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Old 12-15-2011, 01:09 PM
Ray in Seattle Ray in Seattle is offline
Join Date: Jun 2010
Location: NW Washington
Posts: 441
Default Re: Lessons Learned: Beyond Good and Evil (Robert Wright & Alan Wolfe)

Originally Posted by badhatharry View Post
This is an interesting discussion. I've been gone this week and have been reading the back and forth with interest. So I thought I'd dive in eher to ask for some clarification.
I don't want to create the impression that I see myself as some great thinker who has all this stuff worked out - and therefore I see it as my mission to "enlighten the masses". I do find these topics interesting and so I've done a lot of recreational, if not avocational reading, and a lot of thinking about it. (One of the first books I read that got me into this stuff many years ago was Bob's - The Moral Animal. I have my 1995 first Vintage edition sitting right here on my shelf.)

But my interest in discussing this is to understand what others see - or don't see - and where I missed something or adopted some belief that just doesn't make sense from other perspectives. I see my comments as my current best guesses (that could certainly be wrong) - not as my "revealed truth".

So how did the enlightenment values take hold? Why did people see them as superior to the notion that might makes right?
I'm guessing that the shrinking world due to travel and communications and philosophical thought and the widespread printing of ideas, what that did for education, the emerging middle classes of tradesmen in advanced states and their rising expectations, a profound disgust with an effete and indulgent monarchy, etc. all converged to make it the right time and the right place (late 1700's France) for those ideas to emerge and start to take hold.

If people find that incorporation of those ideas into their belief hierarchy gave them better lives than their parents and grandparents - then I think people will naturally adopt those ideas and nurture and protect them. I'm reminded of the large numbers of Arabs in E. Jerusalem who have said they'd leave and move to Israel if their area became part of Palestine in any future settlement of borders.

You say that it is emotions which cause people to behave in certain ways. Is it that as enlightenment values became more and more popular they were taught to the young...the young saw people react to non-defensive violence in emotionally charged ways and learned that this is not good? I realize that this is probably all gradual but how long does it take for these changes in society to take place or deteriorate?
I think that we are evolutionarily disposed (genetically predisposed) to develop hierarchies of beliefs in our mind that give us our identity as well as a roadmap for how to survive in our world. We need to know that eating a certain plant will make us ill and others will heal us, etc. We need to know that praying to a certain God in a certain way will give us an afterlife in heaven. We need to know what our society expects from us and what we should expect from it. I'd say that development (the process of maturing into adults) for humans is the process of populating our minds with a hierarchy of beliefs - appropriate for our society, culture and environment - with their attached emotional markers. It becomes that roadmap, that personal handbook for survival that becomes our identity (and induces our behavior). It takes many years and many mistakes to create that resource. Naturally anyone would protect it from challenges if they could.

The beliefs in the hierarchy are mutually self-supporting - which helps gives them permanence in our own mind during our own lives. If one is negated it can affect many others. We have an emotional reaction if someone challenges those beliefs - like when someone tells a believer that their God is a myth. It's a physical reaction that one can feel in their gut. People can and will react with violence (physical, rhetorical, otherwise) to such challenges (which are actually challenges to their identity).

Within one's society many of those beliefs are cultural - that is, they are shared by most others. Parents teach them to their children because they naturally want their children to live long happy lives if possible.

Added: Parents also want their children to assume a similar identity which I believe is obviously adaptive. If that identity helped the parents live long enough to reproduce it would also probably help their children to do the same.

All that gives those beliefs permanence from generation to generation. Cultural beliefs can be very persistent - even in societies like ours where freedom of thought, speech and religion is guaranteed and even encouraged.

Do you think that a person witnessing non-defensive violence in say 1200 would have a different emotional response to it than you would?
Yes. I don't think anyone expected to live long relatively happy lives as we do. Death at early age from disease, conflict, a ruler's whim, aggression of others, etc. was the norm. They did not see it as an injustice to be corrected - but as the system they lived in. They didn't try to change it so much as they tried to adapt and live as long as possible within it using whatever means were available to them. Which is really what humans always do. Sometimes ideas emerge that create new ways to adapt.

Do you think there may be some innate attraction to enlightenment values?
Yes. Evolution gives us the ability to cooperate peacefully with others as well as to attack others and defend ourselves using violence. I think the fear/defense/aggression centers in the human brain (the amygdala in the ancient limbic system as I understand it) is capable of producing the strongest behavior-producing emotions.

The areas where cooperation-producing emotions arise can not produce emotions that are equally strong. And so I think cooperation is possible as long as there is no threat to survival that can be resisted. Under threat I suspect that the violence-producing emotions take over. They actually release neurotransmitters into the blood stream that create a state of conflict in the mind and that prevent cooperation-producing emotions from arising. I think that also accounts for many of the symptoms of PTSD.

Added: This is what I believe accounts for Pinker's observation of the overall reduction in violence over the last few centuries. We have created these islands of cooperation where millions of humans can live their whole lives without facing a serious violent threat. These islands were relatively safe for a long time and have weathered many threats like WWII - but IMO we are now threatened by our own success. Our vast wealth requires the consumption of oil - which is largely owned by people who see us as enemies and who are arming themselves to destroy us (thereby protecting their own non-enlightened cultural belief hierarchies) using the dollars (and influence) we give them in exchange for their oil. (Catch 23?)

(I'm still working on a reply to Stephanie but it is more of a challenge as we seem to be speaking two different languages.)
Self determination for DNA

Last edited by Ray in Seattle; 12-15-2011 at 02:40 PM..
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