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ysabel
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May 2011
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Ys [userpic]
Politics is Personal: Foundations

Series Disclaimer

Humans are territorial troop animals. (There's a great article on that thesis and its relationship to conservative, liberal and fundamentalist urges in society.)

Troops aren't quite like packs, but the dynamic is similar enough. The general gist is that you have a small group of people dominated by an alpha male. There are dominance heirarchies in both males and females, and they interact in fairly straightforward ways. If the territory is threatened, the dominant males use violence to protect it. Stepping out of the heirarchy is generally considered a threat to the troop, and is dealt with accordingly, as well.

Human beings are xenophobic, violent, exclusionary, self-centered, prone to obsessively identifying with small groups in us-vs-them ways. All of these things make sense in a larger anthropological way, because they help the troop to survive...but they don't make me like humans very much.

Yes, I'm misanthropic at heart, why do you ask?

(Entertainingly, a lot of my successes and failures, difficulties and strengths in life can be easily explained by positing that I have an alpha female personality. It explains a lot. But that's a whole 'nother post.)



All social theory seems to depend on a contradiction of the above. They all seem to expect people to be generally decent, altruistic, and sane. In an ideal world, I'd be an anarchist, because in an ideal world government wouldn't be necessary at all. People would get along, they'd help each other, they'd cooperate to support infrastructure they need, and so forth. The rare problem would cause everyone to cooperate to remove the problem.

We all know that's a complete pipe dream.

Capitalism appeals to the misanthrope in me. It turns a fundamental human vice of greed into a driving force -- but it only works if consumers are educated and activist. If it really were impossible to make a profit dumping pollution into the environment, for example, because no one would buy from you, then businesses would regulate themselves or go out of business. If being a racist asshole meant that no one would do business with you, then either you'd learn not to act like a racist asshole or you'd starve. And so on.

To me, at least, socialism, democracy, communism, theocracy, autocracy all suffer from some variant of this problem. In an ideal sense, any of them can work; when you use real humans to implement them, though, you get corruption and power-hungry people and further demonstrations that even otherwise smart people are really idiotic, selfish, terriorial and xenophobic.

So I don't believe it's possible to have a really good society if it has more than a few people, and many of the only-a-few-people solutions aren't that great either.

A benevolent dictatorship seems to me to be the most practical goverment, but they consistently have the problem that the benevolent part doesn't last very long.

Also on the theme of misanthropy: I don't value humans very much. I don't feel charitable towards most of them. I don't have a huge problem with the idea of killing people. I regularly feel like we are a cancer and that we do far more damage to this universe than benefit.

When I sound altruistic, it's almost certainly enlightened self-interest, not altruism. I value freedom of thought and action as a general rule because I'd like it myself. I think people should be allowed to do stupid things, to risk their lives, to express their opinions, to worship whatever they want, because I'd like those things for myself. I'm willing to impose limits on those freedoms where they have a high risk of negatively impacting other people, because I don't want someone else's expression of their opinions to become my broken nose.

I am fairly consistent on these things, I think. I include myself in the misanthropy. I am selfish and territorial. (I think I tend to be xenophilic rather than xenophobic, though.)

However, I have trouble maintaining the misanthropy in the specific. I care about individual people very easily. But at least I'm also picky about that.

Current Mood: thoughtfulthoughtful
Comments

DOWN WITH MAN ANIMALS! UP WITH ROBOTStorquemada!

that's a complete pipe dream.

if you think of anarchy as a form of government and not a personal way of life, yes thats true,.. but i have been a practicing anarchist most of my life and i can vouch that it works, you just have to not be invested in any other form of government, and to work and play in the present society that becomes extremely difficult, if you can reinvent the trappings of living in this society so that they don't control the way you approach them then you can make it work, alas most people cant do this, so effectively it would never work as a group dynamic, i think this is a grand post and hope you work more of it,..

A benevolent dictatorship seems to me to be the most practical goverment

You see, that's the problem with "naked ape" theory - this kind of boiling down human civilisation to primate dominance instincts - it always leads to these kinds of anti-liberal conclusions. :)

More seriously, it doesn't answer the important question of, if human nature is not only unchanging but indistinct from ape nature, why you are working on a computer right now rather than sitting naked in a tree throwing dung at other apes.

You see, that's the problem with "naked ape" theory - this kind of boiling down human civilisation to primate dominance instincts - it always leads to these kinds of anti-liberal conclusions.

And this is a problem why? *smile*

More coming in another actual post.

why you are working on a computer right now rather than sitting naked in a tree throwing dung at other apes

We have virtual dung now. We're civilised.

That too.

You see, that's the problem with "naked ape" theory - this kind of boiling down human civilisation to primate dominance instincts - it always leads to these kinds of anti-liberal conclusions.

My first response to this was really flip, but then I realized that this captures some of the whole point of where I'm going, so I wanted to respond again.

I'm unwilling to start with what I'd like, and try to work backwards to make it true. That'd just be lying to myself.

I'd rather start with what I see, with the evidence I have, and try to understand what's possible, and then given the apparent limitations, work towards something better.

If that means accepting that liberal conclusions are just not possible right now, I prefer to know that rather than stick my head in the sand about it.

A sound methodology, in principle. But, once again, "naked ape" theory runs up against the facts of the matter that human society is actually different from ape society - as the fact that we're having this conversation proves. If you want to argue from "what other primates do", you have to start by explaining why we are obviously different from other primates.

I don't think I agree that I have to start with it, I just have to address it (for the people who believe it) somewhere along the way.

Personally, I'm not convinced we're obviously different from other primates, and I will admit to some confusion that you keep asserting that we are. I'm pretty sure this has something to do with us looking at very different things so far. It's possible as I get farther along it'll be more clear what I'm talking about, but I don't know.

And no, I don't consider, "Humans have computers and chimps don't, yet," to be a substantial difference. There are humans all around the world without access to computers -- are they subhuman because of it?

I agree with your observations about humanity. We are, in fact, primates, with the reactions and responses and world view of primates.

I do believe that people have the potential to rise above that; I also believe that the people who actually do so are damned few and far between.

>Capitalism appeals to the misanthrope in me. It turns a fundamental
> human vice of greed into a driving force -- but it only works if consumers
> are educated and activist.

This is something I've thought for quite some time as well: social structures which succeed do so because, like all viruses, they exploit a weakness in the system they inhabit. You're exactly right: greed is what Capitalism has going for it. The reason Communism will always fail is that "from each according to ability, to each according to need" gives nobody a reason to work for anything. No society can ever live long on altruism.

So the trick is being able to live with the fact of virally exploitative society. There are a ton of viruses that we manage to live with quite readily, because they don't destroy their host in the process of living and spreading, and because we have better and better tools for keeping their symptoms from crippling and killing us. And that's what activism and education are: cough syrup, penicillin, innoculation, so that the things which get into the "body" of our society can live there without killing it.

Unfortunately, just as with biological viruses, there's always something new coming along that will claim its victims before you can figure out how to control it. And sometimes, inevitably, there are epidemics.