Meta-Analysis: Skepticism and Cynicism

Analysis of the Responses of L to P

Covering postings in the range #1252 … #1290

Also see other excerpts from my discussions with the Society for Scientific Exploration.


I undertake this analysis in the spirit of SSE’s goal “to promote improved understanding of those factors that unnecessarily limit the scope of scientific inquiry” (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/SSE/). To draw attention to the manner in which the discussion on civilisation has recently been hijacked by cynical tactics and people have become defensive and are dwelling only on “facts as ammunition” rather than open skeptical exploration of ideas.

On close analysis there was little in the way of rational discourse to explore but some interesting tactics being used. Hence the issue addressed in this meta-analysis is ‘skepticism’ and ‘cynicism’. This analysis is mainly about argumentative strategies and it also briefly touches on the underlying motives behind them. It analyses some aspects of the recent exchange between L and P; in particular the role played by L. This is not meant as an attack on L but merely as an analysis of argumentative style.

 ‘skepticism’ and ‘cynicism’

The term ‘skeptic’ comes from the root ‘skepsis

“Etymology: New Latin, from Greek skepsis examination, doubt, skeptical philosophy, from skeptesthai: philosophic doubt as to the objective reality of phenomena; broadly : a skeptical outlook or attitude”

(http://www.m-w.com/dictionary/skepsis)

skepticism [Gr.,= to reflect], philosophic position holding that the possibility of knowledge is limited either because of the limitations of the mind or because of the inaccessibility of its object. It is more loosely used to denote any questioning attitude. Extreme skepticism holds that no knowledge is possible, but this is logically untenable since the statement contradicts itself. The first important skeptical view was held by Democritus, who saw sense perception as no certain guide to objective reality. The Sophists were the earliest group of skeptics. Protagoras taught the relativity of knowledge, and Gorgias held that either nothing could be known, or if anything were known, it could not be communicated. Pyrrho, regarded as the father of skepticism, later held a similarly extreme position, seeing reality as inaccessible. Arcesilaus taught that certitude is impossible and only probable knowledge is attainable. In the Renaissance, skepticism is seen in the writings of Michel de Montaigne, Pierre Charron, and Blaise Pascal. For René Descartes skepticism was a methodology that allowed him to arrive at certain incontrovertible truths. At the end of the 17th cent., Pierre Bayle skeptically challenged philosophical and theological theories. David Hume, a leading modern skeptic, challenged established assumptions about the self, substance, and causality. The skeptical aspect of Immanuel Kant's philosophy is exemplified by his agnosticism; his antinomies of reason demonstrate that certain problems are insoluble by reason. To some degree skepticism manifests itself in the scientific method, which demands that all things assumed as facts be questioned. But the positivism of many scientists, whether latent or open, is incompatible with skepticism, for it accepts without question the assumption that material effect is impossible without material cause.”

("skepticism." The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. Columbia University Press., 2003. Answers.com 11 Jun. 2006. http://www.answers.com/topic/skepticism)

“Some people believe that skepticism is the rejection of new ideas, or worse, they confuse ‘skeptic’ with ‘cynic’ and think that skeptics are a bunch of grumpy curmudgeons unwilling to accept any claim that challenges the status quo. This is wrong. Skepticism is a provisional approach to claims. It is the application of reason to any and all ideas — no sacred cows allowed. In other words, skepticism is a method, not a position. Ideally, skeptics do not go into an investigation closed to the possibility that a phenomenon might be real or that a claim might be true. When we say we are ‘skeptical’ we mean that we must see compelling evidence before we believe.”

(http://www.skeptic.com)

The concept of skepticism seems to be misused by both P and L. Firstly P says “we have to be open minded enough, despite our skeptical inclinations” (#1261) but skepticism implies an open mind. Also, L says “I read with great scepticism anything that claims to answer the real big questions in a short paragraph, and with even more scepticism, if the claim can be condensed into simple premises.” But he then immediately states that, “The authors are always mistaken”. Hence his mind is closed to the argument from the outset. Both have confused ‘skepticism’ with ‘cynicism’; one implies an open mind whilst the other implies a closed mind.

Cynicism: An attitude of scornful or jaded negativity, especially a general distrust of the integrity or professed motives of others.”

("cynicism." The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. Answers.com 11 Jun. 2006. http://www.answers.com/topic/cynicism)

L also states “cynicism, which is a killer of mutual help that may be required to solve real problems.” (#1288). This describes, to some degree, what has recently occurred in the SSE discussion group. Conflict is required to some degree to test ideas but uncontrolled negativity has only a destructive influence. It stifles the open flow of ideas and forces people into a narrow fortress mentality.

More distinctions between ‘skepticism’ and ‘cynicism’:

Skepticism implies an open mind with no unquestioned beliefs or untouchable beliefs and which recognises the limitations of knowledge.

Cynicism implies a closed mind that harbours unquestioned beliefs and untouchable beliefs and which believes in the supremacy and infallibility of it’s own knowledge.

Skeptics can openly explore all manner of issues, regardless of the nature of the subject matter, they rationally enquire into the premises and propositions seeking meaningful knowledge. They use strategies of rational analysis and provisional propositions to subtly penetrate into deeper meanings, seeking to find reliable connections between things and to thereby test ideas.

Cynics are bound to one belief system (often unconsciously), they are true believers, they are irrationally defensive and use rationality applied in very narrow contexts (pseudo rationality). These narrow contexts usually rest upon unquestioned premises. They use argumentative strategies to ‘win’ rather than to explore and discover.

