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[P]
Leo Tolstoy Revisited

By bugeyedbill in Culture
Mon Sep 25, 2000 at 07:36:35 AM EST
Tags: Freedom (all tags)
Freedom

Here is a resubmission of something I posted earlier that got shot to pieces during post moderation. I thought I would try to get the folks at K5 started on a discussion of Tolstoy and some of his ideas of about society, primarily the use of hypocrisy to maintain a social order that rationalizes oppression and poverty. Although Leo Tolstoy is recognized worldwide for his classic works such as War and Peace, few seem to know that Tolstoy had developed a unique Christian philosophy which espoused non-resistance to evil as the proper response to aggression, and which put great emphasis on fair treatment of the poor and working class. He also was also scathingly critical of hypocrisy among people who refused to see what was to him the plainly obvious source of oppression and poverty.


Tolstoy's essay, the conclusion of The Kingdom of God is Within You, is one of the most powerful and passionate essays against the exploitation in society that I have read (and I've done alot of reading). It not only gives interesting historical insights to Russia at the turn of the last century, but the similarities of problems of poverty faced in Tolstoy's day and what we face in this new century are striking.

Tolstoy, a follower of the ideal that men are by nature good, felt that the unwillingness to see the true source of harmful acts that primarily benefited the rich and powerful was the evil that he felt kept men from realizing their inherent goodness and acting upon it. As a member of Russia high upper classes during the Romaov rule, he admonishes his peers, as well as ordinary people who worked around them, for their denial and rationalizations of the true causes of oppression and poverty.

Tolstoy felt that given our inherent nature, simply facing the truth would do much to alleviate much of the suffering in the world, as we would then see the true causes suffering and act accordingly:

"... the man of the modern world need only make a moral effort to doubt the reality presented to him by his own hypocrisy and the general hypocrisy around him, and to ask himself, "Isn't it all a delusion?" and be will at once, like the dreamer awakened, feel himself transported from an imaginary and dreadful world to the true, calm, and happy reality. And to do this a man need accomplish no great feats or exploits. He need only make a moral effort."

Is there anything that we can learn from Tolstoy, given our role in society as techno advocates and culture impactors? Obviously, if there is any role to be played in the developments in the years to come, our work is going to have a significant impact.

So my challenge to the readers and K5 is to answer this question: Are we truly honest with ourselves about how society is organized, and our position in it as engineers, programmers, scientists? In fact this leads me to another, even more important question: Is it possible that because our work can used to harm others, we are afforded relatively elite positions in society? Just a thought, and not one without justifiable suspicion given the case of Einstein and J. Robert Oppenheimer, both who lived to regret their confidence in the men for which they worked. I confess to hoping this little-known work of Leo Tolstoy will teach us about ourselves and the current society in which we live, so that we may channel our efforts and our skills in the direction away harming others. I, for one, hope that lies and surreptitious rationalizations are not so ingrained in our culture that even when black is said to be white, we would believe it in spite of nagging doubts to the contrary. I don't mean to make anyone feel bad about themselves, but I do think that open discussion on our rationalizations of priviliged rule, and our role in it, is the first step to a whole lot of good that hasn't yet been realized.

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Leo Tolstoy Revisited | 62 comments (57 topical, 5 editorial, 0 hidden)
common application of philosophy (3.33 / 9) (#1)
by madams on Mon Sep 25, 2000 at 12:05:14 AM EST

I'm always glad to hear when someone reads a philosophical text and says, "You know, this really applies to me/society/whatever-is-important."

I +1'd this because I think it's a great topic. However, I'm curious how much of a discussion this will generate, even on K5. I think a lot of people will say "Gee, that's a great point", and then not know how to respond. The topic is thought provoking, but your angle on it is a little heavy.

--
Mark Adams
"But pay no attention to anonymous charges, for they are a bad precedent and are not worthy of our age." - Trajan's reply to Pliny the Younger, 112 A.D.

Re: common application of philosophy (none / 0) (#46)
by tootired on Tue Sep 26, 2000 at 12:39:36 AM EST

Have you ever read Dostoyevsky's "The Grand Inquisitor?"

The struggle between the returning Jesus and the Catholic church.

Fun stuff indeed.



[ Parent ]
technocrat's dilemna (4.20 / 10) (#3)
by madams on Mon Sep 25, 2000 at 12:13:36 AM EST

What you are describing is what I'd call the Technocrat's Dilemna. Along with the privilege of being at the forefront of society's social and technological developments is the responsibility that comes with it. How is one to know that his decisions are the right ones in light of all the problems that society faces?

We have both the power to save humanity and destroy it. We can never insure that our endeavors will always end in what is best for society, but we can try. For example, while it is easy to argue that the development of the atomic bomb, and more particularly its use, was immoral, the same thing cannot be said of all the other applications of the same technology: nuclear energy, particle physics, etc.

Also, what does it mean to "face the truth", and how wuold that "alleviate much of the suffering in the world"?

--
Mark Adams
"But pay no attention to anonymous charges, for they are a bad precedent and are not worthy of our age." - Trajan's reply to Pliny the Younger, 112 A.D.

Re: technocrat's dilemna (3.14 / 7) (#8)
by bugeyedbill on Mon Sep 25, 2000 at 12:47:52 AM EST

Also, what does it mean to "face the truth", and how wuold that "alleviate much of the suffering in the world"?

The point (and Tolstoy's assumption) is that man is inherently good and has cartesian common sense of why things happen, and capability of being honest with himself as to why they happen, and he will act morally based on those perceptions. There would be no such concept as the 'technocrat's dilemma' otherwise.

[ Parent ]

Re: technocrat's dilemna (4.14 / 7) (#11)
by daani on Mon Sep 25, 2000 at 03:35:43 AM EST

...privilege of being at the forefront of society's social and technological developments is the responsibility that comes with it...

Tolstoy may have used the word "guilt" in place of "responsibility". Part of his thesis was this (I may be paraphrasing): In any society where for every one living in ease there are ten toiling, the one is implicitly oppressing the ten by essentially violent means.

what does it mean to "face the truth", and how would that "alleviate much of the suffering in the world"

It means the richer classes should face up to the fact that they(we) are, on an individual and class level, directly responsible for the sufferings of those less fortunate. To expand, it is stupid to state "I am economically better off than the worlds poor because I am more deserving." Rather, most advantage comes from the violent oppression of others, either explicitly, or implicitly by not correcting the wrongs of yesteryear. He therefore concludes that having identified the cause of the problem, it can be rectified by those who caused it.

But what the fsck would I know. Anyone have a different interpretation?

[ Parent ]

Re: technocrat's dilemna (3.75 / 4) (#16)
by Beorn on Mon Sep 25, 2000 at 09:05:09 AM EST

daani wrote: It means the richer classes should face up to the fact that they(we) are, on an individual and class level, directly responsible for the sufferings of those less fortunate.

No no no .. This fashionable global guilt idea is all wrong. Yes, you could propably do more to help those less fortunate than you are, but it's not your *fault* that people suffer in the first place. If you did not exist, what difference would that make to the hungry in Somalia or the beggars in Rio?

