Researchers are exploring how cooperation arises in human societies, where people tend to cluster into various group types — political, religious, familial, professional, etc. Within such groups, people can cooperate or ‘defect’ and receive payoffs based on those exchanges. Cooperation, they observed, is most favored when allowing for the existence of ‘loners’ — people who are temporarily not members of any group.
Chu and Tarnita found that cooperation still emerges, but that it is most favored when they allow for the existence of “loners” in the population – people who, due to barriers, are temporarily not members of any group. Loners are essential, Chu explained, “because they keep group sizes lower than they would have been without barriers to group entry.”
Smaller groups allow cooperation to thrive, while making the system as a whole more resilient, by limiting the destructive influence of a defector exploiting a group of cooperators. Chu cautions against drawing too much from one model amid a sea of evolutionary game theory models. Nevertheless, their recent work shows, reassuringly, that there may be hope for maintaining cooperation in our world. (1)
But only because there are people outside of them.
It is those people who drive societies along the dark paths of history.
By holding the light on while others are too preoccupied gazing at it.
For the dark forest is far away.
We may fear it, but we want to go back in.
We left it a long time ago.
We gathered together because we felt lonely outside of it.
And we never stopped thinking about it.
So many people gathered together.
Secretly longing to be lost in the woods again.
That’s why society will always need those people.
Staying where we once were.
A constant reminder that societies exist for no other reason,
Than to remind us that there is no reason for them to exist…
Human enhancement technologies are opening up tremendous new possibilities. But they’re also raising important questions about what it means to be human. These technologies are currently geared towards upgrading or restoring physical and psychological abilities for medical purposes. An application is surfacing, however, that is designed with another goal in mind: embellishing performance. An international team of researchers has been examining the ethical issues arising from these experiments. (1)
Society is based on humans getting together.
But humans want to improve.
And, thus, they believe society will do too.
Society is based on humans and humans are based on society. But this was not always the case. Society is a very recent construct. We used to be alone. And only at some point did we start realizing the potential in cooperating with others. It seems like a noble cause. But it is not. Humans have always looked towards their personal interest. They wish they could cooperate with others to serve that interest, through society. They wish they could enhance themselves to serve that interest.
But there is another way of seeing things.
A Man tried to teach that way once.
But we killed Him. Because it is not easy to kill one’s self.
That there is no us. That there are no others. There can be a society based on these premises. But not a society with other people.
When a coworker or employee is struggling, is it better to offer help on the job or just a shoulder to cry on? A study led by San Francisco State University researchers showed that the two forms of support do roughly the same thing – but that sometimes, it’s best not to address the situation at all.
“We found it’s half and half. Sometimes offering support makes things worse, sometimes it makes it better,” said Michael Mathieu, who led the study as a psychology graduate student at San Francisco State along with Associate Professor of Psychology Kevin Eschleman. (1)
The phrase was never completed. The guilotine fell and its thud ended the life of Louis XVI, giving its place to silence. For some seconds.
“Vive la démocratie”
Cheers echoed across Place de la Concorde after the execution. A king had fallen. Democracy was born.
But is that so?
Seeing things from a different perspective and with the advantage of historical distance from the actual facts, allows us to answer No to that question. Nothing is as it seems. The following text will try to clarify some of the biggest misunderstanding regarding the French Revolution and why we should really be interested in it, since it still affects us.
Why are we interested in this?
But why Harmonia Philosophica deals with this? This is a philosophy portal is it not? It sure is. However history is also part of us and it formulates our philosophy is ways we not even consider. Knowing our history and its implications is crucial in understanding the history of philosophy as well and, thus, philosophy per se! The French Reovlution is a very important chapter of modern European history which shaped the way we think. From the modern hate towards anything religious to the almost unconditional admiration of logic, many elements of modern philosophy are a by-product of the events which started in France in 1789…
What is the goal?
The events that led to the Revolution are documented in great detail by many writers. I will by no means try to document them again here. Anyone interested in the subject can find many great resources on the subject in books or in the Internet. The goal of this article is to go beyond the events and try to reveal the true nature of the Revolution and what it means, along with the effects it is having until to-day.
The sources used for this endeavour are the following:
Almbert Mathiez, The French Revolution.
Marilyn Yalom, Compelled to Witness: Women’s Memoirs of the French Revolution.
Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America.
Alexis de Tocqueville, The Old Regime and the Revolution.
Οι μεγάλες δίκες – Η δίκη του Λουδοβίκου ΙΣΤ’ (Greek).
By having these sources as a starting point one can easily navigate safely through the ocean of sources available on the matter. They provide an initial full picture of the Revolution from a philosophical, political and human perspective that will help the uninitiated quickly gain some valuable insights on this important part of our history.
What did the Revolution accomplish?
Short answer: It managed to stir emotions and hatred.
Long answer: Read below.
Many people believe that the Revolution brought many innovations in the political scene of France and helped the state better organize itself so as to provide to its people freedoms they longed for. Yet, this is one of the biggest misconceptions regarding the French Revolution. Alexis de Tocqueville in his important book “The Old Regime and the Revolution” analyzed and showed how everything positive that we believe came from the Revolution was actually based on foundations laid by the Old Regime!
France failed to follow America’s example. The masses – who looked only to the egalitarianism they had learned from the revolution – turned to the state to support their expectations, making the latter the greatest threat to democracy. And as mentioned by Tocqueville in his other great work “Democracy in America”, despotism is one of the potential problems that a democracy can have if it is not properly manipulated.
All that was left of the Revolution were deep divisions that exacerbated the pathology of the society inherited from the Old Regime: leveling down and extreme individualization were prevalent, eroding not only social solidarity but also the regulatory sense of public spirit. The era of the Revolution was characterized by an inadequate awareness of the value of freedom for a healthy political community.
The French forgot the importance of freedom and were content with equality. An equality under a ruler, which turned all visions of rights into a farce. The solution, according to Tocqueville, would be to further establish freedom in France. France, however, did not have the preconditions for a liberal state like America. The French attempted something no other nation had attempted: to cut themselves off from their history. Their success, however, was far less than we believe and as much as they themselves believed at the time of the Revolution. France could not escape its history, which haunted it in every manifestation of its new political reality.Although many believed the opposite, the Revolution took place in conditions of improved living conditions and expanded prosperity as a result of changes already conducted by the Old Regime. Almost everything (if not everything) positive that the revolution supposedly produced was in fact a consequence of the Old Regime. The centralization of administrative functions – which the revolutionaries considered to be their greatest achievement (although as the same time this centralization was said to have been one of its causes, because of the inequalities it reproduced) – has existed since the time of Louis.Administrative justice and the independence of the judiciary system are also products of the Old Regime that the Revolution overturned. The administrative revolution of reducing the unlimited powers of the prefect through the establishment of provincial assemblies had already taken place under Louis. (It is worth noting, however, that the incomplete implementation of the reforms in all cases, made the existing injusticies for those who were not happy with the fruits of these reforms more intense, resulting in increased dissatisfaction)
The excessive fragmentation of land ownership due to the abolition of slavery, which allowed the peasants to own land, had already begun long before the Revolution. For a long time the landlord of each area was not the one who actually ruled the villagers – in his place there were now (during the Old Regime) public officials. In general, the nobles had ceased to exercise power in the parishes and cantons – all that remained was their (often provocative) privileges.The equality that had been imposed from above by the Old Regime, became a beacon in the vortex of the chaos of the Revolution between a blind leadership and an enraged people. The administrative practices of the Old Regime, the society that emerged from them and the political modernity that shaped it after the Revolution, did not lead to freedom but to the authoritarianism of the Second Empire. The state and its structures as they were before the Revolution, were used after it. And that became the basis of the despotism that Tocqueville warned about.
All in all, Tocqueville managed to touch a very sensitive subject and tried to watch at the Revolution from a more objective point of view, away from fanfare of the type “Revolution changed everything” or “Revolution changed nothing”. His analysis was to the point and based on data of the Old Regime which where reviewed by Tocqueville himself. In that sense, this work is of extreme importance reminding us of the obvious: Nothing is born out of nothing. Even the most democratic revolution can have fruits which were planted during the previoud totalitarian regime…
All we need to do is stay humble and look at history with a more open eye.