A skeptic enquires into the other’s implied meaning and conceptual foundations, whereas a cynic assumes the other’s implied meaning and derides the assumed conceptual foundations.

A skeptic attempts to make no ‘a priori’ judgements whereas a cynic judges from the outset.

Skepticism fosters open minded enquiry, creating a forum for all points of view. Cynicism suppresses enquiry and ruthlessly enforces a particular opinion, attacking other points of view and forcing people to carefully choose their words and limit their statements because any utterance is likely to be misunderstood, misrepresented and subject to hostility. Thus the forum closes down and people are afraid to speak their truth in their own ways. It is a form of intellectual brutality that is born of ignorance.

Extreme skepticism holds that no knowledge is possible, whereas extreme cynicism holds that everyone else is stupid and confused but ‘my’ opinion is infallible. Skeptics enquire into ideas in the hope of refining knowledge, they positively look for what is meaningful, whereas cynics attack ideas in the hope of protecting their beliefs, they negatively deride that which is contrary to their beliefs.

Skeptics aim for open constructive discourse based on clear and explicit premises and propositions, whilst cynics aim to stifle discourse and to protect their unstated premises and opinionated propositions.

Skeptics use rational enquiry to draw out ideas, compare them coherently and test them, whilst cynics use argumentative strategies to misconstrue, misrepresent, distort and deride ideas so as to ‘win’ the argument in their own minds, in the hope of avoiding any real test of ideas.

Skeptics are open, clear, unattached and confident in their approach toward knowledge, whereas cynics are closed, obfuscating, attached and fearfully aggressive in their defense of beliefs.

A common skeptical approach is to take all points of view as provisional and to gently weigh them within one’s mind, letting them settle and self-organise until connections begins to be discerned. Whereas a common cynical approach is to react with sustained negativity toward all ideas, one can always find something negative to say about anything and it seems to be a safe and easy way to feel that one is ‘right’. But this destructive approach does not lead to anything constructive, as many teenagers discover whilst they pass through such a phase. The challenge is to clarify what you ‘do’ believe rather than just heap scorn on that which you don’t believe, and to then put these constructive ideas together and put them to the test. That then leads to skepticism.

The majority of cynics tend to dignify themselves by calling themselves skeptics but they do not understand the word. Furthermore the majority tend to come from the materialist objectivist belief system, this is probably because it has been so reinforced in people’s minds that for most it is no longer a belief system but instead it is a simple and obvious fact of existence. This leads to self-righteousness and the belief that one already knows before one has even begun to seriously enquire. But just as quantum physics illustrates, reality is far deeper and stranger than many yet accept. It requires open minded skepticism to delve into these depths, whereas cynicism keeps one trapped in the shallows of preconceived ideas and traditional delusions.

Underlying the materialist belief system is the premise that sensory experience gives accurate access to the nature of reality (which is anti-skeptical) and this usually leads to a superstitious belief that there exists some kind of physical ‘stuff’ that magically ‘exists’ and magically ‘behaves’. But these ideas have been categorically disproved by quantum physics, however these premises remain hidden in peoples minds and usually go unquestioned and unstated. Ultimately one’s foundational premises should be simple, otherwise one simply hasn’t delved deep enough and is still floating atop unquestioned assumptions hidden behind unexplored complexity.

L says “even more scepticism, if the claim can be condensed into simple premises. The authors are always mistaken”. Given this cynicism regarding simple premises, I wonder, what are his premises if he delved down into them. Note that a premise is “A proposition upon which an argument is based or from which a conclusion is drawn.”

("premise." The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. Answers.com 11 Jun. 2006. http://www.answers.com/topic/premise)

I wonder, what would he think of the extremely simply premises of mathematical physics, does he distrust them because of their elementary simplicity? Do the laws of thermodynamics arouse his cynicism? This simplicity is a part of their approach toward truth; only the high-level world of particulars is complex but as one delves deeper the principles become extremely simple. I think it is difficult to analyse many of his statements too closely because many seem to be more a kind of argumentative posturing rather than actually representative of a consistent point of view. If it suits him he will pour scorn upon an idea and later if it suits him he will use it freely.

I will explore many of the inconsistencies below. My aim isn’t to attack L and neither is it to support P with whom I generally disagree with the content of his arguments, but not with his style of discourse. P is generally fairly skeptical whereas L is generally fairly cynical, I just wish to shed a little light on the situation because these kinds of altercations often arise and they invariably serve no valuable purpose – they generally only consolidate people in their separation and misunderstanding and they stifle any chance of open skeptical debate. There are exhibited here some very simple general knots. If these could be avoided then the discussion could penetrate far deeper and the ideas themselves could be tested against each other rather than just argumentative tactics. A rational discourse involving conceptual combat would be more fruitful that an argumentative discourse based on tactics of misunderstanding, misrepresentation and political usage of language.

What seems to be the essence here is a clash of paradigms leading to a rather emotional attack by L. He has tried to stomp on virtually everything that P has said, but in his frenzy he has often stomped on his own feet and contradicted himself. I will give some examples of some tactics and also briefly address the question of what may be the underlying motives and the real issues behind the strategies. This altercation is a good example of similar scenarios played out in the world on all levels and they are a natural part of any paradigm shift. By drawing out some of these points I hope to shed a little light on the underlying phenomenon of paradigm shifts. I realise that by doing so I may make an enemy of L but my purpose is not an attack. Forgive me L for using you as an example but I feel it must be done, you yourself have shown no compassion for the many thousands of children who died in Iraq due to sanctions – describing it as “only the decline of living standard of the masses” (#1267), and also no compassion regarding the “Vilence, scape goats, war and extermination…  agression on hte large scale, which in contrast reduces the population size and restores the steady state at a new ‘sweet spot’” (#1267) so I feel no reticence in using you as an object of discussion. I hope that L learns something from this and thereby presents his arguments with more clarity, consistency and effectiveness. Then the politics can stop and the debate can really begin.

