4 June 1999...............Evolution and Creation - The Middle Ground
Here is an essay by TCC member Jim Vinoski on the debate between the Darwinists and the Creationists. Comment: Spiritual growth leads to interpersonal development which facilitates the growth of civil society and spontaneous social order which in turn leads to harmonious social organization. Spiritual decay leads to the demise of civil society and facilitates the rise of the State. Vinoski answers the question: Can we believe in God and evolution at the same time?
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The debate rages endlessly between those who believe the Theory of Evolution (Darwinists) and those who believe in a strict adherence to the Biblical story of creation (Creationists). Whole shelves of books have been devoted to the attempt to persuade us that one or the other view is the correct one. But are we not being offered the fallacy of false choice? That is, can there not be a middle ground between the two extremes?
First, an aside: we often hear the proponents of the Darwinist view proclaiming evolution a "fact," as though there is simply no debate. And in a limited sense, evolution is a fact; we have ample evidence of not only biological, but also economic and psychological evolution. But these realities in no way directly translate into an incontrovertible proof that Darwinism is wholly correct, or that man definitely evolved from apes. That's why it's still called the Theory of Evolution. (Science is rarely about proving things; usually it's more about working with the current theories until something more correct comes along.) Those who wish to cut the debate short should remember the "fact" of the Earth being the center of the universe, a belief Copernicus and Galileo had the temerity to question. In that case it was the religious who proclaimed the debate over -- until science proved them wrong, and the Vatican had to apologize to Galileo (albeit a few hundred years too late!)
But back to the false choice charge: cannot both a belief in God and a belief in evolution logically coexist in an individual's mind? I submit that not only is such a pairing possible, but that it is eminently reasonable. Indeed, a belief in evolution is to me the only rational way to see God's creation.
All Western religions with which I am familiar hold as truth that God has bestowed upon man free will. It seems the only logical belief when one considers the full meaning of this notion -- that man may freely choose his course of action, but must suffer the consequences, whether good or bad, for any action -- is that God created a world in which he does not actively interfere. Without going into agonizing detail, my basic argument is that God must hold Himself bound by the same laws of physics and nature as man, if we are truly to have free will. With this belief, I hold concurrently that God's means of continuing to improve upon his creation is evolution, in all its varied forms -- indeed, that God's method of creation is itself evolution. The Bible tells us that God first created the heavenly bodies, then animals, and finally man. This order of creation fits the Darwinist theory nicely. There are those scientists who agree with this perspective. A recent article printed in The Washington Times, by Jeff Nesmith of the Cox News Service, dealt with the latest research on the Big Bang Theory. Nesmith quoted physicist and theologian Ian Barbour, who said data from the Hubble Space Telescope indicate that the universe "will keep expanding, rather than collapsing, and this does look a little bit more like the creation story in Genesis than the other model, which offered the idea of a succession of universes." What's more, as Nesmith himself points out, a number of cosmologists now say "the universe may be too intricate, too logical, too orderly to have just 'happened.' "
Clearly such arguments will fall on deaf ears with two groups: Christian fundamentalists, who believe in a literal translation of the Bible, and committed atheists. (To inject a personal side note, I've always been puzzled by atheists, who castigate the religous vehemently, while completely missing the reality that atheism takes every bit as much faith as religion.) What's interesting is the majority of non-fundamentalists who nonetheless believe that evolution and creation are mutually exclusive. As Christian philosopher C.S. Lewis pointed out in his book, *Mere Christianity,* however, those who believe in purposive evolution clearly attribute the evolutionary process to a mind of some sort, and "if they do, then 'a mind bringing life into existence and leading it to perfection' is really a God, and their view is thus identical with the Religious." And if this is the case, cannot the religious, vice-versa, also reasonably hold an evolutionary perspective of the (ongoing) creation of the universe?
We have ample evidence of changes in the natural world around us. Evolution is really simply a logical conclusion reached by observing these changes; the results of changes either work, and the changed system prospers, or else they don't and it perishes. That is evolution. There are certainly those who choose to believe the changes are wholly random, and their resultant order wholly spontaneous. But agnostic or atheistic Darwinists should not have a corner on the market of clear empirical evidence. To ignore the reality of evolution (with the understanding that acceptance of the concept of evolution as a fact is not acceptance of the theory as a whole), for a religious person, is (to my mind) to truly miss one of the wonders of God's creation. (JV) Question: Can interpersonal development progress without spiritual growth? (PD)
6 June 1999...................."the government schools are exploding"
The following article was written by Vin Suprynowicz, assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Although controversial, it raises some important questions about our education system.
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Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold planned and carried out premeditated murder at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Those killings can never be justified. But the two lads did at least have the gumption to follow through on that part of their plan which called for them to take their own lives. Harris and Klebold thus join their victims in qualifying as the latest martyrs to the greatest failed social experiment of this century, the mandatory government youth propaganda camps, still known to most of the press and public as "public schools."
We do not see private or parochial school students shooting up the joint (though the infection may yet spread there, if the strings attached to tax-funded "vouchers" succeed in turning private schools into clones of the government brand.) Neither do we see home-schoolers going mad with readily available firearms. Nonetheless, we shall now see the government youth camps dressed up with more metal detectors and armed guards. This at least has the merit of making their true nature more obvious.
The effect of such institutions on captive adolescent males was first seen when young Native American boys were kidnapped and shipped off to "Indian schools." Their hair shorn and forbidden to speak their native tongues, cut off from the fathers and uncles who could have trained them in their tribes' traditions, that generation of Indian men grew up to have fantastic rates of alcoholism, suicide, and every other form of sociopathology.
For millennia, all around the globe, human cultures have recognized that male adolescence is a dangerous necessity. The flood of hormones that turns boys into men produces the strength, aggression, and competitiveness necessary for success in the hunt, protection of the tribe against hostile neighbors, and victory in the reproductive battle to pass on these desirable characteristics.
But left unchecked, these characteristics can also produce rape and murder -- William Golding's nightmare vision from "Lord of the Flies." Ranchers have long recognized this danger, and respond by castrating most male animals before they reach maturity.
Since that is not generally an acceptable remedy with our own children, young males in many cultures have long been taken at adolescence by their fathers and uncles into the wilderness, where they are taught to hunt and the skills of war, but also the rules that protect defenseless women and children. Often, the older men also indoctrinate them into their religious mysteries, showing the youth how to use the hallucinogenic plants of the region to achieve a religious vision, cementing his sense of his proper role in society.
By contrast, in our modern and deeply perverted manner of raising up young men in sterile rooms full of desks and chairs, such male guidance has virtually disappeared. Young men who refuse to snitch on their fellows --observing a male code of honor -- are considered disciplinary problems. Though the schools endlessly prate about the evils of "drugs," those who resist discipline are doped up -- chemically castrated -- with Prozac, Ritalin, or any of a whole new pharmacopeia of handy nostrums guaranteed to reduce resistance or aggression.
(Look at the energy being poured into tracking where young Messrs. Harris and Klebold "got their guns." If they had used their cars to mow down 13 pedestrians, would we now be crying "Where on earth did they get those Chevrolets?" Or might someone instead be spending a little time running down early reports that Eric Harris tried to join the Marines, but may have been turned down because he had been prescribed the psychiatric drug Luvox -- fluvoxamine maleate -- with known side effects including impaired judgement? After all, we know for a fact young Kip Kinckel of Springfield, Oregon had only recently been taken off such medications when he decided to kill his parents and shoot up that welfare awards breakfast down at his school last year.
This institutionalization of young males by age cohort was not a huge problem before 1945, when only a small minority finished high school, based on the sensible recognition that few had the vocation to go on to study Latin, Greek, and philosophy. There was little social stigma attached to a young lad leaving school shortly after reaching puberty to work the family farm or take up a trade, marry his sweetheart, and start a family.
But now the educrats have gone mad. Even as improved nutrition brings on puberty at an ever younger age, vast resources are mobilized to stigmatize as a "dropout and a loser" any lad who leaves the government behavior modification labs before age 18. (No, this has nothing to do with literacy. Alexis de Tocqueville found ours the most literate nation on earth, 30 years before the founding of the first tax-funded government school in Massachusetts.)
Herb Goldberg, Ph.D., writes in "The Hazards of Being Male": "In the public schools, the majority of students regarded as problem cases by teachers are boys. ..." As early as elementary school, "While there is great peer pressure to act like a boy, the teacher's coveted classroom values are traditionally 'feminine' ones. The emphasis is on politeness, neatness, docility, and cleanliness, with not much approved room being given for the boy to flex his muscles. ..."
