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The Philosophy of Humility

By kholmes in Op-Ed
Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 12:41:31 PM EST
Tags: Round Table (all tags)
Round Table

Given recent articles, it seems many people know what they don't want to see in our discussions. Some would even rather we abandon debating about politics altogether. They see politics as a moot topic--one at which no one succeeds at arguing about. Instead, no one develops a greater understanding but rather the participants grow increasingly frustrated and angry. Eventually we ignore each other altogether.


My opinion is that Kuro5hin is the proper place to discuss policies and government. But a problem that seems to plague most political debates is an overwhelming lack of humility.


An inspiring read for even those who have never been introduced to philosophy is "The Apology" written by Plato. Here Socrates, who we consider the father of philosophy, gives a speech to defend himself against the charges of corrupting the youth and teaching atheism. From this speech we get the popular quote "The unexamined life is not worth living". But we also get something even more important: a lesson on humility.


You see, in his defense, Socrates explains what sort of wisdom he possesses. He recieves word from an oracle of the gods that he is the wisest man. Socrates is stumped by this. He didn't think himself wise at all. In fact, he believed he knew nothing.


Eventually, Socrates realizes what the oracle meant. That the wisest man is the one who knows the limitations of his own wisdom. "For only god is wise" he proudly declares to his accusers.


Through the centuries our study of philosophy has continued to come back to this initial conclusion. That we really know nothing at all. From Hume who argued that almost everything we know is wrong or, at least, unreasonable to Neitsche who demanded that all morality is a sham.


Yet somehow the doctrines we have adopted have borne fruit. I can step into my automobile confident that if I have enough gasoline, I can start its engine and travel to work much quicker than if I had walked. We accept that a time of peace is more tranquil than a time of war and so we try to keep peace as much as possible. Few would reject that many of us live better and easier than those who lived centuries past.


Yet it would be easy for us in our modern world to tell Socrates as if he was alive today "We know so much more than you did in your time. We know that all material things are made up of atoms and even they are composed of much smaller things. We have built machines that can propel themselves, machines that can compute billions of times faster than any man could. We know the secrets of the farthest of the universe and of the life that lives on our eyelashes. Surely, we are wise."


But knowledge isn't the same as wisdom, Socrates would surely say. In fact, they are barely related.


This article isn't merely about a conceptual consideration of wisdom. The philosophy of humility applies to all sorts of debate and discussions and decisions we participate in everyday.


An Example: Ethics and Humility


Modern ethical arguments commonly come between two sets of beliefs. One is that there is an absolute right and wrong. The other is that morality is subjective based on culture, experience, or even the individual. The ethical absolutist sees the relativist as immoral and unable to see the obvious truths of right and wrong. The ethical relativist sees the absolutist as dogmatic and unreasonable. Eventually the relativist pulls the contradiction "Who are you to tell me what is right or wrong!" And the absolutist responds "Because I know I'm right!"


What is the solution to this rhetorical crisis? No line of reasoning can untangle this rhetorical web. By the title of this article you might think the answer lies with the relativist. The absolutist seems the least humble by claiming to know the truth as if handed to him by God.


But the answer rather lies with the ethical absolutist. Because the relativist is accusing him of a lack of humility, only he can prove otherwise. With ethical relativism, there is no capability of it being an unquestioned doctrine because it accepts all things as being true. Relativism is a stalled philosophy that can not build upon itself because without the ability of being unquestioned also takes away the ability of being humble. Humility and unquestioned allegiance are complements that, like good and evil, and light and darkness, the possibility of one must include the possibility of the other.


The proper response by the ethical absolutist is thus: "I know I am limited in my faculty of the mind and I can not say for certain that I am wiser than you. However, I must assume that I am a reasonable being and because I am convinced of my belief, it is up to you to convince me otherwise."


Humility is hard


Beyond reason, humility is the most important aspect of any discussion. In contrast to reason, I doubt it can ever be mastered. We all have found ourselves fallen into the pit of unquestioned allegiance. We will probably fall again in the future. But if we all have Socrates over our shoulder reminding us "I have no wisdom," then it can make it easier to climb out of the pit and accept our limitations and move on, pride intact.


I don't think I have to explain now how the above relates to almost any discussion, especially one about politics. Once you have given your unquestioned allegiance to any idea, political party, even reason itself, then you have stalled your own development as an intellectual.


For the rest of you who remain humble, then needs to be a way of detecting this. To sense whether the person you are debating with is looking for answers or is preaching his pre-established faith can decide how you intend to respond. What I have found is that when a person begins getting crafty with their rhetoric is a sign for suspicion. It is as if they have run out of plain arguments and facts that now they need to convince people out of wit or aggression.

The point I want to make is that debate is good, even political debate. But it can not progress to a conclusion without a sense of humility on the side of all participants. Humility is even more important than reason, in my opinion, because logic can always be corrected but never a lack of humility.

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Display: Sort:
The Philosophy of Humility | 129 comments (104 topical, 25 editorial, 0 hidden)
Kuro5hin: (3.83 / 12) (#3)
by spacejack on Thu Sep 19, 2002 at 09:07:45 PM EST

technology and culture, from the trenches.

The problem is that Scoop itself is too good -- armchair politicians have discovered that it provides a superior debating experience (over, say, CNN or Yahoo's messageboards). I think Rusty should set up a politically-oriented site and charge you addicts top dollar.

It's the Culture bit... (2.00 / 3) (#63)
by Genady on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 01:17:52 PM EST

technology and culture, from the trenches.

Yep. To think that politics has no impact on culture is to burry one's head in the sand and block out the world.

--
Turtles all the way down.
[ Parent ]
rrrrrrrr (1.00 / 1) (#75)
by mpalczew on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 03:36:50 PM EST

Technology is listed first then culture.  Now politics is a small part of the second, yet retards  can't get enough of them.
-- Death to all Fanatics!
[ Parent ]
So go read slashdot (1.00 / 1) (#77)
by Genady on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 03:57:24 PM EST

If it's news fer Nerds yer craving, then why don't you go get a heaping spoon full and leave us punters who want to talk about something more important than the release of the latest Anime in peace (or war, whatever, just leave us)

--
Turtles all the way down.
[ Parent ]
slashdot sucks (2.00 / 4) (#80)
by mpalczew on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 04:35:20 PM EST

Where the fuck did you come to the conclusion that it's news for Nerds that I'm craving?  idiot. wtf is a punter anyway?  And Who the fuck do you think you are telling me to leave here?
-- Death to all Fanatics!
[ Parent ]
GET SOME PRIORITIES! (3.25 / 4) (#85)
by spacejack on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 07:04:04 PM EST

Over one year has passed since the attacks on the WTC. Most people have moved on with their lives and are focusing on their families, their jobs, interests and hobbies.

And yet you people would prefer to dwell on age old political issues that never change, grinding the rest of the productive world to a halt with your endless political "debates". My *god* people, get some priorities! You disgust me!

[ Parent ]
Socrates humility (4.00 / 8) (#7)
by speek on Thu Sep 19, 2002 at 09:40:32 PM EST

Whilst mooning his audience, "This is my ass. Not very pretty, is it?" Wiggle wiggle.

It's hard to take seriously any argument that starts out by dividing the world into two categories. You know, there's only two kinds of people in this world - those who divide the world into two categories, and those who don't. The relativist and the absolutist can argue till their blue in the face - it's neither here nore there far as I'm concerned.

--
Perhaps the State of Hawaii could countersue the woman that gave birth to and raised a

Not political, +1. Psuedointelectual wank, -1. (2.33 / 3) (#9)
by BinaryTree on Thu Sep 19, 2002 at 09:55:52 PM EST

This adds up to 0.

What is a wank? (3.00 / 2) (#12)
by kholmes on Thu Sep 19, 2002 at 10:03:29 PM EST

I thought it meant masturbation but from your context, that can't be it.

If you treat people as most people treat things and treat things as most people treat people, you might be a Randian.
[ Parent ]
No, you got it (3.50 / 2) (#15)
by Irobot on Thu Sep 19, 2002 at 10:26:35 PM EST

Just append "mental" in front...

Irobot

The one important thing I have learned over the years is the difference between taking one's work seriously and taking one's self seriously. The first is imperative and the second is disastrous. -- Margot Fonteyn
[ Parent ]

Ahh. No. (4.25 / 4) (#21)
by kholmes on Thu Sep 19, 2002 at 10:46:27 PM EST

Seriously, when I was writing this article I was prepared for it to be voted down. I was not prepared for the amount of arrogance that would be projected my way.

I was not writing this article as a way of pleasuring myself. I was hoping it would offer some context for people who'd rather not see political debates on kuro5hin. The real problem with the political debates was what I seen as a lack of humility, or a single-mindedness.

But look at the alternative? Look at the comments of the Mr. Happy article. No one is saying anything at all. There's no discussion really. This could turn kuro5hin into a trivia site.

If I instead posted a story about something interesting that happened on september 19 fourty years ago, would I have been voted up? -1 not political indeed.

But I suppose if I don't make my motivations clear in my writing people will assume I am pleasuring myself. Or that the people on this site really are arrogant and that someone advocating humility is offensive to them.

Or maybe I am suffering from a humbling experience.

If you treat people as most people treat things and treat things as most people treat people, you might be a Randian.
[ Parent ]

You misinterpret my intention (4.25 / 4) (#45)
by Irobot on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 08:51:36 AM EST

I wasn't criticizing your article, just answering your question. I have a particular affinity for the term "mental masturbation," as it perfectly describes many thoughts that people express. You asked, I simply answered. As a matter of fact, I basically agree with the viewpoint of the article.

With that said, you've prompted me to give a topical comment. I think the "absolute" division between moral absolutism and relativism is not only clumsy, but a false dichotomy. Further, from a previous comment, my stance on moral absolutists is:

Absolute morality. Bah. I'd go so far as to say that those who believe in absolute morality are being willfully ignorant. To actually believe that a single set of rules apply across all times and cultures indicates either a blinding megalomania or a smallness of mind that truly frightens me. If morality is absolute, there must be some set of rules that can be applied in every case to tell us exactly what the "moral" action is. As if a simple case statement algorithm that takes into account all the factors that might be involved in a "moral" question could actually do justice to the complexity involved. It's so simplistic as to be laughable. Which is why I won't engage in a discussion with them - it's not my duty to bring them kicking and screaming out of the darkness of the Platonic cave in which they're so happily ensconced.

Of course, I suppose another reason for believing in an "absolute morality" might just be intellectual laziness of the "Oh, it makes my head hurt" variety. (The "man can't know the mind of god" argument comes in here also. Which is nothing more than a lame excuse for avoiding thinking about what is moral.) Choosing a "moral" path is difficult, keeping it internally consistent is worse. Actually living up to a consistent set of morals is an achievement to go in the annals of history. A moral relativist has every right to attempt to influence others as far as the first two are concerned; that's where discussion and argumentation comes in. For the third, each and every person is on their own.


Irobot

The one important thing I have learned over the years is the difference between taking one's work seriously and taking one's self seriously. The first is imperative and the second is disastrous. -- Margot Fonteyn
[ Parent ]

Absolute rules vs. Absolute principles (none / 0) (#92)
by magney on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 11:59:27 PM EST

My personal morality is founded on the absolute principle that it is wrong to harm people and right to help people.

Thanks to the uncertainty about what constitutes harm (and worse, uncertainty about what constitutes people - see also the abortion and veganism debates), the usefulness of this principle as a guide to everyday actions is roughly equivalent of the usefulness of the Schrödinger equation to biology.

Nevertheless, I don't consider myself a moral relativist, but I do agree that the purveyors of complex absolute rules declared by fiat are grossly oversimplifying the wild complexity of human affairs.

Do I look like I speak for my employer?
[ Parent ]

Does it matter? (none / 0) (#101)
by Irobot on Sat Sep 21, 2002 at 08:51:27 PM EST

Seems like a decent distinction to keep in mind, but the issue with it you raise seems to make it pretty much meaningless. By saying "this principle is an absolute, although I can't tell you how to apply it to an arbitrary situation," it seems to me that you might as well call it a relative position. A matter of semantics that doesn't help much.

I suppose what I'm trying to say is that it may be a theoretically valid distinction that allows you to say, I don't consider myself a moral relativist, but speaking practically, it's no distinction at all. Am I wrong?

Irobot

The one important thing I have learned over the years is the difference between taking one's work seriously and taking one's self seriously. The first is imperative and the second is disastrous. -- Margot Fonteyn
[ Parent ]

Perhaps not... (none / 0) (#106)
by magney on Sun Sep 22, 2002 at 04:28:15 PM EST

...but it does mean for example that, since I'm thoroughly convinced that there's no demonstrable harm to homosexuality, I consider bigotry against homosexuality to be absolutely wrong.

Do I look like I speak for my employer?
[ Parent ]

Not to be difficult, but... (none / 0) (#112)
by Irobot on Mon Sep 23, 2002 at 02:56:04 AM EST

I'm not trying to be a dick and I certainly don't support the following position, but some people would argue that there is demonstrable harm inherent in homosexuality. Oddly enough, in my experience, they fall into the class of people who believe in absolute morality, be they either rules or principles.

To me, the interesting question here is whether one can base absolute principles on relative views.

Irobot

The one important thing I have learned over the years is the difference between taking one's work seriously and taking one's self seriously. The first is imperative and the second is disastrous. -- Margot Fonteyn
[ Parent ]

About honing your mental tools (none / 0) (#103)
by bjornw on Sun Sep 22, 2002 at 05:38:05 AM EST

When you repair your car or computer the kinds of tools you have and the ability to use them greatly affect the outcome. The same goes for discussions.

So, here we are handed two very nice tools: The concepts of humility and moral relativism vs. absolutism.

The problem with humility as I see it, is that it is easy to understand but hard to know when to apply. Yes, looking at Socrates is a way to improve one's skill.

The other one seems to be hard to use. I like to believe that there is a gliding scale: Some things are almost always true (like: you shouldn't kill other people) which makes them close to an absolute truth. This means that they are quite good to follow regardless of where you happen to be.
Things laying in the other end of the scale may be necessary to keep you alive in your neighbor block but are counter-productive elsewhere.

I appreciate what this article is trying to do.

[ Parent ]

Absolutist has other replies (4.33 / 3) (#10)
by HidingMyName on Thu Sep 19, 2002 at 09:59:36 PM EST

Absolutists according to your description assert the principle of the excluded middle, that is each statement is true or false (but not both). Absolutism does not say that we know the truth or falsehood of the statements. So it is possible to say I don't know. Some statements (like scientific hypotheses) are approximations of (an unknown) truth. Typically measurement and comparison (error estimates, etc.) need to be used to pick the best approximation.

A plee (2.50 / 4) (#16)
by kholmes on Thu Sep 19, 2002 at 10:27:35 PM EST

If everyone who votes this down thinks I am masturbating, I would be very upset.

If you treat people as most people treat things and treat things as most people treat people, you might be a Randian.
Apology (4.00 / 3) (#17)
by iwnbap on Thu Sep 19, 2002 at 10:37:13 PM EST

Socrates (to my reading) was being incredibly arrogant through the apology; what he was saying, essentially, was that "I am a philosopher, all the rest of you merely think you're wise, but I'm so god-damned wise I know I'm not and I know you're not - so there!". I read it as deliberate irony on the nature of wisdom, but it's incredibly arrogant. It incensed the jury enough that they put him to death.   Perhaps if he were merely to have denied the charges in a simple fashion, he would have escaped.

Sorry to upset you (3.50 / 2) (#18)
by hobo willy on Thu Sep 19, 2002 at 10:38:27 PM EST

but even as you made that post you betrayed yourself to us--deep down, you knew better than anyone else what you were up to.

[ Parent ]
I'm pretty sure that wasn't the clencher (none / 0) (#61)
by X3nocide on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 01:07:49 PM EST

But rather the fact that he suggested the jury punish him with a feast, for corrupting Athenian faith in their government. Quite scary really but those were different times. Can you imagine living in a society where the common belief is that theres no such thing as truth? That nobody can truely understand what another says? Thats some pretty deep shit to be teaching 8 year olds. Its almost like pokemon or something. "Denouncing the evils of truth and justice; to unite all peoples within our nations; sailing off at the speed of wind, Team Athens will rule the world!"

pwnguin.net
[ Parent ]
That ain't the most humble response (4.55 / 9) (#22)
by mech9t8 on Thu Sep 19, 2002 at 10:50:07 PM EST

Saying "I believe it is so and you have to prove it otherwise" is a cop-out. Once the argument is made based on a statement on moral superiority without backing (thus provoking "Who are you to tell me what is right or wrong!") is discussion is essentially pointless.  There is no point trying to disprove something when there are no arguments to disprove; or, at least, it is usually an unrewarding experience.
  • absolutist: The moon is made of green cheese.
  • relativist: <scientific evidence - scientific evidence - scientific evidence>
  • absolutist: I dismiss your evidence, and assert again that the moon is made of green cheese.
  • relativist: Who are you to say the moon is made of green cheese? What about all these arguments that it isn't?
  • absolutist: I know I am limited in my faculty of the mind and I can not say for certain that I am wiser than you. However, I must assume that I am a reasonable being and because I am convinced of my belief, it is up to you to convince me otherwise.
See? Unrewarding. What can the relativist say to convince the absolutist?

No, I think the correct response to "Who are you to tell me what is right or wrong!" is to explain the basis of your moral belief.  For instance...

  • "I think it is wrong because of my Christian faith. I really don't want to get into a discussion of why I think Jesus is the Saviour, and how I have interpreted the various religous texts to support my position, so let's call it a day."
  • "I think it is wrong because, well, I just think it's wrong. Something in my brain, I guess. I have no arguments (or no more arguments) to support it, so let's call it a day."
  • "I think it is wrong because of the reasons I have discussed earlier. For some reason, I think Point A is very, very important, while you think Point A is not very important. Let's a have a discussion on how we each rate the important of Point A, and see if we can pinpoint where our differences lie..."
There is a certain arrogance in saying "prove it to me otherwise" without providing some basis for such a discussion. "Reasonable" implies there are reasons for beliefs; the most humble response is, therefore, not "I think I am reasonable, but I'm not providing any reasons - now convince me!", but "I am, strictly speaking, unreasonable on this issue. Sorry."

