The True Left

Perhaps I am being too harsh with “the true Left.” Instead of dishonesty and a lack of integrity, it’s more like not being capable of showing our true colors. Things are opaque, hidden from view, invisible, (non-existent?). We are without a cohesive vision. (I don’t take the bible literally, but it says something like “where there is no vision the people perish.” This is along the lines of what activist and spiritual teacher of wisdom, Vimala Thakar wrote — “In a time when the survival of the human race is in question, to continue with the status quo is to cooperate with insanity, to contribute to chaos. When darkness engulfs the spirit of the people, it is urgent for concerned people to awaken, to rise to revolution.”) I fail to see any “awakening” going on, any “rising up” to the challenge. I have no idea WTF is going on! It’s exasperating.

There is no organization, no message, no plan. Just a mish-mash of conjectures and ideas. Nothing tangible. That’s not anyone’s specific fault, no one to blame, point the finger of shame. It just is, or at least seems to be. This lack of anything concrete, only abstractions, seems to me what I call “dishonesty” for lack of a better word. Evil is too harsh. How about chaotic? Hell as long as I’m quoting the bible, might as well throw this in to describe the chaos on the Left. Isaiah 45 verse 7 “I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things.” Put the God of Israel on trial for this travesty of justice. Chris Hedges repeats the report that “Jewish inmates in Auschwitz put God on trial for the Holocaust and then condemned God to death. A rabbi stood after the verdict to lead the evening prayers.” Maybe in our secularized version God can be blamed for this calamity and then the hope for progressive hope and change can be renewed in our imaginations.

The true Left cannot even say with much of any authority what the true Left actually is, stands for, values. If there is a message, it sure is not being articulated. Does that make me some sort of right winger or moderate if I fail to see what the Left stands for? I don’t think so. It makes me a rebel without a validated cause. I guess that cause is left for me to imagine individually if I am unable to articulate it to the masses. Or maybe something big will happen to wake up the revolutionary potential of the masses. The same masses to whom Emma Goldman wrote “clings to its masters, loves the whip, and is the first to cry Crucify.”

Cassandra, Cassandra. Where art thou?

Anti-humanism

Check out “Straw Dogs: Thoughts On Humans and Other Animals” and The Silence of Animals: On Progress and Other Modern Myths” by John N. Gray

You need a pretty convincing and solid argument (more than anecdotal evidence) that the cognitive tools which drive cultural evolution trump the natural laws and forces that drive biological evolution – if that is indeed the case you are trying to make. Intelligent design has a lot less experience than the millions of years of natural selection out of which a complex brain emerged. The thought that wise, intelligent and conscious acceleration of adaptability has made the human animal immune to contingency and fate smacks more of metaphysical trans-naturalism than naturalism. Your suggestion that the arc of history bends toward wisdom and well-being is a faith based statement, not a scientific one. Maybe in our enlightened instead of benighted day and age, the human animal IS trans-natural. :-0

Repressing the fear of death and the yielding to the denial of death are both very real. You don’t deny the denial of death do you? The threat of extinction is hardly based on scientific illiteracy. Minimizing the threat, ignoring it, denying it, being distracted is habitual. Check out “What SHOULD We Be Worried About: Real Scenarios That Keep Scientists Up at Night” by John Brockman, publisher of Edge.org before you bandy about the term “scientific illiteracy.” For shame.

After reading Pinker’s “Better Angels” I thought Herman and Peterson’s critique ” Reality Denial: Steven Pinker’s Apologetics For Western-Imperial Violence” more based in empiricism. For humans to think that cultural evolution will forestall our own extinction as we carry on business as usual with our current political/economic/social habits is denying reality too. It’s to synthesize an ancient myth with a modern illusion that humans are – because of our big brains, the ability to accumulate knowledge through writing, and our adaptive cognitive tools – Historic animals with a rationality (transcendent Logos out of the gospel of John) that increases over time. Faith based myth making.

Metaphysical naturalism and neo-Darwinism have demonstrated conclusively that humans are just animals – not all that unique. From an anti-humanist author “Human uniqueness is a myth inherited from religion, which humanists have recycled into science.” Show me the science that any animal is proof against contingency and fate! Because human cultural evolution is progressive, does that progress make the human animal immune to the laws and forces of nature which govern the universe? You can conjecture and hypothesize about myths all you want, but don’t confuse that with scientific theory. Darwin, Dawkins (“The Selfish Gene”), Dennett, et al show that a species is only a collection of genes interacting within its genotype/phenotype and against a changing environment. People who think that higher concentrations of greenhouse gases, disrupted natural cycles, collapsing ecosystems, and rising baseline dry bulb temps are not selective pressures on a species at the top of the food chain are the ones living in a fantasy. These disruptions pose a real threat (not imaginary, not mythical) to the human animal and constitute a changing environment. To think otherwise is to deny reality.

Extinction is hardly uninformed paranoid unscientific fantasy. To speak about extinction is hardly fear mongering. E.O. Wilson coined the word Eremozoic for the next geological era. Was he being unscientific? Are you a scientist of higher repute than Wilson? Death is as natural as sex as the driver of evolution. Natural history and modern evolutionary synthesis show quite matter-of-factly that extinction is the rule. Human survival of climate disruption is hardly a foregone conclusion. I might read “Are We Doomed?” but the answer is clearly yes. The human species will go extinct, sooner or later. Those who think that it is hundreds of millions of years into the future could very well have bought into a secularized heroic cosmic immortality identity project.

I realize that you are a philosopher and an historian, not an evolutionary biologist and not a climate scientist and not an investigative journalist. I realize also that you are rooted and grounded in the humanist faith. I am extremely skeptical of that faith. From Wikipedia: Humanism is a philosophical and ethical stance that emphasizes the value and agency of human beings, individually and collectively, and generally prefers critical thinking and evidence (rationalism, empiricism) over established doctrine or faith (fideism)… [ETA: three of the articles of faith in humanism seems to be that (1) humans are unique (inherently different) from animals, (2) that those inherent differences ought to be maximized in terms of propaganda and (3) the philosophical and ethical stance affirms meliorism. Cont quote] Generally, however, humanism refers to a perspective that affirms some notion of a “human nature” (sometimes contrasted with anti-humanism – also from Wikipedia – In social theory and philosophy, anti-humanism is a theory that is critical of traditional humanism and traditional ideas about humanity and the human condition. Central to anti-humanism is the view that concepts of “human nature”, “man”, or “humanity”, should be rejected as historically relative or metaphysical.” Between humanism and anti-humanism I wonder which one is more in harmony with naturalism. Hmmm.

I am reminded of a conversation I had with a psychologist about the denial of death and repressed fears about the annihilation of the mental ego. When I brought up the five previous mass extinctions in geological history, that we are in the sixth (with the rate of extinction higher than the previous five and accelerating) she replied, “Oh, I don’t believe in those things.” Denial of science comes in many shapes and sizes. The fact that it is human behavior that is driving a geological mass extinction event makes the philosophy of humanism all the more repugnant.

I would agree that there are some fundamental differences between our species and our closest primate relatives. That 4% DNA difference packs quite a wallop. The cognitive tools make it a grand slam. But the anecdotal evidence of what we can do with our tools compared to other animals does not take away from the anthropocentrism inherent in the anti-naturalist humanist faith.

Prometheus

OK. You asked me to define “social progress” and I have way too much inter-related stuff going on – like how progress is a lot like morality and can develop naturally even though Nature is not goal oriented and is amoral. Sometimes I think that these ideas are just too much – that I ought to break things down and deal with them one by one instead of trying to synthesize. But I press on.

Specifically sustainability. I was commenting with CB about this mass extinction event meaning not only the end of the Holocene, but perhaps the end of the Cenozoic. We concluded that greenhouse warming and radioactive ionization poisoning could end the Phanerozoic and begin the Eremozoic Eras. So yeah, sustainability is integral to the idea of social progress. Sustainability starts with community efforts. Boycotting fossil fuel companies along the lines of the boycott of South African apartheid (where and when I served a Mormon mission as an aside) might be a decent community effort. Social progress might be able to be measured scientifically. The article on Common Dreams about oligarchy and democracy reminds me about how climate change was just starting to be studied when I was an undergrad. After decades of continued study, the studies that were true have been confirmed; alternative theories invalidated and eliminated. I think the same will be for political science re oligarchy. Maybe democratic republicanism will be as useless a political theory as the theory that Milankovitch cycles alone explain climate change.

Pathological conceit has to do with corrupting the truth, imo. There is normal conceit (like lying) and then there is the pathological kind. Pathological conceit is to turn a newly discovered truth on its head to entrench a lie. Darwin’s application of naturalism to the human animal might be corrupted by traditional humanism. One anti-humanist truth claim is “Darwinism is now the central prop of the humanist faith than [humans] can transcend our animal natures and rule the Earth.” To use the science of Darwin to enforce our dominion over the biosphere seems like the worse disease of self importance. Real bad examples come to mind.

The real fundamental and basic issue is “progress” — and in terms of natural laws and forces, just how useful is it to make a distinction between biology and culture when it comes to human ethology? Maybe this is where holistic science might achieve success too. Meliorism is for pragmatic, utilitarian and moral purposes just another word for progress. Is progress a natural law? Probably. It has not been discovered yet. One of those predictable and probable unknowns – like the “theoretical” neutrino before it was discovered experimentally. How would Nature allow us to see progress operating in the world? Only in human behavior? If we can forestall our own extinction for long enough. How is human ethology progressive? How is it regressive? Neutral? Anthropogenic climate disruption makes a powerful case for regressive. But it will depend on the severity. Whether methane does a PETM modest die off, or a Permian great dying ELE. Time will tell. And heuristics. How does human ethology incorporate conceit, hubris, insanity? Again anthropogenic climate disruption makes a great case for deadly flaws in human ethology, even as we believe ourselves to be progressive. Does emergent complexity make a case for progressive evolution? Not according to this article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E… Is progress (like morality) consistent with natural laws and forces? Maybe. How is there a scientific distinction between cultural evolution and biological evolution? The distinction between science and the humanities, perhaps. Does contingency allow for social progress? Sure, why not.

I also look at an anti-humanist claim “In the world shown us by Darwin, there is nothing that can be called progress. To anyone reared on humanist hopes this is intolerable.” Now we enter into the realm of the mythical and the quasi-trans-natural — the realm of hopes and credulity. What is anti-humanism? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A… But mythical thinking relates to the human condition which again relates to both contingency and historical cause and effect. Nature made us this way, although Nature is not mythical. Nature is the only real thing. So the question can be restated are naturalism and humanism irreconcilable, mutually exclusive. Is humanism a religious faith based on illusion, untruths from which are very challenging to detach (like free will)?

I conjecture (guess, hypothesize) that the idea of progress is a synthesizing concept. Even naturalists can believe (given enough empirical evidence) that elements of progress are real. Maybe. There are elements of cultural evolution that are probably progressive, such as the evolution of theoretical democracy over fascism, the evolution of civilization over barbarism, hunter-gatherers killing a cave-bear/appropriating the cave for shelter/heating the shelter with fire evolving towards a human mortgaging 30 years of future earnings to purchase a modest mansion heated by methane and electrified with nuclear power. But is this more in the realm of myth than science. I don’t know. And I don’t know how to get this knowledge. A synthesis of science with myth perhaps.

I googled progressive evolution and went to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/O… I have a difficult time with progressive evolution (even without the telos) from that article. Although this was interesting. “Though linear, progressive evolution has been refuted, it is not true that evolution never proceeds in a linear way, reinforcing characteristics, in certain lineages at times, for example, during a period of slow, sustained environmental change, but such examples are entirely consistent with the modern neo-Darwinian theory of evolution.” It stated that progressive evolution has been effectively refuted by modern evolutionary synthesis. How do you see evolution as still being progressive? Only culturally?

My confusion arises over humans as both part of the natural world (of course) and also elements of the human condition which make it seem that humans are fundamentally different from all other animals. It seems like this is how we see ourselves (1) we are able to socially progress, better our creature comforts, improve our lives individually and as a group, incrementally grow in knowledge and applied knowledge far into the foreseeable future (2) we have obtained consciousness, free will, person-hood, moral autonomy (3) we are in possession of cognitive tools which transcend the natural bounds set upon other animals (4) by putting our faith in heuristics and in cooperative enterprises, all the problems of our making are able to be resolved (5) we don’t put much value on the precautionary principle or prescience (withheld in Pandora’s container) because we are addicted to progressive hope. We cognitively value these “things” as observable and evidence that humans are more fundamentally different from chimpanzees than a blue whale is from a coral polyp. On the other hand if all these distinctions are based on illusion and absurdity, human life has no more value than the life of a slime mold. The value of human life is integral to humanism.

Also integral to humanism, perhaps, is Promethean madness. What turned me on to this idea was this from Bertrand Russell. My anti-humanist source defines “the authority of science” as originating in the power it gives humans over their environment. He calls Russell ” a defender of science wiser than its ideologues today.”

When I speak of the importance of scientific method in regard to the conduct of human life [Gary adds-ethology], I am thinking of the scientific method in its mundane forms. Not that I would undervalue science as metaphysic, but the value of science as metaphysic belongs in another sphere. It belongs with religion and art and love, with the pursuit of the beatific vision, with the Promethean madness that leads the greatest of men to strive to become gods. Perhaps the only ultimate value of human life is to be found in this Promethean madness. But it is a value that is religious, not political, or even moral.

I don’t know if that quote has any value to you. For me it relates to the “cure” for nihilism. It also relates to our discussion about me being skeptical of (freely inquiring into the nature of) the value of science as a metaphysic. For me, to “understand” Promethean madness is to enter into the world of pure myth. That world is unknowable and the observer only imagines she knows it. All the observables, the observations and the observers are maya — dreamlike constructions with no basis in reality. The collective personal unconscious creates/constructs reality. Myth is the antithesis to science, but that doesn’t mean myth is invalid. As an undergrad I learned that a pure myth reveals a scientific or religious truth. I don’t call it that anymore; I just call it a metaphysical or psychological truth. An opaque truth. In that area of quantitative analysis where the unpredictable to any degree of probability or improbability is unknown. “We do not have to visit a madhouse to find disordered minds; our planet is the mental institution of the universe.” — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe “In a mad world, only the mad are sane.” — Akira Kurosawa. Prometheus created men from clay and stole fire from heaven for man, for which he was justly punished in the world of myth. But Prometheus is a heroic character in this insane world. Why? Because the act of stealing fire from the gods and giving it to man enabled progress and civilization. He is the god of knowledge, the only unmixed good. What is the end result of progress and civilization? Utopia? Dysopia? More likely suicidal mass extinction and taking the rest of the biosphere down with us. Gods of destruction. Now, of course this might not happen. How might it not happen? A supernatural intervention? Hmmm. A dubious possibility at best. We can save ourselves from ourselves? Our hope and faith in a cooperative effort? Sheesh — salvation, faith, hope. Sure sounds like the stuff of myth to me.

Holistic science

Science is a tool for the search for truth is a myth. Maybe, on the other hand, it’s a pure myth — one that relates a metaphysical, hidden, unprovable truth. It’s a mythical story, I opine, people who believe in science tell themselves to feel good. My continued voice for skepticism is directed toward the truth claim that, as a tool, it is the only authoritative war to determine reality. That “truth claim” is a metaphysic and is based on faith. Secondly, I don’t think anyone in their right mind can claim that knowledge is some sort of neural tool. “Knowledge is power” must be a dubious axiom in your way thinking, then. I suspect I’m wrongly interpreting your belief in “neutral tools.” Do you reject that axiom – knowledge is power – as an untruth? If not, what have been the effects or consequences of that power? Or is cause and effect another illusion? You believe that scientific and technological advances are improvements and are progressive. Industrial civilization, which would not have been conceivable without science, is destroying the biosphere. Destruction of the biosphere negates any and all so called “progress” and “search for truth” unless of course you believe in the immortality of heroic identity projects. One reason, probably the main reason, is the failure of scientific knowledge to incorporate ethics. It’s a system’s failure. I don’t blame a science based on holism for that. I blame the discoverers, the perpetrators, and the defenders of a reductionist mechanistic science, a science that doesn’t get off the hook for being destructively amoral. A neutral tool? You are welcome to make your arguments for or against science being the only authoritative tool to determine reality and science being neutral. How the tool is used IS more important than the purpose behind the tool’s making. My point is that the purpose of the tool was to give humans power over nature. Our power over nature is inherently destructive.

Humans behave cognitively as if we are above animals. We believe that human nature is special, that we have a destiny, that we have risen above fate and contingency, even that we are proof against these. This view of ourselves as above nature (super natural) is Promethean madness,in my opinion. Lip service is paid to Darwin, but real service is paid to our power to destroy the biosphere. We live in almost complete denial of our animal nature and denial of our ecocidal behavior. We support business as usual, politics as usual, the status quo. Science, knowledge, power does not get a pass. More probably a fail.

If I believe “everything happens for a reason” that can be taken as simply a trite statement to deny that contingency even exists. I’m skeptical of such a belief. Or have I, as the writer of the gospel of John, elevated reason (logos, the Word) into the fabric of the creation of all things?

The Delusion of Being a Progressive

Charles Darwin’s great contributions to human psychology was to make it irrefutable that the human being is just an animal. We have a large and complex brain. We make up stories. We order our society politically. We have discovered cognitive tools such as money, commerce, maths, science, technology which tools have allowed us to become the top predator on the planet, the most successful invasive species, increase our population to exceed the carrying capacity of our natural environment, cause nonhuman species to go extinct, and wreak havoc on the natural systems that sustain us. Then we have the gall to call ourselves wise, civilized, progressive. But what’s the alternative? To externalize the means of our “salvation”?  That seems as ridiculous of an idea as externalizing evil.

Three Times the Fool

I think that the archetype of the religious symbolic life which is most neglected is the Fool. How foolish is it to see the value of both faith as defined in terms of evidence and reality and the value of extreme negative empirical skepticism? Both justified true belief and empirical skepticism are protections against naivete and gullibility – both what fools are known for. What are fools not known for?