Monday, March 18, 2013

Childhood Innocence and the Outsider's Humility

Have you ever been overwhelmed by a child’s cuteness? Maybe you had an urge to pinch the kid’s pudgy cheek or to hold her tiny fingers. What’s most precious about children, I think, is their innocence, but what exactly is that? And what can childhood innocence tell us about how we adults ought to live?

To give an idea of the kind of innocence I’m talking about, here are two real-life examples featuring my nephew who is almost two years old. I folded a paper airplane and threw it for him to see, and he loved to watch it soar and land. I did this numerous times, sometimes holding his tiny hand under the plane so he could experience throwing it, and each time he squealed with delight. He especially liked when the plane came close to crashing into something or someone. And here’s the innocent part: after several throws, he ham-fistedly tore off the corner of another piece of paper, scrunched it up, unfolded it somewhat, and with one hand threw it, crying out “Ha!” as he did so. The piece of crumpled paper went straight down, moving all of three or four inches, but he showed almost as much joy from the flight of his version of the airplane as from that of the others. And he did this several times. My nephew is at the stage at which he mimics what those around him do, so he tried to create and throw a paper airplane even though he didn’t really know what he was doing.

Another example: he likes to play with kaleidoscopes. His grandmother has a collection, placed far out of his reach, and sometimes when’s he in that room he points with both hands for someone to bring one down for him. I gave him one to hold and tried to show him how to use it, by holding another one, pointing it up into the light, looking through the lens, and turning the opposite end. He followed all of the steps but stubbornly insisted on undermining his efforts, by keeping his left hand around the rear end of the kaleidoscope so that his hand blocked the light. He pointed the kaleidoscope upwards, looked through the lens, but snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by placing one hand in just the wrong spot. And this wasn’t a one-time mistake. For some reason, he liked to hold the kaleidoscope in that way. We gave him a different one and again he covered the key area with his hand so that all he must have seen through the lens was his hand’s silhouette. Of course, he did all of this with a smile on his face, since as long as he’s not bumping his head on something he’s having fun.

What does it mean to say, then, that a child like my nephew is innocent? The point isn’t just that a child that young hasn’t done anything wrong; rather, a child can’t do anything wrong, because she’s not yet a self-controlling adult. A child lacks the language, knowledge, and experience to control her mind and body to the extent that she’d be considered free. Instead, she’s controlled mainly by her environment and especially by her guardians and caregivers. So she’s innocent for the profound reason that she’s not yet the sort of creature that could possibly be responsible for her actions. Instead of acting rationally or wisely, she plays and that’s how she learns. But this playing takes place within safe zones of the adult world, and it’s this contrast that makes a child cute and precious.

The Purpose of Human Development

There are, though, two adult perspectives on childhood to consider. From the conventional perspective, childhood is a stage leading to adulthood. In this case, what’s amusing and adorable about a child’s mistakes is that the child is only at the very start of a long process of maturation. In normal development, the child’s mistakes are harmless because they’ll all be corrected and they’re needed for growth; again, she learns by making mistakes and by practicing to get it right. But when she gets it wrong, there’s a pleasure an adult can take in watching the child’s bloopers, because the child’s greatest effort is still no competition for the adult’s. Thus, an adult feels like a god when she watches a child flounder, and I think this is the source of the joy of watching children play. A child’s cuteness is a delicate sort of beauty; she can’t care for herself and so is precious in that her great fragility must be matched by a very high value placed on her by adults who must care for her. The proverbial babe in the woods is a creature that only mimics some of an adult’s traits and whose achievements are only the faintest gestures towards adult actions. When most adults see that helplessness, we feel like we imagine a god would feel were he to watch his creatures frolic in relative ignorance. The idea of God, then, has been potentially with us long before recorded history; all we had to do was generalize from the universal experience of raising a helpless human child. Just as a parent is all-knowing and all-powerful compared to a child, so too our species might be childlike compared to an intelligent creator of all natural life.

But this mere idea of God is irrelevant to this first adult perspective, because the adult experiences a kind of divinity when interacting with children. The flipside of the child’s helplessness is the adult’s potency. Whereas a child is relatively awkward, ignorant, and incompetent, an adult is the opposite, because the child and the adult are at opposite ends of a period of maturation. Instead of feeling weak, ugly, or dim compared to superior adults, every adult who has developed more or less normally can feel far and away superior to the average child. Childhood innocence, then, is a happy sort of inferiority, because the child is judged relative to the stage of adulthood which is held out as the purpose of the child’s growth. The pleasure adults take in watching children play, then, is twofold: the child’s blunders are assumed to be merely temporary, reversible, and thus harmless, and every demonstration of childhood inferiority allows the adult to feel that much superior, and feeling like a god flatters the adult.

When the Outsider Looks In

There’s a second, less popular interpretation of childhood innocence. Instead of seeing childhood as the first stage leading to the end of adult maturity, childhood and adulthood can seem equally foolish from a transcendent perspective afforded by objective reason and by social alienation. Here’s how this works. The first perspective is for those who identify with adult human nature; they commit to the ideals that normal adults tend to have (raising a family, earning a living, making friends, being socially productive). Most people are more or less successful in achieving these goals, but more importantly, they regard these achievements as practically sacred. Whatever they may say about transcendent gods and divine revelation, most of what they actually do is thoroughly natural; for the most part, their behaviour is biologically and socially determined and about as aesthetically interesting, therefore, as a paramecium’s. Instead of creating anything new, most people commit to the biological and social imperatives they inherit: the genes say procreate, so most people do so; social convention says fit in, so they do so.

But for thousands of years, a minority of people has declined to identify with that natural and social way of life. This minority doesn’t succeed in biological terms, nor does it find solace in the company of others. This minority is made up of the introverts and omegas, the losers and victims who lack much ambition because their egos are eviscerated, and the artists and mystics who make the most of their failures or inabilities by speculating about a higher purpose of life. These outsiders suffer the most from what I call the curse of reason and they therefore grapple the most with our existential predicament. So instead of comparing children to mature adults who live up to our natural ideals, the outsider adults reject those ideals and judge most adults to be childlike. When viewed from nowhere, that is, from outside of the biological and social grooves, the human lifecycle seems absurd. There is no vindication, then, for the child’s muddles and blunders. First, she’ll flounder as an ankle biter, then she’ll flounder as a mother, or as a lawyer, politician, or dentist, or in just about any other adult capacity.

