[ExI] Cosmopolitanism, collective epistemology and other issues

Anders anders at aleph.se
Fri Jul 15 17:24:43 UTC 2016

On 2016-07-15 17:38, William Flynn Wallace wrote:
> David Brin suggested that the unique aspect of Western culture was not 
> just fascination by other cultures (that can be found elsewhere) but a 
> deeply ingrained idea that other cultures might have figured out 
> things we haven't, might have better solutions we ought to pick up on, 
> or that we need to reinvent ourselves to avoid being bad.  anders
> Speaking only for the USA, yes, we are fascinated by other cultures 
> and often, very often, we assume that they are better than we are at 
> certain things.  ...
> I don't know that Anders is correct re science and technology, or form 
> of government.  I think we think that we have the best there.  I also 
> very much doubt that most of us feel inferior in the moral department 
> (being bad).

You think too small. Think western culture, where US culture is one of 
the offshoots.

Most cultures have been a bit curious about exotic things - upper class 
Romans threw around Greek quotes to show their erudition, and paid 
fortunes for silk and other products from near-mythical Sinica. But they 
would never have entertained the thought that those cultures had 
anything to teach them in statemanship: Romans were the best, manifesto. 
Same thing over in China: lots of myths about the exotic Occident, but 
there is nothing truly important to learn from it. Sure, some cool art 
and tech, but living like *them*?! Outrageous! The Romans would 
completely have agreed. So would nearly all societies across time and 

Brin's excellent essay can be read here:
His claim is that there is a set of interlocking beliefs and behaviors 
in our culture. One is that there must be no dogmas. Another that no 
expert can know all the answers. The Dogma of Otherness insists that all 
voices deserve a hearing, that all points of view have something of 
value to offer.

He claims it might be a liberal Western, even American doctrine. I think 
it goes deeper; Brin suggests that maybe the Copernican principle of 
mediocrity might have been the start, but Bruno got there first in a 
way. He argues that the otherness doctrine came as a reaction to the 
religious, mechanistic and romantic worldviews, which I think is half 
right - it became so powerful thanks to their failures. Yet it builds on 
a base of skepticism and universalism going back to the Greeks (humans 
are social animals with a common nature) and Christianity (and they have 
the same kind of souls - all the rest is contingent), the 
renaissance/enlightenment/liberal discovery that people in different 
cultures actually thought differently and that different life projects 
could be valid (and should be protected).

Note that this is not a claim that every western person believes certain 
things. Rather, it is a claim that there are certain ideas that are as 
pervasive in our world as machismo or reverence for the family in other 
cultures. We don't notice it because we are embedded in it (although it 
is notable that western culture invented professional anthropology to 
study other cultures, and then began to turn the critical 
anthropological eye on itself).

Note the link to our kind of cosmopolitanism: an interest in exploring 
and interacting with the Other (not just other cultures these days, but 
nature and maybe also different mental states), the willingness to see 
if the Other has something of value or can show that we are wrong about 
something. This in turn requires tolerance and open societies: without 
them it is not possible to actually meet the Other or update ones own 
society in the light of the new information.

Dr Anders Sandberg
Future of Humanity Institute
Oxford Martin School
Oxford University

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://lists.extropy.org/pipermail/extropy-chat/attachments/20160715/d0617605/attachment.html>

More information about the extropy-chat mailing list