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The world is actually the best it has ever been. Lower violence, higher quality of life, less war and conflict, more time to focus towards self fulfillment instead of needing to worry about survival.
You should check out Better Angels of Our Nature.
We're less cruel to each other than we've ever been, or at least we're constantly trending toward less violence, but we're pretty fucking terrible to the rest of the animal kingdom.
I recommend this book:
> Violence and Crime today are due to depriving people of our Christian values on respecting life.
Which would be a good argument if violence and crime weren't way down overall globally. We live in the safest era to live in ever.
Steven Pinker provides a huge amount of evidence to support this in his excellent book The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence has Declined.
It is also worth noting that the most violent countries in the world (excluding places that are actively at war) are almost universally Christian. If you sort the list of murder rates by country by rate descending, you will see that there is not a single country in the top 20 that is not majority Christian. And in fact, most of the countries at the top of the list have pretty high religiosity.
His book The Better Angels of Our Nature changed my life, and my entire outlook on the world. I've given away 4-5 copies since then, and I encourage everyone to read it. I also loved The Blank Slate. About to start his new book, Enlightenment Now.
I reread your question and realized my earlier response (now deleted if you hadn't already seen it) was not really suitable. Some of your questions aren't really relevant to the book, so I will try to respond.
> Does that mean we are doing well in terms of evolution? The comparison with a strain of bacteria in a petri-dish comes to mind. It will keep growing until it drowns in its own waste.
This question really is answered directly in the book, and really is the core topic of the book. Yes, we are doing very well.
> Again, does that make us a evolutionary succes?
Absolutely. We are the dominant species on the planet, so obviously we are a success.
That doesn't mean we will always remain so. The dinosaurs were also dominant before they weren't.
> I think "the world" was in a far better shape when we were still hunter-gatherers if I use above mentioned criteria.
Sure. But the hunters and gatherers had an average life expectancy of like 30 years, a substantial portion of children died in their first 5 years, etc. Did you realize that just 100 years ago, a woman had a higher probability of dying during childbirth than a woman who has breast cancer does today?
It's really easy to romanticize "the good old days", but you have to consider the bad parts, too.
And yes, "the world" was arguably better then. It would also probably be better if we never evolved at all. But that doesn't do us much good, does it?
Like I said in an earlier message, we can't really focus on what could have been. We are where we are, so we play the hand we were dealt.
> Honestly, I wasn't aware of that and, if true, was exactly does that mean for our evolution?
We have not had a major war between world powers since the Korean War. That is a huge gap in historical context. Historically, war was much closer to the norm than the exception. I posted a couple graphs and short excerpts from EN to illustrate the point.
Even the relatively small scale wars since then have been getting consistently smaller since then. That isn't to say that there aren't the occasional bad civil war, like we are seeing in Syria right now, but those used to be far more common.
I won't spoil the book, but he goes into a lot of detail on why this is the case in the book, and his earlier book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence has Declined is a massive and also outstanding study of the topic in detail.
> I'm still not convinced that our intelligence is beneficial nor that it's detrimental.
This is a poorly conceived concept I think. Let me see if I can explain why.
Intelligence is just a tool. Like all tools, it can be used for good and bad.
Few people would argue that knives aren't good. We could not really live our modern lives without them. Yet they can be used to murder people, and indirectly be used to crash an airplane into buildings. But that doesn't mean that knives are "detrimental."
So yes, our intelligence can cause us harm, but we can't call it "detrimental" unless we ignore an awful lot that makes them positive.
And really, I think the whole question is misguided. Do we really care if the earth would have been a better place if we did not have intelligence? Personally, I couldn't care less. That isn't me being a heartless anti-environmentalist, I just think that there are real problems that we face, so why worry about hypotheticals?
There are probably trillions of other planets in our universe, the vast majority of which did not have intelligent species evolve on them, so there is no shortage of untouched nature in the universe.
> But, as you said earlier, we have to play the hand we're dealt and I would add that education in the rules and strategies make a better game.
That is actually a decent analogy for what Pinker is arguing for. It's a bit of a stretch, but not too far off.
>> However, I would add that no other species has the capacity to be as deliberately and calculatingly and needlessly cruel as some humans demonstrably are. [new emphasis added]
> Animals do routinely engage in needlessly cruel actions.
