Author Archives: mjr247

About mjr247

Trainee Human since 1960.

An Attempt to Control ‘Psychopaths’: One Possible Origin of Religion and Why that Attempt Did Not Work Part 2

Undeterred by little feedback to the previous post, I shall now turn to organised religion.  Could anyone reading this post, please read the first 1 fo their own orientation.

An organised religion will, almost by definition, have a hierarchy, which for the sake of convenience, we can call a clergy.  In an unorganised religion,  you can have special people who have direct contact with the supernatural entities, but with an organised one, often, only the clergy can legitimately claim they are in direct contact or can interpret what the supernatural entities want.  It is possible for others to make such claims, but the clergy will add them to their numbers, brand them a heretic, accept them as exceptional or ignore them.  In some religions, the ordinary members may have communication, but the clergy will have the final say in the interpretation.  So for many religions, there is considerable power invested in the clergy.

The areas that religions claim power over can be extensive, even all aspects of the lives of the followers.  The aspects to be looked at here will be values, morals and ethics, which are all closely related.  These are of interest because if you can control these, you can possibly control a person’s behaviour, partially or wholly.

We need a quick aside at this point to talk of values, morals and ethics and what distinctions to make.  Morals and ethics are often thought of as the same and they are very closely related and often are interchangeable.  Morals can perhaps be thought of as internal rules, that is, as part of a person and ethics as external ones, as part of society or as a member of an organisation.  Values are the result of morals and ethics and are arrived at through intuition, imitation, education and imposition and,  also, by reflection on what values we have or what other people possess.

Having said this for the purposes here ethics and morals will be treated as one and henceforth referred to as ethics.

Values are one of our most important spurs to action (or inaction).  Actions (and the lack of them) are how we all make a difference to the real world.  These actions can be judged to be ethically good or bad or neither, by ourselves and others, so different ethical systems may give different opinions.  The result(s) of our actions or inactions may be immediate or may never be known and are usually in the vast period of time in between, but we carry them out in good faith, reasoning that the results will be good.  There will be times when we carry out an action, in the knowledge that there cannot be a good outcome.  In such a case we look for the least bad outcome.

To give an example from real life (in which we have to ignore the wider ethics of war and government control and concentrate only on the actions of the protagonist), I recall a documentary about the landing of American forces on the island of Okinawa during World War II.  One of the American Marines was stationed on cliffs looking at other cliffs.  The Okinawan civilians had been ordered by the Japanese government to kill their children.  Some carried out these orders by throwing their children from the cliffs across from the Marines.  The children would land on rocks below and this would not kill then but would break their legs or backs and when the tide came in they would drown.  Faced with this, the Marines shot the children as they fell as this would be a quicker and less agonising death.

There are, of course, ethical codes which say that no matter the suffering to be endured, under such circumstances the children would be left to suffer.

This bridges us (somewhat callously) into ethical codes and the systems used to derive or support them.  It will be seen by some that I am clearly a consequentialist, that is, I look at the outcomes to judge actions.  An example of a consequential ethical system is Utilitarianism.  Usually, an ethics system which rigidly adheres to its values and ignores consequences is called deontology and a clear and powerful example of this is Kantian Deontology.

Religious ethics are often deontological, being concerned with forming a code that is to be adhered to, regardless of the outcome, as that comes from God or the Gods or the Will of Heaven or some other supernatural source that is to be held higher than the human subjects that the code applies to.

This code is delivered by the clergy and may be altered by them due to their direct and special connection.

In further posts, I will set out my views on values and their acquisition, briefly discuss the merits of ethical systems, give my views on their application and further look into the topic of the psychopathy and religion.

 

An Attempt to Control ‘Psychopaths’: One Possible Origin of Religion and Why that Attempt Did Not Work Part 1

This post is about one possible origin of religion, which may not apply to all religions nor exclude other origins.  I am not claiming it applies to all religions, but it will apply to many; indeed, I think it applies to the bulk of them.  I am aware there are various other origins, but that this theory I propose is not incompatible with any of them, excepting those that propose (rather, demand) that the origin is strictly from a supernatural phenomenon or supernatural phenomena (with Earthly intermediaries), that it is revelatory.  It is possible that instead of being an origin, it is instead a modifier.  I am not talking of a single instance, but this would occur several times.

I am assuming no one else has proposed this, but I would be surprised if no one else has.

