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Ethical Brain: Vonnegut's essay 
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Post Ethical Brain: Vonnegut's essay
On p 69 Gazzaniga mentions Kurt Vonnegut's essay, "Harrison Bergeron". Has anyone read that essay? I have not. It sounds interesting.

Edited by: Chris OConnor  at: 11/1/05 12:31 am



Wed Oct 19, 2005 4:07 pm
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Post Re: Vonnegut's essay
I haven't, but it's on my short list. Vonnegut is an entertaining writer, but I think his social value lies more in the fact that he brings up certain issues, rather than in his actual position on those issues.




Thu Oct 20, 2005 1:53 pm
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Post Re: Vonnegut's essay
I think I've read it, but quite some time ago. It is pretty interesting. Vonnegut is one of my favorite authors, although I don't know if this is where I would pick him up. I read him chronologically starting with "God Bless you Mr. Rosewater" and found it very rewarding




Tue Nov 01, 2005 1:32 am
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Post Re: Vonnegut's essay
He does bring up issues, but I find his postition the interesting part: Why can't we just all be decent to each other? It wouldn't be that horrible. And yet we find ourselves in a world where that doesn't happen. Why?




Tue Nov 01, 2005 1:34 am
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Post Re: Ethical Brain: Vonnegut's essay
Chris- I just noticed that you edited my subject line here. I am not sure why you did that. I thought maybe you did that because you wanted all subject lines in book discussions to begin with the book title. However, there are other subject lines that do not begin with, "Ethical Brain:" that are in this forum and you haven't edited those. Please let me know. If you'd like subject lines to always have the book title, then I'll be sure to do that. I'd also suggest that you let us all know that, so you don't have to go and edit everyone's subject lines.




Sat Nov 12, 2005 12:55 pm
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Post Re: Ethical Brain: Vonnegut's essay
ginof
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Why can't we just all be decent to each other? It wouldn't be that horrible. And yet we find ourselves in a world where that doesn't happen. Why?
This is a critical intersection between religion and morality. I would assert that "being decent to each other" may be a fundamental moral value. Islam teaches that one is not supposed to be decent to infidels, as do many Christian sects. In fact religions that tell you to be nice to those who don't believe in the same sky fairy seem to be the exception rather than the rule.

Early humans lived in small groups who were fearful of one another, and the fear created self fulfilling prophecy: people who are afraid of you are dangerous to you. Perhaps early on religious belief brought people who otherwise would have hated and feared each other together; unfortunately it does so by creating a larger "us" which still requires a "them". It seems to me that the challenge for long term survival as a species is for most people, most of the time to see human kind as "us". Such a view is quite unnatural though, and will not easily be achieved.


If you make yourself really small, you can externalize virtually everything. Daniel Dennett, 1984




Sun Nov 13, 2005 1:11 pm
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Post Re: Ethical Brain: Vonnegut's essay
Jeremy, are you making an argument that we dump religion?

::80




Mon Nov 21, 2005 12:52 am
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Post Re: Ethical Brain: Vonnegut's essay
In order to be decent to another person, one must either expect to be treated decently in return, or have an overriding belief in the importance of decency, even toward those who may not reciprocate.

It may be closest to human nature to treat others as they have treated you in the past. But blind tit-for-tat reactions can lead to endless loops of retaliation, so perhaps there's some mechanism to override tit-for-tat when there is greater need (say, to reconcile tribal feuds in order to unite against a common enemy). There's also the problem of people being programmed (by an abusive childhood or some string of misfortunes, say) to expect to be betrayed, and then lashing out pre-emptively. "Do unto others as you expect them to do unto you" is a common attitude in gangs and dysfunctional families. Nations too can fall into that pattern... it can take many difficult acts of trust-building to override that kind of thinking when it becomes widespread.

Most people's behavior will be some combination of the following:

Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would want them to do unto you.
Steel Rule: Do unto others as they have done unto you in the past.
Iron Rule: Do unto others before they do unto you.
Hot Potato Rule: Do unto the next person what the last person did unto you.

The question is, what mechanisms exist to restore ecological balance to a culture which has adopted strategies that undermine its cohesiveness or ability to adapt?

Michael




Thu Dec 01, 2005 10:28 pm
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Post Re: Ethical Brain: Vonnegut's essay
The question is, what mechanisms exist to restore ecological balance to a culture which has adopted strategies that undermine its cohesiveness or ability to adapt?

I'd say most of the "mechanisms" are probably what we'd consider catastophic. Depopulation, for one. The outbreak of disease is a possibility, particularly if the ethical strategies tend to undermine hygenic standards or result in congested urban areas. But before we even begin to consider what might allow a culture to rebound, we should probably ask whether or not they often rebound. On a low level, I'd say that probably happens on a piecemeal basis all the time, but if a culture has really adopted an unbalancing ethos, it's probably fatal more often than not. Perhaps that's more true of large civilizations, like the Roman Empire, or even the Japanese Shogunate, than it is of relatively small cultures. Tribes likely adapt well on the fly; not so with nations.




Fri Dec 02, 2005 3:17 pm
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