Monday, September 22, 2014

Opening Salvo

The main goal here will be to help shift discussion toward reflections on social institutions and those institutions impact on our selves. Opening up those institutions to reflection, we have to take responsibility for the reproduction of such institutions and the creation and maintenance of more enlightened ones. I use the term institution here in a very wide sense, which includes norms and beliefs. It includes pretty much anything of a social nature that is contingent, or practically contingent. Or, more pointedly, anything of the environmental side of “genes and environment” that goes into structuring us as individuals. Social institutions, broadly speaking, is the place most apt for reflection and change, until we start opting for eugenics and robust transhumanism.

As we move into a more unified picture of our world, materialism for us true believers, I feel that a real unease or misgiving has taken place around certain areas in our description about who we are. We could say that many have neglected the nature/nurture argument. By bracketing off certain possibilities of radically altered social environments, either in a grand and hypothetical sense but also in the local, personal sphere, reflections about what our selves could be is usually not given a full accounting. Conversely, things that we think are inherent natural products of our genes are usually misappropriated as such. They may be structured by genes in some general ways, but the idea that they were givens to who we are, as a given identity or behavioral repertoire, is not necessitated. And often could be structured in a radically different way that we would readily welcome. At other times, perhaps we would not welcome such changes. Our inability to reflect on these changes becomes more difficult due to essentialized and reified social structures and discursive structures, ones that emotions encourage us not to open up, not to rethink.

A failure to put the political/social/institutional front and center, to be argued about and rethought, is a failure to argue for the creation of selves that are as robust as they could be. An example: The general social conditions that structure different individuals, say the kind of education/socialization that is set up around these individuals, such structures are going to be far more important in determining that they are well-educated, well-established (say socially and of personal character), than an analysis and careful monitoring of certain brain biases that inundates certain popular spheres. The failure to put the social and political on the table, to see, in most cases, the social as the political and the political as the social, leads to a poor analysis of the most important factors in determining our lives, of letting us live better lives, to make better choices. Given that much discussion in brain sciences, philosophy, and on moral thought is concerned with creating better selves and societies, I argue that in the end they ultimately fail to ask the most pressing questions about the most important aspects of who we are.

So, in time, this blog will solve the nature versus nurture question, put philosophy/science on the right track, and foster the appropriate social revolution.

Feel free to follow along.

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