responsibility and intrinsic wants

[From: Bruce Nevin (Tue 93027 16:41:29 EST)]

( Rick Marken (950206.1230) ) --

Bill's point is valid even when people have agreed to cooperate.

You're right. What I said did not contradict what Bill said. I only
said that there is something more that he was leaving out of account.

( Bill Powers (950206.1600 MST) ) --

Statement A:

    The importance that mammals, at least, evidently attach to having
    reliable relationships with their fellows suggests strongly that
    intrinsic values of some reference perceptions are involved here.

Statement B:

    It is worth thinking through carefully how perceptions of social
    responsibility, reliability, interdependence, dependability, and so
    on might arise. (Testing might be difficult.)

Your reply:

If these are intrinsic values for mammals, then all baby mammals would
be born having such values and nobody would have to teach the babies,
reward them, or punish them into having these values.

I did not say that the perceptions in (B) have intrinsic values assigned
to them. I said it is worth thinking through carefully how such
perceptions might arise, given that something about "having reliable
relationships" appears to be intrinsic.

I agree that we cannot be talking about intrinsic values when we discuss
what specifically is considered responsible or irresponsible, dependable,
reliable, etc., or their opposites, among a given population at a given
time. But the "standards and rules" are learned as social givens whether
a person who has learned them obeys them or disobeys them. Ed
acknowledges this:

(Ed Ford 950206.near noon MST) --

the choices I make
should be in harmony with my standards or rules
as well as those of the culture where I choose to be,


and those standards and rules should be in
harmony with my values or beliefs.

This matter of social heritage, whatever you choose to call it, is the
"something more" that was being left out of account. I am glad to see
your discussion of it now:

The fact that children (apparently) have to be taught so-called
responsibility is direct evidence that this and related concepts are not
products of evolution or inheritance. It tells us that responsibility
etc is a human invention, passed along and modified or reinvented by
each new generation, each new group within each new generation.

I agree with this. People work with learned, socially available stuff
and modify and reinvent it, renegotiate it, each time they put it into
practice. This is the "stuff" of language and culture and much of what
we think of as personality, insofar as each of us presents a socially
interpretable face or persona to our fellows.

This idea of "shared notions of social relations and expectations" is a
myth. When we start using such terms, we have stopped speaking of
society and are speaking of the small part of it we have experienced and
from which we have drawn generalizations of dubious generality.

You are wrong. My suggestions are a little better informed than that,
though I think there are others here who know the materials of cultural
anthropology and sociology much better than I.

time we speak of what "people" do, we're speaking of people who live on
Park Avenue, in a [ ... etc. etc.]

I make no claims that bridge all these social and cultural differences as
universals. One might think that murder was universally considered
wrong. According to one story, a Danish murderer escaped imprisonment,
and, finding himself in an Eskimo community, went on a killing spree. To
his shock he found himself greatly respected (apparently because he was
so strong), and he became a pillar of the community.

Regarding people's use of myth in constitutive ways, which Bruce Buchanan
(950206.2355 EST) touched on, I think people learn how to account to
themselves and others for what is going on. Their explanations may be
contrary to fact. There are a number of studies on naive physics,
e.g. many people think of a thermostat as a heat valve, and turn it up to
the max expecting that the furnace will heat the house faster. And
people have this deeply entrenched notion that people can control one
another. We know better. But we shouldn't let our privileged knowledge
of PCT blind us to how people control their perceptions according to that
myth. I suspect that this is the root of resistance to PCT--prior
emotional investment in an explanation of the world in which people are
seen as controlled by and controlling one another.

What I've been trying to get across is that responsibility is whatever
you decide it is. It's like "family values," which are also whatever you
decide they are. There is nothing mysterious here, no mysterious forces


What we need to understand is how people interact with the people around
them. We can't understand this by looking at any particular values,
beliefs, customs, rules, and so forth. Those are all happenstance and
could have come out completely different. The point is to explain how a
group of people arrive at equilibrium positions on various subjects like
family values or responsibility or religion. Doing this requires a
theory that doesn't take sides. If people do arrive at accomodations
with each other, it isn't because they inherit a tendency to do so, but
because of how living control systems work.

You might be right. It may be that the distress that we and other
mammals evince when our capacity to be in relationships to others seems
to break down might be the collective effect of many disparate error
signals, as we fail to control perceptions that require cooperation for
their control, or perhaps as we imagine the continuation and escalation
of such failures. Maybe that's enough to account for why people
everywhere learn the social arrangements "of the culture where [they]
choose to be" and adapt them and renegotiate them to suit their ongoing
needs. Or the release of endorphins when a relationship works well might
be an intrinsic mechanism. Either way, there is nothing mysterious about
it, and nothing so threatening to PCT, just something to be found out.

One minor quibble, really just reiterating the same points: When you say
that "particular values, beliefs, customs, rules, and so forth ... are
all happenstance and could have come out completely different," it is
important to recognize that this is a generalization across cultures such
as you just inveighed against. The outcome for a particular individual,
growing up in a particular community, is not happenstance and capable of
coming out completely differently. However much the outcome may vary
from one individual to another within that community at that time (and it
does), it is very much related to the current state of social relations
as adapted and renegotiated by others in the community up to and through
the time of the individual's growing up there. The individual may move
to a different community, or may have ongoing relationships with members
of different communities having conflicting values, etc., and the picture
is more complicated, but the materials that people adapt and renegotiate
are socially given, not invented on the spot out of whole cloth. But I
don't think you intended to claim that.

On the other hand, apparently you believe that I am "trying to explain
why taking certain responsibilities and showing certain social behaviors
is good and natural." I am not. This seems to have arisen from your
assuming that statement B quoted above was about instances of the
intrinsic values speculated about in statement A. Perhaps when you are
very alert for misunderstandings of PCT you see them where they aren't.
Or maybe this was really addressed to someone else, not me.



(Tom Bourbon [950206.1435]) --

What I *think* I see here is an example in which manufacturers altered
their output (the nature of their products) until the products matched
the intended perceptions of their customers, a state of affairs that
probably allowed the manufacturers' perceptions of their profit margins
come closer to the margins they intended to perceive.

Tom, the following is not intended to contradict anything essential about
what you are saying.

Betamax, by all accounts, was a far better match to the perceptions of
reproduction quality, etc., that customers intended, but its proponents
were less successful at communicating that match to customers, and the
proponents of VHS were more successful. A consideration, I believe, was
customers' fear of having bet on the wrong horse in a race that only one
could win, and owning a bunch of tapes that they could display only on
equipment that cost extra to maintain and could not be upgraded. So it
was not just the nature of their manufactured products that manufacturers
altered, it was their marketing, that is, their presentation of a story
(myth) that people would buy. In this kind of competition there comes a
point when believable referees announce that the race is won/lost, or
(lacking self-appointed referees) when people more and more tell one
another the story that it is over with a clear winner and loser, as the
continuation of earlier discussions they had of which was the best to
buy. Desire that their buying decision be a wise one would lead many
individuals to ask others more expert than they which was best, fuelling
public discussion. Desire to make a buying decision and enjoy the
technology would lead to a desire for the public discussions to reach
closure. Who do you trust? And so on.

I doubt the story about clocks, just because there were well established
values attached to moving in the direction of the sun's movement
(perceived as arcing to the right or clockwise) vs. the opposite, a
direction associated with witchcraft pretty universally in Europe. (Look
up deasil and widdershins in a good dictionary. The latter is associated
with witchcraft in e.g. some of the Grimm brothers' stories.)
Specifically, I doubt that the counterclockwise clocks were ever more
than a minority, and that they ever really stood a chance of becoming the
popular standard.

I have put much more time into this than I should have. But it was fun :wink: