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  1. #31
    Books of Pellinor alison's Avatar
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    Yep, I was alluding to the theory of punctuated equilibrium. And - to drastically limit the idea of evolution to culture - someone like William Shakespeare, definitely not one of the crowd, has been extraordinarily successful in perpetuating memes. I mean, he's practically a staple in modern day Hollywood - how survival-efficient is that?

    I'm not suggesting that it's the only mechanism at work. I actually don't have an argument with Scott's idea of human beings as social animals - that seems to me self-evidently apparent. But what a social animal is, one among many, strikes me as rather paradoxical and complicated, and the single organism, in a complex animal like a human being, is always going to be in tension - fruitful or otherwise - with the community in which it lives. To put it another way, society actually _needs_ individuals.

  2. #32
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    But you're just talking 'individual' in the sense that we are discrete organisms, aren't you? The problem posed goes far deeper: the suggestion made was that we humans are hardwired to be deceived in order to facilitate social stability. Consider, for the majority of recorded history, the vast majority believed that things like the inferiority of women, the propriety of slavery, the conquest of competitors, and so on, was perfectly 'natural and true.'

    Or consider this thoroughly modern paradox: Never in the history of species, have humans generally believed themselves more independent and self-sufficient, while at the same time, never in the history of the species, have humans in fact been less self-sufficient or more interdependent.

    Or even the commercials you watch. Any commercial that does not give you facts arguing the superiority of a product over it's competitors is actually trying to train you rather than convince you. The vast majority of advertising you encounter is predicated on the fact that manipulating product perceptions via training is a more effective sales generating mechanism than rationally engaging you on the merits of the products involved.

    This, among many, many other things, makes the 'tough-minded individual' as celebrated throughout our culture (especially in advertising - individuality is 'proven' through product choices) as a bizarre, self-aggrandizing hoax that functions in much the same way the 'divine right of kings' functioned not so long ago - as a way to preserve the existing social order. To keep us all happily convinced that we're not the cogs we in fact are...

    Authentic individuality would be a critical individuality, one aware of its shortcomings, and uncompromising in its demand to be rationally engaged rather than ideologically managed.

  3. #33
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    the suggestion made was that we humans are hardwired to be deceived in order to facilitate social stability. Consider, for the majority of recorded history, the vast majority believed that things like the inferiority of women, the propriety of slavery, the conquest of competitors, and so on, was perfectly 'natural and true.'

    Or consider this thoroughly modern paradox: Never in the history of species, have humans generally believed themselves more independent and self-sufficient, while at the same time, never in the history of the species, have humans in fact been less self-sufficient or more interdependent.

    Or even the commercials you watch. Any commercial that does not give you facts arguing the superiority of a product over it's competitors is actually trying to train you rather than convince you.
    I don't know about that word "hardwired" in connection with human consciousness. There's a paradox there even in the argument you make. If we were really "hardwired" to be deceived, then how would it be possible to be undeceived? How would we be "trainable"? Enormous parts of the indvidual human pysche are formed through environmental and social factors, as well as by genetic predispositions. It's the combination of the two, in all its infinite variety, that makes an individual sentient being. And haven't human beings always been interdependent? What is a tribe? I don't see that as being exclusive of individuality: of course the two can go together.

    It seems to me, rather, that the condition of being deceived is an inherent part of the acquisition of complex language. Protozoa don't lie to one another; even cats don't. Human beings can speak and make an alternative reality through their language, which can be convincing enough to make others believe it. "In the beginning was the Word..."

  4. #34
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    So are you saying there's no more or less to interdependence? Of course there is: where before it took only dozens to maintain a sustainable social unit, now it takes millions. Otherwise I'm not really sure I understand your point. I'm not sure how the general human capacity to be deceived bears on the thesis that we humans are in fact - perhaps on the basis of a hardwired disposition - deceived on a mass scale. I need some help!

  5. #35
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    I'm not sure how the general human capacity to be deceived bears on the thesis that we humans are in fact - perhaps on the basis of a hardwired disposition - deceived on a mass scale. I need some help
    Ok - a question. Does a social structure depend crucially on deception, or only some kinds of social structure? Is it possible to have a social structure that is not dependent on deception? Are we deceived because it is possible to deceieve us, so therefore it's possible for us to be undeceived; or are we deceived because that is how societies are made? (Answers in a purple envelope by Friday).

    I guess the ultimate model of total social deception is Orwell's 1984.

  6. #36
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    Actually, some would argue that 20th century consumer capitalist societies provide a better example, because the 'thought police' have been internalized. You have millions of 'cogs' convinced that they're 'cognizers,' because they haven't the foggiest as to the fact of their social situation, and because they think simply having opinions is what it means to be critically self-aware.

    In this account, Orwell had it backward. The key isn't to remove concepts like 'freedom' from our conceptual vocabulary, but rather to redefine it so that it accords with existing models of domination.

  7. #37
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    In this account, Orwell had it backward. The key isn't to remove concepts like 'freedom' from our conceptual vocabulary, but rather to redefine it so that it accords with existing models of domination.
    Uh - isn't that precisely what Orwell showed? The Ministry of Love (miniluv) and so on. There are plenty of real life models. Arbeit macht frei. Freedom and democracy that require the suppression of dangerous poets, academics and ideas and so on, in contemporary America...

  8. #38
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    I was talking about Newspeak, regarding Orwell. What I'm posing here is the argument (which I'm don't necessarily agree with) that liberal democracies, even when they function properly, are actually systems of domination and exploitation. Why bother suppressing the poets or the academics when no one cares to listen.

    Societies are basically networks of repeated, interconnected actions. Since beliefs are the basis of actions, all societies require compatible belief-sets in order to maintain cohesion. This is why, in the past, entrenched powers were always so keen on managing the beliefs of the populace. Change the beliefs, and you change the actions. Change the actions, and you change the society. Change the society, and entrenched interests are replaced.

    Now what if you came up with a belief-set and system of dessimination that both served entrenched interests and was immune to belief replacement. You wouldn't need to suppress contrary believers because they could never 'convince' anyone of their cause. They become systematically marginalized, the object of spoofs of television.

    If this is the case in our own society, I think the obvious candidate for this belief-set would have to be 'individualism.'

  9. #39
    immer noch dabei Ntschotschi's Avatar
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    Belief replacement takes place when the belief-systems die. And they usually do, some time or other.
    It's not something of an conscious change but only something we can describe afterwards to have happend.
    Still I think there is space for indiviual choices and that's where it starts to get interesting.
    Orwell's novel deals with the one individual who isn't completely streamlined.
    The situations where there are no stereotyped answers are the crucial situations.
    That's what the big stories are about: You have an indiviual who can't deal with an given situation on the background of his upbringing, social context etc., where the big narratives don't comply and you have to find your own answer.
    I think this question is inspiring for most of the best novels: regardles how determined we as species might be, we have to give our own indiviual answers to the big questions of life.
    Agreed that most of the time we aren't even aware that we answer this questions simply by living our lives as they are.
    This questions mainly crop up, when there's a crisis, or disturbances.
    But their relevance isn't measured in their frequency.
    Philosophic discussions of this topics are mostly theoretical and sometimes completely different if this same philosophers have to actually decide some crucial situation.
    This kind of questions crop up in any given belief system, be it individualism or totaliarism. There's an resoduum of personal decisions where we're thrown back on our own recources.

  10. #40
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    This kind of questions crop up in any given belief system, be it individualism or totaliarism. There's an resoduum of personal decisions where we're thrown back on our own recources.
    But this is the whole point of Newspeak, isn't it? To gain control over that residuum by commanding the fallback conceptual resources we rely on when events fail to conform to our stereotyped interpretations. Don't forget how 1984 ends!

    I'm not really sure I disagree with you, Ntschotschi, but I guess it's simply a matter of degree. I'm thinking of your post on the 'geek thread,' since the (troubling) cultural differences seem to throw the control mechanisms at issue into relief.

    What makes Ingsoc's systematic control seem so obviously nightmarish is it's centralization. What I'm suggesting is that this very centralization is what makes it easy to identify and to resist. Whereas, the systematic control in the American system is thoroughly decentralized, and therefore difficult to identify and almost impossible to resist.

  11. #41
    Books of Pellinor alison's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Scott Bakker
    But this is the whole point of Newspeak, isn't it? To gain control over that residuum by commanding the fallback conceptual resources we rely on when events fail to conform to our stereotyped interpretations. Don't forget how 1984 ends!

    I'm not really sure I disagree with you, Ntschotschi, but I guess it's simply a matter of degree. I'm thinking of your post on the 'geek thread,' since the (troubling) cultural differences seem to throw the control mechanisms at issue into relief.

    What makes Ingsoc's systematic control seem so obviously nightmarish is it's centralization. What I'm suggesting is that this very centralization is what makes it easy to identify and to resist. Whereas, the systematic control in the American system is thoroughly decentralized, and therefore difficult to identify and almost impossible to resist.
    I wonder if it is so decentralised? From the outside, power looks extraordinarily centralised (the White House); and the rest is about an ideology massaged and transmitted by a corporate mass media. (With all caveats here for huge over simplification...)

    In 1984, you have to remember that the only people required to know Newspeak, and who are savagely punished for transgression, are the Party members, the intellectual elite. The Proles (the masses) are on one hand much freer - it doesn't matter what they do. They are controlled by infinitely deferred desire (the Lottery), by emotive and shallowly sentimental mass media (remember the singing Prole woman?) and the brutalising effects of poverty and ignorance, and can be on the whole safely ignored, as their potential power is subverted from square one. Winston Smith's idea that hope lies with the Proles is shown to be an illusion.

  12. #42
    immer noch dabei Ntschotschi's Avatar
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    Of course you could take the question one step further and ask if there's really something like free choice at all.

    Recent studies of neuroscientists take this very much into question as they supposedly show that the act precedes the actual decision to act.

    So actually our feeling to be able to make free choices is an illusion, we're completey determined and science has solved the twothousand year old philosophical question if there's freedom of will. What's all this fuzz about?

    I personally think that this result is purely academic cause it doesn't help you one bit to lead your life and make decisions noone else can make for you.

    Regarding the influence of society and social factors I ask you if there've been times where there was more individual freedom than today?

    Many and most earlier and ancient societys were much more kloseknit and controlling than modern urban multicultural surroundings.

    I can vividly remember the seventies where it was completely unthinkable to live together as an unmarried couple, homosexuals were regarded as criminals and so on.

    Maybe there are other conformity standards today, for sure, many of them subconsciuos, but there's never been a time where you could gain so much information from outside your cultural habitat, world wide.

    So I think with the conforming influence of mass media and their overall presence grew some kind of regulative influence as well, where individuals can exchange their ideas via media and cultivate their own "geek" interests.

  13. #43
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    I wonder if it is so decentralised? From the outside, power looks extraordinarily centralised (the White House); and the rest is about an ideology massaged and transmitted by a corporate mass media. (With all caveats here for huge over simplification...)
    Don't forget to be dialectical though. The corporations wouldn't be pandering it unless they were making money.

    This is the genius of the system: People don't want truth (and all the uncertainty and messiness it entails). We're hardwired to generally prefer simplistic, flattering, and implausibly certain claims. As a result we're caught in what I call a 'sycophantic feedback loop.' Since 'information' is a market product competing against other market products, everything is spun to be as appealing as possible. This is why when you thumb through the TV Guide it reads like a laundry list of our paleothic attention-preferences. In small, highly interdependent communities, keeping up with gossip is crucial to survival and reproductive success. In a global community of billions it's pretty much irrelevant, but since it's in our hardwiring, and since the corporations compete to appease, the vast majority of us build media-assisted 'virtual paleo-worlds' to live in. We watch the OJ Simpson trial while 800 000 people are butchered in Rwanda. And we sleep like babies...

    As sketchy as 'rational choice' is (whatver you do, Ntschotschi, do NOT read a book called The Illusion of Conscious Will), it's clear we have none whatsoever when we are systematically deluded.

  14. #44
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    lol, I like the "media-assisted paleo-worlds" (:
    Flatscreens as "digitalized cave paintings", supermarkets as hunting grounds, sport events as tribal gatherings ....
    I think you're right about the importance of gossip too.
    TV-series are some kind of surrogate for sure - if you move to the other side of the planet if there's no other common topic you can still talk about the Simpsons or Star Wars. It's kind of soothing really.
    Of course I'd never read a book called "The Illusion of conscious Will", why should I?
    Other books I'll never read:"The Illusion of true Love", "The Illusion of the Self"
    (ouch I read that one), "The Illusion of Truth", "The Illusion of Unselfishness", "The Illusion of Reality", "The Illusion of really understanding each other"...
    Why? I love illusions, I want to read books which produce crazy, poetic, fantastic illusions.
    Why should I bother to read books which construct illusions by deconstructing other illusions and in doing that proove themselves as illusionary as their illusionary objects.
    "So you're writing a book about The Illusion of conscious Will?"
    "Yes, I've studied this problem for years but in the end it was a completely subconscious decision"
    Am I getting myself clear? I fear not! It's the language barrier most probably

  15. #45
    It may be that what's happening is futher development of specialization in human societies. When you have a person in the wild in that loin cloth, he has to both find food and think of deep things. But nowdays, we know that some are good at growing crops, some at making cars, some at figuring out natural laws and some at - well - philosophy. So when it comes to a choice of beliefs we look at those available from philosophers or theologians and accept one of them once and for all. We trust them to make them well, just like we trust our scientists to not forge data and we trust out automotive industry to not make randomly exploding cars. And in philosophy departments, we do see a questioning of beliefs.

    So maybe what's happening is not at all a tension between society and individual. It's just that some individuals make their own baskets for fun when they're not working and some forge their own belief systems when they're not making cars.

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