(Obvious, this assumes that the "who are you to say" accusation is valid. If the relativist jumps on "who are you to say" simply because he disagrees with the validity or importance of other points, he's obviously the one in the wrong.)

--
IMHO

I skipped the debate (2.50 / 2) (#26)
by kholmes on Thu Sep 19, 2002 at 11:29:14 PM EST

I skipped the debate. Because the debate would go on forever that way without coming to a conclusion.

So you're right, it is a cop-out. Otherwise the debate wouldn't end.

But the point of the article wasn't to argue ethical relativism. It was intended as an example about humility. The point was that relativist couldn't be humble nor dogmatic and thus his philosophy was at a stall. You can't go anywhere with ethical relativism.

Ethical absolutism is like being on earth and ethical relativism is like being in space. The absolutist has his feet planted on the ground and can move around. But the relativist can't go anywhere and is just lost. The only way for him to move is by believing that something for real exists.

Hmm...this all sounds contorted.

If you treat people as most people treat things and treat things as most people treat people, you might be a Randian.
[ Parent ]

strict relativism (3.40 / 5) (#30)
by mech9t8 on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 12:14:45 AM EST

Ethical absolutism is like being on earth and ethical relativism is like being in space. The absolutist has his feet planted on the ground and can move around. But the relativist can't go anywhere and is just lost. The only way for him to move is by believing that something for real exists.

Well, for strict ethical relativism that's that case - but strict ethical relativists are pretty rare - I don't think I've seen any strict ethical relativists on k5.  Of course, strict relativists can't start debating any specific ethical situation in the first place without first situating the cultural context for the discussion, at which point they'll have a plane of reference.

Normally, when people talk about "absolutists" and "relativists" on k5, they're really talking about those with a firmly entrenched morality with numerous rules (ie. religious morality) vs. those with a varying morality based on a one or a few basic principals (ie. the rightness or wrongness of person derives from something like "reduce harm", so in most real world situations the morality varies relative to the circumstances; the level of condemnation of someone who condemns an act depends on their understanding of the harm their actions will cause, etc.)  

So the way most of these "who are you to say what's right" arguments end up that way is the "relavist" draws the conclusion that Action A doesn't cause sufficient harm to be considered wrong, and instead of coming up with more arguments to convince him, the "absolutist" says that it's simply wrong. At which point the flaming begins. ;)

So I was probably thinking more along those lines in my arguments. By those definitions, IMHO, the "relativist" position is probably more humble, as it has fewer base assumptions and can be swayed with more evidence on the situation at hand, whereas the relativst would require his entire worldview to be readjusted before altering his position.

(Of course, it's pretty hard to come to clear conclusions about ethical questions, and most of them probably should end up with an "agree to disagree" position; except that debating ethics often brings with it an inherit "impose my morality on others/society" attitude.)

--
IMHO
[ Parent ]

I wasn't being fair (2.33 / 3) (#33)
by kholmes on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 01:11:33 AM EST

I was arguing about something that was pretty easy to agree on so that I could say something about humility. Again, the point wasn't to argue about ethics.

However, I doubt that having fewer rules can make you more humble. To me, humility is allowing the possibility that you are wrong--not adopting a philosophy where you can not be wrong.

If you treat people as most people treat things and treat things as most people treat people, you might be a Randian.
[ Parent ]

Granted (2.66 / 3) (#38)
by mech9t8 on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 02:57:59 AM EST

To me, humility is allowing the possibility that you are wrong--not adopting a philosophy where you can not be wrong.

I guess. But do you really think there's a lot of difference, humility-wise, between "I don't know the truth, but my best guess is <specified moral absolutes>" and "I don't know the truth, but my best guess is that morality is dictated by your relative surroundings"?  It's all about just admitting you could be wrong; the actual philosophy matters much less.

However, I doubt that having fewer rules can make you more humble.

I would say fewer "rules" (that is, things that you will not change your mind on no matter what) almost by definition makes you more flexible to change - which is pretty much the definition of humility we're talking about here.

--
IMHO
[ Parent ]

Hmm (2.50 / 2) (#39)
by kholmes on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 03:57:26 AM EST

"It's all about just admitting you could be wrong; the actual philosophy matters much less."

Yes. I think you caught me in a contradiction there.

"I would say fewer 'rules' (that is, things that you will not change your mind on no matter what) almost by definition makes you more flexible to change - which is pretty much the definition of humility we're talking about here."

Actually, I think humility means you may change your mind about anything at all.

But I think the point we are evading here is that humility is more of an internal character. Its when you look into yourself to determine how attached you are to your own ideas. How easily will you give up your ideas to someone else's persuasion. I'd like to think this persuasion would be in the form of rational arguments but I don't think humility requires it.

So, while I'd hate to contradict myself, but I don't think the state of humility can be pinned to any given philosophy. When I wrote the article, I thought of humility as more of a meta-philosophy. Its a guide on how to conduct your philosophy. I also think its a method on how to conduct debate.

This meta-meta-philosophy we're conducting is confusing me :)

If you treat people as most people treat things and treat things as most people treat people, you might be a Randian.
[ Parent ]

Heh. (2.37 / 8) (#24)
by Noam Chompsky on Thu Sep 19, 2002 at 11:25:29 PM EST

Look, people who know stuff and want to argue with a bunch of fucking morons who will insist they know better, those people do not exist, OK? Kur0shin is for trolling. Unfortunately, trolling is more education than most of you are willing to permit or capable of ingurgitating.

Not everyone is meant to be "smart," you know. I sleep easy because I now my limitations.

--
Faster, liberalists, kill kill kill!

A mantra I favor: (none / 0) (#122)
by Mr Incorrigible on Tue Sep 24, 2002 at 02:09:10 PM EST

A good man knows his limitations; a great man knows his limitations and overcomes them.

--
I know I'm a cheeky bastard. My lady tells me so.


[ Parent ]
Relative/absolute humility (3.50 / 4) (#28)
by tichy on Thu Sep 19, 2002 at 11:42:58 PM EST

The article is good but it suffers from the absolutist/relativist part.

Wether there exist absolute moral values or not is not something anyone can prove or refute. Therefore the choice will always be irrational. We have at least a few irrational choices that shape the way we think. When faced with opposition the humble path is to recognize them as such. Accepting that something you think is based on an irrational choice, is a form of being humble. It's accepting your (our) own limitation; perhaps some day someone will come up with a better, reasonable, logical proof of the existence or inexistence of moral absolutes. That day you will be prepared to recognize its superiority.

In the mean time, we are reduced to considering the consequences of each others' choices, with respect and honesty.


Irrationality (none / 0) (#54)
by Jman1 on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 11:33:33 AM EST

"Wether there exist absolute moral values or not is not something anyone can prove or refute. Therefore the choice will always be irrational."

Why is it irrational to not believe in something (objective morality) which provides no basis for belief? It seems to me that the rational approach is to believe in something only when there's some reason to do so.

[ Parent ]

Why detect it? (4.33 / 3) (#32)
by the on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 01:01:47 AM EST

For the rest of you who remain humble, then needs to be a way of detecting this
Why? If your goal is to teach someone then sure, you need to know their motivations, but it's their problem if they don't want to learn. But if your goal is to learn something then what does it matter whether your opponent is open minded, stuck in an intellectual rut, reading their responses out of a book or generating them using the I Ching. If they're good responses they're good and if they're not...well just move on, their motives are irrelevant.

--
The Definite Article
Good point (none / 0) (#34)
by kholmes on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 01:24:22 AM EST

I guess I was thinking in the context of a debate.

If you treat people as most people treat things and treat things as most people treat people, you might be a Randian.
[ Parent ]
Politics (4.66 / 12) (#41)
by bobjim on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 05:50:59 AM EST

I get the feeling this might turn into a long comment. I'll do my best to keep it short.

The problem is that politics is the exact opposite of science. Science begins with ideas and then tests them for truth. Politics begins with beliefs and then claims they are true. Whereas in science, language is used to make things clear and to elucidate, in politics, language is used to obfuscate and lead.

This is why no good can come from political debate; in its very form, all political discourse is sophistry and rhetoric. The language of politics is doublespeak (Say "Freedom and Democracy" in America without your audience believing they are Good with a capital G). Using political language to debate rationally and sensibly is by its nature very difficult.

Further complicating matters is the fact that politics is ideological. An ideology is moral - it defines who should have the power and what they should do with it. In many cases it further defines who currently has the power and how We the Believers should take it from them. Since ideologies define how their believers view the world, it is very difficult for two people who hold differing ideologies to come to any agreement: A capitalist can argue all he likes about the benefits of capitalism, but to a communist, these benefits are not in the interest of the working classes. If the capitalist is working class, then he has not acheived class consciousness. In a similar vein there's a saying that goes something like "a Democrat is a Republican with a heart", and another which replies, "a Republican is a Democrat with a brain". No agreement or even understanding can be reached because neither side of the argument agrees about the meaning of the most basic terms.

The final barrier to reasoned argument and debate in political discourse is that reasoned argument and debate has seldom been the aim. Debaters are not attempting to win converts for their cause - new members for their particular political clique - they are attempting to raise their status within their own clique, to put their opponent down; in effect, to score points. Political discourse is largely a matter of "nyah, nyah, we're better than you."

Talking about politics is not impossible, merely difficult. Few people have ever seriously thought of politics as a system of itself, prefering to move within the familiar debates of politics itself. Before it is possible to debate honestly within politics, the debater must have formed thier own view of what politics itself is.

Of course, this won't happen because most people who talk about politics like to keep to the familiar ground of their ideological conflicts. It's far easier to be certain that way.
--
"I know your type quite well. Physically weak and intellectually stunted. Full of resentment against women." - Medham, talking about me.

i could say the same thing about physics (none / 0) (#53)
by metagone on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 11:24:57 AM EST

the only way to make an informed comments about physics is to become a physicist. if we all followed this the world would be a quieter place or all uninformed discussions would be easily identifed. but how do you know you have become an expert?  people that exclusively use the scientific method to verify their theories and opinions tend to be considered experts. maybe we should teach this to children before we teach them about religion.
.
[ Parent ]
Physics is kinda different though... (none / 0) (#74)
by PixelPusher on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 03:18:46 PM EST

Yes, but the barrier to entry in Physics is more concerned with amassing the knowledge required to make that informed statement.

And the fact that physics is science, where you need the proof before you state the theory.

In politics oftentimes people don't even need the proof... =)

[ Parent ]

political science? (none / 0) (#119)
by metagone on Mon Sep 23, 2002 at 03:54:48 PM EST

there are courses here at university where they offer that. unless we (the students) are purposefully misled. besides a lot of politics can be debated by trained philosophers. though a philosopher might not be particularly interested in real-time politics, a philosopher might be an important part in problem solving political conflicts and find consensus.
.
[ Parent ]
Science vs. Politics (OT?) (3.50 / 2) (#55)
by bob6 on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 11:42:56 AM EST

The problem is that politics is the exact opposite of science. Science begins with ideas and then tests them for truth. Politics begins with beliefs and then claims they are true. Whereas in science, language is used to make things clear and to elucidate, in politics, language is used to obfuscate and lead.
While I (roughly) agree with you about politics, I have to disagree about science. The science you describe is found in canonical epistemology books.
However scientists must firmly believe in their ideas in order to be able to experiment them and to impose them. Emotional and ideological argumentation is often used in order to gain some attention from peers and the political world (for the purpose of getting credits). As a result, scientific debates may have the same features than political ones: trolls like Sokal and craps like Benveniste.
I am sorry to tell a world of scientists hardly the same we were told with nice rational discussions and clean hypothesis-refutation-reproduction cycles.

Cheers.
[ Parent ]
Well... (5.00 / 1) (#83)
by bobjim on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 06:26:43 PM EST

However scientists must firmly believe in their ideas in order to be able to experiment them and to impose them.
I said the same thing. Science begins with ideas and then tests them. However, I do realise that there is politics within science. Indeed, politics is found wherever power is.

The main difference between politics and physics is this: When someone says "relativity" few people have any difficulty knowing what is meant - they can look up the original theories if they want; when someone says "liberalism", no-one except the speaker knows exactly what is meant. Science is a process for thinking about questions. Politics is a process for hiding answers.
--
"I know your type quite well. Physically weak and intellectually stunted. Full of resentment against women." - Medham, talking about me.
[ Parent ]

Science, power and vocabulary (none / 0) (#115)
by bob6 on Mon Sep 23, 2002 at 07:50:27 AM EST

I said the same thing. Science begins with ideas and then tests them. However, I do realise that there is politics within science. Indeed, politics is found wherever power is.
Actually power is intrinsically linked to science in our modern society since every single decision must be backed up by a scientific argument. The emergence of economy as a "hard science" illustrates this well. I think therefore political argumentation in scientific discussion is inevitable.
The main difference between politics and physics is this: [...]
Quite good difference. However there is a stable vocabulary in politics as well as an unstable one in science. For instance anyone who speaks about constitution, law or separation of powers has a great chance to be well understood. OTOH, the word species is very controversial and has no definite meaning. (I'm more inclined to give bio examples, but you should be able to find one in physics).
I'd say, and I'm sure you'll agree with, that politics is not meant to stabilize the meanings of the words (as you would say, it is meant to obfuscate).

Cheers.
[ Parent ]
The noise is not the signal (3.50 / 2) (#68)
by dachshund on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 02:39:37 PM EST

The problem is that politics is the exact opposite of science. Science begins with ideas and then tests them for truth. Politics begins with beliefs and then claims they are true. Whereas in science, language is used to make things clear and to elucidate, in politics, language is used to obfuscate and lead.

No, this is not a definition of politics. Mindless ideology and dogma are some nasty characteristics that tend to infect political debate-- particularly uninformed political debate-- but they aren't indicitive of the whole. What you're doing is identifying a messy signal and characterizing the whole thing as noise.

The sad thing is that as much as political discussions may get you down, sites like k5 can often provide a better signal-to-noise ratio than most of the other forums that inform our political decisions. If you know how to participate in a debate without falling prey to your own dogma, or being manipulated into anger, you're even more likely to push others (if only slightly) in a more productive direction. That has a ripple effect that can hardly be described as without benefit (even if it doesn't necessarily make the world a better place tomorrow.)

What gets me down is that so many people just get tired of it all and think they can actually make it go away-- and not simply by ignoring political stories, but by actively trying to prevent other people from talking about politics. If people think that this site is full of pointless ideology now, just wait a few weeks: you won't be able to leave your house without getting a dose of the sort of intrusive ideology that flourishes in an environment of political apathy.

[ Parent ]

Ideology (none / 0) (#84)
by bobjim on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 06:45:14 PM EST

In my opinion (and what I should probably call my personal ideology), ideology is useless. I believe that I don't know enough to speak authoritatively on any issue. I believe I may be wrong. I also believe that nobody else knows enough to speak authoritatively on any issue ad that everyone else may be wrong.

Ideology is about argument. If any debate is to be useful, the participants need to be able to look beyond their own assumptions and the difficulty about that is that there's always assumptions you don't know you're making. Self-doubt is an essential part of any useful debate.

I've certainly not given up on political debate (I'm currently studying politics), but I believe that political debate without debate about politics itself is too often fruitless to be worth my efforts. So mostly I limit myself to talking about politics itself. That too may be useless, but it's my way of trying to make the world a very slightly better place.
--
"I know your type quite well. Physically weak and intellectually stunted. Full of resentment against women." - Medham, talking about me.
[ Parent ]

You're too cynical (4.33 / 3) (#73)
by Simon Kinahan on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 03:05:02 PM EST

I know cynicism about politics is fashionable, and indeed it is often justified, especially in our current climate which is essentially one of consensus, aside from a few extreme voices heckling from the sidelines.

There have been political debates, even between professional politicians, which have acheived constructive results. The same is even more true here on K5, where, because nothing is at stake, people more frequently back down from their positions. Not everyone simply clings to their political beliefs throughout their lives. Many change their positions for one reason or another.

Politics is indeed founded on ethics: fundamental political disagreements are not about facts, but about what is right or wrong. However, that does not make it ideological. Even a complete ethical framework - something very few people possess - does not constitute an ideology. Politicians and their supporters rarely cling entirely to a single ideology. Almost everyone in the modern West is in practice a Liberal Conservative Socialist. The only actual differences are of degree.

You're right that public political debate often consists of "nyah, nyah", but it also sometimes includes genuine debate. When you move slightly out of the spotlight - to the select committees rather than the debating chamber of the legislature, for instance - far more reasonable exchanges appear, and most of the slanging matches go away.

Simon

If you disagree, post, don't moderate
[ Parent ]

I'm not a cynic... (none / 0) (#86)
by bobjim on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 07:10:09 PM EST

I'm an idealist. I have no idea what my own political ideology is because whenever I take one of the tests, I disagree with the questions.

I agree that honest debate occurs sometimes. However, the discourse of politics is slippery. I started off talking about 'politics' in the sense of "the framework in which we talk about how power is used" (Iraq debates, for example) and in your post we travel to 'politics' in the sense of "the institutions that have power" (the debating chamber of the legislature). I doubt this was in any way intentional. See what I mean about political language?

Politics (now I'm talking about the institutions that have power) is fundamentally about compromise: between ideology and practicality, between ideals and reality, between the needs of one group and the needs of another. The select committees are trying to find policies that succeed, where 'success' isn't very well defined.

Slanging matches aren't the problem: They're easy to see for what they are. The problem faced by politics (both the framework of discourse and the institutions of power) is working out what is meaningful and what isn't.
--
"I know your type quite well. Physically weak and intellectually stunted. Full of resentment against women." - Medham, talking about me.
[ Parent ]

Hmm ... (none / 0) (#87)
by Simon Kinahan on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 07:52:14 PM EST

We're in the same boat as far as being unclassifiable by political tests is concerned. The "political compass" test in particular is very poor. As I'm sure you agree, just because your political views are unclassifiable doesn't make them any less passionately held. However, I'm not sure you should really use the word "idealist". To me it implies a degree of dogmatism and absolutism, which, judging from your comments, I doubt you possess.

I agree that discourse of politics is slippery, although I actually used "politics" in the same sense as you throughout my post. I only talked about legislative debating chambers as an example of a forum where political debate is particularly stilted and purposeless. That really confirms you point about the slipperiness of the terms, though, doesn't it ?

I must admit, the tendency of political terms to acquire multiple contradictory meanings, and thus to rapidly become meaningless, is something I've despaired of in the past. The term "liberal" particularly upsets me, since it once had a plain meaning, and is now either claimed by everyone who isn't either a fascist or a lenninist, or used as a term of abuse by (American) conservatives for (American) social democrats.

I think your description of practical politics - as an attempt to reconcile ideals with reality - is very much how all political debate should ideally be. Attempts to reconcile one set of ideas with another without reference to reality never seems to anything of use. It either produces endless conflict, or a messy "compromise" that satisfies noone. Politics, as someone said, is the art of the possible. Any political debate that gets away from that is really just pointless.


Simon

If you disagree, post, don't moderate
[ Parent ]

Well... (none / 0) (#89)
by bobjim on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 09:33:20 PM EST

Idealism is my motivation, not my blindness. If ideals are impossible, that doesn't mean they're not worth striving for.

I think we've reached a nice agreement here.

Although, since I spent about seven hours last year researching and writing an essay about the origins of "liberalism" it seems a shame not to outline the early history of the word.

The term "liberal" never had a plain meaning for long. It was first used to apply to a school of political thought in 1812 in Spain and by the 1840s was widespread throughout Europe. It's interesting to note that the American declaration of independance predates the origin of the term "liberalism". By the 1830s, in the UK, Whigs began to call themselves "liberals". So within thirty years of its origin, the term already had at least two meanings. By 1849, due to Karl Marx, liberalism had another meaning as the political mask for the interests of the bourgeoisie. All this before the liberal philosopher John Stuart Mill had written 'On Liberty' in 1859.

The multitude of uses today is quite astonishing and the concept of an American politician using the word "liberal" as an epithet is either very funny or very sad.
--
"I know your type quite well. Physically weak and intellectually stunted. Full of resentment against women." - Medham, talking about me.
[ Parent ]

Socrates.... (4.00 / 7) (#42)
by SanSeveroPrince on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 06:15:59 AM EST

...he was a sly one. The exact quote, translated, goes 'I know I know nothing'.

He really meant that he knew far more than any of his colleagues: in context nothing we discuss can be absolute, due to our human limitations.
Being aware of that distinction, he put himself one rung above all other phylosophers.. it's quite the mind twister, and it always puts him on top.

How's that humble?

Or at least, that's my take on the tale when I read it. I am humbly submitting my opinion here.

By the way, I do agree with the sentiment of your posting, if not with eveything you write. I recognize quite a few rash traits in many of my own postings. +1FP.

----

Life is a tragedy to those who feel, and a comedy to those who think


No it doesn't (3.00 / 2) (#46)
by The Inspiration on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 09:09:39 AM EST

The original ("en oida oti oyden oida" in grenglish) means, exactly "I know one thing, that I know nothing"). Socrate's philosophy was indeed one of humility, one of forcing people of seeing themselves within society, and one that promoted enlightenment over knowledge. SCD

[ Parent ]
erm.... (4.00 / 2) (#48)
by SanSeveroPrince on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 10:11:33 AM EST

you actually just confirmed my own point. Your translation comes across even more powerfully from my point of view.

Socrates admitting that he knew ONE thing, where his contemporaries knew nothing because of the impossibility of knowing anything absolutely...

I don't call that very humble of Socrates. I call it sly and ingenious.

If you can get off your high horse to discuss this point of view, I'd be delighted to do so.

----

Life is a tragedy to those who feel, and a comedy to those who think


[ Parent ]
The way I see it (2.00 / 2) (#52)
by krek on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 11:16:36 AM EST

He says that he knows one thing, and then fails to make any comment whatsoever with respect to anyone else other than himself. 'Course, I could just be missing that part of the quotation.

[ Parent ]
Or... (none / 0) (#113)
by SanSeveroPrince on Mon Sep 23, 2002 at 04:22:10 AM EST

you could be missing ANY information on Socrate's work, perhaps?

Things get complicated. You see, Socrates never wrote anything. Plato wrote most of what we attribute to Socrates these days, in his famous dialogues.

Put into perspective with Plato/Socrates' philosophy (it is very hard to distinguish the master from the pupil at times, for reasons I just mentioned), Plato's cave and a whole bunch of other things that I urge you to look up, the quote makes perfect, powerful sense. To me anyway :)

----

Life is a tragedy to those who feel, and a comedy to those who think


[ Parent ]
Well, no... (none / 0) (#121)
by The Inspiration on Tue Sep 24, 2002 at 06:16:58 AM EST

I think that you are trying very hard not to understand, but, anyway... What Socrates says is, basically, that the one thing _we people_ can be certain of knowing is that we are unaware of many things around us, and that we cannot take any knowledge for granted. We have to always question everything, trying to see it from a different perspective... I think that a man who drank poison by choice (he could have avoided it, his disciples had arranged for him to escape, a solution that he denied is anything but "sly and ingenious". I think you should read the apology (a Plato book, Socrates never actually wrote anything). It can be bought for a couple of euros, and I believe that it will give you an insight to one of the greatest filosophers in our history. At least a better insight than the one you've been getting by overanalysing a quotation out of context.

[ Parent ]
Patron Saint of K5 (5.00 / 1) (#70)
by freebird on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 02:57:56 PM EST

Yes, I've always thought that was somewhat false humility.

More to the point: what are we to think of someone who can talk with all the "Wise Ones" of his time - and come away having learned nothing other than that they all knew nothing? Surely they had something worth saying, most people do - if you listen. So I've always felt Socrates was a smart guy with lots to say, but a big ego and not too great a listener. Hmmm: patron saint of K5?

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

women (none / 0) (#114)
by SanSeveroPrince on Mon Sep 23, 2002 at 04:23:54 AM EST

It was his wife, I tell you.

----

Life is a tragedy to those who feel, and a comedy to those who think


[ Parent ]
Humility is overrated (4.14 / 7) (#47)
by jig on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 09:14:09 AM EST

It's all fine and well to be act humble and appear as though you were wiser and holier than others, but humility is just that - a superficial appearance. And perhaps a social tool for manipulating others. The man who appears humble, speaks humbly, and refers to himself self-deprecatingly, will be much more liked by his audience than the man who appears arrogant and self-absored. As such, they will also be more open to his views than to the views of the arrogant ranter.

This, however, flies in the face of true philosopical contemplation, since if you wish to be truly philosophical, you should not care whether a person is humble, or arrogant, or even George Bush, since such things are entirely irrelevant to the arguments they present. You should examine the arguments and judge them on their merits and their merits alone, regardless of who presented them or how they were presented. The ethical absolutist is no more right or wrong for being more humble - if he indeed is - than the ethical relativist, since the truth or falseness of an idea does not depend on the humility of its messenger, or its recepient.

It is people's lack of willingness, or perhaps ability, to judge an argument on its own merits and not on the way it is presented, that makes most debates idiotic. And it is this that needs to be addressed. Humility is a non-issue.

-----
And none of you stand so tall
Pink moon gonna get ye all

So we agree (3.00 / 1) (#57)
by kholmes on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 12:34:03 PM EST

Except you manage to define "humility" as the opposite as I define it. I regard humility as an internal character, you believe it is superfiscial.

It is not that without humility you end up with a wrong philosophy but rather, without humility you lose the ability to perform philosophy. I did not mean to say the ethical relativist could be proven wrong but rather the opposite, it could not be proven right. This, in itself, is nothing significant. However the only defense of ethical relativism is by proving ethical absolutism wrong. If indeed ethical relativism is the correct model of ethics, then our philosophy of ethics has reached an impasse since we've lost the ability to philosophize further about it.

Maybe this is how all philosophy will conclude.  But I think humility--internal humility, that is--provides the greatest indication of this.

If you treat people as most people treat things and treat things as most people treat people, you might be a Randian.
[ Parent ]

A study between confidence and performance (none / 0) (#59)
by X3nocide on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 01:02:20 PM EST

An interesting article about a study on confidence. Those on the bottom 12th estimated themselves at the 62nd percentile. The tests tested various things, some more reliable than others. Near the top theres a greater chance for people to underestimate themselves. Now whether this is a concious effect or not is up for debate, but I'm not quite sure what a participant has to gain from overstating his abilities to take a test given by a researcher. If humility is indeed something unconciously displayed then some people may find it useful to gauge the soundness of the rhetoric exposed. But like you mentioned, this is unimportant for a true philsopher, who should give all ideas equal consideration and evaluation.

pwnguin.net
[ Parent ]
debates (4.14 / 7) (#49)
by kennon on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 10:42:58 AM EST

You can't have a real debate unless both parties enter it willing to lose if the other party's arguments are stronger. It takes humility to truly listen to the other side.

treatise on humility (1.00 / 3) (#51)
by sye on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 10:55:09 AM EST

need only point out that readers should restrain themselves from your BS but direct their enlightment to haiku.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
commentary - For a better sye@K5
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
ripple me ~~> ~allthingsgo: gateway to Garden of Perfect Brightess in CNY/BTC/LTC/DRK
rubbing u ~~> ~procrasti: getaway to HE'LL
Hey! at least he was in a stable relationship. - procrasti
enter K5 via Blastar.in

I would have given a +1 FP... (2.00 / 1) (#58)
by DLWormwood on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 12:41:42 PM EST

But the article made it there before I could finish the article. Well done! ^_^

--
Those who complain about affect & effect on k5 should be disemvoweled
Intent ... (5.00 / 1) (#60)
by warped1 on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 01:04:10 PM EST

I liked most of your write-up, however I still voted -1. Why? Because of the opening paragraph.

