Archives for category: The kind of world we are building for our children

Chapter 1.
Feelings, perceptions, facts.

Everything starts with a feeling.
Followed by a reaction.
Which, in biology/psychology/sociology is whatever the feeling organism does after it has been ‘poked’.
At this level, everything happens ‘mechanically’. Even for the most ‘sophisticated’. None of us is aware of what’s going on inside out gut yet a lot of information is being exchanged during the digestion process. We might ‘be there’ when we eat but our presence is not requested while our digestive tracts break down our food into usable ‘chemicals’.

Organisms which are capable of learning sometimes transform their feelings into perceptions.
In the sense that their reactions are no longer determined exclusively by their genes. In some instances they use their learned knowledge to improve their reactions, hence their chances to survive.
Think, for instance, of the many things our dogs do for us. Without having a clear understanding of whats going on but, nevertheless, faring a lot better than their wild cousins, the wolves. Or about the huge amount of data passed from one generation of elephant matriarchs to the other.

Further up the decision chain are the conscious species.
Those whose individuals are capable of ‘observing themselves observing’.
This self awareness is what makes the difference between being capable of being trained and that of actually being able to learn. To choose what you consider to be important and to decide according to that particular piece of information.

This being how facts are born.
We, self aware intelligent individuals, notice something. Deem it to be of a certain importance and, hence, call it a ‘fact’.
Regardless of that something actually having happened or being nothing more than a figment of our imagination.

 

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Perfection is absolute. Hence unattainable.
Yet chasing it constantly improves the reckless who attempt it… simultaneously keeping their pride at bay.

Success is relative. Hence always reachable.
All you have to do is beat all your opponents. Preferably to a pulp.
The only limitation being that you are expected to remain inside the rules.
Only nobody says anything if you bend them. No matter how ‘creatively’.

DSC_0007

The way I see it, this lady is freer, in body and mind, than most of us will ever be.

Well, this is yet another perfect example of a sentence simultaneously true, false and indeterminable …

First of all, it is indeterminable simply because we’ll never know, let alone ‘for sure’, everything ‘under the sun’.
It is obviously false because we continuously discover things previously unknown to us. From another trench on the bottom of the ocean to a new satellite circling around Jupiter. Not to mention the huge number of materials and gadgets which have not ‘seen the light of day’ until the moment they have been invented by us. And they might have been made starting with raw materials which had previously existed… but denying their novelty would be shortsighted… to say the least.
And it is obviously true because no matter how many things we have discovered/invented, we have remained practically the same. We entertain the same passions and fears, we continue to behave in certain ways…

And the worst part is our refusal to learn from past experiences…

We’ve experienced the malignant consequences of the extreme ‘propaganda’ used by the nazis during WWII.
By the communist regimes trying to build ‘the new man’.
And we’re currently ‘repackaging’ the same king of destructive propaganda into ‘fake news‘…

Are we nuts?

Specially that we already know that what we learn actually changes our brain

Until some two and a half centuries ago, there were two kinds of people.
Those who did, because they could, almost all that crossed their minds.
And those who had to suck it up, because that was all they could do.

OK, there had been, for a few millennia, a Middle Eastern religion whose teachings suggested that all humans had been created equal – because all of them had been made to resemble their creator,… but not very many people used to bother with this interpretation…

Then, all of a sudden, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”

From that moment on, all of us have started to ‘have rights’. To express our opinions about things, to carry arms…

And we eventually made full use of those rights… by publishing porn magazines, by buying, for our own protection, AR-15s…

Some American states, Florida among them, have recently stated that people have the right to ‘stand their ground’. Or, more exactly, to defend the ground where they happen to be at any one moment. Using deadly force, if necessary. As if it that ground were their castle.

A few days ago, a guy had parked his car on a spot reserved for people with special needs. Right in front of a convenience store. He went in, accompanied by his five years old boy to buy something, leaving his woman and his other children in the car.
Another guy, apparently having ‘the right’ to park in that spot – the first one didn’t, came up and engaged the woman about the whole situation. The driver came back from the store, exchanged some words with the ‘challenger’ and then shoved him to the ground.
The challenger drew his gun and shot the offending driver, despite the fact that he wasn’t in any immediate danger – after shoving the challenger to the ground, the bully had retreated a few paces.

