Archives for category: arrogance

“It is a very difficult decision for all parents because we live in a society that values profit over public health.”

“It’s more like listening to what other mothers were saying…
There was a … huge amount of evidence that it was harmful. Even if there weren’t ways that we could scientifically prove it, it was just talking from one mother to another.”

“Doctors do not do their own research, they are heavily brain-washed when they end school  with this idea that it is all good and then they do not question it much themselves”.

“A beautiful child went to have a vaccine and came back and a week later he had a tremendous fever, got very, very sick and now is autistic”

vaccine sceptic island

Well, the scope of this post goes way beyond the dispute between the vaxxers and the skeptics.

As a matter of fact, at face value all the four quotes I started with are spot on.

Most autistic children living in the so called civilized world have been immunized before having been diagnosed, both the doctors and the anti-vaxxers have been ‘brain-washed’ by their peers into holding to their current beliefs while very few of them have conducted any independent scientific research into the matter and yes, we do seem to live in a society which values profit over public health.

What next?

Now is the winter of our discontent, made glorious summer by this sun of York was coined by Shakespeare and put into print in Richard III, 1594. The ‘sun of York’ wasn’t of course a comment on Yorkshire weather but on King Richard. In this play Shakespeare presents an account of Richard’s character that, until the late 20th century, largely formed the popular opinion of him as a malevolent, deformed schemer. Historians now view that representation as a dramatic plot device – necessary for the villainous role that Shakespeare had allocated him. It isn’t consistent with what is now known of Richard III, who in many ways showed himself to be an enlightened and forward-looking monarch. The discovery of Richard’s skeleton under a car park in Leicester has provided precise evidence of the extent of his deformity. While being somewhat curved Richard’s spinal deformity has now been shown to have been exaggerated and deliberately faked in some portraits.

Living matter is a ‘particular case’ of  ‘ordinary matter’. It’s composed of the very same kind of atoms and its ‘living character’ is provided by the particular manner in which those atoms relate to each other. Otherwise said, the living matter is ordinary matter organized in a particular manner.
Furthermore, this ‘particular’ manner of organization’ has been honed through eons of ‘evolution‘.

Living matter depends on being able to perform two things.
It has to ‘Differentiate’ and to ‘Communicate’.

Each organism, no matter how simple or how complex, has to be able to keep its ‘inside’ separate from its ‘outside’ and to be able to ‘decide’, according to its own rules/needs, what goes in and what goes out.
A previously living individual organism dies the very moment when it can no longer fulfill any of these two conditions.

All organisms which live by exactly the same ‘rules’ belong to the same species and need to be able to communicate those rules across successive generations. As soon as the organisms belonging to one species  fail to do so that species becomes extinct.
A special observation must be made about the fact that the species whose organisms have found ways to communicate directly among the members of the same generation tend to be ‘sturdier’ that those whose members communicate exclusively with their successors.
For instance bacteria which have ‘learned’ to transmit to their ‘kin’ information about how to survive when ‘intoxicated’ with antibiotics have it easier that those who cannot do such a thing.

Human being are a ‘special case’ in the animal kingdom, just as ‘living matter’ is a special case of ‘ordinary matter’.
We are both animals and something else than that.

We’ve taken differentiation and communication to the next level. We perform them ‘on purpose’.
We have become ‘aware’ of what we are capable of.
We knowingly use our power to differentiate and choose (some of) the criteria we use when differentiating.
We knowingly use our power to differentiate and choose what to communicate of what we know.

And we consider this behaviour as being ‘rational’.

Some of us are so aware of what is going on that are constantly warning us about the limited nature of our rationality.
They say that our rationality is in fact ‘bounded‘ and that we should give up pretending that we are maximizing/optimizing anything since, in reality, all that we do is adopt/defend the first solution that seems good enough for our self-imposed goals/criteria.

Yet so few of us yield to this kind of warnings and continue to purposefully use ‘communication tricks’ in order to establish their version of the reality. Just as the Bard had done in his days.

