Archives for category: Choices we make

Plato, without actually saying so, was planning to ‘kill’ it.
A society run by his king-priests would have been ‘perfect’. Hence in no need of improvement. Not exactly dead but how would you describe something that doesn’t change in time? Anything but alive, right? And since ‘no change’ means ‘no history’…

Four centuries later, Jesus Christ had warned us about the ‘Final Countdown‘. Last Judgement, sorry. But what difference does it make? Final… Last…

Fast forward to the XIXth century, when Karl Marx was breathing new life into Plato’s ideas.
The Communists, therefore, are on the one hand, practically, the most advanced and resolute section of the working-class parties of every country, that section which pushes forward all others; on the other hand, theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the line of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement.” (Karl Marx et al, Manifesto of the Communist Party),
Which very able and extremely wise communists were supposed to solve all past, present and future problems through a very simple measure. Abolition of private property and of the state needed to protect such property.
And since not everybody was yet ready to receive ‘the good news’, the communists were given a free hand to use revolutionary force in order to accomplish what they had to do.

To finally bring order to the World. To end history, that is.

Am I thick headed or the difference between Marx’s and Plato’s words is small enough to be insignificant?

You have again forgotten, my friend, said I, that the law is not concerned with the special happines of any class in the state, but is trying to produce this condition in the city as a whole, harmonizing and adapting the citizens to one another by persuasion and compulsion, and requiring them to impart to one another any benefit which they are severally able to bestow upon the community, and that it itself creates such men in the state, not that it may allow each to take what course pleases him, but with a view to using them to the binding together of the commonwealth.” (Plato, Collected Dialogues, The Cave)

A short century later, another optimist announced that ‘now, after the communist gulag had finally imploded, liberal democracy – a system flexible enough to absorb/solve any input/problem – will take over the entire planet. And, of course, bring over “The End of History” “.

Three decades later things are going on, as if nothing had happened.

There are still plenty rulers who behave as if “L’etat c’est moi” was coined yesterday and, even more sadly, too many people who look up to them.

The end of history has been postponed. Indefinitely.

 

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We were discussing ‘worst possible scenarios’ on Facebook and somebody mentioned ‘climate change’.
I must add here that the exchange was ‘framed’ by ‘skin in the game‘, a concept used by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his rather don-quixotic quest for more responsible decision makers.

OK, the whole domain of climate change is riddled with epistemological holes.
Linear models are used to approximate processes we barely know anything about.
‘Starting points’ have been, again and again, been proven wrong.
I could go on for hours.

I’ll make a small parenthesis here and inform you that according to a fresh study things might be far worse than we’ve reckoned. This paper, published by Nature.com, suggests that Earth’s oceans used to be far cooler than we’ve previously thought they were.

In this context, one of the participants made the following remark:
the burden (of proof) should fall on those calling for changes, for the rather obvious reason that we could suggest changes all day long. Only a few can be implemented.

Hard to argue with that, right?

But which changes are we talking about here?

A change in our manner of interacting with Mother Nature?
Costly, indeed, financial wise, but nowadays technologically possible.

Or about the changes we’ve already – unwittingly, most of them, imposed upon our ‘spaceship’?

We’ve dramatically changed the ‘use of land’. Agriculture and transport – yes, roads and railways have a huge impact – have changed the very nature of what’s going on on a considerable portion of the Earth’s surface.
We’ve dramatically changed the composition of the atmosphere. And I’m not talking about CO2 yet. CFCs, pesticides, NOx and SOx gases, etc., etc….
And, last but not least, we’ve reversed a trend which had been going on for hundreds of millions of years. Photosynthesis used to transform atmospheric CO2 into organic matter, some of which has been steadily accumulated as coal and crude oil.

So, about which changes should we worry first?

Or, in SITG terms, whose skin should bear the brunt of change?

Ours or our children’s?

“Between 1970 and 2010, the number of administrators in health care grew more than 3000%, while the number of physicians grew about 200%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. During that same 40 years, U.S. health-care spending rose 2300%. Doctors’ fees account for only 8 cents of the health care dollar. Where do you think the other 92 cents are going?”  (Marni Jameson Carey, Focus on Health Coverage Misses the Point, Forbes.com, Oct 24, 2017)

A few years ago I was arguing that profit was overrated.
It seems that Forbes, a magazine which cannot be accused of any socialist tendencies, has reached a somewhat similar conclusion.

Even more interesting is the solution proposed by Forbes to the health care problem.

A return to the free market!

Free from what? Who says the American health care market is not free?
Well, click on the quote above and see what Forbes has to say about this…

But what happened? How did we get here?

Well, the free market described by Adam Smith was an environment where people used to fulfill their needs by selling their wares.
The butcher sold meat and bought everything else he needed, the brewer sold beer and bought everything else he needed, the baker… and so on!
OK, there  was a certain kind of competition which kept the things in check. The butchers competed against other butchers, the brewers…
And because of this competition, all traders – those who wanted to survive, anyway – streamlined their operations and became more and more efficient. Hence profitable.

I mentioned the link between the survival of a commercial enterprise and its ability to generate profit.
Apparently, it doesn’t make much sense to elaborate on this. Bear with me, please.

The whole point of the free market is the division of labor. Besides its freedom, of course.
Each of us does what he knows better and then we trade our respective wares. This way all of us fare better than if each of us would have had to produce everything each of us needs to survive.
In this scenario, competition – between ‘bakers’, for example – is actually a tool which makes it so that the market, as a whole, doesn’t waste resources. When the less efficient bakers are ‘encouraged’ to find something else to do, the entire market is better off. And so on.
In this sense, profit is only one indicator – and a very good one – of how able to survive is a certain commercial venture. But not the only goal of the entrepreneur who started/runs the enterprise. What he wants is to make an as good as possible living by doing what he knows best, in close collaboration with the other participants to the free market.

Adam Smith had written his books some two and a half centuries ago.
And the free market had served us well, for a while.
Just look at what we’ve accomplished in these two and a half centuries.

But, just as Forbes points out, things are no longer going in the right direction.

Why?

Simply because the market is no longer free!

Not only because some of the participants have become ‘heavy’ enough to crush all competition. This is only the lesser part of the problem.
The really big one, and so well hidden that it’s almost invisible, is that too many of us have become obsessed with the same thing. Money!

Life-of-modern-people

Profit has become THE absolute goal of everything we do. Too many of those who participate in the free market no longer want to collaborate with the others but simply want to get rich. By any (legal) means.

Some say this is a good thing.
They invoke Adam Smith’s words as a justification for their beliefs.

I beg to differ.

The simple existence of our current obsession has profoundly altered the very nature of the market. Which is no longer free.

Because WE are no longer free. When too many of us are obsessively concentrated on the same thing, they will necessarily disregard all other options. And the rest have no other option but to follow.

This is not freedom!

Mesmerized people can not be described, by outside observers, as being free.
Regardless of how they consider themselves.

 

Language is the tool we use when we consciously transmit, receive or glean information.

While the ‘transmitting&receiving’ part is rather simple, ‘consciously and ‘glean’ might need some explaining.

You’ve all heard about ‘body language’.

Actors use it consciously to convey emotion and sometimes even meaning while profilers use it to glean information unconsciously distributed by their marks.

Artists use specific ‘modes of expression’ – language, actually – to convey emotion/subliminal meaning to sometimes unsuspecting audiences.

Skillful ‘communicators’ have learned how to chisel a message – using most common words, printed or spoken – to obtain ‘maximum impact’.

By now I’m sure you’ve already gleaned what I meant by “‘consciously’ and ‘glean'”.
Contrary to popular belief, only one half of those ‘immersed’ in communication need to be conscious of what is going on in order for language to be in use.

Actors can influence their audience without the audience being privy to acting tools.
All of us freely distribute a lot of information about ourselves – through walking, eating, manner of speaking, etc., etc. – which can be ‘deciphered’ with ease by those knowledgeable in this trade.
All of us are inundated by all kinds of advertisement – commercial, political, religious, you name it – but very few of us are aware of the full picture which is being played for us.

In a sense, those of us who can sense anything are like any device connected to the internet.

If it’s connected, it can be hacked‘.

But nothing’s as bad as it seems.
Devices can be plugged off or fire-walled while we can stop watching crap.
And, of course, we can put our brains to work, in earnest, before buying into anything which is hurled towards us.

Everything any (most?!?) of us cares about is:
‘What each of us gets, and when.’
Emphasis on ‘each of us’.

All of us?

 

past future byron prophecy

OK, I’m willing to admit that the past gives us a strong indication about what may happen in the future. Hence it might be a very good prophet!

The best?… that would depend on how each of us interprets the notion.
The notion of prophecy, of course.

And since the best( ?!?, 😉 ) way to understand an action is to figure out the motivation behind it…

Let me start with the beginning.

What is a prophecy?

In fact there are two kinds of prophecies. Of promises, actually.
‘Don’t do that or you’ll have to face the consequences’ and ‘if you’ll do such and such, your reward will be this’.

Only very few of the prophets have been using such a clear language. Most of them have preferred to use a much more convoluted manner of expression.
Quite understandably.

First of all, because these were ‘second hand’ promises.
They were not uttered directly by the promising agent but by a more or less ‘self appointed press secretary’. Who had no sure way of knowing whether he had at least a working understanding of the message he was supposed to deliver to his peers, whether they were going/able to understand/accept the message in it’s entirety nor whether they were going/able/willing to abide to all its intricacies.

Secondly, and this is applicable specially to the ‘don’t do it’ kind of prophecy, let’s examine what may happen if/when people do heed to a professed  prophecy.

I’ll consider the ‘positive’ case first.

If people do ‘the right thing’, and the reward promptly arrives, they think/feel ‘it is rightfully theirs’, no question asked. The prophet is seldom remembered. And in the rare cases when people do remember they’ve been foretold, the extended thanks rise very rarely above ‘lip service’ level.

If people think they have done ‘the right thing’ but are unaware they have ‘trespassed’, one way or another, they expect ‘their’ reward. Which, usually in this situation, never comes.
Who’s more likely to shoulder the blame? Remember that the people are not aware of not having fulfilled their bidding!
The prophet?
You nailed it!

And there’s a strong possibility that he might get nailed himself!

Let’s examine the ‘negative’ case now.
The one where the prophecy is ‘don’t do that, or else!’

People might choose to heed to the warning. Hence no punishment. Again, the prophet is usually forgotten along the way. Mainly because the bad things he kept speaking about never came through/true. Or even worse, he may be laughed at. But he’s happy. He has helped his people avoid experiencing a bad thing.
Or people might choose to ignore the warning. Hence experience the punishment.
Or, even worse, the people might try to ‘do the right thing’ and fail. For what ever reason. Who would be the most likely to be held responsible by the masses, or blamed by the politicians? For making an incomplete,  or mistaken, prophecy…
An even stranger situation develops when the ‘judge’ decides to give ‘his’ people another chance. And postpones the (well deserved?!?) punishment. Is it possible that the people might decide to ignore altogether the prophecy, completely misinterpreting both the prophecy and the misericordia displayed by the judge?
Quite annoying for the prophet, right?

Boring?
You might consider that I didn’t consider all possibilities… for instance that when the reward comes without (in spite?) all demands having (not) been fulfilled. The prophet becomes a laughing stock, right?

Anyway, the whole thing was intentionally meant to be somewhat boring.
This way your attention wasn’t mesmerized and you had a fighting chance to figure out my real point.

Go back up and glance at Byron. He looks back but his body faces the future.

We are the ones called to presently transform the past into the future.
Glancing back tells us where we come from and what we have at our disposal.
Yet we have only one option. To go forward.
To survive and, maybe, to prosper.

Yes, we have a lot of carry-on luggage.
But it’s up to us to use that luggage as a resource or to trundle it along as a burden.

Another prophecy…

do as the Romans do.

According to UrbanDictionary.com, “it has become shortened so often, some people don’t get it anymore. It’s an analogy making use of the strict rule of the ancient Roman empire”

Wikipedia mentions that it’s “a proverb attributed to Saint Ambrose”, meaning “that it is advisable to follow the conventions of the area in which you are residing or visiting.”