A quick list of some strategies:

Firstly there are many contradictions that indicate that there is no consistent point of view being expressed, but instead mostly expedient argumentativeness, that can redefine ideas as needed in order to deride and undermine the other. This is related to the tactic of deriding the other for using supposedly ill-defined terms, but still using those terms oneself in exactly the same way. A series of examples of these will be given shortly.

Narrow context point scoring, e.g. by constantly heaping scorn on the other’s points without backing up one’s attack. This is combined with keeping the arguments negative, shallow and fast moving so that there are so many individual attacks that it is impossible to defend them all without getting bogged down. This creates the impression of having scored many ‘points’ along the way and to have squashed each of the other’s propositions – but without there having occurred any form of rational counter argument. It merely appears that one is scoring points. This is indicative of much of the exchange and is best seen by reading the entire exchange through from start to finish.

Also, “Assumed Simplicity”, which is the tendency to interpret the other’s words in the most simplistic and literal manner one can and then attribute that naivety to the other. This is also related to the tactic of simplistic interpretations of analogies and deliberate misunderstanding of any kind of statement requiring thoughtful consideration and contextualisation. This is one of the most common cynical tactics based on underlying scorn and disrespect for the other and also a political tactic to misconstrue the ideas of the other in order to portray them as stupid and thereby inviting others to take a cynical perspective as well. A series of examples are presented shortly.

A related tactic is that of unwarranted assumptions that tend to misrepresent the other’s point of view and draw it into some narrow discourse within which it can be easily derided. A few examples are provided shortly.

The tactic of different standards of proof for the other’s propositions and one’s own. Also different extrapolations, i.e. phenomena being proposed by oneself will obviously turn out well but those being proposed by the other will obviously turn out disastrous. All this is assumed without any form of evidence or even discussion. Some examples will be provided shortly.

Another common tactic is the limitation of arguments to very narrow contexts and then applying the results to a much wider context. Some examples are given later, but there are many instances of this if you keep an eye out for them.

Contradictions:

When P uses the word civilisation L tries to counter him by saying “the term civilization is not a well defined one” (#1263). I think both of them would agree on that point, thus this is not a counter argument although it is presented as one. L then goes on to use the term in much the same way as P uses it. So it seems that only P should not use incompletely defined terms but L can.

The same situation arises with the word ‘sustainable’. After L uses it in numerous places such as “there is absolutely no proof that the currently existing civilizations are not sustainable” (#1264) and “therefore the sustainiablity is achieveable withing oru civilizations” (#1264) but he then says “Sustainibility is only a catch-phrase and has no actual meaning in the entire living world. Only death is sustainable indefinetly, the rest is in dynamic balance.” (#1266)

Also regarding the term ‘terrorism’ L says “Terrorism has no defining power, it is just used as a tool, and has no real danger to change a civilization, and does not affect the sustainablity of any civilizaton, and it is irrelevant to current discussion.” (#1264) but only paragraphs later he says “Wars and terrorist acts are unique and expensive tools for conflict resoulution. They work, they can be effective, even the threat of conducting one is effective, therefore eliminating them from human practice is impossible and a very ill advised proposal. However, transparency in a civilisation will show that they are very costly tools and it automatically limits their use....” (#1264).

Thus it seems that violence has “no defining power… and it is irrelevant to current discussion” when P speaks against it but when L speaks about it “They work, they can be effective” and “agression or the treat of it … actually often stabillizes the world politics” (#1266) and it can also determine issues of ideology, leading “to destruction of the less viable political system and ideology” (#1266), which is trial by combat rather than rational enquiry.

Also, he claims that “Nothing in the world economy is materialistic. Remember, EU is more of a political institution than profiteering trade agglomerate. If you look at the emerging WTO rules of international trade, is more defined by non-materialistic forces (values, politics and policies) than just profitability.” (#1266) So here ‘materialism’ is equated with economic profiteering and anything political is non-materialist. But a couple of postings later L says “materialism is still the only answer for the problems of the world, spirituality per se has no place in it. Materialism brings in a reliable metric and makes things measureable, comparable and rational.” (#1270).

L seems to constantly redefine the meanings of his words and his interpretations of P’s words based upon a deep desire to attack P’s perspective in any way he can. There is no consistent rational argument taking place, just a lot of tactical posturing and point scoring. L says to P, in regards to the word ‘civilisation’ that “You can not start a discussion by redefining the commonly accepted meanings of a word, and make assumptions out of thin air.” (#1263) I would recommend to L that he takes his own advice. L may have important ideas to contribute but his style of expressing them only undermines his position. To attack prematurely is a sign of inner weakness and fear. If he was confident in his position he’d consider it carefully and express his points clearly, consistently and magnanimously, otherwise he only fools the uninterested casual reader and anyone who wishes to actually understand him will keep encountering his contradictions and cynicism and will begin to doubt the coherence and sincerity of his argument.

