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ROGER E. BISSELL, CHRIS MATTHEW SCIABARRA, EDWARD W. YOUNKINS, EDS.

THE DIALECTICS OF LIBERTY:
EXPLORING THE CONTEXT OF HUMAN FREEDOM

 

FROM MARCH 29 THROUGH APRIL 4, 2020, FACEBOOK "DIALECTICS OF LIBERTY" STUDY GROUP ENGAGED IN A FULL-LENGTH DISCUSSION OF TROY CAMPLIN'S CHAPTER (18): AESTHETICS, RITUAL, PROPERTY, AND FISH: A DIALECTICAL APPROACH TO THE EVOLUTIONARY FOUNDATIONS OF PROPERTY; BELOW IS A TRANSCRIPT OF THAT DIALOGUE'S HIGHLIGHTS AS PREPARED BY TROY CAMPLIN

This discussion can also be found on Medium.com.

 

Opening Comments

In this chapter, I propose a Nietzschean dialectical materialism as a feature of the cosmos itself, where tensions between complementary contraries---paradoxical relations---result in the emergence of new things, new levels of complexity in the cosmos. Here, no synthesis is complete, as the tensions between the complementary contraries must remain in place for the process to continue and, thus, for new structures to emerge. I propose that this helps us understand systems ranging from atoms to living cells to social structures.

This evolution is always taking place in a historical context, in a physical and, later on in evolution, social environment. Chemical reactions take place because the outermost electrons in an atom (unless they are Noble gases) do not have full electron shells. In the lithium atom, there is one electron in a shell that would be more stable if it had the full complement of eight, or if it could get rid of that one electron. However, the number of electrons has to match the number of protons in the nucleus, so since there are three protons, you have to have three electrons. Equally, fluorine has seven electrons in the outer shell, and that shell would be more stable if it had eight. However, nine protons means nine electrons, and so it must have a less stable outer electron shell. Unless, of course, the lithium and toe fluorine were to react with each other to create lithium fluoride, a salt in which the electron from the lithium is donated to the shell of the fluoride, and the two atoms remain attached to each other---resulting in a complete balance of protons and electrons as well as electron shells at their lowest energy. The conditions under which this reaction will occur will of course differ based on the environment---heat, pressure, etc.---as energy is needed for the reaction to take place. With chemical reactions, you typically have to go uphill to do downhill, to the lower energy level.

When applied to vertebrate evolution, we find similar paradoxical relations emerging. Vertebrates first emerged in a form similar to an organism around today called the lancelet. These live in large, dense groups in the sand, so it shouldn't be surprising if their descendants, the fishes, were to typically live in schools. Vertebrates thus began as highly social, which had the benefit of making finding a mate easy as well as being protective against predators. When there's a school of fish, it's hard to focus in on one.

However, as a breeding strategy, this is very uncertain and high-energy. A lot of eggs and a lot of sperm are produced, and who knows if it's your egg or sperm that succeeds. Thus, another breeding strategy emerged: territorialism. With territorialism, the individual males and females are ensured to pass on their genes. The territory is protected in order to protect the fertilized eggs, meaning fewer eggs are needed. Since a single male is going to fertilize those eggs, just enough sperm is needed to spread over those few eggs. However, in exchange, the (typically, male) fish then have to defend that territory against both predators that would eat the eggs and hatchlings and other males of the species that want to take his territory. As a consequence, many male territorial fish are brightly colored---as a form of display, as a signal of health, and to attract females. But this is just one costly display. Another is the performance of ritual dances on the edge of the territory to discourage other males, and to allow in females. The instinct of the fish is to protect the territory against anyone trying to come in. If they do that against females, though, the point is missed entirely. Ritual dances by both males and females create a space through which the females are able to move into the territory in order to lay her eggs and either help tend to them or leave the male to tend to them. It is due to this tension between needing to keep others out and needing to let a female in that territorial fishes have evolved bright colors and display rituals.

It is from territorial lobe-finned fishes that land vertebrates evolved. This means that territorialism and ritual have deep evolutionary roots. It also means that ritual, and everything that evolved out of ritual---including all of the arts, from music to theater to poetry to sculpture---is intimately tied to the emergence of property. It also means individualism emerged along with the emergence of property, as we are now talking about fish interacting with each other on a more one-on-one basis and developing new, differentiating behaviors.

At the same time, those fish did evolve from schooling fish. We are also always already social, and that sociality remained throughout the vertebrate line: frogs congregate around ponds (while calling to both attract females and defend territory), dinosaurs lived in herds and hunted in packs, birds tend to live in flocks, and mammals too tend to live in herds and hunt in packs. Sometimes you will find species that live alone (tigers) or in pairs (bald eagles), but most live in groups, typically with a single male and multiple females (lions, wildebeest), but sometimes in more complex social structures (elephants, chimpanzees). Humans have lived every one of these lifestyles, though more often than not in complex social structures. In each and every case, though (aside from schooling fish, of course), there is territory which is defended against (typically, male) members of the same species.

Property is here to stay. It's an evolved behavioral trait of land vertebrates and is rooted in our fish brains. Thus, schemes to eliminate private property are utopianism at its most extreme, an atavistic attempt to return us to being schooling fish. This is obviously neither possible nor desirable. And while such a return (if possible) would, as Marx believed, eliminate religion (by eliminating ritual), it would also eliminate the arts as well, given they too emerged out of ritual. Human behavior would be literally reduced to the behavior of a mob, with each reacting only because their neighbor is reacting. Such a mob, following whoever is most determined to go in any particular direction, is ripe for takeover by someone who is most determined to lead---and these are typically the people most attracted to having power.

While such a scenario can nevertheless come about anyway---especially in places with property taxes, meaning you are actually paying rent to the real owner of the property: the government---the possibility of true individual property ownership creates the conditions which undermine authoritarianism/totalitarianism. The more decentralized and individualized property ownership is, the more difficult top-down control will be. This is equally true whenever there are commons, as demonstrated in the work of Elinor Ostrom. It's the local caretakers who do a better job of protecting the land and its resources than do government officials living elsewhere and trying to create a one-size-fits-all system of control.

Of course, none of this implies any particular property rights regime. There can be what Hayek calls "several property," meaning you can have a combination of private and public property, including commons, and individual and collective ownership. This creates the conditions for a variety of ways of living and making a living, as well as a variety of ways to care for our lands and environment.

While Marx purported to predict the end of private property, the combination of dialectical materialism, Nietzschean dialectics, and deep evolutionary psychology actually demonstrates the deep evolutionary roots of private property in territorial fish. With the emergence of territory, rituals, dances, and visual displays emerged to simultaneously protect those territories from males and let in females to breed. These ritual displays are the foundations of what becomes the arts and religion in humans, meaning the arts, religion, and property are deeply connected. One can thus argue about what rules regarding property are best, but not about whether private property can ever be abolished. It simply cannot.

 

Stephan Kinsella: Troy, are you quite sure you are using the term "several property" correctly here? "none of this implies any particular property rights regime. There can be what Hayek calls "several property," meaning you can have a combination of private and public property, including commons, and individual and collective ownership." I always thought it was used by a few libertarian/classical liberal types as basically a synonym for a decentralized but private property order. Unless I'm misunderstanding what you mean by public or collective property/ownership. I think Randy Barnett uses the term a lot in The Structure of Liberty but to my recollection, not exactly as you reference it here (I could be wrong, just going from memory).

 

Roger Bissell: Folks might want to take a look at this 2015 essay by Andy Denis: "Economic Calculation: Private Property or Several Control?" It's basically an argument that economic calculation requires not full private property but merely "several control," and therefore that the Austrian "calculation" argument against socialism isn't valid. (Though it doesn't claim that there aren't OTHER valid arguments against socialism.) I've always been leery of utilitarian or empirical impossibility arguments against socialism and other bad ism's, and this feeds that concern. Any comments, you econ experts?

http://www.staff.city.ac.uk/andy.denis/denis%20ROPE%20calculation.pdf?fbclid=IwAR1Ar23nEHD649q_EN_i5jQy_zUi24OnZoBWgQOf6LsvSFVA3uDqu_xawHE

 

Troy Camplin: Hayek uses the term as a differentiation from pure private property or from truly communal (tribal) property. It's severed from communally owned property, but may be owned and controlled by an individual, corporation, government, etc. This may in fact imply a separation of commons, depending on if we agree that commons are communally owned (though one could consider them unowned, and thus open to something other than communal laws).

By "public" I mean government ownership, where the government decides accessibility to the public. It's not the same as truly communally owned, tribal, property.

At the same time, while asserting it's a more precise term, Hayek never precisely defines it. Yet, it does capture the fact that it involves various kinds of decentralized ownership by various individuals and entities with various rules.

 

Stephan Kinsella: Troy Camplin, I am not deeply read in Hayek because every book I started by him, I could not finish. I am not a huge Hayek fan, to put it mildly. I thought Randy Barnett's adoption of the term "several property" in his odd book The Structure of Liberty was odd, and idiosyncratic, but I thought he at least he was using it as some sort of rough synonym for private property, if decentralized and multi-variegated. I never would have thought he meant it to include state or government owned resources. But mayhap I'm wrong; I haven't read through the Barnett book in a while.

OTOH I agree that property rights can take many forms and even Hoppe acknowledges "collective" rights in terms of easements, etc, see e.g. the first section of "Of Private, Common, and Public Property and the Rationale for Total Privatization", Libertarian Papers 3, 1 (2011) (published as "The Rationale for Total Privatization," Mises Daily (Mar. 14, 2011)).

 

Troy Camplin: Indeed, there are those who discuss property rights as being a bundle of rights, which may include such things as easements, etc.

So long as there are different kinds of entities which need to own property in order to achieve their goals, there are going to be several kinds of property from the perspectives of ownership and rules. I think that "several," used in this way, would then have to include such things as commons, especially where local property rules have emerged spontaneously through the various people's interactions on and regarding that property.

Commons are not really commonly owned so much as commonly used, and may be open to anyone and everyone, but more often are used by more or less the same people. One can think of fishing areas in a bay, for example. Nobody owns the bay; it's open to everyone to use, and a few use it to fish. Among the fishers, rules will typically emerge regarding designated areas and quantities in order to prevent over-fishing. Your designated area doesn't have permanence, and likely isn't heritable. Were you to not fish it for a year, someone else likely will fish it, and good luck getting that spot back--though, depending on the reason why you didn't fish the place, the other fishers may create a space for you to get back in. In any case, it's all very cooperative and locally-enforced. Cheat, and you will have a hard time continuing to fish there, or sell your catch in the market. Or have friends.

In the real world, where you're going to have individual ownership of stuff (like your computer and car) and property (like your house and land), corporate ownership (of the property the business owns and maintains), government ownership (ranging from military bases to national parks and government buildings like the Capitol Building, for example), and commons, we have to think about what each of these various kinds of ownership means (or doesn't mean, if you don't think intellectual property is a "thing"). In any case, whoever owns whatever property, the fact of the matter is that property ownership is itself a psychological property with considerable duration among land vertebrates and social invertebrates. We can't wish them away; we can only come to understand them, and understand the various forms in which they can come, and the consequences of having various property rules.

Chris Matthew Sciabarra: Stephan Kinsella - On Hayek: Not even The Road to Serfdom or Individualism and Economic Order or his edited collection Capitalism and the Historians!? Say it ain't so! :)


Stephan Kinsella:
Chris Matthew Sciabarra, I could not finish Road to Serfdom; by the time I got to it I already "got it." I did like the edited collection Capitalism and the Historians, but probably because he didn't write it. I could not get through all of Constitution of Liberty or Law, Legislation, and Liberty.

 

Troy Camplin, I'm just wondering about the term "several property" and your usage of it. To be honest I never found it useful as a concept even when anarcho-libertarian Randy Barnett tried to use it in some of his theories. I never found it necessary to use this term or concept even once in all my thinking and writing. I find it vague and ambiguous. My question was---are you using it correctly.

 

Chris Matthew Sciabarra: Stephan Kinsella - Fair enough; he's not the easiest writer to read and the particular books you point to are not among my favorites.

But I do think, for example, his Individualism and Economic Order is a seminal work, touching on some of his most important contributions on the subjects of the use of knowledge in society, tacit knowledge, competition, and the socialist calculation debate.

 

Troy Camplin: I think one can conclude that "using it correctly" is itself ambiguous given the ambiguity of the term as used by Hayek and others. To the extent your question resulted in some clarity and clarification, I think it benefited everyone here, including myself.

 

Stephan Kinsella: Chris Matthew Sciabarra, Road to Serfdom was not hard to read, it was just preaching to the choir by the time I got to it, so I was just too bored to finish it. Plus, I was on a romantic beer-soaked vacation to Florida with my girlfriend at the time and I kept finding it hard to give it sufficient attention. Constitution of Liberty has some nuggets, as does Law, Legislation, and Liberty, but overall I am never sure of Hayek's overarching vision of anything. He reminds me of Nozick---a razzle-dazzling dilettante. As for the knowledge theories, to me they are flawed, for reasons some Misesians give. But I'm not your typical libertarian; I realize lots of fellow thinkers admire and have learned from Hayek.

 

Ed Younkins: Thank you, Troy, for your excellent article! I ordered your book, Diaphysics, but it has not yet arrived. Within the context of your evolving systems approach, could you explain how free will could possibly have been an emergent property of the human mind?

 

Troy Camplin: With each level of emergent complexity, you get new degrees of freedom.

At the level of quantum physics, there is little real freedom and little real differentiation. Everything is probabilistic, everything is truly interchangeable and lacking in individuality.

With the emergence of atoms, you start to get a more "solid" cosmos, with different kinds of atoms that behave differently, and the subsequent emergence of molecules with their own properties. The quantum physical world is stabilized, and we have the deterministic cosmos emerging. True, there is chaos, but the chaos of chaos theory is deterministic chaos.

Self-replicating organic molecules eventually gave rise to complex systems contained within a protective envelope, which protected the organic chemical network systems within. However, these systems quite literally took on a life of their own, meaning those cells began to exhibit features that one could not attribute to the underlying molecules. For example, it doesn't make any sense to say that a sugar molecule has goals, but it makes perfect sense to say that a cell has a goal. By being able to move away from predators and toward food, the cell as a whole has freedoms the molecules its made of don't have (at least, not without being part of the cell).

In the same way that atoms have emergent properties that differentiate their behaviors from their constituent electrons, protons, etc., and in the same way that molecules have emergent properties that differentiate their behaviors from their constituent atoms, and in the same way that living cells have emergent properties that differentiate their behaviors from their constituent molecules (and even systems of molecules), the mind has emergent properties that differentiate its behaviors from its constituent neurons, glial cells, etc. At each of these emergent levels of complexity, you find new degrees of freedom, and each level of complexity has more degrees of freedom. The same is true of the mind, and especially the human mind.

Humans are able to create symbolic goals, which is different from the concrete goals all life is capable of having. The human mind, being emergent from the active, embodied brain, is in turn capable of affecting the underlying actions of the brain. We can change the structure of our own brains through the decisions we make at the level of our minds. It's not instantaneous, but rather takes time, but it can be done. We have the free will, from this perspective, to change our beliefs and habits. That is, the mind, in a top-down (mind to brain) fashion is able to change the structures of the brain that in turn create the mind (bottom-up; brain to mind). Freedom is an emergent property of the cosmos, and we are the most complex, and thus most free, entity in the cosmos of which we are currently aware.

 

Stephan Kinsella: Troy Camplin, "In the same way that atoms have emergent properties that differentiate their behaviors from their constituent electrons, protons, etc., and in the same way that molecules have emergent properties that differentiate their behaviors from their constituent atoms, and in the same way that living cells have emergent properties that differentiate their behaviors from their constituent molecules (and even systems of molecules), the mind has emergent properties that differentiate its behaviors from its constituent neurons, glial cells, etc. At each of these emergent levels of complexity, you find new degrees of freedom, and each level of complexity has more degrees of freedom. The same is true of the mind, and especially the human mind."

It seems to me this ultimately is an argument for downward causation, which is ultimately what you have to argue for "genuine" free will. This is in fact what David Kelley explicitly argues (see his final lecture here) -- The first few "emergent" things you mention are totally explicable in terms of upward causation, IMO. It's only free will that really requires downward causation, as far as I can tell---and the idea of downward causation is nonsensical, at least to me.

 

Troy Camplin: Downward causation from cell to biochemistry is also necessarily to explain why certain cascade of biochemical reactions occur at certain times. The cell qua cell has an effect on the underlying biochemistry, on what happens when it happens.

Further, the emergence of atoms stabilized the laws of quantum physics and stopped their evolution, as the laws that allow atoms to exist stabilize within those very atoms. That, too, is downward causation.

Emergence means new things with new properties unexplainable at the lower level emerge. That's why we have different sciences, to study those different levels of emergent complexity on those terms. Further, those emergent levels have an effect on what makes them up in order to maintain themselves/those structures.

To claim the cell has no effect whatsoever on the underlying biochemistry is what's nonsensical to me---and to every biologist.

 

Stephan Kinsella: Troy Camplin, I hear you, but I disagree. I think the entire idea of downward causation is total nonsense. But then, I have similar thoughts about quantum physics. This is when I like being a layman---I can just have opinions without having to back them up. :)

 

Troy Camplin: Perhaps this way:

Laws emerge from human beings. But then human actions are affected by the presence of those laws. Yes, humans are the ones doing things, like enforcing the law and following the law, but the law must exist to be enforced and followed.

The same is true of any institution. Humans create them, but the institutions in turn influence/cause different actions and interactions than would have occurred absent those institutions.

These are two social examples of top-down causation. Culture is another. They may sound familiar, especially in conjunction with the third element, the individual, who is individuated within a given culture and societal institutions, etc.

 

Roger Bissell: Troy's approach seems similar to ideas in Nathaniel Branden's The Psychology of Self-Esteem and Arthur Koestler's The Act of Creation. Branden said that one of the fundamental characteristics of all living beings is self-regulation, and that free will/volition is just a special case of that power that applies to monitoring and directing one's cognitive processes. He called it "cognitive self-regulation," and he said that this capacity (which Rand called "to think or not to think") is the biological basis of free will.

I've always thought that free will (understood as cognitive self-regulation) is not really a deeper mystery than self-regulation in general---and that if you can explain how in the heck self-regulation emerged from inanimate matter, you should get a Nobel Prize! (Actually, I think that philosophers and scientists such as Daniel Dennett and Antonio Damasio have come fairly close.)

As for the freedom part, I agree that it is correlated with complexity. This is especially clear when you consider the difference between animals that only have perceptual awareness vs. human beings. The lower animals are only aware of the here-and-now (plus whatever they remember from the past that is relevant to the present), and their range of possible alternative actions is limited by that. Human beings, though, being conceptual beings, can project possible or likely future outcomes of alternative actions, and they can choose how to act from a wider range of possibilities.

There's your complexity and degrees of freedom, both of which seem to be greatest for human beings, and which is strongly tied to our conceptual faculty. Perception is tied to the present, memory to the past. Conceptualization adds in not just the actual, past and present, but the potential. Awareness of what can be or might be frees us up enormously from being limited to reacting to what is.

Now, that is as far as I am willing (ha-ha) to go with the concept of "free will." I do NOT think that we have actual power to have done differently than we did in a given situation. We only have the actual power to choose from among the greater range of possibilities granted us by our conceptual/imaginative faculty(s), to choose free from the limitations of the relatively restricted range of alternatives open to purely perceptual animals.

But in my view, LIKE the lower animals, we ALWAYS choose what we most want to do in any given situation - i.e., under any given conditions - i.e., in an given CONTEXT. We cannot do otherwise. How could we? (Discussion of this claim is welcome!) We just have more (degrees of) freedom in the options, one of which we will most want, and then will choose and do.

So, our "freedom to have done otherwise" is NOT an absolute power, as (some of) the Objectivists argue, but a CONDITIONAL, CONTEXTUAL power. IF conditions had been different than they were, we WOULD have been free to have done differently than we did. I call this "conditional volition." I also call it "value determinism," since we MUST do what we most want to do. It is my "dialectical" way of reconciling determinism and free will. :-)

One last point: I think that "downward" causation is not literally the case. I agree that we are hierarchically structured entities, but the top-bottom description is just a metaphor, and a rather anthropomorphic one at that. (Maybe too much like a pecking order, as in a corporation or the military, with the executive command "level" being at the "top" of the organizational structure.)

Many animals have their brains not so much in the TOP of their bodies, as in the FRONT of their bodies. But even for those animals with the brain NEAR the top, there is skin and bones ABOVE the brain, and those are controlled ultimately by brain functions, so the brain is NEVER literally the top of an organism, and its controlling actions are never COMPLETELY downward causation.

Maybe whole-->part would capture the idea better. Maybe center-->periphery. We are systems within systems, so it might be more clarifying to think of ourselves as being like Chinese dolls in structure than like organismic ladders. Just some other ways of looking at how we're organized and how we operate.

 

Troy Camplin: I think there are many ways in which human beings affect their own actions, though for most it's not the way we would like to think, where we are always steering the boat!

Most of the time, we simply react to things. We don't really think about them, but rather just react. We then rationalize what we did after the fact, rather than reasoning through it in the moment. At the same time, there are times when we think about what we did and try to change the way we react in the future. That is, we reason through why what we did wasn't the best choice (even if it seemed like the best choice at the time, based on the immediate values we held at the time), and make the decision to do other than we did last time. This is rarely a one-shot change in our behavior. It can and often does take several attempts to make such a change in the way we react to things, until we get it "right" according to our concept at the time of what is right. As Hamlet told his mother, if you do not have a virtue, act as though you have it, until habit sets in and you end up actually having the virtue.

Self-regulation is another interesting issue, and it's one I have particular interest in because of the fact that I am autistic and, thus, have weak executive functioning. The executive functioning in the brain acts as a constant censor, preventing a ton of information from reaching the surface, and preventing you from just blurting out the first thing that comes into consciousness. Those of us with weak executive functioning are constantly bombarded with ideas, information, notions, etc. from our brain, and we can have a hard time sifting through it all. It can appear like we're not paying attention or are easily distracted, but it's because of all the stuff running through our heads all the time. Further, if we're not careful, we'll say (or write) the first thing that comes to mind. When I'm writing scholarly works, that's not a problem. Chase that rabbit and see where it goes, and if it goes nowhere, revise it out; if it goes somewhere, but it doesn't belong in this piece, you have something for another piece; but if it goes somewhere and is relevant to the piece, maybe you have a new idea worth investigating. However, when it happens on Facebook, I can come across as impatient, arrogant, and maybe even a jerk, since I'm not in a situation where I can revise and moderate what I think.

When I'm having a conversation with someone, I will often be quite for a long period of time before speaking up. Or there may be a long pause when it's my turn to speak. That occurs because I'm consciously censoring myself to make sure I'm going to say something socially correct and relevant. Because I don't have an automatic censor in the form of a strong executive function, I have to do the work consciously. So I know I am choosing what to say and what not to say, what I'll do or not do. It's a much more conscious effort on my part than it is for most people, and I suspect that's why I "believe in" free will, since I have to exercise it almost constantly! Most people don't have to do this and simply go through life on autopilot, only exercising that free will when there is a difficult choice that requires thinking through, or in an effort to fix themselves after they realize that something they are doing isn't working.

Finally, "top-down" shouldn't be seen as a business hierarchy, with a boss giving orders to his underlings, but rather in the sense of more complex to less complex. This is a nested hierarchy, where the mind is emergent from the embodied brain, and the body is made of cells, and those cells are made of molecules, which are made of atoms, etc. It's internal stabilization of the less complex by the more complex, emergent phenomena.

 

Roger Bissell: Last point first, Troy. Yes, more complex to less complex, nested hierarchy. That's how I understand life and consciousness, too. I basically picked up that perspective about 50 years ago from Arthur Koestler's The Act of Creation, which is still one of the five most important books I've ever read.


Previous point: a book you might really enjoy if you haven't read it yet is George Ainslie's Breakdown of Will. I don't think it completely rejects the nested hierarchy view, but it makes the components of personality a more contentious and rowdy congeries than we might comfortably consider them to be.

Next point previous: I must be autistic too, because how you describe yourself sounds a lot like the way I roll. :-) "Weak executive functioning." Ha! There are times when I can work for hours at a stretch, with deep concentration and focus, if it's something I'm really intrigued with. Not exactly distractible. But I also am easily led off into some intriguing area, away from whatever I'm "supposed" to be working on. I think my main passion in life is what I think of as the mental or spiritual equivalent of hunter-gathering. No tribal chieftain functioning for me! Unless no one else is willing to step up, or unless someone waves enough "green" in front of me for being willing to do it. ;-) But for me, life is all about seeking the elusive data, fact, or pattern. I find it in genealogy, in philosophy, in jazz improvisation, in browsing books and essays in Amazon and Google searches.

Being a devotee of personality type and temperament theory(s), I have come to label this the "Apollonian" personality (as against the Promethean, Dionysian, or Epimethean personalities). I don't quite assign them the way David Keirsey does in his books, of which I think the best is still his first one (co-authored with Marilyn Bates) Please Understand Me, but he's in the ballpark, IMO.

Next point previous: I don't know if Hamlet (Shakespeare) was the FIRST to grasp this point (what I learned as "fake it till you make it"), but it's very important. George Weinberg, years ago, wrote a self-help psychology book called The Action Approach, which advocates this technique/attitude, and the 12 Step recovery programs (for addicts and codependents alike) also strongly promote it in their meetings and literature. Rand would have called it "psycho-epistemological retraining." Same difference. All good points!

 

Troy Camplin: Thanks for the book recommendations. I think your recommendation of Koestler may be the tipping point for me given how often I see his name come up.

Winton Bates: Troy, I enjoyed reading your chapter. There is just one point of clarification I would like. You write:

"Philosophy, religion, and the arts are how we ritualize our self-awareness of sex and death."

I can understand from your article why you say that about religion and the arts, but it isn't obvious to me why philosophy is included in that category. Would you please elaborate?

 

Troy Camplin: Philosophy and the arts were both once upon a time entirely encompassed by religion. They each branched off from religion, at different times in different places (and in some places, still haven't separated off). And they still come back to religion, to explain it, develop it, find inspiration from it.

In truth, I should have also included science, which had its roots in natural philosophy, which had its roots in religion.

In all cases, we use these different ways of knowing to try to understand our place in the world, and we understand, in a way other animals don't seem to understand, that we will one day die. That is our place in the world: temporary. We come up with explanations for why that couldn't possibly by the case (heaven, rebirth, Nirvana, etc.) or try to create ways to make it so it won't be the case, or is at least delayed (posthumanism), or try to figure out how to reconcile ourselves to our fates. This is the role of religion, philosophy, religion, and the sciences.

Now, as for sex, from an evolutionary perspective, individual death only emerged with the emergence of sex. Before that, there was asexual reproduction, creating clones. If a clone died, there were more clones out there. With sex, your offspring are only about half you. That gives the species the advantage of different combinations, allowing for a better chance of survival (clones can be wiped out more easily by diseases), but at the expense of individual survival (in the sense of clones). You reproduce to continue to live on, but you only half live on. You find someone whose beauty is such that you wish to reproduce them, and with that person pass on your genes. Indeed, beauty makes you want to reproduce it, and that is true of mates or things you want to paint or write a poem about.

