Archives for category: Mindset

“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….

 

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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.

 

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…

We live.
Hard to deny that, no matter what we may think about it.
The very fact that there are so many of us who do live simultaneously makes it a near certainty.

Since we do live, then there must be a place where this whole charade unfolds.

That place is called, by us, ‘Reality’.
Which reality had started to exist only after we, the living things, have become aware of its existence.

‘Hey, wait a minute!  a short moment ago you were arguing that our mere existence was absolute proof for the existence of ‘reality’ and now you pretend that ‘reality’ has appeared only after we’ve  noticed it… We’d been alive for way longer than that, dude!’

Of course. Our very existence does depend on the presence of a certain place where we may exist. Only there’s no need for us to know that. Nor for us to be able to name that place. The ants don’t ‘know’ there’s a whole world around them. Nor have a word to describe it!

What we call reality and the ‘place’ where we live are two separate things.
There is an intersection, of course. What is correct of what we think we know about the ‘reality’ and the collection of things that really exist. Only we don’t exactly know what is correct of what we think we know…

And it is here that things become really interesting.
We not only think that we have meaningful information about the thing we call reality. We also act based on that information, with the deliberate purpose of fulfilling our intentions. And in so doing, we decisively change the place. In ways we fail to understand comprehensively.

My point being that we change the place we depend on, for our lives, without having a clear understanding of how the place itself really works. Nor of the changes we implement – willingly and/or unknowingly.

At least, let’s have some respect. For the place itself.
And for us, as an important component of that place.

“A district judge has ordered the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office to release property that deputies took during a child abuse investigation and kept after the charges were dropped.

In October, the District Attorney’s Office dismissed sexual assault charges against a nuclear weapons expert who formerly worked at Kirtland Air Force Base. But the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office didn’t release the man’s property, which included thousands of dollars of electronics and a draft of a book.”

 

They kept the kids in cages. And Excel spreadsheets. And more than 60 other government files and databases that made it nearly impossible to track the thousands of children who have been separated from their parents by the Trump administration while trying to enter the United States.

This is according to a new report released Thursday by the Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of Inspector General, which finds that, since 2017, the Trump administration has separated thousands more children from their parents than it previously disclosed and that it tracked these kids in ad hoc, disparate databases, including Excel spreadsheets and Microsoft Sharepoint accounts, further complicating the already tortured process of figuring out where those children are today.”

I have no first hand knowledge about any of these two separate ‘incidents’.
The first one might have been caused by a series of ‘misunderstandings’ while the second is only a portion of a hugely complex matter.

What really bothers me is what they have in common.

Both have been initiated by people belonging to/working for institutions put in place to protect the greater good of children. Children who are nothing but our future. Our only future.
Each of these ‘actions’ have been botched. By those who initiated them.
The institutions themselves had failed. To control the ‘runaway operators’ and to perform adequate ‘damage control’.

“Why are we doing things like these to our fellow human beings?”

Because we don’t consider them, in earnest, ‘our fellow human beings’?
For whatever reason?

The theory that each person imposes the moral law on himself. It is opposed to heteronomous morality, which holds that the moral law is imposed from outside of man by another, and ultimately by the divine Other, who is God, which makes the moral law theonomous.

I argued in my previous post that in a perfect world the simple fact that we consider ourselves to have been created, in his likeness, by the God we believe in, would have been enough to make us behave in a certain manner.

We don’t. Behave in that manner.

The world exists. And will continue to exist, regardless of whatever we might do in the foreseeable future. Maybe not the Earth as we know it but it’s rather unlikely that we’ll ever be able to destroy the entire world.
Here, on our home-planet, we’ve more or less soiled everything we’d come in contact with. Willingly or unwittingly.
Which suggests that the world might not be perfect but is more or less OK. And that it is us who haven’t yet risen to the occasion.

We may not have fully risen to the occasion, indeed, but we’ve managed to somehow survive. Until now, that is.
How was that possible, given our imperfect nature?

Was our behaviour shaped from outside as the heteronomous morality theory suggests? By (a) God, as the theonomous morality theory pretends?

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.”

What do we have here?
A couple of people, who are already able to speak, who cannot yet make the difference between good and evil but who can see that ‘the fruit of the tree is good for food’ and ‘desirable for gaining wisdom’.
Furthermore, the couple is not only able to communicate between the two of them, they – or, at least, one of them, are also capable to negotiate with ‘outside agents’.
And, in fact, it was a consequence of a ‘negotiation’ that they had learned to differentiate between good and evil.
Moving even closer to Godhood in the process: “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”

“So the Lord God banished him (them, actually) from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.”

