Archives for category: Frames of mind

Just found this in my FB feed:

“Why is it that good people are always so far away?”

A few days ago I came across “On God: An Uncommon Conversation” between Norman Mailer and J. Michael Lennon.

Reading it made me wonder.
Most of us are aware that there is no way of knowing God, or his will, and, simultaneously, most of us are absolutely sure about the Devil and his intentions.

Isn’t this ‘inconsistent’, to say the least?

The musing about the ‘good people’ shed a new light upon the object of my wonder.

Bad is a lot easier to recognize that good.
There is nothing remarkable in putting on your old loafers and going for a stroll.
Now try to imagine how would it be if you had to walk, even for a short distance, with a pebble in one of those loafers. Or, God forbid, with a sharp pain in one of your knees.

Our ability to pinpoint the sources of discomfort and to identify (potential) danger did a tremendous job.
We survived.

We are so good at it that right now we are on top of the world.
Precisely because ever since we became aware of what was going on around us we have striven to keep danger, and discomfort, as far away  from us as possible at any given moment.

Unfortunately, by concentrating on identifying evil, we are slowly loosing our ability to see the good.

In a sense we have brought upon ourselves a certain ‘tolerance‘ to ‘good’. By successfully driving so much of the ‘bad’ away from our lives we have become unable to recognize the good moments in our lives.

Simultaneously we have developed a ‘reverse tolerance‘ for bad.
We have grown so adept at identifying it that we see it almost everywhere.

Because we are culturally conditioned to presume that ‘different’ is bad.

As I mentioned before, our ability to identify danger is what kept us alive. I won’t delve into how our brains are hard-wired to run/shoot first and ask questions later. You can read ‘all about it’ over the Internet.
Here is an as good place to start as many others.

“Officers need to build confidence with hand-on techniques

Taking what they admit is a controversial position, the authors argue that officers today may be too quick to use control tools like CEWs or OC, instead of applying hands-on tactics to subdue some unarmed subjects. The researchers say they were “struck by several incidents…that might have easily been addressed [successfully] by going hands-on” instead of resorting quickly to a less-lethal or deadly weapon.

 Sometimes unarmed “rowdy” people need to be “grabbed and secured,” even though they may fight in response, Selby writes. “Officers should be expected not to treat every assault as a life-and-death situation….

 “Over-reliance on TASER or pepper spray has its own set of dangers. Officers who do not practice fighting…risk being surprised by physicality, over-powered or out-maneuvered by those they confront… [T]hose who practice their physical skills are mentally and physically [better] prepared.”” (Force Science News, #314, II. 8 “key findings from new study on killing of unarmed suspects)

Can we do anything about this?

Of course.

Remember the old loafers at the top of my post?
(Almost) None of us trows away a good pair of shoes when they get dirty, right? It makes a hell of a lot more sense to grab a rag and ‘polish’ them, isn’t it?
Also, when judging a person, we’d better ‘examine’ him from top to bottom before passing a ‘sentence’ to the tune of ‘his shoes are dirty, hence I’ll discard him right away’.

And, above all, we need to remember that while ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’, goodness is, simply put, the absence of ‘bad’.

So, theoretically, none of them really exists.
Beauty doesn’t exist because we cannot fully agree upon it while nothing is absolutely free of ‘bad’. Hence nothing absolutely good has ever seen the light of day.

It seems that a better definition for a ‘good’ person would be somebody who behaves in such a manner as to be accepted by those around him.

Yeah, I know, I just opened a fresh can of worms… when in Rome…

What if one happens to live on an island run by pirates?

Well… soon enough the pirates will become so obnoxious to the rest of the world that the island will be conquered by the first powerful enough nation which happened to be pushed to the limit of its tolerance. Or, if that doesn’t happen, at some point, the ruling pirates will jump at each others throats.
That’s why all totalitarian regimes, including the communist ones, have failed.
The totalitarians tend to believe that only they are good and that all the rest are bad.

And totalitarian regimes usually start when an authoritarian leader convinces a critical mass of the people that:

  • their ideas right/good
  • all the rest are bad
  • so bad, in fact, that all means are acceptable while fighting ‘the evil.

Even if at first the authoritarian seems almost harmless the very logic of the system – more and more intolerance – leads all authoritarian regimes towards more and more intransigence. Meaning that the forces employed to maintain the regime become more and more adept at identifying ‘evil’, until the pressure eventually cranked up in the process blows open the entire social structure.

The sooner enough members of a given society discover that most of them are in fact ‘more good than evil’, the sooner the authoritarian would be dictators loose traction and things can return to normal.

 

“A couple drove down a country road for several miles, not saying a word. An earlier discussion had led to an argument and neither of them wanted to concede their position. As they passed a barnyard of mules, goats and pigs, the husband asked sarcastically, “Relatives of yours?” “Yep,” the wife replied, “in-laws.” “

Remember that these two are described as being a couple! Going somewhere together…

And not an out of the ordinary one, judging by what happens around us.

OK, I can understand differences of opinion between people – how ever close their relationship. What I cannot understand is this ‘need’ to aggravate things. To make the other one feel just as bad as ‘I’ do.

Why cannot we focus on the really important issues?

Like in this instance:

“A five-year-old boy was mowing his front lawn and drinking a beer. The preacher who lived across the street saw the beer and came over to harass the kid. “Aren’t you a little young to be drinking, son?” he asked. “That’s nothing,” the kid said after taking a swig of beer. “I got laid when I was three.” “What? How did that happen?” “I don’t remember. I was drunk.” “

“If democracy and open societies depend on constantly providing their citizens with more wealth tomorrow than today, then the Western world — and soon enough the whole world — is in for tough times.” (Zachary Karabell, Forget Dow 20,000 — the Boom Times Are Over. Is Democracy Next?, Foreign Policy, 2017/01/26)

Shouldn’t we ‘back track’ and try to identify what and when, if any, we’ve done wrong before attempting to go any further?

The author identifies, with surgical precision, the stepping stones that have led us to where we are now.

We, in the West, have grown to associate material affluence with capitalism, democracy and liberalism.
In the process, we got “addicted” to a special kind of ‘economic growth’,  the one measured in monetary terms.Lately, after people no longer had as many children as they used to – which, supposedly, is going to hinder and eventually halt ‘economic’ growth, things are no longer seen in the same light.
The economic boom in China and recent developments in Philippines, Turkey and a few other places which “have seen a surge in nationalism of late, a questioning of democracy and skepticism about liberalism even as economic growth has been strong and deep”  are adding to the confusion.
Even “more surprising is the erosion of support for democracy and the norms of liberalism — even of capitalism — in the United States, France, Spain, Greece, and elsewhere”.

He also identifies, with equal precision, some of the barriers that prevent us from seeing the wider picture.

That we haven’t yet developed a clearer understanding of what liberalism and democracy might be. In his own words they still are “adolescent concepts relative to the tenure of recorded history”.
Then there is the matter of how we understand ‘economic’ growth.
“Politicians and governments rise and fall based on how successfully they have been seen to address the problem of wealth and jobs — not the problem of food, shelter, health, and quality of life.”
“we know no other way to assess economic strength and societal success except by the metric of growth. Three hundred ago, the metric was armies and territory. Today, it is GDP, jobs, and wages. You could craft a lovely society with zero growth, but nobody would believe it if GDP, jobs, and wages were shrinking and the rewards remained unevenly dispersed.”
And it’s not only a matter of understanding but also one of perception. “How people react to inequality is hardly straightforward; the populist wave that elected Trump doesn’t yet mind a billionaire cabinet. But the perception that some are reaping rewards at the expense of the many is deep and strong; that, too, was a line almost verbatim in Trump’s inaugural address.”
Which perception leads to a certain way of seeing things. “We clearly are able to provide basic material needs to everyone. But in the developed world, we are failing to provide a sense of security even while most people’s lives are de facto more secure.
On top of this, there is “anger”. Produced by the “evidence that we have the ability to meet our collective needs and wants” corroborated with the “ample evidence that many countries lack the political will or social consensus to make that happen”.

So, what next?

