If we are to combat police violence, racial or otherwise, we must first begin by understanding it.
Social inequality is a reflection and a product of economic inequality. Unless we are to wallow in unscientific claptrap about “human nature” and “tribalism,” we must recognize that the essence of social inequality is that it provides a material and ideological structure that permits some to take things by denying them to others. Racial inequality is a particularly clear example of this. For anyone who hasn’t read it, I recommend MLK’s speech at the end of the Montgomery to Selma march. Whatever disagreements I have with King’s pacifism and reformism, he certainly understood the origins of racial oppression, and gave a beautiful and succinct summary beginning in paragraph 9. I also cannot recommend too highly the book he refers to, The Strange Career of Jim Crow by C. Vann Woodward.
In order for economic and social inequality to exist, three things are necessary: the first is the production of a surplus; you cannot have an argument about who gets the extra apple until there is an extra apple. The second is an ideology that accepts inequality as normal, as just part of life–the idea that we live (or could live, or almost live) in a meritocracy is one, a sense of morality accepted from the oppressors through their control of the media and the academy is another. Any moral code, such as pacifism, that interferes with the fight for equality serves the interests of those who benefit from continued oppression. Reformist ideology by definition treats the object it intends to reform, capitalism, as permanent, and thus plays its part in accepting inequality is normal.
The third is a means of enforcing the inequality through violence and the threat of violence. This is, and always has been, exactly the role of the police. I think, of all the illusions under which many people operate, one of the greatest is that it is possible to fight against police violence without simultaneously fighting for social and economic equality, because violence in defense of economic inequality is why the police exist. The fight for social and economic equality is the fight for socialism.
85 thoughts on “Inequality and the Police”
I believe I run afoul of the second point, then. I can’t imagine a world in the immediate future, anyway, where social inequality does NOT exist. I just can’t see it. I bet we could get there in a few hundred years or so, but I very much doubt we could see that kind of mass attitudinal shift in my lifetime, for example.
Nevertheless, I accept that I might be hidebound in this regard, but I gotta say–acknowledging that possibility is painful. I don’t like my views being referred to as “unscientific claptrap”. In my defense, if my perspective is unscientific, it’s because science doesn’t yet understand how the vast complexities of the mind.
But upon reflection, I recognize that it might just be possible that the world doesn’t NEED to be that way. I bet, once science has a better grip on how the mind works, and consequently how to CHANGE how the mind works, we can create that society where everything is happiness and light…assuming that changing how our minds work doesn’t result in us being more broken than we were already…but until then, I can’t see us beating what I believe is our genetic and social programming.
As a counterpoint to the above, it’s just as possible that you’re doing exactly what I’m positing; ie, that you’re struggling to find advantage, and finding the rules of the game put you at a natural disadvantage, you seek to change the rules of the game, because that’s more palatable to you than outright cheating, or because you consider the risk of outright cheating to be a net liability overall.
Who’s to say how you’d perceive economic inequality if you were in the 1%? Being rich won’t change me, says every lottery winner on the day they win the lottery. The question isn’t “will money change me?” but rather “will money change me in a way that I will find acceptable?”
Since neither of us can actually do a trial run of either of our scenarios (you and economic equality, and me with you being suddenly rich) perhaps we’re stuck with endlessly spinning our intellectual and ideological wheels…
Just to reply to the least important point you’ve made, I’m pretty sure that, if I were to suddenly become wealthy, it would ruin me. How much it would change my principles I don’t know; I’d like to think it wouldn’t. But either way I would be a lousy rich guy. Fortunately, it seems likely I will escape this fate.
I agree that the underlying problems have to be fixed and that (unfortunately) the primary role of police is the defense of property rights.
Some small quibbles:
A surplus isn’t even needed–if there are two apples, a capitalist will often say, “I get all the flesh of the apple, you can have the stem and seeds (unless I find a use for them).” Hypercapitalism defines surplus as appropriating everything they can get away with.
Pacifism can work, but has a fundamental flaw. In order for it to work, there must exist some amount of empathy from the oppressor to the oppressed. If this empathy does not exist, pacifism fails disastrously.
“Unless we are to wallow in unscientific claptrap about ‘human nature’ and ‘tribalism,'”…
You say this *a lot*, and you are always wrong to do so. Every branch of social science is a study of human nature and the ways people react in given circumstances wthin each discpline. Social science, political science and any form of psychological study all focus on how people react in general, i.e. human nature within specific sets of circumstances. Only Marxists seem to feel the need to define human nature as some mystical, unknowable and therefore non-existant aspect of life. To scientists, it’s just another field of study with generations of evidence to back up their findings and support their research.
“I think, of all the illusions under which many people operate, one of the greatest is that it is possible to fight against police violence without simultaneously fighting for social and economic equality, because violence in defense of economic inequality is why the police exist.”
It’s not rational to insist an institution is unchanged after over a century of existence. These days, in the Anglophone countries, police exist to do many jobs. Too many, in fact. The Dallas police chief is the first officer I know of (in my casual reading, no specific study) to point out people, i.e. society, expects too much of cops. People call 911 when they see 11 year olds walking down the street aloneor hear a family argument next door or see a strange cat laying out on a grill. Peope call 911 for anything that bothers them, no matter how minor and non-emergency it is, and it’s cops who are sent to do everything.
In any case, to insist the police are only here to defend economic policy is part and parcel of the extremely biased and unscientific Marxist worldview which reduces everything to a purely economic data point. No one who adopts that point of view will ever be able to effect positive change, because they’re not able to understand those they’ve designated the enemy.
Steve: ‘A surplus isn’t even needed–if there are two apples, a capitalist will often say, “I get all the flesh of the apple, you can have the stem and seeds (unless I find a use for them).’” Not sure why you’re making this quibble. Ever heard of a hunter-gatherer society–ie, a society without accumulation and thus without a surplus–with systemic inequality? I have not, and I’ve studied several. If you have, point me to the study.
L. Raymond: “In any case, to insist the police are only here to defend economic policy is part and parcel of the extremely biased and unscientific Marxist worldview which reduces everything to a purely economic data point. No one who adopts that point of view will ever be able to effect positive change, because they’re not able to understand those they’ve designated the enemy.”
skzb:Right — the quibble point is more that what a reasonable person defines as a surplus (what is allowed to accumulate) isn’t what the capitalist defines. In a even vaguely reasonable definition, everyone’s minimum needs should be met before a surplus is allowed. In capitalism that isn’t the case–many peoples minimum needs aren’t met. So, really I am intending the quibble to reinforce your point.
“you cannot have an argument about who gets the extra apple until there is an extra apple”
As for the role of the police, I came across this yesterday, which is decent: https://libcom.org/history/origins-police-david-whitehouse
Will: If you click the links in the OP, that’s one of them.
D’oh! Consider this a second recommendation then.
Denying the existence of inequality is not just ignoring human nature, it’s ignoring nature period — right down to physics. Although I’m about 90% in alignment with L. Raymond, I _do_ find it interesting to consider homo economicus — but only if you begin with reasonable premises. “Equality is possible” is not a reasonable premise, macro or micro.
(“First, assume a perfectly spherical cow…”)
Even then, before you can get to the outcomes of equality, you have to examine a different question: is equality ethically desirable? Before you reflexively answer “yes”: can you refute that inequality (and thus competition) is a survival trait? (At an individual level, at a genome-line level, and at a species level?)
“Denying the existence of inequality is not just ignoring human nature, it’s ignoring nature period.” Kindly demonstrate this with evidence, please.
“can you refute that inequality (and thus competition) is a survival trait? (At an individual level, at a genome-line level, and at a species level?)”
Well, homo sapiens lived in a state of equality for several thousand years more than we have lived with inequality, so it seems we do all right that way.
On a related note, John Carey has, perhaps inadvertently, made one of the scariest comments I’ve seen in a log time.
Unless I misunderstand, he proposes, “once science has a better grip on how the mind works…to CHANGE how the mind works.” If that’s to be done consensually, then he can’t create “create that society where everything is happiness and light” — therefore, he intends to change wrong-thinkers non-consensually.
It always seems to end in the gulags, doesn’t it?
“Denying the existence of inequality is not just ignoring human nature, it’s ignoring nature period.”
Hmm — I would have thought it axiomatic. No two things are identical, not people, not leptons, not apples. Even if I have one apple and you have another, one of us may perceive the other’s apple as more desirable than our own.
“Well, homo sapiens lived in a state of equality for several thousand years more than we have lived with inequality, so it seems we do all right that way.”
