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Old 06-01-2003, 04:17 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Location: 4th has left the building - goodbye folks
I wish I could accept Pascal's wager.

For a long time I lived the Christian life. I went to church, to youth groups, to camps, to worship sessions. I read Bibles and commentaries and prayed to God. I talked the talk and did my best to walk the walk (no one does it perfectly, none of us are Jesus). At the time I thought I was a Christian and so did my friends.

Whether I actually was or not - [the issue being whether you can ever become un-chosen] - is an interesting but, I suspect, irrevelant point here.

The fact is that if I could be a Christian again I would be.
Not for the promise of what awaits me in heaven, but for the certainty and peace that I would have here on earth.

Does anyone else wish they could be a Christian (or any concrete religion) and accept Pascal's wager?



[PS: Lebell, the prayer thread is still open if you want to comment on it. I'll understand if its just a short reply, I did go on a bit!]
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Old 06-01-2003, 05:01 AM   #2 (permalink)
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Nope. I refuse to betray my own morality by pretending to believe in something I do not really belief in.

Besides, any god foolish enough to fall for such an obvious ploy cannot be good - he'd prefer lies and kissing-up to honesty.

Whoever made up the idea that one must belief in god in order to go to heaven was surely an utter moron. After all, how do you know which god to belief in? What happens when you do not belief in god because you never even heard of god? What if you're always a good/moral person but do not belief in god? It just leads to too many questions about god's morality.
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Old 06-01-2003, 05:11 AM   #3 (permalink)
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Maybe I should clarify:

- Pascal's wager is, IMHO, nonsense. No God would fall for it. I only mentioned it as he was calling upon atheists to rationally choose to be Christian.

- To repeat: not for what awaits me in heaven, but for the peace I would find on earth.

- I do not want to betray my own morality by having a half-hearted or fake belief. Rather I often feel that I would like to truly believe. It is simply that I cannot.

- Let me phrase this another way:
In the Matrix Cypher asked Agent Smith to end his 'honest' life of awareness of the truth and place him into the created world of the Matrix. He would have made one informed decision to be placed into a state of perpetual, pleasant illusion. He would not have been pretending to believe his new Matrix life was real, he would genuinely have believed it.
If I was given a similar decision now - being offered a new life where I genuinely believed in God - then I think I would accept it.
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Old 06-01-2003, 05:20 AM   #4 (permalink)
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No.

I'm just so OK living from moment to moment between the existence and non-existence of the Void...
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Old 06-01-2003, 06:35 AM   #5 (permalink)
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More than you want to know about Pascal's Wager

Pascal's Wager

This is so silly to me, it's beyond incredible.

But it's a good example of how philosophy becomes sophistry...
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Old 06-01-2003, 06:55 AM   #6 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally posted by 4thTimeLucky
If I was given a similar decision now - being offered a new life where I genuinely believed in God - then I think I would accept it.
Why? What is so nice about a life where you believe in a god, compared to a life where you do not? I don't understand the temptation, simply because I've never felt it. What makes belief-in-a-god so attractive to you?

Just to explain where I'm coming from: if I were to be offered a life where I truly believed in Santa Claus, I'd would never accept it, simply because I *do not believe in Santa Claus*. I would be living a lie, and even though I would not know it, I would *feel* it. Kinda like that Matrix movie.
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Old 06-01-2003, 08:25 AM   #7 (permalink)
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yeah, why would anyone want or need a god?
well, I know the answers to that but it's hard to believe adults would answer the ways they do.
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Old 06-01-2003, 10:49 AM   #8 (permalink)
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Some reasons why it was/ would be nice to believe in a Christian God:

@ Knowing that all the suffering in the world has some purpose and is not simply needless.
@ Knowing that the evil people of this world who escape punishment on earth will eventually be met with justice, and a form of justice that is beyond that of fallible humans.
@ Knowing that I can be brave and do whatever I feel is right on earth in the comforting knowledge that if it goes wrong, or I die, then it is not just the end of me and my good intentions.
@ No more existential angst.
@ Having a moral code that I can truly believe in and know is perfectly rational, objective, universal and true.
@ Being able to devote myself 100% to a cause and not have doubts that it may be futile or the misguided product of men.

I think those would be the main ones.

Yes, you can call me weak for wanting a crutch. Yes, you can try and tell me that I can be a fantastically happy and certain atheist or humanist. But I really do feel that there is a certainty and peace - that gives you strength in the face of the despair and suffering that the world produces - that can only come from knowing that the world isn't dominated by chance and the capricious will of men.
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Old 06-01-2003, 10:55 AM   #9 (permalink)
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In other words, you want certainty, and you think believing in a god will give you that certainty; even though one can never prove whether there truly is a god, or if it's just a myth...

...nope, doesn't do it for me. I prefer the cold, hard truth.

(By the way... why are you convinced the world is so full of sorrow and despair? When I look at the world, it seems rather cool actually...)

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Old 06-01-2003, 11:07 AM   #10 (permalink)
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100% belief will by its nature give you certainty. Of course.

You, by the sound of it, are an atheist and have 'certainty' in the "cold, hard truth".

I, by contrast, am an agnostic. The only certainty for me is that I have no certainty. Nor do I think that my sceptical mind will ever allow me to have certainty (to prove that God does not exist is as hard a challenge as proving he does).

BUT I don't want to have just certainty. I see little benefit in knowing for certain that there is just the "cold, hard truth", as opposed to my current position - where I am pretty sure that you are right, but I still have a glimmer of doubt and hope.

Why doubt?
Because I cannot prove or say with certainty that God does not exist.

Why hope?
Because the choice seems to be between a "cold, hard" reality - nature red in tooth and claw - and a warm (hard) reality, in which there is a plan and order to all this mess, I am just too limited to see it.

You seem to have certainty in the non-existence of God.
I would like to have the certainty that He does exist.

Edit: We both seem to keep editing after the other has posted!
So....
If you cannot see the pain and suffering in the world then (and I really don't mean this disrespectfully) that is because you are shielded from it and have not looked properly. We both live in the top 5% (probably top 1%) of the world's population. Life in much of the rest of the world is dominated by hard labour from childhood, war, hunger and disease. I will put a list of some facts on the next post. Sorry if this is 'bad' double posting.
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Old 06-01-2003, 12:42 PM   #11 (permalink)
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I said that the world is not a nice place. And Dragonlich asked me why. Here are a few indicators of how the other 90% live....

