist. This country already has something quite close to libertarianism, and so I think a turn to the right is just more of the same. But you are right, just any atheist society would not necessarily, or even probably, be much better than anything we already have. This is why I have spent the good majority of my life contemplating ethics and, to a lesser extent, politics. A clear moral agenda is essential to providing a foundation for a clear political agenda. I have my own theory of ethics which I have been working on, and I would push for a society based on its principles and would reject one which had clear contradictory principles in mind. But even still, there are many questions I have as to what would be the best political doctrine. There are too many variables to consider. Even still, one has to start somewhere. Vermont sounds great, and if I can find some kind of a following I will try to lead some kind of a movement either there or somewhere else of similar virtues. And it would have to be a socialist experiment of sorts for me, anything either more to the left (communism??) or more to the right (capitalistic "democracy" which devolves into plutocracy?) seems quite imbalanced and pointless.

A very interesting source, Will. There does seem to be a philosophical problem with the idea of a technocracy, which is that it still needs leaders and a hierarchy, a sociopolitical structure, and so forth, which requires political action, and as it appears, the website entirely sidesteps these issues, leaving it "up to us". Well, if it were that simple, it would have been done, as they also mention. I found this quote to be the best:


"The resultants of Technocracy applied to the North American Continent would be: The production and distribution of all the goods and services that the entire population of the Continent would require. Reduction of human effort to the minimum that the effective operations of the Continent would permit. The maximization of both Continental and individual security. Obligation of every Citizen to contribute his pro rata share of time and effort in manning the operations of the Continent, which amount would be very meager, indeed, as compared to Price System expectations. The highest standard of health and education that it would be possible for a society to maintain. The individual human being would derive a great deal more from the system than he or she would contribute to it. Hence, everyone would live on a heritage of unearned wealth, a circumstance which, today, is permitted to only a very few of `the best people.'"


Right, well, that sounds great. The only thing we need now is a map which shows us how to get from here to there. But that's the whole rub, isn't it? Now, how do we get going from here? What is step 1? I have suggestions and ideas of my own, certainly getting to work on starting our own city for starters is, well, a place to start. One city at a time, perhaps. Can we start with 1 please? But even this seems a long way off. We are disorganized!!

Sounds just like Communism to me! Not that I'm criticizing Communism -- it's actually a very beautiful idea. It's just that no one ever made it work. People are just too self-centered, and the vast majority truly don't give a shit about anyone else, and would much prefer to do the very minimum they can get away with. If they are GIVEN things, great, but they don't want to contribute anything, if they can avoid it. Hence the shoddy quality of the work force and thus production in Soviet Russia.

Good try, guys, but it ain't gonna happen. Not that I think unfettered Capitalism is any great shakes, either, but there must be a middle way!

I wasn't suggesting, nor do I think anyone else was, that the ideal sociopolitical structure is communism. I believe as you do, that there is a middle way between the extremes of both the far right and the far left. Of course, in a society such as ours, which is so largely skewed to the RIGHT, an optimal balance struck between both extremes would seem very much like communism. But I do not agree with your premise, Natalie, that people are by nature inherently lazy and self-centered. I think so much depends upon circumstances. In a society which is skewed to either extreme, such as ours is to the right and communism is to the left, people will not feel that their work is being truly appreciated and will of course not live up to their full potential. In a society which manages to pull off the delicate balance between the self and the community (something few societies have managed to do, excepting perhaps the Scandinavian countries and some others), people feel appropriately rewarded for their hard work and become very motivated to do well both for themselves and for others. I think such societies are best described (perhaps in a still primitive way) as being socialistic. You paint a very negative picture of human nature, Natalie, but I think that people are naturally inclined to be on the side of justice and conscience and, given the appropriate circumstances, are plenty capable of behaving well and "altruistically".


I do think I was being kind of cynical, mostly because of my frustration with the current state of our country. But I still think that we are NOT inherently altruistic; I think we learn to be. If you've ever watched 2-year-olds fighting over a toy, and screaming MINE! MINE! you realize they have something to learn! I taught all ages from birth through college for 23 years, and had plenty of opportunities to watch children grow ethically. Most of them did, but it seems to me that it was because they had parents, teachers and peer groups who taught them. A few didn't, and ended up in jail or worse. Being appropriately rewarded for your labors helps, but it's certainly not the whole picture, or why would there be unethical highly-paid professionals and millionaires? And why are there honest homeless people, like the guy who found a wallet with thousands of dollars in it, and turned it in without touching the money?

I certainly don't think it's religion that creates ethics, but I don't think it's inborn, either. Maybe the most likely explanation is that it's a social construct that enables us to live peaceably together, but if so, a lot of people are not getting the message.

I have 3 young boys, and while at many times they act extremely selfish, they can also be very sweet and do things for each other just out of their own desire to make others happy. I try to teach them how to be good, but there is no way I could have taught them many of the things they do, they ARE naturally sweet, it is inborn. A lot of the behavior you mention, I would argue that good behavior depends upon both nature and nurture, and since we have both selfish and altruistic tendencies in-born in us, which of them we express is largely dependent upon our environment. So let me take each of your examples in turn.


First you mention seeing children grow ethically "because they had parents, teachers and peer groups who taught them". This is exactly my point. Ethics is not purely natural or purely social, but we need both to develop well. This means that ethics is both in-born and something which is further nurtured by our environment.


As for the unethical rich, there are plenty of people who learn how to get what they want by being selfish and are very successful at it, being rewarded by cash obviously isn't everything, it certainly isn't what I meant by being rewarded and appreciated by society (though it certainly helps!). And there are very good people who, despite being highly ethical (or, sad to say, even BECAUSE they are), cannot manage to succeed in the dog-eat-dog world of our society. These are not particularly difficult examples.


If ethics were just a social construct, that would be a very poor reflection of the human condition. I disagree with you wholeheartedly. We are not just selfish creatures who have managed to extend our selfishness into a workable social contract. I don't know how you would explain homeless altruists under your understanding of human nature, or the desire to help others who are less fortunate than we are, but it is clear that you cannot live a life of conscience if you are only looking out for number 1.

Agreed. "Altruism" is like sales at the supermarket or government promises... nothing is ever truly free or given. There is always a self-benefit to "altruism". There's been a long trend in evo-psych, a ridiculously unscientific trend... which tries to justify all human's "good" emotions as "evolution" while at the same time saying that all "bad" traits are but bad apples due to circumstance. So much of our daily lives are made up of unscientific constructs, and we will need several more generations to shed these faulty paradigms.

Exactly what is the self-benefit in returning a lost wallet with tons of cash if you are a homeless person? Or working for Doctors Without Borders rather than making loads of cash in a private practice? Yes, there is almost certainly a selfish reward in the form of emotional satisfaction, and very likely this is due to our evolutionary heritage, but isn't it this kind of "giving of the self" which is the most noble and heroic part of our nature? How can people be so cynical about the best parts of our humanity? If we continue to think of our motivations as "selfish" in nature, and refuse to recognize that our inherent desire to do good for others is the basic point, and not the fact that it ultimately boils down to feeling good about ourselves in so doing, then we lose any sense of what it means to be good as a person in a whole, ethical sense, and it reduces our humanity to nihilistic hedonism.

I went to a lecture tonight by a forensic psychiatrist on psychopathy, and it was interesting to think about what's going on in the brains of the Ted Bundy s and other serial killers. Psychiatrists actually have a scale to rate psychopathic tendencies in people, and a high score on this scale is the best predictor of future violence. Psychopaths make up 1% of the population and 50% of serious crime.

But the part that prompted me to add to this conversation was that psychopathy is very clearly inborn and physical in the brain, and some argue that it is simply part of human genetic diversity. Which seems to be the reverse side of the coin that Wanderer is flipping! :-)

@Wanderer, prestige, respect, Heaven for faithers, good karma for Buddhists. People who preach altruism tend to often fail to consider psycho/social benefits in favour of strictly material benefits. That is a mistake.

It's the same reason why when they do psychometric tests on corporate leaders, then find the schizophrenia indicators quite common.

Our society is entirely based on killing the top competitor and enslaving the others. It is really not much different than machiavelism, or reality survivor shows. Do I like it? no... but ever time humanity has attempted to be "good" equally to all, it fails, because there will always be alpha humans to rule the masses. The most successful revolutions were the bloody ones, those which eliminated large components of the alpha class. Revolutions which failed to eliminate the alpha class are usually extremely short-lived. These "masses" needn't be traditionally god fearing either, they can simply chose to comply with the present world order. Consider all the gnu atheists who jump on the atheist bandwagon because it's the "in" thing to do, giving up the little teensy concept of gods, but keeping all of the stupid systems that have been created in gods' names. it's really no better. It's why I make no effort to 'convert' faithers, I don't want followers in my camp.

These "followers" whether faithers or atheists expect "promises" from politicians, instead of integrity and principals. Political systems based on promises have their going price, and people who vote according to political "promises" feed the system and deserve the crap governments we have.


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