Let me go back to what humans are in relation to the rest of the animal kingdom and extend the analogy with the difference between living matter and ordinary matter.
I’ve already mentioned that species whose members are ‘more generous’ communicators are better survivors than those whose members communicate less.
Now please imagine what would happen if a few bacteria, otherwise able to ‘share’ their ‘knowledge’ with their brethren, learn how to ‘crack’ a certain antibiotic but choose to keep that to themselves.

The ‘optimists’ among us would say that those bacteria will eventually give birth to a new species of ‘super-bugs’
The pessimists would observe that their small number dramatically increases their chances of being ‘cooked’ to death in an autoclave or ‘dissolved’ by the next swab with bactericide before having any chance at multiplying themselves into eternity.
Meanwhile the cynics/realists among us would start studying how to convince more bacteria to stop contributing to the shared pool of information about how to beat their common enemy, the antibiotic. And, probably, the best way to do it would be to inform the other bacteria that some of them are holding up information. If the bacteria would behave like so many of us currently do all of them would stop all information sharing. To our delight, of course.

Let’s take a step closer to the end of this post and try to evaluate what would happen if those few bacteria would choose to share false information about how to deal with antibiotics. Purposefully, in their attempt at becoming ‘dominant’.

A very ‘rational’ attempt, according to some of us…

‘Alternate reality’, anyone?

Darwin had wrote “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection“.
Some of us had mistakenly understood ‘evolution’ as being a ‘fight for survival’.
‘Fight’ as in ‘kill/subdue all those around you’, not ‘strive to improve yourself’, unfortunately.

Ernst Mayr had put things right. ‘Evolution is not about the survival of the fittest but about the demise of the unfit.

Adam Smith, a philosopher, had explained to us that free market capitalism functions because ‘the butcher, the brewer and the baker‘ cooperate across their respective ‘professions’, fully understanding that by respecting each-others work each of them would better serve their individual interests than by struggling individually.
Unfortunately too many of his contemporaries, and some later exegetes, mistook Smith’s words as meaning that ‘Greed is Good’.
And proceeded accordingly. Which was just another ‘application’ of Gresham’s Law. The ‘greedier’ among the capitalists slowly climbed to a dominant position and created a situation later described as ‘savage capitalism.’
Since people have a tendency to over-react, and to make matters worse instead of solving the problem, Karl Marx came up with an even more stupid idea than ‘Greed is Good’. According to him, the world should be run, in an equally authoritative manner, by a different class of people. Not by the ‘greedy capitalists’ but by the ‘virtuous communists’.
As if there ever was any real difference between dictators…

Almost a century later than Smith, Emil Durkheim, a sociologist, revisited the concept of ‘cooperation’ – from another angle, and demonstrated that society had leaped forward when each of its members developed his/hers particular talents instead of toiling together indiscriminately.  And then traded, on the free market, the results of their efforts. Nothing really new, just told in a different manner.
A marked difference from the ‘rantings’ of Marx. Who, by the way, had assessed the situation perfectly. Which makes it all the more baffling the fact that he was able to propose such aberrant remedies.

Almost simultaneously with Durkheim, another guy had noticed two very interesting things.  After a successful career as an engineer Vilfredo Pareto had started to study economics. Then he turned his attention to sociology. As an economist he had noticed the Pareto Principle – 80% of the results (income) are produced by 20% of the causes (agents), while as a sociologist he discovered that whenever social mobility, upwards as well as downwards, is hampered, the society where this happens will, sooner rather than later, experience serious difficulties. In fact this observation is quite straightforward. Whenever young people from the ‘lower strata’ cannot accede, despite being better qualified and harder working, to more meaningful positions because those positions are ‘safeguarded’ for members belonging to the ruling minority, the people from the lower strata stop striving while those from the ruling minority become lazy and careless. The recipe for disaster, don’t you think?
If we put both Pareto’s observations together we discover something similar to Smith’s budding concept of a free market. Whenever an individual, or a group of individuals, become so powerful as to dwarf those around them, economically as well as politically, the free market, economically as well as socially, stops working.

That’s why all monopolies have never failed to collapse.
That’s why all authoritarian regimes, including those built according to Marx’s rantings, have eventually failed – causing great harm to those fool enough to believe in them.

