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The Causes of Evil?

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Posted

In the film, The Lord of the Rings, (and I suspect in the book as well, but it is so long ago that I read it that I cannot remember.) Frodo, a ‘hobbit’, and one of the ‘heroes’ of the story, takes pity on the creature Gollum, who is evil, one is lead to suppose, beyond redemption.

Gollum was once a creature not unlike the hobbits, but he came into possession of the One Ring, the Ring of Power, and it corrupted him till there was nothing of good left in him, there was nothing at all left in him but hatred and malice.

Frodo and Sam, his friend/servant, get lost trying to find their way to Mordor. Frodo has possession of the One Ring, and he is taking it to Mordor so that it can be destroyed. The pair are attacked by Gollum who wants the Ring for himself, but Frodo and Sam overcome him and take him prisoner.

This is where it gets interesting, for Frodo and Sam exhibit entirely different attitudes towards Gollum, and it is the effect this has on Gollum and his responses that are interesting.

Sam treats Gollum with distrust and derision. He watches him, suspecting treachery at every moment, and reading malicious intentions into his every act. He calls him ‘Stinker’, and expresses disgust at his eating habits etc. stc.

Frodo on the other hand, preferring to believe that Gollum is not beyond redemption, and recognising that he has suffered takes pity on him and is more sympathetic. He treats Gollum with respect, and remembering that he had once been a better creature called Smeagol, calls him by that name. He also gives Gollum his trust, and gets him to guide himself and Sam to Mordor.

Under Sam’s influence Gollum remains as treacherous and malicious as ever, but in response to Frodo he begins a process of transformation. Gollum enjoys the consideration, trust and respect he gets from Frodo, and in return he develops a sort of respect, trust and even attachment to him. Under Frodo’s influence Gollum begins to become detached from his evil side, to see it as not really him, and tries get free of it. He tries to become the creature Frodo treats him as, tries to become Smeagol.

If one is to abstract a principle, or moral, from the above story, it would be this:

People behave as they are treated.

i.e. any person that is treated with disrespect will behave badly. If they are treated with mistrust they will become untrustworthy. If they are treated as though they are evil then they will behave evilly.

Conversely, if a person is treated with trust and respect they will behave well and will BE trustworthy. If a person is treated as though they are good then they will be (or become) good.

In other words, people are not just ‘good’ or ‘bad’. They are ‘interactive’, they ‘become’.

If this is true, and in my own, very extensive experience it is most definitely true, then the implications for our society are profound.

I live in the UK, but the situation is not so different anywhere in the world that I have seen, or where it has been different, it is in places that are called ‘underdeveloped’, or ‘primitive’, and these places are scheduled to follow in the footsteps of the ‘developed world’.

Whatever I do, wherever I go, I am treated with disrespect, with distrust and suspicion.

I take a walk into town to do some shopping, and everywhere I look, inside the shops and out, I see video cameras watching me. These are saying ‘we are watching you because we think that you will do something wrong if we do not watch you’.

In the shops there are all sorts of devices designed to ensure that if I take something out of the shop without having paid for it an alarm will sound. These are telling me they do not trust me not to thieve.

Some shops display large notices in prominent places warning of the consequences if you are caught shop-lifting. These are telling me they do not trust me.

I go home and put on a DVD. The first thing I see is a notice warning me that it is an offence to pirate a video and that severe penalties will result if I am caught doing so. That is saying that they do not trust me.

I go to the library to return and borrow some books. At the counter one of the books I am returning is overdue, I am told. I know that this is not the case, that I have only had the book for a few days, in fact. But the computer and the stamp on the book both concur that the book is overdue. I am not believed. I have to pay the fine. I have experience of the computer getting it wrong, and have seen the library staff making mistakes with the stamps. That is of no matter. The whole system of keeping track of books says, ‘you are not to be trusted and we need to watch you’.

At work, many people have to clock in and out. This says we do not trust you to work your official hours.

Also at work, if you are off ill for more than a day or two, then you are required to obtain a doctor’s certificate to prove that you were, in fact, ill. This says, we do not trust you.

On the internet one is always having to prove one’s identity, or at the very least, to prove that one is not a machine. Also, any site that allows interaction has long lists of terms and conditions that are designed to ensure good behaviour. In addition there are usually monitors policing these sites. This says, we do not trust you.

Whenever I fill in an official form there is a prominent warning about the consequences of giving incorrect, or withholding, information. That says, ‘we do not trust you’.

