At the beginning, of course. As I’ve embarked on this anti-agency (working title) endeavour, I am uncovering people and ideas previously unknown. In a way, this is good because people have been here before. In another way, I am left wondering what’s left unsaid.
For one thing, some of these people are highly credentialled scholars, more well-read with substantial head starts. And intelligent, qualified experts stake out their own respective turf. The more I read, the more I see the path has already been cut. Untamed areas still exist—at least for now. My goal from the start is to ignore the larger pseudo-problem anyway, so let them have their territory.
As I see it, my obstacle is one of rhetoric. My foundation is hardly a crowd-pleaser.
This isn’t going to be attractive to the warm and fuzzy crowd, and it comes across as a pretentious elitist and condescending irrespective of the validity of the observation. And people don’t like to be told that their baby is ugly—let alone themselves.
Ostensibly, my claim is that humans are veritable automatons too dim to be bounded to any moral code. We’re all just pawns, and any semblance of autonomy is either an illusion or not materially significant.
You are 0.00001% responsible for your actions, so you deserve 100% of the blame or credit. Maybe this has no legs and will go nowhere. Time will tell. Meantime, I need to focus on the rhetoric and packaging and position it like a Trojan horse.
I don’t believe that humans have the agency presumed they have, so I’d like to set out to prove it—at least rhetorically. In the ages-old battle between free will and determinism, I’ve tended to lean toward the determinism camp, but there is something keeping me from gaining full membership. I feel that proving hard determinism may be too hard a nut to crack, so I am aiming at just the agency aspect.
There are two major themes in my thinking.
Humans have no material agency
Power structures require the presumption of agency
Although this concept has been rattling around my brain cage for a while and I still have a ways to go, I feel it will be helpful to sketch out my ideas. I feel inspired by people like Robert Sapolsky and Daniel Dennett. And I feel I can draw insights into counter-arguments from people like Jonathan Haidt, Joshua Greene, and even Steven Pinker. I feel that my experience in behavioural economics may be useful for additional context—people like Daniel Kahneman, Richard Thaler, and Dan Ariely. But I feel disheartened when it appears that Galen Strawson and his father before him, Peter Strawson, people much more connected and elevated in the field have been treading the same territory for decades — over half a century — ahead of me, thankfully beating a path but not necessarily making much headway. Perhaps I can build upon that foundation if not substantially at least perceptibly. Of course, the seminal work by Isaiah Berlin’s Two Concepts of Liberty.
We may act as we will, but we cannot will as we will.
Besides the aforementioned, a correspondent has suggested other source references. He shares: Physics, including quantum mechanics, is fully Lagrangian. According to Stanford’s Leonard Susskind, Lagrange derived his formalism from the principle of ‘Least Action’. Jean Buridan’s principle of ‘Equipoise’ renders a Lagrangian model of the world perfectly deterministic. So, the physical domain is not probabilistic; and all indeterminacy is actually epistemic indeterminability. He also suggets Thomas Hobbes’ “De Corpore”.
About my second point, my corresponent agrees:
I think your “meta” is right. We feel that we are “free agents”, and we don’t know to what to attribute our feeling that we freely choose; so we imagine that we have “free will”. In my view it also doesn’t exist – we really are, as Sapolsky describes, zombie robots – we just don’t (and cannot) know it. Free will is thus a mere (but compelling) illusion on both individual and emergent scales. And yes again: all of morality, jurisprudence, etc., depends on it.
My correspondent is a professional philosopher who shall remain anonymous until such time as he agrees, if ever, to make his identity known. I am quiet aware that some of my ideas are contentious and polemic. Not everyone wishes to be mired in controversy.
Humans Have No Material Agency
Humans have little to no agency. This is the point I am making in my Testudineous Agency post. From what I know until now, this likely qualifies as soft determinism, but this might shift as I acquire new nomenclature and taxonomic distinction. I’ve discovered this taxonomy of free will positions, though I am not well enough versed to comment on its accuracy or completeness. For now, it seems like a decent working model to serve as a starting point, but I am fully cognizant of possible Dunning-Kruger factors.
In essence, hard determinism says that the world is not probabilistic. Some event triggered the universe as we know it, and it will unfold according to the laws of physics whether or not we understand them. A weaker form, soft determinism, allows for some probability and trivial ‘agency’. I feel that Dennett supports soft determinism. I feel that because we, as ‘individuals’, are a confluence of multitudinous factors, we have little agency (interpreted as responsibility). More on this later.
Power structures require the presumption of agency
To be honest, the free will debate is only interesting to me in context. To me the context is power. The ‘meta’ of this is that society (and human ‘nature’) seem to need this accountability and culpability, but it doesn’t actually exist, so it is created as a social construct and enforced in a Foucauldian power relationship through government through jurisprudence mechanisms.
