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Dreaming dreams of things...

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  • Christopher Ryan
    While I find this statement of what ails the left to be beautifully expressed, I wonder if the conclusion isn t a bit non-sensical? What they can t take is
    Message 1 of 3 , Apr 30 1:26 PM
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      While I find this statement of what ails "the left" to be beautifully
      expressed, I wonder if the conclusion isn't a bit non-sensical? "What
      they can't take is criticism at the fundamental level. Their hatred is
      reserved for anyone who challenges The Dream." But the essence of the
      issue is precisely that those on "the left" don't consider a world less
      ruled by Machiavellian power-plays and Hobbesian bloodlust to be "a
      dream" at all. Nor do many anthropologists who have been fortunate
      enough to live among tribal people still somewhat uninitiated into our
      way of doing things. Can't get much more fundamental than that. I know
      there are plenty of data supporting the ruthlessness of humans, but
      there are also plenty of data supporting our capacity for peaceful
      co-existence -- data that I personally find more persuasive.

      The terms of the debate seem to be that anyone unconvinced of the
      inherent, dominant evil of our species (and thus -- not coincidentally
      -- of the need for paternalistic governments and greed-based economic
      systems) is floating in a fog of wishful thinking. Dreaming. Not
      necessarily. Maybe we are wide awake but simply unconvinced by the
      evidence. Yes, chimps exist. But so do bonobos (for now). Yes, there is
      evidence of human cruelty, but there is also plenty in support of a
      capacity for harmony and intelligence beyond self-interest. I don't see
      anyone dreaming; just interpreting the data differently.

      A debate framed as Dreamers vs. Realists is no debate at all. It's an
      ambush.

      CPR


      Message: 4
      Date: Wed, 27 Apr 2005 11:26:12 -0500
      From: "Hill, David" <Plhill@...>
      Subject: Dreaming dreams of things that cannot be


      Surely there is nothing mysterious about this. The left, almost by
      definition, is politically revisionist and utopian. ("I dreams dreams
      of
      things that never were and say, why not?") The left stands for rational
      social revision, and this makes sense only to the extent that human
      beings
      and human society are malleable. If populations cannot be socially
      improved
      by altering their local environments -- or can only be improved up to a
      certain near point but not beyond -- then leftists stand revealed as a
      crew
      of quixotic figures, pounding their lances against immoveable objects.
      They
      don't want to help the inherently inferior. They want to eliminate
      inferiority. The left has a collective dream in which, by the
      unstinting
      efforts of the politically enlightened, the sun rises on a better day
      and
      all reasonable people cluster around them and thank them for building a
      society in which we are all free and equal. They are heroes in a drama
      of
      their own imagining, and the last thing they want is to have some
      hard-headed curmudgeon brandishing solid statistical arguments tell them
      that those dreams are impossible, that they are not heroes but saps and
      buffoons standing in the way of the only really useful social work that
      can
      presently be done. It is not that the left can't stand criticism and
      contradiction. They don't like it much, but they can take a bit of it.
      What they can't take is criticism at the fundamental level. Their
      hatred is
      reserved for anyone who challenges The Dream.
    • Herbert Gintis
      ... When Marshal Sahlins was writing, it was common to think of the noble savage but I don t know any anthropologists who believe this today, except
      Message 2 of 3 , Apr 30 2:30 PM
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        At 04:26 PM 4/30/2005, Christopher Ryan wrote:
        While I find this statement of what ails "the left" to be beautifully
        expressed, I wonder if the conclusion isn't a bit non-sensical? "What
        they can't take is criticism at the fundamental level.  Their hatred is
        reserved for anyone who challenges The Dream." But the essence of the
        issue is precisely that those on "the left" don't consider a world less
        ruled by Machiavellian power-plays and Hobbesian bloodlust to be "a
        dream" at all. Nor do many anthropologists who have been fortunate
        enough to live among tribal people still somewhat uninitiated into our
        way of doing things.
                 When Marshal Sahlins was writing, it was common to think of the "noble savage" but I don't know any anthropologists who believe this today, except post-modernists, who are not scientists and don't care about the facts (which, according to them, are social constructions). Exactly what anthropologists and what data are you referring to that supports "The Dream?"

        Can't get much more fundamental than that. I know
        there are plenty of data supporting the ruthlessness of humans, but
        there are also plenty of data supporting our capacity for peaceful
        co-existence -- data that I personally find more persuasive.
                 Both occur. Neither is more "persuasive" than the other. Both are virtually universal parts of human living.
                 Almost all societies are involved in both war and peace with other societies, and no society is internally peaceful, as far as I can tell from my reading (or reports of anthropologists).


