Determinisms Pt 1 (long)

Clyde Davenport (clyde@BUS.HIROSHIMA-PU.AC.JP)
Mon, 8 Apr 1996 14:31:01 +0900

I would like to respond to Vance Geiger's Mon, 25 Mar 1996 posting
"Consuming Determinisms."

Van Geiger states:
What is a determinism? It is the feedforward prediction that an
identifiable cause (a condition, a set of presently existing factors -
behaviors, biological chacteristics, even inferred ideas) will produce
a specific effect. Many determinisms can be validated through
everyday experience.

I begin my reply:
If a determinism were merely a prediction, there would be no need
for this (what appears to me) cumbersome term. What is its real
meaning? Perhaps the word "feedforward" gives us a hint that
some kind of cognitive processing is going on here.

Van Geiger states:
The market for determinisms is even more difficult to specifically
define since it is derived from cognition, the processes that take
place in the brain.

I infer:
This is perhaps a somewhat ironical use of the word "market." I
might venture to assert that Van Geiger uses it to show that
cognitive science is willing to incorporate into itself all past
vocabularies of imperfect human theorizing. At any rate, he
identifies his own stance towards approaching human experience:
cognition, that is, brain processes.

Van Geiger opines (with evidence):
I think we are born consumers of determinisms. There is a
considerable amount of evidence to be found in cognitive science
that people are highly susceptible to making demonstratably false
inferences in the search for determinisms or "knowing what to do."
This should not be surprising from an evolutionary perspective as
it is has proven to be a good strategy to try lots of different ways
of doing things based on a wide variety of asserted determinisms
in search of those which work.

I interpret:
Again there is the odd usage of a word drawn from a different
style of discourse, in this case "consumers." Van Geiger's basic
meaning appears to be that we are "users" of determinisms.
Determinisms are not eaten, nor are they products in an industrial
marketplace of goods to be bought. The only relation to
"consuming" that I can imagine is that determinisms exist in a
vast range (just as the products offered in the market), and that
we choose from among them (or alternately natural selection does
the choosing, with natural selection ending up being something akin
to advertising in that free will gets cancelled out in a complex

Van Geiger continues on "deterministically":
Cultures that grow and spread also promote the spread of their
determinisms. This spread may, however, be a short-term
pheonemena that will come to an end. There is no way to know
the final result and thus judgements tend to be based on present
evaluations of costs and benefits.

I try to "determine" the underlying meaning/sense:
Determinisms, which at first seemed to concern merely a
biological propensity of the human brain, are here extended
to culture. Yet, cultures are seen through the analogy of a
biological organism: they grow (like plants?), spread (like
diseases?) and also can come to an end (cease existing, die).
As individuals (?), as social scientists (?), and/or as members
of that collective totality know as culture (?), we do not know
what will happen with cultures (our own? other peoples' cultures?).
We judge them (cultures' ability to survive?) in terms of costs and
benefits (here a shift from a biocultural view to an economic one).
Presumedly this means that we always side with the "winning"
cultures because the benefits are naturally greater.

Van Geiger continues on on a different (but related) topic:
The issue of racism becomes very tied to assertions of difference,
however, because there is the existing market, i.e. predisposition
to deterministic thinking, that tends to extrapolate difference into
a determined cause and effect relationship.

I interpret (and opine):
In a different style of language, what Van Geiger is saying here
could be represented as the problem of stereotyping. Stereotyping
is useful to a degree, because it gives us an easy way of categorizing
complex phenomenon. If I say cats are finicky eaters, this is a
stereotype. Not all cats are finicky, although some are. This is a
harmless stereotype. But the stereotypes associated with racism
are not harmless. They have social consequences (here, I don't really
mean "costs," although they are also naturally involved).
Furthermore, why is it that racial stereotypes tend to cluster around
certain kinds of values/evaluations (dirty, sexually aggressive,
violent, lacking in intelligence, being underhanded, etc.)? Something
more complex than a "predisposition to deterministic thinking" is
involved here, I think. At the very least we would have to consider
sociopolitical ideologies and their role in obfuscating the relation
between cause and effect.

Van Geiger makes a claim in the context of Christian
One of the interesting aspects of advocating this particular kind
of determinism is that within the environment they operate,
fundamentalist churches, there is no cost, and considerable benefit
to be derived (by asserting a kind of matyrdom to those who worship
martyrs) from maintaining this particular determinism.