This is the part of the debate I haven’t heard much about. Sapolsky did write in Behave, chapter 20X, that criminal justice systems need to be reformed to account for diminished agency, and I’ll need to return to that to better comprehend his position and assertion.
The rest of the story
As a handy reference, these are the authors and books I’ve encountered to date and in no particular order:
I’ve got a lot of essays and lecture notes not referenced plus general content from Reddit, Medium and other blogs sources, YouTube, podcasts, and so on. I probably should have documented some Classical philosophers, but I don’t generally find their argumentation compelling, though I might add them later.
The aim of this post is just to capture my intent—if it is indeed my intent. Oh, the questions and implications of a lack of agency. Please stand by.
In chapter 71, Ultimate Responsibility, in Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking, author and philosopher, Daniel Dennett presents a counterargument to the notion that an agent, a person, is not absolutely responsible for their actions. He questions some premises in the ‘the way you are’ line of argumentation, but I question some of his questions.
Here is a nice clear version of what some thinkers take to be the decisive argument. It is due in this form to the philosopher Galen Strawson (2010): 1. You do what you do, in any given situation, because of the way you are. 2. So in order to be ultimately responsible for what you do, you have to be ultimately responsible for the way you are—at least in certain crucial mental respects. 3. But you cannot be ultimately responsible for the way you are in any respect at all. 4. So you cannot be ultimately responsible for what you do.
Dennett, Daniel C.. Intuition Pumps And Other Tools for Thinking (p. 395). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.
The first premise is undeniable: “the way you are” is meant to include your total state at the time, however you got into it. Whatever state it is, your action flows from it non-miraculously.
Dennett and I are in agreement with Strawson. There is not much to see here. It’s akin to saying the now is the result of all past events until now. This is “the way you are”.
The second premise observes that you couldn’t be “ultimately” responsible for what you do unless you were “ultimately” responsible for getting yourself into that state—at least in some regards.
This second premise asserts that one cannot be responsible for any action that one had no part in performing. Two scenarios come immediately to mind.
First, you are not responsible for being born. As Heidegger notes, we are all thrown into this world. We have no say in when or where—what country or family—or what circumstances.
Second, if one is hypnotised or otherwise incapacitated, and then involved in a crime, one is merely a cog and not an agent, so not responsible in any material sense.
But according to step (3) this is impossible.
Whilst Dennett fixates on the absolute aspect of the assertion, I’d like to be more charitable and suggest that we still end up with a sorites paradox. Dennett will return to this one, and so shall I.
So step (4), the conclusion, does seem to follow logically. Several thinkers have found this argument decisive and important. But is it really?
As Dennett invalidates step (3), he insists that the conclusion is also invalid. He asserts that the notion of absolute responsibility is a red herring, and I argue that Dennett doesn’t get us much further, perhaps redirecting us with a pink herring.
I’ve created an image with tortoises to make my point. There are actually two points I wish to make. The first point is to determine where the responsibility is inherited. This point is meant to articulate that the world can not be strictly deterministic and yet one can still not have significant agency. The second point is that culpability is asserted as a need, and acceptance of this assertion is the problem.
The image depicts an evolution of an agent, with time progressing from left to right. The tortoise on the right is a product of each of the recursive tortoises to its left. The image means to convey that each subsequent tortoise is a genetic and social and social product of each tortoise prior. Of course, this is obviously simplified, because tortoises require pairs, so feel free to imagine each precedent tortoise to represent a pair or feel free to add that level of diagrammatic complexity.
This is not meant to distinguish between nature and nurture. Instead, the claim is that one is a product of both of these. Moreover, as genetic, epigenetic, and mimetic influences are transmitted in family units, they also occur through social interaction and the environment, as represented by the orange and green tortoises.
The point here is that if one is a product of genetic and mimetic forces, how much agency remains for culpability? Each person is an emergent unit—autonomous, yes, and yet highly programmed.
If I programme a boobytrap to kill or maim any intruder, the boobytrap has no agency. I assert further, that the maker of that boobytrap has no more responsibility than the killing device.
But who do we blame? you ask, and that’s precisely the problem. Asking questions doesn’t presume answers. This is a logical fallacy and cognitive bias. This heuristic leaves us with faulty jurisprudence systems. Humans seem hardwired, as it were, to blame. Humans need to believe in the notion of free will because they need to blame because they need to punish because vengeance is part of human nature to the extent there is human nature. There seems to be a propensity to frame everything as a causal relationship. Dennett calls this the Intentional stance. To borrow a from Dennett…
This instinctual response is the source in evolution of the invention of all the invisible elves, goblins, leprechauns, fairies, ogres, and gods that eventually evolve into God, the ultimate invisible intentional system.
