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zhao
08-04-2007, 05:52 PM
i've said countless times that there is no such thing. and that any case for it, one way or another, can only be attributed to agendas following ideology or dogma to which the person making the case subscribes. Marxists say humans are good for one set of reasons, and christians say humans are bad for another set of reasons. while i truly believe, without a single doubt in my mind, that humans are not inherently anything -- that we are adaptable to any condition, malleable under any circumstance, and each one of us are indeed capable of behaving in a million ways, from saintly compassion to horrirfying cruelty.

a friend (Muslim) said that humans are inherently selfish, because if there was one piece of bread left and 4 people are starving to death, they would all want it for themselves.

this seems like an invalid argument because self preservation / survival is surely different from selfishness? if we take this definition of selfishness, then it follows that ants are selfish and giraffes are selfish and all forms of life are selfish (when trees grow taller to get more sunlight), and the term itself becomes entirely meaningless.

what do you think?

Guybrush
09-04-2007, 11:49 PM
Well, I would disagree with your Muslim friend. Or, at least, I would like to upend his reasoning. Why does he believe the condition of starving to expose the inherent characteristics of a person? One could, equally rightly, argue that these conditions make them act inhumanly, or maybe that should be un-humanly.

I agree with your thoughts on the immense malleability of human behaviour. I remember having this discussion with Gek-Opel and Nomadologist on the Borat thread; neither of them liked my idea that civilisation has tamed and ‘civilised’ (in an objective sense, roughly defined by ourselves) humans. Now it seems Steven Pinker is on my side ;), for he recently argued something similar at this (http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/pinker07/pinker07_index.html) lecture:


In the decade of Darfur and Iraq, and shortly after the century of Stalin, Hitler, and Mao, the claim that violence has been diminishing may seem somewhere between hallucinatory and obscene. Yet recent studies that seek to quantify the historical ebb and flow of violence point to exactly that conclusion.

Some of the evidence has been under our nose all along. Conventional history has long shown that, in many ways, we have been getting kinder and gentler. Cruelty as entertainment, human sacrifice to indulge superstition, slavery as a labor-saving device, conquest as the mission statement of government, genocide as a means of acquiring real estate, torture and mutilation as routine punishment, the death penalty for misdemeanors and differences of opinion, assassination as the mechanism of political succession, rape as the spoils of war, pogroms as outlets for frustration, homicide as the major form of conflict resolution—all were unexceptionable features of life for most of human history. But, today, they are rare to nonexistent in the West, far less common elsewhere than they used to be, concealed when they do occur, and widely condemned when they are brought to light.

At one time, these facts were widely appreciated. They were the source of notions like progress, civilization, and man's rise from savagery and barbarism. Recently, however, those ideas have come to sound corny, even dangerous. They seem to demonize people in other times and places, license colonial conquest and other foreign adventures, and conceal the crimes of our own societies. The doctrine of the noble savage—the idea that humans are peaceable by nature and corrupted by modern institutions—pops up frequently in the writing of public intellectuals like José Ortega y Gasset ("War is not an instinct but an invention"), Stephen Jay Gould ("Homo sapiens is not an evil or destructive species"), and Ashley Montagu ("Biological studies lend support to the ethic of universal brotherhood"). But, now that social scientists have started to count bodies in different historical periods, they have discovered that the romantic theory gets it backward: Far from causing us to become more violent, something in modernity and its cultural institutions has made us nobler.

hundredmillionlifetimes
10-04-2007, 01:06 AM
Well, I would disagree with your Muslim friend. Or, at least, I would like to upend his reasoning. Why does he believe the condition of starving to expose the inherent characteristics of a person? One could, equally rightly, argue that these conditions make them act inhumanly, or maybe that should be un-humanly.

Of course, Zhao's friend is engaging in a redundant and reductivist circular argument. Place humans in a situation where they will likely act psychotically and they will then act psychotically. Therefore all humans are psychotic etc.




I agree with your thoughts on the immense malleability of human behaviour. I remember having this discussion with Gek-Opel and Nomadologist on the Borat thread; neither of them liked my idea that civilisation has tamed and ‘civilised’ (in an objective sense, roughly defined by ourselves) humans. Now it seems Steven Pinker is on my side , for he recently argued something similar at this lecture:


But "civilisation" - culture - coincides with the human; culture made the human possible; it is what it is to be human, its foundational definition. Humans, the human, did not exist "prior" to civilisation.

Unfortunately, Stephen Pinker is a neo-liberal romantic fantasist, willfully in radical denial about what's happening in today's world [ie ALL of the obscenities he lists as "exclusively" historical and conveniently OTHER are currently being actively practiced by his beloved, pompous, and hubristic West, where barbarism is now the very peak of "civilised behaviour"]. Pinker should maybe stick to, confine his analyses to, the neurons ... Every time I've heard Pinker speak there's always this disconcerting and disquieting sense that I'm listening to a neuroscientific version of Tony Blair ...

Mmmm, the Noble Psychopath [I hear they even get Nobel Peace prizes these days].

Mr. Tea
10-04-2007, 12:56 PM
i've said countless times that there is no such thing. and that any case for it, one way or another, can only be atributed to agendas following ideology or dogma to which the person making the case subscribes....

I'd have to disagree with that almost entirely. Look at human cultures all around the world - yes, there are huge differences, obviously - but there are also constants, 'memes' if you will that have appeared spontaneously and independently. People are both competitive and cooperative to some degree; they tend to live (at least some of the time) in small communities based on blood relation (anything from the nuclear family to larger tribal units), they display friendliness towards people they know and hostility and politeness, in some ratio or other, to those they don't; concepts like marriage, religion, authority and some idea of law and punishment seem to be universal.

The idea that human beings are somehow blank slates onto which cultural values and norms are passively inscribed is ludicrous. After all, if that were the case, how would those cultures have arisen in the first place? They're all, to some degree or another, codifications or elaborations of instinctual behaviour: militaristic nationalism or the patriotism of football fans at an internation match have evolved or mutated from notions of tribal loyalty; the justice and prison systems stem largely from the desire to see retribution exacted on wrong-doers; churches and temples are the institutionalised custodians of the awe primitive man saw in the stars and oceans which gradually crystallised into organised religion. Bear in mind we were wandering around butt naked hunting animals with stone tools a blink-of-an-eye ago, in evolutionary terms - and that in the parts of the world where people still live like that, they nonetheless mourn their dead, tell stories and laugh at jokes just like we do.

No-one would deny that there's something inherently 'doggy' about a dog's behaviour, regardless of its breed and individual history: why should humans be any different?

vimothy
10-04-2007, 01:17 PM
Unfortunately, Stephen Pinker is a neo-liberal romantic fantasist, willfully in radical denial about what's happening in today's world [ie ALL of the obscenities he lists as "exclusively" historical and conveniently OTHER are currently being actively practiced by his beloved, pompous, and hubristic West, where barbarism is now the very peak of "civilised behaviour"]. Pinker should maybe stick to, confine his analyses to, the neurons ... Every time I've heard Pinker speak there's always this disconcerting and disquieting sense that I'm listening to a neuroscientific version of Tony Blair ...

What a load of toss! In what sense is barabarism the "very peak" of civilised behaviour? The only "barbarism" I see is testosterone driven beer drinkers locking horns on Friday night and resentful hooded teenagers asking for cigarettes or whatever when I'm out shopping in town. It's annoying but still, its got to be better than putting people in the stocks and public executions of criminals and the like. And it certainly doesn't seem to be regarded as civilised by most poeple I talk to. I mean, where do you live mate?

Mr. Tea
10-04-2007, 01:23 PM
I wouldn't bother if I were you, Vim - you won't get anywhere with someone who's convinced modern Western civilisation is the greatest catastrophe ever to befall the planet; you're too OTHER to be worth listening to. :)

John Doe
10-04-2007, 01:52 PM
I'd have to disagree with that almost entirely. Look at human cultures all around the world - yes, there are huge differences, obviously - but there are also constants, 'memes' if you will that have appeared spontaneously and independently. People are both competitive and cooperative to some degree; they tend to live (at least some of the time) in small communities based on blood relation (anything from the nuclear family to larger tribal units), they display friendliness towards people they know and hostility and politeness, in some ratio or other, to those they don't; concepts like marriage, religion, authority and some idea of law and punishment seem to be universal.

The idea that human beings are somehow blank slates onto which cultural values and norms are passively inscribed is ludicrous. After all, if that were the case, how would those cultures have arisen in the first place? They're all, to some degree or another, codifications or elaborations of instinctual behaviour: militaristic nationalism or the patriotism of football fans at an internation match have evolved or mutated from notions of tribal loyalty; the justice and prison systems stem largely from the desire to see retribution exacted on wrong-doers; churches and temples are the institutionalised custodians of the awe primitive man saw in the stars and oceans which gradually crystallised into organised religion. Bear in mind we were wandering around buck naked hunting animals with stone tools a blink-of-an-eye ago, in evolutionary terms - and that in the parts of the world where people still live like that, they nonetheless mourn their dead, tell stories and laugh at jokes just like we do.

No-one would deny that there's something inherently 'doggy' about a dog's behaviour, regardless of its breed and individual history: why should humans be any different?


Since reading The Language Instinct several years ago I've suspected Steven Pinker to be something of a charlatan. Charlatan or not, the quote reproduced above by Guybrush illustrates that he's the worst sort of complacent, unimaginative intellectual fraud. There's so much wrong about his flatulent assertions that I don't know where to begin.

However, to pick up a couple of points in the above post detailing the supposed 'universality' of given 'memes' (how I've grown to loathe that inadquate, misleading term):
marriage: yes, but what sort of marriage? Monogomous? Polygamous? Does that include the institution of mistresses/the hareem etc? Or what of the institutionalised practise of what today would be termed homosexual paedophilia in ancient Greek societies, for instance? 'Marriage' has proved to be an elastic and multi-faceted concept, not the narrow post-19th century western practice you seem to be referencing.

Religion: yes, but again such a vast and elastic term that to say 'religion is universal to all human cultures throughout history' is meaningless.

Authority: again, authority has evidenced itself in a such a multi-faceted manner that you simply can't generalise in such a sweeping manner because your statement is meaningless. Authority amongst who? To what aims? The 'authority' in, say, a kin group of Australian aboriginals is so entirely different to that in, say, a totalitarian police state that the two cannot be considered to be in any way similar. It's the same with law and punishment.

The idea that civilisation and/or culture must be a projection of an innate 'humaness' is untenable: if it were, then all civilisations at all times would be identitical. After all, one pack of dogs (to use your example) behaves very like another pack of dogs doesn't it? Yet this is not the case with human societies. Humans have language, dogs do not. Language is construct of relations and relationships, as are human societies. Thus a dynamic is involved, a shifting construct in which individuals articulate and are articulated. There's nothing 'innate' in the process at all.

Mr. Tea
10-04-2007, 02:59 PM
not the narrow post-19th century western practice you seem to be referencing.

I don't know where you got this from, I made no reference to the exclusive (and supposedly) monogamous form of marriage (which nonetheless has come to be the dominant form of the concept around the world) - of course I'm well aware of polygamy, harems etc., I was referring to the concept of marriage: a public declaration, usually accompanied by a ceremony of some sort, in which people make a pledge to each other. As far as I am aware, something like this is known in just about every human culture.
Also, your mention of homosexuality in Ancient Greece just goes to prove my point: homosexual behaviour is found in all human cultures, it's just the level of tolerance for it and the corresponding openness (or otherwise) of homosexual behaviour that varies. It's a natural feature of animal behaviour and humans, being animals, are no exception.


Religion: yes, but again such a vast and elastic term that to say 'religion is universal to all human cultures throughout history' is meaningless.
How is it meaningless? Basically you want to disagree with me but can't think of a way to refute my argument so you call it 'meaningless'.


Authority: again, authority has evidenced itself in a such a multi-faceted manner that you simply can't generalise in such a sweeping manner because your statement is meaningless. Authority amongst who? To what aims? The 'authority' in, say, a kin group of Australian aboriginals is so entirely different to that in, say, a totalitarian police state that the two cannot be considered to be in any way similar. It's the same with law and punishment.

I disagree. Whereas the actual form one of these concepts, memes or whatever finally takes, it's the instinct or tendency leading to it that I'm interested in, and nothing in what you've said denies the universality of this. The differences you point out are controlled by all sort of other factors, too: a police state, for example, is
pretty impossible without fairly advanced technology, which is not available in traditional Aboriginal society.

What I'm getting at is that there is no culture which has no form of authority - be it tribal elders, a king or a government - and (again, AFAIC) no culture with no form of law and punishment.
What there is, is many different responses to the same underlying tendencies.


The idea that civilisation and/or culture must be a projection of an innate 'humaness' is untenable: if it were, then all civilisations at all times would be identitical. After all, one pack of dogs (to use your example) behaves very like another pack of dogs doesn't it? Yet this is not the case with human societies. Humans have language, dogs do not. Language is construct of relations and relationships, as are human societies. Thus a dynamic is involved, a shifting construct in which individuals articulate and are articulated. There's nothing 'innate' in the process at all.

Again, you misunderstand my argument. Any two packs of dogs may act very differently, depending on whether they've been bred to keep out intruders, aid hunters, for racing or simply as pets. Human societies act very differently because they have reached different levels of technological achievement, have evolved in different environment and happen to have had different philosophies and world-views dominant at key stages in their evolution. Of course there's a huge difference between a horse-drawn cart and a car, but they're both solutions to the age-old problem of "I'm over here and I want to get over there and it's too far to walk". OK, so that's an almost trivially simple example, but you get what I'm saying - that the huge diversity of cultures has arisen from the mutation and interplay of cultural elements that have arisen because of the same urges, problems and desires that have arisen naturally over and over again?

I think this post-modern concept that "nothing is natural, everything is a construct" seems to place human beings on some kind of pedestal of perfect mental uniqueness untainted by the evolutionary pressures that act on 'lower' animals, whereas I think that as we learn more and more about ourselves and other animals the exact opposite appears to be true.

Edit: and what's wrong with memes? I think it's a fascinating and useful idea. Could it have something to do with the fact they were postulated by Dawkins, prime anathema to the lovers of Baudrillard et al?

John Doe
10-04-2007, 03:55 PM
I don't know where you got this from, I made no reference to the exclusive (and supposedly) monogamous form of marriage (which nonetheless has come to be the dominant form of the concept around the world) - of course I'm well aware of polygamy, harems etc., I was referring to the concept of marriage: a public declaration, usually accompanied by a ceremony of some sort, in which people make a pledge to each other. As far as I am aware, something like this is known in just about every human culture.
Also, your mention of homosexuality in Ancient Greece just goes to prove my point: homosexual behaviour is found in all human cultures, it's just the level of tolerance for it and the corresponding openness (or otherwise) of homosexual behaviour that varies. It's a natural feature of animal behaviour and humans, being animals, are no exception.
How is it meaningless? Basically you want to disagree with me but can't think of a way to refute my argument so you call it 'meaningless'.

I disagree. Whereas the actual form one of these concepts, memes or whatever finally takes, it's the instinct or tendency leading to it that I'm interested in, and nothing in what you've said denies the universality of this. The differences you point out are controlled by all sort of other factors, too: a police state, for example, is
pretty impossible without fairly advanced technology, which is not available in traditional Aboriginal society.

What I'm getting at is that there is no culture which has no form of authority - be it tribal elders, a king or a government - and (again, AFAIC) no culture with no form of law and punishment.
What there is, is many different responses to the same underlying tendencies.

Again, you misunderstand my argument. Any two packs of dogs may act very differently, depending on whether they've been bred to keep out intruders, aid hunters, for racing or simply as pets. Human societies act very differently because they have reached different levels of technological achievement, have evolved in different environment and happen to have had different philosophies and world-views dominant at key stages in their evolution. Of course there's a huge difference between a horse-drawn cart and a car, but they're both solutions to the age-old problem of "I'm over here and I want to get over there and it's too far to walk". OK, so that's an almost trivially simple example, but you get what I'm saying - that the huge diversity of cultures has arisen from the mutation and interplay of cultural elements that have arisen because of the same urges, problems and desires that have arisen naturally over and over again?

I think this post-modern concept that "nothing is natural, everything is a construct" seems to place human beings on some kind of pedestal of perfect mental uniqueness untainted by the evolutionary pressures that act on 'lower' animals, whereas I think that as we learn more and more about ourselves and other animals the exact opposite appears to be true.

Edit: and what's wrong with memes? I think it's a fascinating and useful idea. Could it have something to do with the fact they were postulated by Dawkins, prime anathema to the lovers of Baudrillard et al?

Your last point first: I find the concepet of 'meme' irritating for a number of reasons, not least that its thrown around lazily and unhelpfully and tends to obscure debate rather than clarify it. Its meaning is vague enough for it be deployed to describe all sorts of diverse phenomena with the result that such phenomena are stripped of their difference and lumped together in some ill-defined universalism. The end effect of such lazily coined terminology is tautology: ie the very act of its deployment tends to 'prove' the point its usage suppposedly illustrates. In short it both realizes and demonstrates circularity - the circularity that underlies the ethno-biologist argument.

This links in with another gaping flaw in your argument: your use of terminology. You use terms like 'religion' 'marriage', 'authority' etc as if they were universal constants when they are nothing of the sort. Monogomy and polygamy, for example, are not one and the same and thus to use the term marriage to cover all facets of pair-bonding (or multi-pair bonding in this case) is entirely misleading: it equates two very different acts, reduces them to the same when they are not. This is true, too, for your use of the term 'authority': the 'authority' possessed and weilded by an aboriiginal tribal elder, say, is so utterly different to that of a king or of a totalitarian dictator that, again, to use such a blanket term is mistaken and misleading. Yet it is essential to your argument and to the operation of your argument which goes thus: be ruthlessly and misleadingly reductive; deny, repress and ignore all difference. This will reduce entirely diverse phenomena to the catagory of the same: you then use these reduced catagories of sameness to 'demonstrate' your point about the existence and persistence of given human universals - when such universals are not present, a-priori, but merely conjured by your own flawed analysis. Circularity of the most glaring sort, but bafflingly invisible to the propents of the point of view you share. Such arguments inevitiably put me in mind of the character of Casaubon in George Eliot's Middlemarch: you search in vain for the 'key to all mythologies', entirely missing the lessons of your research as you do so. It is a project that was echoed in the novel by the actuality of Casaubon himself - ie sterile, impotent and doomed to failure. I think modern day ethno-biologists have simply inherited his mantle.

Mr. Tea
10-04-2007, 04:16 PM
Look, let me put it this way. Would you, or would you not, consider the following tendencies to be more or less universal:

- a tendency to show preference to people related to you over those who are not;
- the desire to hurt, or see hurt inflicted on, someone who has hurt you;
- a belief that societies work better when wise people are put in charge than when everyone just goes around
doing their own thing;
- an appreciation for 'art' of some sort or another: man-made things that look or sound pretty or interesting;
- connected with the above, a tendency to adorn one's body in some way: decorative clothes, make-up, jewellery, body modification etc. etc.
- a liking for hearing (or reading, or watching) stories?

Because I certainly would. I mean, come on - has any culture ever existed, from the most primitive tribe to the most recent Internet-enabled subculture, that hasn't had some concept of music, fashion, literature?

As for your point about my terminology beng 'vague', I think this nothing more than an artifact of 1) the fact that English is not a neutral, purely descriptive language but is derived from various cultures, some of them thousands of years old, so words like 'marriage' of course refer to particular concepts native to English-speaking culture and not found in some other cultures, and 2) brevity, in the sense that by 'marriage' I obviously mean *huge breath* 'some sort of public contract made between a man and a woman, or in some cases a man and several women or even a woman and several men, for the purposes of legitimising a relationship usually, but not exclusively, involving cohabitation, sexual relations and the raising of offspring, which may be seen as analogous to the concept of 'marriage' in contemporary English-speaking cultures'. *huge breath*


I like memes. I think this is mainly because I'm a physicist with interests in biology and anthropology and so I like to see evolution in the strictly biological, Darwinian sense as the continuation of a process of increasing complexity that has been going on by chemical and originally physical means since the Big Bang, so why not view the evolution of human culture and even technology as part of the same continuum?
Note that there's a huge body of mathematical literature on the emergence of complexity from simple 'laws of nature' and that the idea I've outlined above is by no means teleological or in any way connected with *spits* 'Intelligent Design'.

Mr. Tea
10-04-2007, 05:00 PM
Alternatively, consider a simpler, much shorter argument. Is there a single culture anywhere that does not have some kind of social rules, etiquette or system of 'manners' or 'proper behaviour'? In other words, show me a culture where people aren't offended when you're rude to them, and I'll concede there's no such thing as human nature. Of course, what's considered rude is going to vary enormously: there are cultures where adults go around naked (or nearly so) as a matter of course, whereas in our society this is severely taboo except under certain special cirumstances; on the other hand, there are cultures where showing someone the sole of your foot or shoe is tantamount to an invitation to a fist-fight, but is not in the least bit taboo to me. What is universal is the idea of a set of rules concerning proper behaviour, with contravention of these rules considered taboo or 'rude', or in extreme cases criminal or even blasphemous. A group of people with no rules at all concerning behaviour would live in savagery in the most literal sense, which is to say, no culture or society whatsoever.

John Doe
10-04-2007, 05:26 PM
A couple of points:

I think you make the fundamental mistake of abstracting from diverse phenomena an underlying urge, drive or, as your man Pinker puts it, an 'instinct'. You say, for instance, all societies have a form of marriage - ergo the 'marriage instinct' is universal. You do not argue that some socieities practice polygamy, ergo there is a 'polygamy instinct' for polygamy, for example, is not a universal marriage practise. In truth, there is no universal marriage practise, only difference from which you insist on abstracting a norm or universal. This is my point about reductive analysis and/or the employment of a vague terminology. This is not, to widen the debate, to say I think that individuals are somehow empty vessels that are then the product of their given society (like robots or automata). Humans are driven by desire, and as I argued on another thread, one of the problems with the argument you espouse is that it entirely lacks an account of desire in societies and cultures. Desires are only realized/articulated within the context of a given culture. It follows then that cultures precede desire - and that the avatars of desire, the realization of desires, concretely within their given context, can only be achieved within the forms created and understood by that culture.

A second point: you say that you like to view the 'evolution' of human cuture in a Darwinian sense. Fair emough, but I remember that on the Baudrillard thread you were amongst the posters that objected to Baudrillard's appropriation of technical, scientific concepts and terms for his speculative cultural analysis. Would I be right in that? But Darwin's concept of evolution is a theory about a biological process. It has nothing to do with culture. You then have appropriated it and applied it, speculatively, to the workings of culture in a way that Darwin never intended (and in fact, even in his lifetime objected, I think, to the first manifestations of social Darwinism). In other words, you are acting rather as did Baudrillard in his writing and critique. How can you object to such a strategy in Baudrillard and yet practice it yourself?

