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Thread: Women women women women.... ugh
16-05-2013, 10:36 AM #301
We're all victims of our upbringing, as they say. Our instincts about right and wrong are, in part, a product of our environment. If we were having this conversation 200 year ago, or 200 years in the future, the cultural background would likely be totally different. The baseline moral consensus we share would also, consequently, be totally different. For example, neither of us think it's ok to perform that experiment, and hand kids over to the evil AI :P
Suppose you create what you believe to be an equal society. Suppose you still measure different trends in the things men and women tend to prefer to spend their time doing. Suppose women tend to choose different sorts of careers, which tend not to pay as well. Then you have questions to answer. Are women being socialised by our historically patriarchal society to simply believe they can do less? Are they being encouraged to be less ambitious, to strive for a lower standard of attainment than men? Presumably if you've created what you believe to be an equal society, all these social pressures on women would have to be sub-text, rather than main-text. Either that, or, as we hinted at in the bit above this, we're simply ill-equipped to judge equality because we are ourselves the product or a patriarchal society - i.e. we can't tell when women are being socialised to be "less" because we're men.
Or, is the way we infer value the problem? Is it that the careers which pay more, the ways we evaluate how useful the way someone chooses to spend their time is, are inherently patriarchal? Do we value male characteristics more than female characteristics in society? Does the system, which was designed and built by men, simply reward and encourage male behaviour rather than female? And thus, when we measure female attainment against this scale, of course they appear to underperform - the odds are tipped in mens' favour.
This was really the crux of my point. How do we know when we have achieved an equal society? I believe we have to try to understand how much biology/nature comes into play in order to better understand that question, and to better measure equality.
Last edited by RandomTangent; 16-05-2013 at 10:44 AM.
16-05-2013, 12:09 PM #302
I think they're only superficially distinct in the narrow-ish definitions the two terms take in the context of debates such as this one. I.e. nature being our genetic predisposition - our innate, programmed, behavioural tendencies; nurture being the influence on our minds of our environment, which constitutes events, people, relationships, things, etc. As has been touched on, our genetic makeup is guided by our environment and our environment - at least socially - is guided by our genetic makeup, so even taking these definitions, it's easy to see how hard the two are to separate in practice. Even if one assumes our behaviour is entirely deterministic - even if chaotically so - one can still make the distinction as to whether a particular behaviour has been predetermined by exposure to the environment, or by our genetic template (or, as is more likely, some weighted superposition of the two). But it is all one natural system, with essentially two natural processes which feed into one another.
A few questions arise for me in your treatment of individualism above, and I suppose they naturally lead me to want to define "free will". If one takes a very simple definition, that it is the capacity for human beings to behave in a way which is NOT entirely deterministic, then you could argue a radioactive nuclei has free will, though is obviously not an "individual" in the sense that it is aware of its own existence (as far as we know!!). So, is it necessary or desirable to conflate free will with ego?
I'm a natural scientist, so I would tend to take a natural science view of the questions of free will and the sense of self, rather than a philosophical one. There is scope in our understanding of nature for events not to be purely deterministic, and thus, some scope for the decision making to be probabilistic rather than an illusory predetermination. In other words, science doesn't necessarily tell us - yet - that there is no such thing as free will, or that decision making/choice is an illusion.
I share your scepticism though. My instinct here is purely anecdotal, but if I think about being in exactly the same circumstances twice, can I envisage myself making a different decision each time? The answer "yes" would seem unscientific, but in quantum mechanics, that isn't necessarily the case.
In respect of the rest of your OT section, I think you eloquently explain why morality is rarely a black-and-white issue. Context is almost always important, which is nicely elucidated by the Trolley problem. The truth is, sometimes we are forced to choose between two evils. In these circumstances, moral absolutism is of no utility in helping us to reach a decision. One must consider the relative consequences of each action, rather than the individual actions themselves in a vacuum.
It is a fascinating topic!
Last edited by RandomTangent; 16-05-2013 at 12:14 PM.
16-05-2013, 03:40 PM #303
That can be applied to all the questions you pose here to give what I think is a pretty satisfactory answer to most of the questions you pose here:
Capital punishment? Still practiced in many otherwise fairly civilized countries. There are rational arguments to be made defending it (it may deter crime etc.)
Secularism? Many people even in secular countries still hold and take comfort in fundamentalist religious beliefs. Secularism in government should be at least encouraged but secularism in private is not something that can be effectively forced on people.
Genocide? While attempts to be made to justify the morality of genocide it is pretty easy to dismiss those as mad ravings. I think we can confidently say that genocide is a terrible and evil thing and not a valid and cultural practice. The supplemental question you pose about under what circumstances we should intervene to stop genocide and other evil practices in other parts of the world is so morally complex that I don't want to even try to address it here.