Shortly, I shall state the theory and then discuss.  I have only one more preliminary.  By unorganised religion, I mean one that has no hierarchy (in paraphrase, no specialised clergy) to distinguish it from organised religion.  I say this instead of primitive religion because, firstly, I think the term primitive religion is quite dismissive; it implies that as someone is a (for example) hunter-gatherer, that means they cannot possibly have sophisticated thoughts, which is absurd (at least borderline racist), or be right (in some way).  Secondly, complex societies may have disorganised religions.  Even the highest intellects from advanced civilisations have been wrong or put forward absurd notions.

The theory is that when psychopaths were noticed in society, an attempt was made to make these persons useful to society by having an external supernatural force (for example, spirits, gods or ancestors to name a few – call them watchers) make them useful members of society.

There is a lot to discuss in this summary of the theory.

Firstly, I see the setting as being in a simple society (such as a hunter-gatherer one), where there are few roles in it; for example, you are either a hunter, a gatherer or a dependent (a child or someone infirm).  If you are not a dependent but expected to take one of the active roles (as a member of society) and you are not doing so or are carrying out the role only for yourself, then this raises issues for the society.  It may be your mental health is the cause and maybe you are (temporarily) categorised as a dependent.  Even after this reclassification of people into this role, this still leaves those who are not working for the good of society.  It could be they want to leave this society, either going solo or joining another society, or we can assume, instead of dissenting from this society, they have no empathy to help provide for all.  This last type I think we can classify as a psychopath (I think this fits in with clinical definitions), especially if they are taking from the society without giving anything back.

The society, composed as it is from those with empathy, would like the psychopaths to join in with them, but how?  It is at this stage I would propose, that someone from the society (call him/her, the elder) noticing that the normal bonds of empathy, internal to an individual, are not working tries to bring in an eternal source, that is, invokes the gods or spirits or whatever, claiming they are watching over everyone and expecting the psychopath to take part in society, to do his or her part in hunting and/or gathering, sharing responsibility and resources equally.  At this stage of the argument, it does not matter if the supernatural phenomena exist or are invention, for this argument to work.  If the people of the society already believe in these phenomena, the effect on the argument is only that this is not an origin, but a later modifier.

A psychopath would not be changed by these phenomena of watchers.  S/he would still have no empathy, so almost immediately, the elder invents punishment, that is, ‘the gods will punish you’.  The psychopath may believe this and become a useful member of society.  Of course, they may not.

There are potential drawbacks to the psychopath rejoining the society.  Empathy holding together the society is threatened with redundancy, replaced by threats of punishment; bonds of empathy are weakened, being displaced by avenging gods, spirits or ancestors.  Worse, if the psychopath believes the watchers do not exist or that s/he is special to the watchers, then this can become a weapon to take over any society that believes in the watchers, by convincing them that s/he should be given special treatment.

This second drawback may not have such an effect in a disorganised religion.  It is possible to reason that the punishment is not incompatible with the old way of empathy.  Or, as a disorganised religion has no orthodoxy and clergy to determine and enforce that orthodoxy, for persons to determine that the psychopath’s interpretation is just wrong.

This stage of the argument brings us to organised religion and will be the subject of my next post.

I hope to have some feedback on this post and this could alter the post as it stands.

Authority

Imagine you come across a major road traffic incident and there are multiple casualties.  Suddenly, someone shouts out to you, “Phone for an ambulance!”  Do you think “who put you in charge?!” and refuse to phone or do you phone?  That is, do you accept this person’s authority?  What kind of a person are you that would not phone?

I use this as an illustration of accepting authority.  It is quite congenial for you to phone, because you would after all.1

Do I believe that there is currently a global warming, that is, an artificial climate change brought about by humanity activities that can be brought under some form of control?  Yes, but why?  Because those who specialise in climate, who study it and use the scientific method2 tell me that this is happening.  I trust in their authority in this matter (and I like to think I am intelligent enough to understand their conclusion and evidence.

So we have two types of authority.  One of orders and another based on trusting some person or people to have special knowledge.  And, as so often happens, we allow the two meanings to elide into one another.  This can be serious when we believe our specialists in politics to have specialist knowledge, because of what they specialise in.  Politics, like Morality, is not the special preserve of specialists as are various fields of science or arts or farming or almost any activity that is humanly possible and even then any intelligent person can critique that activity.  Here, by special preserve, I merely mean an area  of human activity that someone specialises in.  Politics and Morality are both areas of activity in which all that can, should take part in, although there are areas ancillary to the high-level area that can be left to specialists, but these should remain supportive of the high-level area.  They should have influence , not control.