Dennett, Daniel C.. Intuition Pumps And Other Tools for Thinking (p. 374). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.
Sins of the Fathers (and Mothers)
Let’s wrap this up with a sorites paradox. As I’ve already said, I agree with Dennett that the absolute aspect is unnecessary and undesired. The question remains how much agency™ does a person have once we account for the other factors? Is it closer to 90 per cent or 10 per cent? Apart from this, what is the threshold for culpability? Legal systems already have arbitrary (if not capricious) thresholds for this, whether mental capacity or age, which basically distils back to the realm of capacity.
I have no basis to even venture a guess, but that’s never stopped me before. I’d argue that the agency is closer to zero than to one hundred per cent of the total, and I’d propose that 70 per cent feels like a reasonable threshold.
I could have sworn I’d posted a position on this after I read Robert Sapolsky’s Behave. Perhaps it’s never made it out of drafts.
In closing, I don’t think we need to settle the question of determinism versus free will to recognise that even without strict determinism, personal agency is still severely limited, and yet as our political systems presume a level of rationality that is not apparent, so do legal systems presume a level of agency not present.
Would human extinction be a good thing for the good of the planet? We’re all familiar with the concept of the greater good, but what is the domain of the greater? We presume it to be the domain of all humans or at least our chosen in-group. But if we dilate the aperture, we might encircle the entire biosphere. In my experience, humans rarely extend the circle beyond themselves and barely even do that, opting to extend it to their race or tribe. Whilst some humans are not as self-centred as some narcissists and sociopaths, the radius doesn’t go too far.
Is one a misanthrope if one considers the greater good to be the earth devoid of the human virus? Perhaps, yes, if stated in those terms. But if one calculates that humans do more harm than good, doesn’t the cost-benefit calculus indicate that fewer people or no people would be better for the earth. I’ve long been fond of the late George Carlin’s routine where he proses that we don’t have to save Earth; the earth will remain long after humans no longer inhabit it. It’s been said that 99.9% of species that ever occupied the earth as no longer extant. Humans are past the mean duration of a species. Perhaps it’s time to move on.
I started to write this post some time ago after having had a discussion on antinatalism. Rather, I defended anti-natalism in the course of a conversation on the inherited notion that humans as sacred.
I supposed I am not a strict antinatalist, but neither do I feel that life is somehow sacred. Mine, of course, but except that. Just kidding. If you are reading, yours is, too. Just kidding, not you either. Interestingly, this ties into the post on the narrative gravity of the self.
As I write this in a world with a population of almost 8 billion people dominated by a handful and no picnic for that lot either, there are likely enough people already. I do feel that even if population trends continue upward—given offsetting depopulation trends in some regions—, humans will cap out at around 10 billion anyway. Perhaps in a Malthusian manner, but I am thinking in terms of deer herds and population limiting factors as expressed by equations like Xn-1 = rxn(1-xn).
Life does appear to have at least common characteristics and perhaps only one: the need to procreate. The second is the need to live, but that can probably be reduced to the need to live long enough to procreate. This is core to Richard Dawkins’ Selfish Gene theory. I like Robert Sapolsky’s treatment of the subject in Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst.
The concept of ‘sacred‘ is a religious vestige. I’m not sure why this needed to be codified, but religious dogma seems to capture the notion ‘thou shalt not kill’, as if it needed to be said. I won’t spend any time on the hypocrisy of the many people who espouse this edict.
It may be a valid position to consider me a misanthrope, but that’s probably overstated, but I’m generally not a fanboy. I guess what bothers me most is the hype and self-promotion. I don’t find it to be particularly inconsistent to see the small positive aspects humans bring and still consider them to be parasitic. This is a compositional challenge–a dimensional consideration that moves away from binary-trending heuristics, the age-old right and wrong, good and bad, good and evil, and on and on.
As with geocentrism, we put ourselves at the centre because this is how we experience life—inside out. All else seems to extend from this model, except there is no centre. It’s just our perspective. I experience life the same way. I’m no exception. Nonetheless, I don’t seem to need to cling to this central notion—this notion of centrality.
When all is said and done—when the last human has made their exit, there will be no epilogue or postscript, afterword, or coda. Humanity is a story in need of a narrator. The ongoing codicil will cease, and to copy-paste the high art of Monty Python’s parrot sketch:
E’s not pinin’! ‘E’s passed on! This parrot is no more! He has ceased to be! ‘E’s expired and gone to meet ‘is maker! ‘E’s a stiff! Bereft of life, ‘e rests in peace! If you hadn’t nailed ‘im to the perch ‘e’d be pushing up the daisies! ‘Is metabolic processes are now ‘istory! ‘E’s off the twig! ‘E’s kicked the bucket, ‘e’s shuffled off ‘is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible!! THIS IS AN EX-PARROT!!
