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

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.

 

David Cameron had convinced himself that by promising a referendum on whether Britain should leave the EU he would help the conservatives win the 2016 elections.
And that he would then be able to steer the party away from that very idea – convince them to vote for ‘stay’.

As you already know, the conservatives did win the elections but Cameron had to throw in the towel. The ‘leave’ campaign had eventually prevailed and now Britain has to deal with that result.

One of the possible consequences being that the House of Lords might prove itself useless.

Most civilized countries are run as democracies and have two tiered parliaments. Sometimes the two chambers have slightly different fields of responsibility. Usually the lower chamber deals with the more mundane issues – money, for instance, while the upper one takes care of the more ‘symbolic’ ones – foreign affairs or the appointment of the Supreme Court Judges in the US. Also the members of the two chambers might get there following different paths.
But whenever a really important decision has to be made both chambers have to agree on it.

Brexit being one of those ‘important issues’.

As you probably know, the members of the House of Lords – the upper house of the British Parliament, are “appointed by the Queen on the advice of the prime minister” for life, not elected ‘by the people’.

Theresa May, the current British PM, seems hell bent to see Brexit through.

The Government will pack the House of Lords with new members if peers threaten to thwart the start of Brexit, The Daily Telegraph can disclose.

Ministers have made clear that they will not allow peers to disrupt the Brexit process by delaying or amending the legislation when they debate it in the middle of next month.

In this very awkward situation, the Tories do not currently control the House of Lords, the present majority in the House of Lords has two options.
Vote their true minds, even if that would mean diluting the kind of Brexit promoted by May or derail it all together. The ‘only’ problem with this version being that it would be perceived as ‘against the will of the people’.
Rubber stamp the bill passed by the House of Commons. Only this would be perceived as either an abdication from the true nature of any ‘upper house’ – to offer a ‘mature opportunity’ to cool off before making a hasty move, or as a proof of cowardice.

Either way, after the Lords will have cast their votes, voices will be heard questioning the utility of the entire institution.

Giving it up, altogether, would be a rather severe blow to the British democracy.
Hailed by the populists, across the left/right divide, simply because it would make matters a lot simpler for them. It is a lot easier to control a unicameral Parliament than a double tiered one – and that is the very reason for which all authoritarian regimes have tried to ‘simply’ their parliaments.
All ‘popular democracies’ – as the communist regimes loved to call themselves – had but unicameral Parliaments. Sitting in very short (bi)annual sessions during which they did nothing but rubber stamping the bills proposed by the government. Just a reminder.

Members of the House of Lords are appointed by the Queen on the advice of the prime minister

Government threatens to create ‘sunset’ peers if House of Lords thwarts Brexit Bill

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

“If democracy and open societies depend on constantly providing their citizens with more wealth tomorrow than today, then the Western world — and soon enough the whole world — is in for tough times.” (Zachary Karabell, Forget Dow 20,000 — the Boom Times Are Over. Is Democracy Next?, Foreign Policy, 2017/01/26)

Shouldn’t we ‘back track’ and try to identify what and when, if any, we’ve done wrong before attempting to go any further?

The author identifies, with surgical precision, the stepping stones that have led us to where we are now.

We, in the West, have grown to associate material affluence with capitalism, democracy and liberalism.
In the process, we got “addicted” to a special kind of ‘economic growth’,  the one measured in monetary terms.Lately, after people no longer had as many children as they used to – which, supposedly, is going to hinder and eventually halt ‘economic’ growth, things are no longer seen in the same light.
The economic boom in China and recent developments in Philippines, Turkey and a few other places which “have seen a surge in nationalism of late, a questioning of democracy and skepticism about liberalism even as economic growth has been strong and deep”  are adding to the confusion.
Even “more surprising is the erosion of support for democracy and the norms of liberalism — even of capitalism — in the United States, France, Spain, Greece, and elsewhere”.

He also identifies, with equal precision, some of the barriers that prevent us from seeing the wider picture.