Yes. I agree. I would point out that I used AND between the three negatives in mine. Needlessly, sometimes. Deliberately AND calculatingly AND needlessly, nope.
> For instance many carnivores eat their prey alive when they could easily kill the prey first.
Actually, it's not always so easy. Have you seen a lion kill a buffalo?
But, still, even if needlessly and callously, definitely not deliberately and calculatingly cruel.
> The dog that is kicked by one black person then being agressive toward all future black people it encounters. I assume this type of behaviour extends into animals in the wild - the adult lion ripping up small non-threatening non-prey carnivores that traumatized it as a cub.
I am not aware of this. Note that your story starts with a person who kicked a dog.
> This may be an example of proto calculating/deliberate cruelty.
Perhaps. I don't know of such cases, so can't really say.
> It would be reasonable to expect proto forms of some of these bad human behaviours to be exhbited in other animals. I think we should be aware of drawing too sharp of a division between human and animals (both for positive or negative behaviours.)
>> A rat wouldn't shock another rat that way. ...
> Attributing empathy and compassion to this behaviour is difficult I think, but it may represent a type of behaviour that empathy developed from.
Actually, I'm pretty sure that the test was specifically designed to test whether empathy exists in other species. What else could explain this behavior? At its most basic, the behavior in the test required that rat one recognize and empathize with the pain being caused in rat two. Else, why would rat one not continue to press the lever for his/her own food?
> It would make sense, evolutionarily-speaking, for suffering in one's fellow to automatically induce anxiety in oneself. If your fellow starts abruptly showing signs of suffering, there is a reasonable chance that the conditions/situation leading to that suffering may also be posing an immediate threat to you too. Ceasing to push the lever appears to remove this threat to onself. So I think the motivation for not pressing the lever here might reasonably be explained as entirely self-interested, and based upon self-preservation, with no concern for the fellow rat.
I'm not going to agree or disagree with this assessment other than to say that recognizing the suffering in another is the definition of empathy.
> empathy noun
> 1. the psychological identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.
> 2. the imaginative ascribing to an object, as a natural object or work of art, feelings or attitudes present in oneself:
By means of empathy, a great painting becomes a mirror of the self.
>> But, taking lions as one example of a predator, they spend the vast majority of their time sleeping, about 20 hours a day. They tend to make a successful kill about every third day or so.
> Sure, but the suffering that the carnivores cause may extend far beyond the immediate hunting and killing times. Many species are known to be very skittish - from constantly scanning the environment, all the way up to engaging in deadly stampedes (crushing to death their own herd mates in panic) even when they are just spooked. I don't think we can say for absolute certain, but I think there is a lot of evidence to support the idea that many animals exist in prolonged daily states of high anxiety, which could be attributed at least in part to the intermittent hunting behaviour of predators.
Sometimes that stress ends up being good for both the stressed species and the ecosystem on which it depends for its very survival. Check out how much better off the elk and the willows on which they depend are doing in Yellowstone since the reintroduction of wolves.
> This created a counterintuitive situation. Back in 1968, said Smith, when the elk population was about a third what it is today, the willow stands along streams were in bad shape. Today, with three times as many elk, willow stands are robust. Why? Because the predatory pressure from wolves keeps elk on the move, so they don't have time to intensely browse the willow.
>> To my knowledge, only humans (well, some humans) kill for pure sport.
> Domestic cats seem to come close. I reckon the drive to hunt/kill/maul probably would persist in many species even if their hunger was entirely satiated at all times.
Good point. I'll acknowledge this one. However, I will point out that when the cats do this, they are killing animals that are at least on their menu. Our trophy hunters kill animals they would never eat.
But, yes, it's probably an evolutionary precursor.
> It's difficult to know what proportion of human parents throughout history have had significant concern for the wellbeing of their offspring. Maternal and paternal instincts seem to broadly confer some level of concern, but obviously many antinatalists hold extremely high standards in this regard compared to the bulk of humaity. I believe parents giving birth to children in poverty can still have a strong concern for the wellbing of their children, though we may think they have made a poor decision. I believe my own parents, and many other parents I know of, showed strong concern for the wellbeing of their children.
However, we have the ability to recognize that as a species overpopulation is destroying the biosphere on which our species depends for its survival. So, as a species, we are certainly not concerned with the wellbeing of our children. As individuals, I would bet that the majority of humans blindly follow the lifescript without ever considering the option to not breed. If asked, of course every parent would assert that they are concerned for their children's wellbeing. But, how many ever considered whether they could really adequately provide for their child? How many even considered that not breeding is an option?