In Mr. Karrabell’s terms, we need to brush off skepticism, fear and anger – since they “are not themselves barometers of the future” – and …

“The greatest questions for the coming years is whether material stability is enough to mitigate against political chaos and societal decay.”

I’m sorry but I really don’t like this kind of ‘wait and see’ attitude.
It doesn’t make much sense to bother about something that will happen outside your sphere of influence, does it?
Place a bet, if you are a betting guy, and go back to whatever you might be able to actually do!

How about rephrasing that question?

What is it that might bring about the “political chaos and societal decay” we are so afraid of?

Now is the moment for me to make a confession.
I’ve altered, just a little bit, the narrative.
While Mr. Karrabell did mention “anger”, he only said about it that it was “evident” – without providing any cause for it. It was I who associated that anger with the “ample evidence that many countries lack the political will or social consensus” to “meet our collective needs and wants”.
The way I see it there is no way that any country might ‘meet our collective needs and wants’, no matter what amount of ‘political will or social consensus’ might be involved in the process. Not in the longer run, anyway.
All communist regimes – which were, declaratively, trying to accomplish exactly that – have failed. Abysmally.  Not because, in reality, all of them did nothing but cater for their ruling elite but because all of them used to be run according to a ‘central plan’.

And stop calling China a ‘communist’ regime. Or Vietnam, for that manner. As long as the ‘means of production’ are more or less private, and their owners free(ish) to use them as they see fit, those countries are not ‘communist’. They might not be entirely free but they are not at all ‘communist’. Venezuela, for instance, is a lot more ‘communist’ than China.

But let’s return to the countries that might attempt to make it so that ‘our collective needs are met’.
How are they going to do that?
First of all, those in charge – the government, right? – would have to determine what those ‘needs and wants’ are and only then make the necessary arrangements for them to be met. But not more than that, because that would be wasteful.

Do I hear any chuckles? You figured out that those ‘willing’ countries would have to use the same ‘central planning’ system that has already led to the failure of the communist regimes?

How about re-framing the whole situation?
How about the “ample evidence” mentioned by Mr. Karrabell suggesting that too many countries – including the one that has recently inaugurated Mr. Trump as President – no longer have “the political will or social consensus” to allow their citizens enough real freedom and enough real opportunities to pursue their own “needs and wants”? As they see fit?

Then shouldn’t we next try to understand the process through which the erstwhile ample opportunities have been curtailed?

As I mentioned before, I’m going to use the ‘back-walking’ method.

First step, anger. We really need to loose that. Nothing good ever came out of it.

Specially when considering the next steps, perception and understanding. If we allow anger to cloud our thinking both perception and understanding will yield errors instead of knowledge.

Which brings us to our obsession with (monetary measured) growth. Could this obsession be explained by the fact that money is the easiest thing to distribute but also the easiest thing to hoard? Panem and circenses eventually failed… Why do we still see hoarding money as a legitimate goal (after amassing more than one could ever spend, with the entire family, in a hundred years)… beats me.
But explains what’s going on.
As long as enough of us see hoarding money as a legitimate past-time, more and more people will engage in it. More exactly ‘try to engage’ in it. And this is the very behavior which produces ‘bubbles’. As in ‘market bubbles’. And, eventually, crashes.

But not only crashes. Misconceptions also.

“There is little evidence that democracy and liberalism (and capitalism) in their current form are the best or only conduit for providing for economic needs and wants for all. If they were, there would be less roiling discontent.”
My point being that none of those, in any form, are ‘conduits’ for anybody to provide, through them, anything for anybody else.
Democracy, liberalism and capitalism, together, determine the three dimensional ‘space of opportunity’ where we, human individuals, try to provide for our own needs. If allowed to, of course.
It fact it is not the “politicians and governments” mission to “address the problem of wealth and jobs”. In a full-fledged liberal democracy the government does nothing but guards the freedom of the economic market  and the safety of the citizens – including their ‘human’ rights and private property.