That we haven’t yet developed a clearer understanding of what liberalism and democracy might be. In his own words they still are “adolescent concepts relative to the tenure of recorded history”.
Then there is the matter of how we understand ‘economic’ growth.
“Politicians and governments rise and fall based on how successfully they have been seen to address the problem of wealth and jobs — not the problem of food, shelter, health, and quality of life.”
“we know no other way to assess economic strength and societal success except by the metric of growth. Three hundred ago, the metric was armies and territory. Today, it is GDP, jobs, and wages. You could craft a lovely society with zero growth, but nobody would believe it if GDP, jobs, and wages were shrinking and the rewards remained unevenly dispersed.”
And it’s not only a matter of understanding but also one of perception. “How people react to inequality is hardly straightforward; the populist wave that elected Trump doesn’t yet mind a billionaire cabinet. But the perception that some are reaping rewards at the expense of the many is deep and strong; that, too, was a line almost verbatim in Trump’s inaugural address.”
Which perception leads to a certain way of seeing things. “We clearly are able to provide basic material needs to everyone. But in the developed world, we are failing to provide a sense of security even while most people’s lives are de facto more secure.
On top of this, there is “anger”. Produced by the “evidence that we have the ability to meet our collective needs and wants” corroborated with the “ample evidence that many countries lack the political will or social consensus to make that happen”.

So, what next?

In Mr. Karrabell’s terms, we need to brush off skepticism, fear and anger – since they “are not themselves barometers of the future” – and …

“The greatest questions for the coming years is whether material stability is enough to mitigate against political chaos and societal decay.”

I’m sorry but I really don’t like this kind of ‘wait and see’ attitude.
It doesn’t make much sense to bother about something that will happen outside your sphere of influence, does it?
Place a bet, if you are a betting guy, and go back to whatever you might be able to actually do!

How about rephrasing that question?

What is it that might bring about the “political chaos and societal decay” we are so afraid of?

Now is the moment for me to make a confession.
I’ve altered, just a little bit, the narrative.
While Mr. Karrabell did mention “anger”, he only said about it that it was “evident” – without providing any cause for it. It was I who associated that anger with the “ample evidence that many countries lack the political will or social consensus” to “meet our collective needs and wants”.
The way I see it there is no way that any country might ‘meet our collective needs and wants’, no matter what amount of ‘political will or social consensus’ might be involved in the process. Not in the longer run, anyway.
All communist regimes – which were, declaratively, trying to accomplish exactly that – have failed. Abysmally.  Not because, in reality, all of them did nothing but cater for their ruling elite but because all of them used to be run according to a ‘central plan’.

And stop calling China a ‘communist’ regime. Or Vietnam, for that manner. As long as the ‘means of production’ are more or less private, and their owners free(ish) to use them as they see fit, those countries are not ‘communist’. They might not be entirely free but they are not at all ‘communist’. Venezuela, for instance, is a lot more ‘communist’ than China.

But let’s return to the countries that might attempt to make it so that ‘our collective needs are met’.
How are they going to do that?
First of all, those in charge – the government, right? – would have to determine what those ‘needs and wants’ are and only then make the necessary arrangements for them to be met. But not more than that, because that would be wasteful.

Do I hear any chuckles? You figured out that those ‘willing’ countries would have to use the same ‘central planning’ system that has already led to the failure of the communist regimes?

How about re-framing the whole situation?
How about the “ample evidence” mentioned by Mr. Karrabell suggesting that too many countries – including the one that has recently inaugurated Mr. Trump as President – no longer have “the political will or social consensus” to allow their citizens enough real freedom and enough real opportunities to pursue their own “needs and wants”? As they see fit?

Then shouldn’t we next try to understand the process through which the erstwhile ample opportunities have been curtailed?

As I mentioned before, I’m going to use the ‘back-walking’ method.

First step, anger. We really need to loose that. Nothing good ever came out of it.

Specially when considering the next steps, perception and understanding. If we allow anger to cloud our thinking both perception and understanding will yield errors instead of knowledge.

Which brings us to our obsession with (monetary measured) growth. Could this obsession be explained by the fact that money is the easiest thing to distribute but also the easiest thing to hoard? Panem and circenses eventually failed… Why do we still see hoarding money as a legitimate goal (after amassing more than one could ever spend, with the entire family, in a hundred years)… beats me.
But explains what’s going on.
As long as enough of us see hoarding money as a legitimate past-time, more and more people will engage in it. More exactly ‘try to engage’ in it. And this is the very behavior which produces ‘bubbles’. As in ‘market bubbles’. And, eventually, crashes.

But not only crashes. Misconceptions also.

“There is little evidence that democracy and liberalism (and capitalism) in their current form are the best or only conduit for providing for economic needs and wants for all. If they were, there would be less roiling discontent.”
My point being that none of those, in any form, are ‘conduits’ for anybody to provide, through them, anything for anybody else.
Democracy, liberalism and capitalism, together, determine the three dimensional ‘space of opportunity’ where we, human individuals, try to provide for our own needs. If allowed to, of course.
It fact it is not the “politicians and governments” mission to “address the problem of wealth and jobs”. In a full-fledged liberal democracy the government does nothing but guards the freedom of the economic market  and the safety of the citizens – including their ‘human’ rights and private property.

As for capitalism… it doesn’t provide anything. Lest of all “incentives”. People provide incentives. Capitalists provide their employees with incentives to work and politicians provide the capitalists with incentives to engage in such or such enterprises or to refrain form others. And while the first kind of incentives, those provided by the capitalists themselves, work as intended – increase productivity, that is, if employed wisely, the latter end up curtailing the freedom of the market. Which can no longer work smoothly enough. This being the moment when opportunities disappear for the ‘man in the street’ and when those ‘connected’ to the government start to ‘flourish’.

You see, real capitalism is not as much about money as it is about trust.
Trust that your business partner – well, most of them – is going to fulfill his end of the bargain, not try to rip you off. Trust that if things go wrong – in the rare event that he does try to rip you off – the government will move swiftly on your behalf.

That’s all.
That’s what Deng Xiaoping meant by ‘I don’t care about the color of the cat, all I care is for it to catch the mouse’. That’s why the Chinese imported capitalism works. Because the Chinese government has learned that the market cannot do its job, in the longer time frame, without a certain dose of ‘liberty’.
The problem being that China is but an exception. Along with a few other examples, mostly in South Asia, they are the very few countries whose authoritarian governments have learned to refrain from interfering too much in their economies.

Looking back in time, ‘back-tracking’ that is, we’ll notice that capitalism has emerged in places where the entrepreneurs had both considerable individual liberty and enough wisdom to refrain themselves from trying to con their business partners. Otherwise the whole (budding) economic effervescence of the time would have very quickly been smothered by greed.
Think of the Medieval Venetians trading with the Arab merchants of the time. This being the reason for why the oldest surviving bank in the world, Monte dei Paschi di Siena, is based in Italy – the least centralized country in the Medieval Europe.
Or think about how a hand shake used to be enough to seal a deal between two Americans. Some time ago… nowadays you need an army of lawyers to buy a car… not to mention the flurry of official permits needed in most cases…

So, what we need to do, if we want to continue to be a source of inspiration for the rest of the world, is to restore democracy, liberalism and capitalism to what they used to be. Dimensions which described the space of opportunity that used to be open for all of us.

OK, hindsight is always 20-20… or so they say…
I’m afraid that what I just described was an idealized mental construction but I’m sure that you got my drift.
After-all, if the Chinese were able to learn it from us … we’ll surely be able to restore it to its old glory.
Or else…

http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/01/26/forget-dow-20k-the-boom-times-are-over-is-democracy-next/

The Rorschach test consists of a trained specialist encouraging a subject to share his interpretations on 10 “ambiguous images“.
At the end of the discussion the trained specialist more or less ‘determines the fate’ of the subject, by filing his interpretation of the subject’s reactions.

The democratic process consists of everybody freely expressing their concerns about things.
Periodically some people are invested with enough power to solve the problems encountered by the community, in a manner consistent with the values agreed upon by that community. At the end of each such period the activity of these people is analyzed (interpreted ?!?) by those at the ‘receiving end’ of the political mechanism, with the intended goal of improving the ‘political process’.
The fate of the entire community being under a double determination. The diligence of the politicians invested to run the show and the diligence of the people when evaluating the results of the political process.

As you can see with a naked eye, there are a few striking similarities between  Democracy and the Rorschach test. Both depend heavily on the participants being honest and straightforward.

If the patient ‘doesn’t trust his doctor’ or ‘doesn’t feel like talking’ the ‘trained person’ will undoubtedly have problems in reaching a ‘fair conclusion’. Both will have to ‘suffer some consequences’.
If the ‘doctor’ has ‘ulterior motives’ and ‘unfairly labels’ his patient, it will be the patient to suffer the initial consequences but, eventually, those consequences will ‘bounce back’ to their source.

Same things happen in any society.
The difference between a democratic and an authoritarian one being that in a democratic environment ‘consequences’ become apparent, and are dealt with, a lot easier than in an authoritarian one.
This being the reason for which true, functional, democracies work better than any form of authoritarianism.

As long as both parties involved ‘interpret’ their roles appropriately, of course.

(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.

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.

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.

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