Archives for category: arrogance

And no, this is no joke! Alas…

Populism is scientific because its ‘adepts’ have a very rational behavior and use scientific tools to increase the appeal of their public messages.
And, on the other hand, populism is scientific because its advent is perfectly explainable given what we currently know. About our society, about our brains, about our psychology….

Let me start from the beginning.
In Thomas Kuhn’s terms, the last 60 or so years have witnessed a tremendous paradigm shift.
Science has replaced religion as the main paradigm and ‘religion’ has been demoted to  ‘religions’.

Science becoming the main paradigm means that we have grown confident about our knowledge. We might be aware that we don’t know everything yet but we continue to believe that we’re able to learn everything. That if we are diligent enough we’ll sometimes be able to look under every rock that is.
This attitude has led us to search for ‘perfection’. ‘Efficiency’ has displaced ‘redemption’. We have ceased our quest for salvation and are now obsessed with ‘buy low, sell high’. In other words, ‘make the most of it but strain yourself as little as possible’.

Which makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it?

A lot of sense… mainly when you no longer perceive the guy next to you as being a full-fledged member of your community. Your religious community, that is. Of your church.

You see, ever since Emil Durkheim, the sociologists have been aware that religion was not so much a story about the making of the world as a ‘common ground’. The ‘common core’ shared by the members of a given community. Which ‘common core’ makes it possible for those who share it to have respect. For themselves and for the other faithful members of the community. By sharing that common core, the individuals find their bearings in the ‘wide, wide world’ and, thus, know how to behave relative to their ‘neighbors’. With enough mutual respect among the individual members that the community is able to function. To survive, that is.

We no longer have that kind of community.
Our primary allegiance is no longer towards ‘church’. Most of us consider themselves primarily as members of a nation – something governed more by formal laws than by public sentiment, and only secondarily – if at all, as members of a ‘religious’ community.

Now, putting two and two together, it’s very simple to understand that in the given circumstances ‘populism’ was inevitable, right?

Too many of the would be leaders have no qualms about how they get what they want.
Power.
‘Buy low, sell high’ is the current mantra, remember? Accepted by all of us. Buyers, sellers, by-standards…
Too many members of the general public are willing to accept promises which are in line with their own expectations, even if those promises being put in practice means a lot of misery for OTHERS. Who cares about those others, anyway? They are not members of OUR ‘church’!

I’ll let you decide how sustainable is such a situation. I was going to use ‘community’ instead of ‘situation’ but it would have been horribly wrong. We no longer live in communities. We only happen to live in the same place.

For how long?

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The relatively flat layout of most parliamentary chambers has induced in us the idea that society is linear. From left to right and backwards.
Also, the current almost ubiquitous existence of parliaments drove us to forget that until recently – historically speaking, of course, most societies have been punctiform. The sovereign king was the only one able/entitled to make any significant decision…

Meanwhile we are told by the political scientists that long term political stability can be achieved only through ‘checks and balances’. Meaning that the state has to be organized in such a way that nobody can get amass too much power.
Actually most modern states have an executive, a legislative body and a judiciary. Each of them performing their specific tasks while keeping a jealous eye on the other two.

The problem with long term political stability being that it is a very abstract goal while most people just want to be happy. And are willing to go at considerable lengths in order to achieve their goals….

And it’s exactly here where ideologues start to argue among themselves

Some say that the individual is sacrosanct. That individual freedom is the most important value that is and the most fundamental ‘human right’.
Others say that society is more important than any individual. That all individuals should put themselves at the service of the society and that individual liberty pales when confronted with social necessity.
And a third category consider that democracy is a waste of time and of opportunity. That the best for any society is that a capable person/group of persons to be given absolute power over it. The rationale being that ‘the capable’ will take good care of their ‘property’. A far better kind of care than any group of bickering politicians would ever be able to offer….

On the practical side, those preoccupied with ‘freedom’ consider that the main duty of the state is to preserve/protect individual liberty. That people, once free, will know how to achieve their personal happiness.
The socially minded consider that individual happiness cannot exist before/outside the well being of the entire society. Hence the ‘rational citizen’ has to postpone (read forget) any personal goals and sublimate their own persona into the society.
‘The more capable than the rest’ consider that the ‘incapable’ cannot be trusted with defining their own goals and have to be told what to do. For their own good!

It is very easy to observe that none of the three ‘ideal types’ described above doesn’t work on its own. That each have been experimented and found to be ‘unpractical’, to say the least.

