Re: virus: Socrates

Tue, 04 May 1999 12:28:11 -0700

Reed Konsler wrote:

> >Another way of looking at the role that rules and rule makers play in our
> >lives is that we have been collectively frightened into accepting a
> >largely arbitrary set of constraints and the capricious exercise of power
> >by the "legitimate authorities" as the only workable defense against the
> >rapacious and amoral appetites of our neighbors.
> You make it sound so negative.

When you focus on rules as memes, i.e. patterns which propagate without regard to the happiness, growth, or well-being of the people subject to them, then I would hope that you too would see this state of affairs as one in need of reform. I CAN get into a frame of mind where I can see the CAPRICIOUS exercise of power in a positive light, but in that frame of mind, the Holocaust is a good thing in that it provides a valuable lessen about the dangers of demagoguery and complicity.

Capricious \Ca*pri"cious\, a. [Cf. F. capricleux, It.

                         capriccioso.] Governed or characterized by caprice;
                         to change suddenly; freakish; whimsical; changeable.
                         ``Capricious poet.'' --Shak. ``Capricious humor.''
                         --Hugh Miller.

                         A capricious partiality to the Romish practices.

                         Syn: Freakish; whimsical; fanciful; fickle;
                         fitful; wayward; changeable; unsteady; uncertain;
                         inconstant; arbitrary. -- Ca*pri"cious*ly, adv. --
                         Ca*pri"cious*ness, n.

> My belief is that personal freedom cannot grow beyond personal
> responsibility. The more people that learn to be fully accountable
> for their lives, the more freedom each of us can enjoy and the
> more fulfilling all of our lives will be.

Agreed and amen.

> It's unfortunate that we
> live under a system of laws targeted towards the median, or
> perhaps even the lowest common denominator, of personal
> accountability.

To say that something is "unfortunate" has, to my ears, the ring of fatality to it. The "nurse-maid" society may be the current state of the nation, but it's not "just the way it is." It's something that can and will be changed.

> On the other hand, how many of us really have the courage to
> stand by our convictions when the authorities come knocking
> on our door? Not many. Foucault, I think, made it very clear
> that there is not enough true physical force available to
> "legitimate authorities" to oppress the citizenry. Instead, the
> law relies upon each citizen being infected with the rules. We
> have been so well indocrinated that we watch ourselves and
> each other. It is that social pressure, and not real physical
> oppression, that keeps us in line.

"The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor, is the mind of the oppressed."

-Steve Biko

> >> Most of the rules we live by aren't of our own
> >> design, and few are ever explained to us.
> >
> >Many of them could not withstand informed scrutiny and have no convincing
> >explanation. Many rules long outlast the set of conditions that made them
> >seem useful or even necessary in the first place. All too frequently, the
> >supposed conditions that necessitated a new restriction on our freedom
> >never actually obtained but were enacted for the benefit of a privileged
> >few and sold to the many with horror stories that exploited pre-existing
> >prejudices and insecurities.
> I agree with that, except that I think the "privileged few" sounds
> a little too conspiratorial.

What a boon for conspirators that any mention of conspiracy is instantly dismissed in our hippness as paranoid delusion. I've conspired with others and used the limited influence at my disposal to bring various social processes to conclusions that I judged to be more in line with my perception of my interests than the other likely potential outcomes.

> From a memetic perspective, the rules and
> laws persist becuase they complement common fears and prejudices.

So, taking the memetic approach, I propose to identify the fears, prejudices, presuppositions, and outright lies that support bad law and enable the capricious exercise of authority and, once identified, undermine them.

I've already agreed with you on this point, but it's a good point, so I'll reiterate it: personal autonomy goes hand in hand with personal responsibility. We're together on that, Reed.

> Certianly some were "engineered" for machivellian ends. But I think
> the majority of laws and social mores have been enacted by well meaning
> people.

"Well-meaning" to the extent that those who restrict our freedom in order to save us from ourselves believe their own bullshit. Do you think the lawmakers who, in the immediate wake of the Littleton shootings, rushed to draft legislation restricting minors' access to various forms of media and announce their bold initiatives in self-aggrandizing press conferences were "well meaning?" If so, what slack should we cut to "well meaning" abusers of official power? Should we be any more tolerant of destructive behavior when we think the the perpetrator is "well meaning?"

My last question rings of "tough talk," so let me add that I advocate being tolerant of people and viewing their behavior through a lens of empathy and compassion, but when their BEHAVIOR constitutes an assault on my autonomy, the fact that the perpetrator believes his own bullshit is no reason to give him carte blanche to oppress.

> That doesn't mean I like the rules or think they are the best
> we could have. But everyone has fears, prejudices, and principles and
> everyone uses the best logic and rhetoric they can to convey their
> message.

So what? That's just saying that they're good at laying it on thick. I don't care how skillfully they can employ logic and rhetoric to sell their agendas. I'd be far happier believing that they use the best reasoning of which they are capable in the SELECTION/CREATION of their message.