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Old 12-10-2005, 07:41 PM
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Default Societal values?

I've been learning about social psychology lately and was wondering what others may think concerning the types of questions that arise? Do you have any answers to the "whys?"
  • Should one live at the expense of others or not?
  • Is it better for the individual to do so?
  • Should the individual be the focus or basis for betterment?

*edit* I mean should one be selfish or selfless? and why?
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Old 12-14-2005, 02:23 PM
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Short post:

Should one live at the expense of others or not? -- No
Is it better for the individual to do so? -- No
Should the individual be the focus or basis for betterment? -- Uncertain what you mean here, I can read this a few ways.

Should one be selfish or selfless? and why? -- Selfless (see Long Post for why)

Long post (please skip if you don't want my reasoning):
Should one live at the expense of others or not?
The word "should" suggests that there is a right and wrong answer. It also suggests an objective measure of right and wrong that is somewhat universal. Such a universal objective measure doesn't really exist (there are some universally shared viewpoints, but generally, most are not). Different cultures, different ideologies even different religions have different takes on this question.

Let me ask a few follow-ups:
Is it acceptable for someone to live on welfare?
Is it acceptable for someone to build a large enterprise from the ground up and get to a point where that person collects the profits from the enterprise but no longer does any real work?
Is it acceptable for someone to earn large sums of money and then pass that money to his heirs so that they don't have to work if they don't desire to (and is it acceptable for them to live off of that money and never work)?
Is it acceptable for someone to live in prison?
Is it acceptable for someone to own slaves?

Each of the above situations are examples of someone living at the expense of others (not an exhaustive list). Each of them may be accepted or rejected by certain viewpoints, certain religions or certain cultures. If a culture says that something is acceptable, then one could say that the answer to whether someone should live at the expense of others would be yes. An outsider to that culture may very well say no, however.
It seems clear that slavery is a good example of living at the expense of others that is wrong, yet it still exists in some cultures and it has existed in many cultures that were generally considered "good". There have been societies with slavery that treated slaves very well, and in some societies, a person could voluntarily enter into slavery for a period of time, or forever if one chose to do so in exchange for some other benefits (e.g. a poor man might enter into slavery if his master agreed to finance his children's education).
Welfare is an example of living at the expense of others that most people will have no problem with, but there are people who are upset that they have to work hard for their money and then give a portion of it to take care of able bodied people who don't work. That may be an unfair assessment of welfare recipients, but it is still a valid concern for the taxpayer who is barely making ends meet.

My (long and drawn out) point is that there isn't likely a "universal" viewpoint to answer this question. In my own viewpoint, I believe that people need to do what is necessary to be self-reliant, but I do realize that sometimes it becomes necessary to live at the expense of others and one should do whatever is possible to minimize that.

Is it better for the individual to do so?
The word “better” suggests a comparison between two options. Is option “a” better than option “b”. The question could therefore be restated as “Is it better for the individual to live at the expense of others as opposed to not living at the expense of others.” Also, the word “better” suggests that there is a distinction of some sort (moral, ideological, etc.). The answer is again buried within viewpoints, cultures, etc. One viewpoint would be that the good of society must come before the good of one person. If so, then one can argue that it would be better for society if nobody lived at the expense of another. The opposite viewpoint, that the good of an individual is more important than society, would tell us that it would be better to live at the expense of another because it would give one more time for other pursuits. Which viewpoint one subscribes to will obviously impact one's answer to this question.

When we talk about living at the expense of another, we may mean anything from simply not working and living off of handouts, to actually degrading the quality of life of another or even killing others to continue living. In between there are situations such as an entrepreneur who worked hard at one time, but is now not working at all and still earning income from the people who work for his prior ventures. I think that most people would agree that living off of handouts is not necessarily good for an individual, but it may be the best that an individual may be able to accomplish. If that individual instead disdained handouts, he may very well starve to death before being able to find a job and earn enough to not live at the expense of others. Similarly, a person who is suffering from an illness may have to live at the expense of others or not live at all.