I analyze his claim, and its background:
Here, Van Geiger again emphasizes cost/benefit analysis which
emphasizes the individual (?, but how can we have individuals if
it's all brain processes?) as an evaluator of outcomes in terms of
their effect on himself/herself (with presumedly costs being
negative reinforcements for continuing any behavior and benefits
being positive reinforcements). In some ways, I think Van Geiger's
claim is an interesting (albeit patronizing) one: (to the outside
observer) it seems as if fundamentalism has no costs, and
considerable benefits. On the other hand, I do not think that this
characterization would explain the mind-set of fundamentalists
as they see themselves (to maintain the attitude of a
fundamentalist takes a lot of effort--it's easier to be an
apathetic materialist). Maybe it explains the mind-set of people
like a certain fundamentalist-seeming presidential candidate in
America who is quite familiar with this kind of cost/benefit
analysis. At any rate, the question I wish to ask here is to what
extent we can "profitably" use the economic analogy of costs/
benefits to analyze human behavior (with its underlying
presupposition of individuals competing against each other to
maximize their economic worth). While cost/benefit analysis
has more flexibility than the behaviorist conception of negative/
positive reinforcement (since the model can deal with a mixture
of the two: we tally up the balance sheet to see whether the
benefits outweigh the costs), it shares the same focus on the
isolated individual to the exclusion of culture (or at a more
psychological level intersubjectivity).

Van Geiger quotes and restates:
Now another one. TV-advertising determinism and the colonization
of sex.

Clyde Davenport quotes Haug:

"Appearance becomes just as important--and practically more so--
than the commodity's being itself. Something that is simply useful
but does not appear to be so, will not sell, while something that
seems to be useful, will sell. Within the system of selling and
buying, the aesthetic illusion--the commodity's promise of use-
value--enters the arena as an independent function in selling. . . .
"The commodity's aesthetic promise of use-value thus becomes an
instrument in accumulating money. Its opposite (i.e. exchange value)
interest elicits from the standpoint of exchange-value an
exaggeration of the apparent use-value of the commodity, the more
so because use-value is of secondary importance from the standpoint
of exchange-value. Sensuality in this context becomes the vehicle of
an economic function, the subject and object of an economically
functional fascination. . . ." (p. 17)

[VG's] Comment:
Is the above not simply the assertion that people are susceptible
to misattributing use-value to exchanges through the creation of
deterministic, but invalid, predictions?

[My] Comment(s) [Interpretation(s)]:
While "prediction" and "promise" are obviously not exactly the
same, there is a relation between them. To Van Geiger, a promise
is a species of prediction. A promise is a false [invalid]
prediction; something "promises" to occur but this "promising"
is not based upon any suitably scientific grounds of establishing
the relationship between cause and effect and so will necessarily
turn out to be mistaken. To me, though, a prediction is a species
of promise. A promise is a social act. It says that something will
happen in the future as a result of the speaker's deliberate action,
and the speaker in promising socially agrees that she/he will act
in order to fulfill the promise. In other words, the two
characteristics of a promise are that it involves action on the part
of the speaker to fulfill some condition and a social statement/act
which commits the speaker to performing this future action to
fulfill some condition. With prediction, though, the sense that the
speaker herself/himself will act is replaced by a sense that some
other person/entity will act (and not usually the addressee, since
here we would typically be dealing with directives, and not
predictions). The validity grounds are also shifted in the case of
prediction: from the direct I/you relation (based on trust) one moves
to more rational grounds of evidence concerning the world (based on
veracity). This transition from a socially contingent future to a more
generalized future concerning conditions in the world can be seen in
English in the shift from the speech act uses of "will" as promise,
offer, etc. ("I'll help you tomorrow," "I'll open the door," etc.) to the
use of "will" as a future tense ("It will rain tomorrow.") or a
epistemic assertion ("She will have already arrived in Chicago by
now."). The latter usages grow from the former usages both in
terms of the history of the English language and in the stages in
which children acquire various language skills.

Van Geiger queries:
The "promise" that Davenport is alluding to here [quote deleted] must
be only that, a "promise" that is not fulfilled. Davenport is here
asserting that people are susceptible to making false inferences
about the use-value of advertised things. While the capacity of
people to make invalid inferences has been aptly demonstrated by
cognitive psychologists the larger question is whether this is unique
to capitalism.