I have had dealings with the police. For example, I once reported a lost camera, an expensive item that I had been using but which was the property of my employer. Two plain clothed policemen visited me. One made polite conversation, being very nice and chatty, but really trying to put me off my guard so that the other one could suddenly fire a question at me about the camera and when I had last seen it etc, and hopefully catch me out, as though they suspected that I had stolen the camera myself. They were clearly saying, ‘we do not trust you’.

I once found a purse dropped in the street and took it to the police station. The duty policeman asked me all sorts of questions and then carefully noted down all the contents of the purse. I had the distinct feeling that if anything was found to be missing when the purse was claimed by its owner then I would be blamed. In fact it may have been also about keeping checks on the policemen themselves, but it does not matter, there was still that accusation hanging in the air, that distrust.

I remember a time and place where I could leave my house without having to lock the door, and I could leave my car in town without having to lock it. Every lock on every door, every alarm system, every iron fence says, ‘we do not trust you’.

Now, if I go back to the principle that I derived from the story of Frodo, Sam and Gollum i.e. that people behave as they are treated, then one can only conclude that society is making the criminals. That is, that the more governments try to clamp down on criminal behaviour, the more surveillance and alarm systems they install, then the more criminals they create; the more they tighten their grip on society the more violence, theft and criminal behaviour of all kinds they instigate. In fact, one can only conclude that if you want to prevent crime then you have to do the opposite of what is being done, i.e. you have to relax your grip on society, you have to do away with all the surveillance, the locks and alarms and checks.

I am not suggesting that these surveillance and alarms and locks etc are the only cause of criminal behaviour. The situation is not as simple as that. Karl Marx said, ‘property is theft’, and I think he may have a point. I mean, on top of everything else, what we class as good and bad behaviour is, itself, open to question. But what I AM saying, is that the way society handles crime is counterproductive.

Points for further consideration

1. If I am right, if it is the case that society would be safer and better if all the systems designed to watch and deter criminal behaviour were dismantled and done away with, then I would call that good news indeed! I would LOVE to get my privacy back! I would love to return to that relaxed atmosphere where you could walk out of your front door and not even have to shut it, when you could leave things lying about, could walk away from your car, when you did not have to be sure to have something about you at all times that could prove that you are who you say you are etc etc. It is so wonderful to feel safe and to be respected and trusted as a matter of course. There are many young people in the world today who do not know what that is like. I feel that is a shame, because they do not know what they are losing with every new measure that is brought in to prevent crime or catch criminals.

2. The way the academic world works, the way scientific, historical etc research are done, the peer-review system, is based on mistrust. Scientific research is done the way it is done in order to prevent individual scientists from being able to lie and cheat. The other academic disciplines are the same. Based on the above, one could conclude that the scientific method only engenders lying and cheating.

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Posted (edited)

This OP actually opens a can of worms regarding the inherent cynicism of modern society. The sources of cynicism are much more insidious and entrenched than the OP assumes. Will elaborate at length later.

Edited by The Heretic

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Posted

Looking forward to reading your thoughts on the subject, Heretic.

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Posted (edited)

Dragon, your OP raises several issues. One that borders on Foucault’s panoptic theory, but I’m more interested in the other issue regarding the default state of the individual and his/her socialization.

The other issue infringes on cynical reason that is due to several critiques of the Enlightenment, namely the critique of natural illusion. The enlightenment reflection of culture demonstrates that, as we are, we live unnaturally. What was natural in us was lost and distorted and misshapen through civilization. We stand besides ourselves as other than who we really are or could be. This is a common insight in modern philosophical anthropology. We have grown used to this insight, but at first it was tremendously valuable for moral critique, and had decisive impact as long as the belief in a “good Nature” was assumed. Bourgeois society rebelled against the aristocracy with the outcry of “nature!”

I credit Rousseau’s critique of society with the discovery of unnaturalness. This critique has two aspects: utopian-positive and critical-negative. A constructive pedagogy and a destructive politics. For Rousseau, 18th century society was an utter degeneration or the completion of the Fall from Nature.

Spontaneity replaced with convention, naiveté with finesse, sincerity with artifice, and so forth. Rousseau’s critical eye was presented by a bourgeois perception that rebelled against the omnipresence of an aristocratically fabricated social order. Where the aristocrats treated themselves with irony, the bourgeois instead treated that artifice with sheer disgust.

