Member Rara Avis
Craig, you raise some good points, which are probably worth considering in their own light and for different reasons, but I honestly think set theory and group dynamics is at best a needless complication, and at worst a smokescreen. It just isn't a necessary consideration for predicting human behavior. I believe a social group is important to an individual only so long it is perceived to fulfill self-interest and will NEVER supersede the interests of the individual.
Case in point? Convince those suicide bombers they will lose all respect and spend an eternity burning in hell, and I suspect they'll see their sacrifice in a somewhat different light.
Kacy, I think what you are describing in terms of mob behavior goes back to what I was talking about earlier regarding self-image. Our survival is NOT always or even usually our first priority. The people you describe, not satisfied with their own self-image, are willing to adopt the image of the group. In one sense, separating motives and intent is actually simplified, not made more difficult, because the group-image is typically more easily decipherable than any individual's self-image. Whether this is sufficient depends on whether you want to change the behavior of the group, which is easy, or of the individual, which is much harder.
Stephen, I'm not even sure where to begin. You are doggedly retaining multiple issues that are either mistaken or just plain irrelevant, and without addressing those, any reference to your conclusions is beyond any possible reach. Let's see if I can hit a few highlights?
Caring for one's posterity is usually seen as a traditional moral precept .. I know. And we both know that perceptions, especially of the usual kind, are often wrong.
From egoism, you have nothing obligatory to recommend any virtue ... not even the "rationality" you speak of. This sounds strikingly close to your usual argument against Naturalism, and in my opinion, is mistaken in both instances. God didn't tell me that 2 + 2 = 4, but rather gave me the tools to discover that truth for myself (and, even, to discover when it might no longer hold true). I can safely recommend 2 + 2 = 4 as a virtue based on nothing more than the reality that IT WORKS. With one important exception not relevant to this discussion, every single truth in the Bible is both discoverable and empirical. We don't need the Bible to teach morality, because God already created a whole Universe that teaches that lesson.
Many have prospered themselves by being cruel and hard and lording over others. You keep saying that, Stephen, but I ain't buying it. I doubt you could offer even an isolated example, but even if you could, it would still fall under my Russian Roulette analogy. No matter how lucky you are, sooner or later the chamber is going be loaded.
The problem is, from the stand point of self interest alone, you have little compelling to say to the likes of Nietzsche. I think I have the most compelling argument of all, Stephen. Unlike Nietzsche, I didn't die insane and catatonic at the age of forty-five. Let him beat that one.
If there is no interest other than self at work, then there can be nothing absolute to base actions upon. Underlying many of your points, Stephen, including this one, is the biggest single fallacy I think you need to escape. Rational, long-term self-interest does NOT exist in a vacuum. On the contrary, it ties each of us to every single man, woman, and child on the planet. I cannot meet my most important goals unless I am willing to help you meet yours.
Going back to an earlier point, Love is best defined by the commingling of self-interest. Two people who use each other to fulfill their separate short-term goals can, indeed, cheapen love, and in my opinion, only suffer and never benefit. Instead, imagine a situation where nothing gives you more pleasure than to give her pleasure? And vice versa? Now take that beyond the merely sensual level, to a place where your self-interest depends on her self-interest, her self-interest depends on yours, and the result will be a lasting love that satisfies and benefits both.
Extend that thought, now, to include everyone in the whole world. THAT is enlightened self-interest.
Sound hokey? Maybe, but the basic conclusions aren't rocket science. Any time a person in this world suffers, their reaction and the reactions of those around them, will place my long-term self-interest at risk. Contention and rivalry between people is always based on short-term goals. The moral implications are unnecessary, if not irrelevant, because the pragmatic reality is inescapable.