Sunday, April 20, 2008

Cause and Effect

I received the following from a friend of mine in an email, and asked his permission to post it here. I think it is relevant to my previous post. Rather than place it in block quotes and having it show up even narrower than it already is (someone want to tell me how to expand my text frame?), I'm going to paste it between the asterisks.


By Steven Brockerman, MS

This short video is interesting from the perspective of causality. The first perspective is explicit. In the video, we see and hear Al Gore's (dramatic: darkened stage; high tech graphing; uses of vibrant colors; etc.) presentation regarding CO2 causing "global warming"; then, in far less dramatic settings, we hear the experts' response, namely that Gore is reversing causality: It is warming that is causing increases in CO2, not the other way around.

(Mind you, it is my position that whether the Earth is warming or cooling depends on where you start your timeline--in the latter part of the 19th Century (then, yes, the globe has warmed since then by about 1 degree C) or in the middle of the 20th Century (then, no, the globe has not warmed since then; indeed, it has cooled by approximately .1 degree C, even if you factor in the summer of 1998. If you take note of the temperature scale shown by the climatologists, you'll note the drop in temperatures that occurs beginning around that time, the 1940s.))

The other perspective is implicit--and I suspect a point of debate among Objectivists. It was a point I made and continue to make, although I suspect I am in the minority.

First, recall my post on HBL in which I recount a story told me by my father. I noted it as an example of mass scale epistemological corruption. It involved a neighborhood in which most of the people believed they were seeing a miracle, which came in the form of a silhouette resembling (the typical version of) the Virgin Mary on the exterior wall of the local Catholic church. As time past, the crowds grew larger and the priests inside the rectory next to the church grew alarmed. So they placed shrouds over crucifixes that had long handles (used in processions) and walked in front of the shadow to demonstrate to everyone that it was the result, not of a any miracle, but of a streetlight shining through some tree branches. Nothing, though, could convince the growing crowd that this was not the work of some divine agency. Eventually, the priests asked the city (of Camden, NJ) to extinguish the streetlight; after a suitable period, the city sent a crew out to trim back the tree's branches.

An example, of course, of how the emotionalism of faith corrupts epistemology.

The question that arises from this (in my mind) is: How does the belief in faith—the faith in faith itself—become so ensconced in people's epistemology that, despite all the facts to the contrary, they refuse to relinquish it? How does one aggressively ignore one's mind, which is precisely what one must first do, when one is young—in one's teens—before one becomes corrupted and starts lying to oneself? My answer is: Because one long ago--from 4 to 10—accepted the morality of self-sacrifice. Faith in a supernatural entity that embodies and preaches self-sacrifice re-enforces that morality, rather than leads to it.

In short, just as CO2 isn't the cause but the effect of warming temps, ethics is the cause, not the effect, of a corrupt epistemology. And that is the reason that one will always fail—whether priests proving a miracle is merely a street light cast shadow or scientists proving that global warming is a hoax—when presenting facts to minds whose ethics have corrupted their epistemology. It's not the corrupted epistemology—faith in God nor even the faith in faith—that leads one to believe in self-sacrifice. The cause is the acceptance of the sacrifice morality itself. That, in effect, stunts the person's epistemological growth, which remains at the emotional level. That, too, is why such emotion driven presentations like Gore's succeed so well to those sorts of minds in the face of counter arguments that are impeccably reasoned but less dramatic.

Facing such a mind, the only recourse for the rational—in terms of persuasion—is to attack that mind's morality head on. To aggressively assault, with facts and with reasoned argument, that person's ethics. Even then, if the person is over the age of, say, 25, I think there's very little chance of success. There really isn't a mind there; only a bundle of reactionary emotionalism (and, later, well constructed rationalizations and evasions), which is all that essentially constitutes the person’s epistemology.

Many Objectivists will certainly disagree, of course, citing the fact that metaphysics and epistemology precede and are the foundation for ethics. I submit that such a view is rationalistic, substituting the flow chart, if you will, of philosophy for the beginning state of a child's mind, which is not a rationally driven state but an emotionally driven one. (Parents will, I think, bear me out on that.) A child reacts first; only as time goes by does a child learn how to act—to take control of his mind (and his emotions), using his gradually learned skills of reasoning to (implicitly—explicitly comes later) form his metaphysics and epistemology. But morality—wanting to be (to feel) good and not (feel) bad—precedes that. Yes, there is a bare bones basic metaphysics & epistemology there; but the force of morality is far greater because, at this point in a child's development, the force of his feelings is greater.

In conclusion, the force that morality possesses over Man supersedes, at first, the (implicit) conclusions of his mind's metaphysics & epistemology. So much so that he will arrange (as he ages) his conclusions to fit his notion of morality. (Incidentally, this is, in my opinion, prima facie evidence of the goodness of Man's nature.) By the time the toddler has reached his teens, that morality is the bedrock upon which he has (custom) built his metaphysics and epistemology.

As addendum—as inductive proof—I ask you all to do a thought experiment; or, rather, to introspect backward to that time in your life when you were between the ages of, say, 4 and 10. During that time, did you take seriously the notion of self-sacrifice? Were you bombarded by adults, your parents most of all, with admonitions that being a good boy meant you had to sacrifice yourself to others? How about in school?

As I recall, I was not exposed to that kind of thinking at all, not even in Catholic school. Oh, sure, within the liturgy of the Catholic mass, yes; but that was a) in Latin and b) so far above my head--and so far removed from day-to-day efforts (and rules) to be a "good boy"--that it had little or no effect. (I recall telling my mother that if I had been there when they tried to crucify Christ, I'd have mowed them all down with a machine gun.) More important, as I recall, was that I be mannerly (as in table manners) and polite, respectful of adults, not get into fights (the closest I came to being exposed to self-sacrificing--"Just walk away, Steven") and to watch my mouth--talking too much; cursing; etc.

So I put it to you: We will never win the global warming debate—nor any other debate—no matter how many facts we trot out until we win the fundamental debate: Egoism is moral—self-sacrifice is evil. Until, as the scientists in this video have done, we recognize the proper order of causality—not in a formal schematic of philosophy on paper but in a schematic reflecting the functioning of a child's mind.

If we do, we will have, like those scientists, correctly identified the proper causal order between ethics and epistemology: A corrupt epistemology does not cause men to accept the morality of self-sacrifice. Rather, the morality of self-sacrifice results in them accepting a corrupt epistemology.


I agree with this. One could say that self-sacrifice serves as a proto-epistemology. It is the habit of not pursuing a first-hand knowledge of truth in order to avoid conflict with others.

1 comment:

Steven Brockerman said...

Thanks for giving me a podium, Erskine. I spotted few more of my typos, but I can live with them. They don't bother me...

bother me

bother me.