This article is part of a series of articles on the subject of evolution, ethics and spirituality:

Parts: I, II, III, IV, V, VI (1), VI (2), VII, VIII (1), VIII (2), IX (1), IX (2), IX (3), X (1), X (2), X (3), XI (1), XI (2), XI (3), XII, XIII, XIV, XV, XVI, XVII (1), XVII (2), XVIII
 

Evolution, Ethics, And Spirituality: Part XX — Identity, Solidarity, and Responsibility

 

A Renegade Theologian

After World War II, the world wouldn’t be the same. We are in a new international scenario. On the one hand you have all the capitalist-democratic countries under the economic and military leadership of the United States, on the opposite end you have communist block under the economic and political influence of the Soviet Union. It was the beginning of the Cold War.  To top this problem, both sides had the A-Bomb, with the capacity to destroy humanity as displayed so very well in the movie War Games. Fascism has hurt the conscience of so many, especially after the rules of Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler. That does not mean that fascism would disappear, it would prosper in the democratic-capitalist block, something similar would appear in Latin American countries, continue in Spain, and persevere in many parts of Africa and Asia.
This new scenario influenced the Church significantly. Pope Pius XII was the head of the Church during World War II. Sometimes he is blamed for the killings of Jews, sometimes he is praised for saving Jews and hiding them in the Vatican. History will clarify this as passions cool off and time goes by. I just want to say for the record that I wouldn’t have wanted to be Pope while the Vatican was surrounded by Mussolini’s and Hitlerian forces. Remember, one thing is to decide that you should be a martyr. It is quite another that as head of state you make yourself and so many other people martyrs for the cause.
Pope John XXIII

Yet, the past is the past. When Pope Pius XII died, the hierarchy of the Catholic Church had no idea where to go or what to do given the new scenario. While they pondered the whole thing, the Cardinals decided to elect a particular Cardinal Roncalli. He was old, was fighting with cancer, he was not going to last long. Roncalli accepted and became Pope John XXIII. Then he did something totally unexpected, he called for an ecumenical council: the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965).

Behind this council were the best brilliant minds the Church had at the time, one of them was a priest called Hans Küng.Hans Küng He was one of the most progressive theologians behind Vatican II. Pope John XXIII was not able to see the ending of the Council, and the next Pope, Paul VI, foresaw the last procedures and the publication of the official documents. Thanks to the Council, there were serious reforms in many areas since the Council of Trent (1545-1563), including the celebration of Mass in the vernacular language instead of Latin.

Küng was not satisfied completely with the results and expressed his wish for more changes to Church structure in later works. Yet, when Pope Paul VI published his famous encyclical Humanae Vitae, where the Church forbade the use of artificial contraception, he was not happy at all. He felt the need to question the authority of the Pope, especially the First Vatican Council‘s resolution that the Pope is himself infallible when he speaks ex cathedra on matters of faith and morals (1868-1870). He wrote a famous book called Infallible? An Enquiry. Needless to say that the Church was not pleased at all, and asked Küng to leave his priestly ministry. Later, when Küng published the first book of his trilogy, he was no longer to be considered officially a “Catholic” theologian. By the way, I recommend this trilogy for your personal reading (especially the first two):
After the Cold War ended, Küng focused on a more important project of global proportions. The twentieth century, especially during the Cold War, made possible more religious conflicts everywhere in the world, mostly as a result of the accumulation of events in history such as the Crusades, the killing of Jews back then and during World War II, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, among others.  According to him, there won’t be peace on Earth unless there is peace among religions, so he began a Project of Global Ethics centered in part on a peaceful dialogue among world religions, especially among Abrahamic religions:  Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  For this purpose he wrote another trilogy of books:

But he knows that this is not enough.  There are other sorts of problems.  The global market is now moving to what we have called in a previous blog post “market fundamentalism”, and this is done at the expense of the vast majority of the people of the world, and also at the expense of our environment.

So he asks a very important question, perhaps the most fundamental question:  “Why ethics?”  He further asked:  Why should we be good if maybe we can lose benefit in the end?  Why shouldn’t we be bad if we can gain from it?  He asks all of these questions on two levels:  individually and collectively.  The answer seems to be evolutionary, especially from the point of view of group selection, especially multilevel group selection, where isolated groups, even when internally act ethically well with one another, it becomes threat to outsiders, even to the rest of humanity.  As our connections to the rest of the world are greater, and our interdependence of countries or economic blocks are far greater, the more empathic connection we establish with others, and the more the welfare of one group depends on the rest.  We begin to see humanity as a whole.

Hans Küng hardly uses evolution or group selection as his framework, but the idea is the same.  The reason why we need a global ethic is because humanity as a whole needs to survive.  He does agree with the third formulation of the Kantian categorical imperatives which states that humanity must not be considered merely as a means, but as an end-in-itself.  The rest of nature and human affairs should be considered as means to that end.  Yet, at the same time, we cannot see those means from an exploitative and mere utilitarian point of view, the environment, the ecosystems, plants, animals, species, and so on, should be means to that end, but in a sense they must be preserved, they have a dignity of their own, because without them we can’t survive.  Capital, industry, governments, trade agreements, science, technology, religions are all means to that ultimate end which is humanity, who are (so far) the moral species in the planet capable of making ethical decisions.

What do we need for this new global ethic?  Here are some requirements for a global ethic:

  1. A minimal fundamental consensus regarding determined ethical values, norms, and attitudes which would enable humans to live with one another in a dignifying way.  This requires a global governance in which political states, in their own way, preserve the political values of democracy and especially the separation of church and state, so that the freedom to adopt world-views can thrive.
  2. This consensus must presuppose internal peace in a society, depending on the common will to solve social conflicts without the use of power.  It also supposes the common will to respect a particular set of law and order.  However, this law and order must be implemented by institutions which can establish a regularity, but at the same time change according the needs of the time, institutions to renew themselves.

Küng distinguishes three different sorts of moral doctrines (he calls them “ethics” in the sense of moral attitude founded on a world view, not “ethics” in the sense I use it):

  • Ethics of Success:  It only looks at the selfish end of an individual or group by any means necessary.  This sort of “ethics” is not itself ethical, because the ends are reached in principle at the expense of anyone or anything (perhaps even everyone or everything).
  • Ethics of Principle:  It only looks at the principles disregarding completely what are the consequences of a an individual or group does.  Usually people like this operate under the principles of peace and justice, but they are dangerous in the sense that a person will do anything, literally anything, to try to fulfill those ideals.  It is ideological in nature.
  • Ethics of Responsibility:  For Küng, this is the position that should be adopted by humanity.  It looks for the welfare of humanity as an end-in-itself, but at the same time involves the ethical evaluation of the means that we use to attain it.  Küng recognizes two very important forms of responsibility:  identity, which is responsibility to oneself, personal responsibility; and solidarity, which is responsibility towards the world.

For the world-wide adoption of an ethics of responsibility, Küng considers necessary to establish in each country and in a global level an institutionalization of ethics, which should not be understood as a form Marx’s Error (the moralization of the economy) or a form of ethical angelism.  It means that there should be institutional support in order for ethical commissions, ethic codes, and other political means for humanity to make the best responsible decisions.

Responsibility

 

So, here is the sixty-four thousand dollars question?  Regarding Comte-Sponville’s scheme (at least our modified version), how do we make responsible decisions?  Comte-Sponville proposes that we make a responsible decision if we take into account the four strata we have discussed to have a better outcome.  The previous errors we discussed in earlier posts consist of suspending the internal problem-solving process of a particular stratum and substitute it with another.