> Generally speaking I'm against suffering, whether human or non-human, so for me solutions to suffering in humans are applicable to non-humans too.
So, are you an antinatalist? Are you a negative utilitarian?
>> Anyway, I don't expect to convince you of any of this. I am just trying to further understanding and respect for an opinion for which you have contempt. I hope I have lessened that contempt a bit.
> Thanks, I appreciate it. There is a strand of mindless environmentalism-inspired misanthropy that equates the non-human natural world with something resembling "noble savage" romanticism that I find ridiculous. But it seems you've given much more thought than the stereotypical proponent of that.
I don't think animals are noble savages. Nor do I think hunter-gatherer societies of humans were noble savages.
> My recent posts have admittedly been somewhat reactionary, since I think there has been some unchallenged misanthropy on this subreddit. But there is a lot we agree upon.
I think there's probably more we do agree on than that we don't. But, the more interesting debate topics are those were we have some disagreement. Else, it's just a mutual admiration society.
> One thing that I believe elevates humans and humanity above non-human animals is that we have some hope.
Oh crap! I'm not human. I don't have any hope for our species. I expect that sometime soon, say 20-100 years from now, our population will be decreased rather suddenly and catastrophically by about 90%. My hope, what little there is of it, is that I and my wife can live out our life expectancies before the Great Human Die-Off.
Guess I'm not very elevated.
> Non-human animals have arguably shown little progress toward real empathy and compassion.
What tests show this? Can we even test this in our own species? How would we test it in others?
> we are progressing at a rapid pace (on an evolutionary time scale) towards further empathy, compassion and means to reduce suffering.
I would not have agreed with this prior to hearing Steve Pinker lecture on his book "The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined".
> Without humans, what do we have?
With humans what do we have?
> Millions or billions of years of non-human life engaging in endless mindless suffering with no sign of progress?
Mindless? On what do you base that? Everything else you've said sounds as if you believe in evolution. This sounds creationist.
> Or maybe another intelligent primate evolving in several million years, maybe with similar pros and cons of current humans? I choose humans and hope.
Why primate? Why similar to humans? What is so special about us that life only matters to you if it is basically human?
Leviathan by Hobbes... here's a 10min video on his life and work
I could substitute the word "State" for Leviathan, but then you wouldn't ask this question. Hobbes explores the idea that the state functions like a giant scary monster that can can enforce peace through its overwhelming power.
If you'd like a more contemporary explanation, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined is a great book. Pinker points out that although Hobbes suppositions about primitive man might have been inaccurate his analysis as to the causes of violence and the role of government as a civilizing force are still relevant.
> The universe exploded out of foam for no "reason" at all,
> a cluster of chemicals coagulated in a puddle,
> billions of years of meaningless mutations
Guided toward survival in ever changing environments by natural selection.
> produce humans,
And numerous other more beautiful species. Some of these are more complex than our own. Humans aren't special. Did you know that compared to the human brain at about 3 pounds, the sperm whale brain is enormous at 17 pounds?
> and now the only Eternal Absolute Truths
There are none, so nope to the rest.
> are that thou shalt not be racist, sexist, homophobic, transgenderphobic, Islamophobic, or pro-life.
Nope. Most atheists start from a position of reason and rationality. So, most of us, but certainly not all, do agree with those. But, it's not a fucking commandment from on high as you worded it. It's more just a case of the golden rule that predates the Abrahamic religion by centuries.
> Moral Realism is established on the immutable pillars of evolution
Nope. Morality is something social species evolved long ago. Our morals are more complex, but often worse than those of other social species. It's just part of being a good member of society in any social setting where cooperation creates an advantage.
Since we happen to be quite large brained for our size, we sometimes think these things through a whole lot more than other animals. But, the result of that may be horrific. It may be the fucking bible that justified the crusades, the inquisitions, manifest destiny, the slave trade, and numerous other atrocities committed by the meanest species on the planet.
> and -- wait! This is all total bullshit.
Oh. Your strawman is bullshit? Wasn't that why you set up the strawman?
> Which scientific theory says we have rights?
None. Where in the Bible does it say we have rights? Compare the Ten horrific Commandments with the Bill of Rights. Which one gives rights and which takes them away?
The rights come from our evolution as a social species and from the ever improving moral zeitgeist of humanity that has created tremendous improvement over the crap from the sheepshaggers who wrote the Bible.
The term "God-given rights" is ludicrous. God gives nothing of the sort.
> Where does quantum mechanics or evo bio say anything about racism or social justice?
The golden rule is sure as hell not from the Abrahamic religion. As we gradually include ever more people in our "in-group" and ever fewer in the "out-group" our morality improves. That's why we don't believe in manifest destiny and regret the genocides it justified today despite it's grounding in Christianity.
So, where does this come from? Not from the Bible. If you don't stone homosexuals to death and do the same to most rape victims and force the remainder of the rape victims to marry their rapists, you're not getting your morals from Yahweh.
> Are you sure you believe that materialist gibberish?
Of course I don't believe your strawman. See my corrections above.
> If wiping out the tribe across the river benefits my tribe, what business is it of yours?
Yup. That view is strongly supported in the Torah. Deut 20:16. 1 Sam 15:3.
> It's no more or less objectively "wrong" than my preference for Chunky Monkey over Cherry Garcia.
Those both suck.
> If you don't like Nietzsche I recommend this dude. Consistency is a virtue. Nietzsche's whole mission was to demonstrate how atheism has serious implications for morality.
Atheism == no gods.
Anything else you attach to it is a strawman.
> And the new atheists ignore him. (He has single sentences more powerful and profound and beautiful than Hitchens' entire oeuvre.) When Dawkins talks about the "moral zeitgeist" it's like some absurd Civil War reenactment, like he's dressed up as someone with Objective Moral Authority.
You may not be aware of this but atheism is a non-prophet organization. None of these people speak for all atheists. There is no atheist Bible. There is no atheist code of ethics, positive or negative.
You lump us all together as if atheists share anything other than an agreement that the number of gods in the universe is zero. If you want to make points, why not ask me what I think instead of assuming I agree with the four horsemen.
> Your moral intuitions evolved for the same purposes as a giraffe's neck, mosquito's stinger, bat's echolocation, and zebra's stripes: as a means of spreading your ancestor's DNA.
> If you want to maintain that your sense of "wrong" hones in on some Ultimate Reality "binding" on me, I look forward to your arguments.
I don't. I just maintain that my set of morals is a metric fuckton better than the crap in the Torah that is basically the same as Sharia law.
> You won't find them in science.
Science can tell us a lot about human morality. Neuroscience can tell us a tremendous amount about the locations of the brain that process morals but much research still needs to be done. Other scientific studies of morality can tell us about the default set of morals that humans are somewhat pre-wired for, assuming a properly functioning brain.
But, it can't tell us that it's good to assume we're all us. For that, we need to actually examine the fact that there are no subspecies of humans. We need to look at the fact that humans went through an evolutionary bottleneck around 70-80,000 years ago when there were only around 1,000 breeding pairs of humans on the entire planet (actually, the page to which I just linked suggests a higher number, mine was from memory, the estimates may have been updated since). This shows that we're all very closely related. There is no them. Once the out-group is removed and all people are included in the in-group, our morals get a whole lot better. Genocides stop. The tribal wars you're talking about stop.
Unfortunately, this is taking rather a long time to come about in our cultural evolution. We still have a lot of things that cause artificial divisions among humans that don't really exist at all. And, once we have these artificial made-up divisions of humans like race and sectarianism, then it becomes OK to kill Them. All such divisions are false and evil. I oppose them all.
We are all Us.
> Our moral intuitions are tools for finding mates, food, and shunning adversaries.
> A consistent skeptic would say the same thing about Reason. I rarely see consistent skeptics. I see atheists who are as puritanically fanatical about morality as any believer.
I have no idea what this means without specifics.
> Yes, the 7 Laws oppose Christianity. It's idolatry.
Minority opinion. How do you know? Is it the graven images of Catholicism? Does that apply even to subsects of Christianity that do not kneel before graven images?
> And Islam is a false religion (though not idolatrous). This is a better source than Wikipedia.
How can you tell? They say the same about Christianity and worse about Judaism. How do you tell which is right?
>> Theocracy is always always always bad.
> Depends on the theocracy.
No. It doesn't. Theocracy makes it illegal to think. Theocracy makes it illegal to speak one's mind. Theocracy creates prosecutable crimes with no victims. Theocracy punishes those who believe "false religions" while ignoring that the religion in charge has no more evidence than any other.
> See Plato & Nietzsche on the perils of mob rule democracy. Which scientific theory establishes any system of government?
Democracy is the worst form of government ... except for all the others. I'm not sure science says anything about forms of government. But, my personal opinion is that there is no such thing as a good totalitarian government or a good closed society.
These things are inherently opposed to thought, expression, science, and freedom.
All totalitarian governments, including Communism, are morally repugnant to me.
> I'm obligated to support candidates who understand that shedding innocent blood is wrong. Sometimes that's none of them.
And, what exactly would a Noahide do to a blasphemer? Exactly what punishment would you enact when you make blasphemy illegal?
> It's not even been a century yet and the world is already in an extremely volatile and tense state.
This just simply isn't true. The world is more peaceful today than it was in the 90's, which in turn was much more peaceful than it was in the 70's, which in turn was more peaceful than the 50's.
The two world wars are ridiculous outliers in the 20th century, but even they didn't change the overarching, centuries long trend towards less violence. It's not some accident either - I highly recommend The Better Angels of Our Nature for an exploration of the topic, if you're interested.
> Furthermore, even in the Cold War, with all deterrence in full swing, we were one single man's vote away from all out nuclear war.
Deterrance works and did work. Neither the US nor the USSR pursued as a matter of foreign policy an open conflict with one another. Instead what you saw during the Cold War was a lot of very indirect strategies to gain the upper hand. We came frighteningly close at times, but the kind of world where 51% votes against a war is a new one that hadn't existed prior.
To best illustrate the difference here, it's worthwhile to look back to the world before the 20th century. France and England would go to war with each other because it was Tuesday. The calculus was flipped on its head. There was significant upside for the victor and very little consequence from a national point of view. Neither really posed an existential threat to the other, so they'd fight till one of them ran out of money to pay soldiers and then surrender land or colonies... at least until they could raise money and soldiers again.
> I'm also going to assume that any nuclear war between nuclear powers essentially means the end of humanity.
A final point of disagreement. Take North Korea. They might, because they're insane, launch a nuke at South Korea and/or Japan.
It's highly unlikely that the US or China would retaliate with nuclear weapons. Why would they? North Korea, even with a handful of nuclear weapons, doesn't pose an existential threat to anyone but itself. Conventional weapons are likely enough to take out whatever remaining nuclear capability it has, and what would follow would be a disaster of untold suffering... but there's just no scenario that goes from "North Korea uses nuclear weapons" to "the world is done".
There's only two countries with enough nuclear weapons to end the world: the US and Russia. Despite the latest tensions, I don't think there's a real threat they'll lob nukes at each other, or that one of them would use hundreds of them against another adversary, even should North Korea or Iran or whoever detonate some.
You guys get suckered into the news too much. violent crime has decreased since 1994, but the reporting of violent crime has increased 1600%. If you are sheep you think crime is getting worse. Read a book Become educated.
Some scholarly reading for you
They (because of decades of racism, and also because some of them do illegal things because they are in a desperate economic situation) do not cooperate with the police. This renders them stateless -- the state guarantees your rights through their monopoly on violence and force -- it does not do the same for them.
What happens when there is no strong state to guarantee rights of people is always the same all over the world and back through history. The people form themselves into groups, or bands or tribes or gangs or whatever you want to call them, for their own protection. And these groups are always testing each other -- because the most important way to prevent yourself from being a victim of violence is to signal to potential foes that you are strong, that if tested you will respond, and most important -- if you are killed, your death would be avenged.
So when a member of your group or band is caught slippin, and gets shot by the other guys to show how serious they are, well, you have no choice but to fight back -- to appear weak is to invite your own death. Without a strong state to referee these interactions, there will always be more violence.
This is why respect is so important and why fights can break out over the stupidest things.
This is not controversial or disputed, this behavior has been known and documented as far back as Hobbes' Leviathan (1651) and was very influential to the founding fathers when they drafted the constitution.
Edit: Don't believe me? Read these recent books that all document this reality from different points of view: The Better Angels of our Nature Steven Pinker Between the World and Me Ta-Nehisi Coates Ghettoside Jill Leovy
Just leaving this here [link]