28 May 2008

What, me worry?

The long time premier magazine of the satirical was MAD Magazine, assured to festoon the lives of children for the very irreverent attitude taken towards all things. But it was not without its competitors, one of the best of which was Cracked magazine, which always tended to be a bit more cutting and even handed on its satire and irreverence. If MAD was aimed at pre-teens and 'tweens' then Cracked went for teens to young adults, and both had their place in the ecosystem of the age of analog printed material. I lost track of both coming into my teen years and really hadn't thought much about them, until I started to notice some of the Cracked lists showing up... brand new lists. Cracked.com's list of Funny Stuff is a compendium of its new productions in the irreverent, coarse, rude, crude and somewhat socially indifferent. It is, perhaps, one of the greatest time wasters invented if you like the sort of thing they produce. From 5 Certifiably Insane Politicians People Still Voted For to Your Body Hates You: 6 Gruesome Disorders Anyone Can Get to The World's 16 Least Inspiring Flags to The 6 Cutest Animals That Can Still Destroy You the entire panoply of sex, scat, art, politics, religion, pest control and history all are fair play at Cracked.

Still, they do slip in a semi-serious to actually useful article now and again, of the sort that were BS sessions in High School, College and seemingly everywhere online. Those have their own areas of fascination like looking at the 9/11 conspiracy theorists and how something that starts as fiction turns into a near cult following to things that Atheists and Christians really do have to agree on. That sort of thing is why Cracked looked at an older demographic than that of Alfred E. Neuman. After that latter one there is a column on trying to do a reduction of scientific secularism, which is fascinating not only for the authors view, but what the author misses. When conversing with a follower of the Cult of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, we get this view:

What is baffling about the Pastafarians, however, is that they don't demand that. They stop short in their understanding. While rightfully mocking this magical force called "will" in the form of religious belief, many of them seem to cling to the idea of "will" in the human brain. They'll accidentally use words like "mind" as if the "mind" is some separate thing that exists apart from electrochemical signals transmitted between neurons. They may talk about "love" as if it were also some kind of mystical energy and not just a certain kind of neural chain reaction. They laugh at the idea of a "soul" and then proceed to talk and live every day as if they had something exactly like it inside themselves.

Even worse, one Pastafarian chatted with me online and went from mocking the silly creationists, to talking about attending a rally on environmentalism. He said I "should" support cleaner alternative fuels and cutting greenhouse gases:

"Othwerwise global warming is going to get really bad in 30 or 40 years, mass starvation, the whole bit."

"So? I won't be alive for that. I'm already 72 years old."

"Well, yeah, but your children..."

"No kids. I drive an Escalade and I leave it running 24 hours a day, because it might hurt my wrist to twist the key every morning. Don't worry, I can afford it."

"But... what about future generations? Don't you want them to survive, too?"

"Why? How does that affect me? I'll be dead."

"But... but... you should care about your fellow man even if it doesn't benefit you!"

"That's a false emotional impression, left over from our ancient herd instinct. Surely you're not saying that it's 'better' to care about your fellow man than not to."

"Of course I am! People will die if you don't!"

"So you say it's better that people live than die? Why?"

"It just is!"

I was shocked and disappointed. He believed in this invisible, unmeasurable force called "better" as much as he believed in man's equally-unmeasurable ability to discern and act on the "better" thing and that "it just is" right do that "better" thing when given the chance. He believed in things science can't quantify. He believed in the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Learned lesson one - if you believe in GW you already have a religion, but it is a nice one and allows others to co-exist with it right up to the point you disagree with GW.

Second, however, is that arguing from the Larry Niven view of a biological end-state, that is where you can't reproduce easily and most of your vested energy has already been spent, has a negative problem all its own: your reason *to* exist (that of reproduction and continuing the species) is no longer viable. More easily put, once you get old, mother nature is out to kill you to make way for the next generation. That was a great bit of insight from the SF invention of boosterspice in Niven's Known Space works, and that as you went beyond your natural life span, you learned to be very, very careful about what you did as mother nature was no longer looking out for you.

That second point has a non-trivial outcome: you come to understand the utility of laws and society as they are now the ONLY things keeping you alive. If society goes, the boosterspice goes and in a short period of time your biological age will start to re-assert itself and catch up with your chronological age. If you have lived, say, 250 years, being dead in 20 or 30 is no longer having a lot of time left to live compared with how long you have been around. You also get a very different perspective on children, however, as now the short period of time to support raising children is balanced directly against your ability to survive. It may be a short period of time, less than 20 years, but you could be out doing other things and not taking up your time raising children. The positive benefit to you once having passed through the normal age-span is no longer as strong as it is when you were younger.

From that the third point is that brought up by the author of the 'false emotional impression'. The author is clearly indicating that emotional instincts are false, yet they are just the opposite: they have positive value to you and beyond you even and especially if you are from the scientific determinist view of the world. If those emotions are false, then, exactly, which ones are *true*? What is the balancing point of that? Are instinctive emotions any less valid than instinctive muscle contractions or biochemistry that acts without thought to defend your body? If you answer that the entire class of inherited characteristics are useless, you are then arguing for something that is unreasonable: that is not the argument of reasoning out emotional behavior but one of denying that the unreasonable or irrational can have justification and reason for being. To do *that* requires a belief in will outside of such behaviors, and yet all of humanity, including the author, demonstrate just the opposite.

So, the question is: having these emotional responses to reproduction, what are their source?

The reason you do good things is actually astonishingly simple: it makes you feel good. In other words it has a positive reinforcement value in your mental view that helps to lower stress and other biochemical influences within your own body that have a negative impact on your survival. But there is an even more subtle reason that comes from the 'herd mentality', which, for humans, would date far back before the Cretaceous along mammalian lineage. It is one that is seen throughout the animal kingdom and even in the plant kingdom, and it is so obvious it is taken for granted.

That is the division of labor. The benefit to you of helping others out is that it not only feels good to *you* but it helps the recipient feel good *also*. As a part of that herd, or now our society, that has indirect benefit in reducing larger scale tension amongst individuals. That is why the ability to apologize for doing something hurtful leads to the opportunity of acceptance that something done was not meant, or if it was ill-meant, that the activity is owned up to by the individual and this is an attempt to stem hatred before it gets out of hand. Accepting an apology means that you must understand your personal feelings and that this larger herd, this greater society, has requirements upon you for the well being of all involved. That is because the survival of everyone depends upon the specialized skills and knowledge brought by individuals to this larger group and put to work so that the overall group has a higher chance of survival.

Not only does doing good feel good, it gives you and everyone around you a higher chance of surviving.

To not do so lowers overall survival rate for personal satisfaction and pleasure absent societal benefit. In that direction is Perfect Liberty and it has only one state of being: under the Law of Nature. Even if you are of the scientific deterministic view absent of religion, the Law of Nature is *still* present, in this case as the base operational system of the planet given its history, biosphere, solar output, volcanic activity, spatial position and if you are being chased by a carnivore or not. In that state of being you have Perfect Liberty and No Security: you are left up to your own devices and NO ONE will help you. That said very few creatures live in that Perfect State for as soon as there is longer term survival for the species when vesting energy in raising young, you will feel good doing so.

Why do you feel that way? Because those who didn't died off as they didn't have any positive stimuli to invest that time and energy, and so they adapted less well and soon their genetic traits were lost. Of all the higher animals, Sharks are the closest to that state, and even some of those spend time caring for their young, usually via internal gestation of said young. What the author posits is the position of being a male black widow spider now beyond time to mate, and it has only one reasonable value left to it: food. Mother nature likes to clear out the old and unfit, to make way for the next generation, so that 72 year old male without children unwilling to contribute back to society has a negative survival factor for his own beliefs and outlook. Others will come to assist you if fallen, as there is worth in you as a potential: it is possible to change one's way and contribute towards the greater good of all involved. You will be remembered that way, and even folks like Carnegie and Ford made sure that their rapacious reputations would be mollified by starting foundations and libraries that would exist far beyond their mortal time.

None of that requires an extra-body 'will' or greater good from outside source. Our biology gives us many impulses which we have then built upon so as to create larger groupings more able to survive the rigors of life on Rock 3 from the Star Sol. And there is a human example of what happens to a society that does *not* sustain such things, and is a clear representation of what happens when civilization makes non-support of society acceptable and concentrates interest in the here and now: The Roman Empire.

The decay of support for the greater Empire meant that there were fewer citizens, more slaves and a higher transit of wealth out to procurement of entertainment and 'pleasures' than there was going into the upkeep of roads, bridges, aqueducts, and the military. The result is what was called 'decadence': the Empire started to decay as being a Roman Citizen meant less to society and even some slaves gained riches that allowed them power without having to be an accepted part of society. Decadence also turned to debauchery, where base feelings and impulses were allowed to run free amongst the citizenry and the value of life and society decreased further. The Roman Empire was decaying as personal liberty took a primary importance over the security of society. In the Western Empire they soon found they were unable to have security, which then led to a further eroding of society until there was no society left to uphold or defend or even adhere to.

Thus, seeing someone try to put a 'rational' view to work for irrational personal safety so as to secure personal pleasure, I can only call it, as my ancestors did of Rome: decadent.

A society in decay because its individuals no longer gain personal value from upholding it is well described:

"Our present condition, is, Legislation without law;
wisdom without a plan;
a constitution without a name;
and, what is strangely astonishing,
perfect Independance contending for dependance.
The instance is without a precedent;
the case never existed before;
and who can tell what may be the event?
The property of no man is secure in the present unbraced system of things.
The mind of the multitude is left at random, and seeing no fixed object before them, they pursue such as fancy or opinion starts.
Nothing is criminal;
there is no such thing as treason;
wherefore, every one thinks himself at liberty to act as he pleases."

- Thomas Paine, Common Sense

That is where it being all about *you* and personal self-satisfaction ends, with perfect liberty... and soon Revolution. Because you no longer want to survive and are aiming to take society down with you.

And the GW enthusiast is no better having forgotten the basics:

Some writers have so confounded society with government,
as to leave little or no distinction between them
whereas they are not only different, but have different origins.
Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness;
the former promotes our POSITIVELY by uniting our affections,
the latter NEGATIVELY by restraining our vices. The one
encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions.
The first a patron, the last a punisher.

That is what happens when the multitude no longer have a fixed object before them... some seek perfect liberty, some seek perfect tyranny and the struggle between them can get millions killed.

This sort of thing is always why I preferred MAD Magazine.

What, me worry?

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