I must confess that things become more and more complicated instead of becoming clearer.
‘Moral law is imposed’…
Adam and Eve have learned the difference between good and evil as a consequence of ‘freely’ interacting with someone from ‘outside’ their ‘immediate community’.
And got punished for it. On a ‘technicality’!

What is moral in all this?
What are they to learn from this experience?
Since all that God had imposed on them was ‘punishment’, are they (we?!?) to understand that ‘moral law’ is equivalent with ‘gallows’?

In this setting, moral law is supposed to be learned exclusively through ‘trial and error’?
No ‘explanation’? No ‘prep school’?
Is this nothing but a form of ‘radical training’? Like that advertised by B.F. Skinner?
Not to mention that for some ‘sins’, the punishment is to be served ‘later’…

“God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

Hence all people, male and female, have been created equal. Simply because all of them have been cast in the same mould.
And all of them, male and female, harbor a spark of divinity. Simply because the mould into which all of them have been cast had been made “in the image of God”.

Simple logic would tell us that all people who believe mankind had been made in the image of God would behave in a certain manner.
Because of the reasons I mentioned above.
That kind of behavior had been called ‘ethical’ by well established thinkers. Plato, for instance.

“Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.” “

.
.
.

“This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.
Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground”

Same simple logic I’ve invoked earlier tells me that God had created ‘the heavens and earth’ in two different stages. More or less like we do things.
First we think about the things we are going to do – ‘design them’ would be a more modern term, and then we put our thoughts into practice. ‘Execute’ our designs, according to the practical aspects which always limit our actions.

“Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”

The Bible itself seems to agree with me. When God finally decided to put into practice his idea of a man, he started with something he already had at his disposal. Just like we have to do whenever we attempt to accomplish anything.
“Dust from the ground”.
Man, ‘made in the image of God’, was fashioned from already available material, not from ‘thin air’.

Could this be the origin of man’s limitations?
His ‘earthly’ nature, no matter his divine likeliness?
Could this be the reason for God going back on his words?

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” “

What made God change his mind?
In Genesis 1 – the R&D phase?, he had planned a world where man was allowed to feed on everything under the sun while in Genesis 2 he had established rules about what Adam was allowed to eat and what not.
Furthermore, why make a ‘tree of the knowledge of good and evil’ in the first place? If you were going to forbid your favorite pet from eating its fruit, under the most drastic penalty…

No!
This is not yet another half backed attempt to deny the existence of God under the pretext that the only source describing its existence is full of inconsistencies.
Pretending that God does not exist simply because those who tried to describe him had not been able – or willing ?, to present a more coherent image of him is equivalent to pretending that God exists simply because we haven’t found, yet, an exhaustive explanation for everything.

You ‘see’, the Bible, no matter how holly we might consider it to be, is nothing but an image of God. A Man made image of God.
A Man written image of God, to be more precise.

The fact that the Bible is chock-full of wisdom can not be denied.
Which fact remains true regardless of whether it had been written ‘under guidance’ or ‘on their own’ by a group of ‘free agents’. Or, even, by a combination of both.
Unfortunately, there is another fact which seemingly contradicts the first. The Bible had been used as pretext for horrible crimes. Committed by ‘over-zealous’ believers, by ruthless ‘self serving’ operators or by a strange combination of both.

In order to encompass the simultaneous existence of both aforementioned facts each of us must take a step back-wards.
Extract ourselves from the fry.

Each of us must start thinking for ourselves.

How to do that – become ‘independent’, and yet preserve our chances to survive? As in remain connected with the day to day, hard-core reality?

Stay tuned. That will be my next subject.

It’s not unusual for a Christian ‘zealot’ to accuse an atheist of ‘cherry picking’.
When the latter uses a quote from the Bible to argue something which ‘displeases’ the former, of course.


“If God does not exist, everything is permitted.”

I found this quote, which belongs to Dostoevsky, in an article published by http://www.thecatholicthing.org in 2016.
That is to say, the nonexistence of God means that we live in a world of perfect moral freedom; we may do anything we like, up to and including mass murder.

Well, if I remember correctly – more than three decades have passed since I had read The Brothers Karamazov, which didn’t impress me much, the book is an intricate, but very compelling, demonstration of the exact contrary.

Raskolnikov is unable to live with himself after the assassination of the usurer. It is fundamentally unable to clear his sense of right and wrong, to silence his conscience. Initially, he tries to continue living, enjoying his cunning, concluding that it is a superman. Yet the humble Sonya reminds him of his act, reminds him of his guilt and therefore needs forgiveness. Dostoevsky destroyed the theory of the Superman condemning the characters involved in the mental suffering until they recognize the truth.

Time has come for me to admit of having myself committed the sin.
The quote I used above ends with ” and the light of Christianity.