To be sure, children are ignorant and incompetent compared to adults, but the importance of differences depends on our interest and perspective. For certain purposes, we may ignore the differences between types of trees, let alone between individual trees, and speak of trees in general. Likewise, if we happen not to worship human nature, if we don’t share the ultimate concerns that are biologically and socially probable for mammals of our type, we may regard the differences between children and adults as insignificant. Both groups may be equally ignorant, incompetent, and foolish according to a nonstandard model, or way of simplifying phenomena for the sake of understanding. Obviously, if you have a pain in your arm, you visit a doctor, not a child holding a stethoscope. But if you’re preoccupied with the existential predicament, the average adult’s grasp of it is as useless as a child’s; the adult’s mouthing of memes and shibboleths, and her venting of genetically-determined instincts might as well be a child’s babbling. This can be illustrated with speculations about superhumans, such as superintelligent extraterrestrials, posthumans, or gods, relative to whom even our smartest and most powerful adults would be children, so that the differences between human adults and children would be negligible as a matter of fact. But even if no such superhumans exist, the curse of reason has the last laugh. All that matters is that from the outsider’s alienated, detached, and otherworldly perspective, all living things are ultimately pointless as well as ridiculous and pitiful in their strivings. This cosmicism is in fact the secret, subversive implication of even mainstream theism, as I’ve argued elsewhere.

So from this second perspective, there’s as much sorrow as there is joy in a child’s innocence, because whatever we learn about children applies also to adults. If a child’s efforts at performing adult activities are pitiful, so are an adult’s efforts in the cosmic, existential context. That is, relative to the adult world, children are innocent in that they’re not yet creatures that can be held accountable; they can’t yet succeed or fail because they don’t know what they’re doing, but just play and muddle their way through. Likewise, relative to the objective world of nature in which most of our ideals derive from cockamamie delusions or degrading biological processes, adults (and children) are innocent in that we’re only barely able to appreciate what’s really going on around us. So there’s a tragedy that unfolds whenever a child plays with her toys. From the existential cosmicist perspective, the silliness of that play is symbolic of the absurdity of most adult endeavours. The emptiness of our preoccupations is hinted at in the backwardness of the child’s obsessions, and the hollowness of the adult world is foreshadowed in the arbitrariness of the child’s world of imagination. 

Here's another example from the life of my nephew. His father was cooking him a hamburger, but the hamburger wasn't ready to eat soon enough for my nephew, so he ran to his mother and began bawling and wailing, "My hamburger!" and then "Bunny!" which meant that he wanted someone to fetch his security blanket which he calls "Bunny," because it's a small blanket with something that looks like a rabbit's head sewn into one of its corners. That forlorn cry for Bunny was heartrending, I can assure you. But all ended well because someone brought him the blanket, he stopped crying, and then he enjoyed his burger. Now, if we stop and think about the meaning of this sort of conflict resolution, the lesson is unmistakable. What children eventually learn is that the world doesn't given them everything they want exactly when and how they want it. Unlike the mother's womb which evolved to supply the child with whatever she needs, the natural world is indifferent to us. So my nephew wanted the hamburger to be ready as soon as he was hungry, but the laws of physics dictate that cooking meat takes a certain amount of time regardless of our preferences. To compensate for this sort of unsettling knowledge, a child often clings to a security blanket as a sort of reverse scapegoat: instead of externalizing all of her wickedness and then punishing the sacrificial object, a child invests an object with all her hopes and dreams so that as long as the security blanket is near, everything is alright with the world. Of course, nothing but delusion sustains the child's perfectly pitiful faith in the symbol of the security blanket; after all, it's just a scrap of fabric.

My point here, though, is that because children don't yet learn to rationalize or conceal the irrationality of their coping mechanisms, the absurdity of their daily life is obvious to anyone who cares to look. But adults too are forced to confront nature's impersonality and we too often cope by concocting all manner of pitiful fantasies to distract ourselves. The difference is that adults all look down on children, because we think we outgrow that phase: we contrast the child’s abilities with ours, because we adults can’t detach from mainstream traditions, prejudices, or politically correct expectations without harming ourselves by forcing us to confront the horror of our existential situation. Thus, most adults take for granted anthropocentric ideals that lend us some dignity, which is to say that we opt for the first rather than the second perspective. But for those who are forced into something like existential cosmicism, the rug is pulled out from beneath most adults just as it is from beneath all children. Most adults laugh at children, but the ultrarationalist would laugh at most adults: when we look at society objectively, most social pastimes become ridiculous, because their meaning is found only in identifying with some culture. As soon as you find yourself on the outside of a culture or way of life--marginalized, cast out, alienated, or what have you--you typically perceive the social process as a game in the strict sense that you become aware that its rules are irrelevant to our existential situation and are in that respect cosmically arbitrary and frivolous. It’s like discovering that people are all slowly drowning and then realizing that everyone is busy learning how to dance or to play baseball or to wear the priciest clothes rather than to swim or surface for air.

Granted, cultures aren’t arbitrary in the sense that they’re freely chosen; as I said, to some extent at least, they’re biologically determined, meaning that they contribute to our biological pattern, furthering our life cycle. The arbitrariness at issue, though, is the existential absurdity of how most people spend their time. This absurdity isn’t just a matter of objective meaninglessness, or lack of value. Value derives from a person’s choice to care about something, and the underlying choice is the religious one to pick out something as sacred, as worthy of living and dying for because of how this sacred ideal emotionally moves us like a great work of art. In addition to the fact that nothing cares about any of us except for us, there’s the fact that the contrast between our vanity and the rest of the world’s inhumanity has overwhelming comedic implications. This is to say that once we detach from mainstream preoccupations and are forced to suffer from reason’s curse, which is that reason shows us we’re not as we’d prefer to be, what we see from that accursed view from nowhere should make us laugh--not with joy but with bitter irony and a grim appreciation of our tragedy as all-too-clever primates.

The Outsider’s Humility

There are many implications of this twofold analysis of the idea of childhood innocence. Elsewhere I’ve discussed some of them (see this article and the last section of this one). Now, though, I want to show how the foregoing sheds some light on the nature of humility. Instead of talking about the two groups of adults, the exoteric, mainstream group and the outsiders, introverts, omegas, and so forth, I’ll switch to speaking of the two corresponding tendencies in each of us. We each have worldly ambition and a desire to fit in as well as the rational potential to see through all charades. And humility falls out of the latter rather than the former.

Recall that I spoke of how we’re inclined to feel like gods when in the presence of fumbling children. If we pursue that anthropocentric line of thinking, taking the teleological view of social patterns and holding up normal adult humans as more mature and therefore better than children, we’re led to think of ideal people as those who dominate social hierarchies. This is because these dominators are able to manifest our presumed divinity which most of us can only feel; that is, those who climb to the top of a pecking order get to live as gods whereas those who must submit to more powerful adults have only a notion of what that life would be like, when we’re aware of our vast superiority to children. Because power tends to corrupt, a dominator isn’t likely to be humble; instead, she’ll become arrogant, conceited, cruel, and so forth.

But those who take up the existential cosmicist perspective and are moved by the analogy between children and adults won’t likely be so successful by mainstream standards: they’ll renounce their place in the natural life cycle and fall outside of social networks. Outsiders will be relatively powerless and therefore won’t be corrupted in the familiar way. To be sure, there are other ways of being corrupted; extreme poverty can degrade a person, making her savagely desperate. But it’s hard to see how natural and social failures could feed someone the delusion of being all-important. Anthropocentrism begins with the teleological assumption that normal adulthood is good, being the end point of a process that ought to unfold. We can thus contrast children and adults, with that normative interpretation of human development in mind, and come to feel godlike because of our evident superiority to children. And anthropocentrism is a major source of vanity; we solipsistically ignore the rest of the world and fixate on our strengths and needs--much like children, in fact.

