Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Let's cut the bullshit and start some serious debate shall we?

I'm sick to death of the partisan bollocks spewing forth from the usual cabal of out-of-touch opinion creators, both left and right, regarding the causes of the riots.  Actual reasoned analysis is thin on the ground, little diamonds in a sea of bile, ignorance and cliche.

This is a question of morality.

I have yet to see a philosopher interviewed on the subject.

Moral regard is determined by who and what you identify with, which is itself comprised of the culture through which one grows up. A large number of youths clearly have no moral regard for the police or for their communities.  Ergo, we can deduce that a situation has developed whereby large numbers of youths are growing up devoid of the kind of influences that generate shared cultural identity.  This is clearly evident; conforming cultural appearance (as suits are to businessmen), a shared dialect (much like that shared between politicians and the business world, not a coincidence and yes, the same applies regarding the moral concern...) etc; natural examples of divergent cultural evolution of separated groups (just like genetic evolution does).  This has made them so alien to the rich and powerful that they have zero chance of making it, no point in aspiration and through no fault of their own.  It is a mighty rare person who can buck the human instinct to conform in groups... do we then demand it of those who have the least instead of addressing the real causes?  Who has created the walls? Who has caused the segregation in the first place? Why is there such a huge gulf of worlds between the haves and have-nots?

There are no jobs. That's where most of us are forced to mix, forced to expand our moral concern by taking in structure, responsibility, exposure to people you would never normally mix with. What jobs there are do not pay enough, not to deal with the sheer volume of advertising generating needs and desires through a process of saturation (and now smart) bombing.  Whereas before one person could work and still happily sustain a family, now both parents (where there are two...) have to work just to survive, members of the ever growing working poor. There are no pools, there are no clubs, there is no chance of ever buying a house, ever going to university. There is nothing but corruption in their eyes, foolishly looking directly at the Sun much too often; the greed and dishonesty of the haves (politician's expenses, Ian Tomlinson, phone tapping, bailouts) acting as convincing rationales for simply doing whatever they want to do.  And why shouldn't they?  They have no moral concern for us. Imagine if the Right's dreams came true, and all the people on benefits suddenly worked really hard, doing everything they possibly could to get ahead. What would change? Nothing, except they'd look like chumps instead of scroungers.

Yet despite this, they still have to be seen to be responsible even if they are victims of the system (in the same way that we have to assume free will, even if science tells us it aint so).  Those kids have had little choice over their lives - that responsibility falls on the parents.  Unfortunately they may be just as excluded has the youth. Either way, society progresses with the aid of law and justice, and in this case restorative justice HAS to be the way to go. Until these youth are forced to face their victims, until they are forced to spend time working in the communities they trashed, how will they gain the experiences to help them break out of this limited group identity?

It isn't a choice between "It's poverty, leave them alone!" and "use live ammunition, that'll teach the bastards!". Criminality isn't some ontological entity, some insidious cloud that infects people... it has a cause like everything else in existence.  Neither is it a question of a bad soul which can be redeemed if broken first.  It is a reaction; a reflection of parts of society that our leaders are blind to; a warning sign of severe cognitive dissonance.  These youths and Politicians Inc are more alike than they realise:  both are closed systems and both have moral regard for their own groups first and foremost.  Society at large needs to realise this, because I fear the former will not be saved until we deal with the latter.


Aiyah said...

Please click to read my response:

Matthew Dickinson said...

I'm not sure we know enough about the psychology of morality to say that it is based on cultural identity or parents. I'm not denying it, but to my knowledge we don't have the evidence, and human behaviour is often far more counter-intuitive that we expect. If the evidence is there you should reference it.
We also don't yet know enough about the rioters to say what they have and don't have (jobs, good parenting etc). I've heard of university students being arrested (
I wouldn't interview (only) a moral philosopher, I'd interview a sociologist, psychologist or neuroscientist who has some data.

I completely agree that it has a cause, I've been comparing the riots of a hurricane: like the weather it's a complex system and we may never fully tease out the causes, but that doesn't mean we should take seriously wild speculation, any more than we should take seriously claims hurricanes are caused by god seeking justice for sins.

Matt Dickinson (of SITP Norwich)

Angela de Prairie said...
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Ben King said...

I'm going to take a get-out here that you may not like Matthew... philosophy may need to use scientific evidence, but only so far as to give weight to speculation. Very little philosophy, perhaps logic aside, deals with proofs.

I've written extensively about the root of morality here: I wont go into it here because it would take far too long, but if you have the time, it combines Dawkins, Blackmore, Pierre Levi, Michael Hardt & Antonio Negri among others to build an original theory of the emergent properties of this complex system we call society (i.e History, Civilisation).

I agree we cannot hope to find individual causes. Complex systems are chaotic, only the emergent properties can be studied (as described in the book 'Compelexity', i forget by whom). I don't seek to simplify to the point of innaccuracy, merely describe at a scale above that of the individual.

Aiyah - What you describe is what is called the 'Hard problem' of philosophy of the self, as coined by Chambers. I am of the camp that claim there is no hard problem, and that the 'something' you mention above and beyond our material body/brain does not exist, indeed it's only case for existence comes from phenomenology with no physical evidence to speak of. Science has shown time and again that action potentials in the brain preceed conscious thought, so who is this self if not your thought?

In terms of morality, it is my belief that the judeo-christian concept of the self betrays a much harsher moral code than that which arises from there being no soul. A true self means responsibility is solely placed upon that individual, with the absolutist judgement that can bring. It allows society to externalise their own responsibility by deciding someone is simply evil say. With the concept of identity created by culture, responsibility is placed on all of us in recognition of our capability to impact and change other minds.

Matthew Dickinson said...

Ben, I do agree with a lot (the vast majority) of what you say in your post in memes and culture. I myself have come to many of the same conclusions, about the emerging self and emerging culture, and concerns, about how the modern world especially of the Western model redirect these emerging phenomena.
Perhaps it is unreasonable of me to suggest you re-iterate all this in your riot post. It would indeed be simplified. Maybe you could link to old posts in the future?

I wouldn't want to diminish philosophy, although I am on the whole in agreement with Sam Harris' Moral Landscape about the role of science in morality. Nonetheless I worry philosophy can be used to justify beliefs and biases and whilst the same can be true for evidence (scientific, historical, statistical etc etc) it's much easier to be caught out when doing that.

So in conclusion I wasn't disagreement with what you say but how you laid it out here. Apologies if it's unreasonable in this format, only so much time and space can be afforded blogs, but I hope you take it as constructive criticism.
Thanks for taking the time to reply.

Ben King said...

No worries, indeed I do. I have no issues with Sam Harris regarding morality on the whole but, as you say, we aren't exactly advanced enough to make firm conclusions at the moment. Until then, philosophy definitely has a role to play, and will continue to do so by way of communicating science in meaningful ways.

Would you suggest we simply wait it out, until we have more evidence? Philosophy plays a vital role in a global culture that is on the whole scientifically illiterate. It will be philosophy (including of science), influenced by scientific advance, that will ultimately have greater influence, over the greatest number, the soonest I feel.

Don't rule out subjectivity. I've a feeling the greatest objectivity we will ever know will be the emergent property of the equal coming together of each and every subjectivity.

Matthew Dickinson said...

Ooh, well you're touching on Robert Pirsig ground there with the meshing of subjectivity and objectivity. I have no problem with subjectivity, but if one shares one's subjectivity with the world (and I'm thinking facebook and twitter comments rather than your blog) then one has to acknowledge and accept the limitations of that subjectivity.

As do politicians and policy makers when philosophising on issues while waiting until we have more information. The wait is a problem I've spotted it with Sam Harris' and my own thoughts, it's also a problem in things such as climate change research. Again it's acknowledging limitations, lack of knowledge and degree of certainly that is so integral to science that I'd like to see in other areas of life. I would love politicians to explicitly state 'Here's what we propose until we have more evidence, then we'll alter our actions accordingly' perhaps they do in fact this without announcing it, but in that case it's a poor role model.

While we're talking about politicians, evidence and counter-intuitiveness here's an appropriate study

Matthew Dickinson said...

Having slept on and had time to ponder on your identity/cultural evolution essay and our exchanges, here's some further thoughts, in no particular order.

On the interaction between the 3 identities this is an informative study that basically shows when primed with religious thoughts people are less brand conscicous. It's 41 pages, so maybe just the abstract?

When you talk about 'Revolutions are like earthquakes that erupt into violence when the tension builds too high', do you think the riots in England and elsewhere are the start of that? Do the rioters really represent the 'information generation'? I'm not saying they don't, I'm saying I really don't know.

Your concluding paragraph 'I've thought about this everyday for the last 3 years...' is one I feel I could have written myself based on my reading of philosophy, science and religious texts since I graduated in 2008. We are very much on the same page, although the identity theory and history angle is what was missing in my framework. I still however am always wary of being too convinced by and accepting any framework, as humans are supremely good at fitting evidence into the one they choose. My original criticisms in my first post were based on this.

I guess in my last post above I'm calling for politicians of the 'Fourth Identity', which may be too soon, but let's hope more call for them!

Ben King said...

I do think it is the start of something big. I genuinely think that in 100 years time, we will reflect on this time in the West as the later half of the enlightenment period, the commercial half rather than the stateist one. All our institutions, all our politics, is still firmly rooted in enlightenment terms and concepts, some hundreds of years old. These concepts are born from a time pre-globalisation, leading to the growth of some serious dissidence.

Think of how the social contract theory of democracy, being intrinsically nationalistic (morally correct at the time given the largely national boundaries of culture and language - and therefore populations identity and morality) has justified state backing to corporations to not include people of the developing world into their moral framework. Now that we as a people are coming to know them, that sets up a fundemental contradiction in the very fabric of western democracy.

Matthew Dickinson said...

I can only be cliched and say '"Knowledge is power"'

Ben King said...

The creation of knowledge is power ;)


Might the West have their own equivalent to the so-called Arab Spring?

There IS something in the difference between identifying with a materialist culture of corporate consumerism and spiritual transcendentalism of religiosity...

From the wealth of the elite's progeny to educational and postal workers, not all the looters were unemployed. Might such discontent lie within the lack of ETHICAL, not necessarily moral, responsibility represented by the media spectacles of which the Murdoch hearing exemplifies? Without a media of cogent, not necessarily coherent, analysis we are condemned to the static of this sisyphean interactive white noise.

Clueless people fucking tweet, blog and facebook like all those elite, wealthy others with their vested interests, whose commentary and opinion is valid, because there is an affiliation to some 'institute'. This is no exception.

Until then, without such ethical responsibility.


Angela de Prairie said...
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Ben King said...

I sympathise with your point. I don't doubt that the elite moral framework is so set that without it, they will not have cause to question their own assumptions.

I don't 100% condemn political violence, I can't; not when it is clear that it is an emergent response to the way the system functions. That said, we are not ready to ditch law... that would be skipping forward in evolution, with the result of going backward, a swing the other way to greater authoritarianism. For us as a species to progress however, feedback and repercussions for uncivil behaviour must be maintained (though the way they are doing it now fucking stinks)

When society progresses morally beyond the system that governs them, there will always be a range of responses... art, violence, non-violence resistance... all with a part to play. To say otherwise is to ignore History.

Ben King said...

oh, and regarding the western arab spring... yes there will be, without a doubt. It will be mainly the young, skeptical, refusing ideology of left or right, able to take issues case-by-case and able to use technology to create dissonance like you have never seen.