In a study of 12,000 students, "The researcher correlated masculinity scores of the boys on the California Psychological Inventory with their school grades," Dr. Goldberg reports. "She found that the higher the boy scored on the masculine scale, the lower his report card average tended to be. ..." The result of this institutional rejection of "maleness"? "Boys show a significantly greater prevalence of ... bizarre behavior, short attention span, (and) hyperactivity." Mr. Goldberg's book was published 22 years ago. It's not as though we weren't warned. Picture a steam boiler with all the safety valves welded shut. Now, picture it beginning to shudder, vibrate, and bang. These are your government schools. You have been warned. Questions: What role, if any, did culture, politics, and evolutionary psychology play in this tragic event? Does mandatory education in state controlled schools have any direct or indirect effect on the degree of interpersonal development? (PD)
7 June 1999................natural selection's values
Quoting from THE MORAL ANIMAL by Robert Wright-------------"This calls for a couple of disclaimers. First, to say something is a product of natural selection is not to say that it is unchangeable; just about any manifestation of human nature can be changed, given an apt alteration of the environment--though the required alteration will in some cases be prohibitively drastic. Second, to say that something is 'natural' is not to say that it is good. There is no reason to adopt natural selection's 'values' as our own. But presumably if we want to pursue values that are at odds with natural selection's, we need to know what we're up against. If we want to change some disconcertingly stubborn parts of our moral code, it would help to know where they come from. And where they ULTIMATELY come from is human nature, however complexly that nature is refracted by the many layers of circumstance and cultural inheritance through which it passes. No, there is no 'double-standard gene' But yes, to understand the double standard we must understand our genes and how males have been excluded from sex, and their traits have thus been discarded by natural selection." Question: What are some examples, other than the double-standard, of "natural selection's values" that deserve to be altered? (PD)
10 June 1999...................sympathy and society
Quoting from THE MORAL SENSE by James Q. Wilson-----------------"Before he became the preeminent economist of all time, Adam Smith was the preeminent moral philosopher of his time, and his attempt to explain moral sentiments was founded on the near-universal human attribute of sympathy. However selfish man may be supposed, Smith wrote, 'there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it.' One such principle is 'pity or compassion, the emotion which we feel for the misery of others, when we either see it, or are made to conceive it in a very lively manner.'
This statement is often taken to mean that Smith believed that we have, or ought to have, a tendency to help others--that is, to be benevolent. That is almost correct, but not quite. Smith did not mean that we always feel so much distress at the plight of others that we feel obliged to alleviate it; were that the case, it would behoove us to perform endless and probably futile acts of benevolence. Indeed, were pity our chief motive, we would all soon be either paupers or busybodies. What he said was a bit more complicated: sympathy defined as the capacity for and inclination to imagine the feelings of others, is a source--to Smith, THE source--of human moral sentiments.
We have a natural desire to be admired by others; to be admired by them, we must please them. Since our happiness depends somewhat on the goodwill of our fellows, we naturally seek to understand what may please or offend them To do this we seek to enter into the minds and feelings of others, and we are aware that others try to grasp our own thoughts and feelings. We cannot, of course, know what others feel, and so we must imagine it. Our powers of imagination are very strong; they can be aroused not only by the plight of a friend but by the flickering lights and shadows on a motion picture screen, so that we are reduced to tears by the sight of a fictitious boy looking in vain for an equally fictitious dog.
But we do not simply share the feelings we imagine others to have; we also judge them. More particularly, we judge whether the actions and feelings of another person are proportionate. A rich boy distraught at the loss of a penny arouses not sympathy but derision; a boy indifferent to the loss of a loving dog arouses not sympathy but disdain. We approve of the conduct and character of another person if, when we imagine ourselves in his position, our feelings correspond to those that we think motivate him.
This sounds more complicated than it is. Suppose we see someone reacting angrily to being overcharged. We ordinarily do nothing, but we judge the other person's reactions. If we think they are appropriate, we say to ourselves something like this: 'I know just how he felt! I wouldn't have paid that bill either!' If we think his reaction was too extreme, we judge differently: 'He's overreacting; there's no need to get carried away' In neither case have we done anything, but that does not mean we lack sympathy. Sympathy--our sense of another's feelings and of their appropriateness given the circumstances--is the basis of our judgment. More bluntly, to sympathize IS to judge." Questions: Are we born with the capacity to be sympathetic? Can people be manipulated by politicians who understand how to arouse this emotion? In a democracy is it likely that rational analysis will prevail over appeals to our emotions? What is the relationship, if any, between morality and our capacity to feel emotions? (PD)
12 June 1999................Doves and Hawks
Quoting from THE ORIGINS OF VIRTUE by Matt Ridley-----------"The great advantage of human society is the division of labour, and the 'non-zero-sumness' it achieves. This phrase, invented by Robert Wright, neatly captures the point that society can be greater than the sum of its parts. But this still does not tell us how human society got started in the first place. We know it was not through nepotism. There is no evidence for the inbreeding and vicarious reproduction that is a necessary part of any nepotistic colony. So what was it? The strongest hypothesis is that it was reciprocity. In Adam Smith's words, 'the propensity to truck, barter and exchange one thing for another.' ________________
Old as the idea may be, the prisoner's dilemma was first formalized as a game in 1950 by Merril Flood and Melvin Dresher of the RAND corporation in California and first rephrased as an anecdote about prisoners by Albert Tucker of Princeton University a few months later. As Flood and Dresher realized, prisoner's dilemmas are all around us. Broadly speaking any situation in which you are tempted to do something, but know it would be a great mistake if everybody did the same thing, is likely to be a prisoner's dilemma. ___________ If everybody could be trusted not to steal cars, cars need not be locked and much time and expense could be saved in insurance premiums, security devices and the like. We would all be better off. But in such a trusting world, an individual can make himself even better off by defecting from the social contract and stealing a car. Likewise, all fishermen would be better off if everybody exercised restraint and did not take too many fish, but if everybody is taking as much as he can, the fisherman who shows restraint only forfeits his share to somebody more selfish. So we all pay the collective price of individualism._____________ Given the starting conditions of the game, cooperation is illogical.
