1. Introduction to
2. Ordinary men
3. The point of
Well... I believe I am still somewhat paying back my walk of
but I also seem to be getting out of it. Then again, sleeping remains quite
Yesterday I wrote about Valentin
González, aka El Campesino. He definitely was an extra-ordinary man.
Today I reproduce the item "ordinary men"
from my Philosophical
Dictionary, and perhaps, but then later, some more about some of
the lessons one might learn from Conquest's "The Great Terror".
But this I do not know yet, because I again slept too little.
Introduction to 'ordinary men'
It is my very well considered opinion that most
men are ordinary, that I am not, that no one is responsible for either,
and that it probably makes no difference whatsoever in the long run
anyway, since "in the long run we are all dead" (Keynes),
and those who are remembered are often not those who really
were great or deserving of remembrance by truly civilized men and
Also, in 10, 50, a 100 or a 1000 years, whatever and whoever you are
now, whether ordinary or extra-ordinary, you almost certainly
will be entirely forgotten by those who will be living then.
Indeed, in the rare case that you are remembered in, say, 250 years
hence - which is the same distance as it is this year from 1763: you
may try to recall how many men's books written around then you may have
read, for example - it is more probable than not that you will
be remembered for the wrong reasons, that is, because you are a
political figure, rather than because you a major
thinker or artist.
To be sure, the previous paragraph has been written on the premisses
that (i) there will be a mankind in 250 years, which (ii) will have
more civilization than we do, but (iii) still will be like us in
Either premiss may well be false, but as there is no certainty about
these and most other matters, one has to to settle for some sort of
probability, and the ones I adopted seem at least fair, and indeed they
all do hold for the last 2500 years.
Next, there is another premiss active: We all are unique, and we all
live in our very own worlds, that we share with no one else, and thus
it has always been.
That each and every man and woman is unique  I
will not argue here, but I will argue that we all live in our very own
worlds, were it only to deny the postmodern
All we are, so far as we can certainly tell, is some tens of kiloos of
meat, that is, compared to other species, uniquely gifted with brain
power by which each of us can try to understand the world they sense,
feel and think about - but that meat will live only a very brief set of
moments of time, and then will fall apart forever. 
The sense in which we all live in our very own worlds is the sense in
which we all are subjective, which is nearly total, but is not,
therefore, without kin, nor without real knowledge about the world we
live in, nor without real contributions to the world and the others
that live with us in the world.
But for each of us, our subjective experience -
the world we reconstruct in our heads, with everything we believe there
is, both falsely and rightly, in it - is nearly all we are, and
will disappear as we will disappear.
And this also is not tragical, or is, in itself, not more tragical than
is sleep without dreams, in which we also do not know we exist, and are
of little use to anyone.
2. Ordinary men
Here is the item on ordinary men,
incidentally a concept that I owe to the person I quote last in it:
Ordinary men: Ordinary men are those
who are not individually remembered after death, because they are not
and did nothing remarkable, for whatever reason. In terms of statistics,
they form 9999 out of 10,000, and in terms of practice, it is they who
do the work in any society,
maintain its ideology
protect or elect its leaders, and do
its murderings and persecutions when ordered by their leaders. And no
society can become better than the qualities and shortcomings of the
ordinary men in it enable it to be.
This shows in principle
that ordinary men are quite important in history and
society, if not in person but because it is they who form and maintain
and do nearly all in any society, even though they rarely or never
originate its ideas,
for ordinary men are followers and executioners much rather than
leaders or thinkers.
As defined - in terms of
whether or not one is individually remembered after death, outside the
circle of one's family and friends - ordinary men comprise the great
majority of men, and include most of its intellectuals and artists, for
these too mostly are when known locally in their own society in their
own time mostly forgottten by following generations.
The fundamental problem
this poses about the human state of the world and its possibilities for
improvement may be indicated by a table like the following one.
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:
|Josip Broz Tito
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
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
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".
And part of the reasons for
the above table of results of the abilities of ordinary men especially
when combined with totalitarianism can be gleaned from the following
table and quotation that concerns research into the actual moral
behavior and thinking of human beings by the psychologist Kohlberg. I quote from the "Introduction to
Psychology" by Hilgard & Atkinson:
in the development of moral values
Level I. Premoral
1. Punishment and obedience orientation
Obeys rules in order to
2. Naive instrumental hedonism
Conforms to obtain
rewards, to have favors returned.
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.
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
6. Morality of individual
principles and conscience.
Conforms to avoid
studies indicate that the moral judgments of children who are seven and
younger are predominantly at Level I - actions are evaluated in terms
of whether they avoid punishment or lead to rewards. By age 13, a
majority of the moral dilemmas are resolved at Level II - actions are
evaluated in terms of maintaining a good image in the eyes of other
people. This is the level of conventional
morality. In the first stage at this level (Stage 3) one seeks approval
by being "nice"; this orientation expands in the next stage (Stage 4)
to include "doing one's duty", showing respect for authority, and
conforming to the social order in which one is raised.
to Kohlberg, many individuals never progress beyond Level II. He sees
the stages of moral development as closely tied to Piaget's stages of
cognitive development, and only if a person has achieved the later
stages of formal operational thought is he capable of the kind of
abstract thinking necessary for postconventional morality at Level III. The highest stage of moral development (Level
III, stage 6) requires formulating abstract ethical principles and
conforming to them to avoid self-condemnation. Kohlberg reports that
less than 10 percent of his subjects over age 16 show (...) kind of
"clear-principled" Stage 6 thinking (...)"
