Archives for category: arrogance

My friend and coworker asked me the other day:
“Why do these people hate each-other so passionately?”

“Because they are rational. They have reached their present convictions as the result of a rational process. Hence they are convinced they are absolutely right. Then, when anybody expresses a different opinion, they interpret ‘dissent’ as a personal attack. My ‘truth’ having been reached in a rational manner means that all other opinions must be false. Defending them – against all ‘evidence’, means that these people are either provocative or, even, outright destructive.”

“But being rational doesn’t include being open to the possibility of being wrong?”

“I’ll have to rephrase. ‘They are convinced they are acting in a rational manner’. In fact, we, humans, are ‘rationalizing’ rather than ‘thinking rationally’. We use whatever arguments/information we have at our disposal to justify whatever conviction we already harbor. And only when reality slaps us in our faces we ‘open up’. Even science and justice work out this way.
“Innocent until proven guilty”. Only scientists and law-enforcers are already accustomed to the possibility that things may not be exactly as they previously thought they were. Politically minded people are still learning.”

People may find themselves in three situations.
‘Coasting’, trying to climb back up to their former position or hitting a glass ceiling.

All societies – past, present and future, were, are and will forever be composed of various mixtures of ‘coasters’, ‘back climbers’ and ‘glass ceiling hitters’.

Please note that I’m dealing in self-referentials here. This is about how individual people describe themselves when speaking to themselves.
The coasters enjoy the life they had designed/expected for themselves.
The ‘back-climbers’ attempt to regain the position/status they believe it was rightfully theirs but had been robbed of in circumstances outside their control.
The ‘glass ceiling hitters’ are… busy hitting the famous glass ceiling.

If a society is composed of a ‘healthy’ number of coasters combined with a manageable number of ‘back-climbers’/’glass ceiling hitters’ then the frustration felt by the latter – which tends to tear apart the social fabric, can be compensated by the sheer mass/inertia of the joy experienced by the former. Hence the society can be described as being ‘stable’.

Whenever the ‘back climbers’ or the ‘glass ceiling hitters’ get the upper hand, things start to unravel. Or to fall apart…

To understand what I’m driving at, please consider the pre-revolutionary Russia and the German society after WWI.

Russia was an extremely hierarchical social organism. The birth-place was ‘definitive’. And most of them led to very unpleasant lives. The vast majority of the population, from muzhiks to intelligentsia, could not break through the glass ceilings allocated to each of them, at birth.

The defeated German population had found itself in a very unpleasant situation. After having been told they had been instrumental in preserving order in Europe – as the back bone of the army who had defeated Napoleon Bonaparte and kept in check Napoleon III, they found themselves at the receiving end of history… After their fathers had witnessed the Parisians eating their zoo animals during the 1870 siege, the Germans were reduced to hunting food scraps themselves.

A horse being butchered on a Munich sidewalk in 1918 or 1919.

Hence the difference between communism and nazism. Both equally authoritarian in nature, each of them springs from completely different social circumstances.
Which explains why ‘progressives’ have such a high tolerance for communism…

While the ‘back climbers’ attempt only to reinstate the order they were accustomed to – order which has already been proven dysfunctional by what had happened, the ‘glass ceiling breakers’ are always attempting to open new roads. Very enticing from the ‘progressive’ point of view…

Fact is that both communism and nazism/fascism are artificial.
Figments of frustrated intellectual imagination.
Both ideologies have been put together by thinkers and only followed by ordinary, desperate people.

“Please” is an attempt to maximize your chances to get something.
“Thank you” is an attempt to maximize your chances at ‘second helpings’.
“I’m sorry” is an attempt to ‘reconnect’ after committing a ‘blunder’.

All of them, simultaneously, serve the individual uttering them and knit the community.

But there’s something which sets one of them apart.
While “please” and “thank you’ are ‘upfront’, “I’m sorry” has a more ‘hidden’ nature. And is a lot less used…

Both “please” and “thank you” have a very clear message. “I want/am grateful for something’ and ‘I acknowledge the fact that I cannot function/exist by myself’.

