Lists Home |
Date Index |
John has just posted a niece piece about the "progress" made during the 20th
century, so I'll comment on the rest.
> I'm a reformed idealist and proud of it. Like many, I'm sure, I've had
> exactly this discussion countless times with countless idealists, and at
> end of the day you won't change people's basic philosophies. I can't
> the temptation to make a few comments on this, however.
I'm not fully reformed yet, so I still think some people at least can
experience a small enlightenment of their own by hearing from people who
express what they somehow feel themselves in their daily lives.
> It's easy to stereotype capitalism and Dawkin's views on genes, but at the
> end of the day we are forced to compete for scarce resources (food, sex
> partners, handhelds with color screens, etc.), and this leads to an
> inevitable conflict of interest among individuals.
I think I did not stereotype Dawkins, I barely alluded to the central idea
behind his theory, which is admittedly a lot more complex. The books
mentioned, although in French (sorry), contain articulate criticisms of that
theory as well as of sociobiologists - who are definitely fascinated with
ant colonies as a model for mankind :-) BTW, food is a scarce resource
nowadays only because we collectively accept that it be so. We could feed
everyone if we decided to. Oh, you can have the handhelds and I'll take the
> We ignore this basic fact
> at our own peril. The only solution is to increase the basic pool of
> resources at least to the point where everyone has access to the basic
> minimum (implying that not everyone can have a cool handheld, sorry).
Did I really sound like I ignored that ? I wrote that "the only hope for
mankind is that we find the right
balance between cooperation/community and competition". During the 20th
century, the gap between the wealthy and the poor has broadened at lot, even
if wealth has globally increased.
> In terms of capitalism, it is true that "pure" capitalism doesn't work
> because it jeopardizes the level playing field that the whole concept of
> competition-leading-to-progress is premised upon. The good news is that
> combination of democracy and capitalism demonstrably works, we've solved a
> lot of the problems inherent in naive approaches to capitalism and
> to do so.
I'd be curious to hear the "demonstration", I hope it's not based on the
premise that one has "democracy" if people can "choose" between two obedient
puppets selected by various industrial and military lobbies (insert Enron
> The fact that there has never been a large-scale example of pure
> communism doesn't mean that the approach is unproven. Many Bolsheviks
> embarked on the communist experiment in good faith, but the system became
> corrupted very quickly because of the reality of limited resources
Well, yes it means the approach is unproven at best, I'd even say it has
been proven by painful experience that such grandiose visions always lead to
large-scale human disaster.
> As far as Dawkin's is concerned, I don't think that he neglects the
> aspect of human behavior. He's just making a brilliant and vital point:
> in the absence of specific socializing influences, we will work to
> our genes, or more correctly, that our genes will work to propagate
> themselves. There's an interesting article in the Economist this week
> (http://www.economist.com/science/displayStory.cfm?story_id=1045223 --
> a good reactionary I read reactionary rags) that points out that purely
> selfish behavior based on this principle can lead to altruistic behavior
> the macro level. Good news for everyone, I say.
Oh gosh, it is indeed reactionary. I don't see any evidence for the
existence of "genes for altruistic behaviour", an extremely dubious concept
to me. All I see is a bunch of games theory and questionable links to
evolution theory. Lucky that we escaped the "social Darwinism" fallacy this
time. I guess we'll hear next that ants are acting "altruistically" at the
macro level because they have no personal thoughts or culture that get in
> The bottom line is that we have made more political and economic progress
> the past century than in the millenium that preceded it, and this has led
> massively less disease and poverty for maybe a quarter of the world's
> population. The only way to spread this benefit to the neglected three
> quarters is to continue on the path of capitalism, democracy and free
You *are* preaching the orthodoxy now, aren't you ? Capitalism and democracy
don't have to go together at all, just have a look at the situation of China
(i.e. its population) for an illustration - the huge majority still live in
deep poverty and uncontrolled capitalism will only make it worse. And free
trade is supported by governments only as far as it serves their own
interests. Bush Jr's policy comes to mind again!
> Anyway, I still regret the lack of whisky and a comfortable armchair,
> in my view are essential accoutrements to this type of discussion. I
> sincerely hope that I'll have the chance to meet at least some of you in
> person and philosophize on these points properly. May in Barcelona?
Yes, I just bought some 16-year old Lagavullin but my selfish genes are
telling me not to share. Luckily there's culture too. But there must be some
biological theory that explains it's just my genes that want to get
propagated. And no, I'm not even talking about getting XML babes drunk :-)
PS: I don't personally think you are selfish and uncaring at all, you just
have a different viewpoint on the means to reach the same end, i.e. modestly
contributing to make mankind a better place rather than a worse one. You
must have remained an idealist at heart, after all.