Archives for category: Choices we make

We pride ourselves for our ability to choose. Rationally!
We call that ‘liberty’ and we consider it an ‘undeniable human right’.

Yet everything, including our understanding of things, exists because of ‘chance’.
While neither chance nor choice can manifest itself/be exerted outside what we’ve learned to call ‘hard reality’.

“First you guess. Don’t laugh, this is the most important step. Then you compute the consequences. Compare the consequences to experience. If it disagrees with experience, the guess is wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science. It doesn’t matter how beautiful your guess is or how smart you are or what your name is. If it disagrees with experience, it’s wrong. That’s all there is to it.”

Attributed to Richard Feynman by
Florentin Smarandache, V. Christianto,
in Multi-Valued Logic, Neutrosophy, and Schrodinger Equation? (2006), 73

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For anything to become a resource, somebody has to:

a. notice it and
b. figure out that, and how, it can be used towards what that particular individual has in mind.

Until both these conditions had been met, it remains – at most, just something that is there.

The first thing any of us does when becoming conscious is to notice differences. That’s how we learn about the world.
We notice the difference between Mother and everybody else, then between Mother, Father and everybody else, between soft and hard, cold and warm, … etc. etc….

The next step is to notice the difference between ourselves and the rest of the world.

The third stage is no longer about noticing but about understanding. About putting two and two together.

Some people understand that by being different, people may complement each other. That by learning different trades, according to their talents, they may cooperate towards improving their chances of survival and their quality of life.

Other people understand that by being different, people may be made to hate and despise each-other. By concentrating the popular focus on the differences between ‘they’ and ‘the others’, the spin-doctors build up the pressure until the made-up inevitable happens.

After the ‘explosion’, the survivors have the opportunity to understand that they are not so different, after all.
That their friends and relatives have died simply because they had allowed for the differences between them to be used improperly.

More than 30 years ago, a very good friend of mine had emigrated from then communist Romania to the US. Ten years later he landed  a job with a huge Japanese corporation, his previous position having been that of COO for a way, way smaller corporation. One where the owners were not only involved in running the business but also ‘close’ enough to the ‘daily hustle’.
After a few weeks he phoned me. He was utterly dejected. ‘It’s as if I’m back in Romania, working for a state owned enterprise. Nobody cares for anything but the hide on their own backs. And they act very narrow-mindedly. They lie to their bosses, don’t share work related knowledge with their co-workers and so on, without realizing that by behaving in this manner they actually weaken the structure which ‘feeds’ them. Furthermore, those in charge don’t care about anything else but their fat ‘compensation packages’, not realizing that, on the longer run, their behavior is leading to ruin. Meanwhile, the shareholders  – from ‘far-away’, don’t realize what’s going on. Until too late, of course.’

Some 25 years ago, another good friend of mine had emigrated to Canada. He currently works, as a contractor, for a huge Canadian corporation. A few weeks ago he was here for a short vacation and we had a chat. ‘Nobody cares for anything anymore. The contracting agencies don’t give a damn whether the people they send over are actually able to do the work, the bosses don’t understand, or care, very much… it’s as if we, the ex-communists, have came back from their future…’

Even the ‘family run’ businesses have lost their edge. Their owners are no longer ‘close’ to their employees and the businesses are very quickly sold to the highest bidder. And incorporated into ever-growing entities…

The two friends I already mentioned said that ‘whenever a corporation grows big enough, it starts to resemble a state’. My own experience concurs.

Only I’d take a step further.

‘Whenever an organization grows big enough, those who ‘inhabit’ it start behaving as if employed by a state/state-owned entity’. As if their job/position is theirs to be had/defended by birth-right. A feudalism of sorts.

And these people end up passionately defending the organizations which give meaning to their lives.
As they are! Simply because any change in the organization would imply a change, for the worse, in the fate of the individuals defending the current status.

And why would any individual behave in such a short-sighted manner?

“Every position in a given hierarchy will eventually be filled by employees who are incompetent to fulfill the job duties of their respective positions.”

Peter

BTW, when was the last time you came across the concept of ‘company culture’?

 

At any given moment, things are the intersection between ‘what could have been’ and ‘what we wanted out of that situation’.

It’s obvious, for even the most careless observer, that something must be possible before our wishes might start shaping that something.

My point being that we are not necessary for nature to exist but we do bear the responsibility for what has happened since we started to wish.

Let’s consider a hydroelectric dam, for example.
For us to be able to build one, we first need a river. A big enough one, flowing through a certain configuration of terrain… but nevertheless, we need a river. Before everything else.
Yet it’s not the presence of the river which is responsible for the existence of the dam. We, the builders, have built it. We are responsible for it.

