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Author Topic: History and Morality (split)  (Read 5413 times)
Valamir
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« on: September 23, 2004, 11:58:04 AM »

Quote
I object to the worst elements of history being portrayed as moral,


There is no such thing as a moral or immoral historical event.  Morality of a historical event can not be gauged at all outside of the context of its own time, and should not be gauged without reference to the context of the practitioners themselves.

Morality, like all of history, is defined as what the biggest ass kickers say it is.  We all have ideas of what is moral and what is immoral, but those are nothing more than the sum total of historical precedent as interpreted by the current power base.

In our own lifetimes we are witnessing a dramatic shift in morality.  In prior times homosexuality was viewed as an abhorrant thing on par with any villainy you care to name.  Today, we are in the midst of a transition that is in the process of negating it as social stigma all together.  

Does that make us more moral than prior generations?  What happens when in 200 years morality shifts again to something else.  Will that make them more moral than us?  The concept is a catch 22.  You can never define what morality is because morality has never been static.  You can only define what particular groups at a particular time thought was moral relative to other groups of that time and judge them in that context...a context in which, like most of history...is written by the winner.


Consider a history where the Nazi's won WWII and the U.S. entered into an extended period of appeasement.  Without the cold war it is unlikely that the anger of much of the Middle East would today be directed against us.  It is equally likely that various groups of Americans would be engageing in various forms of armed resistance against the puppet government.  When these resistance groups blow up Nazi federal buildings and drive car bombs into Gestapo headquarters are they terrorists or heroic freedom fighters?  Do you think the average American opinion on the acceptability of terror tactics as a way to deliver a political message would differ dramatically from the average American opinion today?  Of course.  Because the morality would be different...because the historical experience which morality is based on would be different.  Is one more moral than the other?  Rubbish.

Trying to apply current modern sensibilities to historical periods is IMO entirely futile and completely unnecessary and inappropriate.
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lumpley
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« Reply #1 on: September 23, 2004, 12:26:42 PM »

I split this off of Commissars in the Vineyard. I'm just hoping to keep that thread focused on Danny's game setup.

This thread is cool with me under the "religion is on-topic" clause. Everybody play nice, bring roleplaying into it as appropriate.

-Vincent
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Joshua A.C. Newman
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« Reply #2 on: September 23, 2004, 01:23:42 PM »

Quote from: Valamir
Quote
I object to the worst elements of history being portrayed as moral,


There is no such thing as a moral or immoral historical event.  Morality of a historical event can not be gauged at all outside of the context of its own time, and should not be gauged without reference to the context of the practitioners themselves.


If morality exists, systematic slaughter of populations for the crime of existence is certainly contrary to it. You're right: events aren't moral. But the people who make the decisions to carry out immoral acts are acting immorally. I think it's the height of sophistry to equivocate away the evil done by generations past because it was so long ago.

Quote
Morality, like all of history, is defined as what the biggest ass kickers say it is.  We all have ideas of what is moral and what is immoral, but those are nothing more than the sum total of historical precedent as interpreted by the current power base.


The current power base has no problem with genocide. As a man with the power of only one man, I can still say that an act is evil or immoral. I can be wrong in your eyes, but from where I'm sitting, looking out of my eyes, it is a horrible evil to industrially grind up a people for the gold in their teeth.

Quote
In our own lifetimes we are witnessing a dramatic shift in morality.  In prior times homosexuality was viewed as an abhorrant thing on par with any villainy you care to name.  Today, we are in the midst of a transition that is in the process of negating it as social stigma all together.


Yeah, that's what the Nazis thought. In some places, it's been considered evil. In others, par for the course. Sure. But that doesn't rob me of the right to look out and say that the slaughter of homosexuals in Germany (and thereabouts) in the 30s and 40s wasn't evil. I speak for one man, in one place, in one time. What I say is relative, sure. But that makes it more likely to be right, not wrong. It means that from my perspective, I can see evil.

Just like the acts of cultures through the window of history are given the benefit of the doubt in postmodern thought, so must our current place and time.

Quote
Does that make us more moral than prior generations?  What happens when in 200 years morality shifts again to something else.  Will that make them more moral than us?  The concept is a catch 22.  You can never define what morality is because morality has never been static.


I think it was pretty clear to a lot of the world that the German government was doing a whole lot o' evil. I think Stalin caused a lot of terror. I think Saddam caused people to duck under their beds. I think Shaka painted the land red, and the British who were trying to do the same, painted it again. (I'll stay out of parallels to our current, American society for now).

I really think most of the people doing these things were trying to do it for the Greater Good. I think Hitler saw that he could revive the German spirit, Stalin wanted his people to be free from the Industrialist powers of the West, Shaka saw potential for honor, and England saw a place for her people to expand.

But the motivation is only a small part of the equation. The acts are a far greater part.

Quote
You can only define what particular groups at a particular time thought was moral relative to other groups of that time and judge them in that context...a context in which, like most of history...is written by the winner.


Yeah, I'm American. My ancestors won WWII from this side of the oceans. The remaining scraps of Jews that managed to leave Europe after the war were denied passage to England, the US, Greece, and a number of other ports, 'til finally they wound up in Israel, where there was a small Jewish community. There, they formed Israel, thanks to the willingness of England to pass on the problem. Those Jews didn't win the war; they didn't even fight it. They just survived it.

Today, the descendants of those Jews (and in some cases, the very individuals) are viewed as monsters by much of the world because of their war with Palestine, despite their winner status.

I don't attribute morality or immorality to people, or even a position of dominance, only their actions.

Quote
Consider a history where the Nazi's won WWII and the U.S. entered into an extended period of appeasement.  Without the cold war it is unlikely that the anger of much of the Middle East would today be directed against us.  It is equally likely that various groups of Americans would be engageing in various forms of armed resistance against the puppet government.  When these resistance groups blow up Nazi federal buildings and drive car bombs into Gestapo headquarters are they terrorists or heroic freedom fighters?


Sure. The Mujahadin were "Freedom Fighters" when Reagan was around, but "Terrorists" under Bush. That doesn't mean that what they do is more or less evil.

What I'm saying - and this is implicit in the term, in my opinion - is that an act is evil if I believe it to be so. I can't speak for you; I don't know what's evil to you. But over here, thanks to my big monkey brain, I recognize the features of evil, just like I recognize faces or types of birds. I see a bird and say "Hey, a turkey vulture." I've imposed my sense of order on the world. Sometimes, we agree on what it is. My fiancée demands that I call vultures "hawks" because she doesn't like vultures, but likes hawks, but as far as I'm concerned that is a vulture.

Likewise, in my moral taxonomy, systematically killing populations, particularly ones that have no means of either defense or flight, is evil.

Quote
Do you think the average American opinion on the acceptability of terror tactics as a way to deliver a political message would differ dramatically from the average American opinion today?  Of course.  Because the morality would be different...because the historical experience which morality is based on would be different.  Is one more moral than the other?  Rubbish.


I'll take that a step further: the difference between terrorists and an army is that the army has weapons and uniforms that we recognize.

Quote
Trying to apply current modern sensibilities to historical periods is IMO entirely futile and completely unnecessary and inappropriate.


This isn't just history we're talking about here. This is a past so recent, we can still smell the gunpowder in the air. My grampa fought in that war. He wouldn't talk about it because it was such horror.

We look at history because it gives us a framework - both strategic and ethical - from which we draw in the present. The past is over; we can't hurt Goering's feelings by calling him a practitioner of evil. What we can do is recognize that what he did was evil in our perception and watch for when we start to act like he did.

To bring this back around, that's one of the things I like about Dogs. Your perception of evil gets pretty much laid out there in front of your other players. They don't always jibe, and that's great fun. When that guy's coming out of the cabin with blood all over him, buttoning up his pants and telling the little boys with him that that's how you deal with Mountain People, it's great hearing all the players come up with their own moral solutions. Freed from the boundaries of ethical behavior by the mask of your character, your own morality flops down there on the table with the handfuls of dice. When you see good, you protect it, and when you see evil, you destroy it, and we all see different things.
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the glyphpress's games are Shock: Social Science Fiction and Under the Bed.

I design books like Dogs in the Vineyard and The Mountain Witch.
Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #3 on: September 23, 2004, 01:35:11 PM »

[Edited to note cross-post with Nicola]

That's known as the relativistic view, Ralph. Many people believe that morality is absolute, and that changes simply represent a better or worse understanding of that absolute (or better or worse following of the understanding) at the time.

But even beyond that, not all actions taken are done with the belief that they're the right thing to do, historically. That is, some people do bad things, knowing that they're bad. So even from a relativistic viewpoint, they are immoral historical events.

