Good Minus God: Does morality depend on religion?
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29-12-2011, 09:04 PM
RE: Good Minus God: Does morality depend on religion?
Hey, Cufflink.

I may be hard boiled, but I have a rich gooey chocolate centre Cool

1 - I do dislike slavery.

2 - I do not believe that it is inherently evil because I neither believe in good and evil nor universal morality.

Why do I dislike slavery? The short answer:

I'm black.

Quote:You characterize your dislike as a preference, and say your preferences "flow from a social contract." It's not clear to me how that works.

I didn't say contract. I said construct. My preferences flow from a social construct.

I believe in socially constructed reality. I have to. All of the evidence confirms it.

Socially constructed reality is at the heart of cultural relativism. Without it, cultures could not be relative. If we experienced reality simply as it existed, without abstraction, interpretation, or mediation, if we did not use language to categorise and understand reality, there would be a single reality that we all understood in exactly the same way. This is not the case. We've known this since Plato; at least.

"Cat" is a word that applies to the three very cute furry mammals running around my place. “Mammal” refers to both of us. "Pain" means something. "Purple" means something. "Bitch". "Cunt". "Super-duper." "Nigger." "Doctor." The letter A. The number XI. "Gentille Allouette." "Roe vs Wade." These are all very simple representations that correspond to phenomena; what we call sign, signified and signifier. On their own, they're like cells. Together, they form a larger organism. That larger organism is a culture. All of the beliefs, rites, rituals, languages, clothing, art, ways of thinking, ways of doing, expectations, understandings... The words we use, the metaphors we use, the letters, are all essentially arbitrary. That's why they are so different from culture to culture. Each culture, within itself, agrees what means what, what is understood, how it’s understood and so on. Because they understand all of the small things differently, the larger constructs cannot help but be different from one culture to the next. This construct, this network of arbitrariness, isn't just how we represent reality. To us, it IS reality. We cannot know the real any other way than through this process of mediation. I wear pants because of it. I was a vegan for 7.5 years because of it. I write 7.5 rather than 7 1/2 because of it. It's how we understand the world and it is the source of how we act within it. Morality is a part of this incredible construction.

I use kilometres instead of miles (and spell metre with an “re” at the end instead of an “er”), not just because Canada uses the metric system, but because the US doesn't. In Canada, very little makes us prouder than not being Americans. Using metric allows me to feel superior to a country with ten times my population and a hundred times the military strength; easily.

Everything I'm saying is simple psychosocial development. We are the product of our upbringing in our given environment. If I had been raised in Lusaka instead of Montreal, I would be a very different person. This is because of the social construct I am immersed in. That social construct, including the constructed reality, is culture. Memes are the individual bits, from beliefs, to songs, to letters of the alphabet, that constitute that construction that is expressed as that culture; just as genes constitute a DNA strand that is expressed as you, me, the tree, the rock... sorry. Got my Yoda on there for a second. No rocks.

As Chas mentioned, personal experience and choice have a role in all of this, largely through experiential and trial and error learning. I decided to join the army at 17 and that choice had a profound effect on what I was exposed to and who I've become.

So now we get to the long answer. And the long answer is complicated as fuck. To be perfectly honest, the techniques that would allow us to track, memetically, the origins of everyone's personal beliefs, the way we could track the origin of Downs Syndrome to trisomy of the 21st chromosome, simply don't exist yet. We still haven't identified the structure of a meme in the brain; the memetic DNA analogue. So that sort of ability is a long way off still. But we can start connecting some dots in lay terms.

I'm black, but I'm Zambian, meaning my ancestors weren't bought and sold, but rather colonised by the English. I'm also English. I'm also a black man living in North America and like a Jew who has nothing to do with Israel or the Holocaust, I still interact with the Diaspora and find connection to slavery there. I'm also a social scientist and a Marxist, so I'm well versed in exploitation, which I see slavery as. I'm also a historian and have investigated the horrors of slavery. I'm also a contemporary Canadian and I would be denounced publically if I publically supported slavery. Then throw on top of all of that ideology and hegemony and interpolation.

There are a ton of reasons. We might not know how to decipher them yet because the forensics are a long way off, but what we do know is that the process exists and that the outcome is observable. I don't like slavery. For these reasons and for reasons I'm not even aware of.

We also know that other people and other cultures don't agree. And we know that this is so because of the process I outlined above.

Most importantly, we know that "just cuz" is not a satisfactory answer to someone that embraces the scientific method.

So where does morality come from?

From God? I have no evidence of that and as an Agnostic, I have to reserve judgement.

From some self-evident truth? If this is true, I have to trust the decipherers, the code breakers, the sages who tell me that they have read the signs and know the truth. Until they have evidence, you know where I stand.