L derides the terms ‘sustainable’ and ‘civilisation’ (above), he also denies the concept of a “global citizen” (mentioned later). Furthermore he says regarding the concept of a “Sustainable Global Civilization” that “You can not start a discussion by redefining the commonly accepted meanings of a word, and make assumptions out of thin air. The concept of SGC is such.” (#1264)

But when P says “I want to encourage thinking on the practical steps to produce a working model of a sustainable, evolving, global civilization.” (#1261) L responds with “Open your eyes, look around and you will se it  It is here and working already!!!!” (#1264).

Furthermore, P speaks of “global regulation and supervision” as well as “meaningful pre-agreed UN criteria whose existence is itself a deterrent, wherever there is a threat by act of aggression to destabilize the global economy.” (#1261) Then L responds with “These are the sentences that never failt to force me to criticize and write. How can it be that people argue for a make-believe world with such a force?” (#1266) But then in the very next paragraph L says “well established rules and formulas help in treating the issues.” (#1266). These contradictions leave me confused as to what is L’s actual point of view. It seems to be one of constant negativity to the propositions of others. I would be very interested to read some statements of L’s of a more constructive manner that weren’t just negative reactions to other people’s ideas, but were his own ideas.

L doesn’t deny the existence of “overpopulation and lack of resources (energy, food, metals, arable land, living space etc)” (#1264), he simply denies that these phenomena are a “fundamental reason of un-sustainability of our civilization(s)” (#1264) because “there is sufficinet energy available for a population that is in decline” (#1264). But the global population is not in decline and energy alone is not enough.  L also states that “The exponencial pace of technological development CAN sustain even an exponentially growing population” (#1264). So given that he states that the population is declining and that technology can support an exponential population, then I wonder why he also assumes that “a common minimum quality of life” (#1261) for everyone will require “a forced redistribution of wealth, which has dramatic and unforgiveable effect” (#1269). Surely this massive surplus projected to be provided by the wonders of technology can lead to some level of common well being for all without “dramatic and unforgiveable effect”. Especially if the massive poverty is not just the fault of the poor and not just the problem of the poor, but in fact people realise that the old discourses were inadequate and concealed much of the true nature of the issue. When things are re-considered in a more realistic light people recognise the inter-connectedness of the whole system.

In one context L states that “Wars and terrorist acts are unique and expensive tools for conflict resoulution... However, transparency in a civilisation will show that they are very costly tools and it automatically limits their use” (#1264) But in another context he argues that “most of the cost of war – especially in the case of modern warfare- apperas as ervenue in the other branches of economy. War still creates jobs, fosters advances in tehcnology, and the ability to wage war ensures certain degree of security. Withouth this kind of security there is no prospering economy and impossible to have international trade. It is much better to accept the fact that warfare and the treat of warfare, the military expenditure is an INVESTMENT” (#1269). So is it an expensive tool that is limited in its usage by its great expense, or is it an investment that brings great returns? I don’t think it can be both. Anyone with any understanding of the theory of guerilla warfare knows that it is the massive cost of aggression and defense that eventually drags the defensive state down. The costs for the guerillas are small but the defensive society must outlay vast resources and it becomes crippled by paranoia and fear. Aspects of this can be seen in the terrorism paranoia over recent years, the expenditure by certain nations has been vast, even simple water pipes are now ‘targets’ that need to be ‘secured’ when not long ago they were just water pipes.

Assumed Simplicity:

L exhibited a tendency to interpret P’s words in the most simplistic and literal manner he could and then attribute that naivety to P, it is a form of deliberate misunderstanding and is a common political tactic for misrepresenting the other’s position. It can just be a fault of an undisciplined mind but it is also another common tactic for avoiding issues and preventing open discourse. I wonder, is this tactic applied unconsciously or is L deliberately trying to stifle the discourse. I know of people in SSE who are avoiding posting anything at present due to the atmosphere of closed minded judgementalism. Has anyone else noticed that the easy flow of ideas dried up considerably as soon as L began his attack?

Some examples of “assumed simplicity” are:

“I am especially troubled by the notion that there is a general ‘fall’. This is totally false, since none of the “great civilizations” fell, just lost their primacy, the people living in those civilizations replaced their culture for a new dominant one” (#1263) But isn’t “losing their primacy” exactly what P meant by the term ‘fall’?

“Only death is sustainable indefinetly, the rest is in dynamic balance.” (#1266) But P wasn’t talking about ‘eternal’ sustainability. The term is obviously defined within a limited dynamical context. They both used the term elsewhere with coherence, why does L suddenly choose to misunderstand it here in particular?

“There is nothing cyclical about civilizations” (#1263) but just prior to this L says “It is much healthier to look at the changes in civilizations as an adaptive evolutionary process and what one may perceive as fall, is in fact a good adaptation to the given living conditions, hystorical situation.” (#1263). Any “adaptive evolutionary process” is not a single shot process and it is not a constant undifferentiated process, it proceeds in countless repeated trials that change over time and which can be conceptualised as phases or epochs – these are well known in biological evolutionary theory and the cyclical civilisation theories draw out similar phenomena within the evolution of civilisation. Surely L can see the parallels between the concept of cycles of evolutionary adaptation and an “adaptive evolutionary process”. This seems to be more deliberate misunderstanding.

“not all civilizations have citizens” (#1263) P didn’t use the term ‘citizen’ within a narrowly defined domestic political discourse. People can participate in civilisation without there even existing concepts of ‘citizen’, ‘tax’, ‘voting’ and so on. Words are not forever set in stone and inseparable from their common meanings; P was using that word to point toward an underlying reality, it is up to the sensitivity of the reader to discern this (see my comments regarding judicial reasoning at the beginning of the “Underlying Context” posting  #1279). L also says later on “there is no such thing as 'global citizen’. Everybody belongs to a group or two, and one can never be a member of all and every population. Jus as an example do you wnat to pay taxes simulatenously in the USA, china, India, and South Africa, and the other 207 countries?” (#1264). More deliberate misunderstanding.

Also, as a counter argument L says “second, one must not think about the people of a civilization as a homogenous bulk of people.” (#1263) I don’t think P was thinking in that manner, L only assumed P was so that he could deride P’s naivety. Remember the definition of Cynicism… “An attitude of scornful or jaded negativity, especially a general distrust of the integrity or professed motives of others.” I could give more examples but that should suffice for now…

Regarding simplistic interpretations of analogies: L says “Lemmings-over- the –cliff in a mith, it does not happen in reality” (#1267). But all discourses are mythological to different degrees (an ‘atom’ is a mythological entity), words have no direct access to reality. By dismissing it as a myth L simply avoids addressing the meaning of the myth, which is very relevant in that particular context.

Unwarranted Assumptions:

Another common cynical tactic is to make unwarranted assumptions and then try and impose those on the other. For example:

P says “common minimum quality of life” (#1261) and L interprets it as “These communistic ideas” (#1264). This preconception distorts a potentially useful concept into a jaundiced concept so that it can be attacked from within an entrenched cold war propaganda discourse. This is a common tactic used by closed minds and is inherently anti-skeptical. It is an argumentative tactic used to avoid addressing the issue and to simply demonise it and suppress it.

P is talking about exploring the issues that arise from our interdependence but L interprets this from a narrow cold war perspective. Nowhere is P talking about totalitarian communism but L comes out with comments like “guess where- in a democracy” (#1264) as if this counters something in Ps discussion, but what exactly, I’m not sure. It simply exposes L’s prejudices.

Furthermore, P speaks of a need for an “effective mechanism to work towards a minimum quality of life for the global citizen.” (#1261) and L responds with “Apparently you want a massive redistribution of wealth… nobody prevent you from donating 70% of your income to the poor of the world.” (#1264). And also speaks of “this material wealth that you seemingly despize” (#1264). This is a highly emotive response to a very general and potentially meaningful concept. Such concepts signify a migration from an old paradigm based on isolation to a new paradigm based on inter-dependence. The world has a finite size, and as humanity grows in size, complexity and inter-dependence we will inevitably have to face these issues at some point.

L says about the poor of the world that “the knowldge and capital is already here and they can get a fair share of it, but only when they have a social system s that can take advanteage of it.” (#1264) But any discussion, such as P’s, of social systems that may help them to take advantage of it is simply “communistic ideas [that have] failed so many times but never lose their allure, few can resist their ‘feel good’ power. Wars and terrorist acts are unique and expensive tools for conflict resoulution. They work, they can be effective” (#1264). So is the only acceptable social system for L one that uses military might to seize “the knowldge and capital” by force? Is any other option merely “communistic ideas”? Any other approach is assumed to be an imposition, i.e. “You can not impose this onto them, unless their culture changes and adapts to this new reality (falls, if you wish) and learns and accepts the new ways.” (#1264) So it seems that the only way the poorer nations “can get a fair share” is not by the imposition of “‘feel good’ power” but by the imposition of “market forces” that “rewards greed and imbalance, encourages selfishness, creates world tensions and motivates economic migration.” (#1261).

Different Standards of Proof:

For example, consider L’s extreme skepticism of global warming: “This global warming scam is getting me really started. I really do not understand why do sane people believe it. The whole thing is based on nothing but a bunch of computer simulations. They claim that the models are almost perfect, but you never really have access to what is being used in those models.” (#1278) And compare this with his extreme trust in market forces. Supposedly “reality is too complex to understand and if one choses to act (or nto to act)there is alwas the rule of unintended consequences (feedback loops) resulting it a totally unpredicteble (from a personal perpective: chaotic) future and any intervention based on „knowledge into the inner working of evolutionary process of civilizations will necesarily fail” (#1263) so we cannot hope to comprehend the situation with our minds and any attempt to do so leads to “stupid political decisions instead of realistic ones dictated by the market forces” (#1264).

Somehow these market forces have an infallible ability to navigate us through the difficulties of the future. There are no computer models of any kind or of any degree of accuracy that lend credence to this belief but to L it is an unquestioned fact. This is despite his acceptance that the economic system “rewards greed and imbalance, encourages selfishness, creates world tensions and motivates economic migration. The bio-sphere is rarely valued and companies that play by the rules are under pressure from those who do not.” (#1261). L does not deny this, he says to it “Yes, but thell me what is wrong with it? You said: it works! And that is far better than the alternatives of which we already know: they do not work” (#1264). On what absolute proof do we “already know: they do not work”. And on what proof does he base his belief that “when the problems really surface, they will be solved” (#1264). I wonder how solutions will arise given that he pours scorn on any attempt to discuss the problems? Will it be blind market forces that come to the rescue, using greed and imbalance to somehow find a path toward sustainability?

