Star Trek: The Original Series
"The Mark of Gideon"
Air date: 1/17/1969
Written by George F. Slavin and Stanley Adams
Directed by Jud Taylor
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
Upon beaming down to the planet Gideon, Kirk finds himself on a duplicate of the Enterprise, where he meets a woman named Odona (Sharon Acker) who yearns for a chance to live far away from her vastly overpopulated world—a world where no one dies.
The subject of the story is overpopulation and the need for extreme measures to combat the problem, as the Gideons hope to introduce into the population a rare disease carried by Kirk, allowing their people to age and die as they once did centuries ago. Unfortunately, the plot tackles its message in such a roundabout way that it's hard to swallow a lot of it. For one, I find it highly unlikely that the Gideons would build an exact duplicate of the Enterprise just to fool Kirk into helping them—an approach they should know is destined to fail.
Then comes the idea of billions of people literally piled up together upon each other because of overpopulation, which strikes me as somehow implausible. (How does anything in society function given this sort of problem? The idea of urgent overpopulation is fine, but the absurdity of showing crowds of people unable to move is simply unnecessary.) There's also far too much time spent on the plots where Kirk ponders the nature of being on an empty Enterprise while Spock attempts to locate the captain ... although I somewhat enjoyed the contest of semantics between Spock and Gideon Prime Minister Hodin (David Hurst).
It's a watchable episode, but there are too many dubious ideas, and the moral questions are not presented in a way that allows any realistic debate or analysis. There's a much better story lurking beneath some of the concepts inefficiently jammed together here.
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Next episode: That Which Survives
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213 comments on this post
Thu, Aug 18, 2011, 1:35am (UTC -5)
Sat, Jun 30, 2012, 11:00pm (UTC -5)
But there are some good scenes. Spock dealing with the bureaucracy...you'd think that being Sarek's son he'd have picked up some tricks! And he did do pretty well, actually, until he had to deal with Starfleet. I liked seeing the crew get so upset about Starfleet and Federation red tape and the intransigence of the Gideons.
I also thought that Spock was pretty funny at several places, and imho, there's nothing better tan Spock's wry, don't-blink-or-you'll-miss-it humor. Best line of the whole show: "Please do not try to interfere, Your Excellency. I already have one serious problems with the upper echelons."
Tue, Jul 24, 2012, 10:49am (UTC -5)
How killing people is better than birth control also eludes me.
And why not simply start a new colony on a different planet, if overpopulation is such a huge problem?
The plot doesn't make any sense.
Mon, Jan 28, 2013, 4:14pm (UTC -5)
It's also just really dumb. An exact duplicate of the Enterprise was clearly done as a way to save money and make this a bottle show.
Fri, Sep 13, 2013, 9:31am (UTC -5)
Fri, Nov 22, 2013, 11:37am (UTC -5)
Sat, May 10, 2014, 2:02pm (UTC -5)
Awful, boring, terrible.
Sun, Aug 17, 2014, 8:00am (UTC -5)
Mon, Nov 17, 2014, 2:52pm (UTC -5)
HODIN: And so it was! A long, long time ago what we described was true! The atmosphere on Gideon has always been germ-free. And the people flourished in their physical and spiritual perfection. Eventually, even the life span increased. Death became almost unknown to us. It occurred only when the body could no longer regenerate itself, and that happens now only to the very old.
KIRK: Those are conditions most people would envy.
HODIN: But Gideon did not find it enviable. The birth rate continued to rise, and the population grew, until now Gideon is encased in a living mass who can find no rest, no peace, no joy.
KIRK: Then why haven't you introduced any of the new techniques to sterilise men and women?
HODIN: Every organ renews itself. It would be impossible.
KIRK: Then let your people learn about the devices to safely prevent conception. The Federation will provide anything you need.
HODIN: But you see, the people of Gideon have always believed that life is sacred. That the love of life is the greatest gift. That is the one unshakable truth of Gideon. And this overwhelming love of life has developed our regenerative capacity and our great longevity.
KIRK: And the great misery which you now face.
HODIN: That is bitterly true, Captain. Nevertheless, we cannot deny the truth which shaped our evolution. We are incapable of destroying or interfering with the creation of that which we love so deeply. Life, in every form, from foetus to developed being. It is against our tradition, against our very nature. We simply could not do it.
KIRK: Yet you can kill a young girl.
Well, I think it's weird that Kirk *started* with sterilization and then moved to contraception. Also, I think that someone should explain to Hodin the difference between contraception and abortion. And also, it occurs to me that sex among the people of Gideon must be quite the affair, if the whole planet is as tightly packed as we saw it. Must be rough without privacy! No, but really, it's very, *very* hard for me to find Hodin sympathetic when he pretty genuinely seems to believe that introducing a virus to kill off large segments of the population is a far better long-term solution than teaching people about barrier methods.
Why, exactly, is introducing a virus any better than just taking a gun and shooting people in the head? About the only thing I can think of is that the people of Gideon just LOVE LIFE SO MUCH that they view a virus as a living entity, with just as much right to exist and kill the host, as anyone. This is not stated in the episode, but it's the type of argument I suspect Hodin as written would make, and the type of thing that would fit this episode as written. I'm willing to accept a fair amount of silliness from this show but something of this episode just passes my limits.
And that is a shame because there is something interesting in the idea of a planet so overpopulated that a virus must be introduced into the system to allow for a higher quality of life, or indeed long-term survival of the species. There are ways in which this idea can be examined, but this is not it.
Some of the Spock/Hadin scenes are fairly fun, though I think that Hadin's slippery use of words is a little overrated by the episode -- Hodin's statement that Spock requested a "most thorough search" is treated by the characters as if Hodin is technically telling the truth, but missing the meaning behind the words Spock used, but that's not actually true, since Hodin was the one who used that phrase the first time. This subplot lacks the grace of the similar subplot between Picard and the Sheliak in "The Ensigns of Command," but at least there's some fun to be had.
As for Odona, I think there is something a little bit wistful about Odona's joy at being able to be alone with Kirk; the emptiness of the Enterprise does actually work to create some of the atmosphere required to convey the horror of the overpopulation by contrast. So some points for that. Still, I don't find her love for Kirk, which I think we're meant to see as "real," believable, except maybe if we're meant to see this as the first time she's been alone with a suitor.
The episode isn't really actively painful but it's boring and silly. I guess 1.5 star, though I could go down to 1.
Fri, Dec 4, 2015, 2:16am (UTC -5)
Sun, Feb 21, 2016, 9:44pm (UTC -5)
Tue, Apr 19, 2016, 5:43pm (UTC -5)
The most glaring plot hole in this entire episode is the existence of a duplicate Enterprise on Gideon. It's not enough that they recreated the bridge or a basic bedroom. No, they copied the ENTIRE vessel. Forget even explaining how this construction took place. How did the Gideon government get the construction blueprints for Constitution class vessels in the first place?
From what we're told the Gideons are extreme isolationists. No Federation member has ever set foot on the planet. The Enterprise crew have to be given coordinates because they can't scan the surface themselves. If Gideon is so cut off how could they replicate any part of the Enterprise with such precise detail? I can only guess some kind of spy.
It's a tremendous plot hole that serves no true dramatic purpose except to artificially extend the mystery surrounding Kirk. I think it would have been much more effective to simply beam Kirk to a medical bay holding him hostage and getting to the crux of the episode much more quickly.
One definite high note is Spock's dealings with Hodan. The diplomatic hoops that Spock has to jump through are well written and preformed by both actors.
Sat, Oct 1, 2016, 11:21am (UTC -5)
Wed, Nov 9, 2016, 1:43pm (UTC -5)
A bit like Wink of an Eye's off-canter camera angles and lighting for the sped-up timeframe, I like Trek at its best when it uses striking visuals to bolster the story, so I guess that's why I like it :)
Tue, Nov 15, 2016, 12:50am (UTC -5)
Sun, Mar 19, 2017, 9:52pm (UTC -5)
Tue, Apr 18, 2017, 7:33pm (UTC -5)
Fri, Jul 7, 2017, 9:57pm (UTC -5)
The good parts are Spock dealing with Hodin and trying to be diplomatic. I enjoyed that exchange and how the Scotty, McCoy and others were reacting.
The big problem with this episode is the premise is ridiculous: Overpopulation to such an extent that people can't move...how could it come to such a state? Hodin spouts some BS about the love of life. Kirk talks about contraception. It's just silly.
And then building an exact duplicate of the Enterprise?? Really?? How could this even be undertaken by such an isolationist people. And of course, Kirk gets a girl but also seems to have some genuine affection for her.
And further, the solution is for Odona to get infected and have more people die a slow death. Actually the solution was to hold Kirk -- like the Federation would allow that. All it took was Spock just beaming to the right coordinates and putting an end to the nonsense.
Can't rate this more than 1.5 stars -- poorly conceived, poorly executed with slow pacing and emphasis not placed on the more important parts of the issue (overpopulation). Would find it very difficult to make it through "The Mark of Gideon" again.
Sun, Jul 9, 2017, 4:06am (UTC -5)
At least the "bad" Season 3 episodes (Spock's Brain, etc.) have had SOMETHING to make them worthwhile/enjoyable up to this point... Mark of Gideon is essentially worthless. I seriously feel like this episode should have been a one star *at most*. Maybe even zero, because I can't think of anything redeeming that ended up on screen.
One of the few Star Trek episodes that I will never watch again. Woof.
Mon, Oct 9, 2017, 5:36pm (UTC -5)
Tue, Nov 7, 2017, 10:52am (UTC -5)
Tue, Dec 5, 2017, 5:49pm (UTC -5)
On the negative side, the episode does move slowly, as some scenes (especially between Odona and Kirk, who endlessly tries to operate the fake ship) feel like filler. Their romance is a nice example of Kirk's schtick, but plays out as a bit obligatory. The elaborate villainy of Odona and her people feel a bit forced here, as if the story feels obliged to make us side against them even though their solution to overpopulation is not demonstrably the worst one possible.
The writers seemed to intend this episode as an argument for contraceptives, holding up the silly image of the immortal Gideons crowded shoulder-to-shoulder on their overpopulated planet to invite our ridicule of their belief in the absolute value of life. Indeed the Gideons' insistence on re-introducing a terminal disease through Kirk, and their isolationism that presumably keeps them from settling off-world, is intriguing. But I actually ended up sympathizing with the Gideons more than Kirk here: By the strict rule of the Prime Directive and general respect of the Federation for warp-capable cultures not yet accepted into its ranks, they are free to solve the population issue in their own way, without the Federation imposing its values on a non-member planet. While the Gideons must be faulted from our perspective for using Kirk without his informed consent to reintroduce morality into the population in a highly suspect way, this episode gives us an example of the Federation trying and failing to reach a common understanding with a planet of very different values which are perhaps irreconciliable. As such, it continues the Season 3 trend of giving us a fresh tone and story for the series, but the execution and plot beats feel just tired enough in spots to keep it from being one of the best.
Sat, Apr 14, 2018, 9:27pm (UTC -5)
Tue, Oct 23, 2018, 9:49pm (UTC -5)
Sun, Jun 2, 2019, 10:01pm (UTC -5)
Thank goodness humans are perfectly consistent in these matters.
Sat, Aug 17, 2019, 3:12pm (UTC -5)
Give them the name of a good 21st century skyscraper architect.
Fri, May 8, 2020, 11:49am (UTC -5)
(Rock solid) III of IV
Fri, May 8, 2020, 12:15pm (UTC -5)
Your comment reminded me of the time Scotty called Mudd a jackass ("Mudd's Women"), which had me LOL. Then Kirk also refers to Harry as such. Hilarious. Scotty had some great lines.
You don't see TOS hardly ever use quasi-coarse language. Maybe Kirk's "Let's get the hell out of here!" might have even pushed it back in the 60s.
Tue, Jan 19, 2021, 1:00pm (UTC -5)
Star Trek season 3 episode 16
“He's infuriating Sir. How can you stand it?”
2 stars (out of 4)
The epic shot from this episode - a horde of humanity shoved up against a window - sticks with you for the rest of your life.
I saw it for the first time as a child and I’ll be honest, it gets me every time. This evening when I rewatched the episode, it was no different. What was different was that I had forgotten just how annoying the Federation bureaucracy is! Here is an example,
SPOCK: Lieutenant Uhura, has Starfleet honoured our request with a reply?
UHURA: There has been no response as yet, sir.
SPOCK: Did you advise them the captain's life is at stake?
UHURA: Yes, sir. They insist that the matter must be referred to the Federation.
SPOCK: What department?
UHURA: Bureau of Planetary Treaties.
SPOCK: Contact them directly.
UHURA: I did, Mister Spock. They insist that we must go through Starfleet channels.
SULU: With the captain lost, sir, that's the best they could come up with?
SPOCK: Diplomats and bureaucrats may function differently, but they achieve exactly the same results.
It is amazing that even with faster-than-light warp speed travel, incredibly fast communications via sub-space, medicines that can cure almost any disease, humans with telepathic and empathic abilities, aliens, the transporter - wonders beyond belief - the government is still stuck at the level of a DMV!!??
The episode does give us a small glimpse into the inner working of the federation, something we don’t really get to see in significant detail until the DS9 two-parter Homeland/Paradise Lost. When Spock calls the Admiral for permission to beam down to search for Kirk, the answer he gets is,
ADMIRAL: Starfleet cannot override Federation directives in this matter.
In this matter. That’s the part that stuck with me. Does that mean that there are certain matters that Starfleet can override the Federation on?
Does that put Admiral Leyton’s actions in Paradise Lost in a different light? Or had Federation authority over Starfleet been tightened by the time we get to DS9?
We get a few scenes of the Federation Counsel in various movies. I’m thinking in particular of the scene in ST: IV, The Voyage Home,
[Which is a hell of lot more than we got on season 3 of Discovery.] But in any case, I’m still not exactly clear what the relationship between the federation civilian government and the Starfleet uniformed service is? If we go by Kirk in the movies, it seems, that Starfleet does what it wants, and then asks for forgiveness later.
The episode’s second half descends into a long and needlessly drawn out lesson on the value of contraceptives. It is tiresome to watch today, and I doubt it was much better received at the time.
A story about overpopulation written by the actor who played Cyrano Jones in Tribbles: it sounds like the most ridiculous idea possible in Star Trek! Until we remember that in the rebooted Abrams movies, they use Khan’s blood to bring a Tribble back to life! FML.
The episode gets some points for presenting a perspective that is unique. @William B thinks that point of view might be that, "the people of Gideon just LOVE LIFE SO MUCH that they view a virus as a living entity, with just as much right to exist and kill the host, as anyone.” I think it might be something else. There is something very different about affirmatively killing versus merely letting something die. There is a difference between action and inaction. @Peter G. hasn’t commented in this thread, but elsewhere he has been exploring the contours of the Prime Directive (@Trek fan brings it up here). At its most extreme, there is a real difference between letting someone die of a disease versus affirmatively seeking out and killing someone.
The bottom line is, Gideon is a planet where the Grim Reaper is on vacation. Isn’t that a fascinating thought experiment? What happens to the people when there is no death? That’s what Star Trek was when it was at it’s best - an avenue to explore what-ifs. Take the opposite - we can imagine a planet that is the opposite of Gideon, a planet where Cupid is on vacation. Something like TNG's "When the Bough Breaks.” Neither option is enticing, which itself is so interesting ("Those are conditions most people would envy.”)
These are great ideas to play with. And perhaps a different season of Star Trek might have done a better job. But the fact is that this was a dull hour of TV. A classic, memorable episode of Star Trek. But dull nonetheless.
Sat, Feb 6, 2021, 12:46am (UTC -5)
But, he bounces back pretty quick in the embrace of another hot alien. It’s good to be the Captain.
Spock: We must acknowledge once and for all, that the purpose of diplomacy is to prolong a crisis.
Oh man! I just about fell out of my rocker! They even watch TOS in freakin’ North Korea!
This show is so great. Even as a kid you got to understand bureaucratic ass hattery.
And Mr. Diplomat describing Scotty as “an excitable repairman” would have got him knocked out at the ‘ole Federation Meet ‘n Greet...
Sun, Apr 4, 2021, 3:58pm (UTC -5)
Fri, May 14, 2021, 3:15am (UTC -5)
For goodness sake! Spock realised pretty quickly that he was aboard a duplicate ship, and communicated the fact to the real Enterprise- did it not ever occur to Kirk to try his communicator?
The green faces on the view screen were quite scary but the scenes of people trying to move around in a crowd just outside the window were theatrical but utterly unrealistic.
“Oh, Donna!” telling Kirk she remembered being in a vast crowded arena struggling for oxygen.. surely that was normality for her, not the dramatic situation she implied?
The implication that Gideonites preferred utter misery over using birth control was absurd.
Gideon was supposed to be a peaceful planet so where did the two heavies guarding Kirk come from?
Rating: 3.5 stars for potential but a bit less than 3 for the episode as finally delivered.
Fri, May 14, 2021, 3:51am (UTC -5)
And, where did they find room for an entire starship on such an overcrowded planet?
Fri, May 28, 2021, 1:10am (UTC -5)
Fri, May 28, 2021, 1:11am (UTC -5)
Fri, Jun 25, 2021, 7:52am (UTC -5)
Fri, Jun 25, 2021, 8:03am (UTC -5)
Fri, Jun 25, 2021, 1:53pm (UTC -5)
Fri, Jun 25, 2021, 2:36pm (UTC -5)
Easily one of the absolute stupidest, worst comments I've seen on this site.
Fri, Jun 25, 2021, 3:09pm (UTC -5)
Fri, Jun 25, 2021, 6:39pm (UTC -5)
>Nut job alert!
Instead of attacking me why don't you weigh up the pros and cons of having a reduced population?
Fri, Jun 25, 2021, 7:12pm (UTC -5)
"Instead of attacking me why don't you weigh up the pros and cons of having a reduced population?"
Depends what you mean by "having", or from your previous post, "should be reduced.". Seems hard to interpret those words in a way that doesn't make you sound like a James Bond villain.
Fri, Jun 25, 2021, 7:18pm (UTC -5)
I mean, this planet somehow built an exact replica of a starship. Unless they're the Pakleds, making it go shouldn't be too tough for them. As for Earth, it's about time we spread out. If for nothing else than to put considerably more distance between disagreeing societies.
Fri, Jun 25, 2021, 8:03pm (UTC -5)
Are you volunteering to be part of the "reduction"?
That, after all, is what this episode is about, young people who love their planet enough to volunteer to die in order to reduce the population.
Nobody gets to volunteer anybody else, just themselves.
So again, since you think life would be so much better if 7 out of every 8 people were not on the planet, are YOU volunteering to be one of the 7 who disappears?
Fri, Jun 25, 2021, 8:47pm (UTC -5)
Fri, Jun 25, 2021, 9:08pm (UTC -5)
No need for mass genocide. Voluntary or involuntary...
Fri, Jun 25, 2021, 9:21pm (UTC -5)
Sat, Jun 26, 2021, 8:46am (UTC -5)
A couple of quick examples are "Alixus" in "Paradise" and "Kodos the Executioner" from "The Conscience of the King". This is not about some better or utopian society for the good of all -- this is a maniac's desire for a power grab. Let's hope psychos like EventualZen never get within sniffing distance of influencing public policy but unfortunately I think there are similar people who already have.
These kinds of sociopaths who have God complexes may appear rational and reasonable at a very superficial level (heck I even interacted with him/her on a couple of occasions), but dig a bit below the surface and some very ugly things are to be found.
Sat, Jun 26, 2021, 9:39am (UTC -5)
And here I was rooting for Thanos. He seemed so reasonable.
Sat, Jun 26, 2021, 10:42am (UTC -5)
Sat, Jun 26, 2021, 6:46pm (UTC -5)
What in the name of Satan's nob-cheese are you banging on about? I never said anything about genocide, I just want people to have fewer kids for enough generations to bring the population down. There seems to be a misunderstanding.
>The single limiting factor is green energy, really, which I expect we will overcome shortly.
Do you mean we will perfect fusion energy or develop existing renewable energy like wind and solar?
Sun, Jun 27, 2021, 2:26am (UTC -5)
Let's imagine ,and this is purely theoretical, that some people have more than one child, what then? What about Catholics or Mormons? They will never go one child. Plus, a one child policy, as seen in China, can stop extreme population growth but it brings other problems, like the number of old people. You would have to force at least 4 generations to only have one child. All of these would have to finance with their work a pension system that would have to provide for a far greater number of old people. Then there is no global enforcement because there is no global state.
But just for kicks let's imagine this 500.000.000 million paradise which could be reached in give or take 200 years if we start today. Will humanity because of reduced numbers be peaceful and harmonious? Will we all work for the great Soviet? Pray to Ayn Rand?
Why would any societal problem disappear?!
It wouldn't. And that is not counting the horrors of the gigantic terror and surveillance state we would need to get to 500 million people.
Not a good plan.
The whole Thanos things was at least an interesting idea because it was highlighting some of those scary plans that some billionaires harbor. When you are that rich you just have too much power.
Sun, Jun 27, 2021, 1:44pm (UTC -5)
Thanks for your reply.
I think by the end of this century we will be able to build robots to take care of the sick and elderly. I don't think having a 500,000,000 population will lead to a perfect utopia, just that the average person would be better off and that we would be more likely to meet energy demands once fossil fuels expire. I don't see an end to conflict for as long as humanity exists.
What's your vision of the future? Are you an optimist?
What do you guys think the ideal human population should be?
Sun, Jun 27, 2021, 2:05pm (UTC -5)
To quote the Spartan answer to Philip II.
Sun, Jun 27, 2021, 3:37pm (UTC -5)
"I don't think having a 500,000,000 population will lead to a perfect utopia, just that the average person would be better off and that we would be more likely to meet energy demands once fossil fuels expire. I don't see an end to conflict for as long as humanity exists."
Putting aside the moral implications of *forcing* people to move towards this global population size, I think you are very mistaken about what the state of production and innovation capabilities would be if you slashed the population to 10% of its current levels. A certain % of the population have a certain type of mind and capability, and in some cases the 'person you need' is so rare that the numbers game turns against you if you have few people in the total gene pool. Likewise, the % of people beyond a certain position in any bell shaped curve is harder to come by the smaller the population, and likewise the infrastructure is severely limited to propel such people to the ability to succeed. So for instance, it does not at all follow that if X crucial people exist now, and we reduced it to 1/10 X, that we could therefore just translate this to 1/10 of our current 'productivity'. It could actually verge toward zero, as you need a minimal amount of infrastructure and workers to achieve certain thresholds. And likewise, with economy or resource development, with a very wealthy economy a small % of resources going toward, say, green energy, may still be a large absolute amount. Reduce the economy and you may be able to afford zero. Think of a small company or a small homeowners association: it's not like they can afford much of anything on management consultation, R&D and advertisement (in the case of the company), or increases in payroll. The resources are so limited that getting anything done that requires big capital is nearly impossible. A larger infrastructure can afford certain projects (or economies) of scale.
This is all just a teeny part of the issue in slashing the population, from a purely technical standpoint. Could you even afford to construct sewer systems, have city services, and transit systems if the population was so spread out that all living was essentially rural? And if not, do you once again *make* everyone live in a small amount of city centers, leaving the vast territories of the Earth as vacant ghost towns and crumbling cities? And who decides where these living centers will be? In America? China? You get the picture. I am all for planning for the future, and recognize how weak the current American system is in being able to think more than 4 years ahead, but I have approximately 100% certainty that what you propose would bring us to our knees, maybe even bring about a sort of tyranny that you can't imagine.
Sun, Jun 27, 2021, 4:25pm (UTC -5)
You know, this really doesn't have to be a thought experiment. We can look at history. Historians estimate that the Earth had a population of roughly 500 million (half a billion) in the 17th century.
I really don't think there was anything more ideal about the human experience in that period. I know you aren't asking to travel back in time, but to have a 17th-century population with 21st-century technology. But some of the way we got the current level of technology was by the work of a growing population.
We still have plenty of sparsely populated areas, which are needed in order to feed everyone else. But industrial production requires concentrations of population. The reason cities are crowded is not because they are "overpopulated." They are crowded because that's how many people it takes to do the kind of work that's done there.
