>> I think most scientists are trying to work for the good
>> of people. They want to do good. Of course they (we)
>> might be deceived by systemic evil.
> I would agree that most people *want* to do good, the question is
> whether they have a strong enough internal rudder to cut through the
> opposing currents.
Internal rudders don't appear to be very reliable. IMO, the answer is
immersion in nature, including science, and a healthy distrust of authority.
I don't see a lot of evidence that going deeper and deeper into one's mind
to get in touch with "deep feelings" is very productive.
> ...shows that seemingly good and "moral" people are capable of
> immense cruelty and "immoral" behavior. The purpose of that
> experiment was to understand what might have happened in Nazi
> Germany, and I'm quite convinced that the bulk of any population
> is susceptible to such evilness not because the people are
> inherently "bad" or that they do not desire "good," but because
> they are not strong enough in their own self-awereness and moral
I am not sure Nazism is a clear example. The question being debated in
historical circles is: to what extent did the long-term culture of
antisemitism condition ordinary Germans to cheerfully participate in
unspeakable acts, as opposed to coercion by charismatic authority. See
Goldhagen "Hitlers Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust"
versus Finklestein "A Nation on Trial: The Goldhagen Thesis and Historical
The matter seems to have become very politicized, but the truth is probably
> It takes unusual strength of character and courage to say "the
> buck stops here" in most of the morally ambiguous environments
> that are most often found in daily life.
In my gut, I completely agree with you. But you know, German soldiers with
weak stomachs had to try hard and summon strength of character to shoot so
many people in the back of the head, to do their civic duty (Goldhagen's
So, what does this analogy have to do with environmentalism? Do people
exploit nature because of long term culture (some would say instinct), or
because they are being actively tricked and subverted by an evil system? I
get the feeling that most (left-leaning) activists think that people are
intrinsically good, but are deceived and ensnared by an evil system. On the
other hand, "deep ecologists" feel that more intrinsic ethical values are
> There are peer pressures, societal pressures, pressures from
> your boss, etc. Many times, the pressure is to do what you
> know to be *not* "good," or at least what you would know to be
> not good if you were to really challenge yourself about it.
I don't think this really manifests itself in clear-cut ethical terms,
generally speaking. I have felt such pressures regarding scientific details
and interpretation. I have never been asked to do anything I thought was
> We're also all well equiped with the mechanism of denial
> which can make distinction of "good" and "not good" (or
> even "evil") quite fuzzy. Decision making is rarely black
> and white to the people who are in the middle of them...
You are ignoring the more basic question of defining good versus evil in a
particular case. You think that people who disagree with you must be "in
denial." You are starting with the assumption that your moral compass is
the correct one, and that people who don't live up to your moral standards
are suffering from an internal failing or inconsistency.
> I may think that it's perfectly clear that building a nuclear
> bomb or working in a weapons-grade plutonium factory (or developing
> more agrochemicals) is patently evil, but people who are actually
> in these professions may not see the alternative as much better
> due to issues of professional reputation and prestige...fear of
> unemployment and poverty, fear of social isolation, and on and on.
I think that is presumptuous of you. In other words, when people fail to
abide by the ethical standards you have concocted, it is because they are
too weak to resist. They are wooed by the rewards of their career. Did it
occur to you that they may simply disagree about what is good?
> would venture to say that LOTS AND LOTS of people are employed
> doing things they don't enjoy and don't feel right doing...
I really doubt it. It looks to me like the social systems we have going
(including corporations) are in approximate congruence with the ethical
norms of most people.
> In such an environment, it is not enough to say that chemists,
> agronomists, politicians, nuclear physisits or whoever are
> "Christian"... or that they desire to do "good." That is just
> not enough.
I can tell you feel deeply about this. But I think you really want people
to conform to your values and the values of your social group. These seem
to diverge from societal norms.
> I think that the criticism is that not enough people in these
> industries are actually paying any attention to the moral
> ramifications of their work.
This occurs on an informal basis, at least in my department.
> I would guess that most people at some point make a trade off of
> scrutinizing their work for moral content in favor of getting a
> paycheck which allows them to do all the other things they desire
> to do in thier lives.
I don't think people consciously do this, but it probably occurs at some
level for some people.
> Do you think that a burger flipper at McFood questions the
> significance or morality of his job? Does the architect who
> designs golf courses think about the effect this has on
> chemical runoff? Does the real estate broker think about
> what it means to sell a piece of wild or agricutural land for
> a strip mall or a casino? Does the person selling the land?
I am sure they do sometimes, but probably their values are different from
yours. I think that many people don't care that much about wild nature, for
> Dale, why should the people you work with be any different?
> The desire to do good and the committment to do it even in
> the face of difficulty and adversity are quite different.
I feel insulted by your assumption that my associates and I are not
consistent or upright enough to stand against the force of peer pressure, or
that we love the material pleasures of this life so much that we do things
that are obviously wrong.
I think our differences lie in ethical norms. I think your norms are
informed by an organicist interpretation of nature, that puts a lot of stock
in "being natural." I also don't think you realize how influenced you are
by the academic left in your vision of the corporation as an evil cultural
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