Monday, May 31, 2010

Themes of Civlization part 2: Freedom and Dignity

Back in the late early 70s, about 1970 when I was young, a major force in the world of thought was Skinarian psychology, led by B.F.Skinner best known for his book Beyond Freedom and Dignity. It is very strange that Skinner should have been popular with the young in that era, because looking back on it he was counter to every impulse of the youth movement. Skinner argued that freedom and dignity were outmoded concepts that stood in the way of ecological and social reform. Yet if there was anything that the youth movement was about it was freedom. If you have true freedom, dignity can't be far behind. Those concepts are bound up together. Digty follows freedom and requires it. Freedom without dignity is meaningless. Skinner argued that people need to be engineered to protect the environment, and we need to change behavior by treating people as rats in mazes and reinforcing their good behaviors and using negative reinforcement or opporant conditioning to rid society of their bad behaviors. As I understand it the difference in negative reinforcement and opporant conditioning is this. Negative reinforcement means you are reinforcing them to stop a behavior. So you are giving goodies they want but you are influencing them to stop something. With opporant one is using abrasive or uncomfortable reinforcement to detour behavior. Skinner wanted to start treating everyone like this in order to produce good social behavior. For a time this theory was on everyone's lips. The problem was Skinner assumed environment was the major factor in behavior. When the genetic side began leading the Skinner dropped from the horizon.

It is odd that this view had any currency at all in the 60's because it was anti-antithetical to the spirit of the age. The counter culture was about individual freedom. Skinner wanted to eliminate individual freedom and relegate it to the outmoded concept bin. Now the major explanations for behavior revolve around genetic determinism. Atheists go for this sort of explication, I think, because it allows them to feel guilt free when fears of Pascal's revenge loom forth. When the slight tinge that maybe there is a hell after all dawns its ugly head, the atheist likes to be able to say "O but I'm so totally blameless because everything I do is determined by genetics. All of life is just strict determinism." This is a forlorn hope because it plays right into the hands of the most fundamentalistic theists. Surely if we are predestined (ala Calvinistic predestination) then we should expect to find a genetic predisposition that would give away our ultimate destination. I find myself mystified by many of the choices of atheists in this generation. The desire to be reduced to the status of robots is no less puzzling. I can understand why they feel so much more comfortable with technology. That makes perfect sense. But I cannot understand why they are so comfortable with being reduced to the level of robots. It seems one major reason to rebel against God is to be free, but then they don't believe in freedom.

I'm sure some atheist believe in freedom, but I have argued with many  of them, a huge number, who do not. They especially reject freedom in the form of free will. maybe some atheists think its' a matter of being free to follow their pre determined natures. I have seen atheists on message boards, more times than I can count, many many times argue that free will is nonsense because everything is determinism. It seems total absolute determinism is a huge assumption among this millennial generation. At least in message board debates the hedge against religious guilt does play into it. Most of those arguments usually revolve around the notion "God can't hold me responsible for sin because I'm predetermined to do what I do." One would think that if everything is so pre determined then religious people are religious because of chemicals in their heads, they have no other choice because there is no free will. That may make atheists feel better about the slight possibility of a God, but then it also should mean that their atheism is predetermined and that may be because they are predestined to burn. Even so and at any rate they should at least understand that if this is true than religious people are not religious because they ear stupid, but because they are predetermined by chemicals. Conversely atheists are  not superior or smarter because they cant' help and did not choose their outlook.

I usually avoid arguments about free will because it is absolutely meaningless. There is no reason to assume that we could ever find the truth of it. If we are so totally determined, if the universe is so totally deterministic, then research and science are hopeless. Anything we "discover" will only be the biased result of the pre determined outlook. Science has to assume free will or it can't research or experiment. If conclusions are already pre determined there's no point is doing the research. But people who make these arguments are usually just confused about the nature of cause and effect. They are confusing causation with determinism. Cause and effect in and of itself is not deterministic per se. The nexus of material cause and effect allows for a greater verity of outcomes; there are uncertainty principles, and human reason means that we can choose from between alternatives. In any choice we make reason is the motive cause of the outcome that results from the choice having been made. Some think that free will suspension of cause and effect, but in free will reason itself becomes the cause, there is no one pre determined outcome. The analogy would be the human propensity for height. Humans fall within a range of four to seven feet, in general. There is no one over all universal height that so advantageous that it becomes the universal height, so a range is possible. So we have a genetic propensity for height, but we are not per determined to necessarily be any particular height, but we will usually fall pretty much in that range.

Science is potentially of  the greatest forces for freedom, yet it is also one of the greatest dangers. We saw how a certain kind of scientific thinking, with B.F. Skinner, almost contributed to the sacking of freedom and dignity. The scientistic mentality always seeks to reduce freedom and to explain away dignity. Scientism is practically the worship of science. It seeks to reduce freedom to a level of control in the name of some misbegotten misconception about the what serves science. Scientistic types always want humanity to be the servants of science. They will defend that with some circular reasoning about serving the greater good of some abstract humanity for which concrete here and now people must suffer. The other day I came across a perfect example of the scientistic mentality, on Meta Filter.

book review:Daniel Dennett's Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon
March 7, 2006 11:10 AM
March 7, 2006 11:10 AM   RSS feed for this thread Subscribe
Prof. Daniel Dennett's (New York University, Philosophy) new book Breaking the Spell appears to have frightened its NYT book reviewer, Leon Wieseltier (The New Republic, Literary Editor).

(the blogger here was wrong, Dennett is at Tufts not NYU)

Wieselter claims "The question of the place of science in human life is not a scientific question. It is a philosophical question", and promptly proceeds to demonstrate that he himself knows nothing about philosophy. Dennett responds.
Prof. Brian Leiter (University of Texas, Philosophy) responds that "'The view that science can explain all human conditions and expressions, mental as well as physical' is not a 'superstition' but a reasonable methodological posture to adopt based on the actual evidence, that is, based on the actual expanding success of the sciences . . . during the last hundred years."
b l o g s s and serious reviews.

Science can explain all conditions and expressions mental as well as physical because its' had success in blowing tings up, polluting things, and discovering a few cures for a few diseases. This hardly constitutes knowing everything. People who really understand science don't make those kind of statements. People who think that way just turn their eyes to the floor when confronted with the huge list things science still doesn't know. Nothing like that matters, it's all about replacing God with the new god which they think they understand and control. We already have graphic evidence of how science is often used to exploit people and to reduce people to inhuman level. In the book What Difference Does a Revolution Makes Adrew Reding quotes Tomas Borgre, leader of the FSLN in Nicaragua (the Sandinistas) Jose Meguse Bonino (Latin American liberation Theologian) wrote about how science was being used to exploit the campesinos of Central America.The governments put statistics and technology to work dreaming up ways to control populations, modern economics made their way of life obsolete and reduced them to the level of wage slavery, and when they protested they were told "this is science, you are an ignorant peasant, you can't possibly understand but this is proven with modern efficiency). The mystique of science justifies everything. You are far too subjective, meaning ignorant and of no value, you can't possibly understand your own feelings. You need to science to tell you what to feel and if you can't stand that then science will give you pills so it wont hurt anymore.

But science is so successful, what does it matte what mere humans feel? Feelings are subjectively and subjectivity is not factual so science must erase subjectivity. Marcuse's one-dimensional man is more no tap now then it has ever been. What do you imagine the reduction of human consciousness to brain chemistry is really about?  Remember the novel Brave New World? How did they keep the masses in line? By altering their brain chemistry with a drug called "soma." If we are nothing more than brain chemistry and if our choices are all illusory and bad and science can alter our brain chemistry so we make the choices some group of elites wants us to make, and they make us feel good about it, hey why not right? What is life anyway? It's not meaningful. It's really staggering how a society that is so keyed into "empowerment" and so afraid of "dissing" and so hyped on the concept of "respect" can so easily justify being controlled, manipulated and reduced to subhuman lack of dignity? So far the government doesn't have to spray soma in the air to control people; they just provide lots of nice shiny things to buy. But the ideologies of control are all over the net constantly telling us we are merely machines dignity doesn't matter, life is meaningless, just get into some localized bull shit you like and don't worry about truth or justice.

Dignity is bound up with freedom. One cannot have dignity without freedom. Dignity is the ability to feel good about who you are and to feel that you are worth something just because of who you are. Without freedom you are not able to be who you are. You are forced to make choices you do not wish to make, choices that don't suit who you are, and that's astounding that so many people are willing to be told that their choices are illusory and thus they are actually allowing the functionalists to tell them they do not merit dignity. Basic human dignity is the only thing we all owe each other a priori. Dignity is part of the concept of love in the Christian sense, agope, God's love. Agope is the willingness to bestow human dignity upon the other. I define love as "the will to the good of the other," and part of that definition of "the good" is the basic human dignity we all owe each other. Freedom and dignity are inherent in the concept of Christian love.

The relation of freedom and dignity to civilization is fundamental. Civilization, according to Schweitzer, is living conditions arranged to maximize human potential and the growth of the individual. The assumption that all humans have dignity and the freedom to grant that dignity and to see one's own sense of it is the basic goal and pursuit of civilization itself. The Skinnarians highbrow talk of outgrowing freedom and dignity was a recipee for destroying civilization.


Anonymous said...

Freedom was always an illusion. Skinnerism is basically sound, also.

Joseph Hinman (Metacrock) said...

First of all, do you really believe that or are you just determined to believe it?

Secondly, since I am determined to believe in free will what good does it do to argue about it?