Um — wow. Are you going to pre-sapient times for that, or just stone age? Not aware of any human condition following those eras that even begins to resemble equality — nor for that matter anywhere else in the animal kingdom.
“I would have thought it axiomatic. No two things are identical, not people, not leptons, not apples. ”
Heh. I saw you palm that card. I said “equal” not “identical.” Moreover, I said specifically “economic equality.”
“Are you going to pre-sapient times for that?”
Everything up the invention of agriculture and herding, which led to a surplus, which in turn led to slavery. This would be about 10,000 years ago.
“Not aware of any human condition following those eras that even begins to resemble equality — nor for that matter anywhere else in the animal kingdom.”
Seriously? Have you ever studied ANY hunter-gatherer society? Start with the ones still in existence. Here’s a good kick-off point: http://hunter-gatherers.org/
Great post skzb. I got a little misty reading the transcript of King’s speech from 1965. What are stark contrast between King and the corporate mealy-mouths that pass for leaders in this day and age. Remember police in the South were key players in attempts to supress the civil rights movement, murder its leaders, and make sure the murderers went free.
As for Jon Carey: I find your faith in science puzzling. Science can be used to cure polio or immolate 60,000 Hiroshimans in seconds. It depends on who is deciding what to do with it. It strikes me that advances in psychology and the understanding of the human mind will simply be coöpted by the elites to further sell their neoliberal economic policies (i.e. “We get rich and the masses die in a gutter with poor dentistry). That’s the way things seem to be heading.
“Heh. I saw you palm that card.” Fair point. Let’s re-deal:
In re. hunter-gatherers, why yes I have, and I give more credibility to Keeley or Pinker’s views, rather than the peace-washed perspective of some others. Either of those, and many others, would not regard those societies as having social or economic equality, or peace. Also, on a slight but germane tangent, IIRC both of us are far past the typical age of death in those societies.
Here’s my bid: other than in an anthropological sense, those are not functioning “societies”. At best, they are exhibiting a weak form of survival subject to destruction by random forces of nature or their first encounter with a predator. To the extent they have economic equality, it is the equality of there being no further to fall before death.
“Everything up the invention of agriculture and herding, which led to a surplus.” So, yes — somewhere between sapience and Bronze age.
Absent a surplus, there is no improvement in the human condition.
A.C.: re. John Carey’s remark–You should be scared. At some point in the not too distant future there are going to be some really hard choices made with respect to reordering the thoughts of humanity. There are a number of groups who would really love to have a completely obedient body of self-determined mind slaves.
Skating the line between enslavement and freedom is going to get really interesting.
I’m not sure why you’re bringing up the death age; I do not, ferchrissakes, glorify them, I don’t want to go back there, I think the improvements that got us out of those conditions are wonderful. And I’m not convinced they were “peaceful” either, except within themselves, that seems fairly clear. My only point is that, yes, equality can and did exist, which means that, whatever the causes of economic inequality, it is obviously not “human nature” (which people somehow never seem to define, or bring up a shred of scientific evidence for.)
“Absent a surplus, there is no improvement in the human condition.”
That seems to be true (well except, eventually, the improvement that drives us *create* a surplus, but that doesn’t really refute your statement).
Me, I’m a big fan of the surplus. I want MORE surplus. I want so much surplus that it becomes absurd to have people suffering from homelessness, untreated disease, and malnutrition.
“I do not, ferchrissakes, glorify them” — who is palming a card now?
“Me, I’m a big fan of the surplus. I want MORE surplus. I want so much surplus that it becomes absurd to have people suffering from homelessness, untreated disease, and malnutrition.” At last — common ground.
Next stepping stone: the desire to change one’s economic or social status* is the source of effort that leads to surplus.
(*There’s a strong argument that this is driven mostly or entirely by the desire to ensure success of ones genotype, which is arguably the very definition of life, let alone “human nature”, but that’s a bigger tangent.)
Steve Halter: Indeed.
Brings to mind a quote from the recently departed Justice Scalia: “This [what Congress does] may be undemocratic. If you don’t like it, take up arms…if you have any left.”
““I do not, ferchrissakes, glorify them” — who is palming a card now?” I think that question requires some explanation.
Here’s what I see, correct me if I’m wrong:
You: There cannot be economic equality because human nature.
Me: Hunter-gatherers lived under economic equality, therefore, the cause of economic inequality must be sought for outside of human nature.
You: Hunter-gatherers lived bad lives.
AC: Hunter-gatherers did not and do not live under economic equality. Scarcity existed (indeed, times were/are rarely other than scarce) and distribution of scarce resources in those times was often driven by group priorities (e.g. successful hunters were fed disproportionately well in times of scarcity.)
Even if we were to allow your supposition that they did live under strict economic equality, counter-survival practices have existed; their existence is not a proof of their virtue.
(You keep putting up “human nature” as a pinata — I don’t think I’ve been using that, or at least not as a definable term.)
“Virtue”? Where are you getting “virtue” from? I’m merely making the point that equality exists when there is nothing to be unequal with. Like I said in the OP. You can’t have an argument about who gets the extra apple until you have an extra apple. This doesn’t seem all that far-fetched. Now, I *also* believe the equality can perfect well exist when there’s so much that inequality is just, well, silly. But I’m still hearing you make claims of inequality under conditions where it simply makes no sense.
As a matter of fact, I no longer have any idea what you’re saying.
Surpluses are great. The question is how do we apportion those surpluses. Capitalism says they go to the person who through some method controlled the means of production.
Socialism says they are distributed through the group as a whole.
The “through some method controlled” and “distributed through” would seem to be the parts people argue about.
On another note:
L. Raymond:From what non economic points would you state that the current actions of police derive?
Well, if you don’t like “virtue”, make it “good”, or some other value-comparative word — we have gotten a bit afield, but I thought we were, at least in a larger sense, debating the relative good of different systems.
In a smaller sense, back to your OP, I am challenging your stated premise that inequality is not normal*, and further I am counterproposing that inequality is desirable.
(*Indeed, I would hold that throughout human history inequality is the very epitome of normal. If you are using “normal” to mean “preferable”, or “good”, or something other than what normal actually means, then we can address that.)
A.C.:How much economic inequality do you think is desirable?
> … the first is the production of a surplus…
A deficit works fine too. Anything short of unlimited production leads to inequity in the context of an ideology that accepts inequality.
AC: I didn’t say “virtue” I didn’t say “good” I didn’t say “better.” I didn’t even use a synonym of any of those words. I am describing, at this point, the relationship between productive forces and economic equality and taking as a starting point the easily demonstrated observation that economic inequality cannot exist before a society produces a surplus. This is roughly as daring as saying that water flows down hill, and contains exactly the same value judgment. My next assertion, that social inequality flows from economic inequality is one you can argue with, if you want (although you’ll be wrong).
A.C. can’t let you have that point because to A.C., superior effort from superior people (likely genetically superior) create that surplus and DESERVE that surplus. Those who put forth inferior effort, presumably, may die in a gutter as long as they do so quietly. Perhaps A.C. is a libertarian?
> economic inequality cannot exist before a society produces a surplus.
Any society that never produces a surplus will be in deep trouble the next time anything gets worse, e.g. a bad winter. In pretty much any real world culture, sometimes there is a surplus, sometimes a deficit.
Hunter-gatherer/subsistence farmer life is largely based on mechanisms for organizing the distribution of the resource deficit in the hard times. It’s only equal to the extent that the low status die, and so aren’t around to be counted.
Kragar. Oh. Ugh. Eww.
1soru1: Never done much studying of hunter-gatherers, have you? Otherwise, you couldn’t lump them in with subsistence farmers.
When people say “economic equality is impossible” I’m always reminded of the Americans who believe that universal healthcare is impossible, seemingly unaware that it’s been the norm in most major countries for decades. Even the horribly degraded systems we have now are very much in the realm of what some people seem to think is science fiction that can never ever happen, simply because they take what they’re currently surrounded by as What It’s Like And Always Will Be Like.
This stuff isn’t even that hard. What’s hard is getting people to organize and claim it.
> Otherwise, you couldn’t lump them in with subsistence farmers.
About as accurate as lumping all surplus-management societies together; it’s one sentence. If it was a book, or a 4 year course of study, it would still be missing 99% of the details of real-world societies.Reality is always more complex than the model.
The way agriculturalists and hunter-gatherers manage the deficit _is_ very different; that doesn’t affect the point that you can analyse what they are doing in those terms.
