Archives for category: man induced fragility

Some of my right-of-center friends maintain that political correctness is a leftist aberration while some of my left-of-center friends are convinced that most conservatives are bigoted male chauvinists cum white supremacists cum LGBTQ+ haters.

I’m afraid both are mistaken.

The way I see it, none of this has anything to do with left nor right and everything to those on each side of the divide driving themselves into self allocated and mutually exclusive corners.

Otherwise said, this dichotomy is a consequence of populism.
People residing in each ideological corner are constantly barraged with messages telling them exactly what they have prepared themselves to hear.
People residing in each corner are constantly barraged with messages deemed appropriate by those who reckon there is something to be gained, by ‘them’, from keeping those people as far apart as possible.

Maybe now, that Cambridge Analytica has just hit the fan, we’ll start to understand how fake this whole thing is.

And I can’t wrap this up without mentioning something which really bothers me.

“As I said in my How to Fail book, if you are not familiar with the dozens of methods of persuasion that are science-tested, there’s a good chance someone is using those techniques against you.

Scott Adams,

The ‘run of the mill’ populism is directed towards the ordinary people. Which have a valid excuse for not knowing what’s happening to them.
Political correctness is a self sustaining bubble which was generated and is maintained  inside a supposedly more sophisticated medium.

Intellectually more sophisticated medium….

political correctness zizek

Hopefully, Zizek’s arguments will help us puncture this bubble!
Click on the picture above and see for yourself.


Survival of the fittest“.

Evolution is not about survival of the fittest but about the demise of those unable to adapt. Even if the difference seems trivial this approach has vast consequences. As Ernst Mayr explains it What evolution is, (Basic Books, New York, 2002) one can never know what “best” may mean, in any situation. First of all because (Werner Heisenberg, Herbert Simon, Dan Ariely) you can never have a complete picture of anything and secondly because in the real world ‘situations’ are changing constantly – Panta Rhei.
So the only relevant test is survival, being able to cope with whatever comes along and not the brilliance with which one might be able to solve a very particular problem, at a particular moment in time.

Division of labor

After understanding ‘survival’, it’s a lot easier to figure why social strategy functions better than sheer individualism: by creating the right environment for its members to become specialists a complex team will cope better when confronted with  different complex situations than a mob composed of identically qualified members.
With the caveat that this arrangement works only as long as every member of the team realizes that it’s better for him to belong than to get out and only as long as all the members of the said team act consistently as if ‘one for all and all for one’. Otherwise put, complex teams where each has it’s own more or less indispensable role work properly only as long as most of the members continue to be ‘socially intelligent‘.

For those who feel there is an apparent contradiction here please note there are two levels of analysis/interaction.
Individually, each of us has to take care of him/herself (and his/hers immediate family).
Socially, each of us has the duty to evaluate the other members of the group and to exchange information with them about the well being of the whole group.

This can be taken even further. Whenever a subgroup becomes too ‘specialized’ –  as is in ‘becoming so preoccupied with it’s own well being as to stop caring about the rest’, its own survival is in danger. Time and time again, history shows us that those who become estranged from the rest of the society end up badly. Creating problems for the entire society, true, but ultimately their behavior amounts to a form of suicide. Callous royals end up on the chopping block, seemingly indestructible dictators end up at the hands of angry mobs… Erstwhile top of the feeding chain (too big to fail?!?) companies end up broke or bailed out by the government…

Politics versus Economics

I’m constantly amazed by the fact that politics and economy have grown so apart from each other and each of them so disconnected from reality.
Politics has become a constant struggle for administrative power while economy has ‘metastasized’ into a battle field where the foot soldiers struggle to survive while the big brass  gorge themselves with ‘money’.

Nowadays, too many politicians have forgotten that their job is to figure out, in close cooperation with the rest of the society, how to solve the various problems which  challenge us on a daily basis. Too many of them do nothing but fight among themselves, each of them attempting to impose their particular vision on all of us.
In the same time, the economic mechanism is no longer geared towards ‘making the ends meet’ – the original meaning of the Greek word oikonomia.
Our not so distanced ancestors have invented a self governing mechanism which very efficiently allocated the available resources to those who were able to put them to good use. Adam Smith described this mechanism as ‘the free market’.
Presently, we’ve corrupted this previously self leveling mechanism into a collective MMA arena where the heavier knock the wind out of the weaker in the name of ‘king profit’.