How Others Live

- 2.4bn people (one third of the world) live without decent sanitation.
- 1.1bn people live without access to clean water.
- 1.3bn live on less than $1 a day ($365 p.a.)
- 830 million people (3 times the population of the USA) live in "chronic hunger", rendering them unable to do normal activities or live healthy lives.
- 300m people (the population of the US) are suffering from AIDS, TB or Malaria. The vast majority of these face the full effects of these diseases, without medical relief.
- In the 1990s there were 100 armed conflicts.
- 20m people (the pop. of Australia) are currently refugees or internally displaced due to war.
- 6m children are seriously injured or disabled as a result of conflict.

How Others Die

- 12m people die a year from lack of water.
- 6m children under 5 die a year from hunger/malnourishment.
- 5m people die of TB, Malaria and AIDS each year.
- 1m people die in wars each year.


All I have listed here are the extreme cases of suffering and death in the world. This does not even touch on general hardship (for example the above list contains hardly anyone in England or US, but surely some suffering exists in the West too.)

I could go on, but I think this will give you enough of an impression as to why I think that the world is not always "cool".
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Old 06-01-2003, 01:03 PM   #12 (permalink)
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4th: Your ideals are to be applauded. you sound very confused, though.

I am a Christian. I rarely attend church for many reasons (one being my physical state getting in the way), I have thrown away many "Christian" beliefes and actions.

the thing to remember is Christ is the man right now. the OT was written by God, The Father. I am not a big fan of the Father: I don't care much for unforgiving snobs. Christ hides our sins from the Father's eyes until time to judge. then, if we have unrepented sin, it is judged by The Father. so if you are clean before judgement you are doubly good to go. if yer dirty, Jesus is your lawyer. believe in Him.

I wanna know my actions bear fruit. but i don't know and will never know until I die (if i continue to exist). I have NO self esteeme and I am always thinking of my failures. oh well. its life.

i think if you Want to believe in Christ, then you have a thread of faith. that one thread can be your lifeline, and i suggest using it.

the Church has fucked us over soooooo many times. they've filled our heads with this dogmatic nonesense. it is hard to know what is right, what is evil.

it is time to act and go by instinct and Christ. there are so many people who do the cliche "what would Jesus do?". as if they knew! most are hatemongers. they hate gay people, the have no tolerance for others.

the thing is.. we have to say 'enough is enough'. I Will No Longer Be Bullied By A Corrupt Church Politics. it is MUCH easier than people believe.

I think it fine time to talk again of Christ and fuck the rest. let us discuss what Christ would think and how he'd act.


an example, for those who believe alcohol is evil.

why didn't Jesus turn the water into.. uh. fruit punch? he turned it into WINE. it was celebration

"Christians" are over-sheltering snobs who keep their kids from others due to fear of them being 'lead astray'.

Christ staid with the people who needed him. he had his own mind and self control. he never made an ass out of himself or got drunk or what not. he said "I love my friends and I will not leave them". This is something all of us sshould do.

i'm growing very, very tired so i have to end this.

just remember, dude. Christ is love. people have raped his image.
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Old 06-01-2003, 01:47 PM   #13 (permalink)
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Thank you for your thoughtful post WhoaitsZ.

But really, I don't feel confused.

What I do feel is disillusioned and daunted. The world is a mess (see above) and a long hard slog will lie before me if I am to try and make it better. I suspect that this will be a lonely path and I also suspect that I may lose my convictions and determination along the way - I am just as weak as the next person.

I remember what it was like being a Christian and it had a distinct advantage: the burden was not upon your shoulders but upon God's.

I have replaced christian values with my own moral principles as best I can. The most acceptable so far seems to be utilitarianism. But anyone familiar with utilitarianism will know that one of its greatest weaknesses is that it places near-impossible demands upon the individual. And thinking and feeling this I sometimes yearn for the good old days when the problems of the world could rest on greater shoulders than my own.

NB: This must come across as being quite pretentious. Thinking somehow that the fate of the world rests in my hands. Of course, it doesn't. However under a utilitarian ethic, I must share responsibility for every one of those deaths and periods of suffering. We all must. And that is a disturbing truth to fully comprehend.
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Old 06-01-2003, 02:36 PM   #14 (permalink)
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i help shape the world cuz i exist. i am a part of it, but i do not plan or really wish to "change the world". i'd love to see it less fucked than it is, yet it is the way it is for a reason.

as with sin and forgiveness, I'm forgiven. don't get me wrong, i can't go rape a nun and kill 20 babies and get into heaven, yet on a moderate scale I'm covered.

do a search on faith arena and read up some, you may find some of it good. of course it is a Church, so its flawed, but it has changed my life totally a few months back.
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Old 06-01-2003, 04:06 PM   #15 (permalink)
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4th, I think I know how you feel, to some degree. I grew up as a Christian, going to church, youth group, camp, all that stuff. I had pretty strong faith, but as I got older (I'm 20 now) I started questioning that faith. So now I'm really not sure what to believe. I guess now I'm more of an agnostic. I've seen people with amazingly strong faith. I've also seen some things happen that I can explain as either a) an amazingly good act or b) some sort of power or force acting on someone. Sometimes I wish I could have that strong faith that I see in those other people, but I just don't have it. Some of my friends see it as a weakness, or being close-minded, but I believe that it is possible to be logical and open-minded, yet still have faith. It's just a matter of not having faith blindly, and not believing everything. If I could have that kind of faith, I'd take it, but I guess I'll just have to settle for doing what I can to improve the world without the help of a higher power/being.
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Old 06-01-2003, 09:27 PM   #16 (permalink)
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4thTimeLucky, (after some sleep) I read your post about the suffering of mankind... I just don't see it that way. You are right that there are a lot of people without access to clean water and sanitation (amongst others), but I have to ask: does that make those people unhappy? Does it make them miserable?

I just don't believe that. They may not be happy all the time, but they're not unhappy all the time either. FYI, most of humanity is living in better conditions than they *ever* were in all of our history; are you suggesting humanity has been miserable since the beginning of time?

Perhaps you focus too much on the negative. I am full of hope; I just *know* we're going to be okay. So, if I were to admit to any belief at all, it is that: we're going to make it.
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Old 06-01-2003, 10:08 PM   #17 (permalink)
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4thTimeLucky I hear you loud and clear man. I too grew up in fairly religious family and I always wanted to believe in God. However, even since I was little, 6 maybe, I have always questioned everything. This has lead me to reject almost everything that I was brought up to believe was true. I sometimes long for the innocence of my youth and would be willing to do almost anything to return to that time. But the fact is that ultimatly I know that I wouldnt be happy. I could never give up my questioning and believe anything dogmatically enough to make it work.
Pascal's wager? I tried that once, even went so far as to become a theology student, but I still had to many questions and they eventually told me that unless I could just shut up and accept what they were saying on 'faith' then maybe I should find a different line of work. So now Im a student of philosophy. As John Stuart Mill said, given the choice between being the happy ignorant fool or the disatisfied Socrates, most men (and woman) wil chose the later.l
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Old 06-01-2003, 11:31 PM   #18 (permalink)
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Publius
I spent my whole Philosophy degree wondering if I would rather be an unhappy Socrates or a happy fool.
I am now of the conclusion that unless you value intelligence over happiness (and note the lack of any ethical codes based upon the absolute supremacy of intelligence) then even the smart person would choose to make their life happy, if ignorant, one.

Dragonlich
Sure, *we're* going to do okay. *We're* going to live the life of kings.

NB: This next part is not intended to be plaesant. Please skip if you are uneasy about talk of suffering.
----------
Seeing all those numbers and then a label next to them is never going to convey the horror of the reality. I have found that if I look at the figure "6 million Jews died in the Holocaust" I am completely unmoved. It means nothing to me. But if I am to sit down and read the account of the life of just one Jew - their business stolen, their children taken away, their home confiscated, the beatings, the train journey..... - then I find myself overcome by the barbarity of what occured and the devastation that this caused in their lives. I cannot comprehend the full enormity of 6m people meeting this brutal, violent and protacted end. Noone can. Their heart would break. That is why we take Genocide so seriously.

Now, let us ignore for a moment those with lack of clean water or sanitation and assume that these people live largely happy lives. Let us even ignore the 800 million who suffer chronic hunger. Let us just look at those who die.
Year in, year out a group of people greater in size than the population of Australia (or the population of Texas) will die from starvation or thirst. I will ask you to consider for a moment how painful one's life must be to die of sustained malnourishment or lack of water. Consider everything that makes you happy (hope, sport, books, films, work, DIY, children...) and then take on board the fact that these people will never have any of this open to them (or in the case of children and family, you will have to watch them die with you). They would not even have the energy to take a walk in the park - not that they have any parks. So now you have in your mind some picture of what a life must be like at genuine starvation level (though of course what you imagine will not come close to the true reality, just as we can never truly understand what concentration camp victims suffered). I would now ask you to imagine visiting Australia, Texas or New York (stricly one and a 1/2 NYs). You are walking through its cities and suburbs and every single person you see is suffering from a starvation or thirst that will soon kill them. You drive out of town to get away from it, but then the next town and the next and the next is filled with the same dying people. This is what the world is like. Of course you and I will never see any of it (*we* will be fine) unless we make the effort to do so. But regardless of whether we see it first hand or not, we know it is going on. And every year that population of Australia or Texas dies, only to be replaced by another population of 20 million people facing exactly the same fate. A triple Holocaust occuring year in, year out. Are those people unhappy? Are they miserable? I will let you answer that.

And that is just the tip of the iceberg. Just two causes of death - starvation and thirst. It does not include war or disease. It does not consider those who get enough food not to die, but are still in chronic hunger. In fact there is literally a whole world of suffering that it does not include.

--------------

The fact of the matter is that mankind is not "living in better conditions" than they ever were. For most of man's history people lived quite adequate subsistence lives. The environment ticked along quite nicely and people produced for themselves. There weren't cars or cinemas or jeans, but day to day life for almost everyone was quite adequate - and most of the world still doesn't have cars, cinemas or jeans. We now live in a world where the environmental degredation is throwing increasing challenges at the developing world. More important, however, is the economic system we live in. There is plenty of food to go round and almost every country on earth has enough resources to feed itself. However agricultural produce is "cheap" in land where people live on a $1 a day, and so this produce is sold to the first world, which pushes up the price and places it out of reach of the local population. And don't think that the revenues from the sale of food goes into raising that $1 a day lifestyle. It doesn't.
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Old 06-01-2003, 11:47 PM   #19 (permalink)
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"@ Knowing that all the suffering in the world has some purpose and is not simply needless."

As regards the above point, it seems clear to me that if something like god exists, he/she/it is a sadist.

Your other "needs" for belief in miraculous answers lead to similar conclusions.

The existence of a cosmic explanation, knowable or not, to these concerns would not necessarily mitigate their horrific or nasty nature. For me, it would make the state of things as observed/experienced by humans worse.
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Old 06-02-2003, 02:02 AM   #20 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally posted by 4thTimeLucky
<snip>

--------------

The fact of the matter is that mankind is not "living in better conditions" than they ever were. For most of man's history people lived quite adequate subsistence lives. The environment ticked along quite nicely and people produced for themselves. There weren't cars or cinemas or jeans, but day to day life for almost everyone was quite adequate - and most of the world still doesn't have cars, cinemas or jeans. We now live in a world where the environmental degredation is throwing increasing challenges at the developing world. More important, however, is the economic system we live in. There is plenty of food to go round and almost every country on earth has enough resources to feed itself. However agricultural produce is "cheap" in land where people live on a $1 a day, and so this produce is sold to the first world, which pushes up the price and places it out of reach of the local population. And don't think that the revenues from the sale of food goes into raising that $1 a day lifestyle. It doesn't.
It's interesting that you brought that point up. Modernity demands we think of these occurances as "progress" and early social theories were built on this fallacious notion--that society is "evolving" or becoming better than it was.

Newer evidence indicates that people actually "worked" 20 hour work weeks that consisted of foraging (little hunting occurred). Roving bands of people did encounter each other but, for the most part, were peaceful towards one another and operated within share based economies.