Cosmicism is the opposite of anthropocentrism. Far from narrowing our vision to what we’re most familiar with, namely psychological and social processes, the cosmicist is forced to detach from those processes because of her outsider status; her vision is thus widened to include not just the scientifically-known universe, but the likelihood that what there is isn’t exhausted by what clever mammals can possibly understand. Thus, when an introvert, artist, or mystic stands apart from society, because she fails to fit in, she replaces the human-centered viewpoint with the objective one from nowhere. She observes people with inhuman eyes, detaching from her instincts and social preferences; she’s forced to create a new and thus aesthetically-considerable way of life.

Cosmicist humility, then, is the devaluing of normal ideals due to a widening of perspective. This humility isn’t just the lack of confidence that you could succeed in achieving some goal; rather, it’s the lack of confidence in the worthwhileness of mainstream goals. Humility begins with misanthropy, with contempt for human nature, because this nature drives us to take up the first perspective and to corrupt ourselves in the attempt to dominate in social games. When we don’t identify with our natural impulses, when we’re forced to live artistically, to create an existentially authentic, original way of life, we’re humble about our ability to live in the naturally expected, traditional culture, because we appreciate the delusions, fallacies, and obsolete myths needed to sustain that culture. For example, we take the teleological notion of the goodness of normal adulthood to be a straightforward case of the naturalistic fallacy. A humble person in this philosophical respect has a low opinion of her underlying abilities because she has contempt for human norms. She won’t be jealous of superior people; rather, she’ll think poorly of the whole rat race, which is to say that the truly humble person is a social outsider. The Latin humilis means lowly, or on the ground. The classic illustration of humility as the opposite of hubris is the Icarus myth, about the boy who uses technological wings to fly but flies too close to the sun and falls into the sea. Failure is supposed to teach us not to be arrogant, to know our place as mere mammals that live, as it were, on the ground.

This Greek perspective, though, presupposes Aristotelian teleology, since it assumes that we’re supposed to live on the ground rather than to fly to the heavens. This is fallacious, but the idea of humility can be reworked if we replace Aristotelianism, which anthropocentrically projects ideals onto nature, with existential cosmicism. The result is actually an inversion of the ancient Greek framework: humility should be thought of as indeed a virtue earned by failure, but instead of learning that she shouldn’t dare to be different, the humble person learns to distrust human normality. She learns that both failure and success in the natural and social courses of human life are embarrassingly childish, so whether she first succeeds only to lose much or everything, or else tries and fails to dominate, she comes to detach from the normal human preferences, to see herself as an outsider, as psychologically inhuman or “disordered.” The psychological classification of the mental illnesses and disabilities of losers and social outcasts is as teleological as the Icarus myth. But there should be a correlation between those who suffer from mental illness and those who suffer most from the curse of reason. These people won’t necessarily be the most intelligent; instead, the curse is the loss of confidence in human nature, the detachment from social processes, and the angst and horror that follow from the resulting alienation. The curse of reason is about a gestalt shift in perspective, not a measure of intelligence.

So the outsider, drifter, seeker, introvert, artist, or mystic will likely be humble in that she’ll lack pride in the abilities she’s usually expected to have. She won’t identify so much with her ego, because her sense of individuality won’t by buoyed by success after success. Her failures and weaknesses will crush her spirit and so she’ll be brought low, as in the Icarus myth, but she won’t be reassured that she belongs on the earth or anywhere else. She’ll be lost in the view from nowhere, doomed to suffer existential anxiety. Her saving grace is her potential for posthumanity; she can sublimate her suffering in the creation of art, whether this art be the traditional kind or the creation of a worldview or an original, aesthetically pleasing lifestyle.

Will she then become proud of being posthuman, of being original rather than running with the herd? Not really, because her cosmicist assumptions are tragic and so she’d sooner take pity on herself than feel superior to anyone; moreover, her individual identity will already have been battered by her poor track record and by her marginal status, and so she wouldn’t think of herself as so sovereign, in the first place, that she could take personal pride in her artistic accomplishments. She’ll evaluate things aesthetically, not teleologically or ethically according to ancient Greek assumptions; moreover, she won’t trust in the standards fit for traversing dominance hierarchies. She’ll be motivated, rather, by pity for all living things and by disgust for expressions of existential inauthenticity (roughly, unoriginality). From inside distasteful social games, her humility will look like submissiveness, but from the outsider’s perspective, even a full-fledged oligarchic dominator looks like a floundering child in a playpen.

26 comments:

  1. Does power fail to corrupt omegas?

    You have, for example, not been cruel to your nephew, despite having power over him. Is this only because you are being watched by his parents, or is it because power only corrupts those who do not understand the horrors of existence, resulting in you (Mr. Cain) not being corrupted by your power to, say, drop an anvil on any given child that finds itself in your presence?

    If power doesn't corrupt omegas, or if it only corrupts on a percentage basis, then are child abuse statistics all incorrect? To what percentage does power corrupt? What percentage of parents, for example, are corrupted to child abuse? 90%? 50%?

    Is it just the presence of police and 60 Minutes investigations that causes the child-abuse percentage to be lower than it otherwise would have been?

    Does this hold true in the norselands, where "even" spanking is not legal?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks very much for your comment. When I was speaking about corruption by power, I was talking about the abuse of power in dominance hierarchies. Children aren't contenders in such hierarchies so child abuse isn't really relevant here; indeed, child abuse goes way beyond ordinary sociopolitical corruption.

      Still, you make a good point when you suggest that omegas can be corrupted. I address that point in the last paragraph and where I say that poverty can corrupt too, but I'd agree that the issue is more complicated. I don't want to hold out artists, introverts, and omegas as saints. Still, I think the political kind of corruption that Lord Acton had in mind when he said that power corrupts is just irrelevant to poor, powerless people--and not just for the obvious reason that they lack power in the first place, but because the humility that comes with failure builds up a sort of immunity to worldly temptations.

      Now, the question of whether an omega, say, can become an alpha, or an introvert an extrovert, or a poor person a corrupt oligarch, is a fair and interesting one. I'd agree that poor people wouldn't likely throw away millions of dollars if they were offered such riches, and I'd expect that that money would have a negative impact on their character, from an existential perspective; after all, their posthumanity would only be superficial, short of a drastic biological change. My point, then, would be that the humility they'd have already built up from their failures would be a counteracting force, as it were. As to which force would be stronger, that's a pretty complicated question and I don't have the answer.

      Delete
    2. That's quite interesting. This one is not quite sure that the "political" kind of corruption does not, in fact, translate everywhere, though. Some examples:

      (1) Reginald, a prison lifer, owning nothing, voteless, ineligible for parole, who happens to be 6'7"/350, and controls a shifting faction of race-based inmates in a certain wing of the prison. Reginald is cruel to people both within and outside of his faction, regularly beating and committing rape, as well as directing the rape and killing of others.