As for capitalism… it doesn’t provide anything. Lest of all “incentives”. People provide incentives. Capitalists provide their employees with incentives to work and politicians provide the capitalists with incentives to engage in such or such enterprises or to refrain form others. And while the first kind of incentives, those provided by the capitalists themselves, work as intended – increase productivity, that is, if employed wisely, the latter end up curtailing the freedom of the market. Which can no longer work smoothly enough. This being the moment when opportunities disappear for the ‘man in the street’ and when those ‘connected’ to the government start to ‘flourish’.

You see, real capitalism is not as much about money as it is about trust.
Trust that your business partner – well, most of them – is going to fulfill his end of the bargain, not try to rip you off. Trust that if things go wrong – in the rare event that he does try to rip you off – the government will move swiftly on your behalf.

That’s all.
That’s what Deng Xiaoping meant by ‘I don’t care about the color of the cat, all I care is for it to catch the mouse’. That’s why the Chinese imported capitalism works. Because the Chinese government has learned that the market cannot do its job, in the longer time frame, without a certain dose of ‘liberty’.
The problem being that China is but an exception. Along with a few other examples, mostly in South Asia, they are the very few countries whose authoritarian governments have learned to refrain from interfering too much in their economies.

Looking back in time, ‘back-tracking’ that is, we’ll notice that capitalism has emerged in places where the entrepreneurs had both considerable individual liberty and enough wisdom to refrain themselves from trying to con their business partners. Otherwise the whole (budding) economic effervescence of the time would have very quickly been smothered by greed.
Think of the Medieval Venetians trading with the Arab merchants of the time. This being the reason for why the oldest surviving bank in the world, Monte dei Paschi di Siena, is based in Italy – the least centralized country in the Medieval Europe.
Or think about how a hand shake used to be enough to seal a deal between two Americans. Some time ago… nowadays you need an army of lawyers to buy a car… not to mention the flurry of official permits needed in most cases…

So, what we need to do, if we want to continue to be a source of inspiration for the rest of the world, is to restore democracy, liberalism and capitalism to what they used to be. Dimensions which described the space of opportunity that used to be open for all of us.

OK, hindsight is always 20-20… or so they say…
I’m afraid that what I just described was an idealized mental construction but I’m sure that you got my drift.
After-all, if the Chinese were able to learn it from us … we’ll surely be able to restore it to its old glory.
Or else…

http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/01/26/forget-dow-20k-the-boom-times-are-over-is-democracy-next/

The Rorschach test consists of a trained specialist encouraging a subject to share his interpretations on 10 “ambiguous images“.
At the end of the discussion the trained specialist more or less ‘determines the fate’ of the subject, by filing his interpretation of the subject’s reactions.

The democratic process consists of everybody freely expressing their concerns about things.
Periodically some people are invested with enough power to solve the problems encountered by the community, in a manner consistent with the values agreed upon by that community. At the end of each such period the activity of these people is analyzed (interpreted ?!?) by those at the ‘receiving end’ of the political mechanism, with the intended goal of improving the ‘political process’.
The fate of the entire community being under a double determination. The diligence of the politicians invested to run the show and the diligence of the people when evaluating the results of the political process.

As you can see with a naked eye, there are a few striking similarities between  Democracy and the Rorschach test. Both depend heavily on the participants being honest and straightforward.

If the patient ‘doesn’t trust his doctor’ or ‘doesn’t feel like talking’ the ‘trained person’ will undoubtedly have problems in reaching a ‘fair conclusion’. Both will have to ‘suffer some consequences’.
If the ‘doctor’ has ‘ulterior motives’ and ‘unfairly labels’ his patient, it will be the patient to suffer the initial consequences but, eventually, those consequences will ‘bounce back’ to their source.

Same things happen in any society.
The difference between a democratic and an authoritarian one being that in a democratic environment ‘consequences’ become apparent, and are dealt with, a lot easier than in an authoritarian one.
This being the reason for which true, functional, democracies work better than any form of authoritarianism.

As long as both parties involved ‘interpret’ their roles appropriately, of course.

(D)evil is ‘the difference’ we cannot accept.

For some, the fact that anything so ‘distant’ from what they find acceptable can survive for any length of time is a slap in their faces.

