individual vs collective

Use this philosophy forum to discuss and debate general philosophy topics that don't fit into one of the other categories.

This forum is NOT for factual, informational or scientific questions about philosophy (e.g. "What year was Socrates born?"); such homework-help-style questions can be asked and answered on PhiloPedia: The Philosophy Wiki. If your question is not already answered on the appropriate PhiloPedia page, then see How to Request Content on PhiloPedia to see how to ask your informational question using the wiki.
Post Reply
User avatar
Greta
Site Admin
Posts: 9604
Joined: December 16th, 2013, 9:05 pm

Re: individual vs collective

Post by Greta » November 12th, 2020, 12:33 am

Responding in part for simplicity's sake:
GE Morton wrote:
November 11th, 2020, 10:55 pm
Greta wrote:
November 9th, 2020, 9:24 pm

The other question is whether it is possible to stop a group from exerting force without exerting force back? What we have today is the result of centuries of pushing and pulling in various directions. The issue is that, once you have laws, you either enforce them to some extent or accept anarchy.
I agree. As Kant noted, laws not enforced are pointless. But any use of force raises the moral question posed earlier: For what purposes, and under what circumstances, is force exerted by one moral agent against another justifiable? Your statement above hints at one answer: force is justified to resist force initiated against oneself or someone else. So enforcing laws prohibiting the initiation of force would presumably be justifiable. Are there any other circumstances where it is justifiable?
Heh, my first thought is whether morality has ever come into it. Power, like cream, rises to the top. Then they tell us what morality is, in which case we either follow the herd or be like philosophers and question everything.

Ultimately, if morality is applied in high places, where decisions impact thousands, if not millions, then the applied morality will tend to be based on utilitarianism, profit or ideology. If utilitarianism, then an estimation will be made on what seems most likely to provide the most benefit to the most people, preferably in a say that has synergistic effects for the society.

GE Morton wrote:
November 11th, 2020, 10:55 pm
This is key. Most of the time coercion is not necessary. However, there is a pretty strong moral and business case for centrally coordinated national action on pandemics, for instance, because they readily cross state boundaries, so gains in one region can easily be undone by irresponsible neighbours. It's the same issue as with vaccinations.
That suggests another justification for the use of force --- to reduce or remove risks or threats of harms to some moral agents from the actions of other moral agents. Whether force is justified in those cases would (presumably) depend upon the magnitude and certainty of the risks and harms presented/anticipated.
Yep, it's a matter of risk management. Again, it will rely on estimation. Perhaps AI analytics will reduce the guesswork in time.

GE Morton wrote:
November 11th, 2020, 10:55 pm
There is no good solution, of course. Societies have always experienced this tension between individuals and collectives. Large collectives tend to be stronger than individuals and smaller groups, so size is favoured in cultural selection, hence the current global situation of gigantic nations and states. Nations did not federate for ideology, but for power. The bigger the nation, the more powerful it tends to be, so there is a long history of bipartisanship. Bipartisanship naturally erodes as nations become larger, for the same reason fifty pet cats are harder to keep in check than one.
Like humans, cats have minds of their own. They'll sometimes do what you ask, but only if it is coincides with their own interests.
All that's needed is the perception that something coincides with one's own interests. That is how the trickle-down effect was sold to the people. What should have been seen as a dynamic during times when economic stimulus is required, it was seen as a standard modus operandi. So wealth continued to gush upwards and trickle back down. After decades of gushing up and trickling down (wouldn't you know it and shiver me timbers!) we have today's situation, where inequality has reached a point where it impacts on societal stability.

User avatar
Greta
Site Admin
Posts: 9604
Joined: December 16th, 2013, 9:05 pm

Re: individual vs collective

Post by Greta » November 12th, 2020, 12:43 am

GE Morton wrote:
November 11th, 2020, 10:55 pm
Where we differ here is that you see the individual v collective as a moral issue. I don't see any more moral component in naturally conflicting interests than in volcano eruptions. Stuff happens. In the face of titanic natural phenomena we can do minor things, eg. we can flee a volcano or we can respond to the constant stream of socio-econo-techno-political exigencies, but ultimately it seems that Mother Earth and Human Nature (note caps) will be effecting the most profound changes.
Individual v. collective per se raises no moral issues. Individuals are the constituents of all collectives, and most collectives --- football teams, orchestras, business partnerships, gardening clubs, etc. --- function just fine, without any need for force and thus without raising any moral issues. The moral issues arise when some persons attempt to exert force against others who have not initiated or threatened force or harms in pursuit of some goal sought by the former.
I see no moral issue there. All societies have had rules and enforcement. The chances or everyone agreeing on the rules is zero, so either a majority rules or, more usually, a powerful minority.
GE Morton wrote:
November 11th, 2020, 10:55 pm
If all members roughly agree on nationhood, that makes them a collective.
That is debatable. If we assume that "nationhood" merely means erecting a local government independent from the governments of distant powers, that desire, even if universal within that group, falls well short of making that group a collective. Or if it is so considered it is a collective only with respect to that universal goal (of securing/maintaining local independence). It implies no other common interest or purpose.

But in fact, there are always dissenters against any independence movement. Many American colonists moved to Canada when it appeared the revolutionaries would prevail against Great Britain. (The Canadian province of Ontario was settled largely by loyalist American expats).
I don't think it's wildly different to your supporters of footy teams. I am from Team Australia, so I support Australia in its endeavours - unless it behaves poorly, eg. massive fossil fuel subsidies and favouritism, throwing millions of public monies at the leader's church. There is so much that appals me in our governance and monopoly Murdoch media but, if Australia is under attack by a hostile power, then it's Team Australia all the way.

GE Morton wrote:
November 11th, 2020, 10:55 pm
The exception is, of course, ideology. For instance, I like the Scandinavian approach of charging high taxes and ensuring a high standard of childhood care and education. To me, that makes sense: a stitch in time, saves nine. The problems averted in youth, and the intelligence fostered, pay for themselves in not just dollars, but improved social order, happiness, employability, reduced crime, reduced prison population, and so on. Yet others do not see the cost-benefit situation the same way.
Well, whether such programs are the cause of the observed results is questionable. You need to compare the rates of crime, etc., in those countries before and after those programs were enacted. Societies more-or-less homogeneous are always more stable and have lower crime rates than those with high ethnic, religious, and cultural diversity.
The point here is that the care and education of someone else's child is ostensibly none of my business. Yet, if that child later on, through neglect or poor education, embarks on a criminal career, that reduces everyone's standard of living in the young person's vicinity, eg. greater risk of being robbed or assaulted.
Even assuming that neglect or poor education leads to a criminal career (keeping in mind that correlation is not causation), the question remains: Who should decide what level of risk (to oneself) is acceptable, and what mitigating it is worth --- the person at risk, or someone else? And, is Alfie justified in forcing Bruno to mitigate the risks to Alfie posed by Chauncey?
There are well established links between childhood neglect/abuse and criminality. Ultimately these models are cost-benefit equations because the objections tend to be largely financial.

GE Morton
Posts: 1975
Joined: February 1st, 2017, 1:06 am

Re: individual vs collective

Post by GE Morton » November 12th, 2020, 11:43 am

Gertie wrote:
November 11th, 2020, 9:56 am

You string together cherry picked facts, more and less reasonable assumptions and total speculation about things no-one can know, to create a narrative driven by your Libertarian, individualist ideological bias, and to give a quasi academic gloss to your facile prefered conclusion -

"Collectivism" is an atavistic social/political doctrine which seeks to resurrect the organic model of human society and superimpose it on modern societies by force. Every totalitarian movement that emerged in the bloody 20th century began with some version of the organic sociolological assumption. But that premise is false, destructive, and obsolete. ''

Your story goes, collective living destroys our sense of identity and is stagnant, individualism is dynamic and this allows us to thrive in the modern world - cos... cavemen had a collective consciousness we long for. Laying the groundwork for stuff like ''Hence paying taxes is slavery!''
Yikes!

That is a surprisingly intemperate, ad hominem response coming from you.

But you're mis-characterizing the argument and then rejecting it without argument. The "conclusion," which you quote, referred to collectivism, a social/political doctrine. It did not refer to "collective living," which is somewhat vague --- do you just mean living in a social setting, or participating in some sort of cooperative activity? I certainly didn't claim that either of those "destroys our sense of identity and is stagnant . . ."

Collectivism is a social/political doctrine which views society as collective --- as a group of people cooperating to pursue a common task or goal, which goal overrides and supersedes any personal interests and goals of its members, and which holds that all members of the society are duty-bound to join in pursuit of that collective goal and may be forced to do so if they balk.

Here is Mussolini's vision: "Anti-individualistic, the Fascist conception of life stresses the importance of the State and accepts the individual only in so far as his interests coincide with those of the State, which stands for the conscience and the universal, will of man as a historic entity. It is opposed to classical liberalism which arose as a reaction to absolutism and exhausted its historical function when the State became the expression of the conscience and will of the people. Liberalism denied the State in the name of the individual; Fascism reasserts the rights of the State as expressing the real essence of the individual."

http://www.worldfuturefund.org/wffmaste ... solini.htm

Of course, the major premise --- that modern societies are groups of people cooperating to pursue a common goal --- is manifestly false. They are groups of individuals, each pursuing any of an endless variety of personal interests and goals, some individually, some in concert with others who share that particular goal or interest, and who have no a priori duties to join in pursuit of any goal they don't share.

