Archives for category: cooperation

Decision is the frontier between action and understanding.

All frontiers are, in fact, links.

Present decisions set the stage where future will be played, just as past decisions have built the theater.
While we, “the people”, are the building actors. The script writers. And the spectators who will eventually bear the brunt.

 

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Reading this excellent article by James Poulter, BBC Three, I was reminded of Marx. Karl, not Groucho.

“The lower middle class, the small manufacturer, the shopkeeper, the artisan, the peasant, all these fight against the bourgeoisie, to save from extinction their existence as fractions of the middle class. They are therefore not revolutionary, but conservative. Nay more, they are reactionary, for they try to roll back the wheel of history. If by chance, they are revolutionary, they are only so in view of their impending transfer into the proletariat; they thus defend not their present, but their future interests, they desert their own standpoint to place themselves at that of the proletariat.”

 Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto, 1848.

The XX-th century had been torn apart by two totalitarian lines of thought. Communism and fascism/nazism.
The communists had backed their claims on Marx’s class struggle while the fascists/nazists had used a plethora of other authors as pretexts. Despite the differences, the results had been the same. Callous spin doctors had used popular discontent to get uncontested possession of the political levers. And kept playing with them until entire countries crumbled under their own weight.

But what was it that made some nations destroy themselves on the left side of the authoritarian spectrum while others have done the same thing but on the right side?

The nature of the popular discontent!

At any given point, the majority of the people living in a country might see itself as being in one of the following three situations:
– Leading a relatively comfortable life and having a decent perspective to improve its lot or at least to maintain its present status.
– Having always led a bad life and finding absolutely no perspective of improvement.
– Having led a relatively good life for a while, lost that status and finding no way to resume it.

According to Marx, the first situation would have necessarily led to the third and, eventually, to communism.
According to history, people living in the second situation had always been manipulated into communism while people struggling in the third have been led into fascism/nazism.

Meanwhile, people living in the first situation have remained there for as long as they maintained their social cohesion. But that will be the subject of another post.

 

Three things have grabbed my attention this week.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, right…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s examine the situation from another angle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

“A person may choose to have an abortion until a fetus becomes viable, based on the right to privacy contained in the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”

This was how the United States’ Supreme Court was reading the US Constitution in 1973.

Pro-lifers oppose this view. Their main argument being that life is sacred and needs to be protected. Period. For them, abortion equals infanticide. Plain murder.

What we have here is a clash of absolutes.
The absolute right to life and the absolute right to dispose of your own body.

The United States Supreme Court has solved the conundrum by setting a time frame. “until the fetus becomes viable”.
Pro-lifers propose another solution: “make abortion and attempted abortion felony offenses except in cases where abortion is necessary in order to prevent a serious health risk to the unborn child’s mother“. (Alabama’s HB314/2019)

Let’s see where lie the differences between Pro-Choice and Pro-Life.

Pro-Choice say that agency must be reserved for those who 1. are alive and 2. are directly implied in the matter.
Pro-Life extend the definition of ‘alive’ to cover everything they consider to be ‘living matter’ and thus take the final decision from those who are directly implied into the mater. And give it to those who have to decide the seriousness of the “health risk to the unborn child’s mother”.

In both cases the absolute becomes relative.
In the first case, the absolute becomes relative to the person directly involved in the matter.
In the second case, the absolute becomes relative to those powerful enough to insert themselves, and others, into the equation.

And both sides clamor they are acting in the name of individual liberty…

While ‘fitting’ discount priced toilet paper into my new second hand car, something struck me.

DSC_6406

In many ways, we are a first generation.
And by ‘we’ I understand what Americans call ‘the baby-boomers’.

We are the first generation to use toilet paper ‘en masse’. Have you noticed the hole in the Farmer’s Almanac?
We are the first generation to witness new cars becoming less reliable than the older ones. Not to mention less ‘honest’… remember the scandal regarding the Diesel engines emissions…
We are the first generation who has not witnessed a large scale war. As a consequence, very few of us had to flee conflict. My paternal grand parents had to leave their country behind after WWI while my mother was trice displaced during WWII. During my ‘tenure’, I’ve only read about those who had to flee the war in ex-Yugoslavia. Or Syria… We’ve met refugees, indeed, only all of them had come from other continents. While our parents/grandparents had to flee themselves. Had relatives and/or friends who had to run for their lives.
We are the first generation whose children expect to have a harsher life than ours.

