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  Feb 15, 2012                  

Philosophy: Sin as Stupidity, Ignorance, Negligence


I was born in 1950, and can recall much of my life, also in filmic scenic detail. This includes the Sixties, in which I witnessed, among many other things, the student revolts in Paris 1968, in May and June of that year.

I wrote several times about the latter in Nederlog, most extensively in May 2008, when it had happened 40 years ago. This is in Dutch, and starts here

There is rather a lot more, and it gets summarized - it's about "Le trahison des clercs": The betrayal of science and civilization by the intellectuals (*) - with links here:

This is all in Dutch, but I also wrote about it in English, e.g. last year, starting here:

But this is not what I wanted to write about today, or only indirectly.

The subject of today - a summary of what sin is, in my terms: see the title - I retrieved because I searched for a book I'd read and annotated long ago, that is about the students' revolts of 1968, and is the best treatment of it in one book that I read. I suppose it is out of print, but it may still be available second hand. Here are the details:

Stephen Spender: The Year Of The Young Rebels
published by Vintage Books, May 1969,
Library of Congress Card Number 78-78801

Spender was an English leftist radical, writer and poet, born in 1909, who had taken the trouble and had the courage to go fight in Spain against Franco, and to visit the places where students revolted in the Sixties, notably in the US, France and Czechoslovakia.

Having found the book, that I bought second hand myself in the late seventies or early eighties in Amsterdam, I found I had underlined and annotated rather a lot, and it may be that in one of these annotations I arrived first at my definition of "sin" - and this last link is to my Philosophical Dictionary, that summarizes (mostly) the conventional theological definition of that term.

Here are two composite quotations from Spender's book, with my own annotations of decades ago - and I provide links to the Wikipedia, so that my readers can dive deeper, if they want:

Quotation 1, p. 152:

One has to accept the force of George Kennan's accusation that they [the radical revolting students of the 1960ies - MM] are simplicists who have not analysed the complexities of immensely tangled problems. Raymond Aron in La Revolution Introuvable sums up the objections in their most damaging form:

In my view, they have fallen into the worst forms of utopianism or revolutionary mythology. More sympathetic than the communists, they are their intellectual inferiors. Let them read again some of the political philosophers who count in the history of western thought: Aristotle, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Spinoza, Hegel, Auguste Comte, Marx and they will become convinced of this. The state of nature, during a few days of revolutionary carnival, does not lack charm. Very soon it becomes more insupportable than any other kind of order whatever. The student commune at the Sorbonne, at the end of several weeks, has given additional evidence of this.

Aron's argument has to be met if the militant students are to avoid supporting ideas and methods which could only lead to a worse state that the one against which they were revolting. But if he means that having read Aristotle and the rest they will see that they are mistaken, one may doubt that the would those of George Kennan. (...) Ultimately political views that have force have to be simplified, though they should certainly be strengthened with knowledge. Simpli-fication precedes study, and unless the reader is entangled in his knowledge, simplicity follows it.

Actually, I have not met any student who read as much as a noticeable fraction of what Aron lists, and hardly anyone who had any real interest in doing so: Almost all the students I have met since the Sixties were not really interested in investigating theories, and indeed I met few - among many who claimed to be marxists of some kind - with any good knowledge of Marx's writings, or of what had been written about them by serious intellectuals, such as Aron or Piero Sraffa: Nearly all radicals I have met in my life - not just Marxists: all kinds of radicals - were not interested in science or philosophy, and that was mostly precisely because they believed they knew that their own kind of radicalism would and should change the world - indeed just as Marx himself said and believed, believing his own Marxism:

"Philosophers have only interpreted the world, the point is to change it"

Here is my own note of decades ago to the text I quoted, mostly to Spender's text:

But let's consider: Often one has to act without adequate knowledge & sometimes one may be forced to act, for moral reasons, even if one's chances of success are slender or non-existent. But then I claim neither alternative held for the radical left, politically speaking: There was only such a need if they had analysed their situation with some appreciable degree of completeness.  But they hadn't: They were dogmatic & let their values dictate their visions of the facts. So Aron is right, though I add that, on a personal level, when one endangers only one's own life but not that of others, one may act as one pleases & take the consequences.

