June 16, 2010


ME + me + Multatuli : On being human(e)


And I am still not well at all and sad, and not much inclined to write about various topics. Besides, I have been busily occupied on the other forum, that still is being surrected. There's a little bit more on it in the P.S.

What follows is a translation of note number 2 of mine to idea number 1211 in Multatuli's 7th volume of his Ideas that I edited and commented for my site.

In fact, the Multatuli-section is the most popular part of my site, at least in terms of frequency of visitors, but it is all in Dutch, though in excellent Dutch.

The note that follows is part of my clarification of the subject of the title - On being human(e) - in conjunction with a clarification of the playing of roles, the capacities of ordinary men, and the ordinary course of human history.

As it happens, it is also quite relevant about the events that led to the new forum about ME/CFS and the problems on the Phoenix Rising forums about ME that led to its arisal. (See P.S.)

But judge for yourself, here is my note in my translation, with text by Multatuli in blue

I insist on repeating the conviction that here, in spite of all, we are not dealing with 'bad men' in the ordinary sense. The reader that expects theft, murder or killing, will find himself deceived. I almost would dare to say that the characters I displayed in this part of the Wouter-history, stood too low for real crime. Yet this again would not be expressed properly. Real criminals they were though. They merely were not in the unreal-exclusive official sense given to this word.

No, that does not seem to me to be judged correctly, even if the judgment that is correct is not more optimistic. Let me try to make that judgment a little clearer with a few references - counting backwards  1210a, 1210, 1185, 1171, 1112, 817, 618, 616, 276, 136, 74  and 73 - and, on this place, some quotations. Apart from a quotation of Roorda, they are all in English, since they happen to be written in it originally.

To start with the subject and the question what this is about: The subject is the capacities, intellectual and moral, of average ordinary men, that form the large majority of men, and the question I want to try to answer briefly can be understood to be: Why is Gibbon's summary of human history, namely

"History is little else but the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind"

factually adequate?

A. Let me start with reminding the reader of a very relevant summary of a theory by the psychologist Kohlberg about the differences between men in moral levels, that correlate highly with the differences in moral levels, and that have been clearly expounded in the "Introduction to Psychology" by Hilgard & Atkinson. This can be found in 1171, and I merely repeat the clear table 

Stages in the development of moral values



Level I. Premoral

1. Punishment and obedience orientation

Obeys rules in order to avoid punishment.

2. Naive instrumental hedonism

Conforms to obtain rewards, to have favors returned.

Level II. Morality of conventional role-conformity

3. "Good-boy" morality of maintaining good relations, approval of others.

Conforms to avoid disapproval, maintaining good relations, dislike by others.

4. Authority maintaining morality.

Conforms to avoid censure by legitimate authorities, with resultant guilt.

Level III. Morality of self-accepted moral principles

5. Morality of contract, of individual rights, and of democratically accepted law.

Conforms to maintain the respect of the impartial spectator judging in terms of community welfare.

6. Morality of individual principles and conscience.

Conforms to avoid self-condemnation.

I also remind the reader that it is expounded in 1171 tht only a small percentage of men get to Level III (= Stages 5 and 6): The majority does not have "self-accepted moral principles" (even if they often like to think they have) but in fact operate on the level of the - much safer, socially much more popular and easier - "conventional role-conformity".

B. Here is a quotation from a letter by Multatuli's friend Roorda van Eysinga to him of 31 december 1870:

You have the mistake of most first class men. You want, that they think and feel like you do. (Collected Works XIV p. 295)

This seems to me to be - in principle - a correct estimate of the difference between Multatuli and almost all his fellow men: The are not "first class men", and they lack the character - the independence, the individuality, the judging for themselves, the directing their own lives - to use their own ideas and ideals as directives for their own commissions and ommisions and their own judgments. The main reason for this is the combined lack of intelligence, independence and courage - which is helpful in that these lacks are not desired or acquired but native, and therefore cannot be blamed on persons as due to their free choices.

Add to this that it is makes sense for people who lack special talents to direct themselves by the judgments of others, who seem to be more intelligent and better informed than they are, at least if these authorities also seem honest. (In fact, the largest part of the mass of ordinary men lead lives mostly directed by advertisment and propaganda.)