It appears that population growth accounts for the development of the precursor to modern cities--subsistence commodities imported into a hub of industrial development--not "progress." That is, people didn't suddenly realize that planting and growing food in one region and shipping it to another was "better" and easier than looking for it--they already knew how, had rejected its feasability, but were eventually forced to due to logistics.

Anyway, to answer the original question:

I agree with 4thTimeLucky. I often remark that I wish I could believe--one way or the other.
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Old 06-02-2003, 06:47 AM   #21 (permalink)
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Why is it that everyone expects 'God' to be some benevolent being who stamps out all pain and suffering for mankind? That's not the intent of most religions, especially Christianity...

I think that the most significant "promise" or foundation for people's faith in any religion is the possibility for immortality. All of us want to be assured of our continued existence beyone this world. (that's read period)

Following this concept - its rationale to think that God has justified (for those who can't stomach a God who'd let such attrocities abound) starvation, murder, suffering, genocide, etc. by offering the one thing that we all desire. Who cares what kind of life I lead here if I can look forward to immortality without suffering?

The one catch is faith. Which brings me to my next point. I know there are those who will bash me for my reference, but nevertheless - Has anyone read "Memnoch the Devil" by Anne Rice? She poses an interesing scenario that describes the whole picture of God, the Devil, & Humans that does a remarkable job of explaining the 'why' of it all. We've got to think simple...

What if its all a bet? What if the creator of all things was challenged to a bet that essentially says "Given the choice between following you and your promise of everlasting life or doing what 'feels right', humans will act on thier instincts because you've created them too much like you? Of course he'd have to be "hands-off" to avoid influencing the outcome. That's why its caled faith!

Either way - there is in each of us the ability to know and FEEL what is right...it isn't a matter of religion imposing guilt for killing someone or sex with the hooker - we KNOW it isn't right, otherwise we wouldn't feel guilt! Blaming religion is a crutch.

I'm tired an unable to assemble coherant thoughts anymore, so I'll close. I still hold that nearly every horrible thing is attributable to man's inability to act on his own conscienceness and "do the right thing" - its as simple as that. Does this prove the existence of a 'Supreme Being'? Not in the least, after all religion was created to quantify the "inner voice" of what's right and wrong - obviously since human's are incapable of such a notion as a whole, then it MUST be a supreme power that its attributed to.

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Old 06-02-2003, 07:48 AM   #22 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally posted by tiberry
Why is it that everyone expects 'God' to be some benevolent being who stamps out all pain and suffering for mankind? That's not the intent of most religions, especially Christianity...

I think that the most significant "promise" or foundation for people's faith in any religion is the possibility for immortality. All of us want to be assured of our continued existence beyone this world. (that's read period)
Me
I would agree with you on this point. Religion offers us the one thing that we cannot claim for ourselves on this plant, the ability to live forever. It is religions blessing and its curse. because a 'good' person need not worry about their condition on this earth because they will be recieving eternal life in the next, we are able to justify doing all the horrible things that we do to each other and the planet because your life here doesnt really matter so long you are good enough to gain eternal life once your dead.

examples. 9/11. these dudes trully thought that by doing the things that they did they would gain an eternal reward (and what 70 virgins?). In their minds this justified the killling of thousands of innocent people. Crusades. Same thing here, the christians went to war, many of them quit dispicable people, witht the idea in mind that if they died in battle they would be guaranteed an eternal life. Destruction of the planet. Oh sure we are destroying the planet, but thats kewl cause hey we are all going to die anyway, and this is just a passing life until we get to the next, so lets do whatever the hell we want to here, it doesnt really matter anyway. Lets have overpopulate too. If people die, oh well, because they are in a better place now anyway. Destroy the forests, oceans, lakes and rivers. Go ahead and hurry it up too. Armageddon is coming anyway, we are just helping it along. We will all be in a better place once the planet has been totally destroyed.
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Old 06-02-2003, 09:44 AM   #23 (permalink)
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i forgot to post my 'theory'; sorry.

basically its this. I've always gone by my gut. i've always been a moral guy and can say 'that's too much' for myself. I have developed a way of seeing things as okay or wrong.

sin is odd. some sin for one man is okay for another man.

an alcoholic or drug abuser sins if he takes the habit back up: he knowingly harms himself and others. people who have full control over the chemicals are not sinners. they do not get drunk out of their mind or lit up enough to do something stupid or hurtful.

to curse is no problem, though not god's name in vein, but to willingly curse someone in a damning hurtful way is sin. You did it only to hurt the other.

if you knowingly invite a vegan into your home and have steak laid out, you were just incredibly rude and you sinned for hurting others.

for picture/pornography I've seen it all my life. its helped me out when i was in dire pain. it kept my mind off of commiting suicide and it helped me stay sane. A beautiful woman, to me, is the ultimate relaxation. I never feel guilt when i view what I view and its not felt 'wrong' but once or twice. when it did i walked away.


not really a theory. just a quick explanation.
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Old 06-02-2003, 11:28 AM   #24 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally posted by 4thTimeLucky
The fact of the matter is that mankind is not "living in better conditions" than they ever were. For most of man's history people lived quite adequate subsistence lives. The environment ticked along quite nicely and people produced for themselves. There weren't cars or cinemas or jeans, but day to day life for almost everyone was quite adequate - and most of the world still doesn't have cars, cinemas or jeans. We now live in a world where the environmental degredation is throwing increasing challenges at the developing world. More important, however, is the economic system we live in. There is plenty of food to go round and almost every country on earth has enough resources to feed itself. However agricultural produce is "cheap" in land where people live on a $1 a day, and so this produce is sold to the first world, which pushes up the price and places it out of reach of the local population. And don't think that the revenues from the sale of food goes into raising that $1 a day lifestyle. It doesn't.

Actually, I think you're mistaken. For most of man's history, people lived by the grace of nature (/god). If there was some extreme weather, people could die, just like that. That was the case for pretty much anyone on this planet. People didn't grow very old, because of the hardships they faced every day. Now, some countries and peoples managed to grow more prosperous; mainly because of the good environment they lived in. Some peoples didn't fare as well, because they were situated in "bad" areas, with poor soil, bad environments, inadequate water supply, etc. That is a fact.

Now, most of the countries that were "bad" in the olde days, are still bad today, and most of the countries that were "good" then are still good today. If you are fortunate enough to live in a good area, you are more likely to have enough to eat, and are more likely to grow old. If you live in a bad area, you're more likely to suffer. Also a fact.

If one were to add together the total food produced in the world, it becomes obvious that there is indeed enough to feed everyone; yet, people still die from lack of food! Why is that? Mostly because of logistical problems, really. Because of the good transportation system, it is very easy to move food from, say, the US to land-locked Switzerland; but it's infinitely more difficult to move that same shipment of food from the US to Ethiopia! In many third-world countries the infrastructure is simply not good enough to facilitate mass shipments of food, even if they were to be able to *buy* the food in the first place. (Note: the high price of food in those countries is at least partly caused by those logistical problems.)

You state that almost every country has enough resources to feed itself. That may be the case, but is usually NOT true for many of the countries in the third world; precisely those you point at for your suffering and sorrow. These countries usually have poor soil, and hardly any natural resources; that's the reason they're so damn poor in the first place! Of course, it doesn't help that modern medicine, combined with a cultural aversion to birth control (Christianity?), leads to a population explosion, precisely in those countries that are least able to feed all those people.

Then you talk about the "surviving on 1$ a day" thing. Nice, but not quite accurate. A dollar in the US isn't worth anything, but in many third-world countries, it's worth quite a bit. The same dollar will get you much more food in Ghana than it will get you in Germany. Also, your statement about food production is not quite complete either: there is still the high price of distribution, of course. They're also not forced to sell us anything - they can say no if they want to; but apparently they don't want to say no...

I'll refine my statement: <b>most of the people on this planet are better off than they ever were</b>. Most countries on the face of this planet have seen their average income go UP, not down. The problem is that the Western world has grown much faster than the rest of the world, partly because of our luck with the environment, partly because of our culture that encourages free enterprise and innovation.

Now, after saying all of this, and recognizing that there are people that suffer a lot... I'm still optimistic. The number of people suffering food shortages on a daily basis is not as high as you seem to think; the number of people suffering from wars and violence is also quite low, when compared to the total number of humans. The average life expectancy has gone up dramatically in the last century, for almost every human on this planet. It is only the emergence of new diseases like AIDS that are threatening this trend, and only really (again) in those countries that are poor already. Nature's a bitch, what can I say... Having said that, I believe we *will* find a cure for AIDS, and it will go the way of the black plague: confined to history books and far-away places.

As a final note (yes, I'm going to shut up after this): When it's a beautiful day, sunny, no cloud to be seen, and I step outside my door, I always get happy - no matter how depressing the world news might have been, the beauty of the world I live in is enough to lift my spirits again. You can keep insisting the world is depressing or whatever, but I still have that feeling of happiness all the time: happy to be alive! And I don't think I'm the only one; I bet even a farmer in Mozambique, one of the poorest countries on this planet, feels that on occasion. I bet he also celebrates and parties on occasion. So why can't you? Why always focus on the negative things, instead of the positive? Just be happy you're alive, cause it sure beats being dead...
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Old 06-02-2003, 11:40 AM   #25 (permalink)
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4thTimeLucky,

Just a quick note:

You sound very like me at a certain point in my life. You might really enjoy this book:

Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time

by Marcus Borg.

This book brought me to an interesting place in regards to some of the questions you ask.

Best of luck my friend.
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Old 06-02-2003, 01:15 PM   #26 (permalink)
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Dragonlich

We can discuss whether life is better or worse now or a 2,000 years ago. We can discuss whether Africa has always been a "bad" place and Europe or America a "good" one, in which to live. We can even discuss whether you can feed, clothe and house yourself on $1 a day in the world's poorest countries. All of these matters are debatable and it sounds like you know a lot about these issues and could certainly fight your corner well.

For me the salient point is that millions of people are suffering terribly in this world and that that is millions too many.

I can see the love, joy, beauty and happiness in the world. I am surrounded by it every day. I could hardly wish to live a better life than I do and I am very grateful for that (though to who I don't know).

BUT I try and remind myself of the suffering in the world because it is too easy to be forgetful. To be complacent. To be caught up in the glamorous whirlwind of our lives. To explain things away using macroeconomics and politics, and then to confuse explanation with justification or inevitability.

So how does all this relate to my thread?
Okay, so we seem to be agreed that there is terrible suffering in the world and that it is on a grand scale (many millions of speople live and die in appaling conditions, even if most live happy lives).
Now....
If this sufferring is the result of nature and man then it is needless, it will go unammended, it is likely to continue long into the future and those who deliberately exacerbate it will likely go unpunished.

But if this suffering is part of a divine plan then it is not needless, it will be compensated for, there will be an end to it and wrongdoers will pay for their sins - a final day of judgemement, resolution and recompense.

I would certainly prefer the second scenario to be true, even though I believe it is not.
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Old 06-02-2003, 04:18 PM   #27 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally posted by 4thTimeLucky
Dragonlich
Now....
If this sufferring is the result of nature and man then it is needless, it will go unammended, it is likely to continue long into the future and those who deliberately exacerbate it will likely go unpunished.

But if this suffering is part of a divine plan then it is not needless, it will be compensated for, there will be an end to it and wrongdoers will pay for their sins - a final day of judgemement, resolution and recompense.

I would certainly prefer the second scenario to be true, even though I believe it is not.
Ahh well it looks like you have gotten to the center of why you wish you could adopt Pascal's Wager. You want there to be justice and order in the universe, a noble wish indeed.

But I am confused about one thing. Ok so 'most' people reading this forum will never see the absolute drudgery of millions of peoples lives. But to refer to this missery as residing only in the developing world I think is a mistake. There are thousands and hundereds of thousands of people here in the US and Europe who live in miserable conditions. There are grave injustices underatken all of the time. I myself have seen these conditions and personally grew up in some of the worst. I too wished then as I do now that there was a God if for no other reason than to deliver justice upon an otherwise unjust world. But I came to the realization that there may not be such a God, and if this is true then it is up to us to insure that justice is served. Even if there is a God, we should not sit by when we observe injustices. We have a duty to ourselves and our fellow man to fight for what we believe is good and just in this world.
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Old 06-02-2003, 04:37 PM   #28 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally posted by Dragonlich
Actually, I think you're mistaken. For most of man's history, people lived by the grace of nature (/god). If there was some extreme weather, people could die, just like that. That was the case for pretty much anyone on this planet. People didn't grow very old, because of the hardships they faced every day. Now, some countries and peoples managed to grow more prosperous; mainly because of the good environment they lived in. Some peoples didn't fare as well, because they were situated in "bad" areas, with poor soil, bad environments, inadequate water supply, etc. That is a fact.