This conclusion was deeply disliked, not just because it seemed so immoral in its implications, but because it seemed so at odds with the way real people behave. Cooperation is a frequent feature of human society; trust is the very foundation of social and economic life. Is it irrational? Do we have to override our instincts to be nice to each other? Does crime pay? Are people honest only when it pays them to be so?______________
Then one experiment turned this conclusion on its head. For thirty years, it showed, entirely the wrong lesson had been drawn from the prisoner's dilemma. Selfishness was not the rational thing to do after all---so long as the game is played more than once.__________
In the early 1970's, a biologist rediscovered the Alchian--Williams lesson. John Maynard Smith, an enginneer-geneticist, had never heard of the prisoner's dilemma. But he saw that biology could use game theory as profitably as economics. He argued that, just as rational individuals should adopt strategies like those predicted by game theory as the least worst in any circumstances, so natural selection should design animals to behave instinctively with similar strategies. In other words, the decision to choose the Nash equilibrium (PD note: ' when each player's strategy is an optimal response to the strategies adopted by other players, and nobody has an incentive to deviate from their chosen strategy'....Ridley) in a game could be reached both by conscious, rational deduction and by evolutionary history. Selection, not the individual, can also decide. Maynard Smith called an evolved instinct that met a Nash equilibrium an 'evolutionary stable strategy': no animal playing it would be worse off than an animal playing a different strategy.
Maynard Smith's first example was an attempt to shed light on why animals do not generally fight to the death. He set the game up as a contest between Hawk and Dove. Hawk, which is roughly equivalent to 'defect' in the prisoner's dilemma, easily beats Dove, but is bloodily wounded in a fight with another Hawk. Dove, which is equivalent to 'cooperate', reaps benefits when it meets another Dove, but cannot survive against Hawk. However, if the game is played over and over again, the softer qualities of Dove become more useful. In particular, Retaliator---a Dove that turns into a Hawk when it meets one---proves a successful strategy." Questions: What aspects of the social environment are conducive to the reproduction of Doves? Of Hawks? Are Retaliators an endangered species? (PD)
16 June 1999.................destroying the capacity for spontaneous sociability
Quoting from TRUST by Francis Fukuyama-----------------"Trust is the expectation that arises within a community of regular, honest, and cooperative behavior, based on commonly shared norms, on the part of other members of that community. Those norms can be about deep 'value' questions like the nature of God or justice, but they also encompass secular norms like professional standards and codes of behavior. That is, we trust a doctor not to do us deliberate injury because we expect him or her to live by the Hippocratic oath and the standards of the medical profession.
Social capital is a capability that arises from the prevalence of trust in a society or in certain parts of it. It can be embodied in the smallest and most basic social group, the family, as well as the largest of all groups, the nation, and in all the other groups in between. Social capital differs from other forms of human capital insofar as it is usually created and transmitted through cultural mechanisms like religion, tradition, or historical habit. Economists typically argue that the formation of social groups can be explained as the result of voluntary contract between individuals who have made the rational calculation that cooperation is in their long-term self-interest. By this account, trust is not necessary for cooperation: enlightened self-interest, together with legal mechanisms like contracts, can compensate for an absense of trust and allow strangers jointly to create an organization that will work for a common purpose. Groups can be formed at any time based on self-interest, and group formation is not culture-dependent.
But while contract and self-interest are important sources of association, the most effective organizations are based on communitites of shared ethical values. These communities do not require extensive contract and legal regulation of their relations because prior moral consensus gives members of the group a basis for mutual trust._________
By contrast, people who do not trust one another will end up cooperating only under a system of formal rules and regulatiions, which have to be negotiated, agreed to, litigated, and enforced, sometimes by coercive means. This legal apparatus, serving as a substitute for trust, entails what economists call 'transaction costs'. Widespread distrust in a society, in other words, imposes a kind of tax on all forms of economic activity, a tax that high-trust societies do not have to pay._________
Social capital is not distributed uniformly among societies. Some show a markedly greater proclivity for association than others, and the preferred forms of association differ. In some, family and kinship constitute the primary form of association; in others, voluntary associations are much stronger and serve to draw people out of their families. In the United States, for example, religious conversion often induced people to leave their families to follow the call of a new religious sect, or at least enjoined on them new duties that were in competition with duty to their families. In China, by contrast, Buddhist priests were less often successful, and frequently castigated, for seducing children away from their families. The same society may acquire social capital over time, or lose it. France at the end of the Middle Ages had a dense network of civil associations, but the French capacity for spontaneous sociability was effectively destroyed beginning in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries by a victorious centralizing monarchy." Questions: Is (Are?) the United States also losing social capital as did France in the 16th and 17th centuries and for the same reason? Is this a trend that could be reversed by some plan? Or is it another example of a complex adaptive system (like the weather) which we may come to more fully understand yet still not be able to control? (PD)
20 June 1999..............a procedure of discovery
Quoting from THE FATAL CONCEIT by F.A.Hayek--------------------"One revealing mark of how poorly the ordering principle of the market is understood is the common notion that 'cooperation is better than competition'. Cooperation, like solidarity, presupposes a large measure of agreement on ends as well as on method employed in their pursuit. It makes sense in a small group whose members share particular habits, knowledge and beliefs about possibilities. It makes hardly any sense when the problem is to adapt to unknown circumstances; yet it is this adaptation to the unknown on which the coordination of efforts in the extended order rests. Competition is a procedure of discovery, a procedure involved in all evolution, that led man unwittingly to respond to novel situations; and through further competition, not through agreement, we gradually increase our efficiency.
To operate beneficially, competition requires that those involved observe rules rather than resort to physical force. Rules alone can unite an extended order. (Common ends can do so only during a temporary emergency that creates a common danger for all. The 'moral equivalent of war' offered to evoke solidarity is but a relapse into cruder principles of coordination.) Neither all ends pursued, nor all means used, are known or need to be known to anybody, in order for them to be taken account of within a spontaneous order. Such an order forms of itself. That rules become increasingly better adjusted to generate order happened not because men better understood their function, but because those groups prospered who happened to change them in a way that rendered them increasingly adaptive. This evolution was not linear, but resulted from continued trial and error, constant ' experimentation' in arenas whererin different orders contended. Of course there was no intention to experiment - yet the changes in rules thrown forth by historical accident, analogous to genetic mutations, had something of the same effect." Questions: Do most people understand the function of competition or the purpose behind the 'rules' of the extended order? What is the consequence of a lack of understanding of these fundamental concepts? (PD)
22 June 1999...................regarding the 16 June 1999 input
I think Fukuyama is good on trust as far as he goes. However, I found his treatment of the idea of "social capital" to be inadequate. To me, trust and capital are not the same kind of social thing. Trust is an intangible like tolerance. Capital is something tangible like a tool that can be at least the subject matter of contract.
I recommend Stewart and Cohen (FIGMENTS OF REALITY, Cambridge, 1997) on the subject of social capital. There, they introduce the term "extelligence" to denote the accummulated store of "how-to-get-along-together-in-the-real-world" knowledge, which they refer to as social capital. They suggest this kind of common knowledge is the cultural counterpart of individual intelligence. However, whereas intelligence is an individual, self-conscious and self-serving phenomenon, extelligence is a "complicit" phenomenon, i.e. it is applicable to situations involving accomplices like in a business venture, a market, a voluntary association, etc.
Social capital is an elusive concept. I say elusive because we don't yet have a consensus definition of society, let alone social phenomena in detail. Until we do, we will have no means by which we can comfortably apply an economic analogy to society as a whole such as "social capital." I note our discussions of matters "socionomic" have tended to coalesce on the idea of society as "spontaneous order among naturally-evolving, autonomous individuals." That's progress. Hopefully, this idea will catch on and spread.
I think Stewart and Cohen have considerably advanced the understanding of society and its evolutionary processes. They explain how it takes technology or know-how of all kinds, not just things like structural engineering, metallurgy, injection molding, cooking, electronics, hygiene, biochemistry or medicine but also proprietorship, undivided ownership, money, banking, exchange, communication, pooling of risk (insurance), specialization, etc. In other words, what we might think of as the social graces are actually technologies no less dependent on antecedent scientific insight than physical and biological expertise. Technological knowledge tells us that if we carefully do "this, that and the other," we can expect to get "such and such" as a result, not with certainty but with some significant probability. This is another kind of trust that is shared by scientists and natural parents. It is an impersonal kind of trust apparently not recognized by Fukuyama. It is the most significant kind of trust underlying the existence of any market.