      It's easy to call (1) "political," but if we allow that informal hierarchy...

      (2) Darryl, a part-time construction worker earning $25K a year, who has been governmentally appointed the head of household for a family of two adopted daughters, ages 2 and 6. Darryl outweighs both girls combined by over 200 pounds, is partnerless and sexually frustrated, and is frequently the target for physical and emotional abuse from a shifting array of jobsite foremen, leaving him with bottled rage and a desire to vent his frustrations on someone powerless.

      Darryl is empowered by the state to witness his daughters showering for the next 16 or 12 years, respectively, strike them for disciplinary purposes as long as he does not go so far as to disfigure or legally meet a rather high standard defining "abuse," and give them up to foster care at any time (or just dump them outdoors the moment they breathe their first respective breaths as 18-year-olds).

      Darryl's trailer sits on the edge of an Indian reservation, thirty minutes from the nearest urban center, and his daughters do not know how to use the telephone. His nearest four neighbors are retired widows on disability, none of whom hears well and all of whom go to bed with the television on loudly at 6PM. Darryl's state provides for home-schooling, which he has opted for in his daughters. The nearby Indian reservation is considered a "high crime" area, and the local police chief is racist, so if his daughters disappeared for any reason, Darryl would be a community hero and tragic victim, while the police and D.A. spent a couple months searching for their Indian kidnapper.

      In short, Darryl is all-powerful as to the girls. They're the light of his life, he reads to them every day, he sleeps on the "living room" floor of the trailer so they can use the one bedroom and the "dining room" as private rooms, and he sets aside a little coffee jar filled with coins and wrinkled five-dollar bills, just in case one of them wants to go to college someday.

      ...

      All that said, is Darryl the exception that proves the rule? Or, is that situation impossible to realize in the physical world?

      Alternatively, does the corruption of power require an onlooking society to take effect?

      This one suggests that Lord Acton argued that power corrupts (and all the other influential historical figures did so in different forms) because to argue that power corrupts is a way of removing responsibility for wrongdoing from those who do it. If power does corrupt, then corruption is inevitable, the world is tragic and flawed, and the only rational course is acceptance of corruption (and/or absolute destruction).

      <3

      Delete
    3. I'm not entirely sure about the point you want to make with your thought experiments; they're somewhat elliptical. But I think you're saying that a family can be regarded as a dominance hierarchy, or as a mini society, in which case we can interpret child abuse as a case of corruption by sociopolitical power. Then all we have to do is imagine a parent who's powerless in the rest of society, outside the fiefdom of his family, and we have a counterexample, that is, a humiliated person who nevertheless acts as a tyrant against the only people he can turn into such victims, namely his children.

      I certainly think this kind of child abuse happens and I agree that there are social dynamics in family units. So does this negate my point about the social outsider's virtue of humility? I think it would depend on the details of the example. In your example, Darryl is abused by society and he can either seek petty revenge against the only people more powerless than him, his children, or learn to pity precisely such powerless people, because society has battered his ego. As to which way he'd go, this would depend on all the details. We'd have to know the ins and outs of his psyche to understand why he'd turn to the dark side. But my point is that the scenario in which outsiders act out of pity for everyone, especially for other outsiders, is psychologically plausible and is explained by the role of humility.

      Now, as to whether I'm fatalistic about the abuse of power and whether I mean to let corrupt dominators off the hook, I'd say I'm pessimistic about our ability to change the way dominance hierarchies work on the biological level, but I do hold the corrupt folks at the top responsible according to the ethical and aesthetic standards that are consistent with existential cosmicism. I've ranted many times in my blog against oligarchs and other such corrupt dominators. I don't accept their abuse of power, but I do think I understand it without relying on delusions of morality.

      In the Nietzschean sense, these bad people are beyond good and evil, not to mention above the law. In the US, for example, the financial elites are plainly above the law. They're too big to fail as well as to prosecute. These elites may violate theistic moral principles, such as divinely commanded altruism, but that violation wouldn’t interest me. On the contrary, the idea of Yahweh and of other divine lawmakers derives from our experience of just such corrupt human kings who get to legislate everyone’s else’s behaviour but are free to act on all their decadent whims. However, I’m developing here an aesthetic approach to morality which takes into consideration the worst-case scenario, philosophically speaking, namely existential cosmicism. I’d say that the abuse of power is aesthetically repellant and a sign of the dominator’s existential inauthenticity. So I have my way of condemning these folks, for however little that condemnation is worth.

      For more on my approach to morality, see:

      http://rantswithintheundeadgod.blogspot.ca/2012/06/morality-and-aesthetic-conception-of.html

      http://rantswithintheundeadgod.blogspot.com/2012/06/case-studies-of-aesthetic-morality.html

      By the way, are you for some reason calling me "this one"?

      Delete
    4. I. "This one."

      Envision herbal tea, $24.99 plastic crystal pendants made in China, and Enya playing in the background; posit a delusional spirituality of interconnected consciousness where any given point appears more like this one (first person) or that one; there we be.

      II. The point of the "Reginald" and "Darryl" thought experiments.

      These illustrate, in limited fashion, that more social arrangements exist than the set [self-identified citizens living as subjects to formal postindustrial nations]. Family members live in political dominance hierarchies, just as do prisoners, people riding on a tour bus that gets snowed into a tunnel for a few days, or two guys trapped on an island.

      Size cannot be the only determining factor. A prehistoric clan ruled by a dictator with a harem, and his priestly mediators, must surely have qualified as suffering from politics. America has several hundred million people, but Cuba has only around a dozen million--does politics occur in Cuba? Yes, surely, so what about a smaller nation? Or, within a sub-regional office of the DLC, where 13 little yuppie interns vie for the chance to be precinct organizer?

      III. Biological dominance hierarchies

      If we agree on the more-frequent-than-"nations" occurrence of political dominance hierarchies, then the "power corrupts" explanation begins to break apart, unless we contend that child exploitation/abuse occurs at a rate comparable to government exploitation/abuse (i.e. near-100%). That's an easy contention to make--since we can't go inside each home with a camera, nor spend the time to get to know the nuances of each parent and child enough to grasp the extent of emotional abuse that might otherwise be invisible, someone could argue that child abuse is near-100%, and maintain the coherence of power's corruption.

      If we're not willing to say that child abuse rates are that high, though (or misuse of power rates in any other example), we're left with abandoning the idea that power corrupts, and searching for a different explanation than [a version of biological imperative] as to why elites are cruel.

      IV. Your way of condemning

      ...was never in doubt. You indicated how you felt about them from the beginning, and in much more refined a way than most do; please don't feel yourself lumped in with his lordship Acton.

      Delete
    5. I agree there are social dynamics in families and that a kind of corruption by power can occur when parents abuse their children. However, I don't think a family is a dominance hierarchy (pecking order) in the strict, sociobiological sense. You need alphas, betas, and omegas and thus a complete society, to have a dominance hierarchy. The society can be small, as in a wolf pack, but you need real, tangible and normal domination of the weak by the strong. In humans, this happens more at the level of the tribe (and above that, towns, cities, countries, and so on), not the family. Indeed, parents may sooner starve themselves than let their children starve; plus, children don't normally compete with their parents for mates *within* the family, for the obvious reason. So there are no clear lines between alphas, betas, and omegas within the human family.

      My take on politics combines the biological theory of dominance hierarchy, the axiom that power corrupts, and a third principle, the Iron Law of Oligarchy, which is actually just the pragmatic point that the larger the group, the more power tends to be centralized for the sake of more efficiently managing the group's parts. When you get that centralization of power, you get corruption because of the greater temptations. So you see, I'm focused more on large groups, which is why I balked at your point about child abuse.

      As to why there's not more abuse of children by their parents, given at least the parents' unquestioned power over their children, I don't think we have to search far for the explanation: parents form an emotional bond between themselves and between them and their children. Those bonds are genetically determined (they're made up of the love hormones, like oxytocin). So any temptation a parent might have to abuse his child is normally offset by such bonds. Note that those bonds don't form when different genetic lineages are at issue, as in broader social relationships.

      I'm not keen on abandoning the idea that power corrupts, since that idea explains a lot for me. I take it, though, you have a different take on politics. By the way, are you saying *your* spirituality is "deluded" or were you talking about mine? Again, your writing here is a little cryptic or maybe I'm just slow on the uptake.

      Delete
    6. (*My* spirituality. It often makes 21st century humans more comfortable to introduce a diminished use of the first person as a harmless delusion. I'm proficient in using I, though, so I'll stick with that for a while.)

      Regarding families and the parent/child relationship, let's first understand two things: I like most of where you've ended up as to a difference between family and national hierarchies, and I like your corrupted, insane, undead god theory, but the means merits a little more fleshing out. A lot of issues come up just as to parent/child, some of them currently considered icky:

      A-1) A male homosexual couple adopts a child which they raise together.

      A-2) One half of a female homosexual couple bears a child, which the other adopts, and which child they raise together.

      A-3) A heterosexual couple adopt a child which they raise together as an only child.

      A-4) A heterosexual couple adopt a child which they raise along with their two mutual biological children.

      In these situations, will we see more abuse than in the "standard" western nuclear family?

      B) In approximately 1200 Christian Era, Seneca warriors invade the Ohio River Valley, driving out the Quapaw. After the Quapaw warriors have retreated, the Seneca chiefs order that the remaining Quapaw infants be raised as Seneca to strengthen the tribe. The infants are adopted by the entire tribe, nursed by a rotating cycle of lactating mothers, and eventually trained to hunt by whoever needs help that day.

      More or less abuse likely than in the standard Seneca "family" (and/or standard Quapaw family?)

      Lastly, and most importantly,

      C) In the early 21st century, most American women find themselves terrified by the idea of independent childbirth, and annoyed by the career-destroying aspects of nursing. A trend from the late 20th century continues, wherein more mothers deliver unconscious by C-section or after receiving large doses of pain-dulling drugs which prevent the release of the love hormones developed over millions of years of evolution. The mothers then feed their infants packaged formula mix, preventing the hormonal exchange and skin closeness of nursing.

      Yet, in many portions of A, as well as in B and C, child physical abuse rates are lower. Social differences between Quapaw and Seneca *could* easily explain the B results, but how do we explain A and C?

      ~Lightspring embrace

      Delete
    7. Ah, I understand the delusional spirituality thing now.

      What do you mean by the "means merits a little more fleshing out"? The means by which the undead god works or the way powerful people are corrupted?

      The problem with your child abuse examples is that they're complicated, so they won't offer up straightforward counterexamples for you. For example, as the Maternal Bond article on Wikipedia says, while the bond "typically occurs due to pregnancy and childbirth, it may also occur between a woman and an unrelated child, such as in adoption. There are hundreds of potential factors, both physical and emotional, which can influence the mother-child bonding process.

      "Many new mothers do not always experience the 'instantly-in-mother-love' emotions. Bonding is a gradually unfolding experience that can take hours, days, weeks, or even months to develop."

      Apparently, the bond forms during pregnancy, before the seventh month, so the C-section would come too late.

      I think, then, there are many factors that affect whether a mother forms a bond or abuses her child. Regardless, I'd have thought that child abuse is relatively rare, so that the interests of the genes win out in the end. One way or another, bonds are formed and caregivers usually protect their children. Again, there are different kinds of corruption and power-abuse. I think the kind I talk about, based on those three principles, is pretty fundamental; at least, it explains a lot for me. But child abuse is something else again, and I don't see how my articles/rants here commit me one way or another on that subject.

      But I'd say that in the case of adoption, one key factor might be gay people's need to overcompensate, to drive out the stigma against them, just as women in the workplace may have to work extra hard to earn the same jobs as men. In adoption generally, another factor would likewise be psychological rather than biochemical: again, besides the fact that parents who adopt can still form chemical bonds with the children, if you have to go through the whole bureaucratic adoption process, chances are you really, really want a child, so you'd be less likely to abuse the child you eventually adopt.

      As for the C-section births by careerist women, I'd have thought they'd be highly educated and thus less likely to abuse their kids for that reason alone. But these are just conjectures.

      Delete
    8. "The means" by which we might conclude that power corrupts. Power does not itself corrupt, in the sense of leading inevitably to evil, ergo Sol is not inherently corrupt.

      There are, of course, as many maternal bonds as there are mothers and children. Some mothers become emotional and bond with a child through a photograph alone. The most intense bond in terms of hormones, though (far and away), is the love chemicals released during non-drugged (or “natural”) birth, and the hormonal release during natural nursing. When you look deeper into the subject, you’ll find no shortage of reassurance from formula manufacturers and adoption agencies that you can still love a child that you never birth or nurse, which is certainly true. However, from a biochemical perspective, the birth/nurse hormones are so strong that they should suffice for your example: they affect the birthing/nursing mother strongly enough that their lack should produce a measurable effect.

      We can make up for that by saying that society pressures adoptive parents more, but that extra pressure doesn’t apply to C-section mothers, epidural mothers, and formula mothers. You’ll be pleased to know, though, that although there aren’t (obviously) open and verifiable studies on this because of the criminality of the associated acts, the data, particularly with regards emotional abuse, suggests that non-standard births do result in a higher level of abuse (as well as physical illness and mental health diagnoses, among others). That supports your theory that only some level of hormones or social involvement stands between corruptive parent power and vulnerable children.

      You’ve already clarified, though, that you’re speaking not literally about “power,” but about only the type of power found when we create relatively complex social hierarchies with genetic diffusion. So, this one’s “parent/child” examples are not addressing that argument. Is that correct?

      Delete
    9. I mean to talk about social power in general and I use the three principles to show how power generally works. But I'm happy to concede that other factors may come into play to complicate particular cases.

      I think your question, then, is how I would explain the abuse of power in families as opposed to large societies. If a family isn't a dominance hierarchy, that one principle is off the table. The Iron Law of Oligarchy is about how large groups are best managed, so that principle too seems irrelevant.