        The terms of the debate seem to be that anyone unconvinced of the
        inherent, dominant evil of our species (and thus -- not coincidentally
        -- of the need for paternalistic governments and greed-based economic
        systems) is floating in a fog of wishful thinking. Dreaming. Not
        necessarily. Maybe we are wide awake but simply unconvinced by the
        evidence. Yes, chimps exist. But so do bonobos (for now). Yes, there is
        evidence of human cruelty, but there is also plenty in support of a
        capacity for harmony and intelligence beyond self-interest. I don't see
        anyone dreaming; just interpreting the data differently.
                 I think this is not correct. I believe that we can make a decent, just society. I do not believe humans are inherently evil, but the good society will look nothing like that portrayed in St. Simon or Marx.
                 It is wrong-headed, IMO, to juxtapose two radically faulty models of human behavior---that of the Right and the Left. Both are irremediably stupid and at various with the facts.
                 It is also wrong-headed to contrast Dreamers and Realists. One must be both.

        Herbert Gintis

        Herbert Gintis
        External Faculty, Santa Fe Institute     
        Professor Central European University, Budapest
        Visiting Professor, University of Siena, Italy                                     
        Emeritus Professor, University of Massachusetts                       
        Recent papers are posted on my web site.
        Get Game Theory Evolving (Princeton, 2000) at Amazon.com.
        Get Moral Sentiments and Material Interests (MIT Press, 2005)
        Get Unequal Chances: Family Background and Economic Success
           (Princeton UP, 2005)
        Get Foundations of Human Sociality: Economic Experiments
          and   Ethnographic Evidence from Fifteen Small-scale
          Societies
        (Oxford UP, 2004).
        Quote of the week:
             The philosophers kick up the dust and then complain they cannot see.
                                                      Bishop Berkeley, A Treatise Concerning
                                                                                     Human Knowledge

      • Christopher Ryan
        ... I agree entirely. Which is why I smell a rat when those on the left are characterized as being dreamers out of touch with reality. These are complex
        Message 3 of 3 , Apr 30 3:57 PM
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          On Apr 30, 2005, at 11:30 PM, Herbert Gintis wrote:

          >  It is wrong-headed, IMO, to juxtapose two radically faulty models of
          > human behavior---that of the Right and the Left. Both are irremediably
          > stupid and at various with the facts.
          >         It is also wrong-headed to contrast Dreamers and Realists. One
          > must be both.

          I agree entirely. Which is why I smell a rat when those on "the left"
          are characterized as being "dreamers" out of touch with "reality."
          These are complex questions, questions we really don't have time or
          space to resolve in this forum. My point was simply to note that there
          are two sides (at least) to the debate over the unavoidability of
          violence in human society, and plenty of evidence to form coherent
          arguments on both sides, without resorting to dreams.

          "no society is internally peaceful, as far as I can tell from my
          reading (or reports of anthropologists)."

          Am I correct to guess that you meant to write "eternally peaceful?" Or
          do you really mean that no society is internally peaceful?

          "When Marshal Sahlins was writing, it was common to think of the "noble
          savage" but I don't know any anthropologists who believe this today,
          except post-modernists, who are not scientists and don't care about the
          facts (which, according to them, are social constructions). Exactly
          what anthropologists and what data are you referring to that supports
          'The Dream?'"

          Of course, it would depend on which part of this "dream" we're talking
          about. "Limited wants, unlimited means," edited by Gowdy (1998) offers
          a collection of anthropologists who would concur that human societies
          are not necessarily cut-throat, winner-take-all affairs. "Cultures of
          multiple fathers," edited by Beckerman and Valentine (2002) is full of
          anthropologists' accounts of cultures that might lead to serious doubt
          concerning the ubiquity of sexual jealousy and possessiveness. "Into
          the heart," by Good is full of first-hand experiences with the same
          people Chagnon depicted as Hobbesian monsters, who come off as being
          quite a bit more relaxed and generous in Good's account. "Wandering
          god" by Berman (2000) is full of references to scholars who doubt the
          ruled-by-selfishness dogma.

          This listing is hardly comprehensive, but my point is that there is no
          dearth of serious scholars who question the dominant paradigm. This
          doesn't mean they are apologists for the "noble savage" by the way,
          just that they question the universality of the Hobbesian world-view.
          One needn't swear allegiance to Rousseau (or to post-modernism) to
          think Hobbes was a bit off in his understanding of human nature.


          CPR
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