virus: Socrates

Reed Konsler (
Wed, 5 May 1999 11:51:36 -0400

>Date: Tue, 04 May 1999 12:28:11 -0700
>From: KMO <>
>Subject: Re: virus: Socrates
>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.

This is what I mean by rhetoric. There is a large gulf between exercise of power, even "capricious" exercise of power, and genocide. The discussion might be more informative if we didn't make such extreme statements. It depends, are you're interested in talking about it, or in making your point as forcefully as possible?

I think the present state of affairs will be in continious need of reform. I'm a scientist, I don't believe in absolute and final truth. We need to tinker and think about it. But, the present state is better than a lot of other possible states. There is nothing more capricious than rapid, revolutionary change. A proper understanding would involve a dispassionate assesment of the advantages and disadvantages of our state.

Of course, to really evaluate that we would have to know what the purpose of the state was. I think most arguments are about purpose, implictly anyway.

>> 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.

But perhaps not by changing the rules? Wouldn't it be as effective to raise the median personal responsibility?

>"The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor, is the mind of the
> -Steve Biko

>> 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.

I think conspiracy thinking is a subset of "us vs. them". I'm not arguing that it isn't true in some cases, I'm saying that I don't think it's an effective
way to approach change. It doesn't focus the mind on "win/win" solutions.

>> 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.

Agreed. That would be an educational approach. The more people that are aware of their state and able to think about reasonable alternatives, the faster bad laws will erode.

>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

Yes. Look, there is a difference between well meaning and well informed. The wonderful thing about this country is that there are avenues of protest and negotiation. Debate on these issues is far from over.

>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?"

Slack for all! But, we shouldn't be tolerant of ideas we disagree with. I question your use of the word "abuse". It is the purpose of law makers to enact law. Stop signs restrict freedom of movement, but I presume stop signs aren't "bad". Except for that one in the middle of nowhere.

>> 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.

I hope the best for myself as well.


  Reed Konsler