And, no, paying taxes is not slavery --- as long as the taxes imposed are proportionate to the extent of benefits each taxpayer realizes from the services for which those taxes pay.
It's the sort of thing Jordan Peterson gets away with.
Thanks for the reference. I'd never heard of him, had to look him up. He seems to be someone worth hearing. Here's a link to an interview:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=exHEFl2p1V8
When you provide citations, we can get into a discussion about the merits of the argument you're making.[/b] Until you do, it's just a slippery sales spiel for libertarianism as far as I'm concerned.
Oh, I don't think any of the statements you quoted are particularly controversial, though some of them are somewhat speculative, and I'm certainly not about to devote hours to seeking "authorities" who have said similar things. The thrust is that modern societies are not "big happy families;" they do not have, and will never have, for structural reasons, the unity, uniformity, and intimacy of tribal societies. Expectations that they should behave as though they did are irrational, and historically attempts to realize those expectations have resulted in "democide" on a massive scale.

https://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/NOTE1.HTM

User avatar
Greta
Site Admin
Posts: 9604
Joined: December 16th, 2013, 9:05 pm

Re: individual vs collective

Post by Greta » November 12th, 2020, 5:32 pm

GE Morton wrote:
November 12th, 2020, 11:43 am
Thanks for the reference. I'd never heard of him, had to look him up. He seems to be someone worth hearing.
Unlike most people I know, I quite like Jordan Peterson. He is very smart, eloquent and perceptive. Many of his fans (who can be rather fanatical) fail to see that JP produces rocks and diamonds - you just have to keep an eye out for the good stuff and let mistakes go. Being devoutly religious, he can fall into incoherence in trying to explain his adherence to religious dogmas when he'd be better off just saying, "I have no reason, I just like it".

Ecurb
Posts: 682
Joined: May 9th, 2012, 3:13 pm

Re: individual vs collective

Post by Ecurb » November 13th, 2020, 11:27 am

Eden never existed. Those living in small, simple societies had a "collective consciousness" only in as much as they lacked access to diverse philosophies, religions, points of view and forms of knowledge.

Perhaps it is metaphorically true that the development of civilization necessitated a "knowledge of good and evil" that was unnecessary in simple societies -- thus the development of laws and ethical mores.

Consider the ant, or the bee. We understand these eusocial insects by looking at their hills and hives as "collectives". The individuals serve a role in protecting, supporting, and reproducing the collective. The same is true for humans. Seeing individuals as a part of a collective can sometimes enhance understanding, improve cooperation, and help to regulate society.

Individuals -- like societies -- are also "collectives". The cellular biologist might see a person as a collection of cells, each responding to stimuli in its own way. "We can best understand individual choices and behavior," such a scientist might say, "By understanding the individual cells and the way in which they respond." Then along comes a physicist who says, "Oh, come on. Cells are collections of molecules, which are collections of atoms, which are..... We understand how cells respond to stimuli by understanding subatomic physics."

Here's my point: when we see society as a collective, it sometimes improves our understanding of society, our attempts to regulate society, and our efforts to enhance human happiness. At other times, it fails. The same is true of seeing individuals as discrete units. We have cured diseases (although not covid) by seeing individuals as made up of parts, as affected by parasites, as producing anti-bodies.

However we divide up the world to examine it, the divisions are artificial, designed to assist our incomplete understanding. Science, by its nature, divides and classifies. But just as society is (or can be seen as) a "collective", so can each individual member.

From a political perspaecive, classical liberalism empahsized the individual; autocracy and communism emphasize the collective. Neither is "right" or "wrong". They simply represent different ways of looking at the same thing.

User avatar
Pattern-chaser
Posts: 1213
Joined: September 22nd, 2019, 5:17 am
Favorite Philosopher: Cratylus
Location: England

Re: individual vs collective

Post by Pattern-chaser » November 14th, 2020, 9:14 am

Pattern-chaser wrote:
November 11th, 2020, 9:07 am
The ones where you blithely assume that, the bigger a society gets, the less social it becomes?

GE Morton wrote:
November 11th, 2020, 1:35 pm
Methinks you're laboring under a faulty understanding of the meaning of the word "social." All societies are "social," by definition. "Society" and "social" have the same root.

But societies can have many forms and structures, depending upon the extent and nature of the relationships between their members.

[...]

The point of the essay was that contemporary civilized societies do not have the same structure as tribal societies, and as a result the interactions and bonds between members range from frequent and strong to seldom (or none) to weak (or none).
No society has the same structure as a different society. And of course societies vary as the number of members increases sharply. But all societies remain social groupings of humans, working co-operatively. And all societies actually comprise loads of social sub-groupings, all nested and interconnected; they are not independent groups. We're merely simplifying for the sake of clarity when we assume so. So, when we describe all these groups and sub-groups collectively, we can only do so in the most general terms. In these general terms, societies, tribes and families are all just examples of human social groups, and they share - again, in the most general terms - many characteristics.

The strength of relationships between members necessarily dilutes as numbers increase, but this doesn't change the basic functioning of human societies, I don't think.
Pattern-chaser

"Who cares, wins"

User avatar
Count Lucanor
Posts: 1011
Joined: May 6th, 2017, 5:08 pm
Favorite Philosopher: Umberto Eco
Location: Panama
Contact:

Re: individual vs collective

Post by Count Lucanor » November 14th, 2020, 11:19 am

GE Morton wrote:
November 12th, 2020, 11:43 am

Collectivism is a social/political doctrine which views society as collective --- as a group of people cooperating to pursue a common task or goal, which goal overrides and supersedes any personal interests and goals of its members, and which holds that all members of the society are duty-bound to join in pursuit of that collective goal and may be forced to do so if they balk.
As a general concept, that definition may be adequate, but it is no less vague, considering the number of doctrines or movements that fit the general description, but differ in a lot of issues. There are, for example, different views of what it means to "cooperate to pursue a common task or goal", depending on whether that cooperation is a conscious action of the agents or not, and whether the outcomes produced by pursuing their personal interests are to be considered common goals or not. I mean, shouldn't we consider that old quote from the father of economic liberalism a sort of (market) collectivism?:

“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest." (Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature & Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Vol. 1).
GE Morton wrote:
November 12th, 2020, 11:43 am
Of course, the major premise --- that modern societies are groups of people cooperating to pursue a common goal --- is manifestly false. They are groups of individuals, each pursuing any of an endless variety of personal interests and goals, some individually, some in concert with others who share that particular goal or interest, and who have no a priori duties to join in pursuit of any goal they don't share.
You do agree then that free market doctrine, which states that "free trade among the members of a society inevitably leads to an outcome that is good for the society as a whole", is false?
GE Morton wrote:
November 12th, 2020, 11:43 am
It's the sort of thing Jordan Peterson gets away with.
Thanks for the reference. I'd never heard of him, had to look him up. He seems to be someone worth hearing.
I think he's an ignorant fool (not all his fault, he's been blown up for political gains), but you can make up your own mind. And I strongly suggest you don't pay attention to his conceptions of Marxism, socialism, etc., he is completely clueless and misinformed.

GE Morton
Posts: 1975
Joined: February 1st, 2017, 1:06 am

Re: individual vs collective

Post by GE Morton » November 14th, 2020, 12:50 pm

Ecurb wrote:
November 13th, 2020, 11:27 am

Consider the ant, or the bee. We understand these eusocial insects by looking at their hills and hives as "collectives". The individuals serve a role in protecting, supporting, and reproducing the collective. The same is true for humans.
Well, no, it isn't true of humans (in civilized societies). The majority of individuals in hymenoptera societies --- the "workers" --- are sterile and genetically pre-programmed to protect and nurture the offspring of a single mother (the queen). In human societies most members have no interest in protecting, supporting, and reproducing the "collective," and devote few or no efforts to that end. Indeed, many of them act in ways inimical to those goals. Instead they act to protect and support themselves and a few others with whom they have tangible bonds. You can, of course, make the "invisible hand" argument, as Count Lucanor does below, that those individually motivated acts unintentionally yield benefits to the larger group, but often enough they also inflict harms.

The point is that there is no goal or interest common to all members of large, randomly-assembled groups, which all members devote at least some effort to securing. Hence while such groups are collections, they are not collectives.
Individuals -- like societies -- are also "collectives". The cellular biologist might see a person as a collection of cells, each responding to stimuli in its own way. "We can best understand individual choices and behavior," such a scientist might say, "By understanding the individual cells and the way in which they respond." Then along comes a physicist who says, "Oh, come on. Cells are collections of molecules, which are collections of atoms, which are..... We understand how cells respond to stimuli by understanding subatomic physics."
That is quite true. Individual plants and animals are organisms, which is a type of collective. Their many specialized cells have evolved to contribute in some way to the survival of the organism as a whole; their functions and the relationships among them are fixed, re-programmed in the organism's DNA. A nerve cell cannot decide to switch roles and become a muscle cell; nor a human cell choose to abandon its organism and join up with a walrus. Outside of its organism the cells are non-viable. That is not the case with the members of human societies. They are generalists, self-sufficient, and the relationships among them are self-chosen or accidental, and are dynamic.
Here's my point: when we see society as a collective, it sometimes improves our understanding of society, our attempts to regulate society, and our efforts to enhance human happiness. At other times, it fails. The same is true of seeing individuals as discrete units.
It does not improve our understanding of (human) society, or enable us to better regulate them or increase happiness, by viewing it as an organism, or as a collective. Indeed, it invariably leads to policies destructive of those ends, because it assumes, falsely, that all members of the society share some common goal or interest and are duty-bound to contribute to realizing that non-existent common goal. Which leads to forcing everyone to pursue that spurious goal and forego pursuit of their actual interests and goals.

There is only one goal common to all members of human societies, a "meta-goal" --- everyone has an interest in satisfying his own interests, attaining his own goals. Only policies which further that meta-goal can increase happiness.