Thus, sex and death are intimately interconnected. And they are interconnected within every religion, philosophy, art, and science.

 

Joel Schlosberg: Would not this chapter's attempt to extrapolate limits on human behavior from those of animals lacking in the capacities of reason be obviated by the same argument that Ayn Rand used to reject racism, with its "claims that the content of a man's mind (not his cognitive apparatus, but its content) is inherited; that a man's convictions, values and character are determined before he is born, by physical forces beyond his control... It is a barnyard or stock-farm version of collectivism, appropriate to a mentality that differentiates between various breeds of animals, but not between animals and men"? (It also calls to mind the line in Edgar Allan Poe's satirical tale of the future "Mellonta Tauta" about how prairie dogs being the only nonhuman animal that practices democracy proves "that democracy is a very admirable form of government --- for dogs.")

 

Troy Camplin: Very high on the list of things about which Ayn Rand was completely wrong is the presence of instincts. Humans didn't magically stop having instincts and being animals at some point in the evolution of human beings. If anything, to paraphrase Steven Pinker, humans have many more instincts than other animals. That results in greater complexity because it results in more degrees of freedom (and rapid learning). The blank slate isn't an option.

 

David Blowers: Reason, reflexivity and spiritual peak experiences are all differences between humans and other organisms so I wouldn't want to feel too limited by our evolutionary ancestors. For example, plenty of meditators seem to become less territorial.

 

Troy Camplin: We're on a leash, but it's a long one. Too many who think we're on a leash think it's a short one, and then most of the rest refuse to acknowledge the existence of the leash at all.

 

Joel Schlosberg: As Henry D. Schlinger points out, "Pinker is simply wrong about the positions of many of those he accuses as blank slate advocates... if Pinker were to report their works accurately, he would find positions that recognized innate tendencies and traits or, in his words, 'human nature.' For example, John Watson's book, Behaviorism, has an entire chapter on instinct and his forgivably naive interpretation of emotion recognized some basic innate ones."
Rand's assertion in the above quote that "man's ... cognitive apparatus ... is inherited" acknowledges a form of instinct, and even Ashley Montagu, whose assertion that "man has no instincts" has quoted as evidence of a blank-slate view, clarified that it was no denial of innate constraints on human behavior:

"The very title of the other book from which Ardrey quotes me, The Biosocial Nature of Man, implies that in my view man is a product both of his biology and of his social experience. But apparently I did not make myself clear enough. When I wrote that man must learn everything he comes to know and do as a human being, I meant, and mean, just that. But what that statement has been misinterpreted to mean is that everything man does he has to learn. This is clearly not so, and is not what I wrote nor what I meant. The operative words are as a human being. I mean and repeat that those behaviors that distinguish Homo Sapiens as a human being, those behaviors that distinguish him from all other animals, he has to learn from other human beings. This does not for a moment imply that there do not exist unique biological potentialities in man for such behaviors. What the statement does imply is that man lacks any genetically determined patterns that cause him to exhibit such behaviors."

 

Joel Schlosberg: "Marx did not believe, as do many contemporary sociologists and psychologists, that there is no such thing as the nature of man; that man at birth is like a blank sheet of paper, on which the culture writes its text. Quite in contrast to this sociological relativism, Marx started out with the idea that man qua man is a recognizable and ascertainable entity; that man can be defined as man not only biologically, anatomically and physiologically, but also psychologically." (https://www.marxists.org/archive/fromm/works/1961/man/ch04.htm?fbclid=IwAR1E3LHyGqxCCTm2AzE3B-opnLEM24e5SQqUelIagk4ynob5ZoN7RWJLxwE)

 

Troy Camplin: We have, according to E. O. Wilson (actually, George P. Murdock, whom Wilson is quoting), identified at least sixty-seven cultural universals (instincts) so far:

 

age-grading, athletic sports, bodily adornment, calendar, cleanliness training, community organization, cooking, cooperative labor, cosmology, courtship, dancing, decorative art, divination, division of labor, dream interpretation, education, eschatology, ethics, ethno-botany, etiquette, faith healing, family feasting, fire-making, folklore, food taboos, funeral rites, games, gestures, gift-giving, government, greetings, hair styles, hospitality, housing, hygiene, incest taboos, inheritance rules, joking, kin groups, kinship nomenclature, language, law, luck superstitions, magic, marriage, mealtimes, medicine, obstetrics, penal sanctions, personal names, population policy, postnatal care, pregnancy usages, property rights, propitiation of supernatural beings, puberty customs, religious ritual, residence rules, sexual restrictions, soul concepts, status differentiation, surgery, tool-making, trade, visiting, weather control, and weaving. (Wilson, On Human Nature, 160)

 

Each of these, in various forms, can be found in every culture, throughout history. The tendency to do these things is the instinct, while the specific content is of course learned. My guess is there are many more than just these. In his book Natural Classicism, Frederick Turner adds combat, gifts, mime, friendship, lying, love, storytelling, murder taboos, and poetic meter to the list of sixty-seven. And in The Culture of Hope, and in Beauty, he gives a list of what he calls neurocharms (208-210), many of which could also be considered cultural universals, since they are found in every human culture. Many of these, such as narrative, selecting, classification, musical meter, tempo, rhythm, tone, melody, harmony, and pattern recognition can be found in other animals, including chimpanzees, gibbons, and birds. Others, such as giving meaning to certain color combinations, divination, hypothesis, metaphysical synthesis, collecting, metaphor, syntactical organization, gymnastics, the martial arts, mapping, the capacity for geometry and ideography, poetic meter, cuisine, and massage (which would be a development of mammalian and primate grooming rituals, which humans also engage in, as any couple can tell you), are uniquely human.

Again, the presence of the instincts doesn't preclude learning, and actually make learning much quicker and easier. Language is an instinct. English or German is learned. Property is an instinct. The specific property rules are discovered, developed, and learned. And as studies of deaf people in places where sign language wasn't taught, sign languages emerged spontaneously simply because other human beings were around. These behaviors that spontaneously emerge any time groups of people get together are instincts, and without them there could not be any spontaneous orders of any kind.

 

Joel Schlosberg: Well, that settles it! All the anarchists in this group, hang up your black flags and resign yourselves to the inevitability of government, it's right there on the list between gift-giving and greetings!

 

Troy Camplin: Joel Schlosberg, I wish I had better news on that front, but humans are a social species of mammal, and that has always meant hierarchies and that has always meant leaders and followers. If anarchy is anything realizable in the real world (and not utopian thinking), it's going to end up being something akin to democracy conceived as a spontaneous order form of governance. It will thus exhibit power law distributions of political power (meaning the most political power will be most local, and less and less political power the farther away it gets from the individual, with a kind of massively weak and decentralized world governance that would probably resemble the current constellation of NGOs we now have. And that probably pleases nobody, either, but that's also probably what we'll realistically ever create given the facts of human nature.

 

Roger Bissell: Troy Camplin, If our biological organisms were de-hierarchicalized, the way some people want to de-hierarchicalize families and businesses, we'd collapse into little puddles of non-functional protoplasm. :-/

 

Troy Camplin: That is correct. And do note that every attempt at such creates that exact result!

 

I will note that I do believe there are uses for anarchy (and other utopian concepts).

One is for analytical purposes. It helps one to understand other spontaneous orders if you analyze them in their ideal form--as anarchies. If you understand what an anarchic market looks like (or should look like), you can better analyze the interactions of other orders on the market. One could say the same thing about understanding what an anarchic artistic spontaneous order would look like vs. one influenced by government, market forces, religion, etc.

Another use for anarchy is as an ideal to aim for. For this, let us go back to the ancient Greeks. Aristotle says that virtue aims at to kalon. This phrase "to kalon" can be translated as either "the good" or "the beautiful." Virtue aims at it, but it does not hit it. Why? Think of it in terms of archery. If you have a bow and arrow (think old bows and arrows, not the mega-powered ones we have today), you would not aim straight at the target in order to hit the bull's-eye. If you did that, you would fall short. Why? You haven't accounted for gravity. To his the bull's-eye, you have to aim high. Only then will you hit the target. (The Greek term for missing the target, by the way, is "sin".)

In other words, anarchy is a beautiful/good ideal for which we should aim in order to get a virtuous society. After all, the world is full of all kinds of "gravity," including various elements of human nature we will never in fact overcome. But maybe we can stretch our human nature just enough to create a virtuous society of liberty.

 

Robert L Campbell: Joel Schlosberg, Although I agree with Pinker in very broad terms about "instincts" and share his rejection of environmental determinism, Pinker is frequently underinformed about other schools of thought that he decided, early in his career, he could safely dismiss. If all you knew about Piaget, for instance, was what Pinker said about him, you would know exactly nothing about Piaget. So I doubt Pinker has made any careful study of B. F. Skinner, either. I did notice, however, that the behaviorist irredentist Henry D. Schlinger has read B. F. Skinner with sufficient care that he does not attribute any notion of instinct to him.

 

Robert L Campbell: Troy Camplin, All well and good, but for each instinct on one of these lists, somebody (for instance, an evolutionary psychologist) is taking on the burden of explaining how *Homo sapiens* got it through evolution, which in turn means taking on the burden of accounting for its emergence. We can call the tendency (if one has reasonably normal hearing and reasonably normal control of one's vocal tract) to acquire a spoken language at any early age an instinct. But if we then insist that a key part of what is acquired is a set of special structures, precisely described in the notation of a particular school of linguists---so special are these structures, in fact, that they are not like anything else we ever know or could ever come to know---we will end up concluding that this particular instinct could not have arisen through evolution. Looking at you, Noam Chomsky and Steven Pinker.

 

Troy Camplin: Robert L Campbell, not necessarily. Vocal communication is hardly rare in the animal world. Vervet monkeys have calls explicitly for snakes or eagles or big cats (meaning they're essentially words). Grammatical structures are inherent in any animal that engages in cause and effect thinking. Combine these, and you get language.

 

Robert L Campbell: Troy Camplin, Whether calls that vervets make in response to snakes being in their vicinity amount to words requires a fairly deep analysis of how communicative acts are structured. It may not be as simple as grammatical structure being inherent in cause and effect thinking. Meanwhile, Chomsky, who has always denied that human language is basically a means of communication, continues to wield considerable influence on cognitive science and language studies.

 

Troy Camplin I'm not concerned with Chomsky's theories per se. Human language is an evolved trait, or it's a gift from God. Those are the choices. Arbitrary sounds that symbolize certain objects are words, whether used by humans or vervet monkeys. Words are used to communicate. If Chomsky says language isn't used primarily to communicate, he's completely wrong--as completely wrong about anything as anyone can be about anything. It doesn't matter to me if he's a world-famous linguist or not--if he makes such nonsensical statements, he's to be disregarded. Which doesn't mean he's wrong that language is evolved or that it's structurally evolved in the human brain.

Grammar has subject-verb-object structure (it doesn't matter the order, just that they are all there or implied). That's the structure a lion must use to hunt--knowing where it needs to be in order to capture its prey, and how quickly it needs to be there. That's subject (the lion itself)--verb (running toward where the prey will be)--object (prey). My point is that this structure, necessarily found in any species that hunts or is hunted, gets mapped on the communication apparatus (the territorial mating song still found in gibbons) and the result is the emergence of language. This comes about from the brain becoming more complex and more of a generalist in its structure, meaning various domains overlapped to create new behaviors, among which was language.

 

Robert L Campbell: Troy Camplin, Those are indeed the choices. Although Chomsky was eventually prodded by Pinker into co-authoring an article that tried to reconcile his account of language learning with evolutionary biology, I doubt his heart was in it. He is, after all, the author of a book titled Cartesian Linguistics. If the trouble Chomsky got himself into was merely a function of certain peculiar notions regarding language structure, he could safely be dismissed. If the trouble one of Chomsky's major disciples, Jerry Fodor, got himself into was merely a consequence of some peculiar assumptions about the nature of human knowledge, then his entire set of arguments against the possibility of human beings acquiring new concepts could also be safely dismissed. If Chomsky and Fodor's presuppositions regarding the nature of knowledge are much more widely shared, that's a different story. For example: How does the use of a particular call by vervets symbolize anything in the vervets' environment? Even if a human observer can take the production of a certain call as standing for the presence of snakes, how does it function as a symbol *for the vervets*?

 

Troy Camplin: Those sounds function as a symbol for the vervets precisely because these are all important predators, and reacting the wrong way will get you killed. When the vervets make the snake call, they all sit up and look for the snake. When the vervets make the "big cat" call, they all run into the nearest tree and into the branches. When the vervets make the "eagle" call, they all run out of the tree and gather around the tree trunk. There is no question that they understand what the sound means, and that each sound has a very particular referent.

 

Joel Schlosberg: If only Pinker was merely "underinformed"! When he writes of "the Ayn Randian fringe" that wants to abolish the income tax rather than reduce it, he sees them as too absurd to need a counterargument. (And that's not when he's including it in the "many repugnant movements of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, including fascism, Nazism, Bolshevism, the Ayn Randian fringe of libertarianism, and the American alt-Right and neo-Nazi movements today.") And so much of his commentary on political issues assumes that anything too extremist will lead to chaos, which strikes me as sour grapes approach to the ideals of '60s-era radicals whose party he missed (he's noted that he grew up in a milieu in which "you couldn't get a date unless you were a Marxist or an anarchist").

 

Troy Camplin: Joel Schlosberg, true, but this has nothing to do with his linguistics theories.

