Archives for category: freedom

No matter what opinion each of us entertains about ‘alternate reality’, fact is that none of us is able to grasp all relevant aspects of even the most basic concepts.

Growing under a communist regime I had learned, very quickly, to keep my mouth shut.

Like all authoritarian regimes, communism eventually crumbled.
Mostly under the pressure that had been built from within and which could not be accurately measured, simply because people were conditioned to keep their mouths shut.

Nowadays technology makes it possible for some of us to ‘look’ ‘beyond’ what most understand by ‘freedom of expression’.

… anxiety and action shouldn’t be based only on what could happen in theory as much as what’s likely to happen in practice — and how much it will affect you.

Some people are afraid of sharks. While the prospect of being eaten by a giant fish is vivid and terrifying, it’s also unlikely, old chum. In fact, the drive to the beach is far more dangerous than the swim once you get there.

Likewise, avoid getting hacked. But more important, start taking action on the bigger risk: The stuff publicly posted on social sites.

Alternate meaning of ‘freedom of expression’?

‘You are free to express yourself and I am free to use whatever information you have chosen to share’!

Actually it makes a lot of sense.

Let’s imagine, for instance, that my son comes home and tells us he is going to marry someone.
Twenty short years ago my wife would have phoned her best friend and told her about it. In two days the news would had traveled around and feed back would had poured in, specially if we were living in a small community. We would had been informed about all past indiscretions attributed to our son’s intended spouse, as long as any had ever surfaced.
Nowadays, being technological savvy, my wife would google the name first, even before phoning her best friend – if she wasn’t already privy of ‘enough’ indiscretions, of course.

Would it make any sense to blame the public authorities who do the same thing? Or the private agents who, in their attempt to fulfill their jobs, use whatever information is publicly available about each of us?
My question should have a special meaning for those of you who live in democratic countries – where the public authorities execute whatever mandate you have entrusted them with, and under an economic regime governed by the (more or less) free market – meaning that all ‘private’ agents need at least some support from their stakeholders (yes, that’s you!) in order to remain economically viable.

I’ll come back to this subject.

Meanwhile you can learn more about it by reading the article that spurred my rantings:

“Anything you post can and will be used against you”

Just click on the title.

Theoretically it means “from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs”.

Practically it looks like this.

famine-in-ucraine

In fact real life communism still is, and always was, about a whole country kow-towing to a dictator who pretends to care for nothing else but for the welfare of the people. His people!

The point being that each resource allocation game needs a referee. Otherwise all rational people would take as much as they could carry from the communal reserve – because it is free – and bring back as little as possible, hence nothing if not coerced to – because it implies some effort.

OK, any reasonable five years old would tell you that the communal reserve would very soon become empty if things would go like this – hence that presumably ‘rational’ behavior would be anything but – only it would be very rational to at least try, wouldn’t it? For how long it would work, no matter how short that interval…

And something else.
You are most likely familiar with ‘bad money drives out good’. There have been a lot of examples to prove this, one of them being Christ driving the money changers out of the Temple.
Some of you might not be familiar with how money worked in those days so here is it.
A coin was a simple ‘slab’ of precious metal, of somewhat constant weight, approximately round, which had been ‘stamped’ with the face of the local ruler. At first, in the minting shop, all coins belonging to the same edition were more or less of the same weight. But, since the edges of the coins were not ridged, ‘smart’ people started to ‘shave’ the coins.
And, after the first guy had started to shave them, each individual who got a coin would have been foolish not to shave it, just a little bit. Maybe the next guy would be foolish enough to accept it, after being shaved. To contest it the recipient would have had to go to the money changers and pay for their expertise. And this is how the coins became smaller and smaller…
Only the priests at the temple didn’t want to be fooled. So they hired some money-changers to vet the coins the believers brought to the Temple. The very money-changers that Christ had driven away. “God doesn’t need this kind of guardians. If we keep them here it would mean that we expect people to cheat. Even here, at the Temple. And if we expect them to cheat, they will surely do so!”

Only some people do cheat. And since some cheat, the rest will have to do something about it. Either make cheating the rule, which would lead nowhere, or make it so hard to cheat as to become impractical. Hence the ridges at the edges of the modern coins. Which can no longer be shaved because the ridges would make it obvious.

Coming back to our ‘communal reserve’ you would have to employ a guardian to make it sure that no one would take any more than they really need and that everyone periodically brings back stuff according to their abilities.
But how would that guardian determine what are the real needs and the real abilities of each of those individual members of the community?
And, even more importantly, what would stop the guardian from taking the whole ‘communal’ reserve into his private possession? As in acting like a communist dictator? Simply because ‘he needs it’?

The only alternative that worked was the free market. That where you sold your abilities and where you could buy things to fulfill your needs. Where prices were set at the meeting point between ask and demand.
But the same principle, bad money drive out the good, acts even here.
‘Smart’ people try to organize ‘monopolies’. Which, basically, is the same thing as they attempting to become the owners of the ‘communal reserve’.

This whole thing looks like an intractable vicious circle?
Take heart, that’s what ‘reeds’ are for.
We invented those, when we realized that we needed them, didn’t we?

reeded-coins

You still wondering what to use in order to transform that vicious circle into a virtuous one?
How about individual freedom coupled with a healthy dose of mutual respect?

teenager-government

Why am I am trying to make any sense of something said by a comedian?

orourke-trump

Because he’s right?

With a twist, of course!

While ‘government’, all of them, tend indeed to behave like ‘teenage boys’ their actual behavior depends very much on their up-bringing and on the amount of supervising their stakeholders/parents invest in them.

Which brings us to

the-government-you-deserve

Now all that is left for us to do – for ‘all’ of us, that is, including ‘the Government’ – is to remember that the individuals who make up the government also belong to the people. They cannot be essentially different from the people itself and they will, eventually, share the same fate as the rest of us.

Or even worse.

the-higher-you-are

The House Jack Built, Metallica

 

donald-trump-grab-them-by-the-pussy-cartoon

Or is it the (unforeseen?) consequence of some very ‘intelligent design‘?

Some people believe that “racial prejudice” is “the natural human inclination … to identity (sic) with members of one’s own tribe, race or ethnic group” and “Post-racial multiculturalism is the exact but equally extreme and insane opposite of Nazi racial ideology“.

Compare this to “Religion, which should foster sisterhood and brotherhood, which should encourage tolerance, respect, compassion, peace, reconciliation, caring and sharing, has far too frequently — perversely — done the opposite. Religion has fueled alienation and conflict and has exacerbated intolerance and injustice and oppression. Some of the ghastliest atrocities have happened and are happening in the name of religion. It need not be so if we can learn the obvious: that no religion can hope to have a monopoly on God, on goodness and virtue and truth“.

What’s going on here?

Where does all this ‘confusion’ come from?

Let me start from the ‘bottom’ of it.

“No religion can hope to have a monopoly on God, on goodness and virtue and truth”.

While I fully agree with Desmond Tutu on the gist of his words I must contradict him on something very important.

Religions cannot hope at all. About anything. Anyway you look at them. No matter which definition you use, religion – all of them – is something that people do together. A common effort.
It is the individuals who are the actual doers. Who love and hate. Or hope, in this case.
Who pretend that their religion is the only true one. Or understand, as Desmond Tutu did, that each religion is yet another manifestation of God.

“Religion has fueled alienation and conflict and has exacerbated intolerance and injustice and oppression.”

Again, it was individual ‘religious’ people who have done all of those things, not religion per se.
All sacred texts have been written by human people. I can even accept that the first manuscript of each religion was directly inspired by God. Only each of them have been copied a thousand times over. And heavily editated.
Then came the individual human people who have read those texts, interpreted them, passed them on and acted upon those interpretations. Upon their convictions, actually.