That’s why dinosaurs had disappeared – they had grown too big for their own good.
They behaved as if they were ‘greedy’. They seemed more interested in dominating the world instead of minding their own business.
Fishes – which are older than dinosaurs – survived and thrived.
Crocodiles, alligators, turtles, tortoises, snakes and you name whatever other reptiles come to your mind have survived the same conditions that have cut the mighty dinosaurs down to size.

That’s why Mayr goes on warning us. ‘Evolution is not about the survival of the fittest but about the demise of the unfit.

Let’s not destroy ourselves, as a species, attempting to prove him wrong.

Update
Pareto’s elite theory is rather straightforward.
As soon as a society ‘grinds to a halt’ tension starts to build up. A ‘lion’ – or a coalition of lions, will sooner or later seize the opportunity and ‘make a grab for it’.
By tearing the calcified sinews which tied the society down the lions actions unleash – for the moment, at least, the creative forces that could not assert themselves. Things become markedly better than they used to be.
Because the lions are ‘lazy’ they soon hire ‘foxes’ to run the show. Unfortunately the foxes tend to be rather narrow minded and soon their narrow-mindedness coupled with the decrepitude of the lion ‘in charge’ bring back the society to the original – aka bogged down, situation.
A younger lion/fresh coalition of lions restarts the cycle.
Basically we have the definition of the boom-bust cycle.
A very compelling example would be the manner in which communist states had crumbled under their own weight. Or the manner in which all monopolies – or even companies in dominant positions, eventually screw up. The automobile industry – a mature economic field, would be a very good example for this.
Nothing dramatically different from Schumpeter’s ideas, albeit at a different scale.
Ideally, in a free (aka fully functional) ‘market’ there are a number of lions which keep each-other at bay and a big enough number of foxes to keep the show together. The lions, acting in concert, make sure that the foxes do not take over while the foxes prevent the lions from driving the whole thing over the cliff.
If the circulation of the elites is hampered, in any way, shape or form, the continuous/evolutionary social and economical fine tuning no longer works and the society reverts to the boom-bust cycle.
A really free market would closely resemble Darwin’s, or more exactly Mayr’s, evolution while the present situation is one where the circulation of the elites has been brought almost to a halt.
The whole process tends to be rather ‘circular’. As in a vicious circle.
Or a virtuous one. As it used to be, until very recently.

NB. This blog is more like a collection of notes than anything else.
I write them down because doing this streamlines my thinking process and I make them public because readers’ feed-back (mostly on FB) is very helpful.

We seem to be stuck between two apparently irreconcilable positions.

Both the ‘free-market totalitarians’ and the avid ‘state interventionists’ agree about the present situation being untenable but are unable to identify a mutually acceptable way out.

And the rest of us watch them fighting each-other, as if mesmerized by some irresponsible/immature  hypnotism stage-artist, instead of clearing a path of our own!

But since we’re already gathered around the ring, let’s see first what are they fighting about.

The laissez-faire people maintain that things will eventually get in shape by their their own – only if we’d let them, while the statists say that waiting for that to happen would take too long and provoke too many ‘collateral victims’.

Each of the two sides advocate a very specific solution.
The free-marketeers are OK with what seems to be going on – relatively fewer and fewer individual people/corporations becoming richer and richer/more and more powerful while the rest are falling behind but not at all OK with the left behind becoming angrier and angrier.
Meanwhile the interventionists demand that the state should take more and more ‘things into its hands’ and ‘solve’ them. As if it knew how.

I must confess that I fail to see any real difference between them. Both imply that a small number of individuals – belonging to the same species and being subjected to the same cultural and social conditioning – becoming extremely powerful relatively to the rest of the people.

Historically, all societies which had allowed power to become concentrated in too few hands had crumbled. The more concentrated the power, the faster the fall.

When confronted with the argument that greed, for both money and power, is bad for you, both sides react in a very fatalistic manner.

‘Greed is natural, hence it must be good!’

The funny thing – if anything about any of this might be considered funny, is that greed has been castigated by all religions. And by mainstream science.

Let both religion and science rest for a while.
Actually this is one instance where common sense is more than enough.

Greed, like appetite, is indeed natural.
But that doesn’t make it necessarily good.

We need indeed to strive towards improving our lot, just as we need a healthy appetite.
Otherwise we’d end up worse than where we were at the start.
Dead by starvation.
Or both.

But hoarding a good thing doesn’t necessarily improve it.

There is a difference between appetite and gluttony.
That’s why we use different words for each of them.

glutonny-for-power

For more than a year now I was struggling to understand the circumstances that have produced the current political mess in America.

I finally figured it out.

Confusion and dissatisfaction!

If you have enough people that are both confused and malcontent then all kind of ‘strange’ things will happen.

Only one of them won’t be enough to explain the whole gamut of what’s going on and that’s why I wasn’t satisfied by any of the many articles that pointed out one reason or another for the ‘popular discontent that brought the Donald to the White House’.
In fact no amount of ‘unhappiness’ can explain how two mature parties can nominate such lousy candidates. Neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump fit, not even loosely, the profile of a decent President. That’s why the voter turn-out was the lowest in the last 80 years or so.

But if you add ‘confusion’… things begin to clear out.

And no, I’m not speaking here about the regular people being confused as a result of the ‘politicos’ having misbehaved horribly.
I’m afraid things are way deeper than this.
Even those who believe themselves to be educated in these matters seem to be swimming in a sea of thicker and thicker fog.

Take, for instance, the current debate about the differences between ‘republic’ and ‘democracy’.

A republic is a representative type of government, and its goal is to simultaneously control the majority while protecting the minority. For example, in the republic of the United States, the government is limited constitutionally, and power is divided between the three branches of government.

A democracy is a type of government that grants eligible citizens the right to equal participation. This right is provided directly through the creation and development of laws or through elected representatives. The interest of the majority is the most important aspect in a democracy.

A republic is a representative form of democracy. A republic has an elected head of state, such as a president, that serves for a specific period of time. In a republic, the interest of the majority rules through its elected representatives. However, a republic has a constitution that protects the minority from being entirely overruled or unrepresented.

See what I mean? Adding insult to injury this definitions were published by a site which calls itself ‘reference.com‘ …

I’m not going to pick truth from fiction in that quote, that would only add to the already too thick confusion.

Enough for me to say that ‘republic’ is indeed a manner in which societies are organized (a.k.a. ‘governed’) while ‘democracy’ is a manner in which societies decide for themselves. Yes, these two things have a lot in common but we should not confuse them.

There are republics which only pretend to be democratic – like the ancient Soviet Union or the current Democratic Republic of Korea, some which are democratic in a rather strange way – Iran for example, or which are slowly ‘loosing’ democracy behind – like Orban’s Hungary or Putin’s Russia. History has also a few examples of republics which had given up democracy all together. Hitler’s Germany, for instance

On the other hand there are monarchies (OK, constitutional monarchies) which are perfectly democratic. The British Commonwealth, Sweden, Norway, Holland, Belgium…

What can explain the current confusion? ‘The interest of the majority is the most important aspect in a democracy’?!?
A major lack of understanding about what democracy really means?

A terrible confusion between the formal aspects of democracy – freedom to vote for what ever candidate accompanied by a fair account of the ballots – and the really important tenets of democratic behavior – honest, open and mutually respectful exchange of ideas about the current state of affairs between the interested members of the society?
My point being that true democracy is about the opportunity to rationally convince those around you/making yourself available to be convinced by rational arguments, not about the majority imposing its view on the minority. That is nothing but mob rule, a horrid perversion of what democracy is meant to be.

Basically, what happens – under all forms of social arrangements/forms of government: republic, constitutional or absolute monarchy – in a society is that people need to know where that society is headed to. Authoritarian societies are run by the ruler – and the people, willingly, unwillingly or with mixed spirits, agree for the time being – while the democratic societies entertain a certain ‘effervescence of ideas’ which bring forward the important problems that need to be resolved and what would be the socially acceptable manners for those problems to be fixed.

But in order for that ‘effervescence of ideas’ to be efficient, the ordinary people have to contribute in earnest to the exchange and the politicians need to pay close attention and to cooperate among themselves and with the rest of the society towards solving those problems.

That’s why I’d like you to remember when was the last time that people on the different sides of the political divide have actually talked together?
Why do we have a ‘political divide’ in the first place?

Aren’t we supposed to be ‘all together’ in our respective countries?

What’s gotten into us that made us fight each-other so bitterly?

Why do we succumb so easily to ‘divide and conquer’?

Why are there still so many politicos who keep using this method, despite the ample proof that has been provided to us, through out the history, that ‘divide and conquer‘ inevitably ends up in disaster?

fake-vs-real-news

“When Silverman (the author of the study that produced the chart quoted above) confronted Facebook with this data, the social media giant argued that…”

Why would anyone confront Facebook with something like that?

Facebook is happy that we, the users, share anything at all on our walls for others to read.

This is how Facebook makes its living. They sell add space on top on whatever we choose to share on our walls. From a mercantile point of view Facebook shouldn’t really care whether what is shared by its users is legit or not, they simply must enforce the rules – no pornography, no open incitement to hate, no bullying, etc., etc…

We do the sharing, we bear the responsibility for our acts.
And it is we who will, eventually, experience the full consequences.

An otherwise excellent article published by Robby Soave in reason.com claims that “Trump Won Because Leftist Political Correctness Inspired a Terrifying Backlash

While I think that yes, there is something here, I’m also afraid that the author is ‘guilty’ of the same crime… he’s too afraid of ‘crossing the red line’ that to go all the way and spill it out.

“Trump won because of a cultural issue that flies under the radar and remains stubbornly difficult to define, but is nevertheless hugely important to a great number of Americans: political correctness.”

“What is political correctness? It’s notoriously hard to define. I recently appeared on a panel with CNN’s Sally Kohn, who described political correctness as being polite and having good manners.That’s fine—it can mean different things to different people. I like manners. I like being polite. That’s not what I’m talking about.

The segment of the electorate who flocked to Trump because he positioned himself as “an icon of irreverent resistance to political correctness” think it means this: smug, entitled, elitist, privileged leftists jumping down the throats of ordinary folks who aren’t up-to-date on the latest requirements of progressive society.

Example: A lot of people think there are only two genders—boy and girl. Maybe they’re wrong. Maybe they should change that view. Maybe it’s insensitive to the trans community. Maybe it even flies in the face of modern social psychology. But people think it. Political correctness is the social force that holds them in contempt for that, or punishes them outright.”

There are two problems with this approach.

It is both counterfactual and too imprecise.

First things first.
A sizable portion of Trumps supporters do not care much for such subtleties like ‘political correctness’. They might indeed feel ‘the social force that holds them in contempt’ but they are the kind of people who do not beat around the bush. They blame a person directly, not their manner of thinking.

Secondly, using the same name for two very distinct behaviors, ‘polite and having good manners‘ versus ‘jumping down the throats of ordinary folks who aren’t up-to-date on the latest requirements of progressive society.‘ is so imprecise that it becomes counterproductive.

By using the same label for both we end up discouraging both.

Do we really want to discourage people from being polite? From having good manners?
Do we really think that actually destroying all ‘political correctness’, the first kind included, is a good thing to do?

The way I see it we have to use a different moniker for the second behaviour.

How about ‘political bigotry’?

This way it would be clear what we stand for and what we strongly oppose.
‘Good manners’ would be in and ‘grab them by the pussy/jumping down the throat… simply because we can’ would be out.
‘Polite and considerate’ would be in while ‘smug, entitled and privileged‘ would be out.

What can we make of it?

Momentous as it was the result was no landslide.
Only a little less than 120 million people bothered to vote – out of the 250 million or so who are old enough to do it – and most of them, 47.7% vs 47.5, have chosen the ‘looser’.

Actually I don’t like the notion of anybody winning – or loosing, for that matter, a democratic election but that’s a different subject. Stay tuned, I’ll probably cover it soon.

Then Trump is no Hitler, as some have feared.
Even if he is riding a similar wave of popular discontent like the one used by Hitler to rise to power, and uses the same political tricks, Trump is nothing more than the ultimate opportunist.
Check his body language.Turn off the sound and just watch him.

the-most-corrupt
While Hitler was a mad ideologue absolutely convinced of his own righteousness Trump’s only conviction is that he ‘deserves’ as much as he can ‘grab’.
Now, that I’ve mentioned ‘ideology’, in this respect it is Clinton who belongs to this category – people who conscientiously use an elaborated ideology as a compass to find their bearings and as a ‘looking glass’ to read the fine print on the maps they try to navigate. But this is a subject I’ll have to come back to at a little later.

No landslide but still momentous.

A lot of people who had not bothered to vote before have come out in droves.

Trump, the business man, and the Republican Party – which now controls both Houses of the Congress, cannot afford to forget this.
Also, they must not forget about the other half, the one which had chosen to remain silent, on Tuesday, of the electorate.
The fact that they didn’t vote, then, doesn’t mean that they didn’t have any opinion.
And they are simply too many to be discarded.

“How come we haven’t seen this coming?”

I keep hearing these laments from my fellow sociologists.

Well, the raw data was all there. Compiled in the opinion polls result sheets, only that we could not interpret them right.
Trump had felt it in his gut – and acted on this hunch, but we had not been able to see it coming despite our ‘scientific’ methods and hugely accurate number crunching machines.

Which brings me to the main topic of this post.

What happened these days is yet another proof that the math used by the number-crunchers is nothing but a (very accurate) language and that ‘science’ is nothing but a (meta) tool that can be used to make sense of various aspects of the surrounding reality.
The results obtained, by us, through the use of this tool and expressed with the help of that language depend primarily on our skills and intelligence and only secondarily on the quality of the tools used in the process and on the precision of the language used to present them.
Not to mention the fact that it was us who developed the tool and formulated the language…

I ‘warned’ you I’ll come back to ‘ideology’.
This is yet another tool. As I mentioned before, we, all of us, use it as a compass with which we try to find our way through the world and as a magnifying glass with which we try to make sense of what’s happening to us.

‘But you just said we’re using science ‘to make sense of various aspects of the surrounding reality’?!?’

Well… we’re using both.
Whenever confronted with anything new we have to make a snap decision. Try to assimilate it with something we already know or investigate it.
It is our personal ideology which kicks in first and tells us what to do. And each time that we choose to look in our mental drawers for something that might fit in the new situation we remain in the ideological realm and continue to use ideology as a light beacon – what happens to be inside that beacon is brought to our attention while everything else doesn’t exist for us.
Only if we choose to investigate, science kicks in. But not even then we are not entirely free from ideology. Each time that the investigative process leads us to anything which contradicts something that had been already ‘filed’ in our ideological cupboards we find ourselves in a huge dilemma. How to proceed from there on. Continue to trust the scientific method or revert to the safety of the already settled?

This is why individual responsibility is hugely important.
And why no one should ever consider that he is the sole repository of the entire truth.

This is why we need to be constantly reminded about the limited nature of our understanding.
And the democratic process has been proven, time and time again, invaluable in this respect.
As long as it was allowed to proceed freely and it was conducted with respect towards all members of the community involved.

OK, then please someone explain to me what the heck is going on here.

“Other researchers have pointed out the correlation between education rates and declining female health outcomes. The most shocking study, published in August 2012 by the journal Health Affairs, found that life expectancy for white female high-school dropouts has fallen dramatically over the past 18 years. These women are now expected to die five years earlier than the generation before them—a radical decline that is virtually unheard of in the world of modern medicine.”

femalemortalityratesmaplg

(Health Affairs/The Population Institute, University of Wisconsin)

“…women in parts of the country have been left behind, and in some cases, they are dying younger than they were a generation before.”

swing-states-20161

 

This map shows the probable number of votes each parties candidate would win in the Electoral College if the meeting of the College were held today.  If you live in a red state on the map above you probably do not have to vote for anyone for the office of POTUS but you should vote for a candidate for all  the other offices on the ballot.  – Abyssum

If you are not aware of at least some of the many ‘forces’ which attempt to control your mind, at least in part, you are just as ‘out of your mind’ as those who believe their minds are successfully and consistently controlled by outside agents.

And those who are convinced they are in control of other people’s minds.

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