Archives for category: corruption

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.

 

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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!

 

The philosophical doctrine that every state of affairs, including every human event, act, and decision, is the inevitable consequence of antecedent states of affairs.”

The systematic study of the nature and behaviour of the material and physical universe, based on observation, experiment, and measurement, and the formulation of laws to describe these facts in general terms.

In these terms, science must be deterministic.
No systematic study of anything might ever be made if not starting from the conviction that a given set of causes will produce the same results, over and over again. No laws attempting to describe any facts in general terms might be formulated unless starting from the same premises.

On the other hand, it was science itself which had taught us that:

It’s impossible to determine, with absolute precision, both the position and momentum of an electron

The same ‘uncertainty principle’ can be extended to other pairs of “complementary variables, such as length of time and energy“.

And there are countless other examples of ‘in-determination’ which have been documented by scientists during their search for the ultimate truth.

Any chance of reconciliation?

Well…
To start, I’ll note first that ‘determinism’ is a concept which had started its career in philosophy while ‘science’ has a more ‘complex’ origin. It might have been initiated by Christian theologians trying to ‘guess’ God’s will only they were attempting to fulfill that task by closely watching Nature – which was seen as the very embodiment of God’s intentions.
In this sense, scientific determinism can be understood as the conviction that Nature must make perfect sense – must be completely explainable, simply because God’s creation – which includes Nature, must be perfect.
OK, and since all theologians agree that no human will ever be able/should ever pretend to know God, what’s the problem in accepting that Man – collectively speaking now, will never learn enough to find a complete explanation for everything?

‘And what about the atheists?’

What about them?
Oh, you mean the people who are sure that God doesn’t exist? Who are just as sure that God doesn’t exist as the staunch believers who are perfectly confident that God not only exists but also micro-manages everything? Under the Sun and beyond?
I’ll just leave it there…

On a deeper level, there is no contradiction between ‘determinism’ – philosophically speaking, and scientific thinking. As long as we keep these two ‘apart’, of course…

‘So you are going to accept that science will never ‘know’ everything AND that ‘everything is a consequence of the previous state of affairs’ ‘ ?

Well, again…
The key word here is “inevitable”!
Determinism is ” the philosophical doctrine that every state of affairs, including every human event, act, and decision, is the inevitable consequence of antecedent states of affairs
For a philosopher it is very easy to say ‘inevitable’. Even more so for believing philosopher.
For a scientist… how is a scientist going to say that something is ‘inevitable’? ‘Philosophically’ speaking, of course… as in ‘with absolute precision’?!?

Specially since entertaining a truly ‘scientific attitude’ means, above all, to be prepared, at all moment and without any notice, for all your previously held convictions to be contradicted by new evidence…

‘What are you trying to say here?
That everything revolves around the manner in which each of us relates to the meaning of his own interpretation of each concept?
That truth itself is relative?’

‘That man is the measure for everything?’

Yep!
AND that man is also responsible for the consequences his own actions! In front of his own children, before everything else.
For no other reason than it will be his own children who will bear the brunt of his own decisions.

Additional reading:
Science as Falsification“, Karl R. Popper.
800 Scientists say it’s time to abandon “Statistical Significance”
“Protagoras”
“On the Essence of Truth“, Martin Heidegger
“Suicide now leading cause of death among children aged 10 to 14 in Japan

Relative to what?
For whom?
By whom?

‘We’ – as in we, conscious human beings, live in the two tiered environment called – by us, ‘reality’.
I consider it to be ‘two tiered’ simply because it consists of a ‘natural’ layer and a man made one.

The ‘natural’, at least the part we inhabit – a relatively thin ‘skin’ surrounding the Earth, is the consequence of natural evolution. The elements have eroded the mountains, microorganisms have transformed sand into soil and ‘reconfigured’ the atmosphere, lions make sure that antelopes don’t graze the savannas back into deserts… and so on.
On top of that we’ve build a second, man made, layer. Roads, cities, churches… And, a lot more important, many strata of ‘understanding’. Collectively known as ‘culture’.

We live in a Nature which had been ‘civilized’ by ‘culture’.
Well, in fact it was us who have civilized Nature according to our culturally accrued understanding of things.

Freedom is a human concept.
Which belongs to culture, hence to one of the man-made layers which constitute the surrounding reality. The environment which hosts our lives.
Freedom, like many other components of the man made layer of reality, has two dimensions. One of a physical nature and one of a virtual nature.
Both dimensions exist only in our heads. Or, better said, exist only inasmuch as we’re aware of them. Inasmuch as we understand the concept.

For example, one aspect of the ‘physical’ liberty is our ability to move around.
Which liberty is ‘relative’ to gravity, for all those who are fit enough to exercise it and is made possible by the hardness of the Earth’s surface.
To make the example clearer, just imagine what happens to somebody caught in a pool of quicksand. Or in a pit full of molten tar.

The ‘cultural’ side of freedom has to do with the social relations which exist in a given extended community.
Hence its ‘virtual’ nature, since there is nothing ‘physical’ to determine its extent or ‘intensity’/quality. Prisons and shackles do not qualify here since they are used by some people to restrict the freedom of other people, they do not occur in nature.

Cultural freedom of one individual is relative to what the rest of the society has to say about it.
Is for whom the society considers fit to extend it to them.
And is by the same set of rules and customs which keeps that extended community together.

Like all things cultural, freedom has history. What we, collectively remember about its development in time.

At first glance, it would seem impossible to gouge what individual liberty meant 100 000 years ago, right?
Indeed, only some people still live, today, according to rules and customs which might have been valid then. The Saan and Hadza peoples in Africa, some of the indigenous tribes still living ‘traditionally’ in the Amazonian forest...
And these people have a very interesting behavior regarding ‘individual freedom’.
One is free to do as they please, for as long as their behavior do not jeopardize, in any way shape or form, the survival of the group. By not sharing, by intentionally hurting another member of the community…
The punishment for trespassers being banishment.
Temporary or even permanent. The offender is sent out into the wild, to fend it off on their own. Temporary – under the assumption that the individual will be able to learn their lesson, or – for unpardonable transgressions, for ever.

The next step, as human consciousness had become sophisticated enough to make the difference between ‘us’ and ‘them’ – one level higher than the difference between ‘me’ and ‘them’, we’ve invented slavery.
For who are the slaves?
People so different from us that we are no longer able to picture ourselves ‘in their shoes’. Just as we cannot picture ourselves as beasts of burden or as egg laying hens.
And, just as in the previous step, individual liberty was something reserved for those members of the society deemed fit for enjoying it. As individuals who are welcome at the communal fire or as individuals who are not dependent on anybody else – but the ruler/government which dispenses/embodies freedom in a given ‘formal’ society, of course.

Some extended communities have managed to go even further.
And noticed – to their amazement, perhaps, that slave-less societies fare a lot better, as a whole, than those where some of the population enjoy less freedom than the others.
Since these societies had already learned to write and to rely quite heavily on formal laws, this particular piece of information had been enshrined as the most fundamental ‘human right’.

OK, if things are so straightforward as you pretend, then why are we still having this discussion? Why ‘pockets’ of slavery – and indentured servitude, can still be found on our planet? Why, in a growing number of places, people are increasingly putting ‘personal safety’ ahead of ‘individual – and collective, liberty’?

Lack of Trust.

As I mentioned before, freedom is something which may occur in certain circumstances and which is, its social tier, a collective endeavor of the entire extended community. ‘Endeavor’ because liberty is never ‘achieved’. It has to be nurtured constantly, … or else!
The most important circumstance being mutual respect between the members of that particular extended community. Mutual respect which includes trusting your peers.
As I mentioned before, individual liberty is for ‘selected’ members of the community – under aged children continue to be excluded to this day, for example, and ‘by’ the rest of the members who constitute a community.
As mutual trust between the members decreases – for whatever reason, people are no longer willing to ‘extend’ liberty to their fellow … fellow what?!? Since they no longer perceive each-other as being fellow trustworthy citizens…

This being the reason for which deeply divided societies fall prey to totalitarian propaganda.

Whenever too many members of a society arrive to the conclusion that they will never ‘make it’ – because of ‘the wealthy’, or the king, emperor, you name it, will never ‘let them’, those people are ‘ripe’ for socialist propaganda.
On the other hand, if too many people who had once belonged to the middle class are somehow ‘demoted’ – because of various causes, and arrive at the conclusion that the current government isn’t doing ‘enough’, those people are rife for nazi/fascist style propaganda.
Tsarist Russia and WWI defeated Germany are the first examples which come to my mind.
Not much difference between those two regimes, anyway.
Both pretend to put the collective above the individual but, in fact, all what they achieve is to rise an individual dictator above all others.

Apparently, in this situation, the dictator/absolute monarch garners much of the ‘available’ liberty, thus reducing that of the rest.
In practice, things are not that simple.
The dictator becomes ‘freer’ than his subjects only in the ‘virtual’ manner.
He is free only from being interpellated by those around him. But not from the consequences of his decisions.
This being the reason for which all totalitarian regimes crumbling down. Sooner or later.
Nobody, how ever well intended and capable, was ever wise enough to pull through a dictatorship. From Alexander the Great to whomever you want to pick up from the current gallery.

