Ed Hudgins on moral mess with the Danish cartoons


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I agree with Michael -- Ed Hudgins' piece on the Moslem cartoon furor is a very good one. Congratulations to TOC and Ed for jumping in with both feet on this issue.

I would just like to point out that Ed's piece -- "It Takes a Moral Mess to Know a Moral Mess" -- has implications far beyond the current controversy. As Ed notes in his opening words:

The moral premises shared by any group tells you whether it's a society seeking mutual benefits for members based on respect and voluntary exchanges or a criminal gang.

True enough. But you can tell not just its intentions regarding initiation of force, but a lotabout what the goals of a group are (or should be) by examining its moral premises (i.e., what those premises imply). And you can do a little reverse engineering, working backward from the group's policies and actions, to figure out what the actual premises of the group are as well (as opposed to what they espouse).

For instance, suppose there were a hypothetical organization, ostensively dedicated to the use of rationality in the pursuit of truth, but you saw this organization and its affiliates, over and over, airbrushing away the truth, rewriting reality, obliterating the historical record. Would you say that rational pursuit of truth is really a moral principle they hold? Or would you instead infer that there was some other, implicit, covert principle guiding their policies?

And if the latter, then what might that principle be? Would it be part of a rational worldview and system of philosophy -- or would it be a corruption of reason, a religious or quasi-religious premise that when the facts of reality are too upsetting they must be ignored, deleted, or destroyed?

Of course, this is all merely hypothetical. //;-))

REB

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Roger,

You're the aesthetics man. Help me out here.

I know of no Objectivist definition for history. Do you think we can borrow one from aesthetics? Here's my submission:

History is a selective recreation of reality according to the historian's political value judgments.

Am I on to something?

//;-))

Michael

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As simple as this, I think it's important enough to mention.

The thing with looking at history, is that there is, conceptually, our sense of it. That we knew there was history.

Then, we have various accountings. It is always a process of looking at the various accounts, empirical evidence, etc., and trying to recreate it.

Remember, science tells us what "is," but it does not tell us anything about what "is" ~means~. Science can't work any other way.

And of course, that is where it gets interesting for everyone...

rde

Always about those fine distinctions.

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Michael, you wrote:

Roger, You're the aesthetics man. Help me out here. I know of no Objectivist definition for history. Do you think we can borrow one from aesthetics? Here's my submission: History is a selective recreation of reality according to the historian's political value judgments. Am I on to something?

Most certainly -- but you're 30 years (or so) too late!

Roy A. Childs, Jr., who would be regarded by most Objectivists outside of the most rabid Randian Loyalist Closed-System Droids as being an Objectivist intellectual, offered just the kind of definition for "history" that you are proposing.

In "Big Business and the Rise of American Statism," which (I believe) originally appeared in Reason magazine in the early 1970s, and which was republished in 1977 in The Libertarian Alternative (ed., Tibor Machan, Chicago: Nelson-Hall) and again in 1994 in Liberty Against Power: Essays by Roy A. Childs (ed. Joan Kennedy Taylor, foreword by Thomas Szasz, San Francisco: Fox & Wilkes), Childs wrote:

History is a selective recreation [he means re-creation] of the events of the past, according to a historian's premises regarding what is important and his judgment concerning the nature of causality in human action.

My memory could be playing tricks on me, but I distinctly remember someone offering a more succinct definition than that: "History is a selective re-creation of the events of the past, according to a historian's ideological value-judgments." That is very similar to your version, Michael, but I can't for the life of me recall who coined it.

At any rate, you are definitely in the ballpark, though Childs does make the premises of importance more general than simply political ones. They would include religious or metaphysical premises as well.

It's clear that historians present a selective, stylized version of what happened in the past. They can't include every random concrete -- partly because they don't know all of them, and partly because there would be no coherence to it. They have to identify causal strands of choice and ideology in human actions and figure out which ones they think are essential to conveying the overall pattern(s) of human history.

However, historians (as against literary artists and propagandists) are presumably also dedicated to presenting the historical facts, as they understand them, rather than fiction or deliberately distorted facts (as in historical fiction and propaganda). So, the parallel to the definition of art has to be taken very loosely and with the salt shaker ready at hand!

REB

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Thanks for posting the Roy Childs quote, Roger. I lacked time and email energy for posting it myself and commenting on it when I read Michael's similar (though I think mockingly intended) definition. The mystery breviator of the quote might have been Jeff Riggenbach, though I'm not sure. I am sure that he's well aware of the Roy Childs article, since he speaks of that, quoting the full Childs definition, along with other similar comments from other historians (and much else by way of elaborating) in his forthcoming book: Witness of the Times.

Ellen

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> History is a selective recreation of the events of the past, according to a historian's premises regarding what is important and his judgment concerning the nature of causality in human action. [Childs]

As someone who has probably read (all or part of) perhaps a hundred history books of all kinds on all eras, I'm struck by how *seldom* the historians I've read, left, right, and center, are heavily biased or off target on what are one or more of the important causal factors. Any fashionable Objectivist cynicism that historians are completely...or even predominantly...led astray by their philosophical leanings is completely misplaced.

Didn't happen.

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Yes, I admit I was being naughty. For the record, I did not hear this anywhere earlier. It belongs to the same world as my formulation for Barbara on her tale of burnt potatoes once (exactly one year ago tomorrow on SoloHQ) - pure horsing around:

I swear, by my baked potato and my love of it, that I will never bake a potato for the plate of another man, nor ask another man to bake a potato for mine.

Ellen, your word "mockingly" resonated inside me and the echoes didn't let up for a while. So I had to stop everything and think about it. This probably belongs on another thread, but I want to mention it while it is still fresh in my mind.

I do not experience mocking like I have witnessed Objectivists in general experience it. When I lampoon somebody or an organization, there is always a feeling inside me of, "Come on, you guys. Let's get serious now. You have it in you to do right. Look at what your actions can come to. If I can imagine things up to this point from your behavior, imagine what others think. You can do better than that."

This feeling runs completely independently of how right I believe I am or how funny the lampoon is. I have a deep-seated belief in the capacity of human beings to correct themselves. After where I have been in my life, I know what I have been capable of doing and I know that it is possible to get out of that.

What I have observed with many, many Objectivists (and I am not saying that this is you, merely that your word triggered all this thinking) is that they have a full-fledged intention to humiliate another person by mocking them. The act of humiliating another human being is seen as some kind of virtue.

I do not share this feeling and it is foreign to my nature. I can think of nothing that reflects what I understand social metaphysics to be than humiliating another person because you don't agree with him.

This is similar to how I see envy of success. I see other people feeling it, but there is nothing inside me similar. I literally don't know what this feels like. Thus I accept that it exists, since so many people exhibit it, but I have no internal corroboration on an emotional level.

I used to have vague memories of jealousy from when I was a kid, but jealousy is another emotion I did not feel for a long time. Then I allowed myself to get in a situation where jealousy grew inside me to huge proportions for an extended period. That was pure hell on earth. (I will write about it someday.) Now I correct jealousy the moment it surges up, which has only been lightly ever since.

(Like NB suggests. I let myself feel it noncritically, then I reflect on it from different angles - no holds barred and absolute self-honesty in identifying what exists inside me. This usually works and it does not come back.)

So I guess what I do is mocking from one angle. Some of my stuff is devastatingly on target. Yet I prefer the word lampoon. If I should ever feel the need to humiliate someone, it will not be through humor. I can only imagine an urge to humiliate people like Bin Laden, and I would like to exterminate people like that, not hold them up to public scorn.

Like Roger said, ARI deserves to have its collective ass kicked for its monkeyshines. But that does not mean that I wish to humiliate those people. I want them to stop airbrushing history and trying to turn Objectivism into dogma. There are many intelligent people over there and they are humiliating themselves.

End of musing...

Michael

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Phil:

As someone who has probably read (all or part of) perhaps a hundred history books of all kinds on all eras, I'm struck by how *seldom* the historians I've read, left, right, and center, are heavily biased or off target on what are one or more of the important causal factors. Any fashionable Objectivist cynicism that historians are completely...or even predominantly...led astray by their philosophical leanings is completely misplaced.  

Didn't happen.

Phil,

Apparently you're interpreting Childs' definition as "Objectivist cynicism," but it's nothing of the kind. The point he was making is that there's always selection in constructing a narrative -- and history is a narrative. One can not recount every "fact," and all one would have would be a meaningless hodgepodge if one tried to do so. E.g., make the experiment of recounting what happened in your own life earlier today; you'll select according to your standards of what's significant and produce a narrative.

Ellen

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Ellen, I wasn't necessarily taking Childs as an example of 'Objectivist cynicism'. I was broadening my post to include that, to broaden my post to take it into account since I've seen a lot of it (and it seemed a couple other posts on the thread might have hinted at it.) The whole "we live in a corrupt culture and you can't trust any of the intellectuals" thing that Oists sometimes recite as a mantra.

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