Archives for category: Psychology

“Tolerance without reasonable limits is like walking around with a “KICK ME” sign that you put on your own back.”

John Faithful Hamer

Well…

‘Tolerance’ is a two dimensional thing.
‘Intensity’ and ‘wideness’.
What I tolerate and how far I allow things to go before I react to them.

Indiscriminate and limitless tolerance is, indeed, incompatible with life as we know it.

Actually.
It would mean total surrender to the first ‘bidder’.

(Absolute) intolerance would mean ‘constant warfare’.
A.k.a. beating the crap out of anybody who even dares to look up.
…. Being (feeling) compelled to attempt to …

Your choice.

Our choice?

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– History is the story of what we remember of what had happened, right? Based on our shared individual recollections, the ‘written sources’ we have at our disposal and our interpretation of any other material traces we might have found… and properly preserved…

– Yep!

– Then no history, no matter how diligent and well intended the historian, will ever be the actual representation of what had really happened, back then!

– Well, you seem to be quite familiar with Heidegger’s work.

– I can’t say that. Popper’s injunction that science is more about being prepared to acknowledge your ignorance than about really knowing is enough for me.

– Then we might be soon delivered from History, after all.
When enough people will share your attitude/paradigm – that no matter how hard we’ll ever try we’ll never know anything for sure… it will be impossible for any would be dictator to pretend they have the ‘right’ answer for any problem we might encounter.

The worst thing about your parents passing away is the fact that from that moment on, every time you’ll turn to anybody for help that somebody will first pass judgement on you.

And why are we still trying to solve this riddle?

‘Cause this is indeed a riddle…

Remember those metaphorical stories whose heroes end up having to find the answer to one in order to save themselves/the day?
Like Sophocles’ “What walks on four feet in the morning, two in the afternoon and three at night?”

A riddle, of course, being a question which cannot be answered until the individuals attempting to solve it stick their heads out of the box into which the riddle had been framed.

So. Individualism? Collectivism?

Having grown up under communist rule – supposedly the most collectivist social arrangement to date, I can testify that there is no such thing as collectivism without individualism nor individualism without collectivism.

Libertarians’ mantra is that socialism/communism – and even liberalism, as Americans understand it, is a form of collectivism. And, of course, that collectivism is bad for you.
Socialists, on the other hand, maintain that the current situation – which is seen as being bad, is the consequence of the growingly extreme individualism which plagues modern societies.

Interestingly enough, both sides are simultaneously right.
Communism is indeed bad for you and the bad aspects of today’s society are a consequence of callous selfishness.

On the other hand, all communist societies are composed of a huge mass of obedient subjects AND a small number of individual, and very individualistic, leaders.
Similarly, all developed capitalist societies – including those sporting huge discrepancies between the shrinking number of haves and the growing number of utterly destitutes, have reached the current level of sophistication because most of their members continue to share the belief that ‘all men have been created equal and that all of them have certain, nonnegotiable, rights: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness’.

“Share the belief…”
But wasn’t this the very definition of collectivism?
A social arrangement where the most important possession belongs to THE public?
Was there anything more consequential for what is currently known as the ‘Euro-Atlantic’ civilization than this shared belief? Other peoples have been in possession of way more abundant natural resources. Had reached ‘astronomical’ levels of civilization way before we were even able to wipe our noses… And yet…

Haven’t we, individual thinkers, figured out yet that unless we agree on ‘the basics’, we’ll be easy prey for the callous ‘snake oil merchantmen’ who have no qualms to use collectivist slogans to pitch some of us against the others?

Haven’t we figured out, yet, that there is no ‘political collectivism’ without fear? All collectivist social arrangements, both socialist and fascist/nazist, have been built using fear/contempt (of the other) to cement ‘the people’ into believing the lies proffered by false prophets. Lenin, Mussolini, Stalin, Hitler, Mao… Lies proffered by callously individualistic political agents… bent on satisfying their own domineering instincts and making ‘good use’ of pre-existing conditions.

Haven’t we figured out yet that individualism, the tame version developed along with the good aspects of the Western Civilization, is, by nature, the very beneficial consequence of the mutual respect which (still) exists among the members of our societies?

So, to answer the riddle, we need to understand that there is no real conflict between bona fide individualism and bona fide collectivism.
Just as there is no conflict between two perpendicular lines.

Since, by trade, I’m a mechanical engineer, I’ll use a very practical metaphor to illustrate this idea.
Consider a pressurized Oxygen tank. The more pressure inside, the more Oxygen you can store in it. The more useful the tank. Only if you ramp up the pressure too much, you end up with an explosion.
In this situation, you might consider ‘pressure’ to be in conflict with the ‘walls of the tank’, right?
Wrong. The conflict is only in your mind. Pressure is simply perpendicular to those walls. The more pressure those walls can withstand, the more useful that tank is for you.

But it’s your responsibility to determine the thickness and resilience of those walls. It’s your responsibility to choose how much to ramp up the pressure.
For the very simple reason that that tank is yours.
It is you who will suffer the consequences.


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.

There is a technical reason. And some subjective ones. Acting in a synergic manner.