Your statement about "living in a nice detached home" makes me suspect that your idea of an ideal existence is suburbia. But that's the one type of residential area that has no purpose in itself. Suburbs tend to either become cities in their own right or exist as mere "bedroom communities" from which the residents commute (sometimes long distances) into a crowded city to work. A few of us can work from a home office, but society can't function if everyone is a freelance book editor working from home. The vast majority will have to work either in rural areas producing food, or urban areas producing finished goods. Both the crowded and uncrowded spaces serve a purpose for everyone. In modern life, both are interconnected.
Sometimes, a person's fantasy of how the whole world should be can reveal what they aspire to for themselves individually, even if ti wouldn't work if the whole world did it. If you don't already, perhaps you should build a career that allows you to have a job in a big city that pays enough for you to live in a suburb.
Mon, Jun 28, 2021, 5:30am (UTC -5)
1. World population is already levelling off naturally.
2. Our current technology can easily support the comfort, health and safety of 10+ billion people.
Those who argue otherwise are simply unaware of the immense power of present day technology and/or the abundance of resources on our planet. We have the power to create a worldwide utopia right now, had we really put our minds to it.
Just for perspective:
If you divide the Earth's land surface evenly among 15 billion people, that's a full 9900 square meters (a whopping 2.4 acres) FOR EVERY PERSON ON THE PLANET.
As for energy:
Devote 1% (a 10mx10m square per person) of this area for solar panels with a 10% efficiency. This can maintain - indefinitely - a power of 3.2 kW which is OVER TWICE the current per capita energy consumption in the United States, with zero pollution and zero CO2 emissions.
These are just averages for the entire planet, of-course. But they demonstrate that humanity does not lack either land or resources to maintain even double of it's current population. What humanity lacks is an ounce of common sense (which is why we continue fighting among ourselves, and why people are actually *paying* the megatech companies to spy on them, and why we're poisoning our air with fossil fuels when we already have better alternatives).
In short: we really *really* need to get our sh*t together.
Mon, Jun 28, 2021, 6:01am (UTC -5)
"Not to beat a dead horse but there's one thing that deeply disturbs/offends me about EventualZen's comment. Folks should have no doubt in their minds about what this lunatic is really up to and we've actually seen it in Trek enough times. "
Nah. EventualZen himself (herself?) is *not* a lunatic or a psychopath. S/he is just a naive idealist who didn't think about the full implications of these ideas.
The scary thing, though, is that there *are* power-hungry psychos who prey on this kind of naivete. We got a glimpse of what a disaster this could be with all the race-related riots last year. It is incredibly easy to manipulate good idealistic people to do evil, especially when they are not aware of being manipulated.
Mon, Jun 28, 2021, 7:44am (UTC -5)
I actually think (potential) genocidal madmen/madwomen are quite common. Most just don't have any power and die in obscurity. But I don't believe they're rare.
Not really commenting about EventualZen who I know nothing about.
Just thought it was an interesting point.
Mon, Jun 28, 2021, 8:50am (UTC -5)
Population growth is tied to societal development. If significant parts of the planet stay underdeveloped, then the population growth will not go down there.
"I actually think (potential) genocidal madmen/madwomen are quite common. Most just don't have any power and die in obscurity. But I don't believe they're rare."
3 Media (TV/radio)
7 Police officer
10 Civil servant
These are the jobs where they are most common (At least according to a book). I read around a little and scientifically we are only beginning to understand successful psychopathy (we know quite a bit about unsuccessful psychopathy).
Mon, Jun 28, 2021, 9:18am (UTC -5)
Again, calling them that gives the impression that they are unusual or extreme. But I don't think they are.
But then again, you might be saying that psychopaths are actually very common or not that extreme.
Mon, Jun 28, 2021, 10:27am (UTC -5)
"do we know that all genocidal monsters are actually psychopaths? Just curious."
For the average participant in genocide, like the Holocaust, that is not the case. For that you have to dehumanize people and/or portray them as a threat. Terrorists are not always psychopath. Giving yourself up for a "higher purpose" is also important.
I have no idea why this is on linkedin but it at least cites sources.
I'm putting a **trigger warning** in front of this. If you don't want to spoil your day reading self rationalizations of Nazi mass murderers then you should maybe avoid this.
Mon, Jun 28, 2021, 11:13am (UTC -5)
I'm very surprised to see that "Politicians" didn't make the list.
At any rate, the really scary thing about your list is that most of those jobs are the last place where we'd want a psychopatic person to be in (Lawyers are the only possible exception). Why do we - as society - let this happen?
It's not like psychopatic billionaires manage to fool us that they are nice people, right? Everybody knows that they are greedy selfish bastards. So why do we keep "voting" for them with our dollars? Why does society shoot itself in the foot in this manner?
It boggles the mind.
Mon, Jun 28, 2021, 11:46am (UTC -5)
It is somewhat surprising that politicians are not on there. Maybe they are 11. For some professions, like surgeon, psychopathy can actually be beneficial because limited empathy might help when you walk through blood and whatnot every day. For police and CEO's it is obviously awful.
Why do we let it happen? The studies in this area are obviously limited because we only get the unsuccessful psychopath (the ones in prison), the successful ones apparently are very good at hiding their pathology and it is obviously not illegal to be a psychopath and if we limit the ability of psychopath to get into certain professions then that opens another can of worms. Can we as a society just decide who can can't choose profession on this or that personality trait? Maybe we should, maybe not.
Why do we use the products these people provide? Convenience and the knowledge that it makes no difference what the individual does for a company like amazon. I always hate it when journalists argue that the consumer has to change it's behavior, that is another way of saying: "I want no change."
Mon, Jun 28, 2021, 12:06pm (UTC -5)
Mon, Jun 28, 2021, 1:59pm (UTC -5)
--- Isaac Asimov, 1969
Mon, Jun 28, 2021, 4:58pm (UTC -5)
Hitler strikes me as having been some kind of extremely abnormal person; a megalomaniac at a minimum and probably some other things a psychiatrist could identify. (His monomania concerning the Jews seems beyond even "man of his time" antisemitism, to put it mildly) So he is certainly an example of a rare individual (actually brilliant in some respects) doing horrific things. But I genuinely wonder if he is really the rule rather than the exception. Are the leaders of these movements necessarily rare *in regards to mental illness* or are they simply great leaders who happen to have evil objectives?
Mon, Jun 28, 2021, 8:01pm (UTC -5)
Mon, Jun 28, 2021, 9:20pm (UTC -5)
I'm not sure how readily you could produce enough food to provide all necessary nutrients and oxygen for one person on 2.4 acres.
I think it can be easy to look out the window of an airplane and say, "What do people mean by 'overpopulation'? Look at all that empty land!" But I suspect a lot of that "empty" land is what's needed to support all human beings who happen to live elsewhere.
Tue, Jun 29, 2021, 10:54am (UTC -5)
Oxygen isn't a problem. One modest sized-tree (or alternatively 60 square meters of grass) produces the oxygen needs for one person.
Moreover, our fossil-fuel based powerplants use up far more oxygen that our bodies do. So once we move to renewable energy sources, we'll actually use up *less* oxygen regardless of population.
Food is a trickier question, but I doubt it would be a problem either. After all, we are already feeding about 7 billion people wordwide, even though our strategy (as far as there is one) is horribly inefficient. So it stands to reason that we would be able to feed twice as much, if we only cooperated on a global level and actually committed to the task.
Tue, Jun 29, 2021, 11:08am (UTC -5)
Tue, Jun 29, 2021, 12:56pm (UTC -5)
Non-renewable resources are indeed a problem, which is why we should find alternatives as quickly as possible. This is true whether our population is 500 million or 20 billion. Solar power and fusion are the way to go in the long run.
Though I wouldn't worry too much about uranium-235. Uranium packs about A MILLION TIMES MORE ENERGY when compared to fossil fuels, so it's going to last for quite a while. And even when it runs out, we could use Thorium instead. These materials won't quite last forever, but we can safely rely on them for centuries (at the very least).
Tue, Jun 29, 2021, 1:17pm (UTC -5)
That’s hardly a universally accepted medical opinion. True, processed meats are unhealthy, but processed grains and vegetables are also unhealthy. Ketogenic and Atkins diets that promote high consumption of fatty meats have documented success when followed properly.
People at high risk for diabetes may actually be worse off with vegan or vegetarian diets which often rely on heavy carbohydrate intake and spike blood sugar.
Tue, Jun 29, 2021, 2:33pm (UTC -5)
Still meat production is far less efficient (as Omicron pointed out) and the most inefficient meat is beef.
Tue, Jun 29, 2021, 3:00pm (UTC -5)
Actually, I read a BBC report a few years back put together by nutritionists which ranked the top 100 most nutritional foods. The top 10 was dominated by meats like Snapper, Pork Fat, Sole and other fish.
Tue, Jun 29, 2021, 3:30pm (UTC -5)
Tue, Jun 29, 2021, 3:41pm (UTC -5)
Tue, Jun 29, 2021, 3:47pm (UTC -5)
Tue, Jun 29, 2021, 6:09pm (UTC -5)
(No wonder diplomats mostly seem to have given up on world peace.)
Tue, Jun 29, 2021, 6:20pm (UTC -5)
That's all I have to say about that.
Tue, Jun 29, 2021, 7:47pm (UTC -5)
Otherwise, no, and in fact Cabbage as a whole kind of revolts me
Wed, Jun 30, 2021, 5:37am (UTC -5)
“We can look at history. Historians estimate that the Earth had a population of roughly 500 million (half a billion) in the 17th century.
I really don't think there was anything more ideal about the human experience in that period. ”
What an intriguing proposition. Let's have a look at it.
Firstly, in the seventeenth century you didn’t have nihilism (as in believing in no purpose). You also didn’t have the resulting existentialism (as in existential angst). You didn’t have relativism, either (as in ethical relativism, i.e., the subjectivity of ethics). You didn’t have—no pun intended—idealism (as in everything is a construct of your mind).
What did you have, then? You had teleology, in other words, *purpose*: a divine purpose behind everything. And you had ethical objectivism, telling you not only what was right and what was wrong, but that morals were absolute.
Importantly, you also had realism (as in ideas being real). Realism told you that Truth was real, not a construct of your mind. It told you that Virtue was real, not a product of linguistics. That Justice was real, not a dream you wake up from. That the Good was real, not a fairy tale for children. And so on, and so forth.
In other words, you had certainty. Certainty in purpose, certainty in ethics, certainty in being, certainty about reality. In short, certainty in and of all existence.
I don’t know about you, but I call this something tremendous that we have lost.
Secondly, you didn’t have physicalism (as in everything is nothing but physical matter). It follows that you did not have mechanism (as in everything is but physical matter arranged in different patterns: tiny physical bodies in motion), either as atomism, or corpuscularianism (the initial propositions in the Early Modern Age in those fields were indeed made then. But only very few scholars knew of them, and fewer agreed with them).
In short, you didn’t have materialism in the philosophical sense. Quite the contrary, the world was animated (as in infused with souls). It was, in effect, an enchanted garden. Rapture and awe was everywhere.
The principal manifestation of this momentous difference was of course religion, which was also part of the cause. But consider the ramifications. Imagine people with present-day worldviews travelling back in time, and take our friend, Weyoun, as the voice of the past answering them:
—Modern-day thinker of the Marxist school: ‘Workmen , you are being exploited by your proto-capitalist masters!’
—Workmen: ‘But of course: that is what masters do.’
—Modern-day feminist thinker: ‘Women, you are being oppressed by your patriarchal fathers and husbands!’
—Women: ‘But of course: that is the order of things.’
—Modern-day thinker of the functionalist school: ‘Parishioners, your Masses, processions, religious liturgies are the equivalent of rain dances of native peoples, and your Biblical parables are the equivalent of folk tales and songs around the fire of the primitives: all performing the same social function of creating order in society!’
—Parishioners: ‘Very well…’
—Modern-day thinker of the functionalist school: ‘And relativism further teaches that none of these rituals is truer than another!’
—Modern-day thinker of the constructionist school: ‘People, listen to my friend of the functionalist school! Your entire worldview, your entire reality is a social construct! It only exists in your minds!’
You could go on and on: Weyoun amusingly provides a fine answer to any strand of modern, and postmodern thought in fair accordance with the classical worldview of scholastic times. He represents that being entirely content—in the vernacular, perfectly happy—with his entire being as the creature of the Founders (ontology); his telos or purpose according to their will (teleology); the morals infused by those creators (ethics); and fundamentally, that reality which the Founders created (metaphysics).
Some will object that life was harsher then. I am a historian: I know that better than most. But to that I shall reply as Q, with words more important than they may sound: ‘It’s not safe out here. It’s wondrous.’
This is what we have lost: awe and wonder. (That is also why TNG S1-2 will always be the best, not the worst of TNG in my opinion).
So far, I have been thinking of the worldview of common people, in terms that only scholars knew of. But it was felt everywhere, and the results were striking in every domain. English is but my third language, but to take English as example: Where is Milton today? Where is Donne today? Where is Shakespeare today? Pick any language. Where are Cervantes, and Calderon today? Where is profound sentiment blended with profound thought expressed with extreme excellence today? Thinkers of the seventeenth century are to our present thinkers as TOS is to Star Trek: Discovery.
What has been the result of the more ‘ideal’ nature of human experience, to use your term in the philosophical sense? Today, we worship the likes of Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Wittgenstein, each brilliant in his own way yet all terrifying in the same way. In other words, philosophical idealism telling us that everything is a product of our mind, that everything is subjective: telling us that there is, ultimately, nothing. What has happened?
Consider therefore this counter-proposition. As para-social communication has become the norm, we can no longer even interpret people’s emotions correctly, let alone deal with them. Increasingly, people are discontent. Increasingly there is discord. Frustration. Depression, and desperation. Isolation, and loneliness. We are increasingly becoming strangers to ourselves.
And we can no longer cope with anything. Today we need manuals for everything human: we have become like children. People have lost fundamental notions of what it means to be human, and how to deal with other human beings. How to deal with pain, anger, sorrow, envy. How to deal with the profound loneliness of our times. We see ghosts everywhere, get infuriated at every moment, feel offended by everything, and treat every minor inconvenience as a catastrophe. Concomitantly, our vocabulary itself is being fast reduced. We increasingly seem to possess infantile levels of maturity and speech only.
(The increasingly asinine comments found on this site in the past few years, compared to the quality of thought and conversation in the initial years, is a fine indicator of which way we are heading in the internet age, and how fast…)
Let me know what you think. But it is safe to say that there was much to scholastic thought that was good. It was an entire worldview which, very fundamentally, spoke to us as human beings, and not parts of some great machine. To be sure, the world, life, existence itself was harsher four hundred years ago. But it was also much more amazing, and inspiring. And it was also—make no mistake—much more human.
(A few months ago I read—here of all places—some kid saying that he wouldn't be able to survive in the 1960s. This is the level of idiocy we are dealing with, and the disconnect with ourselves. What will kids in forty years say? That the 2000s were the Stone Age?)
Wed, Jun 30, 2021, 6:39am (UTC -5)
"This is the level of idiocy we are dealing with, and the disconnect with ourselves."
Man, you are hitting the nail on the head! Idiocy and disconnect.
It is quite fascinating that you are actually telling a woman how awesome the 17th century was. Now tell the Jews, homosexuals and uh slaves! It was paradise!
Wed, Jun 30, 2021, 7:36am (UTC -5)
"It is quite fascinating that you are actually telling a woman how awesome the 17th century was. Now tell the Jews, homosexuals and uh slaves! It was paradise!"
A woman or a man, the seventeenth or any other century is irrelevant. The argument apparently went over your head.
The point is, most people are trapped within the conceptual framework of their age. You just offered outstanding proof. Three hundred years from now, they will say something similar of us as you just said of the seventeenth century, and it will be equally silly then as your argument is now.
Three hundred years later, they will likely say something similar of the twenty-fourth century, and so on, and so forth. Presuming that no planetary-level disaster occurs, the trend will likely continue for all foreseeable future.
But only we today can properly evaluate our age. To a future humanity with hypothetical zero corruption, any corruption levels in any country today will appear massive, and any differences academic. But we do believe that there are significant differences today, don't we? We do believe that some societies are much more corrupt than others. Who are the people of three hundred years in the future to judge what we think of our present?
Similarly, to a future humanity with hypothetical absolute democracy, any democracy today will appear risible. And so on, and so forth.
And likewise, it is the people of three hundred years ago and their conceptual framework that we must understand: for it is that which coloured their experience. It is that conceptual framework I just outlined.
Three hundred years from now, common people will likely harbour so many misconceptions about our times that listening to them talk about our day and age would be either incomprehensible to us, or outright offensive.
This is what I attempted to demonstrate: seventeenth-century people would neither understand the arguments of the Marxist, nor those of the feminist, etc. Those concepts speak essentially to us as people of our age. They would not make sense to any hypothetical, future 'Borg' humanity either, for example.
Ask yourself this. Future scholars, based on the realities and concerns of their own times, will likely devise outlandish theories about us and our times that would seem entirely bizarre to us today: incomprehensible, nonsensical, or simply irrelevant. We would then likely respond, to any such Future Man: 'No! That was not what life in the twenty-first century was!'
Is it not possible, then, that many of the assumptions we have of past times, if ill-informed, based on our present worldviews, sensibilities, and concerns, and failing to understand those of the age under scrutiny, would seem similary nonsensical even to the women, and the ' Jews, homosexuals and uh slaves!' of the past?
Wed, Jun 30, 2021, 8:14am (UTC -5)
First, you forced your reactionary culture war agenda into a debate about consciousness and free will that had nothing to do with it. very naughty.
And while you say that you despise relativism, saying that we cannot judge past times is just historical relativism. What are you, some kind of reactionary Foucault?
We did not have personal freedoms or democracy in 1700. Endless wars. Not a biggy for you, I suppose, because in 300 years they will have super democracy and wars will be virtual...
Maybe you didn't notice but this is not an Opus Dei forum.
Wed, Jun 30, 2021, 8:59am (UTC -5)
I'm pretty sure this is the first time I've seen you post on this site and must say what a pleasure/relief it was to see what you wrote to "Trish". (I didn't read her prior comment so I can't comment on it.) You really laid out a number of problems with today's humanity in comparison with how things were decades or even centuries ago. I would not waste time with the mentally unhinged troll "Booming" and his/her far left agenda, however.
Certainly Marxism's influence on society has grown by leaps and bounds since the late-60s and I think you laid out quite well what the issues are with various cohorts in society.
"And we can no longer cope with anything. Today we need manuals for everything human: we have become like children. People have lost fundamental notions of what it means to be human, and how to deal with other human beings. How to deal with pain, anger, sorrow, envy. How to deal with the profound loneliness of our times. We see ghosts everywhere, get infuriated at every moment, feel offended by everything, and treat every minor inconvenience as a catastrophe. Concomitantly, our vocabulary itself is being fast reduced. We increasingly seem to possess infantile levels of maturity and speech only."
This is so true! There is such a massive dumbing-down of society going on. I don't know where to start... Even think about awarding trophies now just for participating. No winners or losers, no men or women -- gender neutral this and that etc. etc.
I have always been attracted to TOS -- I feel there is an inherent goodness in the show, the characters, the actors. People just hadn't been "affected" yet when that show was conceived. The rest of classic Trek is fine as well, though it did start to get edgier. And now we have DSC/PIC which are morally in the garbage dump.
The one and only thing I'd take issue with is TNG S1-2. Yes there were some interesting ideas on human exploration in a very broad sense but there were too many other execution issues that really hampered the overall experience.
In any case, thanks for taking the time to write. Cheers!
Wed, Jun 30, 2021, 9:44am (UTC -5)
"First, you forced your reactionary culture war agenda into a debate about consciousness and free will that had nothing to do with it. very naughty."
No. First, why all this hostility? Is this what you call debating?
Secondly: No. I outlined principal concepts of philosophy relevant to the history of mentality in the past four centuries. And this has everything to do with consciousness. Have you heard of Descartes? He lived 1596-1650.
"And while you say that you despise relativism, saying that we cannot judge past times is just historical relativism. What are you, some kind of reactionary Foucault?"
Again, the argument went above your head. I am not speaking of moral judgement. I am speaking of historical appraisal: understanding historical ages. The two are not mutually exclusive. The latter is a tradition that far antedates Foucault. Have you heard of Vico? He lived 1668-1744.
"We did not have personal freedoms or democracy in 1700."
You have no idea of what you are talking about. I suggest you begin to study law. Begin with Roman Law. And work yourself through the ages, ending in the various systems of personal freedoms and participatory democracy in the Americas in 1700, where they are most easily grasped.
Were they the equivalent of today? Of course not. That is not the point.
Were Kings elected?, No, they simply succeeded. Were Governors elected? No, they were appointed by kings. And to paraphrase: of course. That's what Kings do. That is the order of things.
But Mayors virtually everywhere were elected, for example. So were most Councilmen, and a plethora of other municipal officials in the western tradition. I could give you many interesting examples, such as those officials who were responsible for evaluating the yearly crops—and thus, taxes payable to the King, the local seigneur, and so on. This was true, mutatis mutandis and with reservations, from Sweden to Sicily, and from Boston to Buenos Aires in 1700.
And what shall we say of the judiciary? Were ordinary judges not elected in most systems of law, and jurisdictions? Were jurors not? In short, do you have any idea of what you are attempting to discuss?
In conclusion, different ages beget different worldviews, which ask different questions and experience vastly different problems. The kind of concerns of our times that we are discussing were not perceived as problems then. Famine was. Sickness was. And so on, and so forth.
In other words, the problems you see are in your mind only, a child of your time: you are projecting what you perceive as problematic onto a society with quite different views.
Now answer this: just like you probably don't perceive as a problem a great many things in modern society that to people then would seem deeply unsettling, why should the opposite not hold true?
Wed, Jun 30, 2021, 10:11am (UTC -5)
I only skim your posts
I'm a political scientist and the fact that in some parts of a polity people were elected does not make it a democracy. For example there are local elections in Saudi Arabia.
"And what shall we say of the judiciary? Were ordinary judges not elected in most systems of law, and jurisdictions?"
Elected by whom... yeah mostly the king.
"You have no idea of what you are talking about. I suggest you begin to study law. Begin with Roman Law."
Are you actually implying that Roman Law is on the same level as a constitution that guarantees personal freedoms.
" I would not waste time with the mentally unhinged troll "Booming" and his/her far left agenda, however."
I kind of thought that Pedro and you would hit it off. Two peas in a pod.
Wed, Jun 30, 2021, 10:18am (UTC -5)
I'm sorry, but from the things you've written it is clear that you have absolutely no idea how people lived in the 17th century.
You say that the people of the 17th century were full of awe and wonder. Sorry, but no. The average 17th century person was too busy working in the field and trying to survive another day. Life expectancy in those days was around 30, and parents lost most of their kids to all kinds of diseases.
And that's if they were lucky enough to be free men. If you were a slave or a member of any shunned minority, you would have been even worse off.
So I'm sorry, but the way you romanticize that era is downright ridiculous.
I do agree with this part, though:
As para-social communication has become the norm, we can no longer even interpret people’s emotions correctly, let alone deal with them. Increasingly, people are discontent. Increasingly there is discord. Frustration. Depression, and desperation. Isolation, and loneliness. We are increasingly becoming strangers to ourselves.
And we can no longer cope with anything. Today we need manuals for everything human: we have become like children. People have lost fundamental notions of what it means to be human, and how to deal with other human beings. How to deal with pain, anger, sorrow, envy. How to deal with the profound loneliness of our times. We see ghosts everywhere, get infuriated at every moment, feel offended by everything, and treat every minor inconvenience as a catastrophe. Concomitantly, our vocabulary itself is being fast reduced. We increasingly seem to possess infantile levels of maturity and speech only.
But this is a decline that began in the past decade or so. It does not negate the huge amount of progress we've made in the previous 400 years... at least not yet.
As for this:
"Three hundred years from now, they will say something similar of us as you just said of the seventeenth century."
Indeed they will, and they would be 100% correct.
As much as life has improved in the past few centuries, we are still an immature barbaric species. Our 24th century descendants will not remember us fondly, and they will not be mistaken.
Wed, Jun 30, 2021, 10:30am (UTC -5)
"In conclusion, different ages beget different worldviews, which ask different questions and experience vastly different problems. The kind of concerns of our times that we are discussing were not perceived as problems then."