Clearly, technological growth (all kinds, of course) not only accounts for evolving and spreading social order but it is most conducive of individual initiative, innovation and spontaneous human activity. A lot of such trust is manifest in individual enterprise. Not only does the entrepreneur trust his fellows will express a modicum of good will, commitment and responsibility, he also trusts his ability and know-how will be sufficient to deliver on his promises.
It takes uncommon guts to act in ignorance. Ever since Blaise Pascal invented probability theory, it has been understood that the risks of living to some future time and state are proportional to one's ignorance. On his discovery of Pascal's work, Isaac Newton was moved to state "There is nothing so fearful as ignorance in action." No wonder individual paralysis and social stagnation are associated with ignorance.
Life as a pursuit of happiness becomes so much easier under a technologically informed regime. And such a regime is inherently democratic because there can be no artificial barriers to commanding the common knowledge. Nature is there for all to apprehend and comprehend. Science is the original "equal opportunity."
It is technology that produces systematic change and social growth. And it is equally clear that such change and growth is not necessarily or always to the emotional comfort of everyone affected even though it may be "peaceful" and "equitable." Indeed, many sentimental, nostalgic and conservative elements in the population perceive technology as a threat. They not only denounce any change not of their making but will attempt to hold back the tide as if that was possible. Since all must swim in a sea of change, there is no place to stand against the tide.To ward off the evil of change, such conservatives would erect an umbrella of protection over all by establishing and maintaining an oligarchy that mimics natural parenthood. This structure is necessarily a synthetic, corporate and perpetual institution purporting to "serve and protect" the otherwise naked victims of change for the alleged good of everyone. Traditionally, "everyone" is a "class" limited to members of the ethnic family of the oligarchs. Pity the poor outsider.
You quoted Fukuyama as follows: "France at the end of the Middle Ages had a dense network of civil associations, but the French capacity for spontaneous sociability was effectively destroyed beginning in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries by a victorious centralizing monarchy." Then you ask: "Is (Are?) the United States also losing social capital as did France in the 16th and 17th centuries and for the same reason? Is this a trend that could be reversed by some plan? Or is it another example of a complex adaptive system (like the weather) which we may come to more fully understand yet still not be able to control?" I would say "yes" is the cryptic answer to each of your questions. However, I'll try to respond more fully as follows.
No doubt, the Capet's and the Bourbon's of renaissance France were full of vanity, hubris, paternalism and parochialism. But not even they could suppress the spontaneity of their subjects forever. Consider the works of liberals like Voltaire, Condorcet and Bastiat. Thus, they could not suppress discovery and prevent change. They could only inhibit discovery and make change more radical and violent when it ultimately did occur. However, the French in France would never be the same afterward. Even now, most of the "metropolitan citizens" retain an affection for a papa state and a reticence to engage in or patronize entrepreneurial initiatives not subsidized or at least sanctioned by the state.
If technology is truly the accummulated social capital or extelligence, it is the source of social empowerment of real parents. However, parents cannot pass on to their offspring what they do not know. They cannot nurture them in ways they themselves or exemplary others in the community of their fellows never learned to practice. It matters not whether the coming generation is deprived out of ignorance, blindness, neglect, predjudice or "official" discouragement of alternative practices by threat of forceful intervention into their lives.
No doubt, parents generally seek to make the way of the future easier and more comfortable for their children. Being only human, they may take a shortsighted approach. This outcome is most likely under prevailing pressures to conform to the arbitrary rules laid down by a political establishment. Thus, parents' family counsel may emphasize political etiquette, participation in political rituals and obedience to the established institutions and authorities as if that will keep their children out of harms way. They may even encourage their offspring to go for security instead of opportunity by seeking a government job, then to be resigned to a life of drudgery and bovine placidity thereafter. Nevermind that any security they may obtain will be at the expense of relatively unprotected and more productive others. Nevermind that the outcome will be resentment from those who are disadvantaged and exploited by the coercive practices of redistribution and legal privilege. Nevermind the impetus to factional animosity and envy at the expense of general amity and good will.
The tendency of mankind to resort to and be victimized by armed aggression--war-making--is attributable to just such parental habits. Parents mis-read, mis-lead and are mis-led in their quest to be safe rather than sorry. As maverick sociologist Barry Glassner suggests in his new book "The Culture of Fear--Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things," follow the money ($trillions) to the politicians, tax-exempt advocacy groups and government agencies all pandering to trumped up, blown up and hyped up notions of doom. The impulsive embrace of statecraft at the family level of the population is all it takes to perpetuate the executive political state, even though the survival of the species is proceeding along wholly different lines. Apparently, there is a sufficient residue of curiosity in each new generation to account for learning how to cope with an ever more complex reality and to grapple with the burgeoning new technologies. And somehow, the virtues of honesty, integrity, idealism, realism, prudence, equity, opportunity and fidelity to human life--one's own as well as his kind--survive in the fittest members of each succeeding generation of humankind.
Is this outcome the result of some kind of plan? Is evolution somebody's plan? Can evolution be planned? The tax-supported public school system is based on such a plan and its "beneficiaries" survive 12-13 years of compulsory attendance only by surmounting the handicaps created by that contradictory institution. Are such questions appropriate ones for science to answer? We don't have to attribute what we consider salvation or even progress to some grand or divine plan. All we have to do is improve our understanding of how nature works. Why not believe nature is favorably disposed toward the continuation and perfection of the human species. Pascal's Wager showed that optimistic or positive hypotheses along these lines are always superior to their pessimistic or negative counterparts. We can still enjoy the beauty of it all, come what may. That, at least, is the motivation for scientific inquiry. (AL)
25 June 1999.............regarding the 7 June 1999 input
Wright's insights on natural selection regarding morality are sobering and instructive. But his statements can be misconstrued as support for "social engineering" via drastic alteration of the cultural environment. Maybe he's just teasing but it is easy to overlook the fact that social engineering cannot claim predictability of any specific outcome for any particular "program." I suppose the recent German political reunification and cultural integration might provide some evidence that this sort of human influenced evolution known as despotism with a humane purpose is possible. If so, it would be based on merely one long generation of experience with two differing cultural environments proceeding side by side for about 50 years. However, what kind of baseline do we have for comparison? Bismarck+Hohenzollern+Hindenberg+Hitler or the Allied Army of Occupation? However, even if there is a possibility of predictable cultural alteration by human design, by what authority would "natural selection values" be altered? How much authority (power) would it take? How drastic or draconian (to use a popular term) of a cultural alteration would be required? How does "sufficient" authority get to be vested in the political programmers with a purpose? Can there ever be enough soldiers? Gee, what a mess! How did the German people get themselves into such predicaments? Curiously, they were able to stand off the conquests of the Romans, Mongols, Huns and Turks but not a conquest by members of their own ethnic kin.
Perhaps Hitler's, Stalin's or Mao's experimental history with deliberate cultural alteration projects, a Twentieth Century phenomenon, will yield more information on how this sort of reform works and how the reformers got their opportunity. Hopefully, enough knowledge will be developed so that nobody will experience a repeat of such history. So far, the conventional wisdom holds on to the fallacy that a difference in degree is equal to a difference in kind. This kind of ignorance may explain how "progressive" American programs associated with such political figures as Wilson, Roosevelt, Johnson and Clinton escape recognition as despotisms akin to those of the historical pariahs?
As Wright states his first disclaimer: "First, to say something is a product of natural selection is not to say that it is unchangeable; just about any manifestation of human nature can be changed, given an apt alteration of the environment--though the required alteration will in some cases be prohibitively drastic." Presumably, this was the kind of cultural change that Jackson, Lincoln, Marx, Lenin, Wilson, Stalin, Hitler, Roosevelt, Mao, Tito, Johnson, Pol Pot, Milosovic, etc. were after. They merely assumed their regimes would last long enough for natural selection to take effect. Neither they nor us know how much time that takes. We just know in retrospect that the human toll was shocking in every despotic case. Have we learned anything about the resulting genetic changes wrought on the culture thereby? Surely there were some. What were they and how were they related to the political pressures applied, for or against "nature's values," whatever they might be?
But how does one go about determining "nature's values," if any, in a meaningful sense? By prayer or meditation a la Moses? How about via science? If by the latter method, how does one go about applying scientific method to this problem? Traditionally, science accepts nature at face value. To say nature has "values" is to personify nature. Such an intellectual posture is an anachronism related to anthropomorphizing the abstract Hebrew god-notion Jehovah. At least the Austrian School of Economics has given us a definition of value that we can apply rationally and observationally. I wonder how the Mises/Menger subjective theory of value sits with Wright when he states his second disclaimer: "Second, to say that something is 'natural' is not to say that it is good. There is no reason to adopt natural selection's 'values' as our own. But presumably if we want to pursue values that are at odds with natural selection's, we need to know what we're up against."
This is indeed a thought-provoking observation that might have shocked Mises but it needs saying. The "Darwin Awards" are not only tragicomedic episodes but they are instructive of Wright's point of view. But Wright seems to be using values in two different senses. "Good" (and "bad") is a human value judgment and one's opinion is as valid ("good") as another's even if at odds. But nature doesn't have an opinion that I can imagine. (I'm not well enough acquainted with God Almighty to know what "His Opinion" of good and bad might be, if HE has any. I don't recognize any authoritative spokesmen for God, either.) So to put forth the idea that nature as a whole has values like individual humans do is to flirt with medieval mysticism and authoritarianism. It is also a thoroughly collectivistic idea. (AL)
28 June 1999................regarding the 4 June 1999 input
Jim's answer was fine by me as far as it went. However, his answer begs a more general question, namely can we believe in God and science at the same time? This is an age-old question that cannot be overworked in my opinion. There is a strong consensus among scientists that a belief in God, stripped of all folklore and mythology, is the same thing as a belief in science. The name of this point of view is "pantheism," most strongly associated with Spinoza's fifteenth century philosophical explorations that launched "the enlightenment" and the scientific revolution. No doubt Spinoza influenced Locke, Franklin, Paine, Adams, Jefferson and other signers of the Declaration of Independence. There are many good books and essays extant on this question. Sorry I can't list them out for you at the moment (I collect this kind of stuff).
In this month's Smithsonian Magazine, there is an interesting article that is relevant to the question of the existence of God (see June '99 SMITHSONIAN, p. 133). This issue carried an article based on a book recently published on the subject of "Risk." It seems that some significant breakthroughs in human knowledge have come out of grapplings with the question "Does God exist?" A memorable case in point deals with "Pascal's Wager," another remarkable work of the Fifteenth Century. Blaise Pascal won his bet that God does exist, and he did so with a remarkably simple argument. Although he was quite satisfied with his conclusion in the affirmative, he became terrified when he discovered the consequences of such a belief. Although his belief that God exists was found to be rational and optimistic for the future, there were direct implications that man must accept risk and uncertainty as inescapable aspects of his life. Pascal understood this consequence and sought protection from it. Pascal subsequently invented probability theory in 1654 and then he developed statistical analysis with which to reckon with the risks of his ordinary life. Thereby equipped, he calculated the odds that various dreaded calamities would befall him during the remainder of his life if he continued to live it as before. The results of his calculations caused him to panic and seek refuge in a strict Jansenist monastery. He died eight years later at age 39 a devout, protected and celibate monk.
Did Pascal's escape from the human mainstream strengthen or weaken the human gene pool? Either way, was the outcome good or bad? Clearly, this question calls for an answer based on a personal preference. Absolute valuations are beyond our means. Who has the unique mind of God, the creator of nature, to know what was intended? All one is entitled to say regarding Pascal's untimely demise is that it deprived the species of his unique genetic contribution which, no doubt, altered the course of human evolution to that extent. I personally regret that outcome because I value creativity more than guts. Others might see it differently. Some might even say "good riddance."
Regarding the meaning of evolution, please take note of the book FIGMENTS OF REALITY--THE EVOLUTION OF THE CURIOUS MIND by Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1997). You will find here some intriguing insights into evolution and language, and cultural evolution in particular. I believe these guys (a mathematician and a biologist) are on to something both important and simplifying in their somewhat whimsical promotion of the idea of "extelligence," the hypothesized cultural counterpart of individual human intelligence. "Extelligence," though admittedly a bit of jargon, has some valuable utility for me in understanding cultural AND psychological AND personal evolution. Good tool for deciphering Kuhn as well. It solves the problem of technological growth without a dependence on growth in human intelligence, whatever that is. They also show how extelligence is invariably complicit and inclusive as opposed to solitary and exclusive. This helps to get around the old communitarian or collectivistic notion of society so well expressed by Vladimir Lenin: "If you want to make an omlette, you have to first break the eggs." This is like saying society and humanity are incompatible.
Presumably, the social engineer aims to reformulate and reconstitute humanity to suit the construction of what he calls society. He is like the cabinetmaker who tires of working with the knots and unmanageable grains he encounters in his hardwood stock. So he feeds his lumber into a hammer mill, grinds it up, blends in some synthetic adhesive and molds the mixture into particle board. Now he can make and finish his cabinets with greater ease, predictabliity and stability. But of course, his particle-board-and-paint cabinets are something other than natural-finish, real wood cabinets. Likewise, the social engineer's contrivance in the human population, good or bad, is something other than a spontaneous association of autonomous human accomplices. (AL)