For instance, when confronted with the enormity of what had happened in the death camps most Germans condemned what had happened. One could argue that this was a sudden and convenient change of heart, and that before when they thought they might win that they felt different. But I rather doubt it.

Yes, I'm sure that Hitler thought it was the right thing to do. But by that argument, then morality is rendered merely what the individual thinks at the moment. This is, generally speaking, the least of the uses of the term, due to the fact that it doesn't carry much meaning as such. Rather, its used to mean a lot more by other people.
 
Consider: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/morality-definition/

The point is that by some definitions, one can definitely say that a historical event was immoral. The question, which you pose, is what is the use of such a statement. Indeed, the relativistic viewpoint has it's place. That is, we can try to understand the event in the context of the mores in which it occured - indeed should consider them from such a context for some purposes.

But for other purposes, judging such events by their morality is not only beneficial, but in fact neccessary. From one point of view, nothing ever happens without such analysis. Why are we in Iraq right now? Afghanistan? Did not we make a moral judgement about the complicity of these countries in terrorism and tyranny?

And as far as applying moral judgement to history: it's often said that history is studies so that we don't repeat it. Presumably so that we don't repeat the immoral parts of it, no? Those immoral by our own standards.

Mike
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Ben Lehman
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« Reply #4 on: September 23, 2004, 01:52:37 PM »

Okay, given the context of where this thread split from (i.e. the rpg Dogs in the Vinyard), I'm going to say this:

For the context of a game of Dogs, it doesn't matter if you believe that your characters are doing the right thing.  All the matters is that you, and no one else, judges whether or not what they are doing is the right thing.

Do you have a moral compass?  I bet you do.  Dogs is tailor-made to be a vehicle for exploring that.  Do we all agree on this?

Awesome.

As far as the general topic:  Well, I believe in the existence of good and evil as things we do.  I also believe that people can be mistaken about them (mistake an evil act for a good one, mistake a good act for an evil one.)  I have nothing more to say on the matter, really.  I'm not going to be convinced otherwise, and I hardly imagine that I could convince someone else.

yrs--
--Ben
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clehrich
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« Reply #5 on: September 23, 2004, 05:22:16 PM »

I don't want to extend what is sure to be a fruitless debate much more, but I do want to point out that from the perspective of the contemporary historian, everybody's sort of right here.

Let me take an example that fits within my Inquisition spin on Dogs, just to keep the connections clear.  Take Giordano Bruno, who was burned in 1600 for heresy.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, historians generally held him up as a scientist oppressed by the evil, anti-rationalistic Church.  Then Frances Yates came along and said he wasn't rationalistic himself, which sort of confused matters, but the basic point stood.

The problem is, he was a heretic, and a recidivist.  You can certainly decry the laws that made this a capital offense, but it's not like he was unjustly charged or tried.

So now what do we say?  Do we have to take a relativistic perspective and say, "Well, okay, I guess that was a fine thing to do in those days"?  Do we need to respond to, let's say, the Aztec sacrificial structure as morally reasonable now that we understand fairly clearly that the Aztecs didn't see it as a wonderful thing in itself (it was necessary because of the instability of the universe, in short)?

Because you see, from that perspective, what happens with 9/11?  You have only two choices, really.  One, you can say that Osama bin Laden is a madman, deliberately evil, or the like, and so moral judgments apply directly.  Two, you can say that he truly believes that his is a holy war approved by God, and say, "well, I guess that's okay then."  You know what?  I think both are crap.

It is perfectly appropriate to apply moral judgments to other cultures and people, if nothing else because you cannot avoid them.  At the same time, it is not appropriate on that basis to demonize the other, to say, "Those people were simply evil and unlike us."  The point of studying, for example, the Spanish Inquisition isn't to say that those were bad people, but to consider why and how it could have happened, how and why decent people who meant well could have done what they did.

For me, that's one of the coolest things about Dogs: it puts you in the position of those folks, and demands that you try to see through their eyes.  Your conscience may prick you, which is good, or you may come to understand how others might think, which is good.  But a complete moral relativism would make Dogs pointless, just as a completely inflexible moral absolutism would make it either pointless or unplayable.

My two cents.
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Chris Lehrich
Joshua A.C. Newman
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« Reply #6 on: September 23, 2004, 06:27:22 PM »

Once again, CLerich says what I was trying to say, but better.
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the glyphpress's games are Shock: Social Science Fiction and Under the Bed.

I design books like Dogs in the Vineyard and The Mountain Witch.
Sean
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« Reply #7 on: September 25, 2004, 06:05:24 AM »

Hi Ralph,

So you think it's fine that the nazis put people in concentration camps? That we used to have slaves in this country? Because people in those cultures thought it was fine at the time? If our culture decides tomorrow to put Arab-Americans in concentration camps that will be a fine thing for us, because according to our beliefs it seemed fine at the time?

That's nonsense of course. Even if every single member of a culture, of course including ours, believes something is right or wrong, that doesn't make it right or wrong.  They might be in error, as were the nazis and as were our slave-owning forebears.

All it means to say that "There is no such thing as a moral or immoral historical event" is that you, personally, are abdicating moral judgment for events outside your own time and place. I view this as irresponsible. Especially of course because there is no monolithic 'culture' 'time' or 'place' anywhere in human history - disagreement itself is a fundamental feature of humanity's underlying commitment to morality. 'Whole cultures' don't 'decide' anything - there are always voices of dissent, and the opportunity to rationally examine and revise one's own moral beliefs is always open to those who will take it.

Leaving these questions up to "the biggest ass kickers" to decide is even more irresponsible. That's like saying "yeah, the evil define what is good, and that's OK with me." But of course the very fact that so much of what the powerful preach and what the masses believe is such obvious bullshit shows that the evil have no such power at all. What they have is the power to intimidate and obfuscate, and they use it well. Goodness remains goodness no matter what man might say about it.

But OK, no need to rehearse this ancient issue on Vincent's board, except to register what will no doubt be a lonely voice in dissent against Ralph's pernicious moral relativism. Interested parties should attend to Socrates' debates with Thrasymychus in the Republic and (even better) with Callicles in the Gorgias.
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Mark D. Eddy
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« Reply #8 on: September 25, 2004, 08:56:39 AM »

I've been watching this thread with some inerest, because of several things: First, I'm a seminarian, one of my classes from last year was the Theology of Ethics. Second, I'm on the radical orthodoxy side of the post-modern fence (as opposed to radical relativism). Third, I like medeval history.

I see the trap, but I'm springing it anyway. Modern examples don't apply to the Inquisition. So any parallels that might be made to Nazis or such like don't pan out. In fact, even in Spain, the Inquisition wasn't looking for non-Christians. They were looking for non-Catholic Christians. It was a deplorable act of the Spanish government under Isabella and Ferdinand that forced all Jews and Muslims in Spain to convert to Christianity or leave the country. This was complicated by the issue of the 750-year occupation of the Iberian penninsula by Muslim forces where Jews had a much better life than in Catholic Europe -- so Iberian Jews tended to side with the Musilms rather than the Catholics. The fact that many Jews and Muslims continued to practice their original religion in secret meant that their conversion was seen as incomplete, and thus they were prosecuted as heretics.

In post-modern thought, the aggrandizement of the self at the expense of society or community is seen as a central problem with modernity. Moral relativism is one of the most frequently cited problems with the modern turn to the self. It is necessary to grasp that the best answer to a moral issue is not necessarily the most reasonable answer.

What does this mean for the topic at hand?

I hate to say this, but nikola is actually mistaken.:

Quote
If morality exists, systematic slaughter of populations for the crime of existence is certainly contrary to it.


Has not been true in any phase of human existence. From the book of Joshua in the Bible (pre classical Ancient world view) to the post-modern destruction of tribal groups in Indonesia for the "good of the Community," genocide is a de facto human moral good. I don't necessarily see this as a positive thing, mind you.

The problem is that goods (especially moral goods) are in competition with one another in every phase of human existance, and the good of "live and let live" goes out the window very early on in the decision making process when stresses are placed on human systems. The rise of the NSDAP and their "eu"thanasia of many groups in Europe is a (literally) textbook case of this.

But playing pre-modern thinkers in a pre-modern setting is difficult for people who live their lives in a modern or post-modern world. I see this in my classmates all the time, too -- Christianity is a pre-modern religion at its core, and few of even the radical orthodox thinkers can effectively take on the mindset -- argue from the mindset, yes; take on the mindset, no.
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Mark Eddy
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if wyrd is not against him."
clehrich
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« Reply #9 on: September 25, 2004, 09:28:17 AM »

Quote
But playing pre-modern thinkers in a pre-modern setting is difficult for people who live their lives in a modern or post-modern world. I see this in my classmates all the time, too -- Christianity is a pre-modern religion at its core, and few of even the radical orthodox thinkers can effectively take on the mindset -- argue from the mindset, yes; take on the mindset, no.
Yes, well, actually I've never really bought the idea that there has been all that much of a shift.  All you need to do, at base, is to identify some structure or set of ideas as known fact, worth defending to your utmost.  And then you spread it out in a communal way, so that the whole society, or a big block of it, feels just the same way about the same things.  Welcome to the pre-modern mindset.  Ta-da!

See, this is what's so nice about Dogs.  It doesn't explain or argue about stuff; it just announces that things are true, like the King of Life talks to you, and people out East are depraved and evil, and so on.  There you go; why would anyone debate this?  And since that stuff is true, and it's important to you, why wouldn't you defend it against the sick, twisted forces that want to destroy it?  Isn't that obvious?

Now can you imagine in modern times, if some leader were to say that a vast and rather dimly-defined group of people were fundamentally evil, out to destroy all that is good and right, and that therefore we should go out and attack those folks?  And can you imagine the people in that society saying, "Hey, yeah, those people are unlike us, and they hate us, and that means they hate what is good, and it's okay to kill them so long as we try to convert them to recognizing what is actually good (how we do things) and not just kill them"?  And can you then imagine the people who feel this way saying, to neighbors who don't feel that way, that those neighbors are traitors who are also against basic goodness and decency?

No, I can't imagine that that could happen.  Must be a pre-modern thing.

I don't mean to be snide, but let's look in the mirror a little.  Don't we wish we didn't think like that!
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Chris Lehrich
Mark D. Eddy
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« Reply #10 on: September 25, 2004, 11:13:56 AM »

Quote
Yes, well, actually I've never really bought the idea that there has been all that much of a shift. All you need to do, at base, is to identify some structure or set of ideas as known fact, worth defending to your utmost. And then you spread it out in a communal way, so that the whole society, or a big block of it, feels just the same way about the same things. Welcome to the pre-modern mindset. Ta-da!


Nope. Welcome to post-modern communalism. The pre-modern mindset starts with the community and it's ideas and structures. What is worth defending to your utmost is "us," the community. The whole society is the people who you have known either all your life or all theirs. There is Truth, and everyone knows that it's there, but most people don't really care. They've been trying to keep alive through substinance farming.


It suddenly strikes me that this is an odd conversation to be having in the forum of a game that is designed to represent, in an oblique way, what is regarded as the first fully Modern religion. (Unitarianism and Universalism are still mostly Enlightenment-thought based). Edit: That is, they are still grappling with pre-modern influences and rejecting them in one way or another.
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Mark Eddy
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"The valiant man may survive
if wyrd is not against him."
clehrich
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« Reply #11 on: September 25, 2004, 11:48:55 AM »

Okay, I promise this is my last word on this, with apologies to Vincent for letting this drag on so long.
Quote from: Mark D. Eddy
Nope. Welcome to post-modern communalism. The pre-modern mindset starts with the community and it's ideas and structures. What is worth defending to your utmost is "us," the community. The whole society is the people who you have known either all your life or all theirs. There is Truth, and everyone knows that it's there, but most people don't really care. They've been trying to keep alive through substinance farming.

What you describe here is Emile Durkheim's basic theory, that "the society" is what we really care about and want to defend, and that the other stuff (truths, gods, whatever) are in essence concretized distillations of that abstraction.  In the earliest societies, you had a totem to do this; in later ones, it's a cross, or a flag, or whatever.  And he thinks that what's been going wrong with modernity is that the individualization has atomized society to the point that the community doesn't really hold together this way any more.

Fine, but you know, that was 1912.  A lot has happened since that seems to suggest maybe Durkheim wasn't right about all this.  The 20th century saw the rise of exciting new forms of communal identity.  Totemism never actually existed; what was called that turns out to be something a great deal unlike what Durkheim thought it was.  And folks who are really into modernity and postmodernity just keep picking at this scab, because they really desperately want there to be something fundamentally different about now from "then."

But of course they do.  Everyone wants to think they're different and special.  There's nothing different and special about wanting to be different and special.  You go right back into, I don't know, early modern Europe, and what do you find?  You find them struggling with all the same damn things that we want to think we're so clever for stumbling on and agonizing about.  And the harder people keep looking, the more they find that a lot of what's supposed to be so special about us is really pretty much fundamental to the human condition: you find that the Bororo Indians of Brazil are already arguing about things like individual and society, and truth and metaphysics, and just what identity is really about, and all that.

Of course there are differences, but there are differences between any two groups or societies.  At base, nothing much has changed, except that the name of the blinkers we wear to tell ourselves, "Hey, we're really different!" is new.

What I like about Dogs in the Vineyard, at this level, and the reason I think it's so exciting for other settings (like the 16th-C. Italian Inquisition), is that it is totally unabashed and honest.  It does not say, "Well of course we are different now, but that's okay because this is just a fantasy."  It just says, "Hi, this is how you think, isn't that interesting?"  It doesn't say, "And that's just a fantasy," nor does Vincent permit us to finish up a session and pat ourselves on the back and say, "Gosh, what a good thing we're so enlightented now."  Instead, what he does is to rub it in, to give us a cut and then pour lemon juice and salt in it: he requires the players to agonize about it.  In-character, of course, but still agonize.

This is, I submit, Narrativism come of age.  And I suggest that any attempt to claim that this sort of thinking is somehow different from our own is an attempt to keep the Dogs from biting us in the ass.
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Chris Lehrich
Mark D. Eddy
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« Reply #12 on: September 25, 2004, 02:17:29 PM »

I think you're still missing my point, and my starting point. The actual source I'm working from to try to explain this is George A. Lindbeck, not Durkheim. These ideas were part of the attempt to explain postliberal (postmodern is technically an architectural term) ecumenical efforts, and published in the 1980's. His model is as follows:

The "pre-modern" (preliberal in Lindbeck's terms) mode of thought is cognitive-propositional in this model. There are first truths (propositions) that are simply accepted without critique, but are developed cognitively to express derived truths. Kant's critiques are the central death-knell to this mode of thinking.

The "modern" (liberal) mode of thought is expressive-experiential. The experience of reality is personal, and it is the expression of these experiences that gives them meaning and some connection to truth. But because experience is centered on the self, there is a great deal of individual variance. So each individual is "right" because their experience colors their truth. Schleiermacher is a central figure in this mode.

The "post-modern" (postliberal) mode of thought is cultural-linguistic. Truth claims are much like language and culture and act as a regulator on people's actions, and a way to allow groups to interact. Lindbeck does list Durkheim as one of many (including M. Weber, G. H. Mead, and K. Marx) thinkers who have followed the cultural side, while Wittgenstein is a central thinker on the linguistic side.

Mind you, the argument also follows that these three manners of thinking are probably extant at any given time, which may be what you are saying, Chris. It's somewhat hard to tell, though, because your arguments are so thouroughly in the cultural-linguistic camp. You've said over and over again that there probably wasn't a real shift, and I don't want you to prove a negative, but my argument is that Dogs in the Vinyard and its Inquisition and Communist Bloc varients have the interesting problem of presenting pre-modern concepts of truth (i.e., cognitive-propositional) in a modern framework. There is Truth out there, and the players are the method by which Truth is conveyed to the world. So in-game reality is cognitive-propositional, but the players may be experiential-expressive, because the Truth that they dispense is based on personal judgement.

There's something here that's probably bigger than just this one game, too.
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Mark Eddy
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"The valiant man may survive
if wyrd is not against him."
DannyK
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« Reply #13 on: September 27, 2004, 08:16:25 AM »

I don't know about all the theory, but I'm fond of evolutionary psychology, which suggests that most of our habits of mind developed in a primeval African setting and were optimized for small packs or tribes.  The theory suggests that humans have a natural tendency to dichotomize between Us and Not-Us, and to fear and despise Not-Us.  That tendency makes it very easy for demagogues and populist politicians to whip the people into a frenzy.  (The classic example is WWI, how all the socialist politicians were forming an international peace party until the war actually came, and then each nation's progressive politicians supported their respective troops.)

Also, I don't think anyone in the discussion is giving enough space to the contradictory nature of human belief.  I had an interesting discussion once with an Irishman about the Roman Empire -- both of us, the Celt and the Jew, felt a deep-seated ambivalence towards the Romans, who on the one hand were tremendous builders and civilizers, and on the other beat the living crap out of our respective forefathers and destroyed their holy places.  Sure, it's kind of silly to feel that way about outrages committed thousands of years ago by a group that no longer exists, but we both felt it.
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