The western democracies have an obligation to help the rest of the world reach our level of wealth, but 'implicit oppression'? Guilt is the easy way out here, and it helps nobody.

- Beorn

[ Threepwood '01 ]
[ Parent ]

Re: technocrat's dilemna (none / 0) (#62)
by daani on Sat Sep 30, 2000 at 12:59:18 AM EST

No no no .. This fashionable global guilt idea is all wrong. Yes, you could propably do more to help those less fortunate than you are, but it's not your *fault* that people suffer in the first place. If you did not exist, what difference would that make to the hungry in Somalia or the beggars in Rio?

You've got me wrong, I was just saying what I thought Tolstoy meant. I agree with you that there is no point in sitting around feeling guilty. But I do think it's reasonably likely that the problems you mentioned are partialy caused by the rather unfair way poor countries have traditionally been treated by their richer cousins. Whether or not you feel this makes you "guilty" or "responsible" in relation to this is a conscience issue.

PS: I would of thought that "guilt" was going out of fashion anyway. Remember when they use to do shit like "concert for bangladesh" and all that.

[ Parent ]

Re: technocrat's dilemna (none / 0) (#58)
by Wah on Tue Sep 26, 2000 at 08:42:46 PM EST

geat interpretation, IMHO.

Anyone know how the 10 to 1 ratio fits into American, European, Japanese, etc. cultures today? Or what the ratio is?

--
Fail to Obey?
[ Parent ]
Hubris (3.20 / 5) (#19)
by spiralx on Mon Sep 25, 2000 at 10:34:37 AM EST

What you are describing is what I'd call the Technocrat's Dilemna. Along with the privilege of being at the forefront of society's social and technological developments is the responsibility that comes with it. How is one to know that his decisions are the right ones in light of all the problems that society faces?

I honestly think that to assume this is rediculous - very few people, even in today's online culture, are ever going to be responsible for a truly culture-changing invention/idea/development. Perhaps the only true world-changing development in the last thirty years is the net and services like email and the web, pretty much everything else was just incremental advances on existing concepts.


You're doomed, I'm doomed, we're all doomed for ice cream. - Bob Aboey
[ Parent ]

Re: Hubris (5.00 / 1) (#33)
by aphrael on Mon Sep 25, 2000 at 03:06:01 PM EST

very few people, even in today's online culture, are ever going to be responsible for a truly culture-changing invention/idea/development.

Possibly. But the point is, you can't *know* when you are doing it if it's culture-changing or world-changing; you can only know that in retrospect. So, if you are acting in an ethical manner, you make every decision as though it could be world-changing. It's the only reasonable way to mitigate the ethical risk.



[ Parent ]
Re: Hubris (none / 0) (#59)
by Wah on Tue Sep 26, 2000 at 08:48:34 PM EST

great explanation.

Then the question becomes, how hard do you want to try? How much do you want to think about it?
--
Fail to Obey?
[ Parent ]
An example (2.91 / 12) (#9)
by Covariance on Mon Sep 25, 2000 at 01:11:23 AM EST

An example from Tolstoy's own quote, and (perhaps inadvertently) this post, is the use of the word "man". Tolstoy himself probably thought, along will almost all his contemporaries, that the masculine third person is an acceptable way to refer to all people. However, there is the subtle indication that this great moral question is something only men need concern themselves with. The effect of this sub-text here and in any other single place is tiny, but the effect of it being repeated in every piece of writing, every casual conversation, even every thought is enormous.

I don't know too much about the tech community as a whole, but in my own discipline of physics this is still a tremendous problem. The lack of role models, both current workers and "great figures" coupled with the general perception that physics is a "male" thing to study drives many away. This is to say nothing of those who are still outright sexist and actively deter women trying to enter the field. I believe that in most technical fields the story is similar.

This certainly is a situation from which the males derive considerable benefit. Less competition for jobs, and some kind of ego boost for some. The reaction of many when presented with this situation is exactly the one Tolstoy was concerned about. In a lot of the online discussions (sorry I don't have a reference at the moment, I'll look) the most charitable characterization of the response is that it was a bit apathetic. Most common is, "I didn't have anything to do with the problem, why should I have to worry about it", and pervasive unwillingness to say, "Have I benefited from this disparity?", or "Is there anything I can do differently to help alleviate the problem, rather than just pass the blame?" (this goes for far more than just sexism).

Unfortunately, there is no simple solution. I think the best idea is to keep asking the question, and to keep talking about the problem. When awareness and concern reach a certain level, then positive changes might start to take place. I would expect, though, that the tech community with it's famous short attention span will have difficulty sustaining such a conversation.

Re: An example (2.00 / 4) (#12)
by bugeyedbill on Mon Sep 25, 2000 at 04:38:42 AM EST

These things are just taken as given from day to day, and I try not to let myself get drawn into the net of such things that my leave those tiny cuts on others, I apologize for having done so. I will have to make more of an effort to be more sensitive to the issue next time I write, although I doubt Tolstoy will be able to do the same...Thanks for the insightful response

[ Parent ]
Women in science (3.71 / 7) (#13)
by PresJPolk on Mon Sep 25, 2000 at 07:24:48 AM EST

When awareness and concern reach a certain level, then positive changes might start to take place.

What, do you hope that society will view men and women equally? It's not going to happen. Men and women are different. Whether these differences make men better people than women, or women better people than men, is a subjective decision. I personally don't think either is "better" than the other, but people have been known to disagree with me. :-)

Sometimes, though, it turns out that either men or women will be better equipped to succeed in a particular field. Women are more likely to be a better kindergarten teacher, while men are more likely to be a better computer programmer. To ignore the differences between the sexes is to delude onesself.

To pick an example, why aren't there more women acting as top executives in corporations? To be an executive in a corporation requires a certain amount of callousness, a state of detachment that men find easier to reach than women. You have to be willing to be unfair to your competitors, to deliberately mislead in your advertising, to approve layoffs by the thousand. Sure, women can be cold-hearted, but such women are rarer than cold-hearted men.

The gender roles laid out by society didn't come out of thin air.



[ Parent ]
Women in traditionally male dominated roles (3.75 / 4) (#17)
by Anonymous 242 on Mon Sep 25, 2000 at 09:36:53 AM EST

To pick an example, why aren't there more women acting as top executives in corporations? To be an executive in a corporation requires a certain amount of callousness, a state of detachment that men find easier to reach than women. You have to be willing to be unfair to your competitors, to deliberately mislead in your advertising, to approve layoffs by the thousand. Sure, women can be cold-hearted, but such women are rarer than cold-hearted men.

Ahem, you have obviously never met some of my former girlfriends.

Seriously, while I will concede that it physiology does play a role in gender gap for some occupations, most of the gender gap is artificially induced. Let's look closer at your example of women in the role of corporate executive. The glass ceiling was put in place almost exclusively because of bias, not because of any true differences between male and female physiology.

If you look at the fastest rising companies on the Fortune 500, they will be the companies that are becoming more balanced in their ratios of men and women in top level management.