Which prevents them from learning anything in that situation.

the-sleep-of-reason
People have started to freak out after realizing the full scale of what has just happened.
Some see him as a just retribution for our past sins – and they are probably right about this – while others look at the whole situation as if it was a sort of a Rorschach test.
How about Trump as an opportunity?
The inverse of a Rorschach test since that is about the shrink trying to learn something while an opportunity is about the subject bearing the responsibility for the consequences …
An opportunity, and a prod, for the silent majority to remember that ‘The sleep of reason produces monsters‘?
The way I see it Clinton would have done everything in her power to lull us back into our erstwhile stupor while Trump, willingly and/or unwittingly, is already making enough noise… Even the Sleeping Beauty must have already heard something…
So, test or opportunity, now it’s up to us to find a way out of the current mess. Which, I have to repeat this, is our exclusive responsibility.
The problem being that for those inside, the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ can be the actual exit or the head-light of a train engine barreling down towards them.
‘Lady Luck’ is a tough bitch and that’s why one should be really careful with these things.
PS. The ‘shrink’ already has a huge ‘blot’ to muse about. Some people never learn.
Emily Linroth being a spokeswoman for the National Park Service, the organization which has cleaned up “the National Mall following the inauguration and the Women’s March on Washington Saturday.

I was planning a post and going to use this title, but without the quotation marks.

I wasn’t aware of the book that begins with the very same words.

Before starting to write – the original post was meant to be about the relationship between us, people, and the laws that govern our lives – I checked on Google whether somebody else had already used the same title and where they had went from there.

Since G‑d is the ultimate perfection and is free of all limitations and definitions, it is self-evident that, in the words of the Alter Rebbe, “The fact that He creates universes does not express what G‑d is.” At the same time He is, as Maimonides writes in his Laws of the Fundamentals of Torah, “the one who brings every existence into being; all existences exist only as derivatives of His ultimate existence” and the one upon whom “all existences are utterly dependent.” It is also obvious that just as no creature can comprehend the nature of G‑d’s creation of reality ex nihilo, so too no creature can comprehend the nature of G‑d, even the nature of G‑d as the creator of the world and the source of every existence.

In the words of the great Jewish philosophers: “If I knew Him, I would be Him.”

So, though a person realizes and understands that no thing can create itself, and that one must therefore conclude that the created reality has a source that generates its existence, this is proof only of the existence of the Creator, not an understanding of what He is, even as “Creator.”

Now, after reading Rabbi Schneerson’s (the Lubavitcher Rebbe) words, I cannot stop wondering what drives certain people to pretend that they have fully understood God’s will and therefore their actions/words are not only ‘correct’ but also above any doubt.

Not to mention their insistence that we, the rest of the (not divinely blessed with such a deep understanding) people, must follow their directions or suffer the consequences?
Here on Earth, at ‘their’ hands…

On the other hand, the same principle has been affirmed – time and time again – by various scientists.
For example, by Werner Heisenberg.
The depth of the uncertainty principle is realized when we ask the question; is our knowledge of reality unlimited? The answer is no, because the uncertainty principle states that there is a built-in uncertainty, indeterminacy, unpredictability to Nature.

 

when does chemistry become more than the sum of its parts?”

This evening I’ve read, in rather close succession, two very interesting lines.

The second was the one I just quoted above.  It comes from a BBC article titled: “There are over 100 definitions for life and all are wrong!

A little earlier I had come across Confucius’ “When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.

I could not resist the temptation to put these two together.

Rather than defining ‘life’ I’ll try to see what obviously (?!?) differentiates ‘living creatures’ from ‘chemically driven’ systems.

Inside/outside.

Life is about individuals. Huge, small, whatever. But each of them are individual beings.
Each of them, including the viruses, have a ‘membrane’ which separates ‘inside’ from outside and the survival of each individual depends on this membrane being able to do it’s job.

Chemical systems also have separations that ‘contain’ them into an ‘inside’ only those separations are not, in any way, controlled by the system itself as it happens with the membranes that separate the living individuals from their environment.

Lineage

While life is about individuals, it’s also about ‘species’.
If you remember, Darwin’s seminal book was entitled “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life“.