And this is valid for other things too, not only for the ‘material’ ones.

Democracy, for example.

War taught us that destruction is not inevitable. Wars have to be started before destruction begins.
After killing each-other for long enough we’ve learned that we’re not so different.
We bleed the same kind of blood and our mothers weep the same tears.
Eventually, we replaced war with sport.

History taught us that democracy works better, in the longer run, than authoritarianism.
That observing the world from multiple perspectives – and pooling the data, leads to way better results than meekly following orders.

Both war and sports are ample demonstrations that winning is temporary and surviving trumps everything else.
And, contrary to our ‘immediate urges’, that fair play goes a lot further towards survival than ‘winning at all costs’.

Similarly, both surviving and decaying/crumbled down democracies are compelling proof that democracy is based on mutual respect between the members of the democratically self governed community.
And that when ever that mutual respect starts to vanish, democracy – the real thing, starts to fade. Usually into ‘mob rule‘. And further, if the process is allowed to continue.

So.
What’s gonna be?
Are we going to allow our craving for ‘success’ to return sport to blood sport? A.k.a war?
And to demote functional democracy, oriented towards the survival of the community as a whole, to mob rule?
Declaratively geared – by the interested party, towards the putative survival of the ‘establishment’? Never, as yet, achieved even on the medium term… let alone the long one

Things consist of what makes them what they are.
These very constituents impose upon things their definitive limits.

Take life, for instance. It’s exactly that which makes the difference between a collection of inanimate chemical substances and a living organism which leads to its eventual demise.

Or our skeletons. And all our organs. They make us what we are and, simultaneously, set the limits of our existence.
Each of us can grow only that high, eat and drink only that much, sprint only that fast and live only that long.

Take our brains.
That’s what we think with. And we make errors with.
That we remember and forget with.
That we love and hate with.
That makes us aware of some things and leave so many others out of our knowledge.

That is capable to understand the nature of our limits and, too often, chooses to ignore that opportunity.

Present owes just as much to Reaction, if not more, as it does to Revolution
Ilie Badescu, PhD.

Newton had noticed  that everything, no matter how ‘inanimate’, reacts whenever ‘prodded’. And, maybe even more importantly, that the reaction is exactly balances the ‘prodding’.
Provided that the ‘prodding’ doesn’t actually ‘destroy’ the ‘target’, of course. But even then, some ‘reaction’ is always exerted against the ‘intruder’.
Walking, for instance. Whenever we walk on tarmac, our weight is fully supported by the pavement. When walking on dry, fine sand, our feet leave an impression. Our weight is eventually counterbalanced but not before some local ‘readjustments’ have been made. Finally, when walking in knee deep water, our feet completely ‘destroy’ the layer of liquid before reaching the ‘terra firma’ below. But not without having been met by some hydrodynamic resistance – which is far greater than the aerodynamic one we constantly overcome when walking on dry land.

Darwin had noticed that species either evolve – and survive, or ‘go under’ whenever something changes in the environment they had been accustomed to.
It’s a no brainer to remark that here the reaction is no longer as instantaneous nor as ‘equally opposed’ as in the first case.

Since Berger and Luckman’s The Social Construction of Reality it is tacitly accepted that our fate is heavily influenced by our actions.
Some of those inclined to entertain religious beliefs will now add that it is our actions which take us to hell or to heaven but since there have always been some ‘misunderstandings’ between the various currents …
Anyway.
My point is that in this third case, each specific ‘reaction’ is actively shaped by the individual ‘reactionary’. According to their own projections of the future, to the prevailing, socially adopted and individually internalized, rules and to the individual understanding of the until then discovered ‘natural laws’.

And that our future, as a species/civilization, is being shaped now.
By us.
Using whatever cultural heritage our ancestors have left us and, maybe more important, according to our limited understanding of the world.
And according to our wishes, of course.

It will be our children who will bear the brunt of our current decisions.

I just finished reading an excellent article about AI.

And it hit me.

We are simultaneously capable of noticing our limits and utterly incapable of dealing with them.

Well… if you think of it, this is the very definition of a ‘limit’.
Something which cannot be overcome…

We have a limited understanding of the world, we know this and yet we’re arrogant enough to embark on building  autonomous mechanisms to help us react to something we haven’t yet fully understood ourselves…

Archimedes was famous for “give me a place to stand, and a lever long enough, and I’ll move the Earth”.
Robert K Merton warned us about the ‘Law of the unintended consequences’.
The last financial melt down was yet another proof of what happens when highly leveraged instruments are used without any shred of ‘modesty’.
All major religions warn us about the consequences of building our own idols.