I, too, question:
Van Geiger brings up an interesting question concerning the history
of promises fulfilled and unfulfilled (albeit he converts "promises"
into "inferences," a kind of prediction). I would agree that the
problem of false promises predates capitalism. In natural language,
consensual social agreement is never unconditionally established,
but is ever something which is made over again in the moment of
speaking. "False promises" represent one way in which consensus
can fall apart. The speaker agrees to do something but then does
not do it. There are many potential reasons why the speaker failed
to fulfill her/his promise (from being unable to to being unwilling
to), but none of these would change the fact that the speaker in
promising did *agree* to fulfill her/his promise. In the case of
the commodity, though, the commodity in *promising* does not
*agree* to do anything. That the commodity is seen, though, as
"promising" use value indicates that the "promise" in question is
not merely false (deliberately deceptive) but rather instead is
unreal, illusionary, not actually a promise at all.

That a promise can turn into a prediction (and one which can be
either a valid prediction or an invalid one) can be seen as a feature
of natural language. However, that a promise can become a non-
promise, an illusion cannot be explained through recourse to natural
language. One way of explaining this transformation is through
commodification theory

Van Geiger quotes me and comments:
"Thus, perlocutionary effects are achieved through the strategic
use of illocutions: we make it seem that we are using language
communicatively when, in fact, our hidden intention is to create
some effect in the other."

When is communication otherwise? Further, when is communication
devoid of the metaphorical use of physical things, the material
world that we can experience in common and that we must use metaphorically,
through analogy, etc. . . . to express the non- material,
the ephemeral electro-magnetic buzz in human minds?

Further, what is the difference in contemporary advertising and
the kinds of convincing it took to create monumental architecture?
What kind of promises were subsumed in zigarauts? pyramids? the
forbidden city? Were these promises realized? or were they as
empty as some of those beamed into living rooms?

I reply:
Although I feel, too, that communication is always involved in (but
not limited to) the creation of effects in the other (or more widely
the audience), the point I was trying to make in the above quotation
was that it is different to seek to create an effect by making one's
intention to create an effect known (a transparent intention) and to
seek to create an effect without making one's intention to create an
effect known (a hidden intention). To do the former is to remain
within the sphere of communicative action (the lifeworld of mutual
understanding, shared, or at least explicit, norms, and rationally
grounded discussion) while to do the former is to depart into the
realm of strategic action based on an instrumental logic of
maximizing benefit to the self at the cost of the other. [Here, I
follow Habermas's interpretation.]

I agree with Van Geiger that communication is metaphorical. I would
tend to, however, collapse the differentiation between the material
and the non-material by saying that the material world (as we see it,
as we experience it) is non-material, i.e. it is a sociocultural entity
(by this I do not deny that the material world exists, but rather deny
that we can somehow experience it in a way unmediated by our forms
of sociality and culture, and our use of language). Van Geiger seems to
work in the opposite direction and wishes to collapse the non-material
into the material: the human, the cultural, becomes "the ephemeral
electro-magnetic buzz in human minds."

Third, while I feel that his comparison of the "empty" promises of
advertising to the "empty" promises of various architectural
monuments of the past is an interesting one, from my point of view
a very different sort of "promising" is at work in these two cases.
In the case of advertising, the promise is "empty" because there
can be no social agreement between the representation of the
commodity form in an ad and the person who views it. In the case
of imposing works of architecture built for political/religious
reasons, what is at work at one level is a statement of power: the
power of the government (of the ruling elite group whoever it may be)
is symbolized through the size and grandeur of the monument. And
this symbolism is quite transparent (with the only possible
obfuscation being the use of a religious idiom of discourse in
substitution for a political idiom of discourse), and thus socially

Van Geiger feeds on the postmodern:
And what of post-modernism? Is it another empty promise? Does
it advertise promises of greater understanding that may be empty
as well? Do we find here another determinism to be consumed? The
over-determination of visual icons to such a degree that this period
in human history is unique from all others? Is this assertion just
the attempt to create another determinism to be sold and consumed,
television determinism? Plato thought that all the poets ought to be
banished for the same reasons.

I try to nibble on the crumbs:
Perhaps, indeed, postmodernism is an empty promise (perhaps
intentionally so). And certainly it functions in the marketplace
as just another "determinism" (rhetoric? discourse style?
intellectual fad?) to be sold and consumed (which necessarily
cheapens its message while enriching those who produce it). It
is also true that the postmodern turn is associated with the visual.
Is this, though, an over-determination of the visual in terms of its
iconicity or rather a form of under-determination in that visual
icons as much as linguistic signifiers have been wrested from
their context in the lifeworld and so allowed to float free in the
realm of the virtual? Actually, I have no definite answers
concerning what the postmodern is, or is not. I merely feel that
it is something that all of us need to come to grips with critically
so that we do not unthinkingly reproduce the postmodern in contexts
where we wish to overcome it.