Species are nothing but ‘lineages’ of slightly different individuals who somehow manage to pass from one generation to another enough ‘structural’ (genetic) information so that the species remains ‘consistent’ but, simultaneously, the ‘replication process’ is flexible enough to allow for enough ‘mutations’ – which constitute the engine of evolution. The process is very well explained here: “What Evolution is” by Ernst Mayr.
Moreover the information that is, somehow, passed from one generation to another is contained inside each individual and ‘entrusted’ individually and ‘personally’ – not by an outside agent, as it maybe the case for the chemical systems we use in our labs or industries.

According to these ‘criteria’ viruses would be alive while computer programs ‘not yet’. Not until they’ll learn to replicate themselves in a manner flexible enough to be called ‘evolutive’.

 

Growing in a communist country, Romania, I was ‘exposed’, naturally, to all sorts of communist propaganda. ‘Embedded’ in almost everything.
One ‘sugar coating’ that was very popular among the apparatchiks of the day was ‘crime novels’. ‘James Bond’-like  ‘literature’ which was supposed to educate us, ordinary citizens  who could almost never get an exit visa to go to a ‘capitalist’ country,  about the perils ‘our’ trading agents/diplomatic personnel had to ‘negotiate’ when sent abroad to ‘serve the country’.
The most publicized ‘peril’ being the ‘prostitute trap’. Supposedly the ‘pure’ communist was trapped by a skillful prostitute into believing she was heavily enamoured  of him and then lured to an apartment were the couple would be filmed while ‘consummating’  their new found passion. Later, of course, the recording would have been used to exert pressure in order to influence the hapless fool into betraying his country.

The recent articles regarding ‘the art of kompromat’ tend to suggest that those ‘novels’ were nothing but yet another example of a wolf crying wolf… but who knows…

Fast forward to our times.

Is there anything clear in all this?

And no, I’m not wondering whether there is an actual tape of Trump ‘frolicking in bed’ with anybody. Even if it exists, it is well guarded. After all, such a tape is way more valuable as long as it is hidden away than when out in the open. The threat to reveal it works only as long as nobody else but the black-mailer and the victim know about its existence.

Then why all this brouhaha?

A preemptive strike meant to dull the effect of Putin actually publishing such a tape?
Putin trying to ‘soften up’ his intended target?
But what is Putin’s goal? He cannot dream of ‘controlling’ the President of the United States. Even when that position is fulfilled by someone like Trump… The actions of any POTUS are so public that any influence would very soon become apparent, on one side, and Trump, himself, is a very ‘unreliable’ person to start with.

But what if Putin has another, and way more insidious, goal?

What if he wants to compromise the very concept of democratic elections?
To ‘demonstrate’ to us that ‘the public’ is (has become?) incapable of electing a good man to lead it to the future?

Well… the problem with ‘kompromat’ is that it has to be tailored to its intended victim.
Just imagine what effect would have had a tape depicting Obama in bed with someone else but Michelle. Who would have believed such a thing?
But Obama was, to a degree at least – as Trump had very astutely estimated, vulnerable to a campaign focused on his birth certificate. We all know what kind of ‘passion’ the birthers have managed to instill into some of the die-hard conservatives.
And we should not forget that Trump had started his political life as a friend of the Clintons. His words, “that Hillary Clinton ‘had no choice’ but come to his third wedding“, are now world famous…

Now, bearing all these in mind, shouldn’t we ask ourselves how farfetched is Putin’s project of destroying our faith in democracy? Using ourselves as minions?

After all, Trump was elected democratically!

And do you remember those discussions about the US being intended as a Republic by the forefathers, and not as a Democracy? Or Orban’s – Hungary’s authoritarian prime minister, one of Putin’s close political friends, concept of ‘illiberal democracy‘?

“I voted for Trump because I think his illiberal tendencies are actually a feature rather than a bug. When he undermines rule of law, I see not a danger, but someone who is undermining a system that has become a game for elites with access to armies of lawyers. When he browbeats Congress, I don’t worry about “checks and balances” which have become a recipe for dysfunction, but rather see him as a man taking on useless political prostitutes servicing everyone who can write a sufficiently large campaign check. When he strong-arms multinational companies like Carrier, I see someone standing up to the worst aspects of globalization.”

