May not have time to get on AnimeSuki during the coming week, but I wanted to let you know that I enjoyed our discussion about landlords and property management in the News Stories thread. Unless I find the time to get on, or unless the conversation is still going when I log back in, the reply I made this morning will probably be the last on the topic. I won't revive it.
The dogs learned they'd be shocked under certain conditions, and were paired into groups. The groups that could figure out the conditions under which they'd be shocked learned to work around them, but a third group would be shocked at random. These dogs learned to be helpless, and many remained in a depressed state even when the shocks were stopped altogether. Even in the face of this challenge, a percentage of dogs resisted becoming helpless - these eternal optimists somehow persevered and did not slip into long term depression.
So for me, this suggests that while helplessness can be learned or 'unlearned' through therapy, some will react inherently differently from others to challenges. Are these differences a deeper layer of conditioning, reaching back to the earliest chapters of one's life? (Learning the 'explanatory style' of pessimism or optimism)... Are they inherited aspects of one's temperament that may lie dormant until certain challenges present themselves in life? I'm not sure, but I could see it being a combination of the two as you suggest. The fact that it applies to dogs makes me lean more towards it being an inherent part of one's temperament, but I certainly don't rule out that dogs could subtly learn temperament from their parents/owners without us humans being able to perceive it.
Now, as for the assumption of humanity as 'naturally' good - I don't think it's necessary for his hypothetical society. Of course, if that were to be assumed it would make things a bit easier to buy into. Instead, I think a more honest and reasonable thing - but admittedly more dangerous - is to try to find some agreed upon standard of human behavior for the continued function of society. Problems with this are the many different approaches to running a society and what constitutes problem behaviors from culture to culture. Ideally, we'd stick to trying to 'rehabilitate' the heinous criminals; murderers, child abusers, rapists, etc... but one can easily imagine a dystopian hijacking of such a system to attempt to 'rehabilitate' the rebellious peons of their individuality disease...
I suppose the saying "don't judge a book by its cover" also applies to its title I do have an interest in reading over his ideas (if for nothing else than to be able to correct people and/or properly shoot them down when they cite his works), just no time in the foreseeable future...
The idea about a person's "programming" (whether genetic or otherwise) leading them to commit crimes is an interesting one. It's not so different from blaming violent video games as the cause of violent crimes in that it's an effort to try and explain why people commit atrocities seemingly on a whim, at random, or with no understandable reason (if there's any reason at all). In trying to find a cause like this, it also assumes that humanity is good overall; that to commit a horrible act, there must be something else that forces a person's hand.
If we assume that everyone is good, and that those who commit "bad acts" have some sort of corruption, then what he says makes sense. Fix the biological imbalance, correct the psychology, and even the worst criminal can be restored to one of society's most upstanding members.
I don't particularly buy into that.
Try a little experiment. Think of a very sad thought, one of the worst experiences in your life. Now think of a very happy thought, one of the best, the type that is sure to bring a smile to your face.
Congratulations - you just willfully adjusted your brain chemistry with each of those thoughts. Granted, you thought of what you did because I prompted you to (assuming you were following along with my text), but in a day-to-day occurrence, why do we think the things that we do? True, much of it is reactionary, and we're all working with different baseline chemistries that are partly based on our genetics. Yet we do think and perceive, and this is not simply knee-jerk reactions to what happens around us. Even when we're in an environment devoid of stimuli, we're thinking (some more than others...).
The underlying biology can explain why some people are more prone to a condition, such as depression. It can't explain why some depressed people will wallow in their condition, while others will fight it as hard as they can. In my opinion, the difference is "spirit" - the culmination of all experiences and thoughts that are held by an individual. That involves but goes beyond genetics or physiology.
Ironically, he often mentions one of his greatest regrets is the title of The Selfish Gene. It invokes people looking out for themselves, and is thus confusing because that is not the idea at all. Selfish genes could lead to selfless people; altruism to your offspring and family is a 'selfish' act from a genetic point of view - we express these beautiful behaviors for a reason, evolutionarily speaking. (By the way, as a side remark, I think anyone who tries to argue that this waters down the magnitude of such behaviors is being silly.) So I would say the title is probably not a good way to judge, hehe. Perhaps skim through some of the ideas Dawkins has established online if you have a chance, such as memes or extended phenotypes. These are ideas he has largely pioneered in the past thirty years. I personally find them fascinating, but could understand if you don't have the time/interest to do so... but if you do ever give some of his biological ideas a read and steer clear of religion you'll see his true genius.