Given recent articles, it seems many people know what they don't want to see in our discussions. Some would even rather we abandon debating about politics altogether.

If that's what these people want, then they have the right on K5 to vote in that direction. To me, that's what makes this site exceptional. If I've reached my limit of seeing 2/3 of the FP articles dealing with politics (or the mutated strain of articles dealing with the mass posting of politics), then I can use my vote. This has nothing to do with my ability to listen to "new" viewpoints; it has everything to do with me attempting to encourage different material to get posted.

So yes, when I see the same stuff constantsy getting rehashed, I'll vote things down. I suppose if everyone was humble, every article would get posted so we wouldn't have to worry that we were repressing someone's opinion.

If you could have posted this without taking a jab at the community right off the bat, it would have made a better article.

As far as humility goes, this goes for almost any topic of discussion - not just politics. Most people could use a large dose of it.

Misunderstood intent (5.00 / 1) (#81)
by lollipop on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 04:52:53 PM EST

I think you misunderstood this article to be in part an attack on the K5 community. Let's look at the impetus behind this article. It is in response to this article which essentially declared that political discussions on Kuro5hin are not worthwhile endeavors.This article counters that view as being overly cynical. Proposing that political discussions can be beneficial if the intent of posters is a real dialogue filled with arguments rather than merely the spewing forth of dogmatic beliefs. I think articles such as this one are essential to the development of K5 as a community. They provide essentially paving stones illustrating how one should conduct themselves when discussing issues on K5.

[ Parent ]
Bah (3.16 / 6) (#62)
by trhurler on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 01:17:23 PM EST

Humility is for people who are small, weak, and afraid - or who are addressing their betters, in any case. It is for people who are perpetually not just lacking in complete certainty, but scared of their uncertainty. It is for people who have accepted the idea that they're guilty just because they exist.

Civility and humility are not the same thing, and even civility can be overrated sometimes.

Bluntness, directness, honesty, and a severe lack of giving a damn what other people think are the stuff worthwhile discussion is made of.

--
'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

Another excellent post (2.16 / 6) (#64)
by derek3000 on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 01:39:21 PM EST

from RandBot 3000.

-----------
Not too political, nothing too clever!--Liars
[ Parent ]

seriousl fucked up shit (1.00 / 2) (#97)
by whichmike on Sat Sep 21, 2002 at 09:52:26 AM EST

I ran Linux for over six years at home, with none of the proper diligence to backups or most other inrtelligent practices. It was often accidently unplugged, or the low memory caused it to completely halt, but the partition table never caused me any grief. When I got my new box my family prevailed on me to keep xp home version on it. six weeks later someone mistakenly pulled the power cord and for a week and a half "no bootable volume" caused me to put my old hard drive in it until HP could send me a repair diskette. All this so that my family could avoid using MS Word(oddly enough, when the HD went on vacation, my family members ALL had to use Word, but not once since). What does this have to do with humility? My wannabe geek ass has had to put up with MS BS this entire year.

[ Parent ]
That's what you get... (2.50 / 2) (#100)
by derek3000 on Sat Sep 21, 2002 at 02:01:02 PM EST

when you support communists. You've learned a valuable lesson though; hopefully you are a better person as a result.

-----------
Not too political, nothing too clever!--Liars
[ Parent ]

You don't understand humility (5.00 / 1) (#71)
by nowan on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 03:02:07 PM EST

Humility doesn't mean being weak, and it doesn't mean not pushing your position as hard and far as you can. But it does mean not getting your pride tangled up with your position. A humble arguer will be aware of the possibility that he might be wrong, and when enough good argument is presented to him he'll change his mind. He wont refuse to accept the arguments and continue to push his position out of some confused & overweening pride.

If I don't care what others think I don't talk to them, so I don't see how that generates much worthwhile discussion.

[ Parent ]

Hate to be Machiavellian but... (4.00 / 1) (#78)
by Genady on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 04:13:13 PM EST

Humility is for people who are small, weak, and afraid - or who are addressing their betters, in any case.

Or for those hiding their true strength from their opponents.

And Master Sun said: In making tactical dispositions, the highest pitch you can attain is to conceal them; conceal your dispositions, and you will be safe from the prying of the subtlest spies, from the machinations of the wisest brains.

--
Turtles all the way down.
[ Parent ]
Accuracy! Accuracy! (5.00 / 2) (#91)
by texchanchan on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 11:22:49 PM EST

If you're accurate, you won't believe a lot of lies about yourself.
  • If you believe lies such as "I'm better than everybody else" and think that's self-esteem, you're in a lot of trouble.
  • If you believe lies such as "I'm worse than everybody else" and think that's humility, you're in a lot of trouble.
  • If you have an accurate perception of yourself and others (your mental model of reality is closer to the real thing) your plans will work better and you'll be happier!
Also:
  • If you really believe you ought to disrespect yourself, an accurate self-image will probably do the job.
  • If you want to have high self-esteem, an accurate self-image will probably provide it.
How is this possible? Because you have range. You're both better and worse than you think you are, and unquestionably you are very different than what you think you're like. Recall hearing your own voice on tape? (Oh, wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us, etc.)

Discard words like "humility" that are overburdened with connotations, and just be accurate.

--Written way too late at night


[ Parent ]

Spot on (3.00 / 1) (#94)
by jig on Sat Sep 21, 2002 at 01:29:50 AM EST

Honesty, and more importantly in debates, intellectual honesty, is what is important.

-----
And none of you stand so tall
Pink moon gonna get ye all

[ Parent ]
Heh (none / 0) (#118)
by trhurler on Mon Sep 23, 2002 at 12:43:19 PM EST

If you think my vision of myself is either inaccurate or based on other people in any way, you're seriously mistaken. I'm what I am for the life I've led, and frankly, I think I'm doing pretty well. I've avoided every serious mistake people can make, I've got my life well enough in order, and I'm having a great deal of fun while getting worthwhile stuff done.

The reason I am so violently opposed to the promotion of humility is that it is a guilt game whose purpose is to manufacture the pathetic sheep you see around you every day.

--
'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
which definition of humility (2.00 / 2) (#96)
by whichmike on Sat Sep 21, 2002 at 07:41:59 AM EST

You, like the idiot with the .45 don't have a realistic oncept of humility. The opposite of humility is arrogance, in my carefully considered opinion. If you believe that arrogance is a reasonable motive, I can only hope you will find the aforementioned cretin, exchange boasts and taunts, whereupon he pulls his .45, and teaches you not only the folly of arrogance, but the benefits of  post-mortem organ donations. He in turn would be humbled by his new prison husband, seeing as how they don't allow inmates to keep their .45's when they are locked up.

There should be a war on arrogance, it would totally encompass the war on terrorism and our CIC would be one of the first ones called out of the game, along with many of those he claims to oppose.

[ Parent ]

Well, (none / 0) (#117)
by trhurler on Mon Sep 23, 2002 at 12:37:53 PM EST

Your carefully considered opinion is crap. Take this, not as a lesson in humility, but as a lesson in fallibility. :)

--
'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
So, I have to be humble (3.66 / 3) (#65)
by mami on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 01:58:37 PM EST

in front of a holocaust denier, because I, instead of he himself, would have to prove that his ethical absolutism with regards to freedom of speech rights to tell the untruth lacks humility? And then I, with my own ethical relativism, have no capability of being humble, because within the framework of my ethical relativism  everything is believed to be true and can't be questioned?

So, being humble in this case means to appease the holocaust denier? I don't know, my inner voice tells me, something is wrong here, sorry, and I don't feel that I am the one, who is not humble in that case.

And yes, there are times, when there are no arguments and reasons left and I don't think that it is in any way suspicious to show that you have come to the end of the road of being reasonable. A frustrated crafty rethoric to signal that you have reached that point is  not a sign of lack of humility. It can be humble and honest, even if it's noisy for a moment.

Humility is for those without weapons (1.85 / 7) (#66)
by Fen on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 02:02:46 PM EST

How much will you crying for someone to be "humble" when facing a .45 +p+ hollow point? Humility is for the weak.
--Self.
humility... (none / 0) (#82)
by whichmike on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 05:33:44 PM EST

A somewhat ambiguous response, but don't worry, any way it can be taken it was a stupid and false response. In fact I guarantee that you didn't mean it.
My humility transcends physical force, I would be just as humble with my foot broke off in your ass.

[ Parent ]
nothing transcends physical force (2.50 / 2) (#127)
by Fen on Wed Oct 02, 2002 at 02:41:16 PM EST

Lets see your humility and "karma" help you when your brain is leaking out of your skull from a head shot. I guarantee I did mean it.
--Self.
[ Parent ]
But what have you achieved? (none / 0) (#129)
by kholmes on Sun Oct 06, 2002 at 09:43:11 PM EST

But what have I achieved at being humble--a greater understanding; and what have you achieved--nothing at all.

Thats the point. A humble person can demand the death of thousands, if he believes he's right. It sounds really contradictory if you view from the perspective of one man against another. Humility is really the self-questioning of reasonable people everywhere; I suppose it defines "reasonable".

So it doesn't matter that you have killed someone but rather why you killed him. If you question your motives and intentions, then I suppose you deserve the claim of "humble" as anyone.

If you treat people as most people treat things and treat things as most people treat people, you might be a Randian.
[ Parent ]

Mr Mohandas and Mr King (none / 0) (#125)
by jefu on Thu Sep 26, 2002 at 06:34:38 PM EST


I tend to think that both Gandhi and Martin Luther King were aspiring to humility as they practiced non-violence very effectively indeed to pursue their goals.  Certainly humility in their cases did not mean being blindly accepting doormats.  

But, while  Gandhi, King, Jesus Christ (who also seems to have found humility a positive thing) and certainly Socrates may aspire to humility, they do it from a standpoint of enough self confidence to know how valuable humility is and how too much self confidence is often a trap.  

[ Parent ]

King is a good example, eh? (none / 0) (#128)
by Fen on Wed Oct 02, 2002 at 02:45:58 PM EST

King's brain painted some platform while everybody looks forward to his day as a day to slack off. Big difference. What about the revolutionaries who performed remote surgery on the skulls of the British? I'm sure glad they used force. Humility is great and all for equal sized threats of force, but a sniper bullet to the brain beats out "karma" anytime--the antimatter bomb is mighter than the bit stream.
--Self.
[ Parent ]
I disagree with something (4.00 / 2) (#67)
by FourDegreez on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 02:18:02 PM EST

"What I have found is that when a person begins getting crafty with their rhetoric is a sign for suspicion. It is as if they have run out of plain arguments and facts that now they need to convince people out of wit or aggression."

There is another option. Perhaps the person has the practical wisdom to realize that craft, wit, and aggression are what "sells" ideologies these days. Many people go forth in the ever-noble effort to cite dry facts, post lengthy diatribes for or against this or that, and generally stick what they regard as the "ideal" of intellectual debate at every turn. They do this regardless of whether or not they are actually winning the hearts and minds of their readers/listeners, but are self-satisfied because they are somehow above using craft, wit, or aggression. They value form over effect. In today's society, however, form often gets you nowhere. It is a lamentable state of affairs, but this is the reality we must deal with.

If you have to sell it, then its worthless (none / 0) (#110)
by Alhazred on Sun Sep 22, 2002 at 09:53:54 PM EST

'Selling' as you put it, is in plainspeak "bullshitting" people. Don't bullshit me, its about the greatest sign of disrespect you can show to another person.

And as for our society, its based on disrespect in that sense. I think this is one of THE core problems with our society today, we see each other as 'consumers' and not worthy of real intellectual respect.

This would of course count as another form of lack of humility...
That is not dead which may eternal lie And with strange aeons death itself may die.
[ Parent ]

Humility (4.66 / 3) (#69)
by Simon Kinahan on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 02:48:58 PM EST

The word itself is fundamentally confusing, and probably best avoided for that reason. The humility spoken of in the article consists of keeping one's ego out of the way. I agree that is important in arguments. Debates go much better if you're prepared to accept that your argument has weaknesses and your opponent's has virtues.

However, unfortunately, the word "humility", in the popular understanding of Christianity, and in Western culture generally, means an acceptance of other's strength, judgement, reason or whatever as superior to one's own, regardless of whether one really believes it to be. Specifically, it meant acceptance of God's properties as superior (presumably rightly, and one could imagine this view as very similar to that in the previous paragraph), but that extended into accepting the Church, King and anyone else in authority as superior. Several commenters have understood you as meaning humility in this sense, rather than the first.

While accepting the possibility that you might be wrong is undeniably a virtue, assuming that you always are wrong is poor self-esteem, and and generally a cause of harm. Indeed, many cases of a lack of humility(1) can be attributed to an excess of humility(2).

Simon

If you disagree, post, don't moderate

Humility Contest (none / 0) (#72)
by trimethyl on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 03:03:20 PM EST

Two pastors are attending a pastor's convention, and hear a rousing sermon on humility. The first pastor turns to the second and says, "Hey, let's have a humility contest!" To which the second pastor replies, "No, you're probably better than me..."

Don't kill the color of langauge (3.00 / 1) (#76)
by Goldblubber on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 03:54:14 PM EST

Your article was good to read, but I'm afraid i won't stop using metaphor,rhetoric etc. Metaphor is merely a philisophical tool to change the perspective of the Argument. I am willing to hear a thousand rhetorical arguments about any subject, if it means just one of those ideas has me yelling "Eureka" in my metaphorical bathtub.

You should read (4.00 / 2) (#79)
by medham on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 04:19:13 PM EST

Nietzsche on the massive arrogance of Socrates's alleged 'humility,' and on the doctrine of ressentiment.

I do wish more people would follow my example and be genuinely humble, however.

The real 'medham' has userid 6831.

Cite? (4.00 / 1) (#88)
by kholmes on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 09:26:52 PM EST

"Nietzsche on the massive arrogance of Socrates's alleged 'humility,' and on the doctrine of ressentiment."

I really would like to read this but I'd rather not read everything Nietzsche has ever written to gain his insight. Can you be more specific?

If you treat people as most people treat things and treat things as most people treat people, you might be a Randian.
[ Parent ]

I would guess... (none / 0) (#104)
by cr8dle2grave on Sun Sep 22, 2002 at 01:22:34 PM EST

...that Twilight of the Idols is what Medham had in mind.

---
Unity of mankind means: No escape for anyone anywhere. - Milan Kundera


[ Parent ]
guess I win, huh? (none / 0) (#90)
by humble on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 10:31:34 PM EST

Good thing I'm so political what with being part of Indymedia tech, working for an environmental non-profit and running for the Green Party.

Sorry... couldn't resist ;-)
Indymedia - Civil society's not-so-secret servicetm

differing assumptions (5.00 / 1) (#93)
by Phantros on Sat Sep 21, 2002 at 12:08:47 AM EST

Rather than speaking of humility, I would speak of the scientific method. Science makes assumptions and then goes on to draw conclusions, but ultimately, even these assumptions are not safe from debate.

This contrasts with politics (and religion) because each of us has certain assumptions and the problem is, we each have a different set of assumptions. For instance, we can debate politics with respect to freedom, but if one of us begins with the assumption that freedom is good and the other that freedom is irrelevant, it's unlikely that we'll have a very meaningful debate. Likewise, if one begins with the assumption that there is a god, and another that there is not, a discussion of morals will be difficult.

Meaningful debate results when all parties share similar assumptions (or are willing to questions their assumptions, which in turn depend on other assumptions...).

4Literature - 2,000 books online and Scoop to discuss them with

Change my mind (none / 0) (#95)
by lean on Sat Sep 21, 2002 at 04:53:42 AM EST

I just wanted to say that I read a lot of the comments with great interest, and I usually end up with a different opinion, from when I finished reading the essay, to finished reading the comments. I am still too stupid to post any opinions about politics, because I am on a journey to find the perfect sig.
'I think you caught me in a contradiction there.'
not-p is irrational (3.00 / 2) (#98)
by tichy on Sat Sep 21, 2002 at 11:13:14 AM EST

I didn't want to go there but you do raise a valid objection. This is the same as in the God argument. My view is that given a proposition 'p' there is a difference between:

  • 1) Not believing that p.
  • 2) Beleiving that not-p.
This is, more or less, the difference between what they call 'strong atheism' (2 above, believing that god doesn't exist) and 'weak atheism' (1 above, not believing that god exists).

IMO, possibility 2 is irrational, because there are no elements that tell us that not-p. If we conclude that not-p from absence of evidence for p, we are jumping to conclusions, making a leap of faith. Because we cannot know that not-p from absence of evidence. Who knows, maybe p, and we just don't have the evidence yet.

The first possibility is not irrational, we agree. However it is just a lack of belief. From a lack of belief, nothing can be deduced. Nothing follows from it. So when an actual consequence needs to be produced from it, people might fall silently into possibility 2.

Sometimes it's not needed, for example, many atheists draw morality from sources other than god or its absence. But in many cases, it is not possible or allowed (because of the scope of the discussion or whatever) to draw from other sources.

So your choice is to go to (2) and accept its irrationality or not discuss or conclude anything, or try to draw conclusions from sources other than p/not-p. But never fall into (2) while pretending you are in (1) because that would be either stupid or dishonest.



argh (none / 0) (#99)
by tichy on Sat Sep 21, 2002 at 11:17:49 AM EST

Sorry, that was meant as a reply to this.

[ Parent ]
Reasons to conclude not-p. (none / 0) (#105)
by Kaki Nix Sain on Sun Sep 22, 2002 at 02:07:20 PM EST

One, the position 'not-p' is self-contradictory. Two, the position '(not-p)&{set of some basic observational facts}' contains absurdities or inconsistencies. I don't know if you would count those as "elements that tell us that not-p" or not. That rests on your unmentioned definition for "elements". However, they are both valid reasons for concluding 'not-p'.

From a lack of belief, nothing can be deduced. Nothing follows from it.
I think you are ignoring the obvious here. Of course things can be deduced from the lack of some beliefs. Example: "Kaki lacks the belief that a large rock will fall from space, in one hour, on his present position." "Kaki is a reasonably normal human." Thus, "Kaki will not be making some great effort to be elsewhere in an hour, nor will Kaki be showing signs of nervousness or concern, if in one hour his position is the same as now." Tada. Things following from a lack of belief.



[ Parent ]

lack of belief (4.00 / 1) (#107)
by tichy on Sun Sep 22, 2002 at 08:10:54 PM EST

One, the position 'not-p' is self-contradictory
Two, the position '(not-p)&{set of some basic observational facts}' contains absurdities or inconsistencies.

These two points, are true, and irrelevant.

Because what I was arguing was that, given a lack of elements of judgement to decide between p and not-p, believing either of them is irrational. A proof that p/not-p is self contradictory or that p/not-p contradicts observations (for an empirical p), would of course constitute elements of judgement. With them, it would be rational to believe that p/not-p, whatever may be the case. In their absence, it is not rational to believe not-p. But, I guess it's my fault for screwing up and posting it to the wrong place.

(Of course most of these problems are not empirical. Therefore there can be no observations that contradict or verify them, but that's beside the point).

Of course things can be deduced from the lack of some beliefs.
[snipped Kaki not caring about meteorites]

Interesting, but no. You are confusing the levels of description. If we reach a conclusion about Kaki's future behavior, we don't do it from a lack of belief. We do it from a positive belief about Kaki's lack of one. Notice that we are the ones reaching the conclusions (about Kaki); Kaki is reaching no (certain) conclusions about meteorites. Or IOW If he reaches the conclusion that he will not be hit by a metorite from a lack of knowledge about falling rocks above him, this belief will be irrational.



[ Parent ]
Late replies. (none / 0) (#123)
by Kaki Nix Sain on Tue Sep 24, 2002 at 11:11:08 PM EST

I don't know if you will ever see this, but here goes.
One, the position 'not-p' is self-contradictory
Two, the position '(not-p)&{set of some basic observational facts}' contains absurdities or inconsistencies.

These two points, are true, and irrelevant.

Really? I thought you were talking about belief in god, or a lack thereof. If you were, then at least one of those two lines of thinking are quite relevant to the formation of some people's opinions on the matter. The argument for strong atheism (against a certain few gods in particular) that I know is based on number two.

Interesting, but no. You are confusing the levels of description. If we reach a conclusion about Kaki's future behavior, we don't do it from a lack of belief. We do it from a positive belief about Kaki's lack of one. Notice that we are the ones reaching the conclusions (about Kaki); Kaki is reaching no (certain) conclusions about meteorites.
A nice bit of prevarication there, I commend you. You didn't make any mention of who is doing the conclusion about what beliefs before, but no matter, I'll give you the backpedal. Why? Because I've got a couple of simple counterexamples to prove this form of your claim is also wrong.

Go: One, in the course of a murder trial a jurist must ask themselves if they have a belief, certain and beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the person(s) on trial did the crime. That is "believe,100%(personX=murderer)?" If they lack that belief then there is a clear action that they must then take, namely voting not guilty. Note they need not have the belief that the person isn't a murderer, just that they lack a particular belief. Two, Joe is about to spend some time on a hobby he loves, there is a knock on the door, Joe goes to see who it is, it is a couple of annoying religious people saying that if he has a belief in god they would like to come in and discuss it with him, and now Joe asks himself "believe(god exists)". Joe concludes after a query to his memory returns null that "not(believe(god exists))". Thus Joe says a hasty "goodbye", and closes the door.



[ Parent ]

really late replies (none / 0) (#124)
by tichy on Thu Sep 26, 2002 at 09:14:09 AM EST

I thought you were talking about belief in god, or a lack thereof.
Maybe you should read more carefully then. My claim was simple. Given a 'p' relative to which there is no evidence, either for it, or against it, it is equally irrational to believe 'p' as it is to believe 'not-p' (3rd time I state this). It was about god and moral relativism insofar as some cases of god/moral relativism are particular instances of this.

Clearly, the cases which are not instances of this (for example, cases of self contradictory concepts of god), are not relevant to the claim at all (although they might be otherwise interesting to discuss or know about). Because for these cases (2nd time I state this) it is perfectly rational to believe in p or not-p, whatever may be the case.

A nice bit of prevarication there, I commend you.
Interesting choice of a word... do you think I'm a theist and I will care about the commandments or something? Heh...

You didn't make any mention of who is do ing the conclusion about what beliefs before
I considered this too obvious to clarify. If I say "Nothing can be deduced from a lack of belief" I figure it is pretty clear that it is the one doing the deducing from the lack of belief who is forbidden and not other observers or whatever...

As for your 'counterexamples', I wonder why you thought they were good or even relevant any more. They are both clearly the same as the Kaki meteorites case. They are people proceeding to behave in a certain way, guided by a lack of belief... but never actually reaching the belief in the negation of that for which they lack proof.

In fact, I'm starting to think the Juror example actually works for me. For the purpose of sentencing someone, you don't need to just lack a belief that they are innocent. You need a positive belief that they are guilty. This means judges or the law actually recognize the difference and acknowledge the fact that you can't rationally reach the second from the first. This is my point.



[ Parent ]
not-p applies for contradictions (5.00 / 1) (#116)
by bugmaster on Mon Sep 23, 2002 at 07:51:13 AM EST

Actually, there is at least one case where not-p is rational: it's when p in itself is irrational due to a contradiction. For example, I can make a claim that "no one can draw a square circle in Euclidean geometry". This is the negation of "a person can draw a square circle in Euclidean geometry", and it works because square circles cannot exist by definition.

This concept has a practical application, in case you were wondering. For example, many atheists take aim at the literal, fundamentalist interpretation of the Judeo-Christian God, and show that the properties attributed to him are in contradiction. Of course, almost no one actually believes in the literal interpretation of the Judeo-Christian God, anyway, so the atheists' points are not very relevant. Note that no atheist can actually prove the general statement "God Exists" to be false, since it is not a contradiction.
>|<*:=
[ Parent ]

The problem with the humble (3.00 / 1) (#102)
by wytcld on Sun Sep 22, 2002 at 01:16:44 AM EST

What if people were proud to form and proud to act on their opinions - in a democratic or consensual context, of course? The trick isn't to tell other people not to be proud of their ability to form good opinions; the trick is to convince them they've got such great native ability that they should go ahead and form even better opinions.

So I'll be proud of my positions, you be proud of yours. Instead of trying to humiliate each other about the differences, let's work it so that we both end up smarter and prouder - even if still different - even better if still different, if the fork of the path each of us takes is better after our encounter.

You go to far (none / 0) (#108)
by kholmes on Sun Sep 22, 2002 at 09:22:48 PM EST

This article isn't about humility as an emotion but as an internal character. I thought that was clear in the article.

If you treat people as most people treat things and treat things as most people treat people, you might be a Randian.
[ Parent ]
Now now you 2 (none / 0) (#109)
by Alhazred on Sun Sep 22, 2002 at 09:46:09 PM EST

You're both doing it right now! You're both too humble to be proud or too proud to be humble, depending on which of you gets to define what.

You're both saying the same thing.
That is not dead which may eternal lie And with strange aeons death itself may die.
[ Parent ]

No (none / 0) (#111)
by kholmes on Sun Sep 22, 2002 at 11:31:38 PM EST

"You're both saying the same thing."

I don't think so. We're saying different things. Thats the point I was trying to make. I don't think we disagree. I just disagree to his disagreement, so to speak. I'm not sure how to say that without contradicting myself :)

If you treat people as most people treat things and treat things as most people treat people, you might be a Randian.
[ Parent ]

lateness (none / 0) (#126)
by jefu on Thu Sep 26, 2002 at 06:55:18 PM EST

As usual I'm slow in responding to this, but I'd like to agree with the original writer.

I'm pretty intelligent (according, at least, to some scales), have a middlin education (enough so to have post graduate degrees in several fields and even a phud), and lots of practice (by virtue of being a teacher) in expounding, trying to persuade and all that.

Just stating that makes me un-humble, no? And its true enough - I lack humility - lack humility way too much, and over time I've come to value humility enough to actively seek it - but my damn arrogance, pride and willingness to enjoy a good argument, always get in the way.

Socrates (as portrayed by Plato) was brilliant and very, very manipulative and enjoyed both traits - but as with many such people, it is very possible indeed that he realized the inherent limitations that those traits brought along and wanted (perhaps futilely) to surpass it in order to gain whatever it is that lies just beyond sheer smarts.

It is those who do not recognize the value of humility in themselves that have the potential for the worst evil - they tend to believe in things just because they believe in them and unquestioningly want to make everyone else agree - by coercion if necessary.

And I'd like to leave you with two thoughts, both expressed in quotes (for whatever they're worth) :

Monty Python : Socrates himself was permanently pissed

Stephen Crane :
"Think as I think," said a man,
"Or you are abominably wicked;
You are a toad."

And after I had thought of it,
I said, "I will, then, be a toad."



The Philosophy of Humility | 129 comments (104 topical, 25 editorial, 0 hidden)
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