Re: SOC/BIO/POL: International Forum on Globalization conference

Date: Sat Feb 17 2001 - 09:22:09 MST

In a message dated 2/7/01 3:23:25 PM Central Standard Time, writes:

> I agree with Greg that if you want to win an argument, you must understand
> the opponent's position as clearly as you understand your own. I'd say you
> must do more than figure out how they're effective at organizing and
> their message out; you must also understand the rational points in favor of
> their arguments. You have to look at the situation from the opponent's
> of view and predict how they'll counter every point you'll make. At the
> time you're collecting data to support your own position, you have to look
> just as diligently for data that supports the opponent's position. If
> they're good, they're going to hit you with that data, and it's a lot
> to know about it in advance than to be taken by surprise.

Right, Barbara, which is one problem with the nature of discussion about
issues that greens and other anti-progressives have co-opted in the public
discourse: They have become subjects of "activism", which is inherently
polemical and adversarial. By no later than 1980 or so, people who saw
questions of human interaction with the natural environment as inherently
political had begun to shape the cultural milieu in which they were discussed
in terms of "pro" and "anti".

It would be GREAT if we could unwind this polemical dialectic, and I'm wide
open to suggestions of how to do it. I think you're right that always
looking hard at FACTS, is a way to do this, but it's equally important to
work the rhetoric "downward" to first principles and moral assumptions. This
is one reason that I've become increasingly interested in the more "radical"
elements of the green movement, because they have been willing to follow
their thinking to first principles. And those principles - when unmasked for
what they really are - can be seen to be "anti-humane" and thoroughly
inconsistent with many values held dear by a wide spectrum of people.

> I would add that most people don't know how to think logically--we've
> recently discussed this in the thread having to do with education. If
> missed that, I'd suggest especially reading what Samantha had to say about
> the difference between IQ and thinking.

I wish I could be hopeful on this point, but I do not see any increase in
rationality or critical thinking in our society at large or in the media
streams that influence it. Rather, I see the on-going process of translation
of ideas and values into ideology, which in turn spawns simple cultural
icons, sloganeering and manipulative polemics.

As is usually the case, I look back to history as a guide to how things might
develop in the future and how we might better communicate our ideas and
values. Thinking back to the time since the Renaissance, I see three major
ideological or cultural conflicts that have taken place in the West. These
are (1) the religious conflict following the Reformation, (2) the conflicts
between pre-modern political systems on the one hand and the democratic and
republican political ideas spawned and cultivated in the Enlightenment on the
other, and (3) the conflict between communitarian and
capitalistic/individualistic political and economic systems. In each of
these, there have been periods and regions of intense polarization,
characterized by violence and repression, and there have also been times and
places where the tension between two ultimately inconsistent world-views or
value and idea systems managed to coexist in relative peace, while still
fueling struggle for ultimate cultural primacy.

The conflict between the green/luddite cultural movement and the ideals and
values of technological progressives promises to be the Next Big Divide in
the West, not least because the influential thinkers driving the ideological
formulations of the former tend to cast the issues in terms of conflict and
absolutes, just as those who drove the previous cultural divides did. In
16th and 17th Century Europe, there was no middle ground between Papism and
Protestantism: The nature of the issues involved forced every individual,
social institution and political entity to "choose sides". Although there
were certainly many bloody examples of similar pressure to extremism in the
other two "great divides" identified above, there were also many examples of
relatively peaceful transitions and multiple pathways of adoption and
adaptation among individuals, institutions and whole societies, as well as
whole areas of human experience that weren't forced into identification with
one side or the other of the ideological dialectic. One of my partners who
used to be a political science professor calls instances of the latter
examples of "cross-cutting cleavages", i.e. situations in which people and
institutions have interests on both or multiple sides of a number of issues.

So far, it looks like the luddite/progress divide will also be one of
cross-cutting cleavages within particular societies, and one in which some
societies tend more toward one extreme or the other. Right now, the clearest
examples of this latter tendency toward "partial polarization" is the
developing distinction between Europe and the US. The process bears close
scrutiny and analysis, to see if the kind of mixed interests that most
individuals and institutions have will keep the conflict between the two
ideologies from further polarization.

> Greg says:
> >... you have a deck that is stacked decidedly against rational development
> of
> > science and technology policy.
> > the history of the last 250 years in the West has proven,
> > technological business enterprises produce tangible results in an
> > extremely
> > efficient manner that many people want and will pay for.
> I think this is the answer. Most people WANT the benefits of technology:
> lights, heating, power tools and appliances, cars, abundant food, medical
> care, youthful bodies, and so forth.

Which is the primary reason that the more radical formulations of the
anti-technology and anti-science crowd have found such a small audience so

> Most people can't think for themselves, but they can usually follow a line
> of reasoning if it's set forth step by step. And the anti-tech people have
> been doing this for years.
> In order to make a rational counter argument, one must acknowledge that
> of what the anti-tech people say is true. Not to do so makes you look like
> you're either stupid or a liar. Quality of life HAS deteriorated because of
> air and water pollution and the paving over of vast amounts of land. Whole
> species ARE dying off. Agriculture IS being practiced in a way that has
> destroyed and continues to destroy top soil at an alarming rate--you can
> this for yourself simply by going out into a cultivated field and picking
> the cement-like clods almost entirely devoid of organic matter--and you're
> not thinking things through if you counter that by saying that hydroponics
> or nanotechnology will solve the problem. Along with loss of biological
> diversity, there HAS been great loss of cultural diversity and great loss
> economic diversity as well. The global economy HAS killed off small
> manufacturing businesses by the thousands. These particular things the
> "luddites" say are TRUE.

There is truth in all these things - but I suggest that one reason for the
kind of polarization I describe in historical terms above is the tendency of
the greens to speak of these things as "true" in some absolute,
decontextualized sense. Increases in the total level of some pollutants on a
global scale is not discussed in light of the significant decreases in
pollution that have been implemented with recent technological innovations.
Current climate change isn't discussed in connection with the equally
well-established fact that there have been wide swings in climate during
recorded history, and much greater ones in the recent biological past of our
species and its immediate progenitors. Likewise with episodes of species

I am not suggesting that the counterbalancing facts I mention above somehow
serve as some kind of complete moral absolution for current trends in
technological development. However, it is true that if one looks at the
rhetoric of green and luddite ideologues, one sees an almost complete absence
of weighing of costs and benefits. The light is shown entirely on the cost
side of the ledger. The irony is that the greens and luddites feel they are
justified in such polemics because, in their view, the "benefit" side of the
equation gets far too much attention in Western societies.
> What is NOT true is that technology per se is to blame for the current
> of the world. The way to counter the argument that technology is bad is to
> show people that there are ways of having the good without such a huge
> amount of bad. One of the best ways to do this is through stories where you
> can show people concrete examples of how different social systems work.
> Again you come up against the separation of the sciences and the arts. Most
> mainstream movies and novels I've come across lately seem to dwell on the
> dangers of technology. Popular song lyrics are mostly pessimistic.

Right. This is the front of cultural phenomena that concerns me more than
any other. The dystopian, negative view of science and technology has
somehow become the accepted foundation of just about every "mainstream"
consideration of these things. For instance, at this point it seems
inconceivable that someone would fund the production of a major Hollywood
movie in which science or technology was portrayed in a positive light, much
less as a tool to be affirmatively grasped to solve human problems.
> >...a Carl Sagan seems to come along all
> > too rarely.
> OTOH, long as you're still alive, it's never too late to start learning
> communications skills.

Amen, sister!
> > The simple facts are that the kinds of people who are drawn into
> > scientific
> > and technical fields tend to be TERRIBLE communicators in the way
> > needed to
> > have an impact on the culture at large.
> I wonder why this is. Wish we could talk about this on the list and figure
> it out. It hasn't always been so.

I think it's one of the most important mandates of Extropy Institute to
explore that question and develop tools to counter the problem.

> > Even getting the people who could afford to fund the grooming of good
> > spokespeople to recognize the need seems to be an uphill task.
> This is something the people on this list could begin to remedy
> Beginning with each person funding their own grooming (funding in terms of
> time as well as money).

Again, amen, and I hope to write more about that this weekend.

       Greg Burch <>----<>
      Attorney ::: Vice President, Extropy Institute ::: Wilderness Guide -or-
                                           ICQ # 61112550
        "We never stop investigating. We are never satisfied that we know
        enough to get by. Every question we answer leads on to another
       question. This has become the greatest survival trick of our species."
                                          -- Desmond Morris

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