This is wrong on two counts:
1. Some of the top philosophers of those days openly stated that prejudice and racism and slavery are wrong.
2. Just because a society is not aware of a problem, does not make it less of a problem. Absolute morality, remember?
"And while you say that you despise relativism, saying that we cannot judge past times is just historical relativism. "
Wed, Jun 30, 2021, 12:09pm (UTC -5)
“1. Some of the top philosophers of those days openly stated that prejudice and racism and slavery are wrong.”
Very true. Yet this does not affect what I referred. The common masses were oblivious of the finer points of scholarly debates. Some even agreed, unwittingly, with some of those points you just mentioned. But that was not what my argument was about.
“2. Just because a society is not aware of a problem, does not make it less of a problem. Absolute morality, remember?”
Also very true: I entirely agree. But again, this does not affect, nor does it invalidate what I referred. I simply referred the history of mentality, believing the implications would be obvious. Apparently, they were not. But do you wish to dispute the history of mentality?
I am speaking of the way we perceive the cosmos, and life itself. This affects the questions we ask in life, and the answers we give. All this affects what we consider important in existence, what we consider trivial, and what we consider irrelevant, or simply incomprehensible.
My point is simply that the matters Booming brought up are irrelevant to this. You yourself suggested this:
“ The average 17th century person was too busy working in the field and trying to survive another day. Life expectancy in those days was around 30, and parents lost most of their kids to all kinds of diseases.”
Allow me to slightly correct you, however. Life expectancy was low precisely due to the high infant mortality. Most people who lived past childhood could expect to become fifty. Many who had less physically demanding work reached seventy or even eighty—just like today.
Secondly, far from all people were so ‘busy working in the field and trying to survive another day’.
Thirdly, and most importantly, is the question: even if people were indeed ‘trying to survive another day’ (as some indeed were) most of the time, they were only so some of the time, not all time. What about the rest of the time?
Four hundred years ago there were almost three months of religious feast days every year in which people did not work: religious feasts (Candlemas; St Patrick’s; Michaelmas; and so on) in which they participated in religious ritual: Masses, processions, pilgrimages, etc. Often with much communal merriment after services.
And even on ordinary workdays people rested. What happened when the farmers and the fishermen came home from the fields, and the sea? What did they talk with their neighbours about? When conflicts of some kind arose, what did they argue? And what did the women talk about while they cooked, washed, and cleaned? Other than all the usual talk that we still see, what stories did parents tell their children, for example? When facing injustice or suffering, what thoughts crossed people’s minds? And so on, and so forth.
I have studied this for more than twenty years. I have studied thousands of individuals across thousands of miles and several centuries of history. I have studied and analysed hundreds of wills, and letters for example. And before you comment that those only reflect the thoughts of the literate: no. Iliterate people everywhere paid scribes to write their letters for them. Town squares would often feature a scribe who wrote dictated letters for a living. What did those people write about to their friends and relatives—sometimes across the great Ocean Sea?
You have no idea of what such documents reveal of the mentality of an era. How incredibly similar people were to us in some ways, and how incredibly different in others, just a few hundred years ago. This of course is true of all history: read Juvenal’s ‘Satires’, two thousand years old, and you’ll see what I mean.
So allow me to politely correct you: I likely know more about these matters than this entire forum put together. And yes, awe and wonder before the world was everywhere. Suffering is, simply put, irrelevant to the matter. The suffering of the Jew, of the homosexual, of the slave is completely beside the point: the homosexuals and the slaves fundamentally saw the world in the same way as the common man. Just like the overworked, underpaid factory worker today (gay or not), and the business executive (gay or not) typically share a common conceptual framework (that of empiricism, and physicalism), so did the slave master and the slave centuries ago. And whether they knew it or not, that framework was one of teleology.
As an analogy, think of it this way. All other things being equal, an atheist, a Buddhist, and a Christian will often see the world in different ways and respond differently to the same stimuli. This is purely because of their different conceptual frameworks: they see the world in different ways.
I hope this rudimentary example explains it somewhat. Now I must leave, but feel free to comment.
Wed, Jun 30, 2021, 12:26pm (UTC -5)
I'm puzzled why Booming or Omicron would be arguing so vociferously against any of this.
Wed, Jun 30, 2021, 12:53pm (UTC -5)
What you seem to have missed is that my original remark about the 17th century was in response to EventualZen's fantasy that the planet would be a wonderful place where no one would live in an apartment building if we could just get the population down to half a billion. I pointed out that this did not have to be a mere hypothetical thought experiment, because we have passed through a period of history when that was the population. It happened to be during the 17th century.
Absolutely nothing you have said, even if it were granted that every bit of it is true and that everything anyone has so far said against it is false (I don't grant these things, but even if you did), that doesn't have ANYTHING to do with population. Population growth did not cause the philosophical shifts you decry, and population reduction would not bring back the golden age of faith that you seem to believe existed in the 17th century.
Nor (which was my original point) did the lower population automatically lead to a distribution of resources that made everyone as comfortable as EventualZen's ideal.
If you're going to join the off-topic conversations on this forum, could you at least be on-topic for the off-topic?
Wed, Jun 30, 2021, 1:29pm (UTC -5)
Even with your extensive research I think you are facing more than just a shift in perceptual apparatus in inspecting the view of life of something from centuries ago. The issue is not just their view of the world, nor can it be limited to their own understanding of their 'happiness' within that framework. As we know from psychology, we form baselines, "new normals", that quickly adapt our sense of life - and even our perceptions - into re-interpreting similar data. So if a 17th century peasant wrote how excited they were at life's mysteries and the awe of the world, you don't actually know what that means. It's not like plugging them into an MRI machine retroactively. To them, what we consider a small spark of interest might have been "great excitement". It's entirely possible our baseline level of sensory excitement is much higher than it was in the past. In fact I'm almost certain this is true. I would personally not really dispute your points about the diminishing value of education and writing (and speaking), but in regard to how 'good' life felt back then I really think we're stuck and just can't know. What I do know is that I'm happier with the street not being filled with feces and having my olefactory system have to process that into a new normal. "Smells good out today!" sits well with me when it's springtime and flowers, not manure that I'm just used to.
If what we're talking about is ennui and a lack of situating oneself in a meaningful structure of life, this is simply the playing out of what Nietzsche said would happen when the magic was taken out of the metaphysics and turned into a materialist factory. But backward is not the right way to go to look for how to solve that.
Regarding how people in the past shared a common framework, namely the concept of teleology, I think you are vastly overstating the matter. It is a very old thing, for instance, that the wealthy and those in power had a distinctly different understanding of the power structures in place as compared to the peasants. You can look at the Roman Republic, for instance, and see the silhouette of a system apportioning some power to the patricians, some to the people, etc, but whereas it's true that all involved commonly understood it to be a system, that system was, I think, pretty well understood to be a power struggle. The peasants suspicious of the patricians; the patricians feeling superior to the peasants, and determining how best to placate them and make them feel important (not much as changed, eh?); and those in the positions of greatest power thinking of their power base first and the principles of the gods second, if at all. It was a religious culture, but where the trappings of their philosophy (even their famous Stoic philosophy) was probably more of a manner of public form than a commonly shared perceptual system based in teleology and virtues. Some people probably did things because it was the proper order of things, but just like in any age many probably cynically knew they did it because they had no choice.
Now fast forward to a time with a much larger world population, and more general education, like the U.S. in the mid-1800's. Put aside the slavery issue, and instead think of the local farmer or smith. First of all, I think these people were probably far more knowledgeable and informed about all sorts of things than almost anyone is today. They had many hands-on skills, and were savvy to the functioning of local governance and the state of the body politic in a way that I think few people are today. Today people mostly repeat sound bites they hear and call it "their opinion", or worse, "a fact." Back then there was much more awareness of how corruption works, how you can't trust things you hear unless you know where the conflicts of interest lie, and that spouting nonsense holds no candle to having real knowledge that works. I mention this not to rag on people of today (we have a much more complex world to contend with and our hands full with too much busy-work), but merely to point out that it's nigh impossible to generalize that these sorts of well-informed physical laborers merely saw all of life as having purpose (divine or otherwise) and themselves as comfortably fitting in within it. I think they saw a lot of things in shades of detail, and as the devil is in the details, their assessments no doubt matched the level of their particular understandings. It's today that people brush aside details in favor of broad narratives, left vs right, "social justice" vs "the racists", and so forth. To the extent that today people see themselves largely as participating in a massive trench war, I would call that highly teleological insofar as every statement and action gets interpreted via that larger political battle. You won't say or do things off the cuff that 'betray your side' regardless of how you feel in your heart. If this isn't seeing every little thing as participating in a larger purpose then I don't know what could qualify.
Yes, people in the past had God, and yes, to an extent the theology spelled out the cosmos quite cleanly at times. But to the extent that a Shakespeare came out of an Elizabethan society, I would propose to you that he was able to exist precisely because they did not have a uniform view of life, but rather a rather varied one that allowed for huge fluctuations in personal comportment and choices in life. Back then there were 'crazy people' and that was just a feature, not a bug. Back then people did and believed all sorts of things, and didn't need to curb their statements due to 'social stigma' of not going with the flow (excepting statements barred by the Queen's law). Even though many religious people (like Catholics) had to practice in secret, thus meaning it was a police state to an extent, nevertheless the culture was rife with a mixture of religion, superstition, 'wives' tales', myths, and other stuff up in the air that created an atmosphere of imaginative fruit. To me that's the opposite of a neatly-aligned mindframe. If anything I would argue that today you will find much more alarming, even bizarre, common ways to view life. You can go find 'liberals' or 'conservatives', and almost as if by magic have totally different people who've never met each other rattle off a list of "facts" about morality that are almost perfectly identical to each other. There is shockingly little variation! When meeting such people it's actually depressing that I can tell them their opinions before they even tell me what they are, and I'll almost certainly be close to the mark. Now THAT is a convergence of world view, the likes of which has probably never existed before. Even if you walked into a 15th century Catholic monastery I think you'd have found a far wider range of views of life then you're likely to find on the street today in a cosmopolitan city.
So while I appreciate many of the facts you cite, and in general don't have a problem with objecting to the idea that everything was so horrible in the past (which is a sort of counterpoint to its opposite, romanticism about the past), nevertheless I do not think it can logically hold to say that people today have no common views of life as compared to the past. I think the reverse is true. What I *would* agree with, however, is that on some level I don't think that the very dogmatic views that people today do hold in common are actually attractive to them if you go right down to the bottom. It's sort of like, rabidly clinging to a dogma that you think you'll die without, but meanwhile it's making you miserable. So to the extent that certain dogmas in history did exist, I suspect they were more life-affirming than many of those popularly held at present on both sides of the social spectrum.
Wed, Jun 30, 2021, 1:30pm (UTC -5)
"As much as life has improved in the past few centuries, we are still an immature barbaric species. Our 24th century descendants will not remember us fondly, and they will not be mistaken."
If humanity really evolves they will hopefully see us more like children than barbarians.
Wed, Jun 30, 2021, 11:36pm (UTC -5)
"I'm puzzled why Booming or Omicron would be arguing so vociferously against any of this."
Because Pedro's cynical argument is not just wrong, but downright dangerous.
It's the classic fundamentalist rant against any kind of progress: "In the good old days we had God and morality and values. Then came the enlightenment and ruined everything".
And it's combined with the even worse argument that 17th century people were affected less by death and suffering. That the persecuted in those days had a similar point of view to the oppressors.
It's downright embarrassing to see such a view on a Star Trek forum.
So are you still puzzled, Jason? ;-)
Thu, Jul 1, 2021, 1:35am (UTC -5)
"I am speaking of the way we perceive the cosmos, and life itself. This affects the questions we ask in life, and the answers we give. All this affects what we consider important in existence, what we consider trivial, and what we consider irrelevant, or simply incomprehensible."
Yes, and you are wrong.
The notion that the people of the 17th century considered their day-to-day suffering "irrelevant" is absurd. The idea that - somehow - they considered losing over half their kids to disease "trivial" is downright monstrous.
"Life expectancy was low precisely due to the high infant mortality. Most people who lived past childhood could expect to become fifty."
So basically you're saying that if we ignore all the dead kids, life was great back then? Not sure how this is supposed to be a counter-argument to my statement.
And it's not even true (see below).
"Many who had less physically demanding work reached seventy or even eighty—just like today."
Only those who were lucky.
Many died at age 10 or 20 or 30 or 40. Infection could get you at any time. The fact that a lucky minority managed to live to a ripe old age does not this fact.
It's a bit like cancer and traffic accidents today. Only in those days, the death rates were far higher.
"[all the rest]"
The rest of your argument boils down to saying "people back then where all religious, so they all had a similar world view". You're narrowing the entirety of human experience to one aspect of it.
And that's simply false.
No, the noblemen and the slaves of the 17th century did *not* have a similar world view, even though they all believed in the Bible.
No, a present-day billionaire has virtually nothing in common with an underpaid worker, even though they might both believe in the god called "the almighty dollar".
Also, there isn't necessarily a connection between belief in God and a sense of connection and awe. I know plenty of religious people who are completely disconnected from reality. People who are mindless zealots who parrot what their priests tell them and have exactly zero sense of awe and wonder.
I also know of a quite a few atheists who have deeply spiritual and meaningful lives.
In short, the two things have absolutely nothing to do with one another (and I say this as a religious person).
Thu, Jul 1, 2021, 2:55am (UTC -5)
"I also know of a quite a few atheists who have deeply spiritual and meaningful lives."
The most influential German theologian of the 20th century (Bonhoeffer) actually wrote about that. He started out seeking the ideal almost monk like life, closed off with fellow believers. His second phase was going out into the world, arguing with people for what he believed and his third phase was understanding that atheists also believe and were as good and quite a few times more moral and ethical than religious people. He found that out in a concentration camp where he wrote his last thoughts down on toilet paper.
Thu, Jul 1, 2021, 7:54am (UTC -5)
I am unsure how to evaluate a statement like this, because I suppose it depends on how much you care about superficialities like square footage of a dwelling or what kind of car you drive or whether you take the subway to work or whether you fly to France for your holiday versus camping in an RV, whether you drink tap water or bottled water, etc....
But I'd suggest to you that none of these things radically change a person's worldview and core values, especially if the said billionaire didn't start out rich.
If you grow up living in a big modern city or suburb in a 21st century first world democracy with heated homes, indoor plumbing, unlimited high calorie food and basic healthcare and standardized K-13 education, the similarities with another person in that venue, no matter his race or social status, is going to be far greater than difference, end of story.
I don't know if Pedro's portrayal of 17th century people is accurate or not but I do know this: whatever people were like back then, however they experienced suffering or viewed their spirituality, 1) It was not the same as how a 21st century first worlders does and 2) you're bonkers if you think you can even scratch the surface of this topic without a shit-ton of research and the only guy here who claims to have done any research is Pedro.
Thu, Jul 1, 2021, 8:50am (UTC -5)
But easy access to elite education and the highest levers of power certainly does. Or in other words if George W. Bush's father would not have been very rich and president then George W. would have died a poor alcoholic in a ditch. To use a not so famous quote of George W. he gave to a class of students at Yale, his alma mater: "And to the C students I want to say, you too can be president." I mean it's a funny joke, still that's elitism worldview talking in a pure form.
If you are part of the elite it means different tastes, worldviews, even speech patterns and so on. A person from the elite has barely anything in common with a poor person living or working in the same city. A process that has gotten far more pronounced over the last few decades with gated communities, private security, private schools, private airports and that list goes on.
"I don't know if Pedro's portrayal of 17th century people is accurate "
It is not. I had to skim his text because I could barely stomach all that nonsense. I could have written a paragraph long correction about almost every sentence of his sociological or political analysis. He does not even have a basic understanding of both fields. His desire for a different society is obviously driving his views and interests. When he made the argument that people had democracy because in some parts they elected some officials, I thought I would lose my mind.
Here take your pick:
Thu, Jul 1, 2021, 9:19am (UTC -5)
"I mean it's a funny joke, still that's elitism worldview talking in a pure form."
All you seem to be describing is that there is still a form of class system in America, which IMO you can file under "duh". What is on the table is whether this means that the people on opposite sides of the fence see the world in significantly different ways or not. For instance, if a working class (aka poor) family thinks that "man, it would be great to live on easy street, have opportunities fall in your lap, fly around in your private jet, and be a big shot" then really the only difference between them and the big shot is that one is the difference between a have and a have-not. The desires are the same, the view of the world (i.e. that it's a place where your goal is to be rich) is the same, and even your contempt at the failure of others may be the same. And it's not evident to me at all that there are clear class-based differences in *economic values* in America, for instance. There are other, sometimes weird, values that may differ. Like for instance there's a theory floating around that some of the ultra-elites care about bloodlines and legacy, which probably is not something that's part of a working class valuation of life. But to the extent that this is a vestigial remnant of aristocratic culture it's may end up being something like a sub-cultural quirk (like D&D players who value the guy who's memorized the monster manual stats) more so than a view of how the world works.
"I could have written a paragraph long correction about almost every sentence of his sociological or political analysis. He does not even have a basic understanding of both fields."
I think you've said things like this in other threads before, but I would like to once again point out that having training or understanding in academic fields is in no way requisite to knowing things about the world. Now does a person need to have training in...say...mathematics to understand formal proofs? Almost certainly. But do you need to go to sociology class in order to be able to look someone in the face and say they look unhappy, or to read a diary from 200 years ago and describe their self-reported experience of life? Hell no. In fact that argument seems to almost imply that no one other than experts in a field can even read a text and understand what the words mean.
Thu, Jul 1, 2021, 9:30am (UTC -5)
Thu, Jul 1, 2021, 9:49am (UTC -5)
I thought your field of study was far right groups in present times. You study 17th century societies now?
Thu, Jul 1, 2021, 10:17am (UTC -5)
Take toilets. The first time I had to squat over a hole in the ground in South America and later Asia, I was unhappy. It was offputting and very uncomfortable. Not just physically so, but culturally. It just felt wrong. Like I was doing something shameful.
And I say to myself, surely anyone would prefer a nice comfy seat to squatting over a hole. But I was focusing on comfort, where comfort was beside the point. Later when I was in Asia, I noticed some trains gave you a choice between western toilets and asian style (I.e. the squat hole) People were choosing to squat over a hole because they liked it better than sitting on a comfy seat.
I am not for a second suggesting that what toilet you use is comparable to losing a child to typhus nor that the latter isn't horrible in any century.
But look at the infant mortality rates for 17th century Europeans and forget the peasantry - look at the kings! You can go down a list of births and strike off more than half before they even reached their 18th birthdays. These were the well fed, well sheltered royalty! It is literally factual that death was a common, everyday part of life in that century.
Was it horrible to lose a child in 17th century England? Presumably. Could people have reacted to it the way that a 21st century urban soccer mom or a Walmart checkout mother would if her 6 year old got run over by a bus or died of cancer?
Not if they had a functioning society they didn't!
It's asinine to begin to compare experiences between our time and that time. I have no idea how 17th century people experienced death and suffering and unless you've researched the topic extensively, neither do you.
Thu, Jul 1, 2021, 2:53pm (UTC -5)
I try to keep this short. Experiences between classes differ far more than most people believe. And about experience and science. When he told me I had to study Roman law because that is as good as a constitution, I guess, and said that people had democracy because in some cities some people could vote. That was aimed at that.
"I thought your field of study was far right groups in present times. You study 17th century societies now?"
The study of political science starts with Xenophon, then Plato and other writers of that era, then Machiavelli and Hobbes and so on. When you read about these authors you also get a healthy dose of historical background. Hobbes "Leviathan" (published mid 17th century)has to be understood in the context of the English Civil war, for example. It is also a personal interest. Right now I'm reading democracy in america from tocqueville.
"I am not going to speak to the specifics of anything Pedro said but I'll just share a small observation I made in my own life, which is that people not only adapt to almost any circumstance, they often grow to like what they're used to."
I get the point but the thousands of slaves dying every year in the silver mines of Potosi were certainly not happy. Same goes for many women who were basically sold of to somebody who had the right to beat or rape them. Birth was a nightmare. The chance for a women to die during childbirth was 1 in 7. Or try to get a tooth removed without anesthesia. You would run around for weeks with horrible pain and then some half drunk Barber would just rip a few teeth out, hoping to pull out the right one. In many regions in Europe people were often starving. I'm pretty sure that they didn't do that with a smile and tune on their lips. That's why they often had uprisings and rebellions almost constantly and let's not forget the endless wars with barely any rules. Rape, plundering, pulverizing property with cannons.
"It's asinine to begin to compare experiences between our time and that time."
I just said that they had for example slavery and I feel comfortable enough to say that slavery is always bad. :)
Thu, Jul 1, 2021, 4:02pm (UTC -5)
I suggest that when you proclaim ignorance, you stop at the one person whose level ignorance you are not, well, ignorant of: yourself.
It is fine to say you don't know things about history. It is not fine to say "neither do you" to everyone else, when you don't necessarily know what background each person may have.
It sounds to me as if Booming, for example, has had an academic education in political science that would include a lot of history, with an emphasis on the parts that impact political science. I have had a lot of history, with an emphasis on the parts that impact theology, religious practice, and pastoral counseling (including grief counseling).
I would venture to guess that a lot of people here know a lot more about a lot more things than we would automatically know about each other from conversations we happen to have read so far. We have whole lives off this forum, after all.
It's fine if you find Pedro's explanations of his position more convincing than other people's explanations of their own disagreement with that position. It's not fine to state that he must be the one who knows the most. You don't have any way of knowing that.
Thu, Jul 1, 2021, 6:14pm (UTC -5)
In the context of the discussion, I made the inference that those that failed to raise expertise in this subject didn't have any. Booming, in particular, has never been shy about claiming to be an expert about things.
And to be clear, general knowledge of "history" isn't necessarily equivalent to what I was talking about.
Fri, Jul 2, 2021, 2:52am (UTC -5)
"Booming, in particular, has never been shy about claiming to be an expert about things."
That comes with the territory. I have degrees in sociology and political science and because of the topics Star Trek deals with I often have an expert knowledge. If this was a forum that dealt with crime novels, then I could not really add anything. Same is true when people here talk about the physics, there I only have surface level knowledge. I guess, thinking about Peter's critique, I could be more careful in pointing out when I'm giving my personal opinion and when I relay scientific knowledge.
In the case of Pedro I was mostly vexed by his presentation. He made the argument that people had a certain mindset in 1700, I guess everywhere in Europe, which is just nonsense and as a historian he should know that. For example we know very little about how the lower classes felt because most couldn't write and the few that could seldom were willing to spent a significant amount of money to purchase paper to write their thoughts down and when that tiny minority did then all the ancestors of these few from 1700 until know had to preserve their writings. Omicron got it exactly right. What Pedro wrote wasn't really about 1700, it was about today. Basically we should all be religious and read more Cervantes/Shakespeare which is also idiotic because today far more people on average have seen or read Shakespeare or Cervantes then in 1700. It is pure reactionary thought. I noticed it immediately.
Thx. The critique of mine is not unjustified, I often write very long posts and then think "nobody wants to know that" cut it down more and more which then creates misunderstanding and maybe my presentation in general is sometimes weak. I don't know.
Fri, Jul 2, 2021, 5:53am (UTC -5)
Truthfully I didn't see his post as nearly so politically charged as you did hence my surprise.
Fri, Jul 2, 2021, 7:20am (UTC -5)
Whether Pedro's posts are "politically charged" is debatable.
What isn't debatable, is that his view of the era are oversimplistic and grossly optimistic. And that his view of our present day is just biased in the opposite direction.
I refer you to an excellent bit of common sense which you've written yourself:
"Was it horrible to lose a child in 17th century England? Presumably. Could people have reacted to it the way that a 21st century urban soccer mom or a Walmart checkout mother would if her 6 year old got run over by a bus or died of cancer? Not if they had a functioning society they didn't!"
And I agree completely (on both counts).
See how far simple common sense can get you?
And that's the problem with Pedro's comments. They defy common sense. They present the life of the 17th century as an absurdly rosy caricature: "Awe and wonder was everywhere"... "suffering was irrelevant"... It's all so one-sided that it is impossible to take seriously.
Fri, Jul 2, 2021, 8:47am (UTC -5)
I think you've made a bit of a confusion in your argument. You wrote this:
"And I agree completely (on both counts).
See how far simple common sense can get you?