So, is there anything to be done about this?
Or should we just prepare ourselves for the worst?

There are some tools which might come handy. ‘Checks and balances’, the ‘rule of law’…
But tools are only as useful as the mind which tells them what to do.
For ‘checks and balances’ to work, all parties involved need to respect each-other. ‘Checks and balances’ have been devised to weed out ‘honest’ mistakes, not to contain a raging – and conniving, bull.
Same thing with ‘the rule of law’. Laws are enforced, and written, by humans. If those who enforce, or write, them to not respect the others – and these others do not trust them back, the whole thing becomes a farce.

There is one thing which may convince us to clean up our act.
A healthy dose of history.
The understanding that we have just one planet at our disposal. For only this long.

Do we care?
Do we really care?

Let’s pretend, for the sake of argument, that we still do.

Perceived utility.

There are at least three examples of ‘mutual respect’, and its corollary, functional democracy, having developed naturally.
In the Ancient City of Athens, in Medieval Scandinavia and the entire history of the Jewish People.

The Ancient Athenians had evolved in a particular set of circumstances. They had some – but not much, fertile land, a natural port and a lot of trading opportunities in their vicinity. Hence they had experimented, very early in their development as a nation, something which was later to be described as ‘division of labour’. This very ‘division of labor’ induces trust among the members of the society. The trader has to trust that the farmer will continue to produce while the farmer has to trust the trader to come back with the money. And/or other merchandise. Further more, people involved in oversea trading, and in commercial – versus subsistence, farming, tend to develop a more independent mind-frame. And a healthy dose of self-esteem.

The same evolutionary process had happened in Medieval Scandinavia. The erstwhile subsistence farmers and fishers have expanded their ‘scope’ and became traders cum pirates. Those who ‘manned the fort’ had to trust those who went away would come back to share the spoils and those who rode the waves had to trust each-other ‘in battle’ and the ‘home-makers’ to keep the hearth warm.

Finally, the Jews had been the firsts – that I am aware of, to come with the notion that ‘God had created Man in His own image’.
Hence all men – or, at least, all those who believed in said God, were considered to be ‘equals’. ‘Equal’ sons of the same Father. Add to that the fact that each of those sons were bearing the mark of their Father – His likeliness. How not to trust/respect your ‘brother’?!?

Are we able to recreate this Weltanschauung?!?
To notice, and appreciate, the role played by each of us in the social clockwork?
To teach our children to become useful members of the society?

Let’s remember Darwin’s The Origin of the Species. Evolution is about species, not individuals.
We, individuals, are the ones who had come up with the concept of ‘freedom’. Are we wise enough to use it properly?
For the good – read survival, of our extended communities?
As we somehow managed to do until recently?

Or lazy enough to allow it to be used as a wedge to pry us apart? To smithereens?
By people who have no inkling about what they’re doing?


‘Things are not at all what they ‘really’ are but only what they seem to be.’

Confusing?

What we have here is the intersection between ‘reality’ – a.k.a. ‘absolute’ truth, and knowledge – a.k.a. logos or relative truth.

‘Things’, ‘existence’ and ‘reality’ are concepts.
Developed by us, conscious people, through the use of ‘logos’ and starting from two implicit premises.
That there must be something outside our consciousness – both the individual and collective ones.
And that our perceptions do have at least some correspondence in that ‘outside’.

By adding layers and layers of logos, collectively known as ‘culture’, upon our initial perceptions we’ve actually built an alternative reality. The one we call ‘civilization’.

The ‘thing’ being that this second reality is just as ‘outside’ our grasp as the original one was. And continues to be.
Because of our own consciousness, which both separates and connects us to ‘reality’.

What we are left with are our ‘perceptions’.
And with our understanding, for those who had reached it, that ‘perceptions’ are ‘real’ only in the sense that they do correspond to some segments of ‘reality’ but they are not necessarily similar to them.

Our concepts, not matter how gingerly refined and thoroughly revised, are only representations of ‘reality’.
‘Real’, in their own right: developing them produced, and continues to, its own set of consequences – a.k.a. ‘civilization’.
The downside being that some of those concepts have begotten rather unpleasant consequences.

‘Moral depravation’, ‘pollution’, ‘corruption’…

It doesn’t really matter how many of these consequences are the result of ‘direct’ action or unintended spin offs.

What matters is that we have to understand there will always be a distance between what we believe at some point and the object of our belief. That that distance may have enormous consequences. And that our only chance to avoid those consequences is transparency.

Heidegger was speaking about ‘unhiddenness’.
The limited nature of both our consciousness and rationality produces the distance between our concepts and their ‘real’ correspondents.
Only by openly, and respectfully, sharing what we know about ‘things’ we’ll be able to shorten that distance.
Otherwise, the limited nature of the reality we live in – the planet itself, will no longer be able to accommodate the hiatus between our concepts and the only reality we have at our disposal.

https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/hepatitis-c-drug-prices/

https://www.azquotes.com/quote/1133913

Then, if ‘greed is THAT good’, why blame Big Pharma for ‘buying’ politicians in order to extract as much profit as possible from their work?

Specially when it does work as advertised?

We priced the product at exactly the same as the existing standard of care, which worked about 50% of the time, and are providing a benefit that, based on real world experience, works about 98% of the time. From our perspective, it was a very good value.

I think our failure, if I have to take a step backwards, we were unable to have a good enough conversation with the payers. Perhaps we were a little conservative about what we could have or should have said to them to allow them to prepare for the number of patients that came forward. Honestly, it was far more than we thought. We did not think the system could or would try to handle as many patients as it did. We essentially quadrupled the number of patients treated in a year. That surge really created a lot of pain.

Ooops… so it’s the ‘payers’ who are hurting, not the patients themselves…

Gilead’s CEO Admits To ‘Failures’ In Setting Price of $1,000-A-Pill Breakthrough

Hepatitis C Treatment Highlights Disparity in Worldwide Drug Prices

An old Romanian saying posits that when God wants to punish someone, He starts by dulling their wits.

What if ‘fake news’ are a symptom of (some of the) journalists having earned the wrath of God?
Or is it the whole countries whom God wants to teach a lesson? Or two?


https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/vladimir-putin-says-he-has-never-made-a-mistake-because-god-wanted-him-to-be-perfect-10309628.html

There’s a lot of dry wood in the forests around us. It stays there for a while. Only from time to time something happens that starts a fire.

Fill a room with a mixture of oxygen and hydrogen – at ‘room temperature’, and nothing happens. Strike a match and… you get a big noise and a little water. Don’t try this at home, you won’t live to tell the story. The noise is really big.

White phosphorus has to be kept under water. Whenever it gets in contact with humid air at a temperature above 30 degrees Celsius it starts to burn. And it cannot be extinguished in any other way than by submerging the whole thing under water.

Put a TNT stick (make sure it isn’t dynamite) into fire and it will simply burn. Fuse it properly and it will detonate whenever you ‘tell’ it to.

Let’s consider life now.

All the chemical elements, and a huge number of the organic molecules, which are the building blocks of any living organism have been around for eons while ‘life’ is a relatively recent occurrence.

Males and females – both animals and plants, roam around freely. Yet no offspring appears before something happens between a male and a female. This – the need for something to occur outside the individual organism, is valid also for bacteria – they need certain conditions to multiply, and viruses – which need the assistance of other, suitable, organisms.

Whenever conditions are right enough, sooner or later ‘life’ will surely appear. Or so it has happened all over our Earth. Till now, at least.

Whenever a living organism follows it’s normal set of instructions – its DNA remains fully functional, everything goes ‘as advertised’. If, by any reason, enough DNA is damaged beyond repair, the hell breaks loose. Being diagnosed with Cancer is enough to blow up even the most stable mind.

I’ve kept the most striking similitude for the last.
Both combustion and life continue only as long as certain conditions are met. Both need enough oxygen and fuel/nutrition.

There are also two big differences between them. One regarding ‘time’ – the successions of ‘moves’ which constitute the processes, and the other regarding ‘space’.

Combustion follows a set of pre-existing rules.  The chemical composition of the combustible might change the ignition temperature but that’s all it can do. Or it may add – as it’s the case for explosives, the possibility of detonation. But, again, both combustion and detonation follow a set of rules which are valid ‘across the board’. For all combustible and explosive substances.

On it’s turn, life follows two broad sets of rules. It has to obey all those which govern chemistry and physics – read combustion and detonation, and, on top of that, it has it’s own set of detailed instructions. Which vary from species to species.

I’ve left for the end the difference regarding ‘space’ because this one is very simple.

‘Combustion’ will extend all over the place where combustible is ‘continuous’, in a single ‘event’, while ‘life’ is, by definition, about finite organisms which multiply to make ‘good use’ of the available resources.
This being the reason for which combustion stops whenever the combustible available in an enclosed place is exhausted while life can resist a certain period of ‘famine’.

Which is worse?

– Making mistakes?

– Calling them out as a manner of ‘making ends meet’?

– Embellishing/inventing mistakes as a manner of promoting your own interests?

Or sheeple-shly standing by while those involved in the vicious circle described above merrily destroy the world around all of us?

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