I think from a character development standpoint and from a personal development standpoint, a person grows more if they don't live at the expense of others. This can lead them to greater contributions to society, but this isn't absolute. A person may live a life that is self reliant but make no contribution at all to society or may be a drain on society in other ways.

Should the individual be the focus or basis for betterment?
No long answer here.

Should one be selfish or selfless? and why?
Selfishness, the focus on one's self, means a disregard of the reality that we are all interdependent. A truly selfish person doesn't give back to the community. Such a person doesn't help (or even care about) his fellow man. The problem with this philosophy is that, within a society, nobody can achieve much without the support of other people. A selfish person ignores those very people who helped him achieve. It is true that someone might inherit wealth and never need to work, but such a person still had help from his forbears and still has a responsibility (as we all do) to his descendants as well as to leave this world a better place than it was when we entered it (not necessarily a universal philosophy).

Selflessness, the focus on others before self, is acknowledgment of our interdependence. Taken to an extreme, it can lead to personal ruin for the benefit of others, but generally speaking, some level of selflessness is necessary to treat others fairly and to exist in a society. A selfless person can accept some level of sacrifice for the greater good. For example, a selfless person will give donations, share food, help out others who are suffering. A selfish person will always avoid doing so because it will negatively impact them in some (possibly trivial) way.

If someone lived apart from all other people, it wouldn't matter if that person were selfish or selfless because the two would be one. A hermit may be selfless, but cannot practices this selflessness or show evidence of it. Selfishness or selflessness only have meaning in a society where interaction and interdependencies occur. In such a setting, selflessness will server the greater good.

That said, can we expect anyone to be truly selfless? Not really. We all have some level of self interest that will take precedence over our willingness to sacrifice for our fellow man. Let's face it, most people will choose to survive instead of dying for someone else (there are exceptions). We can, however, choose to be selfless as often as reasonably possible.

-- Jeff
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Old 12-14-2005, 06:39 PM
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(What took you so long thanx 4 the quality reply.)

I can't answer the follow up questions w/o knowing the answers to these other questions:

1. Is the viewpoint that the good of society must come before the good of one person or the viewpoint that the good of an individual is more important than society the better viewpoint?

2. Which viewpoint should one subscribe to?

3. Doesn't the value of "equality" imply that one must give priority equally to the individual as well as others?

4. Is equality a realistic value?
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Old 12-14-2005, 08:46 PM
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*** In advance, this is going to be another long post. You have been warned. ***

What took so long?

I was waiting to see if anyone else would post.

Is the viewpoint that the good of society must come before the good of one person or the viewpoint that the good of an individual is more important than society the better viewpoint?
The answer is a personal answer. I asked the questions to you because I wanted to see your responses, but basically, the answers to all of these questions is based on your personal viewpoint. That's what freedom, free will, free thought, etc. is all about. If you were forced to hold a certain viewpoint, then you'd be a slave, but because you can choose your viewpoint, you are free. Such freedom can be handled responsibly (by actually thinking about the issues and deciding what is “right”), or it can be irresponsibly wasted (by just accepting what other people tell you).