Trump had bean the darling of the high ratings/low expectations media for most of his adult life. During this period he had learned how to use it towards his own goal – an ever increasing notoriety, and those involved in the media had learned to love him back for the amount of publicity they had been able to sell on his back.

Now for the subjective ones.
First of all, he is a very ‘penetrant’ person. Like him or not, but you can’t ignore him.
Secondly, he happens to be the most powerful individual on Earth. Simply because he had been elected the President of the United States of America. Which is not only the most potent/civilized/democratic/you name it country, but also the leader of the free world. Meaning that the rest of the planet, democratic or not, sets it’s time after America’s clock. Willingly or unwillingly.
So the rest of world is watching anxiously everything that is going on in Washington. Wondering whether ‘Trump-ism’ will spread around. Or will remain yet another measure of American exceptionalism.

Thirdly, but maybe the most important reason, Trump can be analyzed as a symptom rather than as a cause.
In fact, there are a lot of Trumps scattered around the world.
Basically, there is very little difference between Trump and Putin. Trump and Erdogan. Trump and Bolsonaro. Trump and Dragnea – the most powerful politician in today’s Romania, my country. Even between Trump and Modi. Only none of these countries is similar to the US of A. None of them has such a distinguished democratic tradition.
And this is why so many people try to understand what’s going on.
Is Trump nothing more than an unhappy accident? Or the visible symptom of democracy becoming decrepit?

PS.
Even Abe is showing signs of contagion.
Post WWII Japan had survived by feeding whales to its people.
Now it is going to resume commercial whaling. In spite of all other previously whaling nations asking him to reconsider.
Really Abe? You need whale meat to survive?

“One of Pareto’s most noteworthy and controversial theories is that human beings are not, for the most part, motivated by logic and reason but rather by sentiment.”

Coming from an engineer – Pareto had started as one, this concept becomes even more noteworthy.
Why would a ‘professional using precision measurements and seeking consistently reproducible results’ focus his attention on sentiment rather than reason?

Because this is the reasonable thing to to?

And one of the reasons for which I tend to agree with him – besides being an engineer myself, is that he had started his studies using the most ‘reasonable’ instrument ever devised by man: “Residing in Florence, he studied philosophy and politics and wrote many periodical articles in which he first analyzed economic problems with mathematical tools.”

So, Pareto had reached the conclusion that human beings are driven mostly by sentiment after rationally analyzing the economic (and political) life.

OK. But what lies behind ‘sentiment’?

Pareto had proposed ‘residues’ as ‘motivation’ for sentiment. His theory is interesting only rather complicated. Almost byzantine. A well written summary can be read here.

What I find fascinating about Pareto’s theory is the rather veiled but certain correspondence which exists between his ‘residues’ and Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs”.

I’ll try to ‘raise the veil’ at a later date, today I’ll just point you towards a very relevant ‘coincidence’.

The psychologist had traveled the same road as the engineer.

Maslow (1943) initially stated that individuals must satisfy lower level deficit needs before progressing on to meet higher level growth needs. However, he later clarified that satisfaction of a needs is not an “all-or-none” phenomenon, admitting that his earlier statements may have given “the false impression that a need must be satisfied 100 percent before the next need emerges” (1987, p. 69).

Both had started ‘deterministically’, trying evidentiate ‘the’ (ironclad?) link between behavior and conditions – and expecting that link to be of a rational nature, only to reach the conclusion that individual sentiment/evaluation is at least as important – if not more so, as reason in the decision process. In shaping human behavior.


Democracy works. Authoritarianism works too.

Athens, the Ancient version, had become the dominant power of the Ancient Greece as a democracy. Only the Parthenon was build under Pericle’s rule. And Pericle was, for all intents and purposes, a dictator.
Rome, the Ancient version, had build a huge empire. As a democracy. Then enlarged it some more. As a growingly authoritarian and eventually discretionary regime.

England had started as the most democratic kingdom in Europe. Building upon the democratic traditions developed by the Vikings, the barons had forced King John to sign Magna Charta Libertatum. Way back in 1215.
Meanwhile, France – England’s neighbor and long time competitor, had become the dominant power in Medieval Europe. As an increasingly absolutist monarchy.

At some point, the people living in the future United States of America had decided that they had enough. That they wanted to enjoy the same privilege as their British counterparts. “No taxation without representation”.  George III would have no such a thing so the US had been established as the first democratic modern state. And the most successful to date. By almost every measure.
Following on America’s foot steps, the French had their Revolution. After a very short – and very tumultuous, democratic stint, they had reverted to authoritarianism. And conquered almost all Europe, under the command of Napoleon Bonaparte the First. Only to be eventually defeated by a coalition led by the more democratic British empire.

On the other side of Eur-Asia, things had been more linear.