Then there's memetics. Memetics answers all questions with ease. If we accept memetics, if we accept socially constructed reality, then we are left with an inescapable truth. Morality comes from culture. Not God, not the mount, it's not just self-evident, it comes from culture. If that's true, then there is no such thing as a moral absolute.

Now here's where I might put a smile on your face. Vacuum and overlap.

Nothing exists in a vacuum. The evolutionary process is about as complex as complex gets. No part of it occurs in isolation. The very heart of the entire idea is that it happens in system. Thus, there are things that influence the formation of morality. We need to take very serious pause and recognise that no factor guarantees anything in the evolutionary process. But strategies are in competition with each other. Behaviours are traits and traits are selected. Like I mentioned before, nothing undermines cooperation more than murder. So it makes sense that anti-murder customs are constantly selected because humans are a cooperative species; a social animal. But sometimes, people just gotta fuckin die. So it makes sense that pro-murder caveats are adopted and that those caveats are HIGHLY contextual and unique like fingerprints from culture to culture. There may very well be some conditions within the environment that we, all human cultures, find ourselves in, society being the universal, that explain why moral codes are so similar at the end of the day. But what must be taken into account with the greatest of care is that conditions change. That's Darwinism for you.

The other smile inducer is overlap. A good strategy is a good strategy. End of story. A lot of people agree on similar strategies because they work. But we cannot be fooled by the post hoc ergo propter hoc logical fallacy. IF most people agree THEN it must be because the assumption is true. Stated differently, the reason we agree is because we've all seen the truth. But that, as I mentioned, is a logical fallacy. Overlapping morality between cultures is the result of similar cultural traits being selected across those cultures, NOT due to us figuring out some grand truth.

Fact of the matter is, if you can dominate your fellow man, you don't need to respect them. That's a sad mother fucking truth but it’s consistent with everything we know about the nature of altruism. We live in a system, a hierarchical system, that allows us to dominate our fellow man. It makes slavery POSSIBLE in the first place.

Daniel Quinn is, in my opinion, one of the most important minds of the last century. One of his many points is that this system of ours is great for products but terrible for people. We know that if you want someone to be happy, you don't torture, kill, imprison, ostracise, emasculate or exploit them (unless they’re masochists, but I’ve always suspected that masochism was a disorder; a coping strategy to deal with all of the abuse one takes by luxuriating in it, thereby diminishing its power). We also know that these things are an intrinsic part of the Repressive State Apparatus used to keep the populace in line when the Ideological State Apparatus doesn't convince them to keep themselves in line; Foucault’s disciplined subject. So if your metric for what is good is that everyone is happy, then this system is terrible. If your criteria for that which is moral is that which does not harm others, then you are living in a deeply immoral system (something Sam Harris will never understand in his myopia).

I happen to think that people should be happy. That's why I've dedicated my life to understanding this system and to figuring out an alternative system, that the majority can transition to and that, most importantly, can compete head to head with Our culture's system. Ask any aboriginal group on the planet how difficult that is. So yeah, I think slavery is immoral. I think that our system demands immorality. But I know that my beliefs were forged in the social construct that I enact on a daily basis. Nobel Laureate, the late Milton Friedman, once quipped that it is not only wrong for the CEO of a corporation to use corporate profits to do things like support charities or reduce the cost of the product they are selling; it's immoral. Do I agree with Milton Friedman? I think he's the personification of everything that is wrong with this world. But I understand where he's coming from. And that, to me, is worth a million times more than pronouncing him immoral based on some imagined universal metric. I have an alternative to build and I ain't gonna build it on indignation.

Thanks for the question, brother. It was illuminating trying to answer it. I hope my response is of value.

Peace and Love and Empathy,

Matt
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30-12-2011, 12:32 AM
RE: Good Minus God: Does morality depend on religion?
Allow me to rephrase the thread title to cut through the academic bullshit.

Good Minus God: Does my not being a prick depend on religion?

No. In fact religion gets in the way of me trying to not be a prick.

As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
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01-01-2012, 05:35 PM
RE: Good Minus God: Does morality depend on religion?
Matt,

(29-12-2011 09:04 PM)Ghost Wrote:  I may be hard boiled, but I have a rich gooey chocolate centre Cool

Of that I've never had any doubt. Smile

Quote:I didn't say contract. I said construct. My preferences flow from a social construct.

Yup. Sorry about that. I need to increase the size of my screen font.

Quote:If we experienced reality simply as it existed, without abstraction, interpretation, or mediation, if we did not use language to categorise and understand reality, there would be a single reality that we all understood in exactly the same way. This is not the case. We've known this since Plato; at least. . . .

"Cat" is a word that applies to the three very cute furry mammals running around my place. “Mammal” refers to both of us. "Pain" means something. "Purple" means something. "Bitch". "Cunt". "Super-duper." "Nigger." "Doctor." The letter A. The number XI. "Gentille Allouette." "Roe vs Wade." These are all very simple representations that correspond to phenomena; what we call sign, signified and signifier. On their own, they're like cells. Together, they form a larger organism. That larger organism is a culture. All of the beliefs, rites, rituals, languages, clothing, art, ways of thinking, ways of doing, expectations, understandings... The words we use, the metaphors we use, the letters, are all essentially arbitrary. That's why they are so different from culture to culture. Each culture, within itself, agrees what means what, what is understood, how it’s understood and so on. Because they understand all of the small things differently, the larger constructs cannot help but be different from one culture to the next. This construct, this network of arbitrariness, isn't just how we represent reality. To us, it IS reality. We cannot know the real any other way than through this process of mediation. I wear pants because of it. I was a vegan for 7.5 years because of it. I write 7.5 rather than 7 1/2 because of it. It's how we understand the world and it is the source of how we act within it. Morality is a part of this incredible construction.

I'm not at all averse to the notion that language and culture influence our perception of--or construction of--reality. As someone whose main academic interest is language, I've been fascinated by the evolution of ideas about linguistic relativity, in particular the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. Although the strong form (that our native language determines our thoughts and perceptions) is universally rejected by modern linguists, the weak form--that our thoughts and perceptions are influenced by our language, often in unconscious and subtle ways--is very much alive.

I think where we differ is in the extent to which language, culture, social structure, background, early experience, and so on influence perceptions of reality, and in particular morality. I tend to have an X-Files, "the truth is out there" view of morality: there are at least some universal moral principles we can discover, based on our common humanity, that allow us to conclude that such things as enslaving our fellow humans and needlessly inflicting pain on other sentient creatures is wrong, independent of culture. But as you've pointed out and as I've acknowledged before, "just cuz" is not a satisfactory answer to "How do you know?" So the best I can do for the time being is to say I have a strong hunch, and leave it at that. Any more and I'd be talking out of my ass.

But the thing is, what matters in the end is not the theory but the practice. The important thing is our answer, as seen through our actions, to the question, "How should I live my life?" Different people can conceptualize the source of right and wrong in different ways while all behaving the same way in a given situation. "You shall know them by their fruits" is one of the better ideas in the Bible. You and I may differ in how we view the source of moral rules, but I suspect we're not all that different when it comes to practical applications. Smile

Quote:I happen to think that people should be happy. That's why I've dedicated my life to understanding this system and to figuring out an alternative system, that the majority can transition to and that, most importantly, can compete head to head with Our culture's system. Ask any aboriginal group on the planet how difficult that is. So yeah, I think slavery is immoral. I think that our system demands immorality. But I know that my beliefs were forged in the social construct that I enact on a daily basis. Nobel Laureate, the late Milton Friedman, once quipped that it is not only wrong for the CEO of a corporation to use corporate profits to do things like support charities or reduce the cost of the product they are selling; it's immoral. Do I agree with Milton Friedman? I think he's the personification of everything that is wrong with this world. But I understand where he's coming from. And that, to me, is worth a million times more than pronouncing him immoral based on some imagined universal metric. I have an alternative to build and I ain't gonna build it on indignation.

I'm intrigued by your "alternative system" and would like to hear more. Maybe start a thread about it?

Quote:Thanks for the question, brother. It was illuminating trying to answer it. I hope my response is of value.

Very much so. I really appreciate the time and effort you put into your response. It helped me understand where you're coming from and how you've arrived where you are more than I have before. Thanks for the insight and the intellectual stimulation.

Quote:Peace and Love and Empathy,

And to you.

Religious disputes are like arguments in a madhouse over which inmate really is Napoleon.
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01-01-2012, 09:04 PM
RE: Good Minus God: Does morality depend on religion?
Sup, Cufflink?

That Sapir-Whorf seems interesting. I read a little bit about it on Wiki just now. I think I have a rudimentary grasp of the idea. My background is not in linguistics, but rather in communications. The construction of reality stems from the act of communication. So I'll restrict myself to communications because I don't know enough about linguistics.

Quote:I think where we differ is in the extent to which language, culture, social structure, background, early experience, and so on influence perceptions of reality, and in particular morality.

True. For me it's all important. Both from the psychological notion of psychosocial development and from the idea of socially constructed reality.

Quote:I tend to have an X-Files, "the truth is out there" view of morality: there are at least some universal moral principles we can discover, based on our common humanity, that allow us to conclude that such things as enslaving our fellow humans and needlessly inflicting pain on other sentient creatures is wrong, independent of culture. But as you've pointed out and as I've acknowledged before, "just cuz" is not a satisfactory answer to "How do you know?" So the best I can do for the time being is to say I have a strong hunch, and leave it at that. Any more and I'd be talking out of my ass.

Hey, brother, if you're rockin the hunch, I can dig it.

For me though, it's just too just cuzesque for me. I just can't imagine where we locate this sort of thing. Like we locate gravity in the behaviour of two objects adjacent to each other in space time and we locate aerodynamics by looking at things flying through the air and at things falling helplessly to the ground. But where do we locate morality? (And please remember what the mention of "Douchey McBaggerson" does to my cranium)

I think what we can see and what we do see, are a lot of different cultures coming to similar conclusions. There's lots of moral overlap.

Quote:But the thing is, what matters in the end is not the theory but the practice. The important thing is our answer, as seen through our actions, to the question, "How should I live my life?" Different people can conceptualize the source of right and wrong in different ways while all behaving the same way in a given situation. "You shall know them by their fruits" is one of the better ideas in the Bible. You and I may differ in how we view the source of moral rules, but I suspect we're not all that different when it comes to practical applications.

I can dig on this (especially as a cultural relativist).

Most importantly, I think we both clearly agree that morality is not dependent on religion.

Quote:I'm intrigued by your "alternative system" and would like to hear more. Maybe start a thread about it?

Believe me, I loooooove to talk about it. It's my passion. My life's work. But this forum is about Atheism and Theism, so I don't think it really fits (and I do pretty much stick to this forum on TTA).

Long story short: Humans are social animals. Ideally we live in egalitarian bands of 150 or less (the Dunbar number) and use interpersonal relationships as the grease for the wheel. We undergo tribal mitosis when we exceed that number. 10 000 years ago we settled. Mitosis is near impossible when you become sedentary because you can't divide buildings. That coupled with agriculture (the ability to increase our food supply in situ at will) allowed us to shoot well beyond groups of 150 (for example, there's a billion and a half Chinese). Interpersonal relationships cannot facilitate groups beyond the Dunbar number so we had to adopt hierarchy which introduced inequality, exploitation, the need for power maximisation, the complex division of labour, surplus production and militarisation (and ultimately to the Repressive State Apparatus and the Ideological State Apparatus; the ISA explaining, at least in part, the existence of religion). About 5 000 years ago, first we developed chieftaincies then full blown civilisations. Throw in the concept of unlimited growth and what Daniel Quinn calls Totalitarian Agriculture (the idea that we can kill whatever we want in the pursuit of making food), the food race (positive feedback: more humans need more food -> produce more food -> more food means more humans -> more humans need more food) and the Annihilator strategy (wipe out your competitors) and our population increased by 70 000% in 5 000 years (10 million then to 7 billion now). The annihilator strategy (likely born in the Fertile Crescent) spread memetically (note that all of these problems are cultural rather than genetic; we BELIEVE the world is ours to do with as we please) across the globe (see Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel for how this was aided by climate) so that most cultures are now Our culture (having either adopted the Annihilator strategy by choice or by force, or after having being annexed, assimilated or wiped out by Our culture). Throw in the Parable of the Tribe (that the annihilator, or power maximisation strategy, once introduced into a system, will overwhelm that system) and the Nash Equilibrium (no group benefits from unilaterally abandoning the annihilator strategy, so none do) and we discover why we seem stuck with the system that a three year old could tell you doesn’t work. Rewind to "wipe out your competitors" and "unlimited growth" and we understand why Our culture has wiped out every egalitarian non-militarised culture it's ever encountered (the Aboriginal genocide of the last few hundred years) and why Our culture controls just shy of 100% of the world's resources and exploits it to ever increasing degree (which is why there is so much species and habitat loss; otherwise known as the Holocene Extinction and the destabilisation of the biosphere). So the alternative is an egalitarian (non-hierarchical) system that is not driven by growth (essentially not-civilisation) and that can somehow secure control of its own infrastructure and share of the world's resources (so that individuals can transition from Our culture to the alternative system without starving to death) and compete directly with those players utilising the annihilator strategy on an ongoing basis. It's a tall order and a riddle I have yet to crack.

If you can figure out a good place to discuss this, I'm game.

Glad you liked the post, brother. You make my brain light up Cool

Peace and Love and Empathy,

Matt
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03-01-2012, 12:25 AM
RE: Good Minus God: Does morality depend on religion?
Hey.

I just watched this video (37:27 run time). It is one of the single most magnificent lectures I've ever heard and I felt that it had a lot to do with what's been discussed about the origin of morality and cultural transmission... especially the second half, but the whole thing is just stunning.

Peace and Love and Empathy,

Matt
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