“I’m sorry” is far more complex and a lot less upfront.
‘I acknowledge not only that something went wrong but also that I have anything to do with the occurrence’. And ‘please do not banish me for what I have done’!

If we dig deeper, we’ll find some more ‘intricacies’.

“Please” and “Thank you” are ‘face to face’. You know what you want/are grateful for and by uttering them you transmit that information to your audience. Those who might fulfill your wishes or have already done that.

“I’m sorry” identifies you as the ‘culprit’. Or, even worse, tells the ‘victim’ that something nasty is going to happen.

It is here that things become really interesting.
Conscience is a function. A feature which helps the individual. To survive and to thrive. In order to do that, conscience must – first and foremost, to take care of itself. To protect and cherish itself. More about how it does that in my next posts. The point of the present one being that is far easier for ‘conscience’ to ‘please’ and ‘thank’ rather than to ‘apologize’.

First of all, ‘gratification’.
1.0 versus 2.0.
Getting what you want/need versus avoiding punishment.
Which is never as direct.

The ‘buried head’ fallacy.
‘What if/maybe they never find out’?
‘Who did it’ or even that it had happened at all …

The ‘I cannot afford to appear weak’ fallacy.
Or the ‘I cannot afford to accept having been wrong’ situation.

That’s why it is far easier to say ‘I’m sorry’ after stepping on somebody’s toe than to leave a sorry note on somebody’s windshield after denting their fender in an unsupervised parking lot.
That’s why it is far easier to apologize to a a coworker than to admit guilt, as a CEO, in a shareholders meeting.
That is why it is almost inconceivable for a dictator to publicly admit an error which had been committed under their watch.

So young… and yet so satisfied with himself… he must have had a strong set of beliefs on which to build such a strong self-esteem!

Let me put it another way.

Each of us needs to believe.
Something!
Would you have enough courage to go to bed at night if you weren’t absolutely convinced that the sun will come up next morning?
Furthermore, for things to work as we expect them to, enough of us must share a certain number of beliefs. For instance, would you go to work/accept payment if you weren’t more or less convinced that the money you’d get will enable you to fulfill at least some of your wishes?

Hence belief being based on a deep seated need to believe is a truism. Uttered only as a lame excuse for ‘you can’t convince a believer of anything’.

Which isn’t exactly a lie… only a half truth. A ‘fake news’, if you will!

First of all, a believer is already convinced.
Hence somebody had been able to convince him/her, at some point, of something.

Somebody had somehow convinced the aforementioned believer that the object of what was going to become belief was obvious enough to become ‘evidence’.

Complicated?

Let me rephrase.

‘I haven’t been able to convince a believer of what I was trying to convey to him/her. Hence it must be his/her fault.
Not mine!
Otherwise I would have to admit that what I was presenting as evidence was false, I wasn’t presenting my evidence in a believable manner or, lo and behold, both at the same time. Totally unacceptable!
Now I need to come up with a good enough reason for his/her inability to see the light!
His/her ‘need to believe’ must be the only explanation. Otherwise he/she would have accepted my evidence as being obvious….’

On the other hand, the rest of Sagan’s work cannot be dismissed.
Which proves that self-esteem is a good base on which to build a career.

The need to believe being yet another thing which cannot be dismissed!

Hunters and growers.

Then fighters, doers and rulers.

Now, doers and ‘commentators’.

Some people actually do something – be it ‘fighting’, producing something or being involved in government, while other just ‘speak’. OK, their ‘speech’ does have consequences.
So we might say they also ‘do’ something… yes, true enough, only their deed is more than indirect. And no, teachers don’t belong here. Nor ‘actors’. Or even writers. All these people might do nothing but ‘speak’ only they produce something through their speech. Education, show, literature…
‘Commentators’ is very straightforward. Even more straightforward is ‘talking heads’. But ‘talking heads’ isn’t wide enough!

The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it. ” Karl Marx, Theses on Feuerbach

We all know the consequences of people following Marx’s advice…
But what could have gone wrong? Weren’t philosophers supposed to be the brightest amongst us?
Wasn’t Plato – the founder of Western philosophy, advocating the very same thing? That society should be run by specially trained philosopher kings?

Let’s go back to the original division of work.
Not all people have become farmers. There still are a lot of humans who survive as hunter-gatherers. Some don’t need to bother – there’s enough food to be gathered where they live , while others couldn’t possibly farm anything. The Inuits, for instance.
Among the farmers, there’s further division. Some farm plants while others farm animals. Because of the specifics of local soil, geography…
Also, farmers need tools. Hence wood workers, metal workers, weavers… etc.
The farmers need protection. Hence soldiers.
Society, as a whole, needs organizing. Hence government.

Let me pause for a moment. These arrangements work simply because they are more efficient than each individual providing everything they need for their own survival.
The soldier protects so the farmer might plow in peace. Some farmers use better plows because of the woodworkers and the metal workers who have cooperated to produce it. The farmers with the better plows produce more than those who use a rudimentary one, built by themselves. And so on. But please remember that each of these people have a first hand experience in their domain of expertise. And that their livelihood depends directly on their expertise.

Now, the next level of analysis shows us that organized societies fare better than those who lack any ‘structure’. ‘Fare better’ in no other sense than having a better chance of survival, as a social organism.
Nota Bene! While an Inuit – or an Inuit family, has a far better chance to survive in the Arctic than you and me, we, together, have a better chance at surviving – and even thriving, anywhere on the planet. Including in the Arctic. But only as long as we act as an organism. Only as long as we cooperate among us.

And whose job is to organize this cooperation?
The government and the ‘commentators’, who else…
The government to act as a referee – to prevent the rogue among us from ruining the game, and the ‘commentators’ to convince us that behaving is a lot better than mis-behaving.

Yeah… only this is nothing more than an ideal… seldom maintained for long…
Usually, the ‘government’ becomes too powerful, the ‘commentators’ convince us – both ‘government’ and general public, that this is how it should be… tensions build up… and something snaps!

And the problem becomes even more acute when the ‘commentator’ pretends to become king. Pretends to have the ultimate truth. Pretends to be obeyed. Convinces us – this being his only skill, to obey him.

This being the moment for us to remember that the commentators have only indirect knowledge about the world. While each of the doers has at least some first hand experience about something, the commentators have nothing but second hand expertise. Everything they know, they know it because somebody has told them so. Or because they have read about it somewhere.
The commentators’ vision might be far wider than that of the doers but it is at least ‘once removed’ from the reality.

And this is the reason for which societies who have used Marx as their spiritual leader have failed. They have not respected the main principle which makes division of work function properly. Let those who know about it make it their job.
Let the doers do and let the commentators gather and aggregate knowledge.

Don’t mess up things.

I thought I had it all figured out.

I had already learned that individuals needed to preserve their self esteem. The good opinion they have built about themselves during their entire lives.
This being the reason for which most self made people see their own efforts as the main reason for their status. While being adamant that Lady Luck had played no role whatsoever in their advancement…

I had also observed that all imperia had eventually failed. No matter what kind of imperia… Political dictatorships, commercial monopolies, abusive families…
For no other reason than dictators’/patriarchs’ tendency to drive away those who don’t kowtow to their opinions.
Which attitude effectively empties the structures led by authoritarian figures of any ‘alternative’ expertise. Of any other expertise but that of the leading figure. And since no expertise was ever infinite – not even Napoleon’s, the end of all imperia had been sealed from the moment when a single will had imposed itself over the entire structure.

OK, from the outside everything made sense. The added figures matched the measured total.

But something still bothered me.
As a constant rebel, I perfectly understood those who chose to leave instead of bowing to the higher authority.

But why act in a dictatorial manner in the first place?
Why drive away all those who might come handy in a dire strait?
Why not replace those who choose to leave with equivalent people? Instead of favoring increasingly obedient ones?
Specially when speaking about very intelligent people… and very few individuals have ever arrived at the top of any complicated structures only because Lady Luck had a crush on them …

Yesterday, when discussing the subject with my father – we each support different political parties and Romania had just elected it’s president, he told me: “You had been lucky enough to never have had to make a compromise. That’s why you can afford to think like this!”
We were using Romanian. I used ‘can afford’ to convey what he said to me because I’m not aware of a closer English equivalent. Maybe I could have used ‘allow yourself to think like this’…
Anyway, that was the moment when it struck me.

That past ‘compromises’ tend to compromise our ability to see the forest for the trees.
That whenever somebody aired an opinion which even slightly contested any of the compromises we ever had to make in our pasts we perceived it as an aggression. As if our self esteem was under assault. No matter that the ‘assailant’ had no way of knowing that we had to compromise our own beliefs at one point.
The simple fact that we remember that moment is enough. We’ve found ways to soothe our souls. We’ve already have invented excuses. Otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to function… But we’ve never been able to really come to terms with ourselves. We’ve never forgiven our own weaknesses. Never assumed them in earnest.

And this is how past ‘mistakes’ continue to haunt us.
Preventing us from accepting advice.
Because ‘deep down’ we feel the urge to continue the path we have already chosen’. That being the easier way to preserve our psychological well being. Our mental consistency…

Further reading:
Cognitive Dissonance
Customer cancels Zomato order for sending non-Hindu delivery boy.

As the only defendant at the Nuremberg Trials to admit to his share of guilt in the crimes of the Third Reich, Speer had been sentenced to twenty years in Berlin’s Spandau jail. He was released in 1966. Some ten years later, the Canadian high school in Lahr, West Germany, which looked after the education of our children, invited Speer to speak to the student body. I was invited to the dinner that concluded the evening. I found it more than a little humorous when Speer was asked bya very confident grade eleven student: “Mr Speer, how could a group of talented people like yourself be convinced to follow a madman like Hitler?”
Speer was quiet for a few seconds, giving the impression he had never been asked the question before. Then he responded, “young lady, probably because we were all trained as engineers!. We were pragmatic to the extreme, and we thought every problem could be solved by an equation or by adjusting the numbers. Not one of us had any education in the humanities – even Hitler fancied himself an architect, in spite of his lack of formal training.

Louis MacKenzie, Soldiers Made Me Look Good.

Well, there’s a small problem here.
While I agree with Speer about the importance of ‘humanities’ I also must notice that Marx had been another example of an individual convinced that the world can be ‘tweaked’ by following a ‘blue print’. He used the term ‘ideology’ instead but… And we cannot say that Marx was stranger to ‘humanities’.

But there’s another observation made by Speer. “We were pragmatic to the extreme”. While their ‘deficient’ education might have made Hitler’s job easier, I’m afraid it was their ‘nearsightedness’ which had been the catalyst.

It was their obsession with their immediate goal – transform the reality according to their own wishes, which had made them blind towards the future consequences of their actions.

It was not ‘humanities’ they lacked but ‘religion’.

“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image” is not really about what you pray to as about what you convince yourself about. That the ‘image’ you have developed about your surrounding reality is good enough to be ‘graven’. For ‘future reference’ and for it to be imposed upon others. By force if necessary.

Science is, above all, a state of mind.
One that posits the world can be understood, one fact at a time.
Science also says that The (complete) Truth will never be fully acquired, only people tend to forget that part.

Some history, first.
Science, as an attitude, had appeared on the shores of the Medieval Mediterranean Sea. The Arabs had just discovered Ancient Greek writings about the ‘natural order of things’ while the Catholics were trying to figure out what God had in mind for the future of the mankind.

We have seen that the laws of nature depend on other laws of nature, which ultimately depend on God’s will.

Put all these together – the wish to understand God’s will, the belief that God’s will is expressed through the natural order of things and the systematic observation of nature, and, Eureka, you have ‘science’.

Which attitude had made Europe what it is today. Both the good and the bad of it.

Europeans have initiated the orderly study of everything around them.
As I said before, the initial intent wasn’t any technological improvement. Technicians and scientists were two completely different breed of people. As in ‘tinkerers’ and ‘philosophers’. Tinkering was sometimes confused with witchcraft while ‘philosophy’ was almost synonym with theology.
Well, both ‘professions’ could lead those to practiced them to a ‘funeral pyre’… whenever either of them ‘trespassed’… Many of those who are able to read are familiar with what ultimately happened to Giordano Bruno but very few of us know the fact that the ‘un-certified healers’ were seen with ‘suspicion’.

“Questioned whether she heals sick persons, answered yes Sir.
Questioned with what kind of medicines, answered by picking betony up and washing it like salad and crushing it into a mortar to get its juice and to give it to her patients for 3, 4 and 5 days, telling them that the more they drunk it, the better it was.
With these words the healer Gostanza da Libbiano, tried for witchcraft in 1594,….”
“The difference between them (healers) and physicians was the specific kind of tasks assigned to doctors: physicians, who rarely touched impurities and who regularly graduated from the university, were believed to be able to make the pain cease, whereas the healer, due to the fact that she actually touched her patients, was able both to make pain cease and to cause it”

Donatella Lippi, Witchcraft, Medicine and Society in Early Modern Europe, 2012

On the face of it, ‘science’ was, and continues to be, declared to depend exclusively on facts. Regardless of those facts being the expression of God’s will or, ultimately, of a serendipitous nature.
In fact, science is about what we, ‘scientists’, have been taught to accept as facts by our teachers and peers.

Another interesting thing.
When most scientists were still believing in God, their natural arrogance was kept in check by their belief that there was somebody who knew more than them. He.
As soon as God was declared dead, all hell broke loose.

‘Practical’ sciences continue to be kept in check by … well… practice! For any engineer, biologist, chemist, physician and all other related scientists and practitioners of science  it is obvious that Karl Popper and Werner Heisenberg were, and continue to be, right. No matter how much we will ever learn, we’ll never be able to know everything. Hence, we should proceed with utmost care.
Those who practice ‘secondary degree’ sciences – sci-Po being the most obvious example, share the belief that the world can be learned but are enjoying a far longer ‘leash’. Simply because the consequences of their actions come a lot later than those experienced by the ‘practical sciences’ practitioners. Add the fact that the ‘effects’ are harder  pinpoint to one specific cause/action…
And since God has become, at most, a personal matter… he no longer exerts the taming influence it used to…
Science has become independent. It is practiced for/in its own right, not as the only available manner of ‘divining’ God’s Will.
In fact, we use science as a manner to design our future. Independently. As each of us see fit and as allowed by those around us.
Which is good. Attempting to learn before proceeding is commendable, of course.
But proceeding with the unshakeable belief that we already know everything about what lies ahead of us is… foolish. Even more so when we speed up…  with total disregard about what other people, our colleagues/peers/fellow human beings, have to say and/or feel about the whole thing. Because we momentarily can.

 

Three things have grabbed my attention this week.

Carrie Lam, the Cambridge educated Hong Kong’s top civil servant, whose career spans more than 40 years, who happens to be a devout Catholic, had tried to fast track legislation allowing the Hong Kong authorities to extradite people to mainland China.

More than a million of the 7.4 million inhabitants of Hong Kong have taken to the streets, in protest.

Across the Pacific Ocean, in Venezuela, a pregnant mother accompanied by her two small children, had joined other 31 people who attempted to flee their impoverished country. They had climbed aboard Ana Maria, a fishing boat which was supposed to take them to Trinidad but never made it across the 20 km wide stretch of treacherous water.

Maroly Bastardo, the Venezuelan mother, was trying to survive. Since it is harder and harder to find food in Venezuela – for themselves and for their children, more and more people attempt to leave the country. Which, despite having an immense natural wealth, is being led to disaster by a group of ultimately incompetent people.

The one million people protesting in Hong Kong have adopted another strategy. They attempt not only to survive, physically, but also to preserve their way of life. Their cherished way of life.

These two are relatively easy to figure out. It’s easy to understand the need to survive. Equally easy to understand is the determination of those who want to continue a lifestyle they enjoy.

But what drives the Carrie Lam’s and the Nicholas Maduro’s of this world?
OK, I might accept the idea that, somehow, each of them might have ‘lost it’.
But what about those around them? How come so many people still consider they can, somehow, contradict the entire human history?
‘This time will be different!” ” ‘This Reich’ will rule for one thousand years!”

Yeah, right…

This rule of thumb is also known as ‘Gresham’s Law’

At the core of Gresham’s law is the concept of good money versus bad money. The law holds that bad money drives out good money in circulation. Bad money is then the currency that is considered to have equal or less value compared to its face value. Meanwhile, good money is currency that is believed to have greater value or more potential for greater value than its face value. One basic assumption for the concept is that both currencies are equally liquid and available for use simultaneously. Logically, consumers will choose to use bad money over good money because good money has the potential to be worth more than its face value.”

‘Concept’, ‘the law holds’, ‘is considered’, ‘value’, ‘compared’, ‘is believed’, ‘assumption’, ‘logically’…
So. The way I see it, ‘Gresham’s Law’ is about people interacting according to their own ‘impressions’, ‘drives’ and ‘internal logic’.

But wait. Things are far more interesting than ‘commoners’ hoarding the potentially more valuable coins, when having the ‘opportunity’ to choose between good and bad money.

“The minting of coins provides the most basic example of Gresham’s law applied. In fact, Gresham’s law itself was built around the minting of coins and Gresham’s service to Queen Elizabeth I of England. Sir Thomas Gresham lived from 1519 to 1579, working as a financier serving the Queen and later founding the Royal Exchange of the City of London. Henry VIII had changed the composition of the English shilling, replacing a substantial portion of the silver with base metals. Gresham’s consultations with the Queen explained that consumers were aware of the change and began separating the English shilling coins based on their production dates to hoard the coins with more silver which, when melted down, were worth more than their face value.”

In fact, Gresham’s Law is about ‘commoners’ reacting in a logical manner whenever the powerful had tried to ‘trick’ the less powerful into accepting less valuable coinage.

Let’s examine the situation from another angle.

Gold and silver had been used to make coins for a number of reasons.
Both were rare enough to maintain their perceived value no matter how much of them might have been ‘suddenly’ discovered. For example, the Spaniards had brought shiploads of precious metals into Europe from South America without creating much ‘inflation’.
They, individually and or alloyed, were soft enough to be minted using primitive technology. The oldest coins made of precious metals go back almost 3000 years
Both gold and silver are impervious to the passage of time. That being the motive for those coins having survived for so long.

For these three reasons gold and silver had been the obvious choices when people had realized they needed a ‘technology’ for making payments and for preserving and transporting value.

In reality, this is the intrinsic logic for which gold and silver had been valuable for us. They had represented the most convenient manner of making payments and for transporting/preserving value. As metals, gold was basically useless until the advent of microelectronics while silver had become really useful only after Daguerre started using it to make primitive photographs.

So. Ancient people had discovered that by using gold and silver coins they could vastly accelerate their economies. The most interested being, of course, the powerful of the day.
The rulers. Those who had the means and the authority to mint.
Some of whom also had the gumption to mess with the whole process. For their own profit, of course. Why do you think Hieron, the King of Syracuse, had hired Archimedes to determine whether a piece of metal – a crown, but the shape had no real meaning, was made of pure gold – as the goldsmiths pretended, or not?

Instead of a conclusion.
Since the start of time, some people have tried to swindle the others. No matter how high their position on the social ladder. And the rest have tried to protect themselves. Or, sometimes, even to emulate the ‘bad’ behavior.

This being the beauty of the free market.
Whenever a market is truly free, the reasonable people naturally weed out the swindlers.
Whenever the swindlers happen to have the upper hand, the rest have no other option but to follow suit. To hoard the ‘good’ money.
The consequence being the slowing down of the economic cycle. To the ultimate ‘bad’ of everybody. The swindlers included. And their children/suitors!

 

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