The Russian Empire was developed in fits and starts. When the dictating ruler knew what he was doing – Peter the Great, for instance, things went forward. When not…
India had been, for all but the last 70 years or so, a melting pot of feuding dictatorships. Yet had developed a fascinating culture and much of what we currently call science and technology. The numbers our computers crunch had been invented there. And the steel we use to build our cars
The Chinese Middle Kingdom had once been the most civilized country on Earth. Then had crumbled under the assault of the marauding already democratic Europeans… only to revive, like the famous Phoenix… and all these while remaining submissive to a succession of authoritarian regimes.
Japan is a story by herself. Never fully authoritarian and yet still ‘imperative’ in many ways even today, she had somehow managed to put up a relatively good show. But for the period when she had succumbed to the ‘charms’ of hard core dictatorship, of course.

Coming back to Europe, I have to note that in the last century the inevitable tension between democracy and authoritarianism has produced immense tragedy.
WWI was the consequence of the inflexibility inherent to the authoritarian regimes. The leaders of the Keiserlich und Koniglich Habsburgic Empire, the Deutches Reich and the Russian Empire were not able to solve their disputes otherwise than dragging the whole continent into a huge mess.
Which, unsolved, had given birth to a second, and more horrible, one.
To complicate things even more, the battle was not fraught between the democratic regimes and the authoritarians.

An old Romanian saying posits that when God wants to punish someone, He starts by dulling their wits.

What if ‘fake news’ are a symptom of (some of the) journalists having earned the wrath of God?
Or is it the whole countries whom God wants to teach a lesson? Or two?


https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/vladimir-putin-says-he-has-never-made-a-mistake-because-god-wanted-him-to-be-perfect-10309628.html

Christians call it fate while Buddhists call it karma.
Christians’ main goal is called salvation while Buddhists’ is called nirvana.

And no, these are not exactly the same thing.
Not different enough to separate them easily, not similar enough to consider them the same thing.

Fate depends on what God has in mind for you while karma depends exclusively on what you have decided all along your life.

Salvation is even more complicated.
Catholics believe that each individual can obtain it, regardless of what they had done until that moment, by simply acknowledging ones sins and by repenting before God/priest. Protestants, on the other hand, believe that individual salvation is entirely at God’s mercy. Mortal individuals can do nothing more than putting their faith in God’s all encompassing love and waiting for it.
Meanwhile, since Buddhists don’t have a God, they believe that accomplishing nirvana is the responsibility of each individual… All somebody has to do in order to achieve this goal is to transform their inner self. There is no outside, objective (?!?) benchmark to be reached here… no other arbiter to please…

Yet fate and karma are not that different either… Life experience in Asia may be different from that in Europe but the differences aren’t huge enough to consider them two different things. Not to mention the growing number of Buddhists living in the Euro-Atlantic region and the burgeoning number of Christian converts in Asia….

As for salvation versus nirvana… the man made Catholic one is almost similar – even if a lot easier to obtain, to the Buddhist nirvana while the Protestant one is just as dis-similar from it’s Catholic equivalent as it is from the Buddhist nirvana.
Yet, again, is it really possible for peace of mind to be that different on the opposing ends of EurAsia? Peace of mind experienced by very similar human individuals…. The only difference between them being the culture they have grown into….

Which brings us to chance.

Rationally minded people – scientists, economists, etc., are convinced that any decision can be perfect… If  only people were diligent enough to educate themselves properly, to think with their brains instead of allowing their hearts to take over…

‘Rationally minded people…’
But how rational is to expect a human being – an animal, first and foremost, to behave in a perfectly rational manner?
How rational is to expect a human being to overcome all emotion AND all biases? Known and unknown….
How rational is even to expect a human being to ‘diligently’ research all available data before making a decision? How much time would that take? When should someone be satisfied enough with the information gathered about a particular subject?

How much is each of us indebted to Lady Luck about the place we’ve born into?
Christian Europe or Buddhist Asia?
About the time of our birth? Before any of Christ/Buddha had preached or after?
How much is each of us indebted to Lady Luck about the amount of opportunity each of us have had to decide about during our lives?

My last question was a tricky one, indeed.
OK, Lady Luck is responsible for many things. For the place and time of our birth. For the fortunes of the families we’ve been born into and for the mental and physical each of us enjoys. Or lacks…

Only we do share in the final responsibility for our fate/salvation/karma/nirvana!

Our decisions are equally shaped by the circumstances in which we’ve reached those decisions AND by our diligence in making them.
Each of our decisions opens up some new doors and shuts down others. Or, at least, turns our heads towards new openings and away from others.

‘And your point is?’

Don’t blame others for your bad decisions and don’t praise yourself too much for your good ones.
Don’t blame others for their bad decisions. Are you sure they had a real alternative for the situations you found them in? Mind you, not whether there was a real alternative! Did THEY had access to that alternative?
Extend a helping hand. You’re not responsible for saving everybody else but to see somebody in need and not offer your help sets the stage for you needing help and everybody else passing by without noticing you.
Don’t overdo it. When you see someone drowning, get them out to safety. That’s enough. Don’t lecture them about the dangers of getting into water. Firstly, you don’t know how they got in and, secondly, if they are not able to figure this out by themselves you’re wasting your time.
Don’t prevent everybody else from getting in simply because somebody had (nearly) drowned. You’re not God. You don’t know everything. You just happened to be there when somebody was drowning and you was strong and brave enough enough to save them. That’s all there is to it.


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