Quotation 2, p. 152-3:

The difference between Aron and Kennan and the students is the old one of the difference between those who believe in the goodness of human nature, and those who believe that, in all circumstances, men are activated by the same bad motives and have the same bad nature, so that the best political system  is that which disciplines and restrains them, and imposes 'order' on them. The militant students hold the opposite view that the full potentialities of human beings for good are not realised on account of the oppressiveness of the 'system'.

This is akin to the age-old distinction between progressives and conservatives. Here is my own note of decades ago:

But note that the question doesn't concern, nor does it need to concern, human nature. It concerns and needs to concern humans as they are and have been to our knowledge. And that is not a very encouraging sight, as Goethe remarked to Luden: Von Jeher haben die Menschen einander verfolgt, gemartert & das bisschen Leben sauer gemacht das sie genüssen vermochten. Das war so; das ist so, und das wird wohl auch so bleiben. Or something to that effect. (**)
Stupidity, ignorance, negligence are characteristics of the majority of mankind. And most men have been immoral by their own standards, and tended to treat as human only those of their own group.

          TH     not TH
      SE a b
not SE c d

Put TH = Trust in Human Nature (see Hume); SE = Scientific Empiricism (> 1900 Christian Era):

So this gives  a useful principle of division. I also note correlations: SE is approx (classical) liberalism;  TH is approx socialism, communism: not TH & SE is approx liberalism, individualism:

a: Wells, Russell
b: Orwell, Burnham, Mosca, Mills, Weber, Zinoviev, myself
c: religious enthusiasts, modern mysticism, leftist politics
d: old-fashioned religions

Anyway... it still seems to me a more useful definition of sin than the conventional ones, and it maybe needs remarking that while stupidity may be native, a considerable part tends to be intentionally acquired, namely by refusing to think about alternatives to what one believes and refusing to read writers that do not belong to one's own group's beliefs, all because one has acquired the - often sincere and strongly felt - prejudice that the prejudices of one's group are moral and true.

(*) Treason indeed by the majority of all intellectuals, whatever their political positions, beliefs or age: Nearly all sold out to a state or religion, and that is true of left, right and middle. My own "baby boom generation" - born between 1945 and 1955 - active in Paris in 1968 and later, was one of the worst generations in that respect, not because they were more corrupt, but because they were more hypocritical about it, while they also sold out in the name of progressive ideals, for personal advancement.

(**) I seem to quote from memory. Translation: "Forever did human beings persecute and torture each other, and have soured the bit of life that they could have enjoyed. That was so; that is so, and that will probably remain so."


Corrections, if any are necessary, have to be made later.
-- Feb 16, 2012: Corrected a few typos and inserted a link, to Max Weber, that I had forgotten, which gives me the opportunity to remark that those who were disappointed by Weber's "Protestant Ethics and the Rise of Capitalism" should try especially part I of his "Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft", which has many good and sensible definitions of sociological and economical terms. (I give the German title of a 2-volume work, because as far as I know only parts of it have been translated into English. If you don't read German, you might try: Gerth and Mills, From Max Weber, Essays in sociology. And for Mills, one of the few sociologists who could write, here is a link to a list of his major works, that I see I have all 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 of 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)
 Maarten Maartensz
ME in Amsterdam - surviving in Amsterdam with ME (Dutch)
 Maarten Maartensz Myalgic Encephalomyelitis

Short descriptions of the above:                

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 understa, but nds ME is an organic disease
6. English mathematical genius on one's responsibilities in the matter of one's beliefs:

7. A space- and computer-scientist takes a look at psychology.
8. Malcolm Hooper puts things together status 2010.
9. I tell my story of surviving (so far) in Amsterdam/ with ME.
10. The directory on my site about ME.

See also: ME -Documentation and ME - Resources
The last has many files, all on my site to keep them accessible.

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