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Promethean or Epimethean
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Mark



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
Posts: 1404

PostPosted: Thu Sep 30, 2010 6:13 pm    Post subject: Promethean or Epimethean Reply with quote

Are you a Promethean or Epimethean thinker?
Details and versions of the myths vary, but Greek mythology describes Prometheus as bringing fire and civilization to mankind and warning his brother Epimetheus that Pandora was trouble. Epimetheus didn't listen, leading to Pandora letting lots of troubles loose in the world. (Yes, I know this version of the Pandora myth is extremely misogynistic, but it does seem to be the core version.) Prometheus means forethought or foresight while Epimetheus means afterthought or hindsight. This is not good hindsight in the sense of learning from experience or history, but more like the mythical bird that flies backwards so it always sees where it's been but has a tendency to crash a lot.
In many areas I see Promethean as close to politically liberal and Epimethean as close to politically conservative, but the mapping isn't exact, and in some areas the differences are completely unrelated to the liberal-conservative axis.

A few basic differences, many chosen based on fairly recent events:

Promethean: knowledge is power.
Epimethean: my mind is made up, don't confuse me with facts.

Promethean: rational.
Epimethean: rationalizing.

Promethean: set goals.
Epimethean: react to events.

Promethean: I make regular backups of computer data.
Epimethean: I can't be bothered. It's too expensive. It's too much trouble. I can always pay an expert to try to recover my data after a crash.

Promethean: regulate to prevent problems.
Epimethean: punish after the fact (unless the offender is rich, then just slap on wrist).

Promethean: government is useful.
Epimethean: business is god, keep government weak.

Promethean: public servant--using a political office to serve the public good.
Epimethean: politician--using a political office to serve himself/herself & campaign contributors & lobbyists who pay to keep him/her in power.

Promethean: strengthen the currently very weak OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration) to have real enforcement power.
Epimethean: so what if over 5,000 U.S. workers are killed on the job and another 50,000 die of job-related diseases every year--that's BUSINESS, don't you dare regulate it.

[Large chunk cut out to try to get past CGI error.]

One theme that can be noticed in many of the dichotomies above is attitudes toward regulation. Human nature is complex: generous and greedy, helpful and hindering, honest and dishonest, honorable and dishonorable, loving and hating, nurturing and killing, etc. A functional society or government recognizes this complexity and tries to encourage the good aspects and places constraints on the harmful aspects. Simplistic thinking or slogan-based non-thinking doesn't.
It is easy to tell from my presentation that I think Promethean thinking is preferable to Epimethean reacting. I would like to suggest these labels as a possible way to reframe political discussions that have become rigid and locked in to positions under the current labels of liberal vs. conservative or Democrat vs. Republican or left-wing vs. right-wing.
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Mark



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
Posts: 1404

PostPosted: Thu Sep 30, 2010 6:18 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

[This chunk of the original post was separated to try to get past a repeated CGI Timeout error.]

Promethean: always keep vaccinations current.
Epimethean: avoid vaccinations even when doing so endangers others by weakening herd immunity.

Promethean: enforce product safety.
Epimethean: let businesses do whatever they want. Caveat emptor.

Promethean: enforce strong consumer protections.
Epimethean: let businesses do whatever they want. Caveat emptor.

Promethean: regulate carbon emissions.
Epimethean: climate change? What climate change? So what if we're like a lobster in a pot with the water getting hotter--the change is too gradual to notice in time to crawl out & keep from getting cooked.

Promethean: regulate oil drilling and enforce safety standards.
Epimethean: BP had no valid disaster plan when an oil rig explosion killed workers and created the biggest oil spill in U.S. history.

Promethean: regulate and enforce mine safety to reduce death & disease.
Epimethean: dead miners are just the cost of doing business. The fact that some mine owners get away with frequent repeated violations of current weak safety standards is irrelevant.

Promethean: Earth observation satellites are a great idea. They can watch hurricanes & other weather, track pollution, spot deforestation, and see many other things that are hard to see from ground level. Orbit more & better ones ASAP.
Epimethean: don't collect more facts that might contradict the line we're selling or spot offenses we want to hide. (A lot of satellite designs established during the Bush years CUT OUT many major sensor systems for observing Earth and will cripple observations for years to come.)

Promethean: Clean up and strengthen the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. Require & enforce regular inspections & repairs.
Epimethean: an occasional pipeline explosion is just a cost of doing business. Being forced to repair our pipelines will hurt our profits! So what if we burn an occasional neighborhood off the map.

Promethean: strengthen the food safety side of the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), adding inspectors and increasing enforcement powers.
Epimethean: a massive recall of contaminated eggs is no big deal--not that many people got sick. The fact that the eggs came from repeat violators is irrelevant.

Promethean: clean up the USDA (Department of Agriculture) and increase inspections and enforcement.
Epimethean: we don't need inspections for mad cow disease. We won't let one company inspect all cows and publicize it because that might raise doubts about everyone else and scare off consumers.

Promethean: protect the environment.
Epimethean: don't you dare enforce laws against pollution--that will cost! (Despite all the past screaming & doom saying proving to be hot air when pollution limits do manage to get applied.)

Promethean: strengthen & protect public retirement systems (e.g., Social Security) because many people can't or won't prepare for retirement themselves.
Epimethean: kill public retirement systems. Make everyone fend for themselves. Ignore the risks of market downturns, investment losses, fraudulent investments (e.g., Madoff), criminal investment advisors, swindlers, etc.

Promethean: create a national health care system with clear rules for all citizens, nationals, residents, and visitors.
Epimethean: insist on states rights and private insurers. Never mind that private insurers just add cost and interfere with actual access to care--those companies are paying for legislators.

Promethean: encourage unions that push for better wages, health benefits, retirement benefits, and safer working conditions for ordinary workers.
Epimethean: discourage unions because they reduce excessive CEO pay and profits.

Promethean: establish limits on executive compensation and obscene bonuses.
Epimethean: help the rich get richer. The fact that CEOs in America get several hundred times as much pay as typical workers isn't a problem. We don't need to worry about people getting fed up enough to revolt.

Promethean: regulate drugs and treat addicts.
Epimethean: prohibition (drug war), fill prisons so U.S. has extremely high imprisonment ratio.

Promethean: require ignition interlocks on the vehicles of everyone convicted of DUI/DWI (Driving Under the Influence/Driving While Intoxicated) to prevent them from driving drunk again.
Epimethean: ignore the repeat offense rates of drunk drivers. Let them keep killing other people on the roads.

Promethean: don't regulate private sexual behavior between consenting adults since people will continue actions driven by deep needs and you end up creating victimless crimes.
Epimethean: criminalize private behavior that offends narrow definitions of morality of people who keep some legislators in office.

Promethean: encourage population control.
Epimethean: encourage more breeding. Restrict information about birth control. Bomb clinics & murder doctors.

Promethean: legislators are elected to govern.
Epimethean: Senate Republicans don't want to govern, they want to shrink all government and block all changes that are good for the majority of people.

Promethean: enlightened self-interest. Doing well while doing good. A rising tide lifts all boats.
Epimethean: unenlightened self-interest (greed). I want mine. To hell with everyone else.

Promethean: plan for contingencies & possibilities.
Epimethean: be prepared to fight the last war. Spend lots of money of weapon systems appropriate to decades-old conflicts and useless in the current world.

Promethean: adapt to new circumstances.
Epimethean: CYA (pretend to adapt).
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LizE



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
Posts: 253

PostPosted: Fri Oct 01, 2010 7:57 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

The way this list is framed, would anyone admit to being Epimethian??

But one of the Promethian qualities seems to be a belief that big government is the only thing that can protect us from big business. This shows an old-fashioned view of the two as being separate entities. If you look at the relationships between our government and Monsanto and Haliburton and Goldman Sachs, you'll see there is no separation. Key players from agribusiness, the military/industrial complex and Wall Street move effortlessly between public and private sector jobs, writing policy to suit their employers and then going back to private industry to reap the rewards of their labors.

