Rational Religion

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MODERN AND POSTMODERN...How does that work?


The late Dr. Robert Nozick was a highly respected professor of philosophy at Harvard!?


 Which state of affairs I submit legitimizes my tendency to marginalize Philosophy in general as a sensible and effective way to approach the Real World.


I speak of Philosophy as a formal historical subject of rational inquiry, rather than philosophy as a personal attempt to organize one's central nervous system within the Universe and in relation to the universes of all those other people.


Dr.     Nozick, like any number of others who aspire to be called Philosophers, with Rousseau has a huge First Premise problem. 


He assumes that human beings, "in a state of nature," have certain fundamental rights which should be inviolate.  He goes on to try to establish these rights in opposition to such gross violations as taxation and the maintenance of the public welfare.


The problem, as becomes manifest within the first layer of critical examination, is that Prof. Nozick...and all the other philosophers who postulate a "state of nature...." has to invent out of whole cloth (and a mighty loose weave) what he means by a state of nature.


What he has to wind up with is sort of analogous to what Dr. Ted Kaczynski seems to be writing about when he postulates some ideal "natural" situation which modern techno-society has savaged and replaced.


Now these people, including Dr. Kaczynski, are far too obviously and profoundly products of their own time and place.  That is, they look around and identify a lot of things that are wrong with the world they live in...which isn't too hard to do, really;  all one has to do is be awake at least one-fifth of the time and reading the newspaper or listening to television.


Then they leap to the abysmally-unwarranted assumption that things might have been better at some earlier time or place, and come up with a host of cockamamie ideas about how to get "back there."


I suspect that Prof. Nozick, being presumably somewhat less certifiable than Dr. Kaczynski, was perfectly aware that Camelot has not occurred at any time within the 10,000-odd year history of Civilized Man, and that it is necessary to postulate a completely theoretical "state of nature" in which human beings would theoretically have certain inalienable rights.


If human beings were intellectually and emotionally constituted the way that Prof. Nozick would like them to be.


In other words, Professor Nozick, and other philosophers before him who imagined a proto-human "state of nature," have simply made up their own Camelot...which is so intellectually and emotionally akin to the Old Testament Garden of Eden, that any self-respecting Rational Religionist can ashcan it without a twinge of conscience.


One might be unwise to discard all of Dr. Nozick's investigations and arguments, since he was obviously a very bright fellow with a great deal to say about the dangers of runaway government and the ideal rights of the individual which have evolved down through these last 5000 years (and which far too few, especially female, members of any society actually possess.)


But any human "state of nature" as an ideal point of departure for any philosophical investigation is doomed by our best scientific observations of the probable history of the species. 


Homo sapiens does not exist by itself, apart from all its relatives.   It is part of an observable continuum, which - despite the fact that we have evidently lunched all our closer genus-mates, or at least out-competed them - still includes such characters as chimpanzees and gorillas and bonobos and orangs and gibbons.


And the study of these people, their societies or purposeful lack thereof, provides too compelling an analogy to a probable human "state of nature."


The inescapable conclusion is that such a concept is most demonstrably a moving target rather than any sampleable "moment in time" or even an age of development.   


So, at what point in evolution did human beings evolve enough of a cognitive brain to conceive of "rights?"  And if they were during those decades or centuries members of any sort of mammalian society, what were the rules and strictures of that society? 


How can any philosopher from the last 50 centuries postulate that within that earlier society the individuals were "free" in any sense which might be understood or credited by an average member of the philosopher's own society...even the philosopher, himself, had he means to know the actual specifics of the case?


At the beginning of the 21st Century, we have the results of some very good anthropological studies conducted in the last half of the previous century, and we therefore have considerably better means to know the probable specifics of developing humanity's "state of nature" than any theoretical philosopher up to now. 


Although we have no direct record of the critical, formative pre-human and human cultures between about 2 million and perhaps 7000 years ago, reasoning from our closest kin, the chimpanzees, to the least complex Neolithic civilizations we have been able to observe, it becomes obvious that we have probably never been "free" in the sense the philosophers imagine as an ideal. 


And our "rights" have always been subject to the exigencies of scratching out a living in concert with others of our kind, complicated by the aggressive behavior of the strongest and least altruistic of our fellow humans. 


Such modern...which is to say still currently extant...pre-literate civilizations as the San of Africa or some of the least-assimilated native Australians and New Guineans live lives less fettered by formal governments than we do, but even if they were not surrounded by dominant 21st Century cultures to which they are ultimately subject, they would be in the thrall of their own historical traditions, customs, superstitions and the necessity of making a living in some of the world's harsher environments. 


Human rights and freedoms turn out to have been painfully, tortuously won over the millennia from a recalcitrant environment and a reluctant power structure which probably existed before our ancestors were even of the genus Homo.


So much for ideal "states of nature."