If, as I think you are saying, human culture evolves in a 'continuum of increasing complexity' that would position what we designate 'western society' at the top of the 'evolutionary tree', cultuarally speaking, then would it? It being the most technologically complex? Hmmm, leaving aside the fact that this denies the very real sophistication and complexity that is apparent in all human cultures, irrerspective of their technological level, I think you're putting yourself on very dubious ground, ideologically speaking. So white western man is the apogee of human evolution is he? That would seem to be the logical terminus of your reasoning. I don't think I need mention the objectionable thinkers, writers and politicans who, in the twentieth century, used such reasoning as justification of conquest, imperialism and, ulitimately, technologically aided genocide...

vimothy
10-04-2007, 05:32 PM
So white western man is the apogee of human evolution is he? That would seem to be the logical terminus of your reasoning. I don't think I need mention the objectionable thinkers, writers and politicans who, in the twentieth century, used such reasoning as justification of conquest, imperialism and, ulitimately, technologically aided genocide...

Don't know why you need to reduce Mr Tea's and Pinker's argument to this.

John Doe
10-04-2007, 05:37 PM
Don't know why you need to reduce Mr Tea's and Pinker's argument to this.

I was pointing out that such a conclusion seems to be the logical outcome of such an argument.

Am I wrong?

vimothy
10-04-2007, 06:03 PM
I was pointing out that such a conclusion seems to be the logical outcome of such an argument.

Am I wrong?

Race certainly has nothing to do with it, I think. What about: modern, western (and elements of non-western) civilisation is the current apogee of human-social evolution?

Mr. Tea
10-04-2007, 06:03 PM
This is not, to widen the debate, to say I think that individuals are somehow empty vessels that are then the product of their given society (like robots or automata).
Fair enough - but that seems quite close to what zhao said when he started this thread.


A second point: you say that you like to view the 'evolution' of human cuture in a Darwinian sense. Fair emough, but I remember that on the Baudrillard thread you were amongst the posters that objected to Baudrillard's appropriation of technical, scientific concepts and terms for his speculative cultural analysis. Would I be right in that? But Darwin's concept of evolution is a theory about a biological process. It has nothing to do with culture. You then have appropriated it and applied it, speculatively, to the workings of culture in a way that Darwin never intended (and in fact, even in his lifetime objected, I think, to the first manifestations of social Darwinism). In other words, you are acting rather as did Baudrillard in his writing and critique. How can you object to such a strategy in Baudrillard and yet practice it yourself?

What I mean is, I like the way the meme idea extends the (purely biological) evolution of species and their constituent genes - competing for limited resources, mutating and interbreeding - to wider fields of things like ideas, languages, inventions and so on. So that a gene becomes, in a sense, a molecular instance of a meme. And I'm certainly not defending social Darwinism or racism or anything like that, because the one thing that really sets humans apart from animals is the ability to transcend biological destiny.
My objection to Baudrillard's use of scientific (specifically, physics- and maths-derived) terminology came from what I saw as his mis-appropriation of those terms - at least, as far as I could see from the quotes and links people were posting. Darwin's ideas were formulated to describe the evolution of populations of interacting organisms: this can describe equally well different animal species or subspecies competing in some environment, or groups of humans, can it not?


If, as I think you are saying, human culture evolves in a 'continuum of increasing complexity' that would position what we designate 'western society' at the top of the 'evolutionary tree', cultuarally speaking, then would it? It being the most technologically complex? Hmmm, leaving aside the fact that this denies the very real sophistication and complexity that is apparent in all human cultures, irrerspective of their technological level, I think you're putting yourself on very dubious ground, ideologically speaking. So white western man is the apogee of human evolution is he? That would seem to be the logical terminus of your reasoning. I don't think I need mention the objectionable thinkers, writers and politicans who, in the twentieth century, used such reasoning as justification of conquest, imperialism and, ulitimately, technologically aided genocide...
I think you're reading far, far too much into what I'm saying here! For one thing, I vehemently disagree with the idea that technological sophistication is the be-all and end-all of cultural sophistication - there are many, many ways in which a culture can be complex. For example, Old English, as it was spoken long ago by a very 'primitive' people, has lost a huge amount of complexity in its evolution into Modern English - but at the same time, it has become the dominant world language (due to all sorts of historical 'accidents', as it were), so complexity certainly doesn't (necessarily) equal success. Yet it is a fact that technological complexity is, on the whole, increasing, as new inventions and discoveries are made and old ones become obsolete.

Secondly, we have a technologically sophisticated culture, but that doesn't mean everyone in it is technologically sophisticated. How many of us really know how a TV, car or computer works? A Westerner who drives a car but doesn't know how to fix it is less technologically sophisticated than a 'primitve' person who knows how to make and mend fishing nets, process poisonous plants to make them edible and do all sorts of other complicated things you or I wouldn't have a clue how to do. Chances are such a person has a far greater store of inherited stories, legends, myths, folk songs and so on than I do, or at least knows someone who does.

I don't think anything I've said could be interpreted (by someone without an agenda or severe prejudice) into an argument that Western technological culture is the 'best' one. It's certainly produced a whole set of new problems (overpopulation, large-scale pollution and ecosystem degradation, mechanised warfare) at the same time as it's solved others. My position is that the interplay of competing technological solutions to a given problem (for instance) can, in some ways, be likened to the competition between different organisms for the same ecological niche - hence my statement about memes and so on.

Oh, and one last thing:

Am I wrong?
Yes, you are. It's an utter fallacy - whether used by proponents of social Darwinism, or opponents of it to create a straw man - to assume that because something is more successful, it deserves to be or should be more successful. These are moral terms that are not appropriate in a biological context but are extremely appropriate - and vital - in social and political contexts. It's hard to argue, from a purely self-interested point of view, that European civilisation isn't vastly more successful than that of the native Australians. If human beings behaved like (many) animals - or the 'self-interested automata' from the Adam Curtis thread - they'd have been wiped out by now. The fact they live in such an awful condition now just shows how strongly these selfish, animal-like tendencies have been in history, and continue to be in many places. But as I said above, humans can transcend selfish behaviour and exhibit altruism on national scales, which certainly flies in the face of social Darwinism.

Guybrush
10-04-2007, 06:22 PM
Most of the violence-reducing merits of modern-day civilisation, brought forth by Pinker, are not exclusive to the West, even though all four of them happen to apply to it. In short, these four seem to be:

1. The State has a monopoly on the exertion of violence.
2. Death is not an everyday thing, so life is considered more precious.
3. Coöperation, rather than competition, is encouraged.
4. Enlightenment makes people more empathic towards those outside their immediate family/tribe/village.

I would say all but one (number 2) of those are applicable to Iran.

gek-opel
10-04-2007, 08:24 PM
Surely what Hundred... was on about is the way that "civilization" merely serves to obscure the barbarity behind an acceptable veneer, inside the homes of wife beaters, into the sweatshops of the third world, far from our gaze, into the minds of the mentally ill created by such societies. It neutralizes it into the invisible hand of capitalism, dematerializes it and abstracts it into the modern financial system of hyper-capital and meta-futures, melts it away in the white heat of computer game techno-conflict. The violence, exploitation and inhumanity continue, indeed on a far greater scale, but at an acceptable remove. This is in itself civilization, perhaps... it has tamed violence into a denatured, economic/administrative function...

Guybrush
10-04-2007, 09:52 PM
One interesting aspect is if violent movies and computer games harmlessly enervate the impetus for violent behaviour, or if they should be considered present-day outlets for violence. If the latter, one could argue that the yearning, or whatever you would like to call it, for violence has not really decreased, but merely has been canalised. No doubt an encouraging development, but hardly an eradication of violence in a profound sense.

John Doe
11-04-2007, 10:43 AM
Race certainly has nothing to do with it, I think. What about: modern, western (and elements of non-western) civilisation is the current apogee of human-social evolution?

Ah, right. I see.

I wasn't wrong then...

Mr. Tea
11-04-2007, 01:42 PM
Surely what Hundred... was on about is the way that "civilization" merely serves to obscure the barbarity behind an acceptable veneer, inside the homes of wife beaters, into the sweatshops of the third world, far from our gaze, into the minds of the mentally ill created by such societies. It neutralizes it into the invisible hand of capitalism, dematerializes it and abstracts it into the modern financial system of hyper-capital and meta-futures, melts it away in the white heat of computer game techno-conflict. The violence, exploitation and inhumanity continue, indeed on a far greater scale, but at an acceptable remove. This is in itself civilization, perhaps... it has tamed violence into a denatured, economic/administrative function...

I think we can all agree that terrible stuff is happening in many parts of the world on both big and smalls scales - I mean, that's almost so obvious as to be hardly worth saying - but I think it's certainly the case that everyday life for most people in developed societies is far less brutal and violent today than at almost any time in the past. Of course, that doesn't touch upon the atrocities that are being committed in certain parts of the world while the developed world looks on and does nothing to stop it (eg. Darfour - although any intervention there would just be a facade for imperialist aggression and so and so forth, as far as a lot of people on here are concerned) or where the conditions for brutality have been prepared by the intervention of developed countries (Afghanistan) or even committed by developed countries themselves (Guantanamo). Then of course you have things like the huge numbers of people in the penal system in the US - something must be causing those people to commit crimes, or at least be failing to deter them.

I think it's interesting that you mention capitalism. Yes, it is a system that certainly can allow people to be exploited by those in positions of wealth, which confers power, but violence has always been with us, since long before caplitalism (as it is understood today) existed. People have been oppressing, dispossessing, enslaving, torturing and massacring each other since pre-history: if the scale has changed, I'd say it was primarily due to far larger populations fighting over the same amount of land and resources, and using much deadlier weapons to do it.

Gavin
11-04-2007, 04:03 PM
A video I enjoy: Chomsky vs. Foucault on human nature from 1971.

Part 1

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Part 2

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"2. Death is not an everyday thing, so life is considered more precious."

I would have supposed the opposite: death is put at a remove so life is taken for granted -- otherwise how could we "freely" resign ourselves to the soul-crushing routines of everyday life in the West?

Mr. Tea
11-04-2007, 04:15 PM
"2. Death is not an everyday thing, so life is considered more precious."

I would have supposed the opposite: death is put at a remove so life is taken for granted -- otherwise how could we "freely" resign ourselves to the soul-crushing routines of everyday life in the West?

So everyone in the non-Western world lives a life of constant novelty, deep inner meaning and spiritual contentment? Give me a break. This is the kind of crap only the truly smug self-loathing post-everything Westerner would ever come out with.

vimothy
11-04-2007, 04:19 PM
So everyone in the non-Western world lives a life of constant novelty, deep inner meaning and spiritual contentment? Give me a break. This is the kind of crap only the truly smug self-loathing post-everything Westerner would ever come out with.

That's why migration always follows the same pattern: away from the dead eyed soul-less western desert of the real, towards the freedom loving, relaxed green air mind of the third world. That's the way it goes and you'd be a fool and a capitalist to suggest otherwise.

Mr. Tea
11-04-2007, 04:29 PM
That's why migration always follows the same pattern: away from the dead eyed soul-less western desert of the real, towards the freedom loving, relaxed green air mind of the third world. That's the way it goes and you'd be a fool and a capitalist to suggest otherwise.

NEO-LIBERAL!!!!!111 :mad: :mad: :mad:

Guybrush
11-04-2007, 04:33 PM
"2. Death is not an everyday thing, so life is considered more precious."

I would have supposed the opposite: death is put at a remove so life is taken for granted -- otherwise how could we "freely" resign ourselves to the soul-crushing routines of everyday life in the West?

Yes, that’s another aspect of it. Pinker, however, only discusses it in relation to propensity for physical violence:


Payne suggests another possibility: that the critical variable in the indulgence of violence is an overarching sense that life is cheap. When pain and early death are everyday features of one's own life, one feels fewer compunctions about inflicting them on others. As technology and economic efficiency lengthen and improve our lives, we place a higher value on life in general.

Gavin
11-04-2007, 04:43 PM
So everyone in the non-Western world lives a life of constant novelty, deep inner meaning and spiritual contentment? Give me a break. This is the kind of crap only the truly smug self-loathing post-everything Westerner would ever come out with.