Being critical of freedom, liberty, and autonomy is likely to make one the subject of scorn and derision. Most people tend to feel these things are self-evident attributes and goals, but they are all simply rhetorical functions. I was reading a passage in Mills’ On Liberty, where he posits
That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant … Over himself, over his body and mind, the individual is sovereign.
On Liberty, John Stuart Mill
It should come as no surprise that I question a position adopted by the Enlightenment Age. These geezers posited that many things were self-evident, but all of this is self-serving magical thinking, and there is no reason to have truck with any of it. These are all normative claims being dressed as positive, non-normative, ones, hoping to skirt scrutiny by employing a position of self-evidence.
I am generally critical of any notions of identity and self from the start, so affixing some attribute of power to it seems just silly.
It seems that I again am distilling this notion to a power equation. As a person, I want to claim power, if anything, over my self however that might be defined. And though, I would like this, too, it is nothing more than some emotional reaction.
Without delving into the depths of autonomy quite yet, on a proverbial desert island—as necessarily the case with any social constructs, where these notions are meaningless without a social context—adding a second person creates friction. Person A seemed to have full autonomy on this island—notwithstanding the other life forms on this island that are somehow never granted autonomy—now has had this autonomy reduced by the presence of Person B.
Firstly, Person A may have claimed this island to be their own. Given this, Person B is infringing on this autonomous decision, having arrived sequentially. Is Person B tresspassing? Does their presence harm Person B, be limiting their autonomy however slightly?
Mills’ concept is one of no harm: one is free to do what one chooses as so long as it doesn’t harm another. Accordingly, it says one is free to harm one’s self—essentially treating the self, the corpus, as personal property. Just as one could damage a piece of personal furniture, one could damage themself. I am not sure if Mills intend this to extend to suicide, but that’s not an important distinction here, so I’ll move on.
Let’s return to Person A on the island—only Person A is a woman and Person B is a fetus. What rights and autonomy does Person B now possess? For some, it has full autonomy; full personhood. Still, Person B is ostensibly trespassing, so does this autonomy even matter if it exists?
If you are Person X and own a house, and I, as Person Y, enter into it, how does this differ from A and B? Can you justify disallowing Person Y from exercising autonomy whilst supporting Person B? I don’t want to make this about abortion, so I’ll keep stop here.
The road to Hell is paved with good intentions. I wanted to post a fairly robust piece arguing against democracy, but it is proving to be a bit daunting of a task. There is a lot of data and information to support this position. Too much, in fact. I’ve decided to step back and approach supporting this position more academically (which is to say, less blog-like… citations, footnotes, counterpoints, and the rest).
“Democracy don’t rule the world, You’d better get that in your head; This world is ruled by violence, But I guess that’s better left unsaid.”
As it happens, I’ve been spending a lot of prep time reading, reviewing, watching online content, and so on. To be honest—I know, right?—, I’ve been engaging in deliberate selection bias, seeking arguments and evidence to make my case. In fact, it’s not too difficult to locate. The reality is that most people, such as David Moscrop, who asks Are We Too Dumb for Democracy? are creating provocative titles to grab attention, but their punchline is always ‘of course not’ and let me tell you why not by peddling hope and optimism. There is a reason self-help books sell.
Where I am now as 2021 has bled into 2022 is to try to create a structure around my thoughts. So far, it looks like this—not necessarily in this order:
Position and setup
Prima facie arguments
essential strawman counter arguments
historical backdrop – pre-enlightenment until now (pro-dem args)
Think about it: The average person has an IQ of 100. Essentially, half of the people have lower and half have higher. Not a good hand to be dealt. I don’t particularly buy into the whole IQ thing, but it serves this line of logic. Adopting this framework and reflecting on normal or so-called Gaussian distributions, this means (pun initially unintended) that within one standard deviation of the mean, 68 per cent of the population falls, which is to say having an IQ between 85-115.*
An IQ score of 100 wouldn’t be that bad if it was calibrated to Einstein or Hawking, but it’s not. The average police officer in the US has an IQ of around 103. Think about it. This is who democracy is asking to be in charge; this is who we expect to make good voting decisions. Amor fati. Memento mori.
Continuing on my It’s People riff, I am further struggling with options. As a Disintigrationist, I don’t feel compelled to provide answers, but as a personal matter, it seems that I am stuck in the middle. Idiocracy was supposed to be satire, but it’s serious.