Logic would dictate that the good of society would come first “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few ... or the one.” -- Captain Spock. Such logic, however is cold and heartless. Such a viewpoint would lead to the idea that when someone elderly becomes ill, they should not be treated but instead should be allowed to die because the resources to treat them will likely never be recovered by society. Similarly, such a viewpoint would lead to the idea that someone convicted of life in prison should be immediately executed because the food and resources needed to keep that person alive in prison can be better used by the community.
A wholly emotional answer would be that every individual is valuable to the extent that society should spare no expense to do what is necessary to keep us all healthy as long as possible. Such an ideal would be wonderful, but it would bankrupt any nation or organization that tried it. Costs are real and keeping someone alive and healthy can be very expensive. For example, $1 million could be spent on a single comatose person with a head trauma on the off chance that they may regain consciousness and not have brain damage, but would that money better be spent vaccinating 100,000 children at $10 a shot?
Society is about compromise. Revisiting the hermit from my prior post, a hermit can do whatever he wants without any issues. He can be completely selfish because he is his community. With two or more people involved, compromises must be made in a world with limited resources. Society is at least in part about compromises. A member of a society must compromise some of his desires for the betterment and indeed the survival of the society. These compromises include giving up some of the things that would favor the individual for the betterment of the society.
In my opinion, I believe that a balance must be struck between the good of the individual and the good of society. Certainly, I want what is good for me (and my family). I want a large house, good food, travel, education, no speed limits, all the video games in the world, a tank (always wanted one), an airplane, no taxes, people bringing me gifts all the time, etc. (I won't get all of these things). Society, on the other hand, has some needs as well such as disaster protection (fire, earthquake, etc.), police protection, military protection, a system to ensure fair commerce, etc. Society gets some of these things by imposing the good of society over the good of the individual. Taxes, for example, are for the good of society, but they definitely negatively impact the individual. Laws are for the good of society, but they strip freedom from the individual (because individuals sometimes don't use those freedoms responsibly).
Without a balance between these two viewpoints, we'd have either societal collapse (where everyone focused on their own good), or individuals as slaves of society (where everyone worked for the good of society at their own expense). The middle ground, where society exists, and yet individuals retain their own identity and freedom is the only “fair” choice.

Which viewpoint should one subscribe to?
Again with “should”. Should means that there is some right answer. First, neither of these viewpoints is really that good, do you want to be an individual living in chaos, or a slave to a controlling society? If there is a right answer, I suspect that it lies somewhere in between. If I had to choose between these two viewpoints, I'd say that it is probably “better” to live for society over the individual, but I can't endorse that viewpoint because I'd object to the result (slavery).

Doesn't the value of "equality" imply that one must give priority equally to the individual as well as others?
It does imply that. Of course many people don't believe in equality (equality is not a universal value). Some people believe that they are somehow superior or inferior. For example, the untouchable caste in India believes that they are inferior. The Brahmans believe they are superior. In many religions, there are distinctions (e.g. one must be a Jew, Muslim, Catholic, Mormon, etc. to be saved, and as such, those people feel superior. By the way, this isn't fair to any of these faiths, this is just an example, not my feelings about any of them).
Since not everyone believes in equality, they tend to lean towards one of the extremes or the other in regards to society vs individualism.

*** I'm abandoning political correctness in this next section. You have been warned ***
Is equality a realistic value?

Realistic -- Tending to or expressing an awareness of things as they really are.
As things really are today, we see that equality is not happening universally. Sure, the United States declares that we are all “created equal,” but there is a reality that some of us, those with extensive financial resources for example, have better access to certain things.
Stepping away from philosophy for a bit, let's ask, are we really “created equal?” In short, the answer is no. The reality is that some of us are taller, stronger, faster, smarter, more personable, more attractive, etc. than others. I simply cannot play basketball with Shaquille O'Neal, but then again, I'm probably smarter and better looking than he is . Are we equal? Not at all. Are we created equal? Not really. This is looking at things “realistically.”
Let's look at men and women. Men tend to be physically stronger, taller and faster than women. They tend to have equivalent intelligence across the board, but they focus their intelligence in different areas. Studies have actually shown that men are better at mathematics and physical sciences, even in societies where men and women are “socialized” towards these areas equally. There are indeed differences between the genders and as such, we are not equal.
On the other hand, we should be treated equally by the law and by society. This is a philosophical distinction. Philosophically, one human life must be considered equal to another. One person's freedom must be equal to another. If we don't hold this to be true, then we fall into the trap that we are somehow superior or inferior. If we fall into that trap then we can justify killing those who are inferior to us. We can make statements like “these people's freedom isn't worth the sacrifice that these other people must make to ensure it.” or “Let them eat cake.” -- Marie Antionette.
As a measure of two individuals, nobody can declare any two people equal and in reality, they aren't. As a value, treating people equally is realistic, and even necessary.
How we implement the value of equality in society is important. Do we try to say that two given people can do the same jobs even though physically one may not be capable of doing it? Do we say that two people doing different jobs should be paid the same amount (Communism)? Do we say that two people in the same job, performing at different levels, should be paid the same (Unions)? Do we say that we only treat them equally when enforcing laws and when granting freedoms? These are questions that each society must answer, but there isn't a right or wrong answer, but rather a compromise (remember, society is compromise).

-- Jeff

ps I didn't edit this well (at all actually), so forgive any typos.
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Old 12-14-2005, 10:58 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by zteccc
Which viewpoint should one subscribe to?
Again with “should”. Should means that there is some right answer. First, neither of these viewpoints is really that good, do you want to be an individual living in chaos, or a slave to a controlling society? If there is a right answer, I suspect that it lies somewhere in between. If I had to choose between these two viewpoints, I'd say that it is probably “better” to live for society over the individual, but I can't endorse that viewpoint because I'd object to the result (slavery).
poop, I think I'm worse off then when I started.

Why must it be a personal answer?

Isn't there some right answer that's self-evidently best by it's own merit?
Doesn't objectivity exist?

Isn't slavery is an accpetable compromise for society?

What about jesus? What did he say was the right answer or right viewpoint? What was his conclusion?
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Old 12-15-2005, 03:10 PM
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Punkus, I left you with many questions intentionally because I wanted you to think about these things and the examples before just throwing out quotes from The Bible. Since you've asked, however:

Quote:
Originally Posted by Punkus
Why must it be a personal answer?
It must be personal because it is a personal question. It must be personal because we are not machines. We are independent beings with free thoughts and free will. That freedom, and our exercise of it is what creates our societies and our world order. If we don't exercise that freedom and make such decisions, then we become intellectual slaves to those who do.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Punkus
Isn't there some right answer that's self-evidently best by it's own merit?
I believe there is, but the answer that I believe is self-evidently best is not likely to be accepted by everyone. If everyone could agree on what is self-evidently best, we wouldn't have debate. We wouldn't have different cultures, different religions, different societies, etc.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Punkus
Doesn't objectivity exist?
Not really. We're human and we all have intellect that we use in different ways. We're not mathematical constructs where given the same formula, we come up with the same results. We are instead a product of emotional as well as logical stimuli and each one of us has a different basis for making decisions. Objectivity is great for non-human (logical, scientific) theories, but humans are rarely logical.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Punkus
Isn't slavery is an accpetable compromise for society?
It depends. As I said, some slavery systems were quite equitable. Others were tyrranical. Would you find it an acceptable compromise if you were forced to do something that you were opposed to? How about if you were mistreated?
Conversely, is slavery bad if the slave lives a better life as a slave than he could as a free man? Is it bad if it is consentual? This is a decision that must be made by a society.
I suggest that in general, it is better to be free than to be a slave. We have a free intellect and a free will even when we are slaves, but I will accept that some forms of slavery may possibly be beneficial to the slave and to the master. Nonetheless, I wouldn't want to be a slave, nor would I want to own them.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Punkus
What about jesus? What did he say was the right answer or right viewpoint? What was his conclusion?
Here's where the rubber meets the road, eh?

Jesus' disciples asked him which of the Ten Commandments were most important. He responded: "'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" -- Matthew 22:37-39

It is the second commandment that gives us Jesus' answer to your question. Jesus said you shall love your neighbor as yourself. This means the following:
  1. You should love yourself. This means that there must be some component of self interest/selfishness in each person's life. Jesus understood that if we have no concern for ourselves, we certainly cannot have concern for anyone else. We must love ourselves and have self-interest before we can love anything else. In short, it is ok to have some self concern and to do things for ourselves (e.g. it is ok to earn money, to improve our lot in life, to have friends and pursue happiness).
  2. You should love your neighbor. This means that we must also be concerned with our neighbors (society). Loving our neighbor means not being so selfish or self-interested that we don't do things for our neighbor. How much should we love our neighbor?
  3. You should love your neighber as yourself. This means that we need to balance our self-interest and our selflessness. Whatever we'd do for ourselves we need to do for our neighbors (society). That doesn't mean buy a big screen TV for everyone on the block because you bought one for yourself, but it does mean helping your neighbors and perhaps inviting them over to watch your big screen TV. It means respecting our neighbor, it means respecting our society. It means doing what we can to make our society a better place. It means being selfless at least some of the time, so that when we are blessed with prosperity and with happiness, that we share that to some extent with our society for the betterment of society.
  4. Who is our neighbor? Everyone is our neighbor (even our enemies). Jesus said "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you" -- Matthew 5:43-44. So even our enemies, and certainly therefore those who are our friend and thos who we are ambivalent to are considered our neighbors that we must love. This has never been more evident than with the Internet. On this board alone, we have many nations represented, each with different backgrounds and each with different ideas. We need to respect people and their right to disagree with us. We need to consider that even though we disagree that their viewpoints are not necessarily wrong, but just different. We also need to help those who are struggling, answer questions of those who are seeking, or point them in the direction to get answers. We are supposed to give financially, but also give of our time and of ourselves.
So Jesus says that we must balance selfishness and selflessness (hey, someone else in this thread said that too... Oh, right, it was me). Neither selfishness nor selflessness alone are "right" or "better", but the balance between the two is correct.

**** The following is not exactly on topic, but is worth reading (IMHO) to understand a common misconception. ****

Note that many people misread the part about loving our enemies to suggest pacificsm. Jesus was not saying that we should be pacificst, nor was he saying that we should allow our enemies to grind us under their heel because we were so busy loving them that we didn't defend ourselves. Note that the first point here is that we must love ourselves and that includes defending ourselves. Loving our enemies means that even in wartime, we must treat them with respect and even help them when necessary, but not to our own detriment.
War is not personal, it is instead a tool of diplomacy. During wars, there are many stories of people from opposite sides helping each other out for short periods of time. There are stories of people who act humanely even towards those that they are fighting against. This is what loving your enemy is about, these people have not made it personal, but have helped out a neighbor when necessary even if the next day they are fighting again. Certainly self defense is necessary and sometimes even preemptive aggression is necessary, but that doesn't mean that it has to be personal or out of hatred. Note that Jesus says to pray for those who persecute us, but he doesn't say to passively accept the persecution.
Jesus, when preparing his disciples just prior to his arrest said "... and he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one." -- Luke 22:36b Jesus was telling his disciples to arm themselves (the common sidearm of the day was a sword, what weapon do you think he'd have chosen today?). This is not a pacifist statement. It is wholly consistent, however, with loving one's self. It also consistent with loving one's neighbor because one cannot help one's neighbor without the right tools, and if one sees his neighbor being physically attacked by a superior force, how can he help if not armed?

-- Jeff
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Old 12-16-2005, 03:20 AM
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I should of emailed you about this. Though you've been the most direct & helpful of so far.

What's your self-evident answer? maybe we have different cultures, religions, societies, etc. cuz everyone hasn't heard the self-evident answer?

So jesus concluded that the first and the second commandment was the most important for how one should live?

If the answer must be personal cuz the the question is personal then my answer is going to be based of my biases and limited knowledge of experiance. I don't consider my personality to be perfect enough to qualify as ideal or objectively right. Not saying I'm not good enough to be that type of standerd, only that I don't feel I currently am the standerd.
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Old 12-16-2005, 08:13 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Punkus
I should of emailed you about this. Though you've been the most direct & helpful of so far.

What's your self-evident answer? maybe we have different cultures, religions, societies, etc. cuz everyone hasn't heard the self-evident answer?

So jesus concluded that the first and the second commandment was the most important for how one should live?

If the answer must be personal cuz the the question is personal then my answer is going to be based of my biases and limited knowledge of experiance. I don't consider my personality to be perfect enough to qualify as ideal or objectively right. Not saying I'm not good enough to be that type of standerd, only that I don't feel I currently am the standerd.
I guess you missed it in my immensely long posts. My "self-evident" answer is that neither selflessness nor selfishness is the "better" choice. It is self-evident that a balance must be struck between extremes, and both selflessness and selfishness are extremes.

I imagine that most people have heard the phrase "everything in moderation" which addresses a balance between extremes. They just don't apply it or realize how universal it truly is.

Jesus stated that these two commandments were the most important because they encompassed everything that would be necessary for good living and peace. If everyone truly followed just those two commandments, there would be no need for anything else. We'd live in peace, have prosperity, life would be fair, etc. All other models of proper human behavior are encompassed in those two. Of course to follow them, we'd have to ask ourselves if what we were doing was loving our neighbor and ourselves for every decision we make, and there's always the possibility that we could get it wrong (we're human, we make mistakes), but as ideals, these two commands are all that are needed.

Nobody is "qualified" to answer such a question. Nobody has enough life experiences. The answer to these questions are personal because you'll only be able to live your life by your personal answers. If I told you that the best way for an individual to live would be to donate 20% of their gross income, time and resources to others (selflessness) and keep the remaining 80% for themselves (selfishness), would you believe me? You might wonder where I got those percentages. You might want to know if it would be better to split 25%/75%. You might believe it should be 5%/95%. If a person is to come up with an answer to live their life by, then they need to come to that conclusion themselves. Anything else will not do because that person would always chafe under the restrictions that someone else imposed. Each of us needs to find their own answers. I can help, as can others, but I can't answer the questions for you. You need to take the input from others and balance them against your own beliefs. Hey, you'll likely get some of it wrong. That's ok (that's human). I probably get some wrong too (jpklla, if you're reading, I admitted it ).

Remember, life is a work in progress, if you make mistakes, you can fix them. Don't worry about experiences and education that you haven't had yet, just make it a priorty to have the experiences and get the education as you move on.

-- Jeff
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Old 12-17-2005, 02:12 AM
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Are the world's resources(food, water, oil, etc.) too limited to be distributed adequately even if all 6 billion+ humans unanimously agreed on balanced equality? (disregarding other animal species)

I don't think all mistakes are fixable. Like opening a pandora's box, once open or done it can't be closed or fixed. Like if nazis had killed all the jews, then they're would be no way of bringing them back or if someone started a nuclear world war or something.
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Old 12-19-2005, 12:37 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Punkus
Are the world's resources(food, water, oil, etc.) too limited to be distributed adequately even if all 6 billion+ humans unanimously agreed on balanced equality? (disregarding other animal species)
It is possible to feed everyone on this planet (at a cost). Some of the cost is political, some is economic, some is logistic, etc.
It is possible to provide safe drinking water (at a cost). It would probably be necessary to build extra desalinization plants and treatment plants to provide it, however, which cost money. Also, at least in some areas, these plants haven't been built in drought areas because they were too unsightly (which only exacerbated the drought conditions).
Oil is limited and likely not sufficient into the future, plus there are issues with refining capacity (there aren't enough refineries to supply the oil products needed to everyone and environmental concerns prevent more from being built). Energy is not freely available and this is something that the whole world will face within the next 50 years.
Some resources are abundant on this planet, other resources are not so abundant. Also some nations have the resources to serve their people well, but choose not to. There are probably enough resources on this planet to support its current population and even double the population, but doing so would require some shifts in international policies, in priorities, in behavior, etc. Many nations, groups, people, etc. are simply not willing to make these shifts. Others have a long track record of helping others, but they cannot do it alone.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Punkus
I don't think all mistakes are fixable. Like opening a pandora's box, once open or done it can't be closed or fixed. Like if nazis had killed all the jews, then they're would be no way of bringing them back or if someone started a nuclear world war or something.
This is wholly true. Once anything is done, it cannot be undone. We cannot go back to a pre-nuclear world. We cannot go back to a pre-firearm world. We cannot go back to a pre-holocaust world, etc. Instead, we have to deal with these issues and decide how to deal with them.

Ok, so why do you ask these questions about resources and mistakes?

-- Jeff
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