And that's the problem with Pedro's comments. They defy common sense.
They present the life of the 17th century as an absurdly rosy caricature: "Awe
and wonder was everywhere"... "suffering was irrelevant"... It's all so one-
sided that it is impossible to take seriously."
But in agreeing with Jason R. you're actually agreeing with Pedro as well, whose point was that people overstate the extent to which life was horrible in the past (even for the underclasses). Jason R. seems to be pointing out that there's just no way people 400 years ago could have had the same experience we have today in dealing with a terrible loss, because they just had so many more of them. If they experienced them how we do, they couldn't have even carried on functional lives. It follows from this that our POV of suffering is different from how it used to be. This is also what I meant above about shifting baselines.
What I think people are finding so objectionable is Pedro's proposed explanation of *why* people back then were able to endure more than we are today while seemingly still having a sense of awe and wonder at the world (according to his research). His proposition is that it's because all of their lived experiences were oriented within a hierarchically structured framework where everything had a purpose, and every life (and every suffering) a meaning. I think this strikes some people as a religious argument, which is automatically anathema to them.
For the most part I think people in the past were probably more prone to attach meanings to even insignificant events, like even weather events. So suggesting that teleology was more prevalent seems reasonable. Whether this means they shared a common view of life, I questioned above, but I do think it at minimum means they had a different conception of cause and effect than most people do now. The question is whether this materially is the reason why suffering was more tolerable back then, and whether if we changed our outlook now we could improve ourselves. To the extent that people now are having what is sometimes called a "meaning crisis" I think it is evident that, yes, life now could be improved by the ability to understand otherwise material events as being deeply meaningful on a level beyond our individual lives. But even that doesn't confirm that historical people really shared a common view of life as being ordered and meaningful, and that this allowed them to experience life in a better way. I'm no expert, but I suspect that merely the fact of suffering being a constant in historic life would be sufficient to explain their differing view to ours on how grave a serious loss is. You won't feel the same way about a booboo if you've had gout or toothaches or migraines your whole life. You also won't quite see even the loss of a child the same way if you've been brought up knowing how common it is, and especially if you've already experienced it through other friends and family. Back then it was entirely possible that many young or even older children experienced their newborn siblings dying; so once they became mothers it wasn't a sudden shock that this could really happen. All of these factors go into it, and so to the extent that one's metaphysical outlook may play into it as well, I do agree with you, Omicron, that it's an oversimplification to try to reduce this entire life experience to one dimension of analysis.
Fri, Jul 2, 2021, 8:57am (UTC -5)
Fri, Jul 2, 2021, 9:01am (UTC -5)
Fri, Jul 2, 2021, 9:06am (UTC -5)
Fri, Jul 2, 2021, 10:25am (UTC -5)
Pedro's first post is very much about the christian religion and it's philosophical offspring scholasticism and how aweful everything afterwards was and to what a terrible society it has led.
"In short, you didn’t have materialism in the philosophical sense. Quite the contrary, the world was animated (as in infused with souls). It was, in effect, an enchanted garden. Rapture and awe was everywhere.
The principal manifestation of this momentous difference was of course religion, which was also part of the cause."
"But it is safe to say that there was much to scholastic thought that was good. It was an entire worldview which, very fundamentally, spoke to us as human beings, and not parts of some great machine. To be sure, the world, life, existence itself was harsher four hundred years ago. But it was also much more amazing, and inspiring. And it was also—make no mistake—much more human. "
Fri, Jul 2, 2021, 11:02am (UTC -5)
"But in agreeing with Jason R. you're actually agreeing with Pedro as well, whose point was that people overstate the extent to which life was horrible in the past (even for the underclasses)."
No. Pedro's point was much stronger and more extreme than that.
You might want to reread his comments.
"It follows from this that our POV of suffering is different from how it used to be. This is also what I meant above about shifting baselines."
True... up to a point.
But this concept of shifting baselines is a far cry from claiming that - to the people of the past - losing a child was no big deal.
"What I think people are finding so objectionable is Pedro's proposed explanation of *why* people back then were able to endure more than we are today while seemingly still having a sense of awe and wonder at the world (according to his research)."
I find both his "what" and his "why" to be objectionable.
Even if we ignore the "why", I find the idea that people thought "suffering is irrelevant" to be downright obnoxious. The idea that the people of the 17th century simply didn't care when a child died or their friends where arbitrarily executed, is downright insulting towards these people.
Shifting baselines - yes. A trivialization of suffering - no.
As for the "why":
The problem with Pedro's agrument is that there's nothing special about religion. I honestly don't see any functional difference between the religious dogma of the 17th century and the secular dogmas that shape our society today.
There are many ways to connect to the cosmos.
There are many ways to find meaning in life.
There are many ways to cope with suffering and misfortune.
And the craziest thing about Pedro's argument is his claim that our knowledge of the scientific world somehow damaged our ability to (1) connect with the cosmos and (2) be happy.
It's crazy, because the unrest in modern society stems from the exact opposite of rational scientific thought. Modern unhappiness stems from dogmatic cult-like thinking which has absolutely nothing to do with science. Ironically, it stems from the very same forces that drove religion in the 17th century.
And that's not a good thing.
"I don't think Pedro's argument is that we should turn back the clock. I think it's that we had something that we've lost in our understanding of life. "
The problem is that you can't have one without the other.
The thing that we have "lost" is a false sense of certainty. It may have felt good, but it also came at a heavy price.
Fri, Jul 2, 2021, 4:17pm (UTC -5)
In the end I should just wait for Pedro to answer for himself. But I think you are strawmanning his argument such as it is. He did not say that suffering was irrelevant to people on the past. And to the extent that he said that religion was the primary *manifestation* of teleology back then, I do see this arhument being taken as a backdoor appeal to religion, whereas in fact I don't read it that way.
Sun, Jul 4, 2021, 7:13am (UTC -5)
“Why am I even defending someone who won't defend himself??”
I appreciate the sentiment, and your various comments, which I tend to agree with .
But the question is: Why should I attempt to defend myself? And more to the point: Why am I being attacked, and not engaged?
I have declared war on no-one, and do not engage in internet wars. I shall attempt—to use Peter G.’s fine phrasing—to explain myself only.
In any case, thanks for your comments. I seem to remember reading that you are a lawyer. I shall adapt part of my answer to Peter G. to include law in the seventeenth century, hoping that it may be of some interest to you.
Sun, Jul 4, 2021, 7:23am (UTC -5)
First of all, thank you for your comments. I suggest you read my response to Peter G. also.
The following is to clarify a few of your misconceptions, attempting to exemplify what ‘worldview’ means, and how that of the seventeenth century differed vastly from that of our present times.
@Omicron wrote: “The notion that the people of the 17th century considered their day-to-day suffering "irrelevant" is absurd. The idea that - somehow - they considered losing over half their kids to disease "trivial" is downright monstrous.”
I agree entirely. But where did I say that? I am not speaking of suffering; I am speaking of worldviews. Listen to Peter: his reading is more accurate than yours. Simply put, you are inserting yourself, the subject instead of debating the object, what I wrote.
@Omicron wrote: “The rest of your argument boils down to saying "people back then where all religious, so they all had a similar world view". You're narrowing the entirety of human experience to one aspect of it.”
No. You are boiling down worldview to personal ethics. That is the flawed reductionism.
My argument is about what questions people asked of the world, of life, and existence, and importantly, what ways people had of answering them. All this ‘boils down’ to matters of ontology, ethics, metaphysics, epistemology, and so forth: the main branches of philosophy, those ages-old questions of humanity that have been answered in such different ways by different ages.
@Omicron wrote: “No, the noblemen and the slaves of the 17th century did *not* have a similar world view, even though they all believed in the Bible.”
You are conflating social class with worldview.
The nobleman and the slave certainly had different systems of ethics. But consider the following:
—If I were to ask the nobleman and the slave 'What is fire?', they would both answer something about *Divine creation* making fire one of the four elements.
—If I were to ask ‘Why do children look like their parents?’ their answers would likely involve *Divine command* to *pro-create*: to create by proxy of the Creator.
—If I were to ask ‘How can birds fly?’ their answers would likely attempt to say something about *Divine will* granting birds wings for that *purpose*.
—And if I were to ask ‘Why did the seaman drown and die?’ their answers would likely involve *Divine Providence* calling that seaman to judgement: because God willed him to go to Heaven or Hell.
The nobleman might perhaps elaborate. He might perhaps say that the death of the seaman had a telos or *purpose* that was the *causa finalis* of all human life: to stand before God, the ultimate end goal of existence.
The slave of course would not know such finer points. But in essence his answers would be the same as the nobleman’s: for they shared the same worldview.
@Omicron wrote: “No, a present-day billionaire has virtually nothing in common with an underpaid worker, even though they might both believe in the god called "the almighty dollar.”
You are repeating the same mistake. Consider now:
—If I ask the millionaire and the factory worker ‘What is fire?’ they will both answer something involving chemistry and combustion.
—If I ask ‘Why do children look like their parents?’ their answers will involve something about genetics.
—If I ask ‘How can airplanes fly?’ their answers will likely attempt to say something about aerodynamics and thrust.
—And If I ask ‘Why did the seaman drown and die?’ they will both answer that he died because he fell overboard, and his lungs were filled with water.
The millionaire and the worker will likely have different personal ethics, yes. But they share the same worldview: they *see the world* in the same terms. And those are not the ones in which the nobleman and the slave saw the world four hundred years ago.
But more. Empiricist, causal explanations, by looking at the cause leading to the effect, explain events in the future with events in the past. Whereas scholastic explanations by looking at the perceived purposes of things—the individual causa finalis of things—do the exact opposite: they explain events in the past with events in the future.
This is what is seen in the last of those questions above, Why did the seaman drown and die? The two ages not only have entirely different ways of answering this type of question, of paramount importance for human understanding. Modern reasoning outright inverts the former way of thinking. It looks for rational past causes to explain things where the former looked for perceived future ends, or purposes.
As such, everything ultimately ‘made sense’ in former age and was seen to fulfil some ‘higher purpose’, inscrutable to mortal men as it might seem. Modern reasoning is the diametrical opposite of seventeenth-century reasoning. It inverts the very logic and in the process empties events of purpose, or meaning.
Consider therefore the two pairs of questions below.
(From the perspective of the common seventeenth-century man, the first two quesions would be especially related to *matter* as per Plato’s Theory of Forms (or body in Aristotelian Hylomorphism): ‘What is the concrete thing, the bolt of lightning, and the quake?’ Whereas the latter two would be the object of questions rather concerning the *form* itself, or soul, respectively: ‘What are these abstract notions, love, thoughts, dreams?’ Hence, the divide in the answers of seventeenth-century man between (i) Divine Providence and (ii) Creation).
If one were to ask, ‘What is thunder and lightning?’
— 17th C. Scholasticism — Divine Providence, reducible to awe and wonder
— 21st C. Physicalism — Electricity, reducible to physics
If one were to ask, ‘What are volcano eruptions, and earthquakes?’
— 17th C. Scholasticism — Divine Providence, reducible to awe and wonder
— 21st C. Physicalism — Tectonics, reducible to physics
If one were to ask, ‘What is life?’
— 17th C. Scholasticism — Divine creation, reducible to awe and wonder
— 21st C. Physicalism — Biochemistry, reducible to physics
If one were finally to ask, ‘What is love?’ and ‘What are thoughts, and dreams?’
— 17th C. Scholasticism — Divine creation, reducible to awe and wonder
— 21st C. Physicalism — Neurochemistry and electrochemistry, reducible to physics
And so on, and so forth: What are the mountains, and the seas? What are the winds, and the storms? What is the growth of the child? What is memory, and forgetfulness? What is the soul?
In comparison, virtually any profound question about the world and existence itself would be answered vastly differently by seventeenth-century man. This reflects the vastly different way in which he viewed the world: his worldview.
@Omicron wrote: “Also, there isn't necessarily a connection between belief in God and a sense of connection and awe. I know plenty of religious people who are completely disconnected from reality.”
I am speaking of the seventeenth century. Why do you keep talking about the twenty-first?
Sun, Jul 4, 2021, 8:19am (UTC -5)
And to you Pedro, while now also playing the victim card, you made several contentious statements.
Finishing your first part off with this "I don’t know about you, but I call this something tremendous that we have lost."
then you continue and again finish it off with this.
"This is what we have lost: awe and wonder."
" Thinkers of the seventeenth century are to our present thinkers as TOS is to Star Trek: Discovery." ouch.
"Increasingly, people are discontent. Increasingly there is discord. Frustration. Depression, and desperation. Isolation, and loneliness. We are increasingly becoming strangers to ourselves."
Is that so? Suicide rates are going down for decades now, same is true for crime. The amount of people who say that they are happy is also going up in most western countries, depression rates have gone down accordingly. While you certainly can make whatever argument you like about the past, how about providing a few facts about this mental crisis you talk about. Not opinion, facts!
"And we can no longer cope with anything."
Fellow soldiers of mine after their service on the Balkans, where they saw horrible stuff, could choose their next assignment, as a courtesy. They chose to go to French WW2 cemeteries and worked there for a few weeks to cope with those. Maybe I should call them and tell them what a bunch of weaklings you think they are.
So now to pretend that you just wanted to write an innocent little piece about different worldviews while also pretending to not understand why people got mad at you is really...
Most of what you write tells us very little about how the world then was and especially is today but a lot about how you see it. To summarize
Sun, Jul 4, 2021, 8:42am (UTC -5)
“ If one were to ask, ‘What are volcano eruptions, and earthquakes?’
— 17th C. Scholasticism — Divine Providence, reducible to awe and wonder
— 21st C. Physicalism — Tectonics, reducible to physics”
There were agnostics with scientific explanations during the Age of Enlightenment. Maybe their theories turned out to be wrong, but saying everyone in the 17th century attributed natural phenomena to a god is a gross oversimplification. Maybe in 3rd century B.C. Greece, but the 17th century? Come on!
Sun, Jul 4, 2021, 9:50am (UTC -5)
For the most part Tomalak and Rahul. I always wonder if they understand that they are hurting themselves more than they hurt me. I often even forget that I'm ignoring them. I pity them a little, you cannot be happy if you behave that way.
Sun, Jul 4, 2021, 6:00pm (UTC -5)
"Is that so? Suicide rates are going down for decades now, same is true for crime. The amount of people who say that they are happy is also going up in most western countries, depression rates have gone down accordingly. While you certainly can make whatever argument you like about the past, how about providing a few facts about this mental crisis you talk about. Not opinion, facts!"
As a sociologist you ought to know that trying to link suicide and self-report happiness questionnaires to a discussion about worldview and well-being is sloppy thinking at best. The (arguable) data on a couple of particular stats don't directly address a claim made about whether a change in understanding about teleology has been detrimental to our age. You have no way of measuring which factors affect so-called happiness in a positive direction, to be able to make declarative statements about whether metaphysical worldview is accounted for. In other words, stats won't answer the question. Now to be fair you are challenging Pedro to provide stats, but that assumes one is even capable of doing so. The social sciences are still baby fields one and all, and these types of analyses - in effect, trying to create quantitative methods for philosophical fields - are simply way out of reach. So it's not a reasonable demand to make.
"There were agnostics with scientific explanations during the Age of Enlightenment. Maybe their theories turned out to be wrong, but saying everyone in the 17th century attributed natural phenomena to a god is a gross oversimplification. Maybe in 3rd century B.C. Greece, but the 17th century? Come on!"
That's not what he said. He was talking about world view, of which religion and science are two parts but not the entirety. It seems to me fairly obviously, actually, to assert that prior to fairly recently (maybe late 1800's) most people assumed an understandable reason behind earthly events. It's a relatively new phenomenon that people (such as the pragmatists) could assert that there is actually no "why" to learn, only mechanics to figure out so that you engineer and jerry-rig things in nature the way you want them. In other words, the idea that the universe is a bunch of stuff to move around and physics just tells you how to move it around, is by no means how even skeptical people in the 17th century would have thought of it. If you asked a person back then whether there was a purpose behind things being the way they are, it would have taken an odd duck to tell you there wasn't. It was really Darwinian ideas that brought to the fore the concept that things could actually happen just at random, and for no formal reason at all other than they happened to settle that way.
Sun, Jul 4, 2021, 8:05pm (UTC -5)
>The reason cities are crowded is not because they are "overpopulated." They are crowded because that's how many people it takes to do the kind of work that's done there.
Going back to what I said about automation, even if I'm wrong about the time period (may be it will take a lot longer than I suggested), don't you think your argument will no longer apply once robots or AI do most of the work?
>Solar power and fusion are the way to go in the long run.
What if we never develop economical fusion power?
@Pedro de Quintanilha
>Is it not possible, then, that many of the assumptions we have of past times, if ill-informed, based on our present worldviews, sensibilities, and concerns, and failing to understand those of the age under scrutiny,
I'm curious as to what you thought of the Voyager episode “Living Witness”. It makes me think of how history will judge our society.
This thread has gone off topic, I've been meaning to e-mail @Jammer about starting a general chat page for this kind of thing. What do you guys think?
Sun, Jul 4, 2021, 10:12pm (UTC -5)
Not to imply you meant it this way, EventualZen, but usually the overpopulation story is accompanied by some kind of statement about how the human race is a blight. Sort of reminds me of Agent Smith's monologue in The Matrix.
Mon, Jul 5, 2021, 1:41am (UTC -5)
This part of my critique of Pedro's argument was aimed at his assertion that the people today are depressed and isolated. This part "Increasingly, people are discontent. Increasingly there is discord. Frustration. Depression, and desperation. Isolation, and loneliness. We are increasingly becoming strangers to ourselves."
So I provided a few data points. You are correct of course depression rates and happiness scales (in itself always debatable; what is happiness) can correlate but the issue is far more complicated. Still the fact remains, that since the 1990 most mental health indicators in the majority of Western countries have improved, minus the USA though. If he makes the claim that Western societies are in a such a dire state, as he claims they are, then I would like to see a few stats to back that up.
His general claim that people were mentally healthier in 1700 than today is of course impossible to proof which turns his entire argument into an improvable hypothesis and creating a hypothesis that cannot be falsified is just bad science. I don't know where he got his scientific training but at my alma mater we learned that during our first semester.
A general discussion thread... if we could get a gentlewomen/gentlemen agreement going that when a debate goes off topic we switch it over to the general discussion thread then that could be a good addition.
Mon, Jul 5, 2021, 1:43am (UTC -5)
Mon, Jul 5, 2021, 8:09am (UTC -5)
I confess I must not be reading Pedro's posts closely enough because it seems like we are reading different things.
Did he actually make the claim that people were "mentally healthier" in the 17th century?
I read his latest post clarifying his position on "worldview", and it was bang on with what I remembered from his earlier post and it bore no resemblance to what you and Omicron claimed to be arguing against.
Mon, Jul 5, 2021, 8:15am (UTC -5)
1. Someone claims that the Earth would be better off with 500,000,000 people.
2) Someone else notes that we had 500,000,000 people in the 17th century and it sucked.
3) Pedro comes in and makes a very tangential point about life in the 17th century that implies that in *some ways* people were mentally healthier in the 17th century.
But see, I am not sure he actually made any kind of blanket statement lauding how great 17th century life was. I think Booming and Omicron may have inferred that from context and not from what was actually said.
Anyway I have no appetite to forensically audit this thread.
But bottom line I see nothing terrible in his latest post. It seems kind of obvious, frankly.
Mon, Jul 5, 2021, 8:50am (UTC -5)
"Did he actually make the claim that people were "mentally healthier" in the 17th century?"
He strongly implies that yes. If his intention was not to contrast 1700 with today then why even bring up his view of today's mental health?
His first long post can be separated in two parts. One is about how full of awe and wonder everything was in 1700, the other part is about how awful life is today.
If I write that in Islamic countries everybody is happy and then write that in the West everybody is sad. Do I have to specifically say: "Islamic countries better than Western countries" to turn this into a comparison?
Mon, Jul 5, 2021, 8:54am (UTC -5)
“I am not sure he actually made any kind of blanket statement lauding how great 17th century life was.”
To be fair, he did make several statements (which Booming quoted) saying that people today are more barbarous in some ways. Personally, I don’t really see the stakes of the argument. Why couldn’t people today follow a 17th century style of thinking and live in an Amish community or the like if they chose? It seems like a false dichotomy.
Mon, Jul 5, 2021, 9:05am (UTC -5)
Alternatively, he may be arguing that people in the 21st century aren't necessarily happy because their bellies are full and they have Netflix while conversely people in the 17th century weren't necessarily unhappy because they were exposed routinely to deprivation we would find intolerable
*without* purporting to claim that one set of people were happier than the other in absolute terms.
That was my read on it anyway.
Noah Harari's book Homo Deus has a few chapters on this topic and he does a good job of setting out the difficulty in actually improving human happiness. I believe he also (like Peter G.) takes issue with the use of suicide stats as a proxy for happiness.
Mon, Jul 5, 2021, 10:06am (UTC -5)
@ Booming wrote:
"He strongly implies that yes. If his intention was not to contrast 1700 with today then why even bring up his view of today's mental health?"
I am not convinced the issue at hand was mental health as you understand it. It's more like, how does your understanding of reality affect your perception of adversity, and maybe more importantly, your perception of your fellow man. The overpopulation issue on Gideon seems to me to at least imply that due to a low birth rate, one's fellow sentients turn from potential comrades into a blight, a nemesis to be dealt with. Every element of life becomes a struggle for space or resources, where others exist only to take away from you. Now what interests me isn't whether overpopulation itself is actually causing this (I see no way this is true, since I do not believe we have overpopulation), but rather to at least ask which sorts of conditions can lead to dehumanizing others and making them come across as problems to be gotten rid of. I'll address this on context of the next user comment.
@ Walter wrote:
"To be fair, he did make several statements (which Booming quoted) saying that people today are more barbarous in some ways."
Let's leave off 'mental health' (which is an ill-defined term in the first place) and focus on how we see others. If one were to argue that we're more barbarous now in terms of doing murders, going to war incessantly, or other factors like that, I would say it's pretty obvious we are becoming more civilized rather than more barbarous over time. But if we focus on the interpersonal rather than the national, and on opinion of others rather than crazed isolated actions (which in the West are far fewer for many reasons which include law enforcement), I think I could make a case for an increase in barbarism. Just look at the worldwide epidemic of left vs right battle lines, with increasing rifts not only in political propositions but even in terms of who one will be friends with. Sure, maybe in AD 1605 people would get into bar brawls and bust heads, maybe killing a guy now and then. And sure, the kings were always looking to sack and loot other nations. But I somehow don't think it was the case that half the populace thought the other half was irreconcilably evil, which is increasingly the case now. To the extent that in The Mark of Gideon the reason to conduct a project of massive murder was due to the low quality of life due to overpopulation, it's perhaps a murky reason the episode provides that someone would turn against their fellows for some 'greater good'. It may be hard for us to swallow that particular line of reasoning. But there are plenty of other lines of reasoning that will seem perfectly palatable about how the evil or undesirable part of the population 'needs to be stopped' and maybe punished. Maybe it doesn't amount to a genocidal impulse in our present context, but it's certainly on the spectrum of dehumanization.
So in an effort to keep the discussion about modern barbarism and worldview on topic to the episode, I guess I would at least propose that Pedro's claims (as I read them) do apply in the sense that I think positive perception about others is on the decline. You may not be able to find this in self-report happiness data, and that's no surprise: if you report that you are virtuous and pure, while "all of them" (pointing at half of your countrymen) are wicked and duplicitous. it seems to me that you're probably also going to report positively about your own self. Or at least, there won't be a direct correlation between your negative view of the world and your perception of your own mental health. And couple this with people hooked in social media, who feel that they like it even though bystanders might find it obvious that it's making them upset time and time again.