Still don't believe me? Go read the biographies of Catherine the Great or Queen Victoria. Women are just as capable (and in my opinion just as likely) to have the callousness, ruthlessness, cunning, and ingenuity that all too many men do. If your assertion is correct (I'm not willing to swallow it without some good evidence as to why I should) that women are more likely to not be mean spirited, egotistical, self-serving and greedy like most CEOs, the reasons are almost entirely societal and not physiological. Currently, the US raises boys to become such and trains girls to fit into a more nuturing role. With equal training both men and women can be turned into equivalent butt-heads.

[ Parent ]

Re: Women in traditionally male dominated roles (1.80 / 5) (#21)
by PresJPolk on Mon Sep 25, 2000 at 10:50:33 AM EST

...the reasons are almost entirely societal and not physiological.

Perfectly possible.



[ Parent ]
Gender stereotypes (3.00 / 4) (#20)
by spiralx on Mon Sep 25, 2000 at 10:43:49 AM EST

To pick an example, why aren't there more women acting as top executives in corporations? To be an executive in a corporation requires a certain amount of callousness, a state of detachment that men find easier to reach than women. You have to be willing to be unfair to your competitors, to deliberately mislead in your advertising, to approve layoffs by the thousand. Sure, women can be cold-hearted, but such women are rarer than cold-hearted men.

Eh? The reason they aren't more women in these positions is that the opportunities to do so are still recent and not everywhere - a lot of places have an "old boy" prejudice, or just not a lot of movement in the upper echelons. A transition from 0% women at the top to 50% women at the top doesn't happen overnight after all.

And believe me, women can be just as nasty as men, if not worse... IMHO men get angry and get over things quite quickly, but women tend to brood long-term on these things. Of course, this is another generalisation, but pretty much everything is when you're talking about gender differences.

The gender roles laid out by society didn't come out of thin air.

Well no, they came about because of population pressures and religious prejudices. For most of history a high birth rate was necessary due to high death rates and the difficulties of finding/producing food, so it was sort of inevitable that women spent more time pregnant and less able to do other work, which the men ended up doing. Gender stereotypes follow directly on from this core difference.

We've reached a level of civilisation whereby women aren't required to spend all the time pregnant or looking after children - this means that traditional gender stereotypes just don't have the basis that they once did. Sure men and women are different, but not in their potentials to get things done.


You're doomed, I'm doomed, we're all doomed for ice cream. - Bob Aboey
[ Parent ]

Re: An example (4.00 / 6) (#14)
by dabadab on Mon Sep 25, 2000 at 08:35:50 AM EST

Well, I think that Tolstoy wrote in Russian (I could run off on tangents ranting about how Americans tend to think that the USA == world, but I do not ;), and AFAIR in Russian 'man' do not have the meaning of 'male human'
(And I find this worplay called 'being PC' somewhat amusing - in my native language 'man' has transformed to mean 'person' (and its meaning of 'male' is considered archaic) in the natural process of the language reflecting thinking)
--
Real life is overrated.
[ Parent ]
This isn't a NOW meeting. (3.00 / 5) (#22)
by mattc on Mon Sep 25, 2000 at 11:05:29 AM EST

Despite what the latest trends in political correctness may dictate, "man" and "he" are used to refer to men AND women.. look in a dictionary if you don't believe me.

[ Parent ]
Re: This isn't a NOW meeting. (5.00 / 2) (#28)
by freebird on Mon Sep 25, 2000 at 02:19:27 PM EST

Ah yes - if someone says something that might be considered "PC", it must be foolish. Isn't this the kneejerk reaction you accuse the PC crowd of? Noone argues about the dictionary definition, the dictionary just reflects usage, and that's the issue. You may say it's not an issue, but the very fact that people are bothered by it makes it one. I am a man, and I think this issue can be overdone (I still think "where no man has gone before" sounded better...) but it IS an issue. Look at Douglas Hofsteder's (sp?) pieces on the subject in Metamagical Themas, I think they're called "A Person Paper on Purity in Language". He makes the point by example - everywhere in his article where language makes a gender assumption, he replaces it with a race assumption, and the results are very distrurbing and really changed my thinking on the subject. And if you're going to call mr. Godel Escher Bach a PC Commie reactionary, I don't think we need to spend time talking to you.

...TAGGATC...(etc)
[ Parent ]

Why go against nature? (4.12 / 8) (#10)
by orthox on Mon Sep 25, 2000 at 02:15:52 AM EST

From the dawn of time one thing has sought a position over another (a'la darwin). Perhaps we as a civilization have evolved to the point to be having second thoughts about this situation, and rationalization and hypocracy is the result. Mabey we are merely a few steps away from breaking this cycle. Then again, mabey we are a few steps away from perfecting it.

Modern technology, and the Internet in particular are very powerful forces in the world today. So far they have shown their beneficial side to the world. Those that would enslave the world have come to the party a bit late, but the giant has noticed the mice and their new toys. I think in time we will begin to see the full potential of technology to further certain interests' desire for control. Things like automated biometric identification, required DNA submissions, with walk by DNA testing, network monitoring & routing tools, and crime prediction technology, are creeping over the horizon. The technology has the potential to do whatever its controllers ask of it...

Perhaps i'm paranoid, but one thing I do know is that most people, when given the opportunity, will take advantage of it. It is important to keep involved with government and politics, it is through that system that rights are protected and taken away.

Perhaps the true test of someone's character their actions in a world without a god or laws.

Re: Why go against nature? (4.00 / 1) (#26)
by Wah on Mon Sep 25, 2000 at 01:12:27 PM EST

Perhaps the true test of someone's character their actions in a world without a god or laws.

I don't think so. Without a set of guidelines, how can you judge if someone is of good character? But more importantly, what would it matter?

Perhaps i'm paranoid, but one thing I do know is that most people, when given the opportunity, will take advantage of it.

Hence we get religion and laws to guide action.
--
Fail to Obey?
[ Parent ]

Relativism and selfdoubt (3.83 / 6) (#15)
by Beorn on Mon Sep 25, 2000 at 08:46:35 AM EST

Relativism and selfdoubt is healthy in small portions, but it's a dangerous path to walk on. Sure, everything we believe in may be an illusion, and it's not at all impossible that what we're doing here today will have disastrous consequences tomorrow. But that's a chance we should take -- at least this once in human history.

As long as we *aim* for objectivity, honesty, rationality and realism, who can demand more? Cowardice is a worse sin than making an honest mistake. Take a stand, have an opinion, do what you believe is right. Our descendants will learn from our mistakes.

- Beorn

[ Threepwood '01 ]
Question everything (4.00 / 2) (#24)
by orthox on Mon Sep 25, 2000 at 11:49:06 AM EST

As long as we *aim* for objectivity, honesty, rationality and realism, who can demand more?

Unfortunately beyond objectivity everything is clearly tainted by subjectivity (actually objectivity is too). What is truth? Some people can rationalize murder, and my reality most definitely is not your's. Herein lies the problem. Society judged as a whole is roughly an average of these attributes. Probably akin to a bell curve. There will always be people on the fringe, on both sides. Those who are far from the ideals of these concepts and those that are close (but even defining the "ideals" of these concpets is subject to interpretation).