And thus we have arrived in
principle at some sort of explanation for the facts and numbers in the
previous table: "actions are
evaluated in terms of maintaining a good image in the eyes of other
people. This is the level of conventional
morality" and "many
individuals never progress beyond Level II", which is
that conventional conformist
ordinay men: Here are some human all too human weaknesses that -
especially but not only - ordinary men easily fall prone to:
- Ordinary men
- engage mostly in wishful thinking (so as to
keep themselves "happy")
- are ruled by bias and
- do not know real
science, logic, mathematics or philosophy
- do not do unto
others as one would not be done by only within one's group
- are role-players who
play by wishful thinking,
make-believe - "The quality or act of pretending;
assuming something is true when in fact one knows it is not" (wiki
dictionary) - and pretension
who normally do not step out of their roles out of self-interest
and because of group-sanctions
- are collaborators:
They mostly do as they are told by leaders
- are followers, of fashions and leaders of all
kinds, usually because it is the fashion and they are conformists
- are levellers: The
only one who excel are the leaders of the group and what the media
display as excellent
- believe truth coincides
with their interests and prejudices, especially as regards things that
involve their or their groups' supposed interests
- personalize or animate
everything: all manner of abstractions - nations, corporations, groups,
the people - are supposed to will and feel
- do not reason in terms
terms: Terms like "Some", "most" are carefully avoided often to infer
all from some without mentioning either: ("Women are emotional",
"Germans are no good")
- cannot reason
abstractly on any high level
- make all manners of fallacies esp. of
generalization, ambiguity and begging the question
- are not independent
individuals with their own ideas and values intentionally gathererd by
their own life's practice
One result, supplementing
Rummel's statistics, is this:
"I fear we live in a world in
which war and racism are ubiquitous, in which the powers of government
mobilization and legitimization are powerful and increasing, in which a
sense of personal responsibility is increasingly attenuated by
specialization and bureaucratization, and in which peer-group exerts
tremendous pressures on behavior and sets moral norms. In such a world,
I fear, modern governments that wish to commit mass murder will seldom
fail in their efforts for being unable to induce "ordinary men"
to become their "willing executioners." " (Christopher
R. Browning, "Ordinary men", p. 222-3)
3. The point of reproducing
At this point you may well ask: What's the point of reproducing this?
My answer is mainly:
The recent findings about the doings of the United States' National
Security Agency seem to me to be very threatening,
because they clearly seem to bring the political climate several steps
closer to a kind of Stalinism,
albeit with quite a few twists, if only because (i) nearly everything
and more that Stalin's NKVD wanted to know now is known to the
NSA, at least in principle, and (ii) if there is one thing certain
about politics and governments, then it is that powers that exist will
be (ab)used politically, with a (rough) proportion that is proportional
to the powers, while (iii) ordinary men are the tools, the victims and
the victimizers of history, but are not its designers.
Also, I am not saying Stalinism is imminent in the US, nor
am I saying it will happen: All I am saying is that if powers exist,
then they will be abused, especially by governments, and the more
likely so, the greater these powers are - and these powers of the NSA are
the greatest power anyone has ever had about any civil population:
Almost everything there is to be known about one, now is known to those who govern you, if you are a citizen
of the US, and
indeed quite possibly also if not.
Then again: More later - and I would have been (a bit) less pessimistic
about this if the Obama government hadn't been playing this,
and everything connected with it, in deep secret, for at least five
years, as if the breakings of the
and its Amendments are allowable, affordable and open to
one's governors, at their own behest, and in the
deepest secrecy, without any control, any knowledge or any discussion
by those involved who are not in government.
One should remember I am ill since 35 years, and have received
extra-ordinarily little help, and much opposition. Also, I am neither
bragging nor saying I will be remembered: In fact, many
excellent men from the past are today totally unknown - which I know,
because history is such a bad, partial, and partially blind instrument
anyway. And besides, my fields are not prone to be easily remembered by
most, while I have almost only published on line, mostly because I am
ill and cannot make any money by publishing books. Then again, several
millions of visitors have read my sites the last 16 years, so I am not
wholly unknown - which is something that only got clear to me the last
3 1/2 years, namely since I got fast internet. (Before that, I reckoned
I would be fastly disappearing after I die, which still is the
most probable, and indeed applies to almost everyone who is alive.)
This also is the case for twins (triplets etc.), that merely are more
like another than non-twins, in gifts, but each have their own unique
subjective experiences, histories, and lives.
That is, I take a firmly non-religious view.
In case this worries you: One reason is that if I were to take some
religious view, then (1) I still
would be in a minority,
and (2) at the price of many assumptions I see no reason to make. But
apart from this footnote, little or nothing I write here - or indeed
wrote on most places - depends on religion. (I grant it would be nice
if there were a heaven, for everyone (!), but all I can see in favour
of that hypothesis is wishful
thinking. Besides, even if there were, no one has any adequate idea
about it, or its purpose.)
ME/CFS (that I prefer
to call M.E.: The "/CFS" is added to facilitate search
is a disease I have since 1.1.1979: