Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Vindication

Regarding the preceding blog entry, I wrote to Mr. Auster this morning:

What a great article (or discussion) Tyrannical Atheism has turned out to be! Excuse me while I bask in being vindicated citing that particular VFR article as my prime example of why VFR is the premier Trad-con site. ;-)

Outstanding work! Thank you.

Perhaps it is simply a matter of, as they say, beauty being in the eye of the beholder. There is certainly an element of truth in that statement, and I don't deny it. But I saw this coming early on with Tyrannical Atheism, partly because I'm familiar with the quality of readership at VFR, partly because it's (that is, Tyrannical Atheism) a subject of intense interest for yours truly.

As has been said before, "extreme individualism is as dangerous to liberty as any form of collectivism." See Mr. Auster's reply to a reader whose answer to the collectivism he sees in our society is the aforementioned extreme individualism. The reader supposes he wishes for a society that, well, isn't a society; a society that has no identity, no purpose, no nothing but a universal recognition and following of extreme individualism. He supposes this only because he's never lived in such a ruthlessly individualistic society.

As I've suggested before, why don't we build these extremists a city somewhere off in the mountains, self-contained, self-'governed', completely independent of our society and check in on them from time to time to see how they're coming along in their 'development' away from the extremes of extreme individualism and all that that implies. Make it so number one.

7 comments:

chiu_chunling said...

I think that individualism, if interpreted as the ethical system of deciding things based on benefit to the individuality and freedom of the individual, is the answer to everything.

The problem with most "individualists" is that they take it for granted that whatever a human 'wants' to do is an expression of sentience which is therefore sacrosanct. But if this were true the cowering submission of the brutalized slave would be just as sacred an expression of "individuality" as the Apology of Socrates (a wonderfully satiric defense of not having to 'apologize' for being...well, Socrates).

If you are serious about individualism, you must examine the question of what separates the freely chosen action which develops the individual as a sentient entity from actions which reflect the deterministic course of nature. Otherwise you might as well throw people off a cliff and let them "choose" whether to fly like eagles (or whatever flying being you wish to imagine) or smash themselves brutally against sharp rocks.

Just to be clear, nature doesn't give most people a choice in that situation. It isn't that nobody wants to fly, it's that most of them can't without extensive preparation. Heck, even baby eaglets will 'choose' to smash themselves rather than fly if you don't give them a lot of preparation before throwing them off the cliff.

It is the nature of sentience to overcome determinism. There are whole clubs of people who celebrate their individuality by throwing themselves off cliffs and without smashing themselves to jelly. But they do it by careful, deliberate preparation for the event of going off a cliff. And it is the cultivation of that deliberate activity, rather than the assumption that everyone is perfectly free to do whatever they like in any event, which is at the heart of individualism as a serious philosophy.

Which is what that suffix at the end of the term is supposed to mean. Collectivism is a system of thought based on putting the survival and development of the collective ahead of the good of the individuals who are part of the collective. It necessarily disparages ideas like freedom of association or belief. If the individuals decide they don't like being part of the collective and try to leave, that hurts the collective even if it doesn't harm any of the individuals at all, in the collectivist interpretation.

chiu_chunling said...

The individualist, on the other hand sees society as a collection of individuals, so harm or benefit to the society is judged in terms of what is good for individuals. If all the members of the group will benefit by splitting up and going their separate ways, the individualist sees nothing wrong with doing so. The collectivist, on the other hand, would regard this situation with horror.

But that doesn't mean that any society which is based on the good of individuals will therefore break up. After all, most individuals desire association, and having conversation and exchange with other individuals has concrete benefits for most individuals beyond pure sociality. It would take a very significant solitary benefit to make most individuals devoted to their own benefit abandon society unless the society was itself definitely harmful to the individual.

I am totally in favor of individualism over collectivism. After all, I believe that individuals have an eternal nature and destiny...all collectives not based on the freely chosen relationships of individuals are temporary. Thus the benefit of individuals as individuals is supreme over collectives because it actually has durance.