I also wonder what standard of proof does L have to sustain his belief in the abilities of technology to pull us through. Given that he says that “reality is too complex to understand and if one choses to act (or nto to act)there is alwas the rule of unintended consequences (feedback loops) resulting it a totally unpredicteble (from a personal perpective: chaotic) future” (#1263) which describes the very process by which technology has got us into the current crisis. There are no water-tight computer simulations guaranteeing and showing exactly how technology will get us out of the crisis. However he believes that “The exponencial pace of technological development CAN sustain even an exponentially growing population, therefore the sustainiablity is achieveable withing oru civilizations” (#1264) and also that “Even devastating pandemics are too small to cause such a thing [danger of starvation], they can disrupt the trade for approximately a year, after that vaccines and treatment can be found and worked out.” (#1278)

Also, he says about the “global warming scam” (#1278), that “the misuse of funds and resources will hidner the development and the clean-up of toxic waste and other hazardous materials that are posing real threat” (#1288). I wonder what are these real threats? What incontrovertible proof does L have for them? And given such incontrovertible proof, why isn’t the world more galvanised behind resolving them? Is there a political cover-up? If so, what incontrovertible proof does L have for such a cover-up? It seems to me that one requires incontrovertible proof to argue against one of L’s opinions but he requires no proof to uphold his opinions.

L also assumes that because the cold-war drove totalitarian communist USSR into oblivion, that this means that all concepts of cooperation and inter-dependence have been forever PROVEN to be useless. Maybe if there could be a military conflict between a green economy and a non-green economy this would provide L with better proof than all the scientific research and computer modeling- which are, to him, just politics and a cold-war is not just politics, it is categorical proof.

Different Assumed Outcomes:

An example of different assumed outcomes relates to the ramifications of technology versus the ramifications of an attempt to address the damage done by market forces. According to L, if technology causes problems it’s probably a good thing anyway, but if we attempt to address those problems by changing the status quo then the entire system could collapse with devastating ramifications. For example, he says regarding a radioactive accident “Not even the entire Russian fleet could cause a problem on such a scale. Simply there is not enough radioactive material in them… In addition, the food chain of the deep see is not connected to the food chain on the - and close to- the surface from which we get our food. Finally, to eat fish laced with small amount of radioactivity is still a viable option. In fact it may even be healthy, due to induction of DNA repair mechanism by a low dose of radiation” (#1278). Also regarding global warming he says “even if there is such a thing as global warming, it is not really clear whether it is bad for us or not” (#1288). But any mention of recognising the previously ignored damage done due to economic practices and factoring these hidden costs into the economic system, thereby creating a more realistic and sustainable economic system, then L says “tehre is no such thing as green economy… Kyoto treaty caused already more harm than benefit, and nothing sustainable comes from it… Taxes imposed on carbon or other technologies distort the economic reality in a way that it wil laccumulate problems on a such great scale that it may cause economic reseassion and ultimately many unnecesasry deaths and suffering” (#1264).  What categorical proof is there for this?

Apparently the world economy is extremely robust and infallible except in the instance of two events. “There is no food problem and there will be none, unless a global catastrophe on the scale of huge meteor hitting us would happen” (#1278). And the other world-shattering event is the introduction of ecological reforms to protect the environment from economic abuse. Aside from these, even if the entire population of a nation was wiped out in a single disaster “we would not be affected beyond understanding that a big tragedy had occured” (#1264). Or if there was a “general breakdown in trade, than it is clear that the countries were not expireing only the decline of living standard of the masses can be expected. This is not affecting the 'civilizations', the effect of such breadown on the individual depends on the financial/plotical status (class)” (#1267). So only poor people would suffer and the wealthy would retreat into economic and political fortresses, then everything would simply continue as normal it seems. So it seems we must watch out for meteors and environmentalists, but other than that, we are completely safe and there is nothing to worry about. Any other danger sign or warning “is just a dreamed up possibility which is used to scare little children” (#1278) and any attempt to scientifically enquire into danger signs is just a corrupt mixture of “politics and science” from which “one can not expect anything good” (#1278).

Even a major collapse leading to massive global conflict will just take us to another ‘sweet spot’. L says “In the reality such problesm are solved through different routes. Vilence, scape goats, war and extermination. Lemmings-over- the –cliff in a mith, it does not happen in reality. The reality is that in the case of non-zero sum games result in fierce competition, in this case agression on hte large scale, which in contrast reduces the population size and restores the steady state at a new ‘sweet spot’.” (#1267) Apparently without any side-effects of massive ecological destruction, massive resource waste, massive suffering and lasting trauma, the breakdown of cultures and practices that will take generations to replace in some form. Apparently violent warfare is constructive but reasoned ecological controls are destructive. The greening of the economy “wil laccumulate problems on a such great scale that it may cause economic reseassion and ultimately many unnecesasry deaths and suffering” (#1264) but in the event of “agression on hte large scale” (#1267) with “Vilence, scape goats, war and extermination” (#1267), this “is an INVESTMENT” (#1269) that “restores the steady state at a new ‘sweet spot’” (#1267). Even in the event of a major collapse of the system “Only a negligible fraction of the wolrd population could nost survive such a breakdown.” But in his opinion green economic policies could be devastating.

Narrow Context applied Broadly:

To develop an argument in a carefully limited context and then apply it broadly is a common argumentative tactic that does violence to the process of skeptical truth seeking.

L say regarding aggression “agression or the treat of it is not necessarily a destabilizing force, in the contrary! It actually often stabillizes the world politics. If you remember the MAD (Mutually assured destruction) posturing by the West and Eastern block countries stabilized the world and led to detant”. In this narrow context he is right, but on the whole one must wonder, is the growing militarism and violence in the world making is a ‘safer’ and more stable place to live?