Cherry picking had grabbed my attention while researching for a future post. ‘Moral identity‘. Which implies ‘autonomous morality’:

The theory that each person imposes the moral law on himself. It is opposed to heteronomous morality, which holds that the moral law is imposed from outside of man by another, and ultimately by the divine Other, who is God, which makes the moral law theonomous.

So.
Those engaged in cherry picking do it because the selection serves their purposes or because their actions are “imposed from outside”?

Some people consider individual liberty to be supreme.
Nothing else comes even near, except for private property. Which is seen as the practical embodiment of freedom.

‘Me and my property, free from any outside intervention’.

Sounds good, doesn’t it?

I agree.

Some others consider ‘community’ to be the most important thing.
Or various alternatives. ‘Traditions”, “elders” and so on.

I also agree!

And here comes the tricky part.
While ‘traditionalists’ have dominated for most of human history the ‘individualists’ have gradually gotten the upper hand during the last 2 to 3 centuries.
For example, Confucianist China – traditionalist by definition, had been the first civilized nation. It had a very productive economy when Europe’s was primitive and a sophisticated culture when Europe was yet learning to read and write. Yet it had been the Europeans who had invented ‘science’ and who eventually dominated China. For a while, at least…

So. In the end, it seems that individualism trumps traditionalism… or that it had been able to do it at least once…

But there’s a catch.
Ever since individualism got the upper hand, humankind had experienced her worst crises. Not only more intense but also more often ones. And almost always starting in the Euro-Atlantic area. WWars, most economic crises, ‘erosion of values’…
Only this hasn’t always been the case. Historically, China also had her share of wars – both ‘civil’ and with her neighbors, the Spaniards had been able to conquer Central and South America simply because those living there had been at each-others throat when the Spaniards had landed… and so on.
Not to forget the huge number of wars fought inside Europe, between European ‘factions’.
Then what if European individualism wasn’t the whole explanation for what had happened? What if Europe had been able to basically impose her Weltanschauung over the rest of the world simply because she had kept, at least for a while, her trade-mark individualism under control? At least when ‘domestic’ matters where at stake…

When Europeans dealt with other Europeans…
Remember the rules governing King Arthur’s Round Table. What chivalry used to mean. The Geneva Convention, so often invoked and less and less observed as conflict took place further and further away from Geneva.

My point being that freedom – and private property, don’t make much sense unless accompanied by at least some mutual respect. While mutual respect won’t take you very far unless exercised amongst free agents.

Freedom understood as ‘ending where my nose starts’ is nothing but a continuous bout of fisticuffing.
Preserving your ‘private property’ against all others is hopeless while preserving it in a collaborative way – as we currently do, is a breeze. As long as enough of us consider theft to be unacceptable, of course.

I was speaking a little earlier about ‘mutual respect among free agents’.
In a sense, the phrase is an overkill. Respect cannot be mutual unless it is extended among free agents. And if those who show respect are not free, that respect is neither genuine nor mutual.
This being the reason for which whenever respect ceases to be expressed among free agents it becomes nothing more than ‘window dressing’.

Hence useless when push comes to shove. When people need to gather together. To cooperate towards their common good.
Towards their common survival.

There’s a seemingly unending debate about what “my liberty ends where yours begins” really means.

The initial saying was a little longer, Your right to swing your arm leaves off where my right not to have my nose struck begins.”, and had been coined during the disputes between those who tried to impose the Prohibition and those who opposed it.

In that context, it made sense.
‘How close to my house – a teetotaler, should you be allowed to open a bar and why should I be able to tell you what to drink/serve in your house.’

In a wider setting – individual rights, for instance … not so much!

‘Your right to swing your arm leaves off where my right not to have my nose struck begins’ only if at least one of the following is true:
– My arms are as long as yours AND I’m willing/able to defend my nose.
– You are a civilized person.
– We, the entire community, have reached the conclusion that we are better off, together, if we observe – and enforce, this rule.

The first proposition describes a situation of generalized conflict. Not necessarily ‘hot’ but, nevertheless, always waiting to happen.
The second depends, decisively, on the ‘other side’ behaving ‘properly’. Nice and commendable but what happens when someone goes berserk?
The third describes the de facto functioning of any civilized nation. Only a nation, any nation, is composed of individual people. ‘Endowed’ with ‘free will’ and not always ‘well behaved’.

Hence the danger of defining freedom as a collection of individual spaces where each of us might do as they please – as long as the consequences of their actions remain inside that space.
Which spaces would have to be constantly defended.
Or could be extended, whenever any of the neighbors wasn’t on the lookout.

How about ‘our mutually respected individual liberty is the well deserved consequence of our collective effort to enlarge OUR freedom’?

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