Of course, I'm biased by the fact that I'm an individual rather than a collective. Collectives naturally tend to regard themselves as superior to the individuals of which they are composed. So I suppose it has to be decided by contest. In the end, though, the collective cannot exist without the component individuals. The individuals (at least some of them) can exist without the collective.

Which is why the individualists always win in the end. Even if a collective can have more power than any given individual, it can never have more power than all individuals unless it actively commits itself to their individual nature.

Which is to say, the reason that America became great was because it fostered the benefit of the individuals with an understanding of the truth about individual nature. Based on the fundamental truth of the eternal nature and destiny of the soul, a nation was built dedicated to improving the freedom and power of the individual. And because a society is ultimately a collection of individuals, the freedom and power of the individual made the nation wealthier and more powerful than any other nation in history.

But because the nation is, in the end, a collective, it has succumbed to the prejudice of thinking that the individuals exist for the benefit of the nation, rather than the other way round. That way lies destruction.

If I didn't believe in the eternal nature of the self, I would probably be an annihilist. After all, the best historical evidence indicates that collectives don't last either...and I'm not a collective myself so I fail to see what would be the benefit to me even if society were capable of persistence. So it isn't surprising that atheists are the way they are. What is puzzling is why they choose atheism in the face of all the evidence.

Of course, I've never met anyone else who would admit a penchant for annihilism, so probably I'm not well equipped to understand others.

Call Me Mom said...

chiu,

My son is quite taken with the notion that there is no such thing as a group. That this is just a convenient term for individuals who have chosen to act together in a way that benefits them all collectively. When the actions cease to be beneficial, the individuals cease to cooperate thus ending their association.

In this view, the association of individuals becomes harmful and destructive when those individuals who continue to benefit from this association use their influence, (be it political, economic, emotional or physical), to force those individuals who are no longer receiving a benefit from the collective actions of the association to remain in the association for the benefit of those who still do. Or, when the individuals who are benefitting from the association use their power to force other individuals to associate with them and join them in whatever collective action in which that association of individuals is engaging regardless of the benefit or harm to those individuals.

But, I'm getting a bit off topic. Just thinking out loud.

chiu_chunling said...

That's okay, I have the voice output turned off, so I can listen to music while reading your comments.

A "group" is just a convenient way to simplify the complex relationships that exist amongst individuals who share a common factor which brings them into significant contact.

It can be a helpful way of building a simplified model of an otherwise incomprehensible dynamic. Like imagining all the stars in the galaxy as orbiting a the galactic center, rather than trying to work out the 400,000,000,000! (that's a number that makes a googol look infinitesimally small without being specifically designed to do so the way googolplex was) relationships amongst all the separate massive objects (each of them in turn enormously complex in its own right).

But if the Milky Way were to crash into Andromeda tomorrow, completely disrupting its spiral configuration and possibly ejecting a substantial number of objects from both galaxies to eventually turn into a loose independent cluster, it wouldn't have any significant effect on any of the actual stars composing either galaxy (though if our sun managed to get thrown through one of the galactic centers involved, all life on Earth might be destroyed by the diffuse radiation even though it wouldn't do anything do the sun).

The pattern of relationships and most significant interactions would change completely, but the stars themselves would be fine (the nebulae and so forth would probably get a scrubbing, though) unless they ended up colliding, which is so improbable that it probably wouldn't happen even once despite the hundreds of billions of stars involved. And when you consider that nebulae are not discrete objects either, it's not like their being "harmed" anymore than the galaxies are.

What constitutes "harm" to a galaxy, after all? Disruption of the spiral form accelerates the formative evolution of the galaxy, but does that "hurt" or "help" it? Does it even make any sense to talk about harm or benefit to something like a galaxy?

These questions eventually lead in an interesting direction when you apply them to humans, but I'll shorten it by saying that there is a fundamental philosophical relationship between belief in the soul and individualism, and collectivism and denial of such a belief.

Terry Morris said...

Interesting analogy, Chiu. But of course it's interesting to me simply because have a penchant for amateur astronomy. I'm a stargazer of sorts, in other words.

I agree with you that collections of individuals are just that, when you boil it all down -- collections of individuals. And as has been said before, "the whole is exactly equal to the sum of its parts." The Supremes would tend to disagree with that, but it doesn't negate the fact.

Your recent postings have put me in mind of Noah Webster's statement, which I've quoted dozens of times before, stating that those who believe in a general providence, yet deny a particular one, involve themselves in a palpaple contradiction. For they fail to recognize that the general consists in the particular.

There is a reason that the founding generation recognized the Christian God and His revelation to man as authority. He is, afterall, a personal God. Can there be a legitimate Supreme Being that isn't?

chiu_chunling said...

I suppose that depends on how you define "person" and "supreme" (I will assume that "being" is clear enough for the purpose).

A highly ordered collective can exhibit many characteristics of a sentient being, even when we can positively exclude the existence of sentience in any particular component of the whole. Think of a beehive (ants are a better example in many ways, but their hive behavior is not as well documented). While a beehive is still a fairly simple organism, it has memory and decision-making abilities which far outstrip the abilities of any given bee in the hive.

Or consider the power of parallel computing in generating problem-solving capability far in excess of any one machine in the system. One can easily imagine that as such systems become sufficiently complex, they could model sentience to a degree that would make it impossible for the outside observer to tell whether or not the system were truly intelligent, capable of making decisions based on its own experience and imagination of future possibilities.

I find it intuitively natural to believe that other persons exist, and that the humans I interact with are examples of such. But which this intuition is reasonable in the sense that it is probable, in logical terms it is merely a possibility, not a certainly. It does not lead to an inherent contradiction if I accept it as a hypothesis, but logically the opposite assumption is just as tenable.

Manipulative solipsism is evil...but only because it happens to be wrong. If the manipulative solipsist were correct about being the only truly existing person, then disbelieving in the self-hood of others would not be "right" and disbelieving in their self-hood would not be "wrong". Of course here we run up against a Pascal's wager.

If I happen to be deluded about the existence of other persons, there can be nothing wrong about my entertaining that delusion as long as I like, because if I am all that exists then what I like is the only standard of right and wrong. But a solipsist, disbelieving in my existence, does not have access to the same defense. I do exist, and I dislike having my existence denigrated, therefore the solipsist does not enjoy an undisputed "right" to claim I do not exist.

chiu_chunling said...

To continue, however, I cannot prove my existence to a solipsist. I can destroy many of the illusions which might make a solipsist comfortable in solipsism, but that doesn't logically prove solipsism is incorrect (it doesn't prove to the solipsist that I am a self, after all). So while it is unthinkable that there is no such thing as a self, cogito ergo sum, it is not actually unreasonable to believe that oneself is the only self. It may seem improbable, but without any way to prove that other selves exist, the probability of any given self being unique is just a guess.

Still, if there is only one self, it doesn't really make sense to therefore think of it as supreme unless a self is assumed to have rightful dominion over non-selves. Being unique doesn't make one better than everything else (there can be other unique entities, after all).

So I can imagine an altruistic solipsist, a person who does not believe in other selves, but does not believe that supremacy of existence is therefore enjoyed by the only self. This person might believe some impersonal entity (like the ecology of Earth, or the human race (or bees, for that matter), or technological development towards artificial intelligence) to be supreme in being. Now, the fact that most people who make this kind of argument turn out to be manipulative solipsists rather than altruistic solipsists does not necessarily mean that there can be no such thing as an altruistic solipsist. It just means that altruistic solipsists see no reason to 'justify' their solipsism to non-selves, and probably have little need to do so because they are not engaged in typical manipulative solipsist behavior.

Altruistic solipsism is still wrong, of course. And I have no practical means of demonstrating evidence that altruistic solipsists actually exist. But while such a person seems rather unlikely, I see no reason one couldn't exist, and such a person could hold a conception of the Supreme Being that was definitely not personal.

Now, that concept would be incorrect because, as it just so happens, God is the Supreme Being and is personal. But I don't know that I could call the concept illegitimate just because it would be factually mistaken.