If there is a bull in a china shop one has a problem, if there are two bulls in there that are momentarily locked in stalemate things may seem a little more stable for a very brief moment if one narrows ones mind down to a very narrow context of only those particular moments. But on the whole, two bulls in a china shop is likely to be far more destructive than just one bull, there is a high likelihood that they will fight it out and totally devastate the place.

Also consider L’s statement that “Self interest is relatively rational if one uses materialistic measures.” (#1270). This is true only if one confines one’s understanding to that narrow materialist context. In any holistic context un-informed and un-controlled self interest is highly destructive, but based upon materialist considerations L seems to propose that self-interest is the right approach in every situation.

More examples of this tactic can be seen in L’s arguments against spirituality (#1270). He brings out some totally ludicrous instances of extreme abuses that have occurred in very particular contexts and then uses them as broad arguments against the entire field of spirituality. One could easily focus on a few of the many ludicrous and extreme abuses that have happened in the sphere of economics or politics or so on and then try and use those particular instances to argue that all economics or all politics is totally flawed and should be abolished and ruled out as utter nonsense. Such argumentative tactics are very dirty tactics and they betray a deep-seated misunderstanding and insecurity in a person’s conceptual foundations.

Comment Regarding Spirituality:

L’s statements regarding spirituality show a complete lack of understanding backed up by a very self-assured certainty of his own correctness, but underlying this he shows a deep understanding of some of the fundamental principles, however he confusedly thinks these are arguments against spirituality. He speaks from the perspective of a cynical materialist fanatic but in his ignorance he makes some very profound and spiritually enlightened observations. I.e. “reality is too complex to understand and if one choses to act (or nto to act)there is alwas the rule of unintended consequences (feedback loops) resulting it a totally unpredicteble (from a personal perpective: chaotic) future and any intervention based on knowledge … will necesarily fail” (#1263). That is a deeply mystical insight that he utters – the daoists say it something like “the sage keeps to the path on non-action that leaves nothing undone” and also “the Way that can be spoken is not the true Way”. L is right that the phenomenal world is far too complex to grasp with the mind, but he totally misunderstands the nature of enlightenment, which is the state of no-mind. When the mind is no longer limiting one’s experience of reality one can experience it without preconceptions, with a totally open awareness that receives impressions without judging them. Only then can one perceive the subtleties of existence without slipping into mythological discourses that are simply mind-made fantasy worlds that we use to grope toward the underlying reality. This is a truly skeptical approach that recognises “that the possibility of knowledge is limited either because of the limitations of the mind or because of the inaccessibility of its object.” (definition of skepticism from above)

Thus regarding P’s statement that “Each individual in a society / civilisation can verify this at any time by doing the necessary personal development under enlightened spiritual growth to connect to the higher source and know how things stand and what the individual needs to do to help contribute in a positive way to society at every level.” (#1252) L’s counter arguments actually reinforce this statement rather than counter it. By spiritual development people can escape their bondage within mind-made conceptual frameworks and can come to subtly comprehend the deeper rhythm and essence of existence, and only then can they begin to really tune into the holistic context. Whilst ever they grasp with their minds they remain trapped within mythologies and no mythology can capture the complexity and subtlety of reality, hence they are driven to act in inappropriate ways that lead to growing disharmony. In this context, if P tuned in deeply enough he would also realise that his interventionist approach of legislation and idealistic impositions where in fact a product of his mind-made interpretations and would actually lead to greater disharmony. He proposes a materialistic activist strategy and not one based on enlightened awareness of the holistic context. Strangely, in some ways beneath L’s cynical rhetoric his approach of working with the natural metabolic processes of society is a more spiritual approach than P’s interventionist one.

L also states that “Acting together as directed by delusions does not seem to be a good proposal to save a civilization and salvage it's valueables.” (#1263) And I would say that the materialist objectivist delusion is a perfect example of this scenario, it has rapidly driven the global system toward a crisis. What is required is a release from delusions – from mind-made mythologies that limit and distort our grasp on reality. Only true spirituality can achieve this liberation of our minds from delusion; by assisting us to discover our own inner-most nature and to develop a deep union with it. If we continue to dwell in delusion we will continue to go against the ‘Way’ of the cosmos and thereby create disharmony. This is the subject of several essays of mine on my website, and I refer to the issue as “systemic health”. It is the process whereby the ego misconstrues the body or civilisations misconstrues the environment – both of these lead to constant abuses that destroy the vitality and harmony of the organic system.

L states that “enlightment is nothing but a form of delusion” but if he really looked into the meaning of that term he would see that enlightenment is liberation form all delusion. But L says he has “studies in my spare time the zen-buddhist teachings, mditated in shrines, even on mount Fuji and had out of body experience, happened to have a kind of enlighment- light experience. I also spent weeks in hospital in between life and death, and had really mistical inner(?) experiences. The consequences of these experiences is of course are tremendous on the spiritual part of the "me" but in fact this adds not much to my life here and now!” (#1290). Perhaps he just needs some time to assimilate those experiences and bring them into his everyday life, then his deepest understandings of himself and his interpretations of experiences would change, thereby changing the nature of the world that is experienced and the types of responses that he projects out into the world. Changing one’s world-view is like changing the DNA within a cell, as many cells transform, the collective organism undergoes deep and profound changes. Starting from small scales and gradually working up toward massive structural change. That is the transformative power of spirituality, pure science, wisdom and any form of increasing understanding that brings people into closer alignment with reality.

L states his reason for rejecting spirituality in the following “I found "spirituality" a dead end, exactly becouse it is as you formulate it "experiential" one has to experience the mistical events himself… it is impossible to share these things with others, everybody has to experience it to himself/herself. Here lays the dead end: knowledge can be transferred, the spiritual experience, can not. HTerefore hoping that the spirituality of mankind can grow and increase, improve is a false hope, one can not count on it. It is a priviledge of the few and remains so in the forseeable future.”

 

But this is closely related to the skeptical view of knowledge, only here it is applied to spirituality. If the skeptics jumped to the same conclusion regarding knowledge that L has jumped to regarding spirituality, then they would have given up on knowledge. Recall that “The first important skeptical view was held by Democritus, who saw sense perception as no certain guide to objective reality. The Sophists were the earliest group of skeptics. Protagoras taught the relativity of knowledge, and Gorgias held that either nothing could be known, or if anything were known, it could not be communicated. Pyrrho, regarded as the father of skepticism, later held a similarly extreme position, seeing reality as inaccessible. Arcesilaus taught that certitude is impossible and only probable knowledge is attainable.” (from skepticism quote at the start)

 

Thus either the skeptics, in regards to knowledge, rationality and especially science, should have been “forcefully against the naivitae that wants to change how the work and operates, based on principles that are patently irreal, impossible and false: since they are aginst the human nature.” (#1290). Or perhaps L should consider the possibility that there are degrees of spiritual awareness, that it can be communicated to some degree and that there is some value in it, that if fostered may flower into something profound, just as knowledge has flowered into science. Both knowledge and spirituality arise from subjective experience and that is no reason to deny their existence or their importance.

 

Another complication comes from an earlier comment of L’s, “reality is too complex to understand and if one choses to act (or nto to act)there is alwas the rule of unintended consequences (feedback loops) resulting it a totally unpredicteble (from a personal perpective: chaotic) future and any intervention based on knowledge into the inner working of evolutionary process of civilizations will necesarily fail” (#1263). Here he seems to be nihilistically pessimistic about knowledge but just above he says “Here lays the dead end: knowledge can be transferred, the spiritual experience, can not. HTerefore hoping that the spirituality of mankind can grow and increase, improve is a false hope, one can not count on it” (#1290) which implies that knowledge will help mankind “grow and increase, improve” and that this is not a false hope, one can count on it. But what then of the idea that reality is just “too complex to understand”, that “there is alwas the rule of unintended consequences (feedback loops) resulting it a totally unpredicteble (from a personal perpective: chaotic) future” and the idea that “any intervention based on knowledge … will necesarily fail”. I would propose the both knowledge and spirituality are possible and important, but neither is infallible.

Conclusions Regarding Cynicism:

I cannot comment on L’s inner experience; here I am talking about my own experiences and also in general about cynicism. I have gone through periods of chronic cynicism in the past and it is a very common affliction throughout the world. I feel that it arises mostly when people’s energies become completely trapped on the level of the mind and entangled within the “objective world mythology” thereby they are cut off from their own subjective experience of reality. The other levels of consciousness begin to shrivel and turn dark; compassion becomes contempt, trust becomes fear and hope becomes despair. From such a perspective on the world there is no compassion, no empathy, no joy and no hope. One cannot tune into the energies of other’s and all collective endeavours seem corrupt. One becomes an isolated observer and begins to feel small, powerless and dangerously fragile. One becomes trapped in isolated negativity, lashing out at others through the medium of ideas and the mind. Pouring out scorn and derision on things, always seeing the negatives, always tearing things down and never having enough faith and trust to try and build anything up.

I cannot condemn anyone for being inflicted in this manner. It leads to destructive anti-social behaviour but that is more a cry for help than anything else. Such people need healing, they need something positive that they can believe in, something to give them a taste of joy and remind them that things are not as negative as they may seem. Cynicism is a denial of life and it is a turning one’s back on the light. The path out of cynicism involves the path of skepticism, an opening to possibilities, a turning toward the light in whatever form it may manifest, and a constructive approach toward ideas so that they may build atop each other and raise one out of the rut of negative denial. I’d also recommend some reiki or deep energy healing of some kind.

Challenge to L to State His Perspective:

L, it is easy to caste negative dispersions at the words of others, but are you prepared to state your own ideas and put them to the test? Will you put forward your own premises and propositions and let these be tested via rational discourse? I would like to see your proof that “greed and imbalance”, “War and terrorism”, “agression on hte large scale” will somehow be brought together via “market forces” so that “when the problems really surface, they will be solved”. Do you have water-tight computer simulations of this process? It doesn’t matter if you don’t, it would just be good to learn what is your point of view.

Invitation to further discussion on skepticism and cynicism:

The interplay between skepticism and cynicism is highly relevant to the stated purpose of SSE! It is also intimately involved in the natural struggles that arise in any clash of paradigms. Hence I invite others to share their ideas regarding these general issues.

Furthermore, to contrast the rather cynical approach analysed here with a more skeptical approach, I invite people to read posting (#1207). This was my first posting to the SSE discussion group and it expresses some key aspects of my own point of view.

Also see:

http://www.anandavala.info,

And the main essence of my ideas are expressed here:
http://www.anandavala.info/TASTMOTNOR/The%20Mathematical%20Analysis.html .

Regards,

John Ringland