Friday, October 30, 2009

Why it sometimes all seems to perplexing, as explained by one of our leading philosophers

I spend a lot of time reading Waldo and have developed such a vicarious appreciation of South Carolina politics that I am currently trying to figure out how to detour around the Palmetto State on my next trip from Delaware to Disney.

What Waldo teaches me (when whatever I am drinking is not spurting out of my nose) is that huge numbers of Americans who are otherwise apparently competent to dress themselves and drive to work every day are not really functioning at an intellectual level necessary to deal with the moral dilemma and cultural nuances of modern life.

Philosopher Daniel Dennett comes closer to explaining this phenomenon in brief academic terms than anyone else I have ever read [once you add one tiny fact to his explanation]:

There's a mismatch between the modern versus ancestral world. Our minds are equipped with programs that were evolved to navigate a small world of relatives, friends, and neighbors, not for cities and nation states of thousands or millions of anonymous people. Certain laws and institutions satisfy the moral intuitions these programs generate. But because these programs are now operating outside the envelope of environments for which they were designed, laws that satisfy the moral intuitions they generate may regularly fail to produce the outcomes we desire and anticipate that have the consequences we wish. ...

Here's the missing fact that associates with this phrase--Our minds are equipped with programs that were evolved to navigate a small world of relatives, friends, and neighbors:

That small world is essentially a tribal world, and recent anthropological studies have shown that, on a percentage basis, warfare in neolithic tribal societies was actually generated far more casualties than modern warfare.

Shorter Dennett: we still have not moved beyond the compelling urge to deal with people with different views by hitting them over the head with large sticks.


RSmitty said...

Know another reason to avoid SC when driving so many hours to-and-fro DE-FL? Don't get caught speeding on the interstate there. Yes, I was speeding, yepper...BUT I was within the flow of traffic. I wasn't passing, weaving, nothing. I was in the pack. The cop came up the left lane, then wedged in between my back and the front of the car behind me, siren-lights, pulled me over. Not the cars ahead of me, not the cars behind me, but me. One thing I noticed before pulling over, the car in front of me and the one next to it, in the left lane both had SC tags. I, of course, didn't, being a resident of Delaware.

He asked if I knew how fast I was going, which I honestly didn't, since I was travelling along in the pack. He said 89! That's pretty amazing, because I have one of those vehicles that gives you a shake if you touch 80, but hey, I am not about to argue with a cop when I am that far from home. He was "so nice" and let me off with an 84-MPH (so I wasn't 20 MPH over - 65 zone). Funny thing is, if you are 15+ over...MANDATORY COURT APPEARANCE! WTF? Sure, I can just make another trip to SC for freaking TRAFFIC COURT. Within three days...T-H-R-E-E days, I had solicitations for lawyers local to where I got the ticket. Amazing how quickly that turned around! I called a few, especially the one who enclosed a $100 off COUPON (I kid you not). I ultimately ended up with him. He said I didn't need to come down, but he'd represent me. He said they'd be able to plead it down to equipment malfunction (the speedometer, which was fine).

I thought about this. When they called me back to tell me it was successfully bargained down, I asked about this law and how typical it was for someone out of state to get nailed. The person from the law office was incredibly candid. She said in-state people are rarely charged with it (take that as either they are fully aware or...) and out-of-state people are so willing to avoid coming back, they will plead to higher charges than what I did and pay higher fines. She basically said that this was a racket targeted at the literally-ignorant, a.k.a.: out-of-state drivers. She said their office was one of many who were very much against the prosecution of this law in the first place, in that it was a point of embarrassment to have to deal with it and explain it to out-of-state collegues.

RSmitty said...

Crap, disregard all was NORTH Carolina!!! D'oh!

Stupid Smitty, Fayetville is NORTH, not South. Man, I suck!

South Carolina is so groovy! Boo north!

Delaware Watch said...

Fortunately, evolution is not done with us. In an increasing global environment, my hope is that over time humanity will adapt and appreciate a more universal and humanitarian perspective.

RSmitty said...

Sorry for using only the opening paragraph for my last comment, btw.

On topic, I think Dennett and your extension are pretty much on target. Politics is a great example. I'd say look at the divide between Democrats and Republicans, but lets get even finer. Look at the divide within Republicans, the everything-coservative v the moderate-end. It's become so pathetic how it's all about the "team" winning over anything that has to do with principle. Hell, what does 'principle' have to do with anything politics in this age?

Anonymous said...

You're an optimist, Delaware Watch.

I think we've pretty much doomed all higher (multi-cellular) living things to extinction and will ultimately leave behind a planet utterly contaminated by deadly levels of radioactivity.

Evolution cannot happen when genes are constantly bombarded by radiation. Perhaps some single cell creatures living deep beneath the earth will eventually emerge to begin the evolutionary process again after the millions of years that will be required for the radioactive isotopes like plutonium to disappear.

Have a good day.


Miko said...

See also the TIMN organizational model.

Fortunately, evolution is not done with us. In an increasing global environment, my hope is that over time humanity will adapt and appreciate a more universal and humanitarian perspective.

I hope the opposite. Evolution works through death. The only way that this could happen would be if the government's current short-sighted policies led to the collapse of civilization and to billions of deaths. And since evolution is a slow process, this would probably be necessary multiple times. I'd much rather have humanity recognize our limitations and consiously adopt such a view before catastrophe forces us to adapt to it.

Evolution cannot happen when genes are constantly bombarded by radiation.

Sure it can. The sun is constantly bombarding us with radiation. It just has to be within certain levels.

Unknown said...

Miko, the TIMN Evolution Model deals with social evolution, which you seem to have overlooked.

Steve, Dennett's thesis makes sense to me, as I see this mentality on the Right all the time. I had hoped that Obama would be different on this point, but it is still too early to tell. His impending decisions on Afghanistan will be telling.

Smitty, my h/t to you to be forewarned regarding your driving experience in NC, as I drive IS 85 into Durham frequently, in the pack at 75-80 mph, past small towns that probably need the revenue now more than ever.

Anonymous said...

"...disregard all was NORTH Carolina!!! D'oh!"

Don't worry, my daughter had a near identical experience in Virginia, and my brother in Georgia, so it's virtually everywhere south of Maryland. Apparently, she's still on the mailing list of some of the law firms that 'work with' the Va. State Police.