In practice, of course, we have people who claim to specialise in politics and these are of two types: those in (elective) office and those in public service.3

So let’s distinguish the two types of authority as order authority and knowledge authority.

Order  authority is there in our evolution.  Just look at animals and see how they behave and, apart from occasional challenges, the leader of the herd, pack, flock, etc., is obeyed.  A moment’s reflection helps you realise the survival value of this; the group stays together.  It is not a collection of vulnerable individuals, but one entity with a common purpose.  Authority ensures survival.4

However,  just as a bit of further reflection should make you realise that being able to question that authority and getting agreement from as many of the people affected will be more beneficial to everyone.  The experience and the ideas of all can make a better decision.  This can go wrong when those in authority strive to either not inform or actively mislead.  The result will often be a disaster for the collective involved.5

Finally, it should be noticed that following the advice or orders of Authority does not mean that the system is Authoritarian.  The idea that it is either due to the elision of the two types of authority so that the advice of the specialists is confused with orders or to think that there is no context in which  obeying orders is still compatible with the exercise of personal freedom.

 

1  There is a part of me that goes why has no one else phoned, especially the one giving the orders?  So let’s say his/her battery has run out or s/he is already dealing with a  casualty.

2  This will be the subject of another post.

3  This will be the subject of another post.

4 With persons, rather than animals, it is useful, at times and under certain conditions to simply obey.  Apart from the armed forces in combat, situations like the one described at the start of this post can be used to illustrate this.  Note the restricted use.  Danger arises when the authority for a particular situation is extended beyond that.

5 To my mind, this partially (not wholly, of course) explains the result of the UK’s EU Membership Referendum of 23/6/16.  Many of the areas that voted for ending membership have a population that is both the least consulted by government and which has had its social and economic  deprivation halted or reversed by EU projects.  Once these projects stop and are not replaced,  then the deprivation will start anew.

Wittgenstein and Family Resemblance: An Aside

Aristotle was perhaps the original fan of logic as a discipline.  Previous philosophers had recognised logic an argument, but Aristotle was, by comparison, obsessed.  His main interest was in inductive logic, that is, given a series of events (such as the sun rising every day), then the next event can be predicted (so the sun will rise tomorrow).  This may be the type of logic that we use most, but it is of limited use.  In the example, the sun will eventually not rise one day.

Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes would solve crimes by the use of what he claimed was deductive logic.  Holmes’s method of detection was to decide between theories of how a crime was committed by eliminating the impossible theories until only one theory (no matter how improbable) was left.  This is, however, not deductive logic, but abductive logic.  One issue with this is type of logic is simply, what if there is another theory that fits the facts but which has not been considered?

Deductive logic, in its simplest form, starts with premises, that is, alleged facts and is used to argue for a third fact (providing rules are followed) or conclusion.  I say alleged as the premise may be false.  Socrates was a man and all men are mortal are facts and the conclusion that Socrates was mortal is a true conclusion.  If instead we claim that all men speak with Irish accents, we get the conclusion that Socrates spoke with an Irish accent, which is wrong.

To come to the conclusion, that is, show, that Socrates was mortal, we had to know that Socrates was a man.  This is an example of a necessary reason.  It was needed to show that he was mortal.

In this case, it is also a sufficient reason to show Socrates’s mortality.

Let’s turn to something a little more difficult.  Why are football, chess, hide-and-seek and Suduko all games, when all are so different?  Did people just attach the word game to all is there one fact about each of them that marks them out as all being games (and other activities being not games).  All have rules, but so does logic and this is not a game.  Is there one feature?  Why has no one found that one feature?

Wittgenstein is not an easy philosopher to read.  He published one book in his lifetime, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus and his students collected his lectures for another book, Philosophical Investigations.  Leaving aside, that his work was conducted to show there is no such thing as philosophy, he did make big contributions to philosophy.  I want to consider only his notion of family resemblance.

Wittgenstein looked at games and wanted to see what was the sufficient condition to show what was a game.  He realised there was not one, but there were conditions that overlapped from one distinct type of game (like a sport) to another and then to another and called this a family resemblance.

How big is the family?  As large as there is some connection, but no so large that the name given becomes meaningless; football and tennis are sports, chess, tennis and football are games, but logic is neither.

More we can now see resemblances between political creeds and religions (say) and can apply similar critiques with greater justification.  In the next post, I would like to explore authority, which is deeply embedded in (organised) religion and in most political creeds.

Non-Participation and Consent in Democracy (Part Three)

In this part, I want to consider consent.

One question has to be asked at this point, what is meant by democracy?  The first two parts just assumed that we knew what we were talking about and even gave two examples.1  Democracy is a multiply ambiguous word but, for our purposes, we can consider that democracy describes a variety of systems on a continuum and we are using democracy to cover at least a large part of this.2

In whatever way democracy is defined, it must be to do with the will of the people, or more accurately the will of a section of the people, who are entitled to vote on decisions or for representatives (called, of course, the voters, or better still as they have rights beside this, citizens).  This still gives a wide segment of the continuum, where the definition of who are the people is important as they could narrow the range of citizens quite significantly.  To go back to the first recognised modern democracy, that of Athens (from 508 BCE onwards), we have quite tight restrictions on who can be citizens [footnote: women, metics (foreign residents or freed slaves), slaves, youths and others were excluded, leaving a citizen body of about 10% of the entire population].  This does mean that the citizens were ruling over a number of people who were many times larger than they were.  This means that a vast body of people within the democracy were not giving their consent.

So to take a stab at a, to me, more congenial definition, I propose to use the Lincoln definition of “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” [footnote: Gettysburg Address from http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/gettysburg.htm] This is, of course, little better than a slogan, however inspiring it is.  There are also two different meanings to people in this short phrase as ‘by the people’ will mean the citizens, but anyone else who will be affected by the decisions of the voters and their elected representatives.  Even in the widest franchise possible, there will be those who cannot vote, such as infants, those in comas, those deemed to not be competent and those excluded as having not joined the society.

Democracy is, almost by definition, inclusive.  A democracy should be aiming to include not only current voters, but anyone else that is otherwise eligible, but currently excluded.  Taking this notion further, we can see that there is no such thing as a democracy where the citizens all give their consent and without consent, democracy loses legitimacy.  And this is where I find difficulty when I started out on this three part blog, I had thought I would at this stage show that a democracy worthy of the name would be based on the consent of its citizens and though it is and no matter how many times I have redrafted this, I have failed to show this to my satisfaction.  This is a bigger topic than I had first thought and I will return to it once I have worked out what I mean and what I think is required, but much later.

1. One is more democratic than the other; it should also be clear that the UK systems have substantial undemocratic elements – this will be looked into later.

2.  Some regimes, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo or the German Democratic Republic, were only democracies if severe damage was done to what would generally be meant by democracy.  Note that I am not an essentialist and that one word means only one concept, but neither do I think that any old meaning should be attached to a word; sometimes a meaning for a word has to be defended.

Non-Participation and Consent in Democracy (Part Two)

In the previous post, I talked about four reasons for non-participation.  These could be grouped as internally-decided and externally-decided; the distinction being those reasons decided by the actual person, even if this is not well-reasoned, are internally-decided, whilst those decided for a person by others are externally-decided.  This distinction will, of course, blur, but is still useful.  An internally-decided reason is one that comes from the free thought of a person and, as such, can be reasoned with or can persuade.

An externally-decided reason may be accepted by a person for many reasons.  It can be imposed by order or can accepted by the person as coming from a (true) authority on this matter [there will be a later post about authority, but as that is a big subject I do not want to expand too much on it here], to give two examples.  From these examples, it can be seen that this is quite dangerous.

Following the Risorgimento, a limited democratic franchise was introduced (around 1% of adult male suffrage; increased to full adult male suffrage by the early 20th century CE) and the Popes ordered Catholics not to vote.  One can think of Anarchists taking the externally-decided route, that because it is in their principles and without examining them.

Of course, persons will normally decide by both internally- and externally-decided factors.  There is a complex relationship between these factors and this could be a topic to return to later.

I will now examine three further reasons for non-participation.  Fifthly, the political party’s non-reflection of the actual view’s of the voter.  It may be the voter has no political party that reflects his/her views or that the party that comes closest has policies that the voter is against, for example, a voter may agree with many of the policies of the Scottish Green Party, but consider her/himself to be British and not wanting to vote for a separatist party.  This reason may be coupled with the third reason from Part One; instead of voting for a party, s/he is active in other societies.