His dangerous idea was a short blurb relating to a philosophically mechanistic outlook on crime and punishment. I linked it on TRL's page a day or two ago. It's not a very fleshed out argument as it is part of a series of small submissions of "Dangerous Ideas" by influential thinkers, but is thought-provoking nonetheless.
You're half-right on that - he didn't necessarily (from my perspective) say that one's genetics make them helpless from committing crimes. What he said was that if we were to truly view the world with a mechanistic philosophy, we would realize that even the most heinous criminals have a 'defective' programming that we should view as something to be cured, whether through medicine/therapy (he didn't elaborate), rather than punished. Programming is a bad word because he fully acknowledges the confluence of one's inherited genetics and their environment. Perhaps more accurate would be 'interactive programming.' He admitted that he wasn't 'enlightened' enough to condition himself to react this way, but it may be the outlook of some hypothetical society in the future.
I haven't read any of his works. I really have no room to critique him as a result, but during discussions with others I've heard some of his arguments. It could be that the people re-using them were oversimplifying them. Although I must admit that even the title, "the selfish gene," was rather off-putting to me.
I'm not overly familiar with his arguments against religion. However, I don't see that evolution and the existence of God are in opposition.
Similarly, I'm not familiar with the "dangerous idea." If it's something that TinyRedLeaf mentioned, is it the idea that we're carrying out a complex set of instructions based around our genes? Did Dawkins take that to say that people committing crimes can't help themselves? I'd strongly disagree with that.
I have only read one work to completion by Richard Dawkins and it had nothing to do with theism and atheism (nor was this debate mentioned). I have read parts of the God Delusion (my first exposure to Dawkins) back in high school for my theology class. Like you, I think his arguments against religion may be oversimplified, but I am certainly not as fervent as him, even if I do put myself at about the same level of "weak atheism" he describes for himself in the book.
The book that I did read to completion was The Ancestor's Tale, which was a fascinating and compelling 'backwards' pilgrimage from humanity to our ancestry. On the way, as you link up with other species via the common ancestor, he relates his more-than-encyclopedic knowledge on evolutionary biology through 'tales' for a selected species. It is truly the most riveting book I've ever read and for me it is ironically almost a spiritual experience to read as it makes me reflect on the journey of life since its inception on Earth.
And I wouldn't say Dawkins' view of biology is so limited. To be sure, he rubs people the wrong way with his religious views, but if you were to read The Selfish Gene or The Ancestor's Tale, where he sticks to the biology, you'd realize his viewpoints are scientifically holistic and very complex.
He is also the biologist credited with 'creating' the gene-based model of evolutionary biology. You may not know that the term 'meme' and the very idea of memes was thought of by Dawkins in the 70's. Nowadays people see him as a poster boy for atheism, but he's much more than that. He's possibly one of the most important biologists in terms of theory of our lifetime.
Also be sure to check out The Extended Phenotype, one of my favorite Dawkins-originating concepts. He elegantly applies it to beavers and their dams in The Ancestor's Tale.
But enough being a Dawkins cheerleader, hehe. Did you take issue with his 'dangerous idea,' as TRL did? Even with your view of cells working through a complex signaling network that interfaces with one's genetics - I do not necessarily think his mechanistic view of crime and punishment is invalid.
I can't say that I'm a fan of Dawkins, either. I suspect that he greatly oversimplified his views in his books in order to make them more approachable, understandable, and acceptable to most people. Yet I've encountered some people who had incorrect (in my opinion) views, and then they backed them up with things that Dawkins wrote.
Who knows - maybe Dawkins didn't oversimplify his views, and it's what he really believes. I don't know exactly what an evolutionary biologist studies, but I was always under the impression that they're specialized ecologists. If so, his take on biology would be very different from mine. He sees how populations are altered over time and in response to environmental changes; I see how cells work through complex signaling networks that interact with the genetics, how those cells interact with other cells, and how all of that affects the host organism.