Cactus Club May 1998

Cycle III:Part 1

2 May 1998................the Sawney Beanes, morality, and justice

History is always instructive. Please read the following story. Click here. Questions: Does evolutionary psychology have anything to say about these moral choices? Was justice done by executing the youngest children along with the rest of the family? (PD)

4 May 1998................evolutionary psychology, Karl, Newt, and Murray

Quoting from THE MORAL ANIMAL by Robert Wright---------------"Altruism, compassion, empathy, love, conscience, the sense of justice---all of these things, the things that hold society together, the things that allow our species to think so highly of itself, can now confidently be said to have a firm genetic basis.That's the good news. The bad news is that, although these things are in some ways blessings for humanity as a whole, they didn't evolve for the 'good of the species' and aren't reliably employed to that end. Quite the contrary: it is now clearer than ever how (and precisely why) the moral sentiments are used with brutal flexibility, switched on and off in keeping with self-interest; and how naturally oblivious we often are to this switching. In the new view, human beings are a species splendid in their array of moral equipment, tragic in their propensity to misuse it, and pathetic in their constitutional ignorance of the misuse. ___________If modern Darwinism indeed has some morally conservative emanations, does that mean it has politically conservative emanations? This is a tricky and important question. It's easy enough, and correct, to dismiss social Darwinism as a spasm of malicious confusion. But the question of innate human goodness casts a political shadow that can't be so casually disregarded, for linkage between ideology and views on human nature has a long and distinquished history. Over the past two centuries, as the meaning of political "liberalism" and "conservatism" have changed almost beyond recognition, one distinction betweent the two has endured: political liberals (such as Mill, in his day) tend to take a rosier view of human nature than conservatives, and to favor a looser moral climate.

Still, it isn't clear that this connection between morals and politics is truly necessary, especially in a modern context. To the extent that the new Darwinian paradigm has reasonably distinct political implications---and as a general rule it just doesn't---they are about as often to the left as to the right. In some ways they are radically to the left. (Though Karl Marx would find much to dislike in the new paradigm, he would find parts of it very appealing.) What's more, the new paradigm suggests reasons a modern political liberal might subscribe to some morally conservative doctrines as a matter of ideological consistency. At the same time, it suggests that a conservative moral agenda may at times profit from liberal social policies." Questions: What is the connection between morals and politics and how could evolutionary psychology have something to offer Karl Marx and say Newt Gingrich at the same time? And what would Cicero, John Locke, and Murray Rothbard think about the implications of evolutionary psychology in terms of political philosophy? (PD)

5 May 1998................ self-government, evolutionary psychology, and complexity theory

Please read SELF-GOVERNMENT by Michael S. Joyce. Comment: This lecture bridges the gap between evolutionary psychology and complexity theory. Like the self organizing process of "ground traffic control" based on simple but generally understood rules such as 1) drive on the right hand side of the road, and 2) stop on red/go on green, there are principles of complexity theory (spontaneous order) underlying all social activity--- not just economics. It is what we call civil society. The success of this process in achieving a good society depends on what the rules are and how widely they are shared. Questions: Does our common genetic hard-wiring make us more or less capable of self-government? Or does this capacity depend on something other than our biological predisposition? (PD)

8 May 1998..............explanations of social order

Quoting from THE MORAL SENSE by James Q. Wilson---------------"We usually take for granted the predictability and peacefulness of most human interactions. Philosophers do not. They search for principles that can account for the existence of social order. As Jon Elster has observed, these tend to fall into one of two categories. The first is rationalistic and individualistic: order exists because people, horrified by the anarchy of the natural world, find some rule or convention that can keep them from being part of an endless war of all against all. Thomas Hobbes argued that government is created because 'every man is enemy to every man,' driven by a desire for gain, for safety, and for glory to engage in constant quarrels. Only a sovereign power--a Leviathan-- is capable of protecting every man from every other, and so to this sovereign each man surrenders his right to self-government in order to obtain that which each most despearately wants, which is to avoid a violent death. Later writers--including most economists--dropped the emphasis on a powerful sovereign in favor of a self-regulating system of individuals linked together by market transactions, but they retained the Hobbesian view that society consists of people pursuing their self-interest. As Albert Hirschman has written, interests--that is, the calm and deliberate pursuit of personal advantage--were brought forward to tame the wild and unpredictable power of passions. Adam Smith was only the best known of the many writers who sought to find a basis for social order by showing how interests could produce what could not be achieved by destructive passions or ineffectual reason.

The second explanation is normative and communal: order exists because a system of beliefs and sentiments held by members of a society sets limits to what those members can do. Emile Durkheim believed that neither governments nor markets alone could produce order; instead, they presupposed it. He called our attention to social norms that induce people to live peaceably together. Those norms are part of a collective consciousness that produces, depending on social conditions, varying degrees of solidarity. Society is the source of moral constraints; it is, indeed, the source of everthing that makes man more than an animal. Societies will, of course, differ in their mores; each society has the moral system it needs." Question: Would a knowledge of evolutionary psychology have influenced the explanations of social order by Durkheim and Smith? (PD)

10 May 1998...............socionomics and consilience: The Unity of Knowledge

E.O. Wilson, the creator of sociobiology, has written a new book called CONSILIENCE: The Unity of Knowledge. The Atlantic Monthly (April) has printed material from this book in a feature article by Dr. Wilson called The Biological Basis of Morality. There is also an interview with Dr. Wilson concerning the concept of consilience and the need to merge the so-called "hard" and "soft" sciences. In the interview he talks about public philosophers and the need for social scientists to look for a foundational discipline. Question: Is socionomics consilient and are socionomists public philosophers or social scientists? (PD)

12 May 1998................selfish genes and social science

Quoting from THE ORIGINS OF VIRTUE by Matt Ridley.............."There was a revolution in biology in the mid 1960's, pioneered especially by two men, George Williams and William Hamilton. This revolution is best known by Richard Dawkin's phrase 'the selfish gene', and at its core lies the idea that individuals do not consistently do things for the good of their group, or their familites, or even themselves. They consistently do things that benefit their genes, because they are all inevitably descended from those that did the same. None of your ancestors died celibate.______The ants and termites might, as Kropotkin had said, have 'renouced the Hobbesian war' as individuals, but their genes had not. The mental impact of this revolution in biology for those close to it was dramatic. Like Copernicus and Darwin, Williams and Hamilton dealt a humiliating blow to human self-importance. Not only was the human being just another animal, but it was also the disposable plaything and tool of a committee of self-interested genes." Question: If Williams and Hamilton are correct, how would the selfish gene theory impact social scientists and moral philosophers? (PD)

15 May 1998..............response to 10 May 1998

In response to 10 May 1998, yes, I think the discipline of socionomics is consilient in that the study of socionomics requires attention to many different disciplines----psychology, biology, economics, complexity theory, social and moral philosophy, jurisprudence, and anthropology---- and how they are related. This requires a unification of knowledge which is the essence of consilience. Also socionomists are public philosophers in that they are concerned with how society works but not necessarily in a narrow scientific sense. There is a need for more debate on the distinction between philosophy and science. Academic social scientists teach their students how to make society work better by improved engineering principles. Socionomists, as public philosophers, urge us to be wary of these students (and their teachers). (PD)

17 May 1998................ trust, social capital and civil society

Quoting from TRUST by Francis Fukuyama............"These three cases reveal the absence of a proclivity for community that inhibits people from exploiting economic opportunitees that are available to them. The problem is one of a deficit of what the sociologist James Coleman has called 'social capital': the abilitiy of people to work together for common purposes in groups and organizations. The concept of human capital, widely used and understood among economists, starts from the premise that capital today is embodied less in land, factories, tools, and machines than, increasingly, in the knowledge and skills of human beings. Coleman argued that in addition to skills and knowledge, a distinct portion of human capital has to do with people's ability to associate with each other, that is critical not only to economic life but to virtually every other aspect of social existence as well. The ability to associate depends, in turn, on the degree to which communities share norms and values and are able to subordinate individual interests to those of larger groups. Out of such shared values comes trust, and trust, as we will see, has a large and measurable economic value." Questions: What is the role of government in building or destroying trust? Is social capital the major factor in building a strong civil society? (PD)

24 May 1998..................Hayek, evolutionary psychology, and complexity theory

Quoting from THE FATAL CONCEIT by F.A. Hayek............"The starting point for my endeavour might well be David Hume's insight that 'the rules of morality....are not conclusions of our reason'{Treatise,1739/1886:II:235}. This insight will play a central role in this volume since it frames the basic question it tries to answer - which is how does our morality emerge, and what implications may its mode of coming into being have for our economic and political life?

The contention that we are constrained to preserve capitalism because of its superior capacity to utilise dispersed knowledge raises the question of how we came to acquire such an irreplaceable economic order - especially in view of my claim that powerful instinctual and rationalistic impulses rebel against the morals and institutions that capitalism requires. The answer to this question, sketched in the first three chapters, is built upon the old insight, well known to economics, that our values and institutions are determined not simply by preceding causes but as part of a process of unconscious self-organisation of a structure or pattern. This is true not only of economics, but in a wide area, and is well known today in the biological sciences. This insight was only the first of a growing family of theories that account for the formation of complex structures in terms of processes transcending our capacity to observe all the several circumstances operating in the determination of their particular manifestations. When I began my work I felt that I was nearly alone in working on the evolutionary formation of such highly complex self-maintaining orders." Comment: Once again Hayek bridges the gap between evolutionary psychology and complexity theory as he comments on the interaction between two of our three major socionomic concepts. Question: What are the powerful instinctual and rationalistic impulses that rebel against the morals and institutions of capitalism? (PD)

25 May 1998................response to 10 May 1998

On May 10, PD asked: "Does our common genetic hard-wiring make us more or less capable of self-government? Or does this capacity depend on something other than our biological predisposition?"

Another question can be asked: are we capable of others-government? If we are incapable of self-government, then it would seem we are also incapable of the more difficult task of other-government. Since government fulfills its task "by means of the threat and exercise of force" [The Theological Declaration of Barmen] it would be dangerous to advocate others-government if we are incapable of it. If we are capable of others-government, then we should also be capable of self-government and don't need others-government. So self-government is demanded by logic, not a biological predisposition.(PS)

28 May 1998..............response to 17 May 1998

I would argue that government comes into play as an alternative to shared values. It doesn't create trust. It comes into play when we cannot trust the behavior of others. As long as we agree on how people ought to behave towards one another, then there is no need to coerce them into behaving a certain way.

As Buchanan has pointed out in The Limits of Liberty, conversation is an example where people don't need a formal written rule nor a conversation police. We all share the norm that one person waits while the other person is speaking. When we lose what Russell Kirk might have called the permanent things, the shared values, then everything must have a written rule and an enforcer. This is how government substitutes for "social capital". In small towns there are fewer written rules and less need for government presence, in part because people know what behavior is expected and peer pressure is sufficient to enforce the unwritten laws.

The less we pass on to children through the educational system in the way of accepted behavior and why certain types of conduct are important, the more government intervention will be necessary.(GW)