According to Florida statutes, what had happened was nothing more than ‘self defense’, a.k.a. ‘holding your ground’. Furthermore, the gun involved in the incident was registered and the owner had a permit to carry it around. No charges was pressed.

Which makes me wonder…
We have these “unalienable rights”… including that to ‘pursue our happiness’ … but do we really need to press them on… regardlessly?

The ‘bully’ parked where he was not supposed to because he wanted to buy an ice-cream for his toddler – I’m imagining things here, I confess.
The ‘shooter’ wanted to use his right to park there, so he confronted the woman he found in the wrongfully parked car.
The bully returned to his car and, perceiving a threat to his family, used his right to defend it.
The shooter eventually ‘stood his ground’ and walked scot-free…

You see, I not trying to make any fine point here. To contest the concept of ‘standing your ground’ or the idea of people carrying heat when shopping for groceries…

I’m just wondering… what happened to the concept of ‘rights’? Why some of us have arrived to see them as obligations?

The whole thing might have started as the deceased parked in the wrong place…. but if the shooter had chosen to call the cops instead of confronting the guy… he wouldn’t have had to shoot the ‘bully’ in front of his children….

https://www.vox.com/identities/2018/7/23/17602312/stand-your-ground-florida-michael-drejka-markeis-mcglockton

In one of my previous posts, I was arguing about everything belonging to one of these three categories: ‘Aphasic’, Alive and Alert.

The point I’m trying to make now being that each of us ‘rubber-stamps’, according to their individually biased interpretation, each people who crosses their path into one of those three categories.

Some consider that the ‘brain dead’ should be ‘eugenized’ while Plato had talked himself into believing that the ordinary people were too stupid to participate into the collective decision making process and should have been governed by specially trained ‘king-priests’. Thus setting the stage for all subsequent dictatorships, by offering any would-be authoritarian figure a ‘solid’ philosophical backing….

Meanwhile, the ‘alert’ among us are doing their best – or their worst, to accede to the ‘king-priest’ status.

Their favorite method?
You must have already inferred from the title… interpreting the law to fit their goals.
Or even rewriting it to that purpose.

In a yet older post, I mentioned that rules, a.k.a. laws, are made by us.

Intentionally, all of them. Regardless of their nature. Regardless of us only having discovered some of them – like the law of gravity, convened on others – like driving on only one side of the road, or having devised yet others ‘out of the blue’ – the rules for playing bridge, for instance.

Coming back to the judicial system, it’s simple to notice that even here the laws belong to the same three broad categories.

‘Don’t kill/steal’ are ‘natural’. People – well, most of them, have long ago understood/noticed/learned that it’s far more comfortable to live in a society were people don’t kill each-other. Hence they felt the need to set an uniform manner in which to react to ‘trespassers’.

Then, as social life became more complex, people have felt the need to ‘code’ many of the frequently occurring interactions. Matrimony, for instance. Or inheritance. Commercial law. And so on.

Finally, as we’ve become more ‘sophisticated’, some of us have started to ‘jump the gun’. Or to put the wagon in front of the horses…
Believing that laws, if enforced forcefully enough, can change – more or less ‘overnight’, human behavior, they started to impose over the rest of the society various ‘synthetic’ ones.
For instance, the communists have imposed their weltanschauung over the societies which have been weak enough to accept it… Unfortunately, this hasn’t been the only instance in which the more powerful have imposed ‘new’ laws over those who were too weak to protest efficiently. The Spanish have forcefully baptized the Aztec and the Inca, the North American Whites have transformed the more or less nomad ‘Indians’ into ‘reservation’ dwellers while imposing abject servitude upon imported Irish and then African people…

And so on…

 

 

Being alive means being able to interact with the environment.

In various manners.
From the prosaic – ingesting food and… you know what I mean, to the sublime – what ever that means for each of us.

Including the ‘prosaic’,  our reactions to whatever ‘inputs’ challenge us from our exterior, a.k.a. environment, are based on what we feel. And this is valid for all living things, no matter how simple or how complex. All of us have different manners in which we get information about what’s ‘outside’ and react to what we find out.

‘Not all reactions have been born equal’…
Plants react differently from animals, insects react differently from fish, reptiles from mammals, humans differently from all others, men differently from women…

Yet there is some order in all this complexity.
Reactions can be classified into three large categories. Mechanical, learned and intentional, a.k.a. ‘self supervised’.

All of us pull our hands when we touch a red hot iron. Or at least tend to…
All of us, grown-ups, have learned to swallow the sip of too hot coffee we have carelessly took. If in public, of course…
And, sometimes, the brave among us go, ‘barehandedly’, into a burning house in order to save those inside. Knowing that they might get hurt. Knowing that fame is short lived but a scar is forever. Knowing that any attempt to save someone’s children might end up leaving some other children without at least one of their parents.

You see, the mechanical reactions are the same all over the living world. They are inbred into our own nature/DNA and are meant to help each individual to survive and thus preserve the species to which it belongs. Furthermore, the mechanical reactions are based solely on sensations, hence their ‘mechanical’ nature. A certain input elicits one, and only one, response. A hot iron elicits a drawn hand… or, at least, a huge amount of attention.

For a reaction to become ‘learned’, ‘somebody’ has to transform a sensation into a perception. To remember a past experience, to compare it with the present and to react more or less in the same manner.
Without necessarily/actually ‘thinking’ about the matter.
In fact, no brain is even needed for this.

“It isn’t an animal, a plant, or a fungus. The slime mold (Physarum polycephalum) is a strange, creeping, bloblike organism made up of one giant cell. Though it has no brain, it can learn from experience, as biologists at the Research Centre on Animal Cognition (CNRS, Université Toulouse III — Paul Sabatier) previously demonstrated. Now the same team of scientists has gone a step further, proving that a slime mold can transmit what it has learned to a fellow slime mold when the two combine.”

Credit: Audrey Dussutour (CNRS)blob learning

But, now that we’ve discovered that even some of the most simple life forms can learn – and ‘teach’, can we pretend that any of them are driven by intentions?

Or these are reserved for us, the most ‘evolved’ of the animals? The only ones not only able to ‘observe ourselves in the act of observing‘ but also able to share the observations  with their peers.

The only ones able to devise both goals and ways to attain them. The only ones – or so we like to pretend, able to imagine and compare various scenarios about the future…

Then why are we still killing each-other? Hating each-other’s guts? Take advantage of our ‘peers’, whenever we see the opportunity?

What good does any of us see in this?
Don’t we ‘see’ the harm we cause in others?
Haven’t we ‘learned’ anything from our history?

 

ganditorul

OK, this guy’s stool has four legs… nobody’s perfect…

A few days ago, while talking with a good friend of mine – Lucian Stefanescu, we convened that God has a lot in common with a chair.
Three legged, four legged… take your pick.

Let’s imagine we are part of a thought experiment.
One which allows us to travel through time.

Some ten or twenty thousand years ago, neither ‘God’ nor ‘chair’ existed at all.
The concepts, I mean.

In those times, people were just as able to sit as we are now. And they probably did it. On rocks, on logs…. which ever happened to be around when they felt the need/had the time to rest their feet….
Until somebody had the bright idea of picking up a big enough boulder, carried it to the fire and sat on it. Effectively inventing the very concept of chair.

Same thing goes for God.
I have no way in which to ascertain whether God exists outside our minds or not. Or who of our ancestors had come up with this idea. Or when.
The point being that our faith in Him has been enough for God to produce so many consequences. For our version of God to become real. To shape the very world we’ve built for ourselves.

You see, ten thousand years ago, in pitch black darkness, no one could have stumbled upon a chair while walking through the cave they called home. They could have stumbled upon rocks which happened to exist over there… but not upon any chairs.
Until some of the rocks had been used as such!
Nowadays… it’s not so unusual to trip over a chair. Even in broad daylight. Simply because we’ve build so many of them.

Same thing goes for God.
Ten thousand years ago, we didn’t have the concept yet.
Now, we have to deal with the consequences of us having already ‘killed’ Him.

 

Basically, ‘doing business’ means obtaining sustenance by being useful to other people.
As opposed to hunting/picking/growing your own food, building your own shelter and using pelts to cover your back.

‘Doing business’ obviously implies trading. Raw materials are being transformed to fit the needs of the intended customers, transported to where they are needed and offered to those who might buy them.

For this process to take place, ‘business’ needs far more than entrepreneurs, customers raw material and workforce.

It needs a suitable environment.

It needs roads, markets – not only ‘stable’ but also safe, and – maybe the most important thing, it needs the right kind of ‘popular sentiment’.
For business to work as intended, people need to have faith in each-other.

Yep, faith!

Who would eat in a restaurant without trusting that the cook hadn’t spit in the soup?
Who would buy a car to drive their children to school without actually believing that the car had been built as it should have been?
Who would even drive on a two way road without believing that the drivers going in the opposite direction will stay on their side of the road?

And do you really think that German farmers of yore – who had enjoyed a relative safety while working their own land, living at the bosom of an extended family and being personally acquainted with all the members of the community,  would have gladly come to the ‘unknown’ city to become industrial workers  during Bismark’s ‘reign’ without the ‘safety net’ extended by the Chancellor?

Taxes are the manner in which we pay for all these.
But they are much more than this.
The willingness of the people to pay taxes means that they have faith that the money will be well spent. That they have faith that those in charge will spend the money wisely and that, in the end, those in charge will be held accountable.

Whenever any of the parties involved in this deal – or both at the same time, no longer trusts the other to do its part of the deal – or tries to use their position to access undue benefits… things go south. Way south.

Just as it happens in any other deal.

“All power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely” Lord Acton.

“If the benevolent ruler stays in power long enough, he eventually concludes that power and wisdom are the same thing. And as he possesses power, he must also possess wisdom. He becomes converted to the seductive thesis that election to public office endows the official with both power and wisdom. At this point, he begins to lose his ability to distinguish between what is morally right and what is politically expedient.”

Ben Moreell, Power Corrupts, 2010

“All governments suffer a recurring problem: Power attracts pathological personalities. It is not that power corrupts but that it is magnetic to the corruptible.”

Frank Herbert, Chapterhouse: Dune

According to Lord Acton, given enough time, even the most benevolent ruler will, if his opinions go unchallenged, ‘loose his bearings’.
According to Herbert, we’re in an even worse situation. Chances are very slim for a benevolent ruler to even become powerful enough to make a difference… before being overwhelmed by corruption…

Then how come we survived for so long? For so much time?

First of all, until recently, no ruler – regardless of how corrupt/inept or even how powerful, had no means to inflict more than a passing wound to ‘humanhood’. During the last five centuries, things have changed a bit… And no, this is not exclusively about the nuclear button. Cortez, Pizzaro, the African slave traders, Hitler, Stalin and those who had produced the 2008 financial melt down hadn’t used very sophisticated tools…
Secondly, I’m not sure there are nearly enough really bad characters to explain all the man made evil in the world.

Then how could we explain what’s going on?

“If the benevolent ruler stays in power long enough, he eventually concludes that power and wisdom are the same thing. And as he possesses power, he must also possess wisdom.”

Ups!
But does this happen?
The ruler slowly convinces himself or the whole thing is a consequence of the contemporary mantra?
That being elected to office means having beaten your opponents! As if politics were a sort of generalized fighting, not a cooperative effort of the entire community…
Which would, indeed, lead any rational agent to the conclusion that the longer somebody survives in a powerful position, the more ‘right’ he must be…

Then what would be easier to change?
The rational conclusion of those who survive in powerful positions or our current misapprehension about what politics should be?

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