Archives for category: Rule of Law

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…

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“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?

https://i.kym-cdn.com/photos/images/original/001/178/733/780.jpg

Last time I checked, for a rebellion to make sense, it had to be against some precise thing. Otherwise…

On the other hand, there are only two kinds of freedom.
‘Against all others’ – which starts as anarchy and very soon becomes atrocious dictatorship. Where the dictator is free to rule and the oppressed are free do obey. Or to attempt to climb into the dictator’s shoes…
Or ‘with all others’. Also known as ‘democracy’. The real thing, of course, not the ‘mob rule’ variety which is currently creeping upon us.

Hence the only sensible rebellion would be the one against any form of dictatorship and ‘executed’ in concert with the rest of the oppressed.

As I mentioned before, life is about individual organisms being able to interact with their environment and species being able to evolve as a reaction to what happens in the same environment.

Interaction between environment and individual organisms is based on sensations.
The organism ‘feels’ itself and its environment and (re)acts  based on the gathered information.

The (re)action ca be very basic – as in voluntarily abstaining from breathing when submerged in water, to utterly sublime. Writing a love poem or saving a toddler from a burning house.

Please note that only writing a love poem ‘demands’ a human being. Abstaining from breathing while under water comes naturally for all animals which don’t have gills while saving a toddler from a burning house can be very well ‘performed’ by a dog.

I mentioned earlier that (re)actions can be grouped in three large categories. ‘Mechanical’, ‘learned’ and ‘self-supervised’, a.k.a intentional.

The ‘mechanical’ ones being those also known as ‘instinctive’. They are practically inscribed in our DNA and constitute our default mode. None of us – plant, animal or human, needs any training whatsoever in order to ‘perform’ them.

The ‘learned’ – or ‘trained’, (re)actions are those which depend heavily on past experience. They start from the same kind of sensations as the instinctive ones but the organism takes the time to transform the sensation into a perception before (re)acting.
A very good example would be riding a bike. A child can learn to do it well before becoming able to entertain such complicated notions as ‘destination’ or ‘goal’. They are simply happy to do it. Same thing being valid for trained circus dogs or monkeys.

The really tricky (re)actions are the ‘intentional’ ones. Those which are performed under self supervision. Of which we are, at least perfunctorily, aware.

‘OK, very nice recap. You’ve already covered this ground. Get to the point!’

I’ve already reached it.
According to this ‘scheme’, given the fact that we pretend to be rational and that we all live in the same world, all of us should behave more or less in the same manner. Right?

‘Like bees? Or ants? Like a school of fish?’

Yeah, something along that line…

‘Or like Pol Pot/B.F. Skinner tried to teach their respective followers?’

You’re stretching it a little bit but yes, you could say that …

‘But this ain’t happening! Not even the most bigoted followers of any cult nor even the most disciplined soldiers will ever behave in such a manner…’

I told you we’d already reached ‘the point’! You made it yourself…

And here’s why:

Yes, we all live in the same world.
More or less…

But we shouldn’t forget the differences!

Biological ones come first.
Those which make each of us feel differently, even when all of us experience the very same conditions. Temperature, time past from the last meal, elevation from the sea level, etc., etc.

On top of those come the ‘social’ differences.
In this instance ‘social’ has a far wider meaning than in everyday life. Yes, there is a huge difference between individuals belonging to different social strata but that’s only a small part of what I have in mind.
‘Social’ differences means all differences consecutive to the ‘mere’ existence of human society.
Let’s make a thought experiment and evaluate the ‘social’ differences between a guy born in what we now call France some 20 000 years ago and another guy born in the same place 2 000 years later. What do you reckon?
OK. Now let’s consider a Frenchman born in 1920 – two years after the end of the WWI, and his son, born in 1947. Would it make any sense to compare the two sets of differences? Those between the conditions encountered by the two prehistoric guys separated by two almost inconsequential millennia and those encountered by the father and son born 27 years apart in the XX-th century?
Or we could compare a native of the Amazonian forest to a New Yorker. Both born in, say, 1999. Statistics have it that the Amazonian native might already be dead…

Small wonder then that perceptions are so different from one individual to another… given that individual perceptions depend on both our senses and our individual experiences – which, in their turn, depend heavily on where and when each of us have been born.

Right now I feel the need to insist on the difference between sensation and perception.
Sensation being, simply put, what we feel while perception is what reaches our conscious mind.

‘What?!?’

Yeah…  strange, isn’t it?
Let’s return to ‘riding a bike’ for a moment.
It was a big moment when your dad removed the ‘helper’ wheels and you soloed for the first time, right? Just as big as when you walked for the first time… only you can’t remember that, do you?…
You were paying very close attention to everything you were doing… while your father kept telling you ‘relax, you’ll be fine’…
And now – if you’re still riding, of course, you do it instinctively. You pay attention only to where you’re going, without bothering about maintaining the balance or other ‘mundane’ things like that. The whole process takes place ‘behind the scene’. It was you who had learned what to do. Consciously, of course. Only once learned, the whole ‘thinking process’ was moved ‘to the attic’. Out of the way, that is.
There are a lot of things which are done in this manner. Subconsciously and not unconsciously. Riding bikes, driving cars, operating machinery… perceiving the world…
We learn how to do it – according to some rules which depend on our culture, and then we continue to do it subconsciously. For all our lives or until something happens. For instance, until we move to a country where they drive on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. And we have to learn some new rules…

Otherwise put, ‘perceiving’ means subconsciously making sense of what we feel by using some previously acquired ‘rules of thumb’. Those who specialize in this field use ‘heuristics’ to describe them.
The problem with the rules of thumb being that they can very easily become ‘cognitive biases’. A.k.a. ‘fences’ which divert us from the ‘straight and narrow’. As in the situation when some of us feel uneasy in the presence of an unknown person with a different skin color.

‘But what happens when consciousness kicks in?’

I thought you’d never ask…

It depends.
On many things. Both ‘social’ and individual.
On the education experienced by each particular individual, on their ‘brain power’ and, last but not least, on something vaguely called ‘individual character’. Something which some people are convinced it can be educated, one way or another, while others are convinced it is ‘hard wired’ into each of us.
If you ask me, both are right. In various, individual, degrees. Character has as much to do with how each of us have internalized their particular experiences as it has with how much ‘spiritual stamina’ exists into each of our souls.

On the practical side of the matter, after each perception reaches the frontier of our consciousness, each of us starts digesting it in earnest. As in attributing ‘value’ to it. Determining whether what has just happened was a consequence of an intention or a happenstance.  Then whether that intention was good or bad. And, finally, the ‘judging’ consciousness establishes a plan of action.  Which can vary from ‘do nothing’ to ‘no holds barred’.

Which explains why no two people will ever react in exactly the same manner when confronted with the very same set of circumstances. There are no two individuals who feel exactly the same, have been exposed to the very same cultural influences AND internalized them in exactly the similar manner. Nor have exactly similar characters and amounts of brain-power.

But what was Mathew trying to tell us?
I’m afraid we are dealing  here with a badly translated metaphor.
‘Poor in spirit’ doesn’t make much sense… unless we consider it an attempt to dull our senses… which may make some sense in certain circumstances…
Only I’m more interested here to determine what Mathew tried to say rather than to interpret the intentions of those who had done the translation. And of those who had, manually, copied the many successive generations of Bibles which had been produced until Gutenberg had, for the first time, printed it in many identical copies.
So, the way I see it, Mathew was speaking of those who are able to stop their conscious mind from building far-flung ‘scenarios’ out of everything that happens to them. Or in their vicinity.

Very similar to the Buddhist concept of ‘non-attachment’?

Well… we do live in the same world, after-all… and we have been ‘made’, more or less, ‘the same’.
We might not be identical, nor having had the very same experiences during our lives… but we do have a lot in common. Despite our differences.

For those who have managed to conserve enough naivety, politics is a team job.

For them, ‘political power struggle’ is an oxymoron. A figure of speech.

Unfortunately, those who have lost their political naivety (innocence?, virginity?) have given up all table manners and have introduced the concept of ‘RealPolitik’.
At first in the international arena and then, using the back door, on the domestic stage.

To what consequences?

When Bismark had coined the concept of RealPolitik, the major players in the international arena were following an already ancient mantra. Divide et Impera.

If ‘naive’ politicians attempt to convince their partners, the ‘real ones’ have only one goal in mind. Theirs.
While the ‘naive’ start any interaction by listening to what the others have to say, in an attempt to learn before starting to build a solution – one designed to fulfill the widest possible array of expectations, the ‘realists’ will use every trick up their sleeves to impose ‘their’ solution. The one which best fits ‘their’ interests and which has been devised without/before any proper consultation with the rest of those who will bear the consequences of that solution being implemented.

Some of the politicians whose naivety has been chipped during constant contact with the social reality eventually ‘wise’ up and reach the point where they accept manipulation as a ‘valid’ political tool. They start to hid part of the truth, to promise a tad more than what would be realistically possible… but at least they continue to pay lip service to the notion of ‘liberal democracy’.
The hard core ‘realists’ are way more ‘straightforward’. They burn bridges and give up any pretense of ‘window dressing’. ‘Struggle’ is no longer understood as a figure of speech.

Political struggle descends into the ring. Or, more exactly, the entire Agora becomes a battle field. The whole ‘arrangement’ devolves into a ‘dog eats dog’ situation.

To the glee of the ‘realists’ outside the border. Who can hardly wait for those ‘inside’ to start fighting in earnest. So that the outsiders might, yet again, put ‘divide et impera’ to work.

As I promised you some time ago, let’s have a look at ‘property’.

As you recall, I was arguing that we, humans, are only ‘qualitatively’ different from the rest of the animals. In the sense that we do everything that they do – and nothing really new or different, only that we do it ‘better’. And more ‘evenly’.

In my previous post, I was dealing with ‘trade’. So I’ll use ‘trade’ to explain what I mean by ‘more evenly’.

All living things are made of three things.

An inside, a membrane and a set of instructions which deal with two things.
How the whole thing should be structured in order to able to live and how the inside should interact with the outside – through the membrane, in order for the organism to remain alive and replicate itself.

My previous post dealt with individual organism trading food (a.k.a. matter) and information with their outside. It also dealt with manners in which trade can be performed.
Directly – as in barter, or indirectly – using symbols.
The most simple barter is breathing. Exchanging gases with the environment. Or foraging – individual organisms ingest food and water and excrete poop and urine.
‘Trading’ information is a little more complicated. An individual organism can be endowed with genetic information by it’s parents, presented with information by some of its peers – bacteria or playmates, taught by its voluntary or involuntary teachers or it can glean information by itself through mindful observation. Also, trading information is more complicated than trading food because information can be either ‘hardware’ or ‘software’. DNA inherited from the parents (received from peers/’invaders’) being ‘hardware’ while information gleaned through observation or during training being ‘software’.

Everything described in the previous paragraph is common for all living organisms, including humans.

My point being that we’ve been trading, from the ‘beginning’, far more items than any of  the other living things – plants and/or animals.
OK, an individual whale will eat far more than an individual human being. But whales eat, basically, one or two things. While we, humans, will throw down our throats almost anything that we fancy. Including some stuff which will actually hurt us.

But the real interesting thing is the manner in which we ‘trade’ information. We not only observe keenly what happens outside our consciousness (not just outside our-bodies, simply outside the shell that harbors our ‘mind’) but also translate that information into symbols and then communicate that symbolic information with our fellow human beings.

And here’s the catch.

I mentioned earlier that every individual organism consists of an inside, a membrane which keeps it together and a package of information.
For survival purposes, each organism must consider all its three components as being its own and to defend them ‘to the bitter end’. Or else…
Which is congruent to what happens in the real world… Membranes are relatively hard to penetrate, there are some defense mechanisms which at least attempt to take of any intruders – the immune system, for example….
More over, the more ‘sophisticated’ organisms also defend ‘their’ territories and the local resources they have identified and claimed as being theirs. If you don’t believe me, just try to take a bone from any normal dog which isn’t yours.

You see, not even ‘property’ is exclusively  specific to humans…. We have created the concept, we actually define ourselves using our possessions… yet we share this trait with all other living organisms… even if they don’t know anything about it…

Remember what I just said about us being able to trade ‘symbolic’ information? To ‘formulate’ the information before trading/sharing it?
Same thing happens with ‘property’.

For a dog, a bone is its property as long as it happens to be in his snout. And most dogs have no problem in attempting to ‘steal’ a bone from another dog – as long as the other is not way bigger, a pup or some-other special cases.

Meanwhile, most humans would painstakingly respect other people’s property.
Simply because, for us, property has also meaning. Besides ‘survival value’

NB. In English, ‘property’ is not exclusively about possession. Its root, ‘proper’, means from ‘clean’ to ‘as it should be’.

I’m gonna insert three links.
They might be opened in any order, the link between them is evident, in all directions.

 “It’s a natural and powerful temptation to do unto them as they have done unto others. They have abused, reviled, and humiliated others: So let them be abused, be reviled, be humiliated. Yet if you go that way, you do not repudiate Trump. You become Trump.”

David Frum,
Michelle Wolf Does Unto the White House as It Has Done Unto Others,
The Atlantic, Apr 30, 2018

“It is particularly rich, too, to see a president who brags about his lack of political correctness and willingness to tell it like it is to be so thin-skinned he won’t even attend a party where he knows he’ll be roasted. It is revolting to see members of the press, who should have an adversarial relationship with the White House, comforting the press secretary and standing up for her honor when she is a chief architect of and apologist for these new political norms of idiotic crudeness, rank corruption, and unapologetic deceit.

