Utopianism

#1
I sometimes accuse certain people on this forum of being utopian, but here I want to talk about exactly what I mean by this term.

As I see it, utopians generally think that we just need to do one simple thing, and then everything will be OK. This thing could be getting rid of capitalism (Marxism), getting rid of the state (Anarchism), getting rid of all government interference in the free market (Libertarianism), getting rid of the state, capitalism and all modern technology (Primitivism) or changing human nature so as to make us happier, less selfish and less violent (Transhumanism).

Of course not every Marxist or libertarian is utopian, but some of them are, and this can be very dangerorus. There can be a tendency to blame those evil people over there for preventing us from reaching utopia. It's their fault that we're not living in a utopian world, and maybe we just need to get rid of them in order to make the transition. Utopians always have an enemy, and it's always this enemy's fault that the world is so messed up. For Marxists the enemy is the capitalist, for libertarians it's the supporter of big government, and for transhumanists it's the technophobe or luddite.

The kind of utopianism I see on this forum goes something like this: If we can get rid of materialism and atheism and bring in a more 'spiritual' worldview, then there will be no more war, poverty, greed or selfishness. The idea is that, by having the right beliefs about consciousness, psi and the afterlife, we can somehow overcome the dark side of human nature. Of course the enemy here is the dreaded materialist, who wants to poison our children's minds with their evil ideology. The narrative is presented in very simplistic black-and-white, us-vs-them terms, and it's often described as a kind of war that we just have to win for the sake of the world or the universe or whatever.

So why is there so much demonizing, caricaturing and stereotyping of materialists around here? There are many reasons, of course, but I think utopianism plays a big part in all of this.
 
#3
I sometimes accuse certain people on this forum of being utopian, but here I want to talk about exactly what I mean by this term.
So why is there so much demonizing, caricaturing and stereotyping of materialists around here? There are many reasons, of course, but I think utopianism plays a big part in all of this.
So you accuse people of utopianism, spend a whole opening post all about demonizing, stereotyping it and calling it dangerous, all to finish up the post by asking why materialism is so demonized and stereotyped.

I think we're getting punked. ; p
 
#7
I think its amusing that you bring up a group that you cite as wanting to directly re-engineer human nature to end issues, and then later conclude that having the right behaviors won't change human nature.

Secondly, why not go to a different forum and ask why they "utopianize" skepticism and if all we could do is get rid of those pesky philosophers and believers the world would be a smarter place?
 
#8
I think its amusing that you bring up a group that you cite as wanting to directly re-engineer human nature to end issues, and then later conclude that having the right behaviors won't change human nature.

Secondly, why not go to a different forum and ask why they "utopianize" skepticism and if all we could do is get rid of those pesky philosophers and believers the world would be a smarter place?
The main problem with transhumanism is that we don't know what the hell we're doing. If you try to make human beings less aggressive and less selfish, then this could have all sorts of unintended consequences. You could end up inadvertently also making people less creative or more depressed.

The atheist utopian is just as dangerous as the paranormal utopian. There are people out there who think that we can create some kind of utopian world if we can just get rid of religion. They think that religion, rather than human nature, is the reason why there's so much violence and cruelty in the world. I would attack these people just as much as I attack Alex.

Why do I spend so much time listening to paranormal podcasts and looking at paranormal forums? Because I'm really interested in this stuff, and I really hope there is an afterlife. That's why.
 
#9
So you accuse people of utopianism, spend a whole opening post all about demonizing, stereotyping it and calling it dangerous, all to finish up the post by asking why materialism is so demonized and stereotyped.

I think we're getting punked. ; p
A cursory glance at the history of the 20th century shows us how dangerous utopianism can be. I just thought this was so obvious that I didn't need to go into detail about fascism and communism. So what is your point? You don't think utopianism is dangerous?

By the way, I recommend the work of the British philosopher John Gray. The main thrust of his work is that we need first and foremost to be anti-utopian, for the kinds of reasons I've talked about here. Utopianism always has a dark side, and always goes hand in hand with demonizing the other
 
#10
I'm sure a lot of you have heard that famous speech by Alan Watts where he's talking about Carl Jung. Watts talks about how Jung thought that the most dangerous people are those who refuse to believe the darkness is within themselves, and who think that it only exists out there with those other people, and those other people could be communists, capitalists, atheists, Christians, paranormal believers, or what have you. This is very relevant to what I'm talking about here. People with this kind of mindset tend to think that the others have to be converted or wiped out, because they're the problem, and they're the ones who are preventing us from having a really good world.
 
#11
I'm sure a lot of you have heard that famous speech by Alan Watts where he's talking about Carl Jung. Watts talks about how Jung thought that the most dangerous people are those who refuse to believe the darkness is within themselves, and who think that it only exists out there with those other people, and those other people could be communists, capitalists, atheists, Christians, paranormal believers, or what have you. This is very relevant to what I'm talking about here. People with this kind of mindset tend to think that the others have to be converted or wiped out, because they're the problem, and they're the ones who are preventing us from having a really good world.
So what is your point again?
 
#12
The main problem with transhumanism is that we don't know what the hell we're doing. If you try to make human beings less aggressive and less selfish, then this could have all sorts of unintended consequences. You could end up inadvertently also making people less creative or more depressed
Is there some specific project you've read about where they're trying to do that? Outside of transhumanist fiction I've heard them talk about artificial cognition, life extension and moving to a post-scarcity environment, not any serious programs to directly make someone "less selfish."
 
#13
Is there some specific project you've read about where they're trying to do that? Outside of transhumanist fiction I've heard them talk about artificial cognition, life extension and moving to a post-scarcity environment, not any serious programs to directly make someone "less selfish."
Yeah, transhumanists often talk about this king of thing. Look at the Transhumanist FAQ by Nick Bostrom, the excellent Changsurfer podcast by James Hughes, or the Transhumanist Reader by Natasha Vita-More. A big part of the transhumanist project is to alter our emotions and improve our capacity for empathy and happiness. I don't really understand the science, though, so don't ask me about that.

Here are some quotations from famous transhumanists:

So in the future people in the pursuit of non-zero sum social and economic relations are likely to choose the sorts of intellectual and emotional enhancements that boost their ability to cooperate more effectively with others, e.g., increased empathy, greater practical reason.

Ronald Bailey

One of the marvels of our species is that even as we think through our own contradictions, we may be led to – but we don't have to – resolve cognitive dissonance. We are not binary beings. Humans have an uncanny ability to bootstrap our intelligence and our empathy by catalyzing an abili ty to imagine and innovate, and consequently, make manifold leaps in act ing in and on the world.

Wrye Sententia

Emerging technologies may give us, for example, higher levels of intelligence (however, exactly , that is understood); increased physical st rength, stamina, and resistance to disease; extended longevity; and perhaps an enhanced capacity for empathy or other valued psychological traits. As technology goes inwards, altering the human body, it may grant us entirely new abilities.

Russell Blackford

Technologies such as brain-computer interfaces and neuropharmacology could amplify human intelligence, increase emotional well-being, improve our capacity for steady commitment to life projects or a loved one, and even multiply the range and richness of possible emotions.

Another transhumanist current is represented by advocates of “paradise-engineering” as outlined in David Pearce (2003). Pearce argues on ethical
grounds for a biological program to eliminate all forms of cruelty, suffering, and malaise. In the short-run, our emotional lives might be enriched by designer mood-drugs (i.e. not street-drugs). In the long-term, however, Pearce suggests that it will be technically feasible to rewrite the vertebrate genome, redesign the global ecosystem, and use biotechnology to abolish suffering throughout the living world. Pearce believes “postDarwinian superminds” will enjoy genetically pre-programmed well-being and be animated by “ gradients of bliss” .

Nick Bostrom
 
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Sciborg_S_Patel

#14
Is there some specific project you've read about where they're trying to do that? Outside of transhumanist fiction I've heard them talk about artificial cognition, life extension and moving to a post-scarcity environment, not any serious programs to directly make someone "less selfish."
Doesn't Sam Harris at least step really close to this idea in all his "Science can prove Morality" propaganda?

I actually think there's a difference between utopianism and finding existential issues with skeptical/materialist evangelism. One offers a rise up from status quo, the other seeks to preserve it.

In any case, I think if pseudoskepticism was replaced with legitimate skepticism, we'd see less podcasts or posts talking about said issues.
 
#15
But let me make this very clear. I'm not saying that all or even most transhumanists are utopian. Most of them just want human beings to live longer, be happier, and perhaps be a bit kinder and more empathetic. All of this is quite reasonable, and I have no problem with it. And the same goes for Marxism, Primitivism and the rest. It's only when taken to the extreme that these ideologies can get dangerous. These extremist utopians suddenly start thinking that their ideology alone can eliminate war, greed and suffering, and that other people are enemies who are preventing their utopia from becoming a reality.
 
#16
But let me make this very clear. I'm not saying that all or even most transhumanists are utopian. Most of them just want human beings to live longer, be happier, and perhaps be a bit kinder and more empathetic. All of this is quite reasonable, and I have no problem with it. And the same goes for Marxism, Primitivism and the rest. It's only when taken to the extreme that these ideologies can get dangerous. These extremist utopians suddenly start thinking that their ideology alone can eliminate war, greed and suffering, and that other people are enemies who are preventing their utopia from becoming a reality.
I think we can both agree that extremists and fanatics are the real concern in your argument. To answer your original question, Pro-psi extremism could be considered the equal but opposite reaction to Anti-psi extremism, this is simply one of the forums where that has started to congregate.

Skeptics feel that the psi research is entirely crap and a priori impossible, Proponents feel like they are being treated unfairly* and having their arguments dismissed via form letter. Also consider the Sheldrake and TED situation, where Coyne was able to blog disapproval about the talk and have it immediately pulled--instead of simply appearing in a talk himself to give a counterpoint, which is the academic thing to do.

* Sciborg has posted about the "Parapsychology as a Control Group for Science" rhetoric, I believe Iyace has posted about double-blind studies being used more prevalently in parapsych than other fields, and there are other topics on this forum which go on to show that improvements to methodology are no longer unique to ESP studies and the same "issues" apply equally to what are otherwise considered standard sciences.

To put in another perspective; Libet's action potential study had 40 data points and was replicated, and is used to excuse how free will is a lie (though Libet's own paper does not exclude free will.) The Ganzfeld effect has had 40-sample studies done, replicated, complained about and revised, re-replicated, which still conclude success rates. If we remove the topic from both of these studies, what we have are two separate papers which have passed the baseline and yet one is heralded as a definitive fact and the other is thrown out without a thought. Because of little niggles like that, someone leaning pro-psi is bound to get upset.
 
#17
I sometimes accuse certain people on this forum of being utopian, but here I want to talk about exactly what I mean by this term...
I think it's true enough that any ideology, be it political, religious or scientific, when taken to extreme, can lead to polarisation: to categorisation of non-believers as evil.

I don't think materialists are evil, though I do think they are mistaken. Do I want to persecute them? No. Why would I when I was once one of them myself? They annoy the pants off me if they keep on making the same arguments no matter that the counter-evidence should at least give them pause for thought. Would the world be a better place if people became more circumspect about avowing certainty? You tell me; but I will say that I think we know hardly anything with absolute certainty.

Agnostics are the ones there tend to be the fewest problems with. IMO, many ordinary folk aren't ardent believers in things: don't take up banners and march in the streets, or guns and start shooting people, or go on the Internet and start slagging people off. They might lean more in one direction than another, but don't become activists. If everyone were like that, then though it might not be utopia, things might be a damn sight better than they are.

You yourself have to a degree stereotyped and stigmatised proponents on this forum:

The kind of utopianism I see on this forum goes something like this: If we can get rid of materialism and atheism and bring in a more 'spiritual' worldview, then there will be no more war, poverty, greed or selfishness. The idea is that, by having the right beliefs about consciousness, psi and the afterlife, we can somehow overcome the dark side of human nature. Of course the enemy here is the dreaded materialist, who wants to poison our children's minds with their evil ideology. The narrative is presented in very simplistic black-and-white, us-vs-them terms, and it's often described as a kind of war that we just have to win for the sake of the world or the universe or whatever.​

First, you don't just mention materialism, but atheism. It's been said often on this forum that many proponents aren't conventional theists; that many of them are just as as sceptical of religion as atheists. For some reason, that doesn't seem to sink home. We're not making it it up: we really don't like religion. We really don't believe in the Abrahamic God: really are atheists when it comes to that purported entity. As often as not, we will actively avoid using the word "God": I myself prefer the term Source Consciousness (SC).