Not quite sure how you read this into what I said, nor do I understand the ad hominem attacks (I'd like to think my smugness level is low, although with chances of self-loathing)... Do you disagree that removing the proximity of death -- literally quarantining the elderly for example -- causes us to take life for granted, rather than value it more? That we live in a time of profound neurotic denial of mortality? And that this has profound cultural implications?

Maybe I'm just around too many undergrads who proclaim a warped version "Live each day as if it were your last" in order to justify the compulsion to enjoy -- i.e. consume, which has everything to do with not dealing with the finality of death in any real way.

Guybrush
11-04-2007, 04:50 PM
Not quite sure how you read this into what I said, nor do I understand the ad hominem attacks (I'd like to think my smugness level is low, although with chances of self-loathing)... Do you disagree that removing the proximity of death -- literally quarantining the elderly for example -- causes us to take life for granted, rather than value it more? That we live in a time of profound neurotic denial of mortality? And that this has profound cultural implications?

Maybe I'm just around too many undergrads who proclaim a warped version "Live each day as if it were your last" in order to justify the compulsion to enjoy -- i.e. consume, which has everything to do with not dealing with the finality of death in any real way.

I see what you mean. Both theories seem plausible. Maybe for Sudanese people, for example, life is cheap and valued more. More violence, but a better quality of life.

Mr. Tea
11-04-2007, 04:52 PM
One thing I've always suspected, which is born out somewhat by this (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_suicide_rate), is that a lot of poor countries have low rates of suicide, on the basis that when you face a day-to-day struggle to survive (OK, so that only applies to the very poorest/most fucked-up countries, but when 'life is hard', let's say) you value your own life more and so are less likely to want to it end it yourself.

Perhaps it's not too surprising that the top 9 countries by suicide are all former Soviet Union or Soviet Bloc states.

Edit: Gavin, I wasn't trying to have a go at you personally, I just hate this idea that we in the big bad soulless secular West have lost some vital spark of spirituality or connection to Mother Nature or however zhao would put it that they still have in 'less developed' (read: dirt-poor) countries.

Gavin
11-04-2007, 05:12 PM
I see what you mean. Both theories seem plausible. Maybe for Sudanese people, for example, life is cheap and valued more. More violence, but a better quality of life.

I'd agree with the first part, but I wouldn't say "better quality of life." I'd think you'd need some sort of stability for a good quality of life, as well as the recognition of life's finitude.

Guybrush
11-04-2007, 05:12 PM
One thing I've always suspected, which is born out somewhat by this (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_suicide_rate), is that a lot of poor countries have low rates of suicide, on the basis that when you face a day-to-day struggle to survive (OK, so that only applies to the very poorest/most fucked-up countries, but when 'life is hard', let's say) you value your own life more and so are less likely to want to it end it yourself.

On the other hand, surveys where people round the globe subjectively estimate their own ‘happiness’ have exposed a great rift between the first and the third world, with the latter being happier. If I remember correctly, Mozambique outclassed the West. :D

Guybrush
11-04-2007, 05:14 PM
I'd agree with the first part, but I wouldn't say "better quality of life." I'd think you'd need some sort of stability for a good quality of life, as well as the recognition of life's finitude.

True, that was an infelicitous way of putting it. ‘Appreciate life more’, perhaps?

Mr. Tea
11-04-2007, 05:24 PM
I would say the key ingredients for a happy society would be the following:

- basic human needs being met: it's hard to be happy when you're starving hungry;
- a bit 'left over', so people don't have to work all the time, can relax and enjoy themselves once in a while, and so that there's time for them to play and learn when they're young and rest when they're old;
- freedom from oppression, discrimination and violence, i.e. basic garuantees of human rights;
- not being constantly made jealous and greedy by constant aspirational advertising and the presence of a super-rich privileged elite.

It's the last point that, I think, is responsible for much of the unhappiness felt in a rich, democratic country like the UK. Most of us have the other three in spades.
In any case, I think this 'modern malaise' is vastly talked up, to the point that the main cause of it is belief that there is such a thing.

Gavin
11-04-2007, 05:28 PM
In any case, I think this 'modern malaise' is vastly talked up, to the point that the main cause of it is belief that there is such a thing.

Is "modern malaise" not related to escalating diagnoses of mental illness and depression, as well as the prescription of psychotropic drugs to treat these, or do you see this as a result of "talking up"?

Mr. Tea
11-04-2007, 05:33 PM
I agree with your point (if that was your point?) about psychiatric medication, in that I think it is massively over-prescribed, especially to children. I also think much more should be done to treat people with real mental health issues, and there's still a lot of stigma attached to it. But I think you have to balance that against the tendency for some people to feel the need to see a 'shrink' simply as an ego boost or because their life isn't perfect - how many people's lives are perfect?

The way some people go on, you'd think we're all having existential crises brought on by the sheer horror of a shopping trip to Tesco. I mean, fuck's sake, when did we all become so bloody melodramatic?

vimothy
11-04-2007, 06:12 PM
The way some people go on, you'd think we're all having existential crises brought on by the sheer horror of a shopping trip to Tesco.

It's because Reagan ate my daughter! I blame RAND, Hayek and the New Managerialism!

Mr. Tea
11-04-2007, 06:29 PM
It's because Reagan ate my daughter! I blame RAND, Hayek and the New Managerialism!

Pffft. You're funny, you are. :)

I think consumerism is very damaging if it becomes someone's raison d'etre, if it's what they live for. The same can be said of many other things, including (off the top of my head) religion and drugs. Personally, I like living in a society where I can buy all sorts of things. Much of it's complete crap of course, but then it's my prerogative to buy things I like and leave the crap. What I'm not so keen on is the fact that many of these goods have been produced or transported in ways that are extremely profligate in terms of fuel use/carbon emmissions, and sometimes are very unethical in terms of the wages and working conditions of the people who've produced them - but that's for another thread. The main point is that things are, after all, only things, and that they should enhance but not dominate one's life. If this is getting all a bit guy-in-the-pub philosophical, I shall sum it up that people become depressed and disillisioned by consumerism only if they let it, and it's up to them do seek other ways of giving their life meaning.

/Mr. Tea, fighting existential emptiness with picnics since 1998

vimothy
11-04-2007, 06:50 PM
I agree with much of what you say re consumerism. What's that example Satre (? I think) uses? Something like an angel who has lost his wings would be very depressed, but a human in exactly the same situation (i.e. without the power of flight) wouldn't give a damn because he'd have nothing to compare it to. Similarly, if everyone was born disabled, no one would regret their disability.

With reagrds to money and consumerism, we actually live in a time of over-abundance, the like of which has never been seen before in all of human history. If you're annoyed because you can't afford a new iPod, your neighbour has a better car or you can't stop buying new shoes even though you're in masses of debt, and it's sending you on a downward spiral of meaningless sex, prozac and super-skunk, I suggest you stop behaving like a dick (don't blame capitalism for one thing), start behaving like an adult, and go off camping somewhere quiet for a bit and sort your shit out, something like that.

hundredmillionlifetimes
11-04-2007, 08:03 PM
Thanks for succinctly clarifying the central issue, gek-opel. And, indeed, it could also be argued - in addition to the inescapable mediation of the world via language which John Doe has summarised - that contemporary biogenetics - ironically - desubstantialises human nature (as well as all other kinds), flittering away its impenetrable density. I recall Zizek's conclusion: "By reducing a human being to a natural object whose properties can be altered, what we lose is not (only) humanity but nature itself. In this sense, Francis Fukuyama is right in Our Posthuman Future: the notion of humanity relies on the belief that we possess an inherited 'human nature', that we are born with an unfathomable dimension of ourselves."

Coincidentally, some years ago, in a very different context, I collated some of the anthropological research to which Pinker is alluding in his work, much of which I would now consider inherently problematical:


The idea of the noble savage living in harmony with his fellows and
with nature is a persistent myth. According to this notion, modern man
is in a fallen state compared with his noble past. However, it seems
to be the case that much recent scientific investigation increasingly
suggests that the truth may lie closer to the reverse of the popular
conception.


"One of the most dangerous fallacies which has influenced a great deal
of political and philosophical thinking is that man is essentially
good, and that it is society which makes him bad," Kubrick wrote in
1972, in defence of his characterisation of the brutal Alex in A
Clockwork Orange. "Rousseau transferred original sin from man to
society, and this view has importantly contributed to what I believe
has become a crucially incorrect premise on which to base moral and
political philosophy ... The age of the alibi, in which we find
ourselves, began with the opening sentence of Rousseau's Emile:
"Nature made me happy and good, and if I am otherwise, it is society's
fault." It is based on two misconceptions: that man in his natural
state was happy and good, and that primal man had no society. "


The poet John Dryden described man in a state of nature in 1670: "I am
as free as nature first made man, when wild in woods the noble savage
ran." It was much later, in 1755, that enlightenment philosopher
Jean-Jacques Rousseau canonised the noble savage when he wrote:
"Among the savages, personal interest speaks as strongly as among us,
but it does not say the same things. The love of society and the care
for common protection are the only bonds which unite them.... They do
not have any discussion of interests which divide them. Nothing leads
them to deceive one another. Public esteem is the only good to which
they aspire and which they value."


Amerigo Vespucci, who explored the coast of Brazil in 1501-02,
described the natives as completely free, politically and morally,
with no religion or kings and no need of money, trade or property, and
living to be very old. Europeans found this image delightful, and for
a long time European travellers to South America saw everything
through this rose-coloured lens.


Noble savages were not confined to South America. In the 1960s
anthropologists discovered the Kung people of the Kalahari Desert. A
three-week study found them to be peaceful and egalitarian. They
enjoyed a nutritious diet and gathered all the food they needed by
foraging for two or three hours a day. It was concluded that this
lifestyle was a universal human norm until 10,000 years ago. The
lifestyle of the hunter-gatherer Kung was promoted as peaceful,
healthy and leisurely and much better adapted to nature than the
lifestyle of modem man.


It is now accepted that these ideas were erroneous. The three weeks of
the study coincided with a brief bountiful period in an otherwise
harsh life. In the 19th century the Kung were an integral part of the
local economy. They traded cattle, ivory and ostrich feathers for
manufactured and agricultural products. They used guns to hunt
elephants. A hundred years later the elephants had surrendered to the
guns and the cattle to disease - and nobody wanted ostrich feathers.
The Kung were driven into deep poverty and a foraging lifestyle. Like
other tribal societies their life is unpleasant. Infant mortality is
high, life expectancy is 30 years and they suffer great hardship when
food is scarce.


Journalists were taken to see a tribe called the Tasaday on Mindanao,
the second largest island of the Philippines, in 1972. The Tasaday
appeared to be genuine noble savages. They lived in caves, used tools
of stone and bamboo and wore clothes made of leaves. They foraged a
diet of roots, insects, fruit, frogs and crabs. They had no concept of
corporal punishment, no method of counting time and no word for "war".
They lived in harmony with one another and with their environment. In
1986 a Swiss journalist revisited the Tasaday. The tribesmen told him
they had been paid to wear leaves, to eat wild food, to leave their
thatched huts for caves and to swing from trees.


Many studies show that simple pre-industrial societies were no more
consciously ecologically friendly or peaceful than our own industrial
society. A study of almost 200 pre-industrial societies by Bobby Low
of the University of Michigan showed that low population density,
primitive technology and lack of profitable markets account for their
low environmental impact rather than conscious effort at conservation.
Other studies have shown that prehistoric wars were, taking fighting
technology and population density into account, as frequent, as bloody
and as cruel as modem war.


"Rousseau's romantic fallacy that it is society which corrupts man,
not man who corrupts society, places a flattering gauze between
ourselves and reality. This view ... is solid box office but, in the
end, such a self-inflating illusion leads to despair," argued Kubrick
in 1972.