So, accuse me of being an elitist. Call me a misanthrope. But it’s more patho-anthropy. It’s pity. Dunning-Kruger, be damned. On the one hand, a hierarchical structure leaves us with self-interested opportunists, megalomaniacs and narcissists; on the other, we get to know the political opinions of the Paul Blart‘s and Homer Simpson‘s of the world. And there’s nothing in between.
The Devil You Know
Following Plato’s Republic, the current system presumes a sort of meritocracy that elevates those who excel at politics to rise to the top. Optimistically, this is precisely what happens; pessimistically, this is precisely what happens. This is as good as it gets—self-serving politicos doing all they can to maintain their positions.
But what about the other people? Surely some honourable people are attracted to the political calling, right? Some who make it into the system are spat out by it; some are marginalised; the remainder are corrupted by it.
Then there’s the other side of the coin. There’s something to consider with local democracy. At least you know the idiots you are dealing with, but that’s not really a consolation. Here, Plato noted the benefits of rhetoric.
Given the limited prospects for even a third-tier suboptimal solution, we might be better off by adopting RNG as a ruling system. No boundaries. No parameters. Remove any interference by humans. They’ll only muck it up.
Where to Go from Here
Hyperbole aside, what is the solution? Nazi Germans took a stab at it, but of course, they were idiots, too. Plain and star-bellied Sneetches. Pots calling the kettles black. People have tried literacy testing, income and wealth testing, lots, and any other number of approaches. The challenge is to have a system with no human intervention. Sadly, even this system would necessarily be constructed by humans, so we’re pretty much doomed.
Finally, to silence those who might label me an elitist, no, I don’t think that a society comprised and governed by people only with IQs at and above, say, 160 would fare much better because the problem is broader than facile intelligence.
* If your reaction is ‘but my IQ is in this range’, you may now get my trepidation.
As a result of the encounter with this millennial man, the post intends to answer the question: How could I show him that happy feelings are not a good basis for morality? But let’s step back a bit.
In the words of the author, ‘I asked him to define morality, and he said that morality was feeling good, and helping other people to feel good.’ Here’s the first problem: Although a conversation about morality may have occurred between the author and an atheist millennial man, the post is not in fact a reaction to Millennial morality. Rather, it’s of the respondent’s dim characterisation of what morality is (whether for a theist or an atheist). His reply that morality is ‘feeling good, and helping other people to feel good’ sounds more like hedonism and compassion. The author does pick up on the Utilitarian bent of the response but fails to disconnect this response from the question. The result is a strawman response to one person’s hamfisted rendition of morality. The author provides no additional context for the conversation nor whether an attempt to correct the foundational definition.
A quick Google search yields what should by now be a familiar definition of morality: principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behaviour.
Clearly, conflating utility with rightness and wrongness, with goodness and badness, is an obvious dead-end at the start. This said, I could just stop typing. Yet, I’ll continue—at least for a while longer.
At the top of the article is a meme image that reads ‘When I hear someone act like they’re proud of themselves for creating their own moral guidelines and sticking to them’.
Natalie Portman sports an awkward facial expression and a sarcastic clap. Under the image is a line of copy: If you define morality as “whatever I want to do” then you’ll always be “moral”, which is tautological, but a bit of a non-sequitur to the rest, so I’ll leave it alone.
Let’s stop to regard this copy for a few moments but without going too deep. Let’s ignore the loose grammar and the concept of pride. I presume the focus of the author to be on the individually fabricated morals (read: ethical guidelines or rules) and that the fabricator follows through with them.
That this person follows through on their own rules is more impressive than the broken New Year’s resolutions of so many and is a certainly better track record than most people with supposed religious convictions.
First, all morals are fabricated—his morals or your morals. And you can believe that these goods came from God or gods or nature or were just always present awaiting humans to embody them, but that doesn’t change the point.
Let’s presume that at least some of his morals don’t comport with the authors because they are borne out of compassion. Since we’ve already established precedence for cherry-picking, allow me to side-step the hedonistic aspects and instead focus on the compassionate aspects. Would this be offensive to the author? Isn’t, in fact, in Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31, the do unto others Golden Rule edict, is a call for compassion—at least sympathy if not empathy?
After a quick jab at abortion (tl; dr: abortion is bad) taking the scenic route to articulate the point that atheists typically don’t think of unborn children as people, apparently without fully grasping the concept of zygotes and gametes. The author then confuses the neutral notion of a probabilistic outcome with accidents, having negative connotations—as if I flip a coin, the result is an accident. Let’s ignore this passive-aggressive hostility and move on. Let’s also forgive the flippant—or at least facile—articulation of biological evolutionary processes as ‘the strong survive while the weak die’. We can let it slide since what is meant by strong in this context is wide open.