Rousseau’s critique acquired approval from his contemporaries as well as the more astute of the aristocrats who recognized their portrayal as ultimately correct. :slap:

This analysis inspired a political stance: the natural vs the system of compulsion, the bourgeois honesty vs the aristocratic sophisticated deception, free social contract vs the old feudal system under coercion. This new society aspired to an order where everyone agreed on a peaceful and diligent life according to a model inspired by nature & mutual sympathy.

However, some of the aristocrats detected a secret desire of insurrection within that program, and later, conservatives crowed that the French Revolution ended with the guillotine. :behead:

The conservative assumes that human nature, whenever unleashed, never deserves such optimism. This assumption never looks at the context, and is all too happy to point at egoistic or destructive or greedy or asocial behavior. Therefore, the notion of the criminal is always important to the conservative, because such myopic thought resides in a pessimistic observation of humanity that also serves as the ground of an authoritarian and disciplinary politics. In this POV, criminals, idiots, malcontents, egoists, & rebels exists in nature. On top of the conservative & pessimistic view, the Christian doctrine of Original Sin claims that human beings, just because we are born of woman, exist as defective beings.

OTOH, Rousseau easily anticipates this view, and runs an end-around pessimism by showing how human beings become what they are socially. That there are people, who behave nastily or greedily or unwisely or destructively, means zippo about their essential being. This is the crux of Rousseau’s thought in moral political enlightenment: the theory of the innocent victim.

Any evidence for political pessimism (criminal, lunatic, anti-social individuals) has nothing to do with nature, for they have been made so by society. They never had a chance to be as they would be, according to their nature, for they were forced into their current situation through poverty or coercion or ignorance. They are all victims of society.

This seems a convincing defense versus political pessimism. It demonstrates dialectical thinking over positivistic thought by transforming moral states and qualities into processes. Brutal people don’t exist, only their “brutalization.” Criminals don’t exist, only their “criminalization.” Stupidity doesn't exist, only their “stupefaction.” Etc. Whatever political pessimism assumes to be nature is actually falsified nature or the suppression of opportunity.

Rousseau points at two forms of human beings that exist prior to civilization, i.e., prior to perversion: the noble savage and the child. Enlightenment is based on these two figures: ethnology and pedagogy, which developed two genres: exotic travel literature plus ethnology, and educational novel/literature on pedagogy & child development. The primitive people discovered by European explorers provided evidence that people could behave differently, i.e., peacefully, reasonably, humanely, without aristocracy or war or exploitation. The noble savage existed as a living disproof of the European social order supposedly ordained by God. Enlightenment discovered a different social order, and a better one. Therefore, what is reasonable is also possibly real.

The child OTOH became the noble savage at home. Thus, such innocent beings would not suffer the same artificial social cripple the current system produced. Children were what the bourgeois people believed they wanted to become. They held bourgeois hope for another world – a more humane society. This new ambition had no meaning in a more stable and stagnant society, like a peasant one because they did not envision careers for their children. Aristocrats held ambition but directed at the benefit for the aristocratic lineage itself, not their children. Thus bourgeois children became the first to hold an anthropological and political mission.

However, this optimistic naturalism has a fatal flaw: nature is assumed to be beneficial. One does not need to hold petty conservative views to disagree with such lofty idealism. War, inequality, harsh conditions of life is widespread in an unyielding nature. The exceptions are hardly essential or common. Therefore, this ideal of nature is not a temporal one, but a Utopian one. The “good” exists nowhere else except in wishes and dreams.

Naturalistic thought changed forever in the 19th century when the natural sciences showed a concept of nature that was nothing idyllic. After Darwin, the bourgeois order, having become imperialistic, settled on the beast of prey as its political emblem. Nature was used as a political justification for those who wanted to legitimize violence, not for those who spoke for peace. More interesting is how the old aristocrat’s heraldry also held sympathies for similar predatory animals like the eagle, falcon, lion, bear, etc.

What remains of Rousseau’s critique is the demonstration that evil “nature” is a social fiction. This is still important for any assumed natural inferiorities for race or intelligence or sex or sexual behavior. When conservatives or reactionaries prop up “nature” to justify their claims about inferiority of women or races or innate intelligence of children from upper class or perversity of homosexuality, they have appropriated naturalism. Critique has demonstrated that what “nature” leaves us is neutral and non-tendentious, that every value judgment or tendency is always a cultural phenomenon. Although “good nature” is no longer credible, Rousseau has enlightened us to never accept “bad nature” as an excuse for social oppression.

