[ a fully caused & embodied blog ] [ Good Sense Without God ]
It is in the prosecution of some single object, and in striving to reach its accomplishment by the combined application of his moral and physical energies, that the true happiness of man, in his full vigour and development, consists. Possession, it is true, crowns exertion with repose; but it is only in the illusions of fancy that it has power to charm our eyes. If we consider the position of man in the universe,—if we remember the constant tendency of his energies towards some definite activity, and recognize the influence of surrounding nature, which is ever provoking him to exertion, we shall be ready to acknowledge that repose and possession do not indeed exist but in imagination. - Wilhelm von Humboldt, The Sphere and Duties of Government (The Limits of State Action) (1854 ed.)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Naturalism on Responsibility

Encountering Naturalism, Tom Clark, p 29-32:

There are several important personal implications of naturalism that make it a useful and inspiring worldview.
. . .
Second, naturalism shows that since you didn't create yourself, you can't take ultimate credit for who you are in the way traditional supernatural notions of the self make possible; only supernatural souls have contra-causal free will that endows them with ultimate credit. You, a natural creature, have to share credit for you successes and good deeds with all those conditions -- people, places, things, and genes -- that make yo a good person. Even you striving for goodness has its causal roots, perhaps in parental expectations and an inherited predilection for empathy and selfless action. When we see the causal story behind virtue, there are no longer grounds for feeling morally superior, prideful, self-important, arrogant, or for holding any other self-aggrandizing attitude or belief about yourself. Just be grateful for your good fortune.
Third, and for the same reasons, you can't take ultimate blame for being nasty, selfish, lazy, fearful, or any other personal failing. These characteristics too are fully caused, owing their existence to a host of genetic and environmental conditions: your parents (their genes and parenting skills), your community, peer group, schools, and all the unpredictable happenstances of your life. Seeing that you don't have contra-causal freedom reduces unnecessary and counter-productive guilt and shame aimed at the self for its sins. Remember though, the fact that being nasty and selfish is fully caused doesn't mean you shouldn't stop being nasty and selfish. We don't lose our moral compass in accepting naturalism[].
Fourth, when we understand we are not self-made and can't take ultimate credit or blame, we might discover a deep, abiding acceptance of ourselves and our situation. There's no causally privileged agent who could have done otherwise in the circumstances of your life as it unfolded; all your decisions, good and bad, arose without benefit of a supernatural self that made things happen as they did. This rather startling realization, so contrary to the Western assumption that individuals can (and should) transcend their circumstances, releases us from the regret, protest, shame and guilt wrapped up in the supposition that we could have done otherwise as a situation developed. Seeing that, for instance, I was fully determined to do badly in a job interview prevents me from wasting hours or days in self-recrimination, time I could spend more productively in preparing for the next one.
On a larger scale, appreciating the full scope of the causal network that is nature -- a process that far, far transcends us -- grounds a stable acceptance of what is in all its manifestations, personal and global. Such acceptance, although it might seem like passive resignation from the standpoint of Western radical individualism, actually works as a sturdy foundation upon which to pursue our projects, less vulnerable to the slings and arrows of our own reactive psychology. This isn't to deny the importance of our strivings, but to put them in a wider perspective that might give us some measure of serenity. Although achieving serenity is rarely mentioned as a goal in our hyper-competitive culture, it's arguably central to mental health, in which case naturalistic acceptance works greatly to our personal advantage.
Firth, and lastly, here's what naturalism gives you in a practical sense, although as you may have noticed the "you" has changed quite a bit. By understanding that you are caused, and by seeing just how you are caused, you gain control and power over yourself. Instead of supposing you can just will yourself to be other than you are (stronger, smarter, more altruistic), you understand that self-change and effective action flow from concrete conditions. Create the right conditions, then self-change and self-efficacy will follow. Want to be more productive or creative? Investigate the factors that permit productivity and creativity, then go about creating them.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Required Exercise

I post mostly political stuff, but to help keep my sanity I need my workout.

It is something like this but for regular people! grin! Witness Ross Enamait:

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Exerpt from Encountering Naturalism

Encountering Naturalism, Tom Clark, p 2-3:
By understanding the causal factors that shape us and our lives -- factors such as genetic endowment, upbringing and social environments -- naturalism draws attention to what works in getting what we want. This increases individual self-efficacy and supports effective social policies in areas such as criminal and social justice, behavioral health and the environment. Further, since we understand we aren't the ultimate originators of ourselves or our behavior, we can't take ultimate credit or blame for who we are and what we do. This reduces unwarranted feelings of moral superiority, pride, shame and guilt, while encouraging self-acceptance. And since we see others as fully caused, for instance substance abusers, criminal offenders, the destitute and homeless, we might become less blaming, less punitive, and more empathetic and understanding. People don't create themselves, so responsibility for their character and behavior isn't ultimately theirs, but is distributed over the many factors that shaped them. Were we given their environmental and genetic lot in life, we would have become who they are and acted as they did: there but for circumstances go I. This challenges head-on the radical individualism of Western culture that imagines we are literally self-made. It also grounds a naturalistic ethics of compassion that guides personal behavior and motivates progressive social policy. This is an unapologetically humanistic naturalism.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Continuing down the decline...

Winter Patriot gives us the viewpoints on impeachment:
Once and for all, let's get this straight:

"Unifying the country" means nothing more or less than "legitimizing the crimes of the Bush administration".

Nancy Pelosi wants to do it, Harry Reid wants to do it; John Conyers wants to do it; Jane Harman wants to do it; so do all the rest of the national Democratic leadership, including (especially!) Barack Obama.
Glenn Greenwald interviews an ACLU lawyer watching the farce at Gitmo.

Privacy International? Those f*ckers' colors are red and black -- buncha anarchists! Whatta means my privacy is being violated? So what? I can still go to Safeway for my beer and Blockbuster for my Steven Seagal movie!


Free Market Economies?


Now I suppose I should actually read them! grin!