The author continues with a claim that ‘you aren’t going to be able to generate a moral standard that includes compassion for weak unborn children on that scenario’. This feels like an unsubstantiated claim. Is this true? Who knows. Some people have compassion for all sorts of things from puppies to pandas without having some belief in rights. Some people like Peter Singer argues that rights should be extended to all species, and all humans should be vegans. I wonder if the author can live up to this moral high watermark. Maybe so. Probably doesn’t mix linen and wool because it’s the right thing to do.
“If the rule is “let’s do what makes us happy”, and the unborn child can’t voice her opinion, then the selfish grown-ups win.” This is our next stop. This is a true statement, so let’s tease it a bit. Animals are slaughtered and eaten, having no voice. Pet’s are kept captive, having no voice. Trees are felled, having no voice. Land is absconded from vegetation and Animalia—even other humans. Stolen from unborn humans for generations to come. Lots of people have no voice.
People are into countries and time and space. What about the converse situation? Where is the responsibility for having the child who gains a voice and doesn’t want this life? Does it matter that two consenting adults choose to have a child, so it’s OK? Doesn’t the world have enough people? What if two consenting adults choose to rob a bank? I know I don’t have to explicitly make the point that once the child is thrown into this world, the voice is told to shut up if it asks to exit or even tries to exit without permission. Unless circumstances arise to snuff out the little bugger as an adult.
Finally, the author is warmed up and decides to focus first on fatherhood. The question posed was whether the interlocutor thought that fatherlessness harmed children, to which the response was no.
Spoiler alert: The author is toting a lot of baggage on this fatherhood trip. Before we even get to the father, the child, or the family, there is a presumption of a Capitalist, income-based, market economy. Father means the adult male at the head of a nuclear family with a mum (or perhaps a mother; mum may be too informal), likely with 2 kids and half a pet. The child is expected to also participate in this constructed economy—the imagined ‘right’ social arrangement. It goes without saying that I feel this is a bum deal and shit arrangement, but I’ll defer to pieces already and yet to be written here. But if fathers are the cause of this ‘Modern’ society, fuck ’em and the horses they rode in on.
She asks him, if a system of sexual rules based on “me feeling good, and other people around me feeling good”, was likely to protect children. Evidently, he was silent, but here you can already determine that she unnecessarily links sex to procreation. And reflecting on a few paragraphs back, how is forcing a child (without asking) to be born and then told to become a wage slave or perish not violent and cruel?
(Self-guidance: Calm down, man. You can get through this.)
So the question is surreptitiously about procreative sex. By extension, if the couple can’t procreate for whatever myriad reasons, it’s OK? Sounds like it? Premenstrual, menopausal, oral, anal, same-sex coupling is all OK in this book. Perhaps, the author is more open-minded than I am given credit for. Not all humans are fertile, sex with plants and animals won’t result in procreation. A lot of folks would call this author kinky or freaky. Not my cup of tea, but I’m not judging. Besides, I’ve read that book—though shalt not judge. I’m gonna play it safe. And they couldn’t print it if it wasn’t true.
Seeking credibility, the author cites Bloomberg, as Centre to Centre-Left organisation as Far-Left. Clearly another red flag. Excuse me, your bias is showing. This piece is likely written for choir preaching, so we’ll take the penalty and move along.
A quick jab at the bête noire of ‘Big Government’ facilitating idle hands and, presumably genitals, to play. The idle rich as Croesus folks are idols to behold. At least I can presume she opposes military spending and armed aggression on the grounds of harm, so we’ve got common ground there. They’re probably an advocate of defunding the police, though by another name. so there’s another common platform. It just goes to show: all you need to do is talk to ameliorate differences. We’re making good headway. Let’s keep up the momentum.
Wait, what? We need to preserve a Western Way? I was shooting for something more Zen. Jesus was a Westerner—being from Bethlehem and all. (That’s in Israel—probably on the Westside.)
No worries. Just a minor setback—a speedbump. It’s just a flesh wound. But we’ve pretty much reached the end. A little banter about some other studies. There’s an impartial citation from the Institute for Family Studies on cohabitation they beg the question and employs circular logic. And another from the non-partisan Heritage Foundation finds that dads who live with their children spend more time with them. How profound. I’d fund that study.
And it’s over. What happened? In the end, all I got out of it is ‘I don’t like it when you make up morals’. You need to adopt the same moral code I’ve adopted.