 

Joel Schlosberg: Ironic that those are fairly close to Chomsky's (though they both have a common enemy in the squishy liberalism of George Lakoff).

 

Troy Camplin: Joel Schlosberg, Lakoff is full of wonderful insights, so long as you avoid where he goes off the rails with his politics.

There are many people full of both insights and nonsense. It's a matter of being able to judge between them.

 

Joel Schlosberg: It says a lot about the insularity of modern liberalism that Lakoff's claim to fame (and wow, it's been a long time since his 15 minutes, hasn't it?) was pointing out the parallels between nominally private and formal political structures, that "having a common origin in the national mind, the institutions of each epoch, whatever be their special functions, must have a family likeness" as Herbert Spencer put it, without seemingly ever coming across genuine radicals of any flavor that have made that connection. Whether a classical liberal "industrial radical" like Spencer, a "personal is political" feminist, a left Freudian like Wilhelm Reich, etc. -- he seems to be completely ensconced in the Red Team-Blue Team world. And as Jesse Walker pointed out, Lakoff doesn't seem to realize that there are libertarians and anarchists who want the state to neither be your daddy nor your mommy (er, gender-neutral nurturant parent).

 

Joel Schlosberg: Until I reread it just now I had completely forgot this paragraph of Jesse Walker on Lakoff, which is even more pertinent to dialectical concerns. Though I wonder if for many left-liberals, such an approach isn't so much uninteresting as unimaginable -- they really do seem to think that their opponents are just greedy and otherwise malicious, lacking any principles of their own. (Ollman is an exception, in part due to Chris!)

 

If Lakoff's frame is limited, then so are his rhetorical skills. One reason to understand an opponent's frame, after all, is not to overthrow it but to hijack it---to make a case for your policies in the language of the opposition. The liberal pundit Matthew Yglesias, for example has suggested that opponents of Bush's Social Security plan should reject the phrase "private accounts" in favor of "forced savings," a clever bit of rhetorical ju-jitsu that might have traction with conservatives skeptical of government requirements. (Of course, "forced savings" describes the status quo as well, except perhaps the "saving" part.) Lakoff himself notes that conservatives have learned to dress up unpopular proposals in liberal lingo, but he doesn't seem interested in teaching transvestism to the left. (Walker)

 

Robert L Campbell: Troy Camplin, I find your exchanges with Joel Schlosberg interesting, because George Lakoff is by profession a linguist. He was a disciple of Chomsky who made a noisy exit from the Chomskyan camp during the "generative semantics" schism of the early 1970s. In the end, I don't see that Lakoff repaired any of Chomsky's deficiencies, linguistically speaking. Meanwhile, no one in the United States becomes a public intellectual via linguistics. Lakoff had to venture into political psychology... Hayek refuted Lakoff in advance when he noted that a "great society" is not a family writ large.

 

I'm still not getting why or how vervets are using symbols. When one vervet gives the "eagle" call the other vervets do what will significantly reduce their risk of being grabbed up, carried off, and eaten by an eagle. The "eagle" call elicits the appropriate action in that environment. Do any of the vervets need to know that that the "eagle" call (I'd insert a notation for what it sounds like if there was one and I knew it; otherwise a recorded excerpt would be better) *stands for* an eagle nearby in order to do what will protect them from an eagle? Does the effectiveness of the call or the response to it depend on whether the predator that has arrived in their midst is an eagle, or another bird of prey big enough to carry one of them off? The calls are part of an action system that helps the vervets survive. Must any such system employ symbols? If symbols are not automatically required, how do we establish that this particular mode of communication employs symbols?

 

Joel Schlosberg: But Herbert Spencer refuted Hayek in advance of Hayek's refutation of Lakoff when he contended that society and the "must have a family likeness" to, um, the family due to their "having a common origin" in the psychology of the people who make up both (as opposed to prescriptively modeling society as one big happy family.) https://books.google.com/books?id=A7XsAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA45&fbclid=IwAR0QjYgbAIQwFB660dMerA9w__DLZctf9y7e4dmSq68H9XKK9h4aYO2Vk8Q#v=onepage&q&f=false

 

Troy Camplin: It's a sound symbol representing something real in the world. More tellingly is their reaction to the call for "snake." When that call is made, they all stand up and start looking for a snake. When they find it, they tend to gather around its tail and annoy it until it leaves their territory. This requires a degree of coordinated effort on their part.

If the vervets didn't know the call meant "snake" or "eagle" or "big cat," they would not know to make the call when any of those things were around. An individual has to know what it sees and choose the right call to make (which also draws attention to itself, so it's risking its own life making the call). It also has to make a call that the rest understand to have that particular meaning, and they have to react accordingly.

Yes, each of the sounds has a survival element. That's one of the reasons communication exists (other species use sounds for territorial protection or attracting a mate--or both; but it's still a way to communicate information). Words each provide information distinguishable from the meanings of other words. They are thus no different form the distinct vervet calls that all have distinct meanings and communicate to the other vervets what they should do.

 

Susan Love Brown: Troy Camplin, Cultural universals are not instincts.

 

Troy Camplin: Yes, they most certainly are. We have an instinct for language the same way a lion has an instinct for hunting. The fact that learning in each case improves what the instinct allows the organism to learn more quickly doesn't mean it's not an instinct.

An instinct is a behavior that gets programmed into the brain because what is learned is thus more quickly learned as a result. These instincts are weaker or stronger in some people, and this create variability in length of learning time. The weaker an instinct is, the longer it takes to learn something. This is why learning to speak doesn't take as long as learning to read and write, the latter two of which are artificial technologies (and require taking over parts of our brain's abilities to recognize faces and shapes/edges). There are simpler aspects of mathematics that are instinctual, but the overwhelming majority of math is not and, thus, requires considerable effort to learn and understand.

There are other things, though, that people learn and latch onto almost immediately. A good example is the rhythms of poetry. Children are excellent at creating little sing-song poems with regular rhythms and of 3-4 second line-lengths. We actually have to make an effort to unlearn how to write poetry that way, and all too often we do such a good job that we get out of the habit of what is actually more natural to us. Even with instincts, you have to keep in practice to improve the learning aspect of the instincts in question

Instincts allow us to learn a great deal a great deal more quickly. That's why humans have many more instincts than do other animals. They allow us to learn more, and thus to live in more complex societies. Things that are much more difficult to learn, because outside the realm of our instincts, become areas of extreme specialization for tiny numbers of elites. Our educational system is greatly hampered by the failure to understand these things.

 

David Blowers: Thanks for a thought-provoking chapter. I'll spread some of the thoughts it provoked over a few different comments for clarity. I think you shed some light on the disdain and indifference people feel for government-owned public property and it's interesting to consider the idea that people are invested in collective property if they personally know the co-owners. If collective property within these Dunbar number limits works within this scheme, then why is private property is always necessitated? For example, you could have (perhaps federated) anarcho-communes of 150 people each, using collectively owned but not private property.

 

Troy Camplin: David Blowers, it works, but it's extremely limited. It works in sparsely populated areas. Low density means low complexity.

Complex societies require domination by weak bonds, and too-strong bonds undermine those weak bonds. Tribalism of all kinds undermine complex societies, and our goal must then be to understand how to get beyond those Dunbar numbers, or at least proliferate them in our lives (in the same way that large corporations still have departments of around 150).

That being said, if people want to experiment with anarcho-communes of 150 each, they should. But what we'll discover is that they'll still want to trade with others, and that this will necessarily result in capitalism. It will be different, to be sure, but it will still be fundamentally capitalistic.

There's really no reason people couldn't voluntarily do that now, so you have to ask why nobody's doing it. The answer is simple: The free rider problem. Individual private ownership solves that problem.

 

Roger Bissell: Troy Camplin, The example I'm most familiar with is "The Farm," in south Tennessee. It was founded in 1971 by Stephen and Ina Gaskin. Gaskin was an ex-marine and hippie who gathered about 300 like-minded Baby Boomers to found the commune. Its population eventually peaked at about 1600 (largely due to all the babies midwifed by Ina et al).

In the Wikipedia article linked below, see the paragraph about The Changeover in 1983, when the membership voted to change "its residential community agreement and began requiring members to support themselves with their own income rather than to donate all income to The Foundation central corporation." Most left in disillusionment, and the current population is now about 200, just a tad above the number you mention in your above post.

I remember the scandal of how marijuana was being used as a "sacrament" here in the Bible Belt. Gaskin and his wife were interviewed on a local television show on which I played in the band, so I got to see these most unorthodox (for Middle Tennessee, anyway) up close. They looked and sounded perfectly normal to me, but I wasn't enticed to leave my budding musical career in Nashville to be part of the self-sustaining communal life. ;-)

This is one of a number of interesting articles on The Farm that you can access with a Google search:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Farm_(Tennessee)

 

Joel Schlosberg: When you say that any attempt to "trade with others... will necessarily result in capitalism" is that because any overall market economy with robust trade would be capitalist by definition, even if it's trade between internally socialized organizations (as David Friedman notes that capitalist firms are!) or that it would influence all organizations within it to become internally capitalist? The latter being, ironically, an argument used by communists against more market-friendly variety of socialism to contend that restrictions on trade, rather than being futile, must be pursued even more fully to bring about socialism!

 

Troy Camplin: I suppose it depends on what one means by "capitalism." Too often people mean by that "the aspects of the current system I hate." If by "capitalism" we mean "the private ownership and provision of capital," then I'm unsure exactly how much trade could or would take place or how beneficial free trade would even be without capitalism. It would all be rather cursory, it seems to me.

Now, capital is heterogeneous. Money can be capital, but there are also capital goods. It's when certain capital goods get produced when there's no market demand for the final goods that you have bubbles that burst. This can't be prevented by not having capital in private hands, but is instead rather likely to get exacerbated because of information bottlenecks. Indeed, bubbles are an information problem insofar as false information is being promulgated through the system. Information flows are maximized through decentralization and the emergence of scale free network processes, not through centralization or politicization. Decentralization is not the same thing as diffuse. With decentralization, individuals use their local and tacit and personal knowledge to make decisions, while "democratic" decision-making is diffuse. The average person wanted a phone they could take with them, but entrepreneurs gave them smart phones, which they clearly want much more than a mobile phone alone (I'm writing this on one).

The dissolution of capital would result in the creation of far fewer new things. The diffusion of capital would have the same effect. So, too, would the centralization of capital into the hands of government (which would also face issues of cronyism and other forms of corruption). From this perspective, only capitalism as the private ownership and distribution of capital will give you any kind of free trade worth caring anything about, as it's the best, most effective, most efficient way to create the new technologies that result in ever-greater wealth for everyone.

 

Roger Bissell: Troy Camplin, There really is a "sweet spot" for capital, isn't there.

 

Troy Camplin: Yes, there is. And the clearer our information channels, the more likely we are to hit that sweet spot.

 

Joel Schlosberg: I'll also note that many intentional communities allow more individual property and initiative than the stereotypical everyone-owns-everything commune (or the ones like The Farm which explicitly restricted individual property), from Josiah Warren's Utopia and Modern Times (he identified a lack of individualism as the reason for the failure of the early utopian socialist community of New Harmony, then made more successful ones of his own), the single tax colonies, and the Israeli moshavim.

 

David Blowers: This one's a bit tangential but your first paragraph made me come back to a recurring thing I think about---if there's no end-point to history, such as Marx's communism, it's a reminder that whatever libertarian societies we achieve will likely not last (because nothing ever does). Do we struggle forward anyway, to enjoy the fruits while they last, and because these values are worth the struggle regardless of the consequences? Or do we give up and muddle through and become hermits dwelling in mountain caves? I'd really like to become a mountain hermit so I am trying to persuade myself that it's the latter :)

 

Troy Camplin: David Blowers, I think Camus gives the answer in The Plague. You fight the battle because it's the right thing to do, not knowing if you even made a difference, knowing all successes are necessarily temporary. We cannot escape time nor change. Nothing lasts, though there can be substantial durability.

 

Stephan Kinsella: Troy Camplin, What reason do we have to think "there can be substantial durability." ...?

 

Troy Camplin: Atoms have substantial durability, but they won't last. Each organism has substantial durability, but they don't last either (and their substantial durability is of much more limited duration than an atom, to say the least). Ecosystems have substantial durability, but they don't last--even if they do last longer than do individuals or even individual species within them.

Humans live in a variety of epistemic ecosystems--the spontaneous orders of the catallaxy, culture, philanthropy, religion, philosophy, the sciences, technological innovation, democracy, etc.--which together create an epistemic biosphere, or civic society. They all have duration, but none last forever. They also change considerably over time--you can have grasslands, but the species in the grasslands may change, and they will certainly differ based on where they're located (obviously there are different species in the South American pampas, African savanna, and North American Great Plains, for example). The African savannas have elephants, but the North American Great Plains no longer have elephants (mastodons)--and yet, the Great Plains retain many of the same features, that is, is identifiable as being the Great Plains, though certain species no longer exist.

The durability of the Great Plains is not necessarily dependent on any given species' presence, other than the dominance of grasses, any more than the epistemic ecosystem of the catallaxy requires any particular set of institutions other than...

And that's what we, as social scientists, need to discover. What institutions are necessary for the continuation and maximum health of the particular epistemic ecosystem we call the catallaxy (or, the free market, which has a combination of epistemic ecosystems: catallaxy, finance, and technological innovation). What will result in a considerable amount of duration?

