Archives for category: In English

Ever-since Descartes –  dubito ergo cogito, cogito ergo sum, the western culture had considered that a person becomes truly human only after they actively start looking for answers. Start thinking about their own persona, in a conscious manner.
Otherwise put, we start existing only after we notice our existence.

The corollary of this concept had been ‘rational thinking’. The belief that it is possible to consider something – to emit a judgement about a subject, only after dispassionately examining all available facts – and only the facts, pertinent to the matter.

While the ‘thinkers’ were coining the concept of rationality, the more practical minded had come up with the scientific approach. Gather as much information as possible about the subject you’re interested in, interpret it and come up with a conclusion. But keep an open mind about any new information which might come up and be prepared for your conclusion to be invalidated – or, at least, ‘nuanced’, at any moment.

At first sight, there isn’t much difference between these two approaches. Only at first sight, of course…
Those who consider themselves to be ‘rational’ have a hard time accepting other people’s conclusions while the bona fide ‘scientists’ are actually happy when they are contradicted. ‘My work has been considered important enough for somebody to check it. I’ll just have to make amends and all will  be fine’.

Now, I’m convinced that you’ve all figured out that I’m joking.
There’s no such thing as a fully rational person who denies the facts which happen to contradict their conclusions just as there’s no such thing as a scientist pure enough to actually enjoy being proven wrong.

But I’m not joking when I observe that there are so many people who consider themselves to be rational and who refuse to accept as fact anything which contradicts their beliefs. Who have a ‘scientific’ approach. Who cherry-pick only the facts which confirm their theory and dismiss – as ‘fake-news’, all the rest. Just as many as the scientists who do the same thing.

I wonder who supervises their thinking processes.
Are they truly aware about what’s going on inside their heads?
Or about the consequences?

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“Do you know why I hate capitalists?

1. All they care about is money

2. They have all the money”

This is a bi-partisan joke. Some of the haves use it to demonstrate that money is the essence of modern life while the ‘lefties’ use it to demonstrate the ‘malign’ nature of capitalism.

Both sides are wrong.

According to Adam Smith, the market consists of many specialized economic actors who sell their wares/services. Thus helping each-other lead a better/simpler life than if each of them had to ‘do everything’. Furthermore, a free market is better than a ‘cornered’ one, simply because competition keeps everybody on their toes.
In this sense, a capitalist is a guy who organizes a group of synergically skilled operators in such a manner as to increase their aggregated efficiency.
In order for the market to remain free, a.k.a. efficient, there must continue to exist a certain degree of competition between the said capitalists. And for the whole thing to remain a market, each of the capitalists must remain but an actor, not become a dictator. A.k.a a monopolist.
Differently put, for the market to remain functionally free, capitalists should remain/must be kept level with the other ‘merchant-men’. The bakers sell their bread-making skills, the brewers their beer-making skills, the butchers their ability to carve carcasses while capitalists sell their ability to organize people. Their entrepreneurial skills.
OK, there is difference. But only in our heads. While each of the others use specialized tools – ovens, vats, knives, etc., capitalists use money. Yet another tool but one which seems familiar to all of us. But very few of us see money as a tool and even fewer accept that using money, a lot of it, implies a huge responsibility.  Hence the enormous misunderstanding. No reasonable human being – except for a carpenter, of course, would dream to amass a huge number of, say, hammers, but a majority of people are convinced that having a lot of money would make them happy.

And why did I say “both sides are wrong”?

Because real capitalists are focused on the needs of their business partners – a.k.a. ‘consumers’, not on their pockets/paychecks. Because real capitalists understand that sellers would go hungry if there was no money to buy their wares.
Because free market capitalists are focused on making money go round – and getting handsomely paid for this, instead of constantly attempting to hoard all the money in their grasp.

It’s not me who says so.
Jamie Dimon, Alex Gorsky, Tim Cook, Ray Dalio….

 

Decision is the frontier between action and understanding.

All frontiers are, in fact, links.

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

 

Trial an error (motor, muscular, directly related to actions)

Emotional

Discursive

All three depend, evidently, on memory. Different kinds – evidently, again.

This is a stub.

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

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

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

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

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

The nature of the popular discontent!

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

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

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

 

Science is, above all, a state of mind.
One that posits the world can be understood, one fact at a time.
Science also says that The (complete) Truth will never be fully acquired, only people tend to forget that part.

Some history, first.
Science, as an attitude, had appeared on the shores of the Medieval Mediterranean Sea. The Arabs had just discovered Ancient Greek writings about the ‘natural order of things’ while the Catholics were trying to figure out what God had in mind for the future of the mankind.

We have seen that the laws of nature depend on other laws of nature, which ultimately depend on God’s will.

Put all these together – the wish to understand God’s will, the belief that God’s will is expressed through the natural order of things and the systematic observation of nature, and, Eureka, you have ‘science’.

Which attitude had made Europe what it is today. Both the good and the bad of it.

Europeans have initiated the orderly study of everything around them.
As I said before, the initial intent wasn’t any technological improvement. Technicians and scientists were two completely different breed of people. As in ‘tinkerers’ and ‘philosophers’. Tinkering was sometimes confused with witchcraft while ‘philosophy’ was almost synonym with theology.
Well, both ‘professions’ could lead those to practiced them to a ‘funeral pyre’… whenever either of them ‘trespassed’… Many of those who are able to read are familiar with what ultimately happened to Giordano Bruno but very few of us know the fact that the ‘un-certified healers’ were seen with ‘suspicion’.

“Questioned whether she heals sick persons, answered yes Sir.
Questioned with what kind of medicines, answered by picking betony up and washing it like salad and crushing it into a mortar to get its juice and to give it to her patients for 3, 4 and 5 days, telling them that the more they drunk it, the better it was.
With these words the healer Gostanza da Libbiano, tried for witchcraft in 1594,….”
“The difference between them (healers) and physicians was the specific kind of tasks assigned to doctors: physicians, who rarely touched impurities and who regularly graduated from the university, were believed to be able to make the pain cease, whereas the healer, due to the fact that she actually touched her patients, was able both to make pain cease and to cause it”

Donatella Lippi, Witchcraft, Medicine and Society in Early Modern Europe, 2012

On the face of it, ‘science’ was, and continues to be, declared to depend exclusively on facts. Regardless of those facts being the expression of God’s will or, ultimately, of a serendipitous nature.
In fact, science is about what we, ‘scientists’, have been taught to accept as facts by our teachers and peers.

Another interesting thing.
When most scientists were still believing in God, their natural arrogance was kept in check by their belief that there was somebody who knew more than them. He.
As soon as God was declared dead, all hell broke loose.

‘Practical’ sciences continue to be kept in check by … well… practice! For any engineer, biologist, chemist, physician and all other related scientists and practitioners of science  it is obvious that Karl Popper and Werner Heisenberg were, and continue to be, right. No matter how much we will ever learn, we’ll never be able to know everything. Hence, we should proceed with utmost care.
Those who practice ‘secondary degree’ sciences – sci-Po being the most obvious example, share the belief that the world can be learned but are enjoying a far longer ‘leash’. Simply because the consequences of their actions come a lot later than those experienced by the ‘practical sciences’ practitioners. Add the fact that the ‘effects’ are harder  pinpoint to one specific cause/action…
And since God has become, at most, a personal matter… he no longer exerts the taming influence it used to…
Science has become independent. It is practiced for/in its own right, not as the only available manner of ‘divining’ God’s Will.
In fact, we use science as a manner to design our future. Independently. As each of us see fit and as allowed by those around us.
Which is good. Attempting to learn before proceeding is commendable, of course.
But proceeding with the unshakeable belief that we already know everything about what lies ahead of us is… foolish. Even more so when we speed up…  with total disregard about what other people, our colleagues/peers/fellow human beings, have to say and/or feel about the whole thing. Because we momentarily can.

 

Three things have grabbed my attention this week.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, right…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In many ways, technology has leaped ahead of leaders and organizations, and the human element needs to catch up.

Erica Volini et al, Introduction: Leading the social enterprise—Reinvent with a human focus

I’m afraid there is nothing new here.

‘Technology” has always been the elephant in the china shop.
Only it is very seldom that elephants enter by themselves. Anywhere, let alone in a china shop. And the mahouts who led them there were not always up to the task.

First things first.
“Technology has leaped ahead…” is an oxymoron.
Technology has always been one step behind the humans.
For no other reason than the fact that technology is a human invention. Each and every technological feat has been initiated and put in practice by a human being.

Hence ‘ ‘technology’, (wink) has leaped ahead of leaders and organizations, and the rest of the human element needs to catch up’!

Secondly, the ‘mahouts’ have a relatively easier job than those who drive the ‘rest of the human element’. Developing a technology is fairly easy but making sure that people do not hurt themselves while using it is fairly impossible.

The physical world is straightforward. It’s reaction is always the same. Once the experimenters learn what happens when they execute a certain action, the ‘response’ elicited from ‘that’ physical system by the experimenters’ consistent actions will never change.

On the other hand, people – conscious people, that is, are not that straightforward.
Being self aware, they constantly evaluate the consequences of their responses. They constantly evaluate what happens after they respond to whatever probes them from ‘outside’.
They constantly re-evaluate the consequences their actions produce upon themselves. They learn.
Only they don’t do it ‘mechanically’. Each of them has preferences and a certain freedom of will. Hence their inconsistency. Each of them learns slightly different things from the same situation. And each of them may choose to react in their own manner.
In spite of their assumptions, people are at best reasonable and never fully rational.

Bluntly put, it is fairly easy to evaluate the consequences of a gun being shot at a man but a lot harder to evaluate the consequences of a man shooting a gun.

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

DSC_6406

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

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

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

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

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

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

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