Archives for category: manipulation

do as the Romans do.

According to UrbanDictionary.com, “it has become shortened so often, some people don’t get it anymore. It’s an analogy making use of the strict rule of the ancient Roman empire”

Wikipedia mentions that it’s “a proverb attributed to Saint Ambrose”, meaning “that it is advisable to follow the conventions of the area in which you are residing or visiting.”

OK, seems sensible to follow the rules, specially when their are enforced vigorously. Furthermore, why rock the boat – specially when visiting a place? Or shortly after you’ve just moved in?

How about after becoming familiar with the local mores?

 

fall of Rome

 

Could there be anything more behind these words?

The proverb dates from an era when Rome was the center of the world. Of the Mediterranean world, anyway…
Could it also mean ‘do as the Romans do and you’ll share into the benefits enjoyed by the rest of them’? In line with ‘don’t rock the boat, lest the others will throw you out’?

In other words, the proverb suggests that ‘herding is good for you’.

Which is true. Most of the time, anyway.

Specially when you know when to bail out…

In this context I must remind you that mighty Rome ended up being sacked by a succession of rogue thieves… some of them hired by the emperors to guard the borders because the Roman citizens had became too ‘adept’ at ‘panem et circenses’ to bother anymore with bearing arms…

It seems that not all things done by the Romans were actually worth doing.

How about exercising our brains instead of sheepishly following the herd?
No need to insult the others, ‘rock the boat’ or anything else dramatic.
Just honestly give them the reasons for your dissent.
If they are wise – and you are right, of course, they’ll come your way.

If not… you should either follow the rules… or change the herd.

 

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Farfetched?

Somebody was asking the other day on Facebook “how can you prove that a table doesn’t exist?”
The answer, ‘walk through the place where that table is supposed to stand’ is so obvious that it hurts.

So, was that table real or not?

You see, a table may exist in two kind of places. In a store/room/backyard and in the imagination/memory of the guys who designed/made/owned it. It can remain ‘in storage’ long after it was forgotten by everybody and/or can be remembered long after it was destroyed.
A tree, on the other hand, can exist – and die, without anybody ever noticing it. Or could have been lovingly planted and taken care of by somebody. Who might die even before the tree ever reaching maturity…

But how can any of us determine whether a table, or a tree, is real or not?

By attempting to walk through it, and hurting ourselves, we only determine that there’s something there. Not at all that we’d hurt ourselves by hitting a tree or a table…

OK, there’s yet another possibility.

reality figment

Dr. Pierce – who, by the way, was produced by the imagination of a screen-writer, reminds us that neurologically there’s no way of telling apart a dream/nightmare/vision from a ‘legitimate’ perception.

So.
Then it would be possible for whatever each of us perceives on a daily bases to be nothing but some-kind of an elaborate multidimensional movie. Or prank. Played on each of us by some extremely bored ‘arcade operator’. Or by a lab-technician performing some kind of an experiment… In this scenario all other people each of us has ever met would be nothing but characters imagined by the guy who had written the script/devised the experiment…
A slightly different scenario would be that our planet (the whole world?) is a theater, we are the spectators and most of what we perceive is the movie which is played on (for?) us. In this variation we are free to speak amongst us (discuss the movie?) and this would be the explanation for why our perceptions are coordinated so well. After all, all English speakers use the same word for table/tree and most of us are able to differentiate between a table and a chair. Or between a tree and a weed…

Or we could take a completely different road!
There’s a guy, Humberto Maturana, who has reached the conclusion that most humans are not simply aware but also aware of their own awareness. And that this is what really makes us human.
In fact, his ideas make a lot of sense. A dog is aware. If house trained, it will not pee inside and most of them are able to differentiate between their owners and some strangers. But it takes a fully functional human being to step outside of themselves and examine their actions/status.

Without this very self awareness, none of us would be considering ‘reality’. We’d simply walk around the table/tree or directly through the clear space and never waste a second considering whether the table/tree is real.

Or what reality really is.

In this scenario, reality is more like a table than like a tree.
It resembles a tree in the sense that it existed long before any of us ever thought about it and it is like a table in the sense that in order to consider it we need to imagine it first.