And yet The Mark of Gideon isn't about what might seem like obvious marks of being dispirited, such as suicide stats, especially since the episode is all about how practically no one dies. Now, giving Odana the benefit of the doubt, she probably wants to kill off her population for what she sees as humane reasons, rather than because she hates them. So again the analogy doesn't quite track perfectly onto our situation. Although it's not clear at all that the only way to dehumanize others is to hate them; compassion can lead to overreaction as well, especially if you have a god complex. But making a case for increased barbarism today - that seems reasonable, especially if you can't see past things others say that annoy you to see a broader reason or meaning behind why the world isn't the way you like it. At least as an initial proposition, teleology can be a plausible area to have that discussion. There is also room for pragmatics, like maybe it's *good* for you and for the world that there are people dramatically different from you in outlook and conclusions. Maybe what you see as the evil left/right is actually a necessary force to keep you in check. Maybe Odana being the only one making the decision is a problem. Where, after all, is her equal and opposite, who says that this course of action is unacceptable? But things having an innate purpose is a good place to go to. Who would you be to judge the fate of so many others, if there was a greater reason behind all things that you weren't able to comprehend?
Mon, Jul 5, 2021, 10:52am (UTC -5)
" But I somehow don't think it was the case that half the populace thought the other half was irreconcilably evil, which is increasingly the case now."
Are you serious? I'm not being hostile, I'm seriously asking. In Germany we had the 30 years war (1618-1648) which was the most devastating war Germans have experienced to this day, including WW2. The population of the Holy Roman Empire fell from 20 million to 11 million. It was Protestants against Catholics.
Same goes for the Netherlands with their 80 years war (1568 - 1648). Again Protestants against Catholics
Or the French Religious wars 1562 - 1598 which cost more than 3 million lives.
I guarantee you people were hating, torturing and murdering each other far more back then. In Europe we have more or less peace since 1945, the longest time of peace in the history of Europe. The 17th century was also the century with the most witch trials.
"Just look at the worldwide epidemic of left vs right battle lines, with increasing rifts not only in political propositions but even in terms of who one will be friends with."
In Europe things seem to calm down. Right wing populists have lost elections in GB, Denmark, France, Austria, Greece and Spain to name a few. In Germany the national right wing populist party has also lost quite a bit of support and is now hovering around 10%. If this is a more long lasting trend, I can't say at this point.
The USA are a different picture. There is a lot of stuff that goes wrong for quite some time in the USA. There the perception of people with different political views has darkened quite a bit over the last two decades, supercharged by Trump on both ends. The problems go deeper. The US media environment is absolutely toxic. When Reagan repealed the Fairness Doctrine in 1987 he opened the floodgates for all kinds of poison. This led to the endless us vs them narratives, we see today. But even that is only one aspect. The USA were always a very divided nation in many aspects. The problem is that cable news makes money by highlighting these differences, so does social media. To quote from V for Vendetta: When different became dangerous.
Mon, Jul 5, 2021, 11:10am (UTC -5)
I won't even begin to pretend that I understand the whys and wherefores of European historical conflicts, so I can only offer a shrug. However this is from the Wiki article on the 30 Years' War:
"While a significant factor in the war that followed, it is generally agreed its scope and extent was driven by the contest for European dominance between Habsburgs in Austria and Spain, and the French House of Bourbon"
I think it's often possible to broadly trace a war or conflict on geographical, ethnic, and religious lines, but IMO that rarely tells what actually initiated the conflict. But if you are indirectly trying to argue that people in the past had significant religious grievances with each other, and that this may mirror what is going on the U.S. right now, I might agree with that proposition. It does have a religious flavor to me. And to the extent that the argument here was the overpopulation may be a problem needing solving, I would also propose that back in a time with the 500 million population level, people back then still had plenty of resource problems - probably far more in terms of scarcity than we do now, in fact. So again the discussion has to be understood in terms of point of view of life and how this impacts views on suffering and on other people.
But one question at least is who is the party clamoring for shutting down the other side. Is it a few nobles, or is it grassroots? Does your average farmer hate half of his own town, thus leading to a civil war, or is it that the poor end up as cannon fodder for rich peoples' wars? This is a much more complicated question to unpack, and not one I intended to pose or deal with here. All I said was that there was *a case to be made* that we are showing some signs of increased barbarism now. Nothing was said about absolute levels, or amounts of wars, or anything like that. The sorts of things Pedro at any rate brought up were issues like feelings of isolation, depression, and lack of purpose in life.
Mon, Jul 5, 2021, 11:53am (UTC -5)
About the 30 years war. Yes France joined the war in 1635 (17 years after the war started) and that prolonged it but it was a religious war first and foremost started mostly because Ferdinand II tried to force catholic religion on the empire.
"But one question at least is who is the party clamoring for shutting down the other side. Is it a few nobles, or is it grassroots?"
That was one of my criticisms of Pedro's entire post. In the HRE for example 30% were literate. Clergy, aristocracy and wealthy burghers. In other words we don't know what farmers, actually most of the people, were thinking but we do know the pamphlets that were aimed at average people. In these the other side was normally portrayed as being the devil. Literally. Just type in 30 years war pamphlet.
"The sorts of things Pedro at any rate brought up were issues like feelings of isolation, depression, and lack of purpose in life."
And I wanted to know how he came to this view, if it is just his personal view or if he has actual data points to back this up. Some people have a tendency to confuse their feelings toward their own decaying physical form with their outlook on humanity.
Mon, Jul 5, 2021, 1:45pm (UTC -5)
Mon, Jul 5, 2021, 2:53pm (UTC -5)
Mon, Jul 5, 2021, 5:38pm (UTC -5)
"I have studied this for more than twenty years. I have studied thousands of individuals across thousands of miles and several centuries of history. I have studied and analysed hundreds of wills, and letters for example...
You have no idea of what such documents reveal of the mentality of an era. How incredibly similar people were to us in some ways, and how incredibly different in others, just a few hundred years ago. This of course is true of all history: read Juvenal’s ‘Satires’, two thousand years old, and you’ll see what I mean.
So allow me to politely correct you: I likely know more about these matters than this entire forum put together".
Mon, Jul 5, 2021, 6:19pm (UTC -5)
"What is thunder and lightning? What are volcano eruptions, and earthquakes?
What is life? What is love? What are thoughts, and dreams? What are the mountains, and the seas? What are the winds, and the storms? What is the growth of the child? What is memory, and forgetfulness? What is the soul?"
My dear brother,
if you think that modern science somehow makes these questions less "wondrous" or "awe-inspiring" then you are missing a lot of what life has to offer.
The more we understand the physical world, the better equipped we are to connect with the cosmos and appreciate its majesty. And the more we understand human nature and the mind, the better equipped we are to appreciate ourselves and our needs.
Mon, Jul 5, 2021, 6:37pm (UTC -5)
"In Europe things seem to calm down. Right wing populists have lost elections in GB, Denmark, France, Austria, Greece and Spain to name a few. "
Why are you - again - connecting "right wing" with hate? Why this one-sided description? Do you always have to sneak in your political biases into these discussions?
It's kinda ironic, that you've done this in a discussion about how "one half of the population hates the other half". Don't you think?
Seriously, Booming, after everything the world has gone through in the past couple of years, you should have known better.
Mon, Jul 5, 2021, 6:54pm (UTC -5)
Mon, Jul 5, 2021, 7:01pm (UTC -5)
What the heck is that supposed to mean?
Mon, Jul 5, 2021, 9:12pm (UTC -5)
If you're okay with Booming trashing on your camp, it's fine with me. Next time someone says something like that, I won't bother crying foul.
There, happy? Did we dodge the bullet of "Here we go again"?
...and now we return you to your original program.
Mon, Jul 5, 2021, 11:50pm (UTC -5)
Thanks for the quote. My original critique still stands. The vast majority couldn't write. In countries like Spain or Russia less than 10%. Education was expensive. In other words only the wealthy or the clergy, mostly men, could leave behind written testimony. If this small, very distinct and fairly gendered minority had a certain worldview, does that mean we can assume that everybody else thought like that. Maybe. Maybe not.
"if you think that modern science somehow makes these questions less "wondrous" or "awe-inspiring" then you are missing a lot of what life has to offer."
It's funny that Pedro makes the argument that we have lost our sense of awe and wonder here, at a star trek forum. Shows about the wonders of the galaxy. Shows about people who often take the time to marvel at the beauty of the cosmos.
"Why are you - again - connecting "right wing" with hate? Why this one-sided description? Do you always have to sneak in your political biases into these discussions? "
No intent there. The thing is that during the populist wave we have seen since 2008 in Europe, almost none were left wing, I guess there is Podemos (Spain) and Syriza(Greece). Populism is always a sign that a political system has a fundamental problem. What I wrote wasn't about left or right but about political disharmony.
Peter wrote this "Just look at the worldwide epidemic of left vs right battle lines, with increasing rifts not only in political propositions but even in terms of who one will be friends with."
My point was not about right wing=bad or right wing=hate but about political extremism diminishing in Europe and populism in political science, especially right wing, is very close to anti democratic extremism. Orban (Hungarian prime minister) is right wing populist and he calls the democracy he is creating the illiberal democracy. You are conservative Omicron, that makes you right wing but you have very little in common with right wing populists, at least in definitions of political science. Conservative is a legitimate political view, in my opinion. In Germany for example the conservative party (Christian Democratic Union) is very much against the right wing populists. Lots of right wing populist parties (left wing populist for specific reasons less so) have a huge problem with extremists taking over which then lessens their appeal to the more mainline right.
So again. Being right wing is perfectly fine. :)
Tue, Jul 6, 2021, 2:27am (UTC -5)
to add a little more clarification.
You are to a right wing populist, what I am to a Marxist. I have talked with Marxists and it is like talking to very religious people. Exhausting and annoying.
Tue, Jul 6, 2021, 4:08am (UTC -5)
"You are conservative Omicron..."
How on earth have your reached that conclusion?
I'm seriously asking. Because I've never thought of myself as conservative and never voted conservative either.
See, this is why Jason's quip got on my nerves. I rushed to the aide of his camp which I don't even agree with (at least not in 90% of the times). I did it because - in my view - they were attacked unfairly... and I got a "Here we Go" for my troubles. Next time I won't bother.
At any rate, I'm really curious as to why you labeled me as you did.
"It's funny that Pedro makes the argument that we have lost our sense of awe and wonder here, at a star trek forum. Shows about the wonders of the galaxy. Shows about people who often take the time to marvel at the beauty of the cosmos."
What's even funnier is that the Star Trek ethos is a counter-example to pretty much every single one of Pedro's arguments. Beyond awe and wonder, Classic Trek also demonstrates how a humanist secular view can give us a clear sense of purpose and a clear view of absolute morality.
Of-course, most people (both in the 17th century and today) are completely disconnected from such things. They were/are too busy swallowing society's dogmas to fully appreciate what either science or religion have to offer.
Tue, Jul 6, 2021, 4:36am (UTC -5)
—To everyone else, my apologies for the Mount Everest of text—
Thanks for your comments, which allow me to consider my own arguments and how to best convey them. And thanks to Peter and Jason for your polite tone. Unfortunately, what ought to be the norm is so rare these days that one feels compelled to commend it.
As Peter and Jason both seem genuinely interested in the exploration of ideas, I shall write a bit. Hopefully, all may find something useful in what I write.
I believe this discussion to be of importance. Not over the particular issue, but the universal one, which we see time and again: (i) the inability of commenters to read properly what is written; (ii) the propensity to read only what they themselves want to read; and (iii) the failure to address the questions raised in a comment, and subsequently derailing the entire debate as result of all this. So excuse me for the long text.
I am, to be honest, at a loss for words: I was unprepared for the sort of objections raised here. What I wrote is hardly original. In essence, though building on my own research, it is an echo of Max Weber: the expression I used of the ‘enchanted garden’ is his. What I refer reflects essentially what Weber, already a hundred years ago, called the ‘disenchantment’ of modern society. Weber being arguably the greatest social scientist of the twentieth century and German, I am surprised that the self-proclaimed German social scientist Booming did not recognise and address this. But perhaps Booming is not quite the social scientist he thinks he is.
What I wrote is common knowledge and accepted among historians, though some may question certain elements, or their relative importance. I was therefore expecting to be asked questions of (i) an abstract nature, say, my opinion of the role of ontology vis-à-vis teleology in shaping the worldview of (in casu) the seventeenth century; and especially, (ii) questions to be expected of amateurs of a concrete nature, as in, ‘Can you give any examples of… ?’ fuelled by the genuine curiosity and the wish to learn of the amateur. Peter G.’s thoughtful comment, which I genuinely thank as it provoked this reflection on my part, falls in another category.
Yet mostly, what I find is the very notion of disenchantment being questioned. Not that it has taken place, mind you. No, commenters are going further, arguing that the opposite, the ‘enchanted garden’ was never even really there. This is simply astonishing.
How does one go about explaining what is common knowledge to the doubting? Imagine yourselves spending some time in the Amazon jungle among the natives. One day, you tell them that men have walked on the Moon. They laugh in amusement: what a marvellous joke. But you insist and show them photos of the Saturn V rocket, the Eagle lunar module, and Earthrise. They fail to understand any of them and proceed to say that (i) people do not have wings; (ii) you should not go around like that claiming that people have wings and can fly to the Moon; and (iii) everyone knows that the one hero who attempted to fashion wings and fly to the Moon was eaten by the Great Bird of the Jungle. What do you do?
In a way, we stand before something akin Molyneux’s Problem. In a letter, William Molyneux (d. 1698) asked his friend, John Locke (d. 1704), whether a man, born blind and taught by touch to distinguish between a cube, and a sphere, if given the gift of sight would be able to identify them by means of his sight only. Both Molyneux and Locke thought not. Modern science supports their opinion. In other words, the problem is about one’s ability (or lack thereof) to recognise, by entirely different means, what one has so far only perceived partially using a specific set of means.
Our very mode of reasoning is the means. And what I am proposing is not quite as challenging as asking, ‘Can the seeing understand, in any meaningful ways, how the blind perceives the world?’ We have means at our disposal that give us a fairly accurate impression of worldviews in the recent—historical— past if only we use those means: historical sources, and our reasoning. What was the concept of Law, and Justice, for example, as recently as the seventeenth century? It was hugely different from our present one, but we can understand it and see how it fits with other concepts of that age to form a cohesive whole—in scholarly terms, consilience, a unity of thought confirmed by many independent types of phenomena.
That cohesive whole the amateur simply has no idea of. He interprets what little he knows based on his present sensory apparatus: his mode of thought, the types of questions he has been taught since childhood to ask, and the types of answers he has been taught to expect. His understanding will reflect this entirely anachronistic reasoning: he is asking the wrong questions. How does he expect to reach useful answers? I am merely trying to show that the questions and answers of the past were very different—often direct opposites—from those of the present, and how greatly this affects our entire view of the world.
Tue, Jul 6, 2021, 4:37am (UTC -5)
I have given much thought on how to reply to @Peter G.
Peter, your comment, which I genuinely appreciate, is striking. For three reasons: (i) you make no factual errors; (ii) I agree with you on almost everything; (iii) and yet despite (i) and (ii), little of what you write has any bearing on my original comment.
This is so remarkable, and so symptomatic of the very problem I describe—the inability of present-day people to address the questions, and modes of thought of the past, akin Molyneux’s Problem—that an explication is in place. First, an outline of the three main stages of thought in the western tradition should be given. What questions have we, most fundamentally, asked in intelligent discourse over the centuries since the Greeks, in chronological phases?
1) What Is? What is Truth? What is Good? (Ontology, Metaphysics, Ethics)
2) What is Knowledge? (Epistemology)
3) What is Meaning? (Semantics)
Question 1) was so fully dealt with by Plato and Aristotle, and refined by Scholasticism, that their works cannot be improved in meaningful ways. Up to and including the seventeenth century, its prevalent modes of thought as pertains the matter of worldviews included principally:
a) Matter and form (Plato’s Theory of Forms)
b) Body and soul (Aristotle’s Hylomorphism, as refined by Thomism)
c) Essence and purpose (Teleology, as refined by Thomism)
Question 2) was suggested by Descartes and became the norm in the eighteenth century. It replaced those previously prevalent modes of thought, substituting instead the pairs:
a) Subject and object
b) Mind and body
c) Structure and motion
Suffice it to say, this is the single most ground-breaking rupture of thought in western history.
Question 3) is what passes for Philosophy since the early twentieth century. It is what has given Philosophy a bad name in recent times, ridiculed by the common man as entirely detached from reality, self-absorbed, and irrelevant, conducting increasingly arcane mental exercises. This is perhaps best illustrated by so radically opposed strands as Logical Positivism and Deconstructionism. This is so far removed from the concerns of Question 1) that, although various techniques may occasionally be valid—e.g., from Logical Positivism to establish truth-values in sources—it is irrelevant for any discussions of modes of thought in pre-Cartesian times.
Commenters here so far have only thought in terms of Questions 2-3, and not at all Question 1. This demonstrates how deep-rooted those questions are in modern thought. The reluctance of commenters to explore Question 1 speaks volumes. The hermeneutics of suspicion is everywhere. But take heed: the hermeneutics of suspicion is an entirely modern way of thinking.
The problem is not only that Question 1 (where ‘Reality’ may be substituted for ‘Truth’) is what interested most people up to and including the seventeenth century. For more than a thousand years, answers to that question profoundly shaped a mode of thought so different from our present one that most simply cannot fathom it. Again, some commenters here illustrate this. They are like the natives who fail to understand the Saturn V rocket, and believe I am talking about man-made wings of feathers.
I am therefore suggesting commenters to engage the past on its own terms: debate Question 1. Only then, when forced to see the perspective of the object and not that of the subject—themselves—will commenters understand that object.
More fundamentally, I am asking commenters to engage each other: debate the questions raised by other commenters if you have any interest in the issue. Or do not if you have not. To quote a different franchise: do, or do not. But do not opine where opinion is not due. Opinion is the lowest of affections (according to Plato), only slightly better than Illusion. Seek the Truth (apropos Question 1) in dialogue with each other. That is simply polite, civilised discourse, after all.
Importantly, I am not debating feelings. The conversation unfortunately was derailed by the suggestion that I think that people didn’t care about the loss of a child in the past, an absurd notion. Human emotions are more primitive than reasoning and have been what they are for thousands of years. I am debating reasoning only. For our reasoning, our modes of thought continue to change, with increasing speed at that—just look at our own lifetime, and the last thirty years especially.
Tue, Jul 6, 2021, 4:37am (UTC -5)
Now, a little on sources. One diary, or letter, for example, can mean anything. But a thousand diaries and a thousand letters from a specific time and place begin to be representative of a given population.
Unlike what many think, letters were also frequently dictated by the illiterate. Many scribes wrote such dictated letters for a living. They were a common feature in most towns as early as the sixteenth century, and ubiquitous in the seventeenth. Identifying the hand of one such known letter-writer immediately identifies the author of those thoughts as illiterate. Perhaps a man responding to the letter of his equally illiterate cousin prospecting for gold in America, informing him he was now the sole heir of the family farm after the death of a relative; or that his wife has given birth to a baby girl. The notion that illiterate people are invisible in history is a misconception of the amateur.
I have not analysed a thousand letters, though I have read more. But I have analysed some two thousand sermons, and twice as many testaments. I have also read some six thousand royal grants of privileges and analysed about half of them, and about as many sentences of the Inquisition; and hundreds, or thousands of other types of sources.
I am principally concerned with theory vs practice: how can we gauge whether theory was practiced? Sermons and testaments are one way. Do testaments in different countries reflect the different traditions in paraenesis in those countries? In other words, did people pay attention in church, and did it affect their lives?
Consider, for example, how a simple analysis of a thousand roughly coeval testaments reveals the personal devotions of the testators—and how analysis of testaments in different countries reflect different traditions related to national mythos and identity: to a shared idea of *national purpose*. Why do some bequeath ‘twelve x’, ‘twelve hundred y’, and ‘twelve thousand w’, while others bequeath ‘three’, ‘thirty’, ‘three hundred’, etc.? Why do some make provisions for ‘five x’, ‘five y’, and ‘five w’, and others for seven, or nine of the same (hint: it is not a matter of personal wealth)? Consider the following, all actual cases in just one nation between 1580 and 1730:
Why does a very wealthy man leave bequests of *five times* *fifty thousand*? Why does another provide for the meals of *five convicts* every Friday, and the dowries of *five orphan girls* every year, set at *fifty thousand*? Why does a hospital have *twelve beds* for men, and *five beds* for women? And why does the hospital’s digger receive a yearly salary of *twelve thousand*? Why do shipwrecks on a tiny atoll distribute *twelve small fish* and *five fruits* to every man in their hopes of survival? Why do *twelve brotherhoods* of twelve villages go on communal pilgrimage every year, and why does every pilgrim pay *five coins* in alms at the shrine? Why do villagers communally pay their parish priest *five measures of bread* and *five measures of wine* in salary every year? Why does the manumitted slave ask for *five clerics* at her funeral? Why does the erudite scholar ask for *five candles* held by *five poor men* at his? Why does a religious brotherhood pay the funerals of *five poor brothers* every year? I could go on.
These are but a few examples. In another, in 1724 a literary competition had *five prizes* in *five main categories* and seven lesser categories for a total of *twelve prizes* and categories (one of them won by a lady).
But as we have just seen, this did not affect the literate only. All people in this case would see the numbers twelve and five *everywhere* in society, defining everyday life. Is there anyone who doubts that the number twelve (the Apostles) and the number five (the Holy Wounds) would be intimately associated in such a community with the sacred, and would be felt imbued with mystic significance compelling pervasive human action?
This mystical symbolism is not my invention. It is implied by Christ and was taught in church. Allow me to quote:
“Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” “Twelve,” they replied (…). He said to them, “Do you still not understand?” (Mark 8:17-21)
“Jesus asked, “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? (…) How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread?” (Matthew 16:5-12).
In other words, all the above examples of the ‘twelve’ and the ‘five’ in society were a response to the sacred: it was a yearly, monthly, and even daily enactment by large parts of the population of something regarded as holy. Everyone knew this. And this is but one example of many. How many commenters here know of such things?
If you fail to see patterns like these in your sources, you have failed as a historian. Yet this is what unfortunately happens at present as increasingly specialised—and secularised—historians are myopic in their research, and virtually illiterate when it comes to philosophical and religious context.
(Similar myopia is also seen among historians of philosophy and religion, who fail to connect those abstract fields with the everyday life of common people—again, theory vs practice).
The problem is, again, one akin Molyneux’s Problem. Scholars are given sight, but increasingly they cannot identify what is right before their eyes. What kind of histories do you think that historians—or social scientists—with eyes only for the secular—or the religious—write? What kind of histories do you think you have most likely read?
Tue, Jul 6, 2021, 4:38am (UTC -5)
Now, to Peter’s comments. We may begin with this:
@Peter G. wrote: “What I do know is that I'm happier with the street not being filled with feces and having my olefactory system have to process that into a new normal. "Smells good out today!" sits well with me when it's springtime and flowers, not manure that I'm just used to.”
Hehe, I agree entirely. But my point is, who cares what you and I think? We are debating the seventeenth century: what seventeenth-century men thought is what matters. To speak in Cartesian terms, you are inserting your subject where your sole concern should be to examine the object. So is @Omicron. So is—manifestly—the troll Booming.
As for the animated nature of the world, you confirmed this when you wrote of the last hundred years or so:
@Peter G. wrote: “this is simply the playing out of what Nietzsche said would happen when the magic was taken out of the metaphysics”
Exactly, or Weber. But do not belittle it: it is not ‘simply’. The change was monumental and must be emphasised. Especially because most today are unaware of it—the responses I received here are proof. That has to do with something else that you accurately noted, which I shall return to in the conclusion of this sequence of messages.
@Peter G. wrote: “Elizabethan society (…) did not have a uniform view of life, but rather a rather varied one that allowed for huge fluctuations in personal comportment and choices in life. Back then there were 'crazy people' and that was just a feature, not a bug. Back then people did and believed all sorts of things”
Very true. But ‘personal comportment’ and ‘choices in life’ are tangential to what we are talking about. Virtually all modern westerners share one of two worldviews only, either that of i) empiricism and physicalism, or that of ii) empiricism and theism, here including every imaginable manifestation of the supernatural. Within each of those worldviews, people make the same fundamental assumptions to life and the world, assumptions which they take as axioms. Despite this, do they not also display huge fluctuations?
@Peter G. wrote: “if you walked into a 15th century Catholic monastery I think you'd have found a far wider range of views of life then you're likely to find on the street today in a cosmopolitan city”
While this is overstating it, I agree with the underlying notion: far from all Catholic clerics thought alike—in any century. They still don’t: it’s the price of having one Universal (‘Catholic’) Church. In the seventeenth century, for example, consider Jansenism, or Quietism.
Consider therefore heresies, and the various Inquisitions. I have conducted analyses of several thousand sentences of the Holy Office: the types of offenses and the corresponding sentences, by sex of the offender, age, geographical origin, profession, etc. Every year people were interrogated and perhaps put on trial for believing in ‘all sorts of things’ as you put it, from common misconceptions and superstitions to erroneous interpretations of doctrine, and outright false teachings, or heresies as per the Catholic Church: Adoptionism, Monophysitism, Psilanthropism, and so on. Very few people even knew the formal names of the beliefs they held. It was simply personal ‘head canon’.
Such interrogations are one of the greatest treasure troves we possess today on historical mentalities of specific populations concerning not only anything from astrology to say, Christology (the nature of Christ), Soteriology (the doctrine of salvation), and so forth, but the cosmos and existence. In short, people’s reality, and worldview.
Most of the accused were common people, many of them illiterate. The hundreds of thousands of records of the Inquisitions provide us an outstanding—and surprisingly fair—means to assess even the views of the illiterate. Many other collections of sources do the same—say, the records of hospital chaplains, who regularly spoke with the sick. All that is needed is proper analysis of discourse to reveal the specific bias of the inquisitor, chaplain, etc. and the sources speak a language that is easy to understand. The notion so often heard that we don’t know what the illiterate masses thought is simply ignorant.
Most Christians didn’t know what it was exactly they believed in, and how to interpret even the fundamental mysteries of faith. They were mostly clueless, often in humorous or endearing ways, as to the exact articles of faith (All this, by the way, is still true). The various churches naturally knew this, and attempted, as best they could, to teach their doctrines—to indoctrinate—the respective populations. In the Catholic south, the Church gave some leeway for personal ‘head canon’, in part for practical reasons. Indeed, most were horrified to learn that their particular ‘head canon’ was a heresy and repented on the spot. And while there were of course both sadistic and charitable inquisitors, it is heart-warming to read reports of the latter types to their superiors, along the lines of, ‘Monsignor, the poor man has no idea of the gravity of his erroneous beliefs. But it is our fault, Monsignor: for we have failed to instruct these poor people in the articles of the Faith.’
Similarly, most people believed in magic. You of course know all this. They believed in fabulous creatures, and so on. Yet all this confirms that worldview I speak of, the world as an ‘enchanted garden’ (again Weber’s expression), full of ‘rapture and awe’. There is no contradiction between what I wrote, and what you commented.
You are therefore also right in the following. But note where you misunderstand:
@Peter G. wrote: “the culture was rife with a mixture of religion, superstition, 'wives' tales', myths, and other stuff up in the air that created an atmosphere of imaginative fruit. To me that's the opposite of a neatly-aligned mindframe.”
Indeed, but the matter of ‘mindframe’ was not about *what* people believed in, or whether it was neatly aligned or not (I never claimed it was), for they all believed in that enchanted garden in one way or another. It was about *how* people thought—how they reasoned, knowingly or not. See my previous comment to @Omicron, and below.
You are thus inadvertently making a category mistake. And you continue to do so:
@Peter G. wrote: “Regarding how people in the past shared a common framework, namely the concept of TELEOLOGY, I think you are vastly overstating the matter. It is a very old thing, for instance, that the wealthy and those in power had a distinctly different understanding of the power structures in place as compared to the peasants.” (my emphasis)
Indeed. But what you refer pertains to systems of ethics, in this case, personal ethics. It is the norm in society to share the common worldview of the age and yet have different systems (and subsystems) of ethics: political vs military ethics; administrative vs operational ethics; and so on, including personal ethics. This does not affect fundamental ontology and is tangential to teleology.
@Peter G. wrote: “You can look at the Roman Republic, for instance, and see the silhouette of a system apportioning some power to the patricians, some to the people, etc (…)”
Quite right. But this is more of the same, a pars pro toto. This is such an important matter that although you probably only meant it as example, I wish to stress it as others made the same mistake. This is substituting a mere system of ethics for an entire cosmology, or worldview, virtually equating the two.
Furthermore, I was not speaking of the Roman Republic, but commenting Trish’s proposition on the seventeenth century. The former lacks the defining characteristic of the latter, Christianity. Although they share many aspects, such as views on ontology and to an extent, teleology, they are worldviews apart as the lack of Christianity hugely affects notions of purpose. With no concern for any Christian notion of salvation, for example, comes a vastly different set of personal ethics. You are bringing the Age of Heroes to a ball with the Age of Saints. They don’t dance very well together.
@Peter G. wrote: “[The Roman Republic] was a religious culture, but where the trappings of their philosophy (even their famous Stoic philosophy) was probably more of a manner of public form than a commonly shared perceptual system based in TELEOLOGY and virtues. Some people probably did things because it was the proper order of things, but just like in any age many probably cynically knew they did it because they had no choice.” (my emphasis)
This is exceedingly interesting. In the last sentence, you are conveying Bourdieu’s *habitus*. Note that this is a modern inversion of *habitus* in Scholasticism, namely, in Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274). Aquinas believed that the things we do habitually change us. If we practice good deeds, we become better people. If we practice bad deeds, we become worse: we become what we do. Note that his was a time when we did things mostly undistracted, i.e., with more *attention*.
In much more recent times, William James (d. 1910) in his ‘The Principles of Psychology’ (Vol. II) asserted the same as Aquinas in different terms. James thought that what we give our *attention* to in everyday life changes us: what we *at-tend-to* becomes our reality. And likewise, that which we do not attend to in our daily life slips away. It becomes epiphenomenal, or simply a figure of speech. In effect, psychological attention in James corresponds roughly to Aquinas’ *habitus*.
It was only later, when modern distraction in life and ‘disenchantment’ was already mounting, that Bourdieu’s inversion of Aquinas’ ‘habitus’ into cynicism took place. In this, Bourdieu’s habitus is more a sign of the times in which it was formulated (much like Foucault’s entire corpus) than a useful tool for saying anything about a more removed past. It is remarkable how, as modes of thought not only changed but were directly inverted, so did key theoretical concepts. ‘Habitus’ is a fine example of this inversion of thought.
In any event, even if what you wrote were the case (which is beside the point now), it is not quite relevant to the matter of teleology. We are not speaking quite the same language, you and I.
“Now fast forward to a time with a much larger world population, and more general education, like the U.S. in the mid-1800's. (…) think of the local farmer or smith. First of all, I think these people were probably far more knowledgeable and informed about all sorts of things than almost anyone is today.”
I agree entirely, with this and the following that you wrote. But we are talking about modes of thought in the seventeenth century, not the US in the mid-1800s. In comparison, the mid-1800s were already a time of empiricism and increasing physicalism, especially in the Anglo-Saxon world in the tradition of Newton, Locke, Hume, Smith, etc. In other words, you are now bringing the Age of Men to a ball with the Age of Saints—and they dance even worse together!
Tue, Jul 6, 2021, 4:39am (UTC -5)
To give one example of the ubiquitous role of the classical mode of thought in the seventeenth century, we may investigate the Theory of Forms in jurisprudence—of possible interest to @Jason, if I remember correctly.
This was the age of, for example, Covarrubias, Molina, Valenzuela, and Carleval in Spain. They were clerics who gained fame as jurisconsults: they wrote the commentaries on the Law that guided magistrates and jurisprudents throughout the Spanish empire in the seventeenth century. Covarrubias was Archbishop of Segovia. Valenzuela was Bishop of Salamanca. Molina, by far the most renowned today, was a Jesuit professor of Philosophy and Theology. Carleval was a Carmelite. What kind of legal commentaries do you think they wrote, and what kind of legal arguments do you think they provoked? And what does it say that prominent legal commenters were clerics, not jurisprudents? Earlier I referred a few examples of the presence of the religious numbers five, and twelve in society. This is another aspect. Anyone involved in a legal suit would hear legal arguments in court infused with the mentality I speak of.
This extended to judicial opinions, i.e., the opinions of the courts explaining how the justices reached their decisions. Judicial opinions informed the parties in a lawsuit as well as students and practitioners of law, and were particularly relevant to appeals, as litigants otherwise had only the verdict itself to appeal, and not specific points of contention open to interpretation.
All such necessarily feature Law prominently. But they are also a long repository of Platonism, Aristotelianism, and Thomism: of the Theory of Forms, Teleology, and Hylomorphism. And naturally, of the Doctors of the Church, and Holy Scripture.
Concerning say, grants of land in emphyteusis, legal commenters and practitioners explicitly noted, in these terms, that modifications to a grant in order to be valid might only temporarily alter the *matter* of the grant, but never its *form*. Heirs and successors succeeded not each other but the original grantee. *Matter*—the physical substance, the individual grantee—was not important, *form*—the oath of allegiance, the grant—was. Matter and form: these were the key Platonic concepts that all schooled men knew and used, reminding all, including the peasantry, of the worldview I speak of.
This is something that is entirely lost on the amateur today who merely reads modern histories and not the sources themselves. It was not, for example, the physical fief, or slave that mattered, but rather their condition, or nature. In other words, not the specific substance (some land, a man), but the abstract idea (fealty, servitude). That is to say, the identity of the thing, or the man, depended more on its *form* than its specific *matter*. This is pure Platonism—universals and particulars—and pure Christian Thomism (in Thomistic terms, the substantial and the accidental, respectively). This is Plato’s theory of forms applied in seventeenth-century jurisprudence, for all to hear, confirming all in that familiar Aristotelian-Thomistic worldview of body (lower) and soul (higher): of essence (lower) and purpose (higher).
In other words, concepts heard in church were those heard in courtrooms also. And so on, and so forth. This is what is meant by consilience: that remarkable unity of thought in society that very different types of sources reveal to historians—yet most people sadly are ignorant of.
This metaphysical element has been expunged from modern jurisprudence. It was when Platonic, Aristotelian, and Thomistic notions, and when Biblical verse and concepts as mortal sin and eternal salvation ceased to be used in legal arguments—and much less *as* legal arguments—that we may speak of a paradigm shift reflective of a fundamental change in mentality. The point is, this only happened, roughly, with and after the Enlightenment.
Until then, the very concept of Justice was another than in our bureaucratic times. Today we expect that to any crime ‘x’ must correspond a punishment ‘y-w’. This is called bureaucratic predictability, a case of administrative ethics. There were no such expectations in the past. In any kingdom, the King’s courts dispensed justice harshly. This was to enable the King to be gracious, and grant pardons at will. The King was God’s lieutenant on earth as pertained the realm of justice: and as God is merciful, so must the King necessarily be. And he could only be so if law and punishment were severe. And so, just as people believed themselves to be entirely at the mercy of Divine Providence in life, so was the criminal entirely at the mercy of God’s lieutenant the King in punishment. And just as Divine Providence was inscrutable, so were the whims of monarchs. Today, we would consider the erratic administration of justice in pre-modern times a travesty of justice: arbitrary, unpredictable, and very fundamentally unjust. But this was as life itself up to and including the seventeenth century: arbitrary, and unpredictable. Only men then did not consider this unjust: it was all for same greater ‘telos’ or *purpose*.
Tue, Jul 6, 2021, 4:40am (UTC -5)
@Peter G. wrote: “To the extent that today people see themselves largely as participating in a massive trench war, I would call that highly TELEOLOGICAL insofar as every statement and action gets interpreted via that larger political battle. You won't say or do things off the cuff that 'betray your side' regardless of how you feel in your heart. If this isn't seeing every little thing as participating in a larger PURPOSE then I don't know what could qualify.” (my emphasis)
I certainly agree with your general sentiment. But in every case I emphasised, in this and previous quotes, that is not what teleology is about.
If you or anyone else is interested, I shall give a few suggestions. The challenge is to identify what questions and answers pervaded the mental climate of the age, usually involuntarily—much like many today may be oblivious of the finer points of various modern-day theories yet are still seen to obey them (including say, Bourdieu’s ‘habitus’). What were the kinds of questions that people, knowingly or not, asked themselves in this age, if in less erudite terms?
First, forget about modern causality. If you have a working knowledge of the theory of forms, investigate the Aristotelian four causes, and then apply them not just to any thing, but to existence itself. What is the efficient cause of existence? What is the final cause?
Next, forget about modern biology and investigate Peripatetic biology: Aristotle’s differentiae, and his main arguments combining them with the four causes: the material and the efficient cause into an argument of *essence*, and the formal and the final cause into an argument of *purpose*. What is the essence of things? And what is their purpose?
(The next phase is to investigate Scholasticism, and Thomism specifically; and juxtapose it to the emerging, scholarly Deism, and Mechanism in the seventeenth century. The fundamental question here is, Is Divine Providence real, or is God an Unmoved Mover? which all other considerations stem from. What is the difference between Thomist and Mechanist causality? biology? humanity? and so on. While arguably the most interesting, this requires having a grasp of the other two steps first).
Next, forget all modern theory. Ask yourself simple questions that a child might ask and try to answer them *according to such concepts*. For example:
What is the acorn, and what is the oak? And how can the former become the latter? What is the stone, and what is the flower? And do they have souls? What is the mouse, and what is the man? Is there any difference between them? And why?
And, as in my previous examples: Why does the fisherman look like his father? Why do the waves crash against the ship? Why do the winds blow, and the seagulls that fly by have wings? Why did the seaman drown and die?
Finally, ask more adult questions. For example:
What is a farm, or a mining plot, and what is man? If a farm, or mining plot is forfeited and granted anew, is it still the same farm, or mining plot? If a slave is manumitted and returned into slavery, is he still the same slave? Why, or why not?
It is when you begin to ask questions as these, which directly affected the everyday lives of men, that the full impact of the matter hits you: you see it everywhere in legal cases. Scholasticism and mechanism tend to offer entirely different answers to all such questions, revealing of the fundamental divide between scholastics and mechanists: between the old understanding of the cosmos, shared by virtually everyone before 1700, and the new, known only to a few savants. There were many legal disputes over even minor transactions, contracts, inheritances, and so forth. And they were dealt with in terms influenced not only by Christian theology, but specifically by received, Classical hylomorphism: teleology shaping the minds, and deciding the fates of men.
What are those answers? When you can answer like a man from those days, purely in his terms in ways he would agree with, you will be talking the language of the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the early Baroque. And the world that you will describe will sound vastly different from that which most modern men see—or, as here, insist was seen by men centuries ago.
Finally, this that you wrote:
@Peter G. wrote: “As we know from psychology, we form baselines, "new normals", that quickly adapt our sense of life - and even our perceptions”
This is absolutely true and devastating for our understanding of history.
Therefore, one last example. Most Catholics today don’t know what Catholicism was like a mere hundred years ago, let alone in the seventeenth century. If questioned, they will simply project what they know backwards in time. And knowing that society was more religious in the past, they will add levels of *degree* when they should also be adding important levels of *kind*. At the same time, also modern Catholics will have learned basic modern science, and even they will tend to look for rational science for explanations first and not primarily God. In other words, it is difficult to compare even modern, first world theists, who can neither unlearn what they have learned nor learn what is forgotten, to theists four hundred years ago. It is as you write. We adapt. And after some time, we forget what was. I am merely trying to remind.
I hope at least a little of this may have been of interest and may have given the reader a better idea of the questions I deal with. And I promise to refrain from posting such walls of text again!
Tue, Jul 6, 2021, 4:41am (UTC -5)
“There were agnostics with scientific explanations during the Age of Enlightenment. Maybe their theories turned out to be wrong, but saying everyone in the 17th century attributed natural phenomena to a god is a gross oversimplification.”
Firstly, the Enlightenment was an eighteenth-century phenomenon. It only took flight in the second quarter of the century (the term itself was first mentioned in the 1730s, when it became apparent to scholars that a new wind was blowing), and its ideals only became the norm in the third quarter of the eighteenth century.
Secondly, what erudite elites thought and wrote was irrelevant as far as common folk were concerned. The classical example is of course Voltaire on the French. But read Holberg in Denmark-Norway on the Danes. Holberg drew from recent academic dissertations at his alma mater (Copenhagen) in the 1690s-1710s when he wrote his great plays in the 1720s, contrasting academic erudition to the ‘common sense’ of the common folk. The latter had certainly never heard of any enlightenment: as late as the 1720s in Denmark, their thought was still thoroughly scholastic. And so on, and so forth.
Scholars did not write to influence the populace: they wrote to influence their peers, that in time their ideas might spread. But only with the advent of national programmes of education would the ideas of eighteenth-century Enlightenment be spread to the population as a whole. This happened in the nineteenth century. Yet here I am speaking of the seventeenth century.
Tue, Jul 6, 2021, 4:46am (UTC -5)
This is just a reminder that you shouldn’t give too much credence to everything you read on these threads, Peter.
Concerning the Thirty Years War, it has been mentioned that it was a religious war between Catholics and Protestants. Nonsense. Religion was a pretext only. What was the motive of Christian IV of Denmark-Norway to champion the Protestant cause in Germany? Power. What was the motive of Gustav II Adolph of Sweden to take over after Christian IV failed? Power. I am not questioning the personal piety of those kings, which is beyond doubt. But they didn’t go to war in Germany over religion.
And then there is France, who since the sixteenth century had allied herself with *anyone* against Austria—in the sixteenth century, famously, the Muslim Ottomans. France only joined the war in 1635. But the Swedish intervention on the Protestant side beginning in 1630 was massively financed by Catholic France from 1631 with a million livres annually: it was largely French money that allowed Gustav II Adolph to field his army and win his victories. Where was religion in any of this?
Suffice it to say, the Thirty Years War was a watershed. Even then, by the end nobody saw it as a war of religion. Read the gazettes of the era: the common people were not that stupid. For the first time in the history of Christian Europe, there was a clear sense that a new concept had superseded religion and *bellum iustum* as the main cause for national policy of war: Machiavellian *raison d’état*. In this, the role played by France was pivotal, and Richelieu’s name in history alongside Machiavelli’s rightly earned. Even common peasants could see the duplicity of kings when their Catholic sons were killed in battle against other Catholics the allies of Protestants.
The death toll was horrific but must be properly understood. It was not due to the fighting itself. As always, the far majority of people died of the hounds of war: the epidemics and famines that always followed in the wake of vast armies, the vastest in European history till then. Even a couple of allied regiments passing by a small town were sure to take all food available with them and leave sickness behind as payment. Millions died in those thirty years, yes: but not because Catholics and Protestants butchered each other.
More importantly, perhaps, is therefore what Booming the social scientist erroneously referred, the very idea of the war as ‘a religious war first and foremost’. This and Booming’s unqualified listing of the death toll seems to suggest massive civil clashes between denominations: ‘It was Protestants against Catholics.’ The uninitiated may even imagine almost a civil war of sorts. That was far from the case. Most Catholics and Protestants continued to coexist peacefully in the same towns and villages throughout the entire conflict. This happened in two main ways, which we, with gross simplification (for I fear Jammer will ban me if I write another Himalaya of text!) may call the ‘Dutch’ and the ‘German’ model.
In the ‘Dutch’ model, Catholics and Protestants lived in the same towns, but in separate realities. Separate streets. Separate schools. Separate churches, etc. This tradition, which already existed, saw the growth of the so-called ‘schuilkerk’ (Dutch: ‘hidden church’), small temples that could not be identified as such from the outside (as, e.g., Calvinist, Catholic, or Lutheran) to not offend the other denominations. There were many equivalents in Europe, e.g., in Ireland between Anglicans and Catholics, but the Dutch case is the best-studied. There were fifty Catholic ‘schuilkerken’ in The Hague in 1619, for example, and thirty in Leiden in 1641; and the phenomenon lasted well into the eighteenth century.
In the ‘German’ model, Catholics and Protestants lived side by side. They shared the same streets. The same schools. And even, the same churches. In this model, agreements were made so that school classes, religious services etc. could be held in shared buildings: for one denomination at one time, and another at another time. In one example (the church of St. Martin’s in Biberach), Catholics from 5 to 6 A.M., Lutherans from 6 to 8, Catholics from 8 to 11, Lutherans from 11 to 12, and Catholics again from 12 to 1 P.M. In this way, fictions of privacy were created.
This saw the rise of the so-called ‘Simultankirche’ (German, ‘simultaneous church’), which also survived well into the eighteenth century. This pertaining to German social history, I am surprised that the self-proclaimed German social scientist Booming did not address this. But perhaps Booming is not quite the social scientist he thinks he is.
I could elaborate, and write another twelve pages. But I trust you get my point.
Tue, Jul 6, 2021, 5:33am (UTC -5)
I hope you find this under Pedro's cluster bomb of text.
Why I thought that you are conservative. Mostly because you defend them a lot. Have fun reading Pedro's wall of text. He also highlights very well why I try to keep my texts short.
"I am surprised that the self-proclaimed German social scientist Booming did not address this. But perhaps Booming is not quite the social scientist he thinks he is."
You got me there Pedro. I'm not the man you think I am. :)
By the way, the first social science professor was Emile Durkheim. He got that post from the university of Bordeaux in 1887. Before there was really no social science. Sorry, I only read your very last paragraph and a bit of your first. I'm sure it is very interesting how you explained why the religious wars of Europe weren't about religion. Religion was important but also not important. Am I right?!
Tue, Jul 6, 2021, 5:46am (UTC -5)
Uh uh uh. Now I get it. A month or so ago I made a joke extra for you which you hated and I was really puzzled because I thought a conservative would appreciate making fun of left wing extremist speech patterns. I was very sad that you didn't like it.
"Shame is just a concept of the bourgeoisie because they don't want the working class to enjoy touching index fingers!"
Remember?! But considering you are not conservative then that might explain why it was such a dud?!! Phew, I'm so relieved.
Tue, Jul 6, 2021, 6:14am (UTC -5)
"Uh uh uh. Now I get it. A month or so ago I made a joke extra for you which you hated and I was really puzzled because I thought a conservative would appreciate making fun of left wing extremist speech patterns."
I don't appreciate making fun of people in general. And given your past behavior here, I found it hard to believe that there was not malice behind your "joke" (I also find it hard to believe that your intention was to mock left wing extremists...)
Rest assure that my reaction had nothing to do with my specific political views.
"I could elaborate, and write another twelve pages. But I trust you get my point."
Yes, I get your point.
You're trying to distract us from your original claims with a huge irrelevant wall-of-text.
I'm sorry, but as I read your (very very long) text, I don't see anything that we've "lost". You've painted a society that is full of crazy dogmatic ideas which people believed without question. A society in which fear and terror were commonplace. A society with a twisted "sense of purpose" that caused an enormous amount of suffering.
How is any of this positive? How is any of this conductive to feelings of awe and wonder? Why should we want any of that barbaric craziness back in our lives?
So far you haven't given any compelling argument for that judgement of yours. Nothing except cliches of "teleology good, physicalism bad".
Tue, Jul 6, 2021, 6:54am (UTC -5)
"I also find it hard to believe that your intention was to mock left wing extremists..."
But it is true. My leftism is mostly aimed at economic questions, while I find certain aspects of identity politics important, it has gone completely of the rails for a while now. Just a few days ago, a marxist I studied with back then mocked that people were watching the European Championship (Football) and I let him have it. There is a lot of elitism towards the working class in the more identity focused left, also a huge laziness. Many of these people think:" I know what is right, so I don't have to convince anybody and if you don't believe what I believe then you are a bad person by default." We have a leftist faction that calls itself "the anti-Germans". It's like they want to lose. I call them the loony left.
Tue, Jul 6, 2021, 7:06am (UTC -5)
“Firstly, the Enlightenment was an eighteenth-century phenomenon.”
That’s not so. While the Enlightenment continued booming in the 18th century, early thinkers like John Locke published his “Essay Concerning Human Understanding” in 1689. Locke argued that human nature was mutable and that knowledge was gained through accumulated experience rather than by accessing some sort of outside truth. In other words, he’s arguing against mere divinity.
Other early 17th century Renaissance writers include Francis Bacon and Thomas Hobbes, the Frenchman René Descartes.
I found multiple sources for this, the Encyclopedia Britannica lists the Enlightenment starting as early as 1601.
Tue, Jul 6, 2021, 7:23am (UTC -5)
"I'm curious as to what you thought of the Voyager episode “Living Witness”."
It is one of Voyager's very finest. It portrays remarkably well, given the constraints of the format, fundamental problems in the field of history in a way that all can appreciate. And the evil alternate crew got a good laugh or two out of me the first couple of times I saw it. It still makes me smile, and nod approvingly whenever I see it. It's one of those smart episodes in the finest tradition of Star Trek that make you think. I rank it among my top handful of VOY episodes.