All this because we mistakenly believe free market capitalism to be an ideology when it is nothing but a mechanism for allocating resources.
The best to date, admittedly, but only as long as we’re wise enough to preserve the freedom of the market.
And as soon as we’ve mistakenly ‘anointed’ profit as the most important goal of any economic venture… the market had ceased to be free!  You see, profit is the best measure for efficiency – which, in its turn, is the best indicator for economic survivability, yet efficiency itself is pointless if the needs of the market are not met. Smith’s famous characters – the baker, the brewer and the butcher, went to the market to meet the needs of their customers. They became comfortably well off because they were successful in meeting those needs in an efficient manner, not because they were successful in cornering the market… as some of the present day tycoons are teaching us

Why do I maintain that a ‘profit obsessed’ market is no longer free?
Well, simply because the participants to such a market are just as free as those addicted to heroin. Both kind of addicts think of nothing but the object of their addiction and are oblivious to everything else. As in blind to everything else!
And I’m sure you all agree with me that being blind is detrimental to being able to stay alive. Specially so for those unaware of their blindness!
Or unaware of their addiction…


Let’s face it, all of us have asked ourselves, ‘why do we have to go through all this’?

Why are we thrown into this world, without any of us ever been asked about it, only to end up dead?

Well, I haven’t got an answer to this particular question. Sorry for getting your hopes too high.

But, thanks to a friend of mine, I’ve just found the answer to the next best one.

‘Now, if we’re already here, is there anything that we can do about it?’

The gamut of a potential answer to this question runs from ‘end it this very minute’ to ‘let’s do our best, which ever that might be’.

‘End it this very minute’ has the obvious plus of avoiding any additional suffering to that already experienced – and we pretty much know what we can expect as we’ll be getting older, and the equally obvious minus that no one knows what tomorrow will bring.


Who amongst us knew, thirty five years ago, that communism will fall? With a bang!
Who amongst us knew, thirty years ago, that the internet will allow us to exchange ideas so fast, across so much of the world?
Who amongst us knew, five minutes ‘before’, who was the soul-mate each of us have been so happy to share everything with since ‘that happy moment’?

OK, let’s do our best then.
But what is this ‘best’?
How can we define it?!?

To each, their own…

It was exactly here that my friend’s input was invaluable.

“Curiosity is an important source of wisdom, but nowhere near as important as pain.”

The very moment that I was reading this, my fingers started to itch:

“I’m afraid both are ‘equally’ important.
The way I see it, curiosity and pain are, intellectually speaking, very similar to man and woman. You cannot have wisdom without a ‘healthy’ dose of both curiosity and pain, just as you cannot possibly conceive a child without enough of both man and woman.
Furthermore, the kind of wisdom/child you end up with depends heavily on how well both factors manage to cooperate in their ‘discourse’. Not to mention how important is the ‘environment’ where wisdom is ‘attempted’ and ‘child’ is raised.
In this sense, curiosity and pain are just as equal as man and woman are equal.
Or should I say ‘so complementary that neither of them can fulfill their meaning if the other is absent’?”
At first glimpse, this whole thing seems extremely reductionist.
What about those who cannot/want not to have children? Am I implying they’re wasting their lives?
And what about the few who cannot even comprehend the concept of wisdom? Are they to be ‘set aside’?!?
Take a deep breath!
What I’ve just understood is simple.
Basically, these are the only two things over which we have the slightest degree of control.
To give birth – to the next generation of humans, and to learn. To add something to the accrued understanding which is known as ‘culture’.
‘End it, this very minute!’ versus ‘Do our best!’
In order to add something to the future of mankind, not all of us actually need to ‘give birth’. Not all of us actually need to become the next Steven Hawking – I have chosen him as an example because he had just passed away this morning.
But how better this world will become as more and more of us will learn to balance ‘curiosity’ and ‘pain’?
As more and more of us will learn to encourage ‘curiosity’ – their own as well as that of others?
As more and more of us will train themselves to apply only the least amount of ‘curative pain’ whenever they are in control?
As more and more of us will understand that in so many instances both curiosity and pain are more a matter of chance than of ‘due diligence’, and, as a consequence of their newly found understanding, will be more willing to extend a helping hand to both curious and painful?
Flash back from earlier this morning.
Another friend of mine had mentioned a Russian proverb – his translation, I don’t speak the language.

“Do not try “raising/shaping” your kids.

Whatever you do, they’ll still grow to resemble you.
Educate/shape yourself.”
There’s nothing else left to be done but to shape ourselves.
This way we’ll contribute both to the future of mankind and to our own.
It’s a lot nicer, and safer too, to live among people who entertain an atmosphere of mutual respect amongst all of them than to attempt to survive in a ‘top dog takes all’ ‘urban jungle’.
the golden rule

Part II ended on the Western side of the Mediterranean sea, right before WWII.
Which, by the way, was a consequence of the WWI victors making a terrible mistake.

For the III-rd part we have to cross to the Eastern side of the aforementioned sea and to fast forward to the aftermath of WWIII. The Cold One, if you haven’t figured that out by yourselves.

I’m going to make a small detour now and bring back a subject that I’ve already mentioned.
The changing nature of war itself.
Up to the start of WWI we had war as a conflict between ethnic/imperial chieftains while from then on really important wars had been started by ethnic/imperial chieftains and won by the attacked democracies. The key word here being ‘won’.
Which is not exactly true.
Those wars had not as much been won by the victors as lost by the aggressors. All that the democracies had to do was to (actively) resist long enough for the aggressors to rot from within and crumble under their own weight.
Actually all three WWs had been lost from the first moment. Simply because the aggressors had been inflexible ‘imperiums’ – social systems where the decision making mechanisms were controlled from the top in a more or less absolute manner.

Let’s go back to Syria.
What we had here was a population who had lost patience with being mistreated by a dictator and which, somewhat encouraged by what was going on globally, had tried to ‘buck the rider’. To carve a better future for themselves.

Just as in Spain, almost a hundred years ago, things had become way more complicated than they should have been.
Opportunists of all persuasions and from almost all over the world have jumped in to the occasion. And all those who could have dragged their asses instead of doing something useful for the longer term did exactly that. Dragged their asses and done nothing.

The parallel is staggering. Unfortunately things are becoming far worse and far more complicated.

In Spain, the world had perceived the whole movement as being predominantly of a communist nature. Which, eventually, made it so. Perception wise, in this case.
In Syria, the world perceived the whole movement as being predominantly of an islamist nature. Which, eventually, made it so. Simply because only the islamists of the world became involved, while all the rest did next to nothing. On the really ‘progressive’ side, that is.

In Spain, the only ‘outside’ power which had intervened decisively was the loser of the previous WW. More precisely, the decisive intervention was carried on by the  dictatorship established over the population which had felt mistreated after WWI.
In Syria, the ‘outside’ power which intervenes decisively, helping the ‘regressives’, is the loser of the previous WW. More precisely, the most effective outside intervention is carried on by the authoritarian regime established over the population which had felt mistreated after the Cold War. In Syria’s case we also have a second intervention on the side of the ‘regressives’, carried on by yet another authoritarian regime established over yet another population which feels mistreated by some of the most powerful governments on this Planet.

Then we have the popular sentiment in the rest of the World.
In Spain, people from some 50 nations had volunteered to fight on the Republican side. Very few of them entertained any communist convictions and most of them had a place of their own where to return after the war was over. And when they did return, they were welcome to do so.
Syria has also seen her ‘fair share’ of volunteers. But there’s a marked difference here. While those who went to fight on the Republican side in Spain were animated by some romantic ideals, most of the aliens who came to fight in Syria were driven by a sort of desperate ennui and an acutely perceived lack of any perspective in their countries of origin.
While those who went to Spain did it to help the Spaniards fulfill their dream, those who went to Syria were hoping to carve a piece of land where to build theirs.
While those who went to Spain were welcomed back by their families and neighbors, those coming back from Syria are shunned by their relatives and investigated by the authorities of the states they are returning to.

And the most complicated aspect of the whole thing is ‘separatism’.

To be continued.

At the beginning of Part I there’s a list of what we’ve accomplished during this century.
I’m going to remind you now some of the mistakes we’ve made.
Genocide, atomic bomb, global warming, widespread pollution… basically, we’ve turned the tables upon ourselves.

I had the first inkling of what’s going on when I started to compare what’s currently going on in Syria with the Spanish Civil War.
NB, even the name we use for this kind of conflict is an absolute aberration. War is, by definition, the opposite of civility. Why on Earth any of us might consider that war waged between co-nationals can be expected to be more ‘civil’ that the ‘regular brand’…

Spain and Syria have evolved in eerily similar manners. Multiple ethnic groups of multiple religious convictions have been forced by geography to coexist and to evolve together. Each of them had passed through very similar stages, albeit following different time-tables. The whole thing culminated with both of them passing, during the last century, through ‘revolutionary’ episodes. There are two small differences though.
Spain’s ‘revolution’ had taken place at the end of a turbulent period and had produced a dictatorship – Franco’s, while the Syrian one is the consequence of a dictatorship and has not yet yielded a clear result.

And why is any of this of any interest when analyzing the entire century? Except, maybe, that the two atrocious episodes have marked the start and the beginning of the said century?

Well, it’s how the rest of the world have chosen to react in each instance which I find extremely interesting.

First of all, let me remind you the broad picture in both cases.

Spain’s took place shortly after the end of WWI and immediately after the Great Depression. The most important ‘disruptive ferment’ was militant marxism and although not all of those fighting on the side of the revolutionaries adhered to this ideology the presence of the marxists had decisively shaped the reaction of the democratically elected governments of the world. They had chosen to basically stay out of it. Despite the fact that Franco was leading a rebellion and that the Republican Government had been dully elected to office.
At the beginning, France’s first socialist PM, Leon Blum, had assisted the Republicans but recanted shortly afterwards, “under pressure from Stanley Baldwin and Anthony Eden in Britain, and more right-wing members of his own cabinet”. Which, in a way, made some sense. Western Europe was frightened that communism might spread westwards and many of the Spanish Republicans were of communist persuasion. “Baldwin and Blum now called for all countries in Europe not to intervene in the Spanish Civil War. A Non-Intervention Agreement was drawn-up and was eventually signed by 27 countries including the Soviet Union, Germany and Italy. However, Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini openly ignored the agreement and sent a large amount of military aid, including troops, to General Francisco Franco and his Nationalist forces.” Stalin also ignored the agreement and send some help to the Republicans but got bored and by 1938 he practically forgot about the whole thing.
In the end, the conflict had been won by the side supported by those seeking revenge for being defeated during WWI – and for the harsh conditions imposed by the Treaty of Versailles.
That had been the ‘institutional’ reaction.
On the popular side, despite the ‘hang-over’ produced by the WWI and the Great Depression, some 60.000 volunteers from all over the world had joined the ‘fight for freedom’. The fact that they were organized by the Comintern didn’t help in the end, on the contrary, but the population at large looked at them with sympathy. Proven by the success enjoyed by the literature and art produced by some of the volunteers/sympathizers.





According to Protagoras, we are here for but one reason. To determine whether anything which happens around us makes any sense.
Mind you, we are not supposed to knit fancy stories and to skillfully include in them everything we perceive! A.k.a ‘narratives’.
Just ‘measure’ things and call them out for what we think they are.

I’m going to enumerate a series of facts and let you figure them out.

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”




guns in circulation per household

So, if people are less likely to be killed, in any manner, why a shrinking number of them buy an increasing number of guns?

3% gun owners


suicide versus mass shootings


murders by type of gun

Then why are people so focused on ‘assault rifles’? Only because they tend to be used in mass murders? Is this a good enough reason to try to remove them from the eco-system?
And why is there so little fuss about the huge number of suicides?
Bzw, can ‘mass murders’ be considered a form of suicide? After all, very few of the perpetrators ever managed to leave the scene… And even fewer have never been identified.


According to the ATF, people in the USA buy an ever increasing number of guns each year yet since 2012 (Sandy Hook) Cerberus Capital Management has not been able to find a buyer for Remington Outdoor – the weapons manufacturer who produces, among other ‘things’, “the most popular version of the “modern sporting rifle” sold in the US.
People in the US are interested to invest in weapons per se but not in weapons manufacturers?

Considering that, according to Bloomberg, Cerberus Capital had eventually handed over Remington Outdoor to “Wall Street Creditors”…

Blackstone Group, which offers asset management services, has been reducing its weapons exposure for years. This weekend, it verified that no gun investments remained in its portfolios, according to the Wall Street Journal. The investment giant BlackRock Inc. said it, too, was exploring ways to cull gun companies from the portfolios of clients who no longer wish to invest in them.

The early believers were convinced that God’s ‘real’ name could not be uttered by their ‘mortal’ lips.

Their logic was simple. Using a single word to ‘differentiate’ something from everything else is somewhat arrogant. It implies that the ‘god-father’ knows all that there is to be known about that something – or at least enough to give credence to that naming.

As faith became stronger, so did the self confidence of those involved in the process.
When writing about their beliefs, some of them circumvented the initial shyness by using multiple names to describe the object of their adoration – hoping that in this manner they’ll get close enough to the real thing.
“To begin with, God is referred to by a number of names in the Bible—not just a single name. By some counts there are more than 20 different names for God mentioned in the Bible. And each of these names has great significance. Each one tells us something important about God—His character and how He relates to us.”
Others still stick to the ‘no name’ policy, refer to their God using a title, Allah – the ‘One and Only Who Deserves to Be Worshiped’ – instead of a ‘proper’ (?!?) name, and use a number of attributes to describe him. Such a large number of attributes as to make it evidently clear that stringing attributes is in no way enough to ‘exhaust’ the inner nature of any god. Of anything, really.
“”If We had sent down this Quran upon a mountain, you would have seen it humble itself and shatter out of fear of God.  Such are the parables which We put forward to mankind that they may reflect. He is Allah, there is no deity but He.  He is the Knower of the unseen and the seen.  He is ar-Rahman (Most Compassionate), ar-Raheem (Most Merciful).  He is Allah besides Whom there is no deity.  He is al-Malik (Sovereign), al-Quddus (Most Pure), as-Salaam (Giver of peace), al-Mumin (Giver of security), al-Muhaiman (Vigilant), al-Aziz (Migthy), al-Jabbar (Overpowering), al-Mutakabbir (Glorious).  He is pure from whatever they ascribe to Him.  He is Allah, al-Khaliq (Creator), al-Bari (Perfect Maker), al-Musawwir (Fashioner); to Him belong the most beautiful names.  Whatever is in the heavens and the earth glorifies Him.  He is al-Aziz (Mighty), al-Hakeem (Wise).” (Quran 59:21-24)”

After writing for long enough about their beliefs, the worshipers had become emboldened enough to transform their convictions into precepts. To be not only followed by the believers themselves but also imposed upon others.

And this is how various groups of people have traveled from “The Truth Shall Make You Free” to defining heresy as being the most heinous crime… so heinous that the congregations felt the need to punish it in the most eloquent manner.
Does it seem logical that heretics were burned alive, with their mental faculties intact, to give them one last chance to repent before being sent into the “eternal fire”? Could it be that burning an individual at the stake was seen as a merciful death, as a means of giving that person one last chance to save his or her soul before final damnation??? I have read that “burning at the stake was believed by some medieval authorities and scholars to liberate the sinner from his or her formerly damned state and offer some hope of salvation to the now ‘cleansed’ soul”.

After some of us have somehow survived that era, a few parts of the world have become ‘the lands of the free’.
The countries where a majority of the inhabitants believe that “your right to swing your arm leaves off where my right not to have my nose struck begins.”

It’s here that things get really interesting.

The quote defining freedom as stemming from the relation between your fist and my nose logically leads us to observe that those who define liberty in this manner are a bunch of tired, and maybe wised up, fist-fighters.
Who have finally reached the understanding that it’s better to negotiate it rather than fight over it.

‘Negotiate? What is here to be negotiated?’
‘The distance between our noses? How close am I allowed to bring mine to yours before you becoming allowed to defend your intimacy?
After all, if my nose is so far away that you’ll never be able to touch it, this particular definition of liberty ceases to make any sense while if you’re never allowed to punch mine then I’ll be able to use it to crowd you out of your own life.
And vice-versa.

Which points out the cruel reality that we cannot negotiate everything.

To start any negotiation we must first have something in common.
A common language would be fine indeed but I have something else in mind.
Both sides involved in any negotiation need to share the same attitude.

This is the hardest thing to convey.
To convince the other side that you’re going to keep your end of the bargain.
Only after both sides have reached this ‘belief’, they will feel free enough to discuss the real issues.
This is where ‘religion’ comes in handy. It teaches us that all people are to be treated equally – all of them have been molded in a single cast, and that they share a spark from the same divine fire.
God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them“.

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel, which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!

Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians, 1:6-10)

 Which brings us back to the original question.

Is any liberty possible, outside the one we continuously build ourselves, through constant negotiation?
Is any bona-fide negotiation possible without a healthy dose of mutual respect among all those involved in it?
Why do we, grown-ups, still need our father to constantly remind us to stop bickering?






“Try” implies intent, right?
Towards the professed goal… otherwise it makes no sense…

Which begets yet another question:
‘But how do we determine intention?’
‘The ‘perpetrator’ must have wished for it, given what they’ve done/said!’ ?!?

Let me give you something to chew on…


Jordan Peterson, (12 Rules for Life, 2018) is a smart guy who has just published a rather controversial book – read ‘all about it’ here.
Cathy Newman, a “presenter for Channel 4 News” has recently become “a minor Internet phenomenon, thanks to the journalist’s extraordinary interviewing style.”
The excerpt above belongs to that interview but, unfortunately, proves that there is nothing extraordinary about this interviewer’s style. Oversimplification has become a pattern rather than an exception.

But why?
What’s going on here?
Why would seemingly sensible people, in pursuit of commendable goals, put themselves in such untenable positions? “A British broadcaster doggedly tried to put words into the academic’s mouth.” A rather harsh commentary, specially when published by the Atlantic, a magazine promoting more or less the same ideas as those ‘defended’ so passionately by Newman.

The “invisible gorilla” to the rescue.

Not familiar with the concept? Click on the link.

I won’t bother you with the details of this very modern experiment but I’m gone quote a ‘classic’ Romanian proverb
‘As soon as people gaze long/deep enough into a single spot/subject, their knowledge horizon becomes ‘their’ point of view’.
At this point, I have a confession to make. I don’t know how classic it is, nor whether it is actually a proverb. I was introduced to it by my 7-th grade history teacher, Mr. Bucataru. More than 40 years ago, at least 20 before the ‘invisible gorilla’ strolled across the basket ball court, ‘blissfully’ unnoticed by half of the people ‘present’ for the occasion.

Was Newman really trying to sound dumb? As in ‘assuming the perceived dumbness as a cost towards a more valuable goal’?

Or was she so absorbed by the ‘more valuable goal’ – which ever that might be, I cannot pretend to know what she was after, that she wasn’t even aware that her very behavior was detrimental to whatever she attempted to achieve?

Could it be that sometimes we concentrate so much on whatever we consider to be  ‘the occasion’ that we fail to actually be there?

Why Can’t People Hear What Jordan Peterson Is Saying?”

Conor Friedersdorf, the Atlantic, Jan 22, 2018

If this book has a blind spot, it’s largely a function of the fact that Peterson is a professor. If you’re an academic, especially a Canadian academic, living in a real city, you rarely (if ever) meet right-wing crazies. But you’re exposed to left-wing crazies on a fairly regular basis. This tends to skew and distort your conception of where the crazies are to be found mightily….
I share Peterson’s deep discomfort with any mode of analysis that reduces individuals to the status of group representatives. But to say that this pernicious mode of analysis is solely a function of “Marxism” or “postmodernism” is a gross oversimplification. Among other things, it makes it seem like this is a uniquely left-wing problem—when clearly it’s not. Right-wing reactionary racists regularly reduce individuals to the status of group representatives. And they’re doing pretty well politically lately.

John Faithful Hamer, Commiting Sociology, Feb 2, 2018.

“So you’re saying … we should live like lobsters?” or: Why does politics make us stupid?

Pascal Boyer, Blog, Cognition and Culture, Feb 1, 2018

PS. I’ve just realized that the ‘Romanian proverb’ I mentioned above is somewhat related to Nietzsche’s: “Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster… for when you gaze long into the abyss the abyss gazes also into you.”
And since ‘becoming a monster’ basically means loosing the ability/willingness to fit into the society where you have been born,  the logical conclusion of Nietzsche’s advice is ‘never attempt to fight monsters by yourself’. It’s easier to retain your humanity when belonging to a team and even more so when the teams involved in any competition behave fairly and respectfully to each other.

Autumn of 2008.
The Bucharest Stock Exchange assembled a conference for the investors where some relatively junior guys working for the ‘Global Banking Establishment’ tried to uplift our mood by outlining their bosses’ envisioned reaction to the crises. Something which would later be known as  ‘quantitative easing’.
I asked one of them:
‘The current crises is the straight consequence of money having been used improperly. Are you sure that throwing a fresh amount of it on the market would make things any better?’.
‘Well, nobody has come yet with a better idea…’

Almost ten years later, it seems that ‘throwing fresh money at it’ did revive the market.
Dow Jones has climbed through the clouds, unemployment is low, inflation is low, interest rates are also low…

Some 120 economies, accounting for three quarters of world GDP, have seen a pickup in growth in year-on-year terms in 2017, the broadest synchronized global growth upsurge since 2010.“, according to the IMF.

Only the very same words could have been used to describe the 1990’s…

But there is something that at least some of us have noticed.


©Elliot Wave International (

Both major economic crises which have scarred us in less than a century have been closely predated by spikes in ‘income inequality’.

To make things worse, we are confronted by yet another fast moving development which pushes us towards uncharted waters.
Large scale replacement of ‘human capital’ by industrial robots, some of them driven by ‘artificial intelligence’.

Reaction has been mixed.

Some of the very rich have pledged to make available to charity important chunks of their estates while other ‘concerned parties’ promote  heavier involvement of the government – ‘guaranteed universal income’, etc., etc…
All these in the name of an illusive ‘equality’.

‘On the other side of the isle’, where inequality is seen as being not only natural but also harmless, people are happy with what’s going on and see no problem in everything continuing to march to the same beat.

I argued earlier that ‘heavy involvement of the government’ has already been experimented. And failed. Check the fate of every communist dictatorship.
Actually, check the fate of all dictatorships.
You’ll find that whenever a society becomes too centralized, that thing alone considerably diminishes its survival chances.
Same outcome whenever people in a group/community evaluate things using a single yardstick/from a single perspective.
To make things worse, the speed of the degenerative process becomes catastrophic when decision making becomes centralized while the reduced number of decision makers are partially blinded by too many of them using a single yardstick to do their job.

We are fast approaching that situation.

Extreme wealth polarization means that economic resources become concentrated in very few hands. Hence economic decision making.
And since policies cannot be put in place without resources…

The funny thing is that this concentration of power/decision making take place regardless of property remaining private or communism taking over.
As long as those who control the whole system are too few, ‘who owns it’ makes no difference.
Absolute monarchies faltered in the very same way as their communist successors.

It doesn’t matter whether an universal basic income would be supported by a tax exacting government or by a small coterie of ‘concerned investors’, sooner or later any such arrangement would become sour.

One other thing.
Claims for equality might become so deafening as to impede clear thinking.

Just as money is a very good tool/servant but a lousy goal/master, equality is a commendable goal but a lousy tool.
Human beings ‘work best’ as autonomous individuals who cooperate freely inside what has been described as ‘free market’.
Whenever that market was cornered, either from outside – by the government, or from inside – too many of the players acting in ‘concert’/sync because they had been ‘mesmerized’, remember the ‘Tulip mania” of yore? – it had faltered. Sometimes abysmally.
Attempting to fit everybody in a ‘one size fits all’ mould would be catastrophic.
Just as catastrophic as when less and less people can develop and express their true potential. Remember that we haven’t changed, biologically, during the last 50 000 years or so. But, generation after generation, we’ve been able to do more and more things simply because each generation made it easier for the next one. Most of the times, anyway.
Let’s not change this.



















I keep hearing about this issue and I can’t stop wondering about how parallel to each other are those defending this idea with those denying its merits.


-Robots are eating more and more jobs so more and more people will end up hungry.
-AI will make robots so productive that it will be far more efficient to use robots than human workers.
-A decent income is a human right.


-This is a socialist move, hence it will end up in failure – no other reason offered.

As it is obvious to all, both sides score big.

Yes, including ‘a decent income is a human right’ and ‘all socialist ideas end up in failure’.

Then what are they fighting each-other about?!?

Let me rephrase that.
WHY are they fighting, in the first place?

Because neither listen to what the other has to say… as simple as that…

Let me discuss some of the practicalities involved.

Robots eating up jobs and AI being able to continually increase financial efficiency are so evident that they do not deserve much consideration.

‘All socialist moves ended up in failure’.
We need to define socialism in order to make sense of this sentence.
Mainly because ‘socialism’ is one of the most abused words nowadays, on a par with liberalism. Sometimes they are even considered synonyms…
Well, ‘liberalism’ comes from liberty and  bona fide liberalism is concerned with individual freedom.
Socialism, on the other hand, comes from social. And is concerned with the the workings of the entire society.
The point being that there are two types of socialism. One which is ‘somewhat’ synonym with liberalism – the ‘reverse’ side of liberalism, actually, while the latter is the exact opposite.

I’m not making any sense?

Let me start from the other side.
All forms of socialism which have failed have been excessively centralized forms of government. And it was because of that excessive centralism that they had failed, not because of being ‘socialist’. The evident proof being that the same thing has happened with all right-wing dictatorships, which had used the very same excessively centralized decision making mechanism – the totalitarian government …

Which brings us back to the problem at hand.

For Universal Basic Income to work – or Guaranteed Basic Income, as some insist on calling it, it has to be financed.
Through taxes, right? Which means that those owning the robots would have to be somehow convinced to give up a huge proportion of their profits… Then why bother in the first place…? Why start any businesses, at all?
We’ll have the government run the whole show? Remember what history teaches us about centralized decision making?


Well, not all is lost while there’s still hope!

Let me rearrange the arguments.

We not only live in an inherently limited space, with inherently limited resources, but we’ve also finally started to understand our predicament. Which calls for as much efficiency as possible.
Only for a different kind of efficiency than that we’ve accustomed ourselves to.

Until recently, we’ve been trying to get as much money under our belts as possible. Without much regard for anything else.
That’s why we’ve been cutting down secular forests, feeding almost all the fish we’ve been pulling from the oceans to the domestic animals we were raising for their meat, polluting our breathing air, selling our fellow humans which happened to had a different skin color than ours into slavery… As if there was no tomorrow…

Slowly, we’ve started to realize that this won’t work for very much longer.

That no matter whether we’re responsible for the global warming – or if it’s real at all, sooner or later we’ll exhaust the planet.
OK, it is highly plausible that we’ll discover/learn to use new classes of resources.
But this eventuality doesn’t constitute, in any way, a valid reason for us to continue squandering the meager resources we have at our disposal.

Hence the need for increased efficiency.

Only this has to be a different kind of efficiency. The kind that focuses on minimizing waste instead of maximizing profits. The kind that recycles because it makes obvious sense, not because it is cheaper.

Along the same path we’ll discover that it would make a lot of sense to help the less developed nations to catch up with the most advanced ones.
For starters, because the ‘advanced economies’ no longer need cheap workers. They use robots instead.
Secondly, because better living people tend to have less children than those struggling to survive. And we’ve already agreed about the planet being rather limited…

Nothing too fancy… until now, right?

Well, the next item will be trickier..

Remember that Ford had raised dramatically the wages he paid to his workers?
With tremendous results?

OK, his reasons were not the ones, generally but erroneously, attributed to him.
He didn’t do it to ‘encourage’ his workers to buy cars from him… or because of philanthropy…

Actually, it was the turnover of his staff.

At the time, workers could count on about $2.25 per day, for which they worked nine-hour shifts. It was pretty good money in those days, but the toll was too much for many to bear. Ford’s turnover rate was very high. In 1913, Ford hired more than 52,000 men to keep a workforce of only 14,000. New workers required a costly break-in period, making matters worse for the company. Also, some men simply walked away from the line to quit and look for a job elsewhere. Then the line stopped and production of cars halted. The increased cost and delayed production kept Ford from selling his cars at the low price he wanted. Drastic measures were necessary if he was to keep up this production.”

But, whatever Ford’s reasons were, the long term results have been abundantly clear.
Nowadays people who build cars are being paid well enough to afford buying the same kind of cars they are building. At least in the advanced economies…

What happened was that Ford, in order to keep the assembly line going, paid his workers as much as he afforded to. With spectacular results.
While nowadays most employers tend to ‘compensate’ their employees with as little as possible. Which makes perfect economic sense… doesn’t it?

The same economic sense which used to drive us into “cutting down secular forests, feeding almost all the fish we’ve been able to pull from the oceans to the domestic animals we were raising for their meat, polluting our breathing air, selling our fellow humans which happened to had a different skin color than ours into slavery… As if there was no tomorrow…”

See what I mean?
Instead of attempting to mandate a ‘Guaranteed Basic Income’, calculated by the central government and financed through forcefully levied taxes, how about hiring as many people as it would make sense, let them work as little days per week as they want and pay them as much as we can afford to instead of programmatically replacing as many of them with robots and paying the remaining ones as little as we possibly can?

OK, some of us won’t get as rich, as fast, as our grand-fathers did… So what? None of us can eat even close to what our grand-fathers used to… and food is a lot cheaper, anyway…

This is would be a considerably shorter way to get more people out of poverty than any scheme concocted by any government and it would have the same snow-ball effect as Ford’s wage increase had.

Economists describe this as Rostow’s ‘take off effect’.


For attaining adequate finance for take off it is necessary that:

(a) The community’s surplus over consumption does not flow into the hands of those who will utilize it by hoarding, luxury consumption or low productivity investment out-lays;

(b) Institution for providing cheap and adequate working capital be developed;

(c) One or more sectors of the economy must grow rapidly and the entrepreneurs in these sectors must plough back a substantial portion of their profits to productive investment; and

(d) Foreign capital can profitably be utilized for building up social and economic overheads.”


Obviously, any attempt to instate a guaranteed basic income, (except for those too young, too old or otherwise un-able to pull their weight, of course) would grind any ‘take-off’ to a stand-still.

And no, getting people out of poverty is not a valid goal, per se.
Poverty is a relative thing, which relies more  on feelings than on hard reality.
The real problem with poverty is that it reduces the ability of poor individuals to lead meaningful lives. Poor people are a lot less autonomous than self sufficient ones, meaning that decision making ability is impaired by the fact that they need to focus their attention on the short term time span.

This whole thing has long term consequences on societal level.

Remember what I said about centrally planned socialist countries constantly failing.
About all dictatorships eventually crumbling under their own weight, because of too much decision power being concentrated in too few hands?

Excessive wealth polarization produces the same results. Economic decision becomes too concentrated, political decision follows through and…

What next?
The world has already experimented with communism. Didn’t work.
It also experienced two economic meltdowns, exactly when wealth polarization was at relative peaks.


When are we going to learn anything from what happens to us?
Why do we continue to waste the accumulated lessons collectively known as ‘history‘?


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