You state that almost every country has enough resources to feed itself. That may be the case, but is usually NOT true for many of the countries in the third world; precisely those you point at for your suffering and sorrow. These countries usually have poor soil, and hardly any natural resources; that's the reason they're so damn poor in the first place! Of course, it doesn't help that modern medicine, combined with a cultural aversion to birth control (Christianity?), leads to a population explosion, precisely in those countries that are least able to feed all those people.

Dragonlich,

Your facts are incorrect.

First of all, compare a world map with the resources listed on one map and the wealth on another.

The poorest countries have the most natural resources--I won't belate this point, look at a map.

Secondly, Early civilizations were nomadic and if people lived in places with bad soil they moved.

Thirdly, notwithstanding technological advances in Western countries, ancient peoples lived as long, longer, and sometimes shorter lives than current trends.

We find accounts of "primitive" peoples (and still do in undeveloped parts of the world) living to a hundred, ancient Greeks living at least into their 60s, and the main players in ancient Rome and Jerusalem lived well into their 60-70s.

True, medical care has improved and dietary habits have become part of the popular culture--yet, that doesn't mean people automatically live longer. In fact, a more holistic look at age trends indicates that life expectancies decreased during the industrial revolution. Obviously the fact that our life expectancies are returning to rates similar to what they were before industrialization is not a glowing tribute to "progress."

edit: *sigh*, I probably can't expect people to whip some maps out, they'll probably just write this statement off as full of shit.

For example,rubber, diamonds, iron, oil, cocoa, and on and on come from Africa. Oh, wonders never cease...here's a map

World Map with information on resources

and here is a great collection of maps produced by the CIA:
http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/world.html

you might have to dig around in that one a bit...

Last edited by smooth; 06-02-2003 at 05:10 PM..
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Old 06-02-2003, 04:56 PM   #29 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally posted by Dragonlich
They're also not forced to sell us anything - they can say no if they want to; but apparently they don't want to say no...

I'll refine my statement: <b>most of the people on this planet are better off than they ever were</b>. Most countries on the face of this planet have seen their average income go UP, not down. The problem is that the Western world has grown much faster than the rest of the world, partly because of our luck with the environment, partly because of our culture that encourages free enterprise and innovation.
All of these statements (with the exception of the claim that "people are better off than they ever were") are flat wrong and have been firmly rebutted in over 30 years of literature. I'm not going to rehash the arguments here.

For those interested in learning more run searches on (I did a couple myself for you):

The IMF (International Monetary Fund) and the World Bank

Structural adjustment programs (SAP)
A Major Cause of Poverty

Joseph Stiglitz (author of Globalization and Its Discontents, 2001 Nobel Prize in Econonmics, and Senior Vice President and Chief Econonist of the World Bank)

Wallerstein (among others):
World Systems Theory

Dependancy theory (John Isbister, among others)

And finally, Globalism

The only caveat I made was in reference to your claim that people live better than they did in history--which stems from the West's discourse of modernity (roots of French enlightenment, capitalism, Darwinism, and our postivism of sciences)

The people who make that claim argue that sure, people are getting smaller pieces of pie than they were before, but now the pie is getting larger. So that's better for everyone. If the pie didn't get larger and the people cutting it didn't divvy up the goods so unequitably, the pie would stop growing.

That's the only context conservatives argue conditions are "better" for impoverished nations.
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Old 06-02-2003, 10:48 PM   #30 (permalink)
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Well, Smooth... I just happen to have lying around a copy of David S. Landes' "The Wealth and Poverty of Nations", which *seems* credible to say the least. He takes an historic look at why certain countries are richer than others. Over time, the western world has grown rich because of our environment and culture. (*very* short summary, of course)

You say that <i>"the poorest countries have the most natural resources--I won't belate this point, look at a map."</i> This may be true, but what natural resources? And what exactly do natural resources have to do with wealth? That may seem like a stupid question, but stay with me for a moment... Take oil, a *very* important natural resource: without modern tools, and a lot of refining, it's nothing but some black goo. You cannot eat it. Gold, Silver, etc: same thing, without lots of labor, and a market willing to buy it, it cannot feed anyone.
If a country has some of these resources, it still has to exploit them, and sell them. If they do not have the technical skills to do that, other people that do will help them out - at a price. That is only logical.
If a country then keeps depending on that external knowledge, instead of starting it's own centers of learning, they will always have to pay that high price for that assistance. This makes it impractical or too expensive to tap into some areas with natural resources. And of course, even if the country did manage to exploit it, they still have to sell at the a price dictated by the "market", which may or may not get them enough money to buy food.

You say that <i>"early civilizations were nomadic and if people lived in places with bad soil they moved."</i> That seems simple enough, but unfortunately, it is not. Early civilizations (pre-iron age) *had* to use the poor soil to grow food, because the better soil (wooded areas) were simply unavailable, with trees in the way and all. Southern-European people farmed on poor soil, while Northern/Western European people had to settle with poor soil too, until they invented tools capable of cutting down entire forests - only *that* allowed them to use the better soil.

Then: <i>"Thirdly, notwithstanding technological advances in Western countries, ancient peoples lived as long, longer, and sometimes shorter lives than current trends."</i> True, but not generally true. *Some* ancient people, particularly the rich and/or healthy, lived long lives. On average, the life expectancy was typically lower than it is now. Do not make the mistake of taking extreme examples as the norm.
I did not say people automatically live longer - I said the *average* life expectancy was higher; quite a difference. And of course the life expectancy was lower during the industrial revolution, just as it was lower during the black plague days... If you look at the general trend, however, life expectancy goes up over time. Again, you take extreme examples as the norm.

We are not <i>"returning"</i> to rates similar to pre-industrial days, especially if you let go of the narrow number-of-years-mean-everything interpretation of life expectancy. In the pre-industrial days, also incidentally the pre-modern-medicine days, one might expect to grow relatively old (60?) if one had managed to survive childhood, but not all of those years would be in perfect health. Now, a big if is that "childhood" bit: in the 17th century, only 58% of French kids reached their 15th birthday, which reduced the average life expectancy to a mere 20. In the early 18th century, more than 74% of the children died before reaching age five... During the industrial revolution, many medical advances were discovered, allowing the British population to double between 1750 and 1820, with childhood mortality dropping to 31.8% in 1830. Not bad, eh?
Anyway... suppose one survived childhood. One could then look forward to a life full of diseases and nasty bugs, until one finally died at a ripe old age of 50 or 60, with many health problems. Some exceptionally healthy people (usually rich) lived to become 80, 90 or even more than a hundred. And that was in Western Europe, where the soil was reasonably good, and there was quite a lot of trade. What would that be like in the savannahs of Africa, or the deserts of Arabia? Live was a constant struggle in these conditions, especially in Africa, with many deadly tropical diseases.
We could even take a look at China, with one of the best systems of food production ever seen: rice fields produced enough to feed it's entire population. Too bad most, if not all of that huge population was needed to grow the rice; and too bad that that rice production involved lots of walking through water-filled fields, leading to all kinds of nasty bugs... But luckily, the emperor had no such problems, and he could simply order his people to move from one end of the country to the other, killing thousands in the process - hell, there were plenty left.

Er... anyway... I still maintain: happy to be alive, just like the farmer in Mozambique, and just like a farmer in medieval China might have been, or a nomad in Arabia.
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Old 06-03-2003, 12:37 AM   #31 (permalink)
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smooth, I'm probably just splitting hairs so take this as an aside factoid. I live in Canada. Our standard of living is very good. I'd say that the poorest among us have many more opportunities and services available to them than the poorest in the "3rd world" countries.
However, we're also very rich in resources. In fact, in global economical talks, we're critisized for being overtly dependant on resource exports. You're first link is also rather misleading. The dollar pics are outdated and, quite puzzling, Canada is listed without an economy of any form. Quite frankly, from a Coin, Currency_& Stamp page the economy thing isn't all that surprising (but the outdated currency thing is ). Now that the factoids are aside.



My take on the matter? I think that there's always been poor people. Whether by choice or by predicament in life I won't go into.

My question is: are we, the well-off, willing to down-grade are standard of living so that the not-so-well-off can up-grade theirs? This is, of course, assuming that we all can't live with the "western" standards (which I don't think we can. A study was shown that if the whole population of Earth lived like Canadians, we'd need 7 more Earth-sized planets just for garbage. We'd need some serious tech into recycling to overcome that..........but I digress from the main subject ).
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Old 06-03-2003, 05:39 AM   #32 (permalink)
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Trying to steer this back on track (though I think a thread on the philosophy of redistribution would be great).....

Publius
Yes, I do believe there is suffering in the First World too. I alluded to this when I said "for example the above list contains hardly anyone in England or US, but surely some suffering exists in the West too."

Whether it is a child being sexually abused in New York or a senior citizen being beaten to death in the Congo. It is all bad.

When I think about it I would normally conclude that it was so bad that no loving, father God could let it happen.

BUT I still think I would both have more peace with the world and have a greater impact in it, if I were to believe that there *was* a God with a plan behind it all.

You know that feeling on a rollercoaster when you are scared out of your mind and have your eyes closed tight and your fists clenching the bars. But then you think "wait a minute, they would never let me die or be hurt. they'd be sued to kingdom come. so it *must* be safe to open my eyes and let go of the bars". And you do. Well that's how I feel sometimes. Having a responsible God in charge of life's rollercoaster would help me to *really* open my eyes to the suffering of the world, and would let me take my hands off of the safety bars.

If you have ever felt the same then please post away.



If you are interested in globalisation, redistribution or the problem of evil, then I think that they would be great threads to start in the Philosophy or Politics boards.

Kepp on thinking, and keep on posting.....
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Old 06-03-2003, 06:20 AM   #33 (permalink)
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4thtime... why is it so hard to accept that there might be no god at all, and that everything happens by chance? Is that so incredibly scary?

I'd also advice you to stop looking at the evening news if you don't want to see bad news (=suffering). That's all they show.

In the case of the child being abused, the news media do not tell you that the vast majority of children are *not* abused, and that a lot of the abused kids end up more or less alright (I hope). In the case of the senior citizen killed in congo, the media do not tell you about the millions/billions of humans *not* beaten to death. Everything is relative, and relatively speaking, these are still exceptions, not the rule.

...but perhaps I'm being overly optimistic. I have a tendency to enjoy the simple things in live, and to laugh at anything bad nature could possibly throw at me: is that all???
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Old 06-03-2003, 08:33 AM   #34 (permalink)
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To all intents and purposes I can and do accept that there is no God (though strictly I am an agnostic).
My thread is (or has become) about whether people would like there to be a God or whether people would like to believe that there is.

I do not disagree with you when you say that *most* of the world is happy and coping fine. But those people do not give me any cause for concern.

You walk into a room and see a group of people happily chatting and one person alone in the corner looking distressed, with blood seeping from a wound in their leg.
What attracts your attention, the people chatting or the person in pain?
What do your instincts tell you to do: chat with the partygoers or go over and offer to help the person treat their leg?
You want to go and help, but also you are also afriad: They are a stranger. Why do they have a wound? Do you know enough about first aid? What if there is some important reason why everyone is ignoring this person, and you have missed it?

What might make you feel more confident/comfortable about going and helping?
Maybe knowing that it was all staged.
Maybe knowing more about why the person might be wounded.
Maybe knowing that an ambulance was on its way and would get there soon.
Maybe knowing that there were security cameras in the room, watching in case anything went wrong.

I think you will get the analogy, even if you don't agree with my conclusions from it.

I don't want to turn off the TV. I don't want to be a happy partygoer. I want to be the person who takes note and offers their help. *But* it would be nice to know/believe that the secruity cameras were rolling and the ambulance was on its way.
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Old 06-03-2003, 10:14 AM   #35 (permalink)
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Dragonlich,

I'm not taking extreme examples. The average life expectancy in Africa is 35 years old.

I won't comment on your book because I haven't read it--but I'll ask around. If it's making a case for a "culture of poverty" don't cite it in an academic setting. Like I said, 30 years of literature has discounted much of what you stated. People still publish works that try to justify old ideas and the discourse of modernity.

I think we are all aware of the usefulness of natural resources. Your making an odd point that oil, diamonds, sugar, cocoa, rubber, trees (lumber and paper), cotton, iron, silver, gold, and etc. aren't really worth much ("what do they have to do with wealth"). I also already posted some other concepts that you have to follow through to understand why various places have had to change from subsistence agriculture to a staple crop that can be exported--it doesn't have anything to do with their ability to actually grow food.

duckduck, I wasn't discussing the poor "among us." I also didn't endorse the link I posted. I listed some concepts, encouraged others to do the research if they care to learn more about the facts, and then came back to provide a starting point to those who would be to lazy to do the legwork. The cite doesn't claim Canada doesn't have an economy--it just doesn't list one. It also doesn't list one for the US. Now, that doesn't detract from the reliabability of the economies that were listed.
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Old 06-03-2003, 10:25 AM   #36 (permalink)
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This seems to be an interesting review (appeared in the Post)

http://econ161.berkeley.edu/Econ_Art...ws/landes.html

it's a "must read", here are a couple of points the reviewer makes:

Quote:
I am not sure about this part of his argument. It always seemed to me that what a pre-industrial society's standard of living was depended much more on at what level of material want culture had set its Malthusian thermostat at which the population no longer grew. I have always been impressed by accounts of high population densities in at least some "tropical" civilizations: if they were so poor because the climate made hard work so difficult, why the (relatively) dense populations?

It seems to me that the argument that industrial civilization was inherently unlikely to arise in the tropics hinges on an--implicit--argument that some features of tropical climates kept the Malthusian thermostat set at a low standard of living, and that this low median standard of living retarded development. But it is not clear to me how this is supposed to have worked. I find the argument of Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel more persuasive as an explanation of why Eurasian grasslands and neighboring forests have been the core of world civilization since the Neolithic Revolution.
Quote:
By contrast, I find Landes's account of why Europe--rather than India, Islam, or China--to be very well laid out, and very convincing. But I find it incomplete. I agree that it looks as if Chinese civilization had a clear half-millennium as the world's leader in technological innovation from 500 to 1000. Thereafter innovation in China appears to flag. Little seems to be done in developing further the high technologies like textiles, communication, precision metalworking (clockmaking) that provided the technological base on which the Industrial Revolution rested.

It is far from clear to me why this was so: Chinese civilization in the millennium before the Ming dynasty appears to have been the most intellectually confident and technologically progressive on the globe. As Joel Mokyr pointed out in his Lever of Riches, any explanation--whether based on hydraulic oriental despotism or static Confucian culture--that attributes inertia to China's culture falls flat because it does not account for the dynamic of economic growth and technological progress under the Tang, Sung, and Yuan.

Moreover, simple appeals to an inward turn supported by confident cultural arrogance under the Ming and Ch'ing that led to stagnation leave me puzzled. Between 1400 and 1800 we think that the population of China grew from 80 million to 300 million. That doesn't suggest an economy of malnourished peasants at the edge of biological subsistence. That doesn't suggest a civilization in which nothing new can be attempted. It suggests a civilization in which colonization of internal frontiers and improvements in agricultural technology are avidly pursued, and in which living standards are a considerable margin above socio-cultural subsistance to support the strong growth in populations.
let me know when you finish the book, I'll try to get a copy (after this week, finals are a few days away).

maybe a mod can move this portion of the discussion into politics and we can continue it.
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Old 06-04-2003, 12:04 PM   #37 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally posted by smooth
let me know when you finish the book, I'll try to get a copy (after this week, finals are a few days away).

maybe a mod can move this portion of the discussion into politics and we can continue it.
I'm reading the book for the second time. Thus I've already read it.

Anyway... The comments your reviewer has are interesting.

Quote:
I am not sure about this part of his argument. It always seemed to me that what a pre-industrial society's standard of living was depended much more on at what level of material want culture had set its Malthusian thermostat at which the population no longer grew. I have always been impressed by accounts of high population densities in at least some "tropical" civilizations: if they were so poor because the climate made hard work so difficult, why the (relatively) dense populations?
I don't know exactly which densely populated areas this man is talking about, but I assume (perhaps without reason) that these areas are situated around rivers with relatively fertile soils, like the Nile delta. These areas could easily support large populations, while the areas around it could not. That might lead to high population leavels, but not to high standards of living, because of the lack of trade with other people. It's a complex system, after all.

More temperate climates allow not only high population levels, but also a good spread of that population, leading to even more population growth, and a large amount of trade - always essential to technological growth and high standards of living. This might have a lot to do with specialization of labor: increased efficiency leads to higher output, leads to higher trade levels, leads to higher standards of living. I mean, if one village is very good at fishing, while another is great at hunting...

Quote:
Moreover, simple appeals to an inward turn supported by confident cultural arrogance under the Ming and Ch'ing that led to stagnation leave me puzzled. Between 1400 and 1800 we think that the population of China grew from 80 million to 300 million. That doesn't suggest an economy of malnourished peasants at the edge of biological subsistence. That doesn't suggest a civilization in which nothing new can be attempted. It suggests a civilization in which colonization of internal frontiers and improvements in agricultural technology are avidly pursued, and in which living standards are a considerable margin above socio-cultural subsistance to support the strong growth in populations.
Population growth and internal colonization do not mean a society is not technologically stagnant. Landes never states that the Chinese stopped inventing. He instead shows they are very good at inventing new things; it is just that they seemed unable to *use* those inventions for an extended period, and build on the knowledge. For example, he talks about a great mathematician, who wrote some advanced books that were simply too difficult for later generations: they forgot how to get there, so to say. There are numerous other examples of technologies that were forgotten, or even banned by the emperor. Change was okay, but too much change was bad. When the rest of the world then keeps inventing new things, the Chinese start lagging behind more and more: stagnation.

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Anyway, I hope you read and like the book. I certainly did, if only because it's written so damn well. It all seems to make sense.
Dragonlich is offline  
Old 06-05-2003, 04:14 AM   #38 (permalink)
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Well "they" DO say ignorance is bliss but if that is true then heaven must be a trailor park, eh?
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