Archives for category: Politically induced fragility

Divorcing is messy. Specially after such a long time.
It makes you wonder ‘why on Earth did I get in in the first place‘?!?

After a while – if you live long enough, that is – you realize the available alternatives are only marginally different. Or you can choose solitude, of course…

And something else.
Divorce, like marriage, cannot be done by yourself.
Actually, it can. But it’s so ‘uncivilized’ that I don’t want to speak about that possibility.

Any union, ‘the more the merrier‘, passes trough ‘rough times’.

Each of these episodes can be construed as an opportunity.
To ‘leave’ or to evaluate what went wrong. And to reconsider the union, of course.

No ‘evaluation’ can guarantee success. But it’s a start.

‘Leaving’, on the other hand, creates a completely different situation.
Those who choose to leave will, eventually, learn something. On their own skins, of course, but they did it to themselves. Specially if they made no serious effort to ‘evaluate’ first.

But what are the chances for the ‘left’ ones to learn anything?
Specially since they are the ‘many’?
Is it possible that they may find ‘comfort in numbers’? And consider the others were ‘the odd man out’?

Will they ‘evaluate’ on their own? Will they make a significant effort to understand what had driven the ‘others’ to leave?

My previous post was about the parallel fate endured by those who had experienced nazism/fascism and/or communism.

My point being that nazism/fascism had been powered by the feelings of those attempting to regain their previous, higher, status while communism had been powered by the feelings of those not allowed to ‘move forward’ by the social constraints paralyzing their societies.

Currently, people are ‘confused’.
Some say communism had been better than nazism – for various reasons.
Others find various excuses for the way both regimes had treated the general population and, mainly, the ‘dissidents’. Or, specially for the nazi, the ‘differents’.
There is, though, a convergence point. Nominally, at least. All sides declaratively abhor the violence employed by both regimes.

To add to the confusion, after the 2007 financial meltdown, more and more ‘concerned individuals’ have fingered capitalism as the main culprit for all the tragedies experienced by humankind in the last century and a half.

For me, this is the straw which will break the camel’s back.

Nazism/fascism – which is nothing but a ‘condensed’ form of corporatism, is bad.
Communism – a similarly centralized manner of social decision making, only differently sold to differently feeling masses, is also bad.
Capitalism – a decentralized manner of resource allocation, is considered to be more or less equivalent to both nazism/fascism and communism. All three of them have been declared equally criminal…

Then what?
What are we to do next? Hang ourselves in despair?
Reheat either fascism or communism?

Or look forward than our own noses?

Both those who had followed Hitler and Lenin/Stalin were feeling desperate. Desperation drives you to do stupid things. And there are plenty of unscrupulous people willing to profit from this kind of situations.

Do we really want to prevent ‘unpleasant’ experiences?
Then we need to go beyond blaming the likes of Hitler and Lenin/Stalin.
They should be dealt what’s rightfully theirs, no doubt about that.
But we also need to make sure that the ‘run of the mill’, the ordinary people who make things work in this world, no longer feel desperate.

How to do that?
Taking into account that contemporary capitalism seems to be faltering?

What was the common thing between nazism/fascism and communism?
The fact that decision making was concentrated in a very small number of hands? Which had led to both regimes ending up in abysmal failure?

What is the apparently unstoppable trend in our contemporary societies?
The apparently unstoppable wealth polarization?

Then let’s tax ourselves out … America worked fine during the ’50s and ’60, when the highest marginal tax was 91%…
Yeah, only those years had been followed by stagflation.
And let me remind you that communism can also be interpreted as ‘100% tax followed by a comprehensive redistribution’. And it also failed.

Then how about ‘libertarianism’? No taxes, no government…

But how about less extremism? Of any kind?

How about remembering that liberal capitalism has made possible all that we have today? Liberal as in free-market capitalism, of course.

Free market as in competition working both ways.
Entrepreneurs competing among themselves for clients AND resources. The workforce being, of course, a resource.
The ‘compensated’ workforce representing the bulk of the clients…

What we seem to have forgotten today is that the circle must be round. If we want the ‘show to go on’, of course.