"Man isn't a noble savage, he's an ignoble savage," Kubrick
thundered. "He is irrational, brutal, weak, silly, unable to be
objective about anything where his own interests are involved - that
about sums it up. I'm interested in the brutal and violent nature of
man because it's a true picture of him. And any attempt to create
social institutions on a false view of the nature of man is probably
doomed to failure." Applying this view to ACO, Kubrick elaborated: "On
this level, Alex symbolizes man in his natural state, the way he would
be if society did not impose its 'civilizing' processes upon him ...
What we respond to subconsciously is Alex's guiltless sense of freedom
to kill and rape, and to be our savage natural selves, and it is in
this glimpse of the true nature of man that the power of the story
derives."


So have humans *evolved* at all since the mysterious appearance of the
ignoble savage (modern man), since Moonwatcher hurled his bone-weapon
into the air? After all, the central thesis of Kubrick - both in 2001
and ACO - is that mankind has not *evolved* whatsoever since then,
however much his technology and weaponry undoubtedly have, and however
much ignoble savage Alex might like Beethovan's Ninth Symphony ...


More recently, however, is the "good" news that, as claimed by Michael
Shermer in the September 2003 edition of *Scientific American*,
humans are evolving in a more peaceful direction. The selective
breeding of wild animals for domestication is accompanied by the
evolution of smaller skulls, jaws and teeth than their wild ancestors,
a process that is called paedomorphism, which means the retention of
juvenile features into adulthood. These include lower levels of
aggression, delayed onset of the fear response to strange stimuli and
a decrease in levels of stress-related hormones.


Humans have also become more agreeable as we have become more
domesticated. Richard Wrangham, a Harvard University anthropologist,
suggests that over the past 20,000 years, as human populations have
grown and become more sedentary, selection pressures have reduced
within-group aggression. This effect has been accompanied by features
such as smaller jaws and teeth than seen in our hominid ancestors, as
well as our continuous breeding season and pronounced sexuality.


The evolutionary hypothesis, as summarised by Sherman, suggests that
limited resources selectively led to within-group co-operation and
between-group competition in humans. This produced within-group amity
and between-group enmity. The way to make further progress, therefore,
is to continue to grow the circle of those we consider to be "members"
of our group.


As Kubrick concludes, "Finally, the question must be considered
whether Rousseau's view of man as a fallen angel is not really the
most pessimistic and hopeless of philosophies. It leaves man a monster
who has gone steadily away from his nobility. It is, I am convinced,
more optimistic to accept Ardrey's view that, '...we were born of
risen apes, not fallen angels, and the apes were armed killers
besides. And so what shall we wonder at? Our murders and massacres and
missiles and our irreconcilable regiments? ... For our treaties,
whatever they may be worth; our symphonies, however seldom they may be
played; our peaceful acres, however frequently they may be converted
into battlefields; our dreams, however rarely they may be
accomplished. The miracle of man is not how far he has sunk but how
magnificently he has risen. We are known among the stars by our poems,
not our corpses.' "

hundredmillionlifetimes
11-04-2007, 08:49 PM
One interesting aspect is if violent movies and computer games harmlessly enervate the impetus for violent behaviour, or if they should be considered present-day outlets for violence. If the latter, one could argue that the yearning, or whatever you would like to call it, for violence has not really decreased, but merely has been canalised. No doubt an encouraging development, but hardly an eradication of violence in a profound sense.

I've just spent half the day playing with - or rather, trying to keep up with the antics thereof - a bunch of kids, who much of the time were wiring their already schzoid nervous systems at their consoles into the virtual reality land of which you speak. Then elliptically, I again watched Cronenberg's eXistenz and decided to play a little Virtual Reality Turing game, so - feck it - I'm going to leverage Cronenberg's film into my kiddy-ventilated 'n' infected hysterical trajectory here in order to sideways "update" Turing's Test for the Virtual Reality Generation ...

Clearly, unmistakably, the VR "Game" that is played in Cronenberg's film is so mimetic-simulation sophisticated that it would effortlessly pass the Turing Test with 1st Class Honours and flying colours with sugar on top, with its ability, for instance, to recursively "nest" further, successive VR games within the terms of reference of its own second-hand VR "reality," a technique that operates in the film so that we repeatedly ask ourselves throughout the "game": what recursive level of the game's reality/unreality are we currently at? And when we eventually iterate ourselves recursively back out of all of these confusing "illusory/real" VR hierarchical layers, how will we know that the final outer layer will, in fact (if it is the outer layer, given that we've lost count of the number of layers anyway), result in us finding ourselves back at ordinary really real "reality?"

Although these are indeed some of the supposedly "core" issues addressed both by this film (and by many other films - The Matrix, Open Your Eyes, etc - in the contemporary genre of escapist paranoid cinema) and by those who are excessively intrigued by VR, the crucial issues here are not actually or merely epistomological or ontological, not merely about "what is real/what is not" or the inability to distinguish between Reality/V-Reality, but about reality-independent moral choices and responsibility - along with a recognition of their actual consequences - in whatever relative reality that you happen to fancy escaping into.

The ambiguous confusion, following the murder of the film's game's inventors, of the final line/question in eXistenZ - "Are we still in the game?" - is not addressed at ascertaining what level of "reality/unreality" the questioner might be still presently residing in, but is instead an implicitly anxious and desperate judgment, plea or questioning of the moral status of such behaviour and choices within reality versus unreality. It's okay to kill people within the game, because, well, "it's only a game, right?", because such virtual killing has no real consequences for the virtual but otherwise human killer and his/her behaviour in the real world, right? Such virtual reality games being originally constructed in the first place in order to enable forms of anti-social behaviour on the part of the
participants that have no actual moral consequences in the outside real world, right? Games that are so constructed as to be so "real" that they finally become indistinguishable from the formerly deemed really real reality, so that participants can finally indulge in "real" anti-social behaviour but without any of the moral qualms or consequences that formerly arose in nasty old former real reality, right? So that, ultimately, it is no longer necessary to "play" this game in mere virtual reality itself, but, instead, in reality itself, because they are now both indistinguishable, right? Reality as SimulacrumGame - the imaginary has collapsed into the real, as the late Baud forecast ..

BOING! ... Time for bed, children, said Zebedee.

zhao
12-04-2007, 06:36 PM
that article is very interesting HundredMillion. thanks for posting. it is at the heart of some of my thoughts and concerns. wish i had more time to research and study... and join in the fray in this thread.

Guybrush
12-04-2007, 06:42 PM
Coincidentally, some years ago, in a very different context, I collated some of the anthropological research to which Pinker is alluding in his work, much of which I would now consider inherently problematical: [...]


What is it you find problematic about it today that you didn’t see then?

I haven’t seen the Cronenberg film you mention in your second post, but it sounds interesting. A girlfriend once went really upset when I went on an impromptu killing-spree—massacring pedestrians, even the odd boy-scout gang—while playing Grand Theft Auto. In her view, the game was far too realistic for me to consider it ‘just a game’. I had a moral responsibility for my actions despite their taking place in the world of pixels.

gek-opel
12-04-2007, 09:14 PM
I think it's interesting that you mention capitalism. Yes, it is a system that certainly can allow people to be exploited by those in positions of wealth, which confers power, but violence has always been with us, since long before capitalism (as it is understood today) existed. People have been oppressing, dispossessing, enslaving, torturing and massacring each other since pre-history: if the scale has changed, I'd say it was primarily due to far larger populations fighting over the same amount of land and resources, and using much deadlier weapons to do it.

But we were talking about human nature and civilization...

I think there are some things which one can point to inside our animal-selves as being characteristics which are difficult (but perhaps not impossible to evade). One of the key things is the idea of nervous systems responding to change, not stasis. This has a large number of implications on the way that beliefs and practices (especially consumerism) are structured. Techniques to evade this (and the inherent disappointment/frustration of static conditions) would be eagerly noted...

gek-opel
12-04-2007, 09:17 PM
A girlfriend once went really upset when I went on an impromptu killing-spree—massacring pedestrians, even the odd boy-scout gang—while playing Grand Theft Auto. In her view, the game was far too realistic for me to consider it ‘just a game’. I had a moral responsibility for my actions despite their taking place in the world of pixels.

Is there not an element of responsibility on the part of the creators of the game too? After all they have given you the option to do as such, and the necessary visual lures of such ultraviolence...

Mr. Tea
12-04-2007, 10:06 PM
Is there not an element of responsibility on the part of the creators of the game too? After all they have given you the option to do as such, and the necessary visual lures of such ultraviolence...

This thread is skirting dangerously near "Doom turned my baby into a killer" territory for my liking. The old scapegoat of violent computer games, and before that violent films, as responsible for teenage massacres and so on is pure hogwash, in my opinion: parents of violent, fucked-up kids looking for anything to blame except their own poor parenting skills. Oh, and you can throw in Marilyn Manson and/or gangsta-rap, for good measure.

If you can't actually distinguish between make-believe violence (whether on a computer screen or a TV) and real-life violence, you're already pretty fucking messed up. Of course, this may apply to kids who aren't messed up (yet) but are simply very young, in which case it's up to parents not to let them be exposed to violent games or films. Of course, that would actually involve taking some responsibility for one's own actions, which is a bit more than some people think can be reasonably expected from them.

Guybrush
12-04-2007, 10:40 PM
This thread is skirting dangerously near "Doom turned my baby into a killer" territory for my liking. The old scapegoat of violent computer games, and before that violent films, as responsible for teenage massacres and so on is pure hogwash, in my opinion: parents of violent, fucked-up kids looking for anything to blame except their own poor parenting skills. Oh, and you can throw in Marilyn Manson and/or gangsta-rap, for good measure.

If you can't actually distinguish between make-believe violence (whether on a computer screen or a TV) and real-life violence, you're already pretty fucking messed up. Of course, this may apply to kids who aren't messed up (yet) but are simply very young, in which case it's up to parents not to let them be exposed to violent games or films. Of course, that would actually involve taking some responsibility for one's own actions, which is a bit more than some people think can be reasonably expected from them.

But what happens the day computer games become so realistic that your brain cannot decide if you are ‘logged-in’ or nor?

I chance to think that the cumulate effect of increasingly (from a 50-year perspective, say) more violent entertainment is palpable. The old computer-games-playing-computer-nerds-don’t-kill-anyone argument is flawed in many ways; for one, not many ‘conventionally violent’ adolescents played computer games before the early 90s or so. Now, of course, everyone is doing it. It remains to be seen whether this has a noticeable effect or not.

gek-opel
12-04-2007, 10:49 PM
This thread is skirting dangerously near "Doom turned my baby into a killer" territory for my liking. The old scapegoat of violent computer games, and before that violent films, as responsible for teenage massacres and so on is pure hogwash, in my opinion: parents of violent, fucked-up kids looking for anything to blame except their own poor parenting skills. Oh, and you can throw in Marilyn Manson and/or gangsta-rap, for good measure.

If you can't actually distinguish between make-believe violence (whether on a computer screen or a TV) and real-life violence, you're already pretty fucking messed up. Of course, this may apply to kids who aren't messed up (yet) but are simply very young, in which case it's up to parents not to let them be exposed to violent games or films. Of course, that would actually involve taking some responsibility for one's own actions, which is a bit more than some people think can be reasonably expected from them.

You can clearly see that's not what I am saying, lets not spend time endlessly rehashing old old debates, please... We're talking about the case where we presume inside-game violence does not lead to violence in the real world... and then seeing whether there is still a problem with its participative virtuality... if Guybrush's girlfriend blames HIM for the violence (within the game, obv), why not the creators themselves for laying open such possibilities (with the greater ease with which such violent activities might be exectuted than in "reality", of course) within increasingly realistic environments? (Cf the whole moral dimension to the ending of Existenz...)

zhao
13-04-2007, 02:17 AM
stealing a few minutes thus sorry for inarticulate fragmentary nature of post:

to me it makes sense that we think man has always been violent because we are violent now, because of our incredibly short attention span. the farthest we can remember back is within the bounds of the history of civilization, which may NOT be the same as history of man.

history of man may be 4,000,000 (4 million) years on earth. while history of civilization is only the most recent 10,000.

isn't it coneivable that there was a time when resources were much more plentiful (before the last short lived ice-age, after which was the advent of agriculture), and thus no need for competition? no hierarchy, no hunting, mostly foraging and gathering; no division of labor, no "work", no written or systematic language because unnecessary, thus the egalitarian, "noble" savage.

the "violence in nature same as human violence" argument is not valid the same way "we all want the last piece of bread = selfishness" is invalid ---- a wolf killing a dear for food as part of eco-system is not comparable to the Armenian genocide or Rwanda 94.

i believe "civilization" certainly "trains" us and conditions our thinking. and all we see are the trees not the forest.

....

IdleRich
13-04-2007, 10:11 AM
"isn't it coneivable that there was a time when resources were much more plentiful (before the last short lived ice-age, after which was the advent of agriculture), and thus no need for competition? no hierarchy, no hunting, mostly foraging and gathering; no division of labor, no "work", no written or systematic language because unnecessary, thus the egalitarian, "noble" savage."
Obviously it's literally conceivable but that is no argument to say it happened, it's equally conceivable that there wasn't such a time. The only argument that you're putting forward seems to be "it's theoretically possible and I'd like it to have been like that".


"to me it makes sense that we think man has always been violent because we are violent now"
And because there is no reason to think otherwise. Why are you so keen to believe in a past utopia?

Mr. Tea
13-04-2007, 11:50 AM
history of man may be 4,000,000 (4 million) years on earth. while history of civilization is only the most recent 10,000.
There were NOT 'human beings' 4 million years ago. There were primitive hominids that lived much like modern apes do today. In fact the last common ancestor of chimps and humans lived as little as 5 million years ago.


isn't it coneivable that there was a time when resources were much more plentiful (before the last short lived ice-age, after which was the advent of agriculture), and thus no need for competition? no hierarchy, no hunting, mostly foraging and gathering; no division of labor, no "work", no written or systematic language because unnecessary, thus the egalitarian, "noble" savage.
"Noble savage"? What is this, the 18th century?
Certainly, resources were more plentiful relative the number of (proto-)people when there were far fewer individuals competing for them - but at the same time, those resources were much harder to obtain and exploit because of the extremely limited technological and social sophistication of the time. I'm also at a loss as to how you seem to think we all lived in some vegan paradise before 'civilisation' appeared and turned us all into Big Mac-munching monsters. Humans and their ancestors have hunted animals and eaten meat since the very beginning: the very earliest proto-humans' tools were simple stone choppers for butchering meat, our large brains and probably even spoken language itself evolved in order to facilitate coordinated hunting strategies and finally, you have to wonder why, if we're 'not supposed' to eat meat, it tastes so damn good. The answer is, of course, that it's packed with nutrients, making it a far more valuable food source than plant material. This is well known to chimps, our closest living relatives, who are themselves omnivorous.


the "violence in nature same as human violence" argument is not valid the same way "we all want the last piece of bread = selfishness" is invalid ---- a wolf killing a dear for food as part of eco-system is not comparable to the Armenian genocide or Rwanda 94.

i believe "civilization" certainly "trains" us and conditions our thinking. and all we see are the trees not the forest.
....
I think the seeds of civilisation are our own instincts expanded and elaborated on a massive scale. Your analogy is flawed, since in war we're talking about conflict between two groups of animals from the same species, and human beings are by no means the only species that exhibits this behaviour.

Mr. Tea
13-04-2007, 11:55 AM
You can clearly see that's not what I am saying, lets not spend time endlessly rehashing old old debates, please... We're talking about the case where we presume inside-game violence does not lead to violence in the real world... and then seeing whether there is still a problem with its participative virtuality... if Guybrush's girlfriend blames HIM for the violence (within the game, obv), why not the creators themselves for laying open such possibilities (with the greater ease with which such violent activities might be exectuted than in "reality", of course) within increasingly realistic environments? (Cf the whole moral dimension to the ending of Existenz...)

I know that's not what you said, but it seemed to me we were headed in that direction. There's a moral dimension to computer games only in so far as they (supposedly) influence the player's behaviour outside the game. There is no moral dimension to 'killing' a bunch of pixels, and if someone finds it disturbing or distasteful, it's up to them not to play the game or watch someone else play it. The same argument goes for any other medium with a violent make-believe content, be it a novel, play, film or whatever.

Guybrush
13-04-2007, 01:13 PM
There's a moral dimension to computer games only in so far as they (supposedly) influence the player's behaviour outside the game. There is no moral dimension to 'killing' a bunch of pixels, and if someone finds it disturbing or distasteful, it's up to them not to play the game or watch someone else play it. The same argument goes for any other medium with a violent make-believe content, be it a novel, play, film or whatever.

Does the same go for an ultra-realistic VR-game where the player indulges in rape, torture, cannibalism, etc.? I’m sorry if the examples are over the top, but it seems to me that a line possibly must be drawn somewhere.

IdleRich
13-04-2007, 01:24 PM
Does the same go for an ultra-realistic VR-game where the player indulges in rape, torture, cannibalism, etc.? I’m sorry if the examples are over the top, but it seems to me that a line possibly must be drawn somewhere.
I think that it's an interesting question. My gut feeling (and it is really just that) is that one is ok with Grand Theft Auto but if (when?) they get to the stage of creating an "ultra-realistic VR-game" where you can, say, rape someone and it feels in every way just like it would in real life then there is a question - I think I would feel very icky about someone who wanted to "play" that game.
Regarding what Gek-Opel (I think) said, in such a scenario there is definitely some responsibility resting with the game's creators but that doesn't absolve the "player".

zhao
13-04-2007, 02:18 PM
I am not "keen to believe" anything. but very much interested in alternatives to the commonly held beliefs about our origins, the widely accepted constructions of how our ancesters lived.

what Mr. Tea believes is what we were all taught to believe. i grew up thinking exactly the same as he does.

but no one can deny that there is the possibility that this view is tainted by the times we live in now, and by the system in which we live now.

we all know that historical representation is more often than not, flawed and biased. written by the victors and whatnot, but also, present-day ideology always makes itself felt through the representations it deploys. for example: the evolution of how the T-Rex is represened in natural history museums in America -- 1950s was all about the nuclear family, thus always represened as a nuclear family living peacefully with male as head -- 1980s was all about business, thus T-Rex was represented as a lone aggressive hunter. while many biologists and archeologists say none of this is accurate -- that the T-Rex may have been nearly blind, very slowly moving, with no hunting capacity, and mostly feeding on corpses.

in the same way construction of our ancesters as brutal, violent, competetors may be a false representation motivated by ideology.

this is the main point.

IdleRich
13-04-2007, 03:18 PM
"we all know that historical representation is more often than not, flawed and biased. written by the victors and whatnot, but also, present-day ideology always makes itself felt through the representations it deploys"
Fine, but if you want to have a different version don't you need some reasons or arguments to support it as opposed to just picking a history that you would like because it's "not inconceivable"?
I mean it could well be that man was a lot less brutal than we have believed, it could be that he was in fact much more so - why pick one over the other?

vimothy
13-04-2007, 03:47 PM
There is no moral dimension to 'killing' a bunch of pixels, and if someone finds it disturbing or distasteful, it's up to them not to play the game or watch someone else play it. The same argument goes for any other medium with a violent make-believe content, be it a novel, play, film or whatever.

Like playing chess!

Anyone remember that scene in the invisibles (ruling '90s comic by Grant Morrison) where Dane is playing chess with the blind dude and he asks if he's ever got so caught up in a game that he experiences existential angst with the loss of a piece?

zhao
13-04-2007, 04:13 PM
Fine, but if you want to have a different version don't you need some reasons or arguments to support it as opposed to just picking a history that you would like because it's "not inconceivable"?
I mean it could well be that man was a lot less brutal than we have believed, it could be that he was in fact much more so - why pick one over the other?

there are many reasons. just a few main ones off the top of my head:

1. since the 1970s, much archeological study have suggested, and many scientists have come to agree, that Homo Erectus had the same upper cranial capacity and indeed the same brain as Homo-Sapien - a view very different from that we had come to accept up to that point (see Mr. Tea's comments) -- they had more hair, yes, but was just as "intellegent" as us -- extending the history of man on earth to 4,000,000 years.

2. it is commonly accepted that vegetation was much more abundant prior to the last ice-age (10,000 years ago) - thus it is likely that food was everywhere for the taking - thousands of kinds of fruits within reach or an easy climb, leaves, etc., etc. -- I'm sure many thousands of species of these plants did not survive the ice-age.

3. the same brain as us but zero advancement of technology - no tools, no advanced language system, etc., why? only conceivable reason is there was no need.

4. what we do know for certain is that civilization began about 10,000 years ago - agriculture, division of labor, advanced language systems, centralized power, hierarchy, domination, exploitation, slavery, and technology -- our of necessity, because of dwindling resources.

5. also it is commonly accepted that major diseases such as cancer did not exist prior to agriculture, when our diet changed from consisting of thousands of kinds of plants to a dozen or 2, and the advent of large quantities of cooked animal protein.

6. studies of tribal and other societies of today which have more or less retained the characteristics of the way of life of ancients seem to at the very least partially agree with this view -- the tribes of Indonesia, Africa, etc. again, there are volumes to be said about this, but i don't have time here to even cover my own very, very limited research and knowledge.

7. lastly, and fully realizing that this is the easiest one for people to ridicule, but should be mentioned none the less -- the myths and stories of all peoples and civilizations on earth: China, Egypt, Maya, Aztec, Aboriginal Australia, Persia, Greece, etc., etc, etc, all contain a form of paradise-lost theme. much like the garden in the christian bible.

of course myths of paradise can be attributed to the nostalgic nature of humans and a number of other explanations, but the possibility that these alarmingly similar stories coming from remote parts of the earth, from disparate cultures having no connection to eachother for thousands of years, were actually derived from some kind of memory, or even direct oral tradition originating from our ancesters, should not be dismissed.

IdleRich
13-04-2007, 04:36 PM
That's more like it.

vimothy
13-04-2007, 05:13 PM
3. the same brain as us but zero advancement of technology - no tools, no advanced language system, etc., why? only conceivable reason is there was no need.


?!?!?

zhao
13-04-2007, 06:24 PM
?!?!?

of course a myriad of questions, not the least of which regarding the nature of evolution itself, is raised by such a suggestion. many would probably say that faculties would not evolve unless they are necessary for survival... all i can say is that evolution itself is much more complex, and allows much more room for indescrepancies to perceived "laws" than we prolly think.

i think the general gist of this angle is that the developed brains were used for 4 million years, but not to develop "tools" as we know it. proponents of this school maintain that the majority of time these pre-civilized ancesters spent on leisure activities, inventing games to play, etc. much more far out ideas about their life-span (a lot longer than ours), abilities which we would consider to be "psychic" or "para-normal", etc., etc., but i won't go into detail because i know people will quickly jump on these as reason to dismiss everything i'm relating to so far as "Kooky Californian Drivel", as the late Gay-Punk put it.

once again, i don't necessarily "believe" any of this whole-sale. I am primarily interested in exploring alternative versions of the story of our ancesters to the commonly accepted version.

hundredmillionlifetimes
13-04-2007, 10:46 PM
What is it you find problematic about it today that you didn’t see then?