      The last of my principles is just Lord Acton's aphorism that power itself corrupts and that absolute power corrupts absolutely. This principle does seem to apply, since parents have close to absolute power over their children, so unless there are counteracting forces, such as the genetic bonds, love hormones, and a moral upbringing, parents might be inclined to abuse their power and harm their children. Usually, those other forces are in effect, so most parents don't abuse their children.

      I'm sure there's more to say on the subject, but that's as far as I've gotten in understanding social power. What I like about this naturalistic explanation is that it blows past the liberal-conservative dichotomy. To me it's like seeing into the code that runs the matrix. Whether it's government, corporations, or demagogues that have the power in society, the end result will be the same because of the underlying dynamics.

      Delete
    10. This one enjoys Acton's "power corrupts," because it is so easily disprovable without hordes of limitations as to the kind of power that corrupts.

      Above, Sol was mentioned. I.e., the sun. Its power is, in comparison to the power on Earth, godlike, yet it's not corrupted. So of course, we need power plus consciousness to corrupt?

      So, Great White Sharks, which are quite powerful relative to other species they encounter--they eat, but they don't poison and destroy environments, or eat more than they need to survive. Are they corrupt simply because they're carnivores, or are they not corrupt because they're they're not "conscious" enough to fit into the principle?

      Human parents, we've possibly explained by saying social factors, but why are there such social factors? Why would a world full of powerful adults, surrounded by weak, powerless children who could be their slaves, not make children their unquestioned slaves? If there's any easily definable elite v. non-elite group out there, it's human adults v. human children, with clear delineations of interest on either side.

      But, put that one aside, if you like. On "society" alone, where does ultimate power actually lie? Not with the weak old men in boardrooms or mansions. They exercise power, but they don't have it. The power is in the hands of fighter-jet pilots, the guys running nuclear missile silos, or the millions of heavily armed, well-trained soldiers.

      And those guys tend to make ~$35K a year with modest (but reliable) benefits. After a few years of service, they retire and become labor drones or poor seniors, utterly powerless. Why are we not ruled by the military junta? Why have the soldiers (or the police) not taken command?

      Why, instead, are we ruled by frail old men, like Dick Cheney with his cancer and three heart attacks? Why have so few (zero) domestic military factions taken hold of nuclear weapons on thoroughly well secured military bases and demanded riches and recognition as independent states?

      The people who actually have the power--the masses of organized, trained soldiers and police--tend to be low-income, disposable drones.

      The greatest scientists, with the greatest presumed mental power, toil away in obscurity, hopscotching between tenuous grant applications, while the media-relations "scientists" announce the discoveries of the great companies and universities.

      The greatest philosophers, most people haven't heard of.

      Delete
    11. Yes, I'm talking only about social power, not physical power. American soldiers are only instruments because they're so well trained, that is, indoctrinated. As to why the US military doesn't take over, I've talked about this in a few articles, such as "How Godlike Oligarchs Train Consumers." The US is what I call a stealth oligarchy, since it uses democracy as a kind of soft power over the people. I think Foucault said that modern power is about controlling minds rather than bodies. What happens when you try to control people's bodies with hard power, as in the military kind, without controlling their minds with a compelling ideology/myth is you get the potential for real class warfare and revolution. The suffering American masses don't rebel because they think they'd be rebelling against themselves. That's the genius of a democratic republic: it lets the majority think it's in charge, whereas the system can be rigged in a thousand ways to favour so-called special interests. Gerrymandering, for example, shows that democratic control over the US government is illusory.

      As for who I think holds the most power in the US, this is tricky because American plutocrats are more like parasites than dictators. They're not interested in dictating how Americans should live; they want to be left alone in their gated communities, so that they can use freedom of speech to inflate new bubble markets and extract wealth from the middle class. This is all done legally and in line with American values of self-reliance and the individual pursuit of happiness. The elites have soft power over the American masses, so they don't need the counterproductive hard power.

      Delete
    12. Thank you. So, power doesn't corrupt--at least, not all power corrupts. Parent/child power, for example, does not corrupt, or if it does, the countervailing effect of kinship prevents what you (and/or Lord Acton) refer to as "corruption."

      Similarly, "hard power" does not corrupt. What you really mean, then, is "soft power" corrupts?

      New problems with that idea, though, arise. What is soft power? Consider, for example, that you are more intelligent than George W. Bush. Not just a little more intelligent; you're far and away more intelligent. Yet, you have no soft power over him. Canada, America, Mexico, western Europe, and really, the entire world is filled with people who are incredibly more intelligent than George W. Bush, and yet, Bush is far more powerful than any ten thousand of them put together.

      But Bush is known generally as a dummy, so move beyond that. Consider, say, a small-time legislator in Canada. Some guy whose family owns a car dealership and is active in local politics, and who abuses his power by voting for proto-fascist legislation, fearmongering the populace, etc.--all the typical politician things. He's far less intelligent than you, Mr. Cain, yet he is far more powerful. What is the source of his "soft power"? Why does he possess it, and not you?

      What you'll find at the end of all this is that it is not any form of power that "corrupts" people. There is no original sin, and no inherent flaw in gaining, possessing, or using power, either hard or soft. It is possible for a disciplined, good entity to have and to use power, just as it is possible for an undisciplined, evil entity to have and to use power.

      Put that aside for the moment, though, and let's try to save the power theory. What makes the "soft" power of ideas corruptive, and how can so many less intelligent (or completely un-intelligent) people be so powerful?

      (Are you suggesting an Illuminati-type organization of supremely intelligent, softly powerful, wicked people pulling the strings behind everything?)

      Delete
    13. The exact first part of the quote from Lord Acton, I believe, is that "Power tends to corrupt." So the point is that when the power isn't absolute and there are counteracting forces or defenses the potential victims have, there's only a tendency for the power to get out of hand and for the powerful person to succumb to temptation. But when the power is absolute, the tendency shows its true colours, as it were, and you can be certain that even a saint with absolute power will become a worse person and will abuse that power. Thus, you don't find benevolent dictators--or at least not if they remain dictators for a long enough period for the corruption to occur.

      As for intelligence and soft-power, I think we need to distinguish between those who create their soft power over others and those who exploit preexisting soft power. Bush falls into the latter group, since his family connections were crucial to his control over others: he couldn't have gotten the presidency without them, and so on. Then there are people like Glenn Beck who are creative demagogues and who are crafty and skilled in the art of selling lemons, in taking advantage of people's gullibility and irrationality. These people help create the politically correct myths and other social ideologies to which large groups swear allegiance.

      Is there a dubious conspiracy theory at the bottom of this view of mass culture? I talk about this at the end of "Oligarchy: Nature's Inhumanity to Humans." I see this in terms of natural processes, like adaptation within an evolutionary niche or Oswald Spengler's cultural cycles of growth and decay. The movie Cube makes this point well. There are, of course, many forces that go into creating cultural content, so I don't think a tiny group of elites is pulling all the strings, although some folks are clearly more influential than others.

      In the US and in Western cultures generally, for example, Hollywood is an obvious major source of soft power. But then there's the average sociopathic democratic politician who's clever enough to exploit the preexisting Western ideology. For example, Hollywood has largely created the myth that dogs have a nose for heroism. The true hero in the action movie gets both the girl and the dog. That's just a movie formula. So politicians who hope to become president must have a family, of course (as dictated by another Hollywood myth), but they must also have a dog, and to get full credit for living up to the myth, they must display that dog, as Bush and Obama do in Christmas videos and the like. And Bush played to the cowboy movie myths when he talked about "smoking out Osama."

      So the bottom line is that those with enormous soft power needn't be creative geniuses. As I said, they can be parasites, exploiting their family connections and various weaknesses in the society. Typically, they benefit from having very little conscience (pity for weak individuals); they're like used car salesmen who know how to make the best of a bad situation. They're good at persuading people to believe in nonsense that somehow benefits the demagogue/parasite.

      Delete
    14. All right, then--our underlying equation hasn't changed. Power corrupts. However, you're saying that there are so many types of power operating in the world that only the greater quantity corrupts?

      Take away the example of the military, which we already looked at. Consider instead simply the greater mass of people--average, ordinary people. "The 99%," if you prefer. They, clearly, have more power than Bill Gates, yet they don't overthrow him and take his money, even if he deserves it.

      Your answer to why brings us back to the "soft" power that gets exercised. This soft power tricks them, if you will, into allowing Bill Gates to remain obscenely wealthy.

      But we've already concluded that dummies--such as George W. Bush--are able to exercise a lot of this soft power. How is it that any given 100 million people, more intelligent than the stuttering moron from Connecticut, can be tricked by George W. Bush?

      The nature of this "corruptive soft power" seems to be changing based on the situation. The proletariat masses have the power, yet they do not revolt, because they aren't intelligent enough to realize they're being manipulated, yet they are being manipulated by people equally as (or, in cases, less) intelligent than they are, who are successfully exercising this soft power.

      The independent variable in these examples does not seem to be "power," whether of the intellectual or tangible variety. "Better ideas" do not seem to be winning out in a jungle of evolving ideas. Nations take decades to even begin developing solar power, for example, even though a nation which developed it ahead of time would be able to exert great temporary power over other nations. Companies fail to do the same, despite the market advantage they would achieve. Those two examples occur even though, in each case, thinkers and scientists were available, willing and eager to develop those technologies, and give up exclusive license to pre-existing rulers in exchange for meager salaries.

      ("Solar power" is just one example; you can substitute any kind of technological or social advance that you prefer.)

      Why, then, do creative geniuses (or other kinds of geniuses) lose to dummies using soft power, and why do dummies successfully use this soft power to their own detriment? Why do intelligent rulers (such as, say, Dick Cheney) do things that harm not only everyone else, but themselves?

      This soft power is, as you say, preexisting, but it preexists in such a way that dummies are able to exploit it over those vastly more intelligent, as well as vastly more numerous. There seems to be an intelligence involved there in keeping that soft power away from the more hard-powerful masses, and yet, dummies can manipulate that intelligence.

      This one's rather painted into a corner. Perhaps you can help explain the nature of corruptive soft power in more detail--how does power select which dummies and/or which evil geniuses it will attach to? Does it have a will of its own, in the sense that it possesses people (based on bloodline or adoption)? Or is it just random: billiard balls spinning around the table, and some of them fall in the "power" spot and become evil and/or corrupted?

      Delete
    15. Thanks for continuing to raise these questions, High Arka, since they're forcing me to think through the theory of power I'm working with. Indeed, I think this is worthy of a separate article here. I picked up an interesting book recently called The 48 Laws of Power, which is a more systematic and comprehensive version of Machiavelli's famous book, The Prince.

      I'd question a couple of your assumptions. I think it's too simplistic to say that the masses are more intelligent than those who exploit soft power, such as George W. Bush. There are different kinds of intelligence. Apparently, Bush isn't so intelligent in the academic sense, but he may be crafty and, more importantly, sociopathic in his ability to manipulate people and so to compete well in a dominance hierarchy. I think his assigning of nicknames to everyone is part of this. From what I've read, he sees the world from a jock's perspective. He was the spoiled, popular, extroverted bully, like Mitt Romney. That sort of person doesn't need academic smarts; instead, he knows enough to exploit his social connections, to take power wherever he finds it or whenever it's given to him, and then to delegate jobs that call for expertise. That's exactly what Bush did. He bravely skipped over his brother Jeb's turn and won/stole the election.

      Now, most of the world thinks his presidency was an epic failure and embarrassment. But according to Thomas Frank's plausible theory of neoconservatives, W's presidency was actually close to ideal from the neocon perspective: he trashed the government like a bull in a china shop and so destroyed people's trust in the government. This is why I've said that the neocon literally has the easiest job in the world: easier than washing dishes or working at McDonald's. The neocon gets to be the fox guarding the hen house. Where Bush erred was in revealing too much of the neocon agenda; he was too abrasive and forthright, but that's just a question of tone.

      Delete
    16. You ask why the American masses don't rebel and take their power back. This is a good question. From what I've seen, a lot of progressives are frustrated about precisely this apathy and disengagement. Bill Moyers, for example, keeps asking in his interviews with critics of the financial industry, "Where's the outrage?" Progressive are mystified about why the oppressed American masses don't rise up. The Tea Party pretends to be rebellious, with their militias and talk of the end of the world, but I think that's just theater. They blame the government but not big business, not understanding that in the US there's a revolving door between the two and thus a stealth oligarchy. Mind you, they do indulge in similar conspiracy theories, but they vote in conservative demagogues like Michele Bachmann, not people who would actually change the system for the majority's benefit.

      Why doesn't the suffering of the American masses translate into outrage and concerted political action? The Occupy movement was a start, but it fizzled and failed. The Arab Spring took a lot of courage, for the masses to confront full-blown dictators. I don't think the exploitation of soft power by the elites is a matter of trickery, though, as you said. I'd look at it in the terms I discuss in "Are Atheists Religious?" People choose what they worship, trust, and hold as sacred. Most Americans don't even come close to worshiping Jesus or the Christian message; instead, they worship the individual pursuit of natural life, liberty, and the pursuit of worldly happiness. The United States is a product of the Age of Reason and so Americans have religious faith, roughly, in the social Darwinian, anarchical struggle for personal domination, which is what reason (science and naturalistic philosophy) tell us natural life really is at its core. The masses of poor Americans are merely the losers in that struggle but their ideal justifies their status, because they put their religious faith in the capitalistic and democratic system that enshrines the Darwinian processes and necessarily produces a herd of failures/losers.

      My answer, then, points to the actual, functional American religion. To rebel against a political and economic system, you need some serious motivation, which comes not from anything as bloodless as a logical argument. You need ideals and myths in which you have religious faith. Americans don't rebel against their system because they have no contrary ideals; they believe in their system and so most Americans are merely lying in the bed they've made.

