Saturday, September 11, 2004


Again, I've missed a day. That's because I was sick with some strange bacteria in my colon who got the upper hand becuase I was taking some antibiotics to combat the bacteria causing a sinus infection in my nose. Help! Help! They're swarming in from all directions.


Today, September 1, 2004, I finished Daniel Dennett's “Freedom Evolves”. (Yes—it took that long! And, no, I don’t understand everything that I read!) I’ve got several more things to include in this Blog from Dennett’s book. In the final pages (pp. 303-304), Dennett presents a hopeful prognosis for the spread of freedom:

“The freedom of thought and action that is necessary for discovering truth is a precursor, as we have seen, to the more expansive ideal of political or civil freedom, a meme that spreads easily, apparently. It is much more infectious than fanaticism, thank goodness. The cat is out of the bag. There is no way that enforced ignorance can win in the long run. [Although, I must remind Dennett that Islam has done a pretty good job of stuffing the cat more than halfway back into the bag, and the know-nothing Christian fundamentalists are doing their best with home schooling to pretend to educated their children free from the nasty influence of current scientific truths.] You can’t readily uneducate people. As communications technology makes it harder and harder for leaders to shield their people from outside information, and as the economic realities of the twenty-first century make it clearer and clearer that education is the most important investment any parent can make in a child, the floodgates will open all over the world, with tumultuous results. All the flotsam and jetsam of popular culture, all the trash and scum that accumulates in the corners of a free society, will inundate these relatively pristine regions along with the treasures of modern education, equal rights for women, better health care, worker’s rights, democratic ideals, and openness to the cultures of others. As the experience in the former Soviet Union shows only too clearly, the worst features of capitalism and high-tech are among the most robust replicators in this population explosion of memes, and there will be plenty of grounds for xenophobia, Luddism, and the tempting ‘hygiene’ of backward looking fundamentalism.

“. . . In the next century it will be our [freedom] memes, both tonic and toxic, that will wreak havoc on the unprepared world. Our capacity to tolerate the toxic excesses of freedom cannot be assumed in others, or simply exported as one more commodity. The practically unlimited educability of any human being gives us hope of success, but designing and implementing the cultural inoculation necessary to fend off disaster, while respecting the rights of those in need of inoculation, will be an urgent task of great complexity. . . .”


“Human consciousness was made for sharing ideas. That is to say, the human user-interface was created by evolution, both biological and cultural, and it arose in response to a behavioral innovation; the activities of communicating beliefs and plans and comparing notes. This turned many brains into many minds, and the distribution of authorship made possible by this interconnectedness is the source of not only our huge technological edge over the rest of nature but our morality. The last step required to complete my naturalistic account of free will and moral responsibility is to explain the R&D that has given us each a perspective on ourselves, a place from which to take responsibility. The name for this Archimedean perch is the self. This is something about us humans that sets us apart as potential moral agents, and it is no surprise that language is involved. What is harder to see is how language, when it is installed in a human brain, brings with it the construction of a new cognitive architecture that creates a new kind of consciousness—and morality.” (Dennett, pp. 259-260)


On page 260 of “Freedom Evolves”, Dennett writes that “. . . the point of morality is manifestly not restricted to ‘the good of the species’ or ‘the survival of our genes’ or anything like that.”

At this place in his book, Dennett tries to free moral behavior from deterministic and, therefore, selfish motives, but, his argument demonstrates that he hasn’t been down in the trenches of self-destruction as I have where one learns, to his eternal sadness, that every action is selfish, even an altruistic one. But, actually, coming to lose this innocence is the beginning of real happiness and useful living.

Morality is merely another playground for those seeking power. First, look to early priest craft where magic led to power. Next, one need only look to televangelists to see morality put to money-grubbing purposes. Also, people try to emulate the mores of those around them to prove their worthiness to be mates and comrades. Morality shows our worthiness to be trusted and to fit in and ultimately to survive. I wonder if Dennett has carefully observed the youthful religious and seen how each young man tries to put his morality on display in order to win like-minded women to his side. Morality on display is part of the courtship ritual. And, in the rare case that the young religious is pursuing his religious persuasions for personal fulfillment only, he is doing it to try and find peace within his own heart—again, a selfish motive. No more selfish person ever existed than Mother Theresa.

Finally, even criminals live by codes of behavior, values and morality. They’re just not my codes of value. Some of them more rigorously than others. So I would challenge Dennett’s attempt to free moral behavior from selfish, survival motives.

"The difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits." —Unknown

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