Re: UPL: The myth of we

Robert J. Bradbury (
Sat, 4 Dec 1999 06:47:48 -0800 (PST)

On Fri, 3 Dec 1999, Robert Owen wrote:

> I wrote:
> > Once an individual or group gets a distinct technology or numbers
> > advantage, then yes, we do seem to have a bad habit of falling
> > back on violence.
> Lebensraum. If I understand you correctly, Robert, then I emphatically
> agree that "gratuitous homicide" is the exception rather than the rule.

This seems true to me. I would be hard pressed to think of a situation in which I would resort to violence unless my survival were threatened. But on the other hand, if you told me I could kill you and take all your property and have to pay no penalties for this (other than wrestling with my guilty conscience) then I might begin to entertain such thoughts. Interestingly enough if there is *no* possibility of penalties (i.e. the golden rule gets exempted), then it would only be rational for me to kill you if you happen to have more resources at your disposal than I do. In fact it is rational to kill you up until the point that the benefits that I derive from doing so become less than the effort that it takes to do so. Interesting that a "rational" argument can result in immoral actions if you eliminate the self-interest of being treated morally.

If we look at the examples of gay or race bashing they almost always involve a majority ganging up on a minority. Three white men tying a black man to the back of a truck and dragging him to death??? Sounds like both a numbers and a technology advantage (or at least technology that distances you from actually getting your hands dirty). What was irrational here was whatever pursuaded them to think they would get away with it.

> The problem is, if we think "national" morality is a scandal, this is nothing
> compared to "international" morality. It is curious how a species as
> apparently intelligent as ourselves has been so impotent in translating
> ordinary village civility into intercivility with respect to the relations of
> putatively civilized political entities.

Yep, if you can make them "aliens" (whether they be Iraqis or cattle) then the barriers to killing them seem to fall quite rapidly. Presumably this is due to our omnivore heritage where if there weren't enough edible plants around, we ate meat to survive. There is even an argument (I'm not sure how well founded), that access to high density energy sources (such as bone marrow) was a requirement for a high energy consumption brain to evolve.

> "Territoriality" seems to confer a civil waiver on competitors; even
> "gratuitous homicide", based entirely on indulgence in sadomasochistic
> anal wishes, is permitted with discretion by military officers because
> of its power to intimidate (or "terrorize").

I think psychologically, it has something to do with self-security concepts. If you grew up with a fair amount of freedom and control over your local environment you have that as a foundation and probably don't have a very high need to expand the sphere. If you did not have much freedom and had little control over your local environment then you probably do feel a need to extend your control outward from yourself (developing a safety buffer). I think the bottom line is the degree to which you feel your security threatened by things you do not control. If you abstract this theory up to interactions between countries then I think it explains much of what we observe.

The problem in Seattle isn't going to go away just because the WTO meeting is finished. It is only going to be resolved with the citizens and local government officials come to a better understanding of how much "control" each is willing to accept from the other.

My general impression is that many businesses and individuals do not believe that whatever benefits we had from hosting the meeting pale in comparison to the costs.