If some of us concentrate too much control over the rest of us – either way, the circle becomes lopsided. And everybody has everything to loose.

No matter whether this happens as a consequence of nazism/fascism, communism or even capitalism.

At least, capitalism has proved to be manageable.
Let’s make it work, again.

Until we discover something better, of course.

People may find themselves in three situations.
‘Coasting’, trying to climb back up to their former position or hitting a glass ceiling.

All societies – past, present and future, were, are and will forever be composed of various mixtures of ‘coasters’, ‘back climbers’ and ‘glass ceiling hitters’.

Please note that I’m dealing in self-referentials here. This is about how individual people describe themselves when speaking to themselves.
The coasters enjoy the life they had designed/expected for themselves.
The ‘back-climbers’ attempt to regain the position/status they believe it was rightfully theirs but had been robbed of in circumstances outside their control.
The ‘glass ceiling hitters’ are… busy hitting the famous glass ceiling.

If a society is composed of a ‘healthy’ number of coasters combined with a manageable number of ‘back-climbers’/’glass ceiling hitters’ then the frustration felt by the latter – which tends to tear apart the social fabric, can be compensated by the sheer mass/inertia of the joy experienced by the former. Hence the society can be described as being ‘stable’.

Whenever the ‘back climbers’ or the ‘glass ceiling hitters’ get the upper hand, things start to unravel. Or to fall apart…

To understand what I’m driving at, please consider the pre-revolutionary Russia and the German society after WWI.

Russia was an extremely hierarchical social organism. The birth-place was ‘definitive’. And most of them led to very unpleasant lives. The vast majority of the population, from muzhiks to intelligentsia, could not break through the glass ceilings allocated to each of them, at birth.

The defeated German population had found itself in a very unpleasant situation. After having been told they had been instrumental in preserving order in Europe – as the back bone of the army who had defeated Napoleon Bonaparte and kept in check Napoleon III, they found themselves at the receiving end of history… After their fathers had witnessed the Parisians eating their zoo animals during the 1870 siege, the Germans were reduced to hunting food scraps themselves.

A horse being butchered on a Munich sidewalk in 1918 or 1919.

Hence the difference between communism and nazism. Both equally authoritarian in nature, each of them springs from completely different social circumstances.
Which explains why ‘progressives’ have such a high tolerance for communism…

While the ‘back climbers’ attempt only to reinstate the order they were accustomed to – order which has already been proven dysfunctional by what had happened, the ‘glass ceiling breakers’ are always attempting to open new roads. Very enticing from the ‘progressive’ point of view…

Fact is that both communism and nazism/fascism are artificial.
Figments of frustrated intellectual imagination.
Both ideologies have been put together by thinkers and only followed by ordinary, desperate people.

Elliott Wave is a theory used by ‘technical analysts’ to predict the evolution of the stock market.
It works.
Robert Prechter had expanded the scope of Elliott’s ideas. He uses them to study how our societies work.

Here’s what I make out of all this.

Things, Structure, Mind.
The world, as we experience it, is the consequence of ‘things’ becoming structured enough for ‘mind’ to evolve out of the whole ‘mess’.

Art, Science, Religion.
Knowledge – everything that we know about the world, has started as ideas gleaned by ‘artists’, structured by ‘scientists’ and put together by ‘religious leaders’.

Opportunity, rules, conscience.
Each of us, individual human beings, are the consequences of the opportunities we had been able to identify. Of the manner in which we had put into practice the applicable set of rules. And the kind of conscience each of us has built for themselves.

By putting together these three sides of the evolutive mountain, we notice that ‘knowledge’ (our image about the world) is entirely ‘ours’. And that the world itself is increasingly being shaped by our actions. Actions which are shaped by us, according to our wishes. Wishes which are shaped by what we know about the world.

My point being that while until not so very long ago the world was evolving under its own steam, since we’ve become conscious – aware of our own awareness, in Humberto Maturana’s terms, our influence had grown significantly. Exponentially, in fact.
We’ve changed the geography of our planet. It’s biology, even.

And even though the planet is huge, the opportunities we’ll be able to identify are not infinite. For the very reason that the planet itself is not infinite.

Rather Malthusian, I know, but with a twist. It will be not our numbers which will be our undoing. Only our carelessness. Our infatuation. Our inability to look farther than the ends of our noses.

Because of their very nature, centralized systems open up vast areas of opportunity.
For those who bother to identify them, of course.

The internet.
Huge amounts of information only a few clicks away.
Students find it easier to compile their term papers. Or to just click and paste them.
Powerful individuals/organizations have found yet another way to further their interests:

A long-running Papuan separatist movement has flared in recent months, sparking fresh calls for self-rule.
But with access to the region heavily restricted, social media has become a key source for the foreign press.
One expert told the BBC the apparently co-ordinated campaigns were seeking to skew international views of Papua.

The government.
A mechanism put in place by nations to manage the day to day survival of the social mechanism.
The more centralized, the more efficient. At least apparently…
Centralized China is decades away from the more ‘lax’ India. According to certain benchmarks, of course…

Individuals, no matter how smart and or powerful, can achieve only so much when acting alone. That being the reason for people coalescing in nations.
Also for economic ventures. People working in concert are more efficient than individuals toiling on their own. When led by a somebody who is simultaneously smart, charismatic and ‘organizationally skilled’ the results can be utterly fantastic.
A corporation might even become powerful enough to resist government.

The FBI Wanted a Backdoor to the iPhone. Tim Cook Said No.

Only some governments are more determined than others.

Apple drops Hong Kong police-tracking app used by protesters.

How else to explain what’s going on but by remembering that all centralized systems are simultaneously manned and surrounded/watched/accessed by individual people?
Who identify the various opportunities presented by the increasingly centralized structures which bloom around us.
Who use them to further their goals, whichever those might be. Who choose which goals are worth pursuing and which are better abandoned.
Who determine, individually, what decision must be made in each situation.
Who use whatever the power they have at their disposal in such or such manner.
Who allow others to use them in a centralized manner. Or not….

Explainer: How Trump used the U.S. government to chase conspiracy theories

NB. The last example I used can be substituted by countless others. Trump just happens to be ‘on top’ the still most powerful, and looked up to, government on Earth. Furthermore, he had been democratically elected into that position. Hence his actions – and his government’s reactions, illustrate perfectly the situation we find ourselves in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Relative to what?
For whom?
By whom?

‘We’ – as in we, conscious human beings, live in the two tiered environment called – by us, ‘reality’.
I consider it to be ‘two tiered’ simply because it consists of a ‘natural’ layer and a man made one.

The ‘natural’, at least the part we inhabit – a relatively thin ‘skin’ surrounding the Earth, is the consequence of natural evolution. The elements have eroded the mountains, microorganisms have transformed sand into soil and ‘reconfigured’ the atmosphere, lions make sure that antelopes don’t graze the savannas back into deserts… and so on.
On top of that we’ve build a second, man made, layer. Roads, cities, churches… And, a lot more important, many strata of ‘understanding’. Collectively known as ‘culture’.

We live in a Nature which had been ‘civilized’ by ‘culture’.
Well, in fact it was us who have civilized Nature according to our culturally accrued understanding of things.

Freedom is a human concept.
Which belongs to culture, hence to one of the man-made layers which constitute the surrounding reality. The environment which hosts our lives.
Freedom, like many other components of the man made layer of reality, has two dimensions. One of a physical nature and one of a virtual nature.
Both dimensions exist only in our heads. Or, better said, exist only inasmuch as we’re aware of them. Inasmuch as we understand the concept.

For example, one aspect of the ‘physical’ liberty is our ability to move around.
Which liberty is ‘relative’ to gravity, for all those who are fit enough to exercise it and is made possible by the hardness of the Earth’s surface.
To make the example clearer, just imagine what happens to somebody caught in a pool of quicksand. Or in a pit full of molten tar.