Would this be enough explanation for the demographic decline we witness in Europe? And in other civilized places? Japan, South Korea…
As in ‘the reason for which less and less of our children have children of their own’?

OK, and where’s the link between my discount priced toilet paper and the demographic decline?

The fact that we don’t want to get our hands dirty is absolutely normal!
Who, in their right minds, would want such a thing?
There is a second fact though. Which cripples us. We haven’t yet learned that, from time to time, people do have to get their hands dirty in order to survive.

And people actually died because of this.
Boeing was so eager to cut costs – and corners, that didn’t even consider doing the ‘right thing’. ‘Getting their hands dirty’ and treating the 737 Max 8 as the new type of aircraft it really was. Before two of them having crashed due to pilots haven’t been properly trained for the new flying conditions.
Boeing should have designed the plane starting from a clean sheet  and the FAA should have  certified it as such.

“Profit is a natural by-product of voluntary commerce, exchanging value for value. Increasing profits come from better exchanges of value over time. Accepting a lower value of trade in order to benefit someone else believed to need the benefit is a myth. Self interest has always been a key component of human commerce.”

Paul Garner

The barons who had forced King John to sign the Magna Charta were interested in preserving their privileges, not in the deepening of their fellow citizens’ freedom… yet this was the ultimate consequence of their actions.

“No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land. To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.

This clause gave all free men the right to justice and a fair trial. However, ‘free men’ comprised only a small proportion of the population in medieval England. The majority of the people were unfree peasants known as ‘villeins’, who could seek justice only through the courts of their own lords.”

The heirs of those barons had evicted their Scottish tenants in search of the higher profits yielded by raising sheep, not because they wished to improve the local food market. Yet exactly those ‘clearances’ had constituted the stepping stone for the economic blooming of Scotland. And for the advent of the ‘Scottish Economic Thought’, epitomized by Adam Smith.

Are we to understand that ‘self interest’ will, sooner or later, somehow morph into ‘the greater good’? By its own, according to a yet unknown ‘natural law’?

I’m afraid this is nothing but wishful thinking.

The barons who had rebelled against King John were following an already established tradition.
Being the nephews of the Norman – read Viking, invaders, they were familiar with the Scandinavian things. Their uprising against the king was nothing more than a defense of their fore-fathers’ way of life.

Of their fore-fathers’ free way of life!

The landlords who had evicted their tenants to make way for the more profitable sheep may have created the conditions for the development of a thriving free market… only it was exactly this free market which had represented the doom of the ‘landed aristocracy’…

So. Is freedom the most important aspect of the free market?

I’m afraid that would be an oversimplification.

The markets are free, period.
If anything impedes their (transversal) freedom in ‘space’ – a ruler, a dictator or even a natural set of events, markets will find their (longitudinal) freedom in ‘time’. All dictatorships have been toppled by ‘history’ and all ‘natural’ sets of events have been overcome. As yet, at least.

The most important ‘things’ in the market are the people who animate it.
Any market would be nothing but an empty intersection of roads if not for the people who gather there to trade their wares. To better solve their existential problems by exchanging the ‘fruits of their respective skills’.
And the freer those people are to hone their skills and to take the fruits of those skills to whatever intersection they choose, the better the solutions developed, by them, for their existential problems.

And what about the profit? Is it good?

Of course it’s good. But for only as long as it remains free!
For only as long as it doesn’t depend on external forces and for only as long as it doesn’t become an obsession.
Since most of you understand the perils of monopolistic ‘external forces’ being exerted to limit the freedom of the market, I’ll delve directly into my obsession about the hidden dangers of pursuing profit as an existential goal.

We describe ourselves as being conscious.

In Humberto Maturana’s terms, ‘we are able to catch ourselves red handed’.

As a human being I do what we human beings do, I operate as an observer observing. The observer is not a condition of being, it is not a transcendental entity that exists by itself, it is not a material entity, it is our experience of being aware of ourselves doing what we do as we human beings operating as observers observing. And what do we do as human beings operating as observers in observing? We make distinctions. We make distinctions of objects, of notions, of ideas, of concepts, …,of entities that we bring forth with our operations of distinction together with the domains of existence in which they arise.

When hungry, we not only feed ourselves. We also notice that we feel good once our bellies are full. And we strive to make provisions for the next meal. Thus increasing our chances to survive.

Some of us end up eating too much. They are so keen to reproduce ‘that’ good feeling that they end up morbidly fat. Thus diminishing their life span.

Still others try to make sure they’ll enjoy their next meal by appointing themselves ‘gatekeepers’ to ‘food’.
And, sooner rather than later, every time they succeed, this ‘arrangement’ ends up in abject failure. The most publicized recent example being the failure of the centrally planned ‘popular democracies’. Unfortunately, there had been countless other examples. In fact, in all instances where power had been concentrated in a too small number of hands, the societies which had allowed this to happen have eventually collapsed.

Another example is our addiction to drugs.
All of us enjoy feeling good. Which is an evolutionary device meant to show us we are on the right track. To prod us in the right direction.
Some of us have discovered ‘the short cut’. Instead of doing ‘the right thing’ first and expect the reward afterwards, they just imbibe the ‘right’ substance. Alcohol, sugar, nicotine, heroine, coke, THC

Now, can any of us pretend that a drug addict or a morbidly fat individual is a free person?

Returning to the freedom of the market, we can only say that a market is functionally free for only as long as a functional majority of the trading agents behave in a free manner. Do as they individually see fit.
Compare this to the situation when, for whatever reason, the majority of the trading agents feel compelled to follow a fad.
The Tulip Mania is the first example which springs into my mind every time I discuss this subject. Followed by all other bubbles which had ‘punctured’ our economic history ever since.

The current fad being ‘profit’.
Which profit is essential for the long term well being – read ‘survival’, of any economic enterprise.
Only we need to remember that economic enterprises are meant to solve problems. To be of service to people. So useful to the consumer side of the market that the consumers are willing, on their own accord, to part with enough money to make those enterprises profitable.

If the market is warped so far that things go the other way – enterprises are managed to maximize profits at the expense of the services rendered to the clients and the ‘beneficiaries’ are not aware of what’s going on, or have no say in the process, the whole thing starts to resemble what used to happen inside an opium den.

We somehow managed to weather all economic crises that we, ourselves, have brought upon our heads. And to outgrow our obsession with opium.

I’m sure we’ll manage to free ourselves from our current obsession with profit.

Nota bene!
Under no circumstances we may allow capitalism itself to be left behind in our quest for liberty from the tyranny of ‘profit’.
Capitalism is something else than the unending and callous adoration of the ‘golden god’, just as profit is a very useful indicator but a horrible master.

 

The theory that each person imposes the moral law on himself. It is opposed to heteronomous morality, which holds that the moral law is imposed from outside of man by another, and ultimately by the divine Other, who is God, which makes the moral law theonomous.

I argued in my previous post that in a perfect world the simple fact that we consider ourselves to have been created, in his likeness, by the God we believe in, would have been enough to make us behave in a certain manner.

We don’t. Behave in that manner.

The world exists. And will continue to exist, regardless of whatever we might do in the foreseeable future. Maybe not the Earth as we know it but it’s rather unlikely that we’ll ever be able to destroy the entire world.
Here, on our home-planet, we’ve more or less soiled everything we’d come in contact with. Willingly or unwittingly.
Which suggests that the world might not be perfect but is more or less OK. And that it is us who haven’t yet risen to the occasion.

We may not have fully risen to the occasion, indeed, but we’ve managed to somehow survive. Until now, that is.
How was that possible, given our imperfect nature?

Was our behaviour shaped from outside as the heteronomous morality theory suggests? By (a) God, as the theonomous morality theory pretends?

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.”

What do we have here?
A couple of people, who are already able to speak, who cannot yet make the difference between good and evil but who can see that ‘the fruit of the tree is good for food’ and ‘desirable for gaining wisdom’.
Furthermore, the couple is not only able to communicate between the two of them, they – or, at least, one of them, are also capable to negotiate with ‘outside agents’.
And, in fact, it was a consequence of a ‘negotiation’ that they had learned to differentiate between good and evil.
Moving even closer to Godhood in the process: “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”

“So the Lord God banished him (them, actually) from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.”

I must confess that things become more and more complicated instead of becoming clearer.
‘Moral law is imposed’…
Adam and Eve have learned the difference between good and evil as a consequence of ‘freely’ interacting with someone from ‘outside’ their ‘immediate community’.
And got punished for it. On a ‘technicality’!

What is moral in all this?
What are they to learn from this experience?
Since all that God had imposed on them was ‘punishment’, are they (we?!?) to understand that ‘moral law’ is equivalent with ‘gallows’?