Sixthly, there is the worry that a vote cast will not count or not make any difference to the outcome.  This is a reason often put forward to prevent people voting as a reason not to vote.  Clearly, one individual vote amongst thousands may not be decisive, but if sufficient supporters of one position or a party decide not to vote then that party or position will lose and an opposing position or party will triumph and perhaps will be regarded as having a sufficient mandate to rule or be implemented against majority opinion.

Seventhly (and the fourth reason may be seen as a special case of this), the voter has a lack of confidence in him/herself despite political and legal equality.  This is different from the sixth reason which is about confidence in the outcome, whereas this is about the inner confidence of the voter.  We are now into an area of positive freedom.  Supporters of pure negative freedom could claim that anyone and everyone has full political and legal rights and it is up to them to exercise them and, if they do not, that is their issue alone.  Part of my reply that democracy is a social system intended for the benefit of all (that is, not just all the enfranchised, but save that for a later post) and that anyone entitled to vote should be encouraged to do so and part of that encouragement is to find out why not.  As stated, this is because of lack of confidence and this lack of confidence will be from poor education.  This is, admittedly,  rather a sweeping statement; there may be other elements but a lack of confidence for most people will be from their education where they have not been encouraged to see themselves for what they are, that is, the rulers of their society, which they must be if democracy is to be more than endorsement of other people’s rule, that is, where democracy is merely a formal process open to the anarchist’s criticism, that the citizen of a democracy is merely voting to take part in his/her own oppression.

Another part of my answer is legitimacy for a democratic system is through consent.  Consent will form the main subject of  Part 3.

 

Government of the people, by the people, for the people.

Non-Participation and Consent in Democracy (Part One)

One of the most disturbing aspects of democracy for committed democrats (like myself) is the low participation, at least in the official participation known as an election.  Take, for example, the recent Scottish Parliamentary elections, where SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon claimed that “[t]he result of the election was emphatic…we won a clear and unequivocal mandate.”1  The SNP had won just less than half the seats and had attracted  44.1% of the votes cast from a voter turnout of 55.7%. Now this is considered a good turnout (the Westminster turnout is higher; 66.1% for the UK as a whole; 77.1% for Scotland) and the percentage voting for the winning party being 36.9% giving the Conservative and Unionist Party over 50% of the seats3.  These are usually regarded as good turnouts.

A few observations can be made and I shall attend to only a few of those.  In the Westminster election, you do not need very many voters to give a political party power.  This does not seem at all democratic.  The Holyrood system gives a better reflection of the wishes of the electorate, but still the political party in power has less than half of the votes of the entire franchise.  I shall return to this issue of lack of legitimacy due to low support for both ruling party and representative democracy later.  For now, the issue to look at is non-participation.

Without a survey of the non-participants (some of whom may actually turn out to be the most important non-participants as their views may suggest the way forward), I shall suggest at this time four reasons.

Firstly, the person is an Anarchist and will not vote as s/he perceives this is against his/her principles.

Secondly, the person is in a (usually religious) movement that forbids voting (either explicitly or implicitly).

Thirdly, the person is actually politically active in various movements, such as wildlife societies and considers that s/he is carrying out his/rights and duties towards society in an adequate manner.

Fourthly, discrimination.  Just because one has the vote does not mean that one is regarded as a free and equal citizen by others and this may discourage one from voting.

 

1 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-36230416

2 statistics from http://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/CBP-7599

3 statistics from http://www.ukpolitical.info/Turnout45.html

 

Multiculturism

There seems to be two main definitions of multiculturism and both get confused with one another.  There is one definition where the ‘quirks’ and accidents of culture should be mainly tolerated as long as that culture does no harm to persons and other cultures (which I agree with – toleration here does not preclude criticism).

The other definition is that the individual person is subsumed within their culture (whether they chose their culture or not) and that no-one can interfere with the culture’s claim over the individual.  In practice this means that the powerful members of the hierarchy of the culture get to impose their prejudices and that any criticism is seen as intolerant.  Difficult to choose examples despite their abundance as the holders of this second view will see it as an attack on their culture (and I expect they genuinely believe it to be so.

I would urge support of the first view and just disgust at the second.

It is two years since I [posted the above, so high time to post something again.  My imnterest is in Political and Social Philosophy and this will now form the basis of this blog, with excursions into politics (note the small p) and into othet areas of philosophy.  My intention is one blog per week or more.