      Delete
  2. "Nightmare Ending is the seventh studio album from Portland, Oregon ambient musician Matthew Robert Cooper, under the name Eluvium. It is a double-album, and is set to be released on May 14, 2013"

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ah, I like Eluvium. I'll keep an eye out for that, thanks.

      Delete
    2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r-H6f5N0P9c

      Delete
  3. Benjamin: One problem I have...and maybe this just illustrates my lack of fundamental understanding...is the underlying assumption that life can be anything other than contingent. WHY does life have to have a meaning? Is the very concept of "meaning" anything other than contingent, merely a mental construct based upon our problem solving brains?

    I also wonder about your omega men and mystics. Given much of modern art's conceptual weakness, heck triviality, why are the omega men/outsiders "superior" to those within the matrix?

    This is all fascinating stuff, so please don't take my questions as negatives.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No, these are great questions. I address the point about meaning in this article where I say: "The arbitrariness at issue, though, is the existential absurdity of how most people spend their time. This absurdity isn’t just a matter of objective meaninglessness, or lack of value. Value derives from a person’s choice to care about something, and the underlying choice is the religious one to pick out something as sacred, as worthy of living and dying for because of how this sacred ideal emotionally moves us like a great work of art."

      So yes, I think meaning/value is subjective, meaning that without sentient beings there would be no purpose, meaning, or any other sign of normativity. But there's a twist. On my cosmicist reconstruction of monotheism, we're left with pantheism: nature is the undead god, which is to say God's undying corpse that has the very negative destiny of creating everything so that everything can be destroyed. Of course, this is only an internal criticism of monotheism and a speculative myth that tests our willpower in the Nietzschean sense. But on this pantheistic view, meaning needn't depend just on us, because all of nature is set in motion according to the dead God's intention. Still, that God is dead so all that's left is a sort of cosmic machine that tends to work one way rather than another.

      This gets tricky, because I don't like the Aristotelian sort of teleology that infers meaning and purpose just from the normality of natural processes. There's a logical gap there that has to be respected. But that gap should be closed by the power of some natural process to affect us emotionally and to inspire us to respond by creating myths and other artworks to give meaning to the process, or to develop an emergent level of reality that represents the process in an idealized way.

      The upshot is that on the scientific view, I accept that nature is objectively meaningless and thoroughly impersonal. But I'm exploring the extent to which a religion can be consistent with that viewpoint while supporting a way for atheists to be spiritual in the dark existentialist's sense.

      As for recent art, remember that I don't reject absolutely all of it as garbage. There's way too much of it to make such a generalization, because technology has lowered the bar for entry. So I blame the postmodern consumer as much as the artist for being lazy in often preferring the worst of what's out there. There's all kinds of art now, and much of it may be unpopular only because it's undiscovered.

      Those artists who produce the worst, most pretentious and vacuous postmodern art, though, are liable to become the most popular, given the laziness and cynicism of the average art consumer, so those artists won't be outsiders anymore. They'll be further corrupted by their popularity and will produce worse and worse art. These popular artists likely won't be superior to humble outsiders, in the existential and aesthetic senses.

      Again, as my discussion above with High Arka shows, this gets more complicated, because even genuine outsiders can be corrupted. There will be exceptions to these rules, because these rules are at best ceteris paribus generalizations.

      Delete
  4. Another take on the tragedy of outsider-art

    (I know, I know...my sense of humor remains juvenile). :)

    http://alicublog.blogspot.com/2013/03/shitsville-usa.html

    ReplyDelete
  5. Human beings evolved in a world of scarce resources, meaning there isn't enough of any good thing for everyone to have as much as they want. That world was also one of sudden, unpredictible change. In such a world it makes good sense to stockpile as many resources as possible to give you and yours the best possible chance of surviving the next war or famine or what have you. In other words, evolution selects for greed and selfishness. Power does not corrupt. It simply gives the greed and selfishness nature has bred into human beings more scope to operate. Another consequence of our having evolved in a world of scarce resources and unpredictible change is an understanding that we are safer within the herd than outside of it. We conform rather than risk being thrown to the wolves. When we accept the safety of the herd we necessarily accept our place in the herd, and most of us are not alpha males. We fear being cast out of the herd, and so we fear the alpha males who can cast us out. That fear tells us that we can't have everything we want, because we can't afford to anger the alpha by taking more of what he might claim for himself. Thus most of us are trapped between contrary instincts of greed and fear. Any serious attempt to challenge the alphas could get us thrown out of the herd, or killed. Worse yet, it could destroy the herd. We're not wiling to destroy the United States to destroy J. P. Morgan, and that's what it would take.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for your interesting thoughts on the conflict between greed and fear. I agree with much of what you say here, Anon. Indeed, "too-big-to-fail" seems like a euphemism for "alpha male" and prosecuting the alphas for their greed would indeed destroy the globalized civilization/herd. Betas are both greedy and fearful, so they follow the alphas and scrounge for the crumbs that fall from the alphas' table.

      However, I don't think you fully account for the omegas. It's true that in the wild, omegas are entirely dependent on the pack and so they must submit to abuse from the stronger members of the group. But we don't live in the wild, so evolutionary psychology is hardly a complete explanation of human behaviour. As I say in a few recent articles, we create an artificial environment to support our fantasy of being gods rather than beasts. That environment often includes some degree of social assistance for the poor. So omegas can rely on fellow omegas (on a welfare state, government assistance, and so on) and not just on alphas. This means that human omegas have more room to rebel. Thus, we have artists, for example, who attempt to subvert social norms in defiance of the group's leaders. My blog is a modest example of this. Granted, this isn't armed rebellion or anything, but neither is it complete submission to the alphas.

      Also, I do think power corrupts, even from the alphas' standpoint. This is why natural life is tragic in the old Greek sense: power corrupts in that it eventually destroys the powerful themselves. Pride does go before the fall and alphas do have tragic flaws. This is why civilizations rise and fall, as Spengler said. Indeed, global bankers nicely illustrate these facts. While it's true that the masses didn't insist on letting the bankers go bust, the bankers' greed nevertheless destroyed their institutions and they were saved by their inferiors. Greed did corrupt the Wall Street masters of the universe; it made them myopic and arrogant and were it not for support from average taxpayers, the big banks would have completely collapsed. As it stands, those banks are insolvent and their alpha rulers are hardly universally admired or even feared. On the contrary, they're despised for being charlatans. A real alpha would fall on his sword when he's fairly beaten, not whine for help and then pretend his corruption hadn't brought him down from within. We're looking at feminized postmodern alphas here, not at the real articles. Real alphas thrive only in the wild.

      Delete
  6. Why would challenging the Alphas destroy the herd? You're not familiar with the concept of revolution?

    " We're not wiling to destroy the United States to destroy J. P. Morgan, and that's what it would take."

    I don't get it. Why can't you just focus your will to destroy on J.P. Morgan?

    I don't like this Alpha Male thinking. The world we live in is a bit mor complex than that...

    ReplyDelete