I suppose you can make a vague claim hunter-gatherers are sort of like communists, and agriculturalists are sort of like capitalists. Perhaps that _is_ a useful perspective for someone who defines the word ‘possible’ solely as ‘Hilary might successfully do it within two terms’…
On the other hand, the opposite viewpoint is also useful. A successful politician who focused on it could lead a series of changes that made the actual operation of the police/gun-owner/criminal system a very different experience for those living within it.
Steve Halter: “A.C.:How much economic inequality do you think is desirable?” Now *that* is in interesting question. As 1soru1 suggests, hard to get into in a sentence or two, but let’s oversimplify with “At least enough to incent and reward effort, and necessary but not sufficient without social and economic mobility.”
skzb: “This is roughly as daring as saying that water flows down hill, and contains exactly the same value judgment. My next assertion, that social inequality flows from economic inequality is one you can argue with, if you want (although you’ll be wrong).”
Kragar: not at all; I freely let our gracious host have that point — indeed, I’m in full agreement so far. I just don’t see it as abnormal or inherently negative.
I wouldn’t say “libertarian”, though perhaps something of a fellow-traveler. Closer to anarcho-capitalism or minarcho-capitalism if we must label. Vehemently against cronyism in all its guises for what that’s worth, though you’re probably already retching.
(Which, come to think of it, probably places both of us at different corners of the same “Great idea. Wrong species.” table. Given that it’s skzb’s pub, I’ll stand the next round.)
A.C.:So, your base assertion is that people need inequality as an incentive to do things (you didn’t mention what). Essentially a fear based system. Produce or you can’t have things.
I’ll assert that if we have an educated populace that has the tools to create and interact with each other and does not live in fear of losing basic human needs such as food, housing, medical support, … Then that populace will produce more than the fear driven approach. As you mention, this is, of course, also an over simplification.
Steve Halter: Not necessarily — I find the idea of Basic Income very interesting, though I haven’t really thought it through exhaustively.
Produce or starve? It has a certain systemic elegance, but as a human being I find it distasteful. (Still not ready for coercive state action, though.)
Produce or you can’t have *nice* things? Yeah, I’m okay with that.
In reading this and earlier posts, I continue to be impressed with your historical knowledge, your compassion for your fellow person, and the depths of your insights. I find myself in agreement with most of your observations (I may quibble with your conclusions on pacifism, if we get beyond this first issue), but first …
How do you know that the root cause of economic and social inequality is capitalism (for which the alternative is socialism), rather than ‘governmentism’ (for which the alternative is a form of libertarianism)?
On the surface, this seems a silly question as socialism, by definition, is about common ownership of the means of production, but if the cause of oppression and the withholding from workers of an adequate return of the available surplus stems from government control rather than capitalist greed, then fighting for socialism could have the opposite effect, that of reducing the ability to generate a surplus as well as continuing to concentrate the benefits of the surplus into the hands of an elite.
In the current cases of social and economic inequality in the US and the western world, we have the presence of both capitalism as an economic ideology and governmentism as the means of maintaining social order. Police violence, as the current topic, seems to be about the means of maintaining social control (albeit, in our current configuration, for a capitalist-based elite) and, as such, it could be used in a socialist economic ideology as the means of controlling those pesky leftover libertarians (who would be viewed as second class (unequal) citizens or as enemies of the state?) or as the means for maintaining civil order should the expectations of the workers outstrip the ability of the economy to produce a surplus.
While my knowledge of history pales in comparison to yours, it also seems to me that economic and social inequality (and exploitation and oppression of the masses) predates modern capitalism. The ideology (and practice) of inequality has been a fundamental premise of governmentism from its inception, so it seems possible that the cause is governmentism rather than capitalism.
I believe we share a certain faith in the ability of our fellow human beings to recognize the benefits of a socialist perspective – sharing, cooperation, common services – but I can’t help wondering, as an intellectual exercise, if nothing else – if we took away government power from capitalists, would capitalism, as an economic philosophy, get us closer to a socialist ideal than socialism via government power?
RSM: Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I should observe that I did not say capitalism. Economic and social inequality predate capitalism; they’re first form appeared to be slave-owning societies. Economic inequality was introduced with agriculture and herding–ie, the ability to create a surplus, aided by storage technology (ie, pottery) and learning various ways to preserve food.
The state arose as an institution of force in order to protect private property, or, in other words, in defense of inequality. What you’re asking is the exact difference between socialists and anarchists: we believe that if you abolish private property the state will wither away, they believe the reverse.
I believe that creating a workers state is a necessary stage in the process of destroying private property, because I just don’t think it can happen overnight, and the state, in the hands of the working class, is a powerful weapon against capitalist counterrevolution.
Jonas, re: “I’m always reminded of the Americans who believe that universal healthcare is impossible….”
This is absolutely true. I’ve heard many Americans insist that it’s absolutely impossible to pay for universal health-care, as if it was an analytic truth as opposed to a hare-brained didactic opinion.
Miramon, others: since the inherently unworkable ACA is apparently now showing signs of not working, the next administration will either have to increase government involvement or go back to a “healthcare is for closers” mentality. Odds are, we still have gridlock in 2017 and the right waits for the system to collapse on itself, then claim “victory.”
This is the very point that vexes me.
“The state, …, is a powerful weapon” – a weapon whose origin (and primary purpose?) is in the defense (and establishment?) of inequality.
If our common goal is the elimination of inequality, and if capitalism is not the cause of inequality, if instead, the state is the cause; should we not first be anarchists, at least a little?
And if we eventually hope to live in an equality-based society, with all that implies, should we not also be pacifists, at least a little?
I’m not saying you’re wrong. I’m reminded of the premise behind “City on the Edge of Forever,” it is just that this is the point that causes me concern. Can we create a society of cooperation using the mindset (and tools) of conflict?
Either way, thanks for writing!! (And thanks for writing!!) I’ll keep reading.
This post is kind of a threadjack: not in response to any of the comments, but still relevent to the topic at hand, specifically Steve’s position on social science and/or group psychology.
Steve, I know how you feel about the psychology of groups–and I sharply disagree with you on that score–but what’s your take on things like epigenetics?
Genetics are sometimes impossible to ignore: it’s very difficult to not have blue eyes, for example. In just such a way, certain areas of the brain, and thus, the mind, are shaped from conception. But there’s the (relatively new) field of epigenetics, which seeks to discover & explain how non-genetic factors can influence gene expression, if only to end the tedious woo-woo discussion about nature vs nurture. An example of an epigenetic response is a weightlifter: he has certain genes that allow for the strengthening of muscles, but they’re only activated when (vastly complicated chemical process) occurs.
Very generally speaking, evolution is that process by which an organism (and even an ecosystem) develops traits which provide it with advantages that allow it to reproduce. There’s a very real argument to be made that all our great achievements, our wars (even the War of the Roses) are inadvertant by-products of a microscopic battle between rival nucleotides. Not kidding, that’s a legitimate, scientifically defensible position. But if the micro (molecules) can so affect the macro (individuals, maybe even the society as a whole), then one can’t help but to wonder what happens if we change scope: can we as individuals (the micro) ALSO influence the macro (society) in a similar way? Can we as individuals act as epigenetic factors that influence the genetic expression of a collective (assuming such a question makes any sense at all)?
One of the other aspects of evolutionary theory revolves around a so-called “budget”. Certain traits are more expensive; others more affordable. So evolution is a process of not only developing advantageous genes, but also finding the most advantageous genes which are simultaneously the most cost-effective. Due to this process, many traits which are desireable, sometimes even highly desireable, are bred out of the pool because they’re just too “expensive”. For example: a highly muscle-bound man requires an extremely high food intake to maintain his muscles. Unless he can find people to dominate and thereby live off of their efforts to survive (probably in exchange for protection, including protection from the threat that he himself poses), then he is at a disadvantage–finding a constant source of all the nutrients he would need to maintain such a powerful frame would be less likely, and so his survivability (and hence his chance to reproduce) decreases. As a result, such a trait might well be bred out of the pool; or at least tempered in some way so that it becomes more cost-effective, ie, it costs 500 calories/day to maintain 70% of that muscle mass, but 3000 calories to get the extra 30%…ie, the genes are probably going to stick to that 70% strength level.
Cost is an important factor to genes. It is an important factor to us as organisms. Again, there’s an argument to be made that cost is an important consideration to us as individuals *as a direct result* of cost being an important consideration to genes. Regardless, the act of overcoming one’s social conditioning, instincts, genetic/epigenetic traits, etc, can be a very costly endeavour. Not many people can achieve it to any real degree. Those who do probably only achieve it with regards to certain traits, but not others. And it’s not a one-time cost; it’s an on-going cost to be something you are not. So, just like weight loss, once it’s off, it’s really hard to KEEP off. In terms of social trending, therefore, those individuals who have exceptional self-restraint etc are just that: exceptional. On a societal level, the mass organism as a whole is therefore going to be more beholden to its genetic/epigenetic/social programming factors.
Our immune response shows a very marked similarity to the evolutionary process. When a foreign body infects us–invades our house, as it were–the immune system fires a shotgun of immunological molecules out into the bloodstream. The ones that have the correct configuration to bind with (and thereby destroy) the invader cells send out signals which are taken up by the body, and that particular molecule goes into mass production. Once the threat is eliminated, though, the resources that drive that mass production are needed elsewhere; and so the immune response subsides, leaving, to go back to the “home invader” metaphor, a very comfy looking house with no one living in it. Sooner or later, another squatter’s going to come knocking. The world is implacably opportunistic. As a side point, it’s so opportunistic that the best strategy our bodies have found is to bring in “tenants” that are beneficial to us. Studies have shown that ratio of human cells to foreign cells with which he have a symbiotic relationship is anywhere from ~50-80%, ie, our bodies are, on average, more non-human than they are human. These tenants take up residence in the “house” and other, less beneficial microbes are forced to go elsewhere. Our bodies long ago subscribed to the theory of “If you can’t beat em, join em”, at least where microbial invasion is concerned.
Evolution is like a shotgun: it propels a whole crapload of shot towards a target–that most of them miss is irrelevent; Evolution only cares about those that hit, and knows that the shotgun has a better chance of a bullseye than a pistol. The microbes that were most advantageous for us increased our chances of reproduction. The ones that weren’t reduced them. It’s entirely possible we only have sex (and create new generations) because our “houses” getting old and busted, ie, too costly to maintain, is a unavoidable fact of our existence.
It is based on these interactions that I have come to my opinions about social science–most deliberate, punctuated social change (that goes beyond a certain degree of change all at once) has a higher chance of being considered like the immune response. ie, a one-off response to a stimulus and will eventually subside, because the degree of change it advocates is too costly to maintain for the general population. But there’s one thing I didn’t mention about our immune responses: our bodies keep a meticulous log of which home invaders it has booted the hell out of Dodge. If it encounters them again, it can quickly recognize them and will produce the same molecules to drive them out. Ie, if a trait is important enough, it will move slowly towards genetics instead of epigenetics. The organism who develops a trait whereby that immune response is constantly active will live in a world where the threat it protects against is constant at a greater rate than an organism who can maintain only a transient resistance/immunity to the threat.
The flip side of an expensive trait that protects against a constant threat is one that provides a low-cost advantage. In my opinion, advocating for this or that social change independent of the prevalence of the threat it protects us against is NOT useless. It might not be immediately taken up by the society as a whole, but what we do out on the fringes is akin to clearing a path through a jungle. We are making it less costly for others to follow us; and the more people who follow us, the more easy, the less costly, it is for even more to follow them.
If the concept of economic equality gains enough “followers” in this way, because it’s easy to do so and/or advantageous for the individual, then we have the “mobilization of the masses” that Trotsky was talking about.
There is a downside, however: no one controls evolution. The crowds may walk the path of social justice, but the result might very well be that they destroy what lies on the other side of the jungle path we spent so much time/effort clearing. One doesn’t need to look very far to find an ideology that’s been co-opted for a purpose other than that which the original thinker intended; and/or whose content has been so badly misunderstood/misinterpreted that it’s not even funny. Once we give our ideas to the masses, we no longer exert control over them. Nowhere is this more evident than the internet: once it’s on the net, it is NEVER going away.
So, let’s turn that to our advantage by continuing to post blogs like Steve’s where we discuss those ideas in a forum that never goes away. The discussion even if it doesn’t produce any breakthroughs, is important in and of itself.
Sorry, point of clarification: I worded the 50-80% thing wrong. It’s more intuitive (and correct!) to say our ratio of human to non-human cells is anywhere from 20-50%
RSM: ‘“The state, …, is a powerful weapon” – a weapon whose origin (and primary purpose?) is in the defense (and establishment?) of inequality.
If our common goal is the elimination of inequality, and if capitalism is not the cause of inequality, if instead, the state is the cause; should we not first be anarchists, at least a little?’
A perfectly reasonable point. First of all, to correct, I would not say that the state is the cause of inequality; the state is the *product* of inequality. It exists to defend the embodiment of inequality: private property in the means of social production. Inequality is caused by the condition where society produces enough of a surplus for some to have plenty, but not enough for everyone to have plenty. This inequality takes different forms, depending on the technology level and associated productivity level; capitalism is only the latest (and, in my opinion, last) form
And this gets exactly to the heart of your question. If a working class revolution meant that there would, the morning after, be full equality and all property would be commonly owned, I could not argue with you. This, however, is not how revolutions work.
The state exists when there is inequality. The taking of power by the masses of the people does not instantly end inequality, rather it gives us the opportunity to end it. Nor does revolution change the nature of the state, it changes the *content* of the state: it remains a tool of the ruling class, but now, for the first time, the ruling class is the overwhelming majority of the population, and the state is used to defend *their* rights and to, above all, prevent a capitalist (ie, fascist) counter-revolution.
As property becomes commonly held through expropriation of banks and industries and put into the hands of the people–in which the state is also a useful tool–there becomes less and less for the state to do, at which point it quite naturally withers away.
In the scenario of which you speak, ie, the destruction of the state (if such a thing were even possible), there is nothing to prevent counter-revolution by those forces that want to restore their privileged positions and once more subjugate the masses.
“When people say “economic equality is impossible” I’m always reminded of the Americans who believe that universal healthcare is impossible, seemingly unaware that it’s been the norm in most major countries for decades. Even the horribly degraded systems we have now are very much in the realm of what some people seem to think is science fiction that can never ever happen, simply because they take what they’re currently surrounded by as What It’s Like And Always Will Be Like.
This stuff isn’t even that hard. What’s hard is getting people to organize and claim it.”
Quote for truth. Hear Hear. I think it is VERY possible and most of the obstacles exist in our minds. I think we can KEEP economic equality too; and again, most of the obstacles exist in our minds. But I also think that those obstacles that exist in our minds can be extremely challenging to overcome; our minds, after all, are responsible for all of the real-world, physical changes wrought on the environment by us. Phantasms of the mind can be as solid as steel, given enough leeway.
Edit: Why the hell do I keep typing “change” as “chance”…gah
Jon: Interesting comment, but I don’t think I could identity a particular point there to comes to grip with, either pro or con. It did remind me, however, of Trotsky’s remark on the question of the relationship between broad historical forces, and the accidental effect of, for example, a particular individual of genius. He postulated a sort of Darwinian natural selection of accidents. To go with the old steam-engine argument, someone having the idea for the steam engine before society is in a position to actually create and use it is would be like a genetic accident that “misses” to use your analogy. Later, when society *can* create and use the steam engine, there is no guarantee that it will be created; it still requires someone to actually come up with the idea, solve the problems, and make it work.
I have a memory that, in fact, the idea for the steam engine first appeared in exactly the matter I described–before it could be used; but I don’t recall the details and I might be wrong about that.
Pretty much any blueprint by Da Vinci will demonstrate your point, Steve.
My point is that I think your dismissal of group psychology is ignoring an important factor in these discussions; it may be wishy-washy, only barely understood in theory, but social psychology has real world effects. The presence of environmental factors effectively change our DNA, and DNA drives, among other things, our beliefs and behaviours.
Currently, it’s my theory that the revolution can’t occur in any meaningful, LASTING way because our behaviour is still too bound to our instincts, which prompt us to act in primarily self-serving ways. We can’t change how bound we are to our instincts, but we CAN change (some of) our instincts to a point.
Therefore, in my opinion, there must be a certain, “critical mass” of self-identification by individuals to the masses as a whole in order for there to be the “mobilization of the workers” which would drive/support any revolution. We must condition ourselves to see the other as being substantially the same as the self in order to reach that mass in such a way that that revolution isn’t just another in a long series of bloody fights that ultimately do nothing to dismantle the oppressive structures of power.
I’m not interested in being in a revolution that replaces someone’s name with my name in the list of the 1%. I’m interested in eradicating, for as long as possible, the 1%. And I’m interested in destroying the 1% because I don’t want to get hurt anymore–and I see “others” as substantially the same as “me”.
That being said, I think we’re also making progress–the global marketplace introduces a cross-pollination of ideas that has never before been possible. This results in a race: can we learn to self-identify with groups we consider to be “the other” more quickly than we get hyper-sensitized/fearful of our own group’s subsummation by the greater community as a whole?