Part of the problem lies in language. Thanks to it we can build empires, but we are also bound by it, enslaved by it's generalizations, and ambiguities. Through langage paradox is possible, and the loss of much accuracy in objectivity, honesty, rationality and realism. A description of a real event is not real, no matter how many words you use.

The question is how to overcome these limitations of language in a structured way. Even as I write these words, I know that this is post is a mere shadow of my original concept/thought/idea/feeling/opinion/life.

[ Parent ]

Re: Question everything (4.00 / 3) (#30)
by Beorn on Mon Sep 25, 2000 at 02:38:38 PM EST

This is really the kind of relativism that bothers me. We all know the difference between a thought and a message to a web board, we all know words have ambigous meanings, and we all know that a true objective viewpoint doesn't exist -- it's old news, no surprise to anyone, so let's get on with it.

Philosophizing too hard on what *Truth*, *Objectivity* and *Meaning* is, doesn't lead us anywhere. It's a pointless recursive meditative excersise. Trying to *discover* truths, however, has given us art, philosophy and science.

- Beorn

[ Threepwood '01 ]
[ Parent ]
Dangerous assumptions (none / 0) (#45)
by orthox on Mon Sep 25, 2000 at 10:13:02 PM EST

"We all know the difference between a thought and a message to a web board, we all know words have ambigous meanings, and we all know that a true objective viewpoint doesn't exist -- it's old news, no surprise to anyone, so let's get on with it."

Making a totally subjective statement like this is exactly my point. How can someone engage in a search for the "truth" if they were to knowingly use statements like this to prove a point? Basing any argument on a generalized, unprovable assumption such as this is pure folly, and can only lead down a path away from the truth and into delusion.

IIRC philosophy is the act of "trying to discover truths" so I don't understand this statmenent at all:
Philosophizing too hard on what *Truth*, *Objectivity* and *Meaning* is, doesn't lead us anywhere. It's a pointless recursive meditative excersise. Trying to *discover* truths, however, has given us art, philosophy and science.

Its stuff like this that can lead to the very oppression that Tolstoy wrote about, use of generaliztions to enable rationalization of the hypocracy that lets us live in a society that seeks to oppress and suppress.

[ Parent ]

Re: Dangerous assumptions (3.50 / 2) (#50)
by Beorn on Tue Sep 26, 2000 at 09:11:35 AM EST

I don't understand. I'm not at all criticizing rational thought, which is the arch enemy of rationalization and hypocrisy.

I'm criticizing philosophies that spend more time on complex definitions of what truth *is*, than actually trying to discover truths. This includes modern language theory, which is abstract to the point of ridiculousness.

- Beorn

[ Threepwood '01 ]
[ Parent ]
Re: Relativism and selfdoubt (5.00 / 1) (#54)
by Simon Kinahan on Tue Sep 26, 2000 at 01:44:59 PM EST

The trouble is that an appeal to objectivity all too often means an appeal to someone else's authority. The core problem is that we can't directly share the evidence of our senses, or the thoughts in our minds with one another, we have to use language, and we have to engage in a conversation, but we cannot arrive at truth within language itself, which is the only one we can share. To find truth, we have to examine the evidence of our own senses, which are private and cannot be shared, and are, anyway, already filtered by our preconceptions.

In consequence, if you and I are to share some idea of the truth, we must start off with some common starting point, and then we must use words to arrive at a point where we both "see" the same thing. You may say this is so much so obvious, but a lot of our public life ignores it. Watch the news, especially the science reporting. How much of it actually follows this way of looking for the truth ? Most the time the reporters and interviewees just report "he said, she said", and never ever look for a way to resolve the conflict. This is the core, important, point at the heart of all the postmodern linguistic mumbo jumbo (which has gotten totally out of control, I agree). When you actually get your head around it, its a fundamentally democratic, liberating, fact. Your brain is just as good as anyone else's. Use it.

Having said that, its *only* the social, linguistic world that is relative. Our private, senorial, world is not. Its ours and noone can take it away. However, likewise, nor can you force it on anyone else. "Rationality" consists mostly of using our common experience of the real, external, world to try to arrive at truthful statements about it. Its all too easy to undermine that process, and its the attempts to relativists to do that that I find truly objectionable. It takes courage to be rational, as I think your second paragraph suggests.

After all that though: Tolstoy wasn't a relativist. He was a deeply moral Christian pacifist whose stance was really quite absolute, and through out all the various hypocrisies with which most Christians pad their philosophy. If what he says induces self doubt in you, I might humbly (or not, take it as you like) suggest that means you have quite a strong absolute stance founded somewhere very different.


Simon

If you disagree, post, don't moderate
[ Parent ]
No justification (3.71 / 7) (#18)
by Mobbsy on Mon Sep 25, 2000 at 10:17:11 AM EST

Why am I sitting in a pleasant office, full of muted greens and greys, indirect lights and ideal environmental control.

Why do I produce nothing? I don't even craft software anymore, I merely apply my knowledge and analytical skills to furthering the perceived status of a product, and to allowing already rich companies to reduce their costs.

Why don't I instead apply these skills I have to reducing human suffering?

Basically, because I'm comfortable here. There's no incentive for me to change my life. I could blame the survival drive that humans have evolved outweighing the altruistic drive to help "my fellow man". But really, I'm all right, Jack. I'll sit here, vote for social reform, spout liberal verbiage onto online forums. It doesn't make a great deal of difference to the world, certainly less than I could make if I tried.

There is no justification for this beyond pure self interest, and I don't think I have the will to change.

Re: No justification (none / 0) (#60)
by Rylian on Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 10:11:52 AM EST

You don't have to devote your whole life to carrying rice sacks in sub-Saharan Africa to reduce human suffering. You can pay someone else to do it for you. This is why we have an economic system. Money exists to transfer value. You create the same amount of value for the poor whether or not you are physically present. In fact, since you are probably a better worker-for-money than you are a rice-sack-carrier (I'm guessing), you'll be doing more for them by staying where you are.

I don't think there is any moral difference between helping someone directly and giving someone else the resources to do it. Spooning rice into a starving kid's mouth is good TV, but it's just as worthwhile to provide the materials and support for someone else to do it.

The bottom line: give money to worthwhile charities, join activist organisations, vote! Do what you are good at and give a portion to a cause.

[ Parent ]

The ignorance theory of human evil (3.25 / 4) (#23)
by marlowe on Mon Sep 25, 2000 at 11:41:30 AM EST

This notion that man is basically good and all wrongdoing is caused by ignorance is very comforting, but doesn't square with the facts.

If all evil were the result of not knowing better, then simply instructing people would cure it. But it doesn't work that way. We're all told murder is wrong. But murder happens anyway. We're all told smoking causes cancer. But, well, I think the point is made.

-- The Americans are the Jews of the 21st century. Only we won't go as quietly to the gas chambers. --
Just apply logic to the prevailing wisdom... (5.00 / 1) (#48)
by Anonymous 242 on Tue Sep 26, 2000 at 08:38:24 AM EST

If all evil were the result of not knowing better, then simply instructing people would cure it. But it doesn't work that way.

Its really quite simple ....

  1. Knowledge is power.
  2. Power corrupts.
  3. .: Knowledge corrupts.

;)

[ Parent ]

I don't know, wish I did (4.80 / 5) (#25)
by QuantumAbyss on Mon Sep 25, 2000 at 11:52:53 AM EST

Maybe I'll turn this into an article later, but for now I'll try to stay short...

I recently have been struggling with many of the questions above. I've been programming for as long as I can remember - went to school for computer science... and then realized - WTF am I doing?

I still love to code - I love everything about it. But still, there's been this nagging thing in back of me, always wondering what I am doing with this. I'd flirt with wandering into the wilderness, just leaving society, "screw'em" I'd say. That didn't feel right either.

So, Junior year I dropped. Not cuz school is hard, but because I can't conceptualize my place in the society as being what I want it to be. I transfered, I'll still go to school (but why? I'm still not sure). I'm thinking socielogy - devote myself to figuring this junk out - but who knows? Nobody.

The short of it is this: we don't know our place in society, and THAT is the problem, maybe. We do have a responsibilty, we ARE considered elite, we make ourselves elite.

I sat in a bar Saturday night, just watching people - a frat party in fact (they had reserved the place, but the waitress was feeling sorry for me or something and let me stay w/ my coffee and my thoughts). Well, this one guy is wondering what I'm writing - he's thinking that I'm writing about how stupid they all look, how messed up they all are. I'm not - I'm writing about how wonderful it is to just let go, but I can't that night, the gears just won't turn in that direction. He's staring at the girls, we're talking, he's blasted - and the only connection between us is that we don't know where we are.

Well, in a nutshell, I obviously have psychological problems. But my point is that NO we don't know where we are. Nobody. We don't have a way to figure it out, and until you do, you just float, you are nothing. We all lie to ourselves, we all lie to others - but when you stop lying you've either got to be drunk or crazy.

Science is not the pursuit of truth, it is the quest for better approximations to a perception of reality.
- QA
Re: I don't know, wish I did (5.00 / 1) (#29)
by Alarmist on Mon Sep 25, 2000 at 02:35:52 PM EST

Well, in a nutshell, I obviously have psychological problems.

How so? Coming to consciousness and realizing that you have no idea what life is all about and where it's all going isn't a psychological problem--it is a fact of life. Some philosophers include it in their definition of what is called "the human condition."

There's no easy solution. Watch others, sure, but read as well. Spend a lot of time thinking. Reduce whatever you can to fundamentals and go from there. You can make an ethical compass and choose a direction for your life from a single principle; find out what it is that makes you tick and go.

Fight the Power.


[ Parent ]

Re: I don't know, wish I did (none / 0) (#36)
by QuantumAbyss on Mon Sep 25, 2000 at 04:26:47 PM EST

I realize I'm not crazy - simply strange :)

I agree with those philosophers who include the unknowing state of life as part of "the human condition" - mostly. I don't think that it has to be the case if you admit that it is the case and learn to accept it. I suppose I'm refering to a Buddhist kind of state of Nirvana. Knowing that unknowing is knowing, ya know? Certainly such a place doesn't come to many. I think that it comes to even less in the current societal configuration we've got going - so I'm wondering, why?

fight The power indeed. But what, may I ask, is the power? It is hard to punch a ghost.



Science is not the pursuit of truth, it is the quest for better approximations to a perception of reality.
- QA
[ Parent ]
Re: I don't know, wish I did (none / 0) (#38)
by Alarmist on Mon Sep 25, 2000 at 05:12:50 PM EST

Certainly such a place doesn't come to many. I think that it comes to even less in the current societal configuration we've got going - so I'm wondering, why?

Because our society as a whole (and to a somewhat lesser extent, humanity in general) is goal-oriented. We like to think of things as having a point. People who aren't living their lives to a visible point (or people who give annoying answers to questions like, "What do you want to be when you grow up?") are an irritating reminder that not everything in life is knowable, predictable, or understandable.

I picked a principle for myself and built an ethical guide from it. It serves me pretty well, and I sometimes feel foolish or guilty when I don't live up to the standards I've set for myself. But I don't flog myself for it, and I don't think that I'm going to spend eternity in perdition because I didn't tip the waiter 15%. In other words, I am perfectly free to choose my destiny and my means for getting there. It's all my responsibility, and I don't have to depend on a supernatural deity or a government to tell me how I should live my life.

It takes a certain amount of fortitude to pull this off. It involves a lot of thinking about things, and for some people, thinking just isn't their strong suit. Plenty more people are content with being told what to do, and I guess that's fine for them. But some of us don't handle authority well, and so we have to go our own way.

Re: fighting the Power. It depends on your point of view. To me, the Power is any individual or organization that is committed to enslaving someone else, whether in body or in spirit. It includes things like many national governments, most media organizations, several large corporations, and a few genuinely bad people. They're all out to get us in one way or another, and since nobody else is going to help us, it's our responsibility to defend ourselves from them. Don't buy their poison. Don't believe their lies. Smile and nod, but think for yourself.

Fight the Power.


[ Parent ]

Re: I don't know, wish I did (none / 0) (#40)
by QuantumAbyss on Mon Sep 25, 2000 at 05:30:56 PM EST

Simply said - agreed (interesting that that word has 'greed' in it).

Science is not the pursuit of truth, it is the quest for better approximations to a perception of reality.
- QA
[ Parent ]
Re: I don't know, wish I did (none / 0) (#41)
by bugeyedbill on Mon Sep 25, 2000 at 06:08:46 PM EST

agreed (interesting that that word has 'greed' in it)

Well the 'greed' in the word does have a negative pretext 'a' to it.

[ Parent ]

Re: I don't know, wish I did (4.50 / 2) (#32)
by aphrael on Mon Sep 25, 2000 at 03:01:52 PM EST

The short of it is this: we don't know our place in society, and THAT is the problem, maybe. We do have a responsibilty, we ARE considered elite, we make ourselves elite.

I wonder if this is simply the historical role of what, during Communsit times, was called the intelligentsia?

Side Note: there seems to be this massive confusion in geek culture about how modern geek culture maps onto historical classes. Are programmers the modern equivalent of skilled labor -- ie., the people who built cathedrals, etc, but were essentially outside the main power structures of the day? Or are they the modern equivalent of the intellectual class, the great thinkers who drove philosophy and politics? A lot of the confusion seems to be that in terms of what we do programms are clearly part of the former group, but in terms of the formal training we've recieved many programmers fall into the latter group. It seems like it's largely an artificial distinction, but it's merely an oversimplification.

Seriously: one of the fundamental questions pervading geek culture is how geeks relate to society as a whole, and how we each as individuals place ourselves relative to the rest of our society. It's possible to interpret the battles over Napster, etc, as a contention between geeks and non-geeks for control of the legal structure; I think that would be a massive oversimplification, but there's a grain of truth to it, as well.



[ Parent ]
Re: I don't know, wish I did (5.00 / 1) (#34)
by QuantumAbyss on Mon Sep 25, 2000 at 04:00:48 PM EST

I think that many programmers are the modern equivalent of skilled labor. That has a little bit to do with why I am not pursuing my formal education in it. I kind of got a wake up call when I looked around and realized that I would have very little control over what I was doing. I'd just be building something.

Of course, there are certainly jobs where that isn't the case. But the vast majority of payed positions don't give you (the programmer) control over what you are making. That doesn't sit well with me, and I don't think that it should.

As far as the legal battles and geek vs. non-geek culture goes... I've noticed a lot of tension between myself and my family / friends who aren't so hot with computers and kindred technologies. I'm sure all of you have noticed such things as well. There is this hidden assumption that if you've got computer skills you are going to bring in the dough. You are set - job, kids, education, all of it. Not only that, but people really don't like it.

I'm not going to overly engage in the geek myth - four eyed, frog legged, pocket protectored, etc - because it doesn't fit me (20/20, athletic, should have a pocket protector in my jeans, but the ink can just do what it likes). But in my life I certainly never have been one of the 'popular' people - nor have I really wanted to be (he says with two-faces). Still, there is an implicit tension between the 'haves' and the 'have-nots' and that, I think is really the tension between the 'geeks' and the 'non-geeks' that you mention (acknowledging the simplification).

So that I don't type a 20 page report. It is my opinion that place in society is not well defined (at least in American/Western societies - I can't really talk otherwise). Certainly, ones place is whatever one percieves it to be, adjusted for what others percieve it. But that place isn't easy to come by (probably shouldn't be). What is worse, I don't think that many people ever come to rest on this issue. It just isn't a large enough priority within our society. As such, many people aren't happy with their day-to-day lives, or their larger place in society (once they come to realize it, they rarely have the ability to change it - that being the perception of ability).

I'm not really going anywhere concrete with this because I don't know where such a concrete place is.



Science is not the pursuit of truth, it is the quest for better approximations to a perception of reality.
- QA
[ Parent ]
Re: I don't know, wish I did (4.00 / 1) (#37)
by aphrael on Mon Sep 25, 2000 at 04:43:07 PM EST

There is this hidden assumption that if you've got computer skills you are going to bring in the dough.

Worse than that is when people assume that you went into computers because computer jobs can bring in the dough. I don't know about anyone else, but I would have found myself in computers even if there weren't massive amounts of money there; it's one of the things that i enjoy doing for its own sake, and there were little to no barriers to entry (as opposed to a lot of the other things i enjoy doing). Yet people assume i'm doing it for the money, which is infuriating.

One side effect of this is that i no longer introduce myself as a programmer --- i'm a skateboarder, or a motorcycle rider, or a linguist, and then only once you know me do you find out i'm a programmer. Which sucks, because I don't feel like I should hide what I do and who I am --- and I don't hide it per se, just choose to emphasize different things which are, in fact, less important. But it's the only way i've been able to adapt ...



[ Parent ]
Re: I don't know, wish I did (4.00 / 1) (#39)
by QuantumAbyss on Mon Sep 25, 2000 at 05:24:35 PM EST

Yeah, I know what you mean. People who know me know I didn't get into computers for the $ (and I purposely take jobs that pay less but I feel are doing things that are more valuable) - but when I meet someone, if I say I'm a programmer or a CS major or whatever, they automatically jump to the money (alot of the time).

I hate that, and I hate even having to think about lying about it. So instead I'll just knock out the whole speal, which is probably not so hot either...

Science is not the pursuit of truth, it is the quest for better approximations to a perception of reality.
- QA
[ Parent ]
Re: I don't know, wish I did (none / 0) (#47)
by HomeyO on Tue Sep 26, 2000 at 07:52:51 AM EST

Yea, but you have to realize that most people in CS are in it for the money. Hence why all these people, who know nothing about computers go into computer science when they get to school (and a lot of them drop out, but most of the ones left are just determined to make their money, just like the engineers).

[ Parent ]
Re: I don't know, wish I did (none / 0) (#52)
by Simon Kinahan on Tue Sep 26, 2000 at 01:17:39 PM EST

I think what we are just now is confused. As was said in another thread in this forum, maybe that ain't such a bad thing.

We live in a world where the class structure that Marx recognised and wrote about has broken down, if it ever had any validity at all, but where people still pin their identity within it, and seem to feel it matters. In the UK, senior managers will call themselves working class, and apparently believe this should be taken seriously as a claim because their grandfather was a coal miner. In the US, blue collar factory workers are accepted to be part of the middle class, even though they were historically the very core of the working class.

Instead of the old classes there are loads of new categories, which sometimes cut across occupational boundaries, ranging from the "part time service workers", to "senior managers" to "geeks". Most of these groups have no "class conciousness" in the old sense. There's certainly no ongoing effort to radicalise a whole occupation/income defined segment of the population.

For geeks specifically, while we're generally intelligent and highly paid, we still cover quite a big spectrum in both areas. Those involved in academic research are going to be nearer the forefront on intelligence, those doing yet another web front end using the technology of the week are going to be nearer the top on pay. In terms of the old categories, we're in a funny situation. Many of us have the goals and lifestyle that would have put us in the intelligentsia, but we have an attitude to our work that ranges between that of skilled labour and that of professional engineers (I think this depends on what exactly you do), and we're all too often managed as if we were unskilled labour.

Seen from the perspective of what we could do given sufficient unity of purpose, we have a lot of power, but the way we work - as employees of organisations, subservient by and large to their goals that we have only a limited role in setting - this power is dispersed and neutralised. We're valuable, but in terms of social, as opposed to personal, outcomes we have very little power.

Now it may be that we're seeing the beginnings of a "class conciousness" amongst geeks as a group. Things like deCSS and Napster are the latest round in a process that started with the Communications Decency Act. We've become less and less convinced that we can achieve our ends through technology, partly because we've realised that its usually our employers, and not us, who control the technology (someone wrote CSS, after all). Personally I doubt it will amount to anything. We seem to have a tendency to complain to one another, but never actually take collective action to convince everyone else.

Simon

If you disagree, post, don't moderate
[ Parent ]
Uncertainty and Quantum Mechanics (none / 0) (#55)
by HomeyO on Tue Sep 26, 2000 at 01:53:47 PM EST

The other posts are fine and all, but they do not seem to bring out the heart of what Mr. Quantum is saying.

I believe that his predicament lies more in the uncertainty principle, as the ruler of all principles, and fitting to his name.

See, by a simple derivation (change in E)*(change in t)approx. h can be turned into (certainty in position of life)*(amount of lies) approx. h. That is, the more you lie to yourself and others, the more certain you are about yourself. If you have infinite amount of lies, then you are absolutely certain about your position in life. But, if you are completely uncertain about your position in life, then you have no lies. However, that does not bring out the causality of the event, if you stop telling lies, then you become uncertain about your position in life (infinity in the equation).

As Bohr would say, these are complementary states. (he even talks about complementary states with respect to social things, if I recall correctly).

Everyone lies about how good things are working (economy, everyone is happy, that type of stufF). So that is all fine and dandy. But a bigger problem is the general case of lying to yourself to make yourself feel good. You know, when you break up with your girlfriend (OR she breaks up with you!), she all of a sudden becomes a bitch. Have you ever figured that one out. It is because you got hurt by her (or were mad at her), so you say something crappy about her, and make her INTO the lower position, a worse person that is. This makes you feel better because you are better than her. (girls do this too, so fuck you feminists).

Anyway, I think things like this, or on this level of society are what Mr. Quantum has a problem with. Breaking up to things like what you like, to deaths, and all around are subject to this sort of lying. The resurgence of Karma seems to be such a lie, I do not know it well because I could care less, but, bad things will happen eventually to bad people, or whatever. That is just something you tell yourself to make YOU feel good, because you think you are good and you have not got your goodies yet. REligion, I do not want to even go there. This whole story that I am making up now, I do not want to go there either, because I am not sure if I beleive even what I say ..

And in order to find your place in society and things like that you need to lie to yourself about this kind of stuff. Ask questions, I will answer later. Got to go now.

[ Parent ]
Things have changed, but the point stands (4.80 / 5) (#27)
by Simon Kinahan on Mon Sep 25, 2000 at 01:21:05 PM EST

Things have changed a bit since Tolstoy's time. The Russia he lived in was an autocratic, feudal, and agrarian society. In those circumstances - at least to modern eyes - its very clear that the peasantry (serfs, actually, in Romanov Russia) were being exploited by the landowners.

Its a bit less clear whether the poorest in modern society are really exploited. Noone now has a legal status where they're forbidden to own property or forbidden to vote. Indeed, the modern emphasis seems to be on the idea that poor people are basically a nuisance, and the best solution is to find a way of making them richer. Since the underclass, and those living in subsistance circumstances in less developed parts of the world, are in a position where the bearly participate in the economic process, its hard for me to see what anyone could be gaining from keeping them there.

However, it does seem that there remains a lot of hypocrisy in the world. When people try to consider the effects of their actions, a lot of the answers they give (and I include myself in this) sound an awful lot like excuses. A lot of this hypocrisy seems to surround the market mechanisms, and indeed they might almost have been set up to encourage it. When we go shopping, generally we buy goods with no idea at all about their provenance, and similarly when we enter into contracts to work for other people our employers gain an excuse to stop treating us as human beings and start treating us as "head count".

For example, when I go and buy a new pair of trainers, I'm usually doing so in circumstances (a moderately trendy shoe shop) which are almost designed to hide from me any information about how the shoes were produced. A pair made by slave labour in Myanmar is stacked right next to a pair produced by machine somewhere in Italy. The only information you get is price, and that's far too narrow a channel to really discover the effects of your actions.

Although the ruthless hierarchy of Tolostoy's day has gone, it seems we've replaces with a kind of heartless mechanistic mutual exploitation, where our simple ignorance of the effects of our actions comes to excuse them, by hiding them in some other part of society where they cannot be seen.

I should stress at this point that I'm not one of those nutty anti-capitalist types. I think, in fact, that mutual exploitation is a big improvement over hierarchical tyrrany, but I guess Tolstoy would want us to remember that harm is still being done, and we are still causing some of it.

Simon

If you disagree, post, don't moderate
I think this is precisely Tolstoy's point.... (none / 0) (#49)
by Anonymous 242 on Tue Sep 26, 2000 at 08:49:12 AM EST

The poor are not really exploited.

Its a bit less clear whether the poorest in modern society are really exploited. Noone now has a legal status where they're forbidden to own property or forbidden to vote. Indeed, the modern emphasis seems to be on the idea that poor people are basically a nuisance, and the best solution is to find a way of making them richer. Since the underclass, and those living in subsistance circumstances in less developed parts of the world, are in a position where the bearly participate in the economic process, its hard for me to see what anyone could be gaining from keeping them there.

Slaves made my shoes.

For example, when I go and buy a new pair of trainers, I'm usually doing so in circumstances (a moderately trendy shoe shop) which are almost designed to hide from me any information about how the shoes were produced. A pair made by slave labour in Myanmar is stacked right next to a pair produced by machine somewhere in Italy. The only information you get is price, and that's far too narrow a channel to really discover the effects of your actions.

I think I see the typical capitalist's reasons for continuing to exploit people who happen to live in countries with ineffective labor laws.

I'm not singling Simon Kinahan out. I do the same thing. To a greater and lesser extent we all do this. We divorce our everyday actions from what we think is (im|a)moral with the result that we end up in the state that Tolstoy speaks of where we are not being honest with ourselves.

On the one hand I think there is a certain level of practicality that can not be ignored. On the other hand I think that threshold is far lower (or higher depending on one's view) than most people think (at least here in the US).

[ Parent ]

Re: I think this is precisely Tolstoy's point.... (none / 0) (#51)
by Simon Kinahan on Tue Sep 26, 2000 at 09:21:43 AM EST

Thanks for the thought provoking comment. Let me try to be a little clearer. I was trying to break down the category "poor people" into two separate parts.

First, there are those with only minimal participation in the economic process. I'd include in that subsistence farmers who generally produce and consume everything within the same family or village unit. They do sell their surplusses, and use the proceeds to buy goods, but thats only a very small part of their activity. I'd also include those who live on state welfare payments, and don't make an effort to find work. They do buy goods, but their money goes through a very short path from state to pocket to shopkeeper and straight back into the "mainstream" economy again. Its hard to see how either of these groups is exploited, as they don't fit into the loop of production and consumption relationships the rest of us do. If you see a reason to disagree, please say, but this is the group I was talking about when I wrote that first paragrapch.

On the other hand, there are those who do fit into the cycle of production and consumption, but whose "value" (in purely economic, not human) terms is very low, either because they live in a state where they are little better than slaves, or because they have no opportunity to acquire skills. Our lives are constructed so that we are never, or only very rarely, made aware of our relationships with these people, which are generally much closer than we'd like to think (what are you wearing ? do you know who made it ?). Whilst every step in the chain of supply between me and a child in a factory in China is technically a "voluntary" agreement, its only such in a very limited sense. Its this area where I definitely see Tolstoy's argument as remaining applicable: that we're hypocritical to so carefully ingore what goes into making our lives possible.

Simon

If you disagree, post, don't moderate
[ Parent ]
Re: I think this is precisely Tolstoy's point.... (none / 0) (#53)
by Anonymous 242 on Tue Sep 26, 2000 at 01:20:50 PM EST

On your first point, I mostly agree. The only flaw I see (off the top of my head) is that it overlooks the working poor in the US. There are a tremendous number of people that get opressed in the US by amoral companies. On the one hand, it is true that employment in the US is voluntary. On the other hand, for someone with no skills or with the wrong skills, there sometimes aren't any other choices than to continue to work for an exploitive company. I won't even start on companies that are deceptive about safety practices.

Your second point, though, really shines.

we're hypocritical to so carefully ingore what goes into making our lives possible.

I wonder that the same people that are genuinely confused about how the German people could have allowed the Jewish Holocaust to have happened seem to have no second thoughts about buying from a company whose profits are built on the blood of innocents. The best analysis of this that I've seen is in John Alexeander's book The Secular Squeeze. Alexander's analysis is simple: we don't know because we don't want to know. Its uncomfortable to think about the pain and suffering that makes the middle class American lifestyle possible, so we don't think about it and write off those who do as loonies.