The ‘cultural’ side of freedom has to do with the social relations which exist in a given extended community.
Hence its ‘virtual’ nature, since there is nothing ‘physical’ to determine its extent or ‘intensity’/quality. Prisons and shackles do not qualify here since they are used by some people to restrict the freedom of other people, they do not occur in nature.

Cultural freedom of one individual is relative to what the rest of the society has to say about it.
Is for whom the society considers fit to extend it to them.
And is by the same set of rules and customs which keeps that extended community together.

Like all things cultural, freedom has history. What we, collectively remember about its development in time.

At first glance, it would seem impossible to gouge what individual liberty meant 100 000 years ago, right?
Indeed, only some people still live, today, according to rules and customs which might have been valid then. The Saan and Hadza peoples in Africa, some of the indigenous tribes still living ‘traditionally’ in the Amazonian forest...
And these people have a very interesting behavior regarding ‘individual freedom’.
One is free to do as they please, for as long as their behavior do not jeopardize, in any way shape or form, the survival of the group. By not sharing, by intentionally hurting another member of the community…
The punishment for trespassers being banishment.
Temporary or even permanent. The offender is sent out into the wild, to fend it off on their own. Temporary – under the assumption that the individual will be able to learn their lesson, or – for unpardonable transgressions, for ever.

The next step, as human consciousness had become sophisticated enough to make the difference between ‘us’ and ‘them’ – one level higher than the difference between ‘me’ and ‘them’, we’ve invented slavery.
For who are the slaves?
People so different from us that we are no longer able to picture ourselves ‘in their shoes’. Just as we cannot picture ourselves as beasts of burden or as egg laying hens.
And, just as in the previous step, individual liberty was something reserved for those members of the society deemed fit for enjoying it. As individuals who are welcome at the communal fire or as individuals who are not dependent on anybody else – but the ruler/government which dispenses/embodies freedom in a given ‘formal’ society, of course.

Some extended communities have managed to go even further.
And noticed – to their amazement, perhaps, that slave-less societies fare a lot better, as a whole, than those where some of the population enjoy less freedom than the others.
Since these societies had already learned to write and to rely quite heavily on formal laws, this particular piece of information had been enshrined as the most fundamental ‘human right’.

OK, if things are so straightforward as you pretend, then why are we still having this discussion? Why ‘pockets’ of slavery – and indentured servitude, can still be found on our planet? Why, in a growing number of places, people are increasingly putting ‘personal safety’ ahead of ‘individual – and collective, liberty’?

Lack of Trust.

As I mentioned before, freedom is something which may occur in certain circumstances and which is, its social tier, a collective endeavor of the entire extended community. ‘Endeavor’ because liberty is never ‘achieved’. It has to be nurtured constantly, … or else!
The most important circumstance being mutual respect between the members of that particular extended community. Mutual respect which includes trusting your peers.
As I mentioned before, individual liberty is for ‘selected’ members of the community – under aged children continue to be excluded to this day, for example, and ‘by’ the rest of the members who constitute a community.
As mutual trust between the members decreases – for whatever reason, people are no longer willing to ‘extend’ liberty to their fellow … fellow what?!? Since they no longer perceive each-other as being fellow trustworthy citizens…

This being the reason for which deeply divided societies fall prey to totalitarian propaganda.

Whenever too many members of a society arrive to the conclusion that they will never ‘make it’ – because of ‘the wealthy’, or the king, emperor, you name it, will never ‘let them’, those people are ‘ripe’ for socialist propaganda.
On the other hand, if too many people who had once belonged to the middle class are somehow ‘demoted’ – because of various causes, and arrive at the conclusion that the current government isn’t doing ‘enough’, those people are rife for nazi/fascist style propaganda.
Tsarist Russia and WWI defeated Germany are the first examples which come to my mind.
Not much difference between those two regimes, anyway.
Both pretend to put the collective above the individual but, in fact, all what they achieve is to rise an individual dictator above all others.

Apparently, in this situation, the dictator/absolute monarch garners much of the ‘available’ liberty, thus reducing that of the rest.
In practice, things are not that simple.
The dictator becomes ‘freer’ than his subjects only in the ‘virtual’ manner.
He is free only from being interpellated by those around him. But not from the consequences of his decisions.
This being the reason for which all totalitarian regimes crumbling down. Sooner or later.
Nobody, how ever well intended and capable, was ever wise enough to pull through a dictatorship. From Alexander the Great to whomever you want to pick up from the current gallery.

So, is there anything to be done about this?
Or should we just prepare ourselves for the worst?

There are some tools which might come handy. ‘Checks and balances’, the ‘rule of law’…
But tools are only as useful as the mind which tells them what to do.
For ‘checks and balances’ to work, all parties involved need to respect each-other. ‘Checks and balances’ have been devised to weed out ‘honest’ mistakes, not to contain a raging – and conniving, bull.
Same thing with ‘the rule of law’. Laws are enforced, and written, by humans. If those who enforce, or write, them to not respect the others – and these others do not trust them back, the whole thing becomes a farce.

There is one thing which may convince us to clean up our act.
A healthy dose of history.
The understanding that we have just one planet at our disposal. For only this long.

Do we care?
Do we really care?

Let’s pretend, for the sake of argument, that we still do.

Perceived utility.

There are at least three examples of ‘mutual respect’, and its corollary, functional democracy, having developed naturally.
In the Ancient City of Athens, in Medieval Scandinavia and the entire history of the Jewish People.

The Ancient Athenians had evolved in a particular set of circumstances. They had some – but not much, fertile land, a natural port and a lot of trading opportunities in their vicinity. Hence they had experimented, very early in their development as a nation, something which was later to be described as ‘division of labour’. This very ‘division of labor’ induces trust among the members of the society. The trader has to trust that the farmer will continue to produce while the farmer has to trust the trader to come back with the money. And/or other merchandise. Further more, people involved in oversea trading, and in commercial – versus subsistence, farming, tend to develop a more independent mind-frame. And a healthy dose of self-esteem.

The same evolutionary process had happened in Medieval Scandinavia. The erstwhile subsistence farmers and fishers have expanded their ‘scope’ and became traders cum pirates. Those who ‘manned the fort’ had to trust those who went away would come back to share the spoils and those who rode the waves had to trust each-other ‘in battle’ and the ‘home-makers’ to keep the hearth warm.

Finally, the Jews had been the firsts – that I am aware of, to come with the notion that ‘God had created Man in His own image’.
Hence all men – or, at least, all those who believed in said God, were considered to be ‘equals’. ‘Equal’ sons of the same Father. Add to that the fact that each of those sons were bearing the mark of their Father – His likeliness. How not to trust/respect your ‘brother’?!?

Are we able to recreate this Weltanschauung?!?
To notice, and appreciate, the role played by each of us in the social clockwork?
To teach our children to become useful members of the society?

Let’s remember Darwin’s The Origin of the Species. Evolution is about species, not individuals.
We, individuals, are the ones who had come up with the concept of ‘freedom’. Are we wise enough to use it properly?
For the good – read survival, of our extended communities?
As we somehow managed to do until recently?

Or lazy enough to allow it to be used as a wedge to pry us apart? To smithereens?
By people who have no inkling about what they’re doing?

Then, if ‘greed is THAT good’, why blame Big Pharma for ‘buying’ politicians in order to extract as much profit as possible from their work?

Specially when it does work as advertised?

We priced the product at exactly the same as the existing standard of care, which worked about 50% of the time, and are providing a benefit that, based on real world experience, works about 98% of the time. From our perspective, it was a very good value.

I think our failure, if I have to take a step backwards, we were unable to have a good enough conversation with the payers. Perhaps we were a little conservative about what we could have or should have said to them to allow them to prepare for the number of patients that came forward. Honestly, it was far more than we thought. We did not think the system could or would try to handle as many patients as it did. We essentially quadrupled the number of patients treated in a year. That surge really created a lot of pain.

Ooops… so it’s the ‘payers’ who are hurting, not the patients themselves…

Gilead’s CEO Admits To ‘Failures’ In Setting Price of $1,000-A-Pill Breakthrough

Hepatitis C Treatment Highlights Disparity in Worldwide Drug Prices

Yeah, right… then please show me the Mongolian version of how they had conquered most of Eur-Asia during the XIII-th century…

Anyway, the fact that this saying is so popular tells more about us than about who actually writes history.

First of all, we seem to be convinced that history is nothing more than the story of back to back ‘the winner takes it all’ kind of battles we had to win in order to survive to this day.

Secondly, we seem to be OK with this vision…

But what does it mean?
That (written) history reflects only what the victors have to say/want to disclose about what had happened?

Are we OK with this?

And still wondering why ‘history keeps repeating itself‘?

Wanna break the vicious circle?
Then how about ‘history is written by those who care enough among those who are able to write among those who have survived’?

This version of history is still incomplete. All history will always be incomplete, no matter how many people will have written it. How many sides of the events will have been covered.
But this version will be more inclusive. Hence more relevant.
Presenting survival, instead of winning, as being the essential part of any battle will diminish the intensity of the conflict. Hence allow us to learn more from it.

For instance, it will help us understand that war is the price paid, by both sides, for failing to figure out that cooperation works better than confrontation.

Just compare how the victors of WWI treated the vanquished with how the (same) victors of WWII treated (mainly) the same vanquished. And the aftermaths of WWI and WWII.

And no, this is no joke! Alas…

Populism is scientific because its ‘adepts’ have a very rational behavior and use scientific tools to increase the appeal of their public messages.
And, on the other hand, populism is scientific because its advent is perfectly explainable given what we currently know. About our society, about our brains, about our psychology….

Let me start from the beginning.
In Thomas Kuhn’s terms, the last 60 or so years have witnessed a tremendous paradigm shift.
Science has replaced religion as the main paradigm and ‘religion’ has been demoted to  ‘religions’.

Science becoming the main paradigm means that we have grown confident about our knowledge. We might be aware that we don’t know everything yet but we continue to believe that we’re able to learn everything. That if we are diligent enough we’ll sometimes be able to look under every rock that is.
This attitude has led us to search for ‘perfection’. ‘Efficiency’ has displaced ‘redemption’. We have ceased our quest for salvation and are now obsessed with ‘buy low, sell high’. In other words, ‘make the most of it but strain yourself as little as possible’.

Which makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it?

A lot of sense… mainly when you no longer perceive the guy next to you as being a full-fledged member of your community. Your religious community, that is. Of your church.

You see, ever since Emil Durkheim, the sociologists have been aware that religion was not so much a story about the making of the world as a ‘common ground’. The ‘common core’ shared by the members of a given community. Which ‘common core’ makes it possible for those who share it to have respect. For themselves and for the other faithful members of the community. By sharing that common core, the individuals find their bearings in the ‘wide, wide world’ and, thus, know how to behave relative to their ‘neighbors’. With enough mutual respect among the individual members that the community is able to function. To survive, that is.

We no longer have that kind of community.
Our primary allegiance is no longer towards ‘church’. Most of us consider themselves primarily as members of a nation – something governed more by formal laws than by public sentiment, and only secondarily – if at all, as members of a ‘religious’ community.

Now, putting two and two together, it’s very simple to understand that in the given circumstances ‘populism’ was inevitable, right?

Too many of the would be leaders have no qualms about how they get what they want.
‘Buy low, sell high’ is the current mantra, remember? Accepted by all of us. Buyers, sellers, by-standards…
Too many members of the general public are willing to accept promises which are in line with their own expectations, even if those promises being put in practice means a lot of misery for OTHERS. Who cares about those others, anyway? They are not members of OUR ‘church’!

I’ll let you decide how sustainable is such a situation. I was going to use ‘community’ instead of ‘situation’ but it would have been horribly wrong. We no longer live in communities. We only happen to live in the same place.

For how long?

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