OK, seems sensible to follow the rules, specially when their are enforced vigorously. Furthermore, why rock the boat – specially when visiting a place? Or shortly after you’ve just moved in?

How about after becoming familiar with the local mores?

 

fall of Rome

 

Could there be anything more behind these words?

The proverb dates from an era when Rome was the center of the world. Of the Mediterranean world, anyway…
Could it also mean ‘do as the Romans do and you’ll share into the benefits enjoyed by the rest of them’? In line with ‘don’t rock the boat, lest the others will throw you out’?

In other words, the proverb suggests that ‘herding is good for you’.

Which is true. Most of the time, anyway.

Specially when you know when to bail out…

In this context I must remind you that mighty Rome ended up being sacked by a succession of rogue thieves… some of them hired by the emperors to guard the borders because the Roman citizens had became too ‘adept’ at ‘panem et circenses’ to bother anymore with bearing arms…

It seems that not all things done by the Romans were actually worth doing.

How about exercising our brains instead of sheepishly following the herd?
No need to insult the others, ‘rock the boat’ or anything else dramatic.
Just honestly give them the reasons for your dissent.
If they are wise – and you are right, of course, they’ll come your way.

If not… you should either follow the rules… or change the herd.

 

Recent developments have resurrected a Soviet era concept.

Whataboutism.

 “Whataboutism refers to the practice of deflecting criticism by pointing to the misdeeds of others. Oxford Dictionaries defines it as “the technique or practice of responding to an accusation or difficult question by making a counter-accusation or raising a different issue.”
Essentially, it’s an appeal to hypocrisy ― a logical fallacy also known as “tu quoque.” Instead of proving that your opponent’s claim is wrong on its face, whataboutism argues that it’s hypocritical of the opponent to make that claim at all.”

The current bout of whataboutism came about when Trump and his supporters tried to deflect the public condemnation of neo-nazi activism after a young woman had been killed by a white supremacist.

So, which is worse?
Communism or nazism?

I’ll make a small detour here and ask myself ‘what’s wrong with the spell checker? Why insist that nazism should be written with a capital N? Is it a nation? It’s OK for communism to start with a lower case letter, same thing for all other political denominations… what’s so special about nazism?!?’

Back to business.

One way to answer the question would be to asses the damages incurred as a consequence of each of them being put in practice.

Easier said than done. There are a lot of similarities between these two but also a huge difference. Precisely that which makes it very hard to compare the consequences of each of them having been experimented.
Nazism and communism have evolved in totally different social environments and have been fueled by closely related yet different public feelings.

This is why I’m going to change tack.
Why attempt to establish a relative hierarchy on the axis of evil when they can be studied together?
As the left and right wings of the same carrion eating bird which feeds itself on the countless societies ruined by authoritarianism?

After all, any attempt to determine which is worse does nothing but normalizes ‘whataboutism’ itself, doesn’t it?
Regardless of which wing flaps first….

DSC_0138net

Seven years ago somebody was elected to the Senate of the United States.

Despite

“Candidate’s Words on Vietnam Service Differ From History”

Six years later, another guy became POTUS despite the newspaper who published the article above having mounted quite a vigorous campaign against him.

The really interesting thing is that the second guy uses the information published in the newspaper seven years ago to smear the first guy while constantly accusing the same newspaper of being a relentless purveyor of fake news…

trump blumenthal

Now, which is stranger?

That two guys had managed to muster enough public support to get elected into public office, despite their shoddy relationships with the truth?

Or that newspapers continue to bother themselves?

“Fabrications have long been a part of American politics. Politicians lie to puff themselves up, to burnish their résumés and to cover up misdeeds, including sexual affairs. (See: Bill Clinton.) Sometimes they cite false information for what they believe are justifiable policy reasons. (See: Lyndon Johnson and Vietnam.)

But President Trump, historians and consultants in both political parties agree, appears to have taken what the writer Hannah Arendt once called “the conflict between truth and politics” to an entirely new level.

From his days peddling the false notion that former President Barack Obama was born in Kenya, to his inflated claims about how many people attended his inaugural, to his description just last week of receiving two phone calls — one from the president of Mexico and another from the head of the Boy Scouts — that never happened, Mr. Trump is trafficking in hyperbole, distortion and fabrication on practically a daily basis.”

“We are the last (semi) stable democracy on the planet without a universal health care system. Elsewhere in the world, health care is a utility taken for granted, like safe tap water or electricity. They pay for it, just like we pay for garbage service or highways, and it costs far less than our broken system. That is not an opinion. That is a reality easily revealed with a bit of travel. Like embattled cult members, we deny ourselves better policy outcomes to protect our deluded beliefs about the nature of markets and preserve our odd pathologies around race. That’s a choice we make…”

Chris Ladd,
Why Republicans Cannot Replace the ACA, Or Accomplish Anything Else,
forbes.com, Jul 20, 2017

ACA means “Affordable Care Act”.

‘Affordable’ for whom?

For those left out, of course…
And who was going to pay the difference?
Those already in, obviously…

See what I mean?

Health care can be seen in many ways.
As yet another opportunity for profit to be made – one of the best actually, since health is such a valuable commodity.
As a ‘social benefit’ extended by the society at large to (all?) its constituents. America already takes care of its elders, children and veterans, doesn’t it?
A combination of the first two. A free market where many independent health care providers cater for the needs of their customers – free to choose among the various providers – while the bills are picked up by a third party, financed through public contributions.

The only problem with the third option being our current obsession with money.
For as long as we’ll let ourselves be governed by the current mantra, “greed is good”, we’ll continue to perceive health care as nothing but yet another opportunity for some to get rich at the expense of everybody else.

How about an Efficient (Health) Care Act?
Opening the market – by allowing the patients to freely choose their doctors and by preventing  monopolies – would drive down the costs.
Cutting the middle-men – the insurance companies would no longer be needed since the public contributions would be collected by a public authority – would also help.

Would such a scheme work?
As I mentioned earlier, not before we give up ‘greed‘.
In order to trust yet another public authority with even more money we’d need at least some hope about that authority being populated by really honest people.
We’d also need many more ‘health care providers’ who actually love to help their patients – and make a decent living out of it – instead of so many people becoming involved with this ‘industry’ simply because it is among the very ‘rewarding’ ones.
And when I say ‘health care providers’, I mean all of them. Not only the doctors and the nurses – most of them do love their jobs and perform them almost heroically. (Some of/too many of) the Big and Small Pharma, (some of) the hospital ‘owners’, etc., etc….

Should we extend this scheme to other areas? Education, for instance? You bet!

Should we apply the same ‘weltanschauung’ to the rest of the economy?
Minus the ‘single payer principle’, of course?
Well, last time I read his work, Adam Smith was talking about “the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations” and about “Moral Sentiments“, not about greedy individuals becoming filthy rich at the expense of their fellow human beings.

“In almost every other race of animals each individual, when it is grown up to maturity, is entirely independent, and in its natural state has occasion for the assistance of no other living creature. But man has almost constant occasion for the help of his brethren, and it is in vain for him to expect it from their benevolence only. He will be more likely to prevail if he can interest their self-love in his favour, and show them that it is for their own advantage to do for him what he requires of them. Whoever offers to another a bargain of any kind, proposes to do this. Give me that which I want, and you shall have this which you want, is the meaning of every such offer; and it is in this manner that we obtain from one another the far greater part of those good offices which we stand in need of. It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages. Nobody but a beggar chuses to depend chiefly upon the benevolence of his fellow-citizens. Even a beggar does not depend upon it entirely. The charity of well-disposed people, indeed, supplies him with the whole fund of his subsistence. But though this principle ultimately provides him with all the necessaries of life which he has occasion for, it neither does nor can provide him with them as he has occasion for them. The greater part of his occasional wants are supplied in the same manner as those of other people, by treaty, by barter, and by purchase. With the money which one man gives him he purchases food. The old cloaths which another bestows upon him he exchanges for other old cloaths which suit him better, or for lodging, or for food, or for money, with which he can buy either food, cloaths, or lodging, as he has occasion.”

 

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