Where was I? Oh yeah. Fathers. So these people don’t mean generic fathers. They mean fathers who subscribe to their worldview. In their magical realm, these fathers are not abusive to their mothers or children; these fathers are not rip-roaring alcoholics; these fathers are the dads you see on the telly.
Suspiciously absent is the plotline where the fathers are ripped from their families through systematic racism and incarcerated as if they didn’t want to be there for their children. And this isn’t discussing whether it’s an issue of fathers or an issue of money. It isn’t discussing whether someone else might serve as a proxy for this role. Indeed, there is nothing magical about fathers unless you live in a fantasy world.
I watched the video, What Makes us Postmodern, and its predecesor, What Makes Us Modern, and I immediately discounted any attempts to synthesise Modernism and Postmodernism in some Hegelian manner, Hegel’s approach being somewhat Modern at the start. One can pair the essential dimensions and perhaps arrive at some moderate position, but, firstly, this is a Modern perspective; secondly, Moderns are not likey to abandon their position.
There may be a resolution, but it seems that it will require a paradigm shift—a different perspective still.
Ancient Greek mythology gives us the story of the Labyrinth. As I am not interested in analysing this from a Jungian perspective, we can safely ignore the Minotaur. The story of the labryrinth is a story for Moderns. It’s a teleological story based on the metanarrative that suggests that one can find order in disorder, if only they have the key.
As the story goes, the labyrinth is an unsolvable puzzle. However, at least one person knows how to solve it, or at least knows how to beat the system. Depending on the source version, Ariadne either assisted Theseus with a thread or jewels.
In a tl;dr version of the story, Theseus is tasked with killing the Minotaur. I’ve recently discussed his ship. Exposition informs us that the Minotaur is mortal, thus killable, but there is no escaping the maze—for reasons. However, Daedalus, the architect of the labyrinth, told Ariadne that there was one way out. If someone were to record their ingress, with say, a thread or jewels, they could then follow these to egress. Definitely not a plot device. Hansel and Gretel took this to heart and marked their ingress with breadcrumbs—or stones, depending upon which version you’re reading.
What Makes this Modern
Though the story of the labyrinth and the Minotaur comes from a pre-modern era, it remains an apt metaphor for modernity.
There is a deliberate underlying structure. In fact, it has been architected by Daedalus. This mirrors the Intelligent Design narrative favoured by Christians.
There is a definitive solution to the puzzle. The story is teleological. If one follows the plan, stays on the path, they will prevail. Go off-script, and perish.
This is a story about structure, about order, about adopting and conforming to the rules. Even though it’s also about gaming the system with cheat codes in more modern parlance. Nowadays, I’d turn off clipping and collision detection, but Ariadne didn’t know these codes. I digress.
This is not a story for Postmoderns because it starts with a design. For moderns, there is a design. It’s either a vestigial god or science. The belief is that everything has structure. Even if that structure is yet unknown to us. If only we had enough time, we could suss it out. Perhaps it’s past time to re-task Shakespeare’s infinite monkeys.
Reconciliation of this teleological belief is intractable. Rather, it can likely only be solved with rhetoric. Moderns love rhetoric, which explains why they have so much faith in Aristotle and classical philosophers, who still provide a foundation to much philosophy of the Moderns. It’s intractable in the same way that converting someone with some religious conviction to no longer have that conviction.
Modernism is about faith. It may have shifted from faith in gods to faith in logic and reason, science and technology, or organisation and progress. Postmodernism points out that whilst these are possible solutions, they are not the only solutions. Moreover, these have unintended consequences and create collateral damage. They also rely on a privileged perspective. Perhaps I’ll create a segment to illustrate this point using the disruption of COVID-19 as a backdrop.
In the end, Modernism relies on teleologies. The end may not be known, but we can divine a vision and lead people in that direction anyway by employing rhetorical devices. Postmodernism knows that any such narrative is fiction. A postmodern may emotionally buy into the narrative, but they never forget that it’s still fiction.
Modernism relies on order and control to maintain that order. This doesn’t mean that all Moderns are top-down authoritarians. But it does mean that they need crowd control and compliance. The United States are probably mostly Moderns. They like to claim they are individualists, but they are more typically either keeping up with the Joneses or competing with them. Most individuality is trivial at best. “I’m an individual because my BMW is purple.” Quite. And Moderns don’t like much non-compliance. They may want change, but if someone expresses this need for change through civil disobedience, the Modern may viscerally agree, but they will also rationalise that the civil disobedients should have used the admittedly broken system. Moderns like what they call progress, but they can only accept change in small doses at a slow pace, so there’s a friction.
Finally, there’s power. I am not going to rehash Nietzsche or Foucault, but this is a schism. Moderns want order and control. Power structures assist this, but then they don’t like the current actors. If only there were better actors. Nietzsche noted that the masters and the herd had different interests and moralities. Moderns know this on one level but think they can remediate this dichotomy. Because of course, they think they can bring order to everything—Second Law of Thermodynamics notwithstanding.
In the end, these schools will likely attempt to coexist. As for me, I’m a nihilist and somewhat of an existentialist. Yet, I am also a pragmatist as I still have to operate within the world I’ve been thrown into, as noted by Heidegger.
“The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the Government, and I’m here to help.”
This sentence just crossed my mind. People of a certain age may remember film actor Ronald Reagan’s quip: I’m from the Government, and I’m here to help. Libertarians seem to be enamoured by this. Perhaps smug captures it better. For them, this is about the ineptness of government, that bloated bureaucracy that couldn’t get it right if it tried, and certainly not efficiently. If the government comes a knocking, view it as you do with stranger danger: Don’t get in the van with the guy with the puppy and candy. I get it. But let’s shift perspective to see how it renders from a different perspective.
Let’s start from the start with a small disclaimer. I am not an apologist for government. In fact, I am not a fan of bureaucracy. One of the more successful propaganda-slash-marketing campaign in the sphere of public opinion is that private enterprise is somehow superior in all manners to the public version. Let’s be clear here. If one is making sweeping generalisations, then start here. All bureaucracies are created equal.
Echoing Tolstoy, “Bureaucracies are all alike; every bureaucracy is unhappy in its own way.” I may have misremembered how this opening line goes. Poor Anna. Let’s keep going. Government bureaucracy is no better or worse than corporate bureaucracy. There is no correlation. For every efficient corporation—not a thing, but bear with me—there is an efficient government agency—also not a thing, so, I think you’re realising my point. Bureaucracies are practically by definition recipes for mediocrity. They are meant to produce repeatable processes at scale. They aren’t designed to be innovative or nimble, although you can buy many books and training materials on how to achieve this if you’ve got nothing better to do with your money. Let’s return to the main concept: I’m from the Government, and I’m here to help.
What’s the problem with this? We need to ask, why has the government shown up at our doorstep, to begin with. The answer, private markets have failed. There is a hole in the social fabric. Perhaps the private sector does provide the needed good or service, but it is clearly not affordable. Hence the hole. Clearly, the private sector has dropped the ball. So when the government attempts to intervene, the response is to cry foul. “Those people can’t afford to pay for a solution, so they shouldn’t get one. Perhaps those people should work harder or get more job training so they can afford to pay us.”
“What? Urgent medical care, you say? They should have thought ahead.”
“What’s that? She’s an infant? I suppose she should have picked different parents who thought ahead. Why do people reproduce when they can’t afford to raise a child in the first place. There ought to be a law.”
And so it goes.
Not only doesn’t the private sector not want to serve a population if it can’t profit. It’s decided that if it can’t profit from a person in a circumstance, then that person doesn’t deserve assistance. Even shoddy assistance as is suggested by the quote.
I recall another adage: something is better than nothing.
But there is more to this than meets the eye. The unstated objection is that government will provide the good or service, and it will be as good if not better than the private sector offering and it will cost less to provide. This would reveal the private sector apologists to be the charlatans they are. I am not claiming that this is some foregone conclusion. But it’s an eventuality the private sectorists don’t want exposed.
A prime example of this is the provision of healthcare and insurance. The world over provides these services cheaper and with superior health outcomes, and yet a common refrain by profit mongers is that you don’t want those other services with better health outcomes, not only provided for a lower cost, but also provided for a lower cost to you.
There is nothing inherent in this quote about the government being here to help that it is attempting to supplant some successful private sector business model.
“Why don’t we get into the yacht-building business?”
When government intervenes, it is usually due to market failure. So then why do we so often see the government trying to intervene? Availability bias aside, it’s because the market fails often, so the government has to play MacGyver time and time again. Markets are fragile. Capitalism is fragile.
The Second Law of Thermodynamics relates to entropy. Capitalism and market systems are not self-sustaining. Entropy consistently dissipates energy in these systems, hence economic busts. This isn’t even addressing the issue of misappropriation of resources from this system, which only serves to exacerbate and accelerate this natural decline. If external capital weren’t injected into this system, it would have collapsed under its own weight ages ago.
As a parting shot, it’s interesting to me that for a cohort loathing government assistance, these same blokes seem to have their hands out begging, or at least accepting, this same government assistance. The help the eschew on behalf of others is often welcomed with open arms. Where I come from, we call this hypocrisy. Hypocrisy Now. I’ve got an idea for a film.