Manufactured People: The sum of manufactured choices

Monday

1220  | There is further proof of my cat’s intellectual capacities. She is capable of engaging in self-evaluation, and is also able to internalize certain normative values.

Now, my cat is sensitive to my intonation, pitch, and volume, and is also responsive to the way that I say “good girl” or “bad girl.” She knows that one signals my approval, and the other signals my disapproval.

When Michael makes an annoying face directly in front of her and makes strange mooing sounds, she very often likes to take a swipe at his face — with claws extended. (And that is how he has gotten so many tiny cuts on his face.) Perhaps she takes it as a slight insult, or perhaps as some type of “goading” behavior to incite a challenge to her status. Needless to say, Michael always loses such challenges though he’s always instigating. And so the cat-hierarchy in our family is me, our cat, then Michael at the bottom.

Well, one day, when Michael was once again being deliberately annoying to our cat (teasing her seems to be his way of showing affection, I think), she made a swipe at him. But being glad that she was sticking up for herself, I wanted to encourage her to express herself in this way, so I said to her, “good girl.”

Ironically, she must have taken this to be a reminder of my expectations on her self-comportment, because she looked at me as if to say with a slightly annoyed look, “Seriously?” And though Michael continued to make silly faces and moo at her, she simply looked the other way instead of swiping at Michael in revenge. So, indeed ironically, it had the opposite effect on her. And instead of the praise increasing the chances of her behavior, it decreased it.

Presumably, she still had the impulse to swipe at him. But she thought better of it, and decided against it for some reason — but in particular, her own reason. Perhaps it was some guilt. Or, perhaps she sensed some irony. In any case, if this behavior was the result of a self-evaluation and an adjustment of behavior based on her internalization of certain normative values, do you suppose that this means that she’s self-aware?

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1341  | Michael says, “The feline is guilty only when it is seen committing the act of treason.”

Our cat swiped at Michael, and then looked at me to see if I was looking — and Michael says that when she realized that I hadn’t seen, she decided to go for a second swipe. Is that guilt or shame? Perhaps it’s shame. lol.

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1503  | [ Continuing my study of Scanlon’s book, What We Owe To Each Other… ]

I think that I disagree with what Scanlon says on page 284: “Perhaps the criminal is the way he is because of a deprived childhood… In such cases we are judging the criminal as he now is, and we are asking whether it is appropriate to take his actions as indicating faulty self-governance. In order to claim that this is appropriate we need not also conclude that he is responsible for becoming the kind of person he now is.” And so, Scanlon’s view is that even “agents who cannot appreciate the force of moral reasons [can] be properly blamed” (p.401, Note #27).

But I don’t think that this is right. I think that Plato would have said that self-ignorance makes everything that a person does — whether it benefits the individual or not, and whether it harms others or not — be a morally bad thing. And conversely, everything that a person does with self-knowledge is morally good. Since ignorance does not have a form, one cannot even judge it. Only knowledge can be judged.

It is as HD Thoreau says: “We should feed and clothe him gratuitously sometimes, and recruit him with our cordials, before we judge of him. The finest qualities of our nature, like the bloom on fruits, can be preserved only by the most delicate handling. Yet we do not treat ourselves nor one another thus tenderly.” (Thoreau, Walden)

Is Scanlon arguing this point because he wants Capitalism to succeed? [eg, he needs to argue that people deserve whatever prosperity they have under Capitalism]

Presumably, capitalism has Puritan roots. And according to Marx and Weber on that topic, the Puritans believe that their God rewards the chosen ones with wealth and prosperity in this life. The religion basically permits a person to believe that they “deserve” the material prosperity that they’ve “earned” with the combination of their hard-work and God’s favor. If you take away the religious aspect, you are left with Capitalism — but without God, and without the notion of desert. So something else must come in to take their place. Perhaps a sophisticated argument comes in at this point, and gives an account for why people “deserve” what they’ve “earned” through their rational choice to develop their innate skills and talents.

To be honest, I’m a bit anti-Capitalism. My mind’s not entirely made up, but I have moments when I feel very strongly about being anti-capitalism. I’m not communist either. I just think that modern Capitalism should be modified into something more organic and less mechanical. For instance, I don’t think that “working-hard” at exploiting others makes one “deserve” the fruit of that labor — no matter how laborious it may be, or how much one has invested in the development of cleverness, skill or talent that such a thing might require.

My view of Capitalism is that it’s wrong and self-contradicting, because it permits what is supposedly “superior” to become dependent on what is “inferior.” I label my view as being essentially a Homeric and “aristocratic” view, while Capitalism is one that caters to the ignorant masses (I don’t want to call it democratic, since one can have demes made up entirely of aristocrats). To speak figuratively, Capitalism is a vampire that must cater to the ignorant masses, because it feeds off of and gets fat on the blood of the ignorant masses. But the life in me is proud and fierce and disapproves of such a system for two reasons: (1) the act of catering to the masses is having a seriously adverse effect on the Earth’s conducive-ness to human habitation and health and is therefore a self-contradictory and essentially irrational act, (2) it is perversion of the truth for the so-called “superior-rationalizers” to depend upon the “inferior-rationalizers” for sustenance and profit and thinking that somehow they’ve “earned” their material prosperity by means of their own choices in terms of investments. In short, I think that capitalism is an irredeemably and essentially unjust economic system. It is just as bad as when warriors took slaves from the people that they conquered; if the conquered were the weak, then the weak should have been wiped out completely rather than taken as slaves and exploited.

But, perhaps I’m missing something here, and I should think some more about it.

10:01pm  |  To continue where I left off earlier, perhaps the situation is simply this: the notion of justice requires that people feel that their life-stories are expressions of their character (ie, their habit in choices or choice-making procedures).

Perhaps the “feeling” of justice is something that can only be grasped by the mind — for instance, the sort of feeling one gets when one puts on a coat that fits perfectly, as when a coat is made to one’s own measurements.

The problem with this is that society is a system made up of mostly arbitrarily generated mental-constructs (eg, invented for the sake of convenience). The choices that people think that they’re making in such an artificial reality aren’t genuinely free choices at all. They are manufactured choices. And if people are the sum of these manufactured choices, then the people themselves are manufactured. They are as much choices as when the Spartan elders offered the Spartiates two pre-decided options to “choose” from. But, being better than something else worse, doesn’t make it good — it’s just less bad. And if something isn’t good, it’s not a choice in the proper sense of the word.

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