C. Speaking of Multatuli, but also of more normal people and their incapacity to be other than to be normal, conformistic and a follower, I refer the reader to 1185, where there is a beautiful and relevant quotation of Confucius (in German), that shows that although Multatuli with his insistence on authenticity in being human spoke of a theme that Dutchmen of the level of Verhoeven and 't Hart (see 522) are not capable of understanding, but that is properly classic.

D. Next a quotation of T.H. White, from a book that, like Swift's "Gulliver's Travels" was presented as a book for children, but which in fact was meant as satire for adults, that also contains quite a few rather sharp but not necessarily false paragraphs like this:

"What are we, then, at present?"
"We find that at present the human race is divided politically into one wise man, nine knaves and ninety fools out of every hundred. That is, by an optimistic observer. The nine knaves assemble themselves under the banner of the most knavish among them, and become 'politicians': the wise man stands out, because he knows himself to be hopelessly outnumbered, and devotes himself to poetry, mathematics or philosophy; while the ninety fools plod off behind the banners of the nine villains, according to fancy, into the labyrinths of chicanery, malice and warfare. It is pleasant to have command, observed Sancho Panza, even over a flock of sheep, and that is why politicians raise their banners. It is, moreover, the same thing for the sheep, whatever the banner. If it is democracy, then the nine knaves will become members of parliament; if fascism will become party leaders; if communism, commissars. Nothing will be different, except the name. The fools will still be fools, the knaves still leaders, the result still exploitation. As for the wise man, his lot will be much the same under any ideology. Under democracy he will be encouraged to starve to death in a garret, under fascism he will be put in a concentration camp, under communism he will be liquidated. This is an optimistic but on the whole scientific statement (...)"

T.H. White's "The Book of Merlyn", p. 51-2)

E. From the same book a summary of a result of the just described proportion of  "one wise man, nine knaves and ninety fools out of every hundred":

"Do you know that it has been calculated that, during the years between 1100 and 1900, the English were at war for four hundred and nineteen years and the French for three hundred and seventy-three? Do you know that Lapouge has reckoned that nineteen million men are killed in Europe in every century, so that the amount of blood spilled would feed a fountain of blood running seven hundred litres an hour since the beginning of history? And let me tell you this, dear sir. War, in Nature herself outside of man, is such a rarity that it scarcely exists. In all those two hundred and fifty thousand species, there are only a dozen or so which go to war." (T.H. White's "The Book of Merlyn", p. 40)

F. T.H. White wrote his book in the first years of World War II. If the estimate that he gives is true - "a fountain of blood running seven hundred litres an hour since the beginning of history" - then the 20th Century was the most horrific century in human history.

In illustration I quote myself from the lemma "Ordinary men" in my "Philosophical Dictionary":

Mr. Randolph J. Rummel has taken the trouble of finding out how many civilian persons have been murdered in the 20th Century apart from the many soldiers that were killed on battle-fields. He wrote a book about it called Death by Government, in which one can find, among other things, the following table - that lists only civilian deaths and no military deaths in wartime:

Dictator Ideology Country Years Deaths
Joseph Stalin Communist Soviet Union 1929-1953 42,672,000
Mao Tse-tung Communist China 1923-1976 37,828,000
Adolf Hitler Fascist Germany 1933-1945 20,946,000
Chiang Kai-shek Militarist/Fascist China 1921-1948 10,214,000
Vladimir Lenin Communist Soviet Union 1917-1924 4,017,000
Tojo Hideki Militarist/Fascist Japan 1941-1945 3,990,000
Pol Pot Communist Cambodia 1968-1987 2,397,000
Yahya Khan Militarist Pakistan 1971 1,500,000
Josip Broz Tito Communist Yugoslavia 1941-1987 1,172,000







When summed, this comes to over 200 million murders - nearly all committed by perfectly ordinary men, for what they considered to be the best of moral reasons, from love for Our Fatherland or Our Party or Our Race, and because those they murdered stood in the way of a better society, or so their leaders claimed and they mostly believed.

What the above table also makes somewhat credible is that a considerable part of the murdering that ordinary men do happens especially when they are caught up in totalitarian states, political ideologies, or religious faiths.

And what the above table is misleading about is the role of politics: In the 20th Century most murdering on a social scale happened in the name of totalitarian political ideologies like fascism and communism, but in early ages most murdering on a social scale happened in the name of totalitarian faiths like Catholicism, Protestantism or Mohammedanism.

These facts show that the abilities and inclinations of ordinary men are of fundamental importance to the state and shape of human societies, and of what is possible and impossible in it, and suggest a number of questions.

Also, it so happens that next to Rummel's statistics, there are some interesting studies about ordinary men and totalitarianism: Browning's "Ordinary Men", Conquest's "The Great Terror", and Laqueur Ed.'s "The Holocaust Encyclopedia".

I gave these six quotations to give some sort of answer to the question why Gibbon's summary of human history as "little else but the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind" is adequate, and to what is the relation between that diagnosis and the capacities, intellectual and moral, of average ordinary men, that form the large majority of men.

There are, it seems to me, some three main conclusions, followed by a quotation from a letter of Multatuli

  • By far greatest part of men - almost everyone who is not in some way highly gifted while possessing an independent character - is primarily conformists, and rarely if ever reaches beyond thenmoral level of ""Good-boy" morality of maintaining good relations, approval of others" of "Authority maintaining morality"", that are, by the way, perfectly fit to make one a patriottic hero in times of civil unrest or war, and are also sufficient to make dispose people into minimally adequat social functioning in days of peace, apart from politicaln or religious dictatorships, that is.
  • By far the greatest of the evil that men do unto other men - where "evil" is defined as objectively and impartially as is possible, in terms of violence, destruction, murder etc. - is done from the highest and most noble motives, that also are seen and described by the perpetrators of evil as good, noble, desirable, and moral, and meant to serve the fatherland, the church, the party or one's own group.
  • Human beings are in majority totalitarian, rationalizing ideological apes, and are in average, given their nature and capacities, not able to behave much better than they do in fact, and are only able to do better than normal in the rare times in which they are led by truly gifted and honest persons, who are mostly led by rational theories and empirical facts, and who are not led by irrationality, superstitions, fanaticism, illusions or wishful thinking.

Here is a quotation from a letter by Multatuli dated 29 december 188, for example for those who believe that my realistic ideas may sound a little misanthropic:

To love precisely is: giving, giving thoughts,n giving soul. And behold rhere the cause (and the reason!) for my distaste for writing for a public that I do not love! I despise the vulgar people! And do not believe that by this word I mean those that (conventionally, mostly) are considered abject. Neither the socalled uncivilised or analphabetics. Nor even those who commit bad acts. (something other than professional criminals.) No, I mean those ordinary men that never did wrong because they .... never did anything abnormal, let alone special. That is the majority. That majority sets the tone in government, in parliament, in court, in polemics, in philosophy (by god!), in literature, in what they are pleased to call poetry (usually nothing but childish rhymes). That majority rules everywhere! That nauseates me. Thence also the sarcasms (...)
(Collected Works, XXI p. 557) 

Finally, to conclude this long note with a short remark concerning the question it all started with, namely what Multatuli said was the criminality of the Kopperliths - in real life called Van de Velde, by the way, because Multatuli worked some time or them, at about the age Wouter worked for the coprolithic persons:

I think not. They were dumb, stupid, megastupid, and apart from that - it seems - properly adjusted, decent, careful, lawabiding, loyal conformists, that deceived themselves about themselves and their customers about the qualities of the commodities they sold, but both shortcomings are quite ordinary.

What is true and relevant in this context is that most crimes that are organised on a social scale happen in the name of the highest ideals and are executed by conformist, on orders of political or religious leaders. But that is another issue: As men are on average, they are neither good nor bad as soon as being so takes trouble or is risky to themselves, and are almost always conformists, from conscious selfinterest. And usuallt one can't fairly blame them, because it does not only happen because of conscious selfinterest, but because of incapacity to be different, original and individual.

There is some more on role playing in the long series of references I gave above and repeat here for your convenience: 1210a, 1210, 1185, 1171, 1112, 817, 618, 616, 276, 136, 74  and 73, and there are some more details and precisifications in 1112. 

Back in Nederlog of June 16 2010: I hope you liked it, even if the subject, that may be restated as: "The banality of evil: " Stupidity and Man's inhumanity to Man, is not one that disposes to happy thoughts - though it is also true that there have been and are many great man and many great works of science and art.

But as I said: Unfortunately, the best rarely rule, although the usually bad rulers always declare they are best or as good as can be. And as Multatuli and I have it, in the Notes to this site, in any case, whatever your native capacities:

   Think rationally! Act reasonably! 

   (And do not pretend that's easy!)

Dutch readers are referred to Multatuli's IDEE 136: The vocation of human beings is ... to become humane. Maartensz' addition: Few succeed, and few indeed want to succeed: "Video meliora proboque; deteriora sequor" (Ovid). Translation: "I see the better and agree it is better; I do the worse". (Reason: The worse is all too often more pleasant, more popular or much easier than the better.)

P.S. And the new forum? It's still in the process of being born.

I think it is likely that after it has been opened (that still may take some time, and rightly so, for quite a few of the flaws of Phoenix Rising can be prevented by starting from good foundations and rules with good people, who also have learned from their experiences, and don't want to make the same mistake twice) it will soon take over much of the role and membership of Phoenix Rising, although it is possible both will remain existing.

My reason is that many of those who were best liked or most admired, that were at the same time many of those who wrote most on Phoenix Rising are now (also) on the new forums, while Phoenix Rising - now with ads hanging around the poor birdie's neck, that pull it down into the ashes and the fires - there is a rather curious discussion about it, under the title Where has everyone gone? Why is this site so empty? (yes, it's a link, with food for thought), that's getting 'curiouser and curiouser' by the day.

I noted earlier in Nederlog that this curious discussion is also interesting on various levels and from various points of view (psychologically, rhetorically, logically, morally, humanly...), but that's just for the record for the moment and mentioned the Stanford Prisoners Experiment but it is the above that I had particularly in mind, and indeed also have played with a bit called 'Animal Forum' I may return to.

Therefore I today translated my note, well and accurately also, and as it is since 2005 or 2006, in Dutch. It also is a fair example of one of my longer notes to Multatuli's Ideas, though you need Dutch to read the rest, that probably explains why the Multatuli-part of my site is well-read.

As to ME/CFS (that I prefer to call ME):

1. Anthony Komaroff

Ten discoveries about the biology of CFS (pdf)

3. Hillary Johnson

The Why

4. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf)
5. Eleanor Stein

Clinical Guidelines for Psychiatrists (pdf)

6. William Clifford The Ethics of Belief
7. Paul Lutus

Is Psychology a Science?

8. Malcolm Hooper Magical Medicine (pdf)

Short descriptions:

1. Ten reasons why ME/CFS is a real disease by a professor of medicine of Harvard.
2. Long essay by a professor emeritus of medical chemistry about maltreatment of ME.
3. Explanation of what's happening around ME by an investigative journalist.
4. Report to Canadian Government on ME, by many medical experts.
5. Advice to psychiatrist by a psychiatrist who understands ME is an organic disease
6. English mathematical genius on one's responsibilities in the matter of one's beliefs:
   "it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon
     insufficient evidence
7. A space- and computer-scientist takes a look at psychology.
8. Malcolm Hooper puts things together status 2010.

"Ah me! alas, pain, pain ever, forever!

No change, no pause, no hope! Yet I endure.
I ask the Earth, have not the mountains felt?
I ask yon Heaven, the all-beholding Sun,
Has it not seen? The Sea, in storm or calm,
Heaven's ever-changing Shadow, spread below,
Have its deaf waves not heard my agony?
Ah me! alas, pain, pain ever, forever!
     - (Shelley, "Prometheus Unbound") 

    "It was from this time that I developed my way of judging the Chinese by dividing them into two kinds: one humane and one not. "
     - (Jung Chang)

See also: ME -Documentation and ME - Resources

P.P.S. ME - Resources needs is a Work In Progress that hasn't progressed today.

Maarten Maartensz

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