The Cynical Model of Humanity

The philosophy of humanism begins with the idea that - as one famous statement of the philosophy is known to say - all men are created equal. We all have equal right to life, liberty, and happiness since we are all fundamentally just human, with the same origin, capabilities, etc.

From a moral standpoint, I more or less agree with this. There is simply too much risk of things going sideways if we want to try and quantify the value of a person. Personal income as decided by a free market seems to be achieving that well enough. Beyond that, laws, rights, etc. should all more or less be equal - the only exception being examples like taking away someone’s driver license when they have demonstrated themselves to be unsafe on the road.

But that doesn’t mean that this is true.

I think that, to some extent, we have all been lying to ourselves for some time now and believing that because everyone has the power of communication that all of us are operating using reason, rather than instinct. I am aware of a variety of research that would imply otherwise, including things like AI performance on standardized tests using basic correlation metrics to outcompete humans, the Asch conformity experiments, public rapes in front of crowds going uninterrupted, Koro, and easily another three dozen things. I am not strongly convinced that even a majority of people are operating at much above pure pack instincts, and would suggest that we’re all just sort of ignoring this fact, through choice of association and by just not thinking about it all that much.

I did the math, about a year ago, and while I don’t have the exact numbers it looked like if we assumed that 20% of the population spent about double the brain energy thinking as the other 80%, the savings are pretty significant (I came to an 8% reduction in food needs for the tribe). While those numbers are probably not accurate, the overall message that there’s a simple evolutionary advantage to putting most people into a suggestive state (as it’s known in hypnotism) and having them operate at that level for all or most of their lives would probably hold. Combined with the previous data, that’s a decent argument that this is in fact what evolution did.

It’s trite to go on about sheeple and Idiocracy and such, but I think it’s worth putting that aside and asking the question for real.

For example, I got to know a young woman - eighteen years old - a little bit. She was a high school dropout with an abusive boyfriend, who tried to kill herself on various occasions. While I knew her, she (apparently) had a seizure while taking whippets and ODed on cocaine, as well as contending with issues of alcoholism. I’m reasonably sure that she had been raped at various points in her life - certainly by her boyfriend and probably by a variety of others at various parties and events - and yet I get the sense that, that’s just reality for her.

Talking to her, I got the sense that she was a person who straddled the two communities - those who are able to reason and those who are simply in a constant suggestive state. To a psychiatrist, she suffered anxiety. But those anxieties were all around the need to conform and to be one of the popular girls, to stay thin, to be able to get the prime hunk to look her way, to get invited to the best parties, etc. all at the same time as recognizing that no good was coming of any of that, and that she couldn’t stop herself from trying to do whatever it took to achieve that, whether it meant cutting on herself to stay thin, taking drugs to be cool, or going to parties where her safety was by no means guaranteed.

The fact that she had the outer presence of mind to understand that this all was horrible, in essence, made this all worse because it caused her to overcompensate. But, though I never met any of her friends, I doubt that the situation was strongly better for the rest of them all who did not suffer from “anxiety”.

I go on to dating apps, Tinder, Bumble, etc. and I see profile after profile of hairdressers, bartenders, etc. in their 30s, listed as having only gone to high school or community college, doing all the same instagram model style pictures with filters to make their eyes bigger, with 3D ears and rabbit noses added on, with sparkles as the one girl who was 18, and I suspect that they all have the same life history as her, having gone to parties, getting drunk, getting raped, etc. and they’re a notable percentage of all profiles. They all think it’s real important to look good, get a hunky dude, and have a good time. And we all look at that and don’t consider the realities of her life very deeply.

And the thing is that there’s the male version. I don’t know what he looks like, but I suspect that it looks like this, Master Wang-Ka’s description of witnessing a gang rape.

What is the natural state of humans, when operating on instinct? Is it to sit around a table, drinking tea, debating philosophy? Or is it a crippling need to be social butterflies and rapists? I fall in with the tea drinkers, and the latter makes no sense to me, but the numbers from reality are really bad if you ask people if they experienced activities that we here on the SDMB would describe as rape, about 20% of all women are raped - which is 10X larger than if you use crime report data. But at the same time, I don’t know that I would trust that most of the people would agree that they were raped if you just asked them using that word. Or that, even if they did, that it would quite mean the same thing to them. That’s part of why there’s that 10X discrepancy.

To the tea drinker, consent is what it all comes down to. Did you want it? Did you agree to it? Did you say ‘no’? Did your partner accept your choice? Were you old enough to legally consent?

But what if the person goes to the party knowing that getting drugged and fucked is just part of partying? What if that’s just the normality and expectation within their world? They aren’t thinking in terms of laws and philosophy and morality, social justice, etc. just that it’s the place everyone’s going to be and like, yeah, that will totally suck and be so crushing if that happens, but like it’s not like my step-dad wasn’t already fucking me from the time I was 9, anyways. So what?

There’s a reason that this doesn’t get reported, and it’s because it’s not a notable event for a lot of these people. And for the rest of us, either we’re not part of that world and just sort of ignore it because it’s too grim to think about deeply, or because we’re one of the tea drinkers who is a sociopath and realized that there’s all these highly suggestive cute girls that he could be fucking and get away with it because they were drunk, they “seemed to be up for it”, there’s no evidence, and that’s not how you get invited to the next party.

I like humanism and the expectation that we’re all equal and should be treated like rational beings with free choice and free enterprise, but that model may be too optimistic for reality. There’s a slippery slope to eugenics, designer babies, the nanny state, etc. but a lot of society is just not aware of themselves and their actions in any real sense.

I was surprised to learn, for example, that a popular use of Facebook is to remind people of the things they had done. They take pictures of hikes, parties, dinners, etc. and post it and then when Facebook says, “Oh hey look at this thing you did a few years ago!” They go, “Oh yeah!” A lot of people can’t remember their entire childhood. Even on this site, a lot of people are surprised that, for example, kids are talking about sex and making dirty jokes and fooling around with sexual activities from the time they’re 8 years old, even though they were 8 years old and in school once. You watch the Presidential poll and after a few weeks, it’s clear that everything everyone ever learned about the President has simply gone away and is no longer remembered at all.

If you can only really remember the most recent 2-3 weeks worth of your life, then you’re basically just living in a dream state, devoid of most context from the world you live in.

And, personally, I rather find that to be creepy to consider to be the reality of the majority of people around me. And yet I don’t doubt it. I recognize that it’s probably not true for most of the people I talk to, but there’s a whole bunch of people out there that I don’t talk to and likely wouldn’t talk to for long because they’re just not interesting. I like people. I want people to be safe, to not get raped, to not get abused, etc. but at the same time, I’m not going to be part of that group because I just wouldn’t be mentally stimulated. I can’t go to parties for teens and college students, to make sure that there’s someone around that is mentally awake and aware of what’s going on.

When we were evolving, our groups were small enough that we all sort of had to stick together and be aware of what all was going on. In modern day, I can safely avoid having to spend time with the frat bros. And that’s a weird thing because it means that I’m happier, and they’re able to go assault people without my supervision, and their victims end up barely recognizing that they were victimized because they’re not hanging with the tea chicks who would make them understand that they were savagely violated. And that’s horrible, and I don’t really know what the solution is beyond to say that I don’t think that arresting a person or two is sufficient.

As I pointed out in this post, it looks like at least 6.4% of male college students should be in jail. We’re not anywhere near that, and I don’t see it on the horizon either, nor do I think that that’s the best solution.

But we do need a solution. Just accepting that people are dumb isn’t sufficient. Dumb people need smart people to watch out for them, and we’re not doing that.

As K put it in MiB, “A person is smart. People are dumb, stupid, panicky animals.”

I’m not confident that humanism requires a belief in rationality. One of my greatest daily struggles is accepting that I cannot save anyone from stupid, irrational, emotional choices.

I just wrote and deleted three different paragraphs here. I clearly have Opinions, but I’m just as clearly not capable of turnign them into words at the moment. Except that I find this a rich and complex OP and I’m glad you posted it, SR.

Maybe related to or a rephrasing of your OP:

I think free will is a myth and we are all basically responding uncontrollably to our environment; stimuli come in, get processed by an ineffable ‘black box’ that is each of our unique biology (which is constantly in a state of change), and a response comes out the other end.

This applies to the tea-drinkers too, by the way :slight_smile:

The way to truly work towards a greater good for all is to work on building systems and an environment that will encourage happiness, safety, and stability.

I am not suggesting that holding individuals accountable for their actions is wrong; I think it’s absolutely necessary. “Society made me do it” may be true in some fashion, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a need to address transgressions at the individual level (see above about happiness, safety and stability).

But at the same time, we have to acknowledge that when we craft a society that exposes the humans to certain stimuli, some of those humans will inevitably behave in certain ways, not because they are morally weak, but because their black box is just going to respond in that fashion.

Must we take it as a given, that the people you’ve classified as dumb are going to stay that way, and that their proportion to the rest of society will remain stable?

Was the girl chronically anxious because “she just is that way”, or because of the overwhelming prevalence of mistreatment, cruelty, and insanity around her?

Is she dumb because she has no brain, or because she’s terrified every minute of every day?

Imagine, for yourself not for someone else, the stress of being (credibly) threatened with immediate violence, by someone who’s much faster, stronger, and better armed than you are.

Now imagine that the person threatening you lives in your house, and can come and go as they please. And that they threaten you multiple times per day, randomly, and that they frequently follow through on their threats.

And imagine (along with all that) that you are six years old.
You’d be dumb too.

This reminds me of B. F. Skinner’s Beyond Freedom and Dignity (which I have not read).

This is not correct. We have no rights to those things. Americans choose to grant members of their society those rights.

While some of your musings may have some merit, you are veering wayyyyy to far in the other direction with this. NOBODY except the brain-damaged live like this. It would basically make it impossible to function at all. People like reminders of past events because nostalgia is very close to a universal pleasure. It’s not that people can’t recall such things, they just like having them brought up in the moment.

A genuine level field and biological meritocracy may not exist. But neither does a profoundly bifurcated idiocracy. We’re different, but we aren’t that different.

Humanism as we experience it now is a philosophical model that came directly from the intersection of Aristotelianism and Christianity with a touch of Islamic theology thrown in. It is not a universal philosophy, nor is it necessarily a morally ‘good’ philosophy depending upon your presuppositions. It’s a popular philosophy largely because it allows Westerners to exist in a world that is largely culturally Christian in ethics without having to bother with the whole ‘God’ thing. It elevates humanity to an objectively good thing and thus replaces God with a vague definition of humanity. It’s neat and clean and lets us both skip church and not spend our days in fear that a Purge will be initiated.

This does not mean that it is ‘truthful’ and it certainly doesn’t mean that it is ‘universal.’ One of the major criticisms that (let’s be honest here) brutal, dictatorial regimes often levy against the west is that our definitions of humanism and human rights are largely cultural constructs boiled in the broth of Christendom and thus should not apply to cultures without that baggage. They charge that what the West is really doing is engaging in cultural imperialism where we are forcing these cultures to adapt to our definitions of morality via might makes right. I’m not sure that there is a good humanistic response to that line of thinking other than ‘Agree to disagree.’

To late to add:

Again, NOBODY remembers their entire childhood, unless you are one of those very rare individuals with a perfect eidetic memory. If you think you do, you’re either one of the very few or you are fooling yourself :).

I can easily accept that human beings are fallible flawed creatures who flail through life making mistake after mistake until we inevitably tumble into an early grave.

And so?

The thing is, the “smart” people are exactly the same. We can’t have paternalistic rule by the smart people because the smart people are just as dumb as the dumb people, only in different ways.

Or to put it another way, you could give the natural aristocrats the power to order around the dumb people for their own good, the problem is that it wouldn’t happen that way. The natural aristocracy would, in about five minutes, start arranging things to benefit themselves, rather than the plebes. We don’t have democracy and universal suffrage and civil rights because the masses always make the right choice, we have it because the alternative is autocratic rule. Have we seen examples, from time to time, of enlightened autocratic rule by a philosopher king? Yes, yes we have. But we’ve seen time and again the reverse. Read some history. Read a newspaper.

This isn’t just a philosophical argument; there is good evidence from modern cognitive and affective neuroscience that much of what we say and do is not deliberate or intentional, and that the cognitive mind manufactures post hoc rationales for why you did something. There are obviously certain decisions that we make in a self-aware basis–like writing a post on a message board–but the decisions about many things from what to eat for lunch to what kind of car you buy are influenced by so many external and subconscious factors that it is difficult to consider them as “free will” in any affirmative and primary sense.


I’m not really sure what the OP’s point is, but if he thinks we have to think that all humans are equal to believe in humanist principles, he’s mistaken. I’m way smarter than most of humanity. Seriously, most folks are bugs before me. But humanism is still handy because it informs an approach to morality and society that serves most people well and reduces the chance of bad things happening to, well, me. And I like it when bad things don’t happen to me.

What’s the alternative? I declare that I’m a superior being and start a eugenics program? Seems like that might backfire.

If it effectively simulates free will, personally I’m fine labeling it free will.

I prefer the precedent set in Argus v. Rigel IV.

Curse you for making me look that up. Two minutes in my life I will never get back!

All beings may not be created equal yet shall be given equal opportunity and treatment under the law.

That is a horrifying conception of “rights” and can be used as a premise to justify all kinds of atrocities.

Eh, you woulda wasted them anyway.

Not to derail this thread, but the dangers/problems with labeling it free will are, to me, the following:

[li]It prevents us from fully appreciating the ways in which circumstance and environment leads to some behaviors.[/li][li]It prevents us from addressing cultural/environmental causes of destructive behavior.[/li][li]It encourages us to identify certain choices as personal moral failings, and thus absolves us from the responsibility for caring for our fellow humans.[/li][li]If one concedes any amount of environmental or biological influence in decision making (which I believe most/all of us do), it then draws an arbitrary line between responsive behavior and free will, which is selfishly drawn wherever it is convenient for a particular line of thinking at the time.[/li][/ul]

Does not logically follow…

That’s a great topic. From whence do rights emanate if not the collective choice of the people? And why can’t the people collectively choose to change those rights? Discuss.