As we have stated before, we cannot fall victims of the Funes Syndrome, we cannot assume that the world is perfect, nor that it will ever be perfect under a particular economic, political or ethical doctrine.  Many people do not read Plato’s Crito or do not remember it.  In that wonderful, but short, dialogue, Crito wants to illegally release Socrates from his jail cell, and Socrates refuses.   The part of the dialogue I really find fascinating is one of the reasons why he doesn’t want to be released, and that is that it would be an infringement against the law and the city-state (Athens) …  but the law of Athens never did anything to him. In fact, he totally consented to it just merely by living in Athens.  The ones responsible for Socrates’ death are humans …  they made the wrong choice in the end.  Sometimes we wish to believe that problems would be gone if we adopt such and such system.  It never happens that way.  That’s why the death penalty is so horrifying, not because those people who are really guilty don’t deserve it (and there is an element of political angelism in there when the state assumes the attitude of revenge for a criminal act), but because it doesn’t matter how do you wish to fix the holes in the system, there is always a chance that you might kill an innocent person. I remind everyone the video on the Fifth Amendment at the bottom of this blog post, and see how extremely easy you can get yourself into trouble with the law, even if you are innocent!

No system is perfect! Remember what I said regarding Funes Syndrome in the light of what Francisco Catalá’s reasoning:  if a system is perfect, it will not work.  At the same time, a human system cannot be perfect because there are fallible humans all over the place making decisions (and chances are that many of us will make wrong decisions).

There are times in life where all of the strata we have discussed align themselves perfectly.  Sometimes what is profitable, is also healthy for the law and the state, is ethical, and even empathic: each stratum will agree with one another.  In this sense, there will not be any problems making the right decision … it would be supid to choose otherwise from an ethical standpoint.  Yet, most of the time, the decisions we have to make means that we should establish priorities to make the best decisions possible.  Should we establish priority on the tecno-scientific stratum? On the juridical-political? On the ethical?,  On the first and the second?  On the second and the third?  Which priorities we ought to establish will depend greatly on the circumstances.

And that is precisely the point.  Many people who study economics, politics, or ethics wish to find the answer to world’s problems.  Guess what?  There is no such answer.  And the reason why there is none, is not because we should not address those global problems, but because there is no one single answer to everything, given the complexity of circumstances that we find in the world.  So, how should we propose solutions?  Simply by looking at the particular circumstances and cases where problems arise so we can reflect on them rationally and responsibly, and suggest the best solutions possible to these problems.

Usually the problem of the commercial media (especially in the United States) is that many times people suggest black and white solutions for everything, which makes the whole commercial media in the U.S. irrelevant and irresponsible (especially in the case of FOX News, but this applies to other news networks as well). Quoting the Joker when he tried to kill a loving couple and was threatening Las Vegas on TV:

Ooo!  Medical drama, life and death stakes, compelling human conflict …   RATINGSSSS!!!!!!!!!
(The Justice League, Season 2, “Wild Cards – II”)

Note:  Yeah, I just compared U.S. news media to a mindless, insensible, and in principle irresponsible criminal psychopath!

Not always letting the market free will solve the problems of the market, not always reinforcing the state will solve its own system nor the economy.  When do we use the economy or the state in different sorts of manners?  That will depend in each and every case where these problems appear.  I can say with assurance, though, that black and white solutions which fall into the Funes Syndrome are doomed to failure.

 

Solidarity

Comte-Sponville uses the term “solidarity” in a different ways that Küng does.  For him, the role of institutions is to establish a solidarity system, a form of functional system that is sustainable for a society.  He establishes a distinction between generosity and solidarity.  For him, generosity is a form of altruism, a person gives without expecting anything in return.  It is a form of self-sacrifice:  it could be minute, it could be great, but it is a form of altruism.  Solidarity is not altruism.  In a solidarity system, a person gives expecting to receive something in return.  When I give $2.00 to the homeless man sitting in the corner, I’m being generous, I’m expecting nothing in return.  However, when I pay the company which insures my car in case of an accident, I do expect something in return.  To distinguish this sort of solidarity from the one discussed by Hans Küng, I’ll call the former economic solidarity while I call the latter ethical solidarity.

Here is what is missing in some discussions on evolution.  Many people ask why are some species “altruistic”.  In reality much of the species have developed an economic solidarity where the majority give in order to receive something in exchange.  However, for that system to persist, there must be also some members of the group which are altruistic, i.e. they genuinely self-sacrifice for the sake of the group and let that group survive.  I suggest this for all of you who are working on the evolutionary view of society, especially in light of group selection.

In other words, the end result of making responsible decisions is to make a solidarity system, where the techno-scientific stratum is functional in the quality of economic solidarity, where the juridical-political establishes necessary restrictions to the techno-scientific stratum to validate people’s rights, and an ethical stratum establishing necessary restrictions to the juridical-political stratum so that everything operates the best way possible for humanity’s welfare.

 

References

Comte-Sponville, A.  (2004).  El capitalismo, ¿es moral? México:  Paidós.

Küng, H.  (2003).  Proyecto de ética mundial.  Madrid:  Editorial Trotta.

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This article is part of a series of articles on the subject of evolution, ethics and spirituality:

Parts: I, II, III, IV, V, VI (1), VI (2), VII, VIII (1), VIII (2), IX (1), IX (2), IX (3), X (1), X (2), X (3), XI (1), XI (2), XI (3), XII, XIII, XIV, XV, XVI, XVII (1), XVII (2), XVIII

Evolution, Ethics, And Spirituality: Part XIX — The Tyranny of Angels

(The entire analysis from here on is based on this proposal by the philosopher André Comte-Sponville with some modifications of mine)

Comte-Sponville's Proposal with Modifications

Angelic Hierarchy

One of my all-time-favorite literary works is Dante’s Divine Comedy. Imagine all of what Dante revealed in that excellent piece of work:

  • Theology: Natural Theology, the Doctrine of the Trinity, Demonology, Angelology, Moral Theology, Bible (Christian) Hermeneutics, Theology of Grace and Sin, Anthropology
  • Natural Philosophy: Astronomy, Cosmology, Geology
  • Ethics: the Seven Deadly Sins, the Four Cardinal Virtues, and the Three Theological Virtues, Psychology
  • Mythology: Greek, Roman, Judeo-Christian
  • History: References to Historical Figures in the Past and During his Time
  • Social Criticism: Depending on What His Criticism is, He Places his Contemporaries are in Heaven, Purgatory, or Hell … these Criticisms include Economic, Political, and Religious

Apparently what Dante did was to place almost all of the knowledge available in his time in one poetic work. That is a big feat! Imagine that you want to accumulate all of current knowledge, all of natural science (physics, biology, chemistry, … ), social science (psychology, sociology, economy, politics), philosophy (including ethics), geology, geography, cosmology, the mythologies we have now gathered from around the world, all sorts of current beliefs, etc. … and express all of these in a poem, and in verse! That’s why Dante’s Divine Comedy is a classic, and will always be a classic.

There are many parts of the Divine Comedy which appeal to me, one of them is Hell … Who isn’t appealed by that? We want to know all of the gory details, which make it precisely interesting! Our minds frequently want challenge, rarely it is entertained by the absolute peace of Heaven (Paradiso). Yet, even if you look at Paradiso from a theological, philosophical, and historical standpoint, it becomes interesting too. One of the theological subjects I’ve been fascinated with ever since I was little was Angelology (the theology on Angels). St. Thomas Aquinas was the all-time expert on the subject, and I read all about the way Christianity conceived it.


(One of Gustave Doré’s Illustrations of the Divine Comedy)

Dante describes the hierarchy of angels, pretty much according to Christian tradition. From lowest to highest, this is the hierarchy: angels, archangels, principalities, powers, virtues, dominions, thrones, cherubim, and seraphim. Each angelic "choir" is in charge of one aspect of creation, or the activities of heaven: from the angels (or guardian angels) who care for humans and living things, to the seraphim, who contemplate the face of God and praise him for eternity.

This heavenly hierarchy seems to be always in ascendance, going up, from the simple offices given by God, to the most sublime.

Comte-Sponville does not discuss angels in his work. He is pretty much a spiritual atheist, although you can’t help notice a deep admiration he has for the most intelligent Medieval theologians and Christian doctrine in general. Yet, he discusses what he calls "angelisms". They are the exact opposite of barbarities (as we have already discussed), but are not less dangerous. Barbarities descend from one stratum to another, angelisms ascend.

Angelisms

The reason why angelisms, as cute the name Comte-Sponville names them, are not all that lovely is because they are forms of ridiculous, i.e. they are confusions of strata. Placed in power, they also become tyrannies. An angelism essentially cancels out the logic of the lower stratum to substitute it for the higher. Here are the angelisms he talks about in his work:

Angelism Scheme

Juridical and Political Angelism

In Popperian terms, the juridical and political angelism is the tyranny where the problems of the techno-scientific stratum are addressed by juridical-political solutions. As Comte-Sponville points out, this is a serious mistake (Comte-Sponville, 2004, pp. 123-126). He mentions the famous fallacy that many French incurred in when a particular slogan was adopted in an anti-AIDS campaign: "The end of AIDS is a matter of political will!" Comte-Sponville rightfully points out that this is not true, politics nor the law are going to solve the AIDS problem. It is essentially a scientific problem. Of course, people who would defend this slogan would say: "You smart@$$! You know what we mean!" He would respond: "Of course I know what you mean. Yet, usually we are too carried away with our slogans, thinking that if we choose such and such policy, eventually AIDS is a problem that will be solved." The state should support measures to fund all of those studies to solve the AIDS problem, but it should never be a problem handled by the government, but by scientists (Comte-Sponville, 2004, pp. 124-125).

A similar problem has to do with the current economy meltdown. It is true that we should choose the best politicians to deal with the problem. Yet, as much as you wish to vote for the very best, we cannot expect for them to solve the economy overnight! Our survival instincts misleads us, especially when we think that an extraordinarily complex and global problem can be solved by politicians we elect. It is not the case. This false impression that politicians can solve problems almost overnight, especially when our survival instincts on top priority, play very well during elections. If things go as bad as how it began or worse, the opponent of a current president or governor will use this to convince the public about how incompetent the incumbent president or governor is.

The only thing that should be taken into consideration in times like this is whether a politician has contributed to establish the appropriate economic external restrictions, and a limited intervention in the economy, in order to stimulate it and place it back on track. The economy is not solved by legislation per-se (which would be a juridical angelistic approach to the problem), but by how that legislation has an economic effect that will correct the economy. No simple task!

Comte-Sponville made similar statements in his work, regarding protests of the unemployed (Comte-Sponville, 2004, pp. 125-126). As much as governments wish to stop protests by legislation, they can’t. They have to use economic measures to solve the problem. The alternative, is a totalitarian state (and who wants that?!)

What citizens should be careful, though, is to be sure not to elect politicians committed to economic or political interests which could be adversely affected if the right thing to do threatens them.

Ethical Angelism

In the case of ethical angelism (Comte-Sponville calls it "moral angelism"), the problems inherent of the juridical-political stratum are solved by the ethical realm (Comte-Sponville, 2004, p. 126-127). In most cases, this is the well-meaning sort of policy adopted by many states around the world, yet, a wrong one.

"How do you solve the problem of war?" asks Comte-Sponville: "Humanitarian aid". "How do you solve the poverty problem? The creation of charities." Don’t get me wrong, even when politicians make the right choice, these charities are needed. Although we have to take into account for the way "faith based initiatives" can contribute to the public good, but at the same time, there are other organizations which are essentially rackets in the name of God or Christ which exploit this angelism to no end at the expense of the public good. Examples of this are Pat Robertson’s charities (see here and here), or even non-Christian organizations such as Narconon (not to be confused with Narcotics Anonymous or Nar-Anon).

There are many organizations in the United States, much of them faith-based, who try to assist drug addicts. However, drug addiction is linked heavily to crime in the States. In Puerto Rico, more than 80% of criminal activity is related to drug trafficking. In Mexico, both the U.S. and the Mexican government have lost their war against drug cartels. This cannot be solved by charities to rehabilitate drug addicts. The problem of drugs has a juridical-political origin: certain drugs are forbidden by law for sale or consumption. As a result, the market prices of drugs (which cost practically nothing to produce) skyrocket. Drug cartels create addicts out of society, mostly those marginalized by the economy, and since the whole enterprise is criminalized and unregulated, there is no official "justice system" in the juridical-political stratum … everything is solved by guns and bullets. In order for these addicts to pay for the drugs they consume, they have to vandalize, steal, and kill to get the money so that they can pay for the drugs. Besides, if they owe anything, the money will prevent the eventual breaking of the bones or the bullet in the head that is usually followed with not paying on time.

Hence, the solution to the problem of drugs, relies squarely on the juridical-political stratum, not on the ethical stratum. People want the government to assume an ethical stance on drugs for a variety of reasons, some good and some bad. Yet, the ethical angelism of forbidding drugs because they are unethical actually harms society.

The same can be said about prostitution. There is no question that selling women’s bodies for money is deeply unethical, undignifying, and degrading. Yet, keeping it criminalized and unregulated is the sure way to spread VDs, subject women to danger on the streets related to gang violence, needless to say subject them to genuine immediate threats to their lives due to either their pimps or their clients. Whoever has the naïve idea that prostitution will go away if we take them off the streets and place prostitutes in jail, just know that it has never happened in history, no matter how many governments (even totalitarian ones) have tried. Even an ethicist such as St. Thomas Aquinas resigned to the idea that they were a necessary ill for society. Charities won’t solve this problem certainly, although charities are needed to alleviate the problem (regardless of whether prostitution is legal or not).

Emotional Angelism

There is still another sort of angelism which I call emotional angelism (Comte-Sponville calls it "ethical angelism"), which consists of canceling all of our ethical responsibilities and duties for the sake of love. This, for me, is the most amusing of all angelisms, because Comte-Sponville uses the example of the hippies. Some people have a very naïve concept of love, and with John Lennon sing the song "all you need is love". Lennon is correct in a sense, if love is used to motivate our moral sense and act according to our ethical duties. Yet, the statement "all you need is love" can be abused to say that ethics is not necessary because "all you need is love".

As Comte-Sponville would respond to such statement:

"Stop believing for a moment that you are Jesus Christ! Start by fulfilling your duties in the [ethical stratum], register as voter in [the juridical-political stratum], and learn an occupation in [the techno-scientific stratum]. If you think that love is going to solve any problem in some of these strata, then you are deceiving yourself: you are proof of angelism" (Comte-Sponville, 2004, p. 128, my translation)

In every day language, we would tell to that hippy: "Move your ass, get a job, and have a life!"

For some reason, this angelism reminds me of a commercial I saw in The Onion. Hmmm.

References

Comte-Sponville, A. (2004). El capitalismo, ¿es moral? México: Paidós.

Dante, A. (1999). Divina comedia. (A. Crespo, trad.) Barcelona: Planeta. (My favorite version of the Divine Comedy to Spanish).

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This article is part of a series of articles on the subject of evolution, ethics and spirituality:

Parts: I, II, III, IV, V, VI (1), VI (2), VII, VIII (1), VIII (2), IX (1), IX (2), IX (3), X (1), X (2), X (3), XI (1), XI (2), XI (3), XII, XIII, XIV, XV, XVI, XVII (1), XVII (2)

Evolution, Ethics, And Spirituality: Part XVIII — Barbarians at the Gates!

(The entire analysis from here on is based on this proposal by the philosopher André Comte-Sponville with some modifications of mine)

Comte-Sponville's Proposal with Modifications

It is incredible that today everyone understands by "barbarians" those kinds of societies which are practically in the Stone Age. The Greeks and the Romans used the term "barbarian" to describe anyone non-Greek and non-Roman respectively. In fact, the Greeks called Romans "barbarians", and when the Romans came to power, they returned the favor. According to the usage of the word, "barbarians" were by definition uncivilized.

Rhodes was destroyed by Rome, yet even Rome recognized that it was an exceptional place, and many members of the Roman nobility and elite went to that city to be educated. It was the center of inventions such as … a … steam engine! Nope.. Thomas Newcomen didn’t invent the first steam engine, he reinvented it in 1712. It was first invented by Heron of Alexandria, and was used in a variety of religious temples and activities. Legend says that after a civil war, Vespasian tried to rebuild the city, and someone suggested that it would be easier to do this if he used the steam engine. Vespasian destroyed the machine and said: "I have to feed the common people." And we had to wait about 1700 years for the steam engine to be reinvented. Unfortunately Rhodes was exterminated by one of its disciples: Cassius. Yep, the same one who conspired against Caesar. Also, the Antikythera machine was invented in Greek society, and it is a very, very sophisticated machine to predict the positions of the sun, moon and the planets in the sky. Could they be considered "barbarians"?

Original Antikythera Mechanism
Reconstruction of Antikythera Mechanism

(Top: The original Antikythera Mechanism discovered accidentally underwater at the Antikythera island in Greece
Bottom: A reconstruction of the Antikythera Mechanism, Courtesy of Mogi Vicentini)

When we reflect on the people who are traditionally known as "barbarians", they don’t fit the traditional profile we have of them, and of Rome as civilized society. For instance, the Celts were "barbarians" by Roman standards. Yet, they developed a very sophisticated calendar (the only Celtic calendar available to us came from ancient Gaul, the Coligny calendar. It is terribly complicated. It is so complicated, that after its discovery in 1897, no one knew exactly how the thing worked … until Professor Garrett Olmsted cracked the code, and published his discovery in 1992. It is actually a combination of Solar and Moon calendars into one, a calculator, so very advanced at the time that you could predict the position of the sun and the moon accurately within 20 years, or 50, or 100, or 200 or more!

Coligny Calendar

Rome, on the other hand, had a messy calendar … it was so bad, that at one point, the equivalent of our August in our calendar was the moment when Spring began. Julius Caesar had to reform it to make it much more accurate. Celts had some women in power, and laws favoring women or even handicapped children. Can you name one woman who became a Roman emperor or consul? And what about the Roman tendency to leave handicapped children to die? Also, it has been shown that the Celts invented roads long before the Romans did, and extended them throughout Europe, completely decentralized. In many ways what the Romans did, as they extended their power in Europe, was to build their own roads over the Celts’.

Romans would destroy Syracuse (which they considered inhabited by barbarians), despite the fact that it was the home of the great genius Archimedes, whom the Romans themselves killed.

Persia at the time, was far more advanced than Rome, not only culturally but also militarily … if you don’t believe me, ask Crassus , one of Rome’s consuls (along with Pompey and Caesar) . No wait! Now I remember! After invading Persia with seven legions, the Parthians beated the Romans big time. The Roman army would never forget Parthian military strategies for the rest of their lives (which only lasted for minutes, or hours). Not all of them died, though. Those who survived ended up slaves for the rest of their lives. And since Crassus was looking for gold, the Parthians gave him all of the gold he wanted … melted gold for him to drink.

If Rome were more advanced than the "barbarians", then why were they not so advanced as they proclaimed or as we have been taught in school? Can you name one (just one) famous Roman mathematician? No? Terry Jones from Monty Python’s Flying Circus, would tell you the reason: "There weren’t any!"

Barbarians such as Alaric, the one who "sacked" Rome, contrary to some testimonies at the time, did not want to destroy Rome, and he never burned down Christian Churches (for the simple reason that he was Christian himself). The "sack" was very restricted. Not only is Rome an empire he actually admired, but also Rome was the city of St. Peter and St. Paul. He held Rome captive for three days, but after not being able to negotiate with the emperor … he left in peace. Later his people would become the Visigoths, and would become the allies of the Western Roman Empire.

So many things are so misunderstood about history! ~ Sigh ~

Ridiculous Tyranny

Now, why do I come up with "barbarians" all of the sudden? In terms of history, it is a subject which fascinates me. I wanted to share a bit! However, regarding Comte-Sponville’s view of society and Ethics, there is also a discussion about what he calls barbarity, but to understand "barbarity" we have to take a brief look at his inspiration, a philosopher called Blaise Pascal.

Blaise Pascal

Pascal developed an ethics where he distinguished different stratified aspects of our being. He called a confusion of these strata "ridiculous". Comte-Sponville would adopt this for his philosophical views on society. For him, ridiculous could be a confusion of strata as shown in the stratified scheme at the top of this article. If the techno-scientific stratum is confused with the juridical-political stratum, then we would have what he calls "ridiculous". Yet, Comte-Sponville also uses another term for a specific form of ridiculous called tyranny. For him, tyranny is the ridiculous in power.

Comte-Sponville makes a distinction between two forms of tyrannies. The one we will discuss in this blog post is called barbarity, or the tyranny of the low. It consists in reducing or submitting a higher stratum to the lower one. So, here is the scheme of barbarity.

Barbarity Scheme

Technocratic or Liberal Barbarity

The first sorts of barbarities which Comte-Sponville discusses is the technocratic barbarity, or the tyranny of the experts, and the liberal barbarity, or the tyranny of the market. (Comte-Sponville, 2004, pp. 110-115)

Both of these philosophies assume as main argument that the people actually do not know what they need or what to do. So, these barbarities consist of experts who say: "Look, people are generally too stupid to actually know how to do things right, or what they really want. Legislate what we tell you to legislate, forget about what the people are asking for, and things will go fine." In a way this is what the Chicago Boys did in Chile when they created their plan, or "the brick" as it was called at the time. The same problem happened in the United States, when both Clinton and Bush paid too much attention to Alan Greenspan, a person who was extremely influential in legislation regarding the economy, and such legislation led to the economic meltdown, the crash in the real estate market, and the unfortunate house foreclosures. In Puerto Rico, Governor Luis Fortuño created a committee completely made up of bankers and businessmen, ignoring the government and the worker sector of society. The result was an economic plan which was a complete failure, since it recommended that people be sacked from government employments, which led to a crisis in effective demand, along with people being fired from their jobs in the private sector. Nothing in the private sector was prepared to absorb all of the unemployed, which deepened the recession. The Economist magazine lists us in the year 2009 and 2010 as being the worst economy in the world right now.

This contrasts with Ireland when it went through a similar crisis that Puerto Rico faces. But then, the committee was made up of the private sector, government representatives, and the labor unions. Everyone made some sacrifices (even the business sector), which led to an economic success to the point of having a greater GDP(PPP) per-capita than Great Britain. One of the major reasons why Ireland is in recession is that it liberalized the speculation in real-estate, just like the United States.

But let’s say, for the sake of the argument, that these barbarities worked. Why is it wrong, in principle, to delegate everything to the experts or the market? We discussed in an earlier blog the that letting the market be free, and reduce the power of the juridical-political stratum, can make society be subject to the intrinsic irresponsible behavior of the techno-scientific stratum, particularly the economic stratum. In other words, the technocratic and the liberal barbarity, cancels out democracy. In a democracy, the people rules, as it should, because only in a democracy can there be critical views over the very interested opinions and schemes of the technocrats and the market. Otherwise, it would be a technocracy or a plutocracy, not a democracy. Democracy is the means by which moral beings can use the juridical-political stratum to make the necessary external restrictions to the economy for the people’s benefit.

Political Barbarity

Political barbarity is the second barbarity which Comte-Sponville discusses. It is the sort of barbarity where the ethical stratum is subject or reduced to the juridical-political stratum. He also identifies two kinds of political barbarity. The first one is the totalitarian barbarity, which could be seen clearly in totalitarian states such as in the case of Communist Russia and the Soviet Union. We explained before that Marxism’s Error was to try to moralize the economy, suspend the requirements for it to function and replace it with the logic of the ethical stratum. For that to work, it tried to make people assume the ethics of the political party. In other words, the ethical thing to do is what the communist party says it should be done, even if it is to kill the opponents of the party (Comte-Sponville, 2004, pp. 115-118).

Yet, there is another form of political barbarity called democratic barbarity. This happens quite often with political parties. In the United States, the people who are Democrats or Republicans actually give up their moral sense and ethical convictions to benefit those political parties. The effect is that many of their members stop requiring them the changes they need to make in order to be more democratic, nor do they require them to make essential changes to the juridical-political stratum so that the state can have cleaner governments and make them accountable to the people.

I still remember when Al Gore "lost" to Bush, in part because of votes which went for Ralph Nader. Nader argues correctly, that Gore actually won the elections. Yet, I remember friends of mine on the net talking extensively about how Nader is to blame for everything. Much of my Democratic friends have not thought that if they actually asked for significant changes in the Democratic Party, there wouldn’t be any Ralph Nader. I tried talking to them about reforming and uniforming the elections all over the United States, the use of free / open source software to run the computers which count the votes, asked them about important reforms to forbid companies from contributing to political campaigns (which, in my opinion, is institutionalized bribery), ways to let third parties be an option, about Democrats who didn’t work along the lines of worker’s rights, or GLBTT rights, and so on. But immediately everything was forgotten, and Nader was to blame for everything once again. They make it all about winning an election, while giving up their moral agency and require changes. I’ve also said the same things to my right-wing friends in the Republican Party, who mostly agree that there should be a cleaner political process.

However, Comte-Sponville talks about a democratic barbarity which is different from what I’m talking about: the fallacy that people ought to give up their right to criticize or protest against the government, because the current government was chosen in elections. Once again, this is practically giving up our moral agency and let the juridical-political stratum be set lose (Comte-Sponville, 2004, pp. 118-121). People who argue like this have lost all sense of democracy, and limit it to going to an election every two or four years. Democracy is done every day through protests, through writing letters to your legislator, writing letters to your president or minister, or insuring human rights in the courts, or civil disobedience. We enjoy our rights today because a lot of people throughout history actually struggled and conquered them for us.

Ethicizing Barbarity

The ethicizing barbarity consists of subjecting or reducing the stratum of emotional love, of empathy, to the ethical stratum (Comte-Sponville, 2004, p. 121). Comte-Sponville shows the example of the Ayatollah Khomeini, who legislated against some social tendencies which his radical Islamic views considered immoral. He implemented a tyranny of the puritans. He legislated against miniskirts and St. Valentine’s Day.

But a more common manifestation of the ethicization barbarity occurs every day with people who want to love another person only in proportion to a person’s moral or ethical practice. This is not true love, because even from an ethical standpoint, we should love everyone. The interesting thing about true love (ethical and emotional) is that we should love in a way that is not really proportional to the moral or ethical purity of others. Besides, no one is perfect, no one can be called purely "good". Paraphrasing Jesus Christ in John 8, "he who is without sin, be the one to cast the first stone".


References

Collado Schwarz, A. (2008). Soberanías exitosas: seis modelos para el desarrollo económico de Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico: Fundación Voz del Centro.

Comte-Sponville, A. (2004). El capitalismo, ¿es moral? México: Paidós.

Jones, T. & Ereira, A. (2006) Terry Jones’ Barbarians: an alternative roman history. UK: BBC Books.

Olmsted, G. S. (1992). The Gaulish calendar: a reconstruction from the bronze fragments from Coligny. Bonn: R. Habelt.

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This article is part of a series of articles on the subject of evolution, ethics and spirituality:

Parts: I, II, III, IV, V, VI (1), VI (2), VII, VIII (1), VIII (2), IX (1), IX (2), IX (3), X (1), X (2), X (3), XI (1), XI (2), XI (3), XII, XIII, XIV, XV

Evolution, Ethics, And Spirituality: Part XVI — Stratum of Emotional Love

Introduction

One of the big problems which has been raised regarding evolution has to do with our developed brain capable of giving us a "moral sense". If everything is competition, a "survival of the fittest" as it is traditionally understood by people, then why are we predominantly good people, at least within our communities? This is a very good objection. Let’s think about it. Good people want a moral sense to behave well in society and be better individuals. On the other hand, bad people never play by the rules, they don’t care about people, just themselves. We can think of a list of what makes good people good, and bad people evil.

Traits of Good People

  • Honest
  • Loyal
  • Altruistic
  • Loving
  • Self-Sacrificing
  • Brave

Traits of Evil People

  • Dishonest
  • Traitor
  • Selfish
  • Hater
  • Coward
  • Spiteful

If we look at this list, it looks like if we placed a good person and evil person in a desert island, then the former will end up being a victim of the latter, perhaps even dinner if there are not many resources in that island.

Let’s look at comics for clarification (yeah … comics!). The problem for a good person in a case like this is the one which Todd McFarlane found about his Spawn comic book series. The hero of the story, Al Simmons, went to Hell when he died because he was a mercenary and assassin, and the Devil chose him as Hell’s Spawn to lead its militia against the forces of Heaven and God. Yet, how should Heaven be? If Heaven’s militia is a band of Mother Theresas, such battle wouldn’t be won by Heaven in a million years. As a result, in the Spawn series, Heavenly forces must be as ruthless as Hell’s demons. When people think "survival of the fittest", people think that there is no chance in "heck" that good virtuous people can arise out of it: there are always evil people, and to deal with them, you will have to be as bad as they are … or worse.

There is something wrong with this picture of evolution. It reminded me of the time I watched the Superfriends when I was little. Ya know! Superman, Batman, Aquaman … etc. always triumph over evil. Yet, as an adult, I watch these series and I’m actually bored with them. If evil was so effective, I wouldn’t know in a million years why wouldn’t evil be triumphant over good.

Yet, there was a recent version of the same idea. In 2001, Warner Brothers released a TV Series called The Justice League and a sequel called Justice League Unlimited, which were far more believable, more interesting, and better version of the Superfriends. Besides, Kevin Conroy gave the Batman his voice … Conroy’s is the best voice for Batman EVER! (but that’s another issue 😛 ). One of the things I liked about these series is that they were more "truthlike". There was not one "Legion of Doom" like in the Superfriends‘ series, but rather an inability of the evil villains to keep the group together! In The Justice League and Justice League Unlimited there are four different efforts to create something like "The Legion of Doom" (once under Lex Luthor’s leadership, once under Aresia’s (aka Fury), then twice under Grodd’s, although in the last case, it ended up with Luthor’s), without any success whatsoever of persisting. What was the problem? How ever they wished to establish solidarity against the good guys, evil guys are … ahem! … evil. Elements of dishonesty, thirst for power, self-service, betrayal, and ambition corrupted the group again and again, because each one of the bad guys were bad guys.

If you still don’t get my point, let’s make an imaginary experiment. A whole group of good guys end up in an deserted island, while a group of bad guys end up in another one. What will happen? In the end, the good guys will probably thrive or build a boat to escape, while the bad guys will self-destruct.

What is our lesson here, ladies and gentlemen? That our view of evolution about competing individuals and choosing the success of individuals is wrong. The reason why goodness exists it is because a species is going to succeed through good actions than through evil in a group. So group selection can explain why so many species have altruistic behavior. We developed also a moral sense because not everyone in society is good, hence a moral sense will enable us to recognize good in the world while trying to diminish the evil in society in many ways.

If you think this is only a comic book sort of scenario, think again! Experiment after experiment have confirmed the validity of multi-level group selection in relation with other models such as gene selection or kin selection (which is regarded as a level of group selection). For instance, William Muir carried out an experiment with hens regarding the egg production. He chose the best individual chickens in terms of egg production in one cage, and then he chose the best group of chickens in another cage. Notice that in the latter, there may be some unproductive chickens in terms of egg production. Result? After six generation, only three chickens of the first group survived. The best individual chickens tried their very best to produce eggs by suppressing the production of the other chickens. So, of the original nine, only three remained … the rest were murdered by the three. Even though, yes, the best individual chickens produced more eggs individually, the total of egg production as a whole plummeted . However, in the case of the best group of chickens, not only were they wholly alive, healthy and kicking after six generations, but its egg production increased with every generation.

David Sloan Wilson loves to use this chicken experiment as an example of group selection. At the end of one of his lecture, one university teacher approached him and said: "This describes my department! I know the names of those three chickens!" Apparently his department created an environment based purely on merits, disregarding other aspects of academic life. The result was eerily similar to those of the best individual chickens.

On the other hand, as Omar Tonsi Eldakar has shown in an experiment with group selection in the case of strider, being a gentleman lets you go a long way, needless to say, a successful reproduction and survival of the species. Isn’t that right Jessica?


(Recently there have been a rash of women telling me that
if only their boyfriends or husbands were gentlemen, and not
take them for granted, they would be happier with their relationships.
Oh well!)

Similar experiments have been carried out on beetles with similar results (Futuyma, 2009, p. 288-289; Wade (1977)).

What is our lesson here, ladies and gentlemen? That, indeed, selfish people do triumph within groups, yet, they are unable to thrive between groups. Much to the dismay of Richard Dawkins, group selection is the way to go (Wynne-Edwards (1986), Wilson, 2008, pp. 28-35).

From an Evolutionary Standpoint: Love Matters!

As we have explained before, we don’t practice ethics just because of it, we are interested in behaving well or as best as possible. Most organisms out there have absolutely no notion of what ethical is, they have no idea what good or bad values are, or what is right or wrong. Yet, they are able to develop such behaviors which we call "good" (kindness, altruism, cooperation) which let these species survive. One big example of this is the bacteria. We wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for the fact that at some point in our prehistory, cooperating bacteria led to their own survival through cooperation, which led to the creation of the eucharyotic cell. The reason why we have bacteria (e.g. mitochondria) in our cells is precisely because they form part of this sort of cooperation. Mitochondria and chloroplasts (especially the latter) make our lives possible. Chloroplasts trap the sun’s light and transform them within plant cells. Mitochondria provide energy to all of our cells. This theory of cooperation among bacteria to create a higher level organism, the eucharyotic cell, was proposed originally by Lynn Margulis, and it is called the endosymbiotic theory.

Other animals such as ants or bees cooperate because of instincts more than anything else. If you look at bees, they cooperate among themselves because their genes, through natural selection (group selection) favored those genes which inclined them to cooperate.

Yet, unlike ants or bees, humanity lacks some instincts for survival. Yet, as we have seen before, we have developed empathic emotions, especially love emotions, which enable us to behave well, to be inclined to solidarity and altruism. We can see this in all primates, including those close to us, and we can see it in ourselves too.

This is not exempt from controversy, though. As obvious as all of this may seem, many people ask, from a philosophical point of view: "What is love?" I wish to offer a response to this question by making two very different sorts of "love".

  1. Emotional Love
  2. Ethical Love

Let me start explaining the second sort of love. This is the kind of love which Kant understood in his works on Ethics, and which has been defended by so many other authors.

Ethical Love

One of the biggest reflections we find in many philosophers’ minds, including Kant’s, is that Jesus asks people to "love one’s enemies". If Ethics has everything to do with obeying an objective command of reason, this particular command doesn’t make any sense. Kant clarifies this commandment in light of his Ethical theory:

It is undoubtedly in this way, again, that we are to understand the passages from scripture in which we are commanded to love our neighbor, even your enemy. For love as an inclination [emotion] cannot be commanded, but beneficence from duty –even though no inclination impels us to it and, indeed natural and unconquerable aversion opposes it– is practical and not pathological love, which lies in the will and not in the propensity of feeling, in principles of action and not in melting sympathy; and it alone can be commanded. (AK 4:399).

"Pathological" in this sense only means a love which is emotionally based (the term is not used to describe emotional love as an illness, the Greek term "pathos" means "feeling"). So, this kind of love that is been commanded is what I will call here ethical love, a love which is not felt but practiced. This is the love that operates in the ethical stratum, as described in our last post. Remember, the ethical stratum consists in, for all practical purposes, what Kant called the "Kingdom of Ends": rational beings legislate maxims as universal laws which are ends-in-themselves, which are simultaneously means for rational beings who are also ends-in-themselves (if this has a Rousseau sort of flavor, it is no accident!) (AK 4:434).

This is the sort of love that is talked about by Erich Fromm in his famous work The Art of Loving, who agreed wholeheartedly with Kant that true love considers another rational being as ends-in-themselves and not as mere means. For him, love is a way of being rather than a mere feeling. It is the sort of feeling that is produced by the practice of caring, respect, and knowledge.

The so-called father of "pop psychology", Morgan Scott Peck, went along those same lines in his bestseller The Road Less Traveled. Yet, for a so-called "father" of pop psychology, the content of the book is not so "pop". His book is philosophical, but it infuses a lot of what he learned as a psychiatrist. The first lesson you must learn when it comes to love is that … that … ummm… life is difficult! (In the footnote he reminds us that the first of Buddha’s Four Noble Truths is that "Life is suffering"). Although we all know this is true, we all forget it. Yet, to overcome difficulty, we need to have discipline. Why would he talk about discipline first and leave "love" for later, if the book is about love itself? Peck replies that without discipline there can be no love. What kind of discipline do we need for true love? Peck gives us four aspects we must fulfill in our lives:

  • Delaying gratification in the present for future gains.
  • Acceptance of responsibility for one’s decisions and actions.
  • Dedication to the truth, which means being true to oneself and with others in words and deeds.
  • Balancing by prioritizing conflicting requirements. We referred to this as that it is true applied ethics.

Now that we have discipline, we are able to discuss love. As in the case of Fromm, for Peck, love is not mere attraction or "falling in love", or a passion we feel towards something or someone. Peck calls cathexis the attraction we feel towards something or someone, which we should differentiate from love. Love is not a feeling either, nor is "self-sacrifice", especially if it means denying yourself the good things you need for yourself; self-sacrifice is important for love, but it shouldn’t be absolute for the rest of your life. Remember, you should love yourself too. Remember that the key word in "delaying gratification" is "delaying", it does not mean "eliminating gratification altogether".

What is love then, for Peck? He defines love as the will to extend oneself for the purpose of nurturing one’s own and another’s spiritual growth (Peck, 1978, p. 119). Love, then is an activity not a feeling. Even Peck argues that true love sometimes acts against emotional love.

But to understand this conception of love, we must ask: what does he mean by "spiritual growth"? It means to contribute to others and to oneself to the point of being able to make responsible decisions, show empathy, not accept everything through blind faith, and even lose an irrational attachment to our self-interests for everyone’s sake (including ourselves).

Emotional Love

Yet, there is something lacking despite the validity of ethical love. It operates at the level of the ethical stratum. Yet, as we have said before, we don’t care for ethics just because. Emotions play a central role as motives to act ethically. Without emotions, we are simply unable to make rational decisions, we are totally and absolutely unable to create the necessary empathy to be able to respect others as human beings as ourselves.

André Comte-Sponville talks about a fourth stratum which he calls "ethical", yet it is an inappropriate term. For Comte-Sponville, his notion of "ethical stratum" is extremely close to that which I describe as emotional love. However, Comte-Sponville’s notion of "ethical stratum" is a bit confusing, because in many other ways it seems to correspond to what I call here "ethical love". Inspired in St. Augustine’s ethics, there is a dimension of emotional love which needs "training". As St. Augustine said, we should learn to love first, then do what we will. According to Comte-Sponville, we should develop three sorts of emotional love:

  • Love for the Truth
  • Love for Freedom
  • Love for Humanity

For him, love should serve as motivation for what we (not him) call the "ethical stratum", the ethical stratum should be an external restriction to the juridical-political stratum, which simultaneously establishes external limits to the techno-scientific stratum. So, here is how our final scheme looks like:

Stratified Model

This is the scheme we will work with from now on in our next blog posts. When we discuss religion and spirituality, we will consider yet another possible stratum which Comte-Sponville talks about. For now, these are enough for our next discussions.

References

Comte-Sponville, A. (2004). El capitalismo, ¿es moral? México: Paidós.

Fromm, E. (1956). The art of loving. NY: HarperCollins.

Futuyma, D. J. (2009). Evolution. US: Sinauer.

Kant, I. (1999). Groundwork of The metaphysics of morals. In P. Guyer & A. W. Wood (eds.), Practical philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Muir, W. M. (2009). Genetic selection and behaviour. Canadian Journal of Animal Science, 89, 1, 182.

Peck, M. S. (1978). The road less traveled: a new psychology of love, traditional values and spiritual growth. US: Touchstone.

Wade, M. J. (1977). An experimental study of group selection. Evolution, 31, 134-153.

Wilson, D. S. (2008). Evolution for everyone: how Darwin’s theory can change the way we think about our lives. US: Delta.

Wynne-Edwards, V. C. (1986). Evolution through group selection. Oxford: Blackwell Scientific.

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This article is part of a series of articles on the subject of evolution, ethics and spirituality:

Parts: I, II, III, IV, V, VI (1), VI (2), VII, VIII (1), VIII (2), IX (1), IX (2), IX (3), X (1), X (2), X (3), XI (1), XI (2), XI (3), XII

Evolution, Ethics, And Spirituality: Part XIII — The Techno-Scientific Stratum

Introduction: A Peculiar Doctor

It is funny to see a comedy group like Los Rayos Gamma (literally "the gamma rays") make fun of politics. One of my favorite characters is one Dr. Rodas. He was an evil doctor, living like this evil scientist, speaking Spanish with an U.S. accent … with a very Dr. Frankenstein sort of appearance of his lab, damning all those damn Puerto Ricans to hell. And with him, there is a hunchbacked character called Igor (who does whatever Dr. Rodas says, but covertly he is pro-Puerto Rico). In Puerto Rico it was an instant hit, and when Los Rayos Gamma had their show on TV, they showed Dr. Rodas every now and then to criticize Puerto Rico’s relationship with the United States.

Yet, what many people don’t know is that this fictional character was actually based on a real person. Let’s meet this person. TIME Magazine dedicated an issue to him. His name, Doctor Cornelius Rhoads:

Dr. Cornelius Rhoads

Why on Earth would Los Rayos Gamma create a character out of him? And why the heck is TIME Magazine showing an inverted symbol of medicine, used as a sword, to trespass one very ugly looking human skull? As it happens, like Doctor Rodas, Dr. Cornelius Rhoads was known for his plan to kill Puerto Ricans. He was a renowned physician who worked in the Presbyterian Hospital of Puerto Rico for a while. He had been sent by the Rockefeller Foundation to do some work here "healing" patients, and also do some research. At that time, it was pretty common for north American doctors to visit Puerto Rico and practice there. But Rhoads was special.

In 1931, when he was about to complete his research, he decided to write a letter addressed to "Ferdie", or Dr. Fred W. Stewart, and in that letter, "Dusty" aka Rhoads, said:

As far as I can see, the chances of my getting a job in the next 10 years are absolutely nil. One is certainly not encouraged to attempt scientific advances when it is a handicap rather than an aid to advancement. I can get a damn fine job here and am tempted to take it. It would be ideal except for the Porto Ricans — they are beyond doubt the dirtiest, laziest, most degenerate and thievish race of men ever inhabiting this sphere. It makes you sick to inhabit the same island with them. They are even lower than Italians. What the island needs is not public health work, but a tidal wave or something to totally exterminate the population. It might be livable. I have done my best to further the process of extermination by killing off 8 and transplanting into several more. The latter has not resulted in any fatalities so far. … The matter of consideration for the patient’s welfare plays no role here — in fact, all physicians take delight in the abuse and torture of the unfortunate subjects. Do let me know if you hear any more news.

Sincerely,

Dusty

According to later testimony, apparently "Dusty" wrote this when he was enraged at the fact that someone stole something from his car. When lab workers in the Presbyterian Hospital found the letter and photocopied it, all hell broke lose. The letter reached Nationalist leader, Pedro Albizu Campos, who displayed it for all Puerto Ricans to see. Rhoads had to flee to the U.S., but remained protected by the Rockefeller Foundation, as well as the U.S. government.

You will find more information about it in this book.

Scientific Problems

Science is itself a rational discipline, one of the great proud daughters of philosophy. Yet, some use it for evil. Nazi Germany used scientists extensively to examine and torture all sorts of prisoners in concentration camps. Science was also used against people in the gulags in the Soviet Union. Dom Hélder Câmara, a Catholic bishop in Brazil, thanked Pope Paul VI for his determination against artificial contraceptives in his encyclical Humana Vitae, or else foreign corporations would make all sorts of experiments with Latin Americans. Even in the United States, the government and corporations made all sorts of experiments on Native Americans, minorities, poor white people, among other groups, including members of the military. Eugenics was one of those instances where active discrimination against minorities was disguised as science, and left a very, very dark history. The effects of the nuclear blasts still torment people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Genetics was used to argue against marriage among races in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Science can be terrible in so many ways. It is an amoral discipline too, but its end is not money, it is knowledge of the physical world. In and of itself, science is neither good nor bad. It is good in so far it provides knowledge, but how do you use that knowledge will make it ethically good, bad or evil. Yet unlike CEOs, many scientists do restrain themselves from something they consider to be unethical. Some corporate scientists or some scientists working for the government are not so lucky, though. Many times they are asked to distort a lot of material to suggest the public that certain products are not really harmful, or that climate change is not really happening.

Yet, science in and of itself never asks itself ethical questions. That is not its field. What sort of problems do scientists deal with? They deal with scientific questions … Although this is the sort of truism that could make people stare at me and say "Duh!", it is not all that obvious. Recently there have been many authors such as Sam Harris who actually pretends to go around the naturalistic fallacy, and somehow infer truths of reasons (ethical norms) out of matters of fact. You cannot derive an ought from is, no matter what sort of thorough scientific reasoning you try to use. Science can inform us so that we can make informed ethical decisions, but from particular facts we cannot infer universal ethical norms.

As in the case of the so-called "business ethics", there is always the temptation to reduce the ethical level to another level. In business ethics there is an effort to reduce ethics to "whatever works for society" … especially "whatever works for business". In Sam Harris’ case, as in the case of other scientists who try to do the same, ethics is inferred from whatever operations happen in our brains, or whatever can be biologically "good" for us. Yet, all you will discover in the brain are neural impulses, how neurons and organs in the brain interact … nothing more. In cosmology you can study the special theory of relativity and know how Einstein reached through simple algebra the equation: E=mc². However, we will never find anything remotely resembling duty, honor, respect, dignity in the physical realm, nor do these form part of any scientific equation (physical, biological or otherwise). Again, all of this might be obvious to most of you, but you have absolutely no idea how many times I have argued with intellectuals and academics who want to establish a basis on good behavior on quantum physics. 😛 …

The problems dealt by scientists stimulate the curiosity on the scientist and enables them to research. Alas! Sometimes their research can involve inhumane treatment of animals, or even their abuse. It might involve things such as ruining forests and agriculture, as in the case with experiments with agent orange. It might involve the abuse of embryos. Although not properly sentient beings, there is a sense of offense or indignity to humanity with the fact that thousands of them end up in the trash can. Sometimes the research could involve experimenting on people without their consent.

Sometimes genuine and good research tends to give results which can have harmful consequences. For instance, recently the human genome was mapped, and many genes identified for what they do. We know that there are genes that predispose us to have cancer or other forms of illnesses. In the future, will we be dropped by insurance companies on that basis alone because of pre-existing conditions in our genes? What about being laid off because of a potential illness that a company or government knows will hinder you from being productive in the future? Should our genome be available to everyone?

Food for Thought: One particular scientist made his DNA sequence, his genome, available in the Internet. Some people have studied it thoroughly and have discovered that there is an 80% chance that during his adult life, this scientist will be bald. Well, this scientist is an adult right now, and practically everyone in the world knows how he looks like. Here is Steven Pinker … aka the scientist who rivals Einstein regarding hair:

Steven Pinker

Technological Problems

Last but not least, with the advance of science comes technology. Guns, computers, TVs, Nintendo, Wii, and so on are ethically neutral, and it would be drop dead obvious that these are all "good" in the sense that they can be useful. Yet, most people treat them as being ends-in-themselves, rather than means to an end. As in business ethics, and as efforts to reduce ethics to biology, some people define ethics in terms of a technique or a technical process that achieves a result. Yet, as with the economy, and as science, technological problems within itself do not include ethical problems. The matter of technological use is external or outside the technological realm. If your computer crashes, I assure you, no dignity or sense of duty will fix the problem, only a good technician with the right tools will do.

The Techno-Scientific Stratum

André Comte-Sponville conceived a stratum that is purely technical, which he originally wanted to call "economic-techno-scientific order". Yet, this name is too long, so he just called it the "techno-scientific order", or the tecno-scientific stratum. Essentially it is a set of sub-strata operating on their own, having their own problem-solving processes, and in many ways interacting with each other. We could represent our view of them this way.

Techno-Scientific Stratum

In this diagram, I essentially use a Popperian version of problem-solving scheme for each sub-stratum identified by Comte-Sponville as being part of the techno-scientific stratum. As we can see, these three sub-strata have their own problems, and their own ways to solve them within their own system. The techno-scientific stratum is solely composed of amoral fields, where their internal problem-solving process do not include anything about ethics or any other stratum. Notice that the way the economic, scientific and technological dynamics are not islands operating completely separately, but they all interact with each other. Each sub-stratum generates an external problem-solving process, which means basically that each sub-stratum can generate problems to other sub-strata.

An example of how one sub-stratum affects another is when scientists find some facts which could be inconvenient for a particular product by a corporation, which would later lead to banning the product and prospective loss of capital. Advances in technology can also affect the speed in which a corporation produces, hence generating more income. If a corporation does not adjust itself to new technologies, it will lose in the marketplace.

Also, this problem-solving relationship among sub-strata help us understand the way they interact. For example, the discovery of genes of the human genome has led to scientific processes to isolate them (through technology), and such way of extracting the genes are patented by a corporation (economy).

The model above implies that the whole techno-scientific stratum can also create external problems to other external strata, as we shall see in future blog posts.

At this stage of the discussion, the question is: should the techno-scientific stratum be limited? If we look at each sub-stratum as we have discussed here and in our earlier blog post, we can infer that the answer is yes. Not to limit the economy in any way, and leave it as a free-for-all sort of behavior will result in many forms of externalities which could seriously harm us and harm the ecosystem as a whole. If some limitations are not placed to the scientific enterprise, then the important sectors of the enterprise may result in researches which require experimentation on humans without their consent, animal abuse, contamination of an ecosystem, undignifying procedures, and so on. The same reasoning applies to technology, because we should decide which technology should be built and how it is used for the benefit of humanity.

The question now is, what will establish the limitations of the economy, science, and technology, in other words, the techno-scientific stratum. And here the laws and the state will limit it externally. This will be the subject of the next blog post.

Sources

Aponte Vázquez, P. (2005). The unsolved case of Dr. Cornelius Rhoads: an indictment. PR: Publicaciones René.

Comte-Sponville, A. (2004). El capitalismo, ¿es moral? Spain: Paidós.

Ferrer, J. J. & Álvarez, J. C. (2003). Para fundamentar la bioética: teorías y paradigmas teóricos en la bioética contemporánea. España: Desclée de Brower.

Popper, K. (1994). Knowledge and the body-mind problem: in defence of interaction. London & NY: Routledge.

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