Archives for category: Psychology

bigger-and-more-easily

Human memory is rather shallow.

Two and a half months later I had already forgotten about this.
My memory has been refreshed by a FB post.

“Just as you don’t have to outrun the bear, just the other guy, your political proposal doesn’t have to be perfect, just better than the other guy’s.”

What do we really mean when we say ‘politics’?

A beauty pageant intended to crown the most skillful public speaker/con artist among us?

Or a social mechanism used by the whole community in its attempt to adjust to whatever fate throws at it?

And how about cooperating with the other guy in taming the bear instead of racing him to our mutual deaths? ‘Cause outrunning all the others doesn’t mean survival.

It only means having to watch all of them being eaten.

Darwin had wrote “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection“.
Some of us had mistakenly understood ‘evolution’ as being a ‘fight for survival’.
‘Fight’ as in ‘kill/subdue all those around you’, not ‘strive to improve yourself’, unfortunately.

Ernst Mayr had put things right. ‘Evolution is not about the survival of the fittest but about the demise of the unfit.

Adam Smith, a philosopher, had explained to us that free market capitalism functions because ‘the butcher, the brewer and the baker‘ cooperate across their respective ‘professions’, fully understanding that by respecting each-others work each of them would better serve their individual interests than by struggling individually.
Unfortunately too many of his contemporaries, and some later exegetes, mistook Smith’s words as meaning that ‘Greed is Good’.
And proceeded accordingly. Which was just another ‘application’ of Gresham’s Law. The ‘greedier’ among the capitalists slowly climbed to a dominant position and created a situation later described as ‘savage capitalism.’
Since people have a tendency to over-react, and to make matters worse instead of solving the problem, Karl Marx came up with an even more stupid idea than ‘Greed is Good’. According to him, the world should be run, in an equally authoritative manner, by a different class of people. Not by the ‘greedy capitalists’ but by the ‘virtuous communists’.
As if there ever was any real difference between dictators…

Almost a century later than Smith, Emil Durkheim, a sociologist, revisited the concept of ‘cooperation’ – from another angle, and demonstrated that society had leaped forward when each of its members developed his/hers particular talents instead of toiling together indiscriminately.  And then traded, on the free market, the results of their efforts. Nothing really new, just told in a different manner.
A marked difference from the ‘rantings’ of Marx. Who, by the way, had assessed the situation perfectly. Which makes it all the more baffling the fact that he was able to propose such aberrant remedies.

Almost simultaneously with Durkheim, another guy had noticed two very interesting things.  After a successful career as an engineer Vilfredo Pareto had started to study economics. Then he turned his attention to sociology. As an economist he had noticed the Pareto Principle – 80% of the results (income) are produced by 20% of the causes (agents), while as a sociologist he discovered that whenever social mobility, upwards as well as downwards, is hampered, the society where this happens will, sooner rather than later, experience serious difficulties. In fact this observation is quite straightforward. Whenever young people from the ‘lower strata’ cannot accede, despite being better qualified and harder working, to more meaningful positions because those positions are ‘safeguarded’ for members belonging to the ruling minority, the people from the lower strata stop striving while those from the ruling minority become lazy and careless. The recipe for disaster, don’t you think?
If we put both Pareto’s observations together we discover something similar to Smith’s budding concept of a free market. Whenever an individual, or a group of individuals, become so powerful as to dwarf those around them, economically as well as politically, the free market, economically as well as socially, stops working.

That’s why all monopolies have never failed to collapse.
That’s why all authoritarian regimes, including those built according to Marx’s rantings, have eventually failed – causing great harm to those fool enough to believe in them.

That’s why dinosaurs had disappeared – they had grown too big for their own good.
They behaved as if they were ‘greedy’. They seemed more interested in dominating the world instead of minding their own business.
Fishes – which are older than dinosaurs – survived and thrived.
Crocodiles, alligators, turtles, tortoises, snakes and you name whatever other reptiles come to your mind have survived the same conditions that have cut the mighty dinosaurs down to size.

That’s why Mayr goes on warning us. ‘Evolution is not about the survival of the fittest but about the demise of the unfit.

Let’s not destroy ourselves, as a species, attempting to prove him wrong.

Update
Pareto’s elite theory is rather straightforward.
As soon as a society ‘grinds to a halt’ tension starts to build up. A ‘lion’ – or a coalition of lions, will sooner or later seize the opportunity and ‘make a grab for it’.
By tearing the calcified sinews which tied the society down the lions actions unleash – for the moment, at least, the creative forces that could not assert themselves. Things become markedly better than they used to be.
Because the lions are ‘lazy’ they soon hire ‘foxes’ to run the show. Unfortunately the foxes tend to be rather narrow minded and soon their narrow-mindedness coupled with the decrepitude of the lion ‘in charge’ bring back the society to the original – aka bogged down, situation.
A younger lion/fresh coalition of lions restarts the cycle.
Basically we have the definition of the boom-bust cycle.
A very compelling example would be the manner in which communist states had crumbled under their own weight. Or the manner in which all monopolies – or even companies in dominant positions, eventually screw up. The automobile industry – a mature economic field, would be a very good example for this.
Nothing dramatically different from Schumpeter’s ideas, albeit at a different scale.
Ideally, in a free (aka fully functional) ‘market’ there are a number of lions which keep each-other at bay and a big enough number of foxes to keep the show together. The lions, acting in concert, make sure that the foxes do not take over while the foxes prevent the lions from driving the whole thing over the cliff.
If the circulation of the elites is hampered, in any way, shape or form, the continuous/evolutionary social and economical fine tuning no longer works and the society reverts to the boom-bust cycle.
A really free market would closely resemble Darwin’s, or more exactly Mayr’s, evolution while the present situation is one where the circulation of the elites has been brought almost to a halt.
The whole process tends to be rather ‘circular’. As in a vicious circle.
Or a virtuous one. As it used to be, until very recently.

NB. This blog is more like a collection of notes than anything else.
I write them down because doing this streamlines my thinking process and I make them public because readers’ feed-back (mostly on FB) is very helpful.

We seem to be stuck between two apparently irreconcilable positions.

Both the ‘free-market totalitarians’ and the avid ‘state interventionists’ agree about the present situation being untenable but are unable to identify a mutually acceptable way out.

And the rest of us watch them fighting each-other, as if mesmerized by some irresponsible/immature  hypnotism stage-artist, instead of clearing a path of our own!

But since we’re already gathered around the ring, let’s see first what are they fighting about.

The laissez-faire people maintain that things will eventually get in shape by their their own – only if we’d let them, while the statists say that waiting for that to happen would take too long and provoke too many ‘collateral victims’.

Each of the two sides advocate a very specific solution.
The free-marketeers are OK with what seems to be going on – relatively fewer and fewer individual people/corporations becoming richer and richer/more and more powerful while the rest are falling behind but not at all OK with the left behind becoming angrier and angrier.
Meanwhile the interventionists demand that the state should take more and more ‘things into its hands’ and ‘solve’ them. As if it knew how.

I must confess that I fail to see any real difference between them. Both imply that a small number of individuals – belonging to the same species and being subjected to the same cultural and social conditioning – becoming extremely powerful relatively to the rest of the people.

Historically, all societies which had allowed power to become concentrated in too few hands had crumbled. The more concentrated the power, the faster the fall.

When confronted with the argument that greed, for both money and power, is bad for you, both sides react in a very fatalistic manner.

‘Greed is natural, hence it must be good!’

The funny thing – if anything about any of this might be considered funny, is that greed has been castigated by all religions. And by mainstream science.

Let both religion and science rest for a while.
Actually this is one instance where common sense is more than enough.

Greed, like appetite, is indeed natural.
But that doesn’t make it necessarily good.

We need indeed to strive towards improving our lot, just as we need a healthy appetite.
Otherwise we’d end up worse than where we were at the start.
Dead by starvation.
Or both.

But hoarding a good thing doesn’t necessarily improve it.

There is a difference between appetite and gluttony.
That’s why we use different words for each of them.

glutonny-for-power

Just found this in my FB feed:

“Why is it that good people are always so far away?”

A few days ago I came across “On God: An Uncommon Conversation” between Norman Mailer and J. Michael Lennon.

Reading it made me wonder.
Most of us are aware that there is no way of knowing God, or his will, and, simultaneously, most of us are absolutely sure about the Devil and his intentions.

Isn’t this ‘inconsistent’, to say the least?

The musing about the ‘good people’ shed a new light upon the object of my wonder.

Bad is a lot easier to recognize that good.
There is nothing remarkable in putting on your old loafers and going for a stroll.
Now try to imagine how would it be if you had to walk, even for a short distance, with a pebble in one of those loafers. Or, God forbid, with a sharp pain in one of your knees.

Our ability to pinpoint the sources of discomfort and to identify (potential) danger did a tremendous job.
We survived.

We are so good at it that right now we are on top of the world.
Precisely because ever since we became aware of what was going on around us we have striven to keep danger, and discomfort, as far away  from us as possible at any given moment.

Unfortunately, by concentrating on identifying evil, we are slowly loosing our ability to see the good.

In a sense we have brought upon ourselves a certain ‘tolerance‘ to ‘good’. By successfully driving so much of the ‘bad’ away from our lives we have become unable to recognize the good moments in our lives.

Simultaneously we have developed a ‘reverse tolerance‘ for bad.
We have grown so adept at identifying it that we see it almost everywhere.

Because we are culturally conditioned to presume that ‘different’ is bad.

As I mentioned before, our ability to identify danger is what kept us alive. I won’t delve into how our brains are hard-wired to run/shoot first and ask questions later. You can read ‘all about it’ over the Internet.
Here is an as good place to start as many others.

“Officers need to build confidence with hand-on techniques

Taking what they admit is a controversial position, the authors argue that officers today may be too quick to use control tools like CEWs or OC, instead of applying hands-on tactics to subdue some unarmed subjects. The researchers say they were “struck by several incidents…that might have easily been addressed [successfully] by going hands-on” instead of resorting quickly to a less-lethal or deadly weapon.

 Sometimes unarmed “rowdy” people need to be “grabbed and secured,” even though they may fight in response, Selby writes. “Officers should be expected not to treat every assault as a life-and-death situation….

 “Over-reliance on TASER or pepper spray has its own set of dangers. Officers who do not practice fighting…risk being surprised by physicality, over-powered or out-maneuvered by those they confront… [T]hose who practice their physical skills are mentally and physically [better] prepared.”” (Force Science News, #314, II. 8 “key findings from new study on killing of unarmed suspects)

Can we do anything about this?

Of course.

Remember the old loafers at the top of my post?
(Almost) None of us trows away a good pair of shoes when they get dirty, right? It makes a hell of a lot more sense to grab a rag and ‘polish’ them, isn’t it?
Also, when judging a person, we’d better ‘examine’ him from top to bottom before passing a ‘sentence’ to the tune of ‘his shoes are dirty, hence I’ll discard him right away’.

And, above all, we need to remember that while ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’, goodness is, simply put, the absence of ‘bad’.

So, theoretically, none of them really exists.
Beauty doesn’t exist because we cannot fully agree upon it while nothing is absolutely free of ‘bad’. Hence nothing absolutely good has ever seen the light of day.

It seems that a better definition for a ‘good’ person would be somebody who behaves in such a manner as to be accepted by those around him.

Yeah, I know, I just opened a fresh can of worms… when in Rome…

What if one happens to live on an island run by pirates?

Well… soon enough the pirates will become so obnoxious to the rest of the world that the island will be conquered by the first powerful enough nation which happened to be pushed to the limit of its tolerance. Or, if that doesn’t happen, at some point, the ruling pirates will jump at each others throats.
That’s why all totalitarian regimes, including the communist ones, have failed.
The totalitarians tend to believe that only they are good and that all the rest are bad.

And totalitarian regimes usually start when an authoritarian leader convinces a critical mass of the people that:

  • their ideas right/good
  • all the rest are bad
  • so bad, in fact, that all means are acceptable while fighting ‘the evil.

Even if at first the authoritarian seems almost harmless the very logic of the system – more and more intolerance – leads all authoritarian regimes towards more and more intransigence. Meaning that the forces employed to maintain the regime become more and more adept at identifying ‘evil’, until the pressure eventually cranked up in the process blows open the entire social structure.

The sooner enough members of a given society discover that most of them are in fact ‘more good than evil’, the sooner the authoritarian would be dictators loose traction and things can return to normal.

 

Both are done ‘by hand’.

Apparently, any likeness between these two stops here.

But, if you pull back in earnest, the ugly thing becomes unraveled.
Not only that it is masturbatory, aka self-inflicted, (political) manipulation should also be classified as sado-masochistic.

Manipulation, as a process, can be examined from two perspectives.
A social one and an individual one.
Now, that everybody knows that ‘manipulation is bad for you‘, any individual who allows themselves to be manipulated into anything must suffer from a masochistic disorder while those who actively manipulate others must be cold blooded sadists.
On the social side, since time and time again manipulation has been proven to have had dangerous consequences, any community that sees any form of manipulation as an acceptable practice must have certain suicidal tendencies. Aka suffer from a ‘social form’ of masochistic disorder. While those who manipulate must be, themselves, cold blooded sadists.

As for being masturbatory, something which is brought upon one self by their own hand, that is almost as evident as Polichinelle’s secret:

Bona-fide politics, that made in earnest, involves open discussion between those who are going to be affected by the decisions and those who propose and support them. Discussions which take place before each major decision is made, during its implementation and after its consequences have started to be felt. The interaction between the politicians and the general public is direct, unmediated.
In Nassim Taleb’s terms, in this situation the politicians have their own ‘skin in the game‘.

Which results ‘risk management’ policy which is the complete opposite of the one adopted by those who believe themselves to be insulated from the consequences of their own actions.

The manipulators, on the other hand, window-dress themselves and the propositions they make. Their goal being not as much to contribute to the well being of their community as to ‘sell to the public’ whatever their minds have been focused on, at that moment. They consider manipulation to be a legitimate tool either because they are not fully aware of the great dangers involved or because they have convinced themselves that they will be forever exempt from contributing to the  the eventual price.
Meanwhile, those who allow themselves to be manipulated either do not realize they are being manipulated or have adopted ‘cynicism as a refuge’ in order to mitigate the cognitive dissonance that is eating away their self esteem.

In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and nothing was true… The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.

Please note that in this situation the interaction is no longer direct. The manipulator and the manipulated do not ‘touch’ each-other. Therefore neither knows exactly what the other has in mind.
The interaction is mediated by symbols. Which are ‘photo-shopped’ by the manipulators and, sometimes ‘admiringly’, accepted by the manipulated.

It’s exactly this lack of direct contact between the manipulators and the manipulated which determines the whole thing.
The manipulators are, simultaneously, unaware of the true situation and growingly convinced of their ‘impunity’.
The manipulated have initial difficulties in determining that they are subjected to manipulation and, in a second stage, the impression that there is nothing left to be done about the whole thing.

When, eventually, the consequences catch up with both of them, it is usually too late for anything else but ‘damage control’.

People regret that they didn’t wise up earlier, promise themselves they’ll never let something like that happen to them… and forget. Until the next time.

Manipulation: useful tool, mortal sin or what?!?

Hannah Arendt Explains How Propaganda Uses Lies to Erode All Truth & Morality: Insights from The Origins of Totalitarianism

Masochistic Personality Disorder

Secret de Polichinelle

Cognitive dissonance

Karma

(D)evil is ‘the difference’ we cannot accept.

For some, the fact that anything so ‘distant’ from what they find acceptable can survive for any length of time is a slap in their faces.

Which prevents them from learning anything in that situation.

history-written-by-the-victors

Quite a lot of people, most of them after misreading Machiavelli, have convinced themselves that ‘history is written by the victors’.

Even Winston Churchill, once a victor himself, had fallen into this trap.

Lately, more and more have started to doubt this assertion.

History is written by the writers.
Steve Theodore, professional game developer, amateur know-it-all

Ouch!

OK, let me dig deeper.

In reality, being able to write is not enough.

In order to be able to write about something, you have to survive it first.

And something else. Merely writing it would not necessarily preserve that information for further referral. For us to be able to read it. And be influenced by it.

So, the history that we are aware of today has been written by those who have survived the events, were smart enough to write and to understand the real importance of what they have just done. And to preserve the results of their effort.

But there’s more to it.
Basically there are at least two manners in which someone can describe something.
As close to what they honestly remember or in such a way as to bring as many benefits to the writer as possible.

I’m sure that you’ve already figured out what I’m hinting at.
Yes, the first manner of writing produces ‘true’ history while the second yields mere ‘propaganda’.

Which can be, indeed, useful.

On the shortest of times and only as long as the writer itself does not start to believe in his own writings!

Otherwise they’ll join the fate of the likes of Goebbels and …

goebbels-children

You know, Hitler’s very efficient ‘spin doctor‘ (“Think of the press as a great keyboard
on which the government can play.”) who, at the end of WWII and with the help of his wife Magda, had “murdered their six children and killed themselves as Soviet forces closed in on the bunker.” Would you call that a ‘victory’?
But we have to give him what was really his. He was a ‘man of his word’.
If the day should ever come when we must go, if some day we are compelled to leave the scene of history, we will slam the door so hard that the universe will shake and mankind will stand back in stupefaction..

So.
For some people to write history and for that history to remain as they have written it, the writers had to survive ‘it’, learn from what had happened to them that they were the in possession of very important information and decide to pass on that information, as truthfully as possible, to the next generations.
To help them survive if/when confronted with a similar ordeal.
And this very fact, that the history they had written taught someone how to survive, transforms the writer into the real winner.

In fact ‘history’ will be passed from one generation to another only as long as the next generation replaces peacefully the older one. Only as long as the older one helps the new generation to ascend into the future.

Otherwise, if the ‘children’ have to fight their ‘parents’ – as in ‘contradict what they had been taught by their teachers’ – in order to remain alive, they will also re-write the ‘history’ they had to fight against while struggling to survive.

For John Locke and his followers “what makes a person identical with herself over time is her remembering or being able to remember the events to which she was witness or agent.” (According mostly to the followers. What Locke actually said is something else, to which I’ll come back shortly)
Jesse Prinz has another opinion.

 

In this video Prinz seems to advocate that we maintain the continuity of our selves by sticking to a set of values. But this is only ‘skin deep’.
He didn’t actually say ‘what keeps us ‘together’ over time but ‘what people think that is ‘keeping us together’ as time passes’.
These two are not necessarily the same thing.
The way I see it memories are just the ‘resource’ from which our identity is continuously being built and the ‘values’ we stick to are the ‘blue-prints’ we use/update during the process but that the ‘driver’ behind all this is our self-awareness/free willing soul.
All three are interdependent.
As Locke observed, without our memories we would be like balloons drifting in a cloud of deep fog. We wouldn’t even be able to determine whether we were moving or not.
As Prinz said, without our values we’re like ships which have lost their ‘compass’.  Just imagine a boat sailing during a starless night or in a cloudy day. There are ways that experienced sailors can use to determine whether the ship is moving – relative to the surrounding water – but not even Black Beard nor Magellan would have been able to reach their destinations without ever seeing the Sun, some stars or using a compass.
Not to mention the fact, sorry Jesse, that without our memory we wouldn’t be able to remember today what set of values we had been using yesterday.
Finally, but not lastly, without our self-awareness/free willing soul we would be like perfectly sea-worthy ships which have been abandoned by their crews. Adrift in the middle of the sea, at the mercy of the elements. Elements themselves being not merciless but amoral…
 I’m sure that by now you have already figured out what I mean.
It is “we” that ‘compares’ and ‘considers’ things, that forms “ideas of identity and diversity”, that sees “anything to be in any place in any instant of time”, that is “sure” of anything (or not)… and so on and so forth…
Without this “we” no discussion about memory nor values would have ever been possible
Without memories the “we” would go ‘hungry’. Or nuts.
Without values the “we” would be ‘toothless’. Or antisocial/in jail.
And all these have already been mentioned, albeit in different terms, by both Humberto Maturana and Stephane Lupasco.
PS.
Don’t tell me that none of you have ever thought, however passingly, of the other meaning of ‘stool’.
ganditorul

 

Tallow = “the white nearly tasteless solid rendered fat of cattle and sheep used chiefly in soap, candles, and lubricants“.

bite-the-bullet

The mutiny (India, 1857) broke out in the Bengal army because it was only in the military sphere that Indians were organized. The pretext for revolt was the introduction of the new Enfield rifle. To load it, the sepoys had to bite off the ends of lubricated cartridges. A rumour spread among the sepoys that the grease used to lubricate the cartridges was a mixture of pigs’ and cows’ lard; thus, to have oral contact with it was an insult to both Muslims and Hindus. There is no conclusive evidence that either of these materials was actually used on any of the cartridges in question. However, the perception that the cartridges were tainted added to the larger suspicion that the British were trying to undermine Indian traditional society. For their part, the British did not pay enough attention to the growing level of sepoy discontent.

tallowed-five-pounder

The new £5 notes contain tallow, a substance made from animal fat Credit: AP

“…a trace of tallow in the polymer pellets used in the base substrate of the polymer…”
“As the tweet was shared, social media users expressed their disgust at the news.
“New £5 note isn’t vegan. Was everyone’s 2016 New Year’s resolution to do ridiculously insane stuff like adding meat to money?” “

What are we to learn from these two (separate ?!?) incidents?

That we have not yet learned how, or when, to use tallow?

Or that we have reached, again, such a level of generalized discontent that people might use whatever plausible pretext in order to vent their accumulated grievances?

The essence of spin doctoring is to present a sequence of true facts in such a manner that will compel the audience to reach the conclusion desired by the ‘good-doctor’. The really skilled ones don’t even need to lie in order to achieve their goals. At most they ‘shave’ some of the rough edges so that the truths they choose to mention fit smoother into their narrative
In fact it doesn’t matter much whether the conclusion they mesmerize their audience into is ‘true’ or not – truth is relative, anyway. The only thing that’s important here is that ‘the’ conclusion fits the intentions of the spin doctor.
Also, it even doesn’t matter what those intentions are. Good, bad… the end is always the same.

Because of the manner in which all this works.

The principle involved here is the same as that used by the magicians who entertain the crowds of circus goers.
They first concentrate the attention of their audience to a single point and then direct it in such a way that the people are no longer able to see anything but what they are allowed to by the magician.
Or by the spin-doctor.

Unfortunately the similarities between magicians and spin-doctors end here.
While most of the circus goers have a nice experience, albeit a relatively short one, most victims of the spin-doctors have to endure long lasting trauma and/or substantial material loss.

Again, irrespective of the spin doctors’ intentions. It doesn’t matter whether the method is used by a (well wishing socialist) utopian or by a callous Nazi.  In my previous post I mentioned how ‘political hyenas’ spring up and monopolize all the situations in which their ‘dark talents’ cannot be kept in check by the rest of the society.
Here we have the explanation for why the otherwise reasonable members of the society are unable to perceive the mortal danger they find themselves in.

Because the spin doctor had skilfully overloaded their attention.
Because after living for so long ‘under the spell’, too many people have become accustomed to let others think for them and in their name.

Was that clear enough?
The spin doctor doesn’t have to be malefic in order for the tragedy to take place. It is enough that they have occupied the attention of the people and have exhausted the ability of too many of the individuals involved to think with their own heads.
In these conditions the ‘political hyenas’ will undoubtedly make their appearance and attempt to gain control over the society.

And, undoubtedly again, those attempts will be extremely detrimental for the entire society.

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