Giambattista Vico (1668 - 1744)
A person can be an atheist but not come to terms with the absence of intrinsic meaning or morality, or the immutability of our nature as a biological product.
I hear people on A/N asking for what purpose, imagining direction in evolution, imagining that our intellects and personalities can transcend our biology through technology, and proposing universal ethical or moral standards. It seems to me that they haven't broken free of their faith-based roots.
I suggested to a philosopher on A/N that he needed to create his own meaning and set or adopt his own ethical standards, and he was infuriated, calling me a psychopath and declaring that this view would condone rape and other cruelty and mayhem. Why the anger? I'm not inclined to be cruel without his philosophy or Billy Graham's religion. This did not compute with him and anger was the response. There are atheists who don't get it.
Returning to the quote at the top, made about three hundred years ago, he hits the nail on the head. We'll never be satisfied. Without struggle and misery, we lose our edge, we effectively degenerate. We can't control what we are, what we can become. Biology will out. We'll be reduced to struggle at the edge of survival or we'll lose the battle for survival. There can be no stable and happy societies in harmony with the rest of nature. There can be no utopias. This, it seems to me, is a strength of religion or spirituality. However stupidly it tries to cover up this basically intolerable reality, for most people, it's better than nothing.
This is the challenge to secularism, to deal with and sell reality.
Quite true, being outspoken about morality can get you into trouble when you explain that there is no objective standard for morality outside of human perspective. Somehow people prefer to hold on to incorrect assumptions based upon emotions then to accept the cold truths of reality.
I would say that it takes some mental perseverance to come to accept that free will does not exist, that you as a person are in fact less in control over your actions then you would like and that the universe does not give a rat's ass about our fate.
The truth sets you free, but only if you're willing to open your eyes far enough.
I agree. We lose sight of that while in a bloom phase that technology has allowed. The cost of Twinkie ingredients, however, is rising rapidly.
Generalizations make for good sound bites, but they rarely hold up under scrutiny. Some men fit Vico's pattern, but many do not.
As for maintaining your own set of moral/ethical standards? That is all well and good, to a point. Clearly, if there are no victims, you should be able to do as you please. But where there is society there is a social contract. The fact that you did not sign it will avail you little if your personal moral code brings the wrath of a howling mob/the police/concerned parents down on you.
Think of struggle like a workout. Some exercise is good for you, but too much of it and you can seriously hurt/kill yourself. Most of us can use a spotter now and then. You should be proud of the fact that you have never needed one, but why look down on people who do?
Dogs, cats, cows, chickens, goats, sheep, and a whole host of other critters prove that technology can overcome biology. If we can domesticate animals, why not humans? The written word, radio, television, and now the multimedia glory that is the internet have all been steps along the road. So much of human life is now purely cerebral that within a few generations we may be tiny versions of ourselves, with robots performing all our labor. We could live in tiny pods and never step outside. Sort of a reverse Matrix, if you will. Don't think of western net addicts, though. Here we eat nonstop as we click. Think of the way they do it in the east. Those MF's are so intense they forget to eat, and many have actually died. (OG'ed) "They're so deep in the 'Web the spiders kill em!"™ At that point we could have all our physical needs taken care of at a minimal environmental impact, while receiving all the necessary "struggle stimuli" needed to keep our mental lives vibrant, healthy, and creative.
Could happen. Or maybe we'll turn the whole planet into Easter Island instead.
Some men fit Vico's pattern, but many do not. B Good
We all have the same basic psychology. What so many miss is that the intellect, motivation and "character" of the best and brightest of us is as perishable as unrefrigerated milk. If you've visited a Wal-Mart in the US, you've seen the unmotivated and unemployable products of a technological civilization. Placed in the Birmingham, England of 1831, they'd work off the fat or die - probably just die. It's easy for young healthy people to think that they're intrinsically better than that, that their joie de vivre is a quality they'll always have and can pass on to innumerable future generations. I don't. We're still very close to the struggles that pre-date this brief period of technology-driven prosperity and rapid population growth. This "noble character," the product of an astronomical number of failed lives, is fragile. We're making zoo animals of ourselves. Our psychology, including motivation and intellect, is as much the product of our past struggles on the savannahs of Africa as our immune system or upright posture.
Even if we control population growth and resource depletion, we will not only have built a fragile house of cards, but, I predict, our motivation in this artificial environment will fail. What will replace the honing effect of "nature red in tooth and claw?" Even if eugenics were embraced, I don't think it would work.
Yes, the Easter Island scenario is the likely one and that, you might say, would solve the problem, sharpening the survivors.
I don't mean to be a pessimist but I don't see that a high level of intellect and technology is sustainable. I'd like to hear other scenarios, I may well be missing something.
I don't think people are particularly noble. I think people are worse than you do, actually. See, I know that most people in England in 1831 were every bit as "unmotivated and unemployable" as people today are. Back then, poor people, even in Birmingham, ate poached rabbits or really big rats, wild dogs and cats, pigeons, veggie scraps left behind on the street after the vendors went home for the night, scraps from rich people's garbage, etc. If you had a job you were one of the lucky few. Otherwise you could panhandle, beg on the streets, run a shell game, rob people, break into houses, prostitute yourself, etc. All in all, every bit as nasty then as WalMart shoppers are today.
We clearly do not all share the same psychology. If we shared the same psychology, we would be unable to form our own ethical/moral principles. Instead, we would naturally gravitate to the same principles as everyone else. We are nearly identical from a biological perspective, yes, but mentally this is not the case. I, for instance, do not shop at WalMart.
It is true that the vast majority of the people on the planet share many psychological similarities. These similarities are what make advertising and propaganda work. Thus, it is clear that social engineering can also work. 50 years ago, scientists were widely admired. Today they are not. the reason for this is not because science was better back then. Rather, the political right has run a campaign of social engineering for the last three decades to discredit science. If we run a pro-science campaign, we can reverse that trend. We need a barrage of pro-science books, movies, tv shows. And I mean "House," not "Cosmos". Movies to counteract the effects of "Frankenstein" on the popular culture and so on.
Honestly, though, the real problem I have with your argument is your use of this concept of 'honing'. You say "Without struggle and misery, we lose our edge, we effectively degenerate." In response, I ask edge of what? Degenerate from what? Evolution only goes forward, my friend, and we have the choice right now as to whether we think the future of humanity lies in the body or the brain. If it lies in the body, then we will ignore our brains and allow worldwide devastation, bringing the red tooth and claw to the forefront. Alternatively, we can use our brains and solve our problems, a la Bucky Fuller.
I think brain is the way to go, personally. I kind of have a problem with negative eugenics, even in the form of genocide-by-apathy. Positive eugenics, on the other hand, are OK by me. Make people qualify in order to have children, for instance. Or at least pay higher taxes for having children instead of getting tax breaks. (Admit it people, your children are a drain on society. I've got to pay for your kids school? I have no children for a reason!)
I don't think people are particularly noble. B Good
But they think they are. They think that their interests, values and intellects transcend their biology.
Back then, poor people, even in Birmingham, ate poached rabbits or really big rats, wild dogs and cats, pigeons, veggie scraps left behind on the street after the vendors went home for the night, (etc.)
My point exactly. They could hustle. I know they were nasty, that wasn't the point. Their environment challenged them in ways the Wal-Mart folks aren't challenged. I'd like to see one of those blobs catch and cook a rat. And I'm not saying that I'm much better; I'm very dependent on airconditioning, clean hot water from the tap, gasoline, etc.
We clearly do not all share the same psychology. If we shared the same psychology, we would be unable to form our own ethical/moral principles.
The same basic psychology of the species, not the relatively minor intraspecies differences. For example, take a diverse group of humans and put them on a large island with no technology and see what develops; a standard hunter-gatherer society would eventually develop - if they lived long enough. Gilligan's Island is a fantasy.
... the political right has run a campaign of social engineering for the last three decades to discredit science. If we run a pro-science campaign, we can reverse that trend.
Ah, you still have hope. I've kinda lost mine.
Honestly, though, the real problem I have with your argument is your use of this concept of 'honing'. You say "Without struggle and misery, we lose our edge, we effectively degenerate." In response, I ask edge of what? Degenerate from what?
Of course, nature (evolution) only does survival. Here's where the honing comes in. We're building a house of cards in that we've become dependent on antibiotics, engineered crop yields, on-time delivery of refrigerated strawberries in February, ten-minute drives in our SUVs for pedicures, etc. Okay, I had a little fun with the examples but all humans are now increasingly dependent on a structure that is irreplaceable (nothing else can sustain eight billion beople at any standard of living) and our genomes and cultures are increasingly unfit to anything else. On top of that, our motivation, our compulsion to live and procreate, is being affected. That's what I mean when I say we're making zoo animals of ourselves. Notice that the more affluent and aware we are, the lower the birth rate.