[FoRK] Africa...

Stephen Williams sdw at lig.net
Fri Jan 8 10:10:57 PST 2010

Dr. Ernie Prabhakar wrote:
> Hi Stephen,
> On Jan 8, 2010, at 12:20 AM, Stephen Williams wrote:
>> Being ethical / moral and civil doesn't mean that nobody ever does violent, potentially bad things.  It means that those things are not considered normal, are only done, by non-criminals, after consideration and only when it seems to be the course of action that will result in the best acceptable outcome.  Additionally, we, generally speaking, work hard to shield the young from things that would traumatize them.  There's plenty to quibble about, but we don't take toddlers to public hangings or let children play soccer with heads or whatever.
> I do agree that modern Western culture is generally less barbaric than many (though far from all) earlier societies.  But that doesn't prove we "moderns" are inherently more moral or compassionate than everyone who came before.

I wasn't really arguing that we were the least barbaric, the point I am 
making is that we tend to have far less mental trauma than I believe 
most prior (and some current) societies inflicted on their people.  And 
that this created a vicious cycle of more barbaricness and passing on 
mental trauma to their children.

In terms of the appropriate level of barbaricness, you have to be 
competitive as a society overall and not be easily overrun by barbaric 
challengers or disturbed elements in your own society.  This is true 
both of those with wrongheaded ideas and those disposed to incivility 
through genetics, upbringing, or import from another society.  Some 
wonderful egalitarian groups in the past were simply overrun and 
absorbed by another group that was stronger overall.

The US attempts to be almost completely civil, egalitarian, and trauma 
free while fostering and channeling aggression so that we can handle all 
comers as needed.  It's a balance that includes high tolerance of 
acceptable forms of aggression (guns, fighting arts, football) while 
having zero tolerance for systematic trauma.  Along with freedom to get 
a little crazy (religion, private societies). 

To tie to the previous discussion on corruption: Pervasive corruption 
creates a wide-spread lack of trust in the infrastructure of a society 
which is a kind of mild trauma.  It isn't just an inconvenience, it also 
destroys any illusion of fairness, predictability, or of valid civil 
duty.  The reactions to this would seem to be many and with many side 

Whether there is a large, highly abused underclass is another aspect 
that would tend to harden people and either eliminate or narrow their 
egalitarian tendencies.  At least the illusion that everyone who doesn't 
"choose" to be homeless etc. is doing at least OK is an important aspect 
of a high functioning society.  If you know there is an underclass 
living and working in appalling, unfair conditions, then it necessarily 
bothers you until you decide not to care.
> I also think that there are many things we take for granted today that earlier societies *would* consider gratuitously barbaric -- and perhaps our future descendants will as well. Are we really any better than them at critiquing our own culture?

We try to base our decisions on facts, notwithstanding Meese, Bush II, 
et al.  We are scientific about our decisions, although imperfectly so.  
Only when we ignore facts known to us out of stubbornness (race 
(formerly), women (formerly), sex (mostly formerly), drugs (just 
slightly formerly)),  or some other misguided reason should we be judged 

You could argue that various ancient societies were operating on their 
best facts, and sometimes this was true.  Until just before they were 
overrun by barbarians.  It's still fair to make a direct comparison of 
barbaricness separate from whether they arrived at that point through an 
honorable path or not.  What do you think will be better than now?  
Sharing too much about crimes / war / terror too often is an issue, but, 
as noted, you can just not tune to those channels.
>  Don't be to quick to cast the first stone, lest you discover your own house is made of glass....

It is glass.  Tempered, very thick glass.  Rebuilt as needed.  ;-)

Anyway, compared to sacrificing children with a knife to make more money 
or turning them into guided missiles because you are jealous, I think 
first world nations, including the US, are quite well off and set a 
great example.  I would vote for immediate reform of those sick 
societies by whatever form necessary, as long as it didn't make things 
worse.  In some cases, you could hardly get worse.

"Trauma minimization" for those not yet traumatized, while progressively 
writing off those who are hopelessly damaged, might be a good way to 
characterize what our military rules of engagement should be.  From what 
I know, it may fit what we are doing pretty well already, although there 
is huge room for improvement.  For some misguided reason, we don't do 
enough education and good press to help manage knowledge and mood in 
active areas.  I'd be highlighting the barbaricness of the enemy 
constantly while selling the benefits of maturing to a first world 
society.  I would make it a required pervasive theme in all education, 
etc.  We seem to leave it almost totally to the locals who are just not 
equipped in many cases.

> -- Ernie P.

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