Despite all this, we barrel on.
Regardless.

Trump vehemently denies any collusion with Putin’s troll-farms.

And almost all people, implicitly and/or explicitly, accept that the troll-farms had, or at least attempted to have, a certain influence over the American electoral process in 2016.

Does Putin actually control Trump? Did Putin ever imagined that he could control Trump while in office?
That would have been extremely naive… Trump may be influenced – like all other people, but he is a lot harder to control than most of us. Even by himself…
On the other hand, the ‘checks and balances’ are still in place and makes it almost impossible for a foreign agent to exert a sizable influence over the US Government.

Directly, that is…

The particular configuration of the American political spectrum in 2016 had been a huge opportunity for Putin.
He needs to convince those who support him, both inside and outside Russia, that he is a ‘shrewd operator’ and that Russia still belongs to the big boys table.
Meddling into the 2016 presidential campaign accomplished both Putin’s goals.

Maybe another investigation but Mueller’s is in order.
What possessed both major US political parties to nominate such candidates?
Which had so many skeletons in their closets for ‘shrewd operators’ to unearth?

“Capitalism has generated massive wealth for some, but it’s devastated the planet and has failed to improve human well-being at scale.”

Drew Hansen, Unless It Changes, Capitalism Will Starve Humanity by 2050,
Forbes, feb. 9, 2016.

I’m afraid we are dealing with a huge confusion.
Capitalism hasn’t generated anything and hasn’t starved, nor fed, anybody.
People did!

Capitalism is nothing more, nor less, than a particular manner in which we, ‘the people’, relate to property while ‘the free market’ is one of the manners in which economies are run.

And here’s the place where things become ‘murky’.

‘Oekonomia’ is Greek for ‘making ends meet’.

“The annual labour of every nation is the fund which originally supplies it with all the necessaries and conveniencies of life which it annually consumes, and which consist always either in the immediate produce of that labour, or in what is purchased with that produce from other nations.

According therefore, as this produce, or what is purchased with it, bears a greater or smaller proportion to the number of those who are to consume it, the nation will be better or worse supplied with all the necessaries and conveniencies for which it has occasion.

Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, 1776

The way I read it, Smith sees ‘wealth’ as people’s/nation’s ability to supply for their ‘necessaries and conveniencies’.
In other words, ‘to make ends meet’.

How we define our needs, the manner in which we choose to fulfill them and what we are disposed to ‘spend’ in the process… is our responsibility.

So.
What is it that we need/want?
A healthy planet? Clean air/water/soil and a fair opportunity for each of us to earn their keep?

Or a dog eats dog type of contest for ‘who has the biggest pile of money’?

Capitalism can encompass both.

Unfortunately, the second scenario has nothing to do with ‘making ends meet’.
On the contrary!

In Nature, ‘evil’ is suicidal.

‘Evolution is not about the survival of the fittest but about the demise of the unfit’.

Ernst Mayr, What Evolution Is, 1964.

In ‘social’, a sub-domain of Nature, Evil has to be weeded out. By us.
For no other reason than here it is us who determine what is evil or not. By honestly assessing how detrimental that thing is to our own well being.

And we need to act diligently yet sparingly.
Diligently, lest we become engulfed by ‘weeds’.
And sparingly, lest we become evil ourselves.

“One of the main arguments for Durkheim’s theory is that since crime is found in all societies, it must be performing necessary functions otherwise it would disappear in an advanced society. (Hamlin, 2009). One of these necessary functions is social change. Crime is one of the most effective sources of social change in any society. When crime goes against social norms, eventually a society’s collective belief will transform thus bringing about social change. A prime example is the Anti-miscegenation laws in the United States that promoted racial segregation. As society progressed many people began violating the laws at the time until society reached a point where it was considered a norm for inter-racial relationships in society. Eventually racial segregation was abolished and in today’s society would violate social norms.One of the main arguments for Durkheim’s theory is that since crime is found in all societies, it must be performing necessary functions otherwise it would disappear in an advanced society. (Hamlin, 2009). One of these necessary functions is social change. Crime is one of the most effective sources of social change in any society. When crime goes against social norms, eventually a society’s collective belief will transform thus bringing about social change. A prime example is the Anti-miscegenation laws in the United States that promoted racial segregation. As society progressed many people began violating the laws at the time until society reached a point where it was considered a norm for inter-racial relationships in society. Eventually racial segregation was abolished and in today’s society would violate social norms.”

Mike Larsen, Durkheim: Crime serves a Social Function, 2012

 

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