That is the question I cannot answer, because I am not able to see the future. But I suspect that the result will be the same no matter which option manifests first; revolution will occur, because socialism is, imho, good and right, and is founded upon truths which are inalienable, if a little abstract/obscure. So the question becomes: how long will it take to get there, and how much suffering until we reach our destination?
And that is why I am for continuing the conversation even though we seem to go in circles–because every time we speak, we decrease the time and suffering that will be required by a vanishingly small, but still non-zero amount.
“Currently, it’s my theory that the revolution can’t occur in any meaningful, LASTING way because our behavior is still too bound to our instincts”
Then can you explain the hundreds of revolutions that *have* taken place throughout human history? I mean, for a species in which revolution can’t happen, we’ve sure managed a whole lot of them.
To what end? Where are the socialist/communist governments that did not quickly devolve into oppressive, tyrannical regimes? Or failing that, systems of government that did not quickly fall into a quagmire of conflicting political agenda that is inherently toxic to social progress, and which changes only when the world gives it no other option?
Those with power will almost invariably seek to gain more power, because everyone is convinced that their own personal viewpoint is the most reasonable, objectively true interpretation of the nature of reality, and things would be *so much better* if only they could arrange the world to conform to that worldview.
Each person in power, in short, wishes to fashion a world that stops changing, in pursuit of a flawed belief that perfection is something that is static, or more likely, in the belief that the world that makes the most sense to them is perfection for everyone.
And that’s giving them the benefit of the doubt–I’m not going to mention those who hold onto power for more cynical reasons.
Those who wield power who do NOT follow this trend are eventually, but inevitably, replaced with someone who does.
Jon? I was not speaking specifically of socialist revolutions (of which there has been 1, or possibly 2 depending on whether you count the Chinese revolution, which is tricky). I’m talking about all of the other revolutions in history, in which we threw off kings, feudal landlords, slave owners, Are you seriously telling me that life has not improved because we no longer kneel to a king? Yet it took revolution–many of them–to accomplish that.
To say revolutions don’t accomplish anything, you must either be denying all past human progress that has been accomplished by revolution, in which case all I can do is spread my hands and try to find a way to ask you study some history that doesn’t come off as pompous, or you’re saying that revolutions in the past led to improvements, but now, for some reason, the next one won’t, in which case I must beg for further explanation.
Jon:Historical processes operate at historical speeds. The general evolution into an end state socio-economic process has taken us exactly this long so far. A rough progression (with of course many cycles and curlicues) could be something like (simplified of course):
… -> feudalism -> mercantilism -> capitalism -> socialism ->post socialism
Marx and others would maintain that you can’t successfully leap across stages. Each one provides a certain amount of structure that can be built upon and then replaced by the next. The replacement of one economic system with another is often met with resistance from people who see themselves as occupying a particularly advantageous position in the current system or who simply don’t understand. They react poorly to attempts at the establishment of new mechanisms. This is what leads to reactionary counter-revolution.
Ideally, through education and general eradication of mental illnesses, reactionary periods would be minimized, if not eliminated. Unfortunately, you can see how the reactionary forces in our current society already try to suppress education and spread disinformation through fear and outright suppression.
Ah, there I see the basis of the misunderstanding–I did not state that revolutions led to no progress; I said I wasn’t interested in being part of one that didn’t establish lasting change, by which I meant, I would like to put in place a socialist/communist government, but only if it would not only remain communist instead of tyrannical, and only if it lasted longer than it took for the person who “led the charge” as it were to leave power.
Any revolution is merely a vehicle designed to facilitate (punctuated) social change. However, the change & progress that result are much more likely to be societally-based, and not psychologically-based. Given that societies are merely conglomerations of individuals, and individuals are defined in a very significant way by their society, the distinction is pretty fine, but it can be highlighted thusly: In a societally-based change, you’re more likely to see a change in whose bank accounts have how much money, but not a change in how people view the world, or otherwise respond to various stimuli. In the halls of power, the faces often change, but the rules stay the same. A psychological revolution would change not only the society in which those individuals live, but also the NATURE of the social contract by which that society operates.
As technology innovates, these governments change, as I mentioned above, because they have no other option–they must adapt to the new reality if they are to maintain their hold on power. So there is progress; but it is only as much progress as is needed to maintain the powerful’s hold on power. Any other change beyond that amount will be resisted until the change goes away, or until the powerful have time to assimilate the larger than normal change, again with the purpose of making sure they maintain their hold on power. Do not confuse this type of progress with the progress that is seen as a result in an attitudinal shift in the members of that society. Naturally, the line between the two types of changes is rather blurry.
The historical record is positively littered by “one-hit wonder” revolutions that die when the heroic leader does; or by the co-opting of well-intentioned governments by unworthy individuals more interested in the aggregation of power than in the perpetuation of a worthwhile mode of government; or by governments that have philosopher kings but whose successors are almost laughably certain to be terrible rulers.
The revolution I’m after is a revolution in THINKING, not a revolution in governing. But insofar as the structures of organizations (governments included) are inherently shaped based on our method of thinking, a “thinking” revolution would also coincidentally result in a change of government model as well.
Steve Halter: you and I are on the same wavelength.
There are a few psychologically-based difficulties in planning a revolution, each one of which requires us to literally be something we’re not, genetically. Ie, accomplishing even one in sufficient numbers is incredibly unlikely, and maintaining it is almost certainly impossible. Which is why Marx would maintain that such a leap across stages is impossible.
1) Planning for a cycle shift at “historical speeds”. We are strongly (though not unbreakably) bound to our reference frame that travels at “human speeds”. We might be able to envision the next step, but it’s a rare person indeed who can envision what 10 steps from now might look like, AND present a viable way forward. The only people who come to mind are more visionary than revolutionary; Jesus (or at least the philosophical premises attributed to him), MLK Jr. And look how their message was co-opted and/or misunderstood by the masses. Such people are easy prey for those who would exploit the buy-in of the masses in order to accumulate personal power.
2) Changing our inherent tendencies towards self-interest. The Chinese have done a tremendously good job at establishing a culture where the individual is less important than the collective. Unfortunately, the collective, ie, the people-as-a-single-entity was replaced by a mimic, an imposter, aka, “the state”. The State is not the collective anymore; it is staffed by individuals who, like the opportunistic infection from my earlier post, found themselves a comfy looking home with some highly gullible occupants that were convinced that the invaders were in fact long-lost members of the same family, and so avoided the “immune response” of the collective.
3) Developing the ability to interact with the collective as if it were an individual, which is to say, trying to determine a means by which the direction of the collection can be controlled. This aspect is as dangerous as it is unlikely. It would require a visionary who had the capacity for both 1) & 2) to successfully wield the power of 3). So far, our ability to do so is rudimentary at best; but we DO have the ability, through the media, to control the narrative of the collective consciousness. Fear, post-factualism, actually cultivating loyalty, these types of things are how the collective can be interacted with. Science…not so much.
Jon:I think we’re all in the same part of the spectrum, if not the same wavelength. :-)
In your statement above, you mention: “requires us to literally be something we’re not, genetically”
If I am reading you correctly here, I think you are placing a little too far reaching effect on epigenetics. It is a fascinating topic, but evidence varies on all the implications for humans. It does appear that stress environments can have harmful effects upon multiple generations–a very interesting result.
Your second bullet on what has happened to the Chinese revolution is a really interesting (and I think apt) metaphor. Revolutions need to watch out for parasitic wasps.
Jon: “Any revolution is merely a vehicle designed to facilitate (punctuated) social change”
This carries the implication, which I’m not sure you meant, that revolutions are voluntary; ie, that someone decides to have one. In case you did mean it, I must differ. There is, to be sure, a conscious element in revolution, but that only (only!) determines the question of victory or defeat; the circumstances the lead to such a massive social upheaval as revolution are not determined by anyone–trying to either start or stop a revolution brings to mind the old Dutch folktale of the woman trying to sweep back the ocean with a brown. It doesn’t work like that.
As for what changes in a revolution, if you reduce the revolutions of the past (with the exception of the Russian revolution, which had certain interesting peculiarities in that regard) to pure abstractions, then, yes, some people rose to power and gained wealth, some people fell from power and lost wealth, and so, again, leaving it on the level of pure abstraction, could say, “nothing changed.”
Except that, for example, the revolutions that brought us capitalism gave us democracy, some very important individual liberties, the opportunity for massive growth of productive forces which, if they benefited the rich much more than the poor, had certain benefits all through society.
So the formulation I hear so much, “All revolutions do is bring a different set of elites to power and don’t help the masses” is fundamentally false, even in the case revolutions of the past that left class society–if drastically changed–in tact.
I consider myself convinced that my point was too generalizing. And that my point re: revolutions not changing much is not as true as I seem to indicate in my earlier posts, which is not to say that I don’t think that revolutions don’t still contain a very real degree of “not changing much”.
There is an implication such as you describe, only if you require that the “designer” of the vehicle is a single individual, and not the collective. The designs of the collective are not so easily captured, and are certainly not completely conscious.
If, for example, a revolution happens because of #BLM, who would be the designer of that revolution? Not any one person, regardless of how involved they were in the movement. The revolution would exist to create punctuated change with regards to how police behave towards black people. It may or may not be successful in creating a positive change. It might even create a negative change. But the design is in the mind of the zeitgeist, that concatenation of various similar, though not identical attitudes toward the police, and desires about the nature/character of the desired change.
No one person would or could control such a thing…at least not yet. And if that’s the case, then the revolution’s implied “voluntariness” recedes to…whatever it was before my implication.
” The designs of the collective are not so easily captured, and are certainly not completely conscious.”
That is a valid point. I would contend that the “designs of the collective” are basically determined by conditions; but there is, without doubt, a conscious, subjective element as well.
SKZB writes: “Unless we are to wallow in unscientific claptrap about “human nature” and “tribalism,”“…
The person being unscientific is yourself. We’ve been through this before where I cited numerous scientific papers that document the warfare among pre-agricultural (i.e., hunter-gatherer) groups … er …. tribes.
I spend considerable time on sites filled with science deniers; mostly related to climate change. I find it odd/troubling/puzzling to find you among this science-denying group.
I’ve always considered it a halllmark of intellectual honesty to be able to incorporate all evidence into a coherent set of beliefs. Ignoring data that conflicts with our beliefs is easy and scientists have enumerated the multitude of ways in which we’re able to fool ourselves. Critical examination of one’s own views is probably one of the hardest things to do, but marking one’s beliefs to market is the only way forward.
Just a few links I have handy.
War Before Civilization
Violence and Warfare among Hunter-Gatherers
Inter-group violence among early Holocene hunter-gatherers of West Turkana, Kenya
And remember our discussiion of Turnbull’s Mbuti and “The Forest People”? I’ll quote again from Alex Liazos and his The 1950s Mbuti: A Critique of Colin Turnbull’s The Forest People
“This is not a book I ever planned, wanted, or hoped to write. I am retired and enjoy spending time with my grandchildren and serving on community groups and issues. I was not looking for projects to fill my time. When I began this project in November 2007, I did not set out to disprove, dispute, discredit, or disagree with The Forest People. I wanted to see the field notes for a book I admired, loved, learned from, and taught in my courses for four decades. I also hoped to learn more about the lives of women and children than what the book reports. Once I read the field notes, however, I came upon much material that casts a different light on the book. I feel an obligation to communicate with other readers and admirers of the book, and tell them that the Mbuti of the field notes led more complex, difficult, and different lives than did the Mbuti of The Forest People. The Mbuti did not live in the idyllic paradise the book presents.”
The ‘pacification of the past’ is a human-created myth that lacks a basis in modern scientific evidence. The more we learn about the past the more common conflict, violence and war become. Ignoring this evidence does not make it go away. It merely shows that you are unable to integrate it into your ideology.
Oneilinwisconsin: I’m just trying to figure out what warfare has to do with it. And, also, where claims of paradise enter into any of this. Paradise? I’m working for a significant improvement in the human condition: economic and social equality. But even that won’t be paradise, it’ll just provide a jumping off point for improvements. Seriously. I feel like I’ve said, “The sun rises in the East” and you’re screaming “NO THE TIDES ARE CAUSED BY THE MOON.”
One of the sources I most admire (in part, because the post-modernists hate him so much) is Morgan, who spent a fair bit of time on warfare between the native peoples of this continent. I honestly don’t know what you’re on about.
Unless you’re trying to claim that warfare among tribes proves something or other about human nature, which is, um, okay, what does it prove and how does it prove it and what are your sources?
SKZP – Paradise??? I never mentioned the word.
Go reread your opening to this post. You brought up the “unscientific claptrap about “human nature” and “tribalism” — but this view isn’t unscientific. It is congruent with the science. This is the same argument you’ve made before; that inequality and warfare didn’t exist in hunter-gatherer societies (tribes). Science tells us otherwise. Cemetery (Site) 117 tells us otherwise. Lake Turkana tells us otherwise.
There’s more to life than Morgan. Perhaps you should expand your horizons and read Raid, Retreat, Defend (Repeat): The Archaeology and Ethnohistory of Warfare on the North Pacific Rim or Researchers discover patterns of warfare in prehistoric Eastern North America. There’s a vast amount of scientific literature beyond Morgan. That literature tells us that violence and warfare are pretty much ubiquitous with human society.
From the Introduction to Troubled Times: Violence and Wargare In the Past (edited by David W. Frayer, Debra L. Martin, 1997).
“Violence is an everyday occurrence in the modern world. In all forms of the media we are constantly reminded about the likelihood of being mugged, assaulted or murdered. Depending on where one is in the world at any given time, warfare is only a missile away, death is within a sniper’s sights, and danger of all sorts is potentially around any corner. In short, at many different levels, people have come to expect violence as part of everyday “civilized” life. Yet, despite contemporary experiences/ expectations about violence, many lay people and academics are surprised to learn that the troubled times of the present extend into the distant past, where it is often assumed the quality of life was better and interpersonal relations were more peaceful. As reviewed in the chapters of this volume, this romantic conception of the past does not accord well with osteological and archaeological data about ancient groups from the Americas and Europe. These articles present and critically evaluate evidence for violence focusing on hunter-gatherer to state societies from the New and Old Worlds. Drawn from the perspective of cross-cultural analysis, archaeological data and skeletal remains, examples include evidence for domestic violence, homicide, ritualized combat, warfare, cannibalism and human sacrifice.”
What bothers me is this evidence has been presented to you at length before, but you blithely persist as if it doesn’t exist.
” Paradise??? I never mentioned the word.”
Huh. No you didn’t. Apologies, that was from something you quoted (” The Mbuti did not live in the idyllic paradise the book presents.”) so I took it as your opinion. My reading of that book was that it was not presented as a paradise, but that’s beside the point. Not your word, not your problem; sorry.
“You brought up the “unscientific claptrap about “human nature” and “tribalism” — but this view isn’t unscientific . . .Cemetery (Site) 117 tells us otherwise. Lake Turkana tells us otherwise.”
It seems to indicate violence; if it shows warfare within a tribe (ie, the class struggle, or civil war) or economic inequality within a tribe, I’m just not seeing the evidence. My conclusion is that you do not see a difference between conflict between tribes and conflict within tribes, therefore there is conflict, therefore it must be human nature.
The leap you’re making, from “there is evidence that hunter-gatherers often died of violence” to “human beings are naturally and inherently incapable of *insert whatever I want them to be incapable of*” is *huge*, and it’s a little disturbing that you can’t see it. Even more disturbing is the fundamental unsoundness of the approach.
If every single thing you propose were true without question and solidly proved, it might prove that human beings have an instinctive inclination toward violence. A scientist would say, “We have good reason to believe that violence in human beings exists at an instinctive level.”
A pseudo-intellectual dilettante would say, “Violence? Well, it’s just human nature.”
“Human nature” is simply not a scientific concept. It is too vague to be even the least bit useful in any scientific context. Why is that so hard to grasp?
But then, you expose your method when you say, “There’s more to life than Morgan.” I said I read Morgan, and you apparently conclude that means “if I read X I must believe that only X is valid.” The only reason I can imagine for you to believe that is because it is how you operate. Is it? If so, I recommend against it. There is more to life than Lake Turkana.
skzb: “’Human nature’ is simply not a scientific concept. It is too vague to be even the least bit useful in any scientific context. Why is that so hard to grasp?”
Because it’s wrong. What people mean when refering to human nature is the prevalent behavior a large portion of people will display in a given situation. A good example is normalcy bias, which explains why so many people are killed in diasters who could have survived had they reacted to events rather than waiting for someone to tell them what to do. That is a predictable behavior that engineers try to account for when designing buildings or airplanes.
from How to Get Out Alive
From hurricanes to 9/11: What the science of evacuation reveals about how humans behave in the worst of times
“In the 1970s, psychologist Daniel Johnson was working on safety research for McDonnell Douglas. The more disasters he studied, the more he realized that the classic fight-or-flight behavior paradigm was incomplete. Again and again, in shipwrecks as well as plane accidents, he saw examples of people doing nothing at all. He was even able to re-create the effect in his lab. He found that about 45% of people in his experiment shut down (that is, stopped moving or speaking for 30 sec. or often longer) when asked under pressure to perform unfamiliar but basic tasks. ‘They quit functioning. They just sat there,’ Johnson remembers. It seemed horribly maladaptive. How could so many people be hard-wired to do nothing in a crisis?”
One great thing about any aspect of human nature is that it can be overcome with training or experience, because the abilty to learn about and control the environment and ourselves is also an aspect of human nature.
What is incongrous is your constant references to the idea of laws of history while claiming to be both an atheist and refusing to accept the existence of human nature. People are people and have tended to react in similar ways under similar conditions throughout recorded history and, we can assume by extrapolation, pre-recorded history. By denying that, you are saying you believe there is an outside force, whether a god or this mysterious physical force of history, that causes people to behave in predictable ways in a manner totally disconnected from our evolutionary development. Such a force has never been demonstrated to exist.
(Apologies for not following up before. Ever since the April floods I’ve been occasionally laid low by an allergic reaction to something in the area, and I was mostly offline due to a swollen eye this week.)
Confirmation bias, whether it exists or doesn’t (I think it does) is, at any rate, a scientific concept. Can you point to me a biologist who uses the term “human nature”?
I think that what oneillsinwisconsin is referring to as human nature is merely the general manner in which an aggregate of people with a shared cultural background tend to act. There are going to be vast individual differences.
The point of contention, I think, is if as L. Raymond mentions, these tendencies can be overcome/altered through training or education. I would assert that they can be changed. So, I wouldn’t call them human nature in a formal discussion but, rather, gross aggregate tendencies. You can, in fact, teach an old dog new tricks–not a nature. A spider, on the other hand, is going to eat insects–that is a spider’s nature.
It isn’t clear to me what oneillsinwisconsin would assert on the point of changeable or not.
But oneilsinwisconsin’s point is not simply that there is such a thing as human nature, it’s that the nature of humans is barbarously violent as demonstrated by bad acts said humans have perpetrated throughout history and prehistory. Pretty common authoritarian-Hobbesian sort of stuff.
But if humans are so rotten, why is it that governments bent on war have to work so hard to demonize the enemy and propagandize the populace? Seems to me that most folks are basically good, and would not want to hurt others unless necessary. Guess that’s why the corporate media outlets love so much to do stories on terrorism.
Kragar:Right–I’d like oneilsinwisconsin to confirm that he believes is some sort of unchangeable human nature and that this nature presents itself as barbarously violent.
I would agree with you that the large bulk of people would really rather not hurt anyone unless driven to it in extremis.
Kragar: Valid point.
Anybody read any Neal Asher?
In his fiction, the governance of human society is quietly (and bloodlessly, for the most part) taken over by A.I.’s when the Singularity occurs. Human society quickly moves on to a post-scarcity economy and people are largely able to indulge whatever whims move them.
The conceit is that the A.I.’s lack the typical motivations of Greed, etc.–but also feel a sort of maternal affection for the race that created them–so that they guide society with the aim of the greatest good for all.
I don’t mean to derail the discussion to late night whiskey-talk…but when I see all the failures of human politics and law enforcement, letting the robots take things over doesn’t seem so bad.
skzb: “Can you point to me a biologist who uses the term ‘human nature’?”
EO Wilson, but that’s not really pertinent since human nature is studied by neuroscientists, not biologists. If you don’t even know what branch of science studies as particular aspect of life, you’re not in a position to argue about it one way or the other.
Kragar: “But if humans are so rotten, why is it that governments bent on war have to work so hard to demonize the enemy and propagandize the populace?”
They don’t have to work hard at all at that; they never have. And pointing out a propensity for violence, as Mr. O’Neil is doing, isn’t saying people are rotten. Socialization of children can counter a lot of the raw emotion that bubbles up out of the amygdala, as can intense training in adults. That’s why military and emergency personnel have to undergo constant drills and survival courses – to offset the natural inclination to run, panic or freeze in an emergency and instead train their bodies and minds to react properly.
“If you don’t even know what branch of science studies as particular aspect of life, you’re not in a position to argue about it one way or the other.”
We’re discussing characteristics intrinsic in the genetic makeup of the human being which means biology. Either you don’t understand even that much, in which case why are you talking about it, you do and are being deliberately disingenuous. I can’t guess which it is; seems to be about 50-50.
What are you even doing here? What is your agenda? Mine is, sometimes, to vent (I label those rants), sometimes to talk about writing, sometimes to amuse, sometimes to attempt to convince of my ideas. Obviously, the latter has nothing to do with your reason for being here: you have yet, in any comment you have ever made, to make any argument that wasn’t either a bald assertion without any backing or a cheap shot; neither of which will change anyone’s ideas of anything. So, what is it? A desire to run someone down merely for the pleasure of doing so? Or do you imagine that you are somehow building yourself up? I’m really tired of this, and also confused. What’s your endgame?
You didn’t ask me why I post on here but I will answer because it made me think. In the immortal words of The Trout: “It’s the only game in town.”
Having benevolent computers take over is a very comforting thought. Unfortunately, I think humans are going to have to figure this thing out ourselves. It seems the current system is headed for a terminal crisis.
Side thread? I post here when I have the urge for some rational conversation about important, difficult issues. Sometimes I even get it… ^_^
Human nature is a fuzzy term. I have seldom read it tossed about by serious researchers, at least without a detailed explanation of what they mean by it. If there is a study of behavioral traits inherent in humans that are independent of culture, it is probably the domain of sociobiologists or evolutionary anthropologists, both of which are considered interdisciplinary studies based in biology and social sciences, and both of which are still looked at askance by many in the “pure” disciplines. Some interesting results have been published, of course, but hard conclusions about their value are always more difficult to assign than with studies that don’t attempt to draw human behavior into the mix. The farther you get from physics, the fuzzier the focus.
Anyway, E.O. Wilson, sure, considered the father of sociobiology by many, but, still, ants, am I right? Its got to be easier applying his methods to insects than to humans, but kudos to him for giving it a shot.
Like others, I post here for varied reasons–good and sometimes difficult (often rational) discussions, general fun and the occasional comment by snarky flying lizards.
skzb: “’If you don’t even know what branch of science studies as particular aspect of life, you’re not in a position to argue about it one way or the other.’
We’re discussing characteristics intrinsic in the genetic makeup of the human being which means biology. Either you don’t understand even that much, in which case why are you talking about it, you do and are being deliberately disingenuous. I can’t guess which it is; seems to be about 50-50.”
First of all, yes, both neuroscience and genetics are biological sciences, but they are not “biology”. Second, I already know where this is heading: you’ll keep playing the definition game, tweaking some meanings and denying others you don’t approve of, with constant irruptions of how purposefully obtuse or deliberately disingenuous I am because you want to use your terms in your own way. So let’s ignore definitions and go straight to the heart of the matter.
Neuroscientists and geneticists have done their experiments, tested their subjects, examined their findings and tested them against the real world with great success in order to determine what causes phobias and inborn biases. While there is still a lot of discussion about *how* specific fears and biases arose, that these reactions are part and parcel of the human make up isn’t up for debate. You can even be tested for them, which I confess is news to me. I was about to say, “…even though we can’t know in advance who’s likely to experience these biases or phobias”, but since I double check everything as I go, I found the National Institute of Health’s Genetic Testing Registry which says that apparently chromosome 14 is an indicator of clinical depression and several “simple phobias”. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/gtr/genes/404684/)
So there you go, some fears and hatreds are provably genetically based and can even be tested for. And you know if they’ve isolated one, they’ll find others. What do Marxists offer in place of these studies to prove they’re wrong? That’s your genetic makeup question.
Now for neuroscience and molecular psychiatry. What part of the Marxist/Trostskist canon sweeps away those branches of science? What is your accepted explanation of the causes of confirmation bias, normalcy bias or any other cognitive bias?
I’ve said elsewhere that Marxism is a very typical example of arrogant 19th century natural philosophy. Marx & Engels were quite sure they knew everything about everything, and there was nothing particularly odd about that back then, but to accept everything they say without questioning any of it isn’t rational today. It would be like a modern biologist ignoring anything that wasn’t mentioned by Darwin in one of his works and expecting to be taken seriously.
“What are you even doing here? What is your agenda?”
I don’t have an agenda. I like posting stupid limericks when I’m in the mood and asking work-related questions of someone who enjoys his profession. I’ve never asked a “gotcha” question. I don’t choose to participate in threads that make me angry because people tossing out opinions on subjects they’re utterly unqualified to evaluate annoy me, and I absolutely do not believe in making snotty comments just for the sake of being snotty. That’s just ugly and too negative, and I’m pretty sure I’ve apologized the few times I’ve done that. However, I absolutely cannot let pure, unadulterated hypocrisy pass without comment, and your insisting that Marxism is scientific while thumbing your nose at actual settled science is just that sort of hypocrisy.
“A desire to run someone down merely for the pleasure of doing so? Or do you imagine that you are somehow building yourself up? I’m really tired of this, and also confused. What’s your endgame?”
It’s telling you feel being questioned about your ideology is running you down personally. A few years ago (2013) I wondered if Stalin were the inevitable result of the Bolshevik Revolution. If I wanted to build myself up, I’d mention the work that went into answering that, but the problem with discussing it is, as I mentioned above, your trick of arguing over minutiae, especially definitions, which I’ve sometimes let derail an exchange while other times I’ve just given up out of irritation, and I take the blame for having started something I knew would go nowhere. It’s just not that important, and also because having answered that question to my own satisfaction, I couldn’t care less about convincing anyone else. So no end game.
“Obviously, the latter has nothing to do with your reason for being here: you have yet, in any comment you have ever made, to make any argument that wasn’t either a bald assertion without any backing or a cheap shot; neither of which will change anyone’s ideas of anything.”
And this, of course, is a lie. The preeminent example of the sort of argument that ensues when anyone touches on your ideology was that stupid back and forth we had over the Paris Commune, when I pointed out the communards were idiots to have fired the only experienced general they had who might have been able to lessen the slaughter, and you kept insisting it was idealistic to think an experienced combat officer familiar with the enemies weapons & tactics would have been a better leader than a politico.
But that’s neither here nor there. I had thought no one was taking anything personally. God knows I’ve been called an idiot here quite often enough without caring, but if being questioned about political posts made available in a public place upsets you so much, I’ll be off, if that’s your preference.
Is your last post a long way of saying you are a troll?
I, for one, vote that you stick around here. I enjoy dismantling your subtle and sophisticated defenses of the political and economic status quo.
For instance, you used the “not qualified to comment on” wheeze again in your last post. Have you forgotten that those deemed “qualified to comment” based on their supposed vast foreign policy expertise brought us the disasters in Iraq, Libya, and Syria? Any citizen in a democracy is qualified to comment on the decisions and policies of his or her government. Your elitism is showing.
The topic of violence, and its motivators, is why I brought up epigenetics in the first place. It is worth noting that this an extremely complicated and nuanced subject; to attribute any thing in human psychology to one factor and one alone is in all likelihoods just plain wrong.
I’m going to have to lay out a couple of contextual points in order to proceed. I will state at the outset that I am none of the disciplines mentioned above, and the only reason I feel comfortable speaking on a subject about which I am otherwise wholly unqualified is because, to a very real degree, we simply don’t know anything about the subject at all, ie, there are no truly qualified people yet.
So, 1) It is my opinion that our minds utilize two types of conscious thought-processing which, while not inherently contrary to the other, are nevertheless alien enough so that they are often in opposition to each other. These two types of processing are thought-based, and emotion-based. Both can be motivators for human behaviours, separately, alternately, intermittently, inconsistently, simultaneously etc. There is nothing but muddied water here.
1a)This is further complicated by the fact that we have instinctual behaviours born into us as well; it seems to me that if we as babies have a rooting reflex to seek a breast, which is purely physiological in nature, that it is a fairly reasonable inference to posit the existence of *psychological* instincts that will control our behaviours independent of our conscious control. Among these are, I suggest, our ability to develop automatic thinking (“when everything is a hammer…”). The automatic thinking is not the instinct, it is the ability to DEVELOP that automatic thinking that is shared independent of individual circumstance and/or cultural conditioning.
2) I also believe that certain types of violence are governed by epigenetics. This in the context that circumstance can and does have an effect as well; ie, the circumstances that would lead to violence dictated by epigenetics do not always produce that violence, because people are different; they have different opinions and priorities from one another, and often their moods change from day to day so that identical circumstances produce different results. But on the whole, I believe that certain types of violence are more likely to be attributable to epigenetic factors than other factors.
3) One of the types of violence I speak of is the violence of the group, the violence of the revolutionary. The violence that subsumes the individual will and lets some kind of “collective” will take over… (though there is no such will–at best it could be described as a relaxing of inhibitions that allow individuals to behave in certain ways that would otherwise be unacceptable). I distinguish the “organic” violence that arises spontaneously from manufactured violence such as is found in war zones, though it is common that one co-mingles with the other. For example, the protest turned violent because a plant was there to shout an incendiary comment, or throw the first stone. Or the discipline of the soldier can degrade to the point where the violence is done somewhat on “auto-pilot”.
4) The violence I refer to, the one that somehow drives conscious thought away for a time, is, I believe, an example of a psychological instinct; the ability to, in the presence of certain circumstances/factors, loosen one’s grip on one’s own individuality, is an adaptive trait that conveys the advantage of 2 is better than 1. Here’s where tribalism comes in: if that situation suggests that one of the 2 will die, but that only 2 can accomplish the action, then people might not necessarily avoid the action, even though it means their potential death; this is because the subconscious is programmed to act preferentially towards the tribe; those who are perceived as ‘the same” or at least, *more* the same as someone else, will be the beneficiary of those types of sacrificial actions. The instinct towards tribalism is well established; infants from a VERY young age are already engaged in the “grouping” of objects, and much more relevently, PEOPLE, as “same” or “other”. White babies, for example, are more likely to cry when surrounded only by black people and vice versa.
So in this way, the individual will submit to the collective because they know that their tribe will be more successful if they do so; even though it might cost them the ability to pass on their own individual genes to the next generation.
I believe the set of factors that bring about this ability to risk everything for a chance at a better life comes from a variety of places: 1) the perception, and its attendant physiological changes (such as increased baseline cortisol levels) that the oppressing group is no longer abiding by the social contract, either deliberately or inadvertantly, with the result that it is more risky to accept the status quo than it is to revolt; 2) the desire to change one’s station in life for the better, which is a primary motivator in, I think, everyone, though I think men chafe from societal limitations that do not conform to their self-image in more outwardly violent ways; 3) the idea that someone within your group, whether it be your child, relative, or even just friend is at unacceptable risk from the status quo, and finally 4) the rational assessment that one can “get away” behaviour that the self-identifies as criminal and/or unduly self-serving (which assessment is governed in part by how the brain both instinctually and cognitively determines what is ‘fair’)
https://www.amazon.ca/Wild-Justice-Moral-Lives-Animals/dp/0226041638 – since I believe that humans are just animals with better clothing, this book becomes incredibly relevant.
Here’s another article that you might be interested in, Steve–it examines a possible GENETIC basis for some aspects of social/ethnic inequality.
Also worth reading: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Behavioral_epigenetics particularly the part about stress/risk taking behaviours, which are both very highly pertinent to any revolution, who presumably lives with high levels of stress and is considering a highly risky course of action to correct it.
*I apologize for the meandering nature of the post–I didn’t have a lot of time to compose it, and there are so many moving parts I can’t keep track of them all, and certainly can’t keep complete track of my train of thought or even my point sometimes :P
I made a post yesterday and now it’s not showing…?
I don’t know why wordpress all of a sudden decided you needed moderator approval. Anyway, sorry I didn’t get to it sooner; yesterday was a little bumpy.
I have an idea–I posted a bunch of links. Usually spambots do that, but the links are all to phishing or malware sites. I posted a bunch of links to show my sources :)
This is a cognitive scientist. He interprets the psychological events of a large population through metaphor and psychological constructs, and all the other fuzzy-wuzzy stuff that makes you so angry when I attempt, albeit far less expertly, to do the same.
I don’t know what his position on animal instinct is in the human psyche; but I bet it isn’t “well, it doesn’t EXIST, my boy.”
You may not agree with his position; but you would be doing yourself a disservice if you did not acknowledge that the guy is smart; and being smart probably has something to share, some insight that is not wholly built upon wisps of ephemeral desire disguised as rational scientific discourse.
One of the hardest things I ever did, ideologically speaking, was to cede that people who held opposing/conflicting to my viewpoints were NOT morons by default, and that, moreover, some of them really know what they’re talking about and can help me improve my own thinking.
The “why the police exist” link is broken. Here’s the updated URL: https://www.alternet.org/2015/02/true-history-origins-police-protecting-and-serving-masters-society/