Archives for category: freedom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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In Nature, ‘evil’ is suicidal.

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

Ernst Mayr, What Evolution Is, 1964.

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

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

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

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

 

Men grow up ‘against’ their fathers.
Women grow up with their mothers.

Men try to ‘fix’ their relationship before the older one ‘grows out’.
Women don’t have this problem. By the time they have reached that stage of the relationship, they are beyond the point of no return.  Either not really speaking to each other or so ‘in sync’ that there’s no difference of opinion left to speak of.

Statistically speaking, of course.
For both genders.

A knife can be used for buttering toast, slicing steak and, occasionally, for slitting  throats.
A gun can be used to hunt dinner, defend a homestead or shoot a rival.
Bare hands can knot laces, caress a woman or choke the life out of an innocent.

What makes us, humans, sometimes transform tools into weapons?

We are astonished when we learn about other animals being able to make and use tools.
Which is good. ‘Astonished’ is the opposite of ‘insensitive’. A.k.a. ‘brain dead’.

How about we, humans, learning from the rest of the animals how to solve whatever issues we have amongst us without  killing each-other?
You are aware that humans and chimpanzees are the only animals who systematically murder adult members of their own species, right?

But what instance is powerful enough to transform tool into weapon?

Human consciousness?

Is this a ‘fatality’?
The simple fact that each of us is consciously aware of the differences between ‘I’ and ‘all the rest’ means that whenever ‘survival instincts’ kick in our humanity necessarily vanishes? Entirely?
And ‘love thy neighbour as thyself’ becomes ‘dog eats dog’?

We would have already been dead by now… all of us…
Our ancestors must have discovered a way to balance our propensity to ‘stick with your own kind’ with with our need to learn new things and meet new people!
Or is it that some of us continually come up with fresh reasons for ‘war’ while we, the rest, are too lazy to do anything about it? Despite everything history has ever taught us…

The oldest surviving civilized nation, China, calls itself Zhongguo.
The Middle Kingdom. ‘In the middle’ of the barbaric people that surrounded her but also at middle distance between Heaven and the rest of the Earth. The aforementioned barbarians.

And, according to Confucius, it was the emperor’s job to ‘keep things as they should remain’.

Which makes sense. After all, the whole kingdom was the exclusive property of the emperor. And whose job is to watch over one’s property?

Well, things went on long enough for those involved to believe this was the natural order of things.
Until the whole arrangement was upset by a small number of people which had come, more or less ‘under their own steam’, from the other side of the world. And who were, at that time, a lot less civilized than the Chinese.

How can be explained something like this?
OK, the Aztec and the Inca empires might have been primitive relative to the Spanish invaders. They might have prevailed over the small number of invaders by brute force but they had been overcome by the sheer novelty and the apparent sophistication of the assailants.
But China had been in contact for centuries with the rest of the ‘civilized’ world! And way advanced than the rest. Both culturally and economically.

So, what had happened?
How can something like this be explained?

We might try to take the ‘historical route’. And observe that, exactly as Confucius and Laozi had told us, China’s destiny had been tightly linked to the ability of those in charge – the emperors, to manage the empire. From the paleolithic migrations until the Mongol invasion in 1271, nothing from outside had any significant impact over the Chinese hinterland. But the fortunes of those living in that hinterland had oscillated from the misery induced by almost constant ‘live conflict’ during the Warring States period to the various prosperous eras. The Han, Tang and Song dynasties, to mention just a few of them.
The same principle had been valid also for what went on while foreign dynasties had been in power. As long as the ‘managers’ were doing their jobs, things continued to improve. As soon as the helm was grabbed by an incompetent leader… all hell broke loose.

But is the emperors’ incompetence enough to explain what had happened during the XIX-th century? The most advanced, and numerous, nation on Earth had been subjugated – for all practical purposes, by a bunch of drug pushers pretending to act in the name of the far away, and far weaker, British King?

Or we can take the sociological route.
Along which we’ll notice that the ‘drug pushers’ were only nominally subjects of the British Empire. Which empire was behaving imperially only towards the exterior while inside it was already a democracy!

Sounds familiar?

Ancient Athens, the first known democracy, had dominated the Eastern Mediterranean for as long as it had retained its democratic character and had failed, abysmally, each time it had reverted to tyranny?
Ancient Rome had established a huge empire as a democratic republic and collapsed four short centuries after becoming a totalitarian empire?
And so on…?

And what might be the difference between a totalitarian empire and a democratic one?
On the face of it, a democratic empire sounds like an oxymoron… yet there’s plenty of such examples in our history…

As you might guess from the title of this post, the ‘famous’ middle class was both the engine and the explanation for the ease with which the ‘democratic’ empires had been established. And yes, the Spanish and Portuguese ones can be explained in the same manner. At that time none of the Iberian monarchies was yet behaving in the absolutist manner they had pursued as soon as the looted precious metals had started to pour in…

But what makes the middle class so special?

Nassim Nicholas Taleb would tell you that the middle class has enough skin left in the game to really care about the outcome and I’m going to add that the middle class is simultaneously distanced enough from the fray to act in a reasonable enough manner.

Let me put back, for a short while, my historian’s cap.

Most of us consider that the middle class is a late appearance. That most of the time, humankind had been divided in two. The haves and the have-nots. The powerful and the meek.
Well, I’m not so sure about that…
For the first 60 000 years after we had learned to speak – which had made us really human, we had been living in small packs. Led by the more powerful male member of the group – if we consider that our ancestors used to behave like our Chimpanzee cousins, or ‘self managed’ in a more or less democratic manner if our ancestors had used the model followed by our other cousins, the Bonobos.
Or we could look at how the surviving ‘primitives’ lead their lives. None of the Hadzabe, Yanomami or Inuit, who have survived in the most difficult conditions on Earth, have a hierarchical social structure.
Primitives?!? Maybe… but not because of their social arrangements. After all, they are freer than most of us.
And what is it that we, proudly modern people, value more than our individual freedom?

Money? I’m going to let this rest… for a while.

Let’s go back to our ancestors.
Who, by all indications, had been living as ‘extended middle class societies’. Without any 0.1% and without people who went to bed hungry while the rest of the gang had been gorging themselves.
Let’s remember now that during those times we had actually transformed ourselves from apes to humans. And if you consider this to be a small feat, just try to teach a bonobo to speak. Then remember how many people who had been born in poor and backward countries are now successful business people or scientists. After passing through a thorough educational process, true! Only that educational process is in no way accessible to any bonobo…
Don’t disparage the long evolution we had graduated from, as a species, while living in ‘extended middle class societies’.

‘But you haven’t explained what you mean by middle class! Most of us see the middle class as those people who make a certain amount of money each year and you keep speaking about primitive people… who have absolutely no use for any money…!’

OK.
For good or for bad, our present society consist of three categories of people.
The haves, the in-between and the dirt poor.

I’m not going to assign numerical values to any of these.
Taleb’s Skin in the Game criterion is far more useful in this situation.

The haves qualify only after they have no skin left in the game. In the sense that they have so much ‘money’ that come hell and/or high water they feel safe. What they make of this world is heavily influenced by the thick ‘insulation’ which separates them from the rest of the world.
The dirt poor – or the lumpen proletariat, in Marx’s terms, have all their skin in the game. In fact, they are the famous ‘Boiling Frog’. They have no way of leaving the kettle so…

In a sense, both haves and the dirt poor are  prisoners. Neither can leave their respective cell blocks. Simply because the dirt poor have no way to go anywhere while almost none of the haves would be able to survive ‘outside’.

the boiling frog

Wesley Chang, The Boiling Frog, Medium.com

Which leaves us with the middle class.
Who have some resources stashed away – or enough credit available, to weather some crises. But not enough to last them for their entire remaining lives.
Which makes the middle class the only really interested people in the long term well being of the entire society. The only ones really interested in maintaining the freedom of the market as the main economic engine. The only ones really interested in maintaining democracy as the main manner of avoiding catastrophic mistakes perpetrated by the too powerful autocrats.

Or, from a psychological point of view, we can look at the haves/dirt poor as being stuck in an immobile state of mind while the middle class are the only open minded members of the society.
In fact, I prefer this last approach.
You see, until recently the American Dream was relatively accessible. With some luck, a ton of determination and a fair amount of brain power, the sky was the only limit. Belonging to any of those three categories, haves, middle class and dirt-poor was as much about the state of mind of those involved as it was about actual economic conditions.
The haves were free to consider the big picture, the dirt poor could contemplate brighter perspectives while the middle class were doing their thing. Keeping the whole show afloat.

I’m afraid we have reached an inflexion point. A watershed mark, if you prefer.
For whatever reason – I’m not ready to tackle this subject right now, we’ve become so preoccupied with something in particular that we’ve lost sight of everything else.

Including the middle class.

Exactly those which were supposed to maintain their cool heads and open minds.

part of the problem

Matthew Stewart,
The 9.9 Percent is the New American Aristocracy,
The Atlantic

I’ve ended my previous post by saying that we, humans, are tempted to see almost everything as a potential tool.

And the present one by asking myself ‘to what avail?’.

What are we trying to accomplish?

I kept telling you that we, humans, haven’t invented much. That everything we do has already been experimented by our predecessors. Plants and animals…

Well, one of the things that we did invent was ‘intent’. As in ‘premeditation’.

We don’t know whether plants are driven by anything else except their ‘vital spirit’.
Same thing is valid for ‘inferior animals’ (those which don’t have brains) while the superior (a.k.a. brained) ones seem to be driven by what we call emotion.

Including us!

No matter how much we pride ourselves about our ability to reason, we’re still driven by emotion.
Actually, we’re not even close to being rational!
At best, we rationalize our emotional impulses. Before or even after we put them into practice.
Dan Ariely and Daniel Kahneman, among others, have already settled this point.

Then why am I talking about ‘premeditation’?!?

And who said ‘premeditation’ is necessarily rational?

It is planned, OK, but …

You see, the real difference between us and the rest of most other animals is our ability to ‘watch ourselves watching the world‘. As if something inside each of ourselves is able to send a probe somewhere ‘outside’ and then examine its own individuality as an outside observer. I didn’t say an impartial observer, just an outsider. However biased.

I won’t elaborate on how we got here, Maturana had already done that. Brilliantly. I’m far more interested in the consequences of each of us being able to observe their own selves ‘from outside’, keeping in mind that our rationality is heavily bounded – Simon Herbert and others, and that we’re mainly driven by emotions.

The very first thing that each of us observes about their-selves is the overwhelming fragility which defines us.

And this is why we search solace in religion. In no matter which one of them, atheism included. There is ‘safety in numbers’, you know…

Our goal, professed or not, is to find inner peace.
No matter whether you call it salvation, redemption, nirvana, self acceptance or whatever else, what you crave is peace.

The sentiment (illusion?) that you are safe.

At least for a moment.

How long is that moment going to last?

Well, that depends on how you got there!
And who accompanies you…

 

 

I’m gonna insert three links.
They might be opened in any order, the link between them is evident, in all directions.

 “It’s a natural and powerful temptation to do unto them as they have done unto others. They have abused, reviled, and humiliated others: So let them be abused, be reviled, be humiliated. Yet if you go that way, you do not repudiate Trump. You become Trump.”

David Frum,
Michelle Wolf Does Unto the White House as It Has Done Unto Others,
The Atlantic, Apr 30, 2018

“It is particularly rich, too, to see a president who brags about his lack of political correctness and willingness to tell it like it is to be so thin-skinned he won’t even attend a party where he knows he’ll be roasted. It is revolting to see members of the press, who should have an adversarial relationship with the White House, comforting the press secretary and standing up for her honor when she is a chief architect of and apologist for these new political norms of idiotic crudeness, rank corruption, and unapologetic deceit.

Reporters allegedly expressed their sympathy to Huckabee Sanders after the dinner. This is insane. Reporters: Sarah Huckabee Sanders lies to you. She is a powerful and influential figure, and it is your job to be a check on her and the administration she speaks for – not to commiserate with her when a comedian makes some salty jokes, and certainly not to be her sympathetic friend.

Michelle Wolf ended her monologue by wishing the audience a good night, and then adding, “Flint still doesn’t have clean water.” “

Jill Filipovic,
The Bizarre Reaction to the WHCD Reveals We’re in Deeper Trouble Than We Thought,
Cosmopolitan, Apr. 30, 2018

Donald Trump is here tonight! Now, I know that he’s taken some flak lately, but no one is happier, no one is prouder to put this birth certificate matter to rest than the Donald.
And that’s because he can finally get back to focusing on the issues that matter –- like, did we fake the moon landing? What really happened in Roswell? And where are Biggie and Tupac?
But all kidding aside, obviously, we all know about your credentials and breadth of
experience. For example — no, seriously, just recently, in an episode of Celebrity Apprentice – at the steakhouse, the men’s cooking team cooking did not impress the judges from Omaha Steaks. And there was a lot of blame to go around.
But you, Mr. Trump, recognized that the real problem was a lack of leadership. And so ultimately, you didn’t blame Lil’ Jon or Meatloaf. You fired Gary Busey.
And these are the kind of decisions that would keep me up at night.
Well handled, sir. Well handled.
Say what you will about Mr. Trump, he certainly would bring some change to the White House.”

Barack Obama,
2011 White House Correspondents Dinner.

The American Revolution was fought under the banner of ‘Taxation without representation is tyranny”.
Meaning that the first Americans saw taxes as money well spent, as long as paying said taxes allowed them to vote. As in ‘being able to determine their own future’. Albeit in a collective manner.

In fewer words, the early Americans viewed liberty as being valuable enough to die for, let alone to spend some money in order to maintain it.

10% anual pay rise

time.com

And what made so many modern Americans willing to sell their hard won ability to vote? To determine their future?

Are they so poor that, for them, liberty has become an empty word?
Have they lost all confidence in the democratic process?
Are they so infatuated with money?

Any mix of all of the above?

 

Vatican scrambles after pope appears to deny existence of hell.

Francis washing feet of inmates

“The controversy came as Pope Francis washed the feet of 12 prisoners at Rome’s Regina Coeli prison on Holy Thursday. Among the inmates were two Muslims, an Orthodox Christian and a Buddhist. He told them: “Everyone has the opportunity to change life and one cannot judge.”
It was the fourth time since becoming pope that he held mass in an Italian prison. “I am a sinner like you but today I represent Jesus … God never abandons us, never tires of forgiving us,” he added.”

“The Holy See issued a terse statement saying a lengthy article published in La Repubblica on Wednesday by Eugenio Scalfari, 93, the newspaper’s founder, was “the fruit of his reconstruction” and not “a faithful transcription of the Holy Father’s words”.

While the Vatican conceded that Scalfari, an atheist who struck up a friendship with Francis in 2013, had held a private meeting with the pontiff before the Easter weekend, it said an interview had not been granted.

During the meeting Scalfari asked the pope where “bad souls” go, to which he was quoted as responding: “They are not punished. Those who repent obtain God’s forgiveness and take their place among the ranks of those who contemplate him, but those who do not repent and cannot be forgiven disappear. A hell doesn’t exist, the disappearance of sinning souls exists.””

OK, and where’s the problem?

“… in 1999 Pope John Paul II announced that hell was “the ultimate consequence of sin itself … rather than a place, hell indicates the state of those who freely and definitively separate themselves from God, the source of all life and joy”.”

Since ‘nihil sine Deo’, where’s the difference between ‘disappearing’ and ‘becoming definitively separated from God’?!?

“The Catholic church’s teachings affirm the existence of hell and its eternity, saying “the chief punishment of hell is eternal separation of God”.”

If I’m not mistaken – and I’m not, many people belonging to the same Catholic church once behaved as if sinners were able to buy ‘respite tickets from hell’, for themselves or for their friends and family…
The Council of Trent instituted severe reforms in the practice of granting indulgences, and, because of prior abuses, “in 1567 Pope Pius V canceled all grants of indulgences involving any fees or other financial transactions” (Catholic Encyclopedia). This act proved the Church’s seriousness about removing abuses from indulgences.

Humans are biased. We tend to interpret what we are told and to bend everything we learn towards what we want to believe.

How about going back to basics.

God loves us.
Simply because He had made us in His own image.
And, just like any other reasonable parent, He knows that His children are far from being perfect. Hence He must have had perfected a method to correct our transgressions.

On the other hand, eternal damnation doesn’t make much sense, does it?

What loving Father could envision any number of his children suffering till the end of time, whenever that might come?

What about a simpler alternative than trying to out-guess God?

For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.

1 Corinthians 2:11

Pope Francis’s words make a lot of sense. To me!
There’s also very little difference between his interpretation of hell and that expressed by Pope John Paul II.
How can anything continue to exist when separated from the all encompassing God?
What loving Father would give up, for good, any number of his children? Regardless of their transgressions…

Who has done this and carried it through, calling forth the generations from the beginning?

I, the Lord—with the first of them and with the last—I am he.”

Isaiah 41:4

You see, adding the fact that we’re all sinners to the possibility of an eternal hell would lead us to the conclusion that we’re all doomed. For the eternity.
If God would allow it, of course.

Doesn’t make much sense, does it?
Then how about us striving to minimize our sins here, while we still have this opportunity, and leave the rest to somebody who knows better?

Apparently, modern civilization ‘is all about the money’.

Fundamentally, it’s still about trust.

Drivers trust their follow drivers that each will stay on their side of the road, stop at the red light and yield at the famous yellow triangle.

yield

 

Each of us trusts that the elevators we use daily won’t fall under their own weight, that our daily bread contains exclusively what’s mentioned on the label and that tap water has been adequately filtered before being pumped into our homes through proper pipes.

We trust, and follow their advice, ‘higher authorities’. Science people, teachers, government ‘agents’…

Modern ‘consumers’ order a lot of stuff online, food included. From people they’ve never met, trusting they’ll get what they’ve read about in an add they never asked for.

We keep a lot of data online. Mails, tweets, pictures, more or less intimate thoughts shared on our FB walls. That’s the ‘free’ part. We also pay increasingly handsome amounts of money to ‘upload’ for safekeeping ‘in the cloud’ a lot of sensitive commercial and personal data.

Where ‘apparently’ meets ‘fundamentally’, in our individual/personal lives, we are flabbergasted when cars become weapons and are used to kill innocent bystanders. Our friends and relatives.

When manufacturers implement planned obsolescence, artificially increase nicotine contents in cigarettes and replace sugar with corn syrup in ‘soft drinks’.
When piped water is dirty and the authorities shrug their shoulders.
When we discover that animal fat is not as bad for us as we’ve been told for the last 50 years or so. When we realize that our children are saddled with huge debts simply because they wanted a good education. When we realize that some of the people involved with ‘government’ become part of the problem instead of part of the solution.

When our personal data becomes a merchandise.
Traded to be transformed into a manipulative tool.
Used to influence us into buying certain things.
Used to influence us into making certain political decisions.

Trust will, probably, survive for a while.
But I fear the day when too many people will have lost it.

Price tag

 

 

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