Reporters allegedly expressed their sympathy to Huckabee Sanders after the dinner. This is insane. Reporters: Sarah Huckabee Sanders lies to you. She is a powerful and influential figure, and it is your job to be a check on her and the administration she speaks for – not to commiserate with her when a comedian makes some salty jokes, and certainly not to be her sympathetic friend.

Michelle Wolf ended her monologue by wishing the audience a good night, and then adding, “Flint still doesn’t have clean water.” “

Jill Filipovic,
The Bizarre Reaction to the WHCD Reveals We’re in Deeper Trouble Than We Thought,
Cosmopolitan, Apr. 30, 2018

Donald Trump is here tonight! Now, I know that he’s taken some flak lately, but no one is happier, no one is prouder to put this birth certificate matter to rest than the Donald.
And that’s because he can finally get back to focusing on the issues that matter –- like, did we fake the moon landing? What really happened in Roswell? And where are Biggie and Tupac?
But all kidding aside, obviously, we all know about your credentials and breadth of
experience. For example — no, seriously, just recently, in an episode of Celebrity Apprentice – at the steakhouse, the men’s cooking team cooking did not impress the judges from Omaha Steaks. And there was a lot of blame to go around.
But you, Mr. Trump, recognized that the real problem was a lack of leadership. And so ultimately, you didn’t blame Lil’ Jon or Meatloaf. You fired Gary Busey.
And these are the kind of decisions that would keep me up at night.
Well handled, sir. Well handled.
Say what you will about Mr. Trump, he certainly would bring some change to the White House.”

Barack Obama,
2011 White House Correspondents Dinner.

Before proceeding any further, let me introduce you to two other, more distanced, cousins of ours. Gorilla and Orangutan.

Orangutan leads a semi-solitary life in the Bornean and Sumatran Jungle. They are fairly large animals, males tip the scales at 200 pounds or so, and need a lot of food. They eat mostly fruit and, in times of scarcity, bark, flowers, insects and eggs.
It was their ‘eating habits’ which had shaped their social lives:
Food is often scarce in the rain forest and that is why the orangutan is a semi-solitary creature. In times of great abundance of food, orangutans may use the opportunity to socialize and gather in small groups.
Because they live solitarily, the young siblings must on one hand learn ‘everything’ before starting their adult lives and they don’t have anybody to learn from but their mothers. Hence they stick around for longest. A baby orangutan will nurse until about six and continue to live with their mothers for a few more years. Two or three for the males, five or six for the females – on top of everything else the females have to learn “mothering skills” and for them the only way to do it is to watch their own mother taking care of the next sibling.
As a consequence of all this, the females give birth only once every 8 years, “the longest time between births of any mammal on earth. (This results in only 4 to 5 babies in her lifetime.)” Not a very efficient survival strategy, for the species I mean…

Gorilla has adopted a different feeding strategy.
This is actually a joke. It wasn’t ‘the gorilla’ which has ever adopted anything, least of all ‘a survival strategy’. The ‘adoption process’ had been fueled by chance, had been ‘censured’ by  the realities of their living places and was later labeled as “evolution” by Charles Darwin.
Coming back to our distant cousins, gorillas are even larger animals than orangutans.
300-400 pounds, for the males, versus 200. Hence they need even more food.
An adult Grauer’s gorilla male is estimated to eat 30 kg of plants every day, an adult female about 18 kg.” The difference being that gorillas eat a lot of leaves.
When they have the opportunity to choose, they will surely pick up fruit but they are much more adapted to eating leaves than orangutans are. As a consequence they do not need to ‘spread around’ as thinly as orangutans do, the young can also learn from the rest of the pack so females can give birth every 4 years instead of every 8.

Is there any link between all this babbling and the stated subject of your post?

Actually yes.

As gorillas and orangutans are teaching us, together is easier than each by its own.
Being able to give birth every 4 years is a huge evolutionary advantage over having to wait 8 years before becoming pregnant again.

But this is not all we can learn from our cousins.
Male gorillas, at 300 to 400 pounds, are formidable defenders. Their only enemies, except for humans, are the leopards.
Compare 350 pounds with less than 100 for a chimpanzee/bonobo male.
That would be a good starting point to figure out why silver-backs – mature male gorillas who despotically reign over their 1 to 5 females – can afford to drive out their sons after they become sexually mature while the chimpanzee alpha males, who lead troops of up to 50 members, will allow other mature males to live by – and to have intercourse with some of the females living in the same group.
The second reason being that gorillas eat, almost exclusively, plant matter, supplemented with some insects, while chimpanzees form hunting parties in order to catch, kill and eat other animals, including monkeys. And one can ‘graze’ by himself while hunting is way easier in cooperation with others.

Feeding habits can explain quite a lot, isn’t it?

Let’s make a step further and turn back, as I promised in my previous post, to the differences between chimps and bonobos.
Well, bonobos hunt, just as efficiently as the chimps do, only they are less inclined to murder their neighbors.
Just one suspected killing observed during “92 combined years of observation at four different sites“, for the bonobos. In the other camp, 152 killings, 58 directly observed and the rest “counted based on detective work“, gathered over “426 combined years of observation, across 18 different chimp communities“.
The second difference, that I find interesting in the context of ‘capitalism’, is the size of the ‘colonies’. Bonobos live in way bigger groups than the chimpanzees. 100 versus 40 to 60, I’m not sure whether this had any impact over the relative fate of chimps or bonobos but it is surely relevant for how capitalism works. Stick around.

One more ‘animal story’ and I’ll wrap everything up.

“We previously reported that chimpanzees were unable to optimally select the smaller of two candy arrays in order to receive a larger reward. When Arabic numerals were substituted for the candy arrays, animals who had had prior training with numerical symbols showed an immediate and significant improvement in performance and were able to select reliably the smaller numeric representation in order to obtain a larger reward. Poor performance with candy arrays was interpreted as reflecting a response bias toward the intrinsic incentive and/or perceptual features of the larger array. In contrast, the Arabic numerals represent numerosity symbolically and appear to promote response choice on the basis of abstract processing of numerosity, with minimal interference from the inherent properties of the choice stimuli. The present study tested the hypothesis that, for mixed symbol-candy choice pairs, the requisite processing of the abstract numeral may foster a mode of numerical judgment that diminishes the interfering incentive/perceptual effects of the candy stimuli. The results were consistent with this hypothesis. Whereas performance on candy-candy arrays was significantly below chance levels, performance on numeral-candy choice pairs was significantly above chance and comparable with performance on numeral-numeral pairs.”

OK, OK, don’t shoot the messenger… those guys were writing a scientific paper, not a blog post… let me ‘translate’ it in simpler words.

There is a relatively simple psychological test involving two bowls full of candy.
One of them containing more pieces than the other.
The test consists of a child being asked to choose between those two bowls, after being told that the candy from the chosen bowl will be given to somebody else and the candy from the second bowl, the unchosen one, will be given to the child. The test is repeated a number of times and most of the children, 4 year olds and above, learn quite quickly to point to the bowl containing the smaller number of candy.
If, instead of children, chimpanzees are asked to choose between the two bowls, they continue to point to the bigger number of candy, even after the umpteenth repetition.
Now here comes the really interesting part.
Dr. Boysen and other scientists from Ohio State University, had previously taught a chimp, Sheba, not only to count but also to read numbers. One digit numbers…
When Sheba was subjected to the test, using real candy, she had responded exactly as the other chimps had done before her. She was unable to wrap her head around the notion that she will get the candy from the OTHER bowl. But as soon as the researchers had replaced the actual candy with digits written on small cartons… bingo! Sheba had become a lot wiser and had very quickly figured out that choosing the bowl with the smaller number (of candy) was a far better option.

Let me put two and two together.

Our cousins, the great apes, have given us a valuable lesson about cooperation.
Orangutans have to raise their offspring as single mothers. A very time consuming process which limits the number of siblings to 4.
Silver-backs don’t need much help to defend their families. So they can afford to drive off any potential competition… but they cannot hunt. Or do anything else ‘in concert’ with their peers.
Chimpanzees have learned to tolerate each-other, to a degree. They can form larger communities and engage in cooperative endeavors. Hunting and warfare.
Bonobos have developed a very efficient method to quell tension which may appear among themselves and to subdue rogue members of the community, without actually killing them. With no apparent benefit… except for us…

History is telling us, shouting at us even, that authoritarian regimes are short lived. Shorter and shorter lived, as we come closer to the present day.
Ancient Rome had lasted for almost a 1000 years. 2000 if we take Byzantium into account.
The British Empire was de facto dissolved, more or less peacefully, after less than 500 years, along with the rest of the European colonial empires.
The Russian Czarist Empire had buckled under its own weight after some four centuries, reinvented itself as the Soviet Union and faltered again after less than a century.
The rest of the ‘modern’ dictatorships have crumbled even faster, with only two notable exceptions: North Korea and Cuba.

Mighty commercial ventures, which had seemed impregnable in their heydays, are now almost forgotten memories. From the British East India Company to the now infamous ENRON…

Yet humankind, as a whole, had fared better and better.
OK, we did bring a lot of ‘man made’ misfortune over our own, collective head.
Only every little piece of that misfortune had been produced and inflicted in an authoritarian setting.

From Alexander the Great (?!?) to Hitler, history is full of ‘leaders’ who had somehow convinced their subjects to foolishly follow orders. Eventually, everybody got killed in the process. The leaders as well as the hapless subjects…
From John Law – ‘the son of a Scottish banker, a gambler and playboy who had killed a man in a duel‘ before insinuating himself at the top of France’s financial establishment during the first part of the XVIII-th century, where he had orchestrated a “system” closely resembling a Ponzi scheme – to Bernard Madoff, the economic and financial history is full of ‘tycoons’ who have led their their subordinates, and a considerable portion of the financial markets, to utter disaster.

And some of us still consider that ‘greed is good’… Maybe they should read again about Sheba and the candy bowls…

I can hear some of them protesting: “In the real world, there is nobody to switch the bowls! ‘Finders keepers, losers weepers'”
Yeah, right… tell that to some of those who had won the lottery… “About 70 percent of people who suddenly receive a windfall of cash will lose it within a few years, according to the National Endowment for Financial Education.

Then why are we still so obsessed with money?
Like Sheba was with those candy?
Why do we collectively continue to behave like a bunch of three years olds?

Maybe because money have proved, over the centuries, to be very reliable tools?
Because profit has been a very good measure for a company’s ability to survive? If corroborated with other indicators, but that’s another story…

At some point I mentioned that capitalism only works if the market where its wares are traded is really free. Meaning that that market has to work under the rule of law and that nobody in that market should allowed to become so powerful as to dominate the others.

Well, that was a lie.
Actually, capitalism works anywhere.
Those running the late Soviet Union have tried to convince the rest of the world that monopolies might work.  Various ‘business men’, including some very successful ones, try to convince us of the same thing. “Competition is for losers” they say… OK, I can understand why they keep trying… That’s what the entrepreneurs are for! “To boldly go where no man has gone before.”
My point being that markets which are not presently free will become free with the passage of time. No matter what!
No political arrangement has ever been strong enough to contain a dysfunctional economy. That’s why the Soviet Union, and the rest of the communist camp, had crumbled. That’s why we have a crises every time the government, with the best intentions, abruptly intervenes in the economy. Or fails to do so and allows monopolies to exist for too long…

Capitalism actually works.
Look around us.
I could give you a myriad examples. I’ll settle for two.
Romania, which less than 30 years ago was struggling under the communist yoke, now has one of the fastest internet in the world.
Some 40 years ago, when my uncle had emigrated to America, long-distance  phone calls were so expensive that he barely afforded to call his mother more than twice a year… nowadays two people can chat for hours across the planet, for free, over the internet. With video…

How about we letting it do its magic without some of us trying to drain ‘undeserved advantages’ from the process?
And no, those trying to ‘drain undeserved advantages’ are not the real culprits for what is going on!
A really free market is not one where a big bully with a huge stick makes sure that nobody steals from its neighbor.
That would be the definition for a police state!
A free market is one where people organize themselves, hire a normal guy with a smallish stick to take care of thieves and then call him every-time when they see a robbery taking place.

Nowadays too many of us actually admire the thieves and try to bribe the guardian.
While the rest idly walk by, as if what’s going on under their own noses is not going to affect them in a very short while …

“America’s abundance was not created by public sacrifices to “the common good,” but by the productive genius of free men who pursued their own personal interests and the making of their own private fortunes. They did not starve the people to pay for America’s industrialization. They gave the people better jobs, higher wages, and cheaper goods with every new machine they invented, with every scientific discovery or technological advance—and thus the whole country was moving forward and profiting, not suffering, every step of the way.”

Ayn Rand

OK, she borrowed this idea from Adam Smith, without mentioning him… let bygones be bygones…

A more interesting endeavor would be to learn something from all this.

‘Abundance was not created by public sacrifices’.
Makes a lot of sense. In a free market everybody gets what they are offered, ideally in close accord to what each of them had brought to the market.

‘Abundance was created by the productive genius of free people who pursued their own personal interest and the making of their own private fortunes’.
Now, whose ‘productive genius’ are we speaking about here?

About Ford’s, for instance, or about that of his workers?

At the time, workers could count on about $2.25 per day, for which they worked nine-hour shifts. It was pretty good money in those days, but the toll was too much for many to bear. Ford’s turnover rate was very high. In 1913, Ford hired more than 52,000 men to keep a workforce of only 14,000. New workers required a costly break-in period, making matters worse for the company. Also, some men simply walked away from the line to quit and look for a job elsewhere. Then the line stopped and production of cars halted. The increased cost and delayed production kept Ford from selling his cars at the low price he wanted. Drastic measures were necessary if he was to keep up this production.

Tim Worstall, Forbes Magazine

Anyway you look at it, both Ford and his workers were acting as ‘rational economic agents’. Ford was paying them the going rates in the industry and they were putting in as little effort as they could afford to.

That went on until Ford came up with a ‘new idea’. “It can indeed be cheaper to pay workers more but to reduce the turnover of them and those associated training costs.” “The point is not so as to be paying a “decent wage” or anything of that sort: it is to be paying a higher wage than other employers. That gets your workforce thinking they’ve got a good deal (for the clear reason that they have got a good deal) and if the workers think they’ve got a good deal then they’re more likely to turn up on time, sober, and work diligently.”

Again, a very reasonable attitude displayed by both parties.
An attitude made possible by the fact that both the car and workforce markets were free.
Ford could hire anybody/sell his cars to whomever had enough money to buy them while his workers were free to leave their previous workplaces and accept Ford’s offer. Or leave him if they found a better one.

And let’s not forget the fact that Ford was not alone, at that time. At the turn of the XX-th century there were hundreds of automobile producers in the US alone and this was one of the reasons for which the workers could afford to be so ‘picky’ – specially those who had some experience.

In this situation – where the market was really free, each party taking good care of their own interest yielded excellent results.
Ford had became one of the leading car manufacturing corporations.
The diligent workers continuously improved their living standards.
The society, as a whole, prospered. And learned, or should have had, the long term benefits of commitment and mutual respect.

What happened after the market was no longer free?

Meaning that instead of hundreds of car manufacturers competing for the best available workers we had for a considerable number of years only three corporations more interested in short term profiteering rather than improving their products?
And instead of diligent workers striving to improve their skills we had union members more interested in their week-end barbecues?

“The U.S. government bailout of the auto industry lasted from January 2009 to December 2013. The Big Three automakers approached Congress in November 2008. They warned that, without the bailout, GM and Chrysler faced bankruptcy and the loss of one million jobs. Ford didn’t need the funds, since it had already cut costs. But it asked to be included so it wouldn’t suffer by competing with subsidized companies.

The Treasury Department invested $80.7 billion from the $700 billion authorized by EESA. It recouped all but $10.2 billion…”

Kimberly Amadeo, thebalance.com

Some of you might tell me that the Japanese car manufacturers operate along more or less the same guide-lines. ‘Cradle to grave’ employment for the workers, a rather opaque management never held accountable until too late…
A very correct observation.
Only there is a huge difference between the Japanese work-ethos and ‘the American Dream’. The Japanese have a long history of being told to ‘fit in’ while most Americans have gradually convinced themselves that ‘getting rich’ is the only possible solution for all their problems…

Considering that both Japan and America seem to have reached two different cul-de-sacs it wouldn’t be farfetched to suggest that both are doing something wrong.

For almost 30 years now Japan has been running in circles. She hasn’t completely lost her edge but hasn’t performed as it used to.
The most worrying indicator – for me, at least, being the fact that they have given up ‘making’ children. As if the present generation doesn’t have much hope for/expectations from the future.
For almost 30 years now the American people has allowed a huge trench to grow larger and larger in their mist. The haves on one side, the have-nots on the other and the rift so wide that they are no longer able hear each-other. A present day Henry Ford would have no idea about how much to pay his workers in order to obtain similar results to those achieved at the start of the XX-th century…

Is there a ‘common cause’ that might explain what’s going on on both sides of the Pacific?
How about both cultural and economic spaces experiencing a somewhat similar decrease in individual liberty, the phenomenon having rather different causes in each of the two cases?

First of all, ‘dedication to duty’ can take you only that far. It is very useful for those wishing to ‘close a gap’ but acts similarly to an ankle weight for those who are in the position to attempt to ‘take the lead’. ‘Dedication to duty’ focuses the attention of the team to ‘obeying the rules’ while ‘taking the lead’ means leaving the ‘straight and narrow’ and venturing into the unknown.
These two situations imply completely different mind frames.

Secondly, those who venture outside the ‘safety of the perimeter’ need to follow a simple rule.

“Leave no man behind”.

” “When you have a conscript army and you can always replenish it just by adding more people, you don’t really have to care about whether they’re happy with what they’re doing,” Springer said.

Now the military had to care about its soldiers as individuals, and the idea that it would never leave them behind became something of a familial bond.

“It’s kind of a contract with the service,” Springer said. “You promise to serve us, we promise not to leave you.” “

 

You see, time and time again history has hinted to us that freer societies fared better, ceteris paribus, compared to ‘tighter knit’ ones.
For example, subjected to the same communist knut, Poland came out differently than my native Romania.

And while most people agree about Poland being in a better shape than Romania, there is very little agreement about a possible explanation.
Just as most people agree about ‘liberty is good’ while each of those people derive different meanings from the very concept of freedom.

Since it is so hard to coordinate ourselves about the meaning of a ‘simple’ word, how about taking the liberty to ‘agree to disagree’ and turn our attention to another concept?

Mutual respect.

Just think about what liberty would mean without mutual respect.

Can you imagine the liberty of someone driving a M1 Abrams tank on a highway?
Can you imagine what would happen if the driver of the tank wouldn’t treat the others with utmost respect? What would happen if the outraged others would band together and wait for the ‘mad’ driver to burn through his last drop of fuel?

You see, people who have more respect for the rules than they have for each-other end up belonging to a society so tightly knit that it has immense troubles whenever it has to cope with unforeseen situations. Adapt to change.  Confront a catastrophe…
For example, the Soviet Union, Japan and the US have a considerable number of nuclear power plants and have experienced a number of failures. The tightly knit Soviet Union and Japan have displayed commendable individual acts of heroism in the aftermath of such incidents but it was the more individualistic US who has somehow ‘ducked’ any serious experience of this kind.

On the other hand, I see potential trouble when I hear people stating that “My right to swing my fist ends where your nose begins”.
On the face of it, this sounds perfectly reasonable.
Only the whole thing absolutely depends on both individuals involved in it having comparable reach. Do you really think that a guy with twice the ‘wing-span’ of his opponent would continue to stick to this rule if the by-standers would not band together to stuff it down his throat?

My point being that no ‘market’ is really free if its freedom relies primarily on a set of rules instead of depending on a healthy dose of sincerely upheld mutual respect among the participants to that market.
In this instance ‘free’ and ‘freedom’ are perfectly interchangeable with functional/sustainable.

The communist centrally planned economies had failed abysmally  simply because the powerfuls of the day had nothing but contempt for those under their rule.
Japan’s strict set of rules about what constitutes proper behavior in each situation seems to act as a brake whenever decisive action is needed.
America’s new mantra, ‘greed is good’, has time and time again produced speculative bubbles which have inevitably ended up badly. Under its spell, the market actually looses every shred of liberty. Exactly as a hypnotized group of people think of themselves as being free while sheepishly obeying the orders of their herder.
I gather you all know what ‘herd behavior’ means…

Compare Ayn Rand’s words to Adam’s Smith original idea.

“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.”

See what I mean?

Smith sees all ‘market goers’ as equals who freely address each other while Rand applauds “the productive genius of free men” who, in pursuit of “their own private fortunes” had the magnanimity to bestow upon “the people better jobs, higher wages, and cheaper goods with every new machine they invented, with every scientific discovery or technological advance”.

I, for one, fail to detect any shred of actual respect towards “the people” in the behavior so laudatory described by Rand.
And I’ll let you be the judge whether her description fits the current ‘state of the nation’.
Anywhere on the planet, not only in the US.

“and thus the whole country was moving forward and profiting, not suffering, every step of the way.”

jobless men keep going

 

the-sleep-of-reason
People have started to freak out after realizing the full scale of what has just happened.
Some see him as a just retribution for our past sins – and they are probably right about this – while others look at the whole situation as if it was a sort of a Rorschach test.
How about Trump as an opportunity?
The inverse of a Rorschach test since that is about the shrink trying to learn something while an opportunity is about the subject bearing the responsibility for the consequences …
An opportunity, and a prod, for the silent majority to remember that ‘The sleep of reason produces monsters‘?
The way I see it Clinton would have done everything in her power to lull us back into our erstwhile stupor while Trump, willingly and/or unwittingly, is already making enough noise… Even the Sleeping Beauty must have already heard something…
So, test or opportunity, now it’s up to us to find a way out of the current mess. Which, I have to repeat this, is our exclusive responsibility.
The problem being that for those inside, the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ can be the actual exit or the head-light of a train engine barreling down towards them.
‘Lady Luck’ is a tough bitch and that’s why one should be really careful with these things.
PS. The ‘shrink’ already has a huge ‘blot’ to muse about. Some people never learn.
Emily Linroth being a spokeswoman for the National Park Service, the organization which has cleaned up “the National Mall following the inauguration and the Women’s March on Washington Saturday.
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