Individual absolute freedom exists. The Saan living in the Kalahari desert and the  Baka in the Cameroon don’t have any formal rules, no social hierarchy and are absolutely free to do as they please. Both have been easily overcome, their habitat is being encroached/destroyed by their ‘neighbors’ and have been able to survive only by going further and further away from anything.
Socially minded people have, time and time again, congregated. Only to witness their communities dissolve or develop malignantly. From the early christian settlements to the XiX-th century phalansters.
The ‘know better’ is, apparently at least, the most successful arrangement. All kingdoms and empires have been organized according to this principle.
And all of them eventually failed. Even Plato’s idea of ‘king priests’ has led to Alexander the Great’s ultimately disastrous campaign into the Middle East. Not to mention the fact that the erstwhile mighty Athens had fallen into anonymity just after starting to be governed by specially trained rulers.

Since the pure ideal types didn’t work, let’s see what we get if we combine them.

Since I’ve been experimenting it for the first 30 years of my life, I’ll start with the result of crossing ‘social minded’ with ‘know better’. Does ‘communism’ ring any bells with you?
Let’s cross ‘liberty’ with ‘know better’. Actually this has already been done. It was about liberty for those who knew better… Nazism, and its newer variants, are the first examples which come to mind.
And the most interesting result comes from crossing freedom with social minded. This has also been experimented. In the democratic Ancient Athens and in during the truly Republican phase of the Roman Empire. The same combination was used by the vikings and somehow perpetuated to this day. Its offshoots being the western style democracy.

Which democracy – just like the Roman Empire, will survive for only as long as it will conserve both individual freedom and social mindedness while allowing, but only when needed, the ‘know better’ to take over for the short periods of time when their presence at the helm is absolutely necessary.

Really?

Am I the first to understand that once you’ve eaten it, nobody will ever again be able to part YOUR cake from you?

It stops being a cake as you chew on it?

Well… yeah. Actually it does. But… it remains a cake in your memory! That’s what you’ll remember having eaten: A cake!

And now, that we’ve settled the ‘eaten cake’ problem, let me ask you another question.

How strange is it that so many conservatives consider taxes as an infringement upon their right to freely dispose of their property yet they have no qualms to impose their beliefs upon other people – women, to be more precise, denying them the right to freely  dispose of their own bodies?

Because all life is sacred!

Hence, in their view, all abortion is murder. Regardless of the age of the fetus. Regardless of the consequences of having an unwanted child. Too early, too many, not enough money, health problems, sexual assault… nothing counts except for the right of the fetus to be born.

Some go even further. They consider that contraception is murder too. Because it denies the right of the egg-cell to become an embryo…

As I said before.
It is not only possible but very normal to have your cake and eat it too.
Same goes for convictions.
Once embedded in our heads they become ours and nobody can part them from us, no matter what logical arguments might be involved. Invoked?

Except for us. We are the ones who can leave behind some of our old convictions and reach new ones.
Conversion is the name of the game.

A game we’ve been playing since the dawn of time.

Au început cu homosexualii.
Am tăcut din gură. Pentru că nu eram homosexual.

Apoi le-au luat pe femei.
Nici femeie nu eram, așa ca am continuat să tac.

Apoi au venit după noi.
După toți ceilalți care eram diferiți de ei.

Nu mai era nimeni care să mai spună ceva.

Adaptare dupa Martin Niemoeller.

Cine sunt ei?

Sunt doi ei.
Nu-s chiar atât de diferiți, cu toate că unii sunt mulți iar ceilalți, puținii, se cred mult mai deștepți decât primii… Las-că și cei mulți se uită-n gura celor din a doua categorie de parcă s-ar aștepta să iasă de-acolo doar porumbei de-ai păcii…

Îi unește credința în puterea turmei. Cei mulți cred că dacă stau cuminți în țarc vor fi feriți de lupul cel rău iar cei puțini cred că, prin înțărcuire, mulțimea poate fi convinsă să credă orice și să asculte orbește.

Îi mai unește și o anumită ignoranță. Istorică!
Nici una dintre tabere nu reușește să-și aducă aminte că toate turmele ajung, inevitabil, la abator și că cel care taie găina cu oua de aur sfârșește prin a-și baga unghia-n gât.

Perfection is absolute. Hence unattainable.
Yet chasing it constantly improves the reckless who attempt it… simultaneously keeping their pride at bay.

Success is relative. Hence always reachable.
All you have to do is beat all your opponents. Preferably to a pulp.
The only limitation being that you are expected to remain inside the rules.
Only nobody says anything if you bend them. No matter how ‘creatively’.

Authoritarianism, of all ‘flavors’, depends on the ‘father figure’ being absolutely convinced that he is well above the rest. And it is this height which enables him to despise the rest, to the tune of not caring, at all, about how they feel about things.

‘I’m calling the shots, because I can, and the rest of you would better suck it up!’

Democracy, on the other hand, depends on people relying on each other. Enough of them are convinced that none of them is above error. Regardless of their ideological convictions, people who are convinced that democracy works are willing to accept advice from their peers. Or, at least, they listen carefully to what their peers have to say about issues.

The key word here being ‘peers’.

Nobody pays real attention to ideas coming from below or from above. If from below, that idea has to be almost obvious to pass the filter while everything coming from above is interpreted as an order. And executed if there’s no alternative or stalled/ignored whenever possible.

Both authoritarianism and democracy have proved themselves useful.

No war has ever been won by a democratically led army and no authoritarian regime has ever resisted for long. Meanwhile no democracy has ever crumbled as long as it has retained enough of its democratic spirit.
Yes, there are many examples of democracies becoming corrupted and eventually failing. Only this had happened after the democratic spirit had vanished into the smoke of ‘politics’.

Let me remind you that Alexandre the Great, one of the most admired generals and state-men of the world, was educated by Aristotle. Who was the favorite pupil of Plato. The esteemed philosopher who had invented the concept of ‘priest-kings’ – specially educated individuals who were meant to rule the rest.
Needless to add that Plato had witnessed Pericles simultaneously building the Parthenon and burying the Athenian democracy.
While Aristotle (384-322 BC) had lived long enough to witness his pupil conquering the entire ‘civilized world’ and dying an abject drunkard.
Greece, one of the places which had nurtured an enormously important part of the human culture, never fully recovered from the consequences of Plato’s ideas being put in practice.

Are we going down the same chute?
Is this the proper manner in which to engage those ‘on the other side of the isle’?

giving birth to a democrat

ganditorul

OK, this guy’s stool has four legs… nobody’s perfect…

A few days ago, while talking with a good friend of mine – Lucian Stefanescu, we convened that God has a lot in common with a chair.
Three legged, four legged… take your pick.

Let’s imagine we are part of a thought experiment.
One which allows us to travel through time.

Some ten or twenty thousand years ago, neither ‘God’ nor ‘chair’ existed at all.
The concepts, I mean.

In those times, people were just as able to sit as we are now. And they probably did it. On rocks, on logs…. which ever happened to be around when they felt the need/had the time to rest their feet….
Until somebody had the bright idea of picking up a big enough boulder, carried it to the fire and sat on it. Effectively inventing the very concept of chair.

Same thing goes for God.
I have no way in which to ascertain whether God exists outside our minds or not. Or who of our ancestors had come up with this idea. Or when.
The point being that our faith in Him has been enough for God to produce so many consequences. For our version of God to become real. To shape the very world we’ve built for ourselves.

You see, ten thousand years ago, in pitch black darkness, no one could have stumbled upon a chair while walking through the cave they called home. They could have stumbled upon rocks which happened to exist over there… but not upon any chairs.
Until some of the rocks had been used as such!
Nowadays… it’s not so unusual to trip over a chair. Even in broad daylight. Simply because we’ve build so many of them.

Same thing goes for God.
Ten thousand years ago, we didn’t have the concept yet.
Now, we have to deal with the consequences of us having already ‘killed’ Him.

 

“All power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely” Lord Acton.

“If the benevolent ruler stays in power long enough, he eventually concludes that power and wisdom are the same thing. And as he possesses power, he must also possess wisdom. He becomes converted to the seductive thesis that election to public office endows the official with both power and wisdom. At this point, he begins to lose his ability to distinguish between what is morally right and what is politically expedient.”

Ben Moreell, Power Corrupts, 2010

“All governments suffer a recurring problem: Power attracts pathological personalities. It is not that power corrupts but that it is magnetic to the corruptible.”

Frank Herbert, Chapterhouse: Dune

According to Lord Acton, given enough time, even the most benevolent ruler will, if his opinions go unchallenged, ‘loose his bearings’.
According to Herbert, we’re in an even worse situation. Chances are very slim for a benevolent ruler to even become powerful enough to make a difference… before being overwhelmed by corruption…

Then how come we survived for so long? For so much time?

First of all, until recently, no ruler – regardless of how corrupt/inept or even how powerful, had no means to inflict more than a passing wound to ‘humanhood’. During the last five centuries, things have changed a bit… And no, this is not exclusively about the nuclear button. Cortez, Pizzaro, the African slave traders, Hitler, Stalin and those who had produced the 2008 financial melt down hadn’t used very sophisticated tools…
Secondly, I’m not sure there are nearly enough really bad characters to explain all the man made evil in the world.

Then how could we explain what’s going on?

“If the benevolent ruler stays in power long enough, he eventually concludes that power and wisdom are the same thing. And as he possesses power, he must also possess wisdom.”

Ups!
But does this happen?
The ruler slowly convinces himself or the whole thing is a consequence of the contemporary mantra?
That being elected to office means having beaten your opponents! As if politics were a sort of generalized fighting, not a cooperative effort of the entire community…
Which would, indeed, lead any rational agent to the conclusion that the longer somebody survives in a powerful position, the more ‘right’ he must be…

Then what would be easier to change?
The rational conclusion of those who survive in powerful positions or our current misapprehension about what politics should be?

For those who have managed to conserve enough naivety, politics is a team job.

For them, ‘political power struggle’ is an oxymoron. A figure of speech.

Unfortunately, those who have lost their political naivety (innocence?, virginity?) have given up all table manners and have introduced the concept of ‘RealPolitik’.
At first in the international arena and then, using the back door, on the domestic stage.

To what consequences?

When Bismark had coined the concept of RealPolitik, the major players in the international arena were following an already ancient mantra. Divide et Impera.

If ‘naive’ politicians attempt to convince their partners, the ‘real ones’ have only one goal in mind. Theirs.
While the ‘naive’ start any interaction by listening to what the others have to say, in an attempt to learn before starting to build a solution – one designed to fulfill the widest possible array of expectations, the ‘realists’ will use every trick up their sleeves to impose ‘their’ solution. The one which best fits ‘their’ interests and which has been devised without/before any proper consultation with the rest of those who will bear the consequences of that solution being implemented.

Some of the politicians whose naivety has been chipped during constant contact with the social reality eventually ‘wise’ up and reach the point where they accept manipulation as a ‘valid’ political tool. They start to hid part of the truth, to promise a tad more than what would be realistically possible… but at least they continue to pay lip service to the notion of ‘liberal democracy’.
The hard core ‘realists’ are way more ‘straightforward’. They burn bridges and give up any pretense of ‘window dressing’. ‘Struggle’ is no longer understood as a figure of speech.

Political struggle descends into the ring. Or, more exactly, the entire Agora becomes a battle field. The whole ‘arrangement’ devolves into a ‘dog eats dog’ situation.

To the glee of the ‘realists’ outside the border. Who can hardly wait for those ‘inside’ to start fighting in earnest. So that the outsiders might, yet again, put ‘divide et impera’ to work.

There is an almost unanimous consensus about laws having to be considered either natural or man made.

As in the law of gravity is implacable – hence ‘natural’, while the Penal Code is a lot more ‘amenable’.

Yeah, right…

Then how come Hammurabi had been able to write his Code some three and a half Millennia before Newton famously noticed that apples do fall to the ground? Besides being such irresistible objects of temptation, of course.
One way out would be to assume that Hammurabi was a lot smarter than Newton but that would be too easy, don’t you think?

Now that I’ve mentioned the noticing game, let me point out some of my own observations.
People have tried to fly way before Newton had told them this is impossible – for us, at least.
Individuals might occasionally get away with murder but murderous societies are far less stable than the more peaceful ones.
Gravity has been already ‘defeated’ while no totalitarian government has yet managed to ‘stay afloat’ in a consistent manner – no matter how many dissidents it had murdered.

Another approach to this conundrum would be to consider that natural laws deal with the non responsive kind of chaos while man made ones are meant to approximate what happens when the chaos is able to respond to what’s being thrown in it.

For instance weather and financial market. No one can change the weather – hence it is considered a non-responsive kind of chaos, while the market is constantly pushed one way or another by the various pieces of information that reaches the participants. Which participants respond to those inputs – according to their own abilities and preferences, hence the ‘responsive’ character of the market.

So, could we consider that nature is non-responsively chaotic while humans behave equally chaotic but in a responsive manner?

The key word here being ‘we’, of course.
After all, we have coined the very concept of law, we are the ones speaking about the difference between ‘natural’ and ‘man made’ and we have discovered, formulated and eventually bent all laws… both natural and man made.

It seems that the whole situation is a lot foggier than at the begging.
That I’ve messed things up instead of making some sense of them…

Let me use another tack.

First of all, let me notice that we’re surrounded by ‘things’. And that these things relate to each other. And to us, of course.
From this point of view, the world is made of things AND of the relationships that appear amongst these things.

And here’s the catch. Laws are not things. They are a small part of the relationships that appear between the things that exist in this world. And since we’ve already discovered that there are a lot more things around us than we will ever be able to ‘see’/notice, it would be unreasonably to expect us to be able to notice all the relationships that ‘tie together’ the world.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try!

Returning to what we call ‘laws’, let me add yet another classification.

‘Noticed’ laws versus ‘pro-active’ laws.

In this sense ‘thou shalt not kill’, the Law of Gravity and ‘drive on one side only’ are, all three of them, ‘noticed’ laws. In the sense that things remain in order as long as we observe these laws.

On the other hand, pro-active laws are a lot more trickier.

‘Do this, do that’! …

‘Why?!?’

‘Because I know better AND/OR because I can make you obey my orders!’

While observing the noticed laws is essential in letting things flow naturally, imposing/accepting ‘pro-active’ laws is the recipe for disaster. Man made disaster.

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