Who built the world as it is right now? The one where the young adult who wrote the words quoted above, had grown up into and was modeled by?

We did it? With both its good-s and its bad-s?

It is us who kompromised it?
Then it is us who’ll have to fix it!
Or we’ll have to endure the yoke the likes of Putin and/or Trump will undoubtedly try to put on our shoulders.

 

 

Modern technology has produced some rather perverse ‘side effects’.

What used to be called ‘democracy’ has slowly been driven into ‘mob rule’.

It is hard to determine whether this is the desired effect of some (un) ‘intelligent design’ or an unforeseen consequence of the callous machinations of the ‘power hungry’ but it doesn’t matter much, does it?

Let me first clarify some concepts.

For me ‘democracy’ is way much more than what happens in and around the polling stations.
Fairly counting the votes is indeed important but even more important is what takes place long before the ballots are cast.
A really functional democracy is that where every stakeholder has the opportunity to voice their concerns and where the rest pay attention to everything that is said in the public square. By both their political friends and by their political adversaries.
In fact no ballot can be cast efficiently unless the voters have developed a fair image of what is going on in their society. While no one can develop an actually complete understanding of anything, let alone one regarding such a complex system as an entire society, we must jealously keep in our minds that ‘not entirely complete’ is one thing and ‘heavily biased’ through a severe lack of pertinent information is quite a different one.

On the other hand ‘mob rule’ is a what happens when voters’ passions are so high that enough of them are no longer able to think with their own heads and allow themselves to be ‘led by the nose’. Into voting for a specific somebody or, alternatively, into not voting at all ‘because it doesn’t matter, anyway’.

At first democracy actually meant first hand, person to person, meetings in the public square.
The Ancient Greeks solved their ‘state affairs’ in the Agora, the Romans in the Forum while “Althingi” (the name of the oldest parliament that is still in existence, that of Iceland) means ‘General Assembly’.

Slowly, as the constituencies grew larger, the stakeholders needed some more sophisticated manners of keeping in touch. Luckily for them, Gutenberg had already invented the printing press. The American Founding Fathers – who had made good use of this first instrument of what was going to be the mass-media – had insisted passionately on the ‘freedom of the press’. And for good reasons. As I pointed out a little earlier, access to information is paramount for an efficient decision. Further more printed material is a very handy tool when it comes to conveying information from one person to another. Its rather stable nature allows it to survive unadulterated, at least for a while. So it can be handled around or kept for further reference since it is relatively easy to organize. And searched at will. All these discouraging the ‘communicators’ from lying – blatantly, at least. Since lies where relatively easy to pin-point and prove those who needed to maintain their credibility refrained themselves from ‘exaggerating’ too much. The fact that the general public was rather particular about this kind of things also helped in this matter.

Later, when radio and television were introduced, things had become more complicated. Given the fleeting nature of spoken – rather than printed – words, the ‘talking heads’ felt less compelled to stick to the straight and narrow.
Things were compounded by the advent of the ‘political-marketing specialists’ and of the ‘bean counters’.
The latter kept insisting that the mass-media venues have to be as profitable as possible – hence publish more and more of ‘what the audience asks for’ instead of bona-fide information while the former kept telling to the politicians that they have to ‘get under the skin of their constituents’ – by, again, telling them what they were more likely to believe instead of treating them as the grown-up adults they were.
The consequence of all this merchandising was that the erstwhile more or less compact public has been gradually carved up into discrete, and growingly separate, ‘publics’. Otherwise known as ‘echo-chambers’.

The apparition of the Internet/social networks has further deepened the already existent divides. People no longer know what the others really think or feel. But their ignorance doesn’t keep them from having opinions. Or from voting about things they do not really understand. So they vote how they are told by their trusted ‘analysts’/’experts’.

Now, is it of any use for us to blame anybody for what had happened?

Or would it be a lot better for all of us to grow out of this before the ‘whirlwind’ makes a ‘hard landing’ on top of our heads?

 

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