Edited by The Heretic
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Posted

Thank you for your interesting and very lucid review of the nature/nurture debate.

There are several observations I would make. I feel here that I have been given a glimpse into a vast ocean i.e. there is the feeling that vast quantities of words have been devoted by philosophers to this issue, and that you have isolated just a small fraction. This is not meant as any criticism of your review. Rather it is a comment on the problems with the academic world. One researches a subject such as this to the best of one’s ability but always one knows one cannot have read it all and that there are things one has missed. It seems to me that philosophy is a many-headed monster like the Hydra. (I think it is no coincidence that the Hydra is a monster of Greek mythology and that Greeks invented philosophy.) It is actually more hostile than helpful. Whatever conclusions one comes to about life, based on one’s own thinking and experience, the Hydra will always find a counter-argument. Then when you find an answer to that argument (= cut off one of the heads of the Hydra) you get attacked by another, and while you are hacking off the new head, the previously hacked-off head grows back (= the proponents of the original counter-argument which you thought you had defeated, have come up with another angle).

Argument is actually easy; you just have to employ the Hegelian Dialectic i.e. whatever your opponent says, you just say the opposite. Then if the two of you feel like ganging up against a third party then you create a synthesis of your two ideas. Also, it is because of the love of argument, because of the competitiveness, that philosophy has become such a monster. Philosophers are not actually interested in getting to the truth of things. They are interested in making a name for themselves, in getting written in to the textbooks, and so they are in the business of generating new arguments rather than of sorting things out.

In my experience, philosophy creates indecision and that is extremely stressful. It doesn’t help with life. It just makes everything harder.

Philosophy has grown to such an extent that it is really of no practical value as a guide to living or solving moral dilemmas. As far as I am concerned, philosophy is useful for honing the argumentative skills, the articulacy, the skill with logic, that sort of thing. So for understanding the world and moral issues etc., etc., I have quite deliberately left philosophy behind. What I do is not philosophy and is not intended to be philosophy. It is intended to be an advance on philosophy. It is intended to allow individuals to be able to operate, to live in the world successfully without having to get a degree in philosophy. From what I have said so far, it will be no surprise to learn that this more advanced approach to living is actually capable of allowing individuals to come to an understanding of the world and everything in it entirely under their own steam.

PS: When I talk of going ‘beyond’ philosophy, perhaps some words of explanation would be in order.

When Carl Jung went to the USA he took the opportunity to ask a Native American that he met what he thought of the white Americans. The man said, “They think with this,” pointing to his head, “Instead of with this,” pointing to his chest, perhaps his heart.

In a film made by Native Americans that I saw recently, (I can’t remember the name) which was set in a reservation, there was a scene showing a social gathering of some of the elders around an open-air fire. One of the elders explained to a younger man that the white Americans were like children, and so the Native Americans were best to just accept their lot, the reservations and so on, while waiting for the children to grow up.

The first incident above is closer to the mark. I think it is not so much a matter of being children, but of using only a small part, and the least sophisticated at that, of the human mind to think with.

The intellect is really very simple, a matter of rules and symbols and logic such as a computer can handle. When people start comparing human minds to computers one should have alarm bells going off: humans are much, much superior in every way to computers. If scientists can get computers to simulate the mind then there is something wrong with the way people are using their minds.

There more sophisticated part of the mind lies deeper, in the subconscious. This is where all the accumulated wisdom of one’s all experience lies. This is the realm of senses that the intellect knows nothing of, senses which detect, for example, the spirit, by which I mean, e.g. if a person acts ‘in good spirit’ one can sense it, and equally, if a person acts in ‘bad spirit’ one can sense it, and that though the acts may, on the surface, be indistinguishable. This is where true morality lies, and it is the realm of intuition.

If one has not been used to using intuition or these senses I have talked of, then one can to learn to do so and to develop them. It is largely, at first, a matter of developing awareness, for if one has been used to ignoring them then one has very low awareness of them. But they are there, and decisions, thoughts and perceptions that come intuitively from the subconscious are much, much faster that those which come from the intellect. That is the key to discovering and developing them. Whenever you make a decision, the first answer comes from intuition. It is very fast and very fleeting and is over-ridden by the second decision which comes from the intellect. You have to look for those very delicate, fleeting ‘impulses’, and then you have to trust them.

Having said all that, when you make the decision to look for intuition, your mind will oblige, and may well supply you with a more forceful example of what you are looking for to get you started.

If this interests you at all you might like to read my post, ‘Some Words of Explanation’.

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Posted

...[snipped]....

Argument is actually easy; you just have to employ the Hegelian Dialectic i.e. whatever your opponent says, you just say the opposite.

I find this a spurious representation of the Hegelian dialectic, because it's more substantial than your overly simplistic example, but that's neither here nor there.

As for the rest of your post?

I posted this elsewhere, regarding a graphic novel I'm working on:

The human brain caps the ability to discover scientific & philosophical truths. The failure of philosophical research to arrive at solid consensus answers to the traditional philosophical questions is due to the fact that human beings aren't smart enough to be successful at such inquiries. The cognitive limitations confines human beings in a Platonic cave, and the best they can do is theorize about the shadows, or representations that are oversimplified and dumbed down to fit inside a human brain.

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The human brain caps the ability to discover scientific & philosophical truths. The failure of philosophical research to arrive at solid consensus answers to the traditional philosophical questions is due to the fact that human beings aren't smart enough to be successful at such inquiries. The cognitive limitations confines human beings in a Platonic cave, and the best they can do is theorize about the shadows, or representations that are oversimplified and dumbed down to fit inside a human brain.

You vastly underestimate the human mind, and note, I say mind rather than brain. The distinction is drawn in my post: The Fabulous World of Pantodragon. In that same post you will find a description of the world as being interpretable. That gets one to understanding that Plato's Cave is a giveaway about the state of Plato's mind: it is a very nice description of autism.

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In the philosophy of mind field, I seek a combination of scientific literacy and philosophical virtuosity: a wide range of knowledge of the field & the inherent creativity of the great philosophers.

Most philosophers of the mind are crippled by a lack of fluency in science, and most scientists are philosophically unsophisticated, which limits them from articulating the philosophical implications of their discoveries, even when they try (see popularizers like Stephen Hawking).

In other words, I seek thinkers who are capable of approaching science philosophically, and approach philosophy scientifically, without falling victim to either of the following:

  • assume the superiority of philosophical models of reflection
  • adopt a neutralizing conceptual framework that allows for easy dismissals of intractable philosophical problems with a shrug or waving around a naive wand of optimism.

When you find the necessary intellectual conscience - the willingness to place question-marks over everything, and possess a persistent search for a coherent and compelling account of the human ontological-epistemic predicament, do let me know. :nod:

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Posted

If they are treated with mistrust they will become untrustworthy

Trust is a subject that interests me. What do we mean by "trust" and why do we value it? What is the rationality of trust? For what it's worth, here are a few possible ways of considering trust:

Trust as a moral virtue: This stems from turning around the quote above. If we show trust in our dealings with others, then, if that changes their behaviour at all, the likelihood is that they will trust us a bit more in return. Trust begets trust and more trust means that people get along better with each other. If we think trust is good, then the moral thing to do is to trust others to trust us back. And to go on trusting even if they don't immediately reciprocate.

Trust as rational pragmatism: When we 'take things on trust', we accept them as good or valuable because someone else has presented them as being so. We have satisfied ourselves that the other person's interests and priorities are sufficiently well aligned with our own that they would reach the same conclusions about goodness or value that we would ourselves if we took the time and trouble to make the necessary evaluations. The practical value of this trust to us is that we get the benefit of the other person's efforts in making the evaluations. Industrial economies, capitalism and science all depend on the development of networks of trust of this kind to work properly.

Trust as ethological necessity: Humans are highly social animals. In many ways, our very physiology makes it necessary. This being so, it's likely that we have certain innate predispositions to coordinate our behaviour with that of our fellows (often, this means just doing what they do). We don't need to dress 'trust' up as 'moral virtue' or 'rational pragmatism', we just tend to 'trust' others by acting according to innate dispositions to coordinate our actions with whatever they do. Of course, the signals as to just how this should govern our behaviour from moment to moment are often complex, even ambiguous. The innate predispositions can be modified by experience so that, increasingly, 'good bet' decisions can be made in a timely way. Trust as a 'thing' then dissolves into a piece of linguistic behaviour (utterances mentioning "trust") associated with decision-making. Such utterances might also mention "morality" or "rationality" and in doing so increase the disposition of the respondent to act in a particular way. Such a decision might be taken as indicative of "trust" of the speaker. In this last possibility we find not so much a rationality of trust, but rather rationality as a form of trust.

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