 

Joel Schlosberg: I get the impression that many libertarians don't believe that "there's no end-point to history, such as Marx's communism" but agree with Francis Fukuyama's thesis that the end point is capitalism! Less statist than Fukuyama's neocon version (or for that matter Steven Pinker's) with its concessions to law-and-order and social safety nets, but a static ideal all the same, rather than Carl Sagan's view that a free society based on open-minded liberal values would mark "the beginning, much more than the end, of history." http://www.celebratingsagan.com/.../carl-sagan-beginning.../

 

Stephan Kinsella: Troy Camplin, "Atoms have substantial durability, but they won't last. Each organism has substantial durability, but they don't last either". Not sure how you know that atoms don't last but ... so what? What is the point of observing that something that exists doesn't "last", i.e., doesn't exist forever, i.e., that things change? Isn't this obvious, by the very nature of time, and causality itself--that things change... i.e., that nothing stays the same? If anything stayed the same, wouldn't this imply there is no change, i.e., no time?

 

Troy Camplin: You're the one who brought it up.

 

Stephan Kinsella: Troy Camplin, Ahh, gotcha. I was just not clear about what you meant by "substantial durability".

 

Troy Camplin: Stephan Kinsella, "What reason do we have to think " there can be substantial durability." ...?" I just explained it to you. Durability is a feature of the cosmos at different levels of complexity when you have the right rules in place. Substantial durability is in contrast with transient, of considerably less durability. And yes, one does have to designate "substantial durability" because there are in fact people who believe in permanence, eternal verities, and so on. Further, there are those who think in such absolutes that if there is any degree to which something could possibly cease to exist, then it's not "true" or a "universal." Durability does, then, matter a great deal because it is between the idea of eternal ideas/forms/verities/etc and pure transience lacking all possibility of substance.

In the case of a free society, which is what this was all directed at, the point is that we cannot possibly expect to achieve the utopian dream of a permanently free society precisely because nothing--not even atoms--have permanence. What we can hope for is creating systems which have varying degrees of durability. That requires continuous diligence on the part of those who love liberty. If we want to have a durable society of longer duration, we too will have to have durable diligence in arguing for it and maintaining it and understanding it. We can never permanently win (which was the question David asked, of whether or not we can ever permanently win), and I was explaining why we can never permanently win. Nothing is permanent. There are just varying degrees of durability.

That being the case, and understanding that that is the case, we then need to ask what institutions could be put in place to increase durability.

 

Stephan Kinsella: Troy Camplin, I'm actually not sure what durability means in this case. You seem to mean it's something that lasts for some time but not forever. You contrast it with "transient" but even that fits the description of durability: it lasts for some time, but not forever. Transience only means the degree of durability, which seems to be a mere matter of degree not of kind. I am not sure why our goal is to find institutions that increase durability, rather than some other value, like liberty or justice. If someone is defending himself or his family or kith and kin from an attacker, his goal is not durability but some form of justice, no?

 

Troy Camplin: I want institutions in place that increase the durability of a society of liberty, and so should anyone who wants a society of liberty. That's precisely how you achieve the goals of increasing liberty, by finding and perpetuating those institutions that increase liberty in any given society.

And yes, there are plenty of transient things. Bubbles, for example. Yes, transience means a degree of durability. But if you told someone that a chair you had was durable, and it broke when they sat in it, they would be justifiably angry with you if you presented them with the argument that 10 minutes was an example of durability.

If someone attacks me, my intention is pretty much nothing but my continued durability. I won't be thinking about the justice or injustice of what's happening at all. I'll be concerned with survival. I'll make the arguments for justice when I have the luxury to do so.

 

Roger Bissell: Three points about this last post of yours, Troy (though, contra the old-time comedian, Jack E. Leonard, I certainly hope it wasn't your last one). ;)

1. I take the liberty to be worth pursuing and institutionalizing to be not a quantitative thing, but a qualitative thing. In crudest terms, it would not be legitimate to allow there to be a dictator who forced everyone to be free. That would be, if not contradictory, at least hard to imagine how it could be put into effect. But more generally, any utilitarian argument for maximizing liberty has to confront the question of the MEANS by which liberty is maximized. IMO, as long as individual freedom is increased, I don't care if someone lies or behaves dependently or unfairly toward others in the course of doing it. But I do care when it is argued that trade-offs of liberties are advocated in order to achieve some other purported liberty. Probably no one here would sacrifice liberty for security or social equality or social justice. But these days, the boundaries don't seem as clear-cut as they used to

2. Regarding transience, what you're saying, Troy, is that durability is contextual. I agree. The chair example is a good one.

3. Your point about "continued durability" aka survival is a very important one. IMO, ethical principles should be for the purpose of helping us to live and be happy, and any principle that is rigidly applied in a way that works AGAINST your survival is being used OUT OF CONTEXT (of what moral principles are for).

One of the great benefits of living in a society is when that society recognizes everyone's right to take the actions necessary for their survival. Usually, we say, "so long as those actions do not require violating someone else's equal freedom." But what about situations where your continued survival is IMPOSSIBLE without, say, "borrowing" your neighbor's car to get your seriously wounded loved one to the hospital? If there are other options open to you, then sure, you can be morally required to refrain from it. But then it's not necessary, just sufficient.

My perspective is that you CANNOT be morally required to abstain from an action that is not merely sufficient, but necessary for your survival. Such circumstances rarely happen, which is why stable societies can be formed around the principle of individual rights and can morally require us to refrain from violating someone else's equal freedom. But when, in the course of human events, we have not a normal social environment, but a true emergency situation, I suggest that the context for rights at least temporarily does not exist.

Obviously, the goal is to get back to normal as quickly and painlessly as possible. But if we are holding that CONTEXT MATTERS, then I suggest this applies to rights as well, and in particular to the question of what is necessary for human survival, which is what ethics and rights are supposed to fundamentally be about. [This perspective has in past times been referred to as "disappearing rights," and I would really enjoy hearing some vigorous discussion of its merits or lack of same.]

This last issue may have some obscure relevance to our current social-medical situation. ;-)

 

Troy Camplin: In other words, there are bound to be times when it's easier to ask forgiveness than permission. And for those who don't ask forgiveness, there are the courts.

 

Roger Bissell: Troy Camplin, Good way to put it. I agree.

 

Troy Camplin: BTW, my comments above about the relationship between virtue and beauty applies to justice as well. After all, to be just is to be fair, and to be fair is to be beautiful.

 

Robert L Campbell: Troy Camplin, You're referring to "rules" in an extremely broad sense. What's your notion of a rule? (If it's all laid out in Diaphysics, just say so---I've ordered the book.)

 

Troy Camplin: A rule is anything that guides an action, behavior, or interaction. They can range from the laws of physics that can literally be neither bent nor broken, to my choices of rules to write a poem (iambic pentameter, or not; a rhyme scheme, or not; a given form, or not).

The vast majority of human activities can be understood as games. Games have rules and they have fields of play (game boards, etc.). This is why game theory is useful in understanding social interactions, including economics. Still, much work needs to be done on how actual rules result in actual actions in actual social situations, including how different combinations of rules give rise to different outcomes.

Different rules give rise to different games. Chess and checkers are both played on the same board, meaning there is a degree of rule similarity between the two games. However, different pieces and different rules create considerably different games, with chess being an unsolvable game, while checkers has already been solved. It is possible to change the rules of chess to make is solvable, but that would simplify the game and make it a less interesting game.

I have made the argument that chess is a "better" game than checkers precisely because the former is more complex and unsolvable. Yet, I have had checkers players insist checkers is better. Of course, in a certain sense chess is hardly better than checkers, since we are really comparing two different games with different rules. Both are good games, as demonstrated by the popularity of each.

The insistence of checkers players who don't know how to play chess that checkers is a better game points to a fact about human nature. People who have mastered a game will defend that game. They will defend that game against any kind of rule change that might "improve" the game.

The question is, what do you do with rules?

There are four kinds of people: conformists who play by the rules, rebels, nihilists, and tricksters. Any given person is likely to have some combination, depending on the rules in question.

Are you a nihilist? Are you a trickster god?

You're probably neither one.

You either play by the given rules or rebel against the rules. Both kinds of people acknowledge the power and legitimacy of the rules. Both work to reinforce and strengthen all the rules.

But suppose you come to understand that all the rules could have been other than they are. Yes, all of them. And may yet be. Some rules have great duration--the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology, in decreasing duration--even the evolved psychology of humans has great duration, such that we work best in certain social rules that themselves could have been other than they are, but now must be as they are, given our evolved psychologies. We as human beings are not going to change any of these, though through cosmological evolution, some of these rules could still be other than they are. Or they may have given rise to another set of rules that are much more changeable. See the varieties of languages, foods, poetries in all our varied cultures. Rules that could be otherwise, and have once been.

How, then, do you respond?

Despair? Contempt of the rules? That's nihilism.

Joy? Appreciation of what the rules can do even while knowing they can change? Then you're a trickster.

We know the nihilists. Sad-sack whiners who bomb to bomb, destroy to destroy, despair because nothing matters or has meaning.

But he tricksters are those challenging the rules because they're rules, using them when they're useful, ignoring them when they're not, building new things, dancing our of love of life, joyful in meaning-creation and making-matter.

The nihilist is serious about everything and appreciates nothing.

The trickster appreciates everything and is serious about nothing.

The trickster is bound to ridicule the binds you place upon yourself. The trickster is bound to ridicule you if you seek to tighten all the binds of others. He ridicules your cruelty and misanthropy.

He laughs at autocrats and nihilists alike.

He laughs because he knows you could be free.

 

Robert L Campbell: Troy Camplin, I had a feeling you were giving rules an extremely broad definition. "A rule is anything that guides an action, behavior, or interaction." Does it matter whether it is possible for the system that engages in rule-governed behavior to know explicitly what the rules are? Systems that are subject to physical laws are usually not able come to know what any of these laws are (human beings are a noteworthy exception). When I taught moral development, I used to distinguish virtue ethics (such as Aristotle's) from rule-based conceptions of ethics (such as Kant's, or Piaget's). Piaget was so invested in rules that the first fourth of The Moral Judgment of the Child is about children's ability to play marbles by the rules that prevail locally, and their conscious understanding of those rules. But if I've acquired what Aristotle considered to be the right habits, when I act according to habit I will still be following a rule, because something will be guiding my behavior.

 

Troy Camplin: I would say that even in humans, there are many, many, many rules we follow that we do not explicitly know (any there's many, many more rules we've only recently articulated, and which are still really only known by a small set of experts). We followed the laws of physics well before anyone articulated them. Human-made laws and rules are really nothing more than special cases of the various laws and rules of nature.

 

Robert L Campbell: Troy Camplin, On your view, how do rules emerge? It seems as though (some?) rules must always be there.

 

Troy Camplin: They emerge through interactions. Those interactions that result in something stable remain in place, held in place by the emergent structures.

 

Joel Schlosberg: Chris Matthew Sciabarra, I gotta admit that I've missed your input this week... being such a veteran of academic Marxism gives your work a different flavor than most libertarians for whom they are the enemy, but I particularly wanted to hear what you had to say about Marxists being capable only of "mere mindless following and undifferentiated behavior"! Besides their ample capacity for internecine sectarianism (as Murray Rothbard noted in "The Myth of Monolithic Communism" Marxists have no more reason to agree on applying their common ideology than Christians have), that seems like a harsh assessment, given the creative innovations of talented individual minds in the Soviet Union, from the AK-47 to Shostakovich's symphonies to Tetris.

 

Chris Matthew Sciabarra: Joel Schlosberg - Let me just say that like libertarians, Marxists are certainly not a monolithic bunch (and if one broadens that to "socialists"... it is waaaaaaay NOT a monolithic bunch!). Personally, I don't think one could even remotely characterize the Soviet Union as a Marxist state. Perhaps one might characterize it as "Marxist-Leninist" state socialism---but it had nothing to do with Marx's vision of socialism or communism. The Soviet Union emerged from an essentially feudal 'materialist' base rather than the advanced capitalist material conditions that Marx insisted were essential to the creation of a socialist society, one that would have resolved the problem of scarcity and made possible distribution "from each according to his ability to each according to his needs."

I think that one could make an argument for a more "humanist" and even neo-Aristotelian Marx, but I don't think that this aspect of Marx's work is the target of Troy's critique. I think Troy is offering an alternative "dialectical materialist" take that provocatively turns Marx on his head, in a way that Marx claimed to have turned Hegel on his head. One can agree or disagree with Troy's dialectical materialist approach, but we (the co-editors of the anthology) found it a most provocative addition to the volume insofar as it challenged both libertarian and Marxist views of dialectical materialism and its implications.

 

Troy Camplin: Nothing like using a person's ideas against their own ideas. But then, my dissertation committee chair used deconstruction against Derrida, so I suppose one could say I learned that lesson well.

 

Chris Matthew Sciabarra: Troy Camplin - Sounds familiar. ;) Bertell Ollman, my thesis advisor and long-time friend, could probably say a few things about this, were he a member of this study group.

 

Joel Schlosberg: We could use a few good Marxists! If only to tell us if we're understanding the ideas we're turning against them ;)

Milton Friedman is nobody's idea of a Marxist but I came across a quote in which he sounds dialectical: "the problem is not that bureaucrats are bad people. The problem, as the Marxists would say, is with the system, not with the people. The self-interest of people in government leads them to behave in a way that is against the self-interest of the rest of us." And Kevin Carson is fond of the phrase "Destroying the Master's House With the Master's Tools" (the title of one of his C4SS papers, but also used in various forms elsewhere), and he's tried to get anti-capitalists to take the intellectual tools of free-market capitalist ideology more seriously rather than just dismissing them as apologias for greed.

 

Joel Schlosberg: Chris, I am a bit surprised you point to the lack of "advanced capitalist material conditions that Marx insisted were essential to the creation of a socialist society" as the main reason for the USSR's failure, since that would seem to harken back to the most rigidly historically determinist versions of mid-20th century Marxism! (Ones that failed to take into account the wave of movements that applied Bakuninist strategies to overthrow feudal regimes in the third world, even if their Leninist ideologies prevented them from becoming a more liberating alternative, while ones in the industrialized first world became increasingly reformist.) And as Kevin Carson noted on last week's thread, just as his followers were becoming increasingly convinced that brute-force industrialization was a necessary transitional stage, "Marx was investigating the potential of the Russian Mir and other precapitalist institutions as vehicles for leapfrogging directly to socialism without actually going through the process of primitive accumulation that W[estern] Europe did." Kevin asked where his quote about the dialectic being commonly misunderstood as "a historical process divided into neat stages with nobody coloring outside the lines" is from, the source is this blog post, which was one that helped introduce me to a certain dialectical-Ayn Randian scholar: http://mutualist.blogspot.com/2005/02/dialogue-continues.html

 

Troy Camplin: There probably is something to the fact that Marxism has mostly been tried by superimposing it into feudalist political structures rather than onto advanced economies. Or has it? https://medium.com/@troycamplin/i-recently-wrote-a-piece-arguing-that-the-united-states-because-of-the-existence-of-property-taxes-3da6bea98cc9

 

Chris Matthew Sciabarra: Joel Schlosberg - I don't think I was saying that the reason that the Soviet Union failed was *because* it didn't follow Marx's historical materialist view of history. And Kevin Carson is surely correct that Marx did indeed investigate the idea of "leap-frogging" (and that's a fine piece by Kevin!).

But I do think that one of the essential ingredients in Marx's view of a future communism was his investment in the idea of a post-scarcity society. The full implementation of the mantra, 'from each according to his ability to each according to his needs', was simply not possible without a society that had created such an abundance of goods so as to, essentially, solve the problem of scarcity. Marx recognized the highly progressive nature of capitalism as a mode of production, far superior to previous modes of production, and saw it as a transformative engine that could develop the forces of production in such a way as to make that abundance possible---while sewing within it the seeds of its own destruction and of a newer, more progressive alternative in socialism (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/From_each_according_to_his_ability,_to_each_according_to_his_needs)


I would highly recommend an essay by Bertell Ollman on this, who argues that every form of socialism that is emergent must take into account the historical and material conditions that exist in any particular society; check out "Communism: Ours, Not Theirs".

 

Joel Schlosberg: Those ten points in the Communist Manifesto weren't intended to be an end goal to communism---as Chris's comrade/thesis-advisor points out, calling for "a heavy progressive or graduated income tax" implies that "significant differences of income still exist"! (And as Erich Fromm noted, that "most of its demands are fulfilled in a number of capitalist countries" could be taken as evidence that they are "exceedingly modest"). https://www.nyu.edu/projects/ollman/docs/marxs_vision.php

 

Troy Camplin: In the end, the entrepreneurs will always undermine Marxism. Even if we "solved" the problem of scarcity for all currently-existing products, some jerk would come along and invent something new, and there would, again, be a shortage---of that new product!

 

Chris Matthew Sciabarra: Troy Camplin - And the bottom-line issue is that even in a society of abundance, there is always, as the Austrians (especially Rothbard) pointed out, the scarcity of time. Even if people receive according to their needs, each person's needs (which are not static) -- and values -- are "agent-relative" within a time-dimension that is not eternal. So the satisfaction of needs must still take place within the context of scarce time, in which not every evolving "need" can possibly be filled.

Trotsky's view of a new communist man (an extension of many utopian ideals in Russian thought) is a constructivist one, even if it is "contextualized" by future "conditions" that make such an achievement possible. That view was best expressed in his statement that in the future communist society, "Man will become immeasurably stronger, wiser and subtler; his body will become more harmonized, his movements more rhythmic, his voice more musical. The forms of life will become dynamically dramatic. The average human type will rise to the heights of an Aristotle, a Goethe, or a Marx. And above this ridge new peaks will rise." (https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1924/lit_revo/ch08.htm)

There are some parallels here with Rand's own projection of the ideal man, who unites the businessman and the intellectual, theory and practice, for whom values, purpose, and action are integrated. (I compare this Randian notion to those that can be found in Russian Symbolism and in the Russian Silver Age of her youth, in my book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical (see especially the section, "God Builder?", in Chapter 13, "History and Resolution", pp. 349-352).

 

Joel Schlosberg: Would voluntary communism on a small scale not count as "full implementation" because it wasn't society-wide, or not "abundant" enough even if it is based on generosity (which it seems is if anything more likely to occur among those who share to make do with little as those who can accumulate more for themselves)? I don't think anyone would count Walter Block as more of a Marxist than Bertell Ollman, but he has noted that "the typical nuclear family, moreover, is a (voluntary) socialist commune! All members of the family consume not in accordance with their ability to earn, but based on their needs. The parents may earn the entire income, but certainly do not consume it all; the (young) children earn none of it, but consume on the basis of their needs." http://www.walterblock.com/wp-content/uploads/publications/libertarian_perspective_policical_economy.pdf

 

Chris Matthew Sciabarra: Joel Schlosberg - Here it comes -- I think it depends upon the context. And we will have a few upcoming chapters that touch upon the idea of labor-managed enterprises, within different institutional contexts, especially the contribution written by DOL member, Dave Prychitko. So lots more to come on this...

 

Troy Camplin: Chris, I was trying to be a little generous to Marx. ;-)

Joel, I heard Walter Williams make the same argument about 30 years ago, about the family being fundamentally Marxist in structure. As Williams observed, Marxism works, so long as you can keep up with the names.

 

Joel Schlosberg: Chris, you're saying that you prefer "a Marxism which is developed in a concrete social context; which is flexible, open and unafraid to re-think its revolutionary perspectives according to specific conditions; and which fashions its language as a means of communication, analysis and mobilization, rather than employing it merely as ritualistic invocation" rather than "Marxism of the hand-me-down variety, where an ideological perspective and vocabulary developed in a different epoch or a different political-cultural environment is transposed whole and adopted as an all-embracing wisdom"? https://books.google.com/books?id=0WQQRZJsjzkC&pg=PA137

 

Chris Matthew Sciabarra: Joel Schlosberg - Well, now, don't put words in my mouth! I'm just saying that I think Ollman's essay has a lot of validity to it, in terms of how Marx's approach differed from that offered by both Marxist-Leninists in the Russian context and that offered by the typical utopian socialists. And the key difference, for Ollman, lies in the dialectical way in which Marx approached the question of socialism -- something that, for Marx, had to emerge from a specific context, a context that had to be fully understood in order to be transcended.

 

Troy Camplin: And that's kind of the point of my linked essay. Marxism mapped onto Feudalist Russia gave us the Soviet Union, while Marxism mapped onto the U.S. gave us the contemporary welfare state (though the "heavily graduated income tax" isn't so heavily graduated, given we learned you get better revenues from a less graduated one).

 

Jason Walker: Troy: On the whole, I very much enjoyed this discussion. For the moment, I don't know that I have a decisive critique or it or anything, beyond a perhaps stylistic observation, and a methodological worry. On the former, this may just reflect my training in analytic styles of philosophy, but it seemed very ... peripatetic, for want of a better description. "All over the place" might be a more informal way of putting it. That's not necessarily a bug or a feature; just an observation that seems less about, in analytic style, rigorously identifying and defending a primary thesis, and more about giving a general lay of the land from place to place. It's like you're giving the reader a grand tour of your dialectical laboratory: here's where you keep the lungfish, notice this cool thing about them, here are the gobies, here's the ritualized sacrifice, here's the shameful ape, the fractals are over there, and the centerpiece of my collection, the territory-holding males! I wonder if my difficulties processing this aren't like the androids of Season 1 of Westworld, who can't recognize artifacts from outside their park.

As for the methodological worry, it's this. Yours is not the first attempt I've seen to take concepts from metaphysics or epistemology, and read them into the sciences. I'm not going to say you're wrong to make these observations; in fact, I find myself sympathetic with your big picture here. It's more that you may be demanding too much of the concept, as if you're wanting dialectics to serve as a unified field theory of sorts, tying almost everything together, from the behavior of atoms to biological evolution to human ritual and political/economic theory. One certainly can't accuse you of lacking ambition here.

The two difficulties this may pose are these. First, I'd very much want to know to what degree specialists in these fields would consent to this framework being used to describe what they do. I've learned to be wary of stepping on the toes of specialists in other fields, both out of respect for their own years of study and careful scholarship, and more importantly, out of a frank acknowledgment of my own relative ignorance. I've appreciated the legal scholarship of Richard Epstein, but when he tried to dip his toe into epidemiology this last month, that kind of blew up in his face. When my work goes into interdisciplinary directions, I find that I rely very heavily on literature from those other disciplines, citing those works, and using the concepts and descriptions *from those disciplines* to illustrate or describe whatever point I'm raising. For example, in my dissertation, I wanted to make it clear that the notion of emergent order was not a novelty. Perhaps it was counter-intuitive in the domain where I located it (legal order), but it can be found in biological evolution, neuroscience and of course economics. But I would be adverse to tell the biologist, neuroscientist or economist that they ought to use the framing I use in my own work, or that my framing in any sense supersedes theirs. I'm not sure that's what you're doing or even intending to do, but I suppose that's why I'm characterizing this as a methodological worry rather than a criticism.

Second, there's the conceptual inflation problem. The inflation of currency certainly is one way to illustrate the problem, but as a huge fan of South Park, I'd like to invoke the aliens who appear in the classic episode, "Starvin' Marvin in Space." The titular Marvin discovers a downed alien craft, which whisks him away to an alien world called Marklar. The aliens speak to Marvin in English, but an oddity about this species is that nearly every noun in their language is "Marklar," as well as every proper name for every member of their group. It's played for laughs, this being South Park and all, but I've always liked the way it illustrates the practical problem of a single term being used for too many distinct kinds. Dialectics is useful for the epistemologist and for other philosophers as well, but I'm not sure how useful the concept remains if we want to say that it's the same thing concept that captures what the anthropologist, the chemist, the astrophysicist, et al., are doing, anymore that calling it all Marklar would be a useful framing.

 

Troy Camplin: I suppose some background about me would help to answer some of your questions. I have a B.A. in recombinant gene technology, meaning I've taken classes in physics, chemistry, and biology, with an emphasis, obviously, on molecular biology. I did two years of graduate work in molecular biology before getting bored and deciding to get a Master's in English so I could be a fiction writer. I have a Ph.D. in the arts and humanities, and in my dissertation I talk about the neurological bases of beauty and artistic creation. One of the people on my dissertation committee had two Ph.D.s, one in biology and one in English--and she had no objections to my dissertation (neither did the neuroscientists another on my committee slipped the neuroscience part to). I was also reading a great deal of philosophy and economics during these times, and this led to my having several peer reviewed pieces on economics and spontaneous order theory, including a book chapter in a collection on the psychological theories of F.A. Hayek. In other words, I'm enough of an autodidact in economics to get publications in the field, and I've had more than a few economists compliment me on the fact that I "think like an economist."

The long and short of it is, I am an interdisciplinary thinker and scholar because that's how I've educated myself, formally (mostly) and informally, with most of my peer reviewed publications in what I've informally educated myself in. I have absolute confidence that anyone in any field about which I write would at least say that I understand their field.

The thing I do very well is find patterns, especially complex patterns. I've had people in various fields be surprised that I saw a pattern in their field that existed in other fields--and, most importantly, they didn't deny its existence.

As for your final point, one could make the argument that such sound patterns as German, English, French, Swahili, Cantonese, Japanese, Arabic, Hopi, Aztec, Wari, Hawaiian, and so on are so different that we shouldn't call them all by one word. But I think it's very useful to call them all "language," and to study them all under a single rubric. The existence of variations on a theme doesn't mean the theme doesn't exist. This is the mistake people who denied there is such a thing as "human nature" made. If you focus only on the differences, you won't understand how things are related to each other. One of course shouldn't go in the opposite direction and insist that everything is just One Thing, as the monists would have it, either. It's really both-and. It's unity in variety and variety in unity, with different levels of complexity giving rise to different entities with different behaviors, but which nevertheless do have some structural commonalities. I espouse a poststructuralist structuralism, a set of common rules that run through the various levels of complexity and which in turn give rise to ever-greater complexity in the cosmos, where the unity gives rise to variety, where truth and ideas and concepts are the absent centers of the actually-existent.

 

Roger Bissell: Jason & Troy: I have a similar concern about "concept inflation." Not just about extending "dialectics" down into botany (let alone atomic physics!) - but also about other important concepts like "logic" (Hegel and I think Plato wanted to make logic metaphysical, rather than just a process/method of cognition and interaction by certain conscious beings) and "intentionality" (the "aboutness" of consciousness, which some want to extend to the tendency of atoms to relate to one another in physical and chemical bonds).

On the other hand, I'm one of the apparent minority of people who maintain that "final causation" is not just restricted to living (let alone conscious) beings, but to EVERY process in the universe. There is a subcategory of final causes or "ends" that pertain to biology, but ANY result, anything determined by the identity of the thing(s) acting or interacting, is an "end" in that sense. Perhaps this shouldn't be included in "teleology" - or perhaps, instead, "teleology" should be expanded to include both the ends of organic life forms and the ends/necessary results of inorganic entity processes.

 

Troy Camplin: Marx was the one to extend dialectics with dialectical materialism. I just took him seriously--and farther, as a result.

Nietzsche proposed the Apollonian and Dionysian as ways to understand the arts. Music and Lyrical poetry were Dionysian, Epic poetry and sculpture were Apollonian, and Tragedy was the synthesis of the two. However, Nietzsche observed that these are really aspects of the cosmos itself, which we are tapping into in the production of certain kinds of art.

Dialectical thinking is precisely this. It's tapping into the way the cosmos itself is constructed and how things come about in the first place. We are merely recognizing it and making use of it in our own thinking. We are thus becoming more like the cosmos as a whole by engaging in the very processes underlying every aspect of reality.

Every organism has a telos. The embryo develops into the mature organism, and then there is a falling off. Such things as final causes are properly applied to any process in which there can be a mature form and a falling off from that form.

I understand the concern about over-extension. It's not uncommon to find a metaphor and run with it and apply it to everything. One must approach these things with caution. That being said, one must not then over-extend THAT and reject the possibility that there are common patterns to be found in all levels of reality in the cosmos, from the quantum physical through the human social environments. Understanding what those patterns are will help us to understand the cosmos as a whole--and be able to very quickly learn about each area of knowledge we use to study each level of complexity in the cosmos. Once you have the structures down, the rest is details.

 

Robert L Campbell: Troy Camplin Again, this may all be covered in Diaphysics, whose arrival I eagerly await. I'll ask anyway: How would you contrast your project with Herbert Spencer's?

 

Troy Camplin: Perhaps not dissimilar, though hopefully much more informed by more recent information. :-)

On Quantum Darwinism.

 

Roger Bissell: RAND, NIETZSCHE, AND APOLLO

A few years ago, I took issue with Rand's characterization of the Apollo/Dionysus polarity that she claimed to find in Nietzsche. (See "Will the Real Apollo Please Stand Up? Rand, Nietzsche, and the Reason-Emotion Dichotomy" in The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, volume 10, no. 2 (Spring 2009): 343-69.) Rand sometimes spoke of "man worship," but she could just as easily be seen as advocating Apollo worship. She was unequivocal about this. To her, Apollo was the God of Reason, while Dionysus was the God of Wine and of the wilder emotions. [See her 1970 essay, "Apollo vs. Dionysus," Return of the Primitive: The Anti-Industrial Revolution. (Formerly The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution). New expanded version edited by Peter Schwartz. New York: Meridian.]

Of course, the veneration or emulation of Apollo is more widespread than that Rand and her followers. It is also found among many who fancy themselves to be more in the refined, emotionally restrained, tradition-respecting "Classical" mode. (Yes, these two groups are at odds, since Rand et al favor the "Romantic," going to great lengths to characterize it as the school of "volition" and thus the school of "reason." To her, the pastel, timid, stuffy Classical style was not rational in any sense important to her as a champion of reason used as the primary tool of the passionate and heroic life.)

In my opinion, this is both a misreading of Nietzsche, as well as a failure to understand Apollo's original status and role in Greek culture. Some say that Nietzsche was betraying the rational Apollonian element in embracing the irrational Dionysian element, but I think it more likely that Nietzsche simply did not view Apollo as purely rational (as Rand and the wider traditional interpretation take him to be, each in their different ways). Instead, I think there are seeds within Nietzsche's portrait of Apollo that point toward an entirely different characterization of him. Consider this from Nietzsche's Birth of Tragedy:

This joyous necessity of the dream experience has been embodied by the Greeks in their Apollo: Apollo, the god of all plastic energies, is at the same time the soothsaying god.  He, who (as the etymology of the name indicates) is the 'shining one,' the deity of light, is also ruler over the beautiful illusion of the inner world of fantasy. . . . [T]his deep consciousness of nature, healing and helping in sleep and dreams, is at the same time the symbolical analogue of the soothsaying faculty and of the arts generally, which make life possible and worth living. (emphasis added)


Soothsaying and dreams, which are virtually signature attributes of Apollo, are not rational activities. In fact, in Nietzsche's Birth of Tragedy, the function of reason is, in fact, represented not by Apollo, but by . . . wait for it Socrates and his dialectic!!

In light of the characterizations presented in ancient Greek mythology, Rand's portrait of Apollo is also somewhat askew. Apollo is identified variously as the god of prophecy, music, poetry, mathematics (he was believed to be the father of Pythagoras), medicine (his son Asclepius was the god of medicine), archery, light, the sun, streets and highways, colonization, order, justice, and legality, flocks and crops, plagues, and (perhaps) wolves and mice.

There are only two items in this list that might justify attributing "god of reason" to Apollo. One is his sponsorship of music by the lyre and the kithara, which was very well-ordered (and thus "rational") compared to the more unruly, ecstatic rhythms of the aulos and drums in the music nurtured by Dionysus. The other is in his tendency to break up fights and to punish wrong doers, as well as to refrain from joining in the frivolous fighting that his father Zeus fomented, as reported in the Iliad.


To the ancient Greeks, as a matter of fact, Apollo was not primarily regarded as a "god of reason." In fact, he was just as much a patron of the arts as he was of the sciences. To see this, one need only look at the array of subjects attached to his wards, the Muses: epic poetry, history, mime, the flute, light verse and dance, lyric choral poetry, tragedy, comedy, and astronomy. Such a disparate nonet defies a simple, unitary explanation in terms of the interests of a "god of reason."

By contrast, it was Athena who was explicitly identified as the goddess of reason and intelligence, as well as the city, agriculture, handicrafts, arts and literature, and she is credited with numerous inventions, including the bridle, the pot, the flute, the trumpet, the rake, the plow, the ship, the chariot, and the yoke. [We might ask: Why didn't Rand ever credit Athena for this? Might it be related to her idiosyncratic belief that a woman should not be President?] It has also been noted that the current St. Peter's Cathedral in Rome features Minerva (Goddess of Reason) on the side of rational thinkers, and Apollo (God of Poetry) on side of inspirational thinkers.

Unless it were somehow argued that "reason" is a broader concept than "rational thinking," and that it subsumes both "rational thinking" and "inspirational thinking" (and poetry), it would seem that, yet again, we have a clear sign that Western civilization regarded the Apollonian as being, if not completely irrational, at least not essentially rational.

Yes, in light of Apollo's sponsorship of the Muses for subjects like astronomy and mathematics, he can arguably be seen as pro-thinking and pro-reason, at least in some respects. On the other hand, in light of Apollo's sponsorship of the Muses for subjects like music and poetry, he should perhaps instead be seen as pro-feeling and pro-intuition.

Rand's view implies that Apollo, in symbolizing reason, was against both the Dionysian antirational focus on feelings and the apparently Apollonian anti-rational reliance on mystic intuition (the basis of prophecy and divination, Apollo's watchword). Arrowsmith writes, however:

 

Apollo . . . is not simply a god of reason. Not unless one possesses, as the Greeks did, a sense of reason so ample that discursive logic, lyric poetry, music, and prophecy---but above all, prophecy---are, all of them, wholly rational activities, i.e., activities of the whole mind, thought literally infused with feeling. (emphasis added) [Editor's foreword in Sophocles 1978. Oedipus the King. Edited by Stephen Berg and Diskin Clay. Oxford: Oxford University Press.]

In effect, then, we must build a new characterization of Apollo, somewhat similar to, but different in critical ways from, the perspective of Rand---and more akin, actually, to the perspective of Nietzsche.

Rather than Apollo and Dionysus---half-brothers, sired by the omnipresent and apparently omni-potent Zeus---being polar opposites, as Rand depicts them, Apollo is an introverted intuitive type, in parallel to the extraverted sensing type of Apollo's earthier, but no more experience-driven half-brother, Dionysus. Nietzsche recognized this fundamental experiential passion in Apollonians:

 

If we could imagine dissonance become man---and what else is man?---this dissonance, to be able to live, would need a splendid illusion that would cover dissonance with a veil of beauty. This is the true artistic aim of Apollo in whose name we comprehend all those countless illusions of the beauty of mere appearance that at every moment make life worth living at all and prompt the desire to live on in order to experience the next moment. (emphasis added)

 

So, according to Nietzsche, man has a survival need to deliberately create beautiful illusions with which to cover or disguise the dissonance in life, and Apollo's "true artistic aim" is to provide such experiences that "at every moment make life worth living at all and prompt the desire to live on in order to experience the next moment."

This is hardly Rand's view of Apollo or of art! Indeed, she might well regard such a view as irrational. More importantly, though, it hardly serves to portray Apollo as quintessentially rational, but instead as more centrally concerned with experiential enjoyment---specifically, with the pursuit of artistic and scientific happiness.

Most deeply, both Apollonians and Dionysians are drawn to "flow" experiences, and they completely immerse themselves in their respective preferred kinds of process, whether meditation, creativity, worship, etc., or sports, crafts, sexuality, etc. Thus, Apollonians are, in a very general way, very much like the Dionysians in their pursuit of experiential ecstasy, only on a more abstract or spiritual plane.

Further, Apollo was well known to have been the sponsor of the nine Muses, who presided over not just a number of the arts, but also mathematics and astronomy, points to an appropriate parallel label we might apply to the Apollonians: the "Muse-Seeker." Clearly, the Apollonian orientation is an abstract-level focus on creative discovery in various different realms, which is reached by following one's muse, as it were. For this reason, I have coined the term "Muse-Seeker," which I think well captures the spirit of Apollo as the pursuit not of one's physical or sensuous impulses (as do the Dionysians), but, on the parallel, abstract plane of experience, of one's spiritual, aesthetic, and intellectual inspirations.

The essence of the Apollonian temperament is thus neither reason (thinking) nor emotion (feeling), but intuition. Furthermore, it is not intuition in general, but specifically extraverted intuition, the kind of intuition that looks out at the world and finds inspiration in nature and human society and creates a coherent inner model, whether harmonious or logical. Extraverted intuition is a process of exploring the world, seeing possible connections, and exercising creative invention, whether artistic or theoretical, on what one encounters.

The Apollonian exercise of extraverted intuition, which stresses theoretical or artistic breadth, while the Promethean use of introverted intuition emphasizes conceptual or abstract depth or hierarchy. Apollonian extraverted intuition places a premium on coherence or "horizontal" integration, on finding a conceptual or artistic integration of data or ideas---while Promethean introverted intuition strives most strongly for correspondence to reality or "vertical" integration, on justifying one's conceptual or artistic integrations. For instance, a process of extraverted intuition is what yields the realization that the regularity of a pendulum's swing and the arc of a projectile's motion both display certain regular patterns, while a process of introverted intuition is what yields the realization that both kinds of motion are governed by the same underlying causal principle. In this respect, Galileo and Kepler were more Apollonian, while Newton was more Promethean.

Apollo has been done a disservice by the long-lived tug-of-war between the partisans of the reason-emotion dichotomy. Apollo is not, as Rand claims, the god of reason, guiding us in the preserving or building or mastering of nature. Instead, Apollo is all about understanding and exploring and discovering what makes the human race and the universe tick. He is the quintessential hunter-gatherer of the spirit, i.e., of Truth and Goodness and Beauty. As a consequence, the person of Apollonian temperament embraces either reason or emotion, as appropriate, in his quest to seek and nurture his muse. His god, Apollo, is the god of (extraverted) intuition. This is the real Apollo.

[Note to readers: this is a radically abbreviated version of my JARS essay. I invite those wanting to read the full version to download it from the Penn State University Press web site].

 

Chris Matthew Sciabarra: It is actually available on JSTOR here.

Troy Camplin: The only proper answer:

God and Goddess

The moon is goddess of all poetry---
Except the poetry of Greece---the sun,
Apollo, stands surrounded by the Muses---
His is a poetry no light shall shun.

In other realms the darkness rules the verse,
The poet hides in shadows, hides in lies---
Apollo shines the sun of truth through lines
And in his wisdom everything defies.

Apollo's poetry is prophesy---
The future speaking to the now in rhyme---
It brings enlightenment and its warm glow
Will bring the mind beauty's fullness in time.

The Muses' poetry is Memory---
Plurality of knowledge--and sets loose
Great wisdom to make beautiful---
Such is the power of their father, Zeus.

But do not think the virgin goddess dim---
She finds her way into our rhyme and verse---
Without her you cannot give birth, your lines
Will be stillborn, delivered in a hearse.


Living Classicism

I traveled once to Greece, the ancient land
Of tragedy, philosophy, the gods---
And there, beneath the plane tree I would stand,
Escape Apollo's heat, take Plato's nods.

In Athens in the paths of Socrates
I walked--agora and the marketplace
Today where women sell their wares. I'd seize
The very air, the ancient time and space.

In Naxos where Apollo's gate still stands,
Where Zeus hid Dionysus in a cave,
I ate in mountaintop cafes, my hands
Felt marble mountains---Naxos I still crave.

In Delphi where the oracles would speak
Apollo's prophesies in vents now sealed--
I stood within the theater to peak
At what great Dionysus once revealed.

In Thassos where the ancient Greeks had sailed
From Naxos, Dionysus first set shoot---
A dining archeologist regaled
Me with the findings of this ancient root.

I lived in Greece a month, and there I found
An understanding of the things I'd read---
And having traveled I have found the ground
That grows the sweet figs that keep me well-fed.


The Triumph of Mercury


When Dionysus marched into the East
He met with Isis to unite the East

Apollo stayed at home in Rome, the West
Looked on, appalled that Bacchus left the West

In decadence drunk Dionysus's feast
We've seen to weaken all those in the East

And golden reason, virtue stood the test
That war had woven all throughout the West

Yet, no one understood the fluid beast,
The Proteus who's river of the East

While from the boot the people deemed the best
Deep rivers full of blood shed in the West

The satyrs on the islands have not ceased
To dance in orgy dreams throughout the East

The Muses make the rhythms of the blest
And sculpt their golden means throughout the West

The Maenads should be feared when they're released
They'll rend and rip and rive across the East

There's none august enough to wear the crest
So long rejected by men in the West

And wealth's complexified, slowly increased
As dawn is spreading all throughout the East

Now Hermes will interpret all the East
And synthesize it with the weary West


Dithyramb

Wake up! Be alive! Have some fucking passion!
Why must we live a life where dead spirits are the fashion?
Where are the spirits that make us want to dance?
Why can't we touch and kiss, make romance
A fiery and wanton thing
That makes us bellow out and sing
From our very visceral guts, buried down
So deep our very memories of it have been drowned?
There is no Dionysian---and Apollo's not the rule---
And every scholar, every fool
Who claims to know the masked god's revelry
Is shown a Pentheus without chivalry---
An infection of our lives and culture,
Lacking the taste of even a vulture.
There is no Dionysus in academic verse---
Throwing random words together so only the worst
Are raised to the heights of academia---
Creating at best a poetic bulimia.
So be gone, you culture killers, killers of the human soul,
You who have the vision of a naked mole
Rat digging through the desert sands,
Whose ignorant notions of freedom only tie the hands.
Be gone, you culture killers, let be reborn
Dionysus with his goring bullish horn---
Dionysus with great Apollo, his friend,
Making this dead culture bend
Until it breaks up into something new
(Which is also old, full of life and the true).
It is time to wake up! Hear the siren call
Us up out of our beds until we recall
To this new life our new-cherished memes---
All of the passion and life of our dreams.

 

Roger Bissell: Troy Camplin, Sounds Apollonian to me! Are you perchance a fellow Muse-Seeker? ;-)

 

Troy Camplin: My lyrical poetry is as Dionysian as I can get, given my lack of musical training. I do try to maintain the Apollonian-Dionysian balance in my tragic plays, though---they're all in iambic pentameter, and could ostensibly be sung and put to music.

 

Troy Camplin BTW, my poetry is as peripatetic as my prose. I blame the influence of Aristotle. .;-)

 

Chris Matthew Sciabarra: Troy Camplin - Meet Roger Bissell, musician, composer, arranger, and trombonist extraordinaire! Perhaps the new George and Ira Gershwin will emerge from this Study Group, just in time for Roger's chapter on the Great American Songbook! ;)

 

Troy Camplin: Never know what kind of madness might emerge.

 

Joel Schlosberg: Another Rand-influenced composer, who was a music student at NYU: http://www.denvercasado.com/listen/

 

Chris Matthew Sciabarra: And ironically, I knew (and know) Denver very well! We also re-connected as FB friends back in January 2019. Very nice guy!

  

Joel Schlosberg: Rereading Leonard Peikoff's response to 9/11 (which was circulated by the Objectivist club; I don't think they were as bloodthirsty, but the loudest voices tended to predominate), I notice that aside from his general condemnation of pointy-headed peaceniks who "are asking a reeling nation to show neighbor-love by shunning 'vengeance'" (If you were in Theodore Sturgeon's "Thunder and Roses", in which American survivors of a Soviet nuclear first strike must decide whether or not to retaliate, you'd push the button, wouldn't you Lenny?), there's also a swipe at "multiculturalists---rejecting the concept of objectivity" who avoid "condemnation" of Arab culture. And I thought I might have had an unnecessarily harsh take on Objectivist views of Arab cultures being "dominated by tribalism and theocratic fanaticism" in back in the discussion of Chapter 1!
http://ontology.buffalo.edu/smith/courses01/rrtw/Peikoff.pdf

 

Roger Bissell: For some reason, Peikoff thought that our real enemy in the Middle East was neither Iraq nor Saudi Arabia, but Iran, and he vociferously included nuclear weapons in possible means of attacking them. He said we absolutely have the moral right to use nuclear weapons on them, if that's the best strategic way to change their regime. See this video interview by Bill O'Reilly (not sure of the year, but probably 2002):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JoAWCwm-UXw

 

Chris Matthew Sciabarra: Joel Schlosberg - At least with regard to that point made in Chapter One, that would have been Rand's argument *against* nation-building and certainly against a social "tabula rasa" (as I quoted Troy Camplin to that effect), such as the one advocated by the nuclear nihilists among her most orthodox followers.

 

Roger Bissell: Chris Matthew Sciabarra, Nihilists or annihilists? (Or is there even a difference?) ;-)

 

Joel Schlosberg: The actual capital-N Nihilists were no annihilists -- Kropotkin pointed out that their destructive streak was focused on the repressive features of Tsarist society (as the Cynics were on those of their ancient Greek society), and he and Henry George noted their devotion to liberty.

 

Susan Love Brown: Troy Camplin's "Aesthetics, Ritual, Property, and Fish" covers so much territory (no pun intended) that it is difficult to know where to begin. It is difficult to tailor comments to discuss all of the material here, so I will make a few pointed comments from my perspective as a political and psychological anthropologist, who also studies communalism, utopianism, and gender, among other things. This essay suggests two things: (1) that humans recognize patterns in nature and copy them artistically from direct observation; (2) dialectical methodology is a function of human rationality/reason and is applied whether or not the thinker is consciously aware of it as a methodology. Although all human nature arises from their biology, biology cannot explain all human actions, including that which takes place in the artistic domain. Art is inborn. We know that art (drawing, painting, music, poetry) arises in every culture from hunting/gathering bands to our own highly complex society, but its meaning cannot be explained solely by its origins in the brain.

That said, here are some further points that I throw out for consideration.

1. "... we are a species of social mammal. To the degree that we are individuals, we are individuated within our social contexts. And both are constrained by our genetics. And that means, we are socially embedded individuals who are individuated within each of our social contexts, which itself necessarily interact with our genes and epigenetic patterns through our plastic neurons" (p.337).

I agree that both individuality and sociality are aspects of human nature. However, I also don't think you can reduce everything to biology or even neurons. Any tensions that arise, arise because of particular configurations of society and how the individual operates against its strictures. But these things are no self-evident; we have to discover what principles exist and how they operate. This can only be learned through trial and error. Biology in general and neurosciences in particular can only explain the biological. Any understanding of human action must engage the social and cultural levels of existence. Individuality is a given of human nature, but the ideology of individualism is not.


2. The author seems to confuse biological evolution and social evolution. Evolution as a phenomenon and process can be seen among galaxies, species, and human societies---the movement from simple to complex, movement from homogeneity to heterogeneity. Nevertheless, these evolutions operate by different rules and are not comparable beyond the description of the process itself. It reminds me of Kroeber's distinction between the inorganic, organic, and superorganic. Each of these requires different tools for understanding, and while they are connected as they must be, they are not reducible to each other. Biological evolution cannot lead to the institution of private property or individualism. These are products of social evolution and the culture that arises with it.

3. "The emergence of ritual is a dialectical solution to the problem of reproduction created by the emergence of territory and individualism, and territory was a solution to the problem of how to better ensure one's genes are being passed on to future generations" (p. 338).

I beg to differ. This explanation of ritual suggests both that dialetics exists and operates outside of human consciousness (or so it seems to me). However, ritual consists of actions designed to represent transitions from one stage of life or on identity to another. Victor Turner, elaborating on the work of Arnold Van Gennep, has elaborated on how ritual functions in human societies. Ritual has to do, and is most often invoked, at important developmental or social moments in human existence---marriage, birth, adulthood, death, etc. Ritual is a way of helping human beings make these transitions, as well as acknowledging important social and individual moments, such as thanksgiving rituals that emerge in agrarian societies to celebrate good crop-bearing seasons. (When I did fieldwork in Cat Island, Bahamas, I was surprised to learn that they also celebrated a religious Thanksgiving, but in late October at the end of one harvest.) Rituals have meaning for human beings, and it is in that meaning that we can discover how individuality and sociality interact in human life. I am a firm believer that paradoxes don't exist in nature, only in our ignorance of nature. Yes, human beings have a tendency to see what Levi-Strauss called binary oppositions---to divide things that way---but we also know that this is something that must be overcome through the use of reason if we are to deepen our understanding of nature, including ourselves.

4. Sexual selection has always been questionable academic enterprise in some of its many varieties, and reducing human actions solely to its biological foundations---to claim that passing on one's genes (even when one doesn't know that genes exist or that males have anything to do with reproduction) ignores the fact that people have created many rules to control human sexuality. It seems to me that psychology and culture are the proper levels on which human reproduction must be considered. Every society has incest taboos, some form of marriage, and various ways of calculating kinship. Much of this has nothing to do with territory, individualism (which is different from individuality), or ritual or "the problem created by the true randomness of sperm and egg mixing from the spawning of fishes" (p. 338). The conclusions that the author has reached strike me as an effort to develop a "theory of everything" that is simply untenable in view of scientific knowledge, and I include the social sciences here too.

5. "Social movements that oppose privately owned landed property are thus attempting to overcome nearly half a billion years of evolution. It is no overstatement to say that opposition to private property is thus atavistic" (p. 338).

Again, the author seems to have formulated a claim with foundations in a confusion between biological and social evolution, leaving out the all-important role of society and culture. Communalism is often another term for sociality of a particular kind. Besides the fact that the evolutionary pattern he traces from fish to humans is spurious and hardly applicable to social movements, there are explanations for why people choose to support various social forms---even when they are wrong. First of all, communalism, holding property in common, functions as a survival technique. We have seen this phenomenon among street kids in Brazil and among religious communities that are basically impoverished. Pooling one's resources guarantees that everyone gets something and has a better chance of survival than they might have on their own. However, we also know that communalism breaks down when communities grow in size and become relatively prosperous---they break down regardless of the ideology of the members. To maintain communities requires a special effort, lest one lapse out of it entirely. In fact, there is well recognized pattern that Don Pitzer has called developmental communalism.

Finally, I think it is difficult to build an entire understanding of dialectics by seeing it everywhere. What seem to be dialectical relationships, in the end, may simply be metaphors created by extremely observant artists and other human, whose brains/minds are designed to discern such patterns, whether they understand them fully or not. But the important thing in furthering our understanding is the meaning that people assign to these patterns.

 

Troy Camplin: I was purposefully focusing on biological foundations, but that focus in no way is an argument against social variations. Human universals such as language necessarily have biological, evolved foundations, but get expressed in all their variety through the social, through learning. In other words, there is no conflict at all between my biological and cosmological foundations and the observations you pull from social science. The entire purpose of social science is to understand both the underlying structures (structuralism) and varieties (poststructuralism), with the former being in large part biological in origin.

There's no "mere metaphor," but rather real observations of real patterns. In this the poets are as important for helping us understand the world as any scientist, and we lose much understanding by seeing their insights as "mere metaphors." Indeed, we cannot even communicate without mere metaphors!

 

1. This is not at all in conflict with anything I wrote.

2. There's no confusion between biological and social evolution. Biological evolution is accomplished through Darwinian means (it's more "digital"), while social evolution is accomplished by Lamarckian means (it's more "analog"), though selection occurs in both cases. Biological evolution laid the foundations for both individualism and property, which gets expressed in a variety of ways in a variety of animals, and which gets expressed in a variety of ways in the human animal. Laying foundations in no way is the same as claiming you have a finished house--though you do have to lay the foundations first of all. That's what this essay was about. The essay could only be so long!

3. Rituals create a safe play space into which something new can emerge, and primitive forms of ritual exist in many species of animals (look at all the dances different kinds of birds do). Rituals are most complexly developed in humans, but are not exclusive to humans. Coincidentally, I had the privilege of having one if Victor Turner's sons, Frederick Turner, on my dissertation committee.
 .

4. Incest taboos, kinship, and marriage (!) are all intimately connected to ritual. And they all have everything to do with sexual selection--as do many of our rituals. Music, dance, poetry, etc. all have their origins in showing off to get men or women to select mates. You don't have to "know" sex results in offspring to engage in mating rituals, as the existence of mating rituals in so many other animals, from gobies to peafowl, shows. Incest taboos have their roots in the Westermarck effect, which itself has biological origins. Culture only strengthens it, and includes more and more in its growing circle (to include cousins, for example). I don't see how any of the social sciences, but especially anthropology, at all refutes anything I wrote. Again, what I wrote are foundational to those findings.

5. The examples of communalism don't disprove my thesis at all. Humans started off as tribal, and we shouldn't be surprised to find people defaulting to that in crises. Tribalism implies (small) group ownership--but note that it's always a small group, and that they are excluding others from the group in order to have the communal ownership. There also tend to be strong hierarchies of control to make sure there isn't waste. The key, as you suggest, is size (and complexity). The larger and more complex a society, the more likely ownership is to fragment. This ensures we get along better. But, again, I noted that my thesis allows for a huge number of different kinds of ownership. It just doesn't allow for non-ownership/large-scale-communal ownership as proposed in Marxism.

 

Susan Love Brown: Troy Camplin, tribalism and communalism are not the same thing. In fact, a tribe is a particular kind of social organization, so I flinch every time I hear the term "tribalism," which seems to be a contemporary political term to describe some kind of herd mentality. It's a metaphor. Anyway, I think that in order to understand each other's point of view, we would have to first agree on some common terminology. Incidentally, I make a distinction between social evolution and cultural evolution. What you describe as "Lamarckian" is probably cultural evolution, although, again, using that term is metaphorical. Culture consists of ideas that are passed on through learning and modified by experience, not by selection, which would also be a metaphor in this usage.

 

Troy Camplin: Susan Love Brown, all language is metaphorical. And there is group selection. Some groups survive as groups and some don't. I'll grant there's a difference between tribalism and communalism, insofar as the latter accepts the existence of other communal groups and aren't necessarily in competition with each other. They're at a more complex level in that sense.

 


 

 

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