Note: This work is based on the “Ελευθερία ως Μοίρα – Η αποτυχία της Επανάστασης” (Freedom as Destiny – The failure of the Revolution) work which is unpublished.
Revolution and the ‘Philosophy of the New’
With the Revolution, people were found to hate the new because it is new or – vice versa – to love the new because it is new and only for that. And it is important to understand that with the Revolution, France went to the new by completely dissolving the old. Thus in the new situation it could not use what was useful to the Old Regime, as the general tendency was to question everything old. Old and respected traditions fell victim to a ruthless attack. The intellectuals, also blind, had convinced the people that religion (the pillar of old society) could not coexist with freedom.
This philosophy still affects modern way of thinking. By default what is modern is better than the traditional. By definition what is metamodern is better than what is modern. And the story goes on and on. Until we reach a dead-end. Not by reaching the end of the road but by not reaching any end! Modern man keeps on questioning everything and lives with a constant urge to ‘move forward’. Never feeling home, always pushing for something different, for something else.
This is exactly the philosophy that Harmonia Philosophica warns its readers for years now. There is no way to reach your destination if your compass is always changing direction. There is an old saying in chess: “A bad plan is better than no plan”. The reason? Well, if you do not have a plan you simply make random moves (even moves which momentarily seem as good ones) which are incoherent with one another. A society cannot thrive with such random moves. A person cannot progress with constantly changing goals and ideals. Foundations laid on shifting sand as simply not foundations. It is hard to realize this, let alone correct it. Knowing though where this tendency of ours came from (i.e. the French Revolution and the hatred for the Old) could make the task of changing out set of mind more easy.
History is Philosophy and Philosophy is History in much more real ways than we can think of.
As in all things, perspective is important. If one sees the Revolution from aclose distance, we might see that at the end, the Revolution resulted in an even more authoritarian regime. If one however sees the picture from a larger distance, we can surely verify that the seeds of democracy had been laid but on a infertile soil. It would take many years for those seeds to actually produce healthy fruits, some of which we are only now starting to taste. We must take whatever is good from the Revolution but also try to dig out the weeds that started growing on Place de la Concorde that morning on 21 January 1793. As David Mitchell mentioned in Cloud Atlas “Our lives are not our own. We are bound to others, past and present, and by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future”…
Many people are discussing these days the racism topic.
A black man – George Floyd – was some days ago killed due to – as it seems – police brutality. This sparked a series of protests some of which were violent.
People started to talk against the protests and that violence. Others responded that the violence had started actually from the police. But no matter the details, the question of whether racism is a problem in the US was prevalent in all discussions.
For me, this is an elephant sitting in the room.
All we have to do is see it.
But as in the elephant example, what I see is not what you see…
For some, there is no solid ‘proof’ of racism in the US. And to be fair to the other countries as well, I will extend this to all other countries: For those people who deny the existence of racism altogether, there is no solid evidence for racism against blacks in the West in general (cannot really speak for other countries). There is no ‘proof’ that this group of people is treated unfairly.
The arguments the proponents of this ‘There-is-no-racism’ view have, vary from wrong to ridiculous – with a strong tendency to the latter.
So for example in the case of George Floyd, I have seen many people asking “How do I know that the police officer did what he did because of racism? Perhaps he is doing the same to white people as well”. That could be a good counter-argument. If we had actually data to support it. If not (which is currently the case), then this counter-argument is just a generalized counter-argument based on ‘doubt’ which we anyway have for everything in life – even for things we see in front of our eyes.
Hey, it is raining.
(But how can I be sure that it rains?)
This counter argument used by those denying the existing racism against blacks (and gays and women etc) is the cornerstone of hypocrisy. They see something (in that case we even have a video) but they choose not to see it because of something else that… might be true. They do not know whether the police officer could do something like that to whites as well. They just assume it. And then based on that assumption, they build their theory.
Convenient is it not?
But simple things are never simple.
The denial of so many in the face of something so evident is based on something very fundamental in human thought: Our inability to prove (or accept the proof) of anything, unless we experience it. This is something constantly mentioned by Harmonia Philosophica, but with regards to science philosophy mainly. Here it is – wrongly – used to justify injustice. Yes, it is true that there can be no positive proof not only of racism in this case but of any other logical proposition of any kind.
The truth is a philosophically elusive notion and cannot be attained, even for the most trivial and fundamental of scientific beliefs. For every scientific theorem or theory is based on unapproved axioms. Change these axioms and you will reach to a different theory (if that sounds weird, then read more Harmonia Philosophica). So if it is not possible to even prove that 1+1=2 (really, even this is based on axioms), how could one prove that the death of a black man under police brutality was because of racism?
And yet, we know it.
People denying the obvious are in this case doing nothing more than using a loophole in our inherent thinking mechanism to deny what in other circumstanced they would accept at ease. It would be right to say “I don’t know” or “I am not sure”, if you indeed said that every time you are not sure about something. But as said above, we are never 100% sure about anything, nor can we be in any way.
Life which transcends the theory and makes us open our eyes beyond the limits of philosophy. Because no matter how you “do not know” whether there is racism, you do choose to be afraid of a black running in the street. No matter how much you are not “sure” of, automatic face detection algorithms you design keep on detecting more black people as ‘criminals’. No matter how much you are not ‘sure’ that there is racism, you still need to revert to nonexistent hypotheses to prove that what you see was not true. Regardless of your inability to pinpoint racism against black people, you do feel weird when standing next to a black person. No matter whether you are – philosophically – certain that black people do have the same rights as other people, it is still true that we have a disturbingly extremely low representation of black people in high-level positions.
Because you see, the greatest problem with science per se, is its inability to testify for the obvious. Even when it is raining, there will always be possible to claim that everything is an illusion and even build a theory based on that illustrious assumption. (Why not? Scientists today even talk about multiple universes which we will never anyway see – and they even get paid for that research) Even when Achilles is running to overcome the turtle, philosophy will still be able to ‘prove’ that Achilles will never overcome it. And even when black people are dying outside, science will still struggle with statistical models to ‘prove’ whether there is racism or not…
So beware of people expressing ‘doubt’.
They are usually the ones with the greatest beliefs.
And when they close their books.
And when they walk outside…
They will be astounded to see…
That Achilles did overcome the turtle.
That the policeman did step on Floyd’s neck…
And some of them, some of them who still have a soul, will come to realize what they knew but they have forgotten. That whatever they know, is because they really don’t know anything at all…
Who put that black elephant in the room?!
Similar to the argument “How can we know it?” is the opposite argument “But I can prove to you that there is no racism”. In such arguments people tend to use examples of how for example the police was once also brutal to a white person. This is the opposite of what was described above: As it is impossible to prove anything beyond the shadow of a doubt, it is also very easy to claim that you have ‘proved’ something with the relevant assumptions. Again in that case, the very same fundamental limitation of science and our way of thinking is exploited: That whenever we think to prove something, we need to start from somewhere. And that somewhere is always a not-proved axiom/ assumption. With proper models and assumptions, one can even ‘prove’ that our universe does not exist.
No case is like the other. I have sure not covered all of the here. There are also cases which are similar to the case of black people suffering racism (e.g. women or gay people suffering discrimination) who are not also mentioned here. This is because the purpose of this post is not to generalize or prove anything. The are sites which do that in a much better way while providing all the necessary data for all these types and cases of racism and discrimination. The purpose of this article, since Harmonia Philosophica is a philosophy portal, is to show that philosophy and theory are good but up to a point. And from that point onward, life itself is much more important.
I have deliberately taken a stand not to refer to the violence in the protests during the previous days. Again, I believe there are many sites which cover these facts in an excellent and very professional manner. The goal of this article is to provide some philosophical insight. Nothing more. And, I hope, nothing less.