Another is 'Distant Origin', which deals with similar matters of history and identity: the exploration of received beliefs about oneself and one's place in the cosmos, and the traditional resistance to said exploration, clinging to entrenched perceptions—to play on my other posts, a matter of worldview. The two scholars are both outstanding; and Minister Odala must rank among the finest antagonists in Star Trek. I meet her kind frequently in historical sources—gracious, magnanimous even; yet utterly unyielding.
"It makes me think of how history will judge our society."
Good question. You can be sure of this. The more time passes, the less will future generations understand us, despite the tremendous amount of evidence we are leaving, and the zanier things will future people think of us and our times. Until one day, so far removed from us societally and coloured by some future, to us unknowable theories, scholars will be writing things about us so outlandish that you wouldn't recognise yourself, and would never agree to them. A bit like we are seeing in the present thread, only about the past.
Tue, Jul 6, 2021, 7:33am (UTC -5)
I know all that. Now ask yourself this:
How many people in Europe do you think had read Locke's "Essay" before 1700? How many people do you think had read it in England even?
Hobbes was immediately forbidden in Catholic Europe. I have read parts of his own translation into Latin of 'Leviathan' for specific purposes, to see what meanings a European scholar might learn from it. But for all purposes and intents, Latin edition and all: how many people in Europe do you think had ever read Hobbes before the eighteenth century, Walter? And still many who did continued to disagree strongly with his views. And so on, and so forth.
Tue, Jul 6, 2021, 7:48am (UTC -5)
"Until one day, so far removed from us societally and coloured by some future, to us unknowable theories, scholars will be writing things about us so outlandish that you wouldn't recognise yourself, and would never agree to them. A bit like we are seeing in the present thread, only about the past."
Funny, I wasn't aware of any 17th-century peasants who are posting on this thread...
Anyway, nice of you do admit that history scholars are often out of touch from the societies they study. Makes me wonder what the heck was the point of you derailing this thread in the first place.
Tue, Jul 6, 2021, 11:14am (UTC -5)
It seems to be a good rebuttal to Booming's strongest point.
I don't purport to grasp 90% of Pedro's comments (my eyes glaze over whenever someone uses the word "teleology") but I do admire people willing to grapple with primary sources.
I can only speak to my experience as a lawyer where reading cases directly reveals nuance missed entirely in academic commentary or even contemporaneous summaries.
Tue, Jul 6, 2021, 11:21am (UTC -5)
I wasn't intending to insult you just laughing a bit at you stirring up the hornet's nest.
Tue, Jul 6, 2021, 12:40pm (UTC -5)
"I noticed that Pedro addressed in his novella..."
What can I say? They pay me by the word...
"...that illiterate people frequently dictated letters, across ages and classes."
Two other things I forgot to mention.
While literacy levels were low, here we see important difference between the present and the past. Today we speak of % literate *people*, as if all people were solitary islands. In those days, the relevant parameter was the *household*. In many households, one of the sons would be literate, while all his siblings would not: there were relatively more households with at least one person capable of writing texts than overall figures indicate. And also the households themselves were not isolated islands, but parts of the main: that literate son could similarly write letters and other documents for their entire street, so to speak. As people lived more communally and pooled resources, many more people had access to writing than is generally thought.
Finally, we must distinguish between levels of literacy. There were relatively few who could write 'Paradise Lost'; but more could write texts such as ordinary letters. And more still could read texts although they could not produce texts themselves, and thus read say, letters or gazettes to family and neighbours. There is much about the history of literacy that is poorly known by the general public.
Tue, Jul 6, 2021, 12:59pm (UTC -5)
1) EventualZen mentioned how it might be better to whittle down the world population to 500 million, presumably in keeping with the episode's reasoning that an overpopulated world makes life worse for all.
2) Trish mentioned that life back when we had 500 million total (17th century was the proposed timeframe) was pretty bad, so romanticizing it is perhaps not viable.
3) Pedro Q offered an account of how a differing worldview (one including teleology in all areas of life) would have made perception of life different enough that our modern metrics are not applicable to how good or bad life was back then. He also suggested that having lost this sense of purpose in all things, we are worse off for it. This seems to have been in response to a blanket dismissal of the quality of life in the 500 million population world of the 17th century.
I'll stop there and mention that one question I have about The Mark of Gideon is precisely this question of quality of life. Who determines what that is, and based on what analytical framework? Odana seems pretty damn sure of a few things that only seem to have passing importance to the story:
a) Overpopulation as a result of longer lifespan is inevitable.
b) While the planet may be able to technically sustain that life, the quality of that life is miserable.
c) Mass murder is warranted in order to improve the quality of life for those that remain.
Perhaps it's in context of (c) that some of us couldn't help but see EventualZen's suggestion as being in this vein. It turns out what he meant was to alter birth rates, so that the population level changes only over many generations. But what I find odd is how the episode never stops to ask whether any of (a) to (c) are actually true. She says they are all miserable - but what is miserable? This is the question Pedro Q poses, indirectly. It depends quite a lot on not only the psychological baseline, but on one's internal metaphysics and the understanding of how to think. She says that overpopulation is inevitable - which is a bizarre conclusion to come to in a TV show about space exploration and colonizing other planets. And it also supposes that there are no tech advances in order to create space, at it were. Did the people of Gideon try to create subterranean dwelling space? Orbital habitats? Vertical building methods? This isn't asked because it's not a hard sci-fi episode, but it becomes hard to swallow the premise when it's just stated as a truism, and then to evaluate her proposed solution. How can we know whether a solution is warranted unless we know that the alternatives have failed? And even then, is (c) ever warranted? That isn't asked either.
I'd like to address a teeny bit of Pedro Q's busy day at the office, but I'll try to keep it on point with these questions about The Mark of Gideon.
1) Pedro Q wrote:
"1) What Is? What is Truth? What is Good? (Ontology, Metaphysics, Ethics)
2) What is Knowledge? (Epistemology)
3) What is Meaning? (Semantics)"
Commenters here so far have only thought in terms of Questions 2-3, and not at all Question 1. This demonstrates how deep-rooted those questions are in modern thought. The reluctance of commenters to explore Question 1 speaks volumes. The hermeneutics of suspicion is everywhere. But take heed: the hermeneutics of suspicion is an entirely modern way of thinking."
Part of the reason I think you find some of my mode of analysis to be off-topic with what you are saying, is perhaps the same reason why even having a discussion like this is difficult. When asking, for instance, are the people of Gideon *truly* miserable such that an extreme solution is necessary, it is not only difficult to answer that question in terms of understanding what they think about it (self-report questionnaires won't cut it), but it is difficult to get beyond that into what the experience actually *is* for them. In fact, what does "is" mean? Is it an objective thing? Can a person be mistaken about what their own experience is ? (I would argue yes, actually). So it's not only a question of collecting accurate data (Booming's point), but in fact a worse problem of even formalizing what it is we're trying to assess in the first place. And that brings me back to Pedro Q: I do not think our problem (if there is one) is limited to my understanding exactly what you meant by "teleology". It's much worse: how can one discuss ancient ideas and ways life life, without resorting to modern conceptions of mind and nature? The answer is we can't. We would be fools to discard modern understandings in trying to understand the past, it's like going retrograde. But we would also be taking serious missteps to just use our modern terms and place them around in an ancient context. Some kind of bridge, or formal mapping is required, and I'm quite sure none exists at present.
Example: I was speaking to some classicists (political philosophers, really) about Cicero or something, and when they mentioned some idea of his to me, my response was "oh, maybe he meant something like X" (where X was a modern concept). Their answer was - no! You can't use modern concepts to try to translate what he meant, or else you're missing his own understanding of the concept. You're basically getting it wrong. I could see that, but at the same time that turns historic thought into an airtight shrine that we can't have any connection to. Good if you're a historical librarian (as Nietzsche put it), but not good if you want those concepts to help you live in the present. Back in Ciceo's time there was no concept of the human subconscious, and so thinking patterns did not include an awareness of that part of us. But we still did have it! So that leaves us having to keep our psychological understandings, even while reading old writings, but trying to avoid steamrolling what they intended to say. But here's the kicker: we do need to do the mapping sooner or later. We need to think of how a person's unconscious life would have affected them in the 17th century, even if that wasn't part of their worldview.
So when thinking of the people of Gideon, we need to not only ask whether they are suffering, but what suffering is to them in their own minds, but *also* whether their conscious understanding of their own life is missing important elements. In fact it's possible to be cognitively unaware of reality (an inability for formalize or delineate what is happening) while being unconsciously quite aware of it (perhaps exemplified in choices that make sense on a level not concordant with their stated views). In fact this is precisely the sort of thing Socrates was investigating. whether a person's intellectual concepts (a) made sense, (b) contradicted each other, (c) were in fact connected with their real-life actions, and (d) could be seen as based in first principles that were consistent 'all the way down'. All from what I can see it most mostly the case that one's cognitive understandings often bore little resemblance to their 'real beliefs' if we can call it that. And then there is the question of the deep-down 'real beliefs' and whether there are common elements among all people in this category (which Aquinas says is the case, under "eternal law").
So then how the hell are we supposed to know what to make of the problems on Gideon? I'm not trying to over-dramatize what a TV show needs to do to make enough sense for the story to move along, but in this case the plot point of what life is like there is actually critical to the story in a fundamental way. If we can't sympathize with Odana's reasoning, or at least with her desire to *do something * about it, then we're just shut out of caring about whether she succeeds or not.
2) Pedro Q wrote:
"But ‘personal comportment’ and ‘choices in life’ are tangential to what we are talking about. Virtually all modern westerners share one of two worldviews only, either that of i) empiricism and physicalism, or that of ii) empiricism and theism, here including every imaginable manifestation of the supernatural."
This is a problematic proposition for a few reasons. For one, as Socrates noted, we do not have a reasonable way to disentangle the various 'levels' of a person's life experience from each other. I see no reason to suppose that a person's accidental choices each day are in fact separate from their hidden and unknowable desires and beliefs. Even if these two categories are valid (are they?), do they really encapsulate the world view of a person? Maybe a *cognitive* view. Like if you ask a person questions, they can answer in terms of "yes I believe in physics, no I don't believe in god, no I think there's no meaning behind events" and so forth. But that's just intellectual armchair thinking. One of the things we study in art is just how little access we have to our creative impulses and that strange maelstrom of 'the human spark.' We can talk about it, but many artists even feel that talking about it is just B.S. because we don't have intellectual terms that match the reality (yet). For instance, a person in the U.S. walks around feeling entitled, with a vague notion of "good things ought to happen to me", with resentment that follows when it doesn't happen. I don't see how this view of life accords with either 'empiricism', or 'theism', or 'physicalism'. It's another animal altogether, something to do with one's own sense of sovereign majesty, something to do with why the world is at all, something to do with how others should see our importance. Now maybe these inclinations can be reconciled into a formal system and called something; and maybe not. Maybe they are indirectly consistent with Christian metaphysics, but stated in different terms and with strange actions that make it hard to map. Or maybe not. Even writing about this problem now, I suspect it will be difficult to access quite what I'm saying. The issues of language itself (a 20th century discovery) can't be divorced from the problems of historical readings.
So how, again, are we to make sense of what Odana is going through, if we can't be quite convinced that even she is aware of it? Is there even such a thing as an "objective experience of life" that you possess, whether you're aware of it or not? Or is 'faulty' subjective experience of your experience actually all we can intelligibly talk about? Modern left-wing theory strongly argues that we should not dismiss a person's own account of their own experiences. Practically, there is merit in this: don't want to tell someone who is suffering that we know better. But on the other hand, why can't we, on a philosophical level? It's hard to find among professed atheists, but the Catholic Church has plenty of saints in its registry who professed to having lived a physically miserable life, and even a psychologically troubled one, and yet who are declared to be "the happiest people" in a broader framework. So how to reconcile temporal comforts, pains, oppressions, and adversity in a framework other than "does this hurt now" is difficult without resorting to a particular analytical framework (e.g. that of a religion, or at least a meaning-driven metaphysics).
Maybe we could look at Odana and tell her she's got it all wrong, that by caring so much about her people she's full of love. Maybe it takes having a suffering planet for them to realize how much they care about each other's well-being. There's a prime-direct type idea we could even evolve from the ground-up, where the organic process of life on Gideon will yield some unknown fruit, some of which may be rare and amazing, even though it feels very unpleasant at present. So Odana might in some kind of analysis be seen as happy in a way that a 21st century American would find hard to understand. And certain her professed beliefs (bringing this back to Pedro's comment) may be far removed from other, more ephemeral, aspects of her being. So in response to a comment of yours that follows after this one, personal comportment, and even ethics, can't be divorced from worldview, especially because the reasoning behind your own actions is so far from your grasp, that no part of your life can really be disqualified when what our object of focus is on what life is "really like" for someone. If you restrict it to the intellectual world view, treating ethics or comportment as separate, then you may be conducting a study of the history of *thought*, but not of the history of life, which is our topic.
3) Pedro Q wrote:
"Indeed, but the matter of ‘mindframe’ was not about *what* people believed in, or whether it was neatly aligned or not (I never claimed it was), for they all believed in that enchanted garden in one way or another. It was about *how* people thought—how they reasoned, knowingly or not. See my previous comment to @Omicron, and below."
and you also wrote this:
"In any event, even if what you wrote [about how some acts were due to belief in ordered meaning, while others may have been cynical] were the case (which is beside the point now), it is not quite relevant to the matter of teleology. We are not speaking quite the same language, you and I."
That's actually the question - is it related to teleology or not? If you mean strictly on the intellectual-conscious-thought level, then what you are saying is that how people in the past (I know you wanted to stick to 17th century people) conceived of which questions to ask, how to ask them, and what the answers meant, was perhaps a different affair than how to sought to solve material problems or understood their political systems. But once you drop the need for us to only talk about conscious intellectual understanding we end up in a whirlpool that never stops moving. What if I were to suggest to you that formal language systems - even ones culminating in form thinking patterns - may not even correspond to how a person experiences their own life. You can almost think of a thought or formal system as a kind of mental clothing: a person, or a society, or a generation, can wear it, but is that phenomenon really that person's view of life? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe partially. You can argue that maybe habits affect life (which cognitive behavioral therapy believe in), but that doesn't mean that there's aren't other things that are stable and unaffected by these types of exterior changes. It's all very hard to say.
I think that's one reason why the Prime Directive is so hard for us here to grapple with. Sure, the PD looks a little more stupid when it's about allowing an asteroid to hit a planet. But when it's about evaluating the quality of life on a planet...how do you evaluate that!?
So the episode really needed to give us more beyond a vague appeal to "overpopulation!" I needed to at least know how I could possibly map my own understanding of life onto their, to at least begin to sympathize with Odana's proposed solution (or to vehemently reject it). I mean, I can reject it anyhow, it's based entirely on my current understandings, and not at all on my understanding of the people of Gideon.
I hope I've both answered a little bit of Pedro Q's points, and also kept things on topic.
Tue, Jul 6, 2021, 2:04pm (UTC -5)
"I wasn't intending to insult you just laughing a bit at you stirring up the hornet's nest. "
Speaking of laughing...
I think it's funny that a person who is protecting and supporting a new user whose first act here is to completely derail the conversation (and whose second act here was to spam us with a text-wall of 12 consecutive comments), has the nerve to claim that others are "stirring up the hornet's nest".
I get a strong vibe of dark gothic pots and kettles here, if you catch my drift ;-)
I admire your valiant effort.
But if you're serious about keeping this thread on topic, I would like to remind you of something you wrote earlier. You wrote this to Booming:
"I would like to once again point out that having training or understanding in academic fields is in no way requisite to knowing things about the world. Now does a person need to have training in...say...mathematics to understand formal proofs? Almost certainly. But do you need to go to sociology class in order to be able to look someone in the face and say they look unhappy, or to read a diary from 200 years ago and describe their self-reported experience of life? Hell no."
I agree completely.
And while you wrote this about Booming, the same thing - really - can be written about Pedro and most the resulting "discussion". 90% of the arguments on this thread read like a pompous debate between social studies professors who are completely out of touch with their subject matter.
Worse: Whenever someone tries to inject a bit of grounded common sense into the discussion, the "experts" brush it off as "irrelevant" and continue their pointless bickering.
Haven't you noticed, Peter, than every good point you've made was somehow ignored? That this thread is going round and round in circles? That by this point, this thread is drowning in pointless pure academics that have nothing to do with reality?
If we want to keep this thread on topic, perhaps we should stop cooperating with this kind of derailment?
Food for thought.
It's hilariously ironic, how Pedro is over-analyzing everything and giving scholarship so much weight (and common sense so little weight) while - in the same breath - also complaining that modern society is over-analytical and over-physicalist.
Seems to me like he is projecting his own discontent on society, where it is just his own personal problem.
Tue, Jul 6, 2021, 2:19pm (UTC -5)
Tue, Jul 6, 2021, 3:28pm (UTC -5)
Nothing was dismissed with "the wave of a hand".
Look... Pedro's argument can be divided to two parts:
(1) The part which romanticizes the 17th century, claims that it was an era of "awe and wonder", and blames the enlightment for losing that precious thing.
(2) Everything else.
Now, only statement #1 was relevant to the discussion we were having when Pedro arrived. If you scroll back to Pedro's first comment, you'll see that this - indeed - was the emphasis of his original post.
What happened next, is that people like myself pointed out just how baseless statement #1 is. It was not "dismissed with the wave of a hand", but refuted with actual counter-arguments.
At this point, Pedro shifted the goal posts and suddenly claimed that statement #1 was never the crux of his argument. He started spreading all over the place, up to the point where the things he said were no longer relevant to... well, anything.
So I really don't see the point of trying to shoehorn this massive distraction into the topic of the episode. You know why I call it a shoehorn? Because referencing Pedro's statements has made your own points more difficult to follow, rather than making them clearer.
Tue, Jul 6, 2021, 3:48pm (UTC -5)
I should point out that several of your statements, such as the claim that a billionaire and a working man have "nothing in common" were self-evidently false and ridiculous even to this layperson.
Pot and kettle indeed.
Tue, Jul 6, 2021, 4:52pm (UTC -5)
"you know who to blame for that one..."
Do you mean me? Nothing Pedro wrote was addressed at me. That's why I didn't read it.
I only wanted a few sources. Not a dozen or more pages.
Wed, Jul 7, 2021, 12:22am (UTC -5)
I do not see your option (c) as what is happening in the episode. Gideon's plan was to restore a more natural balance of life and death by bringing back disease, one their science had not already conquered and to which they were not already immune. Earlier deaths for many, yes, but not by means of "mass murder." If anything, closer to "mass suicide," because young people were volunteering to be given the disease, for the good of those who would remain. But I would still see it more as an effort to bring their society into a type of balance, more like whatever it had had before they made their world a "paradise" where everyone lived long enough to die of old age. Indeed, the writers may have been trying to lay out to the viewer something like, "Take your pick, contraception or disease. Don't you think contraception is better? Wouldn't it take a crazy society to pick disease?"
Crazy or not, population control by disease still seems to be their plan by the end of the episode. They just don't need Kirk anymore, because Odona has survived and, like him, still carries the virus and can be a source of infection for future volunteers.
The Gideon culture apparently finds more dignity in increasing the death rate than in reducing the birth rate, but either one, or both, can work to prevent overpopulation.
And by the way, my point in bringing up the 17th century was not so much that the 17th century was utterly terrible, but that it had problems of its own, and certainly was not the kind of utopia EventualZen seemed to me to be suggesting a population of half a billion would create, and that some of the people in that growing population in the past created the 21st century technology that I thought EventualZen probably wanted to keep.
Wed, Jul 7, 2021, 4:22am (UTC -5)
"I noticed that Pedro addressed in his novella Booming's complaint that letters only reflected the views of the literate and therefore, cannot provide insight into anything but a narrow subset of society. He stated that illiterate people frequently dictated letters, across ages and classes.
It seems to be a good rebuttal to Booming's strongest point."
Sorry, I actually already wrote an answer to this but then erased it but it slowly drives me insane so here is a shorter version.
I don't think that it is a good rebuttal. First, I have a big problem with the word frequently. That makes my statistical senses tingle. What does that actually mean. Second, a letter is a very specific form of written document which becomes even more specific if it is not written down by the person whose letter it is.
Pedro writes these kind of things.
"In many households, one of the sons would be literate, while all his siblings would not: there were relatively more households with at least one person capable of writing texts than overall figures indicate. And also the households themselves were not isolated islands, but parts of the main: that literate son could similarly write letters and other documents for their entire street, so to speak."
These sentences remind of a thought I had after sitting in on a few courses at our history department (which is in the top 20 worldwide if one trusts university rankings; our social science department is only top 50 #loser).
The thought was:"Man, this is almost like science." Social (and political science) during the last three decades has become very statistical because we have far easier access to lots of data. It is often described as pushing social science towards are more solid scientific foundation. History scholars on the other hand still play it pretty fast and loose with conclusions based on extremely limited data. The paragraph I cited above is a perfect example, there are numerous scientific red flags in there BUT I don't want to encourage Pedro to write another 50 pages, so yeah let's just say that there are many households were at least one person frequently thinks that Pedro's argument is not scientifically sound, even though the data may not indicate that.
Omicron pointed out the general error in Pedro's argument in this post Tue, Jul 6, 2021, 7:48am. so I won't repeat it.
Wed, Jul 7, 2021, 7:46am (UTC -5)
Out of curiosity, if you are trying to ascertain how a past society viewed themselves, what sources would be superior to books, letters, diaries and wills?
Wed, Jul 7, 2021, 8:20am (UTC -5)
I would say diaries would be best. Intimate letters to some degree. But these two sources would be limited by the ability to write and read.
I would certainly be hesitant to dictate my innermost thoughts to somebody, while also knowing that somebody else would have to read those thoughts to the person they were actually intended for. Especially if these thoughts were not in line with cultural values or religious doctrine. They were still burning witches in the 17th century and privacy of correspondence was not a thing.
Wed, Jul 7, 2021, 8:39am (UTC -5)
It sounds like you're saying there aren't any better sources.
Which makes me wonder why you are critical of Pedro's reliance on those documents and what alternative sources you believe would be superior.
Wed, Jul 7, 2021, 8:56am (UTC -5)
I'm saying that there are no good sources and if there are no good sources then science becomes glorified guessing.
Wed, Jul 7, 2021, 9:29am (UTC -5)
Basically, everything that Pedro has written here is hearsay, colored by his own (very 21st-century) biases. Him being an expert does not change this fact. It's strange how the same person who repeatedly claims that "we can never understand the people of the past" has also appointed himself as their spokesman.
I say: Let the people of the past speak for themselves. Thanks to the internet, countless authentic documents are at your fingertips.
Wed, Jul 7, 2021, 9:30am (UTC -5)
Wed, Jul 7, 2021, 9:48am (UTC -5)
I began doing so while you were writing your comment :-)
I decided to take my own advice and started going down this rabbit hole. Took me less than 5 minutes to find the first text - a love letter from 1680:
Isn't that sweet? So far, it seems that the people of the past aren't that different than us at all. Maybe other texts will prove otherwise, though. This is going to be a fascinating ride, I can already tell :-)
By the way, if Pedro (or anybody else) can recommend specific documents to read, I'll be happy to do so. I bet he knows of some really great stuff.
Wed, Jul 7, 2021, 9:58am (UTC -5)
Wed, Jul 7, 2021, 10:11am (UTC -5)
And I'm not sure why you're turning this into a joke. Aren't you curious? It's like having first contact with an alien civilization. I think it's fascinating to see what changed and what remained the same.
Don't you agree?
Wed, Jul 7, 2021, 10:15am (UTC -5)
"I do not see your option (c) as what is happening in the episode. Gideon's plan was to restore a more natural balance of life and death by bringing back disease, one their science had not already conquered and to which they were not already immune. Earlier deaths for many, yes, but not by means of "mass murder.""
I'm surprised that you're making this argument - or perhaps I was making unwarranted assumptions about your views vis a vis having studied Catholic theology. But I find it difficult to define "natural" in context of using a technologically constructed pathogen to combat a problem introduced by other technological innovations such as medical care and sanitation. Maybe we could imagine Gideon has some fountain of youth technology, but since they don't mention it I'll assume the episode is only suggesting a further of what was already happening on Earth in the 60's, of moderately increased lifespans rather than immortality. If the goal was to have a 'natural' balance, then why not just stop using medicine and never wash your hands? That would be natural if we're going to use the word to mean primitive. I think what you mean, maybe, is to create an artificial homeostasis? That seems far from 'natural' to me, although perhaps it might (and I mean might) create an equilibrium. It could also wipe out the entire population by mistake...whoops.
"The Gideon culture apparently finds more dignity in increasing the death rate than in reducing the birth rate, but either one, or both, can work to prevent overpopulation."
Another viable method would be having human hunting season to reduce excess population, like we do for deer. As far as I can tell, no matter which way you slice it, deliberately introducing a deadly pathogen has a rough equivalence to any other method of killing for a 'good cause'. If there are volunteers, then you may as well introduce the system Eminiar VII uses of death chambers. At least that way it would be 100% voluntary rather than people chosen at random, including those who didn't agree to this solution in the first place. I don't see how infecting an entire populace with a deadly virus is much different from handing out tommy guns and using spray-and-pray population control. If it's just all about numbers in the end. I'm not quite sure this was the case you were trying to make, but I suppose I have to rest my case on not understanding why causing a bunch of people to randomly die is dignified. At that point I don't know what the word dignity would mean. The Catholics, for instance, believe that dignity is an intrinsic and objective aspect of humanity, one part of which is to make life of a person inviolable by deliberate means. This even includes those in a state of suffering, for better or worse. One can reject a definition of that sort, but at least its propositions are clear.
Do you really think that there's any case to be made that releasing a deadly virus is no better or worse than reducing the birth rate? Or as I mentioned above, just leaving the planet to colonize?
Wed, Jul 7, 2021, 10:43am (UTC -5)
They wrote on clay tablets, so we have a surprising amount from that era and region and yes it was translated. I did not read the original. ;)
Apart from that, yeah I might give it a look.
Wed, Jul 7, 2021, 10:48am (UTC -5)
(yay! we're back on topic!)
I think the episode makes it pretty clear that we shouldn't find the chosen "solution" to make logical sense or be dignified. Kirk clearly doesn't think so, and he is supposed to be the avatar of goodness and justice in TOS.
As for why the Gideonians haven't chosen a different way to reduce their numbers, could it be that they lack the space to do so? A virus has the advantage of being carried by an already existing person. It doesn't need any additional space to reproduce, either.
Then again, the entire episode doesn't really make sense. How could such a society, where people are packed like sardines, even function?
It sorta works as an allegory, but the premise crumbles down under any kind of scrutiny.
Wed, Jul 7, 2021, 11:45am (UTC -5)
They do mention it,
HODIN: The atmosphere on Gideon has always been germ-free. And the people flourished in their physical and spiritual perfection. Eventually, even the life span increased. Death became almost unknown to us.
A long life. A life so long, it grows unbearable. Reminds me of something Kor once said on DS9,
Kor: Savor the fruit of life, my young friends. It has a sweet taste when it is fresh from the vine. But don't live too long. The taste turns bitter after a time.
And so @Trish accurately describes what they are trying to do, "Gideon's plan was to restore a more natural balance of life and death by bringing back disease.”
Why bring back death? Reminds me of something Lorien said on B5,
Lorien: To live on as we have is to leave behind joy, and love, and companionship, because we know it to be transitory, of the moment. Only those whose lives are brief can imagine that love is eternal. You should embrace that remarkable illusion. It may be the greatest gift your race has ever received.
Scifi is full of characters and societies that want to reintroduce death into their lives. There is Sebastian on Babylon 5,
Sebastian: I have done 400 years of penance in their service. A job for which they said I was ideally suited. Now, perhaps, they will finally let me die.
There are the Ennis and the Nol-Ennis on DS9,
SHEL-LA: We used to defend ourselves better, Major. Safety perimeters, counter-attacks, preemptive strikes. And then we realised that it was all pointless. When you cease to fear death, the rules of war change. You'll understand as the years begin to pass, Major.
SISKO: Listen to me, Shel-la. Our rescue is not going to take years. Days, weeks maybe, but they will find us and then they'll penetrate the defence net and transport us out of here.
SHEL-LA: Then you will be luckier than we have been.
SISKO: We'd be willing to transport all of you away from here if that's what you want.
SHEL-LA: Away from here? To live one life, to die in peace? To us this is an ancient prayer that's never been answered.
Or how about Quinn, the Q,
JANEWAY: May I ask you why you want to commit suicide?
QUINN: As difficult as it is for you to imagine, for me, immortality is impossible to endure any longer.
And then there’s our favorite Android in Time’s Arrow,
LAFORGE: So, do you want to talk about it?
DATA: Are you referring to the foreknowledge of my death?
DATA: I have no particular desire to discuss the matter. Do you need to talk about it?
LAFORGE: Data, this has got to bother you a little.
DATA: On the contrary. I find it rather comforting.
DATA: I have often wondered about my own mortality as I have seen others around me age. Until now it has been theoretically possible that I would live an unlimited period of time. And although some might find this attractive, to me it only reinforces the fact that I am artificial.
LAFORGE: I never knew how tough this must be for you.
DATA: Tough? As in difficult?
LAFORGE: Knowing that you would outlive all your friends.
DATA: I expected to make new friends.
DATA: And then to outlive them as well.
LAFORGE: Now that you know that you might not?
DATA: It provides a sense of completion to my future. In a way, I am not that different from anyone else. I can now look forward to death.
LAFORGE: I never thought of it that way.
@Trish hit the nail on it’s head. Gideon was trying to reintroduce death into its civilization. A monumental project with potentially revolutionary consequences. The Q tried to imprison one of their own when he tried the same. Our instinct is to judge them evil. Judge them barbaric. But the question presented in “Mark of Gideon” is a very old one. And the way the episode approaches it, while not perfect, is certainly thought provoking.
As someone once said, “the meaning of life is that it ends."
Wed, Jul 7, 2021, 12:13pm (UTC -5)
Ok I am going to point out again that this episode is idiotic and fails both as science fiction and drama. Seriously? Germ free? As in zero micro-organisms?
Unlike Omicron, I think we were all better off *not* talking about this episode.
Wed, Jul 7, 2021, 12:25pm (UTC -5)
I guess I'd have needed a rewatch to catch that detail. If the idea is actually that they are nearly immortal then it does become more a sci-fi speculation, but consequently I feel that premise would make it almost irrelevant to the idea of overpopulation on Earth in the present tense.
I'm reminded of Kosh's statement in B5's Deathwalker, "You are not ready for immortality." The state of a society with true immortality would be so far removed from what we now understand that I really can't imagine what it would be like, nor what would be proper to consider as necessary laws in such a society. I've also given some prior thought to the consequences of earthly immortality and how that would affect the convictions of people of certain religions. For instance does living forever here mean you are forsaking the meeting with your creator? But sticking just to this episode, I guess I'm left with feeling that it presented a monumental problem that I don't understand fully, and a solution that sounds crazy. Maybe only a crazy solution will work...but as a viewer I don't know how to assess that. I have to say this is one of those episodes growing up where I didn't even really get what the basic moral or point of it was. Don't...what? Don't let people live too long? Episodes like Half a Life vaguely address the issue of lifespans but really nothing we've seen addresses the issue you're suggesting is on the table, other than maybe Deathwalker. Quinn in Death Wish has a separate problem, which is that he already has all the knowledge of the universe and there's nothing left to do. The problem isn't so much his long life, but rather his mastery of time and space along with a long life.
Wed, Jul 7, 2021, 2:44pm (UTC -5)
The Gideons are not immortal or even nearly-immortal. Hodin stated explicitly that they die of old age:
HODIN: Death became almost unknown to us. It occurred only when the body could no longer regenerate itself, and that happens now only to the very old.
Replace "self-regeneration" with the advance of modern medicine, and you get a situation which clearly parallels earth: The population here started to explode because life expectancy increased. So this part of the episode, at least, makes sense.
Also, the misery on Gideon has nothing to do with the problems that are normally associated with immortality. They aren't tired of life. Their problem isn't some existential terror of eternity.
As for the intended moral of the episode... When Kirk suggests the idea of birth control, Hodin answers:
HODIN: We are incapable of destroying or interfering with the creation of that which we love so deeply. Life, in every form, from foetus to developed being. It is against our tradition, against our very nature. We simply could not do it.
And we are to believe that this, basically, is the reason that Gideon is in such a predicament.
Does that answer your question?
Wed, Jul 7, 2021, 3:38pm (UTC -5)
"Replace "self-regeneration" with the advance of modern medicine, and you get a situation which clearly parallels earth: The population here started to explode because life expectancy increased. So this part of the episode, at least, makes sense."
Yes, this was my original assumption about the episode. Mal made me wonder whether I was forgetting a small plot point that would change the premise. But if it's just a question of advanced medicine, combined with not wanting to use birth control, then I revert back to my previous comment to Trish.
Wed, Jul 7, 2021, 6:32pm (UTC -5)
I think the reason you were surprised my comment was that you were reading into it some kind of approval that was not there. I never said that what the Gideons were doing was right, or even that the writers seemed to intend us to think it was right. I was describing what I think their situation and their plan is supposed to look like from their cultural perspective.
If anything, I think the writers were trying to tell Catholics "Quit being against contraception, you dummies, because the 'only' other choice is rejecting life-prolonging advances and going backwards to a time of deadly disease. Pro-life ends up pro-death." And no, my articulation of that possible message does not mean I am approving of it, either. I think maybe the reason I can see that this message is what's being set up for the viewer is because I do subscribe to the philosophy and theology it's aimed at.
There are actually far more choices than the writers, Kirk, or the planet Gideon are acknowledging, but storytelling often works by simplifying complex issues into starkly binary choices, in this case, life or death, with the unacceptable third option being intolerable misery.
As a storytelling method and thought-provoking discussion starter, there's nothing wrong with that. You just have to keep reminding yourself not to take it too literally when you start talking about options for the real world, or you end up equating a hunting season on humans with disease (not technologically created, but technologically harvested from someone, Kirk, who presumably got it naturally, and then refusing to use technology to combat it). They're not the same thing at all, just as ceasing "extraordinary means" of medically prolonging life is not the same thing as murder.
Wed, Jul 7, 2021, 8:05pm (UTC -5)
>It is one of Voyager's very finest.
Agreed. "Living Witness" is my second favourite episode after "Deathwish". I think about death a lot and wonder what happens to our civilization after I'm gone, and how a culture will be judged. Knowing that all culture that I care about will on a long enough time scale be lost in time is deeply saddening to me which is why I score TNG's "The Inner Light" so high (9/10).
>Not to imply you meant it this way, EventualZen, but usually the overpopulation story is accompanied by some kind of statement about how the human race is a blight. Sort of reminds me of Agent Smith's monologue in The Matrix.
According to the philosophy of Inmendham (https://www.youtube.com/user/inmendham) nobody should have children because then there would be no human suffering. He believes that all life should die because there is no point to life and the majority of beings suffer more than they experience joy. He calls his brand of extreme misanthropic-humanist anti-natalism, “Efilism” - Efil being life spelled backwards.
I don't subscribe to his philosophy but I do wonder what our ultimate fate is. Do we end up evolving in to energy beings and eventually commit suicide like in “Deathwish”? Isn't our planet going to die, and our sun, and all the stars in the universe?
Thu, Jul 8, 2021, 3:30am (UTC -5)
Japan has the longest life expectancy of any country on the planet (84 years 4 months - compared to 78 years 6 months in America).
Japan is also one of the most densely populated countries in the world - 10 times more dense than America! (863 people per square mile in Japan - compared to 86 in America). Tokyo has 14 million people. By comparison, NYC is just 8 million.
And so the Japanese have taken Kirk and @OmicronThetaDeltaPhi's recommendation and stopped having kids. Just 1.36 children per woman, as against to 1.7 in America.
So while America added almost two million people to its population last year (during a pandemic!), Japan lost more than four hundred thousand.
Now the question is, do the Japanese want to reintroduce death into their population? I have no idea. But let’s take the ongoing global health predicament. How is Japan responding?
In Japan, 15% of the people are fully vaccinated. In America, that number is 47.5%
Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
@Peter G., in Babylon 5, Dodger comes back to life in “Day of the Dead" to tell us that we can sing any Emily Dickinson poem to the tune of "The Yellow Rose of Texas."
Thu, Jul 8, 2021, 10:05am (UTC -5)
There's further a question of whether Japan is better off because of its drop in population. I studied this in college and at the time there was a concern that a declining population would ultimately stifle Japan's GDP growth (which is indeed somewhat stagnant looking at recent data). Of course, GDP doesn't necessarily correlate to quality of life and I'm sure a social scientist like @Booming could give figures that show Japanese cities have a very high quality of life compared to many other developed countries. So, at best one could argue that the results of a population decline are mixed -- and that's assuming quality of life is impacted by population density.
"Now the question is, do the Japanese want to reintroduce death into their population? I have no idea. But let’s take the ongoing global health predicament. How is Japan responding?
In Japan, 15% of the people are fully vaccinated. In America, that number is 47.5%"
If you look at the COVID cases by country, the US has 104,000 cases per million (10%) and Japan has 6,400 (0.6%), Yup, we really bumbled it. Whether the US improves its QoL thanks to decreases in population growth attributed to COVID may be illuminating though.
Thu, Jul 8, 2021, 10:48am (UTC -5)
I think I inferred that you supportive in some way of Gideon's choice because of how the first two lines of your post read:
"I do not see your option (c) as what is happening in the episode. Gideon's plan was to restore a more natural balance of life and death by bringing back disease, one their science had not already conquered and to which they were not already immune."
Since you were disagreeing with me that it's mass murder, and then saying they wanted to restore a more natural balance, it sounded like you were saying on your own behalf you thought it wasn't murder, and in fact was a more natural balance. Thanks for the clarification. Makes more sense now!
"If anything, I think the writers were trying to tell Catholics "Quit being against contraception, you dummies, because the 'only' other choice is rejecting life-prolonging advances and going backwards to a time of deadly disease. Pro-life ends up pro-death.""
You could well be correct that this was intended as a direct accusation against Catholics. But I wonder...the recurrent tendency for people to trumpet the "overpopulation problem" seems to me at least sometimes independent of the topic of large families is. For instance I have an activist-type friend who actually has warmish feelings for Christianity, and yet will mention rampant human overpopulation en passant as if it's an obvious problem needing a solution. It will be listed among other problems such as oil pipelines, pollution, and the state of First Nations communities. And I've seen this many times before, that overpopulation is not so much an accusation against a particular social group, but more against the entire species.
"And no, my articulation of that possible message does not mean I am approving of it, either."
Of course not. I think my read of the first two lines colored how I read what followed. I got it now.
"I think maybe the reason I can see that this message is what's being set up for the viewer is because I do subscribe to the philosophy and theology it's aimed at."
It's actually quite fascinating how a message that may well be targeted toward a particular group will be apparent to members of that group, but sort of invisible to anyone else unless they look closely. It's like an inverse dog whistle - intended for only a particular audience to care, but in this case, not those who agree with the message.
"As a storytelling method and thought-provoking discussion starter, there's nothing wrong with that. You just have to keep reminding yourself not to take it too literally when you start talking about options for the real world, or you end up equating a hunting season on humans with disease"
To me this depends largely on the writer's intent. If they are presenting a sci-fi scenario to provoke thought, then I agree we don't need to worry about mapping it onto real life and wondering whether all the pieces make sense. But if the intent is a kind of social activism, where the allegory in the writing is directly meant to inform our views in the present, then I definitely need the argument to be cogent in order to take it seriously. Jason R. seems pretty sure that the episode fails in this regard, but I do agree with you that if all they were doing was a 'what if' imagination scenario then we don't need to assess whether the scenario matches our reality or not. I kinda get the feeling, though, that it was supposed to be directly on-point and pertaining to our real world. And in that case, yeah, I need their argument to work. If real life people believe this exact thing - that we are overpopulating the world, are creating misery by having more children (I've heard this opinion from time to time), and that 'something' needs to be done about us as a species - then the episode's argument is not merely theoretical but is an accompaniment to what we might call a real movement. And to that extent if the argument is bogus we definitely don't want to just leave it alone.
Thu, Jul 8, 2021, 1:35pm (UTC -5)
I think we are closer to being on the same page now.
I agree that for decades, in some circles "overpopulation" has been automatically included on every list of human-caused evils in the world, and I have long been suspicious of the premise that a growing population is always a recipe for catastrophe. Some of the problems routinely blamed (again, in some circles) on overpopulation can actually be framed as different issues entirely, and simply cutting population would not solve them. For example, poverty and hunger are problems of distribution, not of global supply of resources.
If you watch any documentary about overpopulation, at some point you will see a simple technique of cinematography used to evoke a visceral feeling of urgency in the target audience, and it reveals a disturbing subtext: The filmmaker goes to a location where most residents are not caucasian and draws a crowd of curious children, then films them crowding on each other to get in the camera shot.
This gives the impression, like Kirk's fleeting glimpses of Gideon, that the country being filmed is so crammed with people that they can't help but bump shoulders, and the fact that the crowd is so young gives the impression that this supposed problem is caused by excessive births. The fact that their skin is brown is not an accident, either. It heightens the target viewer's sense of the crowd's "otherness." The message is "Those people over there are about to overrun the world by breeding us into oblivion." But what is really going on is that all the children in the neighborhood have gathered in one place to laugh in front of a camera.
What does it say about the filmmaker that they think their viewer will find this image threatening enough to be moved to do something about it? What does it say about viewers who do have the intended reaction?
This is the moment when some people might say to me, "Oh, quit playing the race card." But as a white person, I feel obliged to point out that I have yet to see a documentary on overpopulation in which the obligatory "crowd of children" shot had been taken at an American playground in a white suburban neighborhood. I may be playing the card, but I didn't put it in the deck. It's really there, as the subtext of many discussions of "the population bomb."
Thu, Jul 8, 2021, 1:54pm (UTC -5)
There you go
and the fertility rate for Japan
Thu, Jul 8, 2021, 2:23pm (UTC -5)
"The filmmaker goes to a location where most residents are not caucasian and draws a crowd of curious children, then films them crowding on each other to get in the camera shot."
This isn't a new narrative people are pushing, either. Back in the 19th century and early 20th century they were debating this very thing in Britain, about how the lower classes were breeding like rabbits and would eventually overwhelm their betters and take over. They even considers plans involving mass sterilization (of inmates, mental patients, and other undesirables). As it turns out the UK didn't implement these plans, although the U.S. did to a certain extent.
And as you point out, it's always "them" who are the danger. In the cases you describe it's people of color in poorer nations, but in my experience at least a common element is poverty. Many people just seem to hate the poor. I've seen this when people are frowning at that 'poor Catholic family' or ultra-Orthodox Jewish family. It's always that they're poor, like they're being irresponsible both to their own kids and to the planet. Now in some cases I'm sure there are irresponsible people out there who fit the bill, but the mere fact of poor people having kids seems to disturb a lot of people. The fact is that well-off people don't avoid having more than 1-2 kids because they're moral, they avoid it because it's too expensive and they have no time. But it gets turned into a pseudo-moral decision retroactively.
Thu, Jul 8, 2021, 2:42pm (UTC -5)
Japan is a unique country in a number of ways and I think an analogy to Gideon might be the most a propos for what's out there.
But I'm not sure what you are implying by this:
"Now the question is, do the Japanese want to reintroduce death into their population? I have no idea. But let’s take the ongoing global health predicament. How is Japan responding?
In Japan, 15% of the people are fully vaccinated. In America, that number is 47.5%"
Maybe Japan was just not as aggressive as other nations in procuring vaccines and are playing catch-up. I don't know. Or maybe their population doesn't want to get vaccinated.
Oh, and 1 last thing that I could not contain my laughter to:
"Chrome" wrote "... I'm sure a social scientist like @Booming ..."
I assume at some point "Booming" claimed to be a social scientist or whatever -- but leaving that aside, what is a social scientist anyway? Aren't we all social scientists to some extent? Another thing is, with the availability of information, people can get away with claiming they are anything -- especially on an anonymous forum like this one.
Thu, Jul 8, 2021, 3:21pm (UTC -5)
"I assume at some point "Booming" claimed to be a social scientist or whatever -- but leaving that aside, what is a social scientist anyway? Aren't we all social scientists to some extent?"
Now you are putting my nick in quotation marks, are you doubting that I'm me. :D
A social scientist is somebody who has studied social science at a university which hopefully also answers your second question.
Here look, like that.
I guess according to your views we are all social scientists, physicists, biologist, zoologists, meteorologists, geologists and so much more. universal geniuses all around.
But, honey, I'm happy that we are still so close.
Thu, Jul 8, 2021, 5:47pm (UTC -5)
It's funny how the democratic transition theory really makes an overpopulation crisis sound ridiculous. Countries such as Germany, Italy, and Japan which rely on population growth for certain key industries are actually having problems due to declining population.
Stanley Jones, who wrote this, apparently had a fixation with overcrowding as he was involved in "The Trouble With Tribbles" as well.
"Another thing is, with the availability of information, people can get away with claiming they are anything -- especially on an anonymous forum like this one."
That's fair. I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt here, as I hope they'd give me. Anywho, I've read through enough of Booming's material that I recognize an academic level of knowledge.
Fri, Jul 9, 2021, 2:44am (UTC -5)
I wouldn't say ridiculous. The problem we have is that we are on such a high level that even a fairly low global fertility rate still creates a lot of growth. It all depends on socioeconomic development and a few other factors. It would be very wise to put more money into international development. America is already below replacement rate and Asia will probably go below that during the next 10 years. Africa is going down but still very high. Countries there are for the most part still in stages 2,3 (with a few exceptions)which are the stages with very high population growth (still high fertility combined with strongly declining infant mortality+ longer life expectancy). I could write a long essay now but I'll end it here. Let's just say that the majority of researchers in the field of demographics believe that we will land around 9 billion which is of course a number that could be changed by human stupidity and shortsightedness.
Sun, Aug 22, 2021, 9:48am (UTC -5)
Have you guys heard of the earthquake in Haiti? If fewer people inhabited this planet, people living in disaster prone areas could be slowly evacuated to safer places.
Mon, Oct 11, 2021, 10:50pm (UTC -5)
Mon, Dec 27, 2021, 5:52pm (UTC -5)
Sun, Apr 3, 2022, 6:30pm (UTC -5)
Tue, May 3, 2022, 2:51am (UTC -5)
But the main reason I wanted to post was to thank @Pedro Q. for his wonderful posts here, which were a true pleasure to read. Insightful, illuminating, thought provoking - I'm blown away! What a treat and a privilege.
Tue, Jun 28, 2022, 2:08pm (UTC -5)
It's about human population, from the first humans 200,000 years ago to the present, and to the distant future. Makes one feel insignificant when you think of all the people who have ever lived, and who ever will live.
I'm an atheist but I'm curious about what religious people think of heaven and hell, they must be awfully cramped with trillions of people there.
Tue, Jul 19, 2022, 5:10pm (UTC -5)
Well, I can't speak for all people who believe in some kind of afterlife, but I have never been worried about heaven becoming "cramped," any more than I worry about it become "boring" after a few thousand years because my understanding of it is as a different mode of existence, outside of our physical concepts of space and time.
Images of it as a "place" with pearly gates at the entryway, and of its inhabitants amusing themselves by playing harps for millennium after millennium are just metaphors, and like all metaphors, they limp.
Wed, Aug 31, 2022, 1:18pm (UTC -5)
From pro abortion to homosexuality and eco freak attitudes they have made themselves the hero in the programs and thru use of humor, their opponents look ridiculous. They include one world government, humanism and all other attacks against our constitutional form of government. And fortunately our Supreme Court has overturned Rod v. Wade plus we have the 3/5 going majority within our 50 states.
I could go on, but ‘nuff said”.
Always vote for Constitutionalists
Wed, Aug 31, 2022, 10:25pm (UTC -5)
Sat, Mar 11, 2023, 11:28am (UTC -5)
Up until that moment on the bridge, the episode was interesting, but then logic crushed every vestige of plausibility. Two topics: Food production and waste disposal.
Bad tv. Bad science fiction. Bad Star Trek.
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