The preamble suggests it: [1] Human nature (of either persuasion) as a fiction, and [2] the antinomy of the noble vs ignoble savage (not actually mutually exclusive at all, such an antagonism being inherent) as necessary constructions to perpetuate the fiction of the reality principle ...

zhao
13-04-2007, 11:43 PM
1. since the 1970s, much archeological study have suggested, and many scientists have come to agree, that Homo Erectus had the same upper cranial capacity and indeed the same brain as Homo-Sapien - a view very different from that we had come to accept up to that point (see Mr. Tea's comments) -- they had more hair, yes, but was just as "intellegent" as us -- extending the history of man on earth to 4,000,000 years.

2. it is commonly accepted that vegetation was much more abundant prior to the last ice-age (10,000 years ago) - thus it is likely that food was everywhere for the taking - thousands of kinds of fruits within reach or an easy climb, leaves, etc., etc. -- I'm sure many thousands of species of these plants did not survive the ice-age.

3. the same brain as us but zero advancement of technology - no tools, no advanced language system, etc., why? only conceivable reason is there was no need.

4. what we do know for certain is that civilization began about 10,000 years ago - agriculture, division of labor, advanced language systems, centralized power, hierarchy, domination, exploitation, slavery, and technology -- our of necessity, because of dwindling resources.

5. also it is commonly accepted that major diseases such as cancer did not exist prior to agriculture, when our diet changed from consisting of thousands of kinds of plants to a dozen or 2, and the advent of large quantities of cooked animal protein.

6. studies of tribal and other societies of today which have more or less retained the characteristics of the way of life of ancients seem to at the very least partially agree with this view -- the tribes of Indonesia, Africa, etc. again, there are volumes to be said about this, but i don't have time here to even cover my own very, very limited research and knowledge.

7. lastly, and fully realizing that this is the easiest one for people to ridicule, but should be mentioned none the less -- the myths and stories of all peoples and civilizations on earth: China, Egypt, Maya, Aztec, Aboriginal Australia, Persia, Greece, etc., etc, etc, all contain a form of paradise-lost theme. much like the garden in the christian bible.

of course myths of paradise can be attributed to the nostalgic nature of humans and a number of other explanations, but the possibility that these alarmingly similar stories coming from remote parts of the earth, from disparate cultures having no connection to eachother for thousands of years, were actually derived from some kind of memory, or even direct oral tradition originating from our ancesters, should not be dismissed.

i think it is very important to consider alternative versions of pre-history like this one, in addition to the pervasive, commonly believed one.

Mr. Tea, why do you defend the majority view so vehemently? does suggesting that it may be biased and tainted, or that there may be other points of view equally as valid somehow threaten to topple your entire philosophy of life? a philosophy based on humans always being exactly the same, since the beginning of time? that there is no way to live other than the way live now? that we are inherently violent and brutal and cruel, and thus never can hope to be any different?

tate
14-04-2007, 05:18 AM
i think the general gist of this angle is that the developed brains were used for 4 million years, but not to develop "tools" as we know it. proponents of this school maintain that the majority of time these pre-civilized ancesters spent on leisure activities, inventing games to play, etc. much more far out ideas about their life-span (a lot longer than ours), abilities which we would consider to be "psychic" or "para-normal", etc., etc., but i won't go into detail because i know people will quickly jump on these as reason to dismiss everything i'm relating to so far as "Kooky Californian Drivel".
oh really. to what "school" of thought do you refer?

Eric
14-04-2007, 08:13 AM
the `KCD' school????

zhao
14-04-2007, 07:25 PM
oh really. to what "school" of thought do you refer?

Anarcho Primitivist school (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anarcho-primitivism)

again, before the ridicule and vegetables come flying, I am merely interested in exploring alternative versions of pre-history, other than the one commonly accepted. i am NOT saying that this stuff, which may sound very much far fetched and in the land of fantasy, is what i believe whole-heartedly.

but much of it does make sense to me, and rings true on an intuitive level.

what is important about all of this is the notion that the way we live now may not be the way we have always lived. that it may prove to be a very recent development and brief way of life for humans.

further, what we believe today may be tainted by invisible ideology, and hidden agendas -- and that it may not be nearly as rational or factual as we think.

the way we look at the world and ourselves, in the "modern west", it may be a very limited view, which excludes multiple other ways of perceiving and understanding, which are all just as valid, if not much more valid, than ours.

this is the only way to envision a future. if there is one.

Mr. Tea
15-04-2007, 04:13 PM
there are many reasons. just a few main ones off the top of my head:

1. since the 1970s, much archeological study have suggested, and many scientists have come to agree, that Homo Erectus had the same upper cranial capacity and indeed the same brain as Homo-Sapien - a view very different from that we had come to accept up to that point (see Mr. Tea's comments) -- they had more hair, yes, but was just as "intellegent" as us -- extending the history of man on earth to 4,000,000 years.

The intelligence of a person or animal is not proportional to the size of their/its brain. Blue whales, for example, have far larger brains than humans, and while it's obviously not possible to give a whale an IQ test, I would say it's pretty certain they're not as intelligent as us. Furthermore, men generally have bigger brains than women, and I'm sure you wouldn't say this makes men cleverer, would you?


2. it is commonly accepted that vegetation was much more abundant prior to the last ice-age (10,000 years ago) - thus it is likely that food was everywhere for the taking - thousands of kinds of fruits within reach or an easy climb, leaves, etc., etc. -- I'm sure many thousands of species of these plants did not survive the ice-age.

This doesn't alter the fact that there's abundant fossil evidence for hunting and meat-eating even in very ancient hominid species.


3. the same brain as us but zero advancement of technology - no tools, no advanced language system, etc., why? only conceivable reason is there was no need.

Do we 'need' TVs, cars, computers, iPods? Event the most primitive human cultures have technology of some sort, even if it's just simple stone tools, examples of which certainly predate the last ice age.


4. what we do know for certain is that civilization began about 10,000 years ago - agriculture, division of labor, advanced language systems, centralized power, hierarchy, domination, exploitation, slavery, and technology -- our of necessity, because of dwindling resources.

I would agree with this, as far as it goes.


5. also it is commonly accepted that major diseases such as cancer did not exist prior to agriculture, when our diet changed from consisting of thousands of kinds of plants to a dozen or 2, and the advent of large quantities of cooked animal protein.

Cancer is a disease which overwhelmingly affects middle-aged and old people, who are few and far between in primitive societies because the life expectancy is so low. Furthermore I expect cancer only became widespread since the industrial revolution, when pollution became a serious problem for the first time - I'm sure it wasn't a common disease in, say, the middle ages. The link with red meat only applies to people who eat far too much of it and not enough fibre, so that it sits in the lower gut for a long time: a sensible amount of animal protein is a vital part of a healthy diet.


6. studies of tribal and other societies of today which have more or less retained the characteristics of the way of life of ancients seem to at the very least partially agree with this view -- the tribes of Indonesia, Africa, etc. again, there are volumes to be said about this, but i don't have time here to even cover my own very, very limited research and knowledge.

Again, I think this has more to do with these societies being pre-industrial and pre-urban, rather than pre-agricultural.


7. lastly, and fully realizing that this is the easiest one for people to ridicule, but should be mentioned none the less -- the myths and stories of all peoples and civilizations on earth: China, Egypt, Maya, Aztec, Aboriginal Australia, Persia, Greece, etc., etc, etc, all contain a form of paradise-lost theme. much like the garden in the christian bible.

of course myths of paradise can be attributed to the nostalgic nature of humans and a number of other explanations, but the possibility that these alarmingly similar stories coming from remote parts of the earth, from disparate cultures having no connection to eachother for thousands of years, were actually derived from some kind of memory, or even direct oral tradition originating from our ancesters, should not be dismissed.
Weeell, maybe. There cerainly would have been no such thing as organised warfare before civilisation existed, but I'm sure there would have been violence of various kinds nonetheless. As you say, nostalgia is a common part of human 'nature' - but weren't you trying to argue against the very existence of such a thing when you started this thread?

zhao
16-04-2007, 04:51 AM
can we focus on the big picture for just one minute? Mr. Tea, do you absolutely rule out the possibility that human beings have lived in ways drastically different than our way of life now? is it possible that our species is capable of much more empahty, compassion, connection, symbiosis, co-operation, inter-relatedness, than we display in these times?

do you rule out the possibility that the way we view ourselves and our history might be heavily biased and distorted by the ideology of the times we live in?

whether the Anarcho Primitivists are hopeless idealists or not, whether their version of pre-history is absolutely accurate or not (which is up to debate), the main point is that they provide an alternative reading of the origins of our species. and i think this is very important.

but ok, details:


The intelligence of a person or animal is not proportional to the size of their/its brain. Blue whales, for example, have far larger brains than humans, and while it's obviously not possible to give a whale an IQ test, I would say it's pretty certain they're not as intelligent as us. Furthermore, men generally have bigger brains than women, and I'm sure you wouldn't say this makes men cleverer, would you?

that makes sense. but in the case of the development from monkeys to humans, such a big difference in upper cranial capacity can reasonably be interpreted as precondition and cause for, more likely than not, an increase in intellegence.


This doesn't alter the fact that there's abundant fossil evidence for hunting and meat-eating even in very ancient hominid species.

sure hunting existed back then. what the Primitivists say is that the importance of hunting is priviledged by civilization, in relation to gathering and foraging, which may have been the primary food source - thus inverting the phrase "hunter-gatherer" to "gatherer-hunter".

does it not makes sense that a society which champions competition and aggression would play up such attributes in its representations?


Do we 'need' TVs, cars, computers, iPods? Event the most primitive human cultures have technology of some sort, even if it's just simple stone tools, examples of which certainly predate the last ice age.

remember we are talking about an aledged period of roughly 3-4 million years BEFORE CIVILIZATION.


Cancer is a disease which overwhelmingly affects middle-aged and old people, who are few and far between in primitive societies because the life expectancy is so low. Furthermore I expect cancer only became widespread since the industrial revolution, when pollution became a serious problem for the first time - I'm sure it wasn't a common disease in, say, the middle ages. The link with red meat only applies to people who eat far too much of it and not enough fibre, so that it sits in the lower gut for a long time: a sensible amount of animal protein is a vital part of a healthy diet.

Again, I think this has more to do with these societies being pre-industrial and pre-urban, rather than pre-agricultural.

according to the APs, life expectancy drastically dropped with the advent of agriculture. and the causes of these new diseases are myriad, the change of diet -- less raw greens and more carbohydrates and carcenogens from cooked animal protein is only one of them. the primary one is probably stress of "work" and alienated labor. also losing touch with ourselves and intimate connection with others.


As you say, nostalgia is a common part of human 'nature' - but weren't you trying to argue against the very existence of such a thing when you started this thread?

well if you read my original sentence in its entirety, what I mean is that "sure paradise myths CAN be interpreted as some sort of nostalgia, but the possibility that they are much more than that should not be ruled out:


of course myths of paradise can be attributed to the nostalgic nature of humans and a number of other explanations, but the possibility that these alarmingly similar stories coming from remote parts of the earth, from disparate cultures having no connection to eachother for thousands of years, were actually derived from some kind of memory, or even direct oral tradition originating from our ancesters, should not be dismissed.

zhao
16-04-2007, 04:52 AM
whew! i need a beer after that :)

Mr. Tea
16-04-2007, 01:30 PM
can we focus on the big picture for just one minute? Mr. Tea, do you absolutely rule out the possibility that human beings have lived in ways drastically different than our way of life now? is it possible that our species is capable of much more empahty, compassion, connection, symbiosis, co-operation, inter-relatedness, than we display in these times?

Whoa - who ever said people *don't* live differently now from how they/we used to? Of course there are huge differences in lifestyle, culture and worldview. Whether there existed in the past some universal 'brotherhood of man' where everyone cooperated and lived in perfect peace and harmony, however - now that's a very different matter, and I think it sounds pretty unlikely. For one thing, I don't think a strain of ancient humanity with no tendencey whatsoever towards aggression or selfishness would ever arise, or, once arisen, would last very long, becuase a more aggressive and competitive strain would wipe them out. Of course, a strain that was too aggressive would wipe itself out, so we arive at a kind of optimum or equilibrium level of human behaviour whereby people sometimes fight over resources and sometimes cooperate and share them: this sounds like a pretty reasonable description of the way the world is now, in my opinion. Yes, there are terrible wars and economic exploitation and so on - and I'm not saying it's inevitable or that we shouldn't be trying to stop it, either - but there's cooperation and mutually-beneficial behaviour and even acts of selfless altuism, too.


do you rule out the possibility that the way we view ourselves and our history might be heavily biased and distorted by the ideology of the times we live in?

No, I don't rule it out, but I fail to see why archaeologists and palaeoanthropologists would have such an overriding political agenda. In addition, you have to consider archaeological evidence that doesn't have much leeway in terms of interpretation - early or proto-human bones with scratch-marks from human teeth or stone tools, for example.

Mr. Tea
16-04-2007, 03:12 PM
according to the APs, life expectancy drastically dropped with the advent of agriculture. and the causes of these new diseases are myriad, the change of diet -- less raw greens and more carbohydrates and carcenogens from cooked animal protein is only one of them. the primary one is probably stress of "work" and alienated labor. also losing touch with ourselves and intimate connection with others.

This sounds distinctly dodgy to me. Life expectancy in developed countries is higher now than it has been in any other culture at any time:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life_expectancy#Life_expectancy_over_human_history
While it's interesting that LE seems to have peaked at 33 in the Upper Palaeolithic before falling, and only reaching that level again in the Middle Ages, it's nowhere near the high-70s seen today in developed countries, is it?

zhao
16-04-2007, 04:11 PM
I don't think a strain of ancient humanity with no tendencey whatsoever towards aggression or selfishness would ever arise, or, once arisen, would last very long, becuase a more aggressive and competitive strain would wipe them out.

unless there was an over abundance of food in a lush climate before the last ice-age, from hundreds of thousands of plants that went extinct, rendering competition unnecessary.

Mr. Tea
16-04-2007, 04:55 PM
unless there was an over abundance of food in a lush climate before the last ice-age, from hundreds of thousands of plants that went extinct, rendering competition unnecessary.

That may or may not have been the case - let's say it was the case, it doesn't sound impossible - but if it was, then so what? The climate changed, the population increased, life got tougher and people got tougher to cope with it. Since the end of the last ice age is ample time for all sorts of new instincts to have been bred into the human population by evolutionary necessity.

A more traditional view of the development of human civilisation (and one which I tend towards) is that the discovery of agriculture and husbandry in the Middle East meant, for the first time, that people had food 'on tap', and that one person could now produce more food than it was possible for him/her to eat alone. (Contrary to what you may think about tropical rainforests, they are not bursting at the seems with edible, easily reached fruit: life in the jungle is difficult.) This meant an increase in leisure time, since people no longer had to forage all the time (harvested crops could be eaten when desired, and animals could be milked or slaughtered to provide meat, which is a much better source of calories than vegetables or fruit), which allowed people to have specialised jobs: potter, builder, artisan, scribe, priest, whatever. Of course, if you want to view the appearance of technology and culture as a largely bad thing, that's up to you, but it's certainly not a view I share.

zhao
16-04-2007, 07:33 PM
No, I don't rule it out, but I fail to see why archaeologists and palaeoanthropologists would have such an overriding political agenda.

they don't have overt political agendas, but i think it is entirely possible that you may be under estimating the degree to which science is influenced by ideology. i am of the opinion that science is not nearly as objective as we'd like to think. for instance, (was Nomadology that pointed this out?) the areas we CHOOSE to investigate, out of thousands of possible areas, makes human subjectivity apparent in the process of scientific study.

like Ben Franklin said, reasonable creatues will find reasons for whatever they want to do.

and i would extend that to -- reasonable creatues will find reasons for whatever they want to see, or believe.

this of course leads us to a much bigger debate, one which we've already begun elsewhere on this forum.

zhao
16-04-2007, 07:37 PM
That may or may not have been the case - let's say it was the case, it doesn't sound impossible - but if it was, then so what? The climate changed, the population increased, life got tougher and people got tougher to cope with it. Since the end of the last ice age is ample time for all sorts of new instincts to have been bred into the human population by evolutionary necessity.

this i agree with. completely.


A more traditional view of the development of human civilisation (and one which I tend towards) is that the discovery of agriculture and husbandry in the Middle East meant, for the first time, that people had food 'on tap', and that one person could now produce more food than it was possible for him/her to eat alone. (Contrary to what you may think about tropical rainforests, they are not bursting at the seems with edible, easily reached fruit: life in the jungle is difficult.) This meant an increase in leisure time, since people no longer had to forage all the time (harvested crops could be eaten when desired, and animals could be milked or slaughtered to provide meat, which is a much better source of calories than vegetables or fruit), which allowed people to have specialised jobs: potter, builder, artisan, scribe, priest, whatever. Of course, if you want to view the appearance of technology and culture as a largely bad thing, that's up to you, but it's certainly not a view I share.

this i also agree with. really into the work of Jarred Diamond, etc. but again, you are talking about developments SINCE the advent of civilization. and what i am trying to imagine is a much different climate, with hundreds of thousands of species of plants and animals that are now long gone, and a very different way of life for our ancestors.

of course i don't view technology as a bad thing. that is just absurd. we developed tools for necessity, survival. (plus i would have some explaining to do with my love of techno! :D )

for the 10th time, what i am interested in is an alternative version to prehistory... fuck i feel like a brocken record :(

Mr. Tea
17-04-2007, 01:53 PM
for the 10th time, what i am interested in is an alternative version to prehistory... fuck i feel like a brocken record :(

Well fair enough, I can't say I have too much time for 'anarcho-primitivism' myself (and I didn't mean to imply you upholds all those beliefs as such, you're obviously not a Luddite, by definition of being on the Internet - unless you're gleefully tapping away on a 486 with a 28.8kb/s modem, hehehe).

DigitalDjigit
17-04-2007, 03:55 PM
Life expectancy of 33 doesn't mean that everyone died in their 30's. It means that infant mortality was high. If you have 100 people dying at age 3 and 100 dying at age 60 you get a life expectancy of 31.5. So there were enough old people.

Anyway, the whole "cancer only affects old people and it is only now that we have enough old people for it to show up" is bollocks. Studies that controlled for age showed an increase in cancer rates during the 20th century.

Just correcting some misconceptions. Carry on.

DigitalDjigit
17-04-2007, 04:02 PM
A more traditional view of the development of human civilisation (and one which I tend towards) is that the discovery of agriculture and husbandry in the Middle East meant, for the first time, that people had food 'on tap', and that one person could now produce more food than it was possible for him/her to eat alone. (Contrary to what you may think about tropical rainforests, they are not bursting at the seems with edible, easily reached fruit: life in the jungle is difficult.) This meant an increase in leisure time, since people no longer had to forage all the time (harvested crops could be eaten when desired, and animals could be milked or slaughtered to provide meat, which is a much better source of calories than vegetables or fruit), which allowed people to have specialised jobs: potter, builder, artisan, scribe, priest, whatever. Of course, if you want to view the appearance of technology and culture as a largely bad thing, that's up to you, but it's certainly not a view I share.

Jungles aren't bursting with food as we understand it, but humans right now get the vast majority of their calories from three crops (rice, wheat, corn). Of course you won't find those in the jungle. I think the humans back then did ok or we wouldn't be alive :)

You could think of the development of agriculture as increasing leisure time. But it's leisure time only increased for the priests, chiefs etc. The majority of the population had to work harder to provide for them. Without agriculture there would be no surplus to hoard (remember that the one of the reasons wheat is central to agriculture is because it can be stored for long periods of time, thus you can take it away and put it under locks and control the population) and if one wanted food one had to get it for themselves. So it's possible to reverse this and say that it wasn't the agriculture that allowed for a leisure class to appear but the appearance of a dominating class that caused agriculture to appear.

Agriculture certainly didn't provide food security as one crop failure would leave you without food for a whole year. There were famines in the Middle Ages every decade or so.

Mr. Tea
17-04-2007, 04:04 PM
Anyway, the whole "cancer only affects old people and it is only now that we have enough old people for it to show up" is bollocks. Studies that controlled for age showed an increase in cancer rates during the 20th century.


Oh, I'm sure it did - my position is that cancer is a disease of the *relatively* recent past (i.e. that it probably started to become a big problem with the advent of the industrial revolution, and has increased since then) in contrast to zhao's assertion that it's been a big problem ever since people started farming and keeping animals.

Also, surely it's possible that both cancer rates (normalised to the age profile) *and* the number of cancer-prone (i.e. old) people have increased?

Mr. Tea
17-04-2007, 04:14 PM
You could think of the development of agriculture as increasing leisure time. But it's leisure time only increased for the priests, chiefs etc.
And scribes, artists, artisans, builders/architects, philosophers, poets, doctors, astronomers, potters, metal-workers, brewers...in other words, people with a skill other than merely amassing enough food to survive, people who are vital to any group that wants to call itself a 'civilisation' rather than just a bunch of guys in mud huts.

I certainly can't see how "the appearance of a dominating class [would] cause agriculture to appear" - agriculture must have come about more or less as a chance discovery, initially, and then led to a surplus of food (and eventually abstracted 'wealth') which, along with a new premium being placed on valuable farming land, would have led to the first heirarchies and leaderships.

Edit: ...not to mention the increased population density due both to larger populations sizes and a greater density of people being able to live off a certain area of land when farming/herding, compared to hunting/gathering.

zhao
16-01-2012, 07:16 AM
what happened to DigitalDjigit?

zhao
16-01-2012, 07:22 AM
The only "barbarism" I see is testosterone driven beer drinkers locking horns on Friday night and resentful hooded teenagers asking for cigarettes or whatever when I'm out shopping in town. It's annoying but still, its got to be better than putting people in the stocks and public executions of criminals and the like. And it certainly doesn't seem to be regarded as civilised by most poeple I talk to. I mean, where do you live mate?

where you live is the key here obviously.

only people who think modern times are not barbaric are those who live in places which export their barbarism to other places.

only people who think capitalism works great are the ones whose people are not systematically enslaved or victimized by it on a mass scale, over prolonged periods of time.

OBVIOUSLY.

woops
17-01-2012, 03:11 PM
only people who think capitalism works great are the ones who don't realise they are systematically enslaved or victimized by it on a mass scale, over prolonged periods of time.
...

vimothy
17-01-2012, 07:34 PM
only people who think modern times are not barbaric are those who live in places which export their barbarism to other places.

only people who think capitalism works great are the ones whose people are not systematically enslaved or victimized by it on a mass scale, over prolonged periods of time.

OBVIOUSLY.

I think I've come round to the idea that there is still plenty of barbarism in the world. I'm not sure how much of it I would put down to capitalism, though.

Could you say more about the process whereby civilized countries export their barbarism to other places? When Germany exports barbarism, where does it go? What is the transmission mechanism?

The intellectual geneolgy of anti-capitalist ideas are quite interesting. I imagine that if you take postcolonial studies at Harvard or Yale, you learn all about the exploitative nature of capitalism. All ideas have to come from somewhere, of course. But it does show that not all the people who live in places that export their barbarism elsewhere think that capitalism works great. In fact, it mostly seems like the people with the critique of capitalism are all members of this set--often quite privileged members.