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Being Left Alone

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Where does your right to be left alone end and society's right to bother you begin? I'm not talking about what constitutes a crime -- what the laws should be or not is a different issue. I'm talking about the general question of how much it is acceptable to, without any kind of government or politics involved, go next door and ask your neighbor to do something he doesn't want to do. If we can answer that question consistently, then we could move up to the next higher level and talk about how governments should operate. But I doubt we'll make it that far.

It's such a simple question, but it covers such a broad range of situations. When we're given just one scenario, many times we can come up with an answer quite easily, but when we start comparing our opinions across various situations, our positions don't add up. I find that coming up with a consistent opinion, a principle I can use in all sorts of situations, is a non-trivial exercise.

The members of this tribe wish to be left alone
But more and more, civilization is encroaching on their home

Our reaction to the desires of these tribes -- and how we fit our moral standards in regards to them with our moral standards in regards to out fellow countrymen -- says a lot about our own hypocrisy.

I really didn't want to include a link to where I got these pictures -- it's a site with a video, a scientist hero, lots of heroic music, and a call to action. Everything that tells you that you are being manipulated (I'm not addressing whether the cause is good, only that this site has an agenda and is very willing to do whatever it takes to manipulate you to achieve its goals) but here goes anyway.

Immediately upon watching this, we are led down the garden path of modern secular morality: modern man is corrupt and evil, destroying all that he touches, these people wish to live in nature (living in nature is pure), we must prevent them from being corrupted by the world.

It's a powerful line of moral reasoning, and one that pushes a lot of emotional buttons with audiences. If it wasn't, James Cameron wouldn't have used it as the background to his "Avatar"

Of course you could point out that these people are never going to see the age of 50. Many will die of horrible diseases that we can easily cure. They will never see a play, read a book, learn about the universe, or hear an opera. As Hobbes said, life for them will be brutish and short. of course, some of these things, like opera, are very culture-relative. Some of these things, however, like just being alive, have nothing to do with culture. But we put on our glasses and see it our own preferred way anyways.

One commenter on another site expressed the preferred reaction to the video well:

...This is so typical of the american way of thinking. Yes, we are so superior lets convert them all to our [insert culture, religion etc...]. What is so bad about leaving them alone? I would bet they are much happer than the majority of the FB and Twitter obsessed narcissist that I run into every day.

While we are at it lets make sure they all become good christians too because anyone that has not accepted christ in their life just does not know what they are missing.

Im not trying to be an ass... you know that Western medicine is not the only medicine in the world. While we are at it lets take them our aids, diabetes, obesity etc...

You are basically saying that your beliefs and way of life are so superior and better than theirs that you must convert them and that is total bullshit. They have a right just as you do to continue their way of life without someone like you coming along and deciding what is and is not ok for them.

This is so scripted you could almost program a computer to make it. If there were a church of modern morality, you'd hear something like this preached every week. There are many good points, sure, but the key question that the commenter is overlooking is: What do the people themselves want to do?

Not just the leaders, not just the men, not just those in power, but the people. Each person.

After all, if you're a tribal leader ruling by force in a primitive tribe, you've got it pretty good: you can take what you want, you have as many wives as you want, and others serve you. Why change anything? If you're a mother who just watched her five-year-old kid die from something that's easily curable? You might have a different opinion.

But the meme that all western values are bad continues, so there are people who will quite vehemently argue that we should leave them alone. To touch it is to destroy it.

Bah. We should politely tell them -- each of them and in some kind of polite repeating fashion so as to make sure the youth hear about it -- about what they are missing. Then we should let each of them make an informed decision about what they want to do. Then we should respect their opinion.

But to say that they should be left completely alone while we observe them secretly, keep them in an enclosure, and then make promotional videos and such about how special they are?

We have a word for the case where we put creatures in a watched enclosure and then make money from people who are curious about them while we "protect" their uniqueness. That word is "zoo"

And it's not surprising that we've already had humans in zoos. Used to be quite popular, really.

example of a human zoo

From the 1850s up until the early 1900s human zoos were very popular in Europe

human zoo

In Germany even German-Prussian statesman of the late 19th century Bismarck attended one of them

visitors at a human zoo

They were also known as "Negro Villages" or "ethnological expositions" where humans were exhibited in their natural state
I'm sure if you had asked these folks, many of them would have told you that they were
observing, protecting, and trying to understand these precious cultures

Obviously this is abhorrent. What they needed was a much bigger cage -- and the use of airplanes and remote cameras instead of bars. Then it would be much better.

I exaggerate, but only a little bit. It is wrong to either make people participate in modern society or to watch them from afar and isolate them simply because of the wishes of the tribal elders -- no matter how folks want to spin it.

So how about the guy who lives in the states but wants to live in the mountains and be left alone? He doesn't want anything from anybody -- he makes his own food and lives in almost complete isolation. Should we make him move to the city? Get a haircut, get an education, become a "good" little industrial worker?

Should we make him vote? How about income taxes? Should we make him pay his "fair share"? Should he be forced to have health insurance? Should he be forced into the army in times of war? Should we make sure he doesn't own anything explosive or any kinds of guns or ammunition we don't like?

I'm of the opinion that since he lives in peace, we have a right to force him into temporary conscription in times of war. The assumption being that he is receiving the non-optional "service" of peace and asking for his service in the army on a very rare basis is an equal trade.

But the rest of it? It gets tricky very quickly. As or me, I tend to err on the side of individual freedom as much as I can. I note that others are always looking to create some kind of structure for the greater good -- they are very willing to trade my freedom for their various moral causes. And good luck trying to get them to give those freedoms back to me, even when their social goals are not realized. That kind of mentality is not for me, but I can respect their viewpoints.

For some reason the amount of space involved makes a difference, as I would feel much differently if this guy lived in an urban area. I believe this is because if somebody lives in a cave and keeps a bunch of dynamite and powerful weapons around, it is very unlikely that he is going to accidentally hurt anybody else. That's not true if he were to live in an apartment complex. I cannot allow somebody the freedom to accidentally cause great harm. Although if that were the case we wouldn't have airplane pilots, would we?

That's the cool thing here. Parts of my opinion are probably as illogical and twisted as the commenter I quoted. It's the fun of these types of experiments: getting a good look at our own cognitive blind spots.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by DanielBMarkham published on February 12, 2011 9:15 AM.

Nourishing a Culture of Failure was the previous entry in this blog.

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