In this setting, moral law is supposed to be learned exclusively through ‘trial and error’?
No ‘explanation’? No ‘prep school’?
Is this nothing but a form of ‘radical training’? Like that advertised by B.F. Skinner?
Not to mention that for some ‘sins’, the punishment is to be served ‘later’…

“God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

Hence all people, male and female, have been created equal. Simply because all of them have been cast in the same mould.
And all of them, male and female, harbor a spark of divinity. Simply because the mould into which all of them have been cast had been made “in the image of God”.

Simple logic would tell us that all people who believe mankind had been made in the image of God would behave in a certain manner.
Because of the reasons I mentioned above.
That kind of behavior had been called ‘ethical’ by well established thinkers. Plato, for instance.

“Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.” “

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.
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“This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.
Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground”

Same simple logic I’ve invoked earlier tells me that God had created ‘the heavens and earth’ in two different stages. More or less like we do things.
First we think about the things we are going to do – ‘design them’ would be a more modern term, and then we put our thoughts into practice. ‘Execute’ our designs, according to the practical aspects which always limit our actions.

“Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”

The Bible itself seems to agree with me. When God finally decided to put into practice his idea of a man, he started with something he already had at his disposal. Just like we have to do whenever we attempt to accomplish anything.
“Dust from the ground”.
Man, ‘made in the image of God’, was fashioned from already available material, not from ‘thin air’.

Could this be the origin of man’s limitations?
His ‘earthly’ nature, no matter his divine likeliness?
Could this be the reason for God going back on his words?

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” “

What made God change his mind?
In Genesis 1 – the R&D phase?, he had planned a world where man was allowed to feed on everything under the sun while in Genesis 2 he had established rules about what Adam was allowed to eat and what not.
Furthermore, why make a ‘tree of the knowledge of good and evil’ in the first place? If you were going to forbid your favorite pet from eating its fruit, under the most drastic penalty…

No!
This is not yet another half backed attempt to deny the existence of God under the pretext that the only source describing its existence is full of inconsistencies.
Pretending that God does not exist simply because those who tried to describe him had not been able – or willing ?, to present a more coherent image of him is equivalent to pretending that God exists simply because we haven’t found, yet, an exhaustive explanation for everything.

You ‘see’, the Bible, no matter how holly we might consider it to be, is nothing but an image of God. A Man made image of God.
A Man written image of God, to be more precise.

The fact that the Bible is chock-full of wisdom can not be denied.
Which fact remains true regardless of whether it had been written ‘under guidance’ or ‘on their own’ by a group of ‘free agents’. Or, even, by a combination of both.
Unfortunately, there is another fact which seemingly contradicts the first. The Bible had been used as pretext for horrible crimes. Committed by ‘over-zealous’ believers, by ruthless ‘self serving’ operators or by a strange combination of both.

In order to encompass the simultaneous existence of both aforementioned facts each of us must take a step back-wards.
Extract ourselves from the fry.

Each of us must start thinking for ourselves.

How to do that – become ‘independent’, and yet preserve our chances to survive? As in remain connected with the day to day, hard-core reality?

Stay tuned. That will be my next subject.

It’s not unusual for a Christian ‘zealot’ to accuse an atheist of ‘cherry picking’.
When the latter uses a quote from the Bible to argue something which ‘displeases’ the former, of course.


“If God does not exist, everything is permitted.”

I found this quote, which belongs to Dostoevsky, in an article published by http://www.thecatholicthing.org in 2016.
That is to say, the nonexistence of God means that we live in a world of perfect moral freedom; we may do anything we like, up to and including mass murder.

Well, if I remember correctly – more than three decades have passed since I had read The Brothers Karamazov, which didn’t impress me much, the book is an intricate, but very compelling, demonstration of the exact contrary.

Raskolnikov is unable to live with himself after the assassination of the usurer. It is fundamentally unable to clear his sense of right and wrong, to silence his conscience. Initially, he tries to continue living, enjoying his cunning, concluding that it is a superman. Yet the humble Sonya reminds him of his act, reminds him of his guilt and therefore needs forgiveness. Dostoevsky destroyed the theory of the Superman condemning the characters involved in the mental suffering until they recognize the truth.

Time has come for me to admit of having myself committed the sin.
The quote I used above ends with ” and the light of Christianity.

Cherry picking had grabbed my attention while researching for a future post. ‘Moral identity‘. Which implies ‘autonomous morality’:

The theory that each person imposes the moral law on himself. It is opposed to heteronomous morality, which holds that the moral law is imposed from outside of man by another, and ultimately by the divine Other, who is God, which makes the moral law theonomous.

So.
Those engaged in cherry picking do it because the selection serves their purposes or because their actions are “imposed from outside”?

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