There is no more free market capitalism. Corporate interests don't rise and fall based on the quality of their products, but the strength of their Washington connections. Liberal and coservative are empty labels--we live in an oligarchy now. The rich make the rules and laws. As our tax dollars are funneled upward and handed out to the connected as bailouts or no-bid/cost-plus contracts, the victims of our wrecked economy are called whiners who need to get used to austerity. The income gap is at its widest since 1929, which is having all kinds of terrible effects on our economy. And it's not just here. This is also happening in Greece and Ireland, where the riots have already started.

So while I think the list is interesting, it reflects an Epimethian refusal to examine new information. Lord knows I don't trust business to police itself (look at the BP oil disaster, which was no surprise to those involved), but I'm not fool enough to trust the government to do it, either (they're too busy partying with the oil industry guys and taking campaign contributions to either write or enact meaningful legislation).

On reflection, I think I'm a Pandoran.
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Mark



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
Posts: 1404

PostPosted: Fri Oct 01, 2010 6:27 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Life is complicated, so simple answers are rarely complete. On any serious issue, don't trust "sound bite" answers--get more data and THINK about it. Relying on slogans instead of research is acting like a baby bird too young to forage for itself, just eating the food that the parent bird chewed up and regurgitated.

An example of a simple answer: no person should ever treat any other person as property. This seems obvious and straightforward. The bad examples are many: actual slavery (U.S. Old South), virtual slavery (North Korea), spouse abuse, child abuse, elder abuse, etc. But what about infants and children before they are old enough to take care of themselves? What about people with severe mental or physical impairments? Where is the line between taking care of someone and treating them as property?

If there is any simple answer that is usually right, it might be "seek balance". This is not a new idea: Buddhism has the Middle Way or Middle Path, and many other people over many years have made similar points.

I think Lord Acton's famous maxim ("power corrupts") isn't quite right. I think it should be: "Imbalance exacerbates corruption". A relative excess of power can corrupt some personalities, but so can a relative lack of power, yet neither CAUSES corruption. It takes a certain personality or character for the imbalance to lead to corruption--there are plenty of people in similar situation who are not corrupt. The recently formed informal billionaires' charity club (Bill Gates & Warren Buffett encouraging fellow billionaires to donate to worthy causes) is an example of extreme wealth combined with responsibility.

To me, regulating a business means combining government and business (trying to find a balance between them rather than relying only on one or the other).

Neither government nor business is a complete model--both can be good or bad. North Korea is an example of government gone bad. The slave-owning portion of the pre-Civil War U.S. was an example of business gone bad.

The founders of the U.S.A. set up a government with checks & balances, but they are failing.
The modern executive branch has too much power (especially secrets).
The modern judicial branch also has too much power. It has turned over massive precedents and given corporations rights of people without matching responsibilities & duties (like being subject to imprisonment).
The modern legislative branch has too much blocking power in the Senate.
Instead of a dynamic give-and-take finding a central balance, the modern U.S. Federal government is like a person tied down in a spread-eagle position or on a torture rack--pulled in four directions at once and unable to act.
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JaneO



Joined: 17 Feb 2008
Posts: 798

PostPosted: Fri Oct 01, 2010 8:13 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
But what about infants and children before they are old enough to take care of themselves? What about people with severe mental or physical impairments? Where is the line between taking care of someone and treating them as property?


Bad example, Mark. The difference is that in treating people as property, you are acting only for your own benefit/pleasure/convenience. When you are taking care of someone, you are trying to act for their benefit, rather than your own.

Incidentally, one of the obvious cases of treating people as property is pornography, wherein people are treated simply as objects to be used for sexual gratification.
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Mark



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
Posts: 1404

PostPosted: Sun Oct 03, 2010 1:09 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

As often happens when I post too quickly on a complicated topic I wasn't clear enough to get across what I was thinking.
It's easy for me to remember when women got the right to vote in the U.S. because it was exactly one year before my mother was born. I don't recall specific dates for when U.S. laws stopped treating women as the property of their parents or their husbands, but I do know it was well after the founding of the country. When the U.S.A. was founded, MANY people were legally treated as property: slaves in many states and all women. This country only stopped defining people as property after a bloody Civil War and a lot of protests and agitation. Full rights for all citizens have been a struggle in most of the world for centuries (in fact, the struggle is ongoing in many parts of the world to this day).
I presented "no person should ever treat any other person as property" as a seemingly simple and obvious concept that takes deeper thought partly because it is a recent modern ethical standard. It would not have been considered normal in classical Athens or at the founding of the U.S.A. (two societies that are often held up as ideals) or in many other societies through history and around the world because those societies considered slavery normal and had (or have) serious legal gender inequality.
Even in the U.S., where the principal has been established in law for decades, many social practices lagged far behind the law. Many attitudes and practices up to the civil rights changes in the second half of the 20th Century kept the functional equivalent of slavery despite its legal elimination. The Old South treatment of blacks wasn't even the only example. The "company town" model was an approximation of ownership of people that didn't rely on race.
In modern society, we need to look closely at the thinking behind any possessive expression. One of the basic meanings of "my __" is ownership. It isn't the only meaning, but with some people it might as well be. For a jealous and/or abusive spouse, "my husband" or "my wife" means "my property". For such a person, "my" does not mean "a person I have a relationship with", it means "something I own and control".
For the example of (infant or impaired) dependents that I used earlier, it is again a question of the thinking of the people involved. Care of dependents is usually motivated by feelings of love or duty or obligation or responsibility, but for some percentage of the population, just like the abusive spouse example, care giving can come to seem to be ownership. This might not be true in an ideal world, but the real world is complicated and messy. Once attitudes of ownership arise, we have another split based on character differences: for some people, ownership leads to excellent treatment, while for other people, ownership leads to neglect and/or abuse.
The point of all this is that very little in the world is really simple--if you really look into any topic you will usually find many layers of complexity.
This is why I think terms like "big government" and "big business" or slogans like "no new taxes" are essentially useless noise.

I also tried to find the right term for the paralysis I mentioned in my last post. I think the medical condition is a kind of dystonia or dyskinesia, but I'm still not certain. Normal movement requires the ability to tense and relax muscles in proper sequence. The paralysis I'm thinking of consists of the inability to relax any muscle. The analogy comes to mind for the current U.S. Federal government and many state and local governments because I see inability to govern (paralysis) arising from the rigid positions being held by too many elected officials. Effective government requires ability to compromise and find a point of balance between competing interests, and this has largely been lost in recent years in the U.S.
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JaneO



Joined: 17 Feb 2008
Posts: 798

PostPosted: Sun Oct 03, 2010 8:52 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
The point of all this is that very little in the world is really simple--if you really look into any topic you will usually find many layers of complexity.


Good point, Mark, and applicable to those on all points on the political spectrum.

I recall many years ago a philosophy professor saying that whenever someone starts talking about freedom, you should ask, "freedom for whom to do what?"

In any discussion, it is always important to define your terms, because frequently the root of the dispute turns out to be over what such things as "freedom" and "justice" mean.
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LizE



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
Posts: 253

PostPosted: Mon Oct 04, 2010 8:33 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Mark wrote:
Life is complicated, so simple answers are rarely complete.


Spoken like a true Pandoran. I'm actually getting into this concept, will have to think more about what it means to me--something related to the patriarchal version of the story versus the feminist one, I suspect. Life is complicated, and messy, and it's good to be reminded of that regularly. Why see the world in black and white when there are so many brilliant colors out there? Too much political discourse comes down to people shouting slogans at each other, which has the effect of driving people further apart as each feels threatened and therefore more compelled to make a stand. It's difficult to find any common ground that way!

Maybe defining terms up front would reveal that our goals are actually closer than we think. Maybe not. But it sure seems worth a try.
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Sterling_95



Joined: 04 Oct 2008
Posts: 212

PostPosted: Fri Nov 19, 2010 1:17 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

That makes it sound nice and simple, but as with most things, you have to keep in mind the original data. Prometheus ended up chained to a mountain, tortured for eternity, while Epimetheus and Pandora went on to found human civilization....
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Mark



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 19, 2010 7:15 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Greek sources describe Prometheus as bringing fire to mankind, or as bringing civilization to mankind, or as creating mankind, or as preserving mankind against hostile Olympian actions, for which they took revenge on him. Civilization is NOT attributed to Epimethean thoughtlessness.
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Sterling_95



Joined: 04 Oct 2008
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PostPosted: Mon Nov 22, 2010 8:22 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Mark wrote:
Greek sources describe Prometheus as bringing fire to mankind, or as bringing civilization to mankind, or as creating mankind, or as preserving mankind against hostile Olympian actions, for which they took revenge on him.


You say "Greek sources" as though they are unilateral. Aeschylus does attribute the creation of mankind to Prometheus, and the blame on Epimetheus. Hesiod, however, sees Prometheus' sin of disobedience as bringing the woes and ills of humankind. Epimetheus' bad luck was to reap the harvest of Promethean hubris.

As you correctly pointed out earlier, sound bites don't make the whole of an issue, but brevity is the soul of wit...

On a more serious note, rather than seeing it as a good-bad dichotomy, several philosophers, notably Bernard Stiegler, have suggested that we get past the simple duality of Prometheus (foresight) and Epimetheus (hindsight) and understand the 2 as creating the scope of human experience. With early consideration (Prometheus), and experienced consideration (Epimetheus), human reflection becomes complete. Every person runs on both algorithmic and heuristic assumptions. Algorithms are more complete, scientific and objective, but are also time consuming and impractical. Heuristic judgments may be arbitrary, but they are truly the essence of human intuition.
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Mark



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 24, 2010 1:54 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Your Stiegler paragraph is taking the myth in a very different direction. Algorithmic thinking is rule-based and heuristic learning is hands-on or trial & error, but both are still THINKING and/or LEARNING. One can certainly explore that direction (if myths weren't subject to multiple retellings we would be missing many favorite romances), but that is NOT the dichotomy I am suggesting with these labels. To rephrase from my original post, the Epimethean is like the Goofus bird of folklore--it only looks backward to see where it has been. One acting in a Promethean manner in a particular field might use either an algorithmic or a heuristic approach, while one acting in an Epimethean manner (responding in a reflex manner based on past input) won't use either. Promethean thinking involves actual thinking, while the Epimethean is really UNthinking. The Epimethean approach is to accept whatever one has heard without any critical thinking or fact checking. This is not thinking. This is being programmed.
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JaneO



Joined: 17 Feb 2008
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 24, 2010 7:17 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

But, Mark, isn't the dichotomy you are setting up kind of pointless? No one thinks of himself as Epimethean in your sense, though people often consider those who disagree with them to be programmed and unthinking.
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Mark



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 24, 2010 8:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

If a new set of labels could get more people to THINK and RESEARCH instead of going with a knee-jerk reaction (liberal, conservative, or any other conventional label), it would be worth promoting. Unfortunately, programmed reactions are so much easier than thought-out research that I doubt there would be much change. As you said, almost nobody believes that their own positions/reactions are unthinking.
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Sterling_95



Joined: 04 Oct 2008
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 16, 2011 6:27 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Mark wrote:
If a new set of labels could get more people to THINK and RESEARCH instead of going with a knee-jerk reaction (liberal, conservative, or any other conventional label), it would be worth promoting. Unfortunately, programmed reactions are so much easier than thought-out research that I doubt there would be much change. As you said, almost nobody believes that their own positions/reactions are unthinking.


Mark, no offense, but as Jane pointed out, you're setting up a a false dichotomy and you're also setting up a logical paradox. You mourn the use of labels and then you say people are "unthinking". You complain about programmed reactions instead of thought out research without unpacking the alternative meanings of some of the terms you use. Every person consists of both heuristic and algorithmic equations. If someone threw a punch at you, would you duck or would you sit there, repeatedly taking blows until you've calculated the physical and mental damage done to your person over a suitable period of time, then apply it to a large and varied sample?

Of course giving additional thought to matters is generally a good thing. However, both psychology and biology show us that programmed thinking is hardwired into certain aspects of all animals. Unpack everything too much and you'll find yourself in the same position as Socrates: The one thing I know is that I know nothing.
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