The question I struggle with is, if I do work for justice, where can I stop? Lets say I start only buying used clothes or clothes from collectives that pay fair market prices from producers in less advantaged countries. Well, if I drink coffee, I'm still contributing to slavery. So I cut out coffee. Uh. Oh. Most computers have parts made in Indonesia or Burma or China. The list goes on and on and on. Where does it stop?

While I find avoiding the issue simply because of the slippery slope to be cowardice, neither do I know where to draw the line.

[ Parent ]

Talk about oversimplification... (4.00 / 4) (#31)
by freebird on Mon Sep 25, 2000 at 02:57:54 PM EST

need only make a moral effort

Tolstoy, like most True Believers, thinks that if you simply let yourself try, you'll see the truth, and implicitly, that it will be the same truth he saw. Now, I don't want to come off as the raving relativist, but that seems implausible. If the Moral Truth was that simple, wouldn't more people agree on it?

I would tend to argue that this 'meta-idea', more than any specific set of beliefs, is responsible for many if not all of the injustices and tragedies of our race's history. Perhaps when we accept that we live in a pretty complex universe, and that there may be 'more than one way to do it' (yes,perl will save the universe :) will we make progress on these issues.


...TAGGATC...(etc)

Re: Talk about oversimplification... (none / 0) (#57)
by Wah on Tue Sep 26, 2000 at 08:36:18 PM EST

while there are many ways somthing can be done, the moral effort is about the consequences of those actions. How hard do you want to try to make sure they are good? And how much do you want to think about it? He cites the example of a soldier who just assumed that somewhere a priest could justify killing in the army and that commandment about killing. And that's as far as the soldier took the argument.

Read the entire piece if you haven't. I thought he showed a rather deep understanding behind the motivations of people. And how those motivations are themselves wrapped up in the "what's best for me" cage that no one can escape.
--
Fail to Obey?
[ Parent ]
(3.00 / 2) (#35)
by aphrael on Mon Sep 25, 2000 at 04:26:02 PM EST

: Are we truly honest with ourselves about how society is organized, and our position in it as engineers, programmers, scientists

Almost certainly not. It's hard to be. One of the most frustrating things about politics in the US is that everyone has this underlying suspicion that the people pulling the levers of power aren't the people who are apparently pulling the levers of power --- a pernicous suspicion that infects almost all discourse. But even without pulling massive conspiracy theories out of a hat, you've got to wonder: democracy is good, free markets are good, but who really is in control, and whose interests are served by the system?

Is it possible that because our work can used to harm others, we are afforded relatively elite positions in society

It's not so much that our work can be used to harm others, but that others don't understand our work, and there aren't enough of us yet to have competitive downward wage pressure. That will change.



Re: (none / 0) (#42)
by bugeyedbill on Mon Sep 25, 2000 at 06:32:22 PM EST

It's not so much that our work can be used to harm others, but that others don't understand our work, and there aren't enough of us yet to have competitive downward wage pressure. That will change.

I don't dispute that from an economic standpoint. But from a powerholder's perspective, what will happen to him if people with technical skills find that their standards of living decrease as a result of competitive wage scales? It is not unreasonable to assume that those people will turn their talents and skills against the powerholder. So that is why I presented the question. I believe that while we may have skills that other people lack, there are other factors involved, one being that our skills present a threat that must be integrated into the existing social structure. I remember a particularly amusing comment from Lars of Metallica about the creator of Napster, he wasn't mad at the guy, but he was pissed at his bosses (record industry) for not having "provided him a job". That's the kind of thing I'm talking about.

[ Parent ]

"War and World" not "War and Peace& (4.00 / 2) (#43)
by mi on Mon Sep 25, 2000 at 06:33:25 PM EST

This is not really on-topic, but I thought I'll say it anyway. The words "world" and "peace" in contemporary Russian are omonims (written identically), but they were written different in Tolstoy's times (they did and still do sound the same). The translation of his most known book in English should've been named "War and World".

	-mi


War and Peace (4.00 / 1) (#44)
by richieb on Mon Sep 25, 2000 at 10:05:54 PM EST

I've read "War and Peace" last summer and I really enjoyed the book. But I found the bits of Tolstoy's religious philosophy totally unconvincing. In fact after the rest of the wonderful story, his final musings were a big letdown.

The beauty and power of a book such as "War and Peace" is in the detailed portrayal of the actions and emotions of the people of the story. Even though the events in War and Peace took place nearly 200 years ago and there were serious technological and political changes since then, the basic "human heart" is still the same.

Any reader can identify with the emotions felt by Tolstoy characters, be it the feeling of falling in love during a moonlight sleigh ride, or the horror of witnessing an execution. We feel the same, even 200 years later.

The art of Tolstoy's writing is in his ability to bring these characters to life. His philosophy on the other hand seems dated and not too relevant today, except perhaps to Tolstoy's scholars.

...richie
It is a good day to code.

This is a powerful essay (4.00 / 1) (#56)
by Wah on Tue Sep 26, 2000 at 08:05:06 PM EST

don't let the "christianity" stuff scare you away. Read how he villifies the "church."

I was reading this today and found some powerful arguments against what I consider barbaric copyright controls, and plan to use them in an upcoming article here.

Anyway, to answer your question. It's a matter of will, and whether or not you wish that will to be moral. He also illustrates a rather profound understanding of the peasant class. And in the difference between scientific proofs and social ones. Some really great stuff.

One other thing to note (something that makes Tolstoy immune to Godwin's law) is that this was all written before the Nazis. If only a number of them had read it. In a final note about the power of this essay...

The Kingdom of God is Within You is the book which won over Gandhi to the idea of non-resistance to evil.
--
Fail to Obey?

Slightly OT (2.00 / 1) (#61)
by Rainy on Wed Sep 27, 2000 at 10:17:54 PM EST

I was raised in Russia, and we were forced to read War&Peace in rather tender age of 14 or so.

I didn't like it.. Some parts were rather good but in other parts he's plainly absurd. One thing that stuck was an idea that Napoleon as an individual doesn't matter - that forces of history, wills of millions of people united in their dream of conquest or something to that end.. I think that's pure bullshit. If Napoleon or any other envader decided to live their life out quietly, there would be no war. Has there *ever* been a recorded precedent where people have risen and marched to some distant land by themselves? It has always been politics, quest for power by high-ranking few. I think the guy is just overrated. I've also read one article where he was stronly criticized and many of his books were taken apart line by line and absurd/ugly things from literary standpoint shown.

But then again, I also think that Shakespeare is also overrated... I believe it was Bernard Shaw who said that he has never read anyone so intellectually limited, ranging on imbecility, as Shakespeare, with one exception of Homer. I believe most classics are rather dull and the only reason they're so respected is tradition.. 'new classics' like Orwell and Markes, are far better.
--
Rainy "Collect all zero" Day

Leo Tolstoy Revisited | 62 comments (57 topical, 5 editorial, 0 hidden)
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