GE Morton
Posts: 1975
Joined: February 1st, 2017, 1:06 am

Re: individual vs collective

Post by GE Morton » November 14th, 2020, 1:05 pm

Pattern-chaser wrote:
November 14th, 2020, 9:14 am

No society has the same structure as a different society. And of course societies vary as the number of members increases sharply. But all societies remain social groupings of humans, working co-operatively.
That is all true enough, for the most part, but while most people work cooperatively with certain others at certain times and for certain purposes, they are not all working cooperatively toward some goal common to them all --- which is the defining characteristic of a collective.
And all societies actually comprise loads of social sub-groupings, all nested and interconnected; they are not independent groups. We're merely simplifying for the sake of clarity when we assume so. So, when we describe all these groups and sub-groups collectively, we can only do so in the most general terms. In these general terms, societies, tribes and families are all just examples of human social groups, and they share - again, in the most general terms - many characteristics.
That is true too. They are indeed all human social groups; they all fit the definition of "society." But societies have different forms, and those differences matter a great deal when formulating policies for governing them.

GE Morton
Posts: 1975
Joined: February 1st, 2017, 1:06 am

Re: individual vs collective

Post by GE Morton » November 14th, 2020, 1:49 pm

Count Lucanor wrote:
November 14th, 2020, 11:19 am
GE Morton wrote:
November 12th, 2020, 11:43 am

Collectivism is a social/political doctrine which views society as collective --- as a group of people cooperating to pursue a common task or goal, which goal overrides and supersedes any personal interests and goals of its members, and which holds that all members of the society are duty-bound to join in pursuit of that collective goal and may be forced to do so if they balk.
As a general concept, that definition may be adequate, but it is no less vague, considering the number of doctrines or movements that fit the general description, but differ in a lot of issues. There are, for example, different views of what it means to "cooperate to pursue a common task or goal", depending on whether that cooperation is a conscious action of the agents or not, and whether the outcomes produced by pursuing their personal interests are to be considered common goals or not. I mean, shouldn't we consider that old quote from the father of economic liberalism a sort of (market) collectivism?:

“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest." (Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature & Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Vol. 1).
Cooperation implies conscious action. Externalities, or "neighborhood effects" of an agent's action which may confer some benefit on some third party don't constitute cooperation with that party. E.g., if I paint my house it may raise the value of my neighbor's house a bit. But I have not cooperated with him to bring about that result. And no one's personal interests are ever "common goals" of all members of a large society, though they may be shared with certain others within it. (Except for the "meta-goal" mentioned in response to Ecurb, above).

So, no, the benefits that may result from Smith's "invisible hand" don't qualify the society as a "collective."
You do agree then that free market doctrine, which states that "free trade among the members of a society inevitably leads to an outcome that is good for the society as a whole", is false?
Yes, it is false. Any claim that any policy is "good for society as a whole" will be false. E.g., a policy prohibiting and punishing murder and rape would not be good for would-be murderers and rapists. But a free trade policy will be good for everyone who does not seek to support themselves via some sort of plunder.
I think he's an ignorant fool (not all his fault, he's been blown up for political gains), but you can make up your own mind. And I strongly suggest you don't pay attention to his conceptions of Marxism, socialism, etc., he is completely clueless and misinformed.
I've only seen a couple of Youtube interviews with him, neither of which addressed Marxism or socialism in any substantive way. What errors do you find in his conceptions of those?

Ecurb
Posts: 682
Joined: May 9th, 2012, 3:13 pm

Re: individual vs collective

Post by Ecurb » November 14th, 2020, 2:35 pm

GE Morton wrote:
November 14th, 2020, 12:50 pm


Well, no, it isn't true of humans (in civilized societies). The majority of individuals in hymenoptera societies --- the "workers" --- are sterile and genetically pre-programmed to protect and nurture the offspring of a single mother (the queen). In human societies most members have no interest in protecting, supporting, and reproducing the "collective," and devote few or no efforts to that end. Indeed, many of them act in ways inimical to those goals. Instead they act to protect and support themselves and a few others with whom they have tangible bonds. You can, of course, make the "invisible hand" argument, as Count Lucanor does below, that those individually motivated acts unintentionally yield benefits to the larger group, but often enough they also inflict harms...


It does not improve our understanding of (human) society, or enable us to better regulate them or increase happiness, by viewing it as an organism, or as a collective. Indeed, it invariably leads to policies destructive of those ends, because it assumes, falsely, that all members of the society share some common goal or interest and are duty-bound to contribute to realizing that non-existent common goal. Which leads to forcing everyone to pursue that spurious goal and forego pursuit of their actual interests and goals.

There is only one goal common to all members of human societies, a "meta-goal" --- everyone has an interest in satisfying his own interests, attaining his own goals. Only policies which further that meta-goal can increase happiness.
Eusocial insects are haplodiploid -- but that's irrelevant to my point. Obviously, haplodiploid insects share more genes with their relatives than we do (and many of them are sterile). But so what? Like them, we also share genes with our relatives. That might make for another discussion, but my point here was simply that looking at society (metaphorically) as an organism sometimes helps us to understand it, predict how it will change, etc. The motives of individual ants are ignored in the study of ant society; it is possible to study human society without reference to the motives of individual actors. We can (for exampled) determine how long ago related languages diverged; we do this by studying language. The motives of blabbermouths who actually altered pronunciations are irrelevant.

Of course it is arguable whether this approach improves understanding, or facillitates human happiness. Nonetheless, the well-known "economic-man" approach to studying human behavior is equally fraught with difficulties. People may try to maximize their own happiness, but often they do not: they give their resources away (to their children, for example); they dive on hand grenades to save their buddies; they write poems to make glad the hearts of their fellow humans.

Being "duty-bound to contribute to realizing that non-existent common goal" is problematic. "From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs" annoys me, not because I object to the "needs" part, but because I want to goof off, instead of maximizing my (massive) potential.

Your attempts at social psychology ("everyone has an interest in satisfying his own interests, attaining his own goals") are trivial, true by definition. But when the team wins, all the players win. People aren't morons (except those who voted for Trump). They are well aware that promoting an ethos in which we all help each other promotes the realization of our own goals. The problem with the "economic-man" approach is two-fold: it misunderstands human nature and it (often) fails to account for the complex nuances of game theory.

User avatar
Count Lucanor
Posts: 1011
Joined: May 6th, 2017, 5:08 pm
Favorite Philosopher: Umberto Eco
Location: Panama
Contact:

Re: individual vs collective

Post by Count Lucanor » November 14th, 2020, 9:44 pm

GE Morton wrote:
November 14th, 2020, 1:49 pm

Cooperation implies conscious action. Externalities, or "neighborhood effects" of an agent's action which may confer some benefit on some third party don't constitute cooperation with that party. E.g., if I paint my house it may raise the value of my neighbor's house a bit. But I have not cooperated with him to bring about that result. And no one's personal interests are ever "common goals" of all members of a large society, though they may be shared with certain others within it. (Except for the "meta-goal" mentioned in response to Ecurb, above).
There are many ways to see cooperation and many forms of cooperation. In general, it's simply collective action, in other words, working together to produce an outcome. Some forms of cooperation involve agents working in the same task, at the same time, for example two workers helping each other in an assembly line. But there may be other workers from the same company in a completely different location, doing other tasks, without necessarily having knowledge of the job done in the other factory, and yet it will be said that they'll be cooperating to produce the same final, assembled product, or the company's goals. But at the same time, by producing the assembled product or achieving the company's goals, all these individuals working in cooperation might be producing other outcomes, the nature and extension of which the individual agents are not necessarily aware. Yet they are cooperating, consciously or unconsciously, to produce those results with the combined effect of their individual actions. What happens at the production unit can also be seen at the level of society as a whole: individuals do things in relationship with other people, and their combined effect will produce outcomes. This is cooperation, too, regardless of whether they are completely aware of the results or not. What makes it cooperation is that they are working together to do it.

What happens at the production unit can also be seen at the level of society as a whole: individuals do things in relationship with other people and the effect of their actions combined is an outcome not necessarily foreseen by the agents, nor they are aware how these actions work in combination. For the independent observer who sees the whole picture, this is cooperation, too.

You may think that by painting your own house you're not cooperating, but since there's a widespread agreement that maintaining the properties in good conditions gives value to the neighborhood, and that benefits everyone, you're actually part of a collective, cooperative effort. And in general, life would be very hard for everyone without a sense of community and the cooperation it involves.
GE Morton wrote:
November 14th, 2020, 1:49 pm
So, no, the benefits that may result from Smith's "invisible hand" don't qualify the society as a "collective."
Once we start understanding what is cooperation, what it really means, then it is made obvious that society is sort of an assembly line where for doing their own tasks, its members are compelled to work together, engage in social relationships, trade with each other, in other words, cooperate. While they do that for their particular reasons, whether selfish or altruistic, their combined effect is producing something larger than their original goals. If collective means cooperation, society is definitely collective.

Now, about your definition of collectivism and its shortcomings. You have defined it as a political doctrine that views society as a collective that pursues a common task or goal. But by definition, a political doctrine entails the pursue of a common goal by a group, so what you're actually saying is that collectivism is the pursue of a common goal by a collective. One should suppose there are groups that don't view society as a collective and promote that view as their common goal, but they are themselves a collective, nevertheless. And if they organized and cooperated to convince all other members of society to adopt that view, they would be collectivists, too. And so, the best way to identify a true non-collectivist would be that they don't engage in any political practice, nor promote the adoption of non-collectivism in society, right?
GE Morton wrote:
November 14th, 2020, 1:49 pm

Yes, it is false. Any claim that any policy is "good for society as a whole" will be false. E.g., a policy prohibiting and punishing murder and rape would not be good for would-be murderers and rapists. But a free trade policy will be good for everyone who does not seek to support themselves via some sort of plunder.
To be consistent with your own claim, you would have to say that a free trade policy (if such a thing existed) cannot be good for society as a whole, and therefore it would be bad for some part of society.
GE Morton wrote:
November 14th, 2020, 1:49 pm

I've only seen a couple of Youtube interviews with him, neither of which addressed Marxism or socialism in any substantive way. What errors do you find in his conceptions of those?
You can check his horrible performance in the debate with Zizek, only saved by Zizek's own incompetence, although the latter still showed to be very well-read in comparison. And if you want to look at a thorough exposure of Peterson's lack of competence in political science, I always recommend Taimur Rahman:

A Marxist Response to Jordan Peterson

GE Morton
Posts: 1975
Joined: February 1st, 2017, 1:06 am

Re: individual vs collective

Post by GE Morton » November 15th, 2020, 12:52 pm

Ecurb wrote:
November 14th, 2020, 2:35 pm

Eusocial insects are haplodiploid -- but that's irrelevant to my point. Obviously, haplodiploid insects share more genes with their relatives than we do (and many of them are sterile). But so what? Like them, we also share genes with our relatives. That might make for another discussion, but my point here was simply that looking at society (metaphorically) as an organism sometimes helps us to understand it, predict how it will change, etc.
That is precisely the point on which we disagree. Viewing modern human societies as organisms does not help us understand them; on the contrary, it assures a false understanding of them.

Human societies are not organisms; they are complex adaptive systems (CAS's). The key difference between those is that organisms adhere to a pre-existing design, a specific set of elements with specific properties related in the specific ways prescribed by the design, the whole of which has an overriding, unifying purpose and function. Plants and animals are organisms; as are machines and systems with many distinct but mutually supportive parts all operating in concert to achieve some specific task or tasks.

CAS's, however, have no pre-ordained design, nor any unifying function or purpose. They are randomly-assembled groups of disparate, unrelated elements confined by external constraints to a common environment, constantly interacting, and thus perpetually engaged in mutual accommodation and modification to maintain a dynamic, metastable equilibrium. Another key difference between organisms and CAS's is that while the behavior, configuration, and life cycle of organisms is predictable, the behavior, life cycle, and configuration of CAS's is unpredictable, except in the very short term. Every prediction of how a society will evolve ever made proved false within a few decades. Other CAS's than human societies include weather, ecosystems, economies.

The literature on CAS's is extensive, but here is a decent summary:

http://web.mit.edu/esd.83/www/notebook/ ... ystems.pdf
We can (for exampled) determine how long ago related languages diverged; we do this by studying language. The motives of blabbermouths who actually altered pronunciations are irrelevant.
Sure. It is fairly easy to produce plausible re-constructions of the past states of a CAS. But it is not possible to predict their future states.
Nonetheless, the well-known "economic-man" approach to studying human behavior is equally fraught with difficulties. People may try to maximize their own happiness, but often they do not: they give their resources away (to their children, for example); they dive on hand grenades to save their buddies; they write poems to make glad the hearts of their fellow humans.
They do those things because it contributes to their own happiness (or is satisfying in some way).
Your attempts at social psychology ("everyone has an interest in satisfying his own interests, attaining his own goals") are trivial, true by definition.
Yes indeed. And obvious. But nonetheless ignored or denied by collectivists.
But when the team wins, all the players win. People aren't morons (except those who voted for Trump). They are well aware that promoting an ethos in which we all help each other promotes the realization of our own goals. The problem with the "economic-man" approach is two-fold: it misunderstands human nature and it (often) fails to account for the complex nuances of game theory.
That is true of teams. But human societies are not teams. And even in games, all players do not help each other. They only help the members of their own team --- not the players on the opposing team. A society consists of thousands of "teams," all playing their own games in accordance with their own rules. As I mentioned in the essay there are a few general "house rules." But even those are not universally followed.

Gertie
Posts: 1161
Joined: January 7th, 2015, 7:09 am

Re: individual vs collective

Post by Gertie » November 15th, 2020, 1:13 pm

GE
Human societies are not organisms; they are complex adaptive systems (CAS's) ...

CAS's, however, have no pre-ordained design, nor any unifying function or purpose. They are randomly-assembled groups of disparate, unrelated elements confined by external constraints to a common environment, constantly interacting, and thus perpetually engaged in mutual accommodation and modification to maintain a dynamic, metastable equilibrium.
Facile nonsense.

More libertarian ideological sophistry dressed in academic jargon. You and Peterson are soulmates.

Alas, if only you would use your powers for good GE!

GE Morton
Posts: 1975
Joined: February 1st, 2017, 1:06 am

Re: individual vs collective

Post by GE Morton » November 15th, 2020, 9:29 pm

Count Lucanor wrote:
November 14th, 2020, 9:44 pm

There are many ways to see cooperation and many forms of cooperation. In general, it's simply collective action, in other words, working together to produce an outcome. Some forms of cooperation involve agents working in the same task, at the same time, for example two workers helping each other in an assembly line. But there may be other workers from the same company in a completely different location, doing other tasks, without necessarily having knowledge of the job done in the other factory, and yet it will be said that they'll be cooperating to produce the same final, assembled product, or the company's goals. But at the same time, by producing the assembled product or achieving the company's goals, all these individuals working in cooperation might be producing other outcomes, the nature and extension of which the individual agents are not necessarily aware. Yet they are cooperating, consciously or unconsciously, to produce those results with the combined effect of their individual actions. What happens at the production unit can also be seen at the level of society as a whole: individuals do things in relationship with other people, and their combined effect will produce outcomes. This is cooperation, too, regardless of whether they are completely aware of the results or not. What makes it cooperation is that they are working together to do it.
You were doing fine until this point: "But at the same time, by producing the assembled product or achieving the company's goals, all these individuals working in cooperation might be producing other outcomes, the nature and extension of which the individual agents are not necessarily aware. Yet they are cooperating, consciously or unconsciously, to produce those results with the combined effect of their individual actions."

No, they are not cooperating to produce those unintended results. As commonly understood, the term "cooperation" implies intention. Their diverse but uncoordinated efforts may result in some outcome --- every effort of everyone will have some outcome --- but unless that outcome is intended and those efforts intentionally directed to that end it does not count as "cooperation."

COOPERATION (noun):

1. The process of working together to the same end.

https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/cooperation

1. a situation in which people or organizations work together to achieve a result that will benefit all of them.

https://www.macmillandictionary.com/dic ... ooperation
What happens at the production unit can also be seen at the level of society as a whole: individuals do things in relationship with other people and the effect of their actions combined is an outcome not necessarily foreseen by the agents, nor they are aware how these actions work in combination. For the independent observer who sees the whole picture, this is cooperation, too.
Same mistake. The interactions among members of the myriad species in an ecosystem drives evolution, and the state of the system at any given time will be an "outcome" of those prior interactions. But it would be absurd to claim that those species "cooperated" to achieve that outcome. E.g., it would be absurd to claim the gazelle "cooperated" in her being devoured by the leopard.

You're equating an intentional, cooperative effort to achieve a desired end with the unpredictable and transitory states of a complex adaptive system (CAS). See comment to Ecurb above.

You could, I suppose, define "cooperate" so broadly as to embrace all states of affairs brought about by the actions of multiple actors, whether coordinated or not, intentional or not. But that Newspeak definition would be useless for collectivists, who invaribly have certain definite outcomes in mind.
You may think that by painting your own house you're not cooperating, but since there's a widespread agreement that maintaining the properties in good conditions gives value to the neighborhood, and that benefits everyone, you're actually part of a collective, cooperative effort. And in general, life would be very hard for everyone without a sense of community and the cooperation it involves.
No, I am not cooperating with anyone when I paint my house. Nor is painting it a "collective effort." The "neighborhood effects" of my doing so play no part in my decision to paint it. Not even the increase in value that may result need play a part; I may paint it for personal aesthetic reasons, or because I'm tired of its current color, or in order to protect the siding from the weather. I would paint it even it was in a remote area with no neighbors.
While they do that for their particular reasons, whether selfish or altruistic, their combined effect is producing something larger than their original goals. If collective means cooperation, society is definitely collective.
Only if you define "cooperation" in the Newspeak manner mentioned above.
Now, about your definition of collectivism and its shortcomings. You have defined it as a political doctrine that views society as a collective that pursues a common task or goal. But by definition, a political doctrine entails the pursue of a common goal by a group, so what you're actually saying is that collectivism is the pursue of a common goal by a collective.
Yes. Any group working cooperatively toward a common goal or task is a collective. Most collectives found in contemporary societies are single-focus collectives; their members constituting a collective only with respect to that particular goal. Most of them will have many other goals as well, which they pursue individually or as members of different collectives with different memberships.
One should suppose there are groups that don't view society as a collective and promote that view as their common goal, but they are themselves a collective, nevertheless. And if they organized and cooperated to convince all other members of society to adopt that view, they would be collectivists, too. And so, the best way to identify a true non-collectivist would be that they don't engage in any political practice, nor promote the adoption of non-collectivism in society, right?
Well, no. That some number of people share a goal or a belief or a political viewpoint, and work to promote it, is not sufficient to make them a collective. They are only a collective if they work together in a coordinated way --- they cooperate --- to bring about the outcome they desire. E.g., the Democratic National Committee in the US, which is the planning and management arm of the Democrat party, is a collective (the Republicans have a similar organization). They place ads in various media, schedule speakers, hold fund-raisers, etc., all for the purpose of electing their candidates to various offices. Its members work on different, assigned aspects of an overall plan to achieve that result. But three guys in different bars in different cities, each ignorant of the efforts of the other two, who try to persuade the guy on the next stool to vote for Trump do not constitute a collective.

Think through what you seem to be claiming there: Is everyone who believes the cloudless, daytime sky is blue make them a collective? Everyone who patronizes a MacDonald's on a given day?
To be consistent with your own claim, you would have to say that a free trade policy (if such a thing existed) cannot be good for society as a whole, and therefore it would be bad for some part of society.
Yes. It would be bad for inefficient producers who could not compete successfully in free trade environment. No public policy is ever "good for society as a whole."
You can check his horrible performance in the debate with Zizek, only saved by Zizek's own incompetence, although the latter still showed to be very well-read in comparison. And if you want to look at a thorough exposure of Peterson's lack of competence in political science, I always recommend Taimur Rahman:

A Marxist Response to Jordan Peterson
I'll check it out, but won't comment further here. I don't want to turn this into a Marxism thread.

Post Reply