Why do I believe in SC? A couple of reasons. First, it's in line with certain experiences I've had. Second, thinking in that way, for me, provides an intellectually more satisfying explanation for reality. But having said that, am I 100% certain that SC exists? No. Can anyone say with 100% certainty it doesn't exist? No.

Second, if militant materialists are my enemy, then so are militant spiritualists. We have had some on this forum: people who are absolutely convinced that they know the structure of reality and know in detail what it comprises. I find them just as annoying, and as likely to ignore them.

Third, many materialists are secular humanists and aren't actually bad people. I don't see how they can square their materialism with their morality (since materialism offers no explanation for why one should be moral), but I accept that they nonetheless are moral, at least until they start expressing their own contempt for non-materialists. If you think this forum is bad, go to a sceptic one and take a gander at what they say about us. Do you visit such fora and complain about their utopianism, about how they think that the world would be a much better place if no one believed the kinds of things (they think) that we believe? If you are to be consistent, you should.

There's a lot of nuance in the opinions of some proponents, who definitely don't see things in black and white. I don't see the point in trying to "convert" materialists: I frequently don't even bother conversing with them and may put the most annoying of them on ignore because it's absolutely bloody pointless trying to discuss anything with the 100% convinced. I'm only bothering trying to converse with you because you may not be 100% convinced. Depending on your response, if any, I may continue trying to converse. But if so, you're going to have to stop stereotyping people.
 
#18
Michael, thanks for your excellent post. You are always very balanced and fair-minded.

I knew what I was doing when I used the word 'atheist' in that paragraph. There are plenty of hardcore atheists out there who are certain that psi and the afterlife do not exist, but they're not necessarily materialists. Many professional philosophers today would fall into this camp.

My depiction of the extreme paranormal utopian wasn't meant to be describing any real person. Nobody here is quite that bad, not even Alex. But some people here do move perilously close to this extreme utopianism at times. If there are any people here who think that belief in psi and the afterlife and a deep understanding of consciousness can completely eliminate war, greed, selfishness, cruelty and suffering, then these people surely have to be called utopian. I'm not sure whether anybody here actually believes this, but I suspect that some do.

I used to post on the Center for Inquiry forums for several years, and I received a lot of hostility from some of those people as well. Nowadays, I prefer to spend most of my time on paranormal forums, since I really want to get to the bottom of the question of whether there's an afterlife. And Skeptiko, for all its flaws, has certainly had a massive impact on me.
 
#19
The main problem with transhumanism is that we don't know what the hell we're doing. If you try to make human beings less aggressive and less selfish, then this could have all sorts of unintended consequences. You could end up inadvertently also making people less creative or more depressed.

The atheist utopian is just as dangerous as the paranormal utopian. There are people out there who think that we can create some kind of utopian world if we can just get rid of religion. They think that religion, rather than human nature, is the reason why there's so much violence and cruelty in the world. I would attack these people just as much as I attack Alex.

Why do I spend so much time listening to paranormal podcasts and looking at paranormal forums? Because I'm really interested in this stuff, and I really hope there is an afterlife. That's why.
I by and large agree (for the most part) with many of your criticisms here and in the other thread you started recently about the connection or lack of between M1 and M2.

But I'd like to make what I think is a relevant point:

Skeptiko is a really cool podcast, (and maybe you agree (?)) . . . And one of the reasons, IMO, that it's good is because Alex is the host. I don't really want hushed tones and elevator-style muzak, and NPR type stuff . . . I want what I'd do, which is, in a quite a few ways, what Alex does. I want someone who at least starts somewhat as a layman. When I first started coming to understand what the current scientific paradigm was all about, I was majoring in anthropology, with an emphasis on cultural anthropology . . . (which was a mistake; I should've been smarter than to actually go to college, for one, and for two, I should've majored in, say, literature). I was floored by how scientifically predictable they thought culture and humans were . . . and that they actually thought, if we made it far enough with science, we'd be able to explain, well - I hesitate to say everything, but that's kind of what I think they - my professors and fellow students - thought. Anyway, I railed against the stuff; I wanted to lash out in anyway possible . . . I mean, mainly on intellectual grounds . . . I thought they were - sorry to use the word - kind of stupid, intellectually crude, black-and-white type thinkers. (And, of course, they weren't really stupid, but it's like they had an enormous blind spot or were, well, indoctrinated). So, I was furious, and sometimes I'll still have that feeling when I think back on college . . . God only knows what I would've thought/said had I been aware of parapsychology; my nonmaterialist views at the time were strictly shaped by hallucinogens and Art . . . (Art because I believe for it to really happen, the person doing it has to get out of the way, so to speak, and allow something else, something greater, to take over . . . and that that thing that does take over will never, ever be accounted for). Anyway, this is all just to say, Alex isn't an impartial NPR host or a college philosophy professor; he's on a personal journey. He's coming from where I'm coming from. And it's this, I think, that's possibly at the root of your frustration.
 
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#20
Michael, thanks for your excellent post. You are always very balanced and fair-minded...
Fair enough, Dominic. Let me say I think there are two kinds of belief: conditioned (by others or oneself), and evidence-based. Think of it scientifically: the scientist constructs a hypothesis, and then tests it: the evidence may either support or refute it.

So what's the hypothesis? It's in two parts. First, that there's the possibility that life has some kind of meaning. The second, is that there may be a way of obtaining evidence to support that. If a person rejects that hypothesis out of hand, without testing it, well, that's their prerogative, but at that point further dialogue becomes pointless.

How to test it? Well first, I don't believe it's easy. It can take many years, throughout which one has to be genuinely open to the first possibility even though no incontrovertible evidence may be coming in. What is the procedure for getting the evidence? Maybe one can find a spiritual teacher and carry out prescribed exercises, for example: not that there's any guarantee, because there are many bogus teachers out there (and perhaps even more bogus students). Some think psychoactive chemicals can do the trick without years of striving. I'm not really qualified to say anything with certainty about either option. That said, I discovered inadvertently something that may have worked for me.

The very act of searching for meaning, maybe for several decades, leads to the discovery that one has disguised motives for doing so. They're egotistical: maybe one wants to feel special or to experience nirvana or whatever. So, one tries to kid oneself that this time one is being sincere, wanting to find meaning (whatever it might turn out to be), for its own sake. After going through loop after loop and discovering one is still being egotistical, at some point, despair might set in.

It has to be genuine despair, and that can't be faked. Despair is horrible, but it has a potentially useful side-effect: it puts a bloody great hole in the ego. And that's an important aim of genuine spiritual teaching. Zen masters have one way of beating pride out of you, Sufis another, Hindu mystics a third, and so on. And my theory is that when the bloody great hole appears, the conditions may be right for an enhanced spiritual awareness to arise: I suspect we'd be aware like that all the time if we were humble all the time, but few of us are: maybe only the very greatest of adepts are. I'm not saying that the awareness, if it comes (again, no guarantees) will be very dramatic; it may be quite subtle, but one thing for sure is that it'll be something one hasn't experienced before: and that's what constitutes the evidence in support of the hypothesis.

I've said that I'm an atheist of the Abrahamic God, and that conventional religion is not for me. That said, it wouldn't surprise me if some religionists might, through sincere faith, also develop spiritual awareness. The odd secular humanist might eventually develop it too. And there's always the (remote) possibility that even the most hardline materialist might have a Damascene experience: who knows.

So: I've explained to you the hypothesis, and how it can be tested. I've said it may take decades to get the evidence, and it might never happen anyway. Dismiss it if you want, but if you do so without giving it a try, there's no way you'll ever know whether it's bunkum. And if you do get the evidence, it will only be good for you: there's no way to convince anyone else.

It's a bitch, ain't it? The experiment's not for the impatient, insincere or faint-hearted, that's for sure.
 
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