Avoiding gravity wells in the moral landscape

 
mickleby
 
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mickleby
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20 November 2018 12:19
 

[I’m not looking for flame, not asking for it. I admit up front, I have not read this book]

I read the title “Landscape”; I’ve heard Sam Harris talk about his metaphor therein. Having a substantial maths background, I DON’T GET IT. And here’s why:

Sure we can climb upwards on a local [jargon] upcropping. We’ll never know the HIGHEST “moral” elevation without traversing EVERY point [jargon] of the landscape. Consider one who climbs Pike’s Peak; much “higher” (morally preferable) than Death Valley; nothing CLOSE to the elevation of Mt. Eeverest [that’s how Eeverest pronounced his name]. Someone at Pike’s Peak learns about the preferability of Mt. Everest…how?

Yeah, landscape is a suggestive metaphor. The metaphor also contains contradictions to the point Harris wants to make by deploying it.

Am I wrong???

 
Twissel
 
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Twissel
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21 November 2018 09:47
 

hi there.

If we consider the Moral Landscape a valid concept, we must be able to articulate measurable variables that determine the shape of the landscape, and put values to them for a given situation; this is necessary just to tell whether we are going up, down or stay level, morally.
And if we have that, we can make predictions using models about what attributes much better spots on the landscapes ought to have to maximize our well-being.

Of course, there will never be a final peak, since any change in the system will alter what the optimum is.

 
 
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21 November 2018 11:32
 

Eureka!

I think you’ve pointed me to my confusion. Thanks very much

In my previous interpretation, assessing the morality of any given position on the “manifold” requires actually standing on said point, passing through it on the journey of ethical development. You seem to suggest an interpretation of moral terrain that is regular, “smooth and continuous” as we say in maths. Such an interpretation allows at least 2 actions expressly denied by my “complex manifold” understanding. In yours it might be possible to leap from Pike’s Peak directly to the summit of Everest; you might be able to grow Mt Everest arbitrarily, indefinitely.

Given this understanding, I’m a bit less interested in the metaphor, a bit more interested in reading the book.

Thanks again

 
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21 November 2018 12:49
 
Twissel - 21 November 2018 09:47 AM

hi there.

If we consider the Moral Landscape a valid concept, we must be able to articulate measurable variables that determine the shape of the landscape, and put values to them for a given situation; this is necessary just to tell whether we are going up, down or stay level, morally.
And if we have that, we can make predictions using models about what attributes much better spots on the landscapes ought to have to maximize our well-being.

. . .

Isn’t this what’s already being played out in modern societies? Maybe Harris’s specific metaphors aren’t universally recognized, but what’s missing from how things are actually now being done in many places? That is, What future are you hoping for that isn’t already here?

 

 
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21 November 2018 13:50
 

what’s missing from how things are actually now being done in many places?

To whom do you address this question? Rhetorically to Harris?

That is, What future are you hoping for that isn’t already here?

Herein I only want to understand the metaphor.

Speaking generally and in ignorance of Sam Harris’s relevant arguments, I am skeptical that the “moral landscape” is in fact “regular, smooth, continuous”. I think it likely that actions cannot be evaluated over long periods of time. Consider discussions of nonlinear dynamical systems; then, I’d happily discuss this specific question.

“To recite Kaddish” for our late elder Harlan Ellison,  consider “City on the Edge of Forever.” The “moral” act globally is to perform an immoral act locally.

I recommend most highly, the words of Ivan Illich as recorded in “The Corruption of Christianity.” I believe Illich explains the insight of Christ, local spontaneous emergent embrace. Maybe our species will get around to taking the suggestion. 75 years of hoarding baubles strikes me as utterly vapid, yet so many choose that.

 
nonverbal
 
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21 November 2018 18:20
 
mickleby - 21 November 2018 01:50 PM

I recommend most highly, the words of Ivan Illich as recorded in “The Corruption of Christianity.” I believe Illich explains the insight of Christ, local spontaneous emergent embrace. Maybe our species will get around to taking the suggestion. 75 years of hoarding baubles strikes me as utterly vapid, yet so many choose that.

I’m not familiar with that Ivan Illich, mickleby. Can you provide a quote from him?

Also, I was replying to Twissel.

 
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21 November 2018 20:13
 
nonverbal - 21 November 2018 06:20 PM

I’m not familiar with that Ivan Illich, mickleby. Can you provide a quote from him?

Yes, I c o u l d… I have several reservations. Illich was an Austrian Roman Catholic who spent much time in Asia and Latin America, not a native English speaker; indeed, he worked in 10 languages during his career. Illich is always talking to a specific audience and elaborating an existing discourse. To reference the rhizome and Deleuze is overstating the point, but I doubt any particular soundbite conveys much value. And the relevant passages on morality leverage a deep familiarity with Christian history and liturgy.

First, a quote ABOUT Illich from “Corruption of Christianity”: “The Other for Illich is always unique, particular, unrepeatable. He is THIS Jew in THIS ditch on THIS road, not an instance of a social problem to be solved or a need to be satisfied. Need, Risk, Problem are all categories that tend to disembody the relationship between the Samaritan and the Jew. They imply a planned and administered response, not that gracious free undue inward stirring which provokes the Samaritan to take his traditional enemy into his arms.” https://youtu.be/T3s-MPtbDKc

Here’s a quote: “To hell with the future. It’s a man-eating idol.” https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/36507.Ivan_Illich

Now, I know what he’s saying. I question if the words are enough to share the meaning to someone who hasn’t already engaged the discourse.

Here’s more, and more precisely on topic: “Community in our European tradition is not the outcome of an act of authoritative foundation, nor a gift from nature or its gods, nor the result of management, planning and design, but the consequence of a conspiracy, a deliberate, mutual, somatic and gratuitous gift to each other. The prototype of that conspiracy lies in the celebration of the early Christian liturgy in which, no matter their origin, men and women, Greeks and Jews, slaves and citizens, engender a physical reality that transcends them. The shared breath, the con-spiratio are the “peace” understood as the community that arises from it.” https://www.pudel.uni-bremen.de/pdf/Illich98Conspiracy.pdf, https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Ivan_Illich#The_Cultivation_of_Conspiracy_(1998) <—the Forum software is “too smart” to permit this link. Click “The_Cultivation_of_Conspiracy_(1998)” from the TOC when the page opens

[ Edited: 21 November 2018 20:21 by mickleby]
 
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22 November 2018 07:16
 
mickleby - 21 November 2018 08:13 PM

“The Other for Illich is always unique, particular, unrepeatable. He is THIS Jew in THIS ditch on THIS road, not an instance of a social problem to be solved or a need to be satisfied. Need, Risk, Problem are all categories that tend to disembody the relationship between [people].”

To develop this more with morning coffee:

The Other discourse. It should be obvious that the Other is perhaps the central fulcrum of moral concern in Christendom. The Greeks were concerned with Self. How do << I >> behave “manly” (virtue <- wir-tue <- wir-ness <- man-ness, werewolf <- wir-wolf <- man-wolf), eudaemonia (how do I become possessed of the good demon)? The Jews were about building tribe distinct from Other. The Christians, the cultural transformation of The West after Roman hegemony collapses, begin to wrestle with the dilemma of living with barbarians inside the walls. And of course, Christianity has its seeds among a sect of Jews struggling to respond to goyim domination of the Levant.

Illich is living and working mid-20th Century. Other is a huge concern at this time. In philosophy 400 years of existentialism is wrapping up with Sartre (and Camus) explicitly voicing the issue. Yet Descarte also, by radically isolating Self with “cogito, sum”, is implicitly placing the Other at center stage. While in psychology, Lacan is reworking Freud, no longer the Master looking down and into the Broken, now the Self struggling to reckon with the Big Other.

Again, to quote Illich seems to suggest something else. Not commenting upon and elaborating millenia of discourse about living in community. Rather, it seems to request a short-circuit, a denial, a quick-fix, some magic grouping of phonemes that will collapse moral responsibility into a disembodied plug-n-play algorithm.

Twissel - 21 November 2018 09:47 AM

If we consider the Moral Landscape a valid concept

OK now I’m aware the danger some remarks may seem pointed. I’ll take heart that you, Twissel, are Sr. Member. Please help me to clarify should the following land in a way that feels unkind.

I highlight this phrase because it seems to illustrate my confusion with Harris’s chosen title, “The Moral Landscape.” ARE concepts valid? Rather, I would suggest a coherent self-consistent concept HAS application in some particular context. Yes, surely Harris does work to circumscribe the context about which he deploys the landscape metaphor. Still, my predominant conception of ‘landscape’ has gravity wells and strange attractors, whereas what I find are people responding with a “flat-Earth” “Cartesian” “Euclidean geometry” conception of ‘landscape’. Hence, as I say, the metaphor strikes me as disinteresting, if not overtly misleading.

 
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23 November 2018 10:25
 
mickleby - 21 November 2018 01:50 PM

75 years of hoarding baubles strikes me as utterly vapid, yet so many choose that.

As it seems this thread is ending, I’ll lay my cards on the table.

Sam Harris seems to argue for naked hedonism, maybe with a figleaf of compassion. What value—except to Self, family, tribe, species, sentience—is on offer? I think this emptiness is clearly evident in Harris’s behavior. He talks about self awareness and enacts tantrums. He talks about “pleasurous drowning” and often struggles when challenged. He is obsessed by some “traumatic” Twitter flamewar that he fears threatens his comfortable livelihood. He stands in the knowledge of hundreds of thousands of years of human behavior—behavior that even today remains ubiquitous, estimated at 84% globally—and pokes a privileged finger down at the most oppressed, those who turn to Islam to explain the horrors of human cruelty.

I don’t call this compassion. I don’t see the human value, whatever value may obtain for those privileged. I don’t see the intelligence much less insight in Flat Earth conceptions of morality most of my peers saw through in adolescence. And personally, I am saddened to find so little if any informed discussion on this forum.

 
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23 November 2018 10:34
 

And complete schadenfreude, just because the words amuse me:

Harris is to morality what Burning Man is to alternative culture.

 
nonverbal
 
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23 November 2018 11:31
 

Mickleby, this forum is a hornet’s next of criticism of Sam Harris’ The Moral Landscape. You’re not the only one who sees serious flaws with that book. We’re all talked out now, I suspect, but you’re free to resuscitate any of those threads. This forum is not a kiss-ass place which is most likely why Harris no longer links it on his main page other than minimally.

 
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23 November 2018 12:21
 

I take you to say THERE ARE reasoned comments hereabouts… I just haven’t located them.

Good to know!

 
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27 November 2018 15:11
 

footnote

I have been reading about the (apparent) distinction between ‘identity politics’ and ‘tribalism’. Richard Rorty, late Stanford philosophy professor of Harris, is mentioned prominently. I understand Harris to claim complete rejection of Rorty pragmatism. I also see Harris working at odds to Rorty as regards social cohesion, working to deepen and accelerate social discord by denying real concerns.

Members of labor unions, and unorganized unskilled workers, will sooner or later realize that their government is not even trying to prevent wages from sinking or to prevent jobs from being exported. Around the same time, they will realize that suburban white-collar workers — themselves desperately afraid of being downsized — are not going to let themselves be taxed to provide social benefits for anyone else.

At that point, something will crack. The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking for a strongman to vote for — someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots.

https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/2/9/14543938/donald-trump-richard-rorty-election-liberalism-conservatives