And this is how “Some of the ghastliest atrocities have happened and are happening in the name of religion”. Not because of ‘religion’ but ‘in the name of religion’.
Simply as a consequence of how certain people have chosen to interpret/use religious teachings.

And not only ‘religious’ teachings.

People are able to interpret – and use in their own (perceived) advantage, every bit of information that comes their way. And now, that we have started to understand more and more about how our brain is working, the manners in which we use that information have become more and more ‘convoluted’.

“Post-racial multiculturalism … began as an understandable overreaction to Nazi racial ideology…before being consolidated by academics into an instrument of socio-political intimidation, rewards, punishments, manipulation and control, a modern, secular replacement for the power-political role of medieval church ideology.”

So.
It was the academics/priests who have done the damage. Not their religion nor the information they had at their disposal.

But why?
How come people whose religions – all of them do this – are adamant about ‘respect your neighbor’ become involved in wars?  Sometimes even in ‘religious’ wars ….
How come academics, whose very job are to teach their students to think autonomously, use their ‘rank’ in order to subdue ‘their’ file?

Could the religious warriors have something in common with the intransigent academics?

How them sharing the unbreakable conviction that they own the truth?
Forged inside the ‘echo-chambers’ where they have grouped themselves according to their specific beliefs? (No matter whether those beliefs are of a religious or ‘rational’ nature…)

Only after I had reached this point in my discourse I was able to fully appreciate Desmond Tutu’s words: ‘Religion … should encourage tolerance, respect, compassion, peace, reconciliation, caring and sharing’.

He doesn’t say anything about giving up on your own kind.
Or about leaving your roots behind.

All he actually says is ‘Be very careful. If all of you will accept to see only the same side of things you will become a herd. And while there is indeed ‘safety in numbers’ all herd members are ultimately headed for the abattoir’.

Diversity isn’t something to be forcefully, hence falsely, celebrated. Or imposed on others.

What we need to preserve, and celebrate, is our ability to ‘walk around’ the things that we encounter. To entertain, and discuss among ourselves, different – even conflictingly different – versions of what we see around us. This ability would only enhance our chances to solve the problems we’ll certainly be faced with.

‘Culture’ is nothing but layer upon layer of place-specific information which have accumulated in time while ‘religion’ is how a certain group of people have learned, again in time, to cooperate in a certain environment.
It doesn’t matter whether that ‘environment’ has been created by a God, has evolved according to Darwin’s theory or both.
What really matters is how we react – conditioned by our cultures and by our religious upbringing – to what is happening to us. Both individually and collectively.

In this sense, each culture we manage to preserve will only add to our chances of long term survival. As long as we’ll learn to sincerely respect each-other, of course.
Again, both individually and collectively.

PS.
A comment on my FB wall, “True religion is God entering history and the lives of humans and revealing Himself. All other religions are man’s attempt to explain the world around him in terms of god or attempts to control lots of other people in the name of some god“, helped me to understand that “There is ‘religion’ – the shared attitude that helps us to cooperate, and there are religions – specific ways that individual communities have traveled in order to attain that attitude.
And something else. What if ‘God entering history’ and enough of us reaching the shared understanding that it is far better to cooperate amongst us – love thy neighbor – than to fight each-other are the same thing?
How to put this understanding into practice? In the various, and continuously changing, circumstances we have to face?

How about this being the very reason for us having so many religions/cultures?

People are very passionate when discussing about their future and their rights.
As they should be.

Children are a very strong ‘avatar’ for our future while the rights to live and to freely dispose of our bodies two of the most important rights.

And this is where things get really complicated.

Some people advocate mandatory vaccination against the most dangerous diseases.
Some people advocate women’s absolute freedom to have an abortion – a few of them extending this right up to the last moment of the pregnancy.

Other people believe that vaccines are mostly benefiting the big pharma and choose not to immunize their children.
Other people believe in the absolute right of the fetus to live – so much so that some of them would even ban all contraceptive methods.

The ‘interesting’ thing here is how this four categories of people intersect each-other.

A lot of the people who advocate women’s right to have abortions also advocate the mandatory vaccination of children while a lot of people who consider abortion a mortal sin also consider vaccination to be inspired by the devil.

Now let me get this straight.
You have the right to ‘kill’ your baby inside the womb but you should not be allowed to let them die of a preventable infectious disease?
You are to defend a fetus, at all costs and against all consequences for the mother, as long as they inhabit the womb only to let them catch whatever preventable infectious disease might come across their path?

Consistency is over-rated?

We really need to restart using our common sense?

‘He just says what he has to say in order to get himself elected. Once he will get there he will do like all the others, he will mellow down. Besides that, the system of checks and balances is too strong for one man to upset it.’

The first, and most obvious, problem with this line of reasoning is ‘why on Earth have we grown so accustomed with being lied that we find it acceptable’? Why do we brush aside so easily the lies professed by ‘our’ candidate – along with many other indiscretions, while we meticulously and vehemently point out those committed by the ‘opposition’? Weren’t we supposed to be making ‘rational choices’ when it comes to who governs the country?

The sad fact that there isn’t much to choose from doesn’t exonerate us from the consequences of our mistakes.

But our laziness has yet another – and even more malignant, ‘after-growth’.

By voting for a candidate who promises rather ‘unsavory’ things in order to get elected we not only encourage him to ‘make good’ those promises but we actually ask him, imperatively ( 😉 ), to do his ‘best’ in order to achieve as many of those promises as he possibly can.

Hoping that once elected he will ‘forget’ about (some of) them is both near-sighted and ‘double-standard’.

Most of my right wing friends – and some from the left, are fretting about taxes and angry about the fact that they, the taxes, are ‘forcefully’ collected by the democratically elected government.

In their interpretation, the majority dictates, by the power of their numbers, the amount of taxes that the ‘fretters’ have to pay. The rationale being that ‘the poor’ help themselves, ‘democratically’, to the hard-worked, or other-wise rightfully owned, private property of the wealthy.
This rationale is a little fallacious – I see taxes as a form of ‘protection fee’, received by the state/government for maintaining a functional environment where everybody, including the wealthy, can take care of their lives and businesses – but this is a different subject.

Others warn us that “The Most Intolerant Wins” and that we must not, in the name of tolerance, tolerate any form of intolerance.

Isn’t it funny that under the current law a minority of Americans, composed significantly of ‘less educated, lower middle class people’, have imposed, upon themselves but also to the entire planet, a right wing President who has wowed, among others, to lower the taxes?

popular-vote

education-and-income

Any complaints?

PS.
Even stranger is the fact that 18% of Trump’s supporters said they didn’t thought he was qualified for the job but that they had ‘nonetheless voted for him, as did 20% of those who felt he did not have the necessary temperament.‘.

Further more “Of people who gave their opinion of the candidate they voted for, 41% strongly favoured them, 32% had reservations and 25% said they disliked the opponents.”

 

 

trump-nbc-favorability-trump

trump-temperament-nbc

1478656414_trump_treatment_of_women

womens-votes

evangelicals-votes

white_catholics-votes

clinton-honesty-nbc

whether-to-continue

direction-of-the-country

trump-wins

New York Times, Elections 2016

Like always, the dispirited enough to stay at home have given a carte blanche to the  desperate enough to ‘jump into the unknown’!

And no, this is not exclusively about the ordinary voters!
They’ve already sent plenty messages stating clearly that they’ve had enough.
But those whose job was to make things work had chosen not to hear.
Then, when it had become plenty obvious that the boil had been festering for long enough, most of them had stepped aside – leaving at the forefront of the ‘operating table’ a ‘surgeon’ whose long resume was anything but capable of generating trust and a ‘willing’ and ‘enthusiastic’ ‘wannabe’ with no experience.

And now they are trying desperately to find an ‘honorable way out’…

 

the-final-countdown

 

“We’re leaving together,
But still it’s farewell.
And maybe we’ll come back
To earth, who can tell?
I guess there is no one to blame
We’re leaving ground (leaving ground)
Will things ever be the same again?

It’s the final countdown.
The final countdown.”

the-final-countdown-2

 

quote-the-philosophers-have-only-interpreted-the-world-in-various-ways-the-point-however-is-to-change-karl-marx-250986

Change it into what? And on what grounds?

I had spent the first 30 years of my life under communist rule and I’ve witnessed, first hand, the debacle produced by a bunch of people trying to transform the world according to their own liking. And it’s not only that they had brought a lot of misery to an awful lot of people but they also brought it upon their own heads. They, and their families, have been indeed living a lot better than the rest of the people but a lot worse than the ordinary people living in the free world. Not to mention the fact that many of them ended up really bad, some of them at the hands of their own insatiable, Minotaur-like, leaders and some others during and immediately after the regime change.

I’m writing this post after watching Jon Haidt’s excellent lecture “Two incompatible sacred values in American universities“, delivered at Duke’s Departement of Political Science on October 6, 2016.

The point of Haidt’s conference being that each university should clearly declare its ‘telos’ as belonging to one of these two clear cut options:

the-point-of-a-university_dxo

Don’t bother to search the quote attributed to John Stuart Mill.

It is only an interpretation belonging to Haidt himself, who had inferred it from one of Mill’s famous quotes excerpted from  “On Liberty”:

quote-he-who-knows-only-his-own-side-of-the-case-argument-knows-little-of-that-his-reasons-john-stuart-mill-125-0-0981

So, what should it be?

Change or Truth?

Before proceeding any further I strongly suggest that you take some time and listen to Haidt’s excellent arguments.

Now I’d like to discuss a little about ‘Change’ and ‘Truth’.

What both Marx and Haidt have in mind when they speak about ‘change’ is both ‘purposeful’ and ‘centralized’.
When they say ‘change’ they mean an ‘effort towards increased social justice’, effort whose parameters would be determined by the wise men (and women) delving in the depths of the University’s libraries and which would be implemented without fail, preferably with a sanction from the higher authority.

I had already mentioned, at the beginning of my post, where such ‘change’ would lead anyone  attempting to put it into practice.
And Haidt gives us an excellent explanation for why anybody who will ever attempt such a thing would eventually fail. (I told you to watch his conference…It may be long but every minute of it is packed with very interesting things!)

So why is Haidt challenging us to make this choice instead of giving us a clearer piece of advice?

Well… maybe you should ask him that… I’d hate to believe that he, in his own words, ‘has become afraid of that too many of his students might feel that he is so distanced from what is generally accepted that too few of them would follow him’.

So what should we do?
Some of us should embark on a ‘sterile’ search for the (absolute) truth and then, after eventually finding it, nurse it quietly in our lap but refrain from an even minutely more drastic action while others should attempt to implement change based on already ‘over the hill’ principles?

I’m afraid that would be a dangerous road to follow.

There is no such thing as an ‘absolute’ truth that might be nursed in our lap and even if there was such a thing we are not able to find it – individually or even as a group. There’s plenty evidence about that in Haidt’s discourse.
And then what would be the use of the whole enterprise if we are not planning to use the results of our quest, whatever those might be?

And here lies the crux of the matter.

I’m sure Haidt knows what I’m going to tell you now and I’m very sorry that most of your teachers have never mentioned at class this very interesting story.

Marx was not the first revolutionary thinker of his time.
OK, you already know that. There were a certain number of French intellectuals whose writings have set the stage for the 1789 Revolution.
What is less known is that John Stuart Mill himself had been groomed by his father “as the future leader of this radical movement”, whose aim was supposed to be “social reform based on utilitarianism” with the goal of attaining “the greatest happiness of the greatest number“.

The only difference between James Mill (the father) and Karl Marx being that Mill didn’t advocate the the forceful confiscation of the ‘means of production’.
Otherwise both were faithfully following Plato’s dictum:
Until philosophers are kings, or the kings and princes of this world have the spirit and power of philosophy, and political greatness and wisdom meet in one, and those commoner natures who pursue either to the exclusion of the other are compelled to stand aside, cities will never have rest from their evils, –nor the human race, as I believe, –and then only will this our State have a possibility of life and behold the light of day. Such was the thought, my dear Glaucon, which I would fain have uttered if it had not seemed too extravagant; for to be convinced that in no other State can there be happiness private or public is indeed a hard thing“.

Well, the problem with this line of thought is that it doesn’t work.
Again, Haidt has already presented a solid case about this and I’m not going to re-count his arguments.

So, since there is no such thing as an absolute truth to be discovered, one way or another, and no priest-kings on any white stallions that might come to our rescue, what shall we do?

Simple.
Follow Haidt’s, and John Stuart Mill’s, advice and take it one small step further.

The point of a university is to understand the world because only if you commit to truth, I believe, can you actually achieve justice.

We need to understand, and accept, two things:
Change has to be allowed to come naturally, not pushed forward simply because we are momentarily convinced that ‘The Truth’ had downed on us,
And that (social)justice is a process which has to be implemented on an ‘as needed’ basis, not an independent goal?

In fact Mill’s personal destiny is eloquent enough for what happens when somebody tries to breed a ‘perfect’ Priest-King.
“But in 1826, Mill began to suffer from a severe depression, which he attributed to his excessive analytical training and the resulting impairment of his emotional capacities. Reading the romantic poetry of Wordsworth and Coleridge helped Mill to overcome this mental crisis. It also inspired him to form a more complex view on human flourishing than the Benthamite utilitarianism of his father’s generation, with its dogmatic rationalism and unidimensional concept of pleasure.”

And this is why Haidt is absolutely right when he tells us that we need to expose ourselves to a lot more than what we are already familiar, and comfortable, with.
And this is why Heidegger kept warning us that truth as conformity between our words, or even our understanding, and the reality of the fact that we try to understand, and describe to others, is a Fata Morgana which consistently eludes us and that the only way to get any closer to her is ‘unhidennes’.

In this sense there is nothing better than an open mind, both towards our innermost thoughts and to the people living, and thinking, around us.

A mind open enough as to be able to simultaneously attempt to implement whatever changes become necessary in the light of the newly discovered truths AND accept the possibility that those ‘newly discovered truths’ might be incomplete or even altogether false.

Does all this seem rather schizophrenic?

Then let me rephrase the question I started with.

What’s the use of ever trying to understand anything if we’re not going, ever, to change our behavior as a consequence of anything we might come to figure out and on what basis is anyone to attempt any change if he never tried to understand anything above what he already knew long before he even started to think about any change?

As I was ready to close this post I stumbled upon the thought that maybe Haidt meant to apply in the academic world a principle that has been proved invaluable in the political life.

‘Separation of powers’.

Some universities would busy themselves with finding ‘the truth’ while others would attempt to find ways to put ‘it’ into practice.

Leaving aside the fact that this would smack too much of Marxism for my taste I’ll have to remind you that the separation of powers has become necessary in the political realm only because the government has an effective monopoly on power and we need to make it so that it cannot abuse this situation.

No university has any monopoly on truth and/or change.
Furthermore, not even the Academia, as a system, has been able to implement such a monopoly. Not for lack of trying, but that’s another subject.

So, instead of acquiescing to such efforts – by accepting certain universities as official ‘truth seekers’ and others as ‘path finders’/’change implementers’, we’d better ask each and all of them to clean up their acts.

And open up their collective minds.

 

%d bloggers like this: