This is the title of a recent paper by a group promoting ‘experimental philosophy‘. This involves the “use of the methods of experimental psychology to probe the way people think about philosophical issues and then examine how the results of such studies bear on traditional philosophical debates” (Nadelhoffer and Nahmias, 2007: 123)
The paper examines two related philosophical concepts, determinism and moral compatiblism, and seeks to discover whether views regarding these differ across national cultures. Reading the paper through the lens of the Four Cultures is an interesting experience. Continue reading “Is Belief in Free Will a Cultural Universal?”→
The intensity and scale of the Victorian bush fires stuns the imagination. The photos of those killed are heartwrenching. For Australia this is an example of what Alain Badiou has called a ‘truth event’ – a moment prior to emotional or intellectual assimilation, an interpretative vacuum as yet unready to be filled with meaning or ideology.
Fires, of course, don’t speak, and they don’t deliver messages. To seek to understand what they say to us is inevitable, though, the start of a ‘truth process’. It is to come up against ‘the Real’, as Lacan put it.
For grid-group Cultural Theory, these kinds of events are a kind of ‘ground zero’ for the ongoing creation of meaning and organisation that is culture. Watch how quickly commentators now step into the breach and start to name the un-namable.
What, so far, is the message of the fires?
For Egalitarian scientist Tim Flannery , the message is obvious: global warming. For many politicians, the message is more traditional, if still Egalitarian: we must all pull through together, or not at all.
However, with fires at one end of the country and floods at the other, many Australians will, as ever, be filling the vacuum with a Fatalist message: nature is capricious. Keep your head down, make the best of it you can, and put the rest down to sheer luck.
As part of an economic recovery package worth $42 billion, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is going to give handouts of cash to Australians to the value of $12.7 billion. This has been derided by sceptics as ‘the next blind throw of the dice‘.
It could perhaps be more helpfully seen as another example of fatalist activism – a throw of the dice, but not necessarily blind. Faced with a seemingly intractable and capricious situation which Australia has little control over (the global economic downturn), government policy in the Fatalist mode seeks to introduce yet more capriciousness – ‘contrived randomness’ is the phrase coined by Oxford Professor of Government, Christopher Hood. Perhaps it is some good luck meant to balance out the prevailing bad luck.
Certainly, to this recipient of the ‘bonus’, the world seems a little more capricious than it did yesterday. The effect of the handout is similar to the feeling of winning a very small lottery prize. As an unexpected windfall it devalues just a little the idea of budgeting. Should I expect another handout later in the year – or not?
Is this a good use of public money? One newspaper article claimed that after the last such ‘economic stimulus package’, spending on gambling rose by $40 million. I find it almost impossible to see how it can contribute effectively to improving the economy. But then, I’m not persuaded by the Fatalist worldview, so the logic of this move seems incomprehensible to me.
In Australia, the original Fatal Nation, this kind of thing happens all the time.
Of the four worldviews of grid-group cultural theory, the one cultural theorists themselves most often exclude from the discussion is fatalism. They do this by claiming it is ‘passive’ (Michael Thompson), or ‘isolate’ (Mary Douglas), and by claiming fatalism opts out of policy debates, or is excluded by the others by definition. This betrays a real bias and a failure of imagination on the part of researchers.
News channel CNN is giving ‘influential bloggers’ a chance to ask world business leaders a burning question at the forthcoming world economic forum.
The question Fourcultures would ask is:
How much is there?
This question is deceptively simple. Think about it for a moment, then if you like, take the little poll to the right of this page.
The answers given at Davos would increase awareness of the way our assumptions are conditioned by the four biases described by grid-group cultural theory. Given the context – a meeting of world business leaders – it can be predicted that the most popular answer by far would be:
‘There is plenty, as long as we harness our ingenuity and hard work’.
It would speak of, in Rupert Murdoch’s words, ‘what happens when human talent, ingenuity and ambition is given free rein’. This is the world view of the individualists, for whom the world is a cornucopia, to be unlocked by innovation and personal prowess.
The second most popular answer would be:
‘There is enough, as long as we regulate it properly’.
This is the hierarchical approach, and it is to be remembered that, internally, many large businesses are effectively hierarchical bureaucracies.
Way behind would be
‘There’s not enough – we’ve got to change our values, share more and be more frugal’.
Unfortunately this is the answer of most egalitarians, including a large part of the green movement. I say unfortunately, simply because it’s hard for them to see that when they speak with business leaders they’re often speaking a different language.
Also unpopular would be
‘How should I know how much there is, let’s just spin the wheel and see where the ball lands!’
This is the fatalist worldview, and it’s extremely populareverywhere except Davos. But in their spare time, the business leaders of Davos may well apply exactly this approach to life; indeed there was something of this about the financial markets prior to the recent crash.
These four answers to the question ‘how much is there?’ don’t just contradict each other, they actively compete.
So when the Transition Culture website (a meticulously egalitarian and wonderful endeavour) works out its question for CNN, it’s hardly surprising that the question chosen starts with the words
‘On a finite planet…’
Picture the business leaders at Davos rolling their eyes and saying ‘Let’s just stop right there – who says it’s finite?’
For as long as business leaders think the environmentalists are really just defeatists, we have a big, big problem. Conversely, when the environmentalists learn to translate their words for the benefit of their hearers, we begin to have a solution.
it is possible to create set of beliefs, which allow us to live at peace with ourselves and other people, to feel strong in ourselves without having to remain a child forever dependent on some supernatural power, and to face life with courage and optimism.
What I find interesting about this is the acceptance of the idea that belief as such presents itself as some kind of choice, while the content of belief is in need of construction by each and every would-be believer. It seems that DIY religion is not so much an option – it’s the only real possibility.
Economist Peter Leeson has a new book coming out about the economics of piracy in the late 16th and early 17th century ‘golden age’. He uses piracy as a test case for the claim that rational choice economics is what motivates much of human behaviour. In an article on the same subject, he writes:
‘“Pirational choice” differs from rational choice only in that it deals with rationally self-interested decision making in the uniquely piratical context.’ (Leeson, 36)