In the second part of your post:
"Killing is wrong": Perhaps not absolutely universally true but in most cases it is. I would argue that very few people will ever be in a situation in their lives where it is morally right for them to kill another person so the very few exceptions don't stop this from being an assumption most people can safely make.
"Females have vaginas and males have penises" In almost all cases a simple biological fact. I don't think the anatomical differences between the sexes are really being debated by anyone :)
"Distinct notions of gender are useful?": And here is the crux of this debate. If you are going to say that distinct notions of gender are useful and expect others in society to accept and live by that then you have to justify that belief. Personally I can see a lot of harm that comes from arbitrary distinctions between genders in society and have never seen a good case made for why they are beneficial. I think notions of gender are far closer to religious choice than anything else you bring up, in that they should be a personal choice, not something that is arbitrarily decided upon and imposed on society as a whole.
I don't see anything wrong with people emulating "macho man" or "girly girl" stereotypes if that makes them happy. I do , however, have a huge problem with those people trying to impose those beliefs on others in society. In the same way I think you can believe whatever you want about God but don't try to force that belief on me or others in society.
16-05-2013, 03:51 PM #304
16-05-2013, 06:14 PM #305
16-05-2013, 10:07 PM #306
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There's a funny quote my partner relayed to me about evolutionary psychology a few days ago. 'Where men and women are different, but humans and chimps are the same.'
16-05-2013, 10:22 PM #307
I've done the "nature vs. nurture" debate more times than I care to count, so I'll just sum up the point that solves the matter to me: "the only thing that's natural about human beings is: we can change whatever is natural about human beings".
16-05-2013, 11:03 PM #308
17-05-2013, 09:33 AM #309
Last edited by RandomTangent; 17-05-2013 at 12:52 PM.
17-05-2013, 11:39 PM #310
I still think it's a fascinating topic though and one which is in desperate need of people who actually want to do science and not just tell stories.
Always keep in mind that fossils do not talk, therefore about 99% of behavioural assumptions about our ancestors are just that: assumptions.
I think I'm done with derrailing this thread any further. It's the second evening I spend answering here instead of playing Dark Souls. It was fun though.
*I'm of course generalizing quite a bit here. Somewhere out there, there might be an evolutionary psychologist who knows what he's talking about.
18-05-2013, 11:00 AM #311
Doesn't nurture alter nature?
 i have to go back through some pages and see why the topic has changed to this. ;-)
Last edited by BillButNotBen; 18-05-2013 at 12:32 PM.
21-05-2013, 01:09 PM #312
This meandering brain-fart of mine is mostly irrelevant to the ~women~ discussion and is mostly rehashed stuff from prior writings that I'm more or less constantly mulling over. Just a warning.
we can do what we will but cannot will what we will." Put another way: our minds seem to be witnesses, not authors.
Countless people over the years (both religious and non) have pointed out that this is trivially easy to notice if one just closes one's eyes for a bit and pays attention to what it's like to "be". Get to a quiet space and just let "whatever" come to mind, then take that experience itself as an object of attention and let it recede, and do this with each new thought or sensation. The critical thing to notice is that thoughts and sensations just arise in consciousness, and one never causes them to arise they just do. That is true of anything one can ever think or feel. If consciousness is just a constant process of noticing thoughts and feelings that well up from beyond our control, whence freedom? Also notice that all external events (e.g. these words) were not "caused" by a mind, either; they simply "are".
One could conceptually reduce any possible justification for any possible behavior all the way back to the singularity (or, if one craves a touch of woo, back to quantum fluctuations). But even if a random quantum event was the absolute, irreducible origin of some thought or behavior, one still wouldn't have "chosen" or "caused" the event. So we're not authors of our consciousnesses, we simply are our consciousnesses. The notion that we're authors of our minds is (apart from being logically incoherent) not even necessary, and thus, again, Occam's Razor minces it into irrelevance.
I don't think association of ego with free will is a conflation; like with nature/nurture, they seem to be differently-worded perspectives on the same phenomenon. Descriptions of free will are subjective, yes? So they're of, as opposed to extrinsic to, egos. When people say "free" they tend to mean something like "unbounded" or "uncoerced", and the conception of ego is the same (it's something like "a self as distinct from other selves and the wider world"). Alas, again, nobody exists in a vacuum; none of us are perfectly uncoerced or distinct. Much of philosophy is overlapping and circular fluff of this caliber.
Conceptually: if I locked you in a room and let you do whatever you want inside that room, would you be "free"? I don't think so. I think the universe is this room, and we can't not be in it (our minds themselves are part of it). I think a lot of nature/nurture talk is people trying to say "there's not really a room/spoon" or whatever via handwavy vagueness. I think (in the west, anyway) this is generally because individualism is so strongly embedded in culture and many people don't like the idea of fate; they like to think they're "more than mere iterative nature" or whatever. I don't have a problem with fate, though, I just don't think it entails fatalism (an important difference). One could use woo to bring pretty much any conceptual framework in line with various populist idealizations of humans as neatly-discrete forces-unto-themselves, but again, I like Occam's Razor.
The probabilities defense of free will is like saying "we're rolling dice, and the dice might come up differently if we could reroll!" That's true but it's beside the point: even if one could reroll (we'll suppose that for purposes of argument), one would still just be rolling dice; one wouldn't have magicked the dice into dreidels or something. The point is that there's a bounded system there a game with rules, so to speak and we don't "choose" anything about the bounds/rules, we just inhabit the universe/play the game.
I think this distinction is apropos and important: the world seems causal but hard determinism doesn't seem true (i.e. there seem to be no hidden variables). So, for example, "smoking causes lung cancer" is true. Nonetheless smoking doesn't always cause lung cancer; it isn't a "hard determinant". It clearly needn't be, though, in order for us to make meaningful and useful scientific and moral judgements about smoking.
I can't envision how we could make "a society that does not discriminate based on sex" if it must be a human society, because sex seems a part of the human condition. I mean, if we bioengineered ourselves into asexual creatures, would we be "human" or some different species? This is fun semantic territory to me Theseus' Paradox looms!
Anyway, that's a roundabout way to say I think the questions you asked are irresolvable because they're innately moralistic (that was probably your point, but I can't be sure). I can't conceive of a scenario in which we shouldn't insert the word "unfair" before the word "discriminate", and that turns the questions into many endless moral mazes. Some discrimination is good and some is bad and we can't just assign an absolute "good" or "bad" label to the activity.
21-05-2013, 05:59 PM #313
Culture is not a monolithic entity nor is it unassailable, and there are many, many instances of societies that have structured themselves differently, and with interesting results. To present a fantastically simple example, in some aboriginal cultures, women are "givers" because they grant birth, in others women are "takers" because they drain semen. In some, they hold political control because only they can determine lineage, in others they are removed from political control because they are mere recipients/vessels and the men steadfastly determine lineage.
Hell, there are cultures where, because marriage was and is an inherently economic practice, polygamy works both ways. There are cultures were homosexuals were and are highly regarded because they provide one sex special insight into the other sex. There are cultures where clans - as a semi-abstract extension of the family unit - never formed and instead pre-determined individual interconnections were the basis of long-distance group relations: A system, consequently, where war cannot work because it'd be too complicated.
Culture is not so biologically determined that these physical differences mean a jot nor twiddle because we live almost entirely in a made-up system based on layers and layers of idiosyncratic and ideological interpretations of ambiguous markers.
22-05-2013, 12:15 AM #314
One can dive into woo sinkholes trying to erect absolute barriers between nature and mind but I really like Occam's Razor there. Unless doing so produces remarkably super-useful ideas, I'd rather not. We can have all our morality and law and social order and so forth without deluding ourselves that we're some Physics-Transcendent Union of Boring Everyday Flesh with Spooktastic Mystery Not-Flesh. I think humbleness is, it at least some situations, a virtue.
If social systems are either chaotically or probabilistically unknowable that doesn't mean they're abiological, it just means they're... either chaotically or probabilistically unknowable. I dislike thinking of culture as distinctly non-biological for the same reason I dislike thinking that human minds are discretely separable from the rest of the environment: it seems rather obvious to me that culture is a permutation of biology as much as minds are.
I'd argue that not conceiving of selves as perfectly distinct can make one less likely to capriciously stop causal bucks (so to speak) at given individuals. It can make us more compassionate! Similarly, if one views culture as complex networks of biological behaviors one can be more accepting of change to culture, i.e. less likely to think of traditions as being self-justifying and more likely to think of them as being imperfect nebulous systems necessitated by never having the whole picture.
That's how I think about these things, anyway. Lots of this is just me trying to reconcile my hateful superiority complex and egotism with the obvious fact that I am really kind of shit. For various reasons I'm a relatively judgemental person and I try to fight that tendency. Ironically it's some of my most religious relatives I most admire wrt lacking kneejerk assumptive blame-assigning behavior. They're progressive southerners various of them involved historically in abolition and civil rights and contemporarily in LGBT issues and are really slow to anger, quick to chat, helpful, etc. I can personally do without the bullshitty ideas about deities and souls and so on but... spice of life, I guess.
22-05-2013, 12:26 AM #315
The difference is simple: "Slave" is an occupation: The moment you're freed, you're no longer a slave. "Nigger" is a state of being: Even when freed, you're still a nigger.
Here, "murder" is an activity, and "murderer" a profession. One becomes a murderer by murdering people. Even expensive surgery does not genetically make one a woman.
22-05-2013, 03:11 AM #316
But my point was that these terms are not fixed or binding or universal. So one could be a murderer and a woman, but not merely or only a murderer and a woman (and that's the point – that there's more to a human than a single event or characteristic).
I'd say "woman" and "nigger" are connotationally quite fluid, being sometimes accusative terms and sometimes notions of self-identification, and in some instances a smearing of the two. I've encountered "nigger" used as shorthand for, in so many words, "haha, your skin is black". I've also encountered it used to mean something like bigoted, intransigent, stupid, bad, etc. In my experience the latter sense is usually but not exclusively used by lower classes about lower-class people, often explicitly self-referentially (and no, I'm not talking about "nigga").
I think one gets into super-dangerous territory when one treats things as absolutes. Semantic rigidity obviously has some benefits, though. Reaching back to our discussion of societal norms: I agree that censure can be very beneficial, and it demands a certain degree of rigidity. But I think that should come with awareness of extenuating circumstances. I mean, we'd surely treat a bullheaded MRA goon differently than somebody who was simply raised to be traditionally chivalrous but was open to changing their ways, right? We wouldn't universally condemn all instances of chivalry or boob-fetishism.
It seems economics and psychology and related fields have increasingly adopted the view that humans and their networked behaviors cannot be neatly quantized. So while behaviors can exhibit bounds and tendencies, they usually can't be perfectly generalized (that is to say, there is always significant noise in statistical analysis of behavior, and thus it's not exact like e.g. generic arithmetic).
22-05-2013, 07:13 AM #317
A lot of people use skin-whitening cream - especially in Brazil - because of the connotations of being dark-skinned, but bleaching yourself doesn't change what you were born as, nor does it adequately explain or resolve the underlying societal problem in the first place. And that's what I'm speaking to: It is not natural, it is arbitrary. Your determinism is not only harmful, but wanton. Nothing in our biological history would lend credence to the idea that these differences are so important as to be immutable, nor can biology adequately predict the often contradictory circumstances we live in today.
22-05-2013, 09:22 AM #318
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Any claim that equates 'natural' with 'good' is fallacious. They are independent concepts.
22-05-2013, 10:26 AM #319
The fact that there's something rather than nothing is entirely arbitrary, isn't it? It follows that being itself is arbitrary, too, let alone being human or black or female or phenylketonuric. And that's before you consider all the "doing" phenomena of behaviors and social networks (which seem exactly as arbitrary, and which don't seem meaningfully separate from "being"). Again, I think recognizing this arbitrariness, this fundamental absurdity, can engender compassion.
In any case, it's not as if there exist non-causal frameworks which do a better job of explaining culture than causal frameworks (I'm not aware of any, anyway). Consider any scenario in which we must explain "why she did it". How does positing souls or final causes or any other such Cartesian woo explain things better than physical observations? (e.g. she had parents of a-f characteristics, peers of g-p qualities, genetic configurations q-t, educational experiences u-z, etc)
The alternative to acceptance of causality's absurdity is dangerous absolutism. "I'm neatly distinct from you because you're this color and I'm that one!" and "Your chest is shaped like this and mine is shaped like that so we're just totally unique!" And so on and so forth, until arbitrary differences are so intently focused upon that arbitrary similarities which might otherwise unite us are forgotten or ignored. Surely there's a balance to be attained somewhere in there.
I've explicitly argued against determinism and I don't see why my views are wanton. In fact, as I've said, I think rejecting causality is, in a sense, the root of all evil. I don't think anything can adequately predict this crazy world. Every age will have its economists and its populist science-bastardizing future-mongers.
Clearly we don't have a 1:1 map from abiogenesis to modern human culture, but are there good reasons to assume culture is anything but natural? If so, what are they? Also, I didn't get to this up top, but natural != good. Cyanide and hemlock are perfectly natural, but not exactly "good" for humankind.
22-05-2013, 02:26 PM #320
I once wrote some posts which are (tangentially) related to this whole topic on one of my blogs (which I haven't updated in almost a year...). Just keep in mind that those are translations I made from posts I wrote in German and that my english was even worse than it (still) is today. To make things worse I couldn't be arsed to properly spellcheck them. But I still find them interesting, especially the first one, since it is based upon a long term 'study' I'm conducting since I was 15.
Feel free to take a look if you're interested, also the rest of the blog (although it's not much and mostly about dead primates). I'm pretty uncomfortable with this whole process (someone could even read it!), but I recently decided that I have to do everything which makes me feel uncomfortable in order to feel less uncomfortable.