December 31, 2010


ME+me: A realistic numerical look at human morality + 12 references


  "If mankind had wished for what is right, they might have had it long ago. The theory is plain enough; but they are prone to mischief, 'to every good work reprobate.'"
   -- Hazlitt + Heidelberger Katechismus
  "Enjoy and give pleasure, without doing harm to yourself or to anyone else - that, I think, is the whole of morality."

I continue being not well, and otherwise also as before, so I cannot do much. But
I had promised an end of year meditation, and here it is, translated and adapted from the same of December 31, 2007, and capable of explaining, in principle, much of the facts I learned the past year about and around ME.

Society and the good, the bad and the stupid

I will make it easy for myself, and start with quoting from my chapter 11 annexed to

In fact, much of what I could say here is in Goffman reveals all (nearly) - Groups & Groupthinking; for Dutch readers in my note to Multatuli's Idee 1211; and in my chapter 11 to "On the Logic of Moral Discourse", so I don't say but link it, and only concentrate one relevant consideration in an arithmetical way:  

One way of understanding society - any human society anywhere, of sufficient size, say 10 or a 100 or more not specially selected persons - is that the good : the bad : the stupid = 1 : 9 : 90. Alternatively expressed but to the same effect: the intelligent : unintelligent = 1 : 9 and the unegoistic : egoistic = 1 : 9, and intelligence and egoism are independent.

Note that part of my meaning is that the bad is normally the harm that is done actively or  passively to others because of egoism, indifference or malevolence, and that it is for the most part due, in everyday human practice, to indifference, convenience, or conformism:

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."
   -- Edmund Burke

With this understanding, viz. that it is normally a lot easier to leave the good one sees one should do, on one's own principles, undone - because leaving it undone is very often easier, more convenient, better paid, or more normal or correct.

Putting it all in a table with percentages (while remembering that intelligence and moral courage are probably for the largest part determined by innate factors, and non posse nemo obligatur):

intelligent good 1
intelligent not good 9
not intelligent good 9
not intelligent not good 81
all   100

That is one important part of the reason why Hazlitt was right and so much of human society so often is in such a mess:

"If mankind had wished for what is right, they might have had it long ago. The theory is plain enough; but they are prone to mischief, 'to every good work reprobate.'"

Next, another important part of the reasons why man's inhumanity to man is so common os that all members of society have a public and a private face and role, and the public face consists mostly of deception.

The public character people assume is usually

1. composed of lies that are derived from what they think is supposed to be desirable behaviour of members of their society
2.  it is a role played by an actor for the rewards one's society provides for playing this role or for the punishments one's society provides for not playing the role and
3.  it consists of deception even if one's deceptions happen to be the true: one knows one is playing a role.

Seen in the light of these important points - the distributions of intelligence and egoism and the fact that all social acting consists of role-playing in which deception is the norm - it is not so strange nearly all social and political analyses are false, phoney and illusory, and also part of role-playing and delusion or deception.

And - it seems - (3) is important: Those who make a career are those who are known to be liars by those who already have made a career. Somebody who is honest won't get far in any society or group, even if - very privately - many will agree he is honest and truthful.

The best expositions I know about the problems I am treating here in a simplistic and generalizing manner are:

  • A. Anti-totalitarian texts:
    Talmon: "The rise of totalitarian democracy";
    Orwell: "Animal Farm", "1984" and "Collected Essays and Letters";
    Revèl: "The totalitarian temptation".
  • B. Texts on socialism:
    Conquest: "The Great Terror";
    Hayek: "Road to serfdom";
    Zinoviev: "Yawning Heights".

You'll find more about this in the context of chapter 11 I mentioned earlier. And here is a relevant diagnostic quotation of a more comprehensive type, from T.H. White's The Book of Merlyn:

"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: "The Book of Merlyn", p. 50-1)

Anyway... there's more along similar lines in Boétie's The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude.

So in this short piece you have found links or references to no less than twelve explanations for man's inhumanity to man. (*)

Finally, as I said: I wish everyone I like a healthy 2011.


(*) Yes indeed:

1.   "On the Logic of Moral Discourse" esp. chapter 11
  Ervin Goffman: "The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life"
Talmon: "The rise of totalitarian democracy"
4-6.  Orwell: "Animal Farm", "1984" and "Collected Essays and Letters"
7.   Revèl: "The totalitarian temptation"
8.   Conquest: "The Great Terror"
9.   Hayek: "Road to serfdom"
10. Zinoviev: "Yawning Heights"
T.H. White: "The Book of Merlyn"
12. Boétie: "The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude"

P.S. Corrections have to be added later.

P.P.S. It may be I have to stop Nederlog for a while. The reason is that I am physically not well at all. I don't know yet, but if there is no Nederlog, now you know the reason.

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

Maarten Maartensz

        home - index - top - mail