Reality exists.
In both scenarios and along both roads. It doesn’t matter whether in the first one we are fed fake sensations and led to believe whatever the screen writer wants us to believe. In order to do that, the screen writer has to exist in the first place. We also have to exist, otherwise there wouldn’t be anyone to watch the movie!
OK, maybe what we perceive has nothing to do (very little?) to the real reality. But that doesn’t mean that a certain reality doesn’t exist at all. Even in the first scenario.

Coming back to the second road, we cannot pretend that OUR reality exists outside us.
Yes, there is a reality – THE reality, which lurks somewhere outside our reach.
What we’re able learn from it, and all we’ll ever be able to learn, is what we’ll be able to imagine first.

Think of it. What do we do when we come across something new?
First we try to classify it among our memories. In fact we try to remember whether we already have a word for it. One imagined by one of our ancestors.
If not, we imagine one ourselves.
And only then we can proclaim that the new thing has been discovered. That it has become ‘real’.

 

Recent developments have resurrected a Soviet era concept.

Whataboutism.

 “Whataboutism refers to the practice of deflecting criticism by pointing to the misdeeds of others. Oxford Dictionaries defines it as “the technique or practice of responding to an accusation or difficult question by making a counter-accusation or raising a different issue.”
Essentially, it’s an appeal to hypocrisy ― a logical fallacy also known as “tu quoque.” Instead of proving that your opponent’s claim is wrong on its face, whataboutism argues that it’s hypocritical of the opponent to make that claim at all.”

The current bout of whataboutism came about when Trump and his supporters tried to deflect the public condemnation of neo-nazi activism after a young woman had been killed by a white supremacist.

So, which is worse?
Communism or nazism?

I’ll make a small detour here and ask myself ‘what’s wrong with the spell checker? Why insist that nazism should be written with a capital N? Is it a nation? It’s OK for communism to start with a lower case letter, same thing for all other political denominations… what’s so special about nazism?!?’

Back to business.

One way to answer the question would be to asses the damages incurred as a consequence of each of them being put in practice.

Easier said than done. There are a lot of similarities between these two but also a huge difference. Precisely that which makes it very hard to compare the consequences of each of them having been experimented.
Nazism and communism have evolved in totally different social environments and have been fueled by closely related yet different public feelings.

This is why I’m going to change tack.
Why attempt to establish a relative hierarchy on the axis of evil when they can be studied together?
As the left and right wings of the same carrion eating bird which feeds itself on the countless societies ruined by authoritarianism?

After all, any attempt to determine which is worse does nothing but normalizes ‘whataboutism’ itself, doesn’t it?
Regardless of which wing flaps first….

DSC_0138net

Seven years ago somebody was elected to the Senate of the United States.

Despite

“Candidate’s Words on Vietnam Service Differ From History”

Six years later, another guy became POTUS despite the newspaper who published the article above having mounted quite a vigorous campaign against him.

The really interesting thing is that the second guy uses the information published in the newspaper seven years ago to smear the first guy while constantly accusing the same newspaper of being a relentless purveyor of fake news…

trump blumenthal

Now, which is stranger?

That two guys had managed to muster enough public support to get elected into public office, despite their shoddy relationships with the truth?

Or that newspapers continue to bother themselves?

“Fabrications have long been a part of American politics. Politicians lie to puff themselves up, to burnish their résumés and to cover up misdeeds, including sexual affairs. (See: Bill Clinton.) Sometimes they cite false information for what they believe are justifiable policy reasons. (See: Lyndon Johnson and Vietnam.)

But President Trump, historians and consultants in both political parties agree, appears to have taken what the writer Hannah Arendt once called “the conflict between truth and politics” to an entirely new level.

From his days peddling the false notion that former President Barack Obama was born in Kenya, to his inflated claims about how many people attended his inaugural, to his description just last week of receiving two phone calls — one from the president of Mexico and another from the head of the Boy Scouts — that never happened, Mr. Trump is trafficking in hyperbole, distortion and fabrication on practically a daily basis.”

We’ve somehow trained ourselves to discriminate people into ‘thinkers’ and ‘doers’.

As if anybody has ever been able to do anything, anything at all, without first thinking about the matter at hand.

OK, we are still able to react in a more or less ‘reflexive’ manner – for instance most of us no longer ‘think about it in real time’ when walking or biking – but we do consider the matter before starting the ‘exercise’…

How about putting it a little differently? As in ‘talkers’ versus ‘doers’?

You see, people are ‘recognized’ by the manner in which they interact with what surrounds them.

If a guy is adept at growing food he will be recognized as a farmer. Whose intellectual prowess will be gauged by the quality of his vegetables. OK, he also needs some skills and just a little bit of luck but that’s another story.

If another guy is adept at speaking about things that happened in the past he will be recognized as a historian.

And considered to be  a ‘thinker’ while the farmer is always branded a doer…

Maybe because vegetables are easier to gauge than words?

There is indeed a difference between the manner in which those two generic guys think.
Most farmers, specially those who have been trained ‘on the job’, think ‘on the go’ – similar to what happens in our heads when walking or riding a bike, while all historians employ what is known as ‘discursive thinking’.
Farmers also employ ‘discursive thinking’ when consciously planning something or when explaining to someone which is he right way to harvest a certain crop but the entire ‘historic thinking’ consists of very well organized and carefully worded ideas.

You see, the main difference between those two guys is that the farmer’s main goal is to actually do something while the historian mainly needs to convince ‘his peers’.
This is why the farmer’s thinking is concerned almost exclusively with practical things while the historian needs to keep both aspects in balance. Facts are, or at least should be, important – all ‘historical stories’ should be based on facts, right? – but words are at least as important. Whenever the words had not been chosen right, the resulting story was not intelligible. The entire thinking process had been a waste of time.

This very difference also hides a huge danger.
Fake vegetables are way easier to spot than fake ideas, specially when they have been worded by a ‘skilled poet’.

We must give to each its due – agriculture was a huge step forward from hunting and gathering yet modern civilization depends very heavily on discursive thinking – but we must also exert extreme caution when judging the merits of a particular idea by the beauty of the words used to convey it.

Vegetables haven’t hurt anybody yet – as long as they had been grown properly, anyway – while most tragic things that had fallen on our heads had started as ideas. Worded well enough to convince…

I’ve recently spent a few days in the Danube Delta.DSC_1146egreta mareWhen traveling on water, I was issued a ‘life-jacket’ – no picture, you all know what one looks like.

At one point, I was joking with the guide.

‘Harnessed like this, no one can do anything but wait to be rescued. It’s impossible to swim wearing such a thing.’
‘Ha!.
You thought this was meant to save your life, didn’t you?
Well, in reality its role is to keep your corpse afloat so that those looking for you wouldn’t have to dredge the river.’

I remembered the joke while reading this article.

“Apple doesn’t purposely make its terms and conditions long and boring and difficult to read. In theory it could shorten them, or summarise them, or pull out a few bullet points at the beginning to let you know if something has changed since you were last confronted with them. But if it was to do so someone could argue in court that insufficient emphasis was placed on something buried further down in the document. And Apple doesn’t want that to happen.”

DSC_0463constrast mare

“Dolma”.

A vast variety of delicious dishes and a very complex social reality hidden behind a short string of letters.

The word itself, literally meaning “something stuffed“, belongs today to the Turkish language.

Google it and you’ll be ‘served’ with a cornucopia of Greek recipes, most of them teaching you how to prepare  stuffed grape leaves…

Check its etymology and you’ll find out its “First Known Use: circa 1889“.

Common, people must have been stuffing vegetables long before that… all around the Black and Mediterranean seas… the Italians have their ‘ripieni’, the Persians have been stuffing bell peppers (dolmeh-s) for some time now,  Armenians have their tolma-s while the Greek have the ‘wider’ gemista dolmadakia being reserved, as I already mentioned, for ‘stuffed vine leaves’.

So, what had happened during the XIX-th century that made so many different people – who were living more or less together but spoke different languages, to use the same word for a dish?

Forget about etymology and consider this.
Simultaneously with ‘dolma’ becoming the ‘dominant’ word for ‘stuffed vegetables’, the dominant power in the area where this was happening, the Ottoman Empire, was crumbling.

We can discuss ad nauseam the reasons for yet another empire fading away into history, but this is not the purpose of my post.
What I’m trying to say is that most of the inhabitants would have gladly continued to coexist peacefully and share their meals – if that had been possible, of course.

Just look at the symbolism of different vegetables, stuffed with the same filling, simmering together in the same pot and becoming delicious sustenance for the various individuals gathered around the same table to ‘break bread’.

But it didn’t come to be… the various forces and agents involved in the matter – the central power trying to survive, the ‘revolutionaries’ attempting to ‘modernize’ the society, the surrounding states and empires trying to gobble up portions of ‘the Sick Man of Europe‘, each followed what they considered to be ‘their best interest’.

And this is what’s going on now…, in the same city where traders from all over the Middle East used to partake dolmades in the world’s biggest covered market – the Aleppo Souk.

160822-aleppo-0302_f99cf07c0972e0b6131bd2989932a1b0-nbcnews-ux-2880-1000

Injured children are carried amid the rubble of destroyed buildings following airstrikes targeting the rebel-held neighborhood of Al-Mashhad in Aleppo on July 25. BARAA AL-HALABI / AFP – Getty Images

Regardless of nobody being absolutely sure about who said this, there is a more or less shared consensus about history being written by the victors. After they had finished butchering the heros

execution of William Wallace

William Wallace

The problem being that most (written) history is a compelling proof that too often the ability to win doesn’t necessarily imply a real understanding of what had happened during the contest!

If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.

There’s plenty to criticize about the mass media, but they are the source of regular information about a wide range of topics. You can’t duplicate that on blogs.

The elections are run by the same industries that sell toothpaste on television.

Changes and progress very rarely are gifts from above. They come out of struggles from below.

There’s very little dislike of Americans in the world, shown by repeated polls, and the dissatisfaction – that is, the hatred and the anger – they come from acceptance of American values, not a rejection of them, and recognition that they’re rejected by the U.S. government and by U.S. elites, which does lead to hatred and anger.

It is easier to go to the Internet than to go to the library, undoubtedly. But the shift from no libraries to the existence of libraries was a much greater shift than what we’ve seen with the Internet’s development.

Romania, which had the worst dictator in Eastern Europe, Ceausescu, he was a darling of the West. The United States and Britain loved him. He was supported until the last minute.

Free speech has been used by the Supreme Court to give immense power to the wealthiest members of our society.

As a tactic, violence is absurd. No one can compete with the Government in violence, and the resort to violence, which will surely fail, will simply frighten and alienate some who can be reached, and will further encourage the ideologists and administrators of forceful repression.

Anarchism means all sort of things to different people, but the traditional anarchists’ movements assumed that there’d be a highly organized society, just one organized from below with direct participation and so on.

In ideal form of social control is an atomised collection of individuals focused on their own narrow concern, lacking the kinds of organisations in which they can gain information, develop and articulate their thoughts, and act constructively to achieve common ends.

Governments are not representative. They have their own power, serving segments of the population that are dominant and rich.

I remember at the age of five travelling on a trolley car with my mother past a group of women on a picket line at a textile plant, seeing them being viciously beaten by security people. So that kind of thing stayed with me.

State formation has been a brutal project, with many hideous consequences. But the results exist, and their pernicious aspects should be overcome.

In the literal sense, there has been no relevant evolution since the trek from Africa. But there has been substantial progress towards higher standards of rights, justice and freedom – along with all too many illustrations of how remote is the goal of a decent society.

If you ask the CEO of some major corporation what he does, he will say, in all honesty, that he is slaving 20 hours a day to provide his customers with the best goods or services he can and creating the best possible working conditions for his employees.

Occupying armies have responsibilities, not rights. Their primary responsibility is to withdraw as quickly and expeditiously as possible, in a manner determined by the occupied population.

It’s dangerous when people are willing to give up their privacy.

The doctrine that everything is fine as long as the population is quiet, that applies in the Middle East, applies in Central America, it applies in the United States.

In the United States, we can do almost anything we want. It’s not like Egypt, where you’re going to get murdered by the security forces.

Not all his ideas sound as outlandish as some want us to believe, do they?

“Talking about morality in a class about nationalism is sort of like talking about modesty in a swingers club or moderation in a crack house.”

John Faithful Hammer

Absolutely brilliant observation!

I haven’t tried swinging but I imagine that each of the participants does exert a certain form of ‘modestly’, otherwise they would be rapidly kicked out by the rest.
Similarly, no crack addict would survive even his first ‘session’ without being actually ‘moderate’.

As for ‘nationalism’… well, there is nothing wrong when people stick together in an attempt to lead a decent life, in close cooperation with the other nations.
Nationalism becomes dangerous, a.k.a. immoral, only when the people promoting it attempt to lead a (more) than decent life at the expense of all those who happen to live around them. The ‘funny’ part being, of course, the fact that this kind